Infomotions, Inc.The Broken Road / Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948



Author: Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948
Title: The Broken Road
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): shere ali; shere; linforth; ali; ralston; chiltistan; luffe; ahmed ismail; shere ali's; violet oliver; violet; oliver; dick; futteh ali; dewes; sybil linforth; captain phillips; dick linforth; wafadar nazim; ali shah; safdar khan; colonel dewes
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Title: The Broken Road 

Author: A. E. W. Mason

Release Date: January 20, 2004  [eBook #10755]

Language: English

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THE BROKEN ROAD

BY A.E.W. MASON

AUTHOR OF "FOUR FEATHERS," "THE TRUANTS," "RUNNING WATER," ETC.

1907






CONTENTS

CHAPTER

     I.      THE BREAKING OF THE ROAD

    II.      INSIDE THE FORT

   III.      LINFORTH'S DEATH

    IV.      LUFFE LOOKS FORWARD

     V.      A MAGAZINE ARTICLE

    VI.      A LONG WALK

   VII.      IN THE DAUPHINE

  VIII.      A STRING OF PEARLS

    IX.      LUFFE IS REMEMBERED

     X.      AN UNANSWERED QUESTION

    XI.      AT THE GATE OF LAHORE

   XII.      ON THE POLO-GROUND

  XIII.      THE INVIDIOUS BAR

   XIV.      IN THE COURTYARD

    XV.      A QUESTION ANSWERED

   XVI.      SHERE ALI MEETS AN OLD FRIEND

  XVII.      NEWS FROM MECCA

 XVIII.      SYBIL LINFORTH'S LOYALTY

   XIX.      A GIFT MISUNDERSTOOD

    XX.      THE SOLDIER AND THE JEW

   XXI.      SHERE ALI IS CLAIMED BY CHILTISTAN

  XXII.      THE CASTING OF THE DIE

 XXIII.      SHERE ALI'S PILGRIMAGE

  XXIV.      NEWS FROM AJMERE

   XXV.      IN THE ROSE GARDEN

  XXVI.      THE BREAKING OF THE PITCHER

 XXVII.      AN ARRESTED CONFESSION

XXVIII.      THE THIEF

  XXIX.      MRS. OLIVER RIDES THROUGH PESHAWUR

   XXX.      THE NEEDED IMPLEMENT

  XXXI.      AN OLD TOMB AND A NEW SHRINE

 XXXII.      SURPRISES FOR CAPTAIN PHILLIPS

XXXIII.      IN THE RESIDENCY

 XXXIV.      ONE OF THE LITTLE WARS

  XXXV.      A LETTER FROM VIOLET

 XXXVI.      "THE LITTLE LESS--"




CHAPTER I

THE BREAKING OF THE ROAD


It was the Road which caused the trouble. It usually is the road. That
and a reigning prince who was declared by his uncle secretly to have sold
his country to the British, and a half-crazed priest from out beyond the
borders of Afghanistan, who sat on a slab of stone by the river-bank and
preached a _djehad_. But above all it was the road--Linforth's road. It
came winding down from the passes, over slopes of shale; it was built
with wooden galleries along the precipitous sides of cliffs; it snaked
treacherously further and further across the rich valley of Chiltistan
towards the Hindu Kush, until the people of that valley could endure it
no longer.

Then suddenly from Peshawur the wires began to flash their quiet and
ominous messages. The road had been cut behind Linforth and his coolies.
No news had come from him. No supplies could reach him. Luffe, who was in
the country to the east of Chiltistan, had been informed. He had gathered
together what troops he could lay his hands on and had already started
over the eastern passes to Linforth's relief. But it was believed that
the whole province of Chiltistan had risen. Moreover it was winter-time
and the passes were deep in snow. The news was telegraphed to England.
Comfortable gentlemen read it in their first-class carriages as they
travelled to the City and murmured to each other commonplaces about the
price of empire. And in a house at the foot of the Sussex Downs
Linforth's young wife leaned over the cot of her child with the tears
streaming from her eyes, and thought of the road with no less horror than
the people of Chiltistan. Meanwhile the great men in Calcutta began to
mobilise a field force at Nowshera, and all official India said uneasily,
"Thank Heaven, Luffe's on the spot."

Charles Luffe had long since abandoned the army for the political
service, and, indeed, he was fast approaching the time-limit of his
career. He was a man of breadth and height, but rather heavy and dull of
feature, with a worn face and a bald forehead. He had made enemies, and
still made them, for he had not the art of suffering fools gladly; and,
on the other hand, he made no friends. He had no sense of humour and no
general information. He was, therefore, of no assistance at a
dinner-party, but when there was trouble upon the Frontier, or beyond it,
he was usually found to be the chief agent in the settlement.

Luffe alone had foreseen and given warning of the danger. Even Linforth,
who was actually superintending the making of the road, had been kept in
ignorance. At times, indeed, some spokesman from among the merchants of
Kohara, the city of Chiltistan where year by year the caravans from
Central Asia met the caravans from Central India, would come to his tent
and expostulate.

"We are better without the road, your Excellency. Will you kindly stop
it!" the merchant would say; and Linforth would then proceed to
demonstrate how extremely valuable to the people of Chiltistan a better
road would be:

"Kohara is already a great mart. In your bazaars at summer-time you
see traders from Turkestan and Tibet and Siberia, mingling with the
Hindoo merchants from Delhi and Lahore. The road will bring you still
more trade."

The spokesman went back to the broad street of Kohara seemingly well
content, and inch by inch the road crept nearer to the capital.

But Luffe was better acquainted with the Chiltis, a soft-spoken race of
men, with musical, smooth voices and polite and pretty ways. But
treachery was a point of honour with them and cold-blooded cruelty a
habit. There was one particular story which Luffe was accustomed to tell
as illustrative of the Chilti character.

"There was a young man who lived with his mother in a little hamlet close
to Kohara. His mother continually urged him to marry, but for a long
while he would not. He did not wish to marry. Finally, however, he fell
in love with a pretty girl, made her his wife, and brought her home, to
his mother's delight. But the mother's delight lasted for just five days.
She began to complain, she began to quarrel; the young wife replied, and
the din of their voices greatly distressed the young man, besides making
him an object of ridicule to his neighbours. One evening, in a fit of
passion, both women said they would stand it no longer. They ran out of
the house and up the hillside, but as there was only one path they ran
away together, quarrelling as they went. Then the young Chilti rose,
followed them, caught them up, tied them in turn hand and foot, laid them
side by side on a slab of stone, and quietly cut their throats.

"'Women talk too much,' he said, as he came back to a house unfamiliarly
quiet. 'One had really to put a stop to it.'"

Knowing this and many similar stories, Luffe had been for some while on
the alert. Whispers reached him of dangerous talk in the bazaars of
Kohara, Peshawur, and even of Benares in India proper. He heard of the
growing power of the old Mullah by the river-bank. He was aware of the
accusations against the ruling Khan. He knew that after night had fallen
Wafadar Nazim, the Khan's uncle, a restless, ambitious, disloyal man,
crept down to the river-bank and held converse with the priest. Thus he
was ready so far as he could be ready.

The news that the road was broken was flashed to him from the nearest
telegraph station, and within twenty-four hours he led out a small force
from his Agency--a battalion of Sikhs, a couple of companies of Gurkhas,
two guns of a mountain battery, and a troop of irregular levies--and
disappeared over the pass, now deep in snow.

"Would he be in time?"

Not only in India was the question asked. It was asked in England, too,
in the clubs of Pall Mall, but nowhere with so passionate an outcry as in
the house at the foot of the Sussex Downs.

To Sybil Linforth these days were a time of intolerable suspense. The
horror of the Road was upon her. She dreamed of it when she slept, so
that she came to dread sleep, and tried, as long as she might, to keep
her heavy eyelids from closing over her eyes. The nights to her were
terrible. Now it was she, with her child in her arms, who walked for
ever and ever along that road, toiling through snow or over shale and
finding no rest anywhere. Now it was her boy alone, who wandered along
one of the wooden galleries high up above the river torrent, until a
plank broke and he fell through with a piteous scream. Now it was her
husband, who could go neither forward nor backward, since in front and
behind a chasm gaped. But most often it was a man--a young Englishman,
who pursued a young Indian along that road into the mists. Somehow,
perhaps because it was inexplicable, perhaps because its details were so
clear, this dream terrified her more than all the rest. She could tell
the very dress of the Indian who fled--a young man--young as his
pursuer. A thick sheepskin coat swung aside as he ran and gave her a
glimpse of gay silk; soft leather boots protected his feet; and upon his
face there was a look of fury and wild fear. She never woke from this
dream but her heart was beating wildly. For a few moments after waking
peace would descend upon her.

"It is a dream--all a dream," she would whisper to herself with
contentment, and then the truth would break upon her dissociated from the
dream. Often she rose from her bed and, kneeling beside the boy's cot,
prayed with a passionate heart that the curse of the Road--that road
predicted by a Linforth years ago--might overpass this generation.

Meanwhile rumours came--rumours of disaster. Finally a messenger broke
through and brought sure tidings. Luffe had marched quickly, had come
within thirty miles of Kohara before he was stopped. In a strong fort at
a bend of the river the young Khan with his wife and a few adherents had
taken refuge. Luffe joined the Khan, sought to push through to Kohara and
rescue Linforth, but was driven back. He and his troops and the Khan were
now closely besieged by Wafadar Nazim.

The work of mobilisation was pressed on; a great force was gathered at
Nowshera; Brigadier Appleton was appointed to command it.

"Luffe will hold out," said official India, trying to be cheerful.

Perhaps the only man who distrusted Luffe's ability to hold out was
Brigadier Appleton, who had personal reasons for his views. Brigadier
Appleton was no fool, and yet Luffe had not suffered him gladly. All the
more, therefore, did he hurry on the preparations. The force marched out
on the new road to Chiltistan. But meanwhile the weeks were passing, and
up beyond the snow-encumbered hills the beleaguered troops stood
cheerfully at bay behind the thick fort-walls.




CHAPTER II

INSIDE THE FORT


The six English officers made it a practice, so far as they could, to
dine together; and during the third week of the siege the conversation
happened one evening to take a particular turn. Ever afterwards, during
this one hour of the twenty-four, it swerved regularly into the same
channel. The restaurants of London were energetically discussed, and
their merits urged by each particular partisan with an enthusiasm which
would have delighted a shareholder. Where you got the best dinner, where
the prettiest women were to be seen, whether a band was a drawback or an
advantage--not a point was omitted, although every point had been
debated yesterday or the day before. To-night the grave question of the
proper number for a supper party was opened by Major Dewes of the 5th
Gurkha Regiment.

"Two," said the Political Officer promptly, and he chuckled under his
grey moustache. "I remember the last time I was in London I took out to
supper--none of the coryphees you boys are so proud of being seen about
with, but"--and, pausing impressively, he named a reigning lady of the
light-opera stage.

"You did!" exclaimed a subaltern.

"I did," he replied complacently.

"What did you talk about?" asked Major Dewes, and the Political Officer
suddenly grew serious.

"I was very interested," he said quietly. "I got knowledge which it was
good for me to have. I saw something which it was well for me to see. I
wished--I wish now--that some of the rulers and the politicians could
have seen what I saw that night."

A brief silence followed upon his words, and during that silence certain
sounds became audible--the beating of tom-toms and the cries of men. The
dinner-table was set in the verandah of an inner courtyard open to the
sky, and the sounds descended into that well quite distinctly, but
faintly, as if they were made at a distance in the dark, open country.
The six men seated about the table paid no heed to those sounds; they had
had them in their ears too long. And five of the six were occupied in
wondering what in the world Sir Charles Luffe, K.C.S.I., could have
learnt of value to him at a solitary supper party with a lady of comic
opera. For it was evident that he had spoken in deadly earnest.

Captain Lynes of the Sikhs broke the silence:

"What's this?" he asked, as an orderly offered to him a dish.

"Let us not inquire too closely," said the Political Officer. "This is
the fourth week of the siege."

The rice-fields of the broad and fertile valley were trampled down and
built upon with sangars. The siege had cut its scars upon the fort's
rough walls of mud and projecting beams. But nowhere were its marks more
visible than upon the faces of the Englishmen in the verandah of that
courtyard.

Dissimilar as they were in age and feature, sleepless nights and the
unrelieved tension had given to their drawn faces almost a family
likeness. They were men tired out, but as yet unaware of their
exhaustion, so bright a flame burnt within each one of them. Somewhere
amongst the snow-passes on the north-east a relieving force would surely
be encamped that night, a day's march nearer than it was yesterday.
Somewhere amongst the snow-passes in the south a second force would be
surely advancing from Nowshera, probably short of rations, certainly
short of baggage, that it might march the lighter. When one of those two
forces deployed across the valley and the gates of the fort were again
thrown open to the air the weeks of endurance would exact their toll. But
that time was not yet come. Meanwhile the six men held on cheerily,
inspiring the garrison with their own confidence, while day after day a
province in arms flung itself in vain against their blood-stained walls.
Luffe, indeed, the Political Officer, fought with disease as well as with
the insurgents of Chiltistan; and though he remained the master-mind of
the defence, the Doctor never passed him without an anxious glance. For
there were the signs of death upon his face.

"The fourth week!" said Lynes. "Is it, by George? Well, the siege won't
last much longer now. The Sirkar don't leave its servants in the lurch.
That's what these hill-tribes never seem to understand. How is Travers?"
he asked of the Doctor.

Travers, a subaltern of the North Surrey Light Infantry, had been shot
through the thigh in the covered waterway to the river that morning.

"He's going on all right," replied the Doctor. "Travers had bad luck. It
must have been a stray bullet which slipped through that chink in the
stones. For he could not have been seen--"

As he spoke a cry rang clearly out. All six men looked upwards
through the open roof to the clear dark sky, where the stars shone
frostily bright.

"What was that?" asked one of the six.

"Hush," said Luffe, and for a moment they all listened in silence, with
expectant faces and their bodies alert to spring from their chairs. Then
the cry was heard again. It was a wail more than a cry, and it sounded
strangely solitary, strangely sad, as it floated through the still air.
There was the East in that cry trembling out of the infinite darkness
above their heads. But the six men relaxed their limbs. They had
expected the loud note of the Pathan war-cry to swell sonorously, and
with intervals shorter and shorter until it became one menacing and
continuous roar.

"It is someone close under the walls," said Luffe, and as he ended a Sikh
orderly appeared at the entrance of a passage into the courtyard, and,
advancing to the table, saluted.

"Sahib, there is a man who claims that he comes with a message from
Wafadar Nazim."

"Tell him that we receive no messages at night, as Wafadar Nazim knows
well. Let him come in the morning and he shall be admitted. Tell him that
if he does not go back at once the sentinels will fire." And Luffe nodded
to one of the younger officers. "Do you see to it, Haslewood."

Haslewood rose and went out from the courtyard with the orderly. He
returned in a few minutes, saying that the man had returned to Wafadar
Nazim's camp. The six men resumed their meal, and just as they ended it a
Pathan glided in white flowing garments into the courtyard and bowed low.

"Huzoor," he said, "His Highness the Khan sends you greeting. God has
been very good to him. A son has been born to him this day, and he sends
you this present, knowing that you will value it more than all that he
has"; and carefully unfolding a napkin, he laid with reverence upon the
table a little red cardboard box. The mere look of the box told the six
men what the present was even before Luffe lifted the lid. It was a box
of fifty gold-tipped cigarettes, and applause greeted their appearance.

"If he could only have a son every day," said Lynes, and in the laugh
which followed upon the words Luffe alone did not join. He leaned his
forehead upon his hand and sat in a moody silence. Then he turned towards
the servant and bade him thank his master.

"I will come myself to offer our congratulations after dinner if his
Highness will receive me," said Luffe.

The box of cigarettes went round the table. Each man took one, lighted
it, and inhaled the smoke silently and very slowly. The garrison had run
out of tobacco a week before. Now it had come to them welcome as a gift
from Heaven. The moment was one of which the perfect enjoyment was not to
be marred by any speech. Only a grunt of satisfaction or a deep sigh of
pleasure was now and then to be heard, as the smoke curled upwards from
the little paper sticks. Each man competed with his neighbour in the
slowness of his respiration, each man wanted to be the last to lay down
his cigarette and go about his work. And then the Doctor said in a
whisper to Major Dewes:

"That's bad. Look!"

Luffe, a mighty smoker in his days of health, had let his cigarette go
out, had laid it half-consumed upon the edge of his plate. But it seemed
that ill-health was not all to blame. He had the look of one who had
forgotten his company. He was withdrawn amongst his own speculations, and
his eyes looked out beyond that smoke-laden room in a fort amongst the
Himalaya mountains into future years dim with peril and trouble.

"There is no moon," he said at length. "We can get some exercise
to-night"; and he rose from the table and ascended a little staircase on
to the flat roof of the fort. Major Dewes and the three other officers
got up and went about their business. Dr. Bodley, the surgeon, alone
remained seated. He waited until the tramp of his companions' feet had
died away, and then he drew from his pocket a briarwood pipe, which he
polished lovingly. He walked round the table and, collecting the ends of
the cigarettes, pressed them into the bowl of the pipe.

"Thank Heavens I am not an executive officer," he said, as he lighted his
pipe and settled himself again comfortably in his chair. It should be
mentioned, perhaps, that he not only doctored and operated on the sick
and wounded, but he kept the stores, and when any fighting was to be
done, took a rifle and filled any place which might be vacant in the
firing-line.

"There are now forty-four cigarettes," he reflected. "At six a day they
will last a week. In a week something will have happened. Either the
relieving force will be here, or--yes, decidedly something will have
happened." And as he blew the smoke out from between his lips he added
solemnly: "If not to us, to the Political Officer."

Meanwhile Luffe paced the roof of the fort in the darkness. The fort was
built in the bend of a swift, wide river, and so far as three sides were
concerned was securely placed. For on three the low precipitous cliffs
overhung the tumbling water. On the fourth, however, the fertile plain of
the valley stretched open and flat up to the very gates.

In front of the forts a line of sangars extended, the position of each
being marked even now by a glare of light above it, which struck up from
the fire which the insurgents had lit behind the walls of stone. And from
one and another of the sangars the monotonous beat of a tom-tom came to
Luffe's ears.

Luffe walked up and down for a time upon the roof. There was a new sangar
to-night, close to the North Tower, which had not existed yesterday.
Moreover, the almond trees in the garden just outside the western wall
were in blossom, and the leaves upon the branches were as a screen, where
only the bare trunks showed a fortnight ago.

But with these matters Luffe was not at this moment concerned. They
helped the enemy, they made the defence more arduous, but they were
trivial in his thoughts. Indeed, the siege itself was to him an
unimportant thing. Even if the fortress fell, even if every man within
perished by the sword--why, as Lynes had said, the Sirkar does not forget
its servants. The relieving force might march in too late, but it would
march in. Men would die, a few families in England would wear mourning,
the Government would lose a handful of faithful servants. England would
thrill with pride and anger, and the rebellion would end as rebellions
always ended.

Luffe was troubled for quite another cause. He went down from the roof,
walked by courtyard and winding passage to the quarters of the Khan. A
white-robed servant waited for him at the bottom of a broad staircase in
a room given up to lumber. A broken bicycle caught Luffe's eye. On the
ledge of a window stood a photographic camera. Luffe mounted the stairs
and was ushered into the Khan's presence. He bowed with deference and
congratulated the Khan upon the birth of his heir.

"I have been thinking," said the Khan--"ever since my son was born I have
been thinking. I have been a good friend to the English. I am their
friend and servant. News has come to me of their cities and colleges. I
will send my son to England, that he may learn your wisdom, and so return
to rule over his kingdom. Much good will come of it." Luffe had expected
the words. The young Khan had a passion for things English. The bicycle
and the camera were signs of it. Unwise men had applauded his
enlightenment. Unwise at all events in Luffe's opinion. It was, indeed,
greatly because of his enlightenment that he and a handful of English
officers and troops were beleaguered in the fortress.

"He shall go to Eton and to Oxford, and much good for my people will come
of it," said the Khan. Luffe listened gravely and politely; but he was
thinking of an evening when he had taken out to supper a reigning queen
of comic opera. The recollection of that evening remained with him when
he ascended once more to the roof of the fort and saw the light of the
fires above the sangars. A voice spoke at his elbow. "There is a new
sangar being built in the garden. We can hear them at work," said Dewes.

Luffe walked cautiously along the roof to the western end. Quite clearly
they could hear the spades at work, very near to the wall, amongst the
almond and the mulberry trees.

"Get a fireball," said Luffe in a whisper, "and send up a dozen Sikhs."

On the parapet of the roof a rough palisade of planks had been erected to
protect the defenders from the riflemen in the valley and across the
river. Behind this palisade the Sikhs crept silently to their positions.
A ball made of pinewood chips and straw, packed into a covering of
canvas, was brought on to the roof and saturated with kerosene oil. "Are
you ready?" said Luffe; "then now!" Upon the word the fireball was lit
and thrown far out. It circled through the air, dropped, and lay blazing
upon the ground. By its light under the branches of the garden trees
could be seen the Pathans building a stone sangar, within thirty yards of
the fort's walls.

"Fire!" cried Luffe. "Choose your men and fire."

All at once the silence of the night was torn by the rattle of musketry,
and afar off the tom-toms beat yet more loudly.

Luffe looked on with every faculty alert. He saw with a smile that the
Doctor had joined them and lay behind a plank, firing rapidly and with a
most accurate aim. But at the back of his mind all the while that he
gave his orders was still the thought, "All this is nothing. The one
fateful thing is the birth of a son to the Khan of Chiltistan." The
little engagement lasted for about half an hour. The insurgents then
drew back from the garden, leaving their dead upon the field. The rattle
of the musketry ceased altogether. Behind the parapet one Sikh had been
badly wounded by a bullet in the thigh. Already the Doctor was attending
to his hurts.

"It is a small thing, Huzoor," said the wounded soldier, looking upwards
to Luffe, who stood above him; "a very small thing," but even as he spoke
pain cut the words short.

"Yes, a small thing"; Luffe did not speak the words, but he thought them.
He turned away and walked back again across the roof. The new sangar
would not be built that night. But it was a small thing compared with all
that lay hidden in the future.

As he paced that side of the fort which faced the plain there rose
through the darkness, almost beneath his feet, once more the cry which
had reached his ears while he sat at dinner in the courtyard.

He heard a few paces from him the sharp order to retire given by a
sentinel. But the voice rose again, claiming admission to the fort, and
this time a name was uttered urgently, an English name.

"Don't fire," cried Luffe to the sentinel, and he leaned over the wall.

"You come from Wafadar Nazim, and alone?"

"Huzoor, my life be on it."

"With news of Sahib Linforth?"

"Yes, news which his Highness Wafadar Nazim thinks it good for you to
know"; and the voice in the darkness rose to insolence.

Luffe strained his eyes downwards. He could see nothing. He listened, but
he could hear no whispering voices. He hesitated. He was very anxious to
hear news of Linforth.

"I will let you in," he cried; "but if there be more than one the lives
of all shall be the price."

He went down into the fort. Under his orders Captain Lynes drew up inside
the gate a strong guard of Sikhs with their rifles loaded and bayonets
fixed. A few lanterns threw a dim light upon the scene, glistening here
and there upon the polish of an accoutrement or a rifle-barrel.

"Present," whispered Lynes, and the rifles were raised to the shoulder,
with every muzzle pointing towards the gate.

Then Lynes himself went forward, removed the bars, and turned the key in
the lock. The gate swung open noiselessly a little way, and a tall man,
clad in white flowing robes, with a deeply pock-marked face and a hooked
nose, walked majestically in. He stood quite still while the gate was
barred again behind him, and looked calmly about him with inquisitive
bright eyes.

"Will you follow me?" said Luffe, and he led the way through the
rabbit-warren of narrow alleys into the centre of the fort.




CHAPTER III

LINFORTH'S DEATH


Luffe had taken a large bare low-roofed room supported upon pillars for
his council-chamber. Thither he conducted his visitor. Camp chairs were
placed for himself and Major Dewes and Captain Lynes. Cushions were
placed upon the ground for his visitor. Luffe took his seat in the
middle, with Dewes upon his right and Lynes upon his left. Dewes expected
him at once to press for information as to Linforth. But Luffe knew very
well that certain time must first be wasted in ceremonious preliminaries.
The news would only be spoken after a time and in a roundabout fashion.

"If we receive you without the distinction which is no doubt your due,"
said Luffe politely, "you must remember that I make it a rule not to
welcome visitors at night."

The visitor smiled and bowed.

"It is a great grief to his Highness Wafadar Nazim that you put so little
faith in him," replied the Chilti. "See how he trusts you! He sends me,
his Diwan, his Minister of Finance, in the night time to come up to your
walls and into your fort, so great is his desire to learn that the
Colonel Sahib is well."

Luffe in his turn bowed with a smile of gratitude. It was not the time to
point out that his Highness Wafadar Nazim was hardly taking the course
which a genuine solicitude for the Colonel Sahib's health would
recommend.

"His Highness has but one desire in his heart. He desires peace--peace so
that this country may prosper, and peace because of his great love for
the Colonel Sahib."

Again Luffe bowed.

"But to all his letters the Colonel Sahib returns the same answer, and
truly his Highness is at a loss what to do in order that he may ensure
the safety of the Colonel Sahib and his followers," the Diwan continued
pensively. "I will not repeat what has been already said," and at once he
began at interminable length to contradict his words. He repeated the
proposals of surrender made by Wafadar Nazim from beginning to end. The
Colonel Sahib was to march out of the fort with his troops, and his
Highness would himself conduct him into British territory.

"If the Colonel Sahib dreads the censure of his own Government, his
Highness will take all the responsibility for the Colonel Sahib's
departure. But no blame will fall upon the Colonel Sahib. For the British
Government, with whom Wafadar Nazim has always desired to live in amity,
desires peace too, as it has always said. It is the British Government
which has broken its treaties."

"Not so," replied Luffe. "The road was undertaken with the consent of the
Khan of Chiltistan, who is the ruler of this country, and Wafadar, his
uncle, merely the rebel. Therefore take back my last word to Wafadar
Nazim. Let him make submission to me as representative of the Sirkar, and
lay down his arms. Then I will intercede for him with the Government, so
that his punishment be light."

The Diwan smiled and his voice changed once more to a note of insolence.

"His Highness Wafadar Nazim is now the Khan of Chiltistan. The other,
the deposed, lies cooped up in this fort, a prisoner of the British,
whose willing slave he has always been. The British must retire from
our country. His Highness Wafadar Nazim desires them no harm. But they
must go now!"

Luffe looked sternly at the Diwan.

"Tell Wafadar Nazim to have a care lest they go never, but set their foot
firmly upon the neck of this rebellious people."

He rose to signify that the conference was at an end. But the Diwan did
not stir. He smiled pensively and played with the tassels of his cushion.

"And yet," he said, "how true it is that his Highness thinks only of the
Colonel Sahib's safety."

Some note of satisfaction, not quite perfectly concealed, some sly accent
of triumph sounding through the gently modulated words, smote upon
Luffe's ears, and warned him that the true meaning of the Diwan's visit
was only now to be revealed. All that had gone before was nothing. The
polite accusations, the wordy repetitions, the expressions of good
will--these were the mere preliminaries, the long salute before the
combat. Luffe steeled himself against a blow, controlling his face and
his limbs lest a look or a gesture should betray the hurt. And it was
well that he did, for the next moment the blow fell.

"For bad news has come to us. Sahib Linforth met his death two days ago,
fifty miles from here, in the camp of his Excellency Abdulla Mahommed,
the Commander-in-Chief to his Highness. Abdulla Mahommed is greatly
grieved, knowing well that this violent act will raise up a prejudice
against him and his Highness. Moreover, he too would live in friendship
with the British. But his soldiers are justly provoked by the violation
of treaties by the British, and it is impossible to stay their hands.
Therefore, before Abdulla Mahommed joins hands with my master, Wafadar
Nazim, before this fort, it will be well for the Colonel Sahib and his
troops to be safely out of reach."

Luffe was doubtful whether to believe the words or no. The story might be
a lie to frighten him and to discourage the garrison. On the other hand,
it was likely enough to be true. And if true, it was the worst news which
Luffe had heard for many a long day.

"Let me hear how the accident--occurred," he said, smiling grimly at the
euphemism he used.

"Sahib Linforth was in the tent set apart for him by Abdulla Mahommed.
There were guards to protect him, but it seems they did not watch well.
Huzoor, all have been punished, but punishment will not bring Sahib
Linforth to life again. Therefore hear the words of Wafadar Nazim, spoken
now for the last time. He himself will escort you and your soldiers and
officers to the borders of British territory, so that he may rejoice to
know that you are safe. You will leave his Highness Mir Ali behind, who
will resign his throne in favour of his uncle Wafadar, and so there will
be peace."

"And what will happen to Mir Ali, whom we have promised to protect?"

The Diwan shrugged his shoulders in a gentle, deprecatory fashion and
smiled his melancholy smile. His gesture and his attitude suggested that
it was not in the best of taste to raise so unpleasant a question. But he
did not reply in words.

"You will tell Wafadar Nazim that we will know how to protect his
Highness the Khan, and that we will teach Abdulla Mahommed a lesson in
that respect before many moons have passed," Luffe said sternly. "As for
this story of Sahib Linforth, I do not believe a word of it."

The Diwan nodded his head.

"It was believed that you would reply in this way.

"Therefore here are proofs." He drew from his dress a silver watch upon a
leather watch-guard, a letter-case, and to these he added a letter in
Linforth's own hand. He handed them to Luffe.

Luffe handed the watch and chain to Dewes, and opened the letter-case.
There was a letter in it, written in a woman's handwriting, and besides
the letter the portrait of a girl. He glanced at the letter and glanced
at the portrait. Then he passed them on to Dewes.

Dewes looked at the portrait with a greater care. The face was winning
rather than pretty. It seemed to him that it was one of those faces which
might become beautiful at many moments through the spirit of the woman,
rather than from any grace of feature. If she loved, for instance, she
would be really beautiful for the man she loved.

"I wonder who she is," he said thoughtfully.

"I know," replied Luffe, almost carelessly. He was immersed in the second
letter which the Diwan had handed to him.

"Who is it?" asked Dewes.

"Linforth's wife."

"His wife!" exclaimed Dewes, and, looking at the photograph again, he
said in a low voice which was gentle with compassion, "Poor woman!"

"Yes, yes. Poor woman!" said Luffe, and he went on reading his letter.

It was characteristic of Luffe that he should feel so little concern in
the domestic side of Linforth's life. He was not very human in his
outlook on the world. Questions of high policy interested and engrossed
his mind; he lived for the Frontier, not so much subduing a man's natural
emotions as unaware of them. Men figured in his thoughts as the
instruments of policy; their womenfolk as so many hindrances or aids to
the fulfilment of their allotted tasks. Thus Linforth's death troubled
him greatly, since Linforth was greatly concerned in one great
undertaking. Moreover, the scheme had been very close to Linforth's
heart, even as it was to Luffe's. But Linforth's wife was in England, and
thus, as it seemed to him, neither aid nor impediment. But in that he was
wrong. She had been the mainspring of Linforth's energy, and so much was
evident in the letter which Luffe read slowly to the end.

"Yes, Linforth's dead," said he, with a momentary discouragement. "There
are many whom we could more easily have spared. Of course the thing will
go on. That's certain," he said, nodding his head. A cold satisfaction
shone in his eyes. "But Linforth was part of the Thing."

He passed the second letter to Dewes, who read it; and for a while both
men remained thoughtful and, as it seemed, unaware for the moment of the
Diwan's presence. There was this difference, however. Luffe was thinking
of "the Thing"; Dewes was pondering on the grim little tragedy which
these letters revealed, and thanking Heaven in all simplicity of heart
that there was no woman waiting in fear because of him and trembling at
sight of each telegraph boy she met upon the road.

The grim little tragedy was not altogether uncommon upon the Indian
frontier, but it gained vividness from the brevity of the letters which
related it. The first one, that in the woman's hand, written from a house
under the Downs of Sussex, told of the birth of a boy in words at once
sacred and simple. They were written for the eyes of one man, and Major
Dewes had a feeling that his own, however respectfully, violated their
sanctity. The second letter was an unfinished one written by the husband
to the wife from his tent amongst the rabble of Abdulla Mahommed.
Linforth clearly understood that this was the last letter he would write.
"I am sitting writing this by the light of a candle. The tent door is
open. In front of me I can see the great snow-mountains. All the ugliness
of the lower shale slopes is hidden. By such a moonlight, my dear, may
you always look back upon my memory. For it is over, Sybil. They are
waiting until I fall asleep. I have been warned of it. But I shall fall
asleep to-night. I have kept awake for two nights. I am very tired."

He had fallen asleep even before the letter was completed. There was a
message for the boy and a wish:

"May he meet a woman like you, my dear, when his time comes, and love her
as I love you," and again came the phrase, "I am very tired." It spoke of
the boy's school, and continued: "Whether he will come out here it is too
early to think about. But the road will not be finished--and I wonder. If
he wants to, let him! We Linforths belong to the road," and for the third
time the phrase recurred, "I am very tired," and upon the phrase the
letter broke off.

Dewes could imagine Linforth falling forward with his head upon his
hands, his eyes heavy with sleep, while from without the tent the patient
Chiltis watched until he slept.

"How did it happen?" he asked.

"They cast a noose over his head," replied the Diwan, "dragged him from
the tent and stabbed him."

Dewes nodded and turned to Luffe.

"These letters and things must go home to his wife. It's hard on her,
with a boy only a few months old."

"A boy?" said Luffe, rousing himself from his thoughts. "Oh! there's a
boy? I had not noticed that. I wonder how far the road will have gone
when he comes out." There was no doubt in Luffe's mind, at all events, as
to the boy's destiny. He turned to the Diwan.

"Tell Wafadar Nazim that I will open the gates of this fort and march
down to British territory after he has made submission," he said.

The Diwan smiled in a melancholy way. He had done his best, but the
British were, of course, all mad. He bowed himself out of the room and
stalked through the alleys to the gates.

"Wafadar Nazim must be very sure of victory," said Luffe. "He would
hardly have given us that unfinished letter had he a fear we should
escape him in the end."

"He could not read what was written," said Dewes.

"But he could fear what was written," replied Luffe.

As he walked across the courtyard he heard the crack of a rifle. The
sound came from across the river. The truce was over, the siege was
already renewed.




CHAPTER IV

LUFFE LOOKS FORWARD


It was the mine underneath the North Tower which brought the career of
Luffe to an end. The garrison, indeed, had lived in fear of this peril
ever since the siege began. But inasmuch as no attempt to mine had been
made during the first month, the fear had grown dim. It was revived
during the fifth week. The officers were at mess at nine o'clock in the
evening, when a havildar of Sikhs burst into the courtyard with the news
that the sound of a pick could be heard from the chamber of the tower.

"At last!" cried Dewes, springing to his feet. The six men hurried to the
tower. A long loophole had been fashioned in the thick wall on a downward
slant, so that a marksman might command anyone who crept forward to fire
the fort. Against this loophole Luffe leaned his ear.

"Do you hear anything, sir?" asked a subaltern of the Sappers who was
attached to the force.

"Hush!" said Luffe.

He listened, and he heard quite clearly underneath the ground below him
the dull shock of a pickaxe. The noise came almost from beneath his feet;
so near the mine had been already driven to the walls. The strokes fell
with the regularity of the ticking of a clock. But at times the sound
changed in character. The muffled thud of the pick upon earth became a
clang as it struck upon stone.

"Do you listen!" said Luffe, giving way to Dewes, and Dewes in his turn
leaned his ear against the loophole.

"What do you think?" asked Luffe.

Dewes stood up straight again.

"I'll tell you what I am thinking. I am thinking it sounds like the
beating of a clock in a room where a man lies dying," he said.

Luffe nodded his head. But images and romantic sayings struck no response
from him. He turned to the young Sapper.

"Can we countermine?"

The young Engineer took the place of Major Dewes.

"We can try, but we are late," said he.

"It must be a sortie then," said Luffe.

"Yes," exclaimed Lynes eagerly. "Let me go, Sir Charles!"

Luffe smiled at his enthusiasm.

"How many men will you require?" he asked. "Sixty?"

"A hundred," replied Dewes promptly.

All that night Luffe superintended the digging of the countermine, while
Dewes made ready for the sortie. By daybreak the arrangements were
completed. The gunpowder bags, with their fuses attached, were
distributed, the gates were suddenly flung open, and Lynes raced out with
a hundred Ghurkhas and Sikhs across the fifty yards of open ground to the
sangar behind which the mine shaft had been opened. The work of the
hundred men was quick and complete. Within half an hour, Lynes, himself
wounded, had brought back his force, and left the mine destroyed. But
during that half-hour disaster had fallen upon the garrison. Luffe had
dropped as he was walking back across the courtyard to his office. For a
few minutes he lay unnoticed in the empty square, his face upturned to
the sky, and then a clamorous sound of lamentation was heard and an
orderly came running through the alleys of the Fort, crying out that the
Colonel Sahib was dead.

He was not dead, however. He recovered conciousness that night, and early
in the morning Dewes was roused from his sleep. He woke to find the
Doctor shaking him by the shoulder.

"Luffe wants you. He has not got very long now. He has something to say."

Dewes slipped on his clothes, and hurried down the stairs. He followed
the Doctor through the little winding alleys which gave to the Fort the
appearance of a tiny village. It was broad daylight, but the fortress was
strangely silent. The people whom he passed either spoke not at all or
spoke only in low tones. They sat huddled in groups, waiting. Fear was
abroad that morning. It was known that the brain of the defence was
dying. It was known, too, what cruel fate awaited those within the Fort,
if those without ever forced the gates and burst in upon their victims.

Dewes found the Political Officer propped up on pillows on his camp-bed.
The door from the courtyard was open, and the morning light poured
brightly into the room.

"Sit here, close to me, Dewes," said Luffe in a whisper, "and
listen, for I am very tired." A smile came upon his face. "Do you
remember Linforth's letters? How that phrase came again and again:
'I am very tired.'"

The Doctor arranged the pillows underneath his shoulders, and then
Luffe said:

"All right. I shall do now."

He waited until the Doctor had gone from the room and continued:

"I am not going to talk to you about the Fort. The defence is safe in
your hands, so long as defence is possible. Besides, if it falls it's not
a great thing. The troops will come up and trample down Wafadar Nazim and
Abdulla Mahommed. They are not the danger. The road will go on again,
even though Linforth's dead. No, the man whom I am afraid of is--the son
of the Khan."

Dewes stared, and then said in a soothing voice:

"He will be looked after."

"You think my mind's wandering," continued Luffe. "It never was clearer
in my life. The Khan's son is a boy a week old. Nevertheless I tell you
that boy is the danger in Chiltistan. The father--we know him. A good
fellow who has lost all the confidence of his people. There is hardly an
adherent of his who genuinely likes him; there's hardly a man in this
Fort who doesn't believe that he wished to sell his country to the
British. I should think he is impossible here in the future. And everyone
in Government House knows it. We shall do the usual thing, I have no
doubt--pension him off, settle him down comfortably outside the borders
of Chiltistan, and rule the country as trustee for his son--until the son
comes of age."

Dewes realised surely enough that Luffe was in possession of his
faculties, but he thought his anxiety exaggerated.

"You are looking rather far ahead, aren't you, sir?" he asked.

Luffe smiled.

"Twenty-one years. What are twenty-one years to India? My dear Dewes!"

He was silent. It seemed as though he were hesitating whether he would
say a word more to this Major who in India talked of twenty-one years as
a long span of time. But there was no one else to whom he could confide
his fears. If Dewes was not brilliant, he was at all events all that
there was.

"I wish I was going to live," he cried in a low voice of exasperation. "I
wish I could last just long enough to travel down to Calcutta and _make_
them listen to me. But there's no hope of it. You must do what you can,
Dewes, but very likely they won't pay any attention to you. Very likely
you'll believe me wrong yourself, eh? Poor old Luffe, a man with a bee in
his bonnet, eh?" he whispered savagely.

"No, sir," replied Dewes. "You know the Frontier. I know that."

"And even there you are wrong. No man knows the Frontier. We are all
stumbling in the dark among these peoples, with their gentle voices and
their cut-throat ways. The most that you can know is that you are
stumbling in the dark. Well, let's get back to the boy here. This country
will be kept for him, for twenty-one years. Where is he going to be
during those twenty-one years?"

Dewes caught at the question as an opportunity for reassuring the
Political Officer.

"Why, sir, the Khan told us. Have you forgotten? He is to go to Eton and
Oxford. He'll see something of England. He will learn--" and Major Dewes
stopped short, baffled by the look of hopelessness upon the Political
Officer's face.

"I think you are all mad," said Luffe, and he suddenly started up in his
bed and cried with vehemence, "You take these boys to England. You train
them in the ways of the West, the ideas of the West, and then you send
them back again to the East, to rule over Eastern people, according to
Eastern ideas, and you think all is well. I tell you, Dewes, it's sheer
lunacy. Of course it's true--this boy won't perhaps suffer in esteem
among his people quite as much as others have done. He belongs and his
people belong to the Maulai sect. The laws of religion are not strict
among them. They drink wine, they eat what they will, they do not lose
caste so easily. But you have to look at the man as he will be, the
hybrid mixture of East and West."

He sank back among his pillows, exhausted by the violence of his outcry,
and for a little while he was silent. Then he began again, but this time
in a low, pleading voice, which was very unusual in him, and which kept
the words he spoke vivid and fresh in Dewes' memory for many years to
come. Indeed, Dewes would not have believed that Luffe could have spoken
on any subject with so much wistfulness.

"Listen to me, Dewes. I have lived for the Frontier. I have had no other
interest, almost no other ties. I am not a man of friends. I believed at
one time Linforth was my friend. I believed I liked him very much. But I
think now that it was only because he was bound up with the Frontier. The
Frontier has been my wife, my children, my home, my one long and lasting
passion. And I am very well content that it has been so. I don't regret
missed opportunities of happiness. What I regret is that I shall not be
alive in twenty-one years to avert the danger I foresee, or to laugh at
my fears if I am wrong. They can do what they like in Rajputana and
Bengal and Bombay. But on the Frontier I want things to go well. Oh, how
I want them to go well!"

Luffe had grown very pale, and the sweat glistened upon his forehead.
Dewes held to his lips a glass of brandy which stood upon a table
beside the bed.

"What danger do you foresee?" asked Dewes. "I will remember what you
say."

"Yes, remember it; write it out, so that you may remember it, and din it
into their ears at Government House," said Luffe. "You take these boys,
you give them Oxford, a season in London--did you ever have a season in
London when you were twenty-one, Dewes? You show them Paris. You give
them opportunities of enjoyment, such as no other age, no other place
affords--has ever afforded. You give them, for a short while, a life of
colour, of swift crowding hours of pleasure, and then you send them
back--to settle down in their native States, and obey the orders of the
Resident. Do you think they will be content? Do you think they will have
their heart in their work, in their humdrum life, in their elaborate
ceremonies? Oh, there are instances enough to convince if only people
would listen. There's a youth now in the South, the heir of an Indian
throne--he has six weeks' holiday. How does he use it, do you think? He
travels hard to England, spends a week there, and travels back again. In
England he is treated as an _equal_; here, in spite of his ceremonies, he
is an _inferior_, and will and must be so. The best you can hope is that
he will be merely unhappy. You pray that he won't take to drink and make
his friends among the jockeys and the trainers. He has lost the taste for
the native life, and nevertheless he has got to live it.
Besides--besides--I haven't told you the worst of it."

Dewes leaned forward. The sincerity of Luffe had gained upon him. "Let me
hear all," he said.

"There is the white woman," continued Luffe. "The English woman, the
English girl, with her daintiness, her pretty frocks, her good looks,
her delicate charm. Very likely she only thinks of him as a picturesque
figure; she dances with him, but she does not take him seriously. Yes,
but he may take her seriously, and often does. What then? When he is
told to go back to his State and settle down, what then? Will he be
content with a wife of his own people? He is already a stranger among
his own folk. He will eat out his heart with bitterness and jealousy.
And, mind you, I am speaking of the best--the best of the Princes and
the best of the English women. What of the others? The English women who
take his pearls, and the Princes who come back and boast of their
success. Do you think that is good for British rule in India? Give me
something to drink!"

Luffe poured out his vehement convictions to his companion, wishing with
all his heart that he had one of the great ones of the Viceroy's Council
at his side, instead of this zealous but somewhat commonplace Major of a
Sikh regiment. All the more, therefore, must he husband his strength, so
that all that he had in mind might be remembered. There would be little
chance, perhaps, of it bearing fruit. Still, even that little chance must
be grasped. And so in that high castle beneath the Himalayas, besieged by
insurgent tribes, a dying Political Officer discoursed upon this question
of high policy.

"I told you of a supper I had one night at the Savoy--do you
remember? You all looked sufficiently astonished when I told you to
bear it in mind."

"Yes, I remember," said Dewes.

"Very well. I told you I learned something from the lady who was with me
which it was good for me to know. I saw something which it was good for
me to see. Good--yes, but not pleasant either to know or see. There was a
young Prince in England then. He dined in high places and afterwards
supped at the Savoy with the _coryphees;_ and both in the high places and
among the _coryphees_ his jewels had made him welcome. This is truth I am
telling you. He was a boaster. Well, after supper that night he threw a
girl down the stairs. Never mind what she was--she was of the white
ruling race, she was of the race that rules in India, he comes back to
India and insolently boasts. Do you approve? Do you think that good?"

"I think it's horrible," exclaimed Dewes.

"Well, I have done," said Luffe. "This youngster is to go to Oxford.
Unhappiness and the distrust of his own people will be the best that can
come of it, while ruin and disasters very well may. There are many ways
of disaster. Suppose, for instance, this boy were to turn out a strong
man. Do you see?"

Dewes nodded his head.

"Yes, I see," he answered, and he answered so because he saw that Luffe
had come to the end of his strength. His voice had weakened, he lay with
his eyes sunk deep in his head and a leaden pallor upon his face, and his
breath laboured as he spoke.

"I am glad," replied Luffe, "that you understand."

