Part 4 out of 6
able to talk to you so well. I do not feel that I am in danger."
Futteh Ali Shah mopped his face and walked on. His feet blistered; he
began to limp, and he had nothing but a riding-switch in his hand. Now
across the plain he saw in the distance the round fort of Jamrud, and he
"I must sit down," he said. "I cannot help it, your Excellency, I must
stop and sit down."
Ralston turned to him with a look of cold surprise.
"Before me, Futteh Ali Shah? You will sit down in my presence before I
sit down? I think you will not."
Futteh Ali Shah gazed up the road and down the road, and saw no help
anywhere. Only this devilish Chief Commissioner stood threateningly
before him. With a gesture of despair he wiped his face and walked on.
For a mile more he limped on by Ralston's side, the while Ralston
discoursed upon the great question of Agricultural Banks. Then he stopped
again and blurted out:
"I will give you no more trouble. If your Excellency will let me go,
never again will I give you trouble. I swear it."
Ralston smiled. He had had enough of the walk himself.
"And Rahat Mian?" he asked.
There was a momentary struggle in the zemindar's mind. But his fatigue
and exhaustion were too heavy upon him.
"He, too, shall go his own way. Neither I nor mine shall molest him."
Ralston turned at once and mounted his horse. With a sigh of relief
Futteh Ali Shah followed his example.
"Shall we ride back together?" said Ralston, pleasantly. And as on the
way out he had made no mention of any trouble between the landowner and
himself, so he did not refer to it by a single word on his way back.
But close to the city their ways parted and Futteh Ali Shah, as he took
his leave, said hesitatingly,
"If this story goes abroad, your Excellency--this story of how we walked
together towards Jamrud--there will be much laughter and ridicule."
The fear of ridicule--there was the weak point of the Afridi, as Ralston
very well knew. To be laughed at--Futteh Ali Shah, who was wont to lord
it among his friends, writhed under the mere possibility. And how they
would laugh in and round about Peshawur! A fine figure he would cut as he
rode through the streets with every ragged bystander jeering at the man
who was walked into docility and submission by his Excellency the Chief
"My life would be intolerable," he said, "were the story to get about."
Ralston shrugged his shoulders.
"But why should it get about?"
"I do not know, but it surely will. It may be that the trees have ears
and eyes and a mouth to speak." He edged a little nearer to the
Commissioner. "It may be, too," he said cunningly, "that your Excellency
loves to tell a good story after dinner. Now there is one way to stop
Ralston laughed. "If I could hold my tongue, you mean," he replied.
Futteh Ali Shah came nearer still. He rode up close and leaned a little
over towards Ralston.
"Your Excellency would lose the story," he said, "but on the other hand
there would be a gain--a gain of many hours of sleep passed otherwise in
He spoke in an insinuating fashion, which made Ralston disinclined to
strike a bargain--and he nodded his head like one who wishes to convey
that he could tell much if only he would. But Ralston paused before he
answered, and when he answered it was only to put a question.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
And the reply came in a low quick voice.
"There was a message sent through Chiltistan."
Ralston started. Was it in this strange way the truth was to come to him?
He sat his horse carelessly. "I know," he said. "Some melons and some
bags of grain."
Futteh Ali Shah was disappointed. This devilish Chief Commissioner knew
everything. Yet the story of the walk must not get abroad in Peshawur,
and surely it would unless the Chief Commissioner were pledged to
silence. He drew a bow at a venture.
"Can your Excellency interpret the message? As they interpret it in
Chiltistan?" and it seemed to him that he had this time struck true. "It
is a little thing I ask of your Excellency."
"It is not a great thing, to be sure," Ralston admitted. He looked at the
zemindar and laughed. "But I could tell the story rather well," he said
doubtfully. "It would be an amusing story as I should tell it. Yet--well,
we will see," and he changed his tone suddenly. "Interpret to me that
present as it is interpreted in the villages of Chiltistan."
Futteh Ali Shah looked about him fearfully, making sure that there was no
one within earshot. Then in a whisper he said: "The grain is the army
which will rise up from the hills and descend from the heavens to destroy
the power of the Government. The melons are the forces of the Government;
for as easily as melons they will be cut into pieces."
He rode off quickly when he had ended, like a man who understands that he
has said too much, and then halted and returned.
"You will not tell that story?" he said.
"No," answered Ralston abstractedly. "I shall never tell that story."
He understood the truth at last. So that was the message which Shere Ali
had sent. No wonder, he thought, that the glare broadened over
THE SOLDIER AND THE JEW
These two events took place at Peshawur, while Linforth was still upon
the waters of the Red Sea. To be quite exact, on that morning when
Ralston was taking his long walk towards Jamrud with the zemindar Futteh
Ali Shah, Linforth was watching impatiently from his deck-chair the high
mosque towers, the white domes and great houses of Mocha, as they
shimmered in the heat at the water's edge against a wide background of
yellow sand. It seemed to him that the long narrow city so small and
clear across the great level of calm sea would never slide past the
taffrail. But it disappeared, and in due course the ship moved slowly
through the narrows into Aden harbour. This was on a Thursday evening,
and the steamer stopped in Aden for three hours to coal. The night came
on hot, windless and dark. Linforth leaned over the side, looking out
upon the short curve of lights and the black mass of hill rising dimly
above them. Three and a half more days and he would be standing on Indian
soil. A bright light flashed towards the ship across the water and a
launch came alongside, bearing the agent of the company.
He had the latest telegrams in his hand.
"Any trouble on the Frontier?" Linforth asked.
"None," the agent replied, and Linforth's fever of impatience was
assuaged. If trouble were threatening he would surely be in time--since
there were only three and a half more days.
But he did not know why he had been brought out from England, and the
three and a half days made him by just three and a half days too late.
For on this very night when the steamer stopped to coal in Aden harbour
Shere Ali made his choice.
He was present that evening at a prize-fight which took place in a
music-hall at Calcutta. The lightweight champion of Singapore and the
East, a Jew, was pitted against a young soldier who had secured his
discharge and had just taken to boxing as a profession. The soldier
brought a great reputation as an amateur. This was his first appearance
as a professional, and his friends had gathered in numbers to encourage
him. The hall was crowded with soldiers from the barracks, sailors from
the fleet, and patrons of the fancy in Calcutta. The heat was
overpowering, the audience noisy, and overhead the electric fans, which
hung downwards from the ceiling, whirled above the spectators with so
swift a rotation that those looking up saw only a vague blur in the air.
The ring had been roped off upon the stage, and about three sides of the
ring chairs for the privileged had been placed. The fourth side was open
to the spectators in the hall, and behind the ropes at the back there sat
in the centre of the row of chairs a fat red-faced man in evening-dress
who was greeted on all sides as Colonel Joe. "Colonel Joe" was the
referee, and a person on these occasions of great importance.
There were several preliminary contests and before each one Colonel Joe
came to the front and introduced the combatants with a short history of
their achievements. A Hindu boy was matched against a white one, a couple
of wrestlers came next, and then two English sailors, with more spirit
than skill, had a set-to which warmed the audience into enthusiasm and
ended amid shouts, whistles, shrill cat-calls, and thunders of applause.
Meanwhile the heat grew more and more intense, the faces shinier, the air
more and more smoke-laden and heavy.
Shere Ali came on to the stage while the sailors were at work. He
exchanged a nod with "Colonel Joe," and took his seat in the front row of
chairs behind the ropes.
It was a rough gathering on the whole, though there were some men in
evening-dress besides Colonel Joe, and of these two sat beside Shere Ali.
They were talking together, and Shere Ali at the first paid no heed to
them. The trainers, the backers, the pugilists themselves were the men
who had become his associates in Calcutta. There were many of them
present upon the stage, and in turn they approached Shere Ali and spoke
to him with familiarity upon the chances of the fight. Yet in their
familiarity there was a kind of deference. They were speaking to a
patron. Moreover, there was some flattery in the attention with which
they waited to catch his eye and the eagerness with which they came at
once to his side.
"We are all glad to see you, sir," said a small man who had been a jockey
until he was warned off the turf.
"Yes," said Shere Ali with a smile, "I am among friends."
"Now who would you say was going to win this fight?" continued the
jockey, cocking his head with an air of shrewdness, which said as plainly
as words, "You are the one to tell if you will only say."
Shere Ali expanded. Deference and flattery, however gross, so long as
they came from white people were balm to his wounded vanity. The weeks in
Calcutta had worked more harm than Ralston had suspected. Shy of meeting
those who had once treated him as an equal, imagining when he did meet
them that now they only admitted him to their company on sufferance and
held him in their thoughts of no account, he had become avid for
recognition among the riff-raff of the town.
"I have backed the man from Singapore," he replied, "I know him. The
soldier is a stranger to me"; and gradually as he talked the voices of
his two neighbours forced themselves upon his consciousness. It was not
what they said which caught his attention. But their accents and the
pitch of their voices arrested him, and swept him back to his days at
Eton and at Oxford. He turned his head and looked carelessly towards
them. They were both young; both a year ago might have been his intimates
and friends. As it was, he imagined bitterly, they probably resented his
sitting even in the next chair to them.
The stage was now clear; the two sailors had departed, the audience sat
waiting for the heroes of the evening and calling for them with impatient
outbursts of applause. Shere Ali waited too. But there was no impatience
on his part, as there was no enthusiasm. He was just getting through the
evening; and this hot and crowded den, with its glitter of lights,
promised a thrill of excitement which would for a moment lift him from
the torture of his thoughts.
But the antagonists still lingered in their dressing-rooms while their
trainers put the final touch to their preparations. And while the
antagonists lingered, the two young men next to him began again to talk,
and this time the words fell on Shere Ali's ears.
"I think it ought to be stopped," said one. "It can't be good for us. Of
course the fellow who runs the circus doesn't care, although he is an
Englishman, and although he must have understood what was being shouted."
"He is out for money, of course," replied the other.
"Yes. But not half a mile away, just across the Maidan there, is
Government House. Surely it ought to be stopped."
The speaker was evidently serious. He spoke, indeed, with some heat.
