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Title: The Hundred Days
Author: Talbot Mundy
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606341.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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Title: The Hundred Days
Author: Talbot Mundy





CONTENTS

I.    "They Said You Have a Tale for Me; and so, by Allah, I am Here to Listen"
II.   "Those Fools Will Prod a Hornet's Nest"
III.  "Thou and I are Birds Who Love the Storm, Sahiba"
IV.   "What the Hell Do You Know About Women?"
V.    "A Most Wise, Excellent Sahiba!"
VI.   "Of such Stuff are Women Made!"
VII.  "I Know a Thousand Gods Superior to Allah"
VIII. "We've One Chance in a Million, Are We All Set?"
IX.   "Sure, Lend a Hand!"
X.    "Thou Wilt Have the Blessed Prophet's Tooth, so Who Can Harm Thee?"
XI.   "So Let Us Fight"

---------------




CHAPTER I


"They said You Have a Tale for Me; and so, by Allah, I am Here to Listen."



They kept this out of the papers at the time, there being a
fine-meshed censorship in force. Enough months have elapsed
since, and enough events have happened to smoke-screen this one
as effectually as if Julius Caesar and the Gauls had played the
leading parts. The Prince went home alive. India resumed worrying
about the price of homespun cotton, the next monsoon, and whether
rupee-paper was likely to rise or fall. The _Pioneer_ found
front-page space for an account of spooks in a planter's bungalow.
And all was well again.

"Set it down, why don't you?" King said; and Grim nodded. I
demurred. Either King or Grim could have told the story better.
But as they sat on the end of my bed in the little white-washed
ward, the one cleaning spurs and the other resplicing the
wire-woven handle of a Persian scimitar, it was small use
arguing with them.

King's excuse, that he had sore fingers and could not punch a
typewriter, was possibly half-valid. It was why he was cleaning
spurs, for instance, instead of playing polo to get fit for the
next adventure Fate might hold in store for him. Grim's argument,
that he should not write the account because he had a hand in the
affair, was more ridiculous, but just as useful, since it cloaked
his incurable delight in doing lots and saying nothing, or,
rather, less than nothing. What he does say usually adds to
his obscurity.

"Write it, and omit me," Grim suggested. But you might as well
omit Hamlet from the play.

Well, here I am, with a month of convalescence still ahead
of me, sore from head to foot, sick of reading, and still
more sick of the Peshawar climate, hospital diet, the squeak
of a punkah, and the view of Allah's Slagheap from the window.
So they've set a table for me in a corner where the flap of
the punkah won't scatter the paper all over the place. My
jaw being bandaged, the sweat, in all likelihood, won't drop
down and make the ink run.  Lord knows there's paper enough;
the genial sawbones who runs this outfit (between bouts of
preaching to wounded border-thieves) seems to think I propose
to rewrite the Encyclopaedia--or one of his sermons. He has
lent me his dictionary and a big jar of tobacco. Here begins:

Joan Angela came to India. That's the prelude to anything
whatever except common-place. I believe she is twenty-six. I will
bet she has twenty-six hundred admirers, including me, who would
like to act Herod and kill off eligibles in order to destroy
beforehand the inevitable lucky, but as yet unknown, blade who
will some day persuade her to marry. And I daresay twenty-six
million dollars would look rather small beside her fortune
since they brought in oil on her land in California. (Not that
that matters; she would be Joan Angela Leich if she had only
twenty-six cents.)

She came because the Prince's visit was likely to prove spectacular,
and when we're young most of us will go a long way to see a
circus. But it soon palled. The home papers got wind of it, too,
and drew conclusions, the Prince being still a bachelor and
about her age. So she cut short the round of visits and started
to see India for herself, without so much as a by-your-leave
or a hint to the Indian Government, which was a great deal too
busy just then to notice much that wasn't obviously dangerous.

In times like that a Government falls back on odds and ends of
stray resources. Undesirables are given short shrift, with
apologies in the proper quarter later on, if called for. Men
whose courses up and down the earth will bear investigation find
surprising details forced on them, without much explanation and
no insurance. You carry unexpected overloads at your own expense
and risk, with no more prospect of reward than any decent fellow
gets who likes to know he did not grudge the gift of manliness
and muscle.

So Athelstan King, James Schuyler Grim and I--an Englishman and
two Americans--with Narayan Singh, who is a Sikh and was a sepoy
once, were under canvas by the left bank of Jumna River, swatting
flies, smoking much more than was wholesome, and wishing the
Prince were in London in the care of Scotland Yard.

There was a brigade of Indian Cavalry camped on our left hand,
about two miles away; we could hear the horses neighing, as bored
as we felt. On our right, two miles away again, was a regiment of
Bombay Infantry. And there was a rumour to the effect that the
Cavalry were there to watch the Infantry almost as much as to
keep a sharp eye on the border. But rumours are rife in these
days, and the mere fact that a Bombay regiment had been ordered
north was no proof that its loyalty had really been undermined by
agitators. The men had their rifles. There was ammunition. And
the officers looked more or less at ease, with their long legs
sticking out from under home newspapers beneath the awnings, and
all routine as usual.

To our rear, about ten miles away, was a fairly strong contingent
of the Air Force, with Cavalry and Infantry to guard them from
prowling border-thieves. Their 'planes were growling overhead all
the time, patrolling in search of a reported lashkar of Pathans.
Spies (and everyone is a potential spy for either side across the
border) had brought word that the tribes were concentrating and
admiring the notion of a row. The mullahs were said to be
haranguing them, and the women were carrying about a month's
supply of food and fuel. However, the airmen kept reporting they
could see nothing, and their cameras told the same tale; and that
meant either one of several probabilities.

It was possible the spies were deliberately arousing false
expectations of a raid in that quarter in order to cover
extensive preparations elsewhere. Or the tribes might have
learned how to conceal themselves from the airmen, which should
not be very difficult among those rocks and gorges, or even in
the open, where the harsh grass in the distance resembled sea
with wind across the tide. The other probability lay in the rear.
Raids from over that North-West Frontier have been so frequent
for a thousand years that an incursion was no more unlikely than
rain is in some lands. It would be good strategy for folk who
contemplated an uprising on the Indian side of the border to
broadcast rumours of Pathan activity and so keep the military
alert in the wrong quarter. However, danger of an uprising, and
especially of concerted action between the tribes and the
disaffected Punjab, presupposes leadership and some lines of
communication; which was how we came to be there. Athelstan King,
who was a Colonel until recently, is supposed to understand that
border better than the devils do who built it, and the devils'
offspring who brew hell there. Jim Grim knows Arabs better, but
has made himself a name in India too. I am their friend, which
sufficiently accounts for me; they rang me in on it. Narayan
Singh would rather risk his neck in Grim's company than be
a maharajah.

We looked peaceful and innocent enough, but in fact we were a
baited trap. Our servants, knowing no better, informed the world
at large that I was the leader of a party contemplating an
expedition across the border and into Persia--madness sufficient
to account for trade goods lying loose in process of repacking,
and for our incessant enquiries about camels, interpreters,
guides, and what not else.

Great hairy ruffians oiled themselves and crept along the streams
of mist at night to steal the trade-goods. One by one we caught
them; for we had pitched camp by a deep, narrow nullah up which
they were certain to come; barbed wire, broken glass, some dogs,
and two acetylene searchlights made any other approach almost
impossible. We noosed some, clubbed others, and caught a round
half-dozen in a blunted bear-trap. Narayan Singh was fertile in
new expedients; but as to the outcome, we treated all alike.

As soon as they recovered from the usually necessary man-handling
we set them on their hunkers in a tent and talked the situation
over, offering them liberty, and promising reward if they would
put us in communication with a certain Kangra Khan.

"We're Americans," King would explain, telling two-thirds of the
truth, which is plenty in that land. "We don't want our business
known." That was absolutely true, and ample, since whatever we
had said our real business was they would not have believed us.
"We have a proposal that will interest Kangra Khan. If he will
come to us here, we will talk with him alone by night. And if he
comes with no more than a two-man escort we will guarantee his
personal safety."

They believed the last implicitly. That part of the game has
always been played straight by the men who hold the border-line,
and generally, too, by the wind-weaned rascals whose profitable
sport it is to violate line, life, women, and most promises
whenever possible. A verbal promise of safe-conduct is as good as
a Chinaman's trade acceptance, flood, fire and Act of God alone
excepted from the guarantee.

So on the eleventh night after we pitched camp the dogs barked
furiously, which they would not have done if there had been
another miscreant sneaking up the nullah. This was someone taking
chances from the west, where by day we used to open a gap in the
barbed wire tangle. We turned a searchlight on, and after a curt
exchange of challenge and reply we saw him rise like a bear,
dripping wet, out of a wisp of grey mist. His boat must have
upset crossing the river.

Narayan Singh opened a gap in the wire, and he strode in with a
British Service rifle in one hand and the other held over his
eyes because the searchlight dazzled him. A fine, upstanding man
he was; and I like that sort. His dripping sheepskin jacket
increased an air of cavalierly independence; but it stank like
the deuce, and King invited him to take it off and hang it on a
stick in front of the fire to dry. He did that, but remained
standing with his back toward the river, so I motioned him to a
chair on the other side of the fire, between Grim and me.

"By Allah," he answered, opening a great gap of a grin in the
midst of his black beard, "if my men should lose sight of me I
might die with you, and I have business elsewhere! It is not so
easy aiming in the dark."

So I set the chair where his men could see him in the firelight;
and the first thing he demanded when he sat down--awkwardly,
unused to canvas chairs--was a rag and some oil for his wet rifle.

Narayan Singh, next on his left, offered to dry the rifle for
him.

"I am a soldier. I can do it properly," he said.

"I will leave my life in a Sikh's hands when I have no more use
for it!" Kangra Khan answered, and then waited, saying nothing,
until Grim fetched him oil and rags. Thereafter he cleaned while
he talked, squinting down the barrel at the firelight. I judged
him a man of forethought and determination, to be trusted
unconditionally in some ways, not at all in others, the latter
perhaps predominating.

He was nearly as heavy as I am. And he was handsome, for his nose
was not so hooked, nor his eye so cunning, as is usual along that
frontier. The edge of a coil of black hair showed beneath his
turban. His forehead was a thinker's, broad and level, with two
heavy lines across it. First and last, there was nothing about
him that suggested cowardice or even respect for heavy odds.

"They said you have a tale for me; and so, by Allah, I am here to
listen," he said simply, all eyes for me. (They like big men
where he came from, and I wore a beard at that time, which
was another point in my favour.) However, King took up the
argument--since argument there must be in the North, whatever
else happens.

"The tale is this," he said, leaning forward to knock the ashes
out of his pipe; and with his dark skin and Roman nose he looked
in the firelight like one of Julius Caesar's men: "that you,
Kangra Khan, are planning a raid while the Prince is in this part
of India; and that I am told off to prevent you." He sat back and
filled his pipe again. He might have just remarked it was a fine
night.

"Then by Allah's Prophet, thou and I are well met!" the hillman
answered, showing his yellow teeth again. King struck a match,
and it served to show his manly, unpretending smile.

"So now we understand each other," he said, puffing away at
the pipe.

"Maybe. But it is Allah who prevents!" said Kangra Khan, with his
eye on my servant, who was bringing out whisky from the tent. I
poured him a straight tumblerful, and he tossed it off at a gulp.
"The river was wet, and not warm," he remarked by way of thanks,
offering no apology for drinking in defiance of the Koran; for
which I liked him. Apology and explanation are due to one you may
have injured; otherwise they are indecent. He said nothing about
how he had managed to swim the hurrying Jumna, rifle in hand.

"Why should you choose this particular time?" King demanded,
sailing as close to the eye of the wind as he could carry way.

"It is a good time," the hillman answered simply. Neither seemed
inclined to ease his helm. They were coming at each other head
on, so at a whisper from Grim I strode among the shadows and
ordered the servants out of earshot.

"It is the worst time you could choose," King assured him.

"The eagle's opportunity--the hare's disadvantage--are one!" said
Kangra Khan.

"You are not dealing with hares," King retorted. "You are blind
if you think the eagles are not on our side."

"Aye, I have seen them. They have buzzed above us now for
half a month."

"They lay eggs on the wing, those birds!" King suggested
meaningly. "There is Cavalry and Infantry to right and left
of us, and guns at the rear."

"Aye, but this is women's talk. I know the chances," Kangra
Khan answered.

"Talk like a man, then!" growled Narayan Singh. It seemed to me
that that was what the hillman had done, but the Sikh knew what
he was doing.

"Meet me across the border, and I will show thee how a man
fights!" the other retorted.

Narayan Singh was about to answer, but Grim interrupted him.

"None will talk if the time for fighting comes. Talk like a man
first," he advised him.

"My men are restless. They lost too much in the fighting of a
year ago. The crops have been poor. There will be a hard winter
unless we rape a town or two. They look to me to lead them,"
answered Kangra Khan.

"Why not tell the whole truth?" King asked him. "You have
received offers from the Punjab. Someone has promised that if you
will lead a raid the Punjabis will rise simultaneously. Isn't
that so?"

"By Allah, little sahib, you know too much," the hillman
answered, laughing.

"I think I know the name of the man who made you that offer, but
never mind," King continued. "What did he offer you?"

"He talked like a plainsman, deceiving none but himself. He
offered me the Prince! He promised we may take him and hold
him for ransom, after they have burned his camp and done the
capturing. He said, with truth, although the fat pig lied nine
other ways, that to keep the Prince hidden in the Punjab would be
impossible, whereas, among our mountains--"

"Why talk nonsense?" King interrupted. "Isn't it clear he's just
trying to use you as a catspaw?"

"Truly. But he who uses fire may just as well be burnt, and I
like the Punjabi's money," said Kangra Khan.

"They never could take the Prince. He'll be to well guarded."

"Aye, probably...inshallah! The British are crazy, but not
so mad as to leave the boy unprotected. However, the Prince is
coming northward for a hundred days, and there will be a hundred
days of trouble, unless I am well paid to keep still."

Well, that was frank enough. There was not so much cupidity as
calm appreciation in the hillman's eye. He seemed willing enough
to barter his advantage for a fair price. As he finished cleaning
his rifle, and laid it across his knees with the sort of
affectionate slap a man bestows on a dog or a horse, he
looked at least as worthy to be dealt with as any of those
diplomatists who play the international game with marked cards.

"How much do you want?" King asked him.

"A crore, and no less," he said instantly.

A crore of rupees is a third of a million dollars, more or less,
and King laughed.

"That would pay for quite a nice campaign," he answered. "You
hillmen are like children when money is mentioned."

"India is rich. Let her pay for peace!"

"You won't get a crore. You won't get as much as a lakh.* You
won't get anything, unless you give proof in advance of good
intentions," King assured him. "You must call this raid off, and
tell the Punjabis you won't give them any assistance. If you do
that first, and give me your word of honour, then I'll promise to
get you as much money from the Government as they can be induced
to part with in return for your service in the matter. I don't
know how much. You'll have to trust me to do my best. I'll keep
faith with you." [* 100,000 rupees]

"Aye, King sahib. None doubts your _izzat;_* but what of mine?
The fat Punjabi is a pig, but I will not betray him. By Allah, if
he comes to talk with me the troops might pounce on him, and what
then?" [* honour]

"He shall have safe conduct."

"Aye, but after, you will know who he is, and--"

"I know already!"

"If thou art not a liar, name him!"

"He is no Punjabi. His name is Ali Babul," King answered
promptly. "Isn't that so?"

Kangra Khan said nothing. In the ensuing silence Grim leaned
sideways, better to study the hillman's face. It was Narayan
Singh who took up the argument, opening and shutting his right
hand so that the knuckles cracked almost like a pistol-shot.

"I, too, know Ali Babul. As thou sayest, he is fat. Better
caution him, hillman! For if I make a feud with a man he will
die. By my Guru's* honour, he shall not live; his fat shall feed
crows...unless thy wisdom forewarns him! I have made the
Prince's life my personal affair." [* Religious teacher]

"I have heard words. They are principally wind, smelling of
onions," said the hillman.

He was well aware that we would not sit there talking to him,
offering him terms, if there had been any easier or less
expensive course open to the Government just then; nothing but
business acumen prevented him from attacking the Sikh that
minute, and even that element of self-control was weakening, as
the Sikh had foreseen. He prodded it further.

"The truth is, you are afraid to refuse Ali Babul," he asserted,
with an air of absolute conviction.

"At least I am not afraid of thee, thou ---- "

"Shame that such a hairy man should fear a shaven, swag-bellied bunnia!"

"Allah!"

"See him then, and warn him, if you aren't afraid to," King
suggested intervening. There could hardly have been bloodshed
there before our fire, but the border laws of guest and host do
not preclude commencement of hostilities the minute the threshold
is left behind. Sikh and hillman love each other as dog and
jackal do...not much.

"There have first to be promises."

The hillman looked in King's eyes reading there good faith, but
not much else; for there was little King might promise without
referring to headquarters.

"I will do my best about the money for you," King said.

"I, too, then, about Ali Babul. And how much is that? Bring the
brute here. Give us both safe conduct. I will talk with him
tomorrow night, at this hour, before this fire in the Huzoor's
presence. But if the Government were not afraid for its skin it
would have scoughed up Ali Babul long ago," the hillman added.

There were elements of truth in that suggestion, and the only
plausible retort would have been a boast, which in turn might
have cut short negotiations.

"Would Ali Babul come?" Grim asked.

"Aye! For I will bring him!" said Narayan Singh.

King nodded. Whatever Narayan Singh might undertake to do would
be carried out unless he died in the attempt, and not even Kangra
Khan questioned that outcome. But I was watching the hillman's
face and questioning that, and I noticed Grim did the same thing.
There was deep, unspoken thought there, and his eyes were too
bright to mean anything but mischief.

"Hadn't we better define things more exactly?" I proposed
in English.

So we tried, but the uselessness was fairly evident at once. It
was like bargaining with a tricky lawyer; we could not possibly
foresee all the quirks and sidesteps that would certainly occur
to him, and our apparent doubt of his good faith only served to
increase his trickiness. It would have been better if I had held
my tongue.

"Enough!" King said finally, with a gesture that wiped out the
last five minutes at a stroke. "This is between thee and me,
Kangra Khan. The undertaking stands thus: here, by this fire,
tomorrow night, thou and Ali Babul are to meet and talk before
us. Both to have safe conduct. Nothing that shall be said
tomorrow night by this fire shall be held against thee or him,
unless we all reach agreement."

"That is the promise," the hillman answered, and he rose with his
right hand on the hilt of his knife to give the oath solemnity.
When he had met the eyes of each of us in turn King shook hands
with him, and he turned and strode out of the camp with more
assurance in his gait than I was altogether glad to see. There is
nothing finer than the sight of independence with its face
against the world; but there are times, and seasons.

"Somehow, before tomorrow night, he means to put one over on us,"
I said, and Grim nodded assent. But King and Narayan Singh were
both of opinion that the hillman would keep the peace strictly
until after the next conference, at any rate. They had the right
to know best.

There was peace next morning sure enough...kites wheeling
lazily, the smoke of breakfast fires rising spirally from the
camps to either hand, and a subaltern with two mounted troopers
riding an errand, who laughed as he tossed us the news:

"No shootin' last night! First time for a month! We're wonderin'
what Allah's cookin'! You fellows notice anythin' worth mentionin'?"

We reported all well, and no shots fired.

"Hell presently, I'll bet you!" he said, laughing, and rode on.

It was a reasonably safe bet that he offered. Quiet along that
border usually presages coming bloodshed. But we had reason to
believe there would be at least one more quiet night, and wished
we had betted, just to dampen down his cockiness. Then, two hours
after breakfast, there came a mounted messenger with a white
envelope tucked in his turban. He halted as if it were mounted
baseball and he sliding for the home plate. But that was merely
swagger; he had trotted until he came within a hundred yards of
us. King held his hand out, but the fellow jumped to the ground
and stood examining us each in turn.

"Ram-mis-den sahib?" he asked, staring at me.

So I took the envelope and broke the seal, aware of mixed
emotions, for I knew the handwriting...as strong and
downright as a man's, but flowing, with large spaces between
the words.

"Joan Angela!" I said, not understanding why I was not pleased;
for I would rather see her than a sunrise. Intuition sums up the
near future in a flash, giving you the total and no details; but
so does Joan Angela's correspondence.

Hello there, Jeff! she had written. Don't pretend this isn't a
surprise. I'm with the Farquharsons, but they're off on leave
today, and I've a date for dinner with the Somethingorother
Bengal Lancers. Might see you sooner. Having lots of fun. So
long. J.A.L.

The "Somethingorother" Bengal Lancers were presumably the outfit
camped over on our left hand. The Farquharsons, I think, belong
to the Civil Service; but whoever they are, they ought to have
been hanged for turning Joan Angela loose on that countryside. I
passed the note in turn to King and Grim, and they waited for
the explanation.

"One of my countrywomen. Youth, brains, ability, good looks,
heaps of money, and a sense of humour," I said, and King looked
at me steadily, reading on my face what I daresay was alarm. I
did not try to diagnose it.

"She'll be safe enough with the Lancers, but I'm surprised they
should ask her to dinner out here. I suppose there's nothing
about that in the regulations, but there's such a thing as common
sense," he answered after a long pause.

"She's pretty sure to get them to ask us to dinner too, tonight,"
I said.

"Well, we can't go. At least, you can, of course, but Grim and I
must stay here."

That was true. Narayan Singh had ridden off on his quest of Ali
Babul, and even if it had been likely that the Sikh would return
before night, it would have been out of the question to leave him
there alone to manage the conference.

"Where is she now?" I asked the messenger.

The man did not know. He said he was the son of a _thalukdar,_*
and had been asked as a favour to carry the message by Farquharson
sahib, whom he had met on his way to the railway station. He had
not even seen Joan Angela. Did not know who she was, or pretended
not to, and dropped a rather strong hint that, as someone on
that countryside, he set a good example by minding his own
business. He said he had come simply to oblige Farquharson
sahib, and would ride back home as soon as his horse was
rested. [* Land-holder]

So I offered to ride part of the way with him, and he agreed. He
seemed rather glad to have company. Even in broad daylight that
is no safe border for a solitary horseman, whose equipment is
worth powder and shot; belated prowlers lie up until the next
night affords opportunity to sneak back with their plunder to the
hills, and in their eyes it is sin and shame to overlook a chance
that Allah sends.

My purpose was to turn Joan Angela back from the border, even at
the risk of a quarrel. As King said, she would be quite safe with
the Lancers; but neither he, nor I, nor they, nor she, nor anyone
could guess how long she would remain with them. She acts on the
spur of any moment, with assurance that would make an oil-stock
salesman green with envy, and the fact that her astounding luck
had never yet deserted her was no proof there would be no end
to it.

I rode away presently in search of her, turning over in mind a
hundred arguments I might use, well aware that she would flout
them all and laugh at me. I would have to make a personal appeal
to her; I knew that, and I hated it. For friendship she will
often do what no argument of safety or convention will induce her
to consider; but I dislike dealing on those terms. Friendship is
nothing to bargain with, but a thing apart, like a man's religion
or his nationality, to be held unaffected by circumstances.
Nevertheless, I was willing to sacrifice that friendship, if by
doing so I might steer her out of danger.

Nevertheless, whatever her luck might be, mine was out that
morning. I drew the Farquharson's bungalow blank; nobody home,
not even a caretaker; not as much as a hanger-on to answer
questions. The European quarter there was a straggling line of
beastly official bungalows, and I rode to every one of them,
without result. Nobody had heard of Joan Angela. I gathered,
without being told so, that the Farquharsons had made themselves
disliked and had applied for leave in consequence.

But I stuck to it, and the _thalukdar_ stayed by to help. Failing
all trace of Joan Angela herself, we begged a change of horses
and galloped all the way to Dera Ghazi Khan, where I saw the
Commandant and warned him. He was indignant, and swore he would
twist the Lancers' tails for daring to ask a woman to dinner so
close to the border. I overheard his instructions. Joan Angela
Leich was to be found and taken to Peshawar, where the authorities
might deal with her as they should see fit.

That suited me. It was after four o'clock then, and I calculated
I had just about time to reach the Lancers' camp before dark.
That was the last card up my sleeve, and a trump of sorts. I
meant to tell them what the Commandant had said, after which it
was fairly safe to wager they would keep Joan Angela at least
well guarded until definite orders came.