But it was not until many years had passed that Dewes saw and understood
the trouble which was then stirring in Luffe's mind. And even then, when
he did see and understand, he wondered how much Luffe really had
foreseen. Enough, at all events, to justify his reputation for sagacity.
Dewes went out from the bedroom and climbed up on to the roof of the
Fort. The sun was up, the day already hot, and would have been hotter,
but that a light wind stirred among the almond trees in the garden. The
leaves of those trees now actually brushed against the Fort walls. Five
weeks ago there had been bare stems and branches. Suddenly a rifle
cracked, a little puff of smoke rose close to a boulder on the far side
of the river, a bullet sang in the air past Dewes' head. He ducked behind
the palisade of boards. Another day had come. For another day the flag,
manufactured out of some red cloth, a blue turban and some white cotton,
floated overhead. Meanwhile, somewhere among the passes, the relieving
force was already on the march.

Late that afternoon Luffe died, and his body was buried in the Fort. He
had done his work. For two days afterwards the sound of a battle was
heard to the south, the siege was raised, and in the evening the
Brigadier-General in Command rode up to the gates and found a tired and
haggard group of officers awaiting him. They received him without cheers
or indeed any outward sign of rejoicing. They waited in a dead silence,
like beaten and dispirited men. They were beginning to pay the price of
their five weeks' siege.

The Brigadier looked at the group.

"What of Luffe?" he asked.

"Dead, sir," replied Dewes.

"A great loss," said Brigadier Appleton solemnly. But he was paying his
tribute rather to the class to which Luffe belonged than to the man
himself. Luffe was a man of independent views, Brigadier Appleton a
soldier clinging to tradition. Moreover, there had been an encounter
between the two in which Luffe had prevailed.

The Brigadier paid a ceremonious visit to the Khan on the following
morning, and once more the Khan expounded his views as to the education
of his son. But he expounded them now to sympathetic ears.

"I think that his Excellency disapproved of my plan," said the Khan.

"Did he?" cried Brigadier Appleton. "On some points I am inclined to
think that Luffe's views were not always sound. Certainly let the boy go
to Eton and Oxford. A fine idea, your Highness. The training will widen
his mind, enlarge his ideas, and all that sort of thing. I will myself
urge upon the Government's advisers the wisdom of your Highness'
proposal."

Moreover Dewes failed to carry Luffe's dying message to Calcutta. For on
one point--a point of fact--Luffe was immediately proved wrong. Mir Ali,
the Khan of Chiltistan, was retained upon his throne. Dewes turned the
matter over in his slow mind. Wrong definitely, undeniably wrong on the
point of fact, was it not likely that Luffe was wrong too on the point
of theory? Dewes had six months furlong too, besides, and was anxious to
go home. It would be a bore to travel to Bombay by way of Calcutta. "Let
the boy go to Eton and Oxford!" he said. "Why not?" and the years
answered him.




CHAPTER V

A MAGAZINE ARTICLE


The little war of Chiltistan was soon forgotten by the world. But it
lived vividly enough in the memories of a few people to whom it had
brought either suffering or fresh honours. But most of all it was
remembered by Sybil Linforth, so that even after fourteen years a chance
word, or a trivial coincidence, would bring back to her the horror and
the misery of that time as freshly as if only a single day had
intervened. Such a coincidence happened on this morning of August.

She was in the garden with her back to the Downs which rose high from
close behind the house, and she was looking across the fields rich with
orchards and yellow crops. She saw a small figure climb a stile and come
towards the house along a footpath, increasing in stature as it
approached. It was Colonel Dewes, and her thoughts went back to the day
when first, with reluctant steps, he had walked along that path, carrying
with him a battered silver watch and chain and a little black leather
letter-case. Because of that memory she advanced slowly towards him now.

"I did not know that you were home," she said, as they shook hands. "When
did you land?"

"Yesterday. I am home for good now. My time is up." Sybil Linforth looked
quickly at his face and turned away.

"You are sorry?" she said gently.

"Yes. I don't feel old, you see. I feel as if I had many years' good work
in me yet. But there! That's the trouble with the mediocre men. They are
shelved before they are old. I am one of them."

He laughed as he spoke, and looked at his companion.

Sybil Linforth was now thirty-eight years old, but the fourteen years had
not set upon her the marks of their passage as they had upon Dewes.
Indeed, she still retained a look of youth, and all the slenderness of
her figure.

Dewes grumbled to her with a smile upon his face.

"I wonder how in the world you do it. Here am I white-haired and creased
like a dry pippin. There are you--" and he broke off. "I suppose it's the
boy who keeps you young. How is he?"

A look of anxiety troubled Mrs. Linforth's face; into her eyes there came
a glint of fear. Colonel Dewes' voice became gentle with concern.

"What's the matter, Sybil?" he said. "Is he ill?"

"No, he is quite well."

"Then what is it?"

Sybil Linforth looked down for a moment at the gravel of the garden-path.
Then, without raising her eyes, she said in a low voice:

"I am afraid."

"Ah," said Dewes, as he rubbed his chin, "I see."

It was his usual remark when he came against anything which he did not
understand.

"You must let me have him for a week or two sometimes, Sybil. Boys will
get into trouble, you know. It is their nature to. And sometimes a man
may be of use in putting things straight."

The hint of a smile glimmered about Sybil Linforth's mouth, but she
repressed it. She would not for worlds have let her friend see it, lest
he might be hurt.

"No," she replied, "Dick is not in any trouble. But--" and she struggled
for a moment with a feeling that she ought not to say what she greatly
desired to say; that speech would be disloyal. But the need to speak was
too strong within her, her heart too heavily charged with fear.

"I will tell you," she said, and, with a glance towards the open windows
of the house, she led Colonel Dewes to a corner of the garden where, upon
a grass mound, there was a garden seat. From this seat one overlooked the
garden hedge. To the left, the little village of Poynings with its grey
church and tall tapering spire, lay at the foot of the gap in the Downs
where runs the Brighton road. Behind them the Downs ran like a rampart to
right and left, their steep green sides scarred here and there by
landslips and showing the white chalk. Far away the high trees of
Chanctonbury Ring stood out against the sky.

"Dick has secrets," Sybil said, "secrets from me. It used not to be so. I
have always known how a want of sympathy makes a child hide what he feels
and thinks, and drives him in upon himself, to feed his thoughts with
imaginings and dreams. I have seen it. I don't believe that anything but
harm ever comes of it. It builds up a barrier which will last for life. I
did not want that barrier to rise between Dick and me--I--" and her voice
shook a little--"I should be very unhappy if it were to rise. So I have
always tried to be his friend and comrade, rather than his mother."

"Yes," said Colonel Dewes, wisely nodding his head. "I have seen you
playing cricket with him."

Colonel Dewes had frequently been puzzled by a peculiar change of manner
in his friends. When he made a remark which showed how clearly he
understood their point of view and how closely he was in agreement with
it, they had a way of becoming reticent in the very moment of expansion.
The current of sympathy was broken, and as often as not they turned the
conversation altogether into a conventional and less interesting channel.
That change of manner became apparent now. Sybil Linforth leaned back and
abruptly ceased to speak.

"Please go on," said Dewes, turning towards her.

She hesitated, and then with a touch of reluctance continued:

"I succeeded until a month or so ago. But a month or so ago the secrets
came. Oh, I know him so well. He is trying to hide that there are any
secrets lest his reticence should hurt me. But we have been so much
together, so much to each other--how should I not know?" And again she
leaned forward with her hands clasped tightly together upon her knees and
a look of great distress lying like a shadow upon her face. "The first
secrets," she continued, and her voice trembled, "I suppose they are
always bitter to a mother. But since I have nothing but Dick they hurt me
more deeply than is perhaps reasonable"; and she turned towards her
companion with a poor attempt at a smile.

"What sort of secrets?" asked Dewes. "What is he hiding?"

"I don't know," she replied, and she repeated the words, adding to them
slowly others. "I don't know--and I am a little afraid to guess. But I
know that something is stirring in his mind, something is--" and she
paused, and into her eyes there came a look of actual terror--"something
is calling him. He goes alone up on to the top of the Downs, and stays
there alone for hours. I have seen him. I have come upon him unawares
lying on the grass with his face towards the sea, his lips parted, and
his eyes strained, his face absorbed. He has been so lost in dreams that
I have come close to him through the grass and stood beside him and
spoken to him before he grew aware that anyone was near."

"Perhaps he wants to be a sailor," suggested Dewes.

"No, I do not think it is that," Sybil answered quietly. "If it were so,
he would have told me."

"Yes," Dewes admitted. "Yes, he would have told you. I was wrong."

"You see," Mrs. Linforth continued, as though Dewes had not interrupted,
"it is not natural for a boy at his age to want to be alone, is it? I
don't think it is good either. It is not natural for a boy of his age to
be thoughtful. I am not sure that that is good. I am, to tell you the
truth, very troubled."

Dewes looked at her sharply. Something, not so much in her words as in
the careful, slow manner of her speech, warned him that she was not
telling him all of the trouble which oppressed her. Her fears were more
definite than she had given him as yet reason to understand. There was
not enough in what she had said to account for the tense clasp of her
hands, and the glint of terror in her eyes.

"Anyhow, he's going to the big school next term," he said; "that is, if
you haven't changed your mind since you last wrote to me, and I hope you
haven't changed your mind. All that he wants really," the Colonel added
with unconscious cruelty, "is companions of his own age. He passed in
well, didn't he?"

Sybil Linforth's face lost for the moment all its apprehension. A smile
of pride made her face very tender, and as she turned to Dewes he thought
to himself that really her eyes were beautiful.

"Yes, he passed in very high," she said.

"Eton, isn't it?" said Dewes. "Whose house?"

She mentioned the name and added: "His father was there before him." Then
she rose from her seat. "Would you like to see Dick? I will show you him.
Come quietly."

She led the way across the lawn towards an open window. It was a day of
sunshine; the garden was bright with flowers, and about the windows
rose-trees climbed the house-walls. It was a house of red brick, darkened
by age, and with a roof of tiles. To Dewes' eyes, nestling as it did
beneath the great grass Downs, it had a most homelike look of comfort.
Sybil turned with a finger on her lips.

"Keep this side of the window," she whispered, "or your shadow will fall
across the floor."

Standing aside as she bade him, he looked into the room. He saw a boy
seated at a table with his head between his hands, immersed in a book
which lay before him. He was seated with his side towards the window and
his hands concealed his face. But in a moment he removed one hand and
turned the page. Colonel Dewes could now see the profile of his face. A
firm chin, a beauty of outline not very common, a certain delicacy of
feature and colour gave to him a distinction of which Sybil Linforth
might well be proud.

"He'll be a dangerous fellow among the girls in a few years' time," said
Dewes, turning to the mother. But Sybil did not hear the words. She was
standing with her head thrust forward. Her face was white, her whole
aspect one of dismay. Dewes could not understand the change in her. A
moment ago she had been laughing playfully as she led him towards the
window. Now it seemed as though a sudden disaster had turned her to
stone. Yet there was nothing visible to suggest disaster. Dewes looked
from Sybil to the boy and back again. Then he noticed that her eyes were
riveted, not on Dick's face, but on the book which he was reading.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"Hush!" said Sybil, but at that moment Dick lifted his head, recognised
the visitor, and came forward to the window with a smile of welcome.
There was no embarrassment in his manner, no air of being surprised. He
had not the look of one who nurses secrets. A broad open forehead
surmounted a pair of steady clear grey eyes.

"Well, Dick, I hear you have done well in your examination," said the
Colonel, as he shook hands. "If you keep it up I will leave you all I
save out of my pension."

"Thank you, sir," said Dick with a laugh. "How long have you been back,
Colonel Dewes?"

"I left India a fortnight ago."

"A fortnight ago." Dick leaned his arms upon the sill and with his eyes
on the Colonel's face asked quietly: "How far does the Road reach now?"

At the side of Colonel Dewes Sybil Linforth flinched as though she had
been struck. But it did not need that movement to explain to the Colonel
the perplexing problem of her fears. He understood now. The Linforths
belonged to the Road. The Road had slain her husband. No wonder she lived
in terror lest it should claim her son. And apparently it did claim him.

"The road through Chiltistan?" he said slowly.

"Of course," answered Dick. "Of what other could I be thinking?"

"They have stopped it," said the Colonel, and at his side he was aware
that Sybil Linforth drew a deep breath. "The road reaches Kohara. It does
not go beyond. It will not go beyond."

Dick's eyes steadily looked into the Colonel's face; and the Colonel had
some trouble to meet their look with the same frankness. He turned aside
and Mrs. Linforth said,

"Come and see my roses."

Dick went back to his book. The man and woman passed on round the corner
of the house to a little rose-garden with a stone sun-dial in the middle,
surrounded by low red brick walls. Here it was very quiet. Only the bees
among the flowers filled the air with a pleasant murmur.

"They are doing well--your roses," said Dewes.

"Yes. These Queen Mabs are good. Don't you think so? I am rather proud of
them," said Sybil; and then she broke off suddenly and faced him.

"Is it true?" she whispered in a low passionate voice. "Is the road
stopped? Will it not go beyond Kohara?"

Colonel Dewes attempted no evasion with Mrs. Linforth.

"It is true that it is stopped. It is also true that for the moment there
is no intention to carry it further. But--but--"

And as he paused Sybil took up the sentence.

"But it will go on, I know. Sooner or later." And there was almost a note
of hopelessness in her voice. "The Power of the Road is beyond the Power
of Governments," she added with the air of one quoting a sentence.

They walked on between the alleys of rose-trees and she asked:

"Did you notice the book which Dick was reading?"

"It looked like a bound volume of magazines."

Sybil nodded her head.

"It was a volume of the 'Fortnightly.' He was reading an article
written forty years ago by Andrew Linforth--" and she suddenly cried
out, "Oh, how I wish he had never lived. He was an uncle of Harry's--my
husband. He predicted it. He was in the old Company, then he became a
servant of the Government, and he was the first to begin the road. You
know his history?"

"No."

"It is a curious one. When it was his time to retire, he sent his money
to England, he made all his arrangements to come home, and then one night
he walked out of the hotel in Bombay, a couple of days before the ship
sailed, and disappeared. He has never been heard of since."

"Had he no wife?" asked Dewes.

"No," replied Sybil. "Do you know what I think? I think he went back to
the north, back to his Road. I think it called him. I think he could not
keep away."

"But we should have come across him," cried Dewes, "or across news of
him. Surely we should!"

Sybil shrugged her shoulders.

"In that article which Dick was reading, the road was first proposed.
Listen to this," and she began to recite:

"The road will reach northwards, through Chiltistan, to the foot of the
Baroghil Pass, in the mountains of the Hindu Kush. Not yet, but it will.
Many men will die in the building of it from cold and dysentery, and
even hunger--Englishmen and coolies from Baltistan. Many men will die
fighting over it, Englishmen and Chiltis, and Gurkhas and Sikhs. It will
cost millions of money, and from policy or economy successive
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 mountains, and for eight months
of the year sections of it will be buried deep in snow. Yet it will be
finished. It will go on to the foot of the Hindu Kush, and then only the
British rule in India will be safe."

She finished the quotation.

"That is what Andrew Linforth prophesied. Much of it has already been
justified. I have no doubt the rest will be in time. I think he went
north when he disappeared. I think the Road called him, as it is now
calling Dick."

She made the admission at last quite simply and quietly. Yet it was
evident to Dewes that it cost her much to make it.

"Yes," he said. "That is what you fear."

She nodded her head and let him understand something of the terror with
which the Road inspired her.

"When the trouble began fourteen years ago, when the road was cut and day
after day no news came of whether Harry lived or, if he died, how he
died--I dreamed of it--I used to see horrible things happening on that
road--night after night I saw them. Dreadful things happening to Dick and
his father while I stood by and could do nothing. Oh, it seems to me a
living thing greedy for blood--our blood."

She turned to him a haggard face. Dewes sought to reassure her.

"But there is peace now in Chiltistan. We keep a close watch on that
country, I can tell you. I don't think we shall be caught napping
there again."

But these arguments had little weight with Sybil Linforth. The tragedy of
fourteen years ago had beaten her down with too strong a hand. She could
not reason about the road. She only felt, and she felt with all the
passion of her nature.

"What will you do, then?" asked Dewes.

She walked a little further on before she answered.

"I shall do nothing. If, when the time comes, Dick feels that work upon
that road is his heritage, if he wants to follow in his father's steps, I
shall say not a single word to dissuade him."

Dewes stared at her. This half-hour of conversation had made real to him
at all events the great strength of her hostility. Yet she would put the
hostility aside and say not a word.

"That's more than I could do," he said, "if I felt as you do. By
George it is!"

Sybil smiled at him with friendliness.

"It's not bravery. Do you remember the unfinished letter which you
brought home to me from Harry? There were three sentences in that which I
cannot pretend to have forgotten," and she repeated the sentences:

"'Whether he will come out here, it is too early to think about. But the
road will not be finished--and I wonder. If he wants to, let him.' It is
quite clear--isn't it?--that Harry wanted him to take up the work. You
can read that in the words. I can imagine him speaking them and hear the
tone he would use. Besides--I have still a greater fear than the one of
which you know. I don't want Dick, when he grows up, ever to think that I
have been cowardly, and, because I was cowardly, disloyal to his father."

"Yes, I see," said Colonel Dewes.

And this time he really did understand.

"We will go in and lunch," said Sybil, and they walked back to the house.




CHAPTER VI

A LONG WALK


The footsteps sounded overhead with a singular regularity. From the
fireplace to the door, and back again from the door to the fireplace. At
each turn there was a short pause, and each pause was of the same
duration. The footsteps were very light; it was almost as though an
animal, a caged animal, padded from the bars at one end to the bars at
the other. There was something stealthy in the footsteps too.

In the room below a man of forty-five sat writing at a desk--a very tall,
broad-shouldered man, in clerical dress. Twenty-five years before he had
rowed as number seven in the Oxford Eight, with an eye all the while upon
a mastership at his old school. He had taken a first in Greats; he had
obtained his mastership; for the last two years he had had a House. As he
had been at the beginning, so he was now, a man without theories but with
an instinctive comprehension of boys. In consequence there were no
vacancies in his house, and the Headmaster had grown accustomed to
recommend the Rev. Mr. Arthur Pollard when boys who needed any special
care came to the school.

He was now so engrossed with the preparations for the term which was to
begin to-morrow that for some while the footsteps overhead did not
attract his attention. When he did hear them he just lifted his head,
listened for a moment or two, lit his pipe and went on with his work.

But the sounds continued. Backwards and forwards from the fireplace to
the door, the footsteps came and went--without haste and without
cessation; stealthily regular; inhumanly light. Their very monotony
helped them to pass as unnoticed as the ticking of a clock. Mr. Pollard
continued the preparation of his class-work for a full hour, and only
when the dusk was falling, and it was becoming difficult for him to see
what he was writing, did he lean back in his chair and stretch his arms
above his head with a sigh of relief.

Then once more he became aware of the footsteps overhead. He rose and
rang the bell.

"Who is that walking up and down the drawingroom, Evans?" he asked of
the butler.

The butler threw back his head and listened.

"I don't know, sir," he replied.

"Those footsteps have been sounding like that for more than an hour."

"For more than an hour?" Evans repeated. "Then I am afraid, sir, it's the
new young gentleman from India."

Arthur Pollard started.

"Has he been waiting up there alone all this time?" he exclaimed. "Why in
the world wasn't I told?"

"You were told, sir," said Evans firmly but respectfully. "I came into
the study here and told you, and you answered 'All right, Evans.' But I
had my doubts, sir, whether you really heard or not."

Mr. Pollard hardly waited for the end of the explanation. He hurried out
of the room and sprang up the stairs. He had arranged purposely for the
young Prince to come to the house a day before term began. He was likely
to be shy, ill-at-ease and homesick, among so many strange faces and
unfamiliar ways. Moreover, Mr. Pollard wished to become better acquainted
with the boy than would be easily possible once the term was in full
swing. For he was something more of an experiment than the ordinary
Indian princeling from a State well under the thumb of the Viceroy and
the Indian Council. This boy came of the fighting stock in the north. To
leave him tramping about a strange drawing-room alone for over an hour
was not the best possible introduction to English ways and English life.
Mr. Pollard opened the door and saw a slim, tall boy, with his hands
behind his back and his eyes fixed on the floor, walking up and down in
the gloom.

"Shere Ali," he said, and he held out his hand. The boy took it shyly.

"You have been waiting here for some time," Mr. Pollard continued, "I am
sorry. I did not know that you had come. You should have rung the bell."

"I was not lonely," Shere Ali replied. "I was taking a walk."

"Yes, so I gathered," said the master with a smile. "Rather a long walk."

"Yes, sir," the boy answered seriously. "I was walking from Kohara up the
valley, and remembering the landmarks as I went. I had walked a long way.
I had come to the fort where my father was besieged."

"Yes, that reminds me," said Pollard, "you won't feel so lonely to-morrow
as you do to-day. There is a new boy joining whose father was a great
friend of your father's. Richard Linforth is his name. Very likely your
father has mentioned that name to you."

Mr. Pollard switched on the light as he spoke and saw Shere All's face
flash with eagerness.

"Oh yes!" he answered, "I know. He was killed upon the road by my
uncle's people."

"I have put you into the next room to his. If you will come with me I
will show you."

Mr. Pollard led the way along a passage into the boys' quarters.

"This is your room. There's your bed. Here's your 'burry,'" pointing to a
bureau with a bookcase on the top. He threw open the next door. "This is
Linforth's room. By the way, you speak English very well."

"Yes," said Shere Ali. "I was taught it in Lahore first of all. My father
is very fond of the English."

"Well, come along," said Mr. Pollard. "I expect my wife has come back and
she shall give us some tea. You will dine with us to-night, and we will
try to make you as fond of the English as your father is."

The next day the rest of the boys arrived, and Mr. Pollard took the
occasion to speak a word or two to young Linforth.

"You are both new boys," he said, "but you will fit into the scheme of
things quickly enough. He won't. He's in a strange land, among strange
people. So just do what you can to help him."

Dick Linforth was curious enough to see the son of the Khan of
Chiltistan. But not for anything would he have talked to him of his
father who had died upon the road, or of the road itself. These things
were sacred. He greeted his companion in quite another way.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Shere Ali," replied the young Prince.

"That won't do," said Linforth, and he contemplated the boy solemnly. "I
shall call you Sherry-Face," he said.

And "Sherry-Face" the heir to Chiltistan remained; and in due time the
name followed him to College.




CHAPTER VII

IN THE DAUPHINE


The day broke tardily among the mountains of Dauphine. At half-past three
on a morning of early August light should be already stealing through the
little window and the chinks into the hut upon the Meije. But the four
men who lay wrapped in blankets on the long broad shelf still slept in
darkness. And when the darkness was broken it was by the sudden spit of a
match. The tiny blue flame spluttered for a few seconds and then burned
bright and yellow. It lit up the face of a man bending over the dial of a
watch and above him and about him the wooden rafters and walls came dimly
into view. The face was stout and burned by the sun to the colour of a
ripe apple, and in spite of a black heavy moustache had a merry and
good-humoured look. Little gold earrings twinkled in his ears by the
light of the match. Annoyance clouded his face as he remarked the time.

"Verdammt! Verdammt!" he muttered.

The match burned out, and for a while he listened to the wind wailing
about the hut, plucking at the door and the shutters of the window. He
climbed down from the shelf with a rustle of straw, walked lightly for a
moment or two about the hut, and then pulled open the door quickly. As
quickly he shut it again.

From the shelf Linforth spoke:

"It is bad, Peter?"

"It is impossible," replied Peter in English with a strong German accent.
For the last three years he and his brother had acted as guides to the
same two men who were now in the Meije hut. "We are a strong party, but
it is impossible. Before I could walk a yard from the door, I would have
to lend a lantern. And it is after four o'clock! The water is frozen in
the pail, and I have never known that before in August."

"Very well," said Linforth, turning over in his blankets. It was warm
among the blankets and the straw, and he spoke with contentment. Later in
the day he might rail against the weather. But for the moment he was very
clear that there were worse things in the world than to lie snug and hear
the wind tearing about the cliffs and know that there was no chance of
facing it.

"We will not go back to La Berarde," he said. "The storm may clear. We
will wait in the hut until tomorrow."

And from a third figure on the shelf there came in guttural English:

"Yes, yes. Of course."

The fourth man had not wakened from his sleep, and it was not until he
was shaken by the shoulder at ten o'clock in the morning that he sat up
and rubbed his eyes.

The fourth man was Shere Ali.

"Get up and come outside," said Linforth.

Ten years had passed since Shere Ali had taken his long walk from Kohara
up the valley in the drawing-room of his house-master at Eton. And those
ten years had had their due effect. He betrayed his race nowadays by
little more than his colour, a certain high-pitched intonation of his
voice and an extraordinary skill in the game of polo. There had been a
time of revolt against discipline, of inability to understand the points
of view of his masters and their companions, and of difficulty to
discover much sense in their institutions.

It is to be remembered that he came from the hill-country, not from the
plains of India. That honour was a principle, not a matter of
circumstance, and that treachery was in itself disgraceful, whether it
was profitable or not--here were hard sayings for a native of Chiltistan.
He could look back upon the day when he had thought a public-house with a
great gilt sign or the picture of an animal over the door a temple for
some particular sect of worshippers.

"And, indeed, you are far from wrong," his tutor had replied to him. "But
since we do not worship at that fiery shrine such holy places are
forbidden us."

Gradually, however, his own character was overlaid; he was quick to
learn, and in games quick to excel. He made friends amongst his
schoolmates, he carried with him to Oxford the charm of manner which is
Eton's particular gift, and from Oxford he passed to London. He was rich,
he was liked, and he found a ready welcome, which did not spoil him.
Luffe would undoubtedly have classed him amongst the best of the native
Princes who go to England for their training, and on that very account,
would have feared the more for his future. Shere Ali was now just
twenty-four, he was tall, spare of body and wonderfully supple of limbs,
and but for a fulness of the lower lip, which was characteristic of his
family, would have been reckoned more than usually handsome.

He came out of the door of the hut and stood by the side of Linforth.
They looked up towards the Meije, but little of that majestic mass of
rock was visible. The clouds hung low; the glacier below them upon their
left had a dull and unillumined look, and over the top of the Breche de
la Meije, the pass to the left of their mountain, the snow whirled up
from the further side like smoke. The hut is built upon a great spur of
the mountain which runs down into the desolate valley des Etancons, and
at its upper end melts into the great precipitous rock-wall which forms
one of the main difficulties of the ascent. Against this wall the clouds
were massed. Snow lay where yesterday the rocks had shone grey and ruddy
brown in the sunlight, and against the great wall here and there icicles
were hung.

"It looks unpromising," said Linforth. "But Peter says that the
mountain is in good condition. To-morrow it may be possible. It is
worth while waiting. We shall get down to La Grave to-morrow instead of
to-day. That is all."

"Yes. It will make no difference to our plans," said Shere Ali; and so
far as their immediate plans were concerned Shere Ali was right. But
these two men had other and wider plans which embraced not a summer's
holiday but a lifetime, plans which they jealously kept secret; and these
plans, as it happened, the delay of a day in the hut upon the Meije was
deeply to affect.

They turned back into the room and breakfasted. Then Linforth lit his
pipe and once more curled himself up in his rug upon the straw. Shere Ali
followed his example. And it was of the wider plans that they at once
began to talk.

"But heaven only knows when I shall get out to India," cried Linforth
after a while. "There am I at Chatham and not a chance, so far as I can
see, of getting away. You will go back first."

It was significant that Linforth, who had never been in India, none the
less spoke habitually of going back to it, as though that country in
truth was his native soil. Shere Ali shook his head.

"I shall wait for you," he said. "You will come out there." He raised
himself upon his elbow and glanced at his friend's face. Linforth had
retained the delicacy of feature, the fineness of outline which ten years
before had called forth the admiration of Colonel Dewes. But the ten
years had also added a look of quiet strength. A man can hardly live with
a definite purpose very near to his heart without gaining some reward
from the labour of his thoughts. Though he speak never so little, people
will be aware of him as they are not aware of the loudest chatterer in
the room. Thus it was with Linforth. He talked with no greater wit than
his companions, he made no greater display of ability, he never outshone,
and yet not a few men were conscious of a force underlying his quietude
of manner. Those men were the old and the experienced; the unobservant
overlooked him altogether.

"Yes," said Shere Ali, "since you want to come you will come."

"I shall try to come," said Linforth, simply. "We belong to the Road,"
and for a little while he lay silent. Then in a low voice he spoke,
quoting from that page which was as a picture in his thoughts.

"Over the passes! Over the snow passes to the foot of the Hindu Kush!"

"Then and then only India will be safe," the young Prince of Chiltistan
added, speaking solemnly, so that the words seemed a kind of ritual.

And to both they were no less. Long before, when Shere Ali was first
brought into his room, on his first day at Eton, Linforth had seen his
opportunity, and seized it. Shere Ali's father retained his kingdom with
an English Resident at his elbow. Shere Ali would in due time succeed.
Linforth had quietly put forth his powers to make Shere Ali his friend,
to force him to see with his eyes, and to believe what he believed. And
Shere Ali had been easily persuaded. He had become one of the white men,
he proudly told himself. Here was a proof, the surest of proofs. The
belief in the Road--that was one of the beliefs of the white men, one of
the beliefs which marked him off from the native, not merely in
Chiltistan, but throughout the East. To the white man, the Road was the
beginning of things, to the Oriental the shadow of the end. Shere Ali
sided with the white men. He too had faith in the Road and he was proud
of his faith because he shared it with the white men.

"We shall be very glad of these expeditions, some day, in Chiltistan,"
said Linforth.

Shere Ali stared.

"It was for that reason--?" he asked.

"Yes."

Shere Ali was silent for a while. Then he said, and with some regret:

"There is a great difference between us. You can wait and wait. I want
everything done within the year."

Linforth laughed. He knew very well the impulsiveness of his friend.

"If a few miles, or even a few furlongs, stand to my credit at the end, I
shall not think that I have failed."

They were both young, and they talked with the bright and simple faith in
their ideals which is the great gift of youth. An older man might have
laughed if he had heard, but had there been an older man in the hut to
overhear them, he would have heard nothing. They were alone, save for
their guides, and the single purpose for which--as they then
thought--their lives were to be lived out made that long day short as a
summer's night.

"The Government will thank us when the work is done," said Shere Ali
enthusiastically.

"The Government will be in no hurry to let us begin," replied Linforth
drily. "There is a Resident at your father's court. Your father is
willing, and yet there's not a coolie on the road."

"Yes, but you will get your way," and again confidence rang in the voice
of the Chilti prince.

"It will not be I," answered Linforth. "It will be the Road. The power of
the Road is beyond the power of any Government."

"Yes, I remember and I understand." Shere Ali lit his pipe and lay back
among the straw. "At first I did not understand what the words meant. Now
I know. The power of the Road is great, because it inspires men to strive
for its completion."

"Or its mastery," said Linforth slowly. "Perhaps one day on the other
side of the Hindu Kush, the Russians may covet it--and then the Road will
go on to meet them."

"Something will happen," said Shere Ali. "At all events something
will happen."

The shadows of the evening found them still debating what complication
might force the hand of those in authority. But always they came back to
the Russians and a movement of troops in the Pamirs. Yet unknown to both
of them the something else had already happened, though its consequences
were not yet to be foreseen. A storm had delayed them for a day in a hut
upon the Meije. They went out of the hut. The sky had cleared; and in
the sunset the steep buttress of the Promontoire ran sharply up to the
Great Wall; above the wall the small square patch of ice sloped to the
base of the Grand Pic and beyond the deep gap behind that pinnacle the
long serrated ridge ran out to the right, rising and falling, to the
Doight de Dieu.

There were some heavy icicles overhanging the Great Wall, and
Linforth looked at them anxiously. There was also still a little snow
upon the rocks.

"It will be possible," said Peter, cheerily. "Tomorrow night we shall
sleep in La Grave."

"Yes, yes, of course," said his brother.

They walked round the hut, looked for a little while down the stony
valley des Etancons, with its one green patch up which they had toiled
from La Berarde the day before, and returned to watch the purple flush of
the sunset die off the crags of the Meije. But the future they had
planned was as a vision before their eyes, and even along the high cliffs
of the Dauphine the road they were to make seemed to wind and climb.

"It would be strange," said Linforth, "if old Andrew Linforth were still
alive. Somewhere in your country, perhaps in Kohara, waiting for the
thing he dreamed to come to pass. He would be an old man now, but he
might still be alive."

"I wonder," said Shere Ali absently, and he suddenly turned to Linforth.
"Nothing must come between us," he cried almost fiercely. "Nothing to
hinder what we shall do together."

He was the more emotional of the two. The dreams to which they had given
utterance had uplifted him.

"That's all right," said Linforth, and he turned back into the hut. But
he remembered afterwards that it was Shere Ali who had protested against
the possibility of their association being broken.

They came out from the hut again at half-past three in the morning and
looked up to a cloudless starlit sky which faded in the east to the
colour of pearl. Above their heads some knobs of rock stood out upon the
thin crest of the buttress against the sky. In the darkness of a small
couloir underneath the knobs Peter was already ascending. The traverse of
the Meije even for an experienced mountaineer is a long day's climb. They
reached the summit of the Grand Pic in seven hours, descended into the
Breche Zsigmondy, climbed up the precipice on the further side of that
gap, and reached the Pic Central by two o'clock in the afternoon. There
they rested for an hour, and looked far down to the village of La Grave
among the cornfields of the valley. There was no reason for any hurry.

"We shall reach La Grave by eight," said Peter, but he was wrong, as they
soon discovered. A slope which should have been soft snow down which they
could plunge was hard ice, in which a ladder of steps must be cut before
the glacier could be reached. The glacier itself was crevassed so that
many a devour was necessary, and occasionally a jump; and evening came
upon them while they were on the Rocher de L'Aigle. It was quite dark
when at last they reached the grass slopes, and still far below them the
lights were gleaming in La Grave. To both men those grass slopes seemed
interminable. The lights of La Grave seemed never to come nearer, never
to grow larger. Little points of fire very far away--as they had been at
first, so they remained. But for the slope of ground beneath his feet and
the aching of his knees, Linforth could almost have believed that they
were not descending at all. He struck a match and looked at his watch and
saw that it was after nine; and a little while after they had come to
water and taken their fill of it, that it was nearly ten, but now the low
thunder of the river in the valley was louder in his ears, and then
suddenly he saw that the lights of La Grave were bright and near at hand.

Linforth flung himself down upon the grass, and clasping his hands
behind his head, gave himself up to the cool of the night and the
stars overhead.

"I could sleep here," he said. "Why should we go down to La Grave
to-night?"

"There is a dew falling. It will be cold when the morning breaks. And La
Grave is very near. It is better to go," said Peter.

The question was still in debate when above the roar of the river there
came to their ears a faint throbbing sound from across the valley. It
grew louder and suddenly two blinding lights flashed along the
hill-side opposite.

"A motor-car," said Shere Ali, and as he spoke the lights ceased
to travel.

"It's stopping at the hotel," said Linforth carelessly.

"No," said Peter. "It has not reached the hotel. Look, not by a hundred
yards. It has broken down."

Linforth discussed the point at length, not because he was at all
interested at the moment in the movements of that or of any other
motor-car, but because he wished to stay where he was. Peter, however,
was obdurate. It was his pride to get his patron indoors each night.

"Let us go on," he said, and Linforth wearily rose to his feet.

"We are making a big mistake," he grumbled, and he spoke with more truth
than he was aware.

They reached the hotel at eleven, ordered their supper and bathed. It was
half-past eleven before Linforth and Shere Ali entered the long
dining-room, and they found another party already supping there. Linforth
heard himself greeted by name, and turned in surprise. It was a party of
four--two ladies and two men. One of the men had called to him, an
elderly man with a bald forehead, a grizzled moustache, and a shrewd
kindly face.

"I remember you, though you can't say as much of me," he said. "I
came down to Chatham a year ago and dined at your mess as the guest
of your Colonel."

Linforth came forward with a smile of recognition.

"I beg your pardon for not recognising you at once. I remember you, of
course, quite well," he said.

"Who am I, then?"

"Sir John Casson, late Lieutenant-Governor of the United Provinces," said
Linforth promptly.

"And now nothing but a bore at my club," replied Sir John cheerfully. "We
were motoring through to Grenoble, but the car has broken down. You are
mountain-climbing, I suppose. Phyllis," and he turned to the younger of
the two ladies, "this is Mr. Linforth of the Royal Engineers. My
daughter, Linforth!" He introduced the second lady.

"Mrs. Oliver," he said, and Linforth turning, saw that the eyes of Mrs.
Oliver were already fixed upon him. He returned the look, and his eyes
frankly showed her that he thought her beautiful.

"And what are you going to do with yourself?" said Sir John.

"Go to the country from which you have just come, as soon as I can," said
Linforth with a smile. At this moment the fourth of the party, a stout,
red-faced, plethoric gentleman, broke in.

"India!" he exclaimed indignantly. "Bless my soul, what on earth sends
all you young fellows racing out to India? A great mistake! I once went
to India myself--to shoot a tiger. I stayed there for months and never
saw one. Not a tiger, sir!"

But Linforth was paying very little attention to the plethoric gentleman.
Sir John introduced him as Colonel Fitzwarren, and Linforth bowed
politely. Then he asked of Sir John:

"Your car was not seriously damaged, I suppose?"

"Keep us here two days," said Sir John. "The chauffeur will have to go on
by diligence to-morrow to get a new sparking plug. Perhaps we shall see
more of you in consequence."

Linforth's eyes travelled back to Mrs. Oliver.

"We are in no hurry," he said slowly. "We shall rest here probably for a
day or so. May I introduce my friend?"

He introduced him as the son of the Khan of Chiltistan, and Mrs. Oliver's
eyes, which had been quietly resting upon Linforth's face, turned towards
Shere Ali, and as quietly rested upon his.

"Then, perhaps, you can tell me," said Colonel Fitzwarren, "how it was I
never saw a tiger in India, though I stayed there four months. A most
disappointing country, I call it. I looked for a tiger everywhere and I
never saw one--no, not one."

The Colonel's one idea of the Indian Peninsula was a huge tiger waiting
somewhere in a jungle to be shot.

But Shere Ali was paying no more attention to the Colonel's
disparagements than Linforth had done.

"Will you join us at supper?" said Sir John, and both young men replied
simultaneously, "We shall be very pleased."

Sir John Casson smiled. He could never quite be sure whether it was or
was not to Mrs. Oliver's credit that her looks made so powerful an appeal
to the chivalry of young men. "All young men immediately want to protect
her," he was wont to say, "and their trouble is that they can't find
anyone to protect her from."

He watched Shere Ali and Dick Linforth with a sly amusement, and as a
result of his watching promised himself yet more amusement during the
next two days. He was roused from this pleasing anticipation by his
irascible friend, Colonel Fitzwarren, who, without the slightest warning,
flung a loud and defiant challenge across the table to Shere All.

"I don't believe there is one," he cried, and breathed heavily.

Shere Ali interrupted his conversation with Mrs. Oliver. "One what?" he
asked with a smile.

"Tiger, sir, tiger," said the Colonel, rapping with his knuckles upon the
table. "Of what else should I be speaking? I don't believe there's a
tiger in India outside the Zoo. Otherwise, why didn't I see one?"

Colonel Fitzwarren glared at Shere Ali as though he held him personally
responsible for that unhappy omission. Sir John, however, intervened with
smooth speeches and for the rest of supper the conversation was kept to
less painful topics. But the Colonel had not said his last word. As they
went upstairs to their rooms he turned to Shere Ali, who was just behind
him, and sighed heavily.

"If I had shot a tiger in India," he said, with an indescribable look
of pathos upon his big red face, "it would have made a great difference
to my life."




CHAPTER VIII

A STRING OF PEARLS


"So you go to parties nowadays," said Mrs. Linforth, and Sir John Casson,
leaning his back against the wall of the ball-room, puzzled his brains
for the name of the lady with the pleasant winning face to whom he had
just been introduced. At first it had seemed to him merely that her
hearing was better than his. The "nowadays," however, showed that it was
her memory which had the advantage. They were apparently old
acquaintances; and Sir John belonged to an old-fashioned school which
thought it discourtesy to forget even the least memorable of his
acquaintances.

"You were not so easily persuaded to decorate a ball-room at Mussoorie,"
Mrs. Linforth continued.

Sir John smiled, and there was a little bitterness in the smile.

"Ah!" he said, and there was a hint, too, of bitterness in his voice, "I
was wanted to decorate ball-rooms then. So I didn't go. Now I am not
wanted. So I do."

"That's not the true explanation," Mrs. Linforth said gently, and she
shook her head. She spoke so gently and with so clear a note of sympathy
and comprehension that Sir John was at more pains than ever to discover
who she was. To hardly anyone would it naturally have occurred that Sir
John Casson, with a tail of letters to his name, and a handsome pension,
enjoyed at an age when his faculties were alert and his bodily strength
not yet diminished, could stand in need of sympathy. But that precisely
was the fact, as the woman at his side understood. A great ruler
yesterday, with a council and an organized Government, subordinated to
his leadership, he now merely lived at Camberley, and as he had
confessed, was a bore at his club. And life at Camberley was dull.

He looked closely at Mrs. Linforth. She was a woman of forty, or perhaps
a year or two more. On the other hand, she might be a year or two less.
She had the figure of a young woman, and though her dark hair was flecked
with grey, he knew that was not to be accounted as a sign of either age
or trouble. Yet she looked as if trouble had been no stranger to her.
There were little lines about the eyes which told their tale to a shrewd
observer, though the face smiled never so pleasantly. In what summer, he
wondered, had she come up to the hill station of Mussoorie.

"No," he said. "I did not give you the real explanation. Now I will."

He nodded towards a girl who was at that moment crossing the ball-room
towards the door, upon the arm of a young man.

"That's the explanation."

Mrs. Linforth looked at the girl and smiled.

"The explanation seems to be enjoying itself," she said. "Yours?"

"Mine," replied Sir John with evident pride.

"She is very pretty," said Mrs. Linforth, and the sincerity of her
admiration made the father glow with satisfaction. Phyllis Casson was a
girl of eighteen, with the fresh looks and the clear eyes of her years. A
bright colour graced her cheeks, where, when she laughed, the dimples
played, and the white dress she wore was matched by the whiteness of her
throat. She was talking gaily with the youth on whose arm her hand
lightly rested.

"Who is he?" asked Mrs. Linforth.

Sir John raised his shoulders.

"I am not concerned," he replied. "The explanation is amusing itself, as
it ought to do, being only eighteen. The explanation wants everyone to
love her at the present moment. When she wants only one, then it will be
time for me to begin to get flurried." He turned abruptly to his
companion. "I would like you to know her."

"Thank you," said Mrs. Linforth, as she bowed to an acquaintance.

"Would you like to dance?" asked Sir John. "If so, I'll stand aside."

"No. I came here to look on," she explained.

"Lady Marfield," and she nodded towards their hostess, "is my cousin,
and--well, I don't want to grow rusty. You see I have an explanation
too--oh, not here! He's at Chatham, and it's as well to keep up with the
world--" She broke off abruptly, and with a perceptible start of
surprise. She was looking towards the door. Casson followed the direction
of her eyes, and saw young Linforth in the doorway.

At last he remembered. There had been one hot weather, years ago, when
this boy's father and his newly-married wife had come up to the
hill-station of Mussoorie. He remembered that Linforth had sent his wife
back to England, when he went North into Chiltistan on that work from
which he was never to return. It was the wife who was now at his side.

"I thought you said he was at Chatham," said Sir John, as Dick Linforth
advanced into the room.

"So I believed he was. He must have changed his mind at the last moment."
Then she looked with a little surprise at her companion. "You know him?"

"Yes," said Sir John, "I will tell you how it happened. I was dining
eighteen months ago at the Sappers' mess at Chatham. And that boy's face
came out of the crowd and took my eyes and my imagination too. You know,
perhaps, how that happens at times. There seems to be no particular
reason why it should happen at the moment. Afterwards you realise that
there was very good reason. A great career, perhaps, perhaps only some
one signal act, an act typical of a whole unknown life, leaps to light
and justifies the claim the young face made upon your sympathy. Anyhow, I
noticed young Linforth. It was not his good looks which attracted me.
There was something else. I made inquiries. The Colonel was not a very
observant man. Linforth was one of the subalterns--a good bat and a good
change bowler. That was all. Only I happened to look round the walls of
the Sappers' mess. There are portraits hung there of famous members of
that mess who were thought of no particular account when they were
subalterns at Chatham. There's one alive to-day. Another died at
Khartoum."

"Yes," said Mrs. Linforth.

"Well, I made the acquaintance of your son that night," said Sir John.

Mrs. Linforth stood for a moment silent, her face for the moment quite
beautiful. Then she broke into a laugh.

"I am glad I scratched your back first," she said. "And as for the
cricket, it's quite true. I taught him to keep a straight bat myself."

Meanwhile, Dick Linforth was walking across the floor of the ball-room,
quite unconscious of the two who talked of him. He was not, indeed,
looking about him at all. It seemed to both his mother and Sir John, as
they watched him steadily moving in and out amongst the throng--for it
was the height of the season, and Lady Marfield's big drawing-room in
Chesterfield Gardens was crowded--that he was making his way to a
definite spot, as though just at this moment he had a definite
appointment.

"He changed his mind at the last moment," said Sir John with a laugh,
which gave to him the look of a boy. "Let us see who it is that has
brought him up from Chatham to London at the last moment!"

"Would it be fair?" asked Mrs. Linforth reluctantly. She was, indeed, no
less curious upon the point than her companion, and while she asked the
question, her eyes followed her son's movements. He was tall, and though
he moved quickly and easily, it was possible to keep him in view.

A gap in the crowd opened before them, making a lane--and at the end of
the lane they saw Linforth approach a lady and receive the welcome of
her smile. For a moment the gap remained open, and then the bright
frocks and black coats swept across the space. But both had seen, and
Mrs. Linforth, in addition, was aware of a barely perceptible start made
by Sir John at her side.

She looked at him sharply. His face had grown grave.

"You know her?" asked Mrs. Linforth. There was anxiety in her voice.
There was also a note of jealousy.

"Yes."

"Who is she?"

"Mrs. Oliver. Violet Oliver."

"Married!"

"A widow. I introduced her to your son at La Grave in the Dauphine
country last summer. Our motor-car had broken down. We all stayed for a
couple of days together in the same hotel. Mrs. Oliver is a friend of my
daughter's. Phyllis admires her very much, and in most instances I am
prepared to trust Phyllis' instincts."

