The Broken Road
A. E. W. Mason
Part 5 out of 6
"And you answered?"
"That you hadn't asked me."
"Now I have. Violet!" he whispered.
But now she held him off, and suddenly her face grew serious.
"Dick, I will tell you something," she said, "now, so that I may never
tell you it again. Remember it, Dick! For both our sakes remember it!"
"Well?" he asked. "What is it?"
"Don't forgive so easily," she said very gravely, "when we both know that
there is something real to be forgiven." She let go of his hands before
he could answer, and ran from him up the steps into the house. Linforth
saw no more of her that night.
THE BREAKING OF THE PITCHER
It is a far cry from Peshawur to Ajmere, and Linforth travelled in the
train for two nights and the greater part of two days before he came to
it. A little State carved out of Rajputana and settled under English
rule, it is the place of all places where East and West come nearest to
meeting. Within the walls of the city the great Dargah Mosque, with its
shrine of pilgrimage and its ancient rites, lies close against the foot
of the Taragarh Hill. Behind it the mass of the mountain rises steeply to
its white crown of fortress walls. In front, its high bright-blue
archway, a thing of cupolas and porticoes, faces the narrow street of the
grain-sellers and the locksmiths. Here is the East, with its memories of
Akbar and Shah Jehan, its fiery superstitions and its crudities of
decoration. Gaudy chandeliers of coloured glass hang from the roof of a
marble mosque, and though the marble may crack and no one give heed to
it, the glass chandeliers will be carefully swathed in holland bags. Here
is the East, but outside the city walls the pile of Mayo College rises
high above its playing-grounds and gives to the princes and the chiefs of
Rajputana a modern public school for the education of their sons.
From the roof top of the college tower Linforth looked to the city
huddled under the Taragarh Hill, and dimly made out the high archway of
the mosque. He turned back to the broad playing-fields at his feet where
a cricket match was going on. There was the true solution of the great
problem, he thought.
"Here at Ajmere," he said to himself, "Shere Ali could have learned what
the West had to teach him. Had he come here he would have been spared the
disappointments, and the disillusions. He would not have fallen in with
Violet Oliver. He would have married and ruled in his own country."
As it was, he had gone instead to Eton and to Oxford, and Linforth must
needs search for him over there in the huddled city under the Taragarh
Hill. Ralston's Pathan was even then waiting for Linforth at the bottom
of the tower.
"Sir," he said, making a low salaam when Linforth had descended, "His
Highness Shere Ali is now in Ajmere. Every morning between ten and eleven
he is to be found in a balcony above the well at the back of the Dargah
Mosque, and to-morrow I will lead you to him."
"Every morning!" said Linforth. "What does he do upon this balcony?"
"He watches the well below, and the water-carriers descending with their
jars," said the Pathan, "and he talks with his friends. That is all."
"Very well," said Linforth. "To-morrow we will go to him."
He passed up the steps under the blue portico a little before the hour on
the next morning, and entered a stone-flagged court which was thronged
with pilgrims. On each side of the archway a great copper vat was raised
upon stone steps, and it was about these two vats that the crowd
thronged. Linforth and his guide could hardly force their way through. On
the steps of the vats natives, wrapped to the eyes in cloths to save
themselves from burns, stood emptying the caldrons of boiling ghee. And
on every side Linforth heard the name of Shere Ali spoken in praise.
"What does it mean?" he asked of his guide, and the Pathan replied:
"His Highness the Prince has made an offering. He has filled those
caldrons with rice and butter and spices, as pilgrims of great position
and honour sometimes do. The rice is cooked in the vats, and so many jars
are set aside for the strangers, while the people of Indrakot have
hereditary rights to what is left. Sir, it is an act of great piety to
make so rich an offering."
Linforth looked at the swathed men scrambling, with cries of pain, for
the burning rice. He remembered how lightly Shere Ali had been wont to
speak of the superstitions of the Mohammedans and in what contempt he
held the Mullahs of his country. Not in those days would he have
celebrated his pilgrimage to the shrine of Khwajah Mueeyinudin Chisti by
a public offering of ghee.
Linforth looked back upon the Indrakotis struggling and scrambling and
burning themselves on the steps about the vast caldrons, and the crowd
waiting and clamouring below. It was a scene grotesque enough in all
conscience, but Linforth was never further from smiling than at this
moment. A strong intuition made him grave.
"Does this mark Shere Ali's return to the ways of his fathers?" he asked
himself. "Is this his renunciation of the White People?"
He moved forward slowly towards the inner archway, and the Pathan at his
side gave a new turn to his thoughts.
"Sir, that will be talked of for many months," the Pathan said. "The
Prince will gain many friends who up till now distrust him."
"It will be taken as a sign of faith?" asked Linforth.
"And more than that," said the guide significantly. "This one thing
done here in Ajmere to-day will be spread abroad through Chiltistan
Linforth looked more closely at the crowd. Yes, there were many men there
from the hills beyond the Frontier to carry the news of Shere Ali's
munificence to their homes.
"It costs a thousand rupees at the least to fill one of those caldrons,"
said the Pathan. "In truth, his Highness has done a wise thing if--"
And he left the sentence unfinished.
But Linforth could fill in the gap.
"If he means to make trouble."
But he did not utter the explanation aloud.
"Let us go in," he said; and they passed through the high inner archway
into the great court where the saint's tomb, gilded and decked out with
canopies and marble, stands in the middle.
"Follow me closely," said the Pathan. "There may be bad men. Watch any
who approach you, and should one spit, I beseech your Excellency to
pay no heed."
The huge paved square, indeed, was thronged like a bazaar. Along the wall
on the left hand booths were erected, where food and sweetmeats were
being sold. Stone tombs dotted the enclosure; and amongst them men walked
up and down, shouting and talking. Here and there big mango and peepul
trees threw a welcome shade.
The Pathan led Linforth to the right between the Chisti's tomb and the
raised marble court surrounded by its marble balustrade in front of the
long mosque of Shah Jehan. Behind the tomb there were more trees, and the
shrine of a dancing saint, before which dancers from Chitral were moving
in and out with quick and flying steps. The Pathan led Linforth quickly
through the groups, and though here and there a man stood in their way
and screamed insults, and here and there one walked along beside them
with a scowling face and muttered threats, no one molested them.
The Pathan turned to the right, mounted a few steps, and passed under a
low stone archway. Linforth found himself upon a balcony overhanging a
great ditch between the Dargah and Taragarh Hill. He leaned forward over
the balustrade, and from every direction, opposite to him, below him,
and at the ends, steps ran down to the bottom of the gulf--twisting and
turning at every sort of angle, now in long lines, now narrow as a
stair. The place had the look of some ancient amphitheatre. And at the
bottom, and a little to the right of the balcony, was the mouth of an
"The Prince is here, your Excellency."
Linforth looked along the balcony. There were only three men standing
there, in white robes, with white turbans upon their heads. The turban of
one was hemmed with gold. There was gold, too, upon his robe.
"No," said Linforth. "He has not yet come," and even as he turned again
to look down into that strange gulf of steps the man with the gold-hemmed
turban changed his attitude and showed Linforth the profile of his face.
Linforth was startled.
"Is that the Prince?" he exclaimed. He saw a man, young to be sure, but
older than Shere Ali, and surely taller too. He looked more closely. That
small carefully trimmed black beard might give the look of age, the long
robe add to his height. Yes, it was Shere Ali. Linforth walked along the
balcony, and as he approached, Shere Ali turned quickly towards him. The
blood rushed into his dark face; he stood staring at Linforth like a man
Linforth held out his hand with a smile.
"I hardly knew you again," he said.
Shere Ali did not take the hand outstretched to him; he did not move;
neither did he speak. He just stood with his eyes fixed upon Linforth.
But there was recognition in his eyes, and there was something more.
Linforth recalled something that Violet Oliver had told to him in the
garden at Peshawur--"Are you going to marry Linforth?" That had been
Shere Ali's last question when he had parted from her upon the steps of
the courtyard of the Fort. Linforth remembered it now as he looked into
Shere Ali's face. "Here is a man who hates me," he said to himself. And
thus, for the first time since they had dined together in the mess-room
at Chatham, the two friends met.
"Surely you have not forgotten me, Shere Ali?" said Linforth, trying to
force his voice in to a note of cheery friendliness. But the attempt was
not very successful. The look of hatred upon Shere Ali's face had died
away, it is true. But mere impassivity had replaced it. He had aged
greatly during those months. Linforth recognised that clearly now. His
face was haggard, his eyes sunken. He was a man, moreover. He had been
little more than a boy when he had dined with Linforth in the mess-room
"After all," Linforth continued, and his voice now really had something
of genuine friendliness, for he understood that Shere Ali had
suffered--had suffered deeply; and he was inclined to forgive his
temerity in proposing marriage to Violet Oliver--"after all, it is not so
much more than a year ago when we last talked together of our plans."
Shere Ali turned to the younger of the two who stood beside him and spoke
a few words in a tongue which Linforth did not yet understand. The
youth--he was a youth with a soft pleasant voice, a graceful manner and
something of the exquisite in his person--stepped smoothly forward and
repeated the words to Linforth's Pathan.
"What does he say?" asked Linforth impatiently. The Pathan translated:
"His Highness the Prince would be glad to know what your Excellency means
by interrupting him."
Linforth flushed with anger. But he had his mission to fulfil, if it
could be fulfilled.
"What's the use of making this pretence?" he said to Shere Ali. "You and
I know one another well enough."
And as he ended, Shere Ali suddenly leaned over the balustrade of the
balcony. His two companions followed the direction of his eyes; and both
their faces became alert with some expectancy. For a moment Linforth
imagined that Shere Ali was merely pretending to be absorbed in what he
saw. But he, too, looked, and it grew upon him that here was some matter
of importance--all three were watching in so eager a suspense.