So the _thalukdar's_ son and I parted company, and I begged still
another change of mounts, for my weight is no joke even for an
Army remount used to carrying all the paraphernalia a soldier
lugs around with him. That last horse was a good one, and I made
him prove it, galloping hell-bent-for-supper-time until we
reached the Jhelum, and then following the bank, with only a
short pause to let him breathe, until I could see the lights of
the Lancers' camp beginning to blink in the distance in
descending dusk.

They were still several miles away, but it was not time yet for
the border-thieves to take chances, so I reined in to a walk for
the horse's sake, conscious for the first time that I had no
weapon, but not especially nervous on that account. I was very
likely safer at slow speed than if I hurried, since a lurking
enemy would judge that if I did not seem afraid there was
probably good reason for it. On the whole, I was well enough
contented, deeming my effort in Joan Angela's behalf well made
and her as good as shipped away to safety.

It was pitch dark before I grew aware of voices somewhere on
ahead. One voice was a woman's...golden...not raised, and
yet not undisturbed. I could not hear what she said, for my horse
put his forefoot in a hole and nearly fell as I spurred him
forward. I heard a man order her in English to be silent, and
then I caught the answer, as distinctly as if it had been given
ten yards away instead of possibly a hundred.

"You'll have to ask in a different tone of voice if you expect me
to oblige you?"

"Then you die!" someone snarled--in English again.

"All right. My funeral. Nobody else need worry!"

Then I recognized her voice beyond the shadow of a doubt, but
did doubt what to do. All I could see were the camp-fires and
lanterns blinking in the distance; between them and me were
quite immeasurable miles of black night, with the Jhelum River
swirling and sucking on my left hand. The horse sensed danger,
shied toward the river, and reared as he found himself too
close to the rotten bank. Someone fired from fifty yards ahead
of me. The horse shuddered and collapsed; a ton or two of
earth gave way; earth, horse and I went plump into the river
all together.

I ought to have drowned along with the wounded horse, for the
Jhelum sweeps in a hurry around a curve at that point, with
shallows in mid-stream that send the force of water sluicing
against the bank. But there was a boat tied by the nose to a
tree-stump and pressed close against the bank by the weight of
the river rushing by, and my hand caught that as I struck out
blindly. In about a minute I was up on the bank again fumbling at
the rope that held the boat. But it was tangled, and my wet
fingers made hard work of it in the dark; so I found my clasp
knife and, opening that with my teeth, cut the rope and let the
boat go. It was better than nothing at all to cut off the
enemy's retreat.

Then I heard Joan Angela's voice again:

"Let go! I'd rather be killed than handled by a brute like you!"

I heard a slap, as if she had struck someone with her open hand,
followed by an oath that ripped the very bowels of the night
apart. But she did not scream, and there was no answering blow,
nor any sound of struggle. Footsteps began approaching, and I
crouched behind a clump of high grass.

I had been in that position about twenty seconds when a new sound
warned me I was being stalked. The enemy presumably had sent a
scout to make sure that bullet had done its work thoroughly, and
I heard the fellow crawl up to the other side of the clump,
within two yards of me. I heard, too, the clink of some kind of
weapon that he dragged along the ground. I needed a weapon more
than anything else on earth that minute.

The fellow lay still, listening and trying to peer through the
dark along the river bank. He held his breath, and let it out
silently, but I could smell him, and knew he wore a sweaty
sheepskin jacket. Then I heard what sounded like a knife-blade
striking against stone, and judged he had two weapons, of which
the knife in the dark was the more dangerous.

There was nothing after that to hesitate about. When you know the
worst, and know there is no alternative, the thing to do is to
have it over with. I jumped, and landed with both heels on the
small of the fellow's back, and maybe it was that that killed
him, but I used the butt-end of his rifle to make sure, not being
minded to have an enemy at my back as well as several in front.

I could hear them coming fast now, and had no time to reach for
the long knife. It was impossible to see, but I was trying to
count the footfalls. Joan Angela's were easily distinguishable,
and there seemed to be five or six men hurrying her along. I
crouched beside the clump of grass in readiness to do my utmost
at close quarters. However, they stopped again. Maybe they
had heard me land on the fellow's back, although he had not
cried out.

"Suliman!" called someone, twenty yards away.

I fired, and hit him, but not fatally, for he shouted to the
others. Two or three of them came charging toward me, and I
stopped the first one with the butt-end. Another one fired,
and missed.

"Joan Angela!" I shouted.

"Who's that? Jeff! Is that you?"

I started for her; but I'm too slow on my feet to pull off any
of those tip-and-run stunts. I shouldn't have tried. Before I
could reach her I was knocked on the head by a blow from behind,
and after that there was darkness and a very bad dream for a
long time.




CHAPTER II


"Those Fools Will Prod a Hornet's Nest."



I came to with a splitting headache, and lay wondering in a kind
of twilight, caused, as I discovered presently, by a guttering
candle stuck in a knothole in a board on a stamped earth floor.
Overhead there were beams made of all sorts of odds and ends,
including two telegraph poles stamped with the British Government's
broad arrow, and a length of standard railway metal.

My fingers informed me that I was lying on sheepskins or
something of the sort; and in among the singing in my ears I
could distinguish occasional sounds obviously made by someone
rather close to me; but I did not move my head for several
minutes, because it hurt too much for one reason, and for another
it seemed wise to get some information before betraying any.

It was night; that much was obvious. But I could not guess how
many nights I might have lain unconscious, and it felt like aeons
since that blow from behind had knocked me sprawling. There
seemed to be two people in the room, or hut, or whatever it was,
and one of them was crooning to herself in a language that if I
ever understood I could not then remember. It was decidedly cold,
and at last I shivered, whereat I felt agreeably soft fingers
feeling the back of my hand.

"Shall I throw a sheepskin over you?" a voice asked. So I turned
my head and saw Joan Angela in riding breeches on the ground
beside me. She looked tired, but not otherwise distressed.

"How did you get here?" I asked her stupidly.

"Don't try to talk for a while yet. Listen," she answered. "I was
afraid once or twice you were dead; and you're so heavy they had
to handle you roughly, although I think they tried to be decent
in their own fashion. There's a cut on the back of your head, but
I don't think it's deep, and I've bandaged it, so don't move."

"I don't remember much. How long have I been here?" I asked.

"Several hours. But don't talk. I'll tell you all about it if
you'll listen."

So I lay still, and presently Joan Angela began.

"I was on my way to the Lancers' camp. There were two men with
me, and I'd sent a third in advance to say I was coming, and
would be late, but was all right. My horse had gone lame, and I
was letting him take it easy. But it was later than I thought,
and I think we'd lost the way; I'm sure we covered lots of
unnecessary miles, and when it grew dark the men seemed to lose
their bearings altogether. But I knew if we reached the river
and turned along the bank we'd be all right, and it was no use
turning back, even if I'd cared to; so we rode on. The men didn't
like it much. They were Biluchis, who'd been lent to me by the
Farquharsons when they left home...supposed to be awfully
faithful and so on, but too stupid for words.

"Well, we reached the river at last, and they said to turn to the
right, but I knew better. If we had turned to the right, maybe
you and I wouldn't be here now, but I'd have missed the Lancers'
camp, and then some other brigands would have bagged me, so
what's the odds? I knew I'd taken the right direction.

"It got so dark at last you couldn't see a thing. Then some men
jumped out of a hole by the river bank and knifed my Biluchis
without a word. I had a pistol and tried to use it, but another
rascal cut my horse's throat, and grabbed me as he fell, so the
shot went wild. Then he knocked the pistol out of my hand and I
was prisoner. But he didn't see where the pistol went to, and
I've got it now. They treated me reasonably well, and while they
talked I sat down--right on the pistol.

"I wasn't worried much. The Biluchis were dead, and of course
that was horrible, but I despise a man who's so afraid he has to
have a woman show him which way to turn; and they didn't put up
any fight, they were just cowards. I was sorrier for the horse.
And I knew the Lancers would be out looking for me in two ticks,
because they expected me to dinner, and besides, that third
Biluchi had ridden on ahead to tell them I was really on the way.

"What puzzled me was that the men who'd captured me--there were
nine of them--started to lead me off in the wrong direction. We
kept along the river bank. I was even crazy enough for a minute
to think they were taking me to the Lancers' camp to hand me
over. I could see the camp lights in the distance. There was a
man in charge of the party--a chieftain I suppose--whom they all
called Kangra Khan; he was the only one who seemed to know a word
of English, but when I asked him a question or two he ordered me
to hold my tongue. He even threatened to kill me if I made a
noise, but I didn't believe him. I kept raising my voice in the
hope some of the Lancers' outposts would hear me; and at last I
really did hear someone coming. It turned out to be you.

"Kangra Khan put his hand over my mouth then, and I bit it. I
wish you'd heard him swear! But he's a gentlemanly sort of savage
and didn't hit back. They shot your horse, and they were awfully
sore because you killed one of their men, and that was why they
knocked you on the head instead of roping you. You nearly killed
Kangra Khan by the way. Your bullet seared his cheek, and would
have hit me if I'd been about a foot more to the right.

"Well, you were knocked out; but someone struck a match and I
recognized you. And you weren't dead, because I could feel your
heart beating. Then we heard what might be Lancers coming. The
party grew scared and got ready to scatter. They were about to
tie my hands, and one man folded up a bit of sheepskin for a gag.
I didn't fancy that.

"Of course, it was worse than a hundred to one chance of the
Lancers coming on you in the dark; and if they didn't stumble on
you you'd be dead before morning. So I promised them I'd come
quietly provided they took you too. If not, no. And I started in
to yell to prove it!

"Kangra Khan seems something of a sportsman in his own way, and
took me at my word. He gave orders to the gang to pick you up and
carry you gently. It seems you'd cut their boat loose, and we had
to go miles back along the bank until we found another one, and
we crossed the river at last in the craziest box of a thing you
ever saw. I thought we were sure to be drowned a dozen times. The
boat was half-full of water, and you lay on the bottom with the
water flopping over you, and me holding your head up so you
could breathe.

"They had turned loose the two horses that belonged to my
Biluchis, so that the Lancers would follow them and give Kangra
Khan a chance to slip by unobserved. He didn't cross the river
with the rest of us, but continued along the bank in the
direction of the Lancers' camp, saying he'd see me later and
that he held me to my promise to go quietly. I told him I'd
come to his funeral when the British hanged him, and he grinned
as if he thought that a good joke.

"Once we'd crossed the river the going was fairly easy for a long
time, but they hurried me and lugged you until I felt nearly as
all in as you looked. I had to remind them a good many times of
the chief's orders to treat you gently; and as they didn't know
any English, and I can't talk their language, it wasn't so easy.
But I remembered I'd heard 'em call him Kangra Khan; so I kept
saying `Kangra Khan!' and pointing to you, and frowning, and
presently they saw the point. I guess they're scared of him, and
I don't blame 'em--he looks like a top-dog.

"Then we came to these hills, and the going began to be awful.
They had to lug me up precipices by the hands. When daylight
comes I daresay it'll all look simple enough, but in the dark it
felt like climbing Everest or something. When we reached this but
they shoved me in, and threw in some sheepskins, and you on top
of them, and left us. But a little later on they opened the door
and pushed in an old woman--at least she looks old--that's her
you hear crooning. She's scared to death of us. Every once in a
while she shows me a knife about a yard long. But she brought a
candle with her, which is something. I guess it'll be dawn soon.
This hut's built of stones and mud and stolen timber, with bits
of old sacking and stuff like that in the chinks. Are you cold?
Are your clothes nearly dry? Let me feel them."

"Does the old woman know any English?" I asked.

"No. I've tried her. I think that song she's croaking is a prayer
or an exorcism. It's intended to keep us from bewitching her;
that's my guess. How does your head feel?"

Nothing obliges a man to recover so swiftly as something
particular to think about, and Lord knew I had that in plenty.
If I had my choice, for instance, between saving Joan Angela
Leich or Rheims Cathedral, the building would go without a
moment's hesitation. I managed to turn my head to look at her.

You can't change her much. Her hair was all untidy, and her
jacket and shirt-affair were stained with dirt, but she was
mighty good to look at, nevertheless. The guttering candle threw
half of her face in shadow, but made her brave eyes shine, and
the outline of her face was something that is never born outside
America, whatever fools may say about the melting-pot. There
was no nonsense there, no humbug, no claptrap, but a gallant
good-humour, and a disregard for things of no account that seems
to me better than religion.

I told her to take one of the sheepskins and throw it over her to
keep off the draught that came whimpering through the cracks;
apparently she hadn't thought of that before. She had to pull the
thing out from under me. Then, because the gods who supervise
such things were willing, I fell asleep, which in men like me,
who am nearly all physique without much brains, is a pretty sure
sign of recovery.

When I awoke it was broad daylight, as you could tell by the
light streaming in through cracks. Joan Angela was dozing, chin
on knees, with her back against a wall, and the old hag was
mixing up a mess of goat's milk and some sort of grain--our
breakfast presumably. I got up and found I could stand without
holding on to anything, but that was about all; so I copied Joan
Angela's example and sat with my back to the wall.

Five minutes after that the door opened and in strode Kangra
Khan. He stood leaning on his rifle looking at us while I blinked
at the sunshine. There were men crowding to the door behind him,
but he motioned them back angrily and slammed the door in their
faces, which did not, however, prevent them from clapping their
eyes to the cracks.

After about a minute's silence, during which the old hag stirred
away steadily at the porridge, he gave me Allah's blessing. I
assured him he needed it more than I did.

"A man," I said, "who commits such treachery as you have done
will need pity rather badly by and by."

"Inshallah!" he answered. "I am sorry you were hurt, but you
killed two of my men. What wrong had they done you?"

There was no need to answer with words. I glanced at Joan Angela,
who was studying him quietly over the top of her knees.

"Is the sahiba hurt?" he asked.

"She seems to be a prisoner," I answered.

"And a good one!" he retorted. "What of it? What treachery have
I done? Lo, I kept the promise. I was at the fire, and spoke with
Ali Babul in the sahib's presence. Moreover, I told the fat pig
Ali Babul I will not help the Punjabis. Lo, I spat at him to
prove it! Lo, I have no need to bargain with the dog!" He gestured
magnificently in Joan Angela's direction. "They tell me the
sahiba has a mint of money!"

"So we're held for a ransom?" I asked.

"Aye, a great one!"

I gestured upward with my thumb. There was the roar of two
aeroplanes overhead.

"The Lancers will come presently," I assured him.

"Aye! Those fools will prod a hornets' nest! They are across the
river now. I sent my man an hour since to warn them to turn back
again. They will make him prisoner. When they question him he
will ask whether four hundred can wisely attack us. I have twenty
thousand men."

I accepted that statement with reserve. Accuracy as to numbers
is unknown in all that North-West country. Two thousand--twenty
thousand--even two hundred thousand--might mean pretty much the
same thing. Still, his point was obvious.

"Defeat them, and you deal with the guns behind them. Beat the
guns, and comes an army," I answered.

"Comes the army, and who shall guard the Prince? Is the Punjab so
contented? Do the British want war?" he asked me. "Nay! I tell
you they will rather pay my bill! A crore of rupees, and sahiba
goes free--thou with her. Otherwise, the Melikani will send
battleships and land an army, and fight the British from
the rear!"

They have peculiar notions about the United States in some parts
of the world, and it was no use telling him how slight the
prospect was of Congress voting for a war in India. Since the
A.E.F. went to France they all believe that anything might happen.

His case looked stronger than I cared to admit to him. It would
probably take weeks, and months perhaps, before the British could
bring a force to bear sufficient for invasion of that territory.
For defence they were fairly well provided, but it is another
matter to advance across savage and supply-less hills. Besides,
as he said, there was the Prince; undoubtedly they did not want a
war while he was visiting India. About our only chance was if the
British should strike suddenly and surround the place where we
were now hidden, which could not be far from the border. But as
if he had read my thoughts, Kangra Khan deprived me of that faint
hope that minute.

"They hunt on a false scent," he said, grinning. "Today we lie
here. Tonight we move on. By tomorrow they may hunt a year and
never find you. In a week you will be further from them than the
mountain was from Mahommed, on whom Allah's blessing! Shall they
come to you then?"

He could only have one object in telling me his plans. The much
more usual method is to keep a prisoner in the dark as to his
destiny. He was talking to me, but at Joan Angela, hoping she
would offer to pay the demanded ransom. But ignorance is a great
fortifier of courage; and inborn love of adventure is no weak
straw to blow away with argument.

"I won't pay!" Joan Angela said simply, looking up and straight
into his eyes. I think she was rather enjoying herself.

For a moment a look of cruelty crossed his face. The hills--the
spirit of the hills--the barren, cruel heart of Allah's Slag-heap,
as they call it, that compels and curses and deprives the weakest,
hardening the hardest, reminded him he might compel too. There
are ways and means; and there are women who are more expert
than men in inventing agony for prisoners--all at his beck
and call. But something manly in him seemed to fight that
suggestion down. He laughed, showing yellow, irregular teeth.

"I have seen men's hearts fail. Is a woman's resolution greater?"
he asked ironically. Then, with bitter meaning: "Eat while you
have the chance!"

He motioned to the hag, who brought the bowl of porridge and set
it down between Joan Angela and me, together with two old rusty
spoons. The stuff was smoky and nearly cold, nor any too clean,
and we preferred our fingers to the spoons. There was grit, too,
in the stuff. But I think Joan Angela enjoyed it, partly because
almost any food was good after a long fast and a wetting; mainly
because of the adventure and the novelty.

Kangra Khan stood watching us, smiling rather grimly. We might
have been two strange animals being fed in a cage. On the whole,
he seemed rather pleased with us, but I thought I detected a
trace of anxiety underlying his cavalierly air, as if perhaps all
were not so well with him as he pretended. There were the eyes to
the cracks, for instance, and the voices of his men outside,
suggesting neither discipline nor over-confidence in their
leader. Their eagerness to get a glimpse of Joan Angela, and some
of the comments I overheard, brought another thought, and it was
just as well Joan Angela did not understand the language.

"You know this woman's honor is in your keeping?" I said, looking
straight at him. He did not answer; so I added to the hint: "You
will be held answerable. If harm should befall her the British
would never rest until they hanged you in a pigskin. They would
burn your carcase afterwards."

He showed his teeth again. No Moslem enjoys that threat.

"Let her beware of herself!" he answered surlily. "By Allah, who
am I that you should say such words to me?"

"Let's hope you're a man of discretion," I answered; and at that
he turned his back on us and went outside to snarl and argue with
his men. Whereat Joan Angela nudged me and touched her jacket
pocket in which the little automatic pistol lay; which was all
very well as a last resource, but none too comforting at that.

Meanwhile my head ached damnably, and if we were to be moved on
somewhere that night it behoved me to get in fit condition for
the march, or otherwise I would be unfit to snatch opportunity.
It may have been fever--a man's brain after a severe blow is
seldom in shape to judge sensibly--but the only line of action
that appealed at all to me just then was to escape by some means
as we threaded the hills by night, and work our way back to the
Jhelum River. I began to talk it over with Joan Angela.

I have often wondered since why I did not advise her there and
then to agree to pay the ransom. Then they could have sent a
messenger to make the necessary stipulations with the military;
bankers, or the Government, would doubtless have advanced the
money on Joan Angela's note, and even a third of a million
dollars would hardly have inconvenienced her much. But the truth
is, it hardly occurred to me.

Courage is more contagious than disease. If she had dallied with
the notion I might have urged it. But the indomitable spirit was
so strong in her that there was lots to spare, and some of it
conveyed itself to me. It was likely enough she would have
despised me if I had ventured to propose surrender--not that I
would have let that prevent, if I had thought it best to yield.
But you can't consider yielding--not in Joan Angela's company. As
an abstract proposition, failure is incomprehensible to her; and
as a concrete fact it never seems to have been part of her
experience. Men have called me an idiot for not insisting on her
handing over the ransom money; but neither King, nor Grim, nor
Narayan Singh found fault with me in that respect; and I know
that as I sat there in the hut beside her (admiring her, I
admit), the only line of thought I followed was how to escape by
subtlety or violence. And I am not a subtle person.

"Let's take turns sleeping," I proposed. "Whichever of us is
awake should pocket any kind of food obtainable and any weapon
that comes within reach. I might hide a long knife, for instance,
inside my breeches. Above all, don't give them any idea that
we're thinking of escape. Now you go to sleep first."

She has grit, that girl. She did not argue, but went and lay down
on the sheepskins that had been my bed, and I kept watch while
she dropped off to sleep like a two-year-old. The old woman
started her crooning again, as if sleep were something dangerous,
productive of evil spirits to be exorcised. But after a while it
occurred to me she was trying to work magic to cast a spell over
us; so I pretended to doze off too, sitting up, and surprised her
in the act of searching Joan Angela's jacket pocket.

That put me in possession of a knife. She flashed the weapon the
instant she saw I was awake, and I took it from her, twisting her
wrist until she gasped; but she did not scream, and she was at
such pains to make no noise that I could not help noticing the
circumstance. She seemed much more anxious than I was to avoid
being heard by the watchers on guard outside.

What is it that makes a man act when his own judgment has nothing
definite on which to base itself. Intuition? Stored-up experience?
I don't know. I only do know that scores of times I have acted
swiftly in the face of facts that have seemed to suggest the
opposite course, and in the outcome have scored heavily.

I shoved that long knife down my breeches-leg, took the old woman
by the scruff of her wrinkled neck, opened the door, which was
only fastened with a leather thong, and kicked her out into the
midst of an astonished circle of Pathans, who were sitting around
a six-stick fire discussing prospects. She landed almost in the
fire. Two of them pointed their rifles at me and the rest kicked
her further on her way, she screaming and cursing, they laughing,
throwing stones after her as she slid out of sight down a
shoulder of rock.

Then I stood in the doorway, not particularly nervous on account
of rifles, since I argued they would hardly shoot a prisoner
worth money if they could avoid it; but curious. Four of the men
were playing a game with a wooden board and pebbles--a sort of
prehistoric form of checkers. I sat down between two of them and
looked on, remembering to bless them in the name of the Prophet
of God, and they returned the blessing civilly enough, although
one great hairy ruffian standing on the look-out near by slapped
his rifle meaningly. I nodded to him and he seemed to accept that
as a satisfactory promise of good conduct. His principal business
seemed to be to watch the British aeroplanes and give warning if
they should turn in our direction.

One of the players asked me if I had any money to gamble with,
but I was not fool enough to say yes. I always carry money. There
were four five-hundred-rupee notes tucked away in a pocket inside
my waistband, and I suspected Joan Angela of having more than
that in some fairly safe hiding-place; but the sight of money
would have acted like blood on wolves. However, the question gave
me an idea, and there are better ways than bribery to win the
friendship of a savage. Admire a horseman's horse, a musician's
music, a politician's politics, and he is your man.

I singled out the strongest-looking of them and admired his
muscle. He began to brag immediately and to show off, picking up
a piece of wood about the thickness of an axe-handle. He brake it
with a jerk. I entered into competition with him, breaking one of
the pieces, which was more than twice as difficult. It made my
head ache, but aroused the excited interest of all of them. The
fellow came back at me with an offer to try hand-grips, elbows to
the ground; so we lay down face to face, each with his right
elbow on the rock, and gripped fingers; he chose a tricky grip
that gave him an advantage, but I let him have it, and rapped his
knuckles on the rock so sharply that he shouted, and they all
laughed. He refused to try that a second time, so to put him in
good temper I let him beat me at pulling against each other, foot
to foot, and after that we were all on excellent terms. He told
me his name was Akbar bin Mahommed.

I asked him why they had been so glad to see the old hag kicked
out from the hut, but instead of answering the question they all
became suddenly interested in their rifles, and pretended to hear
sounds among the rocks below that called for investigation; so
when they had quit that foolishness I began to tell them stories,
remembering how Grim was used to managing wild Arabs in that way.
They became like children almost instantly, and one man turned
his back so that I might rest my head against his while I talked.
I told about magic I had witnessed in Benares, and about
imaginary old women who could turn a man into a crow, the crow
into an alligator, the alligator into a fish, and the fish into
an insect, after which the insect could be trodden on and
squashed by the first hoof that happened along--evolution vice
versa, as it were. They voted that a splendid story, and began to
brag about their own witches. The hag whom I had kicked so
cavalierly turned out to be one of them.