"But not in this instance," said Mrs. Linforth quietly. She had been
quick to note a very slight embarrassment in Sir John Casson's manner.

"I don't say that," he replied quickly--a little too quickly.

"Will you find me a chair?" said Mrs. Linforth, looking about her. "There
are two over here." She led the way to the chairs which were placed in a
nook of the room not very far from the door by which Linforth had
entered. She took her seat, and when Sir John had seated himself beside
her, she said:

"Please tell me what you know of her."

Sir John spread out his hands in protest.

"Certainly, I will. But there is nothing to her discredit, so far as I
know, Mrs. Linforth--nothing at all. Beyond that she is beautiful--really
beautiful, as few women are. That, no doubt, will be looked upon as a
crime by many, though you and I will not be of that number."

Sybil Linforth maintained a determined silence--not for anything would
she admit, even to herself, that Violet Oliver was beautiful.

"You are telling me nothing," she said.

"There is so little to tell," replied Sir John. "Violet Oliver comes of a
family which is known, though it is not rich. She studied music with a
view to making her living as a singer. For she has a very sweet voice,
though its want of power forbade grand opera. Her studies were
interrupted by the appearance of a cavalry captain, who made love to her.
She liked it, whereas she did not like studying music. Very naturally she
married the cavalry officer. Captain Oliver took her with him abroad,
and, I believe, brought her to India. At all events she knows something
of India, and has friends there. She is going back there this winter.
Captain Oliver was killed in a hill campaign two years ago. Mrs. Oliver
is now twenty-three years old. That is all."

Mrs. Linforth, however, was not satisfied.

"Was Captain Oliver rich?" she asked.

"Not that I know of," said Sir John. "His widow lives in a little house
at the wrong end of Curzon Street."

"But she is wearing to-night very beautiful pearls," said Sybil
Linforth quietly.

Sir John Casson moved suddenly in his chair. Moreover, Sybil Linforth's
eyes were at that moment resting with a quiet scrutiny upon his face.

"It was difficult to see exactly what she was wearing," he said. "The gap
in the crowd filled up so quickly."

"There was time enough for any woman," said Mrs. Linforth with a smile.
"And more than time enough for any mother."

"Mrs. Oliver is always, I believe, exquisitely dressed," said Sir John
with an assumption of carelessness. "I am not much of a judge myself."

But his carelessness did not deceive his companion. Sybil Linforth was
certain, absolutely certain, that the cause of the constraint and
embarrassment which had been audible in Sir John's voice, and noticeable
in his very manner, was that double string of big pearls of perfect
colour which adorned Violet Oliver's white throat.

She looked Sir John straight in the face.

"Would you introduce Dick to Mrs. Oliver now, if you had not done it
before?" she asked.

"My dear lady," protested Sir John, "if I met Dick at a little hotel in
the Dauphine, and did not introduce him to the ladies who were travelling
with me, it would surely reflect upon Dick, not upon the ladies"; and
with that subtle evasion Sir John escaped from the fire of questions. He
turned the conversation into another channel, pluming himself upon his
cleverness. But he forgot that the subtlest evasions of the male mind are
clumsy and obvious to a woman, especially if the woman be on the alert.
Sybil Linforth did not think Sir John had showed any cleverness whatever.
She let him turn the conversation, because she knew what she had set out
to know. That string of pearls had made the difference between Sir John's
estimate of Violet Oliver last year and his estimate of her this season.




CHAPTER IX

LUFFE IS REMEMBERED


Violet Oliver took a quick step forward when she caught sight of
Linforth's tall and well-knit figure coming towards her; and the smile
with which she welcomed him was a warm smile of genuine pleasure. There
were people who called Violet Oliver affected--chiefly ladies. But
Phyllis Casson was not one of them.

"There is no one more natural in the room," she was in the habit of
stoutly declaring when she heard the gossips at work, and we know, on her
father's authority, that Phyllis Casson's judgments were in most
instances to be respected. Certainly it was not Violet Oliver's fault
that her face in repose took on a wistful and pathetic look, and that her
dark quiet eyes, even when her thoughts were absent--and her thoughts
were often absent--rested pensively upon you with an unconscious
flattery. It appeared that she was pondering deeply who and what you
were; whereas she was probably debating whether she should or should not
powder her nose before she went in to supper. Nor was she to blame
because at the approach of a friend that sweet and thoughtful face would
twinkle suddenly into mischief and amusement. "She is as God made her,"
Phyllis Casson protested, "and He made her beautiful."

It will be recognised, therefore, that there was truth in Sir John's
observation that young men wanted to protect her. But the bald statement
is not sufficient. Whether that quick transition from pensiveness to a
dancing gaiety was the cause, or whether it only helped her beauty, this
is certain. Young men went down before her like ninepins in a bowling
alley. There was something singularly virginal about her. She had, too,
quite naturally, an affectionate manner which it was difficult to resist;
and above all she made no effort ever. What she said and what she did
seemed always purely spontaneous. For the rest, she was a little over the
general height of women, and even looked a little taller. For she was
very fragile, and dainty, like an exquisite piece of china. Her head was
small, and, poised as it was upon a slender throat, looked almost
overweighted by the wealth of her dark hair. Her features were finely
chiselled from the nose to the oval of her chin, and the red bow of her
lips; and, with all her fragility, a delicate colour in her cheeks spoke
of health.

"You have come!" she said.

Linforth took her little white-gloved hand in his.

"You knew I should," he answered.

"Yes, I knew that. But I didn't know that I should have to wait," she
replied reproachfully. "I was here, in this corner, at the moment."

"I couldn't catch an earlier train. I only got your telegram saying you
would be at the dance late in the afternoon."

"I did not know that I should be coming until this morning," she said.

"Then it was very kind of you to send the telegram at all."

"Yes, it was," said Violet Oliver simply, and Linforth laughed.

"Shall we dance?" he asked.

Mrs. Oliver nodded.

"Round the room as far as the door. I am hungry. We will go downstairs
and have supper."

Linforth could have wished for nothing better. But the moment that his
arm was about her waist and they had started for the door, Violet Oliver
realised that her partner was the lightest dancer in the room. She
herself loved dancing, and for once in a way to be steered in and out
amongst the couples without a bump or even a single entanglement of her
satin train was a pleasure not to be foregone. She gave herself up to it.

"Let us go on," she said. "I did not know. You see, we have never danced
together before. I had not thought of you in that way."

She ceased to speak, being content to dance. Linforth for his part was
content to watch her, to hold her as something very precious, and to
evoke a smile upon her lips when her eyes met his. "I had not thought of
you in that way!" she had said. Did not that mean that she had at all
events been thinking of him in some way? And with that flattery still
sweet in his thoughts, he was aware that her feet suddenly faltered. He
looked at her face. It had changed. Yet so swiftly did it recover its
composure that Linforth had not even the time to understand what the
change implied. Annoyance, surprise, fear! One of these feelings,
certainly, or perhaps a trifle of each. Linforth could not make sure.
There had been a flash of some sudden emotion. That at all events was
certain. But in guessing fear, he argued, his wits must surely have gone
far astray; though fear was the first guess which he had made.

"What was the matter?"

Violet Oliver answered readily.

"A big man was jigging down upon us. I saw him over your shoulder. I
dislike being bumped by big men," she said, with a little easy laugh.
"And still more I hate having a new frock torn."

Dick Linforth was content with the answer. But it happened that Sybil
Linforth was looking on from her chair in the corner, and the corner was
very close to the spot where for a moment Violet Oliver had lost
countenance. She looked sharply at Sir John Casson, who might have
noticed or might not. His face betrayed nothing whatever. He went on
talking placidly, but Mrs. Linforth ceased to listen to him.

Violet Oliver waltzed with her partner once more round the room.
Then she said:

"Let us stop!" and in almost the same breath she added, "Oh, there's
your friend."

Linforth turned and saw standing just within the doorway his friend
Shere Ali.

"You could hardly tell that he was not English," she went on; and indeed,
with his straight features, his supple figure, and a colour no darker
than many a sunburnt Englishman wears every August, Shere Ali might have
passed unnoticed by a stranger. It seemed that he had been watching for
the couple to stop dancing. For no sooner had they stopped than he
advanced quickly towards them.

Linforth, however, had not as yet noticed him.

"It can't be Shere Ali," he said. "He is in the country. I heard from him
only to-day."

"Yet it is he," said Mrs. Oliver, and then Linforth saw him.

"Hallo!" he said softly to himself, and as Shere Ali joined them he added
aloud, "something has happened."

"Yes, I have news," said Shere Ali. But he was looking at Mrs. Oliver,
and spoke as though the news had been pushed for a moment into the back
of his mind.

"What is it?" asked Linforth.

Shere Ali turned to Linforth.

"I go back to Chiltistan."

"When?" asked Linforth, and a note of envy was audible in his voice. Mrs.
Oliver heard it and understood it. She shrugged her shoulders
impatiently.

"By the first boat to Bombay."

"In a week's time, then?" said Mrs. Oliver, quickly.

Shere Ali glanced swiftly at her, seeking the meaning of that question.
Did regret prompt it? Or, on the other hand, was she glad?

"Yes, in a week's time," he replied slowly.

"Why?" asked Linforth. "Is there trouble in Chiltistan?" He spoke
regretfully. It would be hard luck if that uneasy State were to wake
again into turmoil while he was kept kicking his heels at Chatham.

"Yes, there is trouble," Shere Ali replied. "But it is not the kind of
trouble which will help you forward with the Road."

The trouble, indeed, was of quite another kind. The Russians were not
stirring behind the Hindu Kush or on the Pamirs. The turbulent people of
Chiltistan were making trouble, and profit out of the trouble, it is
true. That they would be sure to do somewhere, and, moreover, they would
do it with a sense of humour more common upon the Frontier than in the
Provinces of India. But they were not at the moment making trouble in
their own country. They were heard of in Masulipatam and other cities of
Madras, where they were badly wanted by the police and not often caught.
The quarrel in Chiltistan lay between the British Raj, as represented by
the Resident, and the Khan, who was spending the revenue of his State
chiefly upon his own amusements. It was claimed that the Resident should
henceforth supervise the disposition of the revenue, and it had been
suggested to the Khan that unless he consented to the proposal he would
have to retire into private life in some other quarter of the Indian
Peninsula. To give to the suggestion the necessary persuasive power, the
young Prince was to be brought back at once, so that he might be ready at
a moment's notice to succeed. This reason, however, was not given to
Shere Ali. He was merely informed by the Indian Government that he must
return to his country at once.

Shere Ali stood before Mrs. Oliver.

"You will give me a dance?" he said.

"After supper," she replied, and she laid her hand within Linforth's arm.
But Shere Ali did not give way.

"Where shall I find you?" he asked.

"By the door, here."

And upon that Shere Ali's voice changed to one of appeal. There came a
note of longing into his voice. He looked at Violet Oliver with burning
eyes. He seemed unaware Linforth was standing by.

"You will not fail me?" he said; and Linforth moved impatiently.

"No. I shall be there," said Violet Oliver, and she spoke hurriedly and
moved by through the doorway. Beneath her eyelids she stole a glance at
her companion. His face was clouded. The scene which he had witnessed had
jarred upon him, and still jarred. When he spoke to her his voice had a
sternness which Violet Oliver had not heard before. But she had always
been aware that it might be heard, if at any time he disapproved.

"'Your friend,' you called him, speaking to me," he said. "It seems that
he is your friend too."

"He was with you at La Grave. I met him there."

"He comes to your house?"

"He has called once or twice," said Mrs. Oliver submissively. It was by
no wish of hers that Shere Ali had appeared at this dance. She had, on
the contrary, been at some pains to assure herself that he would not be
there. And while she answered Linforth she was turning over in her mind a
difficulty which had freshly arisen. Shere Ali was returning to India. In
some respects that was awkward. But Linforth's ill-humour promised her a
way of escape. He was rather silent during the earlier part of their
supper. They had a little table to themselves, and while she talked, and
talked with now and then an anxious glance at Linforth, he was content to
listen or to answer shortly. Finally she said:

"I suppose you will not see your friend again before he starts?"

"Yes, I shall," replied Linforth, and the frown gathered afresh upon his
forehead. "He dines to-morrow night with me at Chatham."

"Then I want to ask you something," she continued. "I want you not to
mention to him that I am paying a visit to India in the cold weather."

Linforth's face cleared in an instant.

"I am glad that you have made that request," he said frankly. "I have no
right to say it, perhaps. But I think you are wise."

"Things are possible here," she agreed, "which are impossible there."

"Friendship, for instance."

"Some friendships," said Mrs. Oliver; and the rest of their supper they
ate cheerily enough. Violet Oliver was genuinely interested in her
partner. She was not very familiar with the large view and the definite
purpose. Those who gathered within her tiny drawing-room, who sought her
out at balls and parties, were, as a rule, the younger men of the day,
and Linforth, though like them in age and like them, too, in his capacity
for enjoyment, was different in most other ways. For the large view and
the definite purpose coloured all his life, and, though he spoke little
of either, set him apart.

Mrs. Oliver did not cultivate many illusions about herself. She saw very
clearly what manner of men they were to whom her beauty made its chief
appeal--lean-minded youths for the most part not remarkable for
brains--and she was sincerely proud that Linforth sought her out no less
than they did. She could imagine herself afraid of Linforth, and that
fancy gave her a little thrill of pleasure. She understood that he could
easily be lost altogether, that if once he went away he would not return;
and that knowledge made her careful not to lose him. Moreover, she had
brains herself. She led him on that evening, and he spoke with greater
freedom than he had used with her before--greater freedom, she hoped,
than he had used with anyone. The lighted supper-room grew dim before his
eyes, the noise and the laughter and the passing figures of the other
guests ceased to be noticed. He talked in a low voice, and with his keen
face pushed a trifle forward as though, while he spoke, he listened. He
was listening to the call of the Road.

He stopped abruptly and looked anxiously at Violet.

"Have I bored you?" he asked. "Generally I watch you," he added with a
smile, "lest I should bore you. To-night I haven't watched."

"For that reason I have been interested to-night more than I have
been before."

She gathered up her fan with a little sigh. "I must go upstairs
again," she said, and she rose from her chair. "I am sorry. But I have
promised dances."

"I will take you up. Then I shall go."

"You will dance no more?"

"No," he said with a smile. "I'll not spoil a perfect evening." Violet
Oliver was not given to tricks or any play of the eyelids. She looked at
him directly, and she said simply "Thank you."

He took her up to the landing, and came down stairs again for his hat and
coat. But, as he passed with them along the passage door he turned, and
looking up the stairs, saw Violet Oliver watching him. She waved her hand
lightly and smiled. As the door closed behind him she returned to the
ball-room. Linforth went away with no suspicion in his mind that she had
stayed her feet upon the landing merely to make very sure that he went.
He had left his mother behind, however, and she was all suspicion. She
had remarked the little scene when Shere Ali had unexpectedly appeared.
She had noticed the embarrassment of Violet Oliver and the anger of Shere
Ali. It was possible that Sir John Casson had also not been blind to it.
For, a little time afterwards, he nodded towards Shere Ali.

"Do you know that boy?" he asked.

"Yes. He is Dick's great friend. They have much in common. His father was
my husband's friend."

"And both believed in the new Road, I know," said Sir John. He pulled at
his grey moustache thoughtfully, and asked: "Have the sons the Road in
common, too?" A shadow darkened Sybil Linforth's face. She sat silent for
some seconds, and when she answered, it was with a great reluctance.

"I believe so," she said in a low voice, and she shivered. She turned her
face towards Casson. It was troubled, fear-stricken, and in that assembly
of laughing and light-hearted people it roused him with a shock. "I wish,
with all my heart, that they had not," she added, and her voice shook and
trembled as she spoke.

The terrible story of Linforth's end, long since dim in Sir John Casson's
recollections, came back in vivid detail. He said no more upon that
point. He took Mrs. Linforth down to supper, and bringing her back again,
led her round the ball-room. An open archway upon one side led into a
conservatory, where only fairy lights glowed amongst the plants and
flowers. As the couple passed this archway, Sir John looked in. He did
not stop, but, after they had walked a few yards further, he said:

"Was it pale blue that Violet Oliver was wearing? I am not clever at
noticing these things."

"Yes, pale blue and--pearls," said Sybil Linforth.

"There is no need that we should walk any further. Here are two chairs,"
said Sir John. There was in truth no need. He had ascertained something
about which, in spite of his outward placidity, he had been very curious.

"Did you ever hear of a man named Luffe?" he asked.

Sybil Linforth started. It had been Luffe whose continual arguments,
entreaties, threats, and persuasions had caused the Road long ago to be
carried forward. But she answered quietly, "Yes."

"Of course you and I remember him," said Sir John. "But how many others?
That's the penalty of Indian service. You are soon forgotten, in India as
quickly as here. In most cases, no doubt, it doesn't matter. Men just as
good and younger stand waiting at the milestones to carry on the torch.
But in some cases I think it's a pity."

"In Mr. Luffe's case?" asked Sybil Linforth.

"Particularly in Luffe's case," said Sir John.




CHAPTER X

AN UNANSWERED QUESTION


Sir John had guessed aright. Shere Ali was in the conservatory, and
Violet Oliver sat by his side.

"I did not expect you to-night," she said lightly, as she opened and
shut her fan.

"Nor did I mean to come," he answered. "I had arranged to stay in the
country until to-morrow. But I got my letter from the India Office this
morning. It left me--restless." He uttered the word with reluctance, and
almost with an air of shame. Then he clasped his hands together, and
blurted out violently: "It left me miserable. I could not stay away," and
he turned to his companion. "I wanted to see you, if only for five
minutes." It was Violet Oliver's instinct to be kind. She fitted herself
naturally to the words of her companions, sympathised with them in their
troubles, laughed with them when they were at the top of their spirits.
So now her natural kindness made her eyes gentle. She leaned forward.

"Did you?" she asked softly. "And yet you are going home!"

"I am going back to Chiltistan," said Shere Ali.

"Home!" Violet Oliver repeated, dwelling upon the word with a friendly
insistence.

But the young prince did not assent; he remained silent--so long silent
that Violet Oliver moved uneasily. She was conscious of suspense; she
began to dread his answer. He turned to her quickly as she moved.

"You say that I am going home. That's the whole question," he said. "I am
trying to answer it--and I can't. Listen!"

Into the quiet and dimly lit place of flowers the music of the violins
floated with a note of wistfulness in the melody they played--a
suggestion of regret. Through a doorway at the end of the conservatory
Shere Ali could see the dancers swing by in the lighted ball-room, the
women in their bright frocks and glancing jewels, some of whom had
flattered him, a few of whom had been his friends, and all of whom had
treated him as one of their own folk and their equal.

"I have heard the tune, which they are playing, before," he said slowly.
"I heard it one summer night in Geneva. Linforth and I had come down from
the mountains. We were dining with a party on the balcony of a restaurant
over the lake. A boat passed hidden by the darkness. We could hear the
splash of the oars. There were musicians in the boat playing this melody.
We were all very happy that night. And I hear it again now--when I am
with you. I think that I shall remember it very often in Chiltistan."

There was so unmistakable a misery in his manner, in his voice, in his
dejected looks, that Violet was moved to a deep sympathy. He was only a
boy, of course, but he was a boy sunk in distress.

"But there are your plans," she urged. "Have you forgotten them? You were
going to do so much. There was so much to do. So many changes, so many
reforms which must be made. You used to talk to me so eagerly. No more of
your people were to be sold into slavery. You were going to stop all
that. You were going to silence the mullahs when they preached sedition
and to free Chiltistan from their tyranny."

Violet remembered with a whimsical little smile how Shere All's
enthusiasm had wearied her, but she checked the smile and continued:

"Are all those plans mere dreams and fancies?"

"No," replied Shere Ali, lifting his head. "No," he said again with
something of violence in the emphasis; and for a moment he sat erect,
with his shoulders squared, fronting his destiny. Almost for a moment he
recaptured that for which he had been seeking--his identity with his own
race. But the moment passed. His attitude relaxed. He turned to Violet
with troubled eyes. "No, they are not dreams; they are things which need
to be done. But I can't realise them now, with you sitting here, any more
than I can realise, with this music in my ears, that it is my home to
which I am going back."

"Oh, but you will!" cried Violet. "When you are out there you will.
There's the road, too, the road which you and Mr. Linforth--"

She did not complete the sentence. With a low cry Shere All broke in upon
her words. He leaned forward, with his hands covering his face.

"Yes," he whispered, "there's the road--there's the road." A passion of
self-reproach shook him. Not for nothing had Linforth been his friend. "I
feel a traitor," he cried. "For ten years we have talked of that road,
planned it, and made it in thought, poring over the maps. Yes, for even
at the beginning, in our first term at Eton, we began. Over the passes to
the foot of the Hindu Kush! Only a year ago I was eager, really, honestly
eager," and he paused for a moment, wondering at that picture of himself
which his words evoked, wondering whether it was indeed he--he who sat in
the conservatory--who had cherished those bright dreams of a great life
in Chiltistan. "Yes, it is true. I was honestly eager to go back."

"Less than a year ago," said Violet Oliver quickly. "Less than a week
ago. When did I see you last? On Sunday, wasn't it?"

"But was I honest then?" exclaimed Shere Ali. "I don't know. I thought I
was--right up to to-day, right up to this morning when the letter came.
And then--" He made a despairing gesture, as of a man crumbling dust
between his fingers.

"I will tell you," he said, turning towards her. "I believe that the last
time I was really honest was in August of last year. Linforth and I
talked of the Road through a long day in the hut upon the Meije. I was
keen then--honestly keen. But the next evening we came down to La Grave,
and--I met you."

"No," Violet Oliver protested. "That's not the reason."

"I think it is," said Shere Ali quietly; and Violet was silent.

In spite of her pity, which was genuine enough, her thoughts went out
towards Shere Ali's friend. With what words and in what spirit would he
have received Shere Ali's summons to Chiltistan? She asked herself the
question, knowing well the answer. There would have been no
lamentations--a little regret, perhaps, perhaps indeed a longing to take
her with him. But there would have been not a thought of abandoning the
work. She recognised that truth with a sudden spasm of anger, but yet
admiration strove with the anger and mastered it.

"If what you say is true," she said to Shere Ali gently, "I am very
sorry. But I hope it is not true. You have been ten years here; you have
made many friends. Just for the moment the thought of leaving them behind
troubles you. But that will pass."

"Will it?" he asked quietly. Then a smile came upon his face. "There's
one thing of which I am glad," he whispered.

"Yes."

"You are wearing my pearls to-night."

Violet Oliver smiled, and with a tender caressing movement her fingers
touched and felt the rope of pearls about her neck. Both the smile and
the movement revealed Violet Oliver. She had a love of beautiful things,
but, above all, of jewels. It was a passion with her deeper than any she
had ever known. Beautiful stones, and pearls more than any other stones,
made an appeal to her which she could not resist.

"They are very lovely," she said softly.

"I shall be glad to remember that you wore them to-night," said Shere
Ali; "for, as you know, I love you."

"Hush!" said Mrs. Oliver; and she rose with a start from her chair. Shere
Ali did the same.

"It's true," he said sullenly; and then, with a swift step, he placed
himself in her way. Violet Oliver drew back quietly. Her heart beat
quickly. She looked into Shere Ali's face and was afraid. He was quite
still; even the expression of his face was set, but his eyes burned upon
her. There was a fierceness in his manner which was new to her.

His hand darted out quickly towards her. But Violet Oliver was no less
quick. She drew back yet another step. "I didn't understand," she said,
and her lips shook, so that the words were blurred. She raised her hands
to her neck and loosened the coils of pearls about it as though she meant
to lift them off and return them to the giver.

"Oh, don't do that, please," said Shere Ali; and already his voice and
his manner had changed. The sullenness had gone. Now he besought. His
English training came to his aid. He had learned reverence for women,
acquiring it gradually and almost unconsciously rather than from any
direct teaching. He had spent one summer's holidays with Mrs. Linforth
for his hostess in the house under the Sussex Downs, and from her and
from Dick's manner towards her he had begun to acquire it. He had become
conscious of that reverence, and proudly conscious. He had fostered it.
It was one of the qualities, one of the essential qualities, of the white
people. It marked the sahibs off from the Eastern races. To possess that
reverence, to be influenced and moved and guided by it--that made him one
with them. He called upon it to help him now. Almost he had forgotten it.

"Please don't take them off," he implored. "There was nothing to
understand."

And perhaps there was not, except this--that Violet Oliver was of those
who take but do not give. She removed her hands from her throat. The
moment of danger had passed, as she very well knew.

"There is one thing I should be very grateful for," he said humbly. "It
would not cause you very much trouble, and it would mean a great deal to
me. I would like you to write to me now and then."

"Why, of course I will," said Mrs. Oliver, with a smile.

"You promise?"

"Yes. But you will come back to England."

"I shall try to come next summer, if it's only for a week," said Shere
Ali; and he made way for Violet.

She moved a few yards across the conservatory, and then stopped for Shere
Ali to come level with her. "I shall write, of course, to Chiltistan,"
she said carelessly.

"Yes," he replied, "I go northwards from Bombay. I travel straight
to Kohara."

"Very well. I will write to you there," said Violet Oliver; but it seemed
that she was not satisfied. She walked slowly towards the door, with
Shere Ali at her side.

"And you will stay in Chiltistan until you come back to us?" she asked.
"You won't go down to Calcutta at Christmas, for instance? Calcutta is
the place to which people go at Christmas, isn't it? I think you are
right. You have a career in your own country, amongst your own people."

She spoke urgently. And Shere Ali, thinking that thus she spoke in
concern for his future, drew some pride from her encouragement. He
also drew some shame; for she might have been speaking, too, in pity
for his distress.

"Mrs. Oliver," he said, with hesitation; and she stopped and turned to
him. "Perhaps I said more than I meant to say a few minutes ago. I have
not forgotten really that there is much for me to do in my own country; I
have not forgotten that I can thank all of you here who have shown me so
much kindness by more than mere words. For I can help in Chiltistan--I
can really help."

Then came a smile upon Violet Oliver's face, and her eyes shone.

"That is how I would have you speak," she cried. "I am glad. Oh, I am
glad!" and her voice rang with the fulness of her pleasure. She had been
greatly distressed by the unhappiness of her friend, and in that distress
compunction had played its part. There was no hardness in Violet Oliver's
character. To give pain flattered no vanity in her. She understood that
Shere Ali would suffer because of her, and she longed that he should find
his compensation in the opportunities of rulership.

"Let us say good-bye here," he said. "We may not be alone again
before I go."

She gave him her hand, and he held it for a little while, and then
reluctantly let it go.

"That must last me until the summer of next year," he said with a smile.

"Until the summer," said Violet Oliver; and she passed out from the
doorway into the ball-room. But as she entered the room and came once
more amongst the lights and the noise, and the familiar groups of her
friends, she uttered a little sigh of relief. The summer of next year
was a long way off; and meanwhile here was an episode in her life ended
as she wished it to end; for in these last minutes it had begun to
disquiet her.

Shere Ali remained behind in the conservatory. His eyes wandered about
it. He was impressing upon his memory every detail of the place, the
colours of the flowers and their very perfumes. He looked through the
doorway into the ball-room whence the music swelled. The note of regret
was louder than ever in his ears, and dominated the melody. To-morrow the
lights, the delicate frocks, the laughing voices and bright eyes would be
gone. The violins spoke to him of that morrow of blank emptiness softly
and languorously like one making a luxury of grief. In a week's time he
would be setting his face towards Chiltistan; and, in spite of the brave
words he had used to Violet Oliver, once more the question forced itself
into his mind.

"Do I belong here?" he asked. "Or do I belong to Chiltistan?"

On the one side was all that during ten years he had gradually learned to
love and enjoy; on the other side was his race and the land of his birth.
He could not answer the question; for there was a third possibility which
had not yet entered into his speculations, and in that third possibility
alone was the answer to be found.




CHAPTER XI

AT THE GATE OF LAHORE


Shere Ali, accordingly, travelled with reluctance to Bombay, and at that
port an anonymous letter with the postmark of Calcutta was brought to him
on board the steamer. Shere Ali glanced through it, and laughed, knowing
well his countrymen's passion for mysteries and intrigues. He put the
letter in his pocket and took the northward mail. These were the days
before the North-West Province had been severed from the Punjab, and
instructions had been given to Shere Ali to break his journey at Lahore.
He left the train, therefore, at that station, on a morning when the
thermometer stood at over a hundred in the shade, and was carried in a
barouche drawn by camels to Government House. There a haggard and
heat-worn Commissioner received him, and in the cool of the evening took
him for a ride, giving him sage advice with the accent of authority.

"His Excellency would have liked to have seen you himself," said the
Commissioner. "But he is in the Hills and he did not think it necessary
to take you so far out of your way. It is as well that you should get to
Kohara as soon as possible, and on particular subjects the Resident,
Captain Phillips, will be able and glad to advise you."

The Commissioner spoke politely enough, but the accent of authority was
there. Shere Ali's ears were quick to notice and resent it. Some years
had passed since commands had been laid upon him.

"I shall always be glad to hear what Captain Phillips has to say," he
replied stiffly.

"Yes, yes, of course," said the Commissioner, taking that for granted.
"Captain Phillips has our views."

He did not seem to notice the stiffness of Shere Ali's tone. He was tired
with the strain of the hot weather, as his drawn face and hollow eyes
showed clearly.

"On general lines," he continued, "his Excellency would like you to
understand that the Government has no intention and no wish to interfere
with the customs and laws of Chiltistan. In fact it is at this moment
particularly desirable that you should throw your influence on the side
of the native observances."

"Indeed," said Shere Ali, as he rode along the Mall by the Commissioner's
side. "Then why was I sent to Oxford?"

The Commissioner was not surprised by the question, though it was
abruptly put.

"Surely that is a question to ask of his Highness, your father," he
replied. "No doubt all you learnt and saw there will be extremely
valuable. What I am saying now is that the Government wishes to give no
pretext whatever to those who would disturb Chiltistan, and it looks to
you with every confidence for help and support."

"And the road?" asked Shere Ali.

"It is not proposed to carry on the road. The merchants in Kohara think
that by bringing more trade, their profits would become less, while the
country people look upon it as a deliberate attack upon their
independence. The Government has no desire to force it upon the people
against their wish."

Shere Ali made no reply, but his heart grew bitter within him. He had
come out to India sore and distressed at parting from his friends, from
the life he had grown to love. All the way down the Red Sea and across
the Indian Ocean, the pangs of regret had been growing keener with each
new mile which was gathered in behind the screw. He had lain awake
listening to the throb of the engine with an aching heart, and with every
longing for the country he had left behind growing stronger, every
recollection growing more vivid and intense. There was just one
consolation which he had. Violet Oliver had enheartened him to make the
most of it, and calling up the image of her face before him, he had
striven so to do. There were his plans for the regeneration of his
country. And lo! here at Lahore, three days after he had set foot on
land, they were shattered--before they were begun. He had been trained
and educated in the West according to Western notions and he was now
bidden to go and rule in the East according to the ideals of the East.
Bidden! For the quiet accent of authority in the words of the unobservant
man who rode beside him rankled deeply. He had it in his thoughts to cry
out: "Then what place have I in Chiltistan?"

But though he never uttered the question, it was none the less answered.

"Economy and quiet are the two things which Chiltistan needs," said the
Commissioner. Then he looked carelessly at Shere Ali.

"It is hoped that you will marry and settle down as soon as possible,"
he said.

Shere Ali reined in his horse, stared for a moment at his companion and
then began quietly to laugh. The laughter was not pleasant to listen to,
and it grew harsher and louder. But it brought no change to the tired
face of the Commissioner, who had stopped his horse beside Shere Ali's
and was busy with the buckle of his stirrup leather. He raised his head
when the laughter stopped. And it stopped as abruptly as it had begun.

"You were saying--" he remarked politely.

"That I would like, if there is time, to ride through the Bazaar."

"Certainly," said the Commissioner. "This way," and he turned at right
angles out of the Mall and its avenue of great trees and led the way
towards the native city. Short of it, however, he stopped.

"You won't mind if I leave you here," he said. "There is some work to be
done. You can make no mistake. You can see the Gate from here."

"Is that the Delhi Gate?" asked Shere Ali.

"Yes. You can find your own way back, no doubt"; and the unobservant
Commissioner rode away at a trot.

Shere Ali went forward alone down the narrowing street towards the Gate.
He was aflame with indignation. So he was to be nothing, he was to do
nothing, except to practice economy and marry--a _nigger_. The
contemptuous word rose to his mind. Long ago it had been applied to him
more than once during his early school-days, until desperate battles and
black eyes had won him immunity. Now he used it savagely himself to
stigmatise his own people. He was of the White People, he declared. He
felt it, he looked it. Even at that moment a portly gentleman of Lahore
in a coloured turban and patent-leather shoes salaamed to him as he
passed upon his horse. "Surely," he thought, "I am one of the Sahibs.
This fool of a Commissioner does not understand."

A woman passed him carrying a babe poised upon her head, with silver
anklets upon her bare ankles and heavy silver rings upon her toes. She
turned her face, which was overshadowed by a hood, to look at Shere Ali
as he rode by. He saw the heavy stud of silver and enamel in her nostril,
the withered brown face. He turned and looked at her, as she walked
flat-footed and ungainly, her pyjamas of pink cotton showing beneath her
cloak. He had no part or lot with any of these people of the East. The
face of Violet Oliver shone before his eyes. There was his mate. He
recalled the exquisite daintiness of her appearance, her ruffles of lace,
the winning sweetness of her eyes. Not in Chiltistan would he find a
woman to drive that image from his thoughts.

Meanwhile he drew nearer to the Delhi Gate. A stream of people flowed out
from it towards him. Over their heads he looked through the archway down
the narrow street, where between the booths and under the carved
overhanging balconies the brown people robed and turbaned, in saffron and
blue, pink and white, thronged and chattered and jostled, a kaleidoscope
of colour. Shere Ali turned his eyes to the right and the left as he
went. It was not merely to rid himself of the Commissioner that he had
proposed to ride on to the bazaars by way of the Delhi Gate. The
anonymous letter bearing the postmark of Calcutta, which had been placed
in his hand when the steamer reached Bombay, besought him to pass by the
Delhi Gate at Lahore and do certain things by which means he would hear
much to his advantage. He had no thought at the moment to do the
particular things, but he was sufficiently curious to pass by the Delhi
Gate. Some intrigue was on hand into which it was sought to lure him. He
had not forgotten that his countrymen were born intriguers.

Slowly he rode along. Here and there a group of people were squatting on
the ground, talking noisily. Here and there a beggar stretched out a
maimed limb and sought for alms. Then close to the gate he saw that for
which he searched: a man sitting apart with a blanket over his head. No
one spoke to the man, and for his part he never moved. He sat erect with
his legs crossed in front of him and his hands resting idly on his knees,
a strange and rather grim figure; so motionless, so utterly lifeless he
seemed. The blanket reached almost to the ground behind and hung down
to his lap in front, and Shere Ali noticed that a leathern begging-bowl
at his side was well filled with coins. So he must have sat just in that
attitude, with that thick covering stifling him, all through the fiery
heat of that long day. As Shere Ali looked, he saw a poor bent man in
rags, with yellow caste marks on his forehead, add a copper pi to the
collection in the bowl. Shere Ali stopped the giver.

"Who is he?" he asked, pointing to the draped figure.

The old Hindu raised his hand and bowed his forehead into the palm.

"Huzoor, he is a holy man, a stranger who has lately come to Lahore, but
the holiest of all the holy men who have ever sat by the Delhi Gate. His
fame is already great."

"But why does he sit covered with the blanket?" asked Shere Ali.

"Huzoor, because of his holiness. He is so holy that his face must
not be seen."

Shere Ali laughed.

"He told you that himself, I suppose," he said.

"Huzoor, it is well known," said the old man. "He sits by the road all
day until the darkness comes--"

"Yes," said Shere Ali, bethinking him of the recommendations in his
letter, "until the darkness comes--and then?"

"Then he goes away into the city and no one sees him until the morning";
and the old man passed on.

Shere Ali chuckled and rode by the hooded man. His curiosity increased.
It was quite likely that the blanket hid a Mohammedan Pathan from beyond
the hills. To come down into the plains and mulct the pious Hindu by some
such ingenious practice would appeal to the Pathan's sense of humour
almost as much as to his pocket. Shere Ali drew the letter from his
pocket, and in the waning light read it through again. True, the postmark
showed that the letter had been posted in Calcutta, but more than one
native of Chiltistan had come south and set up as a money-lender in that
city on the proceeds of a successful burglary. He replaced the letter in
his pocket, and rode on at a walk through the throng. The darkness came
quickly; oil lamps were lighted in the booths and shone though the
unglazed window-spaces overhead. A refreshing coolness fell upon the
town, the short, welcome interval between the heat of the day and the
suffocating heat of the night. Shere Ali turned his horse and rode back
again to the gate. The hooded beggar still sat upon the ground, but he
was alone. The others, the blind and the maimed, had crawled away to
their dens. Except this grim motionless man, there was no one squatting
upon the ground.

Shere Ali reined in beside him, and bending forward in his saddle spoke
in a low voice a few words of Pushtu. The hooded figure did not move, but
from behind the blanket there issued a muffled voice.

"If your Highness will ride slowly on, your servant will follow and come
to his side."

Shere Ali went on, and in a few moments he heard the soft patter of a man
running barefoot along the dusty road. He stopped his horse and the
patter of feet ceased, but a moment after, silent as a shadow, the man
was at his side.

"You are of my country?" said Shere Ali.

"I am of Kohara," returned the man. "Safdar Khan of Kohara. May God keep
your Highness in health. We have waited long for your presence."

"What are you doing in Lahore?" asked Shere Ali.

In the darkness he saw a flash of white as Safdar Khan smiled.

"There was a little trouble, your Highness, with one Ishak Mohammed
and--Ishak Mohammed's son is still alive. He is a boy of eight, it is
true, and could not hold a rifle to his shoulder. But the trouble took
place near the road."

Shere Ali nodded his head in comprehension. Safdar Khan had shot his
enemy on the road, which is a holy place, and therefore he came
within the law.

"Blood-money was offered," continued Safdar Khan, "but the boy would not
consent, and claims my life. His mother would hold the rifle for him
while he pulled the trigger. So I am better in Lahore. Moreover, your
Highness, for a poor man life is difficult in Kohara. Taxes are high. So
I came down to this gate and sat with a cloak over my head."

"And you have found it profitable," said Shere Ali.

Again the teeth flashed in the darkness and Safdar Khan laughed.

"For two days I sat by the Delhi Gate and no one spoke to me or dropped a
single coin in my bowl. But on the third day a good man, may God preserve
him, passed by when I was nearly stifled and asked me why I sat in the
heat of the sun under a blanket. Thereupon I told him, what doubtless
your Highness knows, that my face is much too holy to be looked upon, and
since then your Highness' servant has prospered exceedingly. The device
is a good one."

Suddenly Safdar Khan stumbled as he walked and lurched against the
horse and its rider. He recovered himself in a moment, with prayers
for forgiveness and curses upon his stupidity for setting his foot
upon a sharp stone. But he had put out his hand as he stumbled and
that hand had run lightly down Shere Ali's coat and had felt the
texture of his clothes.

"I had a letter from Calcutta," said the Prince, "which besought me to
speak to you, for you had something for my ear. Therefore speak, and
speak quickly."

But a change had come over Safdar Khan. Certainly Shere Ali was wearing
the dress of one of the Sahibs. A man passed carrying a lantern, and the
light, feeble though it was, threw into outline against the darkness a
pith helmet and a very English figure. Certainly, too, Shere Ali spoke
the Pushtu tongue with a slight hesitation, and an unfamiliar accent. He
seemed to grope for words.

"A letter?" he cried. "From Calcutta? Nay, how can that be? Some foolish
fellow has dared to play a trick," and in a few short, effective
sentences Safdar Khan expressed his opinion of the foolish fellow and of
his ancestry distant and immediate.

"Yet the letter bade me seek you by the Delhi Gate of Lahore," continued
Shere Ali calmly, "and by the Delhi Gate of Lahore I found you."

"My fame is great," replied Safdar Khan bombastically. "Far and wide it
has spread like the boughs of a gigantic tree."

"Rubbish," said Shere Ali curtly, breaking in upon Safdar's vehemence.
"I am not one of the Hindu fools who fill your begging-bowl," and he
laughed.

In the darkness he heard Safdar Khan laugh too.

"You expected me," continued Shere Ali. "You looked for my coming. Your
ears were listening for the few words of Pushtu. Why else should you say,
'Ride forward and I will follow'?"

Safdar Khan walked for a little while in silence. Then in a voice of
humility, he said:

"I will tell my lord the truth. Yes, some foolish talk has passed from
one man to another, and has been thrown back again like a ball. I too,"
he admitted, "have been without wisdom. But I have seen how vain such
talk is. The Mullahs in the Hills speak only ignorance and folly."

"Ah!" said Shere Ali. He took the letter from his pocket and tore it into
fragments and scattered the fragments upon the Road. "So I thought. The
letter is of their prompting."

"My lord, it may be so," replied Safdar Khan. "For my part I have no lot
or share in any of these things. For I am now of Lahore."

"Aye," said Shere Ali. "The begging-bowl is filled to overflowing at the
Delhi Gate. So you are of Lahore, though your name is Safdar Khan and you
were born at Kohara," and suddenly he leaned down and asked in a wistful
voice with a great curiosity, "Are you content? Have you forgotten the
hills and valleys? Is Lahore more to you than Chiltistan?"

So perpetually had Shere All's mind run of late upon his isolation that
it crept into all his thoughts. So now it seemed to him that there was
some vague parallel between his mental state and that of Safdar Khan. But
Safdar Khan's next words disabused him:

"Nay, nay," he said. "But the widow of a rich merchant in the city here,
a devout and holy woman, has been greatly moved by my piety. She seeks my
hand in marriage and--" here Safdar Khan laughed pleasantly--"I shall
marry her. Already she has given me a necklace of price which I have had
weighed and tested to prove that she does not play me false. She is very
rich, and it is too hot to sit in the sun under a blanket. So I will be a
merchant of Lahore instead, and live at my ease on the upper balcony of
my house."

Shere Ali laughed and answered, "It is well." Then he added shrewdly:
"But it is possible that you may yet at some time meet the man in
Calcutta who wrote the letter to me. If so, tell him what I did with it,"
and Shere Ali's voice became hard and stern. "Tell him that I tore it up
and scattered it in the dust. And let him send the news to the Mullahs in
the Hills. I know that soft-handed brood with their well-fed bodies and
their treacherous mouths. If only they would let me carry on the road!"
he cried passionately, "I would drag them out of the houses where they
batten on poor men's families and set them to work till the palms of
their hands were honestly blistered. Let the Mullahs have a care, Safdar
Khan. I go North to-morrow to Kohara."

He spoke with a greater vehemence than perhaps he had meant to show. But
he was carried along by his own words, and sought always a stronger
epithet than that which he had used. He was sore and indignant, and he
vented his anger on the first object which served him as an opportunity.
Safdar Khan bowed his head in the darkness. Safe though he might be in
Lahore, he was still afraid of the Mullahs, afraid of their curses, and
mindful of their power to ruin the venturesome man who dared to stand
against them.

"It shall be as your Highness wishes," he said in a low voice, and he
hurried away from Shere Ali's side. Abuse of the Mullahs was
dangerous--as dangerous to listen to as to speak. Who knew but what the
very leaves of the neem trees might whisper the words and bear witness
against him? Moreover, it was clear that the Prince of Chiltistan was a
Sahib. Shere Ali rode back to Government House. He understood clearly why
Safdar Khan had so unceremoniously fled; and he was glad. If the fool of
a Commissioner did not know him for what he was, at all events Safdar
Khan did. He was one of the White People. For who else would dare to
speak as he had spoken of the Mullahs? The Mullahs would hear what he had
said. That was certain. They would hear it with additions. They would try
to make things unpleasant for him in Chiltistan in consequence. But Shere
Ali was glad. For their very opposition--in so loverlike a way did every
thought somehow reach out to Violet Oliver--brought him a little nearer
to the lady who held his heart. He found the Commissioner sealing up his
letters in his office.

That unobservant man had just written at length, privately and
confidentially, both to the Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab at the
hill-station and to the Resident at Kohara. And to both he had written to
the one effect:

"We must expect trouble in Chiltistan."

He based his conclusions upon the glimpse which he had obtained into the
troubled feelings of Shere Ali. The next morning Shere Ali travelled
northwards and forty-eight hours later from the top of the Malakand Pass
he saw winding across the Swat valley past Chakdara the road which
reached to Kohara and there stopped.




CHAPTER XII

ON THE POLO-GROUND


Violet Oliver travelled to India in the late autumn of that year, free
from apprehension. Somewhere beyond the high snow-passes Shere Ali would
be working out his destiny among his own people. She was not of those who
seek publicity either for themselves or for their gowns in the daily
papers. Shere Ali would never hear of her visit; she was safe. She spent
her Christmas in Calcutta, saw the race for the Viceroy's Cup run without
a fear that on that crowded racecourse the importunate figure of the
young Prince of Chiltistan might emerge to reproach her, and a week later
went northwards into the United Provinces. It was a year, now some while
past, when a royal visitor came from a neighbouring country into India.
And in his honour at one great city in those Provinces the troops
gathered and the tents went up. Little towns of canvas, gay with bordered
walks and flowers, were dotted on the dusty plains about and within the
city. Great ministers and functionaries came with their retinues and
their guests. Native princes from Rajputana brought their elephants and
their escorts. Thither also came Violet Oliver. It was, indeed, to attend
this Durbar that she had been invited out from England. She stayed in a
small camp on the great Parade Ground where the tents faced one another
in a single street, each with its little garden of grass and flowers
before the door. The ends of the street were closed in by posts, and
outside the posts sentries were placed.

It was a week of bright, sunlit, rainless days, and of starry nights. It
was a week of reviews and State functions. But it was also a week during
which the best polo to be seen in India drew the visitors each afternoon
to the club-ground. There was no more constant attendant than Violet
Oliver. She understood the game and followed it with a nice appreciation
of the player's skill. The first round of the competition had been played
off on the third day, but a native team organised by the ruler of a
Mohammedan State in Central India had drawn a by and did not appear in
the contest until the fourth day. Mrs. Oliver took her seat in the front
row of the stand, as the opposing teams cantered into the field upon
their ponies. A programme was handed to her, but she did not open it. For
already one of the umpires had tossed the ball into the middle of the
ground. The game had begun.