Shere Ali wondered indifferently what it was that went on in the circus
in the Maidan half a mile from the Government House. Something which
ought to be stopped, something which could not be "good for us." Shere
Ali clenched his hands in a gust of passion. How well he knew the
phrase! Good for us, good for the magic of British prestige! How often
he had used the words himself in the days when he had been fool enough
to believe that he belonged to the white people. He had used it in the
company of just such youths as those who sat next to him now, and he
writhed in his seat as he imagined how they must have laughed at him in
their hearts. What was it that was not "good for us" in the circus on
As he wondered there was a burst of applause, and on the opposite side of
the ring the soldier, stripped to the waist, entered with his two
assistants. Shere Ali was sitting close to the lower corner of the ring
on the right-hand side of the stage; the soldier took his seat in the
upper corner on the other side. He was a big, heavily-built man, but
young, active, and upon his open face he had a look of confidence. It
seemed to Shere Ali that he had been trained to the very perfection of
his strength, and when he moved the muscles upon his shoulders and back
worked under his skin as though they lived. Shouts greeted him, shouts in
which his surname and his Christian name and his nicknames were mingled,
and he smiled pleasantly back at his friends. Shere Ali looked at him.
From his cheery, honest face to the firm set of his feet upon the floor,
he was typical of his class and race.
"Oh, I hope he'll be beaten!"
Shere Ali found himself repeating the words in a whisper. The wish had
suddenly sprung up within him, but it grew in intensity; it became a
great longing. He looked anxiously for the appearance of the Jew from
Singapore. He was glad that, knowing little of either man, he had laid
his money against the soldier.
Meanwhile the two youths beside him resumed their talk, and Shere Ali
learned what it was that was not "good for us"!
"There were four girls," said the youth who had been most indignant.
"Four English girls dancing a _pas de quatre_ on the sand of the circus.
The dance was all right, the dresses were all right. In an English
theatre no one would have had a word to say. It was the audience that was
wrong. The cheaper parts at the back of the tent were crowded with
natives, tier above tier--and I tell you--I don't know much Hindustani,
but the things they shouted made my blood boil. After all, if you are
going to be the governing race it's not a good thing to let your women be
Shere Ali laughed quietly. He could picture to himself the whole scene,
the floor of the circus, the tiers of grinning faces rising up against
the back walls of the tent.
"Did the girls themselves mind?" asked the other of the youths.
"They didn't understand." And again the angry utterance followed. "It
ought to be stopped! It ought to be stopped!"
Shere Ali turned suddenly upon the speaker.
"Why?" he asked fiercely, and he thrust a savage face towards him.
The young man was taken by surprise; for a second it warmed Shere Ali to
think that he was afraid. And, indeed, there was very little of the
civilised man in Shere Ali's look at this moment. His own people were
claiming him. It was one of the keen grim tribesmen of the hills who
challenged the young Englishman. The Englishman, however, was not afraid.
He was merely disconcerted by the unexpected attack. He recovered his
composure the next moment.
"I don't think that I was speaking to you," he said quietly, and then
Shere Ali half rose in his seat. But he was not yet quite emancipated
from the traditions of his upbringing. To create a disturbance in a
public place, to draw all eyes upon himself, to look a fool, eventually
to be turned ignominiously into the street--all this he was within an
ace of doing and suffering, but he refrained. He sat down again
quickly, feeling hot and cold with shame, just as he remembered he had
been wont to feel when he had committed some gaucherie in his early
days in England.
At that moment the light-weight champion from Singapore came out from his
dressing-room and entered the ring. He was of a slighter build than his
opponent, but very quick upon his feet. He was shorter, too. Colonel Joe
introduced the antagonists to the audience, standing before the
footlights as he did so. And it was at once evident who was the
favourite. The shouts were nearly all for the soldier.
The Jew took his seat in a chair down in the corner where Shere Ali
was sitting, and Shere Ali leaned over the ropes and whispered to
"Win! Win! I'll double the stake if you do!"
The Jew turned and smiled at the young Prince.
"I'll do my best."
Shere Ali leaned back in his chair and the fight began. He followed it
with an excitement and a suspense which were astonishing even to him.
When the soldier brought his fist home upon the prominent nose of the
Singapore champion and plaudits resounded through the house, his heart
sank with bitter disappointment. When the Jew replied with a dull
body-blow, his hopes rebounded. He soon began to understand that in the
arts of prize-fighting the soldier was a child compared with the man from
Singapore. The Champion of the East knew his trade. He was as hard as
iron. The sounding blows upon his forehead and nose did no more than
flush his face for a few moments. Meanwhile he struck for the body.
Moreover, he had certain tricks which lured his antagonist to an
imprudent confidence. For instance, he breathed heavily from the
beginning of the second round, as though he were clean out of condition.
But each round found him strong and quick to press an advantage. After
one blow, which toppled his opponent through the ropes, Shere Ali clapped
"Bravo!" he cried; and one of the youths at his side said to his
"This fellow's a Jew, too. Look at his face."
For twelve rounds the combatants seemed still to be upon equal terms,
though those in the audience who had knowledge began to shake their heads
over the chances of the soldier. Shere Ali, however, was still racked by
suspense. The fight had become a symbol, almost a message to him, even as
his gift to the Mullah had become a message to the people of Chiltistan.
All that he had once loved, and now furiously raged against, was
represented by the soldier, the confident, big, heavily built soldier,
while, on the other hand, by the victory of the Jew all the subject
peoples would be vindicated. More and more as the fight fluctuated from
round to round the people and the country of Chiltistan claimed its own.
The soldier represented even those youths at his side, whose women must
on no account be insulted.
"Why should they be respected?" he cried to himself.
For at the bottom of his heart lay the thought that he had been set aside
as impossible by Violet Oliver. There was the real cause of his
bitterness against the white people. He still longed for Violet Oliver,
still greatly coveted her. But his own people and his own country were
claiming him; and he longed for her in a different way. Chivalry--the
chivalry of the young man who wants to guard and cherish--respect, the
desire that the loved one should share ambitions, life work, all--what
follies and illusions these things were!
"I know," said Shere Ali to himself. "I know. I am myself the victim of
them," and he lowered his head and clasped his hands tightly together
between his knees. He forgot the prize-fight, the very sound of the
pugilists' feet upon the bare boards of the stage ceased to be audible to
his ears. He ached like a man bruised and beaten; he was possessed with a
sense of loneliness, poignant as pain. "If I had only taken the easier
way, bought and never cared!" he cried despairingly. "But at all events
there's no need for respect. Why should one respect those who take and do
As he asked himself the question, there came a roar from the audience. He
looked up. The soldier was standing, but he was stooping and the fingers
of one hand touched the boards. Over against the soldier the man from
Singapore stood waiting with steady eyes, and behind the ropes Colonel
Joe was counting in a loud voice:
"One, two, three, four."
Shere Ali's eyes lit up. Would the soldier rise? Would he take the tips
of those fingers from the floor, stand up again and face his man? Or was
"Five, six, seven, eight"--the referee counted, his voice rising above
the clamour of voices. The audience had risen, men stood upon their
benches, cries of expostulation were shouted to the soldier.
"Nine, ten," counted the referee, and the fight was over. The soldier had
been counted out.
Shere Ali was upon his feet like the rest of the enthusiasts.
"Well done!" he cried. "Well done!" and as the Jew came back to his
corner Shere Ali shook him excitedly by the hand. The sign had been
given; the subject race had beaten the soldier. Shere Ali was livid with
excitement. Perhaps, indeed, the young Englishmen had been right, and
some dim racial sympathy stirred Shere Ali to his great enthusiasm.
SHERE ALI IS CLAIMED BY CHILTISTAN
While these thoughts were seething in his mind, while the excitement was
still at its height, the cries still at their loudest, Shere All heard a
quiet penetrating voice speak in his ear. And the voice spoke in Pushtu.
The mere sound of the language struck upon Shere Ali's senses at that
moment of exultation with a strange effect. He thrilled to it from head
to foot. He heard it with a feeling of joy. And then he took note of the
"The man who wrote to your Highness from Calcutta waits outside the
doors. As you stand under the gas lamps, take your handkerchief from your
pocket if you wish to speak with him."
Shere Ali turned back from the ropes. But the spectators were already
moving from their chairs to the steps which led from the stage to the
auditorium. There was a crowd about those steps, and Shere Ali could not
distinguish among it the man who was likely to have whispered in his ear.
All seemed bent upon their own business, and that business was to escape
from the close heat-laden air of the building as quickly as might be.
Shere Ali stood alone and pondered upon the words.
The man who had written to him from Calcutta! That was the man who had
sent the anonymous letter which had caused him one day to pass through
the Delhi Gate of Lahore. A money-lender at Calcutta, but a countryman
from Chiltistan. So he had gathered from Safdar Khan, while heaping scorn
upon the message.
But now, and on this night of all nights, Shere Ali was in a mood to
listen. There were intrigues on foot--there were always intrigues on
foot. But to-night he would weigh those intrigues. He went out from the
music-hall, and under the white glare of the electric lamps above the
door he stood for a moment in full view. Then he deliberately took his
handkerchief from his pocket. From the opposite side of the road, a man
in native dress, wearing a thick dark cloak over his white shirt and
pyjamas, stepped forward. Shere Ali advanced to meet him.
"Huzoor, huzoor," said the man, bending low, and he raised Shere Ali's
hand and pressed his forehead upon it, in sign of loyalty.
"You wish to speak to me?" said Shere Ali.
"If your Highness will deign to follow. I am Ahmed Ismail. Your Highness
has heard of me, no doubt."
Shere Ali did not so much as smile, nor did he deny the statement. He
nodded gravely. After all, vanity was not the prerogative of his people
alone in all the world.
"Yes," he said, "I will follow."
Ahmed Ismail crossed the road once more out of the lights into the
shadows, and walked on, keeping close to the lines of houses. Shere Ali
followed upon his heels. But these two were not alone to take that road.
A third man, a Bengali, bespectacled, and in appearance most respectable,
came down the steps of the musichall, a second after Shere Ali had
crossed the road. He, too, had been a witness of the prize-fight. He
hurried after Shere Ali and caught him up.