Her principal virtue, or demerit, according as a man employed her
or became her victim, was that she could see in the dark what a
man would do by daylight; and by mixing incantations with his
food could prevent his doing this or that thing and oblige him to
do something else. That, they said, was why Kangra Khan had sent
her into the but with us; and they added that now no doubt I
would have to do as Kangra Khan wished. But they all claimed to
have suffered under the old harridan in some way or another. She
had made this man's cow abortive, that man's wife barren, and the
other's child had died of smallpox. One fellow vowed he had spent
nine months in Peshawar gaol, all because, for spite, she had
given him the wrong magic when he set forth to rob soldiers at
the guard-post.

"But she will bewitch your foot for having kicked her!" Akbar bin
Mahommed added by way of afterthought. "And that is a pity, for
the foot is a good strong man's. Better kill her next time, lest
a worse evil befall. By Allah, I myself would kill her if I
dared; but my son is only two years old and at that age men
die easily."

"Is she devoted to Kangra Khan?" I asked him.

"Devoted to none but the devils! She supports him. None dares
refuse to obey him for fear of her."

It seemed likely Kangra Khan would resent my having kicked the
hag, if that was the state of local politics. I suggested
something of the sort, but they all laughed.

"Nay! He, too, is afraid of her. The next time she refuses him a
request he will bring her back to thee to be kicked and choked!
None of us dares wring her neck, but who cares whether she
bewitches thee?"

I asked where the British Lancers were, and with considerable
glee they pointed out a sort of amphitheatre in the foot-hills
about twenty miles away. After a while I made out an extended
string of dots, like insects, and they told me those were the
Lancers vainly searching in the wrong direction for Joan Angela
and me.

"And, by Allah, there will be some on this side who get boots and
new weapons!" they added. "Kangra Khan has set an ambush."

I asked about Kangra Khan, and they all agreed he was a good
strategist but a domineering fellow who could not brook rivalry
or even argument.

"He thinks that when he speaks his word is Allah's, and the
mullah must stand aside, praying backwards under his breath! In
time of fighting Kangra Khan is best; in peace, the mullah; so we
play the one against the other; but by the Prophet, on whom
blessings, a man can hardly call his life his own in any event."

Presently a party of Lancers began scouting in our direction, and
we could see the machine-gun ready to search out nooks and
crannies so I was ordered back into the hut, whose roof I noticed
then was hidden from above on three sides by an over-leaning crag
and camouflaged by the rock's shadow. It would probably be
impossible for a flyer to see the hut at all until late afternoon.
I stood in the doorway and watched the guard take cover as
skillfully as if they had had a course in Flanders; then went
in and took my turn on the sheepskins, while Joan Angela
stood watch.

They brought us meat and stolen rice at noon, with curry in
it--pretty evil stuff. I cached a little of the rice in a
handkerchief and went to sleep again, we taking turn and turn
about until evening, when they brought us more food, this time
bread of a sort made in the form of flat cakes like chupatties. I
cached quite a lot of that.

Then Kangra Khan came looking tired and none too well satisfied.
He omitted the customary blessing as he filled the doorway and
stood glaring in at us with his rifle slung behind his back.

"You have a last chance now to pay the ransom," he said angrily.
"The mullah has paper and pen. Will you sign a letter for us
to send?"

Joan Angela laughed at him, which is not a wise course to take
toward a chieftain in those savage hills.

"No," she said, "I've promised to attend your funeral."




CHAPTER III


"Thou and I are Birds Who Love the Storm, Sahiba."



The sun went down in an angry glare behind the hills at Kangra
Khan's back as he stood in the doorway muttering oaths into his
beard. He did not choose to be laughed at by a woman.  Nevertheless,
he postponed reprisals, and the reason appeared presently.

"See that!" he snarled, tossing an envelope to me. So, as it was
dark inside the hut, I went to the door and walked out past him
holding the letter toward the last red rays of sunshine. It was
written in Persian.

To Kangra Khan of the Orakzai (it ran), from Athelstan King.

Take notice. This affair is between you and me. You have
prisoners a woman and one of my friends. Their honor and their
lives are in your keeping. If ill-treatment should be offered
either of them then you and I will have a bone to pick and the
jackals shall tell the answer to the night. Settle your own
quarrel with the Raj, but look to me to hold you answerable for
the proper treatment of my friends.

I began to read the message aloud to Joan Angela, but Kangra Khan
snatched it from my hand.

"Mashallah! Does he think I am a wild beast?" he demanded. "Curse
his impudence! Those Lancers have slain a dozen of my men this
afternoon, and the fliers have finished off another score. Shall
I not play tit-for-tat on you two?"

I could have smashed him where he stood, for a well-aimed blow
would have cracked his head against the doorpost, but there were
too many men in the dark behind him to make that chance worth
taking. Besides, it was decidedly unlikely he would kill such
valuable prisoners as he calculated us to be.

"He invites you to act like a gentleman," I suggested.

"Not he! He threatens me!"

"He says it's between you and him," I retorted. "We're only
prisoners. You can't drag us into it."

He seemed to see the force of that. A savage always is at a
disadvantage when his sense of fairness is appealed to. It is
only the civilised folk who hold ethics subject to convenience. I
think what angered him was that King should have doubted his
proper intentions.

"Ye shall eat as I eat, sleep as I sleep, march as I march,
suffer as I suffer," he growled. "By Allah, ye shall pay the
price I name or be forever prisoners!" He strode into the hut as
if to seize Joan Angela, but was satisfied when she came backing
out in front of him. "By Allah, who is Lord of all, now hear me!
Ye have a hundred days. Pay me the money before the hundred
days are up or I take this woman for a wife and shoot thee,
Ramm-is-den. That will be my answer to Attleystan King!"

He tore the letter into little bits in front of us and threw them
to the winds, then turned and strode away, tossing an order back
over his shoulder to the men who were clustered in a group
between us and the edge of the rock on which the hut stood. They
signed to us to follow him and closed in before and behind, so
that we trod on the heels of the men in front and those behind
crowded us. Escape would have been impossible, and after an
hour's hard traveling the chance grew even less, for we followed
a track that wound in and out among crags and ravines with seldom
more than room for two to go abreast, and often only room for
single file. It was impossible to see into the ravines, for the
cliffs above us cast a deep-black shadow, and only the snarling
of Jhelum's tributary streams among the boulders hinted now and
then at what might be in store for anyone who stumbled.

But Joan Angela was a long way yet from being ill-pleased with
her lot. She was getting what she had come away from home
for--excitement. Money had taught her that you can't buy anything
worth having except responsibility, and she was tired of
expensive civilization--bored to rebellion against it. This was
fun in her eyes; real risk; genuine adventure; thrilling. She
began to sing until a man turned in his tracks and ordered her
curtly to be silent.

Joan Angela was going much the stronger of the two. A blow on the
back of the head leaves effects that are not thrown off too
easily. At the end of the second hour I began to feel dizzy and
had to sit down for a rest at intervals, to the awful disgust of
our escort and the alarm of Joan Angela.

"The big bullock weakens soonest!" they quoted, sneering.

"We'd better offer to pay up if you're going to be sick," Joan
Angela argued. "I won't have your life on my conscience."

It only made it worse, of course, to have to argue with her. What
was worse still, Kangra Khan looking down from above overheard us
and joined in.

"Ye have but a hundred days to pay in any case!" he reminded us;
and though I could not see him I could almost feel him grin. "One
month for a letter to go to America. One month for the letter to
return. A month for negotiations, and ten days to make the
payment in! Be but one day late and the woman shall know what
wifing means in a village of the Orakzai! Attleystan King may
come then and make a feud for her; mayhap he will bury such bones
of thine as the jackals haven't cracked up, Ramm-is-den!"

"Better pay," said my friend Akbar bin Mahommed, with a hand on
my shoulder. "Mashallah! It would be shame to see such a corpse
as thine blistering in a nullah. Write thou the letter and go
free when the money comes. Make a feud with him thereafter and I
will join thee!"

I thought that a mighty handsome offer and it put new heart in
me. That was no time or place to write letters in; time enough to
do that in the morning, if Joan Angela should then elect to
yield. A man who offers friendship to a fellow in a tight place
ranks ace high in my esteem, whatever his friendship may be
actually worth. I struggled on again; and after a while we came
to a circular cup in the hills where a group of stone huts
surrounded a corral in which were three lean horses.

There was argument. There always is in that land when anything
whatever is to be done or left undone; but at the end of half an
hour's explosive blasphemy, in which the name of Allah mingled
with pollution and the angels were summoned to witness the mess,
two of the horses were finally "borrowed under duress" for Joan
Angela and me, and the poor old skate that fell to my lot started
on the worst, and last, adventure of his life.

I overheard Kangra Khan saying he really took the horses, not on
my account, but because the men we took them from would want them
back, and therefore would be wary about giving information about
our route to any British troops who might chance on our line of
retreat. That sounded plausible, but it may have been only his
method of keeping up a reputation with his men for iron-hearted
craftiness. It served at any rate to inform me on two points. I
bullied my sorry beast until I was knee to knee with Joan Angela.

"Our host is afraid of pursuit, and not too popular hereabouts,"
I told her. "Pathans are poor hands at sticking together. If
there's a dispute among themselves our chance to escape improves."

She nodded. "I won't pay as long as your head holds out," she
answered. "But you and I are friends, Jeff, and you know me well
enough to say so the minute you feel like it. If it weren't for
your injury I'd call it good fun."

Well, opinions differ as to what is fun. Now, looking back at it,
I can see her point of view; but just then there was nothing
except dislike for squealing (to apply no stronger term) that
kept me from counseling surrender. I made up my mind to let
things take their course until the next day, after which I would
urge her to pay the ransom unless some obvious means of escape
should present itself. You see, Joan Angela is not the type of
young woman you can treat in any way except as an equal mentally
and physically. She can endure as much as any man alive in the
way of roughing it, and about the only kind of man who doesn't
find her splendid company is the kind who can't or won't forget
the sex problem. To her mind it is no problem, anyhow, and if I
had played the part of a heavy male protecting her against a
world too dangerous for her sex she would have held it against me
all my days. I would have lost a friend I value.

Yet men who have seen her since, in evening dress at Simla and
such places, have thought me a scoundrel for not compelling her,
by force if necessary, to pay the ransom and have done with it.
There is one man in particular whose talkative head I intend to
punch as soon as I am well enough to leave this hospital.

We rode interminably up and down a winding track that would have
suited goats, I walking as often as not because my horse was too
weak to negotiate the stiffer places with my weight on him. Once
or twice, as if to prove the dissension among the Pathans that I
suspected, there were shots fired near at hand; but whether at us
or in pursuance of some regulation feud it was impossible to
guess. We were making a prodigious noise, stumbling over the
rocks and kicking loose stones that went echoing down into the
gorges. Sound travels in those hills as if through speaking
galleries, and a wakeful enemy might have heard us coming for
miles away.

The strange part was that although we saw the flash of a rifle
frequently, and our men usually fired at the spot where the flash
was seen, not a bullet sang near us. It was like a sham fight
staged for the motion-pictures, and Kangra Khan led on and on, as
if there were no fight at all.

Then the moon rose, wan and silvery, veiled like a bride in a
wreath of mist; and we came to a cliff shaped like Gibraltar. At
the angle facing us the track divided, turning to right and left.
Kangra Khan took the left hand, and we filed after him. Close
behind me walked Akbar bin Mahommed, and there were two more men
guarding our rear about fifty or a hundred yards behind--both
busy at the moment with an enemy who yelled insults and fired
wildly from between rocks practically out of range.

The wan moonlight shone on that Gibraltar-shaped cliff, and it
was impossible to pass it unseen. There was a distance of
possibly two hundred yards along which the track that Kangra Khan
had chosen wound like a glistening snake before it dipped into
gloom again. It looked like sheer, stark suicide to follow that
course under fire: the track was narrow; there were no caves, no
boulders, no shelter; a man's shape would be silhouetted against
grey cliff. An owl swooped by, and bird and shadow were as clear
as if they had been etched. The only element of safety was the
deep, dark ravine on the left hand, which was so wide that an
enemy under cover on the far side would have to sight carefully;
but, even so, the range was not more than three hundred yards.

However, Kangra Khan hurried forward, perhaps in haste to get the
danger done with, and his men hurried at his heels at two or
three yard intervals. Akbar bin Mahommed, close behind me, made
no comment, and the firing in the rear ceased. Silence fell as if
the air had suddenly refused to carry any sound except the
snarling of a waterfall a mile away.

"Wait a minute!" I said, and Joan Angela drew rein. We watched
Kangra Khan and his men step forward into the pale light.

"Allah! What now?" asked Akbar bin Mahommed.

Suddenly a hurricane of rifle-firing spilt the silence, and for
about a minute the ledge on the far side of the ravine was lit
with spurting flame. There must have been fifty men pot-shotting
out of ambush, and at one spot flashed powder enough to suggest a
machine-gun. Bullets splashed against the glistening cliff, and
whole sections of shale shuddered and slid downward. Yet Kangra
Khan continued on his way, and not even his men seemed in any
special hurry.

"You see for yourself," I said, turning to Akbar.

"Ho!" he answered. "That is nothing! Those are the Jebel Waziris.
They came to loot across the border, but they quarreled with us.
Now they think to leave a feud or two behind them on their way
home. But, by Allah, none can shoot straight against that cliff
in this light--as the British learned a year ago. By day a boy
could hold the path against a hundred men. By night--ride on
and see!"

"By Allah, no!" I answered, and I seized Joan Angela's rein to
make sure no spirit of daring should take hold of her and send
her galloping across the line of fire.

"I'm not afraid of anything those savages dare face," she said,
laughing at me, and Akbar bin Mahommed was in the act of seizing
my rein to drag the horse forward, when it suddenly occurred to
me that our chance had come. There were only two men to our rear.
If we could make those plugs of ours gallop we had a reasonably
good chance to escape.

I thought of the knife, but there was not time to pull that out
from its hiding-place. Besides, even in that crisis I doubt
whether I would have used the blade of it on Akbar--he and I had
grown too friendly (though I don't doubt he would have shot me).
I swung my fist back for a blow that should have stunned him--and
the horse shied.

Something--brown-black-heavy--slid in an avalanche of loose shale
and fell from the ledge above us plump on to Akbar's shoulders.
His rifle went spinning into the ravine. A hand that must have
had a grip of steel went to his mouth, and he lay helpless,
heaving in spasms underneath a dark-robed thing that might have
been a vampire-bat. In the shadow at our feet the outspread
sleeves of the garment looked like wings. But the bat's head
turned, and Grim's pale face glanced up at me!

"Take the right-hand track!" he snapped. "Hurry!"

But I could hear the rearguard coming. I jumped off the horse and
waited for them, trying to draw the knife while I crouched in the
shadow of a projecting spur of the rock-wall. But they came too
fast, and I failed to get my belt undone in time. So I punched
the first man in the nose, and he went over backward, rifle and
all, into the ravine, crying out to Allah as he fell. The other
fellow fired at me point-blank and singed the bandage on my head.
I wrenched the rifle away, and swung the butt-end upward,
catching him below the jaw, and he followed his friend, making no
outcry whatever. I heard the two of them fall--thump-thump--on
the rocks below.

Now the rear was open for retreat, and I didn't doubt for a
second Grim would change his plans. I hurried back to him, and
found Joan Angela helping him to lash Akbar bin Mahommed's hands
with the reins belonging to my sorry screw. Neither of them knew
Grim, and to me he seemed like an apparition in a dream. Not a
word was said until Akbar's hands were safely lashed behind him.
Then Grim said "Mount!" and we obeyed him.

It never entered my head that he would still insist on the
right-hand track in front of us. I reached for my brute's nose to
pull him round and start back along the way we had come; but Grim
slapped his rump and kicked him forward, and in a second we
were trotting straight for the great Gibraltar rock, Joan
Angela leading.

There was one great pool of light to cross before we could plunge
into darkness on the right-hand side. Just before we reached it
Grim vaulted up behind me, and the miserable horse nearly
collapsed under our joint weight. Joan Angela jockeyed her plug
into a gallop, shot through the zone of brightness, and was
swallowed in the gloom. We followed at an amble, which was our
poor beast's last broken-hearted effort. Midway through the zone
of light a bullet from I don't know what direction struck him
behind the girth and he pitched to the ground, throwing Grim and
me into a heap in front of him. Grim pulled a pistol out and
finished that business. Then we ran, each with a hand on Akbar,
and found Joan Angela dismounted waiting for us in the darkness
just round the bend.

My head was swimming, but I supposed we must hurry on. However,
Grim said "No."

"Sit down and take a cinch on things," he suggested, fingering my
bandage. "Is your head bad?"

"Who are you?" Joan Angela asked him. "Jim Grim? Who is that?
Thanks awfully for coming, anyhow!"

"Where's King?" I asked as soon as I could pull myself a
bit together.

"Lord knows! He and I took the trail the minute the Lancers said
Miss Leich was missing. They had opinions of their own, of
course, but King suspected Kangra Khan instantly. It was probable
you'd have to lie up all day, and that gave us time to overtake
you if we used our wits; and King knew of a bunch of Jebel
Waziris whom he once befriended in some border row. So he and
Narayan Singh took one side of the ravine to get their help if
possible, and I came this way picking up your trail. I'm supposed
to be Ali Ibraim, a very holy person from Arabia. They tell
things to a holy man, you know, and don't molest him--much. I
carry a tooth of the Prophet with me--found it in a dead man's
skull this side of the Jhelum. Those were the Jebel Waziris on
the far side of the ravine. It was touch and go. I was afraid
they'd shoot us all, but Allah was on our side that time."

"How on earth did you manage it?" Joan Angela asked him.

"It looked impossible. But Narayan Singh sent a woman to me to
have herself blessed for childbirth. I gave her a written amulet,
which wouldn't be any good until she'd found him again and had
him write the name of Mahommed and several angels on the back of
it. After that she'd have twins. So I guess he got my message.
But, by Gorry, if I don't sleep and eat soon I'll be no good!"

I gave him the rice and chupatties I had cached in my
handkerchief--a most disgusting mess it was.

"Have you two eaten recently?" he asked, and then, when we told
him yes, devoured the lot as if he liked it.

"This is the best fun ever!" said Joan
Angela--truthfully--fervently. She wouldn't have changed places
with any woman in the world just then! Grim met her eyes, and
glanced at me.

"We're not through yet," he assured her curtly.

As he spoke there came the stuttering din of rifle-firing from
around the cliff behind us...angry, spasmodic stuff...and
yells of imprecation.

"That'll be Kangra Khan trying to fight his way back," said Grim.
"He hasn't a chance. But the trouble is our Waziri friends have
made themselves unpopular. They're being hounded in their turn.
Two outfits of Pathans are on their heels to scupper them before
they can reach home; so all we've got is a hundred men in a hurry
to reach the skyline with every man's hand against 'em. Retreat
to the border is cut off absolutely. Kangra Khan has bragged
about Miss Leich and her millions; he was using that yesterday as
a talking-point to rally armed men to his standard. All he
accomplished was to arouse cupidity, and now they're all on the
watch for her between here and the border. They figure she's a
prize worth bagging!"

"Won't the British troops come for us?" Joan Angela asked.

"Let's hope not!" he answered. "The tribes would stop quarreling
among themselves and make common cause. Even our friends the
Waziris would be forgiven _pro tem._ The best thing the British
can do is to withdraw across the border and pretend they don't
care a hoot. Time's the main thing. Every day that passes without
cash in sight will tend to decrease Miss Leich's market price.
Meanwhile, the more they quarrel among themselves for her
possession, the better our chance. Gee-whizz! They're hitting
her up!"

It began to be clear now why Kangra Khan had led his handful of
men so boldly along that moonlit track. He had reinforcements
waiting for him somewhere along there, and now he was leading
them back to find his prisoners, suspecting probably that the
Waziris had seized us. He seemed to have enough men with him to
force the issue, judging by the din; but the light was against
him, and the yells from the far side of the ravine were triumphant,
not discouraged.

"If King's with the Waziris, you can bet on them safely," Grim
said, listening intently. "Lord! Let's hope the noise don't bring
marauders our way! We haven't a friend to windward. The Waziris
are our one reliance--and a shifty lot at that!"

Joan Angela showed him her pistol, but he shook his head.

"Keep that for the last contingency," he advised. "Are you fit?
Can you march? Is your nerve all right? Then never show your
pistol to a soul until you have to use it on yourself. Getting
killed don't hurt. The most the best of us can ask for is to die
clean. Hide that thing away."

But he drew his own pistol, and stood leaning against the horse,
with an outcrop of the cliff on his right hand, so that he could
watch the track either way and have the best of any sudden turn
of affairs. I noticed he had two more pistols in a belt under his
dark cloak, and when I suggested he should lend me one of them he
passed it butt-first. About a second after we came within an ace
of accident.

To our right, in a momentary lull between the bursts of rifle-fire,
we heard the sound of hurrying feet and clinking weapons. I stood
up and leaned over the horse beside Grim, and we raised our
pistols to fire point-blank along the track. It was impossible
to see anything; the bulge of the cliff cut off the zone of
moonlight; one and the same thought urged both of us to stagger
the attacking force by a sudden burst of unexpected pistol-shots
and then make a bolt for it. Joan Angela guessed our intention
and stood by to jump on the horse.

But the hurrying ceased, and the thirty or forty pairs of feet we
had heard reduced themselves to three or four, who advanced at a
walk more cautiously. So much the better for our plan! I
calculated the probable level of a man's heart and managed to
pull that long knife out as well for a furious set-to before we
beat retreat. We heard a gruff voice giving orders in Pushtu.

"Careful now! We're near them. Dark and the mother of death are
one! Halt! I go forward alone!"

Something blacker than the blackness loomed around the serrated
outcrop. I fired. Grim knocked my pistol up in the very nick
of time.

"God save you, sahib, that is the only turban I have!" said a
voice I recognized, and Narayan Singh stepped up to us, showing
his teeth in a great white grin in the midst of his black beard.
He pulled the turban off and rubbed his head where the bullet had
grazed the scalp.

"I have thirty men behind me," he went on, beginning to rebind
the turban as casually as if he were in camp. "But it is difficult,
for these Waziris are not in love with Sikhs, who have slain too
many of their comrades in the border fights. King sahib bade
me bring these ruffians to hold this track, lest Kangra Khan
should fight his way round the corner yonder in spite of
everything. They are picked men, but who shall pick diamonds from
a dunghill?" he asked, giving the turban a final twist, and
adjusting the whole at last as a woman gives the final touches to
her hat. "Is the sahiba well?"

We introduced him to Joan Angela, who shook hands. She had met
him before in Egypt, and was as pleased as he was to renew
the acquaintance.

"Thou and I are birds who love the storm, sahiba!" he said
gallantly. "Better to die well than to live ill. This would look
like opportunity; yet the gods know best. These sahibs know I
speak the truth when I say I am your servant."

I did not catch her answer. Someone shouted for Narayan Singh,
and we all went hurrying back along the track to the corner,
where we piled up such loose rocks as we could find and, in the
limelight, as it were, held that point of disadvantage against
Kangra Khan's men while King worked his Waziris down into the
ravine below. Every man of ours had a rifle stolen from the
British, and they squandered ammunition as men always do waste
stolen goods; but even so, we failed in our object. Kangra Khan
detected King's purpose to join us; the Waziris made too much
noise negotiating the watercourse; to judge by their yelling some
of them reached our side, but when it came to climbing the steep
slope they were met by a sweeping fire from several hundred
rifles. Kangra Khan told off a couple of dozen men to keep us
busy and poured the rest of his nickeled lead into the ravine.
Once I heard a long, shrill whistle--King's in all likelihood--and
after that there was more or less silence below while the Waziris
beat retreat under a galling fire up the slope they had so easily
descended. Only one man reached us--a fellow with a bullet
through his arm, immensely angry.

By dint of threatening to tie her hand and foot I had persuaded
Joan Angela to keep out of sight behind the corner. The newcomer
crawled behind our barricade of stones until he reached her
hiding place, and then got to his feet. I followed him to make
sure of his intentions, but he only looked at her; he did not
seem to regard her as anything more than a curiosity. And before
he spoke to me he tore a strip of calico from his filthy shirt
and, with one end of the strip in his teeth, proceeded to bind
his arm. Joan Angela instantly offered to do it for him, but he
grinned savagely, and turned his face to me.

"Allah's wonders! We are all dead men below there!" he said,
jerking his right thumb across his shoulder. "Why not sell this
woman to the Pathans if they desire her so much? My people wish
to go home."

"How many did you lose down there in the ravine?" I asked him.

"A thousand," he answered. He presumably meant ten. "Where is
Jimgrim? I was to speak with Jimgrim. Who art thou?"