Yet what they saw was a common enough sight in Ajmere, or in any other
town of India. The balcony was built out from a brick wall which fell
sheer to the bottom of the foss. But at some little distance from the end
of the balcony and at the head of the foss, a road from the town broke
the wall, and a flight of steep steps descended to the spring. The steps
descended along the wall first of all towards the balcony, and then just
below the end of it they turned, so that any man going down to the well
would have his face towards the people on the balcony for half the
descent and his back towards them during the second half.
A water-carrier with an earthen jar upon his head had appeared at the top
of the steps a second before Shere Ali had turned so abruptly away from
Linforth. It was this man whom the three were watching. Slowly he
descended. The steps were high and worn, smooth and slippery. He went
down with his left hand against the wall, and the lizards basking in the
sunlight scuttled into their crevices as he approached. On his right hand
the ground fell in a precipice to the bottom of the gulf. The three men
watched him, and, it seemed to Linforth, with a growing excitement as he
neared the turn of the steps. It was almost as though they waited for him
to slip just at that turn, where a slip was most likely to occur.
Linforth laughed at the thought, but the thought suddenly gained
strength, nay, conviction in his mind. For as the water-carrier reached
the bend, turned in safety and went down towards the well, there was a
simultaneous movement made by the three--a movement of disappointment.
Shere Ali did more than merely move. He struck his hand upon the
balustrade and spoke impatiently. But he did not finish the sentence, for
one of his companions looked significantly towards Linforth and his
Pathan. Linforth stepped forward again.
"Shere Ali," he said, "I want to speak to you. It is important that
Shere Ali leaned his elbows on the balustrade, and gazing across the foss
to the Taragarh Hill, hummed to himself a tune.
"Have you forgotten everything?" Linforth went on. He found it difficult
to say what was in his mind. He seemed to be speaking to a stranger--so
great a gulf was between them now--a gulf as wide, as impassable, as this
one at his feet between the balcony and the Taragarh Hill. "Have you
forgotten that night when we sat in the doorway of the hut under the
Aiguilles d'Arve? I remember it very clearly. You said to me, of your own
accord, 'We will always be friends. No man, no woman, shall come between
us. We will work together and we will always be friends.'"
By not so much as the flicker of an eyelid did Shere Ali betray that he
heard the words. Linforth sought to revive that night so vividly that he
needs must turn, needs must respond to the call, and needs must renew
"We sat for a long while that night, smoking our pipes on the step of the
door. It was a dark night. We watched a planet throw its light upwards
from behind the amphitheatre of hills on the left, and then rise clear to
view in a gap. There was a smell of hay, like an English meadow, from the
hut behind us. You pledged your friendship that night. It's not so very
long ago--two years, that's all."
He came to a stop with a queer feeling of shame. He remembered the night
himself, and always had remembered it. But he was not given to sentiment,
and here he had been talking sentiment and to no purpose.
Shere Ali spoke again to his courtier, and the courtier stepped forward
more bland than ever.
"His Highness would like to know if his Excellency is still talking, and
if so, why?" he said to the Pathan, who translated it.
Linforth gave up the attempt to renew his friendship with Shere Ali. He
must go back to Peshawur and tell Ralston that he had failed. Ralston
would merely shrug his shoulders and express neither disappointment nor
surprise. But it was a moment of bitterness to Linforth. He looked at
Shere Ali's indifferent face, he listened for a second or two to the tune
he still hummed, and he turned away. But he had not taken more than a
couple of steps towards the entrance of the balcony when his guide
touched him cautiously upon the elbow.
Linforth stopped and looked back. The three men were once more gazing at
the steps which led down from the road to the well. And once more a
water-carrier descended with his great earthen jar upon his head. He
descended very cautiously, but as he came to the turn of the steps his
foot slipped suddenly.
Linforth uttered a cry, but the man had not fallen. He had tottered for a
moment, then he had recovered himself. But the earthen jar which he
carried on his head had fallen and been smashed to atoms.
Again the three made a simultaneous movement, but this time it was a
movement of joy. Again an exclamation burst from Shere Ali's lips, but
now it was a cry of triumph.
He stood erect, and at once he turned to go. As he turned he met
Linforth's gaze. All expression died out of his face, but he spoke to his
young courtier, who fluttered forward sniggering with amusement.
"His Highness would like to know if his Excellency is interested in a
Road. His Highness thinks it a damn-fool road. His Highness much regrets
that he cannot even let it go beyond Kohara. His Highness wishes his
Linforth made no answer to the gibe. He passed out into the courtyard,
and from the courtyard through the archway into the grain-market.
Opposite to him at the end of the street, a grass hill, with the chalk
showing at one bare spot on the side of it, ridged up against the sky
curiously like a fragment of the Sussex Downs. Linforth wondered whether
Shere Ali had ever noticed the resemblance, and whether some recollection
of the summer which he had spent at Poynings had ever struck poignantly
home as he had stood upon these steps. Or were all these memories quite
dead within his breast?
In one respect Shere Ali was wrong. The Road would go on--now. Linforth
had done his best to hinder it, as Ralston had bidden him to do, but he
had failed, and the Road would go on to the foot of the Hindu Kush. Old
Andrew Linforth's words came back to his mind:
"Governments will try to stop it; but the power of the Road will be
greater than the power of any Government. It will wind through valleys so
deep that the day's sunshine is gone within the hour. It will be carried
in galleries along the faces of the mountains, and for eight months of
the year sections of it will be buried deep in snow. Yet it will be
How rightly Andrew Linforth had judged! But Dick for once felt no joy in
the accuracy of the old man's forecast. He walked back through the city
silent and with a heavy heart. He had counted more than he had thought
upon Shere Ali's co-operation. His friendship for Shere Ali had grown
into a greater and a deeper force than he had ever imagined it until this
moment to be. He stopped with a sense of weariness and disillusionment,
and then walked on again. The Road would never again be quite the bright,
inspiring thing which it had been. The dream had a shadow upon it. In the
Eton and Oxford days he had given and given and given so much of himself
to Shere Ali that he could not now lightly and easily lose him altogether
out of his life. Yet he must so lose him, and even then that was not all
the truth. For they would be enemies, Shere Ali would be ruined and cast
out, and his ruin would be the opportunity of the Road.
He turned quickly to his companion.
"What was it that the Prince said," he asked, "when the first of those
water-carriers came down the steps and did not slip? He beat his hands
upon the balustrade of the balcony and cried out some words. It seemed to
me that his companion warned him of your presence, and that he stopped
with the sentence half spoken."
"That is the truth," Linforth's guide replied. "The Prince cried out in
anger, 'How long must we wait?'"
Linforth nodded his head.
"He looked for the pitcher to fall and it did not fall," he said. "The
breaking of the pitcher was to be a sign."
"And the sign was given. Do not forget that, your Excellency. The sign
But what did the sign portend? Linforth puzzled his brains vainly over
that problem. He had not the knowledge by which a man might cipher out
the intrigues of the hill-folk beyond the Frontier. Did the breaking of
the pitcher mean that some definite thing had been done in Chiltistan,
some breaking of the British power? They might look upon the _Raj_ as a
heavy burden on their heads, like an earthen pitcher and as easily
broken. Ralston would know.
"You must travel back to Peshawur to-night," said Linforth. "Go
straight to his Excellency the Chief Commissioner and tell him all that
you saw upon the balcony and all that you heard. If any man can
interpret it, it will be he. Meanwhile, show me where the Prince Shere
Ali lodges in Ajmere."
The policeman led Linforth to a tall house which closed in at one end a
short and narrow street.
"It is here," he said.
"Very well," said Linforth, "I will seek out the Prince again. I will
stay in Ajmere and try by some way or another to have talk with him."
But again Linforth was to fail. He stayed for some days in Ajmere, but
could never gain admittance to the house. He was put off with the
politest of excuses, delivered with every appearance of deep regret. Now
his Highness was unwell and could see no one but his physician. At
another time he was better--so much better, indeed, that he was giving
thanks to Allah for the restoration of his health in the Mosque of Shah
Jehan. Linforth could not reach him, nor did he ever see him in the
streets of Ajmere.
He stayed for a week, and then coming to the house one morning he found
it shuttered. He knocked upon the door, but no one answered his summons;
all the reply he got was the melancholy echo of an empty house.
A Babu from the Customs Office, who was passing at the moment, stopped
and volunteered information.
"There is no one there, Mister," he said gravely. "All have skedaddled to
"The Prince Shere Ali, too?" asked Linforth.
The Babu laughed contemptuously at the title.
"Oho, the Prince! The Prince went away a week ago."
Linforth turned in surprise.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
The Babu told him the very day on which Shere Ali had gone from Ajmere.
It was on the day when the pitcher had fallen on the steps which led down
to the well. Linforth had been tricked by the smiling courtier like any
"Whither did the Prince go?"
The Babu shrugged his shoulders.
"How should I know? They are not of my people, these poor ignorant
He went on his way. Linforth was left with the assurance that now,
indeed, he had really failed. He took the train that night back to
AN ARRESTED CONFESSION
Linforth related the history of his failure to Ralston in the office
"Shere Ali went away on the day the pitcher was broken," he said. "It was
the breaking of the pitcher which gave him the notice to go; I am sure of
it. If one only knew what message was conveyed--" and Ralston handed to
him a letter.
The letter had been sent by the Resident at Kohara and had only this day
reached Peshawur. Linforth took it and read it through. It announced that
the son of Abdulla Mahommed had been murdered.
"You see?" said Ralston. "He was shot in the back by one of his
attendants when he was out after Markhor. He was the leader of the rival
faction, and was bidding for the throne against Shere Ali. His murder
clears the way. I have no doubt your friend is over the Lowari Pass by
this time. There will be trouble in Chiltistan. I would have stopped
Shere Ali on his way up had I known."