"Very good fight, sir," he said. "Would Prince of Chiltistan like to
utter some few welcome words to great Indian public on extraordinary
skill of respective pugilists? I am full-fledged reporter of _Bande
Mataram_, great Nationalist paper."
He drew out a note-book and a pencil as he spoke. Ahmed Ismail stopped
and turned back towards the two men. The Babu looked once, and only once,
at the money-lender. Then he stood waiting for Shere Ali's answer.
"No, I have nothing to say," said Shere Ali civilly. "Good-night," and he
"Great disappointment for Indian public," said the Bengali. "Prince of
Chiltistan will say nothing. I make first-class leading article on
reticence of Indian Prince in presence of high-class spectacular events.
Good-night, sir," and the Babu shut up his book and fell back.
Shere Ali followed upon the heels of Ahmed Ismail. The money-lender
walked down the street to the Maidan, and then turned to the left. The
Babu, on the other hand, hailed a third-class gharry and, ascending into
it gave the driver some whispered instructions.
The gharry drove on past the Bengal Club, and came, at length, to the
native town. At the corner of a street the Babu descended, paid the
driver, and dismissed him.
"I will walk the rest of the way," he said. "My home is quite near and a
little exercise is good. I have large varicose veins in the legs, or I
should have tramped hand and foot all the way."
He walked slowly until the driver had turned his gharry and was driving
back. Then, for a man afflicted with varicose veins the Babu displayed
amazing agility. He ran through the silent and deserted street until he
came to a turning. The lane which ran into the main road was a blind
alley. Mean hovels and shuttered booths flanked it, but at the end a tall
house stood. The Babu looked about him and perceived a cart standing in
the lane. He advanced to it and looked in.
"This is obvious place for satisfactory concealment," he said, as with
some difficulty he clambered in. Over the edge of the cart he kept watch.
In a while he heard the sound of a man walking. The man was certainly at
some distance from the turning, but the Babu's head went down at once.
The man whose footsteps he heard was wearing boots, but there would be
one walking in front of that man who was wearing slippers--Ahmed Ismail.
Ahmed Ismail, indeed, turned an instant afterwards into the lane, passed
the cart and walked up to the door of the big house. There he halted, and
Shere Ali joined him.
"The gift was understood, your Highness," he said. "The message was sent
from end to end of Chiltistan."
"What gift?" asked Shere Ali, in genuine surprise.
"Your Highness has forgotten? The melons and the bags of grain."
Shere Ali was silent for a few moments. Then he said:
"And how was the gift interpreted?"
Ahmed Ismail smiled in the darkness.
"There are wise men in Chiltistan, and they found the riddle easy to
read. The melons were the infidels which would be cut to pieces, even as
a knife cuts a melon. The grain was the army of the faithful."
Again Shere Ali was silent. He stood with his eyes upon his companion.
"Thus they understand my gift to the Mullah?" he said at length.
"Thus they understood it," said Ahmed Ismail. "Were they wrong?" and
since Shere Ali paused before he answered, Ahmed repeated the question,
holding the while the key of his door between his fingers.
"Were they wrong, your Highness?"
"No," said Shere Ali firmly. "They were right."
Ahmed Ismail put the key into the lock. The bolt shot back with a grating
sound, the door opened upon blackness.
"Will your Highness deign to enter?" he said, standing aside.
"Yes," said Shere Ali, and he passed in. His own people, his own country,
had claimed and obtained him.
THE CASTING OF THE DIE
Ahmed Ismail crossed the threshold behind Shere Ali. He closed the door
quietly, bolted and locked it. Then for a space of time the two men stood
silent in the darkness, and both listened intently--Ahmed Ismail for the
sound of someone stirring in the house, Shere Ali for a quiet secret
movement at his elbow. The blackness of the passage gaping as the door
opened had roused him to suspicion even while he had been standing in the
street. But he had not thought of drawing back. He had entered without
fear, just as now he stood, without fear, drawn up against the wall.
There was, indeed, a smile upon his face. Then he reached out his hand.
Ahmed Ismail, who still stood afraid lest any of his family should have
been disturbed, suddenly felt a light touch, like a caress, upon his
face, and then before he could so much as turn his head, five strong lean
fingers gripped him by the throat and tightened.
"Ahmed, I have enemies in Chiltistan," said Shere Ali, between a whisper
and a laugh. "The son of Abdulla Mohammed, for instance," and he loosened
his grip a little upon Ahmed's throat, but held him still with a straight
arm. Ahmed did not struggle. He whispered in reply:
"I am not of your Highness's enemies. Long ago I gave your Highness a
sign of friendship when I prayed you to pass by the Delhi Gate of
Shere Ali turned Ahmed Ismail towards the inner part of the house and
loosed his neck.
"Go forward, then. Light a lamp," he said, and Ahmed moved noiselessly
along the passage. Shere Ali heard the sound of a door opening upstairs,
and then a pale light gleamed from above. Shere Ali walked to the end of
the passage, and mounting the stairs found Ahmed Ismail in the doorway of
a little room with a lighted lamp in his hand.
"I was this moment coming down," said Ahmed Ismail as he stood aside from
the door. Shere Ali walked in. He crossed to the window, which was
unglazed but had little wooden shutters. These shutters were closed.
Shere Ali opened one and looked out. The room was on the first floor, and
the window opened on to a small square courtyard. A movement of Ahmed
Ismail's brought him swiftly round. He saw the money-lender on his knees
with his forehead to the ground, grovelling before his Prince's feet.
"The time has come, oh, my Lord," he cried in a low, eager voice, and
again, "the time has come."
Shere Ali looked down and pleasure glowed unwontedly within him. He did
not answer, he did not give Ahmed Ismail leave to rise from the ground.
He sated his eyes and his vanity with the spectacle of the man's
abasement. Even his troubled heart ached with a duller pain.
"I have been a fool," he murmured, "I have wasted my years. I have
tortured myself for nothing. Yes, I have been a fool."
A wave of anger swept over him, drowning his pride--anger against
himself. He thought of the white people with whom he had lived.
"I sought for a recognition of my equality with them," he went on. "I
sought it from their men and from their women. I hungered for it like a
dog for a bone. They would not give it--neither their men, nor their
women. And all the while here were my own people willing at a sign to
offer me their homage."
He spoke in Pushtu, and Ahmed Ismail drank in every word.
"They wanted a leader, Huzoor," he said.
"I turned away from them like a fool," replied Shere Ali, "while I sought
favours from the white women like a slave."
"Your Highness shall take as a right what you sought for as a favour."
"As a right?" cried Shere Ali, his heart leaping to the incense of Ahmed
Ismail's flattery. "What right?" he asked, suddenly bending his eyes upon
"The right of a conqueror," cried Ahmed Ismail, and he bowed himself
again at his Prince's feet. He had spoken Shere Ali's wild and secret
thought. But whereas Shere Ali had only whispered it to himself, Ahmed
Ismail spoke it aloud, boldly and with a challenge in his voice, like one
ready to make good his words. An interval of silence followed, a fateful
interval as both men knew. Not a sound from without penetrated into that
little shuttered room, but to Shere Ali it seemed that the air throbbed
and was heavy with unknown things to come. Memories and fancies whirled
in his disordered brain without relation to each other or consequence in
his thoughts. Now it was the two Englishmen seated side by side behind
the ropes and quietly talking of what was "not good for us," as though
they had the whole of India, and the hill-districts, besides, in their
pockets. He saw their faces, and, quietly though he stood and impassive
as he looked, he was possessed with a longing to behold them within
reach, so that he might strike them and disfigure them for ever. Now it
was Violet Oliver as she descended the steps into the great courtyard of
the Fort, dainty and provoking from the arched slipper upon her foot to
the soft perfection of her hair. He saw her caught into the twilight
swirl of pale white faces and so pass from his sight, thinking that at
the same moment she passed from his life. Then it was the Viceroy in his
box at the racecourse and all Calcutta upon the lawn which swept past his
eyes. He saw the Eurasian girls prinked out in their best frocks to lure
into marriage some unwary Englishman. And again it was Colonel Dewes, the
man who had lost his place amongst his own people, even as he, Shere Ali,
had himself. A half-contemptuous smile of pity for a moment softened the
hard lines of his mouth as he thought upon that forlorn and elderly man
taking his loneliness with him into Cashmere.
"That shall not be my way," he said aloud, and the lines of his mouth
hardened again. And once more before his eyes rose the vision of
Ahmed Ismail had risen to his feet and stood watching his Prince with
eager, anxious eyes. Shere Ali crossed to the table and turned down the
lamp, which was smoking. Then he went to the window and thrust the
shutters open. He turned round suddenly upon Ahmed.
"Were you ever in Mecca?"
"Yes, Huzoor," and Ahmed's eyes flashed at the question.
"I met three men from Chiltistan on the Lowari Pass. They were going down
to Kurachi. I, too, must make the pilgrimage to Mecca."
He stood watching the flame of the lamp as he spoke, and spoke in a
monotonous dull voice, as though what he said were of little importance.
But Ahmed Ismail listened to the words, not the voice, and his joy was
great. It was as though he heard a renegade acknowledge once more the
"Afterwards, Huzoor," he said, significantly. "Afterwards." Shere Ali
nodded his head.
"Yes, afterwards. When we have driven the white people down from the
hills into the plains."
"And from the plains into the sea," cried Ahmed Ismail. "The angels will
fight by our side--so the Mullahs have said---and no man who fights with
faith will be hurt. All will be invulnerable. It is written, and the
Mullahs have read the writing and translated it through Chiltistan."
"Is that so?" said Shere Ali, and as he put the question there was an
irony in his voice which Ahmed Ismail was quick to notice. But Shere Ali
put it yet a second time, after a pause, and this time there was no
trace of irony.
"But I will not go alone," he said, suddenly raising his eyes from the
flame of the lamp and looking towards Ahmed Ismail.
Ahmed did not understand. But also he did not interrupt, and Shere Ali
spoke again, with a smile slowly creeping over his face.
"I will not go alone to Mecca. I will follow the example of Sirdar Khan."