I told him I was Jimgrim, doubting whether it was safe to strip
off Grim's disguise as a holy man from Arabia.

"Well met!" he answered. "But thou art a liar none the less! I am
King sahib's friend, and he told me Jimgrim is the Hajji Ali
Ibraim, whom men call Jimgrim because he is beautiful and loved
of many women."

It is no insult to be called a liar in those raw hills--rather a
compliment. They envy those who have enough imagination to invent
an untruth on the spur of an occasion.

"What is the message?" I asked him. "I am Jimgrim's friend."

"King sahib says: `She should die, and if a youth should step
into her shoes, and he a holy man, it might be well.' But he
said: `Jimgrim is the man who will attend to it.' None the less,
if Jimgrim fights among the rocks there, thou and I might throw
her over the cliff and save him trouble. Have you the holy youth
to take her place?"

"Let Jimgrim do his own work," I answered, stepping between Joan
Angela and him. "What is the rest of the message?"

"Where is that Sikh? Is he here?"

We peered round the corner, and I pointed out Narayan Singh
crouching behind a boulder, firing into black night. "By Allah's
teeth, I have a bone to pick with that Sikh! The dog called me a
son of--"

"Pick it with me, then," I answered. "Give me the rest of the
message first."

I laid a hand on him, for he was minded to go after Narayan Singh
that minute. He tried to break away, but I jerked him round again
to face me.

"Kill him!" said a voice beside me. "It was he who set fire to
the cloth-stalls in Peshawar half a year since!" And Akbar bin
Mahommed, with his hands still lashed behind him, thrust his face
between us. "Yussuf, thou dog, I would kill thee myself if I were
not tied!"

"Trussed like a pig!" answered Yussuf, and spat into Akbar's face.

For answer Akbar ducked his head and butted the Waziri like a
ram, hitting him in the belly and sending him reeling backward
into the line of fire where a bullet drilled him through the head
from ear to ear and he lay grinning in the moonlight, twitching
his fingers, with his brains oozing out on the rock.

So we never received the latter part of King's message, and had
no means of guessing what his plan might be. I dragged a fellow
out of the line of fire and sent him to try to cross the ravine
and bring an answer back; but he never returned, and whether he
was shot or simply ran away I don't know.

When I had sent that messenger I shouted for Grim, but though he
heard me it was several minutes before he came crawling behind
the improvised barricade. Heavy firing had returned from the far
side of the ravine, but there was still a chance that Kangra
Khan's men might try to rush the corner, and Grim saw fit to give
that danger his first attention. He was moving from man to man,
encouraging each in turn. I saw him pull out the "Prophet's
tooth" and show it to several of them. Then their war-cry
went up--"Allaho Akbar!"--and there ceased to be much risk
of flinching.

Meanwhile, Akbar bin Mahommed thrust his face up close to mine
and stared into my eyes as if he could see through them to the
thought behind.

"Let my hands go, Ramm-is-den," he urged. "I swear friendship. By
Allah and the Prophet and the honor of my father; by my father's
beard and mine, and by the Holy Tomb, I swear I am thy friend!
Untie my hands. By Allah's breath I will be thy brother until
I die!"

He turned to Joan Angela, and looked into her eyes as he had
into mine.

"Sahiba, thou art this man's wife. Bid him loose me. I will be
thy man and his until Azrael summons all of us."

She did not understand a word of Pushtu, but his appeal was
obvious enough. He shook the hands behind him that were lashed
with the leather thong so tightly that the wrists were swelling,
and turned half toward her so that she might loose the knots
if I refused.

"Do you know these hills hereabouts?" I asked him.

"Aye. There is not a cranny I do not know."

"How far to the nearest village?"

"There are four villages that I could reach before the moon sets."

"Have you friends among them?"

"Nay! Who loves me hereabouts?"

He doubtless read the disappointment on my face, for his eyes
were close to mine again.

"But there are those who fear me," he added. "There is a woman
who must do my bidding lest I laugh in her husband's face, and
she die of his knife. Listen, Ramm-is-den! Inshallah, I may help
thee, for I heard what that dog of a Waziri said. If she is to
die"--he glanced at Joan Angela--"and a youth shall take her
place...by Allah am I wrong, or does it mean that she shall
not die, and that only the clothes are needed, so that she may
pass for a hairless boy? Then I am the man to manage it! Loose my
hands and give me a weapon. Give me that knife. I know a young
Afridi hereabouts who has been to Bokhara and picked up foreign
manners there, along with a way of wearing clothes that would
shame a Hindu. He teaches some new kind of politics to the
younglings, because the elders will not listen to him, and goes
unharmed because they say he is mad. I will strip him naked, and
she may wear his foppery. Loose me! Let me make haste!"

"Can you bring him here alive?" I asked.

He hesitated, looking straight into my eyes.

"Let that be the test of thy good faith," I said. "Wherever we
go, follow, and bring that youth alive to us."

"Good. I will do it. Ye will not go far among these hills," he
answered with a note of irony.

Then Grim came, and I gave him King's message.

"Shall I let this fellow go?" I asked, explaining why.

Grim nodded, and I cut the thong, then gave Akbar the knife.
He held it out for Grim and me to touch the hilt, hesitated
in front of Joan Angela, and after a moment held it out for her
to touch too--a prodigious concession, for it is not thought
manly to show a woman too much courtesy in that land. Then he
was gone, running like the wind up the track away from us.

The rifle-firing was as furious as ever. Now and again there
would come half a dozen fairly steady volleys from the far side
of the ravine, as if King was trying to instil some system into
the Waziris. Then there would be a riot of independent shots,
followed by silence, and volleys again at intervals. Kangra
Khan's men were wasting ammunition as if it were the easiest
stuff to come by in the world, instead of having to be stolen
from the British or bought for its weight in coined silver.
"We're beaten," said Grim, "and I don't know what to do." It was
the first time in all my knowledge of him that he had ever
admitted that. "King can't get to us, nor we to him. The tribes
will have heard this shindy, and when morning comes they'll
surround us all. Then goodbye!"

But Joan Angela, who should have been the most discouraged, laughed.

"Why will the tribesmen wait until the morning?" she asked, with
a woman's flair for questions.

"They dread the dark. Unless they're caught out, they stay in and
stir late," Grim answered.

"Then we've hours ahead of us. Anything might happen. Let's try
our luck. Mine's always good."

Grim was racking his brains, and it was no use my proposing
anything. I knew the language well enough, but did not know the
hills; nor did he know them nearly as well as King, who was out
of reach. Whatever we might elect to do, there would be no means
of getting word of it across that ravine in time to give King a
chance to follow up.

"If we wait until dawn we can signal," Grim said, scratching his
chin. "King and I both know the Morse code."

"How many men are hurt?" I asked him.

"Several...eight or nine. I know of four dead. We can't leave
the wounded here."

"I'll bet you King does something clever!" said Joan Angela. "He
has the most men. He'll realize it's up to him."

"If he don't we're all done for," Grim answered gloomily.

But it did not sound as if King were being clever. His Waziris,
yelling imprecations, started suddenly to squander ammunition
more furiously than ever. The edge of the ravine along the far
side became a line of spurting flame. He seemed to have persuaded
his men to space themselves along a wider front, and perhaps a
scout or a false alarm had put them in fear of a rush by Kangra
Khan's contingent. Shot answered shot across the impenetrable
darkness, and I wondered how long the cartridges would last, when
suddenly Narayan Singh leapt up and shouted: "Ahah! See them!
Ahah! King sahib, thou art a king, a great one! Ho! A head is
worth a hundred thousand rifles! Jimgrim sahib! Rammy sahib! Come
and see!"




CHAPTER IV


"What the Hell Do You Know About Women?"



The moon had shifted to the westward far enough to uncover Kangra
Khan's position, and because of the shape of the Gibraltar rock
our corner now was more obscure. We were still exposed in a hazy
light, but the table was turning rapidly. All the advantage of
light was coming our way...and King's. Outline by outline,
Kangra Khan's predicament disclosed itself; and suddenly the
moonbeams touched with silver a long ledge, higher than the
Pathans' position, and we all knew what Narayan Singh was
exulting about.

I could see King...knew it must be he. No man on earth stands
exactly as he does when he is himself, not playing parts. His
unself-consciousness seems absolute then, so utterly absorbed in
what he sees and hears that neither danger nor convenience exist
for him. He stood like a statue beyond the ravine, on a crag that
overhung that moonlit ledge, directing his Waziris, half of whom
had crawled to the new position and were pouring a galling fire
down into the _sangar_* Kangra Khan was holding. [* A fortress of stones]

There was still the ravine between them, but at that point it
curved in Kangra Khan's direction and grew considerably narrower,
so that the utmost range was not more than two hundred yards.
Kangra Khan's men were forced to crouch close to their stone
wall, which put them almost out of action, although there was
possibly room for twenty of them in a square stone tower at one
corner, from which they were answering the Waziris fire. The
others, under the wall, had to content themselves with yelling,
and by the noise they made I judged there were several hundred of
them; but numbers don't mean much (except to increase the
problem) when the tide of fortune turns.

The moonlight track that led from us to the _sangar_ was still
covered by about a third of King's men, who had practically
ceased fire, sending only an occasional warning shot to serve
notice that the way was barred, and notifying us that it was a
"one way street." A one-eyed charwoman could have recognized
that opportunity.

Grim pulled out his Prophet's tooth and acted like a regimental
chaplain showing Irish troops a crucifix. We had about twenty men
still fit for action, and they began their chant "Allaho Akbar...
Allaho Akbar," gaining and gaining in speed and noise until
it sounded like the tumult of a hundred, and the echo went
grinding and clamoring away into the hills, cannoning back and
forth from crag to crag. We may have sounded like a thousand to
the Pathans up there in the _sangar,_ already desperate under the
slanting hail of Waziri bullets.

I shouted to Joan Angela to stay where she was, and rushed
forward to get in the front rank with Grim and Narayan Singh.
(There was no room for more than three or four abreast at any
point along that track.) In a second I was passed by half a dozen
of our Waziris, so I practically led the rearguard, stumbling
over lumps of shale that had been shot down from the cliff wall
on our right hand.

I believe we might have made the _sangar_ wall unnoticed by
Kangra Khan's men, in spite of the yelling and the noise of the
loose shale underfoot; for they, too, were yelling, and the
echoes were so confusing that our particular din might have been
coming from anywhere. But King's Waziris saw us, and opened a
supporting fire too soon, so that we rushed with a screaming
stream of bullets overhead, and the pat-pat-patter of their hail
on the _sangar_ wall preceded us.

One huge Pathan leapt up on the wall waving a tulwar and crumpled
up backwards under a hail of bullets. Another took his place, and
was run through the belly by Narayan Singh's long sabre. Half a
dozen more leapt over the wall, engaging Grim, Narayan Singh and
several of our men long before I could come on the scene, for it
was a straggling rush we made, not timed to meet the exigencies
of the slowest. Then we of the rearguard came up breathless, and
a man beside me lent me the use of his knee to leap the wall.

I was first over, yelling, I don't doubt, like two or three men.
Only Grim was silent. Narayan Singh roared for a dozen. He and
Grim were over close behind me. I stumbled over a dead Pathan and
seized his tulwar. In a second we were backed against the stone
wall in the shadow fighting for dear life, with fifty of Kangra
Khan's contingent at our throats, and our own men scrambling over
one by one to drop down and hack and thrust before their feet
touched ground.

That was a fight! One of our men was drilled clean through the
head by a Waziri bullet from over the ravine as he crossed the
wall, for King's men did not cease fire soon enough. But I think
nineteen got over unscathed, and the odds against them, and the
utter hopelessness of quarter, made them fight like devils on the
slag. To our left front King never ceased his hail of fire
against the tower and the wall on that side, so we would have
been mowed down if we had left our cover; and many of Kangra
Khan's Pathans who tried to get at us by taking a short cut
across the midst of the enclosure fell before they came half-way.

It was knife-work--butt and blade and pistol. The Pathan falls
back on his natural weapon and tactics in a tight place, and none
of us had time to load, or even to aim, for they came at us in
the shadow of the wall in a series of spurts and rushes, and when
a man was down that was not by any means the end of him. A Pathan
with hardly life left in him would crawl in close and try to
thrust his knife home before Allah beckoned him.

We lost nine of our nineteen, all dead, for there was no chance
for a wounded man except to fight on...no quarter...no
appeal for it. I broke the tulwar on a rifle-barrel thrust up by
a Pathan to guard his head, and the broken half of the blade went
half-way through his skull between the eyes. Then I emptied the
pistol, and after that I ducked to avoid a blow, and grabbed a
dead man's rifle, using butt and thrust like an old-time
quarterstaff.

Once, and then again, I was saved by a pistol-shot that flashed
up from under my arm when three Pathans attacked at once. I had
the outside berth, on the edge of the line of moonlight, where
the hail of King's Waziri bullets swept within a yard of me, and
there were men who went down under my clubbed butt who were
nearly shot to pieces as they lay; so I was easier for the
Pathans to see than any other of our party, and well for me that
singlestick and gloves have always been my favorite pastime!
Fifty times in half as many minutes I was dead but for the
training of hand and eye those sports had given me.

And more than a dozen times, from under my legs or arms, or over
my shoulder, something--someone--that I had no time to turn and
see, created a diversion. It was swift, wild, savage work, brute
instinct up, with Karma signifying who were to be slain and who
the survivors. Luck, some fellows call it. Law, say I. Neither my
time, nor Grim's, nor Narayan Singh's had come. No flinching yet
on either side. Nothing but a shambles in the dark. And King's
move next.

The firing over our heads ceased, and a yell as from the emptying
graves on judgment Day came up from the ravine, announcing that
King's Waziris were making a second attempt to cross. And this
time they came like the wind, for half of King's men kept up such
a withering hail of fire from the new position on the ledge that
none could man the walls to make the ravine impassable...and
besides, there were we who had to be dealt with before any man
dared turn his back on us. Once, from the stone tower, Kangra
Khan in desperation turned his fire in our direction; but his
riflemen, already wild and wavering, could not see us in the
shadow. They mowed down half a dozen of their own side, and then
had to turn again to rake the flanks of the ravine.

Then the show was over, with the sudden swiftness of a hailstorm.
How the word spread among the ranks of the defenders I don't
know. There was a last savage rush in our direction...a last
melee breast to breast, with long knives thrusting upward from
behind between the legs of those in front and the curses hot in
your face as a man's life winged to its account--then almost
silence! They melted. They flitted away like ghosts. They
vanished over the rear wall of the _sangar_ like a string of
shadows cast by magic-lantern rays, leaving nothing but a lot of
dead men and some broken, empty cartridge-boxes. One wounded man
sat up in the midst of the open space, laughed like a ghoul,
fired at me point-blank, missed by an inch, and fell backward
stone dead. That was the last shot fired that night.

I turned to see who stood behind me, and looked straight into
Joan Angela's grey eyes! She held an empty pistol in one hand,
and in the other a long tulwar that had blood on the end of
the blade.

"You fight like a man, Jeff!" she said with a little nervous
laugh. "I'm sorry I'm only a woman, but I was useful once
or twice."

Her overcoat was torn, and stained with blood where she had knelt
to guard my legs. Her lips were parted, and her eyes wild with
excitement. She did not seem afraid, but the hand that held the
tulwar was shaking.

"Are you hurt at all?" I asked her.

"No," she answered. "How's your head?"

I had forgotten my head. It was bleeding. The cut had opened, and
the bandage was a sticky mess. I think it was that, and the
exertion, that saved me from a protracted spell of illness, for
my brain was clear again and there was no more numbness. Joan
Angela took a dead man's turban and began to look for a clean
piece to make a new bandage. I was pulling off the old one,
turning at the same time to see where Grim and Narayan Singh
might be, when the next thing happened.

Our men were all leaning over the wall to watch King's Waziris
come climbing out of the ravine, yelling jokes at them and
boasting. I had dropped my clubbed rifle to attend to the
bandage. Suddenly two of Kangra Khan's Pathans rushed out from a
shadow, and one of them aimed a blow at me with a tulwar that
made my skin tingle as I ducked. The other seized Joan Angela
around the waist.

I yelled for help, and closed with my man, crushing the breath
out of him before he could recover and swing the tulwar a second
time. I got his wrist and twisted it until he let the weapon
fall, and that took only seconds, but it gave the other fellow
time enough. He carried Joan Angela away into the shadow, seizing
her from behind with great hairy arms like an orang-outang's. She
could not scream, but she kicked and nearly tripped him. He had
his hands full.

I shouted, and some of our men and Narayan Singh came running. I
hurled my prisoner into the midst of them backwards and don't
know what happened to him. When I saw him again he was dead. I
heard Joan Angela gasp in the darkness somewhere. There was a
struggle, for the man gasped too, and swore. We rushed for
the sound, and cornered the two of them between two inside
buttresses, and the Pathan realised the game was up, for he
spoke. You could not see anything...not even his eyes.

"By the blood of my father, I will choke her if you move another
step!" he snarled. So he had no weapon. That was something.
(Pathans don't strangle people if they have a knife available.)
Joan Angela did not speak; he had his hand over her mouth; but I
could hear her heels cracking against his shins. Then she
gurgled, and I knew he was choking her. Narayan Singh and I
rushed in simultaneously. The Pathan took to his heels, and we
missed him in the dark, cannoning into each other. We had to stop
and listen. Then we heard him dragging her body along the stones,
and he had reached the corner of the wall before we overhauled
him. Then he had to step into the moonlight, and we saw he had
her by the coat-collar. She seemed either dead or unconscious,
and he had the nerve to try to vault the wall and hoist her over
before we reached him. Narayan Singh jumped for him and I grabbed
the girl; but he kicked Narayan Singh in the jaw and slipped down
out of sight over the wall, taking the overcoat with him, minus
one sleeve.

The girl's tongue was out between her teeth, and it took several
minutes' hard rubbing before the muscles of her throat and neck
began to function properly and she opened her eyes. By that time
there was no more hope of catching the Pathan, nor for that
matter much object to be gained by it. King's Waziris were
swarming over the wall, and I helped Joan Angela along toward the
tower, meaning to carry her up the outside steps to the upper
part of it, out of harm's way; for those Waziris were allies
rather by accident than design, and there was no guessing yet
what their attitude might be toward a valuable prisoner. We were
at their mercy absolutely, and they might see fit to compensate
themselves for their heavy losses in the night's engagement. They
were savages to a man, with a savage sense of justice...honor
of a kind, and elemental decency no doubt; but elements are
unconventional. If they in their predicament should assert their
own right now to hold Joan Angela to ransom, no other argument
than force was likely to have much weight.

So I carried her up the irregular steps that formed an outside
support to the tower on two sides, and into the draughty square
chamber, pierced for rifle-fire. There was no roof--only burned
beams where a roof had once been, and most of the stones that had
formed the roof were still littered about the floor, which in one
place had broken under the weight. In the midst was a square hole
above the deep well that gave the tower its excuse for being and
made it tenable against attack. There was no windlass or rope and
bucket, but a ladder made of sticks lashed clumsily with hide, up
and down which whoever wanted water had to climb. I tested the
ladder with my own weight, and told Joan Angela to get down into
the dark hole and hide there if I should give the alarm.

Then I climbed to the crazy wooden platform at the stairhead
outside and waited, hoping nobody had missed me and that none had
seen me carrying the girl across the moonlit enclosure. It was a
wild hope, I admit, but a man throws reason overboard when it
argues only pessimism in a tight place; and besides, our small
party of Waziris were celebrating victory with their friends who
swarmed over the wall, chanting a battle-song, greeting friends,
exchanging boasts, and some searching the bodies of the dead for
loot. I could see Grim and Narayan Singh trying to persuade some
of them to mount guard on the defenses. King had not appeared
over the wall yet, and it was impossible to guess what he was
doing in the dark, but I could hear voices somewhere midway down
our flank of the ravine.

My perch on the platform gave me a view of all of the enclosure
that was not in shadow, and of acres of darkness and moonlight to
the northward beyond the wall. Crags like glistening teeth arose
in irregular rows and curves out of silvery mist that seemed to
float on a coal-black sea. If Kangra Khan were half a leader, and
his men not more than half beaten, our position was likely to
become as untenable as his had been--and that before we should
have much time to make our dispositions. Daylight would see us
helpless. The well in all likelihood was all that had persuaded
natural warriors to fortify such an unpromising place. It was
true it overlooked the track up which we had come, but in turn it
was overlooked from three directions, and unless the surrounding
heights were held in force it would be worse than useless as a
point of vantage. But there were circumstances connected with the
well that I did not know yet, and there is always more than meets
the eye when a savage's reason for taking laborious pains is not
immediately obvious.

The Waziri women came up the ravine at last, loaded like
pack-animals with cooking-pots, fuel, the scant supplies and the
scanter remaining ammunition. The Waziris had gone to the border
on plunder bent, expecting to replenish their stocks at the
expense of Punjab villages and British outposts. Now they were
parlous short of everything except ambition, and the women,
heaving their packs over the wall, began at once to strip
whatever the men had not yet taken from the dead. Such Pathans
as yet had life in them received short shrift, and there were
mutilations not to be described. Then one by one they threw
the corpses down into the ravine and after that the widows
of Waziri dead began their wailing, keening to the night like
hopeless ghouls.

Then sudden silence. Something was about to happen...none
knew what...save Kangra Khan, who had the call on opportunity
...and King, perhaps. There were King, and possibly fifty
Waziris, still to be accounted for. Our folk within the _sangar_
began, as if instinctively, to seek the shelter of the wall, like
jackals, surprised by the dawn, slinking off to their lairs. Here
and there a woman stayed crying by her dead mate, but except for
those within sixty seconds the enclosure seemed utterly deserted,
the silence broken only by click-click-click as men opened their
magazines to make sure, and snapped them into place again.

Then the storm broke, Himalaya fashion, and the wind came with
it, as if even the elements had taken sides against us. All the
wreaths of white mist that had floated like foam among the crags
were whipped and whirled into one hurrying cloud, and out of
that came spurts of flame as Kangra Khan's men started to woo
vengeance in the name of Allah. Their yells out-dinned the
rifle-fire. The range was short. They had crept under cover of
the mist to a position on the nearest overlooking crag, not much
more than a hundred yards away. Naturally, they supposed we had
manned the tower. A hundred bullets rattled against the masonry,
and I ducked in through the door, shoving Joan Angela in front of
me, as another fusillade splintered the dry wood of the platform
at the stairhead.

Our men did not answer yet. They seemed cowed by the suddenness
of the attack. The wind shrieked, as it only can in those
infernal hills, bearing the din of the firing and imprecation
down toward us, making answering yells useless; and that is a
worse handicap in savage warfare than odds of two to one. It is
not enough to know that Allah is on your side; you must be able
to assert the fact and to make the other fellow listen, whether
he will or no. Curses must reach his ears to have effect. Taunts
must prove to him your own contempt for danger, or the danger
grows as real as he intends it shall be. Yells are as deadly as
bullets, estimated by result.

I peered through the slits in the wall, but could see nothing
except spurts of flame and hurrying white mist. But suddenly
there came an answering din, whose source I could not see.
Somewhere on the far side of Kangra Khan's men King was turning a
flanking fire on their position. The stutter of Kangra Khan's
riflemen ceased and began again as some of them turned their
attention to the unexpected enemy. It was obvious that if we
hurried we could save the night. But you have to preach, and
teach, and stir before you can change dumb disgruntlement into
an assault against wind and mist and high-perched riflemen.

"Will you stay here?" I asked Joan Angela.

"Why?" she demanded; and I cursed all women under my breath.

"Will you hide down that well at the first sign of danger?"

"No!" she said candidly.

I did not argue. I swept her up into my arms and carried her,
protesting violently, down the rickety ladder into the well-shaft,
and stood her on a platform near the bottom. It was pitch-dark
down here. You could only see a faint square patch of dimness
up above, pricked out with a pattern of abnormally bright stars.
You could hardly hear the din of fighting down there, although
it began to sound as if our men were coming into action.

"How dare you, Jeff! I'll not forgive you for this!" she
said angrily.

"We'll discuss forgiveness afterwards," I answered. "Will you
stay down here, or must I tie you to the ladder?"

Hot temper and haste are bad medicine in the dark where there
isn't room to move without contact, nor any chance to see, nor
time to explain. She misunderstood; or it may be her nerves were
over-strained. At any rate, she struck me in the face with her
open hand.

"Get up that ladder and leave me here, Jeff Ramsden!" she said
more bitterly than I had ever heard her speak. And I grew dumb
with the anger that any fellow feels when a good woman elects to
accuse him of the dirtiest kind of villainy.