"But you don't think Shere Ali had this man murdered!" cried Linforth.
Ralston shrugged his shoulders.
"Why not? What else was he waiting for from ten to eleven in the balcony
above the well, except just for this news?"
He stopped for a moment, and went on again in a voice which was
"That seems to you horrible. I am very much afraid that another thing,
another murder much more horrible, will be announced down to me in the
next few days. The son of Abdulla Mahommed stood in Shere Ali's way a
week ago and he is gone. But the way is still not clear. There's still
another in his path."
Linforth interpreted the words according to the gravity with which they
"His father!" he said, and Ralston nodded his head.
"What can we do?" he cried. "We can threaten--but what is the use of
threatening without troops? And we mayn't use troops. Chiltistan is an
independent kingdom. We can advise, but we can't force them to follow our
advice. We accept the status quo. That's the policy. So long as
Chiltistan keeps the peace with us we accept Chiltistan as it is and as
it may be. We can protect if our protection is asked. But our protection
has not been asked. Why has Shere Ali fled so quickly back to his
country? Tell me that if you can."
None the less, however, Ralston telegraphed at once to the authorities at
Lahore. Linforth, though he had failed to renew his old comradeship with
Shere Ali, had not altogether failed. He had brought back news which
Ralston counted as of great importance. He had linked up the murder in
Chiltistan with the intrigues of Shere Ali. That the glare was rapidly
broadening over that country of hills and orchards Ralston was very well
aware. But it was evident now that at any moment the eruption might take
place, and fire pour down the hills. In these terms he telegraphed to
Lahore. Quietly and quickly, once more after twenty-five years, troops
were being concentrated at Nowshera for a rush over the passes into
Chiltistan. But even so Ralston was urgent that the concentration should
He sent a letter in cipher to the Resident at Kohara, bidding him to
expect Shere Ali, and with Shere Ali the beginning of the trouble.
He could do no more for the moment. So far as he could see he had taken
all the precautions which were possible. But that night an event occurred
in his own house which led him to believe that he had not understood the
whole extent of the danger.
It was Mrs. Oliver who first aroused his suspicions. The four of
them--Ralston and his sister, Linforth and Violet Oliver were sitting
quietly at dinner when Violet suddenly said:
"It's a strange thing. Of course there's nothing really in it, and I am
not at all frightened, but the last two nights, on going to bed, I have
found that one of my windows was no longer bolted."
Linforth looked up in alarm. Ralston's face, however, did not change.
"Are you sure that it was bolted before?"
"Yes, quite sure," said Violet. "The room is on the ground floor, and
outside one of the windows a flight of steps leads down from the verandah
to the ground. So I have always taken care to bolt them myself."
"When?" asked Ralston.
"After dressing for dinner," she replied. "It is the last thing I do
before leaving the room."
Ralston leaned back in his chair, as though a momentary anxiety were
"It is one of the servants, no doubt," he said. "I will speak about it
afterwards"; and for the moment the matter dropped.
But Ralston returned to the subject before dinner was finished.
"I don't think you need be uneasy, Mrs. Oliver," he said. "The house is
guarded by sentinels, as no doubt you know. They are native levies, of
course, but they are quite reliable"; and in this he was quite sincere.
So long as they wore the uniform they would be loyal. The time might
come when they would ask to be allowed to go home. That permission would
be granted, and it was possible that they would be found in arms against
the loyal troops immediately afterwards. But they would ask to be
allowed to go first.
"Still," he resumed, "if you carry valuable jewellery about with you, it
would be as well, I think, if you locked it up."
"I have very little jewellery, and that not valuable," said Violet, and
suddenly her face flushed and she looked across the table at Linforth
with a smile. The smile was returned, and a minute later the ladies rose.
The two men were left alone to smoke.
"You know Mrs. Oliver better than I do," said Ralston. "I will tell you
frankly what I think. It may be a mere nothing. There may be no cause for
anxiety at all. In any case anxiety is not the word" he corrected
himself, and went on. "There is a perfectly natural explanation. The
servants may have opened the window to air the room when they were
preparing it for the night, and may easily have forgotten to latch the
"Yes, I suppose that is the natural explanation," said Linforth, as he
lit a cigar. "It is hard to conceive any other."
"Theft," replied Ralston, "is the other explanation. What I said about
the levies is true. I can rely on them. But the servants--that is perhaps
a different question. They are Mahommedans all of them, and we hear a
good deal about the loyalty of Mahommedans, don't we?" he said, with a
smile. "They wear, if not a uniform, a livery. All these things are true.
But I tell you this, which is no less true. Not one of those Mahommedan
servants would die wearing the livery, acknowledging their service. Every
one of them, if he fell ill, if he thought that he was going to die,
would leave my service to-morrow. So I don't count on them so much.
However, I will make some inquiries, and to-morrow we will move Mrs.
Oliver to another room."
He went about the business forthwith, and cross-examined his servants one
after another. But he obtained no admission from any one of them. No one
had touched the window. Was a single thing missing of all that the
honourable lady possessed? On their lives, no!
Meanwhile Linforth sought out Violet Oliver in the drawing-room. He found
her alone, and she came eagerly towards him and took his hands.
"Oh, Dick," she said, "I am glad you have come back. I am nervous."
"There's no need," said Dick with a laugh. "Let us go out."
He opened the window, but Violet drew back.
"No, let us stay here," she said, and passing her arm through his she
stared for a few moments with a singular intentness into the darkness of
"Did you see anything?" he asked.
"No," she replied, and he felt the tension of her body relax. "No,
there's nothing. And since you have come back, Dick, I am no longer
afraid." She looked up at him with a smile, and tightened her clasp upon
his arm with a pretty air of ownership. "My Dick!" she said, and laughed.
The door-handle rattled, and Violet proved that she had lost her fear.
"That's Miss Ralston," she said. "Let us go out," and she slipped out of
the window quickly. As quickly Linforth followed her. She was waiting for
him in the darkness.
"Dick," she said in a whisper, and she caught him close to her.
He looked up to the dark, clear, starlit sky and down to the sweet and
gentle face held up towards his. That night and in this Indian garden, it
seemed to him that his faith was proven and made good. With the sense of
failure heavy upon his soul, he yet found here a woman whose trust was
not diminished by any failure, who still looked to him with confidence
and drew comfort and strength from his presence, even as he did from
hers. Alone in the drawing-room she had been afraid; outside here in the
garden she had no fear, and no room in her mind for any thought of fear.
"When you spoke about your window to-night, Violet," he said gently,
"although I was alarmed for you, although I was troubled that you should
have cause for alarm--"
"I saw that," said Violet with a smile.
"Yet I never spoke."
"Your eyes, your face spoke. Oh, my dear, I watch you," and she drew in a
breath. "I am a little afraid of you." She did not laugh. There was
nothing provocative in her accent. She spoke with simplicity and truth,
now as often, what was set down to her for a coquetry by those who
disliked her. Linforth was in no doubt, however. Mistake her as he did,
he judged her in this respect more truly than the worldly-wise. She had
at the bottom of her heart a great fear of her lover, a fear that she
might lose him, a fear that he might hold her in scorn, if he knew her
only half as well as she knew herself.
"I don't want you to be afraid of me," he said, quietly. "There is no
reason for it."
"You are hard to others if they come in your way," she replied, and
Linforth stopped. Yes, that was true. There was his mother in the house
under the Sussex Downs. He had got his way. He was on the Frontier. The
Road now would surely go on. It would be a strange thing if he did not
manage to get some portion of that work entrusted to his hands. He had
got his way, but he had been hard, undoubtedly.
"It is quite true," he answered. "But I have had my lesson. You need not
fear that I shall be anything but very gentle towards you."
"In your thoughts?" she asked quickly. "That you will be gentle in word
and in deed--yes, of that I am sure. But will you think gently of
me--always? That is a different thing."
"Of course," he answered with a laugh.
But Violet Oliver was in no mood lightly to be put off.
"Promise me that!" she cried in a low and most passionate voice. Her lips
trembled as she pleaded; her dark eyes besought him, shining starrily.
"Oh, promise that you will think of me gently--that if ever you are
inclined to be hard and to judge me harshly, you will remember these two
nights in the dark garden at Peshawur."
"I shall not forget them," said Linforth, and there was no longer any
levity in his tones. He spoke gravely, and more than gravely. There was a
note of anxiety, as though he were troubled.
"I promise," he said.
"Thank you," said Violet simply; "for I know that you will keep
"Yes, but you speak"--and the note of trouble was still more audible in
Linforth's voice--"you speak as if you and I were going to part to-morrow
morning for the rest of our lives."
"No," Violet cried quickly and rather sharply. Then she moved on a
step or two.
"I interrupted you," she said. "You were saying that when I spoke about
my window, although you were troubled on my account--"
"I felt at the same time some relief," Linforth continued.
"Relief?" she asked.
"Yes; for on my return from Ajmere this morning I noticed a change in
you." He felt at once Violet's hand shake upon his arm as she started;
but she did not interrupt him by a word.
"I noticed it at once when we met for the first time since we had talked
together in the garden, for the first time since your hands had lain in
mine and your lips touched mine. And afterwards it was still there."
"What change?" Violet asked. But she asked the question in a stifled
voice and with her face averted from him.
"There was a constraint, an embarrassment," he said. "How can I explain
it? I felt it rather than noticed it by visible signs. It seemed to me
that you avoided being alone with me. I had a dread that you regretted
the evening in the garden, that you were sorry we had agreed to live our
Violet did not protest. She did not turn to him with any denial in her
eyes. She walked on by his side with her face still turned away from his,
and for a little while she walked in silence. Then, as if compelled, she
suddenly stopped and turned. She spoke, too, as if compelled, with a kind
of desperation in her voice.
"Yes, you were right," she cried. "Oh, Dick, you were right. There was
constraint, there was embarrassment. I will tell you the reason--now."