The native team was matched against a regiment of Dragoons, and from the
beginning it was plain that the four English players were the stronger
team. But on the other side there was one who in point of skill
outstripped them all. He was stationed on the outside of the field
farthest away from Violet Oliver. He was a young man, almost a boy, she
judged; he was beautifully mounted, and he sat his pony as though he and
it were one. He was quick to turn, quick to pass the ball; and he never
played a dangerous game. A desire that the native team should win woke in
her and grew strong just because of that slim youth's extraordinary
skill. Time after time he relieved his side, and once, as it seemed to
her, he picked the ball out of the very goalposts. The bugle, she
remembered afterwards, had just sounded. He drove the ball out from the
press, leaned over until it seemed he must fall to resist an opponent who
tried to ride him off, and then somehow he shook himself free from the
tangle of polo-sticks and ponies.

"Oh, well done! well done!" cried Violet Oliver, clenching her hands in
her enthusiasm. A roar of applause went up. He came racing down the very
centre of the ground, the long ends of his white turban streaming out
behind him like a pennant. The seven other players followed upon his
heels outpaced and outplayed. He rode swinging his polo-stick for the
stroke, and then with clean hard blows sent the ball skimming through
the air like a bird. Violet Oliver watched him in suspense, dreading
lest he should override the ball, or that his stroke should glance. But
he made no mistake. The sound of the strokes rose clear and sharp; the
ball flew straight. He drove it between the posts, and the players
streamed in behind as though through the gateway of a beleaguered town.
He had scored the first goal of the game at the end of the first
chukkur. He cantered back to change his pony. But this time he rode
along the edge of the stand, since on this side the ponies waited with
their blankets thrown over their saddles and the syces at their heads.
He ran his eyes along the row of onlookers as he cantered by, and
suddenly Violet Oliver leaned forward. She had been interested merely in
the player. Now she was interested in the man who played. She was more
than interested. For she felt a tightening of the heart and she caught
her breath. "It could not be," she said to herself. She could see his
face clearly, however, now; and as suddenly as she had leaned forward
she drew back. She lowered her head, until her broad hat-brim hid her
face. She opened her programme, looked for and found the names of the
players. Shere Ali's stared her in the face.

"He has broken his word," she said angrily to herself, quite forgetting
that he had given no word, and that she had asked for none. Then she fell
to wondering whether or no he had recognised her as he rode past the
stand. She stole a glance as he cantered back, but Shere Ali was not
looking towards her. She debated whether she should make an excuse and go
back to her camp. But if he had thought he had seen her, he would look
again, and her empty place would be convincing evidence. Moreover, the
teams had changed goals. Shere Ali would be playing on this side of the
ground during the next chukkur unless the Dragoons scored quickly. Violet
Oliver kept her place, but she saw little of the game. She watched Shere
Ali's play furtively, however, hoping thereby to learn whether he had
noticed her. And in a little while she knew. He played wildly, his
strokes had lost their precision, he was less quick to follow the twists
of the ball. Shere Ali had seen her. At the end of the game he galloped
quickly to the corner, and when Violet Oliver came out of the enclosure
she saw him standing, with his long overcoat already on his shoulders,
waiting for her.

Violet Oliver separated herself from her friends and went forward towards
him. She held out her hand. Shere Ali hesitated and then took it. All
through the game, pride had been urging him to hold his head high and
seek not so much as a single word with her. But he had been alone for six
months in Chiltistan and he was young.

"You might have let me know," he said, in a troubled voice.

Violet Oliver faltered out some beginnings of an excuse. She did not want
to bring him away from his work in Chiltistan. But Shere Ali was not
listening to the excuses.

"I must see you again," he said. "I must."

"No doubt we shall meet," replied Violet Oliver.

"To-morrow," continued Shere Ali. "To-morrow evening. You will be going
to the Fort."

There was to be an investiture, and after the investiture a great
reception in the Fort on the evening of the next day. It would be as good
a place as any, thought Violet Oliver--nay, a better place. There would
be crowds of people wandering about the Fort. Since they must meet, let
it be there and soon.

"Very well," she said. "To-morrow evening," and she passed on and
rejoined her friends.




CHAPTER XIII

THE INVIDIOUS BAR


Violet Oliver drove back to her camp in the company of her friends and
they remarked upon her silence.

"You are tired, Violet?" her hostess asked of her.

"A little, perhaps," Violet admitted, and, urging fatigue as her excuse,
she escaped to her tent. There she took counsel of her looking-glass.

"I couldn't possibly have foreseen that he would be here," she pleaded to
her reflection. "He was to have stayed in Chiltistan. I asked him and he
told me that he meant to stay. If he had stayed there, he would never
have known that I was in India," and she added and repeated, "It's really
not my fault."

In a word she was distressed and sincerely distressed. But it was not
upon her own account. She was not thinking of the awkwardness to her of
this unexpected encounter. But she realised that she had given pain where
she had meant not to give pain. Shere Ali had seen her. He had been
assured that she sought to avoid him. And this was not the end. She must
go on and give more pain.

Violet Oliver had hoped and believed that her friendship with the young
Prince was something which had gone quite out of her life. She had closed
it and put it away, as you put away upon an upper shelf a book which you
do not mean to read again. The last word had been spoken eight months ago
in the conservatory of Lady Marfield's house. And behold they had met
again. There must be yet another meeting, yet another last interview. And
from that last interview nothing but pain could come to Shere Ali.
Therefore she anticipated it with a great reluctance. Violet Oliver did
not live among illusions. She was no sentimentalist. She never made up
and rehearsed in imagination little scenes of a melting pathos where
eternal adieux were spoken amid tears. She had no appreciation of the
woeful luxury of last interviews. On the contrary, she hated to confront
distress or pain. It was in her character always to take the easier way
when trouble threatened. She would have avoided altogether this meeting
with Shere Ali, had it been possible.

"It's a pity," she said, and that was all. She was reluctant, but she had
no misgiving. Shere Ali was to her still the youth to whom she had said
good-bye in Lady Marfield's conservatory. She had seen him in the flush
of victory after a close-fought game, and thus she had seen him often
enough before. It was not to be wondered at that she noted no difference
at that moment.

But the difference was there for the few who had eyes to see. He had
journeyed up the broken road into Chiltistan. At the Fort of Chakdara, in
the rice fields on the banks of the Swat river, he had taken his luncheon
one day with the English commandant and the English doctor, and there he
had parted with the ways of life which had become to him the only ways.
He had travelled thence for a few hundred yards along a straight strip of
road running over level ground, and so with the levies of Dir to escort
him he swung round to the left. A screen of hillside and grey rock moved
across the face of the country behind him. The last outpost was left
behind. The Fort and the Signal Tower on the pinnacle opposite and the
English flag flying over all were hidden from his sight. Wretched as any
exile from his native land, Shere All went up into the lower passes of
the Himalayas. Days were to pass and still the high snow-peaks which
glittered in the sky, gold in the noonday, silver in the night time,
above the valleys of Chiltistan were to be hidden in the far North. But
already the words began to be spoken and the little incidents to occur
which were to ripen him for his destiny. They were garnered into his
memories as separate and unrelated events. It was not until afterwards
that he came to know how deeply they had left their marks, or that he set
them in an ordered sequence and gave to them a particular significance.
Even at the Fort of Chakdara a beginning had been made.

Shere Ali was standing in the little battery on the very summit of the
Fort. Below him was the oblong enclosure of the men's barracks, the stone
landings and steps, the iron railings, the numbered doors. He looked down
into the enclosure as into a well. It might almost have been a section of
the barracks at Chatham. But Shere Ali raised his head, and, over against
him, on the opposite side of a natural gateway in the hills, rose the
steep slope and the Signal Tower.

"I was here," said the Doctor, who stood behind him, "during the Malakand
campaign. You remember it, no doubt?"

"I was at Oxford. I remember it well," said Shere Ali.

"We were hard pressed here, but the handful of men in the Signal Tower
had the worst of it," continued the Doctor in a matter-of-fact voice. "It
was reckoned that there were fourteen thousand men from the Swat Valley
besieging us, and as they did not mind how many they lost, even with the
Maxims and our wire defences it was difficult to keep them off. We had to
hold on to the Signal Tower because we could communicate with the people
on the Malakand from there, while we couldn't from the Fort itself. The
Amandara ridge, on the other side of the valley, as you can see, just
hides the Pass from us. Well, the handful of men in the tower managed to
keep in communication with the main force, and this is how it was done. A
Sepoy called Prem Singh used to come out into full view of the enemy
through a porthole of the tower, deliberately set up his apparatus, and
heliograph away to the main force in the Malakand Camp, with the Swatis
firing at him from short range. How it was he was not hit, I could never
understand. He did it day after day. It was the bravest and coolest thing
I ever saw done or ever heard of, with one exception, perhaps. Prem Singh
would have got the Victoria Cross--" and the Doctor stopped suddenly
and his face flushed.

Shere Ali, however, was too keenly interested in the incident itself to
take any note of the narrator's confusion. Baldly though it was told,
there was the square, strong tower with its door six feet from the
ground, its machicoulis, its narrow portholes over against him, to give
life and vividness to the story. Here that brave deed had been done and
daily repeated. Shere Ali peopled the empty slopes which ran down from
the tower to the river and the high crags beyond the tower with the
hordes of white-clad Swatis, all in their finest robes, like men who have
just reached the goal of a holy pilgrimage, as indeed they had. He saw
their standards, he heard the din of their firearms, and high above them
on the wall of the tower he saw the khaki-clad figure of a single Sepoy
calmly flashing across the valley news of the defenders' plight.

"Didn't he get the Victoria Cross?" he asked.

"No," returned the Doctor with a certain awkwardness. But still Shere Ali
did not notice.

"And what was the exception?" he asked eagerly. "What was the other brave
deed you have seen fit to rank with this?"

"That, too, happened over there," said the Doctor, seizing upon the
question with relief. "During the early days of the siege we were able to
send in to the tower water and food. But when the first of August came we
could help them no more. The enemy thronged too closely round us, we were
attacked by night and by day, and stone sangars, in which the Swatis lay
after dark, were built between us and the tower. We sent up water to the
tower for the last time at half-past nine on a Saturday morning, and it
was not until half-past four on the Monday afternoon that the relieving
force marched across the bridge down there and set us free."

"They were without water for all that time--and in August?" cried
Shere Ali.

"No," the Doctor answered. "But they would have been had the Sepoy not
found his equal. A bheestie"--and he nodded his head to emphasise the
word--"not a soldier at all, but a mere water-carrier, a mere
camp-follower, volunteered to go down to the river. He crept out of the
tower after nightfall with his water-skins, crawled down between the
sangars--and I can tell you the hill-side was thick with them--to the
brink of the Swat river below there, filled his skins, and returned
with them."

"That man, too, earned the Victoria Cross," said Shere Ali.

"Yes," said the Doctor, "no doubt, no doubt."

Something of flurry was again audible in his voice, and this time Shere
Ali noticed it.

"Earned--but did not get it?" he went on slowly; and turning to the
Doctor he waited quietly for an answer. The answer was given reluctantly,
after a pause.

"Well! That is so."

"Why?"

The question was uttered sharply, close upon the words which had preceded
it. The Doctor looked upon the ground, shifted his feet, and looked up
again. He was a young man, and inexperienced. The question was repeated.

"Why?"

The Doctor's confusion increased. He recognised that his delay in
answering only made the answer more difficult to give. It could not be
evaded. He blurted out the truth apologetically.

"Well, you see, we don't give the Victoria Cross to natives."

Shere Ali was silent for a while. He stood with his eyes fixed upon the
tower, his face quite inscrutable.

"Yes, I guessed that would be the reason," he said quietly.

"Well," said his companion uncomfortably, "I expect some day that will
be altered."

Shere Ali shrugged his shoulders, and turned to go down. At the gateway
of the Fort, by the wire bridge, his escort, mounted upon their horses,
waited for him. He climbed into the saddle without a word. He had been
labouring for these last days under a sense of injury, and his thoughts
had narrowed in upon himself. He was thinking. "I, too, then, could never
win that prize." His conviction that he was really one of the White
People, bolstered up as it had been by so many vain arguments, was put to
the test of fact. The truth shone in upon his mind. For here was a
coveted privilege of the White People from which he was debarred, he and
the bheestie and the Sepoy. They were all one, he thought bitterly, to
the White People. The invidious bar of his colour was not to be broken.

"Good-bye," he said, leaning down from his saddle and holding out his
hand. "Thank you very much."

He shook hands with the Doctor and cantered down the road, with a smile
upon his face. But the consciousness of the invidious bar was rankling
cruelly at his heart, and it continued to rankle long after he had swung
round the bend of the road and had lost sight of Chakdara and the
English flag.

He passed through Jandol and climbed the Lowari Pass among the fir trees
and the pines, and on the very summit he met three men clothed in brown
homespun with their hair clubbed at the sides of their heads. Each man
carried a rifle on his back and two of them carried swords besides, and
they wore sandals of grass upon their feet. They were talking as they
went, and they were talking in the Chilti tongue. Shere Ali hailed them
and bade them stop.

"On what journey are you going?" he asked, and one of the three bowed low
and answered him.

"Sir, we are going to Mecca."

"To Mecca!" exclaimed Shere Ali. "How will you ever get to Mecca? Have
you money?"

"Sir, we have each six rupees, and with six rupees a man may reach Mecca
from Kurrachee. Till we reach Kurrachee, there is no fear that we shall
starve. Dwellers in the villages will befriend us."

"Why, that is true," said Shere Ali, "but since you are countrymen of my
own and my father's subjects, you shall not tax too heavily your friends
upon the road."

He added to their scanty store of rupees, and one after another they
thanked him and so went cheerily down the Pass. Shere Ali watched them as
they went, wondering that men should take such a journey and endure so
much discomfort for their faith. He watched their dwindling figures and
understood how far he was set apart from them. He was of their faith
himself, nominally at all events, but Mecca--? He shrugged his
shoulders at the name. It meant no more to him than it did to the White
People who had cast him out. But that chance meeting lingered in his
memory, and as he travelled northwards, he would wonder at times by night
at what village his three countrymen slept and by day whether their faith
still cheered them on their road.

He came at last to the borders of Chiltistan, and travelled thenceforward
through a country rich with orchards and green rice and golden amaranth.
The terraced slopes of the mountains, ablaze with wild indigo, closed in
upon him and widened out. Above the terraces great dark forests of pines
and deodars, maples and horse chestnuts clung to the hill sides; and
above the forests grass slopes stretched up to bare rock and the
snowfields. From the villages the people came out to meet him, and here
and there from some castle of a greater importance a chieftain would ride
out with his bodyguard, gay in velvets, and silks from Bokhara and chogas
of gold kinkob, and offer to him gold dust twisted up in the petal of a
flower, which he touched and remitted. He was escorted to polo-grounds
and sat for hours witnessing sports and trials of skill, and at night to
the music of kettledrums and pipes men and boys danced interminably
before him. There was one evening which he particularly remembered. He
had set up his camp outside a large village and was sitting alone by his
fire in the open air. The night was very still, the sky dark but studded
with stars extraordinarily bright--so bright, indeed, that Shere Ali
could see upon the water of the river below the low cliff on which his
camp fire was lit a trembling golden path made by the rays of a planet.
And as he sat, unexpectedly in the hush a boy with a clear, sweet voice
began to sing from the darkness behind him. The melody was plaintive and
sweet; a few notes of a pipe accompanied him; and as Shere Ali listened
in this high valley of the Himalayas on a summer's night, the music took
hold upon him and wrung his heart. The yearning for all that he had left
behind became a pain almost beyond endurance. The days of his boyhood and
his youth went by before his eyes in a glittering procession. His school
life, his first summer term at Oxford, the Cherwell with the shadows of
the branches overhead dappling the water, the strenuous week of the
Eights, his climbs with Linforth, and, above all, London in June, a
London bright with lilac and sunshine and the fair faces of women,
crowded in upon his memory. He had been steadily of late refusing to
remember, but the sweet voice and the plaintive melody had caught him
unawares. The ghosts of his dead pleasures trooped out and took life and
substance. Particular hours were lived through again--a motor ride alone
with Violet Oliver to Pangbourne, a dinner on the lawn outside the inn,
the drive back to London in the cool of the evening. It all seemed very
far away to-night. Shere Ali sat late beside his fire, nor when he went
into his tent did he close his eyes.

The next morning he rode among orchards bright with apricots and
mulberries, peaches and white grapes, and in another day he looked down
from a high cliff, across which the road was carried on a scaffolding,
upon the town of Kohara and the castle of his father rising in terraces
upon a hill behind. The nobles and their followers came out to meet him
with courteous words and protestations of good will. But they looked him
over with curious and not too friendly eyes. News had gone before Shere
Ali that the young Prince of Chiltistan was coming to Kohara wearing the
dress of the White People. They saw that the news was true, but no word
or comment was uttered in his hearing. Joking and laughing they escorted
him to the gates of his father's palace. Thus Shere Ali at the last had
come home to Kohara. Of the life which he lived there he was to tell
something to Violet Oliver.




CHAPTER XIV

IN THE COURTYARD


The investiture was over, and the guests, thronging from the Hall of
Audience, came out beneath arches and saw the whole length of the great
marble court spread before them. A vast canopy roofed it in, and a soft
dim light pervaded it. To those who came from the glitter of the
ceremonies it brought a sense of coolness and of peace. From the arches a
broad flight of steps led downwards to the floor, where water gleamed
darkly in a marble basin. Lilies floated upon its surface, and marble
paths crossed it to the steps at the far end; and here and there, in its
depth, the reflection of a lamp burned steadily. At the far end steps
rose again to a great platform and to gilded arches through which lights
poured in a blaze, and gave to that end almost the appearance of a
lighted stage, and made of the courtyard a darkened auditorium. From one
flight of steps to the other, in the dim cool light, the guests passed
across the floor of the court, soldiers in uniforms, civilians in their
dress of state, jewelled princes of the native kingdoms, ladies in their
bravest array. But now and again one or two would slip from the throng,
and, leaving the procession, take their own way about the Fort. Among
those who slipped away was Violet Oliver. She went to the side of the
courtyard where a couch stood empty. There she seated herself and waited.
In front of her the stream of people passed by talking and laughing,
within view, within earshot if only one raised one's voice a trifle above
the ordinary note. Yet there was no other couch near. One might talk at
will and not be overheard. It was, to Violet Oliver's thinking, a good
strategic position, and there she proposed to remain till Shere Ali found
her, and after he had found her, until he went away.

She wondered in what guise he would come to her: a picturesque figure
with a turban of some delicate shade upon his head and pearls about his
throat, or--as she wondered, a young man in the evening dress of an
Englishman stepped aside from the press of visitors and came towards her.
Before she could, in that dim light, distinguish his face, she recognised
him by the lightness of his step and the suppleness of his figure. She
raised herself into a position a little more upright, and held out her
hand. She made room for him on the couch beside her, and when he had
taken his seat, she turned at once to speak.

But Shere Ali raised his hand in a gesture of entreaty.

"Hush!" he said with a smile; and the smile pleaded with her as much as
did his words. "Just for a moment! We can argue afterwards. Just for a
moment, let us pretend."

Violet Oliver had expected anger, accusations, prayers. Even for some
threat, some act of violence, she had come prepared. But the quiet
wistfulness of his manner, as of a man too tired greatly to long for
anything, took her at a disadvantage. But the one thing which she surely
understood was the danger of pretence. There had been too much of
pretence already.

"No," she said.

"Just for a moment," he insisted. He sat beside her, watching the clear
profile of her face, the slender throat, the heavy masses of hair so
daintily coiled upon her head. "The last eight months have not
been--could not be. Yesterday we were at Richmond, just you and I. It was
Sunday--you remember. I called on you in the afternoon, and for a wonder
you were alone. We drove down together to Richmond, and dined together in
the little room at the end of the passage--the room with the big windows,
and the name of the woman who was murdered in France scratched upon the
glass. That was yesterday."

"It was last year," said Violet.

"Yesterday," Shere Ali persisted. "I dreamt last night that I had gone
back to Chiltistan; but it was only a dream."

"It was the truth," and the quiet assurance of her voice dispelled Shere
Ali's own effort at pretence. He leaned forward suddenly, clasping his
hands upon his knees in an attitude familiar to her as characteristic of
the man. There was a tenseness which gave to him even in repose a look
of activity.

"Well, it's the truth, then," he said, and his voice took on an accent of
bitterness. "And here's more truth. I never thought to see you here
to-night."

"Did you think that I should be afraid?" asked Violet Oliver in a low,
steady voice.

"Afraid!" Shere Ali turned towards her in surprise and met her
gaze. "No."

"Why, then, should I break my word? Have I done it so often?"

Shere Ali did not answer her directly.

"You promised to write to me," he said, and Violet Oliver replied at
once:

"Yes. And I did write."

"You wrote twice," he cried bitterly. "Oh, yes, you kept your word.
There's a post every day, winter and summer, into Chiltistan. Sometimes
an avalanche or a snowstorm delays it; but on most days it comes. If you
could only have guessed how eagerly I looked forward to your letters,
you would have written, I think, more often. There's a path over a high
ridge by which the courier must come. I could see it from the casement
of the tower. I used to watch it through a pair of field-glasses, that I
might catch the first glimpse of the man as he rose against the sky.
Each day I thought 'Perhaps there's a letter in your handwriting.' And
you wrote twice, and in neither letter was there a hint that you were
coming out to India."

He was speaking in a low, passionate voice. In spite of herself, Violet
Oliver was moved. The picture of him watching from his window in the
tower for the black speck against the skyline was clear before her mind,
and troubled her. Her voice grew gentle.

"I did not write more often on purpose," she said.

"It was on purpose, too, that you left out all mention of your visit
to India?"

Violet nodded her head.

"Yes," she said.

"You did not want to see me again."

Violet turned her face towards him, and leaned forward a little.

"I don't say that," she said softly. "But I thought it would be better
that we two should not meet again, if meeting could be avoided. I saw
that you cared--I may say that, mayn't I?" and for a second she laid her
hand gently upon his sleeve. "I saw that you cared too much. It seemed to
me best that it should end altogether."

Shere Ali lifted his head, and turned quickly towards her.

"Why should it end at all?" he cried. His eyes kindled and sought hers.
"Violet, why should it end at all?"

Violet Oliver drew back. She cast a glance to the courtyard. Only a few
paces away the stream of people passed up and down.

"It must end," she answered. "You know that as well as I."

"I don't know it. I won't know it," he replied. He reached out his hand
towards hers, but she was too quick for him. He bent nearer to her.

"Violet," he whispered, "marry me!"

Violet Oliver glanced again to the courtyard. But it was no longer to
assure herself that friends of her own race were comfortably near at
hand. Now she was anxious that they should not be near enough to listen
and overhear.

"That's impossible!" she answered in a startled voice.

"It's not impossible! It's not!" And the desperation in his voice
betrayed him. In the depths of his heart he knew that, for this woman, at
all events, it was impossible. But he would not listen to that knowledge.

"Other women, here in India, have had the courage."

"And what have their lives been afterwards?" she asked. She had not
herself any very strong feeling on the subject of colour. She was not
repelled, as men are repelled. But she was aware, nevertheless, how
strong the feeling was in others. She had not lived in India for nothing.
Marriage with Shere Ali was impossible, even had she wished for it. It
meant ostracism and social suicide.

"Where should I live?" she went on. "In Chiltistan? What life would there
be there for me?"

"No," he replied. "I would not ask it. I never thought of it. In
England. We could live there!" and, ceasing to insist, he began
wistfully to plead. "Oh, if you knew how I have hated these past months.
I used to sit at night, alone, alone, alone, eating my heart for want of
you; for want of everything I care for. I could not sleep. I used to see
the morning break. Perhaps here and there a drum would begin to beat,
the cries of children would rise up from the streets, and I would lie in
my bed with my hands clenched, thinking of the jingle of a hansom cab
along the streets of London, and the gas lamps paling as the grey light
spread. Violet!"

Violet twisted her hands one within the other. This was just what she had
thought to avoid, to shut out from her mind--the knowledge that he had
suffered. But the evidence of his pain was too indisputable. There was no
shutting it out. It sounded loud in his voice, it showed in his looks.
His face had grown white and haggard, the face of a tortured man; his
hands trembled, his eyes were fierce with longing.

"Oh, don't," she cried, and so great was her trouble that for once she
did not choose her words. "You know that it's impossible. We can't alter
these things."

She meant by "these things" the natural law that white shall mate with
white, and brown with brown; and so Shere Ali understood her. He ceased
to plead. There came a dreadful look upon his face.

"Oh, I know," he exclaimed brutally. "You would be marrying a nigger."

"I never said that," Violet interrupted hastily.

"But you meant it," and he began to laugh bitterly and very quietly. To
Violet that laughter was horrible. It frightened her. "Oh, yes, yes," he
said. "When we come over to England we are very fine people. Women
welcome us and are kind, men make us their friends. But out here! We
quickly learn out here that we are the inferior people. Suppose that I
wanted to be a soldier, not an officer of my levies, but a soldier in
your army with a soldier's chances of promotion and high rank! Do you
know what would happen? I might serve for twenty years, and at the end of
it the youngest subaltern out of Sandhurst, with a moustache he can't
feel upon his lip, would in case of war step over my head and command me.
Why, I couldn't win the Victoria Cross, even though I had earned it ten
times over. We are the subject races," and he turned to her abruptly. "I
am in disfavour to-night. Do you know why? Because I am not dressed in a
silk jacket; because I am not wearing jewels like a woman, as those
Princes are," and he waved his hand contemptuously towards a group of
them. "They are content," he cried. "But I was brought up in England, and
I am not."

He buried his face in his hands and was silent; and as he sat thus,
Violet Oliver said to him with a gentle reproach:

"When we parted in London last year you spoke in a different way--a
better way. I remember very well what you said. For I was glad to hear
it. You said: 'I have not forgotten really that there is much to do in my
own country. I have not forgotten that I can thank all of you here who
have shown me so much kindness by more than mere words. For I can help in
Chiltistan--I can really help.'"

Shere All raised his face from his hands with the air of a man listening
to strange and curious words.

"I said that?"

"Yes," and in her turn Violet Oliver began to plead. "I wish that
to-night you could recapture that fine spirit. I should be very glad of
it. For I am troubled by your unhappiness."

But Shere Ali shook his head.

"I have been in Chiltistan since I spoke those words. And they will not
let me help."

"There's the road."

"It must not be continued."

"There is, at all events, your father," Violet suggested. "You can
help him."

And again Shere Ali laughed. But this time the bitterness had gone from
his voice. He laughed with a sense of humour, almost, it seemed to
Violet, with enjoyment.

"My father!" he said. "I'll tell you about my father," and his face
cleared for a moment of its distress as he turned towards her. "He
received me in the audience chamber of his palace at Kohara. I had not
seen him for ten years. How do you think he received me? He was sitting
on a chair of brocade with silver legs in great magnificence, and across
his knees he held a loaded rifle at full cock. It was a Snider, so that I
could be quite sure it was cocked."

Violet stared at him, not understanding.

"But why?" she asked.

"Well, he knew quite well that I was brought back to Kohara in order to
replace him, if he didn't mend his ways and spend less money. And he
didn't mean to be replaced." The smile broke out again on Shere Ali's
face as he remembered the scene. "He sat there with his great beard, dyed
red, spreading across his chest, a long velvet coat covering his knees,
and the loaded rifle laid over the coat. His eyes watched me, while his
fingers played about the trigger."

Violet Oliver was horrified.

"You mean--that he meant to kill you!" she cried incredulously.

"Yes," said Shere Ali calmly. "I think he meant to do that. It's not so
very unusual in our family. He probably thought that I might try to kill
him. However, he didn't do it. You see, my father's very fond of the
English, so I at once began to talk to him about England. It was evening
when I went into the reception chamber; but it was broad daylight when I
came out. I talked for my life that night--and won. He became so
interested that he forgot to shoot me; and at the end I was wise enough
to assure him that there was a great deal more to tell."

The ways of the Princes in the States beyond the Frontier were unknown to
Violet Oliver. The ruling family of Chiltistan was no exception to the
general rule. In its annals there was hardly a page which was not stained
with blood. When the son succeeded to the throne, it was, as often as
not, after murdering his brothers, and if he omitted that precaution, as
often as not he paid the penalty. Shere Ali was fortunate in that he had
no brothers. But, on the other hand, he had a father, and there was no
great security. Violet was startled, and almost as much bewildered as she
was startled. She could not understand Shere Ali's composure. He spoke in
so matter-of-fact a tone.

"However," she said, grasping at the fact, "he has not killed you. He has
not since tried to kill you."

"No. I don't think he has," said Shere Ali slowly. But he spoke like one
in doubt. "You see he realised very soon that I was not after all
acceptable to the English. I wouldn't quite do what they wanted," and the
humour died out of his face.

"What did they want?"

Shere Ali looked at her in hesitation.

"Shall I tell you? I will. They wanted me to marry--one of my own people.
They wanted me to forget," and he broke out in a passionate scorn. "As if
I could do either--after I had known you."

"Hush!" said she.

But he was not to be checked.

"You said it was impossible that you should marry me. It's no less
impossible that I should marry now one of my own race. You know that. You
can't deny it."

Violet did not try to. He was speaking truth then, she was well aware. A
great pity swelled up in her heart for him. She turned to him with a
smile, in which there was much tenderness. His life was all awry; and
both were quite helpless to set it right.

"I am very sorry," she said in a whisper of remorse. "I did not think. I
have done you grave harm."

"Not you," he said quietly. "You may be quite sure of that. Those who
have done me harm are those who sent me, ten years ago, to England."




CHAPTER XV

A QUESTION ANSWERED


Thereafter both sat silent for a little while. The stream of people
across the courtyard had diminished. High up on the great platform by the
lighted arches the throng still pressed and shifted. But here there was
quietude. The clatter of voices had died down. A band playing somewhere
near at hand could be heard. Violet Oliver for the first time in her life
had been brought face to face with a real tragedy. She was conscious of
it as something irremediable and terribly sad. And for her own share in
bringing it about she was full of remorse. She looked at Shere Ali as he
sat beside her, his eyes gazing into the courtyard, his face tired and
hopeless. There was nothing to be done. Her thoughts told her so no less
clearly than his face. Here was a life spoilt at the beginning. But that
was all that she saw. That the spoilt life might become an instrument of
evil--she was blind to that possibility: she thought merely of the youth
who suffered and still must suffer; who was crippled by the very means
which were meant to strengthen him: and pity inclined her towards him
with an ever-increasing strength.

"I couldn't do it," she repeated silently to herself. "I couldn't do it.
It would be madness."

Shere Ali raised his head and said with a smile, "I am glad they are not
playing the tune which I once heard on the Lake of Geneva, and again in
London when I said good-bye to you."

And then Violet sought to comfort him, her mind still working on what he
had told her of his life in Chiltistan.

"But it will become easier," she said, beginning in that general way. "In
time you will rule in Chiltistan. That is certain." But he checked her
with a shake of the head.

"Certain? There is the son of Abdulla Mohammed, who fought against my
father when Linforth's father was killed. It is likely enough that those
old days will be revived. And I should have the priests against me."

"The Mullahs!" she exclaimed, remembering in what terms he was wont to
speak of them to her.

"Yes," he answered, "I have set them against me already. They laid their
traps for me while I was on the sea, and I would not fall into them. They
would have liked to raise the country against my father and the English,
just as they raised it twenty-five years ago. And they would have liked
me to join in with them."

He related to Violet the story of his meeting with Safdar Khan at the
Gate of Lahore, and he repeated the words which he had used in Safdar
Khan's hearing.

"It did not take long for my threats to be repeated in the bazaar of
Kohara, and from the bazaar they were quickly carried to the ears of the
Mullahs. I had proof of it," he said with a laugh.

Violet asked him anxiously for the proof.

"I can tell to a day when the words were repeated in Kohara. For a
fortnight after my coming the Mullahs still had hopes. They had heard
nothing, and they met me always with salutations and greetings. Then
came the day when I rode up the valley and a Mullah who had smiled the
day before passed me as though he had not noticed me at all. The news
had come. I was sure of it at the time. I reined in my horse and called
sharply to one of the servants riding behind me, 'Who is that?' The
Mullah heard the question, and he turned and up went the palm of his
hand to his forehead in a flash. But I was not inclined to let him off
so easily."

"What did you do?" Violet asked uneasily.

"I said to him, 'My friend, I will take care that you know me the next
time we meet upon the road. Show me your hands!' He held them out, and
they were soft as a woman's. I was close to a bridge which some workmen
were repairing. So I had my friend brought along to the bridge. Then I
said to one of the workmen, 'Would you like to earn your day's wage and
yet do no work?' He laughed, thinking that I was joking. But I was not. I
said to him, 'Very well, then, see that this soft-handed creature does
your day's work. You will bring him to me at the Palace this evening, and
if I find that he has not done the work, or that you have helped him, you
will forfeit your wages and I will whip you both into the bargain.' The
Mullah was brought to me in the evening," said Shere Ali, smiling grimly.
"He was so stiff he could hardly walk. I made him show me his hands
again, and this time they were blistered. So I told him to remember his
manners in the future, and I let him go. But he was a man of prominence
in the country, and when the story got known he became rather
ridiculous." He turned with a smile to Violet Oliver.

"My people don't like being made ridiculous--least of all Mullahs."

But there was no answering smile on Violet's face. Rather she was
troubled and alarmed.

"But surely that was unwise?"

Shere Ali shrugged his shoulders.

"What does it matter?" he said. He did not tell her all of that story.
There was an episode which had occurred two days later when Shere Ali was
stalking an ibex on the hillside. A bullet had whistled close by his ear,
and it had been fired from behind him. He was never quite sure whether
his father or the Mullah was responsible for that bullet, but he inclined
to attribute it to the Mullah.

"Yes, I have the priests against me," he said. "They call me the
Englishman." Then he laughed. "A curious piece of irony, isn't it?"

He stood up suddenly and said: "When I left England I was in doubt. I
could not be sure whether my home, my true home, was there or in
Chiltistan."

"Yes, I remember," said Violet.

"I am no longer in doubt. It is neither in England nor in Chiltistan. I
am a citizen of no country. I have no place anywhere at all."

Violet Oliver stood up and faced him.

"I must be going. I must find my friends," she said, and as he took her
hand, she added, "I am so very sorry."

The words, she felt, were utterly inadequate, but no others would come to
her lips, and so with a trembling smile she repeated them. She drew her
hand from his clasp and moved a step or two away. But he followed her,
and she stopped and shook her head.

"This is really good-bye," she said simply and very gravely.

"I want to ask you a question," he explained. "Will you answer it?"

"How can I tell you until you ask it?"

He looked at her for a moment as though in doubt whether he should speak
or not. Then he said, "Are you going to marry--Linforth?"

The blood slowly mounted into her face and flushed her forehead
and cheeks.

"He has not even asked me to marry him," she said, and moved down into
the courtyard.

Shere Ali watched her as she went. That was the last time he should see
her, he told himself. The last time in all his life. His eyes followed
her, noting the grace of her movements, the whiteness of her skin, all
her daintiness of dress and person. A madness kindled in his blood. He
had a wild thought of springing down, of capturing her. She mounted the
steps and disappeared among the throng.

And they wanted him to marry--to marry one of his own people. Shere Ali
suddenly saw the face of the Deputy Commissioner at Lahore calmly
suggesting the arrangement, almost ordering it. He sat down again upon
the couch and once more began to laugh. But the laughter ceased very
quickly, and folding his arms upon the high end of the couch, he bowed
his head upon them and was still.




CHAPTER XVI

SHERE ALI MEETS AN OLD FRIEND


The carriage which was to take Violet Oliver and her friends back to
their camp had been parked amongst those farthest from the door. Violet
stood for a long while under the awning, waiting while the interminable
procession went by. The generals in their scarlet coats, the ladies in
their satin gowns, the great officers of state attended by their escorts,
the native princes, mounted into their carriages and were driven away.
The ceremony and the reception which followed it had been markedly
successful even in that land of ceremonies and magnificence. The voices
about her told her so as they spoke of this or that splendour and
recalled the picturesque figures which had given colour to the scene. But
the laughter, the praise, the very tones of enjoyment had to her a
heartless ring. She watched the pageantry of the great Indian
Administration dissolve, and was blind to its glitter and conscious only
of its ruthlessness. For ruthless she found it to-night. She had been
face to face with a victim of the system--a youth broken by it,
needlessly broken, and as helpless to recover from his hurt as a wounded
animal. The harm had been done no doubt with the very best intention, but
the harm had been done. She was conscious of her own share in the blame
and she drove miserably home, with the picture of Shere Ali's face as she
had last seen it to bear her company, and with his cry, that he had no
place anywhere at all, sounding in her ears.

When she reached the privacy of her own tent, and had dismissed her maid,
she unlocked one of her trunks and took out from it her jewel case. She
had been careful not to wear her necklace of pearls that night, and she
took it out of the case now and laid it upon her knees. She was very
sorry to part with it. She touched and caressed the pearls with loving
fingers, and once she lifted it as though she would place it about her
neck. But she checked her hands, fearing that if she put it on she would
never bring herself to let it go. Already as she watched and fingered it
and bent her head now and again to scrutinise a stone, small insidious
voices began to whisper at her heart.

"He asked for nothing when he gave it you."

"You made no promise when you took it."

"It was a gift without conditions hinted or implied."

Violet Oliver took the world lightly on the whole. Only this one passion
for jewels and precious stones had touched her deeply as yet. Of love
she knew little beyond the name and its aspect in others. She was
familiar enough with that, so familiar that she gave little heed to what
lay behind the aspect--or had given little heed until to-night. Her
husband she had accepted rather than actively welcomed. She had lived
with him in a mood of placid and unquestioning good-humour, and she had
greatly missed him when he died. But it was the presence in the house
that she missed, rather than the lover. To-night, almost for the first
time, she had really looked under the surface. Insight had been
vouchsafed to her; and in remorse she was minded to put the thing she
greatly valued away from her.

She rose suddenly, and, lest the temptation to keep the necklace should
prove too strong, laid it away in its case.

A post went every day over the passes into Chiltistan. She wrapped up the
case in brown paper, tied it, sealed it, and addressed it. There was need
to send it off, she well knew, before the picture of Shere Ali, now so
vivid in her mind, lost its aspect of poignant suffering and faded out of
her thoughts.

But she slept ill and in the middle of the night she rose from her bed.
The tent was pitch dark. She lit her candle; and it was the light of the
candle which awoke her maid. The tent was a double one; the maid slept in
the smaller portion of it and a canvas doorway gave entrance into her
mistress' room. Over this doorway hung the usual screen of green matting.
Now these screens act as screens, are as impenetrable to the eye as a
door--so long as there is no light behind them. But place a light behind
them and they become transparent. This was what Violet Oliver had done.
She had lit her candle and at once a part of the interior of her tent was
visible to her maid as she lay in bed.

The maid saw the table and the sealed parcel upon it. Then she saw Mrs.
Oliver come to the table, break the seals, open the parcel, take out a
jewel case--a jewel case which the maid knew well--and carry it and the
parcel out of sight. Mrs. Oliver crossed to a corner of the room where
her trunks lay; and the next moment the maid heard a key grate in a lock.
For a little while the candle still burned, and every now and then a
distorted shadow was flung upon the wall of the tent within the maid's
vision. It seemed to her that Mrs. Oliver was sitting at a little writing
table which stood close by the trunk. Then the light went out again. The
maid would have thought no more of this incident, but on entering the
room next morning with a cup of tea, she was surprised to see the packet
once more sealed and fastened on the centre table.

"Adela," said Mrs. Oliver, "I want you to take that parcel to the Post
Office yourself and send it off."

The maid took the parcel away.

Violet Oliver, with a sigh of relief, drank her tea. At last, she
thought, the end was reached. Now, indeed, her life and Shere Ali's life
would touch no more. But she was to see him again. For two days later, as
the train which was carrying her northwards to Lahore moved out of the
station, she saw from the window of her carriage the young Prince of
Chiltistan standing upon the platform. She drew back quickly, fearing
that he would see her. But he was watching the train with indifferent
eyes; and the spectacle of his indifference struck her as something
incongruous and strange. She had been thinking of him with remorse as a
man twisting like Hamlet in the coils of tragedy, and wearing like Hamlet
the tragic mien. Yet here he was on the platform of a railway station,
waiting, like any commonplace traveller, with an uninterested patience
for his train. The aspect of Shere Ali diminished Violet Oliver's
remorse. She wondered for a moment why he was not travelling upon the
same train as herself, for his destination must be northwards too. And
then she lost sight of him. She was glad that after all the last vision
of him which she was to carry away was not the vision of a youth helpless
and despairing with a trouble-tortured face.

Shere Ali was following out the destiny to which his character bound
him. He had been made and moulded and fashioned, and though he knew he
had been fashioned awry, he could no more change and rebuild himself
than the hunchback can will away his hump. He was driven down the ways
of circumstance. At present he saw and knew that he was so driven. He
knew, too, that he could not resist. This half-year in Chiltistan had
taught him that.

So he went southwards to Calcutta. The mere thought of Chiltistan was
unendurable. He had to forget. There was no possibility of forgetfulness
amongst his own hills and the foreign race that once had been his own
people. Southwards he went to Calcutta, and in that city for a time was
lost to sight. He emerged one afternoon upon the racecourse, and while
standing on the grass in front of the Club stand, before the horses
cantered down to the starting post, he saw an elderly man, heavy of build
but still erect, approach him with a smile.

Shere Ali would have avoided that man if he could. He hesitated,
unwilling to recognise and unable quite to ignore. And while he
hesitated, the elderly man held out his hand.

"We know each other, surely. I used to see you at Eton, didn't I? I used
to run down to see a young friend of mine and a friend of yours, Dick
Linforth. I am Colonel Dewes."

"Yes, I remember," said Shere Ali with some embarrassment; and he took
the Colonel's outstretched hand. "I thought that you had left India
for good."

"So did I," said Dewes. "But I was wrong." He turned and walked along by
the side of Shere Ali. "I don't know why exactly, but I did not find life
in London so very interesting."

Shere Ali looked quickly at the Colonel.

"Yet you had looked forward to retiring and going home?" he asked with a
keen interest. Colonel Dewes gave himself up to reflection. He sounded
the obscurities of his mind. It was a practice to which he was not
accustomed. He drew himself erect, his eyes became fixed, and with a
puckered forehead he thought.

"I suppose so," he said. "Yes, certainly. I remember. One used to buck at
mess of the good time one would have, the comfort of one's club and one's
rooms, and the rest of it. It isn't comfortable in India, is it? Not
compared with England. Your furniture, your house, and all that sort of
thing. You live as if you were a lodger, don't you know, and it didn't
matter for a little while whether you were comfortable or not. The little
while slips on and on, and suddenly you find you have been in the country
twenty or thirty years, and you have never taken the trouble to be
comfortable. It's like living in a dak-bungalow."

The Colonel halted and pulled at his moustache. He had made a discovery.
He had reflected not without result. "By George!" he said, "that's
right. Let me put it properly now, as a fellow would put it in a book,
if he hit upon anything as good." He framed his aphorism in different
phrases before he was satisfied with it. Then he delivered himself of it
with pride.

"At the bottom of the Englishman's conception of life in India, there is
always the idea of a dak-bungalow," and he repeated the sentence to
commit it surely to memory. "But don't you use it," he said, turning to
Shere Ali suddenly. "I thought of that--not you. It's mine."

"I won't use it," said Shere Ali.

"Life in India is based upon the dak-bungalow," said Dewes. "Yes, yes";
and so great was his pride that he relented towards Shere Ali. "You may
use it if you like," he conceded. "Only you would naturally add that it
was I who thought of it."

Shere Ali smiled and replied:

"I won't fail to do that, Colonel Dewes."

"No? Then use it as much as you like, for it's true. Out here one
remembers the comfort of England and looks forward to it. But back there,
one forgets the discomfort of India. By George! that's pretty good, too.
Shall we look at the horses?"

Shere Ali did not answer that question. With a quiet persistence he kept
Colonel Dewes to the conversation. Colonel Dewes for his part was not
reluctant to continue it, in spite of the mental wear and tear which it
involved. He felt that he was clearly in the vein. There was no knowing
what brilliant thing he might not say next. He wished that some of those
clever fellows on the India Council were listening to him.

"Why?" asked Shere Ali. "Why back there does one forget the discomfort
of India?"

He asked the question less in search of information than to discover
whether the feelings of which he was conscious were shared too by his
companion.

"Why?" answered Dewes wrinkling his forehead again. "Because one misses
more than one thought to miss and one doesn't find half what one thought
to find. Come along here!"

He led Shere Ali up to the top of the stand.

"We can see the race quite well from here," he said, "although that is
not the reason why I brought you up. This is what I wanted to show you."

He waved his hand over towards the great space which the racecourse
enclosed. It was thronged with natives robed in saffron and pink, in blue
and white, in scarlet and delicate shades of mauve and violet. The whole
enclosure was ablaze with colour, and the colours perpetually moved and
grouped themselves afresh as the throng shifted. A great noise of cries
rose up into the clear air.

"I suppose that is what I missed," said Dewes, "not the noise, not the
mere crowd--you can get both on an English racecourse--but the colour."

And suddenly before Shere Ali's eyes there rose a vision of the Paddock
at Newmarket during a July meeting. The sleek horses paced within the
cool grove of trees; the bright sunlight, piercing the screen of leaves
overhead, dappled their backs with flecks of gold. Nothing of the
sunburnt grass before his eyes was visible to him. He saw the green turf
of the Jockey Club enclosure, the seats, the luncheon room behind with
its open doors and windows.

"Yes, I understand," he said. "But you have come back," and a note of
envy sounded in his voice. Here was one point in which the parallel
between his case and that of Colonel Dewes was not complete. Dewes had
missed India as he had missed England. But Dewes was a free man. He
could go whither he would. "Yes, you were able to come back. How long do
you stay?"

And the answer to that question startled Shere Ali.

"I have come back for good."

"You are going to live here?" cried Shere Ali.