We have all been cads and cowards in our day, but there are lots
of us who have proved and earned the right to be trusted to any
length with any woman anywhere. Such men need no telling what
that slap in the face with an open hand meant to me in that
predicament. I did not answer. I went up the ladder hand-over-hand,
simmering indignation like a bear driven out of his den. She
called to me out of the well, but I did not listen.

"Jeff!" I heard, booming up hollow behind me; but I paid no
attention. I stepped out on the platform, in a mood to welcome
bullets as a concrete insult that a man could fight back at. I
was mad, that minute. Nothing mattered...neither night nor
morning, nor the mist, nor odds, nor the outcome...least of
all Joan Angela's opinion of me. I had had enough of that. I
turned my back on it, and her, and went down the steps in running
jumps, six steps at a time, sprawled headlong at the bottom over
loose stones fallen from the roof, got to my feet in a greater
rage than ever, grabbed a rifle from a man who lurked in the lee
of the wall and struck him half unconscious when he protested...then
vaulted to the wall and shook the rifle in full moonlight,
with my feet in blown mist and my body bathed in silver light
above it.

"Allaho Akbar!" I roared; and I can bellow like a bull when the
mood is on me.

I daresay, seen through the mist-film from below, I looked
encouraging to those crouching Waziris; but I don't know why I
was not shot to pieces by the storm of bullets that greeted me
from Kangra Khan's position. I stood there unscathed. Rage may be
an armour after all. I saw Grim, and then Narayan Singh,
scrambling to the wall to follow my example...heard the
yelling and din of King's riflemen, and next the roar of our
men beginning at last to work themselves into a frenzy with
the battle-cry.

"Allaho Akbar! Allaho Akbar!"

Over the wall I went, brandishing the rifle; and over they came
in my wake...not pausing...not firing...swept forward
by the impulse that had surged in me and carried me on like a
crazy unreasoning bull in an arena. If I had a thought at all it
was to hack my way as far as possible from where Joan Angela and
her opinions were. I wished never to see her again, and least of
all to suffer explanation and apology. Death did not cross my
mind. I was not wooing martyrdom. Anger was the all-embracing
force that moved me, and it lent my feet wings, heavy and slow as
they are as a rule.

No Waziri--not even Grim or Narayan Singh, who are fleet of
foot--passed me on that crazy charge from our _sangar_ wall to
the ledge where Kangra Khan had deployed his men. We plunged into
darkness, and had no breath to yell with, so the roar to Allah
ceased. Maybe Kangra Khan misunderstood the silence beyond our
breastwork. Perhaps he and his men believed our first yells, if
they as much as heard them upwind, were an effort of despair,
that died away. They kept a steady fire pouring on the wall, and,
we not pausing to reply from the darkness beneath the hurrying
mist, they had no means of divining what we were up to.

So we were up there and among them before they guessed we were
coming, and that night's second shambles was staged on a ledge,
with a sheer fall of fifty feet for whoever set a foot wrong or
was forced over backwards in hand-to-hand fight.

I don't remember using the rifle as it should be used, although
when it was all over I found the magazine was empty. Perhaps the
fellow I snatched it from had emptied it and not reloaded. Maybe
I fired instinctively and forgot it as a man forgets the breath
he drew. I do know I clubbed the thing and fought Berserker
fashion all along the ledge, driving Kangra Khan's Pathans along
in front of me, myself untouched, not even in danger as I
remember it. They quailed in front of the flailing rifle-butt,
and I wake up now at night sometimes in a hot sweat, from
dreaming of their bearded faces as they fell in front of me and
toppled off the cliff. Some fell before I struck them, stepping
backward to avoid the blow.

I don't know what Grim and Narayan Singh or our Waziris did. That
was a one-man fight as far as I was conscious of it...a
delirium of anger. I'm not proud of it, although they tell me the
Waziris have composed a song about that fury of mine. I may say I
was hardly in it. It was passion--all the brute, hereditary
instincts using my strength. I don't remember how I got there,
but I found myself at last sitting heaving for breath on a rock
at the end of the ledge, with the blood-beastly rifle over my
knees, wondering stupidly why the magazine was empty.

Grim came and told me that our Waziris were scattered in all
directions in pursuit of Kangra Khan's men, and that he hoped
they would find their way back before daylight. Then King came,
and stood looking at me, with his back to the moon. I think he
understood, for he said nothing--nothing personal that is. He
turned and talked to Grim.

"All right so far," he said. "Kangra Khan has likely had enough.
But the tribes will gather now to hound the Waziris harder than
ever. They'll argue they're tired and running out of ammunition.
Tomorrow, or the next day at latest, will see us surrounded
again. Where's Miss Leich?"

Grim did not know. He asked me. I knew, or thought I knew, but
that slap in the face was as fresh in my memory as if it had
happened that instant. He had to ask me twice before I answered.

"The last I saw of her, she was in that tower," I said, jerking
my thumb in the direction of the _sangar._ Doubtless they thought
my surliness was due to the reaction after fighting. They walked
away along the ledge, and presently found Narayan Singh, and
sent him to keep an eye on me, while they started off for the
_sangar,_ keeping an eye on each other for fear of Pathan knives
lurking in the mist. Narayan Singh came and sat down on the rock
beside me, and he and I are such old friends that there was no
need to speak unless either of us felt disposed. We were silent
for perhaps five minutes, he pulling a rag through a rifle he had
picked up somewhere. Presently he took the rifle off my knees,
pitched it over the cliff, and replaced it with the one he
had cleaned.

"That is better," he said quietly.

I did not answer. I was hardly more than conscious of his
presence. Such process as was going on in my mind was hardly to
be dignified with the name of thought, but I was dimly aware of
contentment that he should be there; and because he was not of my
race I preferred him just then to either King or Grim. I felt he
might be less inclined, and less able than they, to interpret my
state of mind and draw conclusions. But I was entirely wrong.

"Sahib," he said presently, running the fingers of his right hand
upward through his beard, "all women are the devil. Of two, the
more beautiful is the worse; and of three, the youngest."

"What the hell do you know about women?" I asked.

"This: that a man's own error is reflected in their faces; his
goodness or his badness, his strength or his weakness in their
hearts. A man sees himself in a woman, and the more he loves her
the worse the vision shocks him. So he goes off and acts like the
madman that he naturally is...even as an ape making faces at
himself in a stolen looking-glass."

"You're polite!" said I.

"I am the sahib's friend. I am a man who has seen much...including
my own heart in a woman's...at which I look no longer...having no
delight in it."

I was about to answer (hotly, it may be) when we both heard
someone scrambling breathlessly up the track. In a minute Grim
came stumbling over stones along the ledge.

"Miss Leich!" he said. "Where is she?"

"In the tower," I answered, aware of an uncomfortable
premonition.

"No," Grim said, "she isn't there."

"She's down on the platform at the bottom of the shaft," said I.

"No, she's not," he answered. "We've looked everywhere. She's
gone! No trace!"




CHAPTER V


"A Most Wise, Excellent Sahiba!"



There were rifle-shots, stray for the most part, but now and then
in ragged volleys, among the crags around us as our Waziris
pursued and snipped the retreating Pathans. There was not even a
guard over the supplies within the _sangar_ wall, and even the
women had taken the trail in the mist to pounce on wounded and
strip the dead. The _sangar_ was empty of all except King, as
Grim, Narayan Singh, and I arrived breathless. King was sitting
on the bottom step outside the _sangar_ tower.

"She's gone!" he said, not getting up. "Have you shouted?"
I asked.

"Shout all you want to in this wind!" he answered. "Unless she's
lost her head and run away down-wind toward the border you
couldn't make her hear ten yards away. And if she's run off in a
panic she'll be either miles away, or dead, or a prisoner. Shout,
though, if it suits you!"

"She never was in a panic in her life," I said. And I would
have said more, but Narayan Singh interrupted--a thing he
rarely, almost never, did. His usual method is to wait until
everybody else has had his say, and then after a pause to say
extremely little.

"We might at least try down-wind, sahibs," he broke in. "So, we
would be on our way home. If we find her, we can make tracks for
the border, lying up by day."

"You fellows go," King answered. "I've a pledge to keep. I
promised these Waziris, if they'd help me tonight, I'd stand
by them until they reach their own villages."

"Damn!" muttered Grim. "I'll stay with you, of course," he added.

Narayan Singh waited for orders, and I said nothing. Mixed
emotion makes me speechless as a rule, and the notion of
describing exactly what had happened in the well had left
me--as I think Narayan Singh intended. We were all in the
deep of discouragement. Narayan Singh was plucking at his
beard irresolutely.

"Sahibs!" he exclaimed suddenly, stepping up to windward of us
to spare noise, "is it not best that Jeff sahib and I should
undertake this task?"

King eyed me and nodded. Grim was silent. I knew he hated to
be left out of any difficult or dangerous employment, but his
loyalty to King was paramount, and it was obvious that two would
be better than one on either venture. None, except possibly
Narayan Singh, had any confidence in the outcome.

"Let's go," I said. "So long, you fellows."

I remember we did not shake hands.

So Narayan Singh and I set forth with the wind at our backs and
climbed the _sangar_ wall, dropping down on to the track along
the side of the ravine that we had rushed with such enthusiasm
but a short while back. The lower end was now no longer in the
moonlight, and out of the solid-looking blackness down there the
only sound that came was the cry of jackals, long since attracted
to the feast of slain. I don't know to which of us it occurred
first that three jackals had come slinking the wrong way...toward
us...out of darkness into moonlight...uphill...without apparent
reason. Nothing in Nature happens undesignedly. We both came to
a standstill. The Sikh's ears are sharper than mine, and he
heard something that caused his fingers to clench tight on the
barrel of his rifle. (He had left his sword with King, as likely
to get in the way, and probably more useful to King now in any
case, if only as a symbol of authority.)

There was nowhere to hide in the moonlight, and it was not easy
to go forward silently among that loose shale, but that was the
only course open, so we picked our way carefully, pausing to
listen at intervals. In spite of our care, the noise we made
scared away a pack of jackals that were nosing something just
within the dark zone; they scampered away whimpering. Then we
heard low voices, and another sound. Narayan Singh sprang forward
and I after him. But when we reached the corner where the tracks
forked on either hand of the Gibraltar rock there was nobody there.

Nobody--and nothing, I thought, except a jackal lurking near us,
and an owl that swooped and swooped again, afraid of us, but bent
on an investigation. Suddenly the jackal threw caution to the
winds and scurried by within a yard of me, seized something in
the darkness under the cliff, and scampered away with it. I swung
a blow at him as he went by, missed, but could see that he had
something in his mouth.

So I stooped in the shadow and groped. Narayan Singh did
the same. Each of us found something. I picked up a leather
legging-mate to the one the jackal had pounced on. The Sikh
produced Joan Angela's cloth riding-hat. Beyond question both
articles were hers. There was even a strand of her brown hair
caught in the hat-band; it glistened like gold when I stepped
back into the moonlight to examine it. But there was no blood on
the hat nor on the legging, and I could feel none on the stone
where the things had lain. We did not dare strike matches.

"She is not dead," said Narayan Singh.

"They've stripped her and chucked the body over the cliff," said
I. "We'd better climb down there and drive the jackals off."

"Nay," he said. "If they had stripped her they would have carried
off the garments. And since some were left, then why not all? She
is alive and not far away. She herself has removed these for
reasons. Notice, sahib, they were not thrown away at haphazard,
but lay side by side, as a soldier, or a lady, would have left
them. And they lay on a prominent stone where whoever passed
would see them in daylight. Yet she was unseen when she laid them
there, or whoever saw would have taken them surely. She is alive,
and did this purposely."

It was possible she had removed the leggings to make running
easier. I had noticed how the things caught on the backs of her
boots when she walked, and the lower edge of the one we had found
was worn shiny with the friction. But why the hat?

"She and I had a misunderstanding," I said, hating to refer to it
but forced, in order to make my meaning clear. "She may have felt
so piqued that she has decided to make her own way back to
the border."

"Nay, sahib, for she left the hat and leggings on a stone beside
the way where we might see them. That is proof that she wished to
be followed."

The Sikh's argument seemed fair enough, and yet I found it
unconvincing. I recalled a woman who had once deliberately
wandered off for the sake of causing trouble, knowing well that
I, whom she detested, would feel compelled to search for her and
bring her back. Such memories do crop up when they can do the
most harm. I saw a mental vision of Joan Angela in hiding near
by, chuckling at the thought of my disgruntlement. But that
unpleasant idea vanished when I remembered that we had heard more
than one voice as we came downhill. I began to hunt about for
tracks, but might as well have looked for a subway entrance,
there in the dark, on those dry rocks.

"There be two ways," said the Sikh, "for we know she is not in
the _sangar_ up behind us. If she left the hat and leggings for
us to see, I think she will have left another sign to show which
way she took. Let us try the likeliest first."

So we strode side by side in the dark, along the righthand fork
that curved around the Gibraltar rock, and came presently to
the outcrop, where I suddenly remembered we had left a horse
standing. I had forgotten all about the beast, and believe
Narayan Singh, too, had forgotten, until that instant. The
beast's droppings were there in a heap, and warm, for he had
stood still patiently. I struck a match at last, sheltering it
between my hands. There was the mark of a man's sandaled foot
imprinted plainly in the dung and pointing along the track, away
from the corner behind us.

That proved not much yet. There was nothing likelier than that a
lurking hill-thief had come and stolen the horse. I could see no
sign of Joan Angela's footprints. But Narayan Singh scouted
forward, and at the end of about a minute stood and waited for
me. When I reached him he showed me a hairpin stuck into a
rolled-up piece of soiled white cotton cloth--the sort of stuff
the Hindus use for making turbans. The hill-women don't use
hairpins--not of that sort, at any rate--nor do they pin a piece
of cloth so neatly, nor would they have dropped such a long piece
and left it, as a bandage, or a tape to tie bundles with; it
would have been too valuable.

"That is her sign, sahib. We go forward," said Narayan Singh.

So forward we went in a hurry, with our choice between making a
noise and being waylaid, or going too slowly to have any hope of
catching up, and making some noise in the bargain; for it was
impossible to move silently in the dark on that rough track. We
broke into a run at intervals, and at the end of about a mile of
up and down hill scrambling we had to pause for breath.

"I am thinking of that prisoner you let go, sahib. What was his
name? I mean the man whose hands were tied with the reins from
off the second horse," said Narayan Singh when he had breath
enough to speak.

"Akbar bin Mahommed," I answered louder than was necessary,
because the thought spurred emphasis.

"Aye! Akbar bin Mahommed!" said a voice from a ledge up above us,
and we both jumped nearly out of our skins.

I took aim at the sound, seeing nothing, not meaning to shoot,
but by way of instinctive precaution. But Narayan Singh pushed my
rifle up.

"Not so, sahib," he said quietly. "We are two, against we know
not how many. Oh...Akbar bin Mahommed!" he called out,
pitching his voice to an almost falsetto note, to make it carry.

There was no answer; only the echo and re-echo, wailing away
and away into the distance. He called again, but only more
echoes, and then silence, punctured by the distant crack of
a skirmisher's rifle.

We climbed up on the ledge, and it took us ten minutes of
strenuous scrambling, hauling each other up in turns, since we
could not find even a goat-track. There was nothing on the ledge,
and nobody, although we found a way down that led to a spot fifty
yards beyond where the track we had been following before forked.
So we followed the new direction, throwing caution to the winds.
It was no use trying to go silently. Whoever lay in wait for us
had an easy task in any event. We did better to save time and
husband strength by striding at ease, if the phrase can be made
to fit, stumbling through stone-strewn shadow.

Long ago we were out of all reach of our friends, and whatever
King's and Grim's predicament might be, we were pretty surely now
cut off from hope of reaching them. The dawn was beginning to
announce its coming, cold-grey in the east. The wind changed and
blew more chill. I felt hungry and wondered what Joan Angela
might have to eat, supposing she were really still alive; tired,
and wondered whether she were not exhausted, even though she had
the horse; hopeless, because of the absurdity of going further
with all those ragged hillsides swarming with ambushed men, and
daylight due.

"That man Akbar called to us for some good reason, sahib," said
Narayan Singh. But I did not answer. There was no use in saying
what I thought. We were enough discouraged. I remembered tales of
how those hillmen will decoy a man until he stands exactly where
it suits them best to murder him. We were easy marks, at the end
of our tether, leg-weary, beginning to grow thirsty, and without
supplies. I sat down, and the Sikh chose a rock beside me.

"Akbar bin Mahommed!" a voice croaked from a ledge again above us.

I turned swiftly, and this time, because the dawn was brightening,
I caught sight of a man's head in a notch between two boulders.
It was there for a second and then gone again. Narayan Singh
got to his feet.

"Sit down again," I said. "If he's an enemy we're easy prey. If
he's a friend he'll watch and see we're not coming, and call to
us again."

So we sat still, nervously alert for sounds. But we sat for at
least ten minutes, and the sun rose in a sea of color, tipping
the hills with gold, before anything happened. Then the same
voice called again from the same place, and I saw Akbar bin
Mahommed's face between the rocks, with a thin wisp of smoke
blowing along the wind behind it.

"In the name of Allah, the All-merciful, the Lord of all this
way! I am thy friend, Ramm-is-den!" he cried out. "May my
offspring eat me if I lie!"

"Are you alone?" I called back.

"Nay, since He who sees all is everywhere! But when ye come we
shall be three men."

"And a woman?"

"Nay!"

Hope, that had sprung in an instant, was dashed again. However,
the smoke suggested breakfast. We began to climb, Akbar directing
us at intervals from overhead, counseling caution and warning us
to keep our heads low.

"For, though I am a friend, there be those who are not!" he
explained, as if he were announcing something new.

At last he reached over the ledge and seized me by the hands,
helping me to swarm the ten-foot scarp. And then the two of us
hauled up Narayan Singh.

There was a cave at the back, and thence the smoke came. The
opening was two-thirds blocked by a boulder, but it was a
draughty hole, shaped roughly like a curved gourd, full of the
acrid smoke from a small fire of dung and sticks and litter, on
which, of all unexpected things, tea was stewing in a battered
enameled iron kettle.

"Where is the sahiba?" I demanded.

"God knows," he answered naively.

"You know!" I said, seizing his arm and giving him a jerk to make
him face me.

"Who knows the way of a woman?" he retorted. "The animals--the
rocks--the wind--men's hearts--a man may understand. But not
women. Allah forgot to make them comprehensible."

"He made me easy to understand!" I assured him, backing him
against the wall. "I'm going to learn from you where the sahiba
is, or kill you."

"Then thou art a wizard, Ramm-is-den! Read my heart! Tell me what
is written there that I myself know not!"

"Tell me first what you do know," I demanded.

"Be seated then, sahibs. Who am I that I should not tell truth?
And see, I have tea that I stole from the fattest bunnia in Dera
Ghazi Khan--very good stuff indeed, and stewed thoroughly.
Moreover, eggs, behold them! Nine chupatties...lo, three
apiece! A woman will be beaten presently because her man lacks
food. I gave her the tea not long ago, and she was beaten for not
saying whence she had it. Such is life, inshallah! Women are
whores and men cuckolds. Bellies ache for food. None but Allah
knoweth whence a meal comes. Sahibs, it is pleasanter beyond the
fire where less smoke is. So, with your honour's good permission,
eggs! Three eggs apiece--a hen's best effort, in the name of the
All-wise! We must drink tea from the kettle, having no cups. It
is hot. Beware of it! I tried to steal cups, but there were none."

He paused with his mouth full of eggs and chupattie.

"Where is the sahiba?" I repeated.

"Ah! She? God knows! I was telling what I know with your honour's
favour, when your honor interrupted. Sahib, I am thy man. We are
friends for ever. None shall thrust a feud between us. I went
forth with swollen wrists to find a set of garments, is it not so?"

"And to bring a holy youth to me, alive," I reminded him.

"Ah! That one! Such a simpleton he is! Take another egg, sahib--none
save Allah knoweth whence a meal comes. Let the hen not have
labored in vain! Lo, I went forth with swollen wrists. Is the
smoke offensive? Let us tread the fire out. It is cold, but the
sun is rising. Sons of evil mothers might observe the smoke. In
the name of Allah, no more bloodshed than is necessary. If they
come here we must kill them, and the hills are full of dead
already. So. Lo, I have a sheepskin. It was warm when I took
it, for a woman slept in it. I will lend it to your honor until
the sun gets high. Thereafter it will serve for pillow for the
three of us, inshallah."

He tossed the sheepskin over my shoulders and sat down again. I
sat closer to Narayan Singh to let him share it, for the
whistling wind was keen. Akbar bin Mahommed resumed his tale.

"So I went forth with swollen wrists to do your honour's bidding,
we being friends whom none shall separate. Who am I that I should
not tell truth? God witnesseth. There is a village on the
shoulder of the hill that men call Iskanderan, none knoweth
why. Thither I went bearing in mind your honour's wishes,
much exercised with wonder how this cunning purpose might be
accomplished, yet hopeful, since Allah knoweth all--aye, even the
unlawful ways of women! So I came in great haste to the village
on the humped-up shoulder of Iskanderan, my wrists still hurting.
And I lay, praying Allah for cunning and courage, in the shadow
of the stone wall that surrounds the evil-smelling place. God
witnesseth. He heard me.

"Lo! The house of the man whose wife I am witness has more than
once deceived him, stands thus, at the corner of the wall, with a
flat roof, and thereon a breastwork--easy to defend and hard to
enter. Had the man been there we three were not in this place
now. But Allah, who is All-wise, put a hope of loot into the
fool's head, and he was one of those who prowled the hills last
night to strip the slain--a very jackal. May his eyes drop out!
May he learn in good time what his wife is, and eat mockery!
The dog!

"All earth is full of wonders. It happened his wife had obeyed
him, and lay within, behind a locked door, snoring, for I heard
her. There was none else in the house. To right and left the wall
is lower, and I chose the darker side, leaping the wall and
descending silent-footed in the piled cowdung. None heard me.
Allah is my friend. I went to the shed where they keep the hens,
and wrung a hen's neck lest she make an alarm. Beneath her were
ten eggs. The hen is yonder, sahibs, in the corner. I cut her
throat before the life left. Those I hid where I could find them
presently, and then crept to the woman's door. But I dared not
beat on it, and she slept like a bear in winter.

"None the less, it was dark, for the peak above the shoulder of
the hill shut off the moon--an unwise situation for a man's
house, whose wife and Um Kulsum are one! And a beam projected.
Moreover, there are crannies in the stone into which a man's toes
may be thrust. Allah is my friend, I reached the roof, whereon
was a trap-door opening outward--by the favour of God, unlocked.
I opened and descended.

"Whereafter, after a while the woman gave me tea and this kettle,
and chupatties that were waiting against her man's return. Those
I hid beside the eggs and hen, returning to have further word
with her, she having unlocked the door that admits to the yard,
in fear of me who might so easily betray her, and in greater fear
of neighbours to the right and left. An evil conscience, sahibs,
is by Allah's favour a good man's opportunity. Lo, I practiced on
her fears.

"The crazy youth who preaches new politics, wearing fine clothes
and the white turban of an uleema since he went to school in
Samarkand, slept--so she told me--in a house on the far side, and
alone that night, since all who had the courage were on foot in
the hills in search of loot. He has no wife. I bade her go bring
him on any pretext. She is very fair to look at. She refused. But
her husband had left his second knife--lo, this one!--hanging by
its girdle from a rafter. I showed her the edge of it.

"By and by she brought the youth, he much enamored--yet presently
much more afraid of me, and of the point of the knife at his
belly. A simpleton, though full of politics! Clean-shaven like a
fool, though old enough for a beard a foot long. Brave with long
words, but as fearful of cold steel as a camel is of ghosts. And
in love with the woman.

"So I promised to betray them both to the woman's husband unless
obedience were the very breath he breathed. And I stripped him
naked, rolling his clothes in a bundle, white turban and all.
Thereafter I bade him go and hide his nakedness in garments fit
for a man, and to return, and to come with me on a certain
errand; for I bore in mind your honour's wish that I should bring
him living and unhurt.

"But he was over-fearful and more evil-minded than the witch
who gave him birth! When he had clothed himself, by Allah, it
occurred to his treacherous mind that I was alone in the house
with the woman, and if he aroused the village she and I could be
taken red-handed, he acquiring honour, and we caught like rats in
a cess-pit!