"I know it," said Dick with a smile.
Violet stared at him for a moment. She perceived his contentment. He was
now quite unharassed by fear. There was no disappointment, no anger
against her. She shook her head and said slowly:
"You can't know it."
"Tell me the reason then."
"You were frightened by this business of the window."
Violet made a movement. She was in the mood to contradict him. But he
went on, and so the mood passed.
"It was only natural. Here were you in a frontier town, a wild town on
the borders of a wild country. A window bolted at dinner-time and
unlocked at bedtime--it was easy to find something sinister in that. You
did not like to speak of it, lest it should trouble your hosts. Yet it
weighed on you. It occupied your thoughts."
"And to that you put down my embarrassment?" she asked quietly. They had
come again to the window of the drawing-room.
"Yes, I do," he answered.
She looked at him strangely for a few moments. But the compulsion which
she had felt upon her a moment ago to speak was gone. She no longer
sought to contradict him. Without a word she slipped into the
Violet Oliver was harassed that night as she had never before been
harassed at any moment of her easy life. She fled to her room. She stood
in front of her mirror gazing helplessly at the reflection of her
"What shall I do?" she cried piteously. "What shall I do?"
And it was not until some minutes had passed that she gave a thought to
whether her window on this night was bolted or not.
She moved quickly across the room and drew the curtains apart. This time
the bolt was shot. But she did not turn back to her room. She let the
curtains fall behind her and leaned her forehead against the glass. There
was a moon to-night, and the quiet garden stretched in front of her a
place of black shadows and white light. Whether a thief lurked in those
shadows and watched from them she did not now consider. The rattle of a
rifle from a sentry near at hand gave her confidence; and all her trouble
lay in the house behind her.
She opened her window and stepped out. "I tried to speak, but he would
not listen. Oh, why did I ever come here?" she cried. "It would have been
so easy not to have come."
But even while she cried out her regrets, they were not all the truth.
There was still alive within her the longing to follow the difficult
way--the way of fire and stones, as it would be for her--if only she
could! She had made a beginning that night. Yes, she had made a beginning
though nothing had come of it. That was not her fault, she assured
herself. She had tried to speak. But could she keep it up? She turned and
twisted; she was caught in a trap. Passion had trapped her unawares.
She went back to the room and bolted the window. Then again she stood in
front of her mirror and gazed at herself in thought.
Suddenly her face changed. She looked up; an idea took shape in her mind.
"Theft," Ralston had said. Thus had he explained the unbolted window. She
must lock up what jewels she had. She must be sure to do that. Violet
Oliver looked towards the window and shivered. It was very silent in the
room. Fear seized hold of her. It was a big room, and furtively she
peered into the corners lest already hidden behind some curtain the thief
should be there.
But always her eyes returned to the window. If she only dared! She ran to
her trunks. From one of them she took out from its deep hiding-place a
small jewel-case, a jewel-case very like to that one which a few months
ago she had sealed up in her tent and addressed to Kohara. She left it on
her dressing-table. She did not open it. Then she looked about her again.
It would be the easy way--if only she dared! It would be an easier way
than trying again to tell her lover what she would have told him
to-night, had he only been willing to listen.
She stood and listened, with parted lips. It seemed to her that even in
this lighted room people, unseen people, breathed about her. Then, with a
little sob in her throat, she ran to the window and shot back the bolt.
She undressed hurriedly, placed a candle by her bedside and turned out
the electric lights. As soon as she was in bed she blew out the candle.
She lay in the darkness, shivering with fear, regretting what she had
done. Every now and then a board cracked in the corridor outside the
room, as though beneath a stealthy footstep. And once inside the room the
door of a wardrobe sprang open. She would have cried out, but terror
paralysed her throat; and the next moment she heard the tread of the
sentry outside her window. The sound reassured her. There was safety in
the heavy regularity of the steps. It was a soldier who was passing, a
drilled, trustworthy soldier. "Trustworthy" was the word which the
Commissioner had used. And lulled by the soldier's presence in the garden
Violet Oliver fell asleep.
But she waked before dawn. The room was still in darkness. The moon had
sunk. Not a ray of light penetrated from behind the curtains. She lay for
a little while in bed, listening, wondering whether that window had been
opened. A queer longing came upon her--a longing to thrust back the
curtains, so that--if anything happened--she might see. That would be
better than lying here in the dark, knowing nothing, seeing nothing,
fearing everything. If she pulled back the curtains, there would be a
panel of dim light visible, however dark the night.
The longing became a necessity. She could not lie there. She sprang out
of bed, and hurried across towards the window. She had not stopped to
light her candle and she held her hands outstretched in front of her.
Suddenly, as she was half-way across the room, her hands touched
She drew them back with a gasp of fright and stood stone-still,
stone-cold. She had touched a human face. Already the thief was in the
room. She stood without a cry, without a movement, while her heart leaped
and fluttered within her bosom. She knew in that moment the extremity of
A loud scratch sounded sharply in the room. A match spurted into flame,
and above the match there sprang into view, framed in the blackness of
the room, a wild and menacing dark face. The eyes glittered at her, and
suddenly a hand was raised as if to strike. And at the gesture Violet
Oliver found her voice.
She screamed, a loud shrill scream of terror, and even as she screamed,
in the very midst of her terror, she saw that the hand was lowered, and
that the threatening face smiled. Then the match went out and darkness
cloaked her and cloaked the thief again. She heard a quick stealthy
movement, and once more her scream rang out. It seemed to her ages before
any answer came, before she heard the sound of hurrying footsteps in the
corridors. There was a loud rapping upon her door. She ran to it. She
heard Ralston's voice.
"What is it? Open! Open!" and then in the garden the report of a rifle
She turned up the lights, flung a dressing-gown about her shoulders and
opened the door. Ralston was in the passage, behind him she saw lights
strangely wavering and other faces. These too wavered strangely. From
very far away, she heard Ralston's voice once more.
"What is it? What is it?"
And then she fell forward against him and sank in a swoon upon the floor.
Ralston lifted her on to her bed and summoned her maid. He went out of
the house and made inquiries of the guard. The sentry's story was
explicit and not to be shaken by any cross-examination. He had patrolled
that side of the house in which Mrs. Oliver's room lay, all night. He had
seen nothing. At one o'clock in the morning the moon sank and the night
became very dark. It was about three when a few minutes after passing
beneath the verandah, and just as he had turned the corner of the house,
he heard a shrill scream from Mrs. Oliver's room. He ran back at once,
and as he ran he heard a second scream. He saw no one, but he heard a
rustling and cracking in the bushes as though a fugitive plunged through.
He fired in the direction of the noise and then ran with all speed to the
spot. He found no one, but the bushes were broken.
Ralston went back into the house and knocked at Mrs. Oliver's door. The
maid opened it.
"How is Mrs. Oliver?" he asked, and he heard Violet herself reply faintly
from the room:
"I am better, thank you. I was a little frightened, that's all."
"No wonder," said Ralston, and he spoke again to the maid. "Has anything
gone? Has anything been stolen? There was a jewel-case upon the
dressing-table. I saw it."
The maid looked at him curiously, before she answered. "Nothing has
Then, with a glance towards the bed, the maid stooped quickly to a trunk
which stood against the wall close by the door and then slipped out of
the room, closing the door behind her. The corridors were now lighted up,
as though it were still evening and the household had not yet gone to
bed. Ralston saw that the maid held a bundle in her hands.
"I do not think," she said in a whisper, "that the thief came to steal
any thing." She laid some emphasis upon the word.
Ralston took the bundle from her hands and stared at it.
"Good God!" he muttered. He was astonished and more than astonished.
There was something of horror in his low exclamation. He looked at the
maid. She was a woman of forty. She had the look of a capable woman. She
was certainly quite self-possessed.
"Does your mistress know of this?" he asked.
The maid shook her head.
"No, sir. I saw it upon the floor before she came to. I hid it between
the trunk and the wall." She spoke with an ear to the door of the room in
which Violet lay, and in a low voice.
"Good!" said Ralston. "You had better tell her nothing of it for the
present. It would only frighten her"; as he ended he heard Violet
Oliver call out:
"Mrs. Oliver wants me," said the maid, as she slipped back into
Ralston walked slowly back down the corridor into the great hall. He was
carrying the bundle in his hands and his face was very grave. He saw Dick
Linforth in the hall, and before he spoke he looked upwards to the
gallery which ran round it. Even when he had assured himself that there
was no one listening, he spoke in a low voice.
"Do you see this, Linforth?"
He held out the bundle. There was a thick cloth, a sort of pad of cotton,
and some thin strong cords.
"These were found in Mrs. Oliver's room."
He laid the things upon the table and Linforth turned them over, startled
as Ralston had been.
"I don't understand," he said.
"They were left behind," said Ralston.
"By the thief?"
"If he was a thief"; and again Linforth said:
"I don't understand."
But there was now more of anger, more of horror in his voice, than
surprise; and as he spoke he took up the pad of cotton wool.
"You do understand," said Ralston, quietly.
Linforth's fingers worked. That pad of cotton seemed to him more sinister
than even the cords.
"For her!" he cried, in a quiet but dangerous voice. "For Violet," and at
that moment neither noticed his utterance of her Christian name. "Let me
only find the man who entered her room."
Ralston looked steadily at Linforth.
"Have you any suspicion as to who the man is?" he asked.
There was a momentary silence in that quiet hall. Both men stood looking
at each other.
"It can't be," said Linforth, at length. But he spoke rather to himself
than to Ralston. "It can't be."
Ralston did not press the question.
"It's the insolence of the attempt which angers me," he said. "We must
wait until Mrs. Oliver can tell us what happened, what she saw.
Meanwhile, she knows nothing of those things. There is no need that she
He left Linforth standing in the hall and went up the stairs. When he
reached the gallery, he leaned over quietly and looked down.