The saying was still a riddle to Ahmed Ismail.
"Sirdar Khan, your Highness?" he said. "I do not know him."
Shere Ali turned his eyes again upon the flame of the lamp, and the smile
broadened upon his face, a thing not pleasant to see. He wetted his lips
with the tip of his tongue and told his story.
"Sirdar Khan is dead long since," he said, "but he was one of the five
men of the bodyguard of Nana, who went into the Bibigarh at Cawnpore on
July 12 of the year 1857. Have you heard of that year, Ahmed Ismail, and
of the month and of the day? Do you know what was done that day in the
Bibigarh at Cawnpore?"
Ahmed Ismail watched the light grow in Shere Ali's eyes, and a smile
crept into his face, too.
"Huzoor, Huzoor," he said, in a whisper of delight. He knew very well
what had happened in Cawnpore, though he knew nothing of the month or the
day, and cared little in what year it had happened.
"There were 206 women and children, English women, English children,
shut up in the Bibigarh. At five o'clock--and it is well to remember the
hour, Ahmed Ismail--at five o'clock in the evening the five men of the
Nana's bodyguard went into the Bibigarh and the doors were closed upon
them. It was dark when they came out again and shut the doors behind
them, saying that all were dead. But it was not true. There was an
Englishwoman alive in the Bibigarh, and Sirdar Khan came back in the
night and took her away."
"And she is in Mecca now?" cried Ahmed Ismail.
"Yes. An old, old woman," said Shere Ali, dwelling upon the words with a
quiet, cruel pleasure. He had the picture clear before his eyes, he saw
it in the flame of the lamp at which he gazed so steadily--an old,
wizened, shrunken woman, living in a bare room, friendless and solitary,
so old that she had even ceased to be aware of her unhappiness, and so
coarsened out of all likeness to the young, bright English girl who had
once dwelt in Cawnpore, that even her own countryman had hardly believed
she was of his race. He set another picture side by side with that--the
picture of Violet Oliver as she turned to him on the steps and said,
"This is really good-bye." And in his imagination, he saw the one picture
merge and coarsen into the other, the dainty trappings of lace and
ribbons change to a shapeless cloak, the young face wither from its
beauty into a wrinkled and yellow mask. It would be a just punishment, he
said to himself. Anger against her was as a lust at his heart. He had
lost sight of her kindness, and her pity; he desired her and hated her in
the same breath.
"Are you married, Ahmed Ismail?" he asked.
Ahmed Ismail smiled.
"Do you carry your troubles to your wife? Is she your companion as well
as your wife? Your friend as well as your mistress?"
Ahmed Ismail laughed.
"Yet that is what the Englishwomen are," said Shere Ali.
"Perhaps, Huzoor," replied Ahmed, cunningly, "it is for that reason that
there are some who take and do not give."
He came a little nearer to his Prince.
"Where is she, Huzoor?"
Shere Ali was startled by the question out of his dreams. For it had been
a dream, this thought of capturing Violet Oliver and plucking her out of
her life into his. He had played with it, knowing it to be a fancy. There
had been no settled plan, no settled intention in his mind. But to-night
he was carried away. It appeared to him there was a possibility his dream
might come true. It seemed so not alone to him but to Ahmed Ismail too.
He turned and gazed at the man, wondering whether Ahmed Ismail played
with him or not. But Ahmed bore the scrutiny without a shadow of
"Is she in India, Huzoor?"
Shere Ali hesitated. Some memory of the lessons learned in England was
still alive within him, bidding him guard his secret. But the memory was
no longer strong enough. He bowed his head in assent.
"Your Highness shall point her out to me one evening as she drives in the
Maidan," said Ahmed Ismail, and again Shere Ali answered--
But he caught himself back the next moment. He flung away from Ahmed
Ismail with a harsh outburst of laughter.
"But this is all folly," he cried. "We are not in the days of the
uprising," for thus he termed now what a month ago he would have called
"The Mutiny." "Cawnpore is not Calcutta," and he turned in a gust of fury
upon Ahmed Ismail. "Do you play with me, Ahmed Ismail?"
"Upon my head, no! Light of my life, hope of my race, who would dare?"
and he was on the ground at Shere Ali's feet. "Do I indeed speak follies?
I pray your Highness to bethink you that the summer sets its foot upon
the plains. She will go to the hills, Huzoor. She will go to the hills.
And your people are not fools. They have cunning to direct their
strength. See, your Highness, is there a regiment in Peshawur whose
rifles are safe, guard them howsoever carefully they will? Every week
they are brought over the hills into Chiltistan that we may be ready for
the Great Day," and Ahmed Ismail chuckled to himself. "A month ago,
Huzoor, so many rifles had been stolen that a regiment in camp locked
their rifles to their tent poles, and so thought to sleep in peace. But
on the first night the cords of the tents were cut, and while the men
waked and struggled under the folds of canvas, the tent poles with the
rifles chained to them were carried away. All those rifles are now in
Kohara. Surely, Huzoor, if they can steal the rifles from the middle of a
camp, they can steal a weak girl among the hills."
Ahmed Ismail waited in suspense, with his forehead bowed to the ground,
and when the answer came he smiled. He had made good use of this
unexpected inducement which had been given to him. He knew very well that
nothing but an unlikely chance would enable him to fulfil his promise.
But that did not matter. The young Prince would point out the
Englishwoman in the Maidan and, at a later time when all was ready in
Chiltistan, a fine and obvious attempt should be made to carry her off.
The pretence might, if occasion served, become a reality, to be sure, but
the attempt must be as public as possible. There must be no doubt as to
its author. Shere Ali, in a word, must be committed beyond any
possibility of withdrawal. Ahmed Ismail himself would see to that.
"Very well. I will point her out to you," said Shere Ali, and Ahmed
Ismail rose to his feet. He waited before his master, silent and
respectful. Shere Ali had no suspicion that he was being jockeyed by that
respectful man into a hopeless rebellion. He had, indeed, lost sight of
the fact that the rebellion must be hopeless.
"When," he asked, "will Chiltistan be ready?"
"As soon as the harvest is got in," replied Ahmed Ismail.
Shere Ali nodded his head.
"You and I will go northwards to-morrow," he said.
"To Kohara?" asked Ahmed Ismail.
For a little while Ahmed Ismail was silent. Then he said: "If your
Highness will allow his servant to offer a contemptible word of advice--"
"Speak," said Shere Ali.
"Then it might be wise, perhaps, to go slowly to Kohara. Your Highness
has enemies in Chiltistan. The news of the melons and the bags of grain
is spread abroad, and jealousy is aroused. For there are some who wish to
lead when they should serve."
"The son of Abdulla Mohammed," said Shere Ali.
Ahmed Ismail shrugged his shoulders as though the son of Abdulla Mohammed
were of little account. There was clearly another in his mind, and Shere
Ali was quick to understand him.
"My father," he said quietly. He remembered how his father had received
him with his Snider rifle cocked and laid across his knees. This time the
Snider would be fired if ever Shere Ali came within range of its bullet.
But it was unlikely that he would get so far, unless he went quickly and
secretly at an appointed time.
"I had a poor foolish thought," said Ahmed Ismail, "not worthy a moment's
consideration by my Prince."
Shere Ali broke in impatiently upon his words.
"If we travelled slowly to Ajmere, we should come to that town at the
time of pilgrimage. There in secret the final arrangements can be made,
so that the blow may fall upon an uncovered head."
"The advice is good," said Shere Ali. But he spoke reluctantly. He wanted
not to wait at all. He wanted to strike now while his anger was at its
hottest. But undoubtedly the advice was good.
Ahmed Ismail, carrying the light in his hand, went down the stairs before
Shere Ali and along the passage to the door. There he extinguished the
lamp and cautiously drew back the bolts. He looked out and saw that the
street was empty.
"There is no one," he said, and Shere Ali passed out to the mouth of the
blind alley and turned to the left towards the Maidan. He walked
thoughtfully and did not notice a head rise cautiously above the side of
a cart in the mouth of the alley. It was the head of the reporter of
Bande Mataram, whose copy would be assuredly too late for the press.
Shere Ali walked on through the streets. It was late, and he met no one.
There had come upon him during the last hours a great yearning for his
own country. He ran over in his mind, with a sense of anger against
himself, the miserable wasted weeks in Calcutta--the nights in the
glaring bars and halls, the friends he had made, the depths in which he
had wallowed. He came to the Maidan, and, standing upon that empty plain,
gazed round on the great silent city. He hated it, with its statues of
Viceroys and soldiers, its houses of rich merchants, its insolence. He
would lead his own people against all that it symbolised. Perhaps, some
day, when all the frontier was in flame, and the British power rolled
back, he and his people might pour down from the hills and knock even
against the gates of Calcutta. Men from the hills had come down to Tonk,
and Bhopal, and Rohilcund, and Rampur, and founded kingdoms for
themselves. Why should he and his not push on to Calcutta?
He bared his head to the night wind. He was uplifted, and fired with mad,
impossible dreams. All that he had learned was of little account to him
now. It might be that the English, as Colonel Dewes had said, had
something of an army. Let them come to Chiltistan and prove their boast.
"I will go north to the hills," he cried, and with a shock he understood
that, after all, he had recovered his own place. The longing at his heart
was for his own country--for his own people. It might have been bred of
disappointment and despair. Envy of the white people might have cradled
it, desire for the white woman might have nursed it into strength. But it
was alive now. That was all of which Shere Ali was conscious. The
knowledge filled all his thoughts. He had his place in the world. Greatly
SHERE ALI'S PILGRIMAGE
There were times when Ralston held aloft his hands and cursed the Indian
administration by all his gods. But he never did so with a more
whole-hearted conviction than on the day when he received word that
Linforth had been diverted to Rawal Pindi, in order that he might take up
purely military duties. It took Ralston just seven months to secure his
release, and it was not until the early days of autumn had arrived that
Linforth at last reached Peshawur. A landau, with a coachman and groom in
scarlet liveries, was waiting for him at the station, and he drove along
the broad road through the cantonment to Government House. As the
carriage swung in at the gates, a tall, thin man came from the
croquet-ground on the left. He joined Dick in the porch.