"So he wakened two or three, and they others. And before I knew
it, as the Most High is my witness, there were nine men, mostly
old ones, but a youth or two, and one in his prime--whom I will
slay for his insolence if Allah wills--all beating on the door
and demanding entrance.

"So I whispered to the woman, bidding her say that shaven fool
had sought to seduce her and had started this false alarm for
vengeance on her because she refused him. Then I left by the roof
very silently, closing the trap-door after me and dropping down
into the dung, the knife and the kettle clanging together as I
fell. But I leapt the wall before they saw me, and they searched
in vain, some swearing the clang of the kettle was this thing,
and some that, while I lay crouched in a shadow. Allah is
my friend.

"I heard them questioning the woman. And I heard her lie, like
the Um Kulsum that she is, first none believing her, then one or
two, and then all believing her, because there was no trace of
me, and the shaveling lacked an explanation for his change of
garments. So they beat him for having wakened them, and drove him
home with a threat in his ears that he should make his reckoning
with the woman's husband. And I returned over the wall for the
eggs and chupatties and the hen, finding them where I hid them,
though an egg was broken where a fool in search of me had set his
heel on it, leaving nine.

"I did up the food in the bundle of clothes, hung the kettle to
my belt, and, with the knife held ready, set forth to find your
honours, praising Allah, who is Lord of virtue, and my friend.
Lo, sahibs, here I am, by Allah's favour! Yet not without a
happening on the way. Not by any means.

"I set forth. To myself I laughed because the man whose wife had
served my purpose is a cuckold, who shall learn it at the proper
time and eat shame, and be shot when he picks a quarrel with me.
None the less, I was filled with regret because the shaveling I
had promised I would bring lay dreading the dawn and the woman's
husband. Allah put a thought into my heart. Lo, consider how He
works to preserve His friends! A miracle! It crossed my mind that
the shaveling would gladly come away with me, for great fear of
the woman's husband. I turned back, minded to regain the village
on the upward side where his house is. So I chose another trail,
and as I turned along it, by the grace of the Most High, I
heard footsteps!

"There was a clank of knives and rifles, and the heavy tread of
men returning with a night's loot. I lay behind a rock, and soon
I saw moonlight shining on the faces of three men--that woman's
husband one of them. Had I not turned back when Allah put the
thought into my heart, it had been I on whom the moon shone! Your
honours would not have breakfasted! They had three rifles each,
and clothing and some bandoliers, and what not else. I let them
pass, though it burned my heart not to possess at least one rifle.

"When their backs were toward me I set forth again, abandoning
hope of the shaveling, but praising Allah, who had brought the
fool to mind. And I reached unseen the corner where your honor
had befriended me. But the fight was over and I heard stray
rifle-shots beyond the _sangar;_ and after considering a while I
guessed that your honours' great valour and cunning had put
Kangra Khan to fight. So I approached the _sangar_ and found only
dead men lying there.

"The women had been busy. Women are women, sahibs. The dead were
in many pieces, and as for loot, the thieves--may Allah curse
them!--had left not so much as a button or a finger-ring. But
they had left their own stores unguarded, so I helped myself.
Thereafter I went to the watch-tower, where the sacred well is,
minded to drink a little of the water that protects a man against
red-sickness and the bullets of a foe, inshallah.

"Sahibs, may the Lord of all forget me if I lie! I was half-way
down the ladder when I jumped at one leap to the top! This heart
of mine, that is a man's and beats in one place sturdily,
remained there! When I reached the summit it overtook me, and
returned into my bosom with a thump, causing every hair of my
body to wriggle like a worm! Mashallah! Did a voice from the well
not speak to me? And am I the wind or the water, that I should
hear such a marvel and not feel terrified? Nay, by Allah, I was
flesh, and very nearly decomposed!

"Nay, I heard not what the voice said. I was afraid, sahibs. He
who is afraid hears fear and nothing else. Said I to myself,
there is a devil in the well, fouling holy water! Should it truly
be a devil, thinks I, in the name of Allah I will show that is no
place for him; and if it is a man in hiding, well and good; his
spirit shall go where no living man can ever see it! I got me a
good-sized stone, about as heavy as a man can lift with two
hands. I hove it, thus, above my head, standing back a little
from the well-mouth, lest the devil come forth, or a man shoot up
at me. And I stood on tip-toe, thus. I raised a shout to Allah to
direct the aim and smite His enemy. The voice spoke again from
the well, and I answered it! 'Ho! In the name of Allah, and of
His servant Mahommed, I, Akbar bin Mahommed answer thee!' I
shouted. And I flung the stone--a great stone, sahibs!

"Mashallah! He is great, and wise, and wonderful! He knoweth all.
He foresees and predestinates. I told you how I stood a little
back lest the devil come forth, or a man shoot up at me. The
stone, too, slipped a little in my hands as I strained my
strength to it. And lo, it hit the well wall. Lo, it bounded off
and smashed a ladder rung. Then lo, it splashed into the water.
And mashallah! when the echo of the splash was finished a
beautiful voice like a houri's came forth, saying, `Akbar bin
Mahommed, why do you try to kill me?' Aye, English, sahibs. The
voice spoke English."

He paused, the silence eloquently illustrating an emotion much
too deep for words. It was a full minute before he took up the
tale again.

"Now the houris speak the language of the Koran, sahibs. English
is an unknown speech to them. So I reasoned this must be a woman.
I am not afraid of women. Nay! A woman has her reasons to fear
me, or to admire me! Until I lie stricken in the dark by some
man's bullet, and the hags come forth with knives, I will fear
no woman! So I stepped to the mouth of the well with a second
stone--a smaller one--intending this time to make better aim.

"`Come forth,' I called to her, hoping thus to hear her as she
set foot on the broken ladder-rung, and to direct the flight of
the stone, with Allah's aid, accordingly.

"Mashallah! As my head appeared between the well-mouth and the
stars, she fired a pistol at me! But, as Allah is All-merciful,
the bullet missed!

"Thereafter the voice like a houri's came forth again speaking
angrily. And He who governs all things opened my ears and
understanding so that I knew her for Joan Angela sahiba. And I
said again, `Come forth.' And when her face appeared above the
well-mouth, looking white and angry, with such little English
as I have bade her praise the name of Allah, the All-merciful,
who had sent to her assistance such an one as me, and not
a dog of a Waziri, who might have offered her insult and worse
things. Whereat she laughed, and we were friends. A most wise,
excellent sahiba!"




CHAPTER VI


"Of Such Stuff are Women Made!"



Nevertheless, I took her pistol, sahibs. Excellence in women is a
thing of dangerous uncertainty, like the temper of bazaar-bought
knives. Nay, she did not fight me for it. Nay, she did not see me
take it. She had thrust it in her pocket. Lo, see what a pretty
toy it is. One of these nights I will use it on the husband of
the woman at Iskanderan, inshallah! Has the sahib ammunition that
will fit? Such stuff is hard to come by in the hills.

"Allah! But the sahibs are impatient. I was coming to that part
when your honours interrupted. Lo, she remembered me perfectly.
It might have been that she had rescued me and not I her! She
began giving orders at once, and to ask more questions than a man
with a book in his hand could have answered in a night, so that
I, knowing little English, was at my wits' end how to answer.
Nevertheless, when a man is at his wits' end, Allah still
provides. There came a thought to me.

"I recalled how I had left my bundle in a dark place near the
corner where the track forks, lest the women who follow those
Waziris, whom may Allah curse, should find it while I might be
busy with some other matter. Those hags would steal a hair from a
jackal's tail! Moreover, it was well I did so, for I had enough
to carry, that I had lifted from the Waziri's packs in the
_sangar._ And now I had the sahiba to manage also.

"I remembered your honour's purpose in freeing my wrists at
the time when we swore friendship. Had I not risked more than
life--aye, honour!--to bring the clothing of a shaveling for the
sahiba's use? Who am I that I should risk so much in vain? Lo,
I would clothe her that she might be safe! I would bind the
uleema's turban on her head that none might lift hand against
her! Hah! I remembered then that she is your honour's wife, and I
praised Allah for the opportunity to prove true fealty! I bade
her come with me.

"And lo, she would not come! Of such stuff are women made--may
Allah rot them all, saving ever your honour's privileges! By the
Forty Martyrs and the Prophet himself, I was enraged! There was
shooting in all directions. An accident might happen any moment.
The Waziri hags might come...your honor might be dead...
in Allah's name, a hundred things! Yet I bit the anger as it
surged, and swallowed it again, like a man who has overeaten. And
I lied to her--I, who have lied to no man--I, who love truth as
an eagle loves the air. But a woman is a woman. I said your honor
was down the track a little way, and had sent myself to bring
her thither.

"Whereat, when I had told the lie a second and a third time, and
she understood, she came with me. The wind blew mist across the
_sangar,_ veiling the moonlight, and she helped me carry the
trifles I had lifted from Waziri packs. Together we fled across
the _sangar,_ and over the wall, and down along the track between
the cliff and the ravine, both breathing hard, for we were
loaded, and what with one thing and another making more noise
than was wise. It was in my mind to hide away the trifles I had
taken, and to clothe her in the shaveling's garments from the
other bundle; then to return and to find your honour, thus
accomplishing all purposes in one. I strode ahead, she following
as close behind me as the nature of her burden permitted. It
was heavy.

"So. As Allah is my witness, I heard voices; and I knew some
ill-begotten sons of evil mothers were in hiding at the corner
where the road forks. And because of the nature of that place I
knew they could hardly lurk there very long without discovering
the bundle I had left under a heap of stones. If they had already
found it, then my night's labour was in vain, unless I were
stronger than they and more cunning. Allah is my friend.

"I bade the sahiba sit down where she was and be still in the
shadow of an overhanging crag. I laid my load beside her. I drew
this knife. And I went forward praying to the Lord of All, and
not forgetting the sahiba's pistol that I had borrowed when she
came out of the well.

"Sahibs, there were six men at the corner; and a seventh, who
kept watch between me and them--a misbegotten son of Belial, whom
Allah blinded and made deaf and dumb, lest he hear me, or see me,
and give the alarm. His Majesty be praised! I slew the fool,
severing the wind-pipe at a blow, and he went over the cliff,
making no more noise than a stone that the wind and rain
have loosened.

"I heard the six exclaim--a lousy gang they were, with tongues
that took the Name of Names in vain. They called to the dead fool
who had stood watch with his eyes shut, and I answered them,
changing my voice to sound as if I were chewing something. I said
a stone had slipped down under my weight; whereat they called me
a noisy fool, and continued talking to one another. They were
lurking there for fugitives from the fighting, intending to rob,
like the sons of Um Kulsum they are.

"So I took thought, and Allah is my friend. I struck the knife
into my girdle--lo, the blood, sahibs, in proof I lie not! I
gathered two stones in either hand, and those I hurled into their
midst. Then I fired the pistol four times, jumping this and that
way that it might seem I was many men. And I shouted as if to men
behind me, rushing forward, kicking stones before me as I ran.
Whereat they all took to flight, except one man who stood his
ground and fired at me. Him I slew with the knife, and he fell
over backwards into the ravine. In the devil's name he took the
rifle with him, and I hope his soul may scorch for ever in
hell-flame!

"I found my bundle, sahibs. The besotted fools had not seen it. I
returned to the sahiba. I unwrapped the bundle. Then I bound it
up again, for I remembered that a wise man takes all precautions.
Lo, it was darker down near the corner, and easier to hear
if anyone should speak around from the other fork of the
track--moreover, easier to hide the plunder there in case of
accident. Together we bore my belongings down to the place where
I had conquered seven men; and there in the dark she tucked her
hair up and set the red cap on her head, and I bound thereon the
white uleema's turban very carefully.

"I bade her remove her outer garments, but she refused. It was
well enough, for she is slender and well-shaped, whereas that
shaveling grows fat from easy living and his clothes would have
hung loosely on her. All she would take off were the leggings;
and her stockings and the laced shoes were like the effeminate
things a Hindu wears when he has had an education. All passed
muster, save that she is better-looking than the shaveling, and
without his swaggering conceit. In the dark she would pass for a
man; and surely none would shame himself by slaying one who wore
the white uleema's turban. I was satisfied. I praised Allah, and
bethought me of your honour's goodwill presently to be bestowed.

"Allah be my witness that I lie not! I set to work to hide those
heavy burdens, this kettle and the food first, then what I had
lifted from the Waziri packs, intending nothing but to go then in
search of your honor and to deliver the sahiba into your honour's
keeping. Who shall read Allah's mind?

"The kettle and the food were safely stowed. I was searching for
a place to put the other things--a large enough place, sahibs,
for I had helped myself!--when a voice spoke in the dark beside
me! The sahiba checked a scream. She is brave. She felt for her
pistol, but I had that, as I have told you. And it was just as
well, for the voice was a voice I knew.

"'O, Akbar bin Mahommed,'" he said softly, "'I am Ali, thy
brother, and I need thy aid.'"

"Nay, sahibs, he is not my mother's son, but a man who follows
Kangra Khan. He and I once swore blood-fellowship. But now I have
a grudge against him, and he shall pay in full! Mistaking the
sahiba for a man, because of the darkness doubtless, for she has
not yet learned how to carry herself, he whispered to me, minded
not to let another hear.

"`Up yonder in the _sangar_ I slew the sahiba,' he told me. So I
answered that he lied, he protesting. `Aye,' said he, `I slew
her, and here is proof of it,' and he showed me the sleeve of her
long coat, torn off at the shoulder. Whereat I thought it best to
humour him, so I asked him what then.

"And he told me Kangra Khan had sent him lurking near the
_sangar_ wall to seize the girl and carry her off; but that he
had come near death, and had slain her with his fingers at her
throat rather than fail entirely. He escaped, so he said, by a
miracle, and so, returning to Kangra Khan at a place appointed,
had told his tale, expecting praise. Yet Kangra Khan grew
furiously angry, cursing him for having thrown away a crore of
rupees, miscalling him outrageous names, and threatening to have
him flayed alive by women before a fire. Yet Ali is a man whom
Kangra Khan has loved exceedingly, and when Ali begged an
opportunity to make such amends as might be, the favour was
granted. Yet not an easy task! Nay, nay!

"'Go,' ordered Kangra Khan, `and bring me that man Ramm-is-den,
living and unhurt, in the girl's place. Thus we may yet win a
ransom!' So Ali set forth. He did not tell me that he took ten
men with him. May Allah roast him in eternal flames for
that!--for he and I were brothers.

"And lo, while Ali and I talked, the ten came sneaking around the
corner, curse them! One knocked me down by a blow on the head
from behind, believing doubtless he had killed me (but Allah is
my friend). They seized the sahiba, and all that plunder I had
not yet hidden, and they ran--I following, as soon as the blow
ceased from echoing in my head, and my eyes could see, and I
stand upright. Ali had run too, but he shall not run very far!
His next long march shall be on the road to hell! Aye, it may be
they gagged the girl, for she did not scream. But the next time I
caught sight of her she was riding on the horse between four men,
and not gagged nor in any way molested.

"Great...great...great is the Lord of All, and praise
be to His Prophet! Lo, I laid my head between my knees in a
frenzy--in a supplication! I was like a woman in labour of child.
As a man was I who is torn between four camels! Allah! Go I
forward to rescue the sahiba--eleven they be to one! And who am I
to fight eleven men? Shall I search among the crags for my friend
Ramm-is-den (whom Allah bless! ) and tell him I have lost his
wife? Mashallah! What a storm of wrath I must endure then! What a
lightning! What a thundering! For thou, O Ramm-is-den, art a man
of muscle and great anger--a hearty man and head-strong, whom I
love, and whom, inshallah, I would rather serve than kill! Nay, I
dared not seek thee, Ramm-is-den! What then? Shall I follow?
Shall I lurk and call to the sahiba to escape to my protection in
the dark? Nay, nay! She is a woman unused to darkness or the
hills--one woman against eleven men. If she attempts it they will
slay her. If she come to me then clumsily she comes, and they
detect us both, and slay us both, and gone is mine honour! What
else? Shall I stay there, then, and wait for Ramm-is-den to come
to me in search of the sahiba? Nay, by the Forty Martyrs!
Ramm-is-den will pick a feud with me, not waiting for a true
account. In haste and anger he will smite for his honour's sake
because his wife is lost! And who am I that I should lie in wait
and slay my friend? So there was no course open to me. I smote my
brow and my breast in vain. Shall I run away? Shall I run home?
Shall I hide and forget? Then may Allah hide and forget me!

"Allah is my friend. He who knoweth all things put a thought into
my heart. Lo, I go forward. Lo, I follow and observe. As a jackal
tracks the leopard, lo, I keep down-wind of them. Said I, if she
were my wife, and I Ramm-is-den, would I not very swiftly clap my
foot and frenzy on the trail? As a she-bear whose young one has
been netted Ramm-is-den will pursue; and are the leggings and
the hat not where the sahiba laid them? He will pick up the
scent and come swiftly! He will see the horse-dung, and maybe
a footprint--mine, for I laid it there!

"Mashallah! Who in all these hills can stalk as I can? They went
swiftly. Yet not so very swiftly, for the horse was a sorry
beast, and ill fed, and must keep the track, helped even so by
ten men at the broken places. I could hear the blows they struck
him, and his floundering--she protesting. The sahiba's voice was
as a golden bell, and they bade her be silent; but neither knew
the other's language, so it may be they gagged her again. As
Allah is my witness I cannot speak as to the truth of that.

"I kept the higher ground. I know the short cuts.  Not a
leveret--no quail--no kite--no jackal knows these hills as
thoroughly as I do, God preserve me! So I followed, keeping one
ear and an eye for Ramm-is-den. And by and by I heard thee, O
Father-of-an-elephant. And by and by I called to thee, lest
devils steal the light of Allah from thee and decoy thee on the
wrong trail. Allah is thy friend, and mine.

"But by the holy hair of the Prophet's beard, there came to pass
a worse befalling than any yet! For Allah willed that they eleven
should be met by Kangra Khan's men--thirty and upward, as I lie
not!--and there was a fight with knives. No shooting, nay, and so
the sahiba was unhurt. I crept close. I heard all, seeing little
because of darkness. One slew the horse, and I went closer yet,
hoping to seize the sahiba and carry her off while they fought
among themselves.

"Lo, but their bellies were full of fighting for a while to come!
They fought and they argued between whiles, none shooting, lest
Kangra Khan might hear and make pursuit. Then thirty sought to
persuade the eleven to run away home; and they knew who the
prisoner was, for one had seized her when the horse was slain,
and the outer garment tore, showing the woman's riding raiment
underneath. There were groans and oaths in the dark, for some
were wounded; and one man, seeking a place where he might sit to
bind his leg, sat on me, who lurked between two stones. I slew
him. He made no sound. But he was not my brother Ali. So I crept
in search of Ali, hoping to slay him, and seize the sahiba,
and carry her off while they argued. But lo! As birds cease
chattering and take wings, they agreed and were gone! Between two
breaths they were gone with the sahiba in their midst! And I,
seeking the rifle of the fellow I had slain, found none. He was a
dog--a yellow dog--a snooter-among-dung-heaps--armed with nothing
but a butcher's knife stolen from the stalls in Dera Ismail! Lo,
behold it! The bull whose throat was cut with such a thing died,
by the Blood of the Prophet, of shame before the dishonourable
skewer touched the skin!

"Allah! They were gone like wind! Like jackals afraid of the
dawn! And by that I knew they would not go far; for he who fears
the dawn, and fears the leader he deserts, loves caves. And
there be great caves hereabouts. Great caves and little ones,
among which Kangra Khan might hunt a year in vain; for there
are runways in between them; hunter and hunted may play at
hide-and-seek for ever!

"I was confounded. I had failed. Yet not so! Allah is my friend.
I thought of Ramm-is-den, whose belly, thinks I, by this time is
as hollow as a drum, and whose great bulk is an easy target in
the dark. By Allah, had I not carried the kettle all this
distance, and the eggs, not breaking one! Shall he who is my
friend be hungry, and I have food? May He who seeth all forget
me, if I as much as think of it!

"So, by Allah, I hied me to this place; and I gathered little
sticks, but not enough of them, for where are trees in all these
hills? Yet Allah brought a thought to mind, and I remembered
where the Kumara-Afridis hid the bulls they lifted from across
the British border a year ago. So I brought dung--and lo, a good
fire. Then water. Sahibs, I was hard put to it for water! Allah
bear me witness how I prayed!

"Lo, water! Had we not tea? Was the stuff not excellent? There
are no wells hereabouts--none nearer than the great cave, whither
it may be they have taken the sahiba; though there is a good one
there in a ravine between the great cave and the next one. But
observe, sahibs, in the direction of my finger, northward, that
way, lies a village so evil--so black with shame--that Allah
cursed it and the wells ran dry three months ago. And I bethought
me how the women rise before dawn, and walk many miles for the
water, with a man or two guarding them. Allah guided me. I found
their path. And an old hag had a sore foot. Lo, she sat in a
hollow place with the water-crock still balanced on her head
because it was full, and too heavy to raise in case she set it
down. So I gave her a new pain to offset the other, and filled
the kettle from her crock, she weeping anew because now after she
reached home she must make a second journey; for they swill water
in that village like pigs on the plains of Hind. Women are women,
sahibs. None may understand them. The hag was not at all pleased
to have slaked the dry throats of honourable men. So I smote her
and ran, for I heard others coming, and the men who guarded them
with rifles were of a certainty not far away. So, tea, praise be
to Allah!

"Then ye sahibs came. And here we sit in Allah's sight, Who seeth
all. We have eaten and drank, and have a hen to cook--scant fare,
indeed, for three men, yet better than emptiness. Inshallah,
there is good luck awaiting us. I am thy friend, Ramm-is-den. May
God forget me if I lie! And as for this man--he is a Sikh, yet I
will befriend him for thy sake, Ramm-is-den. I love thee. Great
is Allah!"

Akbar bin Mahommed sat still, eyeing me with that burning gaze of
the Northerner, that by intensity and concentration can detect
the very thought behind guarded speech. And he smiled; for he saw
I was in no mood to find fault with him. He believed Joan Angela
was my wife, and he had failed to protect her; moreover, he had
failed to keep his promise to bring the "shaveling" alive to me.
Maybe he had acted unwisely in a dozen ways; and he was certainly
a rogue--a murderer--a conscienceless thief. Yet I wish I might
be half as faithful in my obligations to a friend. The only claim
I had on him was that I had loosed his hands. His promise to me
had been made under duress. He would certainly be killed, and
doubtless cruelly, if Kangra Khan should ever learn the truth and
happen to lay hands on him.

"We must take the trail at once," said I. But Narayan Singh said
nothing, and Akbar bin Mahommed took snuff from a box made of two
brass cartridge-cases, offering me first helping.

"Nay, nay!" he said presently. "In the name of Allah, sleep!
These hills be full of hunted men. I know the hills! Pathan and
Waziri are at one another's throats. The sides men took mean
nothing now. Each one for himself, and the shortest road home!
Loot...that is all that matters! By day, the men whom we are
seeking hide, and none save Allah knoweth where; yet we would be
a mark against a skyline. When the night comes they will fare
forth; and we likewise. In the dark all men are equal, and
numbers nothing against cunning. Sleep, sahib. Wait for the night."

I met Narayan Singh's eyes. He and I had the same thought.

"Turn about!" he said gruffly.

"Then ye two take the first spell," said the hillman, snatching
the sheepskin from off our shoulders and rolling it up for a
pillow. "Sleep there together, while I watch."

"I will keep the first watch," said Narayan Singh.

"Nay, it is better that I do," the other answered with growing
impatience.

"I will sit in the cave-mouth and watch what may happen on
the countryside. So when night falls I shall know better what
to advise."

"Thou and I together, then," said Narayan Singh.

The Sikh's hereditary, ingrained distrust of the hillman,
reinforced no doubt by long experience, was not to be offset
by a tale of a night's adventure. Whether he believed or
disbelieved Akbar bin Mahommed's story, he did not propose
to trust him.

But it seemed to me we had small choice. If we should offend him,
he might turn against us as swiftly and as savagely as he had
hitherto tried to serve. Should we two prove too many for him, he
could easily slip away and bring friends to his aid by promising
them a share of the loot. Without him we were helpless. We must
keep his friendship at all costs--take all chances. I drew out my
pistol and passed it to him, butt first.

"That's in proof I trust you," I said. "Keep it for me while I
sleep. Narayan Singh, give him your rifle!"

The Sikh obeyed. He did not like it, but he is the bravest
fellow in the world when it comes to obeying orders against
his inclination. Akbar bin Mahommed grinned, understanding the
mental conflict perfectly.