Linforth was still standing by the table, fingering the cotton-pad.
Ralston heard him say again in a voice which was doubtful now rather than
"It can't be he! He would not dare!"
But no name was uttered.
MRS. OLIVER RIDES THROUGH PESHAWUR
Violet Oliver told her story later during that day. But there was a
certain hesitation in her manner which puzzled Ralston, at all events,
amongst her audience.
"When you went to your room," he asked, "did you find the window again
"No," she replied. "It was really my fault last night. I felt the heat
oppressive. I opened the window myself and went out on to the verandah.
When I came back I think that I did not bolt it."
"You forgot?" asked Ralston in surprise.
But this was not the only surprising element in the story.
"When you touched the man, he did not close with you, he made no effort
to silence you," Ralston said. "That is strange enough. But that he
should strike a match, that he should let you see his face quite
clearly--that's what I don't understand. It looks, Mrs. Oliver, as if he
almost wanted you to recognise him."
Ralston turned in his chair sharply towards her. "Did you recognise
him?" he asked.
"Yes," Violet Oliver replied. "At least I think I did. I think that I had
seen him before."
Here at all events it was clear that she was concealing nothing. She was
obviously as puzzled as Ralston was himself.
"Where had you seen him?" he asked, and the answer increased his
"In Calcutta," she answered. "It was the same man or one very like
him. I saw him on three successive evenings in the Maidan when I was
"In Calcutta?" cried Ralston. "Some months ago, then?"
"How did you come to notice him in the Maidan?" Mrs. Oliver shivered
slightly as she answered:
"He seemed to be watching me. I thought so at the time. It made me
uncomfortable. Now I am sure. He _was_ watching me," and she suddenly
came forward a step.
"I should like to go away to-day if you and your sister won't mind,"
Ralston's forehead clouded.
"Of course, I quite understand," he said, "and if you wish to go we can't
prevent you. But you leave us rather helpless, don't you?--as you alone
can identify the man. Besides, you leave yourself too in danger."
"But I shall go far away," she urged. "As it is I am going back to
England in a month."
"Yes," Ralston objected. "But you have not yet started, and if the man
followed you from Calcutta to Peshawur, he may follow you from Peshawur
Mrs. Oliver drew back with a start of terror and Ralston instantly took
back his words.
"Of course, we will take care of you on your way south. You may rely on
that," he said with a smile. "But if you could bring yourself to stay
here for a day or two I should be much obliged. You see, it is impossible
to fix the man's identity from a description, and it is really important
that he should be caught."
"Yes, I understand," said Violet Oliver, and she reluctantly
consented to stay.
"Thank you," said Ralston, and he looked at her with a smile. "There is
one more thing which I should like you to do. I should like you to ride
out with me this afternoon through Peshawur. The story of last night will
already be known in the bazaars. Of that you may be very sure. And it
would be a good thing if you were seen to ride through the city quite
Violet Oliver drew back from the ordeal which Ralston so calmly
proposed to her.
"I shall be with you," he said. "There will be no danger--or at
all events no danger that Englishwomen are unprepared to face in
The appeal to her courage served Ralston's turn. Violet raised her head
with a little jerk of pride.
"Certainly I will ride with you this afternoon through Peshawur," she
said; and she went out of the room and left Ralston alone.
He sat at his desk trying to puzzle out the enigma of the night. The more
he thought upon it, the further he seemed from any solution. There was
the perplexing behaviour of Mrs. Oliver herself. She had been troubled,
greatly troubled, to find her window unbolted on two successive nights
after she had taken care to bolt it. Yet on the third night she actually
unbolts it herself and leaving it unbolted puts out her light and goes to
bed. It seemed incredible that she should so utterly have forgotten her
fears. But still more bewildering even than her forgetfulness was the
conduct of the intruder.
Upon that point he took Linforth into his counsels.
"I can't make head or tail of it," he cried. "Here the fellow is in the
dark room with his cords and the thick cloth and the pad. Mrs. Oliver
touches him. He knows that his presence is revealed to her. She is within
reach. And she stands paralysed by fear, unable to cry out. Yet he does
nothing, except light a match and give her a chance to recognise his
face. He does not seize her, he does not stifle her voice, as he could
have done--yes, as he could have done, before she could have uttered a
cry. He strikes a match and shows her his face."
"So that he might see hers," said Linforth. Ralston shook his head. He
was not satisfied with that explanation. But Linforth had no other to
offer. "Have you any clue to the man?"
"None," said Ralston.
He rode out with Mrs. Oliver that afternoon down from his house to the
Gate of the City. Two men of his levies rode at a distance of twenty
paces behind them. But these were his invariable escort. He took no
unusual precautions. There were no extra police in the streets. He went
out with his guest at his side for an afternoon ride as if nothing
whatever had occurred. Mrs. Oliver played her part well. She rode with
her head erect and her eyes glancing boldly over the crowded streets.
Curious glances were directed at her, but she met them without agitation.
Ralston observed her with a growing admiration.
"Thank you," he said warmly. "I know this can hardly be a pleasant
experience for you. But it is good for these people here to know that
nothing they can do will make any difference--no not enough to alter the
mere routine of our lives. Let us go forward."
They turned to the left at the head of the main thoroughfare, and passed
at a walk, now through the open spaces where the booths were erected, now
through winding narrow streets between high houses. Violet Oliver, though
she held her head high and her eyes were steady, rode with a fluttering
heart. In front of them, about them, and behind them the crowd of people
thronged, tribesmen from the hills, Mohammedans and Hindus of the city;
from the upper windows the lawyers and merchants looked down upon them;
and Violet held all of them in horror.
The occurrence of last night had inflicted upon her a heavier shock than
either Ralston imagined or she herself had been aware until she had
ridden into the town. The dark wild face suddenly springing into view
above the lighted match was as vivid and terrible to her still, as a
nightmare to a child. She was afraid that at any moment she might see
that face again in the throng of faces. Her heart sickened with dread at
the thought, and even though she should not see him, at every step she
looked upon twenty of his like--kinsmen, perhaps, brothers in blood and
race. She shrank from them in repulsion and she shrank from them in fear.
Every nerve of her body seemed to cry out against the folly of this ride.
What were they two and the two levies behind them against the throng?
Four at the most against thousands at the least.
She touched Ralston timidly on the arm.
"Might we go home now?" she asked in a voice which trembled; and he
looked suddenly and anxiously into her face.
"Certainly," he said, and he wheeled his horse round, keeping close to
her as she wheeled hers.
"It is all right," he said, and his voice took on an unusual
friendliness. "We have not far to go. It was brave of you to have come,
and I am very grateful. We ask much of the Englishwomen in India, and
because they never fail us, we are apt to ask too much. I asked too much
of you." Violet responded to the flick at her national pride. She drew
herself up and straightened her back.
"No," she said, and she actually counterfeited a smile. "No. It's
"I asked more than I had a right to ask," he continued remorsefully. "I
am sorry. I have lived too much amongst men. That's my trouble. One
becomes inconsiderate to women. It's ignorance, not want of good-will.
Look!" To distract her thoughts he began to point her out houses and
people which were of interest.
"Do you see that sign there, 'Bahadur Gobind, Barrister-at-Law, Cambridge
B.A.,' on the first floor over the cookshop? Yes, he is the genuine
article. He went to Cambridge and took his degree and here he is back
again. Take him for all in all, he is the most seditious man in the city.
Meanly seditious. It only runs to writing letters over a pseudonym in the
native papers. Now look up. Do you see that very respectable
white-bearded gentleman on the balcony of his house? Well, his
daughter-in-law disappeared one day when her husband was away from
home--disappeared altogether. It had been a great grief to the old
gentleman that she had borne no son to inherit the family fortune. So
naturally people began to talk. She was found subsequently under the
floor of the house, and it cost that respectable old gentleman twenty
thousand rupees to get himself acquitted."
Ralston pulled himself up with a jerk, realising that this was not the
most appropriate story which he could have told to a lady with the
overstrained nerves of Mrs. Oliver.
He turned to her with a fresh apology upon his lips. But the apology was
"What's the matter, Mrs. Oliver?" he asked.
She had not heard the story of the respectable old gentleman. That was
clear. They were riding through an open oblong space of ground dotted
with trees. There were shops down the middle, two rows backing upon a
stream, and shops again at the sides. Mrs. Oliver was gazing with a
concentrated look across the space and the people who crowded it towards
an opening of an alley between two houses. But fixed though her gaze was,
there was no longer any fear in her eyes. Rather they expressed a keen
interest, a strong curiosity.
Ralston's eyes followed the direction of her gaze. At the corner of the
alley there was a shop wherein a man sat rounding a stick of wood with a
primitive lathe. He made the lathe revolve by working a stringed bow with
his right hand, while his left hand worked the chisel and his right foot
directed it. His limbs were making three different motions with an
absence of effort which needed much practice, and for a moment Ralston
wondered whether it was the ingenuity of the workman which had attracted
her. But in a moment he saw that he was wrong.
There were two men standing in the mouth of the alley, both dressed in
white from head to foot. One stood a little behind with the hood of his
cloak drawn forward over his head, so that it was impossible to discern
his face. The other stood forward, a tall slim man with the elegance and
the grace of youth. It was at this man Violet Oliver was looking.
Ralston looked again at her, and as he looked the colour rose into her
cheeks; there came a look of sympathy, perhaps of pity, into her eyes.
Almost her lips began to smile. Ralston turned his head again towards the
alley, and he started in his saddle. The young man had raised his head.
He was gazing fixedly towards them. His features were revealed and
Ralston knew them well.
He turned quickly to Mrs. Oliver.
"You know that man?"
The colour deepened upon her face.
"It is the Prince of Chiltistan."
"But you know him?" Ralston insisted.