"You are Mr. Linforth?" he said.
For a moment a pair of grey, tired eyes ran Dick over from head to foot
in a careless scrutiny. Apparently, however, the scrutiny was favourable.
"I am the Chief Commissioner. I am glad that you have come. My sister
will give you some tea, and afterwards, if you are not tired, we might go
for a ride together. You would like to see your room first."
Ralston spoke with his usual indifference. There was no intonation in his
voice which gave to any one sentence a particular meaning; and for a
particular meaning Dick Linforth was listening with keen ears. He
followed Ralston across the hall to his room, and disappointment gained
upon him with every step. He had grown familiar with disappointment of
late years, but he was still young enough in years and spirit to expect
the end of disappointment with each change in his fortunes. He had
expected it when the news of his appointment had reached him in Calcutta,
and disappointment had awaited him in Bombay. He had expected it again
when, at last, he was sent from Rawal Pindi to Peshawur. All the way up
the line he had been watching the far hills of Cashmere, and repeating to
himself, "At last! At last!"
The words had been a song at his heart, tuned to the jolt and rhythm of
the wheels. Ralston of Peshawur had asked for him. So much he had been
told. His longing had explained to him why Ralston of Peshawur had asked
for him, and easily he had believed the explanation. He was a Linforth,
one of the Linforths of the Road. Great was his pride. He would not have
bartered his position to be a General in command of a division. Ralston
had sent for him because of his hereditary title to work upon the Road,
the broad, permanent, graded Road which was to make India safe.
And now he walked behind a tired and indifferent Commissioner, whose very
voice officialdom had made phlegmatic, and on whose aspect was writ large
the habit of routine. In this mood he sat, while Miss Ralston prattled to
him about the social doings of Peshawur, the hunt, the golf; and in this
mood he rode out with Ralston to the Gate of the City.
They passed through the main street, and, turning to the right, ascended
to an archway, above which rose a tower. At the archway they dismounted
and climbed to the roof of the tower. Peshawur, with its crowded streets,
its open bazaars, its balconied houses of mud bricks built into wooden
frames, lay mapped beneath them. But Linforth's eyes travelled over the
trees and the gardens northwards and eastwards, to where the foothills of
the Himalayas were coloured with the violet light of evening.
"Linforth," Ralston cried. He was leaning on the parapet at the opposite
side of the tower, and Dick crossed and leaned at his side.
"It was I who had you sent for," said Ralston in his dull voice. "When
you were at Chatham, I mean. I worried them in Calcutta until they
sent for you."
Dick took his elbows from the parapet and stood up. His face took life
and fire, there came a brightness as of joy into his eyes. After all,
then, this time he was not to be disappointed.
"I wanted you to come to Peshawur straight from Bombay six months ago,"
Ralston went on. "But I counted without the Indian Government. They
brought you out to India, at my special request, for a special purpose,
and then, when they had got you, they turned you over to work which
anyone else could have done. So six months have been wasted. But that's
their little way."
"You have special work for me?" said Linforth quietly enough, though his
heart was beating quickly in his breast. An answer came which still
quickened its beatings.
"Work that you alone can do," Ralston replied gravely. But he was a man
who had learned to hope for little, and to expect discouragements as his
daily bread, and he added:
"That is, if you can do it."
Linforth did not answer at once. He was leaning with his elbows on the
parapet, and he raised a hand to the side of his face, that side on which
Ralston stood. And so he remained, shutting himself in with his thoughts,
and trying to think soberly. But his head whirled. Below him lay the city
of Peshawur. Behind him the plains came to an end, and straight up from
them, like cliffs out of the sea, rose the dark hills, brown and grey and
veined with white. Here on this tower of Northern India, the long dreams,
dreamed for the first time on the Sussex Downs, and nursed since in every
moment of leisure--in Alpine huts in days of storm, in his own quarters
at Chatham--had come to their fulfilment.
"I have lived for this work," he said in a low voice which shook ever so
little, try as he might to quiet it. "Ever since I was a boy I have lived
for it, and trained myself for it. It is the Road."
Linforth's evident emotion came upon Ralston as an unexpected thing. He
was carried back suddenly to his own youth, and was surprised to
recollect that he, too, had once cherished great plans. He saw himself
as he was to-day, and, side by side with that disillusioned figure, he
saw himself as he had been in his youth. A smile of friendliness came
over his face.
"If I had shut my eyes," he said, "I should have thought it was your
father who was speaking."
Linforth turned quickly to Ralston.
"My father. You knew him?"
"I never did," said Dick regretfully.
Ralston nodded his head and continued:
"Twenty-six years ago we were here in Peshawur together. We came up on
to the top of this tower, as everyone does who comes to Peshawur. He was
like you. He was dreaming night and day of the Great Road through
Chiltistan to the foot of the Hindu Kush. Look!" and Ralston pointed
down to the roof-tops of the city, whereon the women and children worked
and played. For the most part they were enclosed within brick walls, and
the two men looked down into them as you might look in the rooms of a
doll's house by taking off the lid. Ralston pointed to one such open
chamber just beneath their eyes. An awning supported on wooden pillars
sheltered one end of it, and between two of these pillars a child
swooped backwards and forwards in a swing. In the open, a woman, seated
upon a string charpoy, rocked a cradle with her foot, while her hands
were busy with a needle, and an old woman, with a black shawl upon her
shoulders and head, sat near by, inactive. But she was talking. For at
times the younger woman would raise her head, and, though at that
distance no voice could be heard, it was evident that she was answering.
"I remember noticing that roof when your father and I were talking up
here all those years ago. There was just the same family group as you
see now. I remember it quite clearly, for your father went away to
Chiltistan the next day, and never came back. It was the last time I saw
him, and we were both young and full of all the great changes we were to
bring about." He smiled, half it seemed in amusement, half in regret.
"We talked of the Road, of course. Well, there's just one change. The
old woman, sitting there with the shawl upon her shoulders now, was in
those days the young woman rocking the cradle and working with her
needle. That's all. Troubles there have been, disturbances, an
expedition or two--but there's no real change. Here are you talking of
the Road just as your father did, not ambitious for yourself," he
explained with a kindly smile which illumined his whole face, "but
ambitious for the Road, and the Road still stops at Kohara."
"But it will go on--now," cried Linforth.
"Perhaps," said Ralston slowly. Then he stood up and confronted Linforth.
"It was not that you might carry on the Road that I brought you out from
England," he skid. "On the contrary."
Once more disappointment seized upon Dick Linforth, and he found it all
the more bitter in that he had believed a minute since that his dreams
were to be fulfilled. He looked down upon Peshawur, and the words which
Ralston had lately spoken, half in amusement, half with regret, suddenly
took for him their full meaning. Was it true that there was no change
but the change from the young woman to the old one, from enthusiasm to
acquiescence? He was young, and the possibility chilled him and even
inspired him with a kind of terror. Was he to carry the Road no further
than his father had done? Would another Linforth in another generation
come to the tower in Peshawur with hopes as high as his and with the
"On the contrary?" he asked. "Then why?"
"That you might stop the Road from going on," said Ralston quietly.
In the very midst of his disappointment Linforth realised that he had
misjudged his companion. Here was no official, here was a man. The
attitude of indifference had gone, the air of lassitude with it. Here was
a man quietly exacting the hardest service which it was in his power to
exact, claiming it as a right, and yet making it clear by some subtle
sympathy that he understood very well all that the service would cost to
the man who served.
"I am to hinder the making of that Road?" cried Linforth.
"You are to do more. You are to prevent it."
"I have lived so that it should be made."
"So you have told me," said Ralston quietly, and Dick was silent. With
each quiet sentence Ralston had become more and more the dominating
figure. He was so certain, so assured. Linforth recognised him no longer
as the man to argue with; but as the representative of Government which
overrides predilections, sympathies, ambitions, and bends its servants to
"I will tell you more," Ralston continued. "You alone can prevent the
extension of the Road. I believe it--I know it. I sent to England for
you, knowing it. Do your duty, and it may be that the Road will stop at
Kohara--an unfinished, broken thing. Flinch, and the Road runs straight
to the Hindu Kush. You will have your desire; but you will have failed."
There was something implacable and relentless in the tone and the words.
There was more, too. There was an intimation, subtly yet most clearly
conveyed, that Ralston who spoke had in his day trampled his ambitions
and desires beneath his feet in service to the Government, and asked no
more now from Linforth than he himself had in his turn performed. "I,
too, have lived in Arcady," he added. It twas this last intimation which
subdued the protests in Linforth's mind. He looked at the worn face of
the Commissioner, then he lifted his eyes and swept the horizon with his
gaze. The violet light upon the hills had lost its brightness and its
glamour. In the far distance the hills themselves were withdrawn.
Somewhere in that great barrier to the east was the gap of the Malakand
Pass, where the Road now began. Linforth turned away from the hills
"What must I do?" he asked simply.
Ralston nodded his head. His attitude relaxed, his voice lost its
"What you have to understand is this," he explained. "To drive the Road
through Chiltistan means war. It would be the cause of war if we insisted
upon it now, just as it was the cause of war when your father went up
from Peshawur twenty-six years ago. Or it might be the consequence of
war. If the Chiltis rose in arms, undoubtedly we should carry it on to
secure control of the country in the future. Well, it is the last
alternative that we are face to face with now."
"The Chiltis might rise!" cried Linforth.
"There is that possibility," Ralston returned. "We don't mean on our own
account to carry on the Road; but the Chiltis might rise."
"And how should I prevent them?" asked Dick Linforth in perplexity.
"You know Shere Ali?" said Ralston
"You are a friend of his?"
"A great friend. His chief friend?"
"You have some control over him?"
"I think so," said Linforth.
"Very well," said Ralston. "You must use that control."
Linforth's perplexity increased. That danger should come from Shere
Ali--here was something quite incredible. He remembered their long talks,
their joint ambition. A day passed in the hut in the Promontoire of the
Meije stood out vividly in his memories. He saw the snow rising in a
swirl of white over the Breche de la Meije, that gap in the rock-wall
between the Meije and the Rateau, and driving down the glacier towards
the hut. He remembered the eagerness, the enthusiasm of Shere Ali.