"May I eat dirt," he said to me, "if I break faith, as Allah is
my witness, Ramm-is-den! And as for thee" (he smiled a trifle
thinly at Narayan Singh)--"I am thy friend for his sake!"

"Of which the proof will be the outcome!" Narayan Singh answered
none too tactfully; and then came and lay beside me. So we slept
with our heads on one rolled sheepskin, and our lives were for a
number of hours in the hands of Akbar bin Mahommed, thief by
religion and murderer by habit!




CHAPTER VII


"I Know a Thousand Gods Superior to Allah."



I don't dream much as a general rule. Not having dabbled in
things psychic, nor professing to understand as much as the
general terms of that weird science, I offer now no explanations.
What I set down here is fact. I know I was in sound health, but
the blow I received on the head the night of my capture by Kangra
Khan's men may have had something to do with my dreaming. And
there may be something in environment. Sleeping on the hard floor
of a draughty cave, side by side with a Sikh, with your head on a
sheepskin and a professional murderer keeping guard, after a
night of prodigious fighting and a meal of hard-boiled eggs
and cold chupatties, is conceivably disturbing to the normal
mental processes.

I dreamt that Joan Angela walked straight into the cave, and sat
down beside Narayan Singh and me to talk with us. She was dressed
as usual in riding kit, and without the turban and accessories
belonging to the "shaveling." She seemed her normal self in most
respects. She was apparently uninjured, and not exactly unhappy;
but her delight in adventure for its own sake seemed to have
entirely disappeared, and she was pale-calm-serious.

"This fighting has got to be stopped, Jeff!" she said as soon as
she had sat down. "I refuse to be responsible for any more of it."

I forget what my dream-answer was; perhaps I made none. But
Narayan Singh, who in the dream was squatting cross-legged
beside me, leaned forward tracing figures with his finger in the
dust of the cave floor, and after a pause spoke sententiously,
as his way not seldom is.

"The truth," said he, "is true.  It is one; and there is
no alternative."

Explain that how you like. I can't make head or tail of it, but
in the dream it seemed apt and enlightening. Joan Angela nodded.

"Attempts to rescue me," she said, "can only lead to more
fighting, of which there has already been too much. Yet if I
agree to pay the ransom, that will only lead to more kidnaping;
and I do not choose to be responsible for that either."

All this while, in the dream, someone--Akbar bin Mahommed, I
suppose--was sitting in the cave-mouth keeping watch but making
no comment, as if the whole proceedings were entirely in order.
Narayan Singh appeared particularly undisturbed, but even more
than usually thoughtful.

"Yet if you were to be killed," he said, "that would be the
cause of more fighting than ever, since the British would feel
themselves obliged to punish the tribesmen, and they, disliking
to be punished, resist."

"Very true," said Joan Angela. "So I must live, although life
among these people is unpleasant to contemplate. They eat so
disgustingly; and I don't know their language. However, I can
learn it; and when I get hungry enough I shall eat without
distress. But you must not try to rescue me. I will go with them;
and you must go the other way, and tell people I am very likely
dead, so that the British won't send an expedition."

"That is wisest," said Narayan Singh.

I heard those three words "that is wisest" as distinctly as I
can now hear the clock ticking on the wall of this lime-washed
hospital. Then I awoke, full of indignation, and stretched out my
hand to prevent Joan Angela from going; for in the dream she had
started in great haste to leave the cave. My hand struck against
Narayan Singh, as fast asleep beside me as a hibernating bear.
The blow awoke him and he sat up. Blinking, we both stared at
Grim in the cave-mouth, sitting on guard with two rifles and a
pistol in his lap! Akbar bin Mahommed was not there!

Narayan Singh looked into my eyes and nudged me. I nudged him. We
were both awake.

"Is it you, Jim, or your ghost?" I asked.

"It's me," said Grim, and went on watching something down below
the cave.

"Where's King?" I asked.

"God knows. Licking the Waziris into shape, I hope," he answered.

"Any news of Joan Angela?"

"No more than you have. I've been listening to Mahommed bin Akbar."

"Where is he?"

"Gone to look for her. Just went. We talked over various plans,
including one that he should scout for news of her whereabouts,
and I concluded that was wisest."

"What time is it?"

"High noon, or a little after."

"Have you slept?"

"No."

"Eaten?"

"Yes."

"Better sleep now, hadn't you?"

"Yes, I think so, if you're through."

He looked so deathly tired that I had not the heart to question
him further until sleep should have restored him to his normal
taciturnity. Then he would be sure to tell us all that was
essential, if no more. So when he had given the Sikh his rifle,
and handed the pistol to me, he went and lay down where we had
lain, and fell asleep that instant. Narayan Singh and I sat in
the cave-mouth, saying nothing for a long while, watching as
much of the landscape as we could see in either direction, with
especial attention to the kites, whose movements as a rule betray
the whereabouts of any considerable parties of men.

"Did you dream a while back?" I asked him at last.

"Aye, sahib."

"Tell me of it."

"The sahiba came. She spoke. She said to you and me--in the
dream, sahib, we were squatting down beside her--`I go,' said
she, `to the village belonging to these people; and there I think
you will find me alive, if you should travel fast enough.' And I
said in my dream, `We come at once, sahiba.' And she said,
`When?' I answered, `Tonight.' And she said to me, `That is
wisest.' Then the sahib woke me with a blow across the jaw that
tingles yet; and lo, Jimgrim was sitting there!"

So much for dreams! I hove a great sigh of relief. Not both
dreams could be right. My old nurse used to say dreams go by
contraries, but, even so, both dreams reversed would still remain
opposites. We were to go, and we were not to go. We were to
rescue her, and we were not to rescue her.

"Stewed tea and hard-boiled eggs!" said I.

"Chupatties! They were like leather, sahib--indigestible--cooked
by a hillwoman--phaugh!"

Yet neither of us quite dismissed our dream from mind. We sat
there on the qui vive, listening to Grim's snores, and peering in
turns around the rock that blocked two-thirds of the cave-mouth;
and when we conversed at rare intervals it was more of the dreams
than of how Grim came to be there. Narayan Singh you might say is
a specialist in such matters, accepting as obvious facts what to
the West would seem crazy theories.

"The dreams mean this, sahib," he said after a while. "We shall
rescue her. Nevertheless, whatever plan we make will be a bad
one, leading only to more bloodshed; whereas the true plan will
be unfolded by the gods. Being blind, we are unable to do right.
Yet, going forward, we cannot set one foot wrong. We are but
agents in these matters."

I would like to believe him. It would take the worry out of
nine-tenths of existence. But I notice that he, too, worries on
occasion, in spite of his convictions; and I wonder just how much
of his philosophy he honestly believes and how much is habit.

He worried more than I did as the sun wore down towards the west,
and there began to be signs of movement here and there among the
ugly crags. The wind began blowing half a hurricane, whistling
into our cave and drowning out most other noises; but once in a
while we heard sniping, and twice a yell reached us that told
someone had hit the living mark, or missed.

Grim slept on. He can worry, too, but seldom when he has faced a
situation and made up his mind on a course; so I judged by the
calmness of his sleep that he had fully decided what to do and
was characteristically storing up strength for the effort.

After a while Narayan Singh crept out and climbed a crag, from
which to get a better view of the locality. To make the most
of that he had to stand upright on the top, and was clearly
silhouetted against the sky. Someone three hundred yards away
began shooting at him. The first shot missed altogether, but
announced the sniper's general whereabouts. The second chipped
a piece of rock from close beside the Sikh's feet. The third
chipped the rock again, a little to the left. The fourth shot was
mine. I used Grim's rifle, and it proved to be a very good one.

Narayan Singh returned and squatted once more in the cave-mouth.

"There is smoke a mile away," he announced, "but the wind blows
and spreads it. It is hard to tell exactly whence it comes. It is
the smoke of many men."

I took a turn at scouting, selecting another crag, while Narayan
Singh covered me. But there were no more gentry sniping thereabouts;
or if there were they took to heart the first one's fate. I stood
up unmolested, and a fluke in the wind gave me a clear view
down a gorge to the side of a ravine that the gorge entered
at a right-angle. The smoke was issuing from the mouth of a
cavern, and there was lots of it. I judged they had a fire in
there that would have roasted an ox; and that meant the presence
of women, for the men-folk prefer discomfort to the _infra dig_
business of gathering and bringing fuel. Before the wind fluked
again and the smoke blotted out the view, I saw about twenty men
sitting on a ledge outside the cavern; and that looked as if they
were not in the least afraid of being seen. But I could not tell
whether they were Waziris or Pathans. When I returned to the cave
Grim was awake. He had raked the fragments of our scattered fire
together, spitted Mahommed bin Akbar's hen on a stick, and was
toasting it. We ate the bird, and it was beastly, but sufficed.

"What next?" I asked him; and he was about to answer when
Akbar bin Mahommed came in, munching dry corn that he had
stolen somewhere.

"May Allah bless you!" he said handsomely. "May Allah make that
hen enough for you! I found a fool with a bag full of this good
food, who thought to knife me from behind a rock. But, by Allah,
as he followed me I followed him, and took him by the heel (it
was a little rock). I pulled him back towards me, thus; and as he
turned on his back to fight me, I drove my knife into his belly,
thus; and he has no more hunger, whereas I would have been
starving presently! Moreover, I did Allah a great service,
ridding the earth of a pig who cumbered it! He was a--"

"News! What news have you brought?" demanded Grim.

"Oh, as for that, I did not discover much. I watched the mouth of
that cavern from this side of the ravine. There is Kangra Khan
with nearly a hundred men. I did not see the sahiba, but I know
they have her with them, because those outside the cavern keep
peering within curiously. The wives of some of Kangra Khan's men
are there; they brought fuel, and much food; from time to time
they carry water, and there is a great cooking going on. I think
they have determined on a long march. I think they will go home."

"How many days' march?" Grim demanded.

"Eleven days, if there is no fighting on the way. But it is
slower by night; and if there is fighting, who knows?"

"Are you from Kangra Khan's village?"

"Praise be to Allah, no! I come from a decent place, a half-day's
march from his dung-hill. Lo, my home is in the shadow of the
graves of holy ones, whom Allah bless! Mine is a town of fair
women--a city of delights--a paradise! His stinks! I would not
live there. I came southward looking for a profit after all the
big talk Kangra Khan made, but that dung-hill of his is the
mother of buzzing flies and naught else--words without a doing at
the end of them!"

"What's the name of the place?"

"They call it Kangra Khan's. It deserves no better name."

"And the name of yours?"

He would not tell. The more he was questioned the more he fell
back on evasion. Whether it was superstition or mere caution it
was difficult to guess, but he was resolute; he would not name
the place he came from.

"Allah knows its name!" he answered. "It is a city of trees and
splendid buildings. There is a mosque a dozen times more lovely
than the Taj Mahal!"

"Have you seen the Taj Mahal?" Grim asked him.

"Nay. Why take the trouble? Have I not seen the mosque in my
city? There is nothing fairer."

"Well," said Grim, "to get to your home, must we go by Kangra Khan's?"

"Aye, if Allah wills. Between here and there it might be there
would happen fighting!"

"And the Waziris? Where do they live?"

"Over beyond. Forever to the northward. They are not true Waziris,
but a cross-bred spawn of hell who fell heirs to three villages
because the Afridi, who used to live thereabouts, were too
weak to withstand them. They will never get home. There are
too many tribes on the watch, and no friends anywhere! And if
they did reach home they would find the Afridis waiting. Show me
that Tooth of the Prophet, sahib. Bless me with it! I have in
mind to loot a few Waziris before too many Pathans get the
first pick!"

Grim thought a minute, then produced the "Prophet's tooth." It
looked as if it had been in a rain-washed skull for centuries. He
had it folded in a piece of paper, on which was some writing in
Persian characters, and he held it carefully, giving Akbar bin
Mahommed no more than a glimpse of it.

"It can curse as well as bless!" he said meaningly. "I bade thee
bless me with it!"

"Aye, but I will curse thee with it unless thou art amenable!"

"To what?"

"To me!"

"Mashallah! Thou art an Arab. Shall I obey an Arab? Thou truly
art an Arab--is it not so?"

"Aye," said Grim, "a Hajji. Thrice I have made the pilgrimage
to Mecca."

"Thrice blessed one!" said Akbar bin Mahommed. "Nay, I will not
be cursed! What then?"

Grim seemed to hesitate, but I knew that he was acting; he had
made his mind up. He clutched the tooth in its paper wrapping
close to his breast, as if he loved it. His eyes glowed as he
stared at Akbar bin Mahommed, and he seemed to recognise in the
hillman's face something splendid--something that thrilled him.
Yet he clutched the tooth again, and seemed to wage a war within
himself, forcing himself at last to speak.

"Thou art a man--a very man-a man indeed--a good man, art thou
not?" he asked.

"None better!" said the hillman modestly.

"And a good chief thou wouldst be?"

"Aye, had I but a following. But the fools follow others."

"They would follow the tooth of Mahommed, the Prophet of God!"

"Aye!"

"And thee if it were thine!"

"By Allah, would they not! Nevertheless, thou art a holy Hajji,
and I will not slay thee, even to possess the tooth!"

Grim looked astonished. His jaw dropped. Astonishment gave place
to wonder--wonder to admiration--admiration to excitement--excitement
at last to a measure of caution. It was marvelous good acting.

"Near the place where the Prophet of Allah used to pray in the
holy city of Mecca, a very holy and white-bearded sheikh, who
used to pray there seven times daily, waiting for the hour when
he should die, gave me the blessed Prophet's Tooth," said Grim.

"Peace be to him! In the name of the Most High, peace to him!"
said Akbar bin Mahommed.

"Thrice seven years had he waited there, praying seven times
daily in that spot, keeping all the fasts. And when he saw me he
knew me instantly, having oftentimes beheld me in a vision in a
dream," said Grim.

"Allaho akbar!"

"He pressed the blessed tooth into my hands, thus, wrapped in
this paper that bears the Prophet's blessing written with his
own hand."

"Allaho akbar!"

"And he laid a charge on me."

"Thrice blessed one!"

"'Go thou,' said he to me, `to the mountains northwest of
Peshawar, where thou shalt find a man--a warrior--a very
Rustum--whose name shall be an attribute to God, and whose
other name shall be the Prophet's.' That might be thou,"
Grim suggested.

"I and no other!"

"`With him have word,' said he. And he described the man to me,
signifying such an one as thou art--even with a white scar like
a star, five-pointed, on the face between the eye and nose."

"Allah! Surely he meant me then!"

"'But I charge thee in the name of the All-wise,' said he,
`to have great care lest the holy tooth should fall into evil
incapable hands. For the tooth is for that one whom thou shalt
meet; and when he shall possess the tooth he shall straightway
become a great chieftain.'"

"It is I, and no other! Give me then the tooth," exclaimed Akbar
bin Mahommed.

"And he spoke to me after this wise: 'There is a good man, who
shall have the holy tooth, and a bad one, who will greatly desire
it. Each of them will say these words to thee: "Thou art a holy
Hajji, and I will not slay thee, even to possess the tooth."
'Nevertheless,' said he again, 'thou shalt know the good one from
the evil one after this manner. Lo, he who is evil will refuse to
obey thee. But he who is good will obey thee in all things for a
hundred days, or until such time as thou releases him. To him,
when he has obeyed thee, give the tooth, with my blessing in the
Name of Names. He shall be a great chief.'"

Akbar bin Mahommed's eyes burned. His fingers clutched his
knife-blade. He could have killed Grim for the tooth that
instant, but for his own vow not to, and for a certain dim
sense of the proprieties.

"Lo, I obey thee! Have I not obeyed?" he asked, with bated
breath. Excitement had him by the throat. He could hardly speak.

"Not yet for an hundred days," Grim answered. "Nor have I yet met
the second man--the evil one. When I meet him--"

"Ill for him in that hour!" the hillman interrupted. "I will
slay the dog in Allah's name! I will hack him into pieces and
burn the foul bits on a dung-heap! It is I who am the good one,
I assure thee!"

"Maybe," Grim answered. "We have yet to prove that. Lo, there is
a great trust laid on me, and I must put thee to the utmost test."

Akbar bin Mahommed thumped his breast and laid his forehead on
the cave-floor. Then, looking straight into Grim's eyes:

"Inshallah, I will not fail!" he said simply. "I obey thee. And
moreover, this being the will of Allah, and the charge of the
holy sheikh, it must follow that I pass unscathed through all
things! Can I die and yet possess this tooth? Nay. Then since I
must possess the tooth--for that is written--surely I cannot die!
Lo, then, I am a lion! Lo, not Ali was a safer one than I! I may
dare all things! Obey? I will obey thee if the order is to walk
through fire...."

"By the Forty Martyrs, I am not a madman!" answered Grim, judging
his customer shrewdly. "What good would it do me to see a
fool singe himself? It is my orders not thy boastfulness thou
must obey!"

"Say the word, and I march to Mecca, Hajji!"

"Nay, for then I could not keep an eye on thee."

"Bid me slay an hundred men!"

"Not thou, but I, must choose the orders."

"Choose then, Hajji! Be swift! My bosom burns! By Allah, I obey
thee if the order is to--" (he glanced at me and grinned)--"to
fight this Ramm-is-den!"

"Nay, Ramm-is-den is my friend," answered Grim.

"I will slay you the Sikh, then!"

"He likewise. It is I who choose the deeds that must be done."

"In Allah's name then, choose thou, Hajji! Be swift with
the beginning!"

Little the hillman guessed what a taskmaster he was dealing with.
Grim's eyes, whose color is all mixed of grey, and blue, and
brown, so that those who know him hardly ever agree as to what
their color really is, hardened--lost their romantic gleam--grew
cold, with a different fervor. Narayan Singh, who knew that sign
of old, caught his breath sharply and leaned forward.

"Does Kangra Khan know you have taken the part of the sahiba, and
of this sahib, and of this Sikh?" Grim asked.

"Nay. How should he?"

"Does he know you were made prisoner?"

"Surely. Why not? I was either a prisoner or a dead man. Allah!
What else should he think?"

"But those men with whom you fought in the dark? Your brother
Ali? Will they not tell Kangra Khan you are alive and a traitor?"

"Nay, I know them! They will say I was stealing the sahiba on my
own account, having made my own escape. They will show the loot I
took from the Waziri packs. They will say she watched it for me.
Kangra Khan will laugh, saying I am, lo, a greater thief than ever!"

"Presently," said Grim, "before the sun sets, thou shalt go with
me to the cavern where Kangra Khan is. Thy first task is to
introduce me to him, winning his great favour in consequence,
boasting thou hast persuaded me to show him favour."

Akbar bin Mahommed looked first incredulous, then crafty. Then
his face lit with guile and greed as all the possibilities of
this new turn of events dawned on his imagination.

"Allah be praised, who designeth all things!" he exclaimed. "I
understand thee! I will slay this Kangra Khan, who is a cockerel
from a very smelly dung-heap. Then thou shalt give me the
Prophet's Tooth, and proclaim me chief. Thus shall the prophecy
be fulfilled! Thou art a wise and cunning fellow, Hajji--a
strong one and a bold! Hah! Inshallah, I shall be a great
chief; and there shall be a war such as these borders have
never before seen!"

"There shall be a cursing such as thou hast never heard!" Grim
hastened to assure him. And with that, he passed his hand over
his mouth, removing the plate that holds in place the false teeth
of his upper jaw on either side. His cheeks sunk instantly. It
changed the whole expression of his face, making him almost
unrecognizable. Then he scowled, squinted inward, thrust his
tongue between his teeth, and made a noise in his throat that
resembled something boiling up from within him. He waved the
tooth in its paper packet to and fro.

"Nay, Hajji! Nay! What have I done? Nay! Keep thy curses for an
enemy. I am thy friend--indeed thy friend! By Allah, I will obey
thee! Say the word, and I will nestle Kangra Khan to my bosom. I
will slay his enemies! I will--"

Grim's aspect changed, although he did not let a hint of a smile
escape him.

"I begin to believe thou art truly the one," he said, nodding.

"Aye. By Allah, I am he! No doubt of it!"

Grim passed the tooth to me. With utmost outward reverence I
stowed it out of sight.

"These two," said Grim, pointing to Narayan Singh and me, "are
made custodians of the holy tooth until such time as I, and no
other, bid them convey it to thee. Thou and I are thus freed, I
of danger, and thou of temptation."

"I would not slay thee, little Hajji!"

"Nay, I know it. And it would be yet more difficult to slay these
two men. Moreover, should accident befall me--for none knoweth
when his hour comes--these two will keep the tooth, because they
may not part with it without my order."

"Little Hajji, how I will preserve thee! None less than Allah
shall do thee a harm! I will nurse thee like a fledgling! But who
shall preserve them?"

"Allah, who is Lord of all," said Grim.

"Yet the one is a Sikh, who is damned, and the other an Amelikani,
whose god is a dollar, as all the world knows! A pious Moslem
would deem he did Allah a favour by driving a bullet through
both of them!"

"That is why I have appointed them custodians of the tooth," said
Grim. "It will preserve them both."

Akbar bin Mahommed saw the force of that, but he was far from
satisfied. However, it was no use arguing with Grim; a very
_kaffir_* could have seen that the Hajji was full to the brim of
retorts and evasiveness, and besides, the longer he talked the
longer it would be before he won the tooth and with it a key to
chieftainship. By the look in his eyes he already saw himself
unquestioned ruler of a thousand villages. [* Unbeliever]

"I am ready. Allah is my witness," he said proudly--simply.
No crusader starting for the Holy Land ever felt, or looked,
more consecrated.

Grim turned to me and spoke in Arabic, which might as well have
been ancient Greek as far as Akbar bin Mahommed was concerned,
although he could mouth a few Koran texts from memory.

"I don't care to meet Kangra Khan before dark," he said. "That
night when he first called on us the fire was between him and me,
but even so he might recognise me, even with my teeth out. I have
no particular plan except to go close and get word with Miss
Leich. After that, if possible, I mean to discover what Kangra
Khan intends. They may march tonight. So as soon as it's dark you
two would better go as close as you dare. I'll try to send our
friend here back to get in touch with you, so keep a look out.
But if I fail to do that, and Kangra Khan marches, follow on
our heels."

"What about King and the Waziris?" I suggested.

"He's already to the northward, trying to work between Kangra
Khan and his probable objective. He'll try to persuade the
Waziris to put up another fight, but they're short of ammunition
and may prefer to scatter and run. In that case King will try to
raise some other clans to hound Kangra Khan. There's nothing
certain. The next half-hour may see us all dead. On the other
hand, we may rescue Miss Leich tonight. You fellows must be
alert and use discretion."

Narayan Singh grunted. He loves commands of that kind. Once in
Palestine they gave him a letter to carry across the Jordan and
down into Arabia, with leave to use discretion; and he was so
discreet that he came back uninjured, with an answer and two
camel-loads of loot. Besides, he knows those gruesome hills more
or less, having campaigned among them rather frequently when he
was in the Indian Army. He was all I had to rely on, for I don't
know those hills at all; and though I understand the _lingua
franca,_ I speak it with an obviously foreign accent.

It does not amuse me to be sniped by dark or daylight. I believe
Narayan Singh enjoys it. I enjoy a stand-up fight, although I'm
ashamed to admit it; but cold steel in the dark gives me the
shudders when I think of it. Narayan Singh prefers cold steel to
rifle-fire. Grim revels in work, no matter what it is. He stood
in the cave-mouth, back to the light.

"Allah keep you, my brothers. Allah give you strength and courage.
Allah bless you!" he said--and was gone.

"I know a thousand gods superior to Allah!" said Narayan Singh.




CHAPTER VIII


"We've One Chance in a Million. Are We All Set?"



It was blowing a gale of dry, cold wind when Narayan Singh and I
left the cave. To the westward there was the last light of a
yellow sunset on the bellies of aloof clouds--liars like the
hillmen, threatening a rain they had no notion of delivering. It
was darker than a coal-hole underfoot, for the moon had not
risen, and the rocks cast shadow everywhere. No stars yet
visible, because of high-hung clouds. No sense of direction; no
guide but the feel of the wind on your cheek and, now and then,
when we topped a rise, the crimson glow of flame in the throat of
a cavern a mile away. A mile, that is, as crows are said to fly;
about five miles by the route we had to take. The wind seemed to
blow clean through you.