"I have met him in London," said Violet Oliver.
So Shere Ali was in Peshawur, when he should have been in
Ralston put the question to himself and looked to his companion for the
answer. The colour upon her face, the interest, the sympathy of her eyes
gave him the answer. This was the woman, then, whose image stood before
Shere Ali's memories and hindered him from marrying one of his own race!
Just with that sympathy and that keen interest does a woman look upon the
man who loves her and whose love she does not return. Moreover, there was
Linforth's hesitation. Linforth had admitted there was an Englishwoman
for whom Shere Ali cared, had admitted it reluctantly, had extenuated her
thoughtlessness, had pleaded for her. Oh, without a doubt Mrs. Oliver was
There flashed before Ralston's eyes the picture of Linforth standing in
the hall, turning over the cords and the cotton pad and the thick cloth.
Ralston looked down again upon him from the gallery and heard his voice,
saying in a whisper:
"It can't be he! It can't be he!"
What would Linforth say when he knew that Shere Ali was lurking in
Ralston was still gazing at Shere Ali when the man behind the Prince made
a movement. He flung back the hood from his face, and disclosing his
features looked boldly towards the riders.
A cry rang out at Ralston's side, a woman's cry. He turned in his saddle
and saw Violet Oliver. The colour had suddenly fled from her cheeks. They
were blanched. The sympathy had gone from her eyes, and in its place,
stark terror looked out from them. She swayed in her saddle.
"Do you see that man?" she cried, pointing with her hand. "The man behind
the Prince. The man who has thrown back his cloak."
"Yes, yes, I see him," answered Ralston impatiently.
"It was he who crept into my room last night."
"You are sure?"
"Could I forget? Could I forget?" she cried; and at that moment, the man
touched Shere Ali on the sleeve, and they both fled out of sight into
There was no doubt left in Ralston's mind. It was Shere Ali who had
planned the abduction of Mrs. Oliver. It was his companion who had failed
to carry it out. Ralston turned to the levies behind him.
"Quick! Into that valley! Fetch me those two men who were standing
The two levies pressed their horses through the crowd, but the alley was
empty when they came to it.
THE NEEDED IMPLEMENT
Ralston rode home with an uncomfortable recollection of the little
dinner-party in Calcutta at which Hatch had told his story of the
Englishwoman in Mecca. Had that story fired Shere Ali? The time for
questions had passed; but none the less this particular one would force
itself into the front of his mind.
"I would have done better never to have meddled," he said to himself
remorsefully--even while he gave his orders for the apprehension of
Shere Ali and his companion. For he did not allow his remorse to hamper
his action; he set a strong guard at the gates of the city, and gave
orders that within the gates the city should be methodically searched
quarter by quarter.
"I want them both laid by the heels," he said; "but, above all, the
Prince. Let there be no mistake. I want Shere Ali lodged in the gaol here
before nightfall"; and Linforth's voice broke in rapidly upon his words.
"Can I do anything to help? What can I do?"
Ralston looked sharply up from his desk. There had been a noticeable
eagerness, a noticeable anger in Linforth's voice.
"You?" said Ralston quietly. "_You_ want to help? You were Shere
Ralston smiled as he spoke, but there was no hint of irony in either
words or smile. It was a smile rather of tolerance, and almost of
regret--the smile of a man who was well accustomed to seeing the flowers
and decorative things of life wither over-quickly, and yet was still
alert and not indifferent to the change. His work for the moment was
done. He leaned back thoughtfully in his chair. He no longer looked at
Linforth. His one quick glance had shown him enough.
"So it's all over, eh?" he said, as he played with his paper-knife.
"Summer mornings on the Cherwell. Travels in the Dauphine. The Meije and
the Aiguilles d'Arves. Oh, I know." Linforth moved as he stood at the
side of Ralston's desk, but the set look upon his face did not change.
And Ralston went on. There came a kind of gentle mockery into his voice.
"The shared ambitions, the concerted plans--gone, and not even a regret
for them left, eh? _Tempi passati!_ Pretty sad, too, when you come to
think of it."
But Linforth made no answer to Ralston's probings. Violet Oliver's
instincts had taught her the truth, which Ralston was now learning.
Linforth could be very hard. There was nothing left of the friendship
which through many years had played so large a part in his life. A woman
had intervened, and Linforth had shut the door upon it, had sealed his
mind against its memories, and his heart against its claims. The evening
at La Grave in the Dauphine had borne its fruit. Linforth stood there
white with anger against Shere Ali, hot to join in the chase. Ralston
understood that if ever he should need a man to hunt down that quarry
through peril and privations, here at his hand was the man on whom he
Linforth's eager voice broke in again.
"What can I do to help?"
Ralston looked up once more.
"Nothing--for the moment. If Shere Ali is captured in
Peshawur--nothing at all."
"But if he escapes."
Ralston shrugged his shoulders. Then he filled his pipe and lit it.
"If he escapes--why, then, your turn may come. I make no promises," he
added quickly, as Linforth, by a movement, betrayed his satisfaction.
"It is not, indeed, in my power to promise. But there may come work
for you--difficult work, dangerous work, prolonged work. For this
outrage can't go unpunished. In any case," he ended with a smile, "the
Road goes on."
He turned again to his office-table, and Linforth went out of the room.
The task which Ralston had in view for Linforth came by a long step
nearer that night. For all night the search went on throughout the
city, and the searchers were still empty-handed in the morning. Ahmed
Ismail had laid his plans too cunningly. Shere Ali was to be
compromised, not captured. There was to be a price upon his head, but
the head was not to fall. And while the search went on from quarter to
quarter of Peshawur, the Prince and his attendant were already out in
the darkness upon the hills.
Ralston telegraphed to the station on the Malakand Pass, to the fort at
Jamrud, even to Landi Khotal, at the far end of the Khyber Pass, but
Shere Ali had not travelled along any one of the roads those positions
"I had little hope indeed that he would," said Ralston with a shrug
of the shoulders. "He has given us the slip. We shall not catch up
with him now."
He was standing with Linforth at the mouth of the well which irrigated
his garden. The water was drawn up after the Persian plan. A wooden
vertical wheel wound up the bucket, and this wheel was made to revolve by
a horizontal wheel with the spokes projecting beyond the rim and fitting
into similar spokes upon the vertical wheel. A bullock, with a bandage
over its eyes, was harnessed to the horizontal wheel, and paced slowly
round and round, turning it; while a boy sat on the bullock's back and
beat it with a stick. Both men stood and listened to the groaning and
creaking of the wheels for a few moments, and then Linforth said:
"So, after all, you mean to let him go?"
"No, indeed," answered Ralston. "Only now we shall have to fetch him out
"Will they give him up?"
Ralston shook his head.
"No." He turned to Linforth with a smile. "I once heard the Political
Officer described as the man who stands between the soldier and his
medal. Well, I have tried to stand just in that spot as far as Chiltistan
is concerned. But I have not succeeded. The soldier will get his medal in
Chiltistan this year. I have had telegrams this morning from Lahore. A
punitive force has been gathered at Nowshera. The preparations have been
going on quietly for a few weeks. It will start in a few days. I shall go
with it as Political Officer."
"You will take me?" Linforth asked eagerly.
"Yes," Ralston answered. "I mean to take you. I told you yesterday there
might be service for you."
"Or beyond," replied Ralston. "Shere Ali may give us the slip again."
He was thinking of the arid rocky borders of Turkestan, where flight
would be easy and where capture would be most difficult. It was to that
work that Ralston, looking far ahead, had in his mind dedicated young
Linforth, knowing well that he would count its difficulties light in the
ardour of his pursuit. Anger would spur him, and the Road should be held
out as his reward. Ralston listened again to the groaning of the
water-wheel, and watched the hooded bullock circle round and round with
patient unvarying pace, and the little boy on its back making no
difference whatever with a long stick.
"Look!" he said. "There's an emblem of the Indian administration. The
wheels creak and groan, the bullock goes on round and round with a
bandage over its eyes, and the little boy on its back cuts a fine
important figure and looks as if he were doing ever so much, and somehow
the water comes up--that's the great thing, the water is fetched up
somehow and the land watered. When I am inclined to be despondent, I come
and look at my water-wheel." He turned away and walked back to the house
with his hands folded behind his back and his head bent forward.
"You are despondent now?" Linforth asked.
"Yes," replied Ralston, with a rare and sudden outburst of confession.
"You, perhaps, will hardly understand. You are young. You have a career
to make. You have particular ambitions. This trouble in Chiltistan is
your opportunity. But it's my sorrow--it's almost my failure." He turned
his face towards Linforth with a whimsical smile. "I have tried to stand
between the soldier and his medal. I wanted to extend our political
influence there--yes. Because that makes for peace, and it makes for good
government. The tribes lose their fear that their independence will be
assailed, they come in time to the Political Officer for advice, they lay
their private quarrels and feuds before him for arbitration. That has
happened in many valleys, and I had always a hope that though Chiltistan
has a ruling Prince, the same sort of thing might in time happen there.
Yes, even at the cost of the Road," and again his very taking smile
illumined for a moment his worn face. "But that hope is gone now. A force
will go up and demand Shere Ali. Shere Ali will not be given up. Even
were the demand not made, it would make no difference. He will not be
many days in Chiltistan before Chiltistan is in arms. Already I have sent
a messenger up to the Resident, telling him to come down."
"And then?" asked Linforth.
Ralston shrugged his shoulders.
"More or less fighting, more or less loss, a few villages burnt, and the
only inevitable end. We shall either take over the country or set up
"Set up another Prince?" exclaimed Linforth in a startled voice. "In
Ralston broke in upon him with a laugh.
"Oh, man of one idea, in any case the Road will go on to the foot of
the Hindu Kush. That's the price which Chiltistan must pay as security
for future peace--the military road through Kohara to the foot of the
Linforth's face cleared, and he said cheerfully:
"It's strange that Shere Ali doesn't realise that himself."
