Part 3 out of 6
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
"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
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
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
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."
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
"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
"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
"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
"He has not even asked me to marry him," she said, and moved down into
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.
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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.
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
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.
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:
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
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."
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
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:
Dick, even in the presence of her pain, could not deny the implication of
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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?
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
"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
Ralston turned to the Pathan who accompanied him. "Turn the fellow into
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:
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
"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
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
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,
"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."
"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
"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