"Not here, exactly. In Cashmere. I go up to Cashmere in a week's time. I
shall live there and die there."

Colonel Dewes spoke without any note of anticipation, and without any
regret. It was difficult for Shere Ali to understand how deeply he felt.
Yet the feeling must be deep. He had cut himself off from his own people,
from his own country. Shere Ali was stirred to yet more questions. He was
anxious to understand thoroughly all that had moved this commonplace
matter-of-fact man at his side.

"You found life in England so dull?" he asked.

"Well, one felt a stranger," said Dewes. "One had lost one's
associations. I know there are men who throw themselves into public life
and the rest of it. But I couldn't. I hadn't the heart for it even if I
had the ability. There was Lawrence, of course. He governed India and
then he went on the School Board," and Dewes thumped his fist upon the
rail in front of him. "How he was able to do it beats me altogether. I
read his life with amazement. He was just as keen about the School Board
as he had been about India when he was Viceroy here. He threw himself
into it with just as much vigour. That beats me. He was a big man, of
course, and I am not. I suppose that's the explanation. Anyway, the
School Board was not for me. I put in my winters for some years at Corfu
shooting woodcock. And in the summer I met a man or two back on leave at
my club. But on the whole it was pretty dull. Yes," and he nodded his
head, and for the first time a note of despondency sounded in his voice.
"Yes, on the whole it was pretty dull. It will be better in Cashmere."

"It would have been still better if you had never seen India at all,"
said Shere Ali.

"No; I don't say that. I had my good time in India--twenty-five years of
it, the prime of my life. No; I have nothing to complain of," said Dewes.

Here was another difference brought to Shere Ali's eyes. He himself was
still young; the prime years were before him, not behind. He looked down,
even as Dewes had done, over that wide space gay with colours as a garden
of flowers; but in the one man's eyes there was a light of satisfaction,
in the other's a gleam almost of hatred.

"You are not sorry you came out to India," he said. "Well, for my part,"
and his voice suddenly shook with passion, "I wish to heaven I had never
seen England."

Dewes turned about, a vacant stare of perplexity upon his face.

"Oh, come, I say!" he protested.

"I mean it!" cried Shere Ali. "It was the worst thing that could have
happened. I shall know no peace of mind again, no contentment, no
happiness, not until I am dead. I wish I were dead!"

And though he spoke in a low voice, he spoke with so much violence that
Colonel Dewes was quite astounded. He was aware of no similiarity between
his own case and that of Shere Ali. He had long since forgotten the
exhortations of Luffe.

"Oh, come now," he repeated. "Isn't that a little ungrateful--what?"

He could hardly have chosen a word less likely to soothe the exasperated
nerves of his companion. Shere Ali laughed harshly.

"I ought to be grateful?" said he.

"Well," said Dewes, "you have been to Eton and Oxford, you have seen
London. All that is bound to have broadened your mind. Don't you feel
that your mind has broadened?"

"Tell me the use of a broad mind in Chiltistan," said Shere Ali. And
Colonel Dewes, who had last seen the valleys of that remote country more
than twenty years before, was baffled by the challenge.

"To tell the truth, I am a little out of touch with Indian problems," he
said. "But it's surely good in every way that there should be a man up
there who knows we have something in the way of an army. When I was
there, there was trouble which would have been quite prevented by
knowledge of that kind."

"Are you sure?" said Shere Ali quietly; and the two men turned and went
down from the roof of the stand.

The words which Dewes had just used rankled in Shere Ali's mind, quietly
though he had received them. Here was the one definite advantage of his
education in England on which Dewes could lay his finger. He knew enough
of the strength of the British army to know also the wisdom of keeping
his people quiet. For that he had been sacrificed. It was an
advantage--yes. But an advantage to whom? he asked. Why, to those
governing people here who had to find the money and the troops to
suppress a rising, and to confront at the same time an outcry at home
from the opponents of the forward movement. It was to their advantage
certainly that he should have been sent to England. And then he was told
to be grateful!

As they came out again from the winding staircase and turned towards the
paddock Colonel Dewes took Shere Ali by the arm, and said in a voice of
kindliness:

"And what has become of all the fine ambitions you and Dick Linforth used
to have in common?"

"Linforth's still at Chatham," replied Shere Ali shortly.

"Yes, but you are here. You might make a beginning by yourself."

"They won't let me."

"There's the road," suggested Dewes.

"They won't let me add an inch to it. They will let me do nothing, and
they won't let Linforth come out. I wish they would," he added in a
softer voice. "If Linforth were to come out to Chiltistan it might make a
difference."

They had walked round to the rails in front of the stand, and Shere Ali
looked up the steps to the Viceroy's box. The Viceroy was present that
afternoon. Shere Ali saw his tall figure, with the stoop of the shoulders
characteristic of him, as he stood dressed in a grey frock-coat, with the
ladies of his family and one or two of his _aides-de-camp_ about him.
Shere Ali suddenly stopped and nodded towards the box.

"Have you any influence there?" he asked of Colonel Dewes; and he spoke
with a great longing, a great eagerness, and he waited for the answer in
a great suspense.

Dewes shook his head.

"None," he replied; "I am nobody at all."

The hope died out of Shere Ali's face.

"I am sorry," he said; and the eagerness had changed into despair. There
was just a chance, he thought, of salvation for himself if only Linforth
could be fetched out to India. He might resume with Linforth his old
companionship, and so recapture something of his old faith and of his
bright ideals. There was sore need that he should recapture them. Shere
Ali was well aware of it. More and more frequently sure warnings came to
him. Now it was some dim recollection of beliefs once strongly clung to,
which came back to him with a shock. He would awaken through some chance
word to the glory of the English rule in India, the lessening poverty of
the Indian nations, the incorruptibility of the English officials and
their justice.

"Yes, yes," he would say with astonishment, "I was sure of these things;
I knew them as familiar truths," even as a man gradually going blind
might one day see clearly and become aware of his narrowing vision. Or
perhaps it would be some sudden unsuspected revulsion of feeling in his
heart. Such a revulsion had come to him this afternoon as he had gazed up
to the Viceroy's box. A wild and unreasoning wrath had flashed up within
him, not against the system, but against that tall stooping man, worn
with work, who was at once its representative and its flower. Up there
the great man stood--so his thoughts ran--complacent, self-satisfied,
careless of the harm which his system wrought. Down here upon the grass
walked a man warped and perverted out of his natural course. He had been
sent to Eton and to Oxford, and had been filled with longings and desires
which could have no fruition; he had been trained to delicate thoughts
and habits which must daily be offended and daily be a cause of offence
to his countrymen. But what did the tall stooping man care? Shere Ali now
knew that the English had something in the way of an army. What did it
matter whether he lived in unhappiness so long as that knowledge was the
price of his unhappiness? A cruel, careless, warping business, this
English rule.

Thus Shere Ali felt rather than thought, and realised the while the
danger of his bitter heart. Once more he appealed to Colonel Dewes,
standing before him with burning eyes.

"Bring Linforth out to India! If you have any influence, use it; if you
have none, obtain it. Only bring Linforth out to India, and bring him
very quickly!"

Once before a passionate appeal had been made to Colonel Dewes by a man
in straits, and Colonel Dewes had not understood and had not obeyed. Now,
a quarter of a century later another appeal was made by a man sinking, as
surely as Luffe had been sinking before, and once again Dewes did not
understand.

He took Shere Ali by the arm, and said in a kindly voice:

"I tell you what it is, my lad. You have been going the pace a bit, eh?
Calcutta's no good. You'll only collect debts and a lot of things you are
better without. Better get out of it."

Shere Ali's face closed as his lips had done. All expression died from it
in a moment. There was no help for him in Colonel Dewes. He said good-bye
with a smile, and walked out past the stand. His syce was waiting for him
outside the railings.

Shere Ali had come to the races wearing a sun-helmet, and, as the fashion
is amongst the Europeans in Calcutta, his syce carried a silk hat for
Shere Ali to take in exchange for his helmet when the sun went down.
Shere Ali, like most of the Europeanised Indians, was more scrupulous
than any Englishman in adhering to the European custom. But to-day, with
an angry gesture, he repelled his syce.

"I am going," he said. "You can take that thing away."

His sense of humour failed him altogether. He would have liked furiously
to kick and trample upon that glossy emblem of the civilised world; he
had much ado to refrain. The syce carried back the silk hat to Shere
Ali's smart trap, and Shere Ali drove home in his helmet. Thus he began
publicly to renounce the cherished illusion that he was of the white
people, and must do as the white people did.

But Colonel Dewes pointed unwittingly the significance of that trivial
matter on the same night. He dined at the house of an old friend, and
after the ladies had gone he moved up into the next chair, and so sat
beside a weary-looking official from the Punjab named Ralston, who had
come down to Calcutta on leave. Colonel Dewes began to talk of his
meeting with Shere Ali that afternoon. At the mention of Shere Ali's name
the official sat up and asked for more.

"He looked pretty bad," said Colonel Dewes. "Jumpy and feverish, and with
the air of a man who has been sitting up all night for a week or two. But
this is what interested me most," and Dewes told how the lad had implored
him to bring Linforth out to India.

"Who's Linforth?" asked the official quickly. "Not the son of that
Linforth who--"

"Yes, that's the man," said the Colonel testily. "But you interrupt me.
What interested me was this--when I refused to help, Shere Ali's face
changed in a most extraordinary way. All the fire went from his eyes, all
the agitation from his face. It was like looking at an open box full of
interesting things, and then--bang! someone slaps down the lid, and you
are staring at a flat piece of wood. It was as if--as if--well, I can't
find a better comparison."

"It was as if a European suddenly changed before your eyes into an
Oriental."

Dewes was not pleased with Ralston's success in supplying the simile he
could not hit upon himself.

"That's a little fanciful," he said grudgingly; and then recognised
frankly the justness of its application. "Yet it's true--a European
changing into an Oriental! Yes, it just looked like that."

"It may actually have been that," said the official quietly. And he
added: "I met Shere Ali last year at Lahore on his way north to
Chiltistan. I was interested then; I am all the more interested now, for
I have just been appointed to Peshawur."

He spoke in a voice which was grave--so grave that Colonel Dewes looked
quickly towards him.

"Do you think there will be trouble up there in Chiltistan?" he asked.

The Deputy-Commissioner, who was now Chief Commissioner, smiled wearily.

"There is always trouble up there in Chiltistan," he said. "That I know.
What I think is this--Shere Ali should have gone to the Mayo College at
Ajmere. That would have been a compromise which would have satisfied his
father and done him no harm. But since he didn't--since he went to Eton,
and to Oxford, and ran loose in London for a year or two--why, I think he
is right."

"How do you mean--right?" asked the Colonel.

"I mean that the sooner Linforth is fetched out to India and sent up to
Chiltistan, the better it will be," said the Commissioner.




CHAPTER XVII

NEWS FROM MECCA


Mr. Charles Ralston, being a bachelor and of an economical mind even when
on leave in Calcutta, had taken up his quarters in a grass hut in the
garden of his Club. He awoke the next morning with an uncomfortable
feeling that there was work to be done. The feeling changed into sure
knowledge as he reflected upon the conversation which he had had with
Colonel Dewes, and he accordingly arose and went about it. For ten days
he went to and fro between the Club and Government House, where he held
long and vigorous interviews with officials who did not wish to see him.
Moreover, other people came to see him privately--people of no social
importance for the most part, although there were one or two officers of
the police service amongst them. With these he again held long
interviews, asking many inquisitive questions. Then he would go out by
himself into those parts of the city where the men of broken fortunes,
the jockeys run to seed, and the prize-fighters chiefly preferred to
congregate. In the low quarters he sought his information of the waifs
and strays who are cast up into the drinking-bars of any Oriental port,
and he did not come back empty-handed.

For ten days he thus toiled for the good of the Indian Government,
and, above all, of that part of it which had its headquarters at
Lahore. And on the morning of the eleventh day, as he was just
preparing to leave for Government House, where his persistence had
prevailed, a tall, black-bearded and very sunburnt man noiselessly
opened the door of the hut and as noiselessly stepped inside. Ralston,
indeed, did not at once notice him, nor did the stranger call attention
to his presence. He waited, motionless and patient, until Ralston
happened to turn and see him.

"Hatch!" cried Ralston with a smile of welcome stealing over his startled
face, and making it very pleasant to look upon. "You?"

"Yes," answered the tall man; "I reached Calcutta last night. I went into
the Club for breakfast. They told me you were here."

Robert Hatch was of the same age as Ralston. But there was little else
which they had in common. The two men had met some fifteen years ago for
the first time, in Peshawur, and on that first meeting some subtle chord
of sympathy had drawn them together; and so securely that even though
they met but seldom nowadays, their friendship had easily survived the
long intervals. The story of Hatch's life was a simple one. He had
married in his twenty-second year a wife a year younger than himself, and
together the couple had settled down upon an estate which Hatch owned in
Devonshire. Only a year after the marriage, however, Hatch's wife died,
and he, disliking his home, had gone restlessly abroad. The restlessness
had grown, a certain taste for Oriental literature and thought had been
fostered by his travels. He had become a wanderer upon the face of the
earth--a man of many clubs in different quarters of the world, and of
many friends, who had come to look upon his unexpected appearance and no
less sudden departure as part of the ordinary tenour of their lives. Thus
it was not the appearance of Hatch which had startled Ralston, but rather
the silence of it.

"Why didn't you speak?" he asked. "Why did you stand waiting there for me
to look your way?"

Hatch laughed as he sat down in a chair.

"I have got into the habit of waiting, I suppose," he said. "For the last
five months I have been a servant in the train of the Sultan of the
Maldive Islands."

Ralston was not as a rule to be surprised by any strange thing which
Hatch might have chosen to do. He merely glanced at his companion
and asked:

"What in the world were you doing in the Maldive Islands?"

"Nothing at all," replied Hatch. "I did not go to them. I joined the
Sultan at Suez."

This time Ralston, who had been moving about the room in search of some
papers which he had mislaid, came to a stop. His attention was arrested.
He sat down in a chair and prepared to listen.

"Go on," he said.

"I wanted to go to Mecca," said Hatch, and Ralston nodded his head as
though he had expected just those words.

"I did not see how I was going to get there by myself," Hatch continued,
"however carefully I managed my disguise."

"Yet you speak Arabic," said Ralston.

"Yes, the language wasn't the difficulty. Indeed, a great many of the
pilgrims--the people from Central Asia, for instance--don't speak Arabic
at all. But I felt sure that if I went down the Red Sea alone on a
pilgrim steamer, landed alone at Jeddah, and went up with a crowd of
others to Mecca, living with them, sleeping with them, day after day,
sooner or later I should make some fatal slip and never reach Mecca at
all. If Burton made one mistake, how many should I? So I put the journey
off year after year. But this autumn I heard that the Sultan of the
Maldive Islands intended to make the pilgrimage. He was a friend of mine.
I waited for him at Suez, and he reluctantly consented to take me."

"So you went to Mecca," exclaimed Ralston.

"Yes; I have just come from Mecca. As I told you, I only landed at
Calcutta last night."

Ralston was silent for a few moments.

"I think you may be able to help me," he said at length. "There's a man
here in Calcutta," and Ralston related what he knew of the history of
Shere Ali, dwelling less upon the unhappiness and isolation of the Prince
than upon the political consequences of his isolation.

"He has come to grief in Chiltistan," he continued. "He won't
marry--there may be a reason for that. I don't know. English women are
not always wise in their attitude towards these boys. But it seems to me
quite a natural result of his education and his life. He is suspected by
his people. When he goes back, he will probably be murdered. At present
he is consorting with the lowest Europeans here, drinking with them,
playing cards with them, and going to ruin as fast as he can. I am not
sure that there's a chance for him at all. A few minutes ago I would
certainly have said that there was none. Now, however, I am wondering.
You see, I don't know the lad well enough. I don't know how many of the
old instincts and traditions of his race and his faith are still alive in
him, underneath all the Western ideas and the Western feelings to which
he has been trained. But if they are dead, there is no chance for him. If
they are alive--well, couldn't they be evoked? That's the problem."

Hatch nodded his head.

"He might be turned again into a genuine Mohammedan," he said. "I
wonder too."

"At all events, it's worth trying," said Ralston. "For it's the only
chance left to try. If we could sweep away the effects of the last few
years, if we could obliterate his years in England--oh, I know it's
improbable. But help me and let us see."

"How?" asked Hatch.

"Come and dine with me to-morrow night. I'll make Shere Ali come. I _can_
make him. For I can threaten to send him back to Chiltistan. Then talk to
him of Mecca, talk to him of the city, and the shrine, and the pilgrims.
Perhaps something of their devotion may strike a spark in him, perhaps he
may have some remnant of faith still dormant in him. Make Mecca a symbol
to him, make it live for him as a place of pilgrimage. You could,
perhaps, because you have seen with your own eyes, and you know."

"I can try, of course," said Hatch with a shrug of his shoulders. "But
isn't there a danger--if I succeed? I might try to kindle faith, I might
only succeed in kindling fanaticism. Are the Mohammedans beyond the
frontier such a very quiet people that you are anxious to add another to
their number?"

Ralston was prepared for the objection. Already, indeed, Shere Ali
might be seething with hatred against the English rule. It would be no
more than natural if he were. Ralston had pondered the question with an
uncomfortable vision before his eyes, evoked by certain words of
Colonel Dewes--a youth appealing for help, for the only help which
could be of service to him, and then, as the appeal was rejected,
composing his face to a complete and stolid inexpressiveness, no longer
showing either his pain or his desire--reverting, as it were, from the
European to the Oriental.

"Yes, there is that danger," he admitted. "Seeking to restore a friend,
we might kindle an enemy." And then he rose up and suddenly burst out:
"But upon my word, were that to come to pass, we should deserve it. For
we are to blame--we who took him from Chiltistan and sent him to be
petted by the fine people in England." And once more it was evident from
his words that he was thinking not of Shere Ali--not of the human being
who had just his one life to live, just his few years with their
opportunities of happiness, and their certain irrevocable periods of
distress--but of the Prince of Chiltistan who might or might not be a
cause of great trouble to the Government of the Punjab.

"We must take the risk," he cried as one arguing almost against himself.
"It's the only chance. So we must take the risk. Besides, I have been at
some pains already to minimise it. Shere Ali has a friend in England. We
are asking for that friend. A telegram goes to-day. So come to-morrow
night and do your best."

"Very well, I will," said Hatch, and, taking up his hat, he went away. He
had no great hopes that any good would come of the dinner. But at the
worst, he thought, it would leave matters where they were.

In that, however, he was wrong. For there were important moments in the
history of the young Prince of Chiltistan of which both Hatch and Ralston
were quite unaware. And because they were unaware the dinner which was to
help in straightening out the tangle of Shere Ali's life became a
veritable catastrophe. Shere Ali was brought reluctantly to the table in
the corner of the great balcony upon the first floor. He had little to
say, and it was as evident to the two men who entertained him as it had
been to Colonel Dewes that the last few weeks had taken their toll of
him. There were dark, heavy pouches beneath his eyes, his manner was
feverish, and when he talked at all it was with a boisterous and a
somewhat braggart voice.

Ralston turned the conversation on to the journey which Hatch had taken,
and for a little while the dinner promised well. At the mere mention of
Mecca, Shere Ali looked up with a swift interest. "Mecca!" he cried, "you
have been there! Tell me of Mecca. On my way up to Chiltistan I met three
of my own countrymen on the summit of the Lowari Pass. They had a few
rupees apiece--just enough, they told me, to carry them to Mecca. I
remember watching them as they went laughing and talking down the snow on
their long journey. And I wondered--" He broke off abruptly and sat
looking out from the balcony. The night was coming on. In front stretched
the great grass plain of the Maidan with its big trees and the wide
carriage-road bisecting it. The carriages had driven home; the road and
the plain were empty. Beyond them the high chimney-stacks of the steamers
on the river could still be seen, some with a wisp of smoke curling
upwards into the still air; and at times the long, melancholy hoot of a
steam-syren broke the stillness of the evening.

Shere Ali turned to Hatch again and said in a quiet voice which had some
note of rather pathetic appeal: "Will you tell me what you thought of
Mecca? I should like to know."

The vision of the three men descending the Lowari Pass was present to him
as he listened. And he listened, wondering what strange, real power that
sacred place possessed to draw men cheerfully on so long and hazardous a
pilgrimage. But the secret was not yet to be revealed to him. Hatch
talked well. He told Shere Ali of the journey down the Red Sea, and the
crowded deck at the last sunset before Jeddah was reached, when every one
of the pilgrims robed himself in spotless white and stood facing the east
and uttering his prayers in his own tongue. He described the journey
across the desert, the great shrine of the Prophet in Mecca, the great
gathering for prayer upon the plain two miles away. Something of the
fervour of the pilgrims he managed to make real by his words, but Shere
Ali listened with the picture of the three men in his thoughts, and with
a deep envy of their contentment.

Then Hatch made his mistake. He turned suddenly towards Ralston and said:

"But something curious happened--something very strange and
curious--which I think you ought to know, for the matter can hardly be
left where it is."

Ralston leaned forward.

"Wait a moment," he said, and he called to the waiter. "Light a cigar
before you begin, Hatch," he continued.

The cigars were brought, and Hatch lighted one.

"In what way am I concerned?" asked Ralston.

"My story has to do with India," Hatch replied, and in his turn he looked
out across the Maidan. Darkness had come and lights gleamed upon the
carriage-way; the funnels of the ships had disappeared, and above, in a
clear, dark sky, glittered a great host of stars.

"With India, but not with the India of to-day," Hatch continued.
"Listen"; and over his coffee he told his story. "I was walking down a
narrow street of Mecca towards the big tank, when to my amazement I saw
written up on a signboard above a door the single word 'Lodgings.' It was
the English word, written, too, in the English character. I could hardly
believe my eyes when I saw it. I stood amazed. What was an English
announcement, that lodgings were to be had within, doing in a town where
no Englishman, were he known to be such, would live for a single hour? I
had half a mind to knock at the door and ask. But I noticed opposite to
the door a little shop in which a man sat with an array of heavy
country-made bolts and locks hung upon the walls and spread about him as
he squatted on the floor. I crossed over to the booth, and sitting down
upon the edge of the floor, which was raised a couple of feet or so from
the ground, I made some small purchase. Then, looking across to the sign,
I asked him what the writing on it meant. I suppose that I did not put my
question carelessly enough, for the shopkeeper leaned forward and peered
closely into my face.

"'Why do you ask?' he said, sharply.

"'Because I do not understand,' I replied.

"The man looked me over again. There was no mistake in my dress, and with
my black beard and eyes I could well pass for an Arab. It seemed that he
was content, for he continued: 'How should I know what the word means? I
have heard a story, but whether it is true or not, who shall say?'"

Hatch paused for a moment and lighted his cigar again.

"Well, the account which he gave me was this. Among the pilgrims who come
up to Mecca, there are at times Hottentots from South Africa who speak no
language intelligible to anyone in Mecca; but they speak English, and it
is for their benefit that the sign was hung up."

"What a strange thing!" said Shere Ali.

"The explanation," continued Hatch, "is not very important to my story,
but what followed upon it is; for the very next day, as I was walking
alone, I heard a voice in my ear, whispering: 'The Englishwoman would
like to see you this evening at five.' I turned round in amazement, and
there stood the shopkeeper of whom I had made the inquiries. I thought,
of course, that he was laying a trap for me. But he repeated his
statement, and, telling me that he would wait for me on this spot at ten
minutes to five, he walked away.

"I did not know what to do. One moment I feared treachery and proposed to
stay away, the next I was curious and proposed to go. How in the world
could there be an Englishwoman in Mecca--above all, an Englishwoman who
was in a position to ask me to tea? Curiosity conquered in the end. I
tucked a loaded revolver into my waist underneath my jellaba and kept the
appointment."

"Go on," said Shere Ali, who was leaning forward with a great perplexity
upon his face.

"The shopkeeper was already there. 'Follow me,' he said, 'but not too
closely.' We passed in that way through two or three streets, and then my
guide turned into a dead alley closed in at the end by a house. In the
wall of the house there was a door. My guide looked cautiously round, but
there was no one to oversee us. He rapped gently with his knuckles on the
door, and immediately the door was opened. He beckoned to me, and went
quickly in. I followed him no less quickly. At once the door was shut
behind me, and I found myself in darkness. For a moment I was sure that I
had fallen into a trap, but my guide laid a hand upon my arm and led me
forward. I was brought into a small, bare room, where a woman sat upon
cushions. She was dressed in white like a Mohammedan woman of the East,
and over her face she wore a veil. But a sort of shrivelled aspect which
she had told me that she was very old. She dismissed the guide who had
brought me to her, and as soon as we were alone she said:

"'You are English.'

"And she spoke in English, though with a certain rustiness of speech, as
though that language had been long unfamiliar to her tongue.

"'No,' I replied, and I expressed my contempt of that infidel race in
suitable words.

"The old woman only laughed and removed her veil. She showed me an old
wizened face in which there was not a remnant of good looks--a face worn
and wrinkled with hard living and great sorrows.

"'You are English,' she said, 'and since I am English too, I thought that
I would like to speak once more with one of my own countrymen.'

"I no longer doubted. I took the hand she held out to me and--

"'But what are you doing here in Mecca?' I asked.

"'I live in Mecca,' she replied quietly. 'I have lived here for
twenty years.'

"I looked round that bare and sordid little room with horror. What
strange fate had cast her up there? I asked her, and she told me her
story. Guess what it was!"

Ralston shook his head.

"I can't imagine."

Hatch turned to Shere Ali.

"Can you?" he asked, and even as he asked he saw that a change had come
over the young Prince's mood. He was no longer oppressed with envy and
discontent. He was leaning forward with parted lips and a look in his
eyes which Hatch had not seen that evening--a look as if hope had somehow
dared to lift its head within him. And there was more than a look of
hope; there was savagery too.

"No. I want to hear," replied Shere Ali. "Go on, please! How did the
Englishwoman come to Mecca?"

"She was a governess in the family of an officer at Cawnpore when the
Mutiny broke out, more than forty years ago," said Hatch.

Ralston leaned back in his chair with an exclamation of horror. Shere Ali
said nothing. His eyes rested intently and brightly upon Hatch's face.
Under the table, and out of sight, his fingers worked convulsively.

"She was in that room," continued Hatch, "in that dark room with the
other Englishwomen and children who were murdered. But she was spared.
She was very pretty, she told me, in her youth, and she was only eighteen
when the massacre took place. She was carried up to the hills and forced
to become a Mohammedan. The man who had spared her married her. He died,
and a small chieftain in the hills took her and married her, and finally
brought her out with him when he made the pilgrimage to Mecca. While he
was at Mecca, however, he fell ill, and in his turn he died. She was left
alone. She had a little money, and she stayed. Indeed, she could not get
away. A strange story, eh?"

And Hatch leaned back in his chair, and once more lighted his cigar which
for a second time had gone out.

"You didn't bring her back?" exclaimed Ralston.

"She wouldn't come," replied Hatch. "I offered to smuggle her out of
Mecca, but she refused. She felt that she wouldn't and couldn't face her
own people again. She should have died at Cawnpore, and she did not die.
Besides, she was old; she had long since grown accustomed to her life,
and in England she had long since been given up for dead. She would not
even tell me her real name. Perhaps she ought to be fetched away. I
don't know."

Ralston and Hatch fell to debating that point with great earnestness.
Neither of them paid heed to Shere Ali, and when he rose they easily let
him go. Nor did their thoughts follow him upon his way. But he was
thinking deeply as he went, and a queer and not very pleasant smile
played about his lips.




CHAPTER XVIII

SYBIL LINFORTH'S LOYALTY


A fortnight after Shere Ali had dined with Ralston in Calcutta, a
telegram was handed to Linforth at Chatham. It was Friday, and a
guest-night. The mess-room was full, and here and there amongst the
scarlet and gold lace the sombre black of a civilian caught the eye.
Dinner was just over, and at the ends of the long tables the mess-waiters
stood ready to draw, with a single jerk, the strips of white tablecloth
from the shining mahogany. The silver and the glasses had been removed,
the word was given, and the strips of tablecloth vanished as though by
some swift legerdemain. The port was passed round, and while the glasses
were being filled the telegram was handed to Linforth by his servant.

He opened it carelessly, but as he read the words his heart jumped within
him. His importunities had succeeded, he thought. At all events, his
opportunity had come; for the telegram informed him of his appointment to
the Punjab Commission. He sat for a moment with his thoughts in a whirl.
He could hardly believe the good news. He had longed so desperately for
this one chance that it had seemed to him of late impossible that he
should ever obtain it. Yet here it had come to him, and upon that his
neighbour jogged him in the ribs and said:

"Wake up!"

He waked to see the Colonel at the centre of the top table standing on
his feet with his glass in his hand.

"Gentlemen, the Queen. God bless her!" and all that company arose and
drank to the toast. The prayer, thus simply pronounced amongst the men
who had pledged their lives in service to the Queen, had always been to
Linforth a very moving thing. Some of those who drank to it had already
run their risks and borne their sufferings in proof of their sincerity;
the others all burned to do the like. It had always seemed to him, too,
to link him up closely and inseparably with the soldiers of the regiment
who had fallen years ago or had died quietly in their beds, their service
ended. It gave continuity to the regiment of Sappers, so that what each
man did increased or tarnished its fair fame. For years back that toast
had been drunk, that prayer uttered in just those simple words, and
Linforth was wont to gaze round the walls on the portraits of the famous
generals who had looked to these barracks and to this mess-room as their
home. They, too, had heard that prayer, and, carrying it in their hearts,
without parade or needless speech had gone forth, each in his turn, and
laboured unsparingly.

But never had Linforth been so moved as he was tonight. He choked in his
throat as he drank. For his turn to go forth had at the last come to him.
And in all humility of spirit he sent up a prayer on his own account,
that he might not fail--and again that he might not fail.

He sat down and told his companions the good news, and rejoiced at their
congratulations. But he slipped away to his own quarters very quietly as
soon as the Colonel rose, and sat late by himself.

There was one, he knew very well, to whom the glad tidings would be a
heavy blow--but he could not--no, not even for her sake--stand aside.
For this opportunity he had lived, training alike his body and mind
against its coming. He could not relinquish it. There was too strong a
constraint upon him.

"Over the passes to the foot of the Hindu Kush," he murmured; and in his
mind's eye he saw the road--a broad, white, graded road--snake across the
valleys and climb the cliffs.

Was Russia at work? he wondered. Was he to be sent to Chiltistan? What
was Shere Ali doing? He turned the questions over in his mind without
being at much pains to answer them. In such a very short time now he
would know. He was to embark before a month had passed.

He travelled down the very next day into Sussex, and came to the house
under the Downs at twelve o'clock. It was early spring, and as yet there
were no buds upon the trees, no daffodils upon the lawns. The house,
standing apart in its bare garden of brown earth, black trees, and dull
green turf, had a desolate aspect which somehow filled him with remorse.
He might have done more, perhaps, to fill this house with happiness. He
feared that, now that it was too late to do the things left undone. He
had been so absorbed in his great plans, which for a moment lost in his
eyes their magnitude.

Dick Linforth found his mother in the study, through the window of which
she had once looked from the garden in the company of Colonel Dewes. She
was writing her letters, and when she saw him enter, she sprang up with a
cry of joy.

"Dick!" she cried, coming towards him with outstretched hands. But she
stopped half-way. The happiness died out of her. She raised a hand to her
heart, and her voice once more repeated his name; but her voice faltered
as she spoke, and the hand was clasped tight upon her breast.

"Dick," she said, and in his face she read the tidings he had brought.
The blow so long dreaded had at last fallen.

"Yes, mother, it's true," he said very gently; and leading her to a
chair, he sat beside her, stroking her hand, almost as a lover might do.
"It's true. The telegram came last night. I start within the month."

"For Chiltistan?"

Dick looked at her for a moment.

"For the Punjab," he said, and added: "But it will mean Chiltistan. Else
why should I be sent for? It has been always for Chiltistan that I have
importuned them."

Sybil Linforth bowed her head. The horror which had been present with her
night and day for so long a while twenty-five years ago rushed upon her
afresh, so that she could not speak. She sat living over again the bitter
days when Luffe was shut up with his handful of men in the fort by
Kohara. She remembered the morning when the postman came up the garden
path with the official letter that her husband had been slain. And at
last in a whisper she said:

"The Road?"

Dick, even in the presence of her pain, could not deny the implication of
her words.

"We Linforths belong to the Road," he answered gravely. The words struck
upon a chord of memory. Sybil Linforth sat upright, turned to her sort
and greatly surprised him. He had expected an appeal, a prayer. What he
heard was something which raised her higher in his thoughts than ever she
had been, high though he had always placed her.

"Dick," she said, "I have never said a word to dissuade you, have I?
Never a word? Never a single word?" and her tone besought him to
assure her.

"Never a word, mother," he replied.

But still she was not content.

"When you were a boy, when the Road began to take hold on you--when we
were much together, playing cricket out there in the garden," and her
voice broke upon the memory of those golden days, "when I might have been
able, perhaps, to turn you to other thoughts, I never tried to, Dick? Own
to that! I never tried to. When I came upon you up on the top of the Down
behind the house, lying on the grass, looking out--always--always towards
the sea--oh, I knew very well what it was that was drawing you; but I
said nothing, Dick. Not a word--not a word!"

Dick nodded his head.

"That's true, mother. You never questioned me. You never tried to
dissuade me."

Sybil's face shone with a wan smile. She unlocked a drawer in her
writing-table, and took out an envelope. From the envelope she drew a
sheet of paper covered with a faded and yellow handwriting.

"This is the last letter your father ever wrote to me," she said. "Harry
wrote on the night that he--that he died. Oh, Dick, my boy, I have known
for a long time that I would have one day to show it to you, and I wanted
you to feel when that time came that I had not been disloyal."

She had kept her face steady, even her voice calm, by a great effort.
But now the tears filled her eyes and brimmed over, and her voice
suddenly shook between a laugh and a sob. "But oh, Dick," she cried, "I
have so often wanted to be disloyal. I was so often near to it--oh,
very, very near."

She handed him the faded letter, and, turning towards the window, stood
with her back to him while he read. It was that letter, with its constant
refrain of "I am very tired," which Linforth had written in his tent
whilst his murderers crouched outside waiting for sleep to overcome him.

"I am sitting writing this by the light of a candle," Dick read. "The
tent door is open. In front of me I can see the great snow-mountains. All
the ugliness of the shale-slopes is hidden. By such a moonlight, my dear,
may you always look back upon my memory. For it is all over, Sybil."

Then followed the advice about himself and his school; and after that
advice the message which was now for the first time delivered:

"Whether he will come out here, it is too early to think about. But the
Road will not be finished--and I wonder. If he wants to, let him! We
Linforths belong to the Road."

Dick folded the letter reverently, and crossing to his mother's side, put
his arm about her waist.

"Yes," he said. "My father knew it as I know it. He used the words which
I in my turn have used. We Linforths belong to the Road."

His mother took the letter from his hand and locked it away.

"Yes," she said bravely, and called a smile to her face. "So you must
go."

Dick nodded his head.

"Yes. You see, the Road has not advanced since my father died. It almost
seems, mother, that it waits for me."

He stayed that day and that night with Sybil, and in the morning both
brought haggard faces to the breakfast table. Sybil, indeed, had slept,
but, with her memories crowding hard upon her, she had dreamed again one
of those almost forgotten dreams which, in the time of her suspense, had
so tortured her. The old vague terror had seized upon her again. She
dreamed once more of a young Englishman who pursued a young Indian along
the wooden galleries of the road above the torrents into the far mists.
She could tell as of old the very dress of the native who fled. A thick
sheepskin coat swung aside as he ran and gave her a glimpse of gay silk;
soft high leather boots protected his feet; and upon his face there was a
look of fury and wild fear. But this night there was a difference in the
dream. Her present distress added a detail. The young Englishman who
pursued turned his face to her as he disappeared amongst the mists, and
she saw that it was the face of Dick.

But of this she said nothing at all at the breakfast table, nor when she
bade Dick good-bye at the stile on the further side of the field beyond
the garden.

"You will come down again, and I shall go to Marseilles to see you off,"
she said, and so let him go.

There was something, too, stirring in Dick's mind of which he said no
word. In the letter of his father, certain sentences had caught his eye,
and on his way up to London they recurred to his thoughts, as, indeed,
they had more than once during the evening before.

"May he meet," Harry Linforth had written to Sybil of his son Dick--"may
he meet a woman like you, my dear, when his time comes, and love her as I
love you."

Dick Linforth fell to thinking of Violet Oliver. She was in India at this
moment. She might still be there when he landed. Would he meet her, he
wondered, somewhere on the way to Chiltistan?




CHAPTER XIX

A GIFT MISUNDERSTOOD


The month was over before Linforth at last steamed out of the harbour at
Marseilles. He was as impatient to reach Bombay as a year before Shere
Ali had been reluctant. To Shere Ali the boat had flown with wings of
swiftness, to Linforth she was a laggard. The steamer passed Stromboli
on a wild night of storm and moonlight. The wrack of clouds scurrying
overhead, now obscured, now let the moonlight through, and the great
cone rising sheer from a tempestuous sea glowed angrily. Linforth, in
the shelter of a canvas screen, watched the glow suddenly expand, and a
stream of bright sparkling red flow swiftly along the shoulder of the
mountain, turn at a right angle, and plunge down towards the sea. The
bright red would become dull, the dull red grow black, the glare of
light above the cone contract for a little while and then burst out
again. Yet men lived upon the slope of Stromboli, even as
Englishmen--the thought flashed into his mind--lived in India,
recognising the peril and going quietly about their work. There was
always that glare of menacing light over the hill-districts of India as
above the crater of Stromboli, now contracting, now expanding and
casting its molten stream down towards the plains.

At the moment when Linforth watched the crown of light above Stromboli,
the glare was widening over the hill country of Chiltistan. Ralston so
far away as Peshawur saw it reddening the sky and was the more troubled
in that he could not discover why just at this moment the menace should
glow red. The son of Abdulla Mohammed was apparently quiet and Shere Ali
had not left Calcutta. The Resident at Kohara admitted the danger. Every
despatch he sent to Peshawur pointed to the likelihood of trouble. But he
too was at fault. Unrest was evident, the cause of it quite obscure. But
what was hidden from Government House in Peshawur and the Old Mission
House at Kohara was already whispered in the bazaars. There among the
thatched booths which have their backs upon the brink of the
water-channel in the great square, men knew very well that Shere Ali was
the cause, though Shere Ali knew nothing of it himself. One of those
queer little accidents possible in the East had happened within the last
few weeks. A trifling gift had been magnified into a symbol and a
message, and the message had run through Chiltistan like fire through a
dry field of stubble. And then two events occurred in Peshawur which gave
to Ralston the key of the mystery.

The first was the arrival in that city of a Hindu lady from Gujerat who
had lately come to the conclusion that she was a reincarnation of the
Goddess Devi. She arrived in great pomp, and there was some trouble in
the streets as the procession passed through to the temple which she had
chosen as her residence. For the Hindus, on the one hand, firmly believed
in her divinity. The lady came of a class which, held in dishonour in the
West, had its social position and prestige in India. There was no reason
in the eyes of the faithful why she should say she was the Goddess Devi
if she were not. Therefore they lined the streets to acclaim her coming.
The Mohammedans, on the other hand, Afghans from the far side of the
Khyber, men of the Hassan and the Aka and the Adam Khel tribes, Afridis
from Kohat and Tirah and the Araksai country, any who happened to be in
that wild and crowded town, turned out, too--to keep order, as they
pleasantly termed it, when their leaders were subsequently asked for
explanations. In the end a good many heads were broken before the lady
was safely lodged in her temple. Nor did the trouble end there. The
presence of a reincarnated Devi at once kindled the Hindus to fervour and
stimulated to hostility against them the fanatical Mohammedans. Futteh
Ali Shah, a merchant, a municipal councillor and a landowner of some
importance, headed a deputation of elderly gentlemen who begged Ralston
to remove the danger from the city.

Danger there was, as Ralston on his morning rides through the streets
could not but understand. The temple was built in the corner of an open
space, and upon that open space a noisy and excited crowd surged all day;
while from the countryside around pilgrims in a mood of frenzied piety
and Pathans spoiling for a fight trooped daily in through the gates of
Peshawur. Ralston understood that the time had come for definite steps to
be taken; and he took them with that unconcerned half-weary air which was
at once natural to him and impressive to these particular people with
whom he had to deal.

He summoned two of his native levies and mounted his horse.

"But you will take a guard," said Colonel Ward, of the Oxfordshires, who
had been lunching with Ralston. "I'll send a company down with you."

"No, thank you," said Ralston listlessly, "I think my two men will do."

The Colonel stared and expostulated.

"You know, Ralston, you are very rash. Your predecessor never rode into
the City without an escort."

"I do every morning."

"I know," returned the Colonel, "and that's where you are wrong. Some day
something will happen. To go down with two of your levies to-day is
madness. I speak seriously. The place is in a ferment."

"Oh, I think I'll be all right," said Ralston, and he rode at a trot
down from Government House into the road which leads past the gaol and
the Fort to the gate of Peshawur. At the gate he reduced the trot to a
walk, and so, with his two levies behind him, passed up along the
streets like a man utterly undisturbed. It was not bravado which had
made him refuse an escort. On the contrary, it was policy. To assume
that no one questioned his authority was in Ralston's view the best way
and the quickest to establish it. He pushed forward through the crowd
right up to the walls of the temple, seemingly indifferent to every cry
or threat which was uttered as he passed. The throng closed in behind
him, and he came to a halt in front of a low door set in the whitewashed
wall which enclosed the temple and its precincts. Upon this door he beat
with the butt of his crop and a little wicket in the door was opened. At
the bars of the wicket an old man's face showed for a moment and then
drew back in fear.

"Open!" cried Ralston peremptorily.

The face appeared again.

"Your Excellency, the goddess is meditating. Besides, this is holy
ground. Your Excellency would not wish to set foot on it. Moreover, the
courtyard is full of worshippers. It would not be safe."

Ralston broke in upon the old man's fluttering protestations. "Open the
door, or my men will break it in."

A murmur of indignation arose from the crowd which thronged about him.
Ralston paid no heed to it. He called to his two levies:

"Quick! Break that door in!"

As they advanced the door was opened. Ralston dismounted, and bade one of
his men do likewise and follow him. To the second man he said,

"Hold the horses!"

He strode into the courtyard and stood still.

"It will be touch and go," he said to himself, as he looked about him.

The courtyard was as thronged as the open space without, and four strong
walls enclosed it. The worshippers were strangely silent. It seemed to
Ralston that suspense had struck them dumb. They looked at the intruder
with set faces and impassive eyes. At the far end of the courtyard there
was a raised stone platform, and this part was roofed. At the back in the
gloom he could see a great idol of the goddess, and in front, facing the
courtyard, stood the lady from Gujerat. She was what Ralston expected to
see--a dancing girl of Northern India, a girl with a good figure, small
hands and feet, and a complexion of an olive tint. Her eyes were large
and lustrous, with a line of black pencilled upon the edges of the
eyelids, her eyebrows arched and regular, her face oval, her forehead
high. The dress was richly embroidered with gold, and she had anklets
with silver bells upon her feet.

Ralston pushed his way through the courtyard until he reached the wall of
the platform.

"Come down and speak to me," he cried peremptorily to the lady, but she
took no notice of his presence. She did not move so much as an eyelid.
She gazed over his head as one lost in meditation. From the side an old
priest advanced to the edge of the platform.

"Go away," he cried insolently. "You have no place here. The goddess does
not speak to any but her priests," and through the throng there ran a
murmur of approval. There, was a movement, too--a movement towards
Ralston. It was as yet a hesitating movement--those behind pushed, those
in front and within Ralston's vision held back. But at any moment the
movement might become a rush.

Ralston spoke to the priest.

"Come down, you dog!" he said quite quietly.

The priest was silent. He hesitated. He looked for help to the crowd
below, which in turn looked for leadership to him. "Come down," once more
cried Ralston, and he moved towards the steps as though he would mount on
to the platform and tear the fellow down.

"I come, I come," said the priest, and he went down and stood
before Ralston.

Ralston turned to the Pathan who accompanied him. "Turn the fellow into
the street."

Protests rose from the crowd; the protests became cries of anger; the
throng swayed and jostled. But the Pathan led the priest to the door and
thrust him out.

Again Ralston turned to the platform.

"Listen to me," he called out to the lady from Gujerat. "You must leave
Peshawur. You are a trouble to the town. I will not let you stay."

But the lady paid no heed. Her mind floated above the earth, and with
every moment the danger grew. Closer and closer the throng pressed in
upon Ralston and his attendant. The clamour rose shrill and menacing.
Ralston cried out to his Pathan in a voice which rang clear and audible
even above the clamour:

"Bring handcuffs!"

The words were heard and silence fell upon all that crowd, the sudden
silence of stupefaction. That such an outrage, such a defilement of a
holy place, could be contemplated came upon the worshippers with a shock.
But the Pathan levy was seen to be moving towards the door to obey the
order, and as he went the cries and threats rose with redoubled ardour.
For a moment it seemed to Ralston that the day would go against him, so
fierce were the faces which shouted in his ears, so turbulent the
movement of the crowd. It needed just one hand to be laid upon the
Pathan's shoulder as he forced his way towards the door, just one blow to
be struck, and the ugly rush would come. But the hand was not stretched
out, nor the blow struck; and the Pathan was seen actually at the
threshold of the door. Then the Goddess Devi came down to earth and spoke
to another of her priests quickly and urgently. The priest went swiftly
down the steps.

"The goddess will leave Peshawur, since your Excellency so wills it," he
said to Ralston. "She will shake the dust of this city from her feet. She
will not bring trouble upon its people." So far he had got when the
goddess became violently agitated. She beckoned to the priest and when he
came to her side she spoke quickly to him in an undertone. For the last
second or two the goddess had grown quite human and even feminine. She
was rating the priest well and she did it spitefully. It was a
crestfallen priest who returned to Ralston.

"The goddess, however, makes a condition," said he. "If she goes there
must be a procession."

The goddess nodded her head emphatically. She was clearly adamant upon
that point.

Ralston smiled.

"By all means. The lady shall have a show, since she wants one," said he,
and turning towards the door, he signalled to the Pathan to stop.