The cheerfulness of his voice, as much as his words, caused Ralston to
stop and turn upon his companion in a moment of exasperation.
"Perhaps he does." he exclaimed, and then he proceeded to pay a tribute
to the young Prince of Chiltistan which took Linforth fairly by surprise.
"Don't you understand--you who know him, you who grew up with him, you
who were his friend? He's a man. I know these hill-people, and like every
other Englishman who has served among them, I love them--knowing their
faults. Shere Ali has the faults of the Pathan, or some of them. He has
their vanity; he has, if you like, their fanaticism. But he's a man. He's
flattered and petted like a lap-dog, he's played with like a toy. Well,
he's neither a lap-dog nor a toy, and he takes the flattery and the
petting seriously. He thinks it's _meant_, and he behaves accordingly.
What, then? The toy is thrown down on the ground, the lap-dog is kicked
into the corner. But he's not a lap-dog, he's not a toy. He's a man. He
has a man's resentments, a man's wounded heart, a man's determination not
to submit to flattery one moment and humiliation the next. So he strikes.
He tries to take the white, soft, pretty thing which has been dangled
before his eyes and snatched away--he tries to take her by force and
fails. He goes back to his own people, and strikes. Do you blame him?
Would you rather he sat down and grumbled and bragged of his successes,
and took to drink, as more than one down south has done? Perhaps so. It
would be more comfortable if he did. But which of the pictures do you
admire? Which of the two is the better man? For me, the man who
strikes--even if I have to go up into his country and exact the penalty
afterwards. Shere Ali is one of the best of the Princes. But he has been
badly treated and so he must suffer."
Ralston repeated his conclusion with a savage irony. "That's the whole
truth. He's one of the best of them. Therefore he doesn't take bad
treatment with a servile gratitude. Therefore he must suffer still more.
But the fault in the beginning was not his."
Thus it fell to Ralston to explain, twenty-six years later, the saying
of a long-forgotten Political Officer which had seemed so dark to
Colonel Dewes when it was uttered in the little fort in Chiltistan.
There was a special danger for the best in the upbringing of the Indian
princes in England.
Linforth flushed as he listened to the tirade, but he made no answer.
Ralston looked at him keenly, wondering with a queer amusement whether he
had not blunted the keen edge of that tool which he was keeping at his
side because he foresaw the need of it. But there was no sign of any
softening upon Linforth's face. He could be hard, but on the other hand,
when he gave his faith he gave it without reserve. Almost every word
which Ralston had spoken had seemed to him an aspersion upon Violet
Oliver. He said nothing, for he had learned to keep silence. But his
anger was hotter than ever against Shere Ali, since but for Shere Ali the
aspersions would never have been cast.
AN OLD TOMB AND A NEW SHRINE
The messenger whom Ralston sent with a sealed letter to the Resident at
Kohara left Peshawur in the afternoon and travelled up the road by way of
Dir and the Lowari Pass. He travelled quickly, spending little of his
time at the rest-houses on the way, and yet arrived no sooner on that
account. It was not he at all who brought his news to Kohara. Neither
letter nor messenger, indeed, ever reached the Resident's door, although
Captain Phillips learned something of the letter's contents a day before
the messenger was due. A queer, and to use his own epithet, a dramatic
stroke of fortune aided him at a very critical moment.
It happened in this way. While Captain Phillips was smoking a cheroot as
he sat over his correspondence in the morning, a servant from the great
Palace on the hill brought to him a letter in the Khan's own
handwriting. It was a flowery letter and invoked many blessings upon the
Khan's faithful friend and brother, and wound up with a single sentence,
like a lady's postscript, in which the whole object of the letter was
contained. Would his Excellency the Captain, in spite of his
overwhelming duties, of which the Khan was well aware, since they all
tended to the great benefit and prosperity of his State, be kind enough
to pay a visit to the Khan that day?
"What's the old rascal up to now?" thought Captain Phillips. He replied,
with less ornament and fewer flourishes, that he would come after
breakfast; and mounting his horse at the appointed time he rode down
through the wide street of Kohara and up the hill at the end, on the
terraced slopes of which climbed the gardens and mud walls of the Palace.
He was led at once into the big reception-room with the painted walls and
the silver-gilt chairs, where the Khan had once received his son with a
loaded rifle across his knees. The Khan was now seated with his courtiers
about him, and was carving the rind of a pomegranate into patterns, like
a man with his thoughts far away. But he welcomed Captain Phillips with
alacrity and at once dismissed his Court.
Captain Phillips settled down patiently in his chair. He was well aware
of the course the interview would take. The Khan would talk away without
any apparent aim for an hour or two hours, passing carelessly from
subject to subject, and then suddenly the important question would be
asked, the important subject mooted. On this occasion, however, the Khan
came with unusual rapidity to his point. A few inquiries as to the
Colonel's health, a short oration on the backwardness of the crops, a
lengthier one upon his fidelity to and friendship for the British
Government and the miserable return ever made to him for it, and then
came a question ludicrously inapposite and put with the solemn _naivet,_
of a child.
"I suppose you know," said the Khan, tugging at his great grey beard,
"that my grandfather married a fairy for one of his wives?"
It was on the strength of such abrupt questions that strangers were apt
to think that the Khan had fallen into his second childhood before his
time. But the Resident knew his man. He was aware that the Khan was
watching for his answer. He sat up in his chair and answered politely:
"So, your Highness, I have heard."
"Yes, it is true," continued the Khan. "Moreover, the fairy bore him a
daughter who is still alive, though very old."
"So there is still a fairy in the family," replied Captain Phillips
pleasantly, while he wondered what in the world the Khan was driving at.
"Yes, indeed, I know that. For only a week ago I was asked by a poor man
up the valley to secure your Highness's intercession. It seems that he is
much plagued by a fairy who has taken possession of his house, and since
your Highness is related to the fairies, he would be very grateful if you
would persuade his fairy to go away."
"I know," said the Khan gravely. "The case has already been brought to
me. The fellow _will_ open closed boxes in his house, and the fairy
"Then your Highness has exorcised the fairy?"
"No; I have forbidden him to open boxes in his house," said the Khan; and
then, with a smile, "But it was not of him we were speaking, but of the
fairy in my family."
He leaned forward and his voice shook.
"She sends me warnings, Captain Sahib. Two nights ago, by the flat stone
where the fairies dance, she heard them--the voices of an innumerable
multitude in the air talking the Chilti tongue--talking of trouble to
come in the near days."
He spoke with burning eyes fixed upon the Resident and with his fingers
playing nervously in and out among the hairs of his beard. Whether the
Khan really believed the story of the fairies--there is nothing more
usual than a belief in fairies in the countries bordered by the
snow-peaks of the Hindu Kush--or whether he used the story as a blind to
conceal the real source of his fear, the Resident could not decide. But
what he did know was this: The Khan of Chiltistan was desperately afraid.
A whole programme of reform was sketched out for the Captain's hearing.
"I have been a good friend to the English, Captain Sahib. I have kept my
Mullahs and my people quiet all these years. There are things which might
be better, as your Excellency has courteously pointed out to me, and the
words have never been forgotten. The taxes no doubt are very burdensome,
and it may be the caravans from Bokhara and Central Asia should pay less
to the treasury as they pass through Chiltistan, and perhaps I do
unjustly in buying what I want from them at my own price." Thus he
delicately described the system of barefaced robbery which he practised
on the traders who passed southwards to India through Chiltistan. "But
these things can be altered. Moreover," and here he spoke with an air of
distinguished virtue, "I propose to sell no more of my people into
slavery--No, and to give none of them, not even the youngest, as presents
to my friends. It is quite true of course that the wood which I sell to
the merchants of Peshawur is cut and brought down by forced labour, but
next year I am thinking of paying. I have been a good friend to the
English all my life, Colonel Sahib."
Captain Phillips had heard promises of the kind before and accounted them
at their true value. But he had never heard them delivered with so
earnest a protestation. And he rode away from the Palace with the
disturbing conviction that there was something new in the wind of which
he did not know.
He rode up the valley, pondering what that something new might be.
Hillside and plain were ablaze with autumn colours. The fruit in the
orchards--peaches, apples, and grapes--was ripe, and on the river bank
the gold of the willows glowed among thickets of red rose. High up on the
hills, field rose above field, supported by stone walls. In the bosom of
the valley groups of great walnut-trees marked where the villages stood.
Captain Phillips rode through the villages. Everywhere he was met with
smiling faces and courteous salutes; but he drew no comfort from them.
The Chilti would smile pleasantly while he was fitting his knife in under
your fifth rib. Only once did Phillips receive a hint that something was
amiss, but the hint was so elusive that it did no more than quicken his
He was riding over grass, and came silently upon a man whose back was
turned to him.
"So, Dadu," he said quietly, "you must not open closed boxes any more in
The man jumped round. He was not merely surprised, he was startled.
"Your Excellency rides up the valley?" he cried, and almost he
barred the way.
"Why not, Dadu?"
Dadu's face became impassive.
"It is as your Excellency wills. It is a good day for a ride," said Dadu;
and Captain Phillips rode on.
It might of course have been that the man had been startled merely by the
unexpected voice behind him; and the question which had leaped from his
mouth might have meant nothing at all. Captain Phillips turned round in
his saddle. Dadu was still standing where he had left him, and was
following the rider with his eyes.
"I wonder if there is anything up the valley which I ought to know
about?" Captain Phillips said to himself, and he rode forward now with a
watchful eye. The hills began to close in; the bosom of the valley to
narrow. Nine miles from Kohara it became a defile through which the river
roared between low precipitous cliffs. Above the cliffs on each side a
level of stony ground, which here and there had been cleared and
cultivated, stretched to the mountain walls. At one point a great fan of
debris spread out from a side valley. Across this fan the track mounted,
and then once more the valley widened out. On the river's edge a roofless
ruin of a building, with a garden run wild at one end of it, stood apart.