"But he's loyal," Linforth cried. "There is no one in India more loyal."
"He was loyal, no doubt," said Ralston, with a shrug of his shoulders,
and, beginning with his first meeting with Shere Ali in Lahore, he told
Linforth all that he knew of the history of the young Prince.
"There can be no doubt," he said, "of his disloyalty," and he recounted
the story of the melons and the bags of grain. "Since then he has been
intriguing in Calcutta."
"Is he in Calcutta now?" Linforth asked.
"No," said Ralston. "He left Calcutta just about the time when you landed
in Bombay. And there is something rather strange--something, I think,
very disquieting in his movements since he left Calcutta. I have had him
watched, of course. He came north with one of his own countrymen, and the
pair of them have been seen at Cawnpore, at Lucknow, at Delhi."
Ralston paused. His face had grown very grave, very troubled.
"I am not sure," he said slowly. "It is difficult, however long you stay
in India, to get behind these fellows' minds, to understand the thoughts
and the motives which move them. And the longer you stay, the more
difficult you realise it to be. But it looks to me as if Shere Ali had
been taken by his companion on a sort of pilgrimage."
"A pilgrimage!" and he added slowly, "I think I understand. A pilgrimage
to all the places which could most inflame the passions of a native
against the English race," and then he broke out in protest. "But it's
impossible. I know Shere Ali. It's not reasonable--"
Ralston interrupted him upon the utterance of the word.
"Reasonable!" he cried. "You are in India. Do ever white men act
reasonably in India?" and he turned with a smile. "There was a
great-uncle of yours in the days of the John Company, wasn't there? Your
father told me about him here on this tower. When his time was up, he
sent his money home and took his passage, and then came back--came back
to the mountains and disappeared. Very likely he may be sitting somewhere
beyond that barrier of hills by a little shrine to this hour, an old, old
man, reverenced as a saint, with a strip of cloth about his loins, and
forgetful of the days when he ruled a district in the Plains. I should
not wonder. It's not a reasonable country."
Ralston, indeed, was not far out in his judgment. Ahmed Ismail had
carried Shere Ali off from Calcutta. He had taken him first of all to
Cawnpore, and had led him up to the gate of the enclosure, wherein are
the Bibigarh, where the women and children were massacred, and the well
into which their bodies were flung. An English soldier turned them back
from that enclosure, refusing them admittance. Ahmed Ismail, knowing
well that it would be so, smiled quietly under his moustache; but Shere
Ali angrily pointed to some English tourists who were within the
"Why should we remain outside?" he asked.
"They are Bilati," said Ahmed Ismail in a smooth voice as they moved
away. "They are foreigners. The place is sacred to the foreigners. It is
Indian soil; but the Indian may not walk on it; no, not though he were
born next door. Yet why should we grumble or complain? We are the dirt
beneath their feet. We are dogs and sons of dogs, and a hireling will
turn our Princes from the gate lest the soles of our shoes should defile
their sacred places. And are they not right, Huzoor?" he asked cunningly.
"Since we submit to it, since we cringe at their indignities and fawn
upon them for their insults, are they not right?"
"Why, that's true, Ahmed Ismail," replied Shere Ali bitterly. He was in
the mood to make much of any trifle. This reservation of the enclosure at
Cawnpore was but one sign of the overbearing arrogance of the foreigners,
the Bilati--the men from over the sea. He had fawned upon them himself in
the days of his folly.
"But turn a little, Huzoor," Ahmed whispered in his ear, and led him
back. "Look! There is the Bibigarh where the women were imprisoned. That
is the house. Through that opening Sirdar Khan and his four companions
went--and shut the door behind them. In that room the women of Mecca
knelt and prayed for mercy. Come away, Huzoor. We have seen. Those were
days when there were men upon the plains of India."
And Shere Ali broke out with a fierce oath.
"Amongst the hills, at all events, there are men today. There is no
sacred ground for them in Chiltistan."
"Not even the Road?" asked Ahmed Ismail; and Shere Ali stopped dead,
and stared at his companion with startled eyes. He walked away in
silence after that; and for the rest of that day he said little to
Ahmed Ismail, who watched him anxiously. At night, however, Ahmed was
justified of his policy. For Shere Ali appeared before him in the white
robes of a Mohammedan. Up till then he had retained the English dress.
Now he had discarded it. Ahmed Ismail fell at his feet, and bowed
himself to the ground.
"My Lord! My Lord!" he cried, and there was no simulation in his outburst
of joy. "Would that your people could behold you now! But we have much to
see first. To-morrow we go to Lucknow."
Accordingly the two men travelled the next day to Lucknow. Shere Ali was
led up under the broken archway by Evans's Battery into the grounds of
the Residency. He walked with Ahmed Ismail at his elbow on the green
lawns where the golden-crested hoopoes flashed in the sunlight and the
ruined buildings stood agape to the air. They looked peaceful enough, as
they strolled from one battery to another, but all the while Ahmed Ismail
preached his sermon into Shere Ali's ears. There Lawrence had died; here
at the top of the narrow lane had stood Johannes's house whence Nebo the
Nailer had watched day after day with his rifle in his hand. Hardly a
man, be he never so swift, could cross that little lane from one quarter
of the Residency to another, so long as daylight lasted and so long as
Nebo the Nailer stood behind the shutters of Johannes's house. Shere Ali
was fired by the story of that siege. By so little was the garrison
saved. Ahmed Ismail led him down to a corner of the grounds and once more
a sentry barred the way.
"This is the graveyard," said Ahmed Ismail, and Shere Ali, looking up,
stepped back with a look upon his face which Ahmed Ismail did not
"Huzoor!" he said anxiously, and Shere Ali turned upon him with an
"Silence, dog!" he cried. "Stand apart. I wish to be alone."
His eyes were on the little church with the trees and the wall girding
it in. At the side a green meadow with high trees, had the look of a
playing-ground--the playing-ground of some great public school in
England. Shere Ali's eyes took in the whole picture, and then saw it but
dimly through a mist. For the little church, though he had never seen it
before, was familiar and most moving. It was a model of the Royal Chapel
at Eton, and, in spite of himself, as he gazed the tears filled his eyes
and the memory of his schooldays ached at his heart. He yearned to be
back once more in the shadow of that chapel with his comrades and his
friends. Not yet had he wholly forgotten; he was softened out of his
bitterness; the burden of his jealousy and his anger fell for awhile
from his shoulders. When he rejoined Ahmed Ismail, he bade him follow
and speak no word. He drove back to the town, and then only he spoke to
"We will go from Lucknow to-day," he said. "I will not sleep in
"As your Highness wills," said Ahmed Ismail humbly, and he went into the
station and bought tickets for Delhi. It was on a Thursday morning that
the pair reached that town; and that day Ahmed Ismail had an unreceptive
listener for his sermons. The monument before the Post Office, the
tablets on the arch of the arsenal, even the barracks in the gardens of
the Moghul Palace fired no antagonism in the Prince, who so short a time
ago had been a boy at Eton. The memories evoked by the little church at
Lucknow had borne him company all night and still clung to him that day.
He was homesick for his school. Only twice was he really roused.
The first instance took place when he was driving along the Chandni
Chauk, the straight broad tree-fringed street which runs from the Lahore
Gate to the Fort. Ahmed Ismail sat opposite to him, and, leaning forward,
he pointed to a tree and to a tall house in front of the tree.
"My Lord," said he, "could that tree speak, what groans would one hear!"
"Why?" said Shere Ali listlessly.
"Listen, your Highness," said Ahmed Ismail. Like the rest of his
countrymen, he had a keen love for a story. And the love was the keener
when he himself had the telling of it. He sat up alertly. "In that house
lived an Englishman of high authority. He escaped when Delhi was seized
by the faithful. He came back when Delhi was recaptured by the infidels.
And there he sat with an English officer, at his window, every morning
from eight to nine. And every morning from eight to nine every native who
passed his door was stopped and hanged upon that tree, while he looked
on. Huzoor, there was no inquiry. It might be some peaceable merchant,
some poor man from the countryside. What did it matter? There was a
lesson to be taught to this city. And so whoever walked down the Chandni
Chauk during that hour dangled from those branches. Huzoor, for a week
this went on--for a whole week."
The story was current in Delhi. Ahmed Ismail found it to his hand, and
Shere Ali did not question it. He sat up erect, and something of the
fire which this last day had been extinct kindled again in his sombre
eyes. Later on he drove along the sinuous road on the top of the ridge,
and as he looked over Delhi, hidden amongst its foliage, he saw the
great white dome of the Jumma Musjid rising above the tree-tops, like a
balloon. "The Mosque," he said, standing up in his carriage. "To-morrow
we will worship there."
Before noon the next day he mounted the steep broad flight of steps and
passed under the red sandstone arch into the vast enclosure. He performed
his ablutions at the fountain, and, kneeling upon the marble tiles,
waited for the priest to ascend the ladder on to the wooden platform. He
knelt with Ahmed Ismail at his side, in the open, amongst the lowliest.
In front of him rows of worshippers knelt and bowed their foreheads to
the tiles--rows and rows covering the enclosure up to the arches of the
mosque itself. There were others too--rows and rows within the arches, in
the dusk of the mosque itself, and from man to man emotion passed like a
spark upon the wind. The crowd grew denser, there came a suspense, a
tension. It gained upon all, it laid its clutch upon Shere Ali. He ceased
to think, even upon his injuries, he was possessed with expectancy. And
then a man kneeling beside him interrupted his prayers and began to curse
fiercely beneath his breath.
"May they burn, they and their fathers and their children, to the last
generation!" And he added epithets of a surprising ingenuity. The while
he looked backwards over his shoulder.
Shere Ali followed his example. He saw at the back of the enclosure, in
the galleries which surmounted the archway and the wall, English men and
English women waiting. Shere Ali's blood boiled at the sight. They were
laughing, talking. Some of them had brought sandwiches and were eating
their lunch. Others were taking photographs with their cameras. They were
waiting for the show to begin.