"But it must be this afternoon," said he. "For she must go this
afternoon."

And he made his way out of the courtyard into the street. The lady from
Gujerat left Peshawur three hours later. The streets were lined with
levies, although the Mohammedans assured his Excellency that there was no
need for troops.

"We ourselves will keep order," they urged. Ralston smiled, and ordered
up a company of Regulars. He himself rode out from Government House, and
at the bend of the road he met the procession, with the lady from Gujerat
at its head in a litter with drawn curtains of tawdry gold.

As the procession came abreast of him a little brown hand was thrust
out from the curtains, and the bearers and the rabble behind came to a
halt. A man in a rough brown homespun cloak, with a beggar's bowl
attached to his girdle, came to the side of the litter, and thence went
across to Ralston.

"Your Highness, the Goddess Devi has a word for your ear alone."
Ralston, with a shrug of his shoulders, walked his horse up to the side
of the litter and bent down his head. The lady spoke through the
curtains in a whisper.

"Your Excellency has been very kind to me, and allowed me to leave
Peshawur with a procession, guarding the streets so that I might pass in
safety and with great honour. Therefore I make a return. There is a
matter which troubles your Excellency. You ask yourself the why and the
wherefore, and there is no answer. But the danger grows."

Ralston's thoughts flew out towards Chiltistan. Was it of that country
she was speaking?

"Well?" he asked. "Why does the danger grow?"

"Because bags of grain and melons were sent," she replied, "and the
message was understood."

She waved her hand again, and the bearers of the litter stepped forward
on their march through the cantonment. Ralston rode up the hill to his
home, wondering what in the world was the meaning of her oracular
words. It might be that she had no meaning--that was certainly a
possibility. She might merely be keeping up her pose as a divinity. On
the other hand, she had been so careful to speak in a low whisper, lest
any should overhear.

"Some melons and bags of grain," he said to himself. "What message could
they convey? And who sent them? And to whom?"

He wrote that night to the Resident at Kohara, on the chance that he
might be able to throw some light upon the problem.

"Have you heard anything of a melon and a bag of grain?" he wrote. "It
seems an absurd question, but please make inquiries. Find out what it
all means."

The messenger carried the letter over the Malakand Pass and up the road
by Dir, and in due time an answer was returned. Ralston received the
answer late one afternoon, when the light was failing, and, taking it
over to the window, read it through. Its contents fairly startled him.

"I have made inquiries," wrote Captain Phillips, the Resident, "as you
wished, and I have found out that some melons and bags of grain were sent
by Shere Ali's orders a few weeks ago as a present to one of the chief
Mullahs in the town."

Ralston was brought to a stop. So it was Shere Ali, after all, who was
at the bottom of the trouble. It was Shere Ali who had sent the present,
and had sent it to one of the Mullahs. Ralston looked back upon the
little dinner party, whereby he had brought Hatch and Shere Ali
together. Had that party been too successful, he wondered? Had it
achieved more than he had wished to bring about? He turned in doubt to
the letter which he held.

"It seems," he read, "that there had been some trouble between this man
and Shere Ali. There is a story that Shere Ali set him to work for a day
upon a bridge just below Kohara. But I do not know whether there is any
truth in the story. Nor can I find that any particular meaning is
attached to the present. I imagine that Shere Ali realised that it would
be wise--as undoubtedly it was--for him to make his peace with the
Mullah, and sent him accordingly the melons and the bags of grain as an
earnest of his good-will."

There the letter ended, and Ralston stood by the window as the light
failed more and more from off the earth, pondering with a heavy heart
upon its contents. He had to make his choice between the Resident at
Kohara and the lady of Gujerat. Captain Phillips held that the present
was not interpreted in any symbolic sense. But the lady of Gujerat had
known of the present. It was matter of talk, then, in the bazaars, and it
would hardly have been that had it meant no more than an earnest of
good-will. She had heard of the present; she knew what it was held to
convey. It was a message. There was that glare broadening over
Chiltistan. Surely the lady of Gujerat was right.

So far his thoughts had carried him when across the window there fell a
shadow, and a young officer of the Khyber Rifles passed by to the door.
Captain Singleton was announced, and a boy--or so he looked--dark-haired
and sunburnt, entered the office. For eighteen months he had been
stationed in the fort at Landi Kotal, whence the road dips down between
the bare brown cliffs towards the plains and mountains of Afghanistan.
With two other English officers he had taken his share in the difficult
task of ruling that regiment of wild tribesmen which, twice a week,
perched in threes on some rocky promontory, or looking down from a
machicolated tower, keeps open the Khyber Pass from dawn to dusk and
protects the caravans. The eighteen months had written their history upon
his face; he stood before Ralston, for all his youthful looks, a quiet,
self-reliant man.

"I have come down on leave, sir," he said. "On the way I fetched Rahat
Mian out of his house and brought him in to Peshawur."

Ralston looked up with interest.

"Any trouble?" he asked.

"I took care there should be none."

Ralston nodded.

"He had better be safely lodged. Where is he?"

"I have him outside."

Ralston rang for lights, and then said to Singleton: "Then, I'll
see him now."

And in a few minutes an elderly white-bearded man, dressed from head to
foot in his best white robes, was shown into the room.

"This is his Excellency," said Captain Singleton, and Rahat Mian bowed
with dignity and stood waiting. But while he stood his eyes roamed
inquisitively about the room.

"All this is strange to you, Rahat Mian," said Ralston. "How long is it
since you left your house in the Khyber Pass?"

"Five years, your Highness," said Rahat Mian, quietly, as though there
were nothing very strange in so long a confinement within his doors.

"Have you never crossed your threshold for five years?" asked Ralston.

"No, your Highness. I should not have stepped back over it again, had I
been so foolish. Before, yes. There was a deep trench dug between my
house and the road, and I used to crawl along the trench when no-one was
about. But after a little my enemies saw me walking in the road, and
watched the trench."

Rahat Mian lived in one of the square mud windowless houses, each with a
tower at a corner which dot the green wheat fields in the Khyber Pass
wherever the hills fall back and leave a level space. His house was
fifty yards from the road, and the trench stretched to it from his very
door. But not two hundred yards away there were other houses, and one of
these held Rahat Mian's enemies. The feud went back many years to the
date when Rahat Mian, without asking anyone's leave or paying a single
farthing of money, secretly married the widowed mother of Futteh Ali
Shah. Now Futteh Ali Shah was a boy of fourteen who had the right to
dispose of his mother in second marriage as he saw fit, and for the best
price he could obtain. And this deprivation of his rights kindled in him
a great anger against Rahat Mian. He nursed it until he became a man and
was able to buy for a couple of hundred rupees a good pedigree rifle--a
rifle which had belonged to a soldier killed in a hill-campaign and for
which inquiries would not be made. Armed with his pedigree rifle, Futteh
Ali Shah lay in wait vainly for Rahat Mian, until an unexpected bequest
caused a revolution in his fortunes. He went down to Bombay, added to
his bequest by becoming a money-lender, and finally returned to
Peshawur, in the neighbourhood of which city he had become a landowner
of some importance. Meanwhile, however, he had not been forgetful of
Rahat Mian. He left relations behind to carry on the feud, and in
addition he set a price on Rahat Mian's head. It was this feud which
Ralston had it in his mind to settle.

He turned to Rahat Mian.

"You are willing to make peace?"

"Yes," said the old man.

"You will take your most solemn oath that the feud shall end. You will
swear to divorce your wife, if you break your word?"

For a moment Rahat Mian hesitated. There was no oath more binding, more
sacred, than that which he was called upon to take. In the end he
consented.

"Then come here at eight to-morrow morning," said Ralston, and,
dismissing the man, he gave instructions that he should be safely lodged.
He sent word at the same time to Futteh Ali Shah, with whom, not for the
first time, he had had trouble.

Futteh Ali Shah arrived late the next morning in order to show his
independence. But he was not so late as Ralston, who replied by keeping
him waiting for an hour. When Ralston entered the room he saw that Futteh
Ali Shah had dressed himself for the occasion. His tall high-shouldered
frame was buttoned up in a grey frock coat, grey trousers clothed his
legs, and he wore patent-leather shoes upon his feet.

"I hope you have not been waiting very long. They should have told me you
were here," said Ralston, and though he spoke politely, there was just a
suggestion that it was not really of importance whether Futteh Ali Shah
was kept waiting or not.

"I have brought you here that together we may put an end to your dispute
with Rahat Mian," said Ralston, and, taking no notice of the exclamation
of surprise which broke from the Pathan's lips, he rang the bell and
ordered Rahat Mian to be shown in.

"Now let us see if we cannot come to an understanding," said Ralston, and
he seated himself between the two antagonists.

But though they talked for an hour, they came no nearer to a settlement.
Futteh Ali Shah was obdurate; Rahat Mian's temper and pride rose in their
turn. At the sight of each other the old grievance became fresh as a
thing of yesterday in both their minds. Their dark faces, with the high
cheek-bones and the beaked noses of the Afridi, became passionate and
fierce. Finally Futteh Ali Shah forgot all his Bombay manners; he leaned
across Ralston, and cried to Rahat Mian:

"Do you know what I would like to do with you? I would like to string my
bedstead with your skin and lie on it."

And upon that Ralston arrived at the conclusion that the meeting might as
well come to an end.

He dismissed Rahat Mian, promising him a safe conveyance to his home. But
he had not yet done with Futteh Ali Shah.

"I am going out," he said suavely. "Shall we walk a little way together?"

Futteh Ali Shah smiled. Landowner of importance that he was, the
opportunity to ride side by side through Peshawur with the Chief
Commissioner did not come every day. The two men went out into the porch.
Ralston's horse was waiting, with a scarlet-clad syce at its head.
Ralston walked on down the steps and took a step or two along the drive.
Futteh Ali Shah lagged behind.

"Your Excellency is forgetting your horse."

"No," said Ralston. "The horse can follow. Let us walk a little. It is a
good thing to walk."

It was nine o'clock in the morning, and the weather was getting hot. And
it is said that the heat of Peshawur is beyond the heat of any other city
from the hills to Cape Comorin. Futteh Ali Shah, however, could not
refuse. Regretfully he signalled to his own groom who stood apart in
charge of a fine dark bay stallion from the Kirghiz Steppes. The two men
walked out from the garden and down the road towards Peshawur city, with
their horses following behind them.

"We will go this way," said Ralston, and he turned to the left and walked
along a mud-walled lane between rich orchards heavy with fruit. For a
mile they thus walked, and then Futteh Ali Shah stopped and said:

"I am very anxious to have your Excellency's opinion of my horse. I am
very proud of it."

"Later on," said Ralston, carelessly. "I want to walk for a little"; and,
conversing upon indifferent topics, they skirted the city and came out
upon the broad open road which runs to Jamrud and the Khyber Pass.

It was here that Futteh Ali Shah once more pressingly invited Ralston to
try the paces of his stallion. But Ralston again refused.

"I will with pleasure later on," he said. "But a little exercise will be
good for both of us; and they continued to walk along the road. The heat
was overpowering; Futteh Ali Shah was soft from too much good living; his
thin patent-leather shoes began to draw his feet and gall his heels; his
frock coat was tight; the perspiration poured down his face. Ralston was
hot, too. But he strode on with apparent unconcern, and talked with the
utmost friendliness on the municipal affairs of Peshawur."

"It is very hot," said Futteh Ali Shah, "and I am afraid for your
Excellency's health. For myself, of course, I am not troubled, but so
much walking will be dangerous to you"; and he halted and looked
longingly back to his horse.

"Thank you," said Ralston. "But my horse is fresh, and I should not be
able to talk to you so well. I do not feel that I am in danger."

Futteh Ali Shah mopped his face and walked on. His feet blistered; he
began to limp, and he had nothing but a riding-switch in his hand. Now
across the plain he saw in the distance the round fort of Jamrud, and he
suddenly halted:

"I must sit down," he said. "I cannot help it, your Excellency, I must
stop and sit down."

Ralston turned to him with a look of cold surprise.

"Before me, Futteh Ali Shah? You will sit down in my presence before I
sit down? I think you will not."

Futteh Ali Shah gazed up the road and down the road, and saw no help
anywhere. Only this devilish Chief Commissioner stood threateningly
before him. With a gesture of despair he wiped his face and walked on.
For a mile more he limped on by Ralston's side, the while Ralston
discoursed upon the great question of Agricultural Banks. Then he stopped
again and blurted out:

"I will give you no more trouble. If your Excellency will let me go,
never again will I give you trouble. I swear it."

Ralston smiled. He had had enough of the walk himself.

"And Rahat Mian?" he asked.

There was a momentary struggle in the zemindar's mind. But his fatigue
and exhaustion were too heavy upon him.

"He, too, shall go his own way. Neither I nor mine shall molest him."

Ralston turned at once and mounted his horse. With a sigh of relief
Futteh Ali Shah followed his example.

"Shall we ride back together?" said Ralston, pleasantly. And as on the
way out he had made no mention of any trouble between the landowner and
himself, so he did not refer to it by a single word on his way back.

But close to the city their ways parted and Futteh Ali Shah, as he took
his leave, said hesitatingly,

"If this story goes abroad, your Excellency--this story of how we walked
together towards Jamrud--there will be much laughter and ridicule."

The fear of ridicule--there was the weak point of the Afridi, as Ralston
very well knew. To be laughed at--Futteh Ali Shah, who was wont to lord
it among his friends, writhed under the mere possibility. And how they
would laugh in and round about Peshawur! A fine figure he would cut as he
rode through the streets with every ragged bystander jeering at the man
who was walked into docility and submission by his Excellency the Chief
Commissioner.

"My life would be intolerable," he said, "were the story to get about."

Ralston shrugged his shoulders.

"But why should it get about?"

"I do not know, but it surely will. It may be that the trees have ears
and eyes and a mouth to speak." He edged a little nearer to the
Commissioner. "It may be, too," he said cunningly, "that your Excellency
loves to tell a good story after dinner. Now there is one way to stop
that story."

Ralston laughed. "If I could hold my tongue, you mean," he replied.

Futteh Ali Shah came nearer still. He rode up close and leaned a little
over towards Ralston.

"Your Excellency would lose the story," he said, "but on the other hand
there would be a gain--a gain of many hours of sleep passed otherwise in
guessing."

He spoke in an insinuating fashion, which made Ralston disinclined to
strike a bargain--and he nodded his head like one who wishes to convey
that he could tell much if only he would. But Ralston paused before he
answered, and when he answered it was only to put a question.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

And the reply came in a low quick voice.

"There was a message sent through Chiltistan."

Ralston started. Was it in this strange way the truth was to come to him?
He sat his horse carelessly. "I know," he said. "Some melons and some
bags of grain."

Futteh Ali Shah was disappointed. This devilish Chief Commissioner knew
everything. Yet the story of the walk must not get abroad in Peshawur,
and surely it would unless the Chief Commissioner were pledged to
silence. He drew a bow at a venture.

"Can your Excellency interpret the message? As they interpret it in
Chiltistan?" and it seemed to him that he had this time struck true. "It
is a little thing I ask of your Excellency."

"It is not a great thing, to be sure," Ralston admitted. He looked at the
zemindar and laughed. "But I could tell the story rather well," he said
doubtfully. "It would be an amusing story as I should tell it. Yet--well,
we will see," and he changed his tone suddenly. "Interpret to me that
present as it is interpreted in the villages of Chiltistan."

Futteh Ali Shah looked about him fearfully, making sure that there was no
one within earshot. Then in a whisper he said: "The grain is the army
which will rise up from the hills and descend from the heavens to destroy
the power of the Government. The melons are the forces of the Government;
for as easily as melons they will be cut into pieces."

He rode off quickly when he had ended, like a man who understands that he
has said too much, and then halted and returned.

"You will not tell that story?" he said.

"No," answered Ralston abstractedly. "I shall never tell that story."

He understood the truth at last. So that was the message which Shere Ali
had sent. No wonder, he thought, that the glare broadened over
Chiltistan.




CHAPTER XX

THE SOLDIER AND THE JEW


These two events took place at Peshawur, while Linforth was still upon
the waters of the Red Sea. To be quite exact, on that morning when
Ralston was taking his long walk towards Jamrud with the zemindar Futteh
Ali Shah, Linforth was watching impatiently from his deck-chair the high
mosque towers, the white domes and great houses of Mocha, as they
shimmered in the heat at the water's edge against a wide background of
yellow sand. It seemed to him that the long narrow city so small and
clear across the great level of calm sea would never slide past the
taffrail. But it disappeared, and in due course the ship moved slowly
through the narrows into Aden harbour. This was on a Thursday evening,
and the steamer stopped in Aden for three hours to coal. The night came
on hot, windless and dark. Linforth leaned over the side, looking out
upon the short curve of lights and the black mass of hill rising dimly
above them. Three and a half more days and he would be standing on Indian
soil. A bright light flashed towards the ship across the water and a
launch came alongside, bearing the agent of the company.

He had the latest telegrams in his hand.

"Any trouble on the Frontier?" Linforth asked.

"None," the agent replied, and Linforth's fever of impatience was
assuaged. If trouble were threatening he would surely be in time--since
there were only three and a half more days.

But he did not know why he had been brought out from England, and the
three and a half days made him by just three and a half days too late.
For on this very night when the steamer stopped to coal in Aden harbour
Shere Ali made his choice.

He was present that evening at a prize-fight which took place in a
music-hall at Calcutta. The lightweight champion of Singapore and the
East, a Jew, was pitted against a young soldier who had secured his
discharge and had just taken to boxing as a profession. The soldier
brought a great reputation as an amateur. This was his first appearance
as a professional, and his friends had gathered in numbers to encourage
him. The hall was crowded with soldiers from the barracks, sailors from
the fleet, and patrons of the fancy in Calcutta. The heat was
overpowering, the audience noisy, and overhead the electric fans, which
hung downwards from the ceiling, whirled above the spectators with so
swift a rotation that those looking up saw only a vague blur in the air.
The ring had been roped off upon the stage, and about three sides of the
ring chairs for the privileged had been placed. The fourth side was open
to the spectators in the hall, and behind the ropes at the back there sat
in the centre of the row of chairs a fat red-faced man in evening-dress
who was greeted on all sides as Colonel Joe. "Colonel Joe" was the
referee, and a person on these occasions of great importance.

There were several preliminary contests and before each one Colonel Joe
came to the front and introduced the combatants with a short history of
their achievements. A Hindu boy was matched against a white one, a couple
of wrestlers came next, and then two English sailors, with more spirit
than skill, had a set-to which warmed the audience into enthusiasm and
ended amid shouts, whistles, shrill cat-calls, and thunders of applause.
Meanwhile the heat grew more and more intense, the faces shinier, the air
more and more smoke-laden and heavy.

Shere Ali came on to the stage while the sailors were at work. He
exchanged a nod with "Colonel Joe," and took his seat in the front row of
chairs behind the ropes.

It was a rough gathering on the whole, though there were some men in
evening-dress besides Colonel Joe, and of these two sat beside Shere Ali.
They were talking together, and Shere Ali at the first paid no heed to
them. The trainers, the backers, the pugilists themselves were the men
who had become his associates in Calcutta. There were many of them
present upon the stage, and in turn they approached Shere Ali and spoke
to him with familiarity upon the chances of the fight. Yet in their
familiarity there was a kind of deference. They were speaking to a
patron. Moreover, there was some flattery in the attention with which
they waited to catch his eye and the eagerness with which they came at
once to his side.

"We are all glad to see you, sir," said a small man who had been a jockey
until he was warned off the turf.

"Yes," said Shere Ali with a smile, "I am among friends."

"Now who would you say was going to win this fight?" continued the
jockey, cocking his head with an air of shrewdness, which said as plainly
as words, "You are the one to tell if you will only say."

Shere Ali expanded. Deference and flattery, however gross, so long as
they came from white people were balm to his wounded vanity. The weeks in
Calcutta had worked more harm than Ralston had suspected. Shy of meeting
those who had once treated him as an equal, imagining when he did meet
them that now they only admitted him to their company on sufferance and
held him in their thoughts of no account, he had become avid for
recognition among the riff-raff of the town.

"I have backed the man from Singapore," he replied, "I know him. The
soldier is a stranger to me"; and gradually as he talked the voices of
his two neighbours forced themselves upon his consciousness. It was not
what they said which caught his attention. But their accents and the
pitch of their voices arrested him, and swept him back to his days at
Eton and at Oxford. He turned his head and looked carelessly towards
them. They were both young; both a year ago might have been his intimates
and friends. As it was, he imagined bitterly, they probably resented his
sitting even in the next chair to them.

The stage was now clear; the two sailors had departed, the audience sat
waiting for the heroes of the evening and calling for them with impatient
outbursts of applause. Shere Ali waited too. But there was no impatience
on his part, as there was no enthusiasm. He was just getting through the
evening; and this hot and crowded den, with its glitter of lights,
promised a thrill of excitement which would for a moment lift him from
the torture of his thoughts.

But the antagonists still lingered in their dressing-rooms while their
trainers put the final touch to their preparations. And while the
antagonists lingered, the two young men next to him began again to talk,
and this time the words fell on Shere Ali's ears.

"I think it ought to be stopped," said one. "It can't be good for us. Of
course the fellow who runs the circus doesn't care, although he is an
Englishman, and although he must have understood what was being shouted."

"He is out for money, of course," replied the other.

"Yes. But not half a mile away, just across the Maidan there, is
Government House. Surely it ought to be stopped."

The speaker was evidently serious. He spoke, indeed, with some heat.
Shere Ali wondered indifferently what it was that went on in the circus
in the Maidan half a mile from the Government House. Something which
ought to be stopped, something which could not be "good for us." Shere
Ali clenched his hands in a gust of passion. How well he knew the
phrase! Good for us, good for the magic of British prestige! How often
he had used the words himself in the days when he had been fool enough
to believe that he belonged to the white people. He had used it in the
company of just such youths as those who sat next to him now, and he
writhed in his seat as he imagined how they must have laughed at him in
their hearts. What was it that was not "good for us" in the circus on
the Maidan?

As he wondered there was a burst of applause, and on the opposite side of
the ring the soldier, stripped to the waist, entered with his two
assistants. Shere Ali was sitting close to the lower corner of the ring
on the right-hand side of the stage; the soldier took his seat in the
upper corner on the other side. He was a big, heavily-built man, but
young, active, and upon his open face he had a look of confidence. It
seemed to Shere Ali that he had been trained to the very perfection of
his strength, and when he moved the muscles upon his shoulders and back
worked under his skin as though they lived. Shouts greeted him, shouts in
which his surname and his Christian name and his nicknames were mingled,
and he smiled pleasantly back at his friends. Shere Ali looked at him.
From his cheery, honest face to the firm set of his feet upon the floor,
he was typical of his class and race.

"Oh, I hope he'll be beaten!"

Shere Ali found himself repeating the words in a whisper. The wish had
suddenly sprung up within him, but it grew in intensity; it became a
great longing. He looked anxiously for the appearance of the Jew from
Singapore. He was glad that, knowing little of either man, he had laid
his money against the soldier.

Meanwhile the two youths beside him resumed their talk, and Shere Ali
learned what it was that was not "good for us"!

"There were four girls," said the youth who had been most indignant.
"Four English girls dancing a _pas de quatre_ on the sand of the circus.
The dance was all right, the dresses were all right. In an English
theatre no one would have had a word to say. It was the audience that was
wrong. The cheaper parts at the back of the tent were crowded with
natives, tier above tier--and I tell you--I don't know much Hindustani,
but the things they shouted made my blood boil. After all, if you are
going to be the governing race it's not a good thing to let your women be
insulted, eh?"

Shere Ali laughed quietly. He could picture to himself the whole scene,
the floor of the circus, the tiers of grinning faces rising up against
the back walls of the tent.

"Did the girls themselves mind?" asked the other of the youths.

"They didn't understand." And again the angry utterance followed. "It
ought to be stopped! It ought to be stopped!"

Shere Ali turned suddenly upon the speaker.

"Why?" he asked fiercely, and he thrust a savage face towards him.

The young man was taken by surprise; for a second it warmed Shere Ali to
think that he was afraid. And, indeed, there was very little of the
civilised man in Shere Ali's look at this moment. His own people were
claiming him. It was one of the keen grim tribesmen of the hills who
challenged the young Englishman. The Englishman, however, was not afraid.
He was merely disconcerted by the unexpected attack. He recovered his
composure the next moment.

"I don't think that I was speaking to you," he said quietly, and then
turned away.

Shere Ali half rose in his seat. But he was not yet quite emancipated
from the traditions of his upbringing. To create a disturbance in a
public place, to draw all eyes upon himself, to look a fool, eventually
to be turned ignominiously into the street--all this he was within an
ace of doing and suffering, but he refrained. He sat down again
quickly, feeling hot and cold with shame, just as he remembered he had
been wont to feel when he had committed some gaucherie in his early
days in England.

At that moment the light-weight champion from Singapore came out from his
dressing-room and entered the ring. He was of a slighter build than his
opponent, but very quick upon his feet. He was shorter, too. Colonel Joe
introduced the antagonists to the audience, standing before the
footlights as he did so. And it was at once evident who was the
favourite. The shouts were nearly all for the soldier.

The Jew took his seat in a chair down in the corner where Shere Ali
was sitting, and Shere Ali leaned over the ropes and whispered to
him fiercely,

"Win! Win! I'll double the stake if you do!"

The Jew turned and smiled at the young Prince.

"I'll do my best."

Shere Ali leaned back in his chair and the fight began. He followed it
with an excitement and a suspense which were astonishing even to him.
When the soldier brought his fist home upon the prominent nose of the
Singapore champion and plaudits resounded through the house, his heart
sank with bitter disappointment. When the Jew replied with a dull
body-blow, his hopes rebounded. He soon began to understand that in the
arts of prize-fighting the soldier was a child compared with the man from
Singapore. The Champion of the East knew his trade. He was as hard as
iron. The sounding blows upon his forehead and nose did no more than
flush his face for a few moments. Meanwhile he struck for the body.
Moreover, he had certain tricks which lured his antagonist to an
imprudent confidence. For instance, he breathed heavily from the
beginning of the second round, as though he were clean out of condition.
But each round found him strong and quick to press an advantage. After
one blow, which toppled his opponent through the ropes, Shere Ali clapped
his hands.

"Bravo!" he cried; and one of the youths at his side said to his
companion:

"This fellow's a Jew, too. Look at his face."

For twelve rounds the combatants seemed still to be upon equal terms,
though those in the audience who had knowledge began to shake their heads
over the chances of the soldier. Shere Ali, however, was still racked by
suspense. The fight had become a symbol, almost a message to him, even as
his gift to the Mullah had become a message to the people of Chiltistan.
All that he had once loved, and now furiously raged against, was
represented by the soldier, the confident, big, heavily built soldier,
while, on the other hand, by the victory of the Jew all the subject
peoples would be vindicated. More and more as the fight fluctuated from
round to round the people and the country of Chiltistan claimed its own.
The soldier represented even those youths at his side, whose women must
on no account be insulted.

"Why should they be respected?" he cried to himself.

For at the bottom of his heart lay the thought that he had been set aside
as impossible by Violet Oliver. There was the real cause of his
bitterness against the white people. He still longed for Violet Oliver,
still greatly coveted her. But his own people and his own country were
claiming him; and he longed for her in a different way. Chivalry--the
chivalry of the young man who wants to guard and cherish--respect, the
desire that the loved one should share ambitions, life work, all--what
follies and illusions these things were!

"I know," said Shere Ali to himself. "I know. I am myself the victim of
them," and he lowered his head and clasped his hands tightly together
between his knees. He forgot the prize-fight, the very sound of the
pugilists' feet upon the bare boards of the stage ceased to be audible to
his ears. He ached like a man bruised and beaten; he was possessed with a
sense of loneliness, poignant as pain. "If I had only taken the easier
way, bought and never cared!" he cried despairingly. "But at all events
there's no need for respect. Why should one respect those who take and do
not give?"

As he asked himself the question, there came a roar from the audience. He
looked up. The soldier was standing, but he was stooping and the fingers
of one hand touched the boards. Over against the soldier the man from
Singapore stood waiting with steady eyes, and behind the ropes Colonel
Joe was counting in a loud voice:

"One, two, three, four."

Shere Ali's eyes lit up. Would the soldier rise? Would he take the tips
of those fingers from the floor, stand up again and face his man? Or was
he beaten?

"Five, six, seven, eight"--the referee counted, his voice rising above
the clamour of voices. The audience had risen, men stood upon their
benches, cries of expostulation were shouted to the soldier.

"Nine, ten," counted the referee, and the fight was over. The soldier had
been counted out.

Shere Ali was upon his feet like the rest of the enthusiasts.

"Well done!" he cried. "Well done!" and as the Jew came back to his
corner Shere Ali shook him excitedly by the hand. The sign had been
given; the subject race had beaten the soldier. Shere Ali was livid with
excitement. Perhaps, indeed, the young Englishmen had been right, and
some dim racial sympathy stirred Shere Ali to his great enthusiasm.




CHAPTER XXI

SHERE ALI IS CLAIMED BY CHILTISTAN


While these thoughts were seething in his mind, while the excitement was
still at its height, the cries still at their loudest, Shere All heard a
quiet penetrating voice speak in his ear. And the voice spoke in Pushtu.

The mere sound of the language struck upon Shere Ali's senses at that
moment of exultation with a strange effect. He thrilled to it from head
to foot. He heard it with a feeling of joy. And then he took note of the
spoken words.

"The man who wrote to your Highness from Calcutta waits outside the
doors. As you stand under the gas lamps, take your handkerchief from your
pocket if you wish to speak with him."

Shere Ali turned back from the ropes. But the spectators were already
moving from their chairs to the steps which led from the stage to the
auditorium. There was a crowd about those steps, and Shere Ali could not
distinguish among it the man who was likely to have whispered in his ear.
All seemed bent upon their own business, and that business was to escape
from the close heat-laden air of the building as quickly as might be.

Shere Ali stood alone and pondered upon the words.

The man who had written to him from Calcutta! That was the man who had
sent the anonymous letter which had caused him one day to pass through
the Delhi Gate of Lahore. A money-lender at Calcutta, but a countryman
from Chiltistan. So he had gathered from Safdar Khan, while heaping scorn
upon the message.

But now, and on this night of all nights, Shere Ali was in a mood to
listen. There were intrigues on foot--there were always intrigues on
foot. But to-night he would weigh those intrigues. He went out from the
music-hall, and under the white glare of the electric lamps above the
door he stood for a moment in full view. Then he deliberately took his
handkerchief from his pocket. From the opposite side of the road, a man
in native dress, wearing a thick dark cloak over his white shirt and
pyjamas, stepped forward. Shere Ali advanced to meet him.

"Huzoor, huzoor," said the man, bending low, and he raised Shere Ali's
hand and pressed his forehead upon it, in sign of loyalty.

"You wish to speak to me?" said Shere Ali.

"If your Highness will deign to follow. I am Ahmed Ismail. Your Highness
has heard of me, no doubt."

Shere Ali did not so much as smile, nor did he deny the statement. He
nodded gravely. After all, vanity was not the prerogative of his people
alone in all the world.

"Yes," he said, "I will follow."

Ahmed Ismail crossed the road once more out of the lights into the
shadows, and walked on, keeping close to the lines of houses. Shere Ali
followed upon his heels. But these two were not alone to take that road.
A third man, a Bengali, bespectacled, and in appearance most respectable,
came down the steps of the musichall, a second after Shere Ali had
crossed the road. He, too, had been a witness of the prize-fight. He
hurried after Shere Ali and caught him up.

"Very good fight, sir," he said. "Would Prince of Chiltistan like to
utter some few welcome words to great Indian public on extraordinary
skill of respective pugilists? I am full-fledged reporter of _Bande
Mataram_, great Nationalist paper."

He drew out a note-book and a pencil as he spoke. Ahmed Ismail stopped
and turned back towards the two men. The Babu looked once, and only once,
at the money-lender. Then he stood waiting for Shere Ali's answer.

"No, I have nothing to say," said Shere Ali civilly. "Good-night," and he
walked on.

"Great disappointment for Indian public," said the Bengali. "Prince of
Chiltistan will say nothing. I make first-class leading article on
reticence of Indian Prince in presence of high-class spectacular events.
Good-night, sir," and the Babu shut up his book and fell back.

Shere Ali followed upon the heels of Ahmed Ismail. The money-lender
walked down the street to the Maidan, and then turned to the left. The
Babu, on the other hand, hailed a third-class gharry and, ascending into
it gave the driver some whispered instructions.

The gharry drove on past the Bengal Club, and came, at length, to the
native town. At the corner of a street the Babu descended, paid the
driver, and dismissed him.

"I will walk the rest of the way," he said. "My home is quite near and a
little exercise is good. I have large varicose veins in the legs, or I
should have tramped hand and foot all the way."

He walked slowly until the driver had turned his gharry and was driving
back. Then, for a man afflicted with varicose veins the Babu displayed
amazing agility. He ran through the silent and deserted street until he
came to a turning. The lane which ran into the main road was a blind
alley. Mean hovels and shuttered booths flanked it, but at the end a tall
house stood. The Babu looked about him and perceived a cart standing in
the lane. He advanced to it and looked in.

"This is obvious place for satisfactory concealment," he said, as with
some difficulty he clambered in. Over the edge of the cart he kept watch.
In a while he heard the sound of a man walking. The man was certainly at
some distance from the turning, but the Babu's head went down at once.
The man whose footsteps he heard was wearing boots, but there would be
one walking in front of that man who was wearing slippers--Ahmed Ismail.

Ahmed Ismail, indeed, turned an instant afterwards into the lane, passed
the cart and walked up to the door of the big house. There he halted, and
Shere Ali joined him.

"The gift was understood, your Highness," he said. "The message was sent
from end to end of Chiltistan."

"What gift?" asked Shere Ali, in genuine surprise.

"Your Highness has forgotten? The melons and the bags of grain."

Shere Ali was silent for a few moments. Then he said:

"And how was the gift interpreted?"

Ahmed Ismail smiled in the darkness.

"There are wise men in Chiltistan, and they found the riddle easy to
read. The melons were the infidels which would be cut to pieces, even as
a knife cuts a melon. The grain was the army of the faithful."

Again Shere Ali was silent. He stood with his eyes upon his companion.

"Thus they understand my gift to the Mullah?" he said at length.

"Thus they understood it," said Ahmed Ismail. "Were they wrong?" and
since Shere Ali paused before he answered, Ahmed repeated the question,
holding the while the key of his door between his fingers.

"Were they wrong, your Highness?"

"No," said Shere Ali firmly. "They were right."

Ahmed Ismail put the key into the lock. The bolt shot back with a grating
sound, the door opened upon blackness.

"Will your Highness deign to enter?" he said, standing aside.

"Yes," said Shere Ali, and he passed in. His own people, his own country,
had claimed and obtained him.




CHAPTER XXII

THE CASTING OF THE DIE


Ahmed Ismail crossed the threshold behind Shere Ali. He closed the door
quietly, bolted and locked it. Then for a space of time the two men stood
silent in the darkness, and both listened intently--Ahmed Ismail for the
sound of someone stirring in the house, Shere Ali for a quiet secret
movement at his elbow. The blackness of the passage gaping as the door
opened had roused him to suspicion even while he had been standing in the
street. But he had not thought of drawing back. He had entered without
fear, just as now he stood, without fear, drawn up against the wall.
There was, indeed, a smile upon his face. Then he reached out his hand.
Ahmed Ismail, who still stood afraid lest any of his family should have
been disturbed, suddenly felt a light touch, like a caress, upon his
face, and then before he could so much as turn his head, five strong lean
fingers gripped him by the throat and tightened.

"Ahmed, I have enemies in Chiltistan," said Shere Ali, between a whisper
and a laugh. "The son of Abdulla Mohammed, for instance," and he loosened
his grip a little upon Ahmed's throat, but held him still with a straight
arm. Ahmed did not struggle. He whispered in reply:

"I am not of your Highness's enemies. Long ago I gave your Highness a
sign of friendship when I prayed you to pass by the Delhi Gate of
Lahore."

Shere Ali turned Ahmed Ismail towards the inner part of the house and
loosed his neck.

"Go forward, then. Light a lamp," he said, and Ahmed moved noiselessly
along the passage. Shere Ali heard the sound of a door opening upstairs,
and then a pale light gleamed from above. Shere Ali walked to the end of
the passage, and mounting the stairs found Ahmed Ismail in the doorway of
a little room with a lighted lamp in his hand.

"I was this moment coming down," said Ahmed Ismail as he stood aside from
the door. Shere Ali walked in. He crossed to the window, which was
unglazed but had little wooden shutters. These shutters were closed.
Shere Ali opened one and looked out. The room was on the first floor, and
the window opened on to a small square courtyard. A movement of Ahmed
Ismail's brought him swiftly round. He saw the money-lender on his knees
with his forehead to the ground, grovelling before his Prince's feet.

"The time has come, oh, my Lord," he cried in a low, eager voice, and
again, "the time has come."

Shere Ali looked down and pleasure glowed unwontedly within him. He did
not answer, he did not give Ahmed Ismail leave to rise from the ground.
He sated his eyes and his vanity with the spectacle of the man's
abasement. Even his troubled heart ached with a duller pain.

"I have been a fool," he murmured, "I have wasted my years. I have
tortured myself for nothing. Yes, I have been a fool."

A wave of anger swept over him, drowning his pride--anger against
himself. He thought of the white people with whom he had lived.

"I sought for a recognition of my equality with them," he went on. "I
sought it from their men and from their women. I hungered for it like a
dog for a bone. They would not give it--neither their men, nor their
women. And all the while here were my own people willing at a sign to
offer me their homage."

He spoke in Pushtu, and Ahmed Ismail drank in every word.

"They wanted a leader, Huzoor," he said.

"I turned away from them like a fool," replied Shere Ali, "while I sought
favours from the white women like a slave."

"Your Highness shall take as a right what you sought for as a favour."

"As a right?" cried Shere Ali, his heart leaping to the incense of Ahmed
Ismail's flattery. "What right?" he asked, suddenly bending his eyes upon
his companion.

"The right of a conqueror," cried Ahmed Ismail, and he bowed himself
again at his Prince's feet. He had spoken Shere Ali's wild and secret
thought. But whereas Shere Ali had only whispered it to himself, Ahmed
Ismail spoke it aloud, boldly and with a challenge in his voice, like one
ready to make good his words. An interval of silence followed, a fateful
interval as both men knew. Not a sound from without penetrated into that
little shuttered room, but to Shere Ali it seemed that the air throbbed
and was heavy with unknown things to come. Memories and fancies whirled
in his disordered brain without relation to each other or consequence in
his thoughts. Now it was the two Englishmen seated side by side behind
the ropes and quietly talking of what was "not good for us," as though
they had the whole of India, and the hill-districts, besides, in their
pockets. He saw their faces, and, quietly though he stood and impassive
as he looked, he was possessed with a longing to behold them within
reach, so that he might strike them and disfigure them for ever. Now it
was Violet Oliver as she descended the steps into the great courtyard of
the Fort, dainty and provoking from the arched slipper upon her foot to
the soft perfection of her hair. He saw her caught into the twilight
swirl of pale white faces and so pass from his sight, thinking that at
the same moment she passed from his life. Then it was the Viceroy in his
box at the racecourse and all Calcutta upon the lawn which swept past his
eyes. He saw the Eurasian girls prinked out in their best frocks to lure
into marriage some unwary Englishman. And again it was Colonel Dewes, the
man who had lost his place amongst his own people, even as he, Shere Ali,
had himself. A half-contemptuous smile of pity for a moment softened the
hard lines of his mouth as he thought upon that forlorn and elderly man
taking his loneliness with him into Cashmere.

"That shall not be my way," he said aloud, and the lines of his mouth
hardened again. And once more before his eyes rose the vision of
Violet Oliver.

Ahmed Ismail had risen to his feet and stood watching his Prince with
eager, anxious eyes. Shere Ali crossed to the table and turned down the
lamp, which was smoking. Then he went to the window and thrust the
shutters open. He turned round suddenly upon Ahmed.

"Were you ever in Mecca?"

"Yes, Huzoor," and Ahmed's eyes flashed at the question.

"I met three men from Chiltistan on the Lowari Pass. They were going down
to Kurachi. I, too, must make the pilgrimage to Mecca."

He stood watching the flame of the lamp as he spoke, and spoke in a
monotonous dull voice, as though what he said were of little importance.
But Ahmed Ismail listened to the words, not the voice, and his joy was
great. It was as though he heard a renegade acknowledge once more the
true faith.

"Afterwards, Huzoor," he said, significantly. "Afterwards." Shere Ali
nodded his head.

"Yes, afterwards. When we have driven the white people down from the
hills into the plains."

"And from the plains into the sea," cried Ahmed Ismail. "The angels will
fight by our side--so the Mullahs have said---and no man who fights with
faith will be hurt. All will be invulnerable. It is written, and the
Mullahs have read the writing and translated it through Chiltistan."

"Is that so?" said Shere Ali, and as he put the question there was an
irony in his voice which Ahmed Ismail was quick to notice. But Shere Ali
put it yet a second time, after a pause, and this time there was no
trace of irony.

"But I will not go alone," he said, suddenly raising his eyes from the
flame of the lamp and looking towards Ahmed Ismail.

Ahmed did not understand. But also he did not interrupt, and Shere Ali
spoke again, with a smile slowly creeping over his face.

"I will not go alone to Mecca. I will follow the example of Sirdar Khan."

The saying was still a riddle to Ahmed Ismail.

"Sirdar Khan, your Highness?" he said. "I do not know him."

Shere Ali turned his eyes again upon the flame of the lamp, and the smile
broadened upon his face, a thing not pleasant to see. He wetted his lips
with the tip of his tongue and told his story.

"Sirdar Khan is dead long since," he said, "but he was one of the five
men of the bodyguard of Nana, who went into the Bibigarh at Cawnpore on
July 12 of the year 1857. Have you heard of that year, Ahmed Ismail, and
of the month and of the day? Do you know what was done that day in the
Bibigarh at Cawnpore?"

Ahmed Ismail watched the light grow in Shere Ali's eyes, and a smile
crept into his face, too.

"Huzoor, Huzoor," he said, in a whisper of delight. He knew very well
what had happened in Cawnpore, though he knew nothing of the month or the
day, and cared little in what year it had happened.

"There were 206 women and children, English women, English children,
shut up in the Bibigarh. At five o'clock--and it is well to remember the
hour, Ahmed Ismail--at five o'clock in the evening the five men of the
Nana's bodyguard went into the Bibigarh and the doors were closed upon
them. It was dark when they came out again and shut the doors behind
them, saying that all were dead. But it was not true. There was an
Englishwoman alive in the Bibigarh, and Sirdar Khan came back in the
night and took her away."

"And she is in Mecca now?" cried Ahmed Ismail.

"Yes. An old, old woman," said Shere Ali, dwelling upon the words with a
quiet, cruel pleasure. He had the picture clear before his eyes, he saw
it in the flame of the lamp at which he gazed so steadily--an old,
wizened, shrunken woman, living in a bare room, friendless and solitary,
so old that she had even ceased to be aware of her unhappiness, and so
coarsened out of all likeness to the young, bright English girl who had
once dwelt in Cawnpore, that even her own countryman had hardly believed
she was of his race. He set another picture side by side with that--the
picture of Violet Oliver as she turned to him on the steps and said,
"This is really good-bye." And in his imagination, he saw the one picture
merge and coarsen into the other, the dainty trappings of lace and
ribbons change to a shapeless cloak, the young face wither from its
beauty into a wrinkled and yellow mask. It would be a just punishment, he
said to himself. Anger against her was as a lust at his heart. He had
lost sight of her kindness, and her pity; he desired her and hated her in
the same breath.

"Are you married, Ahmed Ismail?" he asked.

Ahmed Ismail smiled.

"Truly, Huzoor."

"Do you carry your troubles to your wife? Is she your companion as well
as your wife? Your friend as well as your mistress?"

Ahmed Ismail laughed.

"Yet that is what the Englishwomen are," said Shere Ali.

"Perhaps, Huzoor," replied Ahmed, cunningly, "it is for that reason that
there are some who take and do not give."

He came a little nearer to his Prince.

"Where is she, Huzoor?"

Shere Ali was startled by the question out of his dreams. For it had been
a dream, this thought of capturing Violet Oliver and plucking her out of
her life into his. He had played with it, knowing it to be a fancy. There
had been no settled plan, no settled intention in his mind. But to-night
he was carried away. It appeared to him there was a possibility his dream
might come true. It seemed so not alone to him but to Ahmed Ismail too.
He turned and gazed at the man, wondering whether Ahmed Ismail played
with him or not. But Ahmed bore the scrutiny without a shadow of
embarrassment.

"Is she in India, Huzoor?"

Shere Ali hesitated. Some memory of the lessons learned in England was
still alive within him, bidding him guard his secret. But the memory was
no longer strong enough. He bowed his head in assent.

"In Calcutta?"

"Yes."

"Your Highness shall point her out to me one evening as she drives in the
Maidan," said Ahmed Ismail, and again Shere Ali answered--

"Yes."

But he caught himself back the next moment. He flung away from Ahmed
Ismail with a harsh outburst of laughter.

"But this is all folly," he cried. "We are not in the days of the
uprising," for thus he termed now what a month ago he would have called
"The Mutiny." "Cawnpore is not Calcutta," and he turned in a gust of fury
upon Ahmed Ismail. "Do you play with me, Ahmed Ismail?"

"Upon my head, no! Light of my life, hope of my race, who would dare?"
and he was on the ground at Shere Ali's feet. "Do I indeed speak follies?
I pray your Highness to bethink you that the summer sets its foot upon
the plains. She will go to the hills, Huzoor. She will go to the hills.
And your people are not fools. They have cunning to direct their
strength. See, your Highness, is there a regiment in Peshawur whose
rifles are safe, guard them howsoever carefully they will? Every week
they are brought over the hills into Chiltistan that we may be ready for
the Great Day," and Ahmed Ismail chuckled to himself. "A month ago,
Huzoor, so many rifles had been stolen that a regiment in camp locked
their rifles to their tent poles, and so thought to sleep in peace. But
on the first night the cords of the tents were cut, and while the men
waked and struggled under the folds of canvas, the tent poles with the
rifles chained to them were carried away. All those rifles are now in
Kohara. Surely, Huzoor, if they can steal the rifles from the middle of a
camp, they can steal a weak girl among the hills."