A few hundred yards beyond there was a village buried among bushes, and
then a deep nullah cut clean across the valley. It was a lonely and a
desolate spot. Yet Captain Phillips never rode across the fan of shale
and came within sight of it but his imagination began to people it with
living figures and a surge of wild events. He reined in his horse as he
came to the brow of the hill, and sat for a moment looking downwards.
Then he rode very quickly a few yards down the hill. Before, he and his
horse had been standing out clear against the sky. Now, against the
background of grey and brown he would be an unnoticeable figure.
He halted again, but this time his eyes, instead of roving over the
valley, were fixed intently upon one particular spot. Under the wall of
the great ruined building he had seen something move. He made sure now of
what the something was. There were half a dozen horses--no, seven--seven
horses tethered apart from each other, and not a syce for any one of
them. Captain Phillips felt his blood quicken. The Khan's protestations
and Dadu's startled question, had primed him to expectation. Cautiously
he rode down into the valley, and suspense grew upon him as he rode. It
was a still, windless day, and noise carried far. The only sound he heard
was the sound of the stones rattling under the hoofs of his horse. But in
a little while he reached turf and level ground and so rode forward in
silence. When he was within a couple of hundred yards of the ruin he
halted and tied up his horse in a grove of trees. Thence he walked across
an open space, passed beneath the remnant of a gateway into a court and,
crossing the court, threaded his way through a network of narrow alleys
between crumbling mud walls. As he advanced the sound of a voice reached
his ears--a deep monotonous voice, which spoke with a kind of rhythm. The
words Phillips could not distinguish, but there was no need that he
should. The intonation, the flow of the sentences, told him clearly
enough that somewhere beyond was a man praying. And then he stopped, for
other voices broke suddenly in with loud and, as it seemed to Phillips,
with fierce appeals. But the appeals died away, the one voice again took
up the prayer, and again Phillips stepped forward.
At the end of the alley he came to a doorway in a high wall. There was no
door. He stood on the threshold of the doorway and looked in. He looked
into a court open to the sky, and the seven horses and the monotonous
voice were explained to him. There were seven young men--nobles of
Chiltistan, as Phillips knew from their _chogas_ of velvet and Chinese
silk--gathered in the court. They were kneeling with their backs towards
him and the doorway, so that not one of them had noticed his approach.
They were facing a small rough-hewn obelisk of stone which stood at the
head of a low mound of earth at the far end of the court. Six of them
were grouped in a sort of semi-circle, and the seventh, a man clad from
head to foot in green robes, knelt a little in advance and alone. But
from none of the seven nobles did the voice proceed. In front of them all
knelt an old man in the brown homespun of the people. Phillips, from the
doorway, could see his great beard wagging as he prayed, and knew him for
one of the incendiary priests of Chiltistan.
The prayer was one with which Phillips was familiar: The Day was at hand;
the infidels would be scattered as chaff; the God of Mahommed was
besought to send the innumerable company of his angels and to make his
faithful people invulnerable to wounds. Phillips could have gone on with
the prayer himself, had the Mullah failed. But it was not the prayer
which held him rooted to the spot, but the setting of the prayer.
The scene was in itself strange and significant enough. These seven gaily
robed youths assembled secretly in a lonely and desolate ruin nine miles
from Kohara had come thither not merely for prayer. The prayer would be
but the seal upon a compact, the blessing upon an undertaking where life
and death were the issues. But there was something more; and that
something more gave to the scene in Phillips' eyes a very startling
irony. He knew well how quickly in these countries the actual record of
events is confused, and how quickly any tomb, or any monument becomes a
shrine before which "the faithful" will bow and make their prayer. But
that here of all places, and before this tomb of all tombs, the God of
the Mahommedans should be invoked--this was life turning playwright with
a vengeance. It needed just one more detail to complete the picture and
the next moment that detail was provided. For Phillips moved.
His boot rattled upon a loose stone. The prayer ceased, the worshippers
rose abruptly to their feet and turned as one man towards the doorway.
Phillips saw, face to face, the youth robed in green, who had knelt at
the head of his companions. It was Shere Ali, the Prince of Chiltistan.
Phillips advanced at once into the centre of the group. He was wise
enough not to hold out his hand lest it should be refused. But he spoke
as though he had taken leave of Shere Ali only yesterday.
"So your Highness has returned?"
"Yes," replied Shere Ali, and he spoke in the same indifferent tone.
But both men knew, however unconcernedly they spoke, that Shere Ali's
return was to be momentous in the history of Chiltistan. Shere Ali's
father knew it too, that troubled man in the Palace above Kohara.
"When did you reach Kohara?" Phillips asked.
"I have not yet been to Kohara. I ride down from here this afternoon."
Shere Ali smiled as he spoke, and the smile said more than the words.
There was a challenge, a defiance in it, which were unmistakable. But
Phillips chose to interpret the words quite simply.
"Shall we go together?" he said, and then he looked towards the doorway.
The others had gathered there, the six young men and the priest. They
were armed and more than one had his hand ready upon his swordhilt. "But
you have friends, I see," he added grimly. He began to wonder whether he
would himself ride back to Kohara that afternoon.
"Yes," replied Shere Ali quietly, "I have friends in Chiltistan," and he
laid a stress upon the name of his country, as though he wished to show
to Captain Phillips that he recognised no friends outside its borders.
Again Phillips' thoughts were swept to the irony, the tragic irony of the
scene in which he now was called to play a part.
"Does your Highness know this spot?" he asked suddenly. Then he pointed
to the tomb and the rude obelisk. "Does your Highness know whose bones
are laid at the foot of that monument?"
Shere Ali shrugged his shoulders.
"Within these walls, in one of these roofless rooms, you were born," said
Phillips, "and that grave before which you prayed is the grave of a man
named Luffe, who defended this fort in those days."
"It is not," replied Shere Ali. "It is the tomb of a saint," and he
called to the mullah for corroboration of his words.
"It is the tomb of Luffe. He fell in this courtyard, struck down not by a
bullet, but by overwork and the strain of the siege. I know. I have the
story from an old soldier whom I met in Cashmere this summer and who
served here under Luffe. Luffe fell in this court, and when he died was
Shere Ali, in spite of himself was beginning to listen to Captain
"Who was the soldier?" he asked.
Shere Ali nodded his head as though he had expected the name. Then he
said as he turned away:
"What is Luffe to me? What should I know of Luffe?"
"This," said Phillips, and he spoke in so arresting a voice that Shere
Ali turned again to listen to him. "When Luffe was dying, he uttered an
appeal--he bequeathed it to India, as his last service; and the appeal
was that you should not be sent to England, that neither Eton nor Oxford
should know you, that you should remain in your own country."
The Resident had Shere Ali's attention now.
"He said that?" cried the Prince in a startled voice. Then he pointed his
finger to the grave. "The man lying there said that?"
"And no one listened, I suppose?" said Shere Ali bitterly.
"Or listened too late," said Phillips. "Like Dewes, who only since he met
you in Calcutta one day upon the racecourse, seems dimly to have
understood the words the dead man spoke."
Shere Ali was silent. He stood looking at the grave and the obelisk with
a gentler face than he had shown before.
"Why did he not wish it?" he asked at length.
"He said that it would mean unhappiness for you; that it might mean ruin
"Did he say that?" said Shere Ali slowly, and there was something of awe
in his voice. Then he recovered himself and cried defiantly. "Yet in one
point he was wrong. It will not mean ruin for Chiltistan."
So far he had spoken in English. Now he turned quickly towards his
friends and spoke in his own tongue.
"It is time. We will go," and to Captain Phillips he said, "You shall
ride back with me to Kohara. I will leave you at the doorway of the
Residency." And these words, too, he spoke in his own tongue.
There rose a clamour among the seven who waited in the doorway, and
loudest of all rose the voice of the mullah, protesting against Shere
"My word is given," said the Prince, and he turned with a smile to
Captain Phillips. "In memory of my friend,"--he pointed to the
grave--"For it seems I had a friend once amongst the white people. In
memory of my friend, I give you your life."
SURPRISES FOR CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
The young nobles ceased from their outcry. They went sullenly out and
mounted their horses under the ruined wall of the old fort. But as they
mounted they whispered together with quick glances towards Captain
Phillips. The Resident intercepted the glance and had little doubt as to
the subject of the whispering.
"I am in the deuce of a tight place," he reflected; "it's seven to one
against my ever reaching Kohara, and the one's a doubtful quantity."
He looked at Shere Ali, who seemed quite undisturbed by the prospect
of mutiny amongst his followers. His face had hardened a little.
That was all.
"And your horse?" Shere Ali asked.
Captain Phillips pointed towards the clump of trees where he had
tied it up.
"Will you fetch it?" said Shere Ali, and as Phillips walked off, he
turned towards the nobles and the old mullah who stood amongst them.
Phillips heard his voice, as he began to speak, and was surprised by a
masterful quiet ring in it. "The doubtful quantity seems to have grown
into a man," he thought, and the thought gained strength when he rode
his horse back from the clump of trees towards the group. Shere Ali met
"You will ride on my right hand," he said. "You need have no fear."
The seven nobles clustered behind, and the party rode at a walk over the
fan of shale and through the defile into the broad valley of Kohara.
Shere Ali did not speak. He rode on with a set and brooding face, and the
Resident fell once more to pondering the queer scene of which he had been
the witness. Even at that moment when his life was in the balance his
thoughts would play with it, so complete a piece of artistry it seemed.
There was the tomb itself--an earth grave and a rough obelisk without so
much as a name or a date upon it set up at its head by some past Resident
at Kohara. It was appropriate and seemly to the man without friends, or
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