Shere Ali followed the example of his neighbour and cursed them. All his
anger kindled again and quickened into hatred. They were so careful of
themselves, so careless of others!
"Not a Mohammedan," he cried to himself, "must set foot in their
graveyard at Lucknow, but they come to our mosque as to a show."
Suddenly he saw the priest climb the ladder on to the high wooden
platform in front of the central arch of the mosque and bow his forehead
to the floor. His voice rang out resonant and clear and confident over
that vast assemblage.
"There is only one God."
And a shiver passed across the rows of kneeling men, as though
unexpectedly a wind had blown across a ripe field of corn. Shere Ali was
moved like the rest, but all the while at the back of his mind there was
the thought of those white people in the galleries.
"They are laughing at us, they are making a mock of us, they think we
are of no account." And fiercely he called upon his God, the God of the
Mohammedans, to root them out from the land and cast them as weeds in
The priest stood up erect upon the platform, and with a vibrating voice,
now plaintive and conveying some strange sense of loneliness, now loud in
praise, now humble in submission, he intoned the prayers. His voice rose
and sank, reverberating back over the crowded courtyard from the walls of
the mosque. Shere Ali prayed too, but he prayed silently, with all the
fervour of a fanatic, that it might be his hand which should drive the
English to their ships upon the sea.
When he rose and came out from the mosque he turned to Ahmed Ismail.
"There are some of my people in Delhi?"
Ahmed Ismail bowed.
"Let us go to them," said Shere Ali; he sought refuge amongst them from
the thought of those people in the galleries. Ahmed Ismail was well
content with the results of his pilgrimage. Shere Ali, as he paced the
streets of Delhi with a fierce rapt look in his eyes, had the very aspect
of a Ghazi fresh from the hills and bent upon murder and immolation.
NEWS FROM AJMERE
Something of this pilgrimage Ralston understood; and what he understood
he explained to Dick Linforth on the top of the tower at Peshawur.
Linforth, however, was still perplexed, still unconvinced.
"I can't believe it," he cried; "I know Shere Ali so well."
Ralston shook his head.
"England overlaid the real man with a pretty varnish," he said. "That's
all it ever does. And the varnish peels off easily when the man comes
back to an Indian sun. There's not one of these people from the hills but
has in him the makings of a fanatic. It's a question of circumstances
whether the fanaticism comes to the top or not. Given the circumstances,
neither Eton, nor Oxford, nor all the schools and universities rolled
into one would hinder the relapse."
"But why?" exclaimed Linforth. "Why should Shere Ali have relapsed?"
"Disappointment here, flattery in England--there are many reasons.
Usually there's a particular reason."
"And what is that?" asked Linforth.
"The love of a white woman."
Ralston was aware that Linforth at his side started. He started ever so
slightly. But Ralston was on the alert. He made no sign, however, that he
had noticed anything.
"I know that reason held good in Shere Ali's case," Ralston went on;
and there came a change in Linforth's voice. It grew rather stern,
"Why? Has he talked?"
"Not that I know of. Nevertheless, I am sure that there was one who
played a part in Shere Ali's life," said Ralston. "I have known it ever
since I first met him--more than a year ago on his way northwards to
Chiltistan. He stopped for a day at Lahore and rode out with me. I told
him that the Government expected him to marry as soon as possible, and
settle down in his own country. I gave him that advice deliberately. You
see I wanted to find out. And I did find out. His consternation, his
anger, answered me clearly enough. I have no doubt that there was someone
over there in England--a woman, perhaps an innocent woman, who had been
But he did not finish the sentence. Linforth interrupted him before he
had time to complete it. And he interrupted without flurry or any sign of
"There was a woman," he said. "But I don't think she was thoughtless.
I don't see how she could have known that there was any danger in her
friendliness. For she was merely friendly to Shere Ali. I know her
The answer was given frankly and simply. For once Ralston was outwitted.
Dick Linforth had Violet Oliver to defend, and the defence was well done.
Ralston was left without a suspicion that Linforth had any reason beyond
the mere truth of the facts to spur him to defend her.
"Yes, that's the mistake," said Ralston. "The woman's friendly and means
no more than she says or looks. But these fellows don't understand such
friendship. Shere Ali is here dreaming of a woman he knows he can never
marry--because of his race. And so he's ready to run amuck. That's what
it comes to."
He turned away from the city as he spoke and took a step or two towards
the flight of stone stairs which led down from the tower.
"Where is Shere Ali now?" Linforth asked, and Ralston stopped and came
"I don't know," he said. "But I shall know, and very soon. There may be a
letter waiting for me at home. You see, when there's trouble brewing over
there behind the hills, and I want to discover to what height it has
grown and how high it's likely to grow, I select one of my police, a
Pathan, of course, and I send him to find out."
"You send him over the Malakand," said Linforth, with a glance
towards the great hill-barrier. He was to be astonished by the answer
"No. On the contrary, I send him south. I send him to Ajmere, in
"In Ajmere?" cried Linforth.
"Yes. There is a great Mohammedan shrine. Pilgrims go there from all
parts, but mostly from beyond the frontier. I get my fingers on the pulse
of the frontier in Ajmere more surely than I should if I sent spies up
into the hills. I have a man there now. But that's not all. There's a
great feast in Ajmere this week. And I think I shall find out from there
where Shere Ali is and what he's doing. As soon as I do find out, I want
you to go to him."
"I understand," said Linforth. "But if he has changed so much, he will
have changed to me."
"Yes," Ralston admitted. He turned again towards the steps, and the two
men descended to their horses. "That's likely enough. They ought to have
sent you to me six months ago. Anyway, you must do your best." He climbed
into the saddle, and Linforth did the same.
"Very well," said Dick, as they rode through the archway. "I will do my
best," and he turned towards Ralston with a smile. "I'll do my best to
hinder the Road from going on."
It was a queer piece of irony that the first real demand made upon him in
his life was that he should stop the very thing on the accomplishment of
which his hopes were set. But there was his friend to save. He comforted
himself with that thought. There was his friend rushing blindly upon
ruin. Linforth could not doubt it. How in the world could Shere Ali, he
wondered. He could not yet dissociate the Shere Ali of to-day from the
boy and the youth who had been his chum.
They passed out of the further gate of Peshawur and rode along the broad
white road towards Government House. It was growing dark, and as they
turned in at the gateway of the garden, lights shone in the windows ahead
of them. The lights recalled to Ralston's mind a fact which he had
forgotten to mention.
"By the way," he said, turning towards Linforth, "we have a lady staying
with us who knows you."
Linforth leaned forward in his saddle and stooped as if to adjust a
stirrup, and it was thus a second or two before he answered.
"Indeed!" he said. "Who is she?"
"A Mrs. Oliver," replied Ralston, "She was at Srinagar in Cashmere this
summer, staying with the Resident. My sister met her there, I think she
told Mrs. Oliver you were likely to come to us about this time."
Dick's heart leaped within him suddenly. Had Violet Oliver arranged her
visit so that it might coincide with his? It was at all events a pleasant
fancy to play with. He looked up at the windows of the house. She was
really there! After all these months he would see her. No wonder the
windows were bright. As they rode up to the porch and the door was
opened, he heard her voice. She was singing in the drawing-room, and the
door of the drawing-room stood open. She sang in a low small voice, very
pretty to the ear, and she was accompanying herself softly on the piano.
Dick stood for a while listening in the lofty hall, while Ralston looked
over his letters which were lying upon a small table. He opened one of
them and uttered an exclamation.
"This is from my man at Ajmere," he said, but Dick paid no attention.
Ralston glanced through the letter.
"He has found him," he cried. "Shere Ali is in Ajmere."
It took a moment or two for the words to penetrate to Linforth's mind.
Then he said slowly:
"Oh! Shere Ali's in Ajmere. I must start for Ajmere to-morrow."
Ralston looked up from his letters and glanced at Linforth. Something in
the abstracted way in which Linforth had spoken attracted his attention.
"Yes, it's a pity," he said. But again it seemed that Linforth did not
hear. And then the voice at the piano stopped abruptly as though the
singer had just become aware that there were people talking in the hall.
Linforth moved forward, and in the doorway of the drawing-room he came
face to face with Violet Oliver. Ralston smiled again.
"There's something between those two," he said to himself. But Linforth
had kept his secrets better half an hour ago. For it did not occur to
Ralston to suspect that there had been something also between Violet
Oliver and Shere Ali.
IN THE ROSE GARDEN
"Let us go out," said Linforth.
It was after dinner on the same evening, and he was standing with Violet
Oliver at the window of the drawing-room. Behind them an officer and his
wife from the cantonment were playing "Bridge" with Ralston and his
sister. Violet Oliver hesitated. The window opened upon the garden.
Already Linforth's hand was on the knob.
"Very well," she said. But there was a note of reluctance in her voice.
"You will need a cloak," he said.
"No," said Violet Oliver. She had a scarf of lace in her hand, and she
twisted it about her throat. Linforth opened the long window and they
stepped out into the garden. It was a clear night of bright stars. The
chill of sunset had passed, the air was warm. It was dark in spite of the
stars. The path glimmered faintly in front of them.
"I was hoping very much that I should meet you somewhere in India," said
Dick. "Lately I had grown afraid that you would be going home before the
"You left it to chance," said Violet.
The reluctance had gone from her voice; but in its place there was
audible a note of resentment. She had spoken abruptly and a little
sharply, as though a grievance present in her mind had caught her
unawares and forced her to give it utterance.
"No," replied Linforth, turning to her earnestly. "That's not fair. I did
not know where you were. I asked all who might be likely to know. No one
could tell me. I could not get away from my station. So that I had to
leave it to chance."
They walked down the drive, and then turned off past the croquet lawn
towards a garden of roses and jasmine and chrysanthemums.
"And chance, after all, has been my friend," he said with a smile.
Violet Oliver stopped suddenly. Linforth turned to her. They were walking
along a narrow path between high bushes of rhododendrons. It was very
dark, so that Linforth could only see dimly her face and eyes framed in
the white scarf which she had draped over her hair. But even so he could
see that she was very grave.