Ahmed Ismail waited in suspense, with his forehead bowed to the ground,
and when the answer came he smiled. He had made good use of this
unexpected inducement which had been given to him. He knew very well that
nothing but an unlikely chance would enable him to fulfil his promise.
But that did not matter. The young Prince would point out the
Englishwoman in the Maidan and, at a later time when all was ready in
Chiltistan, a fine and obvious attempt should be made to carry her off.
The pretence might, if occasion served, become a reality, to be sure, but
the attempt must be as public as possible. There must be no doubt as to
its author. Shere Ali, in a word, must be committed beyond any
possibility of withdrawal. Ahmed Ismail himself would see to that.

"Very well. I will point her out to you," said Shere Ali, and Ahmed
Ismail rose to his feet. He waited before his master, silent and
respectful. Shere Ali had no suspicion that he was being jockeyed by that
respectful man into a hopeless rebellion. He had, indeed, lost sight of
the fact that the rebellion must be hopeless.

"When," he asked, "will Chiltistan be ready?"

"As soon as the harvest is got in," replied Ahmed Ismail.

Shere Ali nodded his head.

"You and I will go northwards to-morrow," he said.

"To Kohara?" asked Ahmed Ismail.

"Yes."

For a little while Ahmed Ismail was silent. Then he said: "If your
Highness will allow his servant to offer a contemptible word of advice--"

"Speak," said Shere Ali.

"Then it might be wise, perhaps, to go slowly to Kohara. Your Highness
has enemies in Chiltistan. The news of the melons and the bags of grain
is spread abroad, and jealousy is aroused. For there are some who wish to
lead when they should serve."

"The son of Abdulla Mohammed," said Shere Ali.

Ahmed Ismail shrugged his shoulders as though the son of Abdulla Mohammed
were of little account. There was clearly another in his mind, and Shere
Ali was quick to understand him.

"My father," he said quietly. He remembered how his father had received
him with his Snider rifle cocked and laid across his knees. This time the
Snider would be fired if ever Shere Ali came within range of its bullet.
But it was unlikely that he would get so far, unless he went quickly and
secretly at an appointed time.

"I had a poor foolish thought," said Ahmed Ismail, "not worthy a moment's
consideration by my Prince."

Shere Ali broke in impatiently upon his words.

"Speak it."

"If we travelled slowly to Ajmere, we should come to that town at the
time of pilgrimage. There in secret the final arrangements can be made,
so that the blow may fall upon an uncovered head."

"The advice is good," said Shere Ali. But he spoke reluctantly. He wanted
not to wait at all. He wanted to strike now while his anger was at its
hottest. But undoubtedly the advice was good.

Ahmed Ismail, carrying the light in his hand, went down the stairs before
Shere Ali and along the passage to the door. There he extinguished the
lamp and cautiously drew back the bolts. He looked out and saw that the
street was empty.

"There is no one," he said, and Shere Ali passed out to the mouth of the
blind alley and turned to the left towards the Maidan. He walked
thoughtfully and did not notice a head rise cautiously above the side of
a cart in the mouth of the alley. It was the head of the reporter of
Bande Mataram, whose copy would be assuredly too late for the press.

Shere Ali walked on through the streets. It was late, and he met no one.
There had come upon him during the last hours a great yearning for his
own country. He ran over in his mind, with a sense of anger against
himself, the miserable wasted weeks in Calcutta--the nights in the
glaring bars and halls, the friends he had made, the depths in which he
had wallowed. He came to the Maidan, and, standing upon that empty plain,
gazed round on the great silent city. He hated it, with its statues of
Viceroys and soldiers, its houses of rich merchants, its insolence. He
would lead his own people against all that it symbolised. Perhaps, some
day, when all the frontier was in flame, and the British power rolled
back, he and his people might pour down from the hills and knock even
against the gates of Calcutta. Men from the hills had come down to Tonk,
and Bhopal, and Rohilcund, and Rampur, and founded kingdoms for
themselves. Why should he and his not push on to Calcutta?

He bared his head to the night wind. He was uplifted, and fired with mad,
impossible dreams. All that he had learned was of little account to him
now. It might be that the English, as Colonel Dewes had said, had
something of an army. Let them come to Chiltistan and prove their boast.

"I will go north to the hills," he cried, and with a shock he understood
that, after all, he had recovered his own place. The longing at his heart
was for his own country--for his own people. It might have been bred of
disappointment and despair. Envy of the white people might have cradled
it, desire for the white woman might have nursed it into strength. But it
was alive now. That was all of which Shere Ali was conscious. The
knowledge filled all his thoughts. He had his place in the world. Greatly
he rejoiced.




CHAPTER XXIII

SHERE ALI'S PILGRIMAGE


There were times when Ralston held aloft his hands and cursed the Indian
administration by all his gods. But he never did so with a more
whole-hearted conviction than on the day when he received word that
Linforth had been diverted to Rawal Pindi, in order that he might take up
purely military duties. It took Ralston just seven months to secure his
release, and it was not until the early days of autumn had arrived that
Linforth at last reached Peshawur. A landau, with a coachman and groom in
scarlet liveries, was waiting for him at the station, and he drove along
the broad road through the cantonment to Government House. As the
carriage swung in at the gates, a tall, thin man came from the
croquet-ground on the left. He joined Dick in the porch.

"You are Mr. Linforth?" he said.

"Yes."

For a moment a pair of grey, tired eyes ran Dick over from head to foot
in a careless scrutiny. Apparently, however, the scrutiny was favourable.

"I am the Chief Commissioner. I am glad that you have come. My sister
will give you some tea, and afterwards, if you are not tired, we might go
for a ride together. You would like to see your room first."

Ralston spoke with his usual indifference. There was no intonation in his
voice which gave to any one sentence a particular meaning; and for a
particular meaning Dick Linforth was listening with keen ears. He
followed Ralston across the hall to his room, and disappointment gained
upon him with every step. He had grown familiar with disappointment of
late years, but he was still young enough in years and spirit to expect
the end of disappointment with each change in his fortunes. He had
expected it when the news of his appointment had reached him in Calcutta,
and disappointment had awaited him in Bombay. He had expected it again
when, at last, he was sent from Rawal Pindi to Peshawur. All the way up
the line he had been watching the far hills of Cashmere, and repeating to
himself, "At last! At last!"

The words had been a song at his heart, tuned to the jolt and rhythm of
the wheels. Ralston of Peshawur had asked for him. So much he had been
told. His longing had explained to him why Ralston of Peshawur had asked
for him, and easily he had believed the explanation. He was a Linforth,
one of the Linforths of the Road. Great was his pride. He would not have
bartered his position to be a General in command of a division. Ralston
had sent for him because of his hereditary title to work upon the Road,
the broad, permanent, graded Road which was to make India safe.

And now he walked behind a tired and indifferent Commissioner, whose very
voice officialdom had made phlegmatic, and on whose aspect was writ large
the habit of routine. In this mood he sat, while Miss Ralston prattled to
him about the social doings of Peshawur, the hunt, the golf; and in this
mood he rode out with Ralston to the Gate of the City.

They passed through the main street, and, turning to the right, ascended
to an archway, above which rose a tower. At the archway they dismounted
and climbed to the roof of the tower. Peshawur, with its crowded streets,
its open bazaars, its balconied houses of mud bricks built into wooden
frames, lay mapped beneath them. But Linforth's eyes travelled over the
trees and the gardens northwards and eastwards, to where the foothills of
the Himalayas were coloured with the violet light of evening.

"Linforth," Ralston cried. He was leaning on the parapet at the opposite
side of the tower, and Dick crossed and leaned at his side.

"It was I who had you sent for," said Ralston in his dull voice. "When
you were at Chatham, I mean. I worried them in Calcutta until they
sent for you."

Dick took his elbows from the parapet and stood up. His face took life
and fire, there came a brightness as of joy into his eyes. After all,
then, this time he was not to be disappointed.

"I wanted you to come to Peshawur straight from Bombay six months ago,"
Ralston went on. "But I counted without the Indian Government. They
brought you out to India, at my special request, for a special purpose,
and then, when they had got you, they turned you over to work which
anyone else could have done. So six months have been wasted. But that's
their little way."

"You have special work for me?" said Linforth quietly enough, though his
heart was beating quickly in his breast. An answer came which still
quickened its beatings.

"Work that you alone can do," Ralston replied gravely. But he was a man
who had learned to hope for little, and to expect discouragements as his
daily bread, and he added:

"That is, if you can do it."

Linforth did not answer at once. He was leaning with his elbows on the
parapet, and he raised a hand to the side of his face, that side on which
Ralston stood. And so he remained, shutting himself in with his thoughts,
and trying to think soberly. But his head whirled. Below him lay the city
of Peshawur. Behind him the plains came to an end, and straight up from
them, like cliffs out of the sea, rose the dark hills, brown and grey and
veined with white. Here on this tower of Northern India, the long dreams,
dreamed for the first time on the Sussex Downs, and nursed since in every
moment of leisure--in Alpine huts in days of storm, in his own quarters
at Chatham--had come to their fulfilment.

"I have lived for this work," he said in a low voice which shook ever so
little, try as he might to quiet it. "Ever since I was a boy I have lived
for it, and trained myself for it. It is the Road."

Linforth's evident emotion came upon Ralston as an unexpected thing. He
was carried back suddenly to his own youth, and was surprised to
recollect that he, too, had once cherished great plans. He saw himself
as he was to-day, and, side by side with that disillusioned figure, he
saw himself as he had been in his youth. A smile of friendliness came
over his face.

"If I had shut my eyes," he said, "I should have thought it was your
father who was speaking."

Linforth turned quickly to Ralston.

"My father. You knew him?"

"Yes."

"I never did," said Dick regretfully.

Ralston nodded his head and continued:

"Twenty-six years ago we were here in Peshawur together. We came up on
to the top of this tower, as everyone does who comes to Peshawur. He was
like you. He was dreaming night and day of the Great Road through
Chiltistan to the foot of the Hindu Kush. Look!" and Ralston pointed
down to the roof-tops of the city, whereon the women and children worked
and played. For the most part they were enclosed within brick walls, and
the two men looked down into them as you might look in the rooms of a
doll's house by taking off the lid. Ralston pointed to one such open
chamber just beneath their eyes. An awning supported on wooden pillars
sheltered one end of it, and between two of these pillars a child
swooped backwards and forwards in a swing. In the open, a woman, seated
upon a string charpoy, rocked a cradle with her foot, while her hands
were busy with a needle, and an old woman, with a black shawl upon her
shoulders and head, sat near by, inactive. But she was talking. For at
times the younger woman would raise her head, and, though at that
distance no voice could be heard, it was evident that she was answering.
"I remember noticing that roof when your father and I were talking up
here all those years ago. There was just the same family group as you
see now. I remember it quite clearly, for your father went away to
Chiltistan the next day, and never came back. It was the last time I saw
him, and we were both young and full of all the great changes we were to
bring about." He smiled, half it seemed in amusement, half in regret.
"We talked of the Road, of course. Well, there's just one change. The
old woman, sitting there with the shawl upon her shoulders now, was in
those days the young woman rocking the cradle and working with her
needle. That's all. Troubles there have been, disturbances, an
expedition or two--but there's no real change. Here are you talking of
the Road just as your father did, not ambitious for yourself," he
explained with a kindly smile which illumined his whole face, "but
ambitious for the Road, and the Road still stops at Kohara."

"But it will go on--now," cried Linforth.

"Perhaps," said Ralston slowly. Then he stood up and confronted Linforth.

"It was not that you might carry on the Road that I brought you out from
England," he skid. "On the contrary."

Once more disappointment seized upon Dick Linforth, and he found it all
the more bitter in that he had believed a minute since that his dreams
were to be fulfilled. He looked down upon Peshawur, and the words which
Ralston had lately spoken, half in amusement, half with regret, suddenly
took for him their full meaning. Was it true that there was no change
but the change from the young woman to the old one, from enthusiasm to
acquiescence? He was young, and the possibility chilled him and even
inspired him with a kind of terror. Was he to carry the Road no further
than his father had done? Would another Linforth in another generation
come to the tower in Peshawur with hopes as high as his and with the
like futility?

"On the contrary?" he asked. "Then why?"

"That you might stop the Road from going on," said Ralston quietly.

In the very midst of his disappointment Linforth realised that he had
misjudged his companion. Here was no official, here was a man. The
attitude of indifference had gone, the air of lassitude with it. Here was
a man quietly exacting the hardest service which it was in his power to
exact, claiming it as a right, and yet making it clear by some subtle
sympathy that he understood very well all that the service would cost to
the man who served.

"I am to hinder the making of that Road?" cried Linforth.

"You are to do more. You are to prevent it."

"I have lived so that it should be made."

"So you have told me," said Ralston quietly, and Dick was silent. With
each quiet sentence Ralston had become more and more the dominating
figure. He was so certain, so assured. Linforth recognised him no longer
as the man to argue with; but as the representative of Government which
overrides predilections, sympathies, ambitions, and bends its servants to
their duty.

"I will tell you more," Ralston continued. "You alone can prevent the
extension of the Road. I believe it--I know it. I sent to England for
you, knowing it. Do your duty, and it may be that the Road will stop at
Kohara--an unfinished, broken thing. Flinch, and the Road runs straight
to the Hindu Kush. You will have your desire; but you will have failed."

There was something implacable and relentless in the tone and the words.
There was more, too. There was an intimation, subtly yet most clearly
conveyed, that Ralston who spoke had in his day trampled his ambitions
and desires beneath his feet in service to the Government, and asked no
more now from Linforth than he himself had in his turn performed. "I,
too, have lived in Arcady," he added. It twas this last intimation which
subdued the protests in Linforth's mind. He looked at the worn face of
the Commissioner, then he lifted his eyes and swept the horizon with his
gaze. The violet light upon the hills had lost its brightness and its
glamour. In the far distance the hills themselves were withdrawn.
Somewhere in that great barrier to the east was the gap of the Malakand
Pass, where the Road now began. Linforth turned away from the hills
towards Peshawur.

"What must I do?" he asked simply.

Ralston nodded his head. His attitude relaxed, his voice lost its
dominating note.

"What you have to understand is this," he explained. "To drive the Road
through Chiltistan means war. It would be the cause of war if we insisted
upon it now, just as it was the cause of war when your father went up
from Peshawur twenty-six years ago. Or it might be the consequence of
war. If the Chiltis rose in arms, undoubtedly we should carry it on to
secure control of the country in the future. Well, it is the last
alternative that we are face to face with now."

"The Chiltis might rise!" cried Linforth.

"There is that possibility," Ralston returned. "We don't mean on our own
account to carry on the Road; but the Chiltis might rise."

"And how should I prevent them?" asked Dick Linforth in perplexity.

"You know Shere Ali?" said Ralston

"Yes."

"You are a friend of his?"

"Yes."

"A great friend. His chief friend?"

"Yes."

"You have some control over him?"

"I think so," said Linforth.

"Very well," said Ralston. "You must use that control."

Linforth's perplexity increased. That danger should come from Shere
Ali--here was something quite incredible. He remembered their long talks,
their joint ambition. A day passed in the hut in the Promontoire of the
Meije stood out vividly in his memories. He saw the snow rising in a
swirl of white over the Breche de la Meije, that gap in the rock-wall
between the Meije and the Rateau, and driving down the glacier towards
the hut. He remembered the eagerness, the enthusiasm of Shere Ali.

"But he's loyal," Linforth cried. "There is no one in India more loyal."

"He was loyal, no doubt," said Ralston, with a shrug of his shoulders,
and, beginning with his first meeting with Shere Ali in Lahore, he told
Linforth all that he knew of the history of the young Prince.

"There can be no doubt," he said, "of his disloyalty," and he recounted
the story of the melons and the bags of grain. "Since then he has been
intriguing in Calcutta."

"Is he in Calcutta now?" Linforth asked.

"No," said Ralston. "He left Calcutta just about the time when you landed
in Bombay. And there is something rather strange--something, I think,
very disquieting in his movements since he left Calcutta. I have had him
watched, of course. He came north with one of his own countrymen, and the
pair of them have been seen at Cawnpore, at Lucknow, at Delhi."

Ralston paused. His face had grown very grave, very troubled.

"I am not sure," he said slowly. "It is difficult, however long you stay
in India, to get behind these fellows' minds, to understand the thoughts
and the motives which move them. And the longer you stay, the more
difficult you realise it to be. But it looks to me as if Shere Ali had
been taken by his companion on a sort of pilgrimage."

Linforth started.

"A pilgrimage!" and he added slowly, "I think I understand. A pilgrimage
to all the places which could most inflame the passions of a native
against the English race," and then he broke out in protest. "But it's
impossible. I know Shere Ali. It's not reasonable--"

Ralston interrupted him upon the utterance of the word.

"Reasonable!" he cried. "You are in India. Do ever white men act
reasonably in India?" and he turned with a smile. "There was a
great-uncle of yours in the days of the John Company, wasn't there? Your
father told me about him here on this tower. When his time was up, he
sent his money home and took his passage, and then came back--came back
to the mountains and disappeared. Very likely he may be sitting somewhere
beyond that barrier of hills by a little shrine to this hour, an old, old
man, reverenced as a saint, with a strip of cloth about his loins, and
forgetful of the days when he ruled a district in the Plains. I should
not wonder. It's not a reasonable country."

Ralston, indeed, was not far out in his judgment. Ahmed Ismail had
carried Shere Ali off from Calcutta. He had taken him first of all to
Cawnpore, and had led him up to the gate of the enclosure, wherein are
the Bibigarh, where the women and children were massacred, and the well
into which their bodies were flung. An English soldier turned them back
from that enclosure, refusing them admittance. Ahmed Ismail, knowing
well that it would be so, smiled quietly under his moustache; but Shere
Ali angrily pointed to some English tourists who were within the
enclosure.

"Why should we remain outside?" he asked.

"They are Bilati," said Ahmed Ismail in a smooth voice as they moved
away. "They are foreigners. The place is sacred to the foreigners. It is
Indian soil; but the Indian may not walk on it; no, not though he were
born next door. Yet why should we grumble or complain? We are the dirt
beneath their feet. We are dogs and sons of dogs, and a hireling will
turn our Princes from the gate lest the soles of our shoes should defile
their sacred places. And are they not right, Huzoor?" he asked cunningly.
"Since we submit to it, since we cringe at their indignities and fawn
upon them for their insults, are they not right?"

"Why, that's true, Ahmed Ismail," replied Shere Ali bitterly. He was in
the mood to make much of any trifle. This reservation of the enclosure at
Cawnpore was but one sign of the overbearing arrogance of the foreigners,
the Bilati--the men from over the sea. He had fawned upon them himself in
the days of his folly.

"But turn a little, Huzoor," Ahmed whispered in his ear, and led him
back. "Look! There is the Bibigarh where the women were imprisoned. That
is the house. Through that opening Sirdar Khan and his four companions
went--and shut the door behind them. In that room the women of Mecca
knelt and prayed for mercy. Come away, Huzoor. We have seen. Those were
days when there were men upon the plains of India."

And Shere Ali broke out with a fierce oath.

"Amongst the hills, at all events, there are men today. There is no
sacred ground for them in Chiltistan."

"Not even the Road?" asked Ahmed Ismail; and Shere Ali stopped dead,
and stared at his companion with startled eyes. He walked away in
silence after that; and for the rest of that day he said little to
Ahmed Ismail, who watched him anxiously. At night, however, Ahmed was
justified of his policy. For Shere Ali appeared before him in the white
robes of a Mohammedan. Up till then he had retained the English dress.
Now he had discarded it. Ahmed Ismail fell at his feet, and bowed
himself to the ground.

"My Lord! My Lord!" he cried, and there was no simulation in his outburst
of joy. "Would that your people could behold you now! But we have much to
see first. To-morrow we go to Lucknow."

Accordingly the two men travelled the next day to Lucknow. Shere Ali was
led up under the broken archway by Evans's Battery into the grounds of
the Residency. He walked with Ahmed Ismail at his elbow on the green
lawns where the golden-crested hoopoes flashed in the sunlight and the
ruined buildings stood agape to the air. They looked peaceful enough, as
they strolled from one battery to another, but all the while Ahmed Ismail
preached his sermon into Shere Ali's ears. There Lawrence had died; here
at the top of the narrow lane had stood Johannes's house whence Nebo the
Nailer had watched day after day with his rifle in his hand. Hardly a
man, be he never so swift, could cross that little lane from one quarter
of the Residency to another, so long as daylight lasted and so long as
Nebo the Nailer stood behind the shutters of Johannes's house. Shere Ali
was fired by the story of that siege. By so little was the garrison
saved. Ahmed Ismail led him down to a corner of the grounds and once more
a sentry barred the way.

"This is the graveyard," said Ahmed Ismail, and Shere Ali, looking up,
stepped back with a look upon his face which Ahmed Ismail did not
understand.

"Huzoor!" he said anxiously, and Shere Ali turned upon him with an
imperious word.

"Silence, dog!" he cried. "Stand apart. I wish to be alone."

His eyes were on the little church with the trees and the wall girding
it in. At the side a green meadow with high trees, had the look of a
playing-ground--the playing-ground of some great public school in
England. Shere Ali's eyes took in the whole picture, and then saw it but
dimly through a mist. For the little church, though he had never seen it
before, was familiar and most moving. It was a model of the Royal Chapel
at Eton, and, in spite of himself, as he gazed the tears filled his eyes
and the memory of his schooldays ached at his heart. He yearned to be
back once more in the shadow of that chapel with his comrades and his
friends. Not yet had he wholly forgotten; he was softened out of his
bitterness; the burden of his jealousy and his anger fell for awhile
from his shoulders. When he rejoined Ahmed Ismail, he bade him follow
and speak no word. He drove back to the town, and then only he spoke to
Ahmed Ismail.

"We will go from Lucknow to-day," he said. "I will not sleep in
this town."

"As your Highness wills," said Ahmed Ismail humbly, and he went into the
station and bought tickets for Delhi. It was on a Thursday morning that
the pair reached that town; and that day Ahmed Ismail had an unreceptive
listener for his sermons. The monument before the Post Office, the
tablets on the arch of the arsenal, even the barracks in the gardens of
the Moghul Palace fired no antagonism in the Prince, who so short a time
ago had been a boy at Eton. The memories evoked by the little church at
Lucknow had borne him company all night and still clung to him that day.
He was homesick for his school. Only twice was he really roused.

The first instance took place when he was driving along the Chandni
Chauk, the straight broad tree-fringed street which runs from the Lahore
Gate to the Fort. Ahmed Ismail sat opposite to him, and, leaning forward,
he pointed to a tree and to a tall house in front of the tree.

"My Lord," said he, "could that tree speak, what groans would one hear!"

"Why?" said Shere Ali listlessly.

"Listen, your Highness," said Ahmed Ismail. Like the rest of his
countrymen, he had a keen love for a story. And the love was the keener
when he himself had the telling of it. He sat up alertly. "In that house
lived an Englishman of high authority. He escaped when Delhi was seized
by the faithful. He came back when Delhi was recaptured by the infidels.
And there he sat with an English officer, at his window, every morning
from eight to nine. And every morning from eight to nine every native who
passed his door was stopped and hanged upon that tree, while he looked
on. Huzoor, there was no inquiry. It might be some peaceable merchant,
some poor man from the countryside. What did it matter? There was a
lesson to be taught to this city. And so whoever walked down the Chandni
Chauk during that hour dangled from those branches. Huzoor, for a week
this went on--for a whole week."

The story was current in Delhi. Ahmed Ismail found it to his hand, and
Shere Ali did not question it. He sat up erect, and something of the
fire which this last day had been extinct kindled again in his sombre
eyes. Later on he drove along the sinuous road on the top of the ridge,
and as he looked over Delhi, hidden amongst its foliage, he saw the
great white dome of the Jumma Musjid rising above the tree-tops, like a
balloon. "The Mosque," he said, standing up in his carriage. "To-morrow
we will worship there."

Before noon the next day he mounted the steep broad flight of steps and
passed under the red sandstone arch into the vast enclosure. He performed
his ablutions at the fountain, and, kneeling upon the marble tiles,
waited for the priest to ascend the ladder on to the wooden platform. He
knelt with Ahmed Ismail at his side, in the open, amongst the lowliest.
In front of him rows of worshippers knelt and bowed their foreheads to
the tiles--rows and rows covering the enclosure up to the arches of the
mosque itself. There were others too--rows and rows within the arches, in
the dusk of the mosque itself, and from man to man emotion passed like a
spark upon the wind. The crowd grew denser, there came a suspense, a
tension. It gained upon all, it laid its clutch upon Shere Ali. He ceased
to think, even upon his injuries, he was possessed with expectancy. And
then a man kneeling beside him interrupted his prayers and began to curse
fiercely beneath his breath.

"May they burn, they and their fathers and their children, to the last
generation!" And he added epithets of a surprising ingenuity. The while
he looked backwards over his shoulder.

Shere Ali followed his example. He saw at the back of the enclosure, in
the galleries which surmounted the archway and the wall, English men and
English women waiting. Shere Ali's blood boiled at the sight. They were
laughing, talking. Some of them had brought sandwiches and were eating
their lunch. Others were taking photographs with their cameras. They were
waiting for the show to begin.

Shere Ali followed the example of his neighbour and cursed them. All his
anger kindled again and quickened into hatred. They were so careful of
themselves, so careless of others!

"Not a Mohammedan," he cried to himself, "must set foot in their
graveyard at Lucknow, but they come to our mosque as to a show."

Suddenly he saw the priest climb the ladder on to the high wooden
platform in front of the central arch of the mosque and bow his forehead
to the floor. His voice rang out resonant and clear and confident over
that vast assemblage.

"There is only one God."

And a shiver passed across the rows of kneeling men, as though
unexpectedly a wind had blown across a ripe field of corn. Shere Ali was
moved like the rest, but all the while at the back of his mind there was
the thought of those white people in the galleries.

"They are laughing at us, they are making a mock of us, they think we
are of no account." And fiercely he called upon his God, the God of the
Mohammedans, to root them out from the land and cast them as weeds in
the flame.

The priest stood up erect upon the platform, and with a vibrating voice,
now plaintive and conveying some strange sense of loneliness, now loud in
praise, now humble in submission, he intoned the prayers. His voice rose
and sank, reverberating back over the crowded courtyard from the walls of
the mosque. Shere Ali prayed too, but he prayed silently, with all the
fervour of a fanatic, that it might be his hand which should drive the
English to their ships upon the sea.

When he rose and came out from the mosque he turned to Ahmed Ismail.

"There are some of my people in Delhi?"

Ahmed Ismail bowed.

"Let us go to them," said Shere Ali; he sought refuge amongst them from
the thought of those people in the galleries. Ahmed Ismail was well
content with the results of his pilgrimage. Shere Ali, as he paced the
streets of Delhi with a fierce rapt look in his eyes, had the very aspect
of a Ghazi fresh from the hills and bent upon murder and immolation.




CHAPTER XXIV

NEWS FROM AJMERE


Something of this pilgrimage Ralston understood; and what he understood
he explained to Dick Linforth on the top of the tower at Peshawur.
Linforth, however, was still perplexed, still unconvinced.

"I can't believe it," he cried; "I know Shere Ali so well."

Ralston shook his head.

"England overlaid the real man with a pretty varnish," he said. "That's
all it ever does. And the varnish peels off easily when the man comes
back to an Indian sun. There's not one of these people from the hills but
has in him the makings of a fanatic. It's a question of circumstances
whether the fanaticism comes to the top or not. Given the circumstances,
neither Eton, nor Oxford, nor all the schools and universities rolled
into one would hinder the relapse."

"But why?" exclaimed Linforth. "Why should Shere Ali have relapsed?"

"Disappointment here, flattery in England--there are many reasons.
Usually there's a particular reason."

"And what is that?" asked Linforth.

"The love of a white woman."

Ralston was aware that Linforth at his side started. He started ever so
slightly. But Ralston was on the alert. He made no sign, however, that he
had noticed anything.

"I know that reason held good in Shere Ali's case," Ralston went on;
and there came a change in Linforth's voice. It grew rather stern,
rather abrupt.

"Why? Has he talked?"

"Not that I know of. Nevertheless, I am sure that there was one who
played a part in Shere Ali's life," said Ralston. "I have known it ever
since I first met him--more than a year ago on his way northwards to
Chiltistan. He stopped for a day at Lahore and rode out with me. I told
him that the Government expected him to marry as soon as possible, and
settle down in his own country. I gave him that advice deliberately. You
see I wanted to find out. And I did find out. His consternation, his
anger, answered me clearly enough. I have no doubt that there was someone
over there in England--a woman, perhaps an innocent woman, who had been
merely careless--perhaps--"

But he did not finish the sentence. Linforth interrupted him before he
had time to complete it. And he interrupted without flurry or any sign of
agitation.

"There was a woman," he said. "But I don't think she was thoughtless.
I don't see how she could have known that there was any danger in her
friendliness. For she was merely friendly to Shere Ali. I know her
myself."

The answer was given frankly and simply. For once Ralston was outwitted.
Dick Linforth had Violet Oliver to defend, and the defence was well done.
Ralston was left without a suspicion that Linforth had any reason beyond
the mere truth of the facts to spur him to defend her.

"Yes, that's the mistake," said Ralston. "The woman's friendly and means
no more than she says or looks. But these fellows don't understand such
friendship. Shere Ali is here dreaming of a woman he knows he can never
marry--because of his race. And so he's ready to run amuck. That's what
it comes to."

He turned away from the city as he spoke and took a step or two towards
the flight of stone stairs which led down from the tower.

"Where is Shere Ali now?" Linforth asked, and Ralston stopped and came
back again.

"I don't know," he said. "But I shall know, and very soon. There may be a
letter waiting for me at home. You see, when there's trouble brewing over
there behind the hills, and I want to discover to what height it has
grown and how high it's likely to grow, I select one of my police, a
Pathan, of course, and I send him to find out."

"You send him over the Malakand," said Linforth, with a glance
towards the great hill-barrier. He was to be astonished by the answer
Ralston gave.

"No. On the contrary, I send him south. I send him to Ajmere, in
Rajputana."

"In Ajmere?" cried Linforth.

"Yes. There is a great Mohammedan shrine. Pilgrims go there from all
parts, but mostly from beyond the frontier. I get my fingers on the pulse
of the frontier in Ajmere more surely than I should if I sent spies up
into the hills. I have a man there now. But that's not all. There's a
great feast in Ajmere this week. And I think I shall find out from there
where Shere Ali is and what he's doing. As soon as I do find out, I want
you to go to him."

"I understand," said Linforth. "But if he has changed so much, he will
have changed to me."

"Yes," Ralston admitted. He turned again towards the steps, and the two
men descended to their horses. "That's likely enough. They ought to have
sent you to me six months ago. Anyway, you must do your best." He climbed
into the saddle, and Linforth did the same.

"Very well," said Dick, as they rode through the archway. "I will do my
best," and he turned towards Ralston with a smile. "I'll do my best to
hinder the Road from going on."

It was a queer piece of irony that the first real demand made upon him in
his life was that he should stop the very thing on the accomplishment of
which his hopes were set. But there was his friend to save. He comforted
himself with that thought. There was his friend rushing blindly upon
ruin. Linforth could not doubt it. How in the world could Shere Ali, he
wondered. He could not yet dissociate the Shere Ali of to-day from the
boy and the youth who had been his chum.

They passed out of the further gate of Peshawur and rode along the broad
white road towards Government House. It was growing dark, and as they
turned in at the gateway of the garden, lights shone in the windows ahead
of them. The lights recalled to Ralston's mind a fact which he had
forgotten to mention.

"By the way," he said, turning towards Linforth, "we have a lady staying
with us who knows you."

Linforth leaned forward in his saddle and stooped as if to adjust a
stirrup, and it was thus a second or two before he answered.

"Indeed!" he said. "Who is she?"

"A Mrs. Oliver," replied Ralston, "She was at Srinagar in Cashmere this
summer, staying with the Resident. My sister met her there, I think she
told Mrs. Oliver you were likely to come to us about this time."

Dick's heart leaped within him suddenly. Had Violet Oliver arranged her
visit so that it might coincide with his? It was at all events a pleasant
fancy to play with. He looked up at the windows of the house. She was
really there! After all these months he would see her. No wonder the
windows were bright. As they rode up to the porch and the door was
opened, he heard her voice. She was singing in the drawing-room, and the
door of the drawing-room stood open. She sang in a low small voice, very
pretty to the ear, and she was accompanying herself softly on the piano.
Dick stood for a while listening in the lofty hall, while Ralston looked
over his letters which were lying upon a small table. He opened one of
them and uttered an exclamation.

"This is from my man at Ajmere," he said, but Dick paid no attention.
Ralston glanced through the letter.

"He has found him," he cried. "Shere Ali is in Ajmere."

It took a moment or two for the words to penetrate to Linforth's mind.
Then he said slowly:

"Oh! Shere Ali's in Ajmere. I must start for Ajmere to-morrow."

Ralston looked up from his letters and glanced at Linforth. Something in
the abstracted way in which Linforth had spoken attracted his attention.
He smiled:

"Yes, it's a pity," he said. But again it seemed that Linforth did not
hear. And then the voice at the piano stopped abruptly as though the
singer had just become aware that there were people talking in the hall.
Linforth moved forward, and in the doorway of the drawing-room he came
face to face with Violet Oliver. Ralston smiled again.

"There's something between those two," he said to himself. But Linforth
had kept his secrets better half an hour ago. For it did not occur to
Ralston to suspect that there had been something also between Violet
Oliver and Shere Ali.




CHAPTER XXV

IN THE ROSE GARDEN


"Let us go out," said Linforth.

It was after dinner on the same evening, and he was standing with Violet
Oliver at the window of the drawing-room. Behind them an officer and his
wife from the cantonment were playing "Bridge" with Ralston and his
sister. Violet Oliver hesitated. The window opened upon the garden.
Already Linforth's hand was on the knob.

"Very well," she said. But there was a note of reluctance in her voice.

"You will need a cloak," he said.

"No," said Violet Oliver. She had a scarf of lace in her hand, and she
twisted it about her throat. Linforth opened the long window and they
stepped out into the garden. It was a clear night of bright stars. The
chill of sunset had passed, the air was warm. It was dark in spite of the
stars. The path glimmered faintly in front of them.

"I was hoping very much that I should meet you somewhere in India," said
Dick. "Lately I had grown afraid that you would be going home before the
chance came."

"You left it to chance," said Violet.

The reluctance had gone from her voice; but in its place there was
audible a note of resentment. She had spoken abruptly and a little
sharply, as though a grievance present in her mind had caught her
unawares and forced her to give it utterance.

"No," replied Linforth, turning to her earnestly. "That's not fair. I did
not know where you were. I asked all who might be likely to know. No one
could tell me. I could not get away from my station. So that I had to
leave it to chance."

They walked down the drive, and then turned off past the croquet lawn
towards a garden of roses and jasmine and chrysanthemums.

"And chance, after all, has been my friend," he said with a smile.

Violet Oliver stopped suddenly. Linforth turned to her. They were walking
along a narrow path between high bushes of rhododendrons. It was very
dark, so that Linforth could only see dimly her face and eyes framed in
the white scarf which she had draped over her hair. But even so he could
see that she was very grave.

"I was wondering whether I should tell you," she said quietly. "It was
not chance which brought me here--which brought us together again."

Dick came to her side.

"No?" he asked, looking down into her face. He spoke very gently, and
with a graver voice than he had used before.

"No," she answered. Her eyes were raised to his frankly and simply. "I
heard that you were to be here. I came on that account. I wanted to see
you again."

As she finished she walked forward again, and again Linforth walked at
her side. Dick, though his settled aim had given to him a manner and an
aspect beyond his age, was for the same reason younger than his years in
other ways. Very early in his youth he had come by a great and definite
ambition, he had been inspired by it, he had welcomed and clung to it
with the simplicity and whole-heartedness which are of the essence of
youth. It was always new to him, however long he pondered over it; his
joy in it was always fresh. He had never doubted either the true gold of
the thing he desired, or his capacity ultimately to attain it. But he had
ordered his life towards its attainment with the method of a far older
man, examining each opportunity which came his way with always the one
question in his mind--"Does it help?"--and leaving or using that
opportunity according to the answer. Youth, however, was the truth of
him. The inspiration, the freshness, the simplicity of outlook--these
were the dominating elements in his character, and they were altogether
compact of youth. He looked upon the world with expectant eyes and an
unfaltering faith. Nor did he go about to detect intrigues in men or
deceits in women. Violet's words therefore moved him not merely to
tenderness, but to self-reproach.

"It is very kind of you to say that," he said, and he turned to her
suddenly. "Because you mean it."

"It is true," said Violet simply; and the next moment she was aware that
someone very young was standing before her in that Indian garden beneath
the starlit sky and faltering out statements as to his unworthiness. The
statements were familiar to her ears, but there was this which was
unfamiliar: they stirred her to passion.

She stepped back, throwing out a hand as if to keep him from her.

"Don't," she whispered. "Don't!"

She spoke like one who is hurt. Amongst the feelings which had waked in
her, dim and for the most part hardly understood, two at all events were
clear. One a vague longing for something different from the banal path
she daily trod, the other a poignant regret that she was as she was.

But Linforth caught the hand which she held out to thrust him off, and,
clasping it, drew her towards him.

"I love you," he said; and she answered him in desperation:

"But you don't know me."

"I know that I want you. I know that I am not fit for you."

And Violet Oliver laughed harshly.

But Dick Linforth paid no attention to that laugh. His hesitation had
gone. He found that for this occasion only he had the gift of tongues.
There was nothing new and original in what he said. But, on the other
hand, he said it over and over again, and the look upon his face and the
tone of his voice were the things which mattered. At the opera it is the
singer you listen to, and not the words of the song. So in this rose
garden Violet Oliver listened to Dick Linforth rather than to what he
said. There was audible in his voice from sentence to sentence, ringing
through them, inspiring them, the reverence a young man's heart holds for
the woman whom he loves.

"You ought to marry, not me, but someone better," she cried. "There is
someone I know--in--England--who--"

But Linforth would not listen. He laughed to scorn the notion that there
could be anyone better than Violet Oliver; and with each word he spoke he
seemed to grow younger. It was as though a miracle had happened. He
remained in her eyes what he really was, a man head and shoulders above
her friends, and in fibre altogether different. Yet to her, and for her,
he was young, and younger than the youngest. In spite of herself, the
longing at her heart cried with a louder voice. She sought to stifle it.

"There is the Road," she cried. "That is first with you. That is what you
really care for."

"No," he replied quietly. She had hoped to take him at a disadvantage.
But he replied at once:

"No. I have thought that out. I do not separate you from the Road. I put
neither first. It is true that there was a time when the Road was
everything to me. But that was before I met you--do you remember?--in the
inn at La Grave."

Violet Oliver looked curiously at Linforth--curiously, and rather
quickly. But it seemed that he at all events did not remember that he had
not come alone down to La Grave.

"It isn't that I have come to care less for the Road," he went on. "Not
by one jot. Rather, indeed, I care more. But I can't dissociate you from
the Road. The Road's my life-work; but it will be the better done if it's
done with your help. It will be done best of all if it's done for you."

Violet Oliver turned away quickly, and stood with her head averted.
Ardently she longed to take him at his word. A glimpse of a great life
was vouchsafed to her, such as she had not dreamt of. That some time she
would marry again, she had not doubted. But always she had thought of her
husband to be, as a man very rich, with no ambition but to please her, no
work to do which would thwart her. And here was another life offered, a
life upon a higher, a more difficult plane; but a life much more worth
living. That she saw clearly enough. But out of her self-knowledge sprang
the insistent question:

"Could I live it?"

There would be sacrifices to be made by her. Could she make them? Would
not dissatisfaction with herself follow very quickly upon her marriage?
Out of her dissatisfaction would there not grow disappointment in her
husband? Would not bitterness spring up between them and both their lives
be marred?

Dick was still holding her hand.

"Let me see you," he said, drawing her towards him. "Let me see
your face!"

She turned and showed it. There was a great trouble in her eyes, her
voice was piteous as she spoke.

"Dick, I can't answer you. When I told you that I came here on purpose to
meet you, that I wanted to see you again, it was true, all true. But oh,
Dick, did I mean more?"

"How should I know?" said Dick, with a quiet laugh--a laugh of happiness.

"I suppose that I did. I wanted you to say just what you have said
to-night. Yet now that you have said it--" she broke off with a cry.
"Dick, I have met no one like you in my life. And I am very proud.
Oh, Dick, my boy!" And she gave him her other hand. Tears glistened
in her eyes.

"But I am not sure," she went on. "Now that you have spoken, I am not
sure. It would be all so different from what my life has been, from what
I thought it would be. Dick, you make me ashamed."

"Hush!" he said gently, as one might chide a child for talking nonsense.
He put an arm about her, and she hid her face in his coat.

"Yes, that's the truth, Dick. You make me ashamed."

So she remained for a little while, and then she drew herself away.

"I will think and tell you, Dick," she said.

"Tell me now!"

"No, not yet. It's all your life and my life, you know, Dick. Give me a
little while."

"I go away to-morrow."

"To-morrow?" she cried.

"Yes, I go to Ajmere. I go to find my friend. I must go."

Violet started. Into her eyes there crept a look of fear, and she
was silent.

"The Prince?" she asked with a queer suspense in her voice.

"Yes--Shere Ali," and Dick became perceptibly embarrassed. "He is not as
friendly to us as he used to be. There is some trouble," he said lamely.

Violet looked him frankly in the face. It was not her habit to
flinch. She read and understood his embarrassment. Yet her eyes met
his quite steadily.

"I am afraid that I am the trouble," she said quietly.

Dick did not deny the truth of what she said. On the other hand, he had
as yet no thought or word of blame for her. There was more for her to
tell. He waited to hear it.

"I tried to avoid him here in India, as I told you I meant to do," she
said. "I thought he was safe in Chiltistan. I did not let him know that I
was coming out. I did not write to him after I had landed. But he came
down to Agra--and we met. There he asked me to marry him."

"He asked _you!_" cried Linforth. "He must have been mad to think that
such a thing was possible."

"He was very unhappy," Violet Oliver explained. "I told him that it was
impossible. But he would not see. I am afraid that is the cause of his
unfriendliness."

"Yes," said Dick. Then he was silent for a little while.

"But you are not to blame," he added at length, in a quiet but decisive
voice; and he turned as though the subject were now closed.

But Violet was not content. She stayed him with a gesture. She was driven
that night to speak out all the truth. Certainly he deserved that she
should make no concealment. Moreover, the truth would put him to the
test, would show to her how deep his passion ran. It might change his
thoughts towards her, and so she would escape by the easiest way the
difficult problem she had to solve. And the easiest way was the way which
Violet Oliver always chose to take.

"I am to blame," she said. "I took jewels from him in London. Yes." She
saw Dick standing in front of her, silent and with a face quite
inscrutable, and she lowered her head and spoke with the submission of a
penitent to her judge. "He offered me jewels. I love them," and she
spread out her hands. "Yes, I cannot help it. I am a foolish lover of
beautiful things. I took them. I made no promises, he asked for none.
There were no conditions, he stipulated for none. He just offered me the
pearls, and I took them. But very likely he thought that my taking them
meant more than it did."

"And where are they now?" asked Dick.

She was silent for a perceptible time. Then she said:

"I sent them back." She heard Dick draw a breath of relief, and she went
on quickly, as though she had been in doubt what she should say and now
was sure. "The same night--after he had asked me to marry him--I packed
them up and sent them to him."

"He has them now, then?" asked Linforth.

"I don't know. I sent them to Kohara. I did not know in what camp he was
staying. I thought it likely he would go home at once."

"Yes," said Dick.

They turned and walked back towards the house. Dick did not speak. Violet
was afraid. She walked by his side, stealing every now and then a look at
his set face. It was dark; she could see little but the profile. But she
imagined it very stern, and she was afraid. She regretted now that she
had spoken. She felt now that she could not lose him.

"Dick," she whispered timidly, laying a hand upon his arm; but he made no
answer. The lighted windows of the house blazed upon the night. Would he
reach the door, pass in and be gone the next morning without another word
to her except a formal goodnight in front of the others?

"Oh, Dick," she said again, entreatingly; and at that reiteration of his
name he stopped.

"I am very sorry," he said gently. "But I know quite well--others have
taken presents from these princes. It is a pity.... One rather hates it.
But you sent yours back," and he turned to her with a smile. "The others
have not always done as much. Yes, you sent yours back."

Violet Oliver drew a breath of relief. She raised her face towards his.
She spoke with pleading lips.

"I am forgiven then?"

"Hush!"

And in a moment she was in his arms. Passion swept her away. It seemed to
her that new worlds were opening before her eyes. There were heights to
walk upon for her--even for her who had never dreamed that she would even
see them near. Their lips touched.

"Oh, Dick," she murmured. Her hands were clasped about his neck. She hid
her face against his coat, and when he would raise it she would not
suffer him. But in a little while she drew herself apart, and, holding
his hands, looked at him with a great pride.

"My Dick," she said, and she laughed--a low sweet laugh of happiness
which thrilled to the heart of her lover.

"I'll tell you something," she said. "When I said good-bye to him--to the
Prince--he asked me if I was going to marry you."

"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.




CHAPTER XXVI

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
and beyond."

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
open spring.

"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
transfixed.

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
at Chatham.

"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
I should."

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
the pledge.

"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
Excellency good-morning."

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
finished."

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
was given."

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
other places."

"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
schoolboy.

"Whither did the Prince go?"

The Babu shrugged his shoulders.

"How should I know? They are not of my people, these poor ignorant
hill-folk."

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
Peshawur.




CHAPTER XXVII

AN ARRESTED CONFESSION


Linforth related the history of his failure to Ralston in the office
at Peshawur.

"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
very grave.

"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
were uttered.

"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
be hurried.

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
quite relieved.

"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
bolt afterwards."

"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
the garden.

"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.

"Violet."

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
the promise."

"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
lives together."

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."

"I do."

"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
drawing-room.




CHAPTER XXVIII

THE THIEF


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
troubled face.

"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
something soft.

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
mortal fear.

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
rang loud.

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
been touched."

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:

"Adela! Adela!"

"Mrs. Oliver wants me," said the maid, as she slipped back into
the bedroom.