"I was wondering whether I should tell you," she said quietly. "It was
not chance which brought me here--which brought us together again."
Dick came to her side.
"No?" he asked, looking down into her face. He spoke very gently, and
with a graver voice than he had used before.
"No," she answered. Her eyes were raised to his frankly and simply. "I
heard that you were to be here. I came on that account. I wanted to see
As she finished she walked forward again, and again Linforth walked at
her side. Dick, though his settled aim had given to him a manner and an
aspect beyond his age, was for the same reason younger than his years in
other ways. Very early in his youth he had come by a great and definite
ambition, he had been inspired by it, he had welcomed and clung to it
with the simplicity and whole-heartedness which are of the essence of
youth. It was always new to him, however long he pondered over it; his
joy in it was always fresh. He had never doubted either the true gold of
the thing he desired, or his capacity ultimately to attain it. But he had
ordered his life towards its attainment with the method of a far older
man, examining each opportunity which came his way with always the one
question in his mind--"Does it help?"--and leaving or using that
opportunity according to the answer. Youth, however, was the truth of
him. The inspiration, the freshness, the simplicity of outlook--these
were the dominating elements in his character, and they were altogether
compact of youth. He looked upon the world with expectant eyes and an
unfaltering faith. Nor did he go about to detect intrigues in men or
deceits in women. Violet's words therefore moved him not merely to
tenderness, but to self-reproach.
"It is very kind of you to say that," he said, and he turned to her
suddenly. "Because you mean it."
"It is true," said Violet simply; and the next moment she was aware that
someone very young was standing before her in that Indian garden beneath
the starlit sky and faltering out statements as to his unworthiness. The
statements were familiar to her ears, but there was this which was
unfamiliar: they stirred her to passion.
She stepped back, throwing out a hand as if to keep him from her.
"Don't," she whispered. "Don't!"
She spoke like one who is hurt. Amongst the feelings which had waked in
her, dim and for the most part hardly understood, two at all events were
clear. One a vague longing for something different from the banal path
she daily trod, the other a poignant regret that she was as she was.
But Linforth caught the hand which she held out to thrust him off, and,
clasping it, drew her towards him.
"I love you," he said; and she answered him in desperation:
"But you don't know me."
"I know that I want you. I know that I am not fit for you."
And Violet Oliver laughed harshly.
But Dick Linforth paid no attention to that laugh. His hesitation had
gone. He found that for this occasion only he had the gift of tongues.
There was nothing new and original in what he said. But, on the other
hand, he said it over and over again, and the look upon his face and the
tone of his voice were the things which mattered. At the opera it is the
singer you listen to, and not the words of the song. So in this rose
garden Violet Oliver listened to Dick Linforth rather than to what he
said. There was audible in his voice from sentence to sentence, ringing
through them, inspiring them, the reverence a young man's heart holds for
the woman whom he loves.
"You ought to marry, not me, but someone better," she cried. "There is
someone I know--in--England--who--"
But Linforth would not listen. He laughed to scorn the notion that there
could be anyone better than Violet Oliver; and with each word he spoke he
seemed to grow younger. It was as though a miracle had happened. He
remained in her eyes what he really was, a man head and shoulders above
her friends, and in fibre altogether different. Yet to her, and for her,
he was young, and younger than the youngest. In spite of herself, the
longing at her heart cried with a louder voice. She sought to stifle it.
"There is the Road," she cried. "That is first with you. That is what you
really care for."
"No," he replied quietly. She had hoped to take him at a disadvantage.
But he replied at once:
"No. I have thought that out. I do not separate you from the Road. I put
neither first. It is true that there was a time when the Road was
everything to me. But that was before I met you--do you remember?--in the
inn at La Grave."
Violet Oliver looked curiously at Linforth--curiously, and rather
quickly. But it seemed that he at all events did not remember that he had
not come alone down to La Grave.
"It isn't that I have come to care less for the Road," he went on. "Not
by one jot. Rather, indeed, I care more. But I can't dissociate you from
the Road. The Road's my life-work; but it will be the better done if it's
done with your help. It will be done best of all if it's done for you."
Violet Oliver turned away quickly, and stood with her head averted.
Ardently she longed to take him at his word. A glimpse of a great life
was vouchsafed to her, such as she had not dreamt of. That some time she
would marry again, she had not doubted. But always she had thought of her
husband to be, as a man very rich, with no ambition but to please her, no
work to do which would thwart her. And here was another life offered, a
life upon a higher, a more difficult plane; but a life much more worth
living. That she saw clearly enough. But out of her self-knowledge sprang
the insistent question:
"Could I live it?"
There would be sacrifices to be made by her. Could she make them? Would
not dissatisfaction with herself follow very quickly upon her marriage?
Out of her dissatisfaction would there not grow disappointment in her
husband? Would not bitterness spring up between them and both their lives
Dick was still holding her hand.
"Let me see you," he said, drawing her towards him. "Let me see
She turned and showed it. There was a great trouble in her eyes, her
voice was piteous as she spoke.
"Dick, I can't answer you. When I told you that I came here on purpose to
meet you, that I wanted to see you again, it was true, all true. But oh,
Dick, did I mean more?"
"How should I know?" said Dick, with a quiet laugh--a laugh of happiness.
"I suppose that I did. I wanted you to say just what you have said
to-night. Yet now that you have said it--" she broke off with a cry.
"Dick, I have met no one like you in my life. And I am very proud.
Oh, Dick, my boy!" And she gave him her other hand. Tears glistened
in her eyes.
"But I am not sure," she went on. "Now that you have spoken, I am not
sure. It would be all so different from what my life has been, from what
I thought it would be. Dick, you make me ashamed."
"Hush!" he said gently, as one might chide a child for talking nonsense.
He put an arm about her, and she hid her face in his coat.
"Yes, that's the truth, Dick. You make me ashamed."
So she remained for a little while, and then she drew herself away.
"I will think and tell you, Dick," she said.
"Tell me now!"
"No, not yet. It's all your life and my life, you know, Dick. Give me a
"I go away to-morrow."
"To-morrow?" she cried.
"Yes, I go to Ajmere. I go to find my friend. I must go."
Violet started. Into her eyes there crept a look of fear, and she
"The Prince?" she asked with a queer suspense in her voice.
"Yes--Shere Ali," and Dick became perceptibly embarrassed. "He is not as
friendly to us as he used to be. There is some trouble," he said lamely.
Violet looked him frankly in the face. It was not her habit to
flinch. She read and understood his embarrassment. Yet her eyes met
his quite steadily.
"I am afraid that I am the trouble," she said quietly.
Dick did not deny the truth of what she said. On the other hand, he had
as yet no thought or word of blame for her. There was more for her to
tell. He waited to hear it.
"I tried to avoid him here in India, as I told you I meant to do," she
said. "I thought he was safe in Chiltistan. I did not let him know that I
was coming out. I did not write to him after I had landed. But he came
down to Agra--and we met. There he asked me to marry him."
"He asked _you!_" cried Linforth. "He must have been mad to think that
such a thing was possible."
"He was very unhappy," Violet Oliver explained. "I told him that it was
impossible. But he would not see. I am afraid that is the cause of his
"Yes," said Dick. Then he was silent for a little while.
"But you are not to blame," he added at length, in a quiet but decisive
voice; and he turned as though the subject were now closed.
But Violet was not content. She stayed him with a gesture. She was driven
that night to speak out all the truth. Certainly he deserved that she
should make no concealment. Moreover, the truth would put him to the
test, would show to her how deep his passion ran. It might change his
thoughts towards her, and so she would escape by the easiest way the
difficult problem she had to solve. And the easiest way was the way which
Violet Oliver always chose to take.
"I am to blame," she said. "I took jewels from him in London. Yes." She
saw Dick standing in front of her, silent and with a face quite
inscrutable, and she lowered her head and spoke with the submission of a
penitent to her judge. "He offered me jewels. I love them," and she
spread out her hands. "Yes, I cannot help it. I am a foolish lover of
beautiful things. I took them. I made no promises, he asked for none.
There were no conditions, he stipulated for none. He just offered me the
pearls, and I took them. But very likely he thought that my taking them
meant more than it did."
"And where are they now?" asked Dick.
She was silent for a perceptible time. Then she said:
"I sent them back." She heard Dick draw a breath of relief, and she went
on quickly, as though she had been in doubt what she should say and now
was sure. "The same night--after he had asked me to marry him--I packed
them up and sent them to him."
"He has them now, then?" asked Linforth.
"I don't know. I sent them to Kohara. I did not know in what camp he was
staying. I thought it likely he would go home at once."
"Yes," said Dick.
They turned and walked back towards the house. Dick did not speak. Violet
was afraid. She walked by his side, stealing every now and then a look at
his set face. It was dark; she could see little but the profile. But she
imagined it very stern, and she was afraid. She regretted now that she
had spoken. She felt now that she could not lose him.
"Dick," she whispered timidly, laying a hand upon his arm; but he made no
answer. The lighted windows of the house blazed upon the night. Would he
reach the door, pass in and be gone the next morning without another word
to her except a formal goodnight in front of the others?
"Oh, Dick," she said again, entreatingly; and at that reiteration of his
name he stopped.
"I am very sorry," he said gently. "But I know quite well--others have
taken presents from these princes. It is a pity.... One rather hates it.
But you sent yours back," and he turned to her with a smile. "The others
have not always done as much. Yes, you sent yours back."
Violet Oliver drew a breath of relief. She raised her face towards his.
She spoke with pleading lips.
"I am forgiven then?"
And in a moment she was in his arms. Passion swept her away. It seemed to
her that new worlds were opening before her eyes. There were heights to
walk upon for her--even for her who had never dreamed that she would even
see them near. Their lips touched.
"Oh, Dick," she murmured. Her hands were clasped about his neck. She hid
her face against his coat, and when he would raise it she would not
suffer him. But in a little while she drew herself apart, and, holding
his hands, looked at him with a great pride.
"My Dick," she said, and she laughed--a low sweet laugh of happiness
which thrilled to the heart of her lover.
"I'll tell you something," she said. "When I said good-bye to him--to the
Prince--he asked me if I was going to marry you."