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
should know."

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
incredulous:

"It can't be he! He would not dare!"

But no name was uttered.




CHAPTER XXIX

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
unbolted?"

"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
astonishment.

"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
driving there."

"In Calcutta?" cried Ralston. "Some months ago, then?"

"Yes."

"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,"
she pleaded.

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
to Bombay."

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
unconcerned."

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
this country."

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
all right."

"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
never spoken.

"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
Chiltistan! "Why?"

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
the woman!

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
Peshawur?

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
the alley.

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
there!"

The two levies pressed their horses through the crowd, but the alley was
empty when they came to it.




CHAPTER XXX

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
Ali's friend."

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
could rely.

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
commanded.

"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
of Chiltistan."

"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."

"In Chiltistan?"

"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
another Prince."

"Set up another Prince?" exclaimed Linforth in a startled voice. "In
that case--"

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
Hindu Kush."

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.




CHAPTER XXXI

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
resents it."

"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
uneasiness.

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
your house."

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
buried here."

Shere Ali, in spite of himself was beginning to listen to Captain
Phillips' words.

"Who was the soldier?" he asked.

"Colonel Dewes."

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?"

"Yes."

"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
for Chiltistan."

"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
Ali's promise.

"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."




CHAPTER XXXII

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
him gravely.

"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
family, or wife, but to whom the Frontier had been all these. He would
have wished for no more himself, since vanity had played so small a part
in his career. He had been the great Force upon the Frontier, keeping the
Queen's peace by the strength of his character and the sagacity of his
mind. Yet before his grave, invoking him as an unknown saint, the nobles
of Chiltistan had knelt to pray for the destruction of such as he and the
overthrow of the power which he had lived to represent. And all because
his advice had been neglected.

Captain Phillips was roused out of his reflections as the cavalcade
approached a village. For out of that village and from the fields about
it, the men, armed for the most part with good rifles, poured towards
them with cries of homage. They joined the cavalcade, marched with it
past their homes, and did not turn back. Only the women and the children
were left behind. And at the next village and at the next the same thing
happened. The cavalcade began to swell into a small army, an army of men
well equipped for war; and at the head of the gathering force Shere Ali
rode with an impassive face, never speaking but to check a man from time
to time who brandished a weapon at the Resident.

"Your Highness has counted the cost?" Captain Phillips asked. "There will
be but the one end to it."

Shere Ali turned to the Resident, and though his face did not change from
its brooding calm, a fire burned darkly in his eyes.

"From Afghanistan to Thibet the frontier will rise," he said proudly.

Captain Phillips shook his head.

"From Afghanistan to Thibet the Frontier will wait, as it always waits.
It will wait to see what happens in Chiltistan."

But though he spoke boldly, he had little comfort from his thoughts. The
rising had been well concerted. Those who flocked to Shere Ali were not
only the villagers of the Kohara valley. There were shepherds from the
hills, wild men from the far corners of Chiltistan. Already the small
army could be counted with the hundred for its unit. To-morrow the
hundred would be a thousand. Moreover, for once in a way there was no
divided counsel. Jealousy and intrigue were not, it seemed, to do their
usual work in Chiltistan. There was only one master, and he of
unquestioned authority. Else how came it that Captain Phillips rode
amidst that great and frenzied throng, unhurt and almost unthreatened?

Down the valley the roof-tops of Kohara began to show amongst the trees.
The high palace on the hill with its latticed windows bulked against the
evening sky. The sound of many drums was borne to the Resident's ears.
The Residency stood a mile and a half from the town in a great garden. A
high wall enclosed it, but it was a house, not a fortress; and Phillips
had at his command but a few levies to defend it. One of them stood by
the gate. He kept his ground as Shere Ali and his force approached. The
only movement which he made was to stand at attention, and as Shere Ali
halted at the entrance, he saluted. But it was Captain Phillips whom he
saluted, and not the Prince of Chiltistan. Shere Ali spoke with the same
quiet note of confident authority which had surprised Captain Phillips
before, to the seven nobles at his back. Then he turned to the Resident.

"I will ride with you to your door," he said.

The two men passed alone through the gateway and along a broad path which
divided the forecourt to the steps of the house. And not a man of all
that crowd which followed Shere Ali to Kohara pressed in behind them.
Captain Phillips looked back as much in surprise as in relief. But there
was no surprise on the face of Shere Ali. He, it was plain, expected
obedience.

"Upon my word," cried Phillips in a burst of admiration, "you have got
your fellows well in hand."

"I?" said Shere Ali. "I am nothing. What could I do who a week ago was
still a stranger to my people? I am a voice, nothing more. But the God of
my people speaks through me"; and as he spoke these last words, his voice
suddenly rose to a shrill trembling note, his face suddenly quivered with
excitement.

Captain Phillips stared. "The man's in earnest," he muttered to himself.
"He actually believes it."

It was the second time that Captain Phillips had been surprised within
five minutes, and on this occasion the surprise came upon him with a
shock. How it had come about--that was all dark to Captain Phillips. But
the result was clear. The few words spoken as they had been spoken
revealed the fact. The veneer of Shere Ali's English training had gone.
Shere Ali had reverted. His own people had claimed him.

"And I guessed nothing of this," the Resident reflected bitterly.
Signs of trouble he had noticed in abundance, but this one crucial
fact which made trouble a certain and unavoidable thing--that had
utterly escaped him. His thoughts went back to the nameless tomb in
the courtyard of the fort.

"Luffe would have known," he thought in a very bitter humility. "Nay, he
did know. He foresaw."

There was yet a third surprise in store for Captain Phillips. As the two
men rode up the broad path, he had noticed that the door of the house was
standing open, as it usually did. Now, however, he saw it swing to--very
slowly, very noiselessly. He was surprised, for he knew the door to be a
strong heavy door of walnut wood, not likely to swing to even in a wind.
And there was no wind. Besides, if it had swung to of its own accord, it
would have slammed. Its weight would have made it slam. Whereas it was
not quite closed. As he reined in his horse at the steps, he saw that
there was a chink between the door and the door-post.

"There's someone behind that door," he said to himself, and he glanced
quietly at Shere Ali. It would be quite in keeping with the Chilti
character for Shere Ali politely to escort him home knowing well that an
assassin waited behind the door; and it was with a smile of some irony
that he listened to Shere Ali taking his leave.

"You will be safe, so long as you stay within your grounds. I will place
a guard about the house. I do not make war against my country's guests.
And in a few days I will send an escort and set you and your attendants
free from hurt beyond our borders. But"--and his voice lost its
courtesy--"take care you admit no one, and give shelter to no one."

The menace of Shere Ali's tone roused Captain Phillips. "I take no orders
from your Highness," he said firmly. "Your Highness may not have noticed
that," and he pointed upwards to where on a high flagstaff in front of
the house the English flag hung against the pole.

"I give your Excellency no orders," replied Shere Ali. "But on the other
hand I give you a warning. Shelter so much as one man and that flag will
not save you. I should not be able to hold in my men."

Shere Ali turned and rode back to the gates. Captain Phillips dismounted,
and calling forward a reluctant groom, gave him his horse. Then he
suddenly flung back the door. But there was no resistance. The door swung
in and clattered against the wall. Phillips looked into the hall, but the
dusk was gathering in the garden. He looked into a place of twilight and
shadows. He grasped his riding-crop a little more firmly in his hand and
strode through the doorway. In a dark corner something moved.

"Ah! would you!" cried Captain Phillips, turning sharply on the instant.
He raised his crop above his head and then a crouching figure fell at his
feet and embraced his knees; and a trembling voice of fear cried:

"Save me! Your Excellency will not give me up! I have been a good friend
to the English!"

For the second time the Khan of Chiltistan had sought refuge from his own
people. Captain Phillips looked round.

"Hush," he whispered in a startled voice. "Let me shut the door!"




CHAPTER XXXIII

IN THE RESIDENCY


Captain Phillips with a sharp gesture ordered the Khan back to the
shadowy corner from which he had sprung out. Then he shut the door and,
with the shutting of the door, the darkness deepened suddenly in the
hall. He shot the bolt and put up the chain. It rattled in his ears with
a startling loudness. Then he stood without speech or movement. Outside
he heard Shere Ali's voice ring clear, and the army of tribesmen
clattered past towards the town. The rattle of their weapons, the hum of
their voices diminished. Captain Phillips took his handkerchief from his
pocket and wiped his forehead. He had the sensations of a man reprieved.

"But it's only a reprieve," he thought. "There will be no commutation."

He turned again towards the dark corner.

"How did you come?" he asked in a low voice.

"By the orchard at the back of the house."

"Did no one see you?"

"I hid in the orchard until I saw the red coat of one of your servants. I
called to him and he let me in secretly. But no one else saw me."

"No one in the city?"

"I came barefoot in a rough cloak with the hood drawn over my face," said
the Khan. "No one paid any heed to me. There was much noise and running
to and fro, and polishing of weapons. I crept out into the hill-side at
the back and so came down into your orchard."

Captain Phillips shrugged his shoulders. He opened a door and led the
Khan into a room which looked out upon the orchard.

"Well, we will do what we can," he said, "but it's very little. They will
guess immediately that you are here of course."

"Once before--" faltered the Khan, and Phillips broke in upon him
impatiently.

"Yes, once before. But it's not the same thing. This is a house, not a
fort, and I have only a handful of men to defend it; and I am not Luffe."
Then his voice sharpened. "Why didn't you listen to him? All this is your
fault--yours and Dewes', who didn't understand, and held his tongue."

The Khan was mystified by the words, but Phillips did not take the
trouble to explain. He knew something of the Chilti character. They would
have put up with the taxes, with the selling into slavery, with all the
other abominations of the Khan's rule. They would have listened to the
exhortations of the mullahs without anything coming of it, so long as no
leader appeared. They were great accepters of facts as they were. Let the
brother or son or nephew murder the ruling Khan and sit in his place,
they accepted his rule without any struggles of conscience. But let a man
rise to lead them, then they would bethink them of the exhortations of
their priests and of their own particular sufferings and flock to his
standard. And the man had risen--just because twenty-five years ago the
Khan would not listen to Luffe.

"It's too late, however, for explanations," he said, and he clapped his
hands together for a servant. In a few moments the light of a lamp
gleamed in the hall through the doorway. Phillips went quickly out of the
room, closing the door behind him.

"Fasten the shutters first," he said to the servant in the hall. "Then
bring the lamp in."

The servant obeyed, but when he brought the lamp into the room, and saw
the Khan of Chiltistan standing at the table with no more dignity of
dress or, indeed, of bearing than any beggar in the kingdom, he nearly
let the lamp fall.

"His Highness will stay in this house," said Phillips, "but his presence
must not be spoken of. Will you tell Poulteney Sahib that I would like to
speak to him?" The servant bowed his forehead to the palms of his hand
and turned away upon his errand. But Poulteney Sahib was already at the
door. He was the subaltern in command of the half company of Sikhs which
served Captain Phillips for an escort and a guard.

"You have heard the news I suppose," said Phillips.

"Yes," replied Poulteney. He was a wiry dark youth, with a little black
moustache and a brisk manner of speech. "I was out on the hill after
chikkor when my shikari saw Shere Ali and his crowd coming down the
valley. He knew all about it and gave me a general idea of the situation.
It seems the whole country's rising. I should have been here before, but
it seemed advisable to wait until it was dark. I crawled in between a
couple of guard-posts. There is already a watch kept on the house," and
then he stopped abruptly. He had caught sight of the Khan in the
background. He had much ado not to whistle in his surprise. But he
refrained and merely bowed.

"It seems to be a complicated situation," he said to Captain Phillips.
"Does Shere Ali know?" and he glanced towards the Khan.

"Not yet," replied Phillips grimly. "But I don't think it will be long
before he does."

"And then there will be ructions," Poulteney remarked softly. "Yes, there
will be ructions of a highly-coloured and interesting description."

"We must do what we can," said Phillips with a shrug of his shoulders.
"It isn't much, of course," and for the next two hours the twenty-five
Sikhs were kept busy. The doors were barricaded, the shutters closed upon
the windows and loopholed, and provisions were brought in from the
outhouses.

"It is lucky we had sense enough to lay in a store of food," said
Phillips.

The Sikhs were divided into watches and given their appointed places.
Cartridges were doled out to them, and the rest of the ammunition was
placed in a stone cellar.

"That's all that we can do," said Phillips. "So we may as well dine."

They dined with the Khan, speaking little and with ears on the alert,
in a room at the back of the house. At any moment the summons might
come to surrender the Khan. They waited for a blow upon the door, the
sound of the firing of a rifle or a loud voice calling upon them from
the darkness. But all they heard was the interminable babble of the
Khan, as he sat at the table shivering with fear and unable to eat a
morsel of his food.

"You won't give me up!... I have been a good friend to the English....
All my life I have been a good friend to the English."

"We will do what we can," said Phillips, and he rose from the table and
went up on to the roof. He lay down behind the low parapet and looked
over towards the town. The house was a poor place to defend. At the back
beyond the orchard the hill-side rose and commanded the roof. On the
east of the house a stream ran by to the great river in the centre of
the valley. But the bank of the stream was a steep slippery bank of
clay, and less than a hundred yards down a small water-mill on the
opposite side overlooked it. The Chiltis had only to station a few
riflemen in the water-mill and not a man would be able to climb down
that bank and fetch water for the Residency. On the west stood the
stables and the storehouses, and the barracks of the Sikhs, a square of
buildings which would afford fine cover for an attacking force. Only in
front within the walls of the forecourt was there any open space which
the house commanded. It was certainly a difficult--nay, a
hopeless--place to defend.

But Captain Phillips, as he lay behind the parapet, began to be puzzled.
Why did not the attack begin? He looked over to the city. It was a place
of tossing lights and wild clamours. The noise of it was carried on the
night wind to Phillips' ears. But about the Residency there was quietude
and darkness. Here and there a red fire glowed where the guards were
posted; now and then a shower of sparks leaped up into the air as a fresh
log was thrown upon the ashes; and a bright flame would glisten on the
barrel of a rifle and make ruddy the dark faces of the watchmen. But
there were no preparations for an attack.

Phillips looked across the city. On the hill the Palace was alive with
moving lights--lights that flashed from room to room as though men
searched hurriedly.

"Surely they must already have guessed," he murmured to himself. The
moving lights in the high windows of the Palace held his eyes--so swiftly
they flitted from room to room, so frenzied seemed the hurry of the
search--and then to his astonishment one after another they began to die
out. It could not be that the searchers were content with the failure of
their search, that the Palace was composing itself to sleep. In the city
the clamour had died down; little by little it sank to darkness. There
came a freshness in the air. Though there were many hours still before
daylight, the night drew on towards morning. What could it mean, he
wondered? Why was the Residency left in peace?

And as he wondered, he heard a scuffling noise upon the roof behind him.
He turned his head and Poulteney crawled to his side.

"Will you come down?" the subaltern asked; "I don't know what to do."

Phillips at once crept back to the trap-door. The two men descended, and
Poulteney led the way into the little room at the back of the house where
they had dined. There was no longer a light in the room; and they stood
for awhile in the darkness listening.

"Where is the Khan?" whispered Phillips.

"I fixed up one of the cellars for him," Poulteney replied in the same
tone, and as he ended there came suddenly a rattle of gravel upon the
shutter of the window. It was thrown cautiously, but even so it startled
Phillips almost into a cry.

"That's it," whispered Poulteney. "There is someone in the orchard.
That's the third time the gravel has rattled on the shutter. What
shall I do?"

"Have you got your revolver?" asked Phillips.

"Yes."

"Then stand by."

Phillips carefully and noiselessly opened the shutter for an inch or two.

"Who's that?" he asked in a low voice; he asked the question in Pushtu,
and in Pushtu a voice no louder than his own replied:

"I want to speak to Poulteney Sahib."

A startled exclamation broke from the subaltern. "It's my shikari," he
said, and thrusting open the shutter he leaned out.

"Well, what news do you bring?" he asked; and at the answer Captain
Phillips for the first time since he had entered into his twilit hall
had a throb of hope. The expeditionary troops from Nowshera, advancing
by forced marches, were already close to the borders of Chiltistan. News
had been brought to the Palace that evening. Shere Ali had started with
every man he could collect to take up the position where he meant to
give battle.

"I must hurry or I shall be late," said the shikari, and he crawled away
through the orchard.

Phillips closed the shutter again and lit the lamp. The news seemed too
good to be true. But the morning broke over a city of women and old men.
Only the watchmen remained at their posts about the Residency grounds.




CHAPTER XXXIV

ONE OF THE LITTLE WARS


The campaign which Shere Ali directed on the borders of Chiltistan is now
matter of history, and may be read of, by whoso wills, in the Blue-books
and despatches of the time. Those documents, with their paragraphs and
diaries and bare records of facts, have a dry-as-dust look about them
which their contents very often belie. And the reader will not rise from
the story of this little war without carrying away an impression of wild
fury and reckless valour which will long retain its colours in his mind.
Moreover, there was more than fury to distinguish it. Shere Ali turned
against his enemies the lessons which they had taught him; and a military
skill was displayed which delayed the result and thereby endangered the
position of the British troops. For though at the first the neighbouring
tribes and states, the little village republics which abound in those
parts, waited upon the event as Phillips had foretold, nevertheless as
the days passed, and the event still hung in the balance, they took heart
of grace and gathered behind the troops to destroy their communications
and cut off their supplies.

Dick Linforth wrote three letters to his mother, who was living over
again the suspense and terror which had fallen to her lot a quarter of a
century ago. The first letter was brought to the house under the Sussex
Downs at twilight on an evening of late autumn, and as she recognized the
writing for her son's a sudden weakness overcame her, and her hand so
shook that she could hardly tear off the envelope.

"I am unhurt," he wrote at the beginning of the letter, and tears of
gratitude ran down her cheeks as she read the words. "Shere Ali," he
continued, "occupied a traditional position of defence in a narrow
valley. The Kohara river ran between steep cliffs through the bed of the
valley, and, as usual, above the cliffs on each side there were
cultivated maidans or plateaus. Over the right-hand maidan, the
road--_our_ road--ran to a fortified village. Behind the village, a deep
gorge, or nullah, as we call them in these parts, descending from a side
glacier high up at the back of the hills on our right, cut clean across
the valley, like a great gash. The sides of the nullah were
extraordinarily precipitous, and on the edge furthest from us stone
sangars were already built as a second line of defence. Shere Ali
occupied the village in front of the nullah, and we encamped six miles
down the valley, meaning to attack in the morning. But the Chiltis
abandoned their traditional method of fighting behind walls and standing
on the defence. A shot rang out on the outskirts of our camp at three
o'clock in the morning, and in a moment they were upon us. It was
reckoned that there were fifteen thousand of them engaged from first to
last in this battle, whereas we were under two thousand combatants. We
had seven hundred of the Imperial Service troops, four companies of
Gurkhas, three hundred men of the Punjab Infantry, three companies of the
Oxfordshires, besides cavalry, mountain batteries and Irregulars. The
attack was unexpected. We bestrode the road, but Shere Ali brought his
men in by an old disused Buddhist road, running over the hills on our
right hand, and in the darkness he forced his way through our lines into
a little village in the heart of our position. He seized the bazaar and
held it all that day, a few houses built of stone and with stones upon
the roof which made them proof against our shells. Meanwhile the slopes
on both sides of the valley were thronged with Chiltis. They were armed
with jezails and good rifles stolen from our troops, and they had some
old cannon--sher bachas as they are called. Altogether they caused us
great loss, and towards evening things began to look critical. They had
fortified and barricaded the bazaar, and kept up a constant fire from it.
At last a sapper named Manders, with half a dozen Gurkhas behind him, ran
across the open space, and while the Gurkhas shot through the loop holes
and kept the fire down, Manders fixed his gun cotton at the bottom of the
door and lighted the fuse. He was shot twice, once in the leg, once in
the shoulder, but he managed to crawl along the wall of the houses out of
reach of the explosion, and the door was blown in. We drove them out of
that house and finally cleared the bazaar after some desperate fighting.
Shere Ali was in the thick of it. He was dressed from head to foot in
green, and was a conspicuous mark. But he escaped unhurt. The enemy drew
off for the night, and we lay down as we were, dog-tired and with no
fires to cook any food. They came on again in the morning, clouds of
them, but we held them back with the gatlings and the maxims, and towards
evening they again retired. To-day nothing has happened except the
arrival of an envoy with an arrogant letter from Shere Ali, asking why we
are straying inside the borders of his country 'like camels without
nose-rings.' We shall show him why to-morrow. For to-morrow we attack the
fort on the maidan. Good-night, mother. I am very tired." And the last
sentence took away from Sybil Linforth all the comfort the letter had
brought her. Dick had begun very well. He could have chosen no better
words to meet her eyes at the commencement than those three, "I am
unhurt." But he could have chosen no worse with which to end it. For they
had ended the last letter which her husband had written to her, and her
mind flew back to that day, and was filled with fore-bodings.

But by the next mail came another letter in his hand, describing how the
fort had been carried at the point of the bayonet, and Shere Ali driven
back behind the nullah. This, however, was the strongest position of all,
and the most difficult to force. The road which wound down behind the
fort into the bed of the nullah and zigzagged up again on the far side
had been broken away, the cliffs were unscaleable, and the stone sangars
on the brow proof against shell and bullet. Shere Ali's force was
disposed behind these stone breastworks right across the valley on both
sides of the river. For three weeks the British force sat in front of
this position, now trying to force it by the river-bed, now under cover
of night trying to repair the broken road. But the Chiltis kept good
watch, and at the least sound of a pick in the gulf below avalanches of
rocks and stones would be hurled down the cliff-sides. Moreover, wherever
the cliffs seemed likely to afford a means of ascent Shere Ali had
directed the water-channels, and since the nights were frosty these
points were draped with ice as smooth as glass. Finally, however, Mrs.
Linforth received a third letter which set her heart beating with pride,
and for the moment turned all her fears to joy.

"The war is over," it began. "The position was turned this morning. The
Chiltis are in full flight towards Kohara with the cavalry upon their
heels. They are throwing away their arms as they run, so that they may
be thought not to have taken part in the fight. We follow to-morrow. It
is not yet known whether Shere Ali is alive or dead and, mother, it was
I--yes, I your son, who found out the road by which the position could
be turned. I had crept up the nullah time after time towards the glacier
at its head, thinking that if ever the position was to be taken it must
be turned at that end. At last I thought that I had made out a way up
the cliffs. There were some gullies and a ledge and then some rocks
which seemed practicable, and which would lead one out on the brow of
the cliff just between the two last sangars on the enemy's left. I
didn't write a word about it to you before. I was so afraid I might be
wrong. I got leave and used to creep up the nullah in the darkness to
the tongue of the glacier with a little telescope and lie hidden all day
behind a boulder working out the way, until darkness came again and
allowed me to get back to camp. At last I felt sure, and I suggested the
plan to Ralston the Political Officer, who carried it to the
General-in-Command. The General himself came out with me, and I pointed
out to him that the cliffs were so steep just beneath the sangars that
we might take the men who garrisoned them by surprise, and that in any
case they could not fire upon us, while sharpshooters from the cliffs on
our side of the nullah could hinder the enemy from leaving their sangars
and rolling down stones. I was given permission to try and a hundred
Gurkhas to try with. We left camp that night at half-past seven, and
crept up the nullah with our blankets to the foot of the climb, and
there we waited till the morning."

The years of training to which Linforth had bent himself with a definite
aim began, in a word, to produce their results. In the early morning he
led the way up the steep face of cliffs, and the Gurkhas followed. One of
the sharpshooters lying ready on the British side of the nullah said that
they looked for all the world like a black train of ants. There were
thirteen hundred feet of rock to be scaled, and for nine hundred of it
they climbed undetected. Then from a sangar lower down the line where the
cliffs of the nullah curved outwards they were seen and the alarm was
given. But for awhile the defenders of the threatened position did not
understand the danger, and when they did a hail of bullets kept them in
their shelters. Linforth followed by his Gurkhas was seen to reach the
top of the cliffs and charge the sangars from the rear. The defenders
were driven out and bayoneted, the sangars seized, and the Chilti force
enfolded while reinforcements clambered in support. "In three hours the
position, which for eighteen days had resisted every attack and held the
British force immobile, was in our hands. The way is clear in front of
us. Manders is recommended for the Victoria Cross. I believe that I am
for the D.S.O. And above all the Road goes on!"

Thus characteristically the letter was concluded. Linforth wrote it with
a flush of pride and a great joy. He had no doubt now that he would be
appointed to the Road. Congratulations were showered upon him. Down upon
the plains, Violet would hear of his achievement and perhaps claim
proudly and joyfully some share in it herself. His heart leaped at the
thought. The world was going very well for Dick Linforth that night. But
that is only one side of the picture. Linforth had no thoughts to spare
upon Shere Ali. If he had had a thought, it would not have been one of
pity. Yet that unhappy Prince, with despair and humiliation gnawing at
his heart, broken now beyond all hope, stricken in his fortune as sorely
as in his love, was fleeing with a few devoted followers through the
darkness. He passed through Kohara at daybreak of the second morning
after the battle had been lost, and stopping only to change horses,
galloped off to the north.

Two hours later Captain Phillips mounted on to the roof of his house and
saw that the guards were no longer at their posts.




CHAPTER XXXV

A LETTER FROM VIOLET


Within a week the Khan was back in his Palace, the smoke rose once more
above the roof-tops of Kohara, and a smiling shikari presented himself
before Poulteney Sahib in the grounds of the Residency.

"It was a good fight, Sahib," he declared, grinning from ear to ear at
the recollection of the battles. "A very good fight. We nearly won. I was
in the bazaar all that day. Yes, it was a near thing. We made a mistake
about those cliffs, we did not think they could be climbed. It was a good
fight, but it is over. Now when will your Excellency go shooting? I have
heard of some markhor on the hill."

Poulteney Sahib stared, speechless with indignation. Then he burst
out laughing:

"You old rascal! You dare to come here and ask me to take you out when I
go shooting, and only a week ago you were fighting against us."

"But the fight is all over, Excellency," the Shikari explained. "Now all
is as it was and we will go out after the markhor." The idea that any
ill-feeling could remain after so good a fight was one quite beyond the
shikari's conception. "Besides," he said, "it was I who threw the gravel
at your Excellency's windows."

"Why, that's true," said Poulteney, and a window was thrown up behind
him. Ralston's head appeared at the window.

"You had better take him," the Chief Commissioner said. "Go out with him
for a couple of days," and when the shikari had retired, he explained the
reason of his advice.

"That fellow will talk to you, and you might find out which way Shere
Ali went. He wasn't among the dead, so far as we can discover, and I
think he has been headed off from Afghanistan. But it is important that
we should know. So long as he is free, there will always be
possibilities of trouble."

In every direction, indeed, inquiries were being made. But for the moment
Shere Ali had got clear away. Meanwhile the Khan waited anxiously in the
Palace to know what was going to happen to him; and he waited in some
anxiety. It fell to Ralston to inform him in durbar in the presence of
his nobles and the chief officers of the British force that the
Government of India had determined to grant him a pension and a residence
rent-free at Jellundur.

"The Government of India will rule Chiltistan," said Ralston. "The word
has been spoken."

He went out from the Palace and down the hill towards the place where the
British forces were encamped just outside the city. When he came to the
tents, he asked for Mr. Linforth, and was conducted through the lines. He
found Linforth sitting alone within his tent on his camp chair, and knew
from his attitude that some evil thing had befallen him. Linforth rose
and offered Ralston his chair, and as he did so a letter fluttered from
his lap to the ground. There were two sheets, and Linforth stooped
quickly and picked them up.

"Don't move," said Ralston. "This will do for me," and he sat down upon
the edge of the camp bed. Linforth sat down again on his chair and, as
though he were almost unaware of Ralston's presence, he smoothed out upon
his knee the sheets of the letter. Ralston could not but observe that
they were crumpled and creased, as though they had been clenched and
twisted in Linforth's hand. Then Linforth raised his head, and suddenly
thrust the letter into his pocket.

"I beg your pardon," he said, and he spoke in a spiritless voice. "The
post has just come in. I received a letter which--interested me. Is there
anything I can do?"

"Yes," said Ralston. "We have sure news at last. Shere Ali has fled to
the north. The opportunity you asked for at Peshawur has come."

Linforth was silent for a little while. Then he said slowly:

"I see. I am to go in pursuit?"

"Yes!"

It seemed that Linforth's animosity against Shere Ali had died out.
Ralston watched him keenly from the bed. Something had blunted the edge
of the tool just when the time had come to use it. He threw an extra
earnestness into his voice.

"You have got to do more than go in pursuit of him. You have got to find
him. You have got to bring him back as your prisoner."

Linforth nodded his head.

"He has gone north, you say?"

"Yes. Somewhere in Central Asia you will find him," and as Linforth
looked up startled, Ralston continued calmly, "Yes, it's a large order, I
know, but it's not quite so large as it looks. The trade-routes, the only
possible roads, are not so very many. No man can keep his comings and
goings secret for very long in that country. You will soon get wind of
him, and when you do you must never let him shake you off."

"Very well," said Linforth, listlessly. "When do I start?"

Ralston plunged into the details of the expedition and told him the
number of men he was to take with him.

"You had better go first into Chinese Turkestan," he said. "There are a
number of Hindu merchants settled there--we will give you letters to
them. Some of them will be able to put you on the track of Shere Ali. You
will have to round him up into a corner, I expect. And whatever you do,
head him off Russian territory. For we want him. We want him brought back
into Kohara. It will have a great effect on this country. It will show
them that the Sirkar can even pick a man out of the bazaars of Central
Asia if he is rash enough to stand up against it in revolt."

"That will be rather humiliating for Shere Ali," said Linforth, after a
short pause; and Ralston sat up on the bed. What in the world, he
wondered, could Linforth have read in his letter, so to change him? He
was actually sympathising with Shere Ali--he who had been hottest in
his anger.

"Shere Ali should have thought of that before," Ralston said sharply,
and he rose to his feet. "I rely upon you, Linforth. It may take you a
year. It may take you only a few months. But I rely upon you to bring
Shere Ali back. And when you do," he added, with a smile, "there's the
road waiting for you."

But for once even that promise failed to stir Dick Linforth into
enthusiasm.

"I will do my best," he said quietly; and with that Ralston left him.

Linforth sat down in his chair and once more took out the crumpled
letter. He had walked with the Gods of late, like one immune from earthly
troubles. But his bad hour had been awaiting him. The letter was signed
Violet. He read it through again, and this was what he read:

"This is the most difficult letter I have ever written. For I don't feel
that I can make you understand at all just how things are. But somehow or
other I do feel that this is going to hurt you frightfully, and, oh,
Dick, do forgive me. But if it will console or help at all, know this,"
and the words were underlined--as indeed were many words in Violet
Oliver's letters--"that I never was good enough for you and you are well
rid of me. I told you what I was, didn't I, Dick?--a foolish lover of
beautiful things. I tried to tell you the whole truth that last evening
in the garden at Peshawur, but you wouldn't let me, Dick. And I must tell
you now. I never sent the pearl necklace back, Dick, although I told you
that I did. I meant to send it back the night when I parted from the
Prince. I packed it up and put it ready. But--oh, Dick, how can I tell
you?--I had had an imitation one made just like it for safety, and in the
night I got up and changed them. I couldn't part with it--I sent back the
false one. Now you know me, Dick! But even now perhaps you don't. You
remember the night in Peshawur, the terrible night? Mr. Ralston wondered
why, after complaining that my window was unbolted, I unbolted it myself.
Let me tell you, Dick! Mr. Ralston said that 'theft' was the explanation.
Well, after I tried to tell you in the garden and you would not listen, I
thought of what he had said. I thought it would be such an easy way out
of it, if the thief should come in when I was asleep and steal the
necklace and go away again before I woke up. I don't know how I brought
myself to do it. It was you, Dick! I had just left you, I was full of
thoughts of you. So I slipped back the bolt myself. But you see, Dick,
what I am. Although I wanted to send that necklace back, I couldn't, I
_simply couldn't_, and it's the same with other things. I would be very,
very glad to know that I could be happy with you, dear, and live your
life. But I know that I couldn't, that it wouldn't last, that I should be
longing for other things, foolish things and vanities. Again, Dick, you
are well rid of a silly vain woman, and I wish you all happiness in that
riddance. I never would have made you a good wife. Nor will I make any
man a good wife. I have not the sense of a dog. I know it, too! That's
the sad part of it all, Dick. Forgive me, and thanks, a thousand thanks,
for the honour you ever did me in wanting me at all." Then followed--it
seemed to Linforth--a cry. "Won't you forgive me, dear, dear Dick!" and
after these words her name, "Violet."

But even so the letter was not ended. A postscript was added:

"I shall always think of the little dreams we had together of our future,
and regret that I couldn't know them. That will always be in my mind.
Remember that! Perhaps some day we will meet. Oh, Dick, good-bye!"

Dick sat with that letter before his eyes for a long while. Violet had
told him that he could be hard, but he was not hard to her. He could read
between the lines, he understood the struggle which she had had with
herself, he recognised the suffering which the letter had caused her. He
was touched to pity, to a greater humanity. He had shown it in his
forecasts of the humiliation which would befall Shere Ali when he was
brought back a prisoner to Kohara. Linforth, in a word, had shed what was
left of his boyhood. He had come to recognise that life was never all
black and all white. He tore up the letter into tiny fragments. It
required no answer.

"Everything is just wrong," he said to himself, gently, as he thought
over Shere Ali, Violet, himself. "Everything is just not what it might
have been."

And a few days later he started northwards for Turkestan.




CHAPTER XXXVI

"THE LITTLE LESS--"


Three years passed before Linforth returned on leave to England. He
landed at Marseilles towards the end of September, travelled to his home,
and a fortnight later came up from Sussex for a few days to London. It
was the beginning of the autumn season. People were returning to town.
Theatres were re-opening with new plays; and a fellow-officer, who had a
couple of stalls for the first production of a comedy about which public
curiosity was whetted, meeting Linforth in the hall of his club,
suggested that they should go together.

"I shall be glad," said Linforth. "I always go to the play with the
keenest of pleasure. The tuning-up of the orchestra and the rising of the
curtain are events to me. And, to be honest, I have never been to a first
night before. Let us do the thing handsomely and dine together before we
go. It will be my last excitement in London for another three or four
years, I expect."

The two young men dined together accordingly at one of the great
restaurants. Linforth, fresh from the deep valleys of Chiltistan, was
elated by the lights, the neighbourhood of people delicately dressed, and
the subdued throb of music from muted violins.

"I am the little boy at the bright shop window," he said with a laugh,
while his eyes wandered round the room. "I look in through the glass from
the pavement outside, and--"

His voice halted and stopped; and when he resumed he spoke without his
former gaiety. Indeed, the change of note was more perceptible than the
brief pause. His friend conjectured that the words which Linforth now
used were not those which he had intended to speak a moment ago.

"--and," he said slowly, "I wonder what sort of fairyland it is actually
to live and breathe in?"

While he spoke, his eyes were seeking an answer to his question, and
seeking it in one particular quarter. A few tables away, and behind
Linforth's friend and a little to his right, sat Violet Oliver. She was
with a party of six or eight people, of whom Linforth took no note. He
had eyes only for her. Bitterness had long since ceased to colour his
thoughts of Violet Oliver. And though he had not forgotten, there was no
longer any living pain in his memories. So much had intervened since he
had walked with her in the rose-garden at Peshawur--so many new
experiences, so much compulsion of hard endeavour. When his recollections
went back to the rose-garden at Peshawur, as at rare times they would, he
was only conscious at the worst that his life was rather dull when tested
by the high aspirations of his youth. There was less music in it than he
had thought to hear. Instead of swinging in a soldier's march to the
sound of drums and bugles down the road, it walked sedately. To use his
own phrase, everything was--_just not_. There was no more in it than
that. And indeed at the first it was almost an effort for him to realise
that between him and this woman whom he now actually saw, after three
years, there had once existed a bond of passion. But, as he continued to
look, the memories took substance, and he began to wonder whether in her
fairyland it was "just not," too. She had what she had wanted--that was
clear. A collar of pearls, fastened with a diamond bow, encircled her
throat. A great diamond flashed upon her bosom. Was she satisfied? Did no
memory of the short week during which she had longed to tread the road of
fire and stones, the road of high endeavour, trouble her content?

Linforth was curious. She was not paying much heed to the talk about the
table. She took no part in it, but sat with her head a little raised, her
eyes dreamily fixed upon nothing in particular. But Linforth remembered
with a smile that there was no inference to be drawn from that not
unusual attitude of hers. It did not follow that she was bored or filled
with discontent. She might simply be oblivious. A remark made about her
by some forgotten person who had asked a question and received no answer
came back to Linforth and called a smile to his face. "You might imagine
that Violet Oliver is thinking of the angels. She is probably considering
whether she should run upstairs and powder her nose."

Linforth began to look for other signs; and it seemed to him that the
world had gone well with her. She had a kind of settled look, almost a
sleekness, as though anxiety never came near to her pillow. She had
married, surely, and married well. The jewels she wore were evidence, and
Linforth began to speculate which of the party was her husband. They were
young people who were gathered at the table. In her liking for young
people about her she had not changed. Of the men no one was noticeable,
but Violet Oliver, as he remembered, would hardly have chosen a
noticeable man. She would have chosen someone with great wealth and no
ambitions, one who was young enough to ask nothing more from the world
than Violet Oliver, who would not, in a word, trouble her with a career.
She might have chosen anyone of her companions. And then her eyes
travelled round the room and met his.

For a moment she gazed at him, not seeing him at all. In a moment or two
consciousness came to her. Her brows went up in astonishment. Then she
smiled and waved her hand to him across the room--gaily, without a trace
of embarrassment, without even the colour rising to her cheeks. Thus
might one greet a casual friend of yesterday. Linforth bethought him,
with a sudden sting of bitterness which surprised him by its sharpness,
of the postscript in the last of the few letters she had written to him.
That letter was still vivid enough in his memories for him to be able to
see the pages, to recognise the writing, and read the sentences.

"I shall always think of the little dreams we had together of our future,
and regret that I couldn't know them. That will always be in my mind.
Remember that!"

How much of that postscript remained true, he wondered, after these three
years. Very little, it seemed. Linforth fell to speculating, with an
increasing interest, as to which of the men at her table she had mated
with. Was it the tall youth with the commonplace good looks opposite to
her? Linforth detected now a certain flashiness in his well grooming
which he had not noticed before. Or was it the fat insignificant young
man three seats away from her?

A rather gross young person, Linforth thought him--the offspring of some
provincial tradesman who had retired with a fortune and made a gentleman
of his son.

"Well, no doubt he has the dibs," Linforth found himself saying with an
unexpected irritation, as he contemplated the possible husband. And his
friend broke in upon his thoughts.

"If you are going to eat any dinner, Linforth, it might be as well to
begin; we shall have to go very shortly."

Linforth fell to accordingly. His appetite was not impaired, he was happy
to notice, but, on the whole, he wished he had not seen Violet Oliver.
This was his last night in London. She might so easily have come
to-morrow instead, when he would already have departed from the town. It
was a pity.

He did not look towards her table any more, but the moment her party rose
he was nevertheless aware of its movement. He was conscious that she
passed through the restaurant towards the lobby at no great distance from
himself. He was aware, though he did not raise his head, that she was
looking at him.

Five minutes afterwards the waiter brought to him a folded piece of
paper. He opened it and read:

"Dick, won't you speak to me at all? I am waiting.--VIOLET."

Linforth looked up at his friend.

"There is someone I must go and speak to," he said. "I won't be
five minutes."

He rose from the table and walked out of the restaurant. His heart was
beating rather fast, but it was surely curiosity which produced that
effect. Curiosity to know whether with her things were--just not, too. He
passed across the hall and up the steps. On the top of the steps she was
waiting for him. She had her cloak upon her shoulders, and in the
background the gross young man waited for her without interposing--the
very image of a docile husband.

"Dick," she said quickly, as she held out her hand to him, "I did so want
to talk to you. I have to rush off to a theatre. So I sent in for you.
Why wouldn't you speak to me?"

That he should have any reason to avoid her she seemed calmly and
completely unconscious. And so unembarrassed was her manner that even
with her voice in his ears and her face before him, delicate and pretty
as of old, Dick almost believed that never had he spoken of love to her,
and never had she answered him.

"You are married?" he asked.

Violet nodded her head. She did not, however, introduce her husband. She
took no notice of him whatever. She did not mention her new name.

"And you?" she asked.

Linforth laughed rather harshly.

"No."

Perhaps the harshness of the laugh troubled her. Her forehead puckered.
She dropped her eyes from his face.

"But you will," she said in a low voice.

Linforth did not answer, and in a moment or two she raised her head
again. The trouble had gone from her face. She smiled brightly.

"And the Road?" she asked. She had just remembered it. She had almost an
air of triumph in remembering it. All these old memories were so dim. But
at the awkward difficult moment, by an inspiration she had remembered the
great long-cherished aim of Dick Linforth's life. The Road! Dick wondered
whether she remembered too that there had been a time when for a few days
she had thought to have a share herself in the making of that road which
was to leave India safe.

"It goes on," he said quietly. "It has passed Kohara. It has passed the
fort where Luffe died. But I beg your pardon. Luffe belongs to the past,
too, very much to the past--more even than I do."

Violet paid no heed to the sarcasm. She had not heard it. She was
thinking of something else. It seemed that she had something to say, but
found the utterance difficult. Once or twice she looked up at Dick
Linforth and looked down again and played with the fringe of her cloak.
In the background the docile husband moved restlessly.

"There's a question I should like to ask," she said quickly, and
then stopped.

Linforth helped her out.

"Perhaps I can guess the question."

"It's about--" she began, and Linforth nodded his head.

"Shere Ali?" he said.

"Yes," replied Violet.

Linforth hesitated, looking at his companion. How much should he tell
her, he asked himself? The whole truth? If he did, would it trouble her?
He wondered. He had no wish to hurt her. He began warily:

"After the campaign was over in Chiltistan I was sent after him."

"Yes. I heard that before I left India," she replied.

"I hunted him," and it seemed to Linforth that she flinched. "There's no
other word, I am afraid. I hunted him--for months, from the borders of
Tibet to the borders of Russia. In the end I caught him."

"I heard that, too," she said.

"I came up with him one morning, in a desert of stones. He was with three
of his followers. The only three who had been loyal to him. They had
camped as best they could under the shelter of a boulder. It was very
cold. They had no coverings and little food. The place was as desolate as
you could imagine--a wilderness of boulders and stones stretching away to
the round of the sky, level as the palm of your hand, with a ragged tree
growing up here and there. If we had not come up with them that day I
think they would have died."

He spoke with his eyes upon Violet, ready to modify his words at the
first evidence of pain. She gave that evidence as he ended. She drew her
cloak closer about her and shivered.

"What did he say?" she asked.

"To me? Nothing. We spoke only formally. All the way back to India we
behaved as strangers. It was easier for both of us. I brought him down
through Chiltistan and Kohara into India. I brought him down--along the
Road which at Eton we had planned to carry on together. Down that road we
came together--I the captor, he the prisoner."

Again Violet flinched.

"And where is he now?" she asked in a low voice.

Suddenly Linforth turned round and looked down the steps, across the hall
to the glass walls of the restaurant.

"Did he ever come here with you?" he asked. "Did he ever dine with you
there amongst the lights and the merry-makers and the music?"

"Yes," she answered.

Linforth laughed, and again there was a note of bitterness in the
laughter.

"How long ago it seems! Shere Ali will dine here no more. He is in Burma.
He was deported to Burma."

He told her no more than that. There was no need that she should know
that Shere Ali, broken-hearted, ruined and despairing, was drinking
himself to death with the riffraff of Rangoon, or with such of it as
would listen to his abuse of the white women and his slanders upon their
honesty. The contrast between Shere Ali's fate and the hopes with which
he had set out was shocking enough. Yet even in his case so very little
had turned the scale. Between the fulfilment of his hopes and the great
failure what was there? If he had been sent to Ajmere instead of to
England, if he and Linforth had not crossed the Meije to La Grave in
Dauphine, if a necklace of pearls he had offered had not been
accepted--very likely at this very moment he might be reigning in
Chiltistan, trusted and supported by the Indian Government, a helpful
friend gratefully recognised. To Linforth's thinking it was only "just
not" with Shere Ali, too.

Linforth saw his companion coming towards him from the restaurant. He
held out his hand.

"I have got to go," he said.

"I too," replied Violet. But she detained him. "I want to tell you," she
said hurriedly. "Long ago--in Peshawur--do you remember? I told you there
was someone else--a better mate for you than I was. I meant it, Dick, but
you wouldn't listen. There is still the someone else. I am going to tell
you her name. She has never said a word to me--but--but I am sure. It may
sound mean of me to give her away--but I am not really doing that. I
should be very happy, Dick, if it were possible. It's Phyllis Casson. She
has never married. She is living with her father at Camberley." And
before he could answer she had hurried away.

But Linforth was to see her again that night. For when he had taken his
seat in the stalls of the theatre he saw her and her husband in a box. He
gathered from the remarks of those about him that her jewels were a
regular feature upon the first nights of new plays. He looked at her now
and then during the intervals of the acts. A few people entered her box
and spoke to her for a little while. Linforth conjectured that she had
dropped a little out of the world in which he had known her. Yet she was
contented. On the whole that seemed certain. She was satisfied with her
life. To attend the first productions of plays, to sit in the
restaurants, to hear her jewels remarked upon--her life had narrowed
sleekly down to that, and she was content. But there had been other
possibilities for Violet Oliver.

Linforth walked back from the theatre to his club. He looked into a room
and saw an old gentleman dozing alone amongst his newspapers.

"I suppose I shall come to that," he said grimly. "It doesn't look over
cheerful as a way of spending the evening of one's days," and he was
suddenly seized with the temptation to go home and take the first train
in the morning for Camberley. He turned the plan over in his mind for a
moment, and then swung away from it in self-disgust. He retained a
general reverence for women, and to seek marriage without bringing love
to light him in the search was not within his capacity.

"That wouldn't be fair," he said to himself--"even if Violet's tale were
true." For with his reverence he had retained his modesty. The next
morning he took the train into Sussex instead, and was welcomed by Sybil
Linforth to the house under the Downs. In the warmth of that welcome, at
all events, there was nothing that was just not.



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