We scrambled and stumbled for about two hours, more or less in an
arc of a circle, helping each other over steep places, and
grateful for the shelter from the wind when the road (for that
was what Narayan Singh called it, and he swore it was a good one
for that neighbourhood) dipped into deep hollows. How he found
the way I don't know, for once we went more than half an hour
without catching sight of the crimson glow; but we halted at last
and lay down in the eye of the wind on a ledge half-way up the
side of the deep ravine opposite the cavern in which Kangra Khan
and Joan Angela were supposed to be.

It was nearly, but not quite, impossible to keep watch there, for
the bitter wind made our eyes run; and it was so cold that when I
borrowed Narayan Singh's rifle and took a sight along it, just on
general principles, I could not hold the foresight on the mark
for trembling. However, we could see the glow of the fire; and at
moments, when we wiped our eyes, we could see men, or perhaps
women, going and coming.

"They carry the loads out," said Narayan Singh. "They march tonight."

No sign of Grim. No sign of Joan Angela. Nothing to show that
either she or he was over there. Both, for aught we could prove,
were lying dead in the ravine, and about all that we could do was
to hope and hang on. Now and then the wind swept down the ravine
with such force that it nearly blew us off the ledge, and at last
I grew rebellious.

"This isn't as close as we can get," I said--down-wind into the
Sikh's ear. "I'm going closer."

I did not wait for him to object, but started there and then to
clamber down into the ravine, not caring how much noise I made,
nor seeking cover, for we were in shadow on our side, and sound
was carried along so swiftly by the wind that no one who heard
could judge our whereabouts.

None did hear--not even the man I stepped on, who was no more
aware of me than I of him, until he felt my weight between his
shoulders and tried to squirm out from under. Narayan Singh
dropped down beside me on another man, nearly breaking his back,
and in a second we were fighting blind-man's-bluff in total
darkness, with long knives whickering to right and left, and
nothing to be seen at all. Narayan Singh clubbed his rifle; I
heard the butt descend on something and a cry as a bone broke.
Then I thought I saw something at last--fired at it point-blank
with the pistol--and hit a horse. No doubt of that whatever. It
was a shod horse; it kicked and struck sparks as it fell. Someone
fired back at me, and then a voice said:

"By any chance, is that you, Jeff?"

It was King's voice! I would know it in a thousand, and Narayan
Singh exploded one great guttural monosyllabic laugh. I heard
King calling off his men, and he had his work cut out, for we had
injured three of them and tempers run quick and high in those
infernal hills. But he managed it somehow, and came in the dark
to stand between us, smoking a cigarette, which he held very
carefully in the hollow of his cupped hand.

"Let's hope Kangra Khan's men didn't hear your pistol-shot," he
said. "Where's Grim?"

I told him where I hoped Grim was, and he nodded. "How many men
have you?" I asked him.

"Fifty," he said, "less three you've hurt. The rest have cleared
off home, and stand no chance of getting there." "Grim thinks
you're to the northward," I told him.

"Couldn't make my fifty march," he answered. "Our only chance is
to nab Kangra Khan as he comes out. Tonight or never! Another
morning'll see all the hills out after our Waziris. I've promised
these men, if they'll see this through, to try to lead them back
across the border where we'll let 'em take refuge until the
situation clears a bit."

"Any sign of Joan Angela?" I asked him.

"None. But there's somebody or something important in there that
they're keeping out of sight. By Gad, I'm worried about Grim. I
should have seen him. The firelight betrays anyone who passes the
cavern-mouth. Tell you what," he said after a pause, "one of us
should go close and find out."

Narayan Singh volunteered for that duty almost before the words
had left King's lips, but King suggested I should go too, because
his men were none too pleased with us for having put three of
them out of action, and it would be easier to calm them in
our absence.

"Cover each other," he said. "If you can, let Grim know where we
are. When Kangra Khan starts to lead his men out, duck, for we'll
ambush 'em, and there'll be wild work! Then see if you and Grim
between you can't bag the girl and get away with her. If she's
shot, that's kismet. Our best is the best we can do for her.
So long."

So Narayan Singh and I set out to cross the floor of that ravine,
moving a lot more cautiously than when we dropped down to the
ledge. The next we were likely to meet would be foes, not
friends, and it was probable that Kangra Khan had his pickets
posted within hail. Once Narayan Singh nudged me and we lay down
listening; but all I heard was my own heartbeats, and the wind
whistling overhead. When we started again I could see about
twenty men in front of the fire-glow, and it occurred to me they
were taking long chances to stand silhouetted in that way, with
enemies all about them in the hills. They seemed deliberately to
be trying to attract attention. The same thought occurred to
Narayan Singh.

"Let us hope King sahib sees them," he said, coming close to
whisper in my ear. "Those Pathans expect a reinforcement. They
have heard their friends are coming, and unless our friend King
sahib is alert he may be caught between two fires."

"You go back and warn him," I ordered. "I'll wait here."

He turned and went without a word. The wind and darkness
swallowed him, and I lay there on a flat rock hugging my pistol,
with the owls swooping close to take a look at me--swerving
down-wind and circling up again for another look. A jackal
sniffed my feet and yelped. The men in the cavern-mouth drank
something hot out of a kerosene can, passing it from one to the
other and laughing (although the wind carried all sound away long
before it reached me). They were plainly feeling confident.

It was easier to watch from where I lay than it had been on the
ledge, for the wind did not worry my eyes. I kept my gaze fixed
on the fire-glow, hoping not to miss Joan Angela, or Grim, if
either of them should pass in front of the fire. All I saw was
the cavern-mouth and its occupants, and as for hearing, you could
probably have fired a rifle within ten yards of me without my
knowing it; my left ear ached from the pressure of the cold wind.
I was taken absolutely by surprise when a cold hand was laid on
my neck from behind and a voice said in Pushtu:

"The tooth, Ramm-is-den! Give me the tooth or I slay thee!"

Lord knows, men fight for idiotic reasons! I fought for that
tooth from a savage's rain-washed skull as instantly and with no
more argument than if it had been a regimental colors, or my
personal fortune--using a ju-jitsu trick, turning suddenly on my
back and kicking upwards with both feet. Akbar bin Mahommed
turned a somersault in mid-air, and when he fell I was on top
of him, with my knee on his belly and his knife-wrist in my
left-hand. He had not let go his knife, and I accepted that as
proof you could make a sportsman of him if you had the time, and
took the necessary pains.

"Thou elephant!" I joked. He gasped when he could get some breath.

"How did you find me?" I demanded, working at his wrist to make
him drop the knife.

"Peace, thou! Let me go! Nay, Allah's mercy! Break not my
knife-wrist, Ramm-is-den, or I am no more use!" I eased on
the wrist a little, and repeated the question.

"I heard a jackal cry. There was likely a dead man hereabouts.
Not all the dead have been stripped yet."

I eased the pressure on his belly, meaning to keep him there on
his back until I had the whole of his story, but he squirmed off
the rock and out from under me, and though he did not offer to
use his knife I covered him with the pistol. But he squatted
down with his back towards the fire-glow in a gap between two
boulders, and began chafing his wrist as if nothing at all out of
the ordinary had happened; so I sat down too, where I could keep
an eye on the cavern-mouth beyond him, close enough to him to
have touched him with the pistol-muzzle.

"Mashallah! Thou art strong!" he grumbled. "Lo, I am no weakling,
but thou--"

"Where is the Hajji?" I demanded.

"Up yonder."

"And the sahibs?"

"Up yonder."

He jerked his thumb over his back. We were shouting at each other
as if thirty yards apart, because the wind snatched words and
took them scattering down the ravine.

"What then? Why are you here?" I demanded.

"Allah! To find thee! Why else? Where is the _kaffir?"_

He meant Narayan Singh, but that was no way to refer to him, so I
ignored the question. I demanded news, and he told it in gasps
and snatches, showing his teeth as he spat the words out, trying
to make me hear without taking all down-wind into confidence.

"Sahibs in corner behind fire--back of cavern--guarded by women.
Hajji--Kangra Khan growing friendly. Suspicious at first, but
Hajji gave him piece of stone from near Ka'aba at Mecca. Kangra
Khan thinks stone will bring luck, but Hajji whispered to me it
will curse him. Orakzai Pathans--some say two hundred--some say
twenty--sent word--coming tonight--from south, on way home.
Kangra Khan waiting for them."

We heard nothing, but Narayan Singh loomed suddenly out of the
night and squatted down beside me.

"King sahib _dekta hai!"_* he shouted in my ear. [* Is on the watch]

Akbar bin Mahommed heard the word "King," and brought his fist
down on his thigh in excitement.

"Thou--Sikh--thou has seen him? Seen King? Is he not to the
northward? Where are the Waziris?"

"What then?" Narayan Singh retorted. "Tell thy tale, Pathan!"

"Allah! If only the Waziris were at hand! The Hajji said to me:
`Those Pathans whom Kangra Khan expects may well be late, or may
not come at all. If the Waziris could come in the dark they might
appear to be Pathans. Then Kangra Khan would sally forth to march
with them, and there might be a fight and a rescuing!' Much may
happen in the dark!" he added.

I turned to Narayan Singh but could hardly see his outline in the
darkness. However, he laid a hand on my arm to attract attention.

"Shall I summon King sahib?" he suggested.

I agreed, and he disappeared a second time, swallowed by wind and
darkness like a ghost before he had gone two paces.

"The danger," I said, "is that Kangra Khan may send reliable men
to see who the new arrivals really are."

"Slay them one by one as they come scouting!" he retorted,
brandishing his knife.

"No," I said. "You must go back to the cavern and tell Kangra
Khan that his friends are here and waiting for him to come out."

"He will not believe me. The Hajji yes, me no!"

"Trust the Hajji to persuade him."

"Aye. That is better. The Hajji might come forth, and return, and
report favorably. A great fellow is that Hajji. He convinces men!"

I was much too cold and afraid to take any satisfaction in the
thought of a pitched battle in the darkness amid those boulders
and in that bewildering wind. But I could see no other hope, and
it fitted in with King's suggestion.

If we could solve the problem of persuading Kangra Khan to lead
his men out, there was the risk of shooting Joan Angela and Grim.
The only time when they could possibly be distinguished from the
others would be at the moment when they passed through the
firelight. The chance of persuading excited Waziris to spare the
lives of those two, while at death-grips with the rest, was
remote to say the least of it.

However, there is always something you must leave "on Allah's
knees," as the Moslems have it. The question is, how much? And
how much is your own responsibility? If we knew that, I daresay
there would be a lot less shotted argument and sudden death.

Who should tell friend from foe in that ravine at night? There
would be no moon for a long time, and then only at intervals
between the racing clouds. No word of command could carry against
or across the wind, and to that would be added the din of
rifle-firing and the yells of excited hillmen. Yet, if we
should postpone an attempt at rescue until dawn, it would be
impossible to pretend our Waziris were Pathans, and we would be
so out-numbered as to make fighting hopeless. Moreover, if King
was right (and he usually is) by daylight the tribes would be
swarming to hound the Waziris to death.

"Allah be praised! It would seem to me Kangra Khan's hour comes
tonight!" said Akbar bin Mahommed in my ear, exultingly. He
seemed to see no danger in the prospect. "As for thee, Ramm-is-den,
that tooth is thy preserver. Allaho Akbar!"

I answered him "Allaho Akbar" for courtesy's sake; for I liked
him better than scores I know, who use their tongues to murder
with because they are afraid of knives. I wished him luck in his
aim on Kangra Khan--another savage not by any means to be
despised. And I wished them both at the devil, if that might do
the rest of us the least good.

"Thou art a Kaffir, Ramm-is-den!" he yelled into my ear. "It is
great shame to doubt Allah! These be His ways to try the hearts
of men. What is a fight, or the darkness, to the Lord of all?
Whom He loveth He preserveth! Lo, he loveth me, and thou--thou
hast the tooth!"

He leaned across to slap me on the shoulder, and I have endured
less tolerable pleasantries from gentler men. Then King came.
He and Narayan Singh dropped down beside us, and we held a
four-square conference in the hollow between tip-tilted rocks,
King sitting where he could watch the cavern-mouth. His men were
inaudible--invisible; but he said they were hiding all about us
in the dark, and once I caught sight of a shadowy thing that
might have been a rifle pointing upward.

"You understand," said King, speaking Pushtu so that Mahommed bin
Akbar might feel flattered, "I must stay with the Waziris. They'd
run if I left them; and besides, I've promised. We'll engage as
soon as the last of Kangra Khan's men are out of the cavern. But
if we just make a skirmish of it without a definite objective
it'll end in our just being scattered, and morning will see our
finish. I'm going to try to gain the cavern and hold it."

"They'll only blockade you in the cavern," I objected; but he
swept the objection aside impatiently.

"We'll attend to the day, when day comes!" he answered. "You men
have got to grab Miss Leich. Be good enough not to report to me
without her, dead or alive. My objective is the cavern. That's
our rendezvous. Who goes to the cavern now, to tell them their
friends have arrived and are waiting for them?"

"I!" said Mahommed bin Akbar.

"Good. But don't seem too positive," King advised him. "Say you
detected us in the dark, and that you think we're the Orakzai
contingent. Then suggest to them that Hajji is the man to find
out for sure, because he has been to Mecca and was made immune
from bullets. If they let him come on that errand you stay up
there. The Hajji should arrange some sort of signal with them, to
be made from here as soon as he discovers whether we're friend or
foe. We'll make the agreed-on signal, of course, and when Kangra
Khan's men come out, get as close to the sahiba as you can. Keep
her out of the way of bullets if possible. Look out for
Ramm-is-den and Narayan Singh. Help them to rescue her. You
understand all that?"

"Aye," he answered. "But I should first slay Kangra Khan! His
hour has come!"

King did not answer. He sat still, as he always does when he
feels himself up against insuperable difficulty; much too wise to
argue, or to do anything except to wait for a fresh development.
But it was I who held the whip-hand in that crisis, though I
little guessed what a rod I was laying up in pickle for myself.

"Slay Kangra Khan tonight, and you shall never have the Prophet's
Tooth!" said I. "For I will break it between rocks and throw the
dust down-wind!"

"Nay, Ramm-is-den, that were a sin!" he objected.

"Unlike you, I am a sinful man!" I answered him. "I will do as I
say. Tonight you must attend to the sahiba's rescue, ignoring all
other issues. Otherwise, no tooth!"

"Allah!"

"Allah witness it!" said I.

After that there was no further argument. Akbar bin Mahommed,
with the hillman's fatalistic recognition of an impasse, rose and
went. King disappeared to talk with his Waziris, and Narayan
Singh and I sat in silence watching the cavern-mouth. It was half
an hour before we saw Akbar bin Mahommed's back against the
fire-glow, where the men on the ledge appeared to be suspicious,
for they gathered around him and gesticulated.

It was several minutes before we saw one man enter the cavern,
and minutes again before he returned with someone who towered and
bulked above them all and by his bearing might be Kangra Khan.
There followed argument--gestures--much pacing to and fro--he who
might be Kangra Khan breaking away from the others at intervals
and striding to the end of the ledge, as if to try and peer into
the ravine.

At last Grim came out, easily distinguishable from the others by
his Arab dress. He and Kangra Khan stood full in the firelight,
Grim stock-still, Kangra Khan gesticulating. Finally Grim
disappeared from view. Kangra Khan returned into the cavern, and
the others spread themselves along the ledge. At the end of
another fifteen minutes Grim sat down in the dark between Narayan
Singh and me.

"Where's King?" he demanded.

King came presently, with two smelly Waziris at his back, who lay
down on the rocks and watched us as if their eyes could burn up
darkness and read our inner thoughts. They said nothing; gave us
no greeting.

"The plan is," said Grim, "that if you're Waziris I'm to trick
you into staying here until morning, when in Allah's daylight
Kangra Khan's men and the neighbours hereabouts will deal with
you. But if you're the Orakzai contingent on your way home, I'm
to build a fire where they can see it and show myself in front of
it three times."

"Fire, at once!" King ordered; and the two Waziris who had
followed him went off in search of anything whatever they might
build it with.

Ten more minutes passed, and a pale moon began to glimmer through
racing clouds over the summit of a ragged hill, before flames
leaped up in a cleft among rocks on our right and Grim went to
stand in front of it. He showed himself thrice as required,
standing with his arms outstretched as if crucified. After the
third time a man in the cavern-mouth took a fire-brand and
waved it.

"Now, you fellows!" said King, and disappeared at once to manage
his Waziris.

Then Grim, Narayan Singh and I laid our heads together for a last
swift conference.

"They'll come down by a sort of ramp--rough going--that slants
downward into the ravine from the righthand end of the ledge as
we face it," said Grim. "Most of their loads are at the foot of
the ramp already, with a few on guard. But there's a path one man
can climb at a time, that joins the ramp half-way up. It's so
difficult they haven't posted anyone to watch it. Joan Angela is
watched by the women. I couldn't manage to get word with her, but
I know she recognized me. As soon as they come out of the cavern
the women will have to pick up loads. Kangra Khan is pretty sure
to keep Joan Angela close by him, with a bodyguard of his best
fighters. Our only chance is to lurk and surprise 'em. It's on
Allah's knees. We've one chance in a million. Are we all set?
Good. Let's go!"




CHAPTER IX


"Sure, Lend a Hand!"



Narayan Singh praised a number of gods for what befell, and
himself not at all. Grim and I thanked the wind, that tore down
the ravine in gusts and solid waves of irresistible fury that a
man could hardly stand against, making Kangra Khan believe that
Allah had sent the blast to favour his own retreat northward
under cover of darkness. Even the fierce tribesmen of that region
were hardly likely to stir on such a night, and he reasoned, as
we learned afterwards, that the Waziris would take advantage of
the fury of the elements to scoot for home. Consequently none but
his temporary allies, the putative Orakzai Pathans, could have
signaled to him from below.

He added all that argument to his conviction of the Hajji's
holiness and orthodoxy. But argument and conviction are alike
dangerous on dark nights, or at any other time.

His men ignored the possibility of danger. Believing themselves
well guarded against surprise by their allies in the ravine, they
began to troop out of the cavern and down the ramp, carrying the
few odds and ends of loads that had not already been stacked at
the foot of the ramp in readiness. And those who were first at
the bottom crouched down behind the loads to shelter themselves
from the wind; coming out of a warm cavern, they doubtless felt
it even more than we did.

Some of them carried lighted torches made of the resinous wood no
longer needed for the fire-proof enough that they meant to march
far and furiously, as otherwise they would have heaped the
unburned fuel on the women. One group of six torchmen stood at
the end of the ledge where the ramp began, perhaps to keep tally
of the men who passed; and as we reached the foot of the nearly
sheer side of the ravine we could see Joan Angela standing beside
Kangra Khan in the torchlight.

She was still wearing the uleema's turban and a sheepskin jacket,
but her hands appeared to be tied behind her, and somebody had
robbed her of the long smock, so that she looked like a rather
wretched boy in knickerbockers. There were no women near her;
they were at work; but as the torchlight wavered in the wind we
could see the shadowy forms of about a dozen riflemen--undoubtedly
Kangra Khan's picked bodyguard.

The chief himself seemed in desperate haste, and to be trying to
instil the same ambition into his men. Once he seized a torch and
beat the men who passed him, driving them with it in a hurry down
the ramp. Then he returned and appeared to be speaking to Joan
Angela, pretty roughly to judge by his attitude; but she stood
up to him, as if afraid we might not recognize her from that
distance, although the torchlight shone full in her face.

Then, with an imperious gesture to the handful of men who were
watching, Kangra Khan went off with long strides down the ramp,
presumably to try to get some kind of order out of the chaos
among the loads. It was then that we began to climb, Grim
leading, and I last. As the biggest and strongest, it was my
job to be a stepping-block when the track proved otherwise
impracticable. When they had used my shoulders to reach a
higher perch they lowered Grim's girdle for me, so we went
up fairly fast.

Near the top was a narrow ledge shaped roughly like an oyster-shell,
jutting out about five feet below the great ledge in front of
the cavern. There was just room on it for the three of us, and
there we crouched, partly protected by the wall that leaned
outward above us, but unseen only because Kangra Khan's men
were overconfident. It was a dizzy perch, and there was a
sensation as if the whole hillside were swaying in the wind.
When I saw that the torchlight actually shone on Narayan Singh's
rifle, I neither dared tell him of it for fear of being overheard,
nor to try to move the thing lest one or other of us should lose
his grip and go sliding off the smooth rock on to the fangs below.

Luckily for us the wind was playing ducks and drakes with
acoustics, for otherwise the least noise we made would have
betrayed us; and who could cling to that crazy ledge, let alone
reach it, without making any amount of noise! We were breathing
hard from the climb, for one thing; for another, the rock's
unevenness was painful to hands and knees, and we had to keep
shifting our weight. If we had been detected, one shove with a
stick would have ended the careers of all three of us. I think
if anyone had shouted at us suddenly from above we would have
jumped out of our shivering skins and slid to death! There were
certainly never three men who felt less heroic.

However, we received warning before a shout came, and had time to
cling to one another and the rock, digging our fingers into
crannies. Someone yelled against the wind in Pushtu that there
was an approach unguarded. He came and stood above us with his
back to the ravine, gesticulating and shouting at the torchmen.
We could only catch about one word in ten that he said, but from
the general drift of it he seemed anxious about the track we had
climbed by. Apparently the others took no notice of him. He moved
a pace or two along the ledge, and by screwing my neck around I
could see the top of his head as he peered over; but he drew back
instantly and went to yelling again at Joan Angela's bodyguard. I
could not hear what he said.

He came back to his original position directly over us, still
yelling, and, lying prone on his belly, leaned over. Then his
face was just five feet above us, and I could see the dark
outline of his turbaned head distinctly against the sky. I took
aim with the pistol, but had to move to do it, resting my elbow
in the Sikh's back; and as luck would have it, I slipped and
almost fell off the ledge, so I did not fire, not caring to waste
a bullet even in that crisis.

But I could not recover balance without getting to my knees. Then
the others moved, and forced me to stand upright, so I reached
up, meaning to seize the Pathan's neck and pull him over. He drew
back, and by that time the other two were standing upright beside
me. I bent my knee for Grim to mount by, and he had his hand on
my shoulder, when the Pathan's face grinned within a foot of
mine, and he almost screamed at me:

"The tooth, Ramm-is-den! Have you the tooth?"

That saved his life. This time it was Narayan Singh's sword that
licked upward, and checked only in the nick of time.

"Ho!" the Sikh laughed in my ear, "the gods are good to us!" And
his weight followed Grim's on my knee. They scrambled on to the
ledge and dragged me after them. And as if the whole thing had
been timed by G.H.Q., as we got to our feet a very hurricane of
firing burst out from the ravine below us.

I would like to tell exactly what happened then, but it happened
so fast that a man's brain could hardly record it. We had
the full advantage of surprise, and all the corresponding
disadvantage that goes with it, not least of which is that every
man acts then on impulse and reason hardly enters into the
ensuing chaos. The torchmen began beating out their torches--all
except one, who waved his flaming stick frantically as if hoping
to summon friends from heaven knew where. By that light I saw one
of the bodyguard seize Joan Angela to kill her with his tulwar,
and my pistol bullet tore through the breadth of him under the
arms as the tulwar was in mid-air. I saw her stoop and pick the
tulwar up. Then darkness. The fool who was waving the torch had
flung it down into the ravine.

We four rushed the bodyguard, and the howling wind seemed to
change key as nine or ten tulwars whirled thrumming to stand us
off. Those Pathans could see no more than we could. They depended
on speed of swordsmanship to bar the way as it were with a wall
of live steel. But one man fired his rifle at random in our
general direction, and I went like a rock out of a catapult,
straight for the flash.

I use my fist in times like that--instinct, I suppose. My left
took the rifleman full in the mouth, and he went down like
a poleaxed steer. The others followed through behind me, and
that broke line, nerve, resolution--everything. The remainder
was panic, or riot, or hell, or whatever you care to call
it--hand-to-hand shoot, and slash, and butt-work in the dark,
with the Sikh's sword striking fire on tulwar blades, and the
gasping and grunting of desperate men in a shambles.

I heard Joan Angela cry aloud, and as I tore in to her aid she
thrust out blindly with the tulwar and ran the point through the
skin over my left ribs. I don't know how a man sees at a time
like that. Forgotten, latent senses function. Two Pathans seized
Joan Angela to carry her off. One clapped his hand over her mouth
from behind, and the other seized her legs to stop her kicking. I
used the pistol and missed both of them. The second man let go
her legs and closed with me, groping for my eye to stick a thumb
in it. I took him around the waist, up-ended him, and flung him
over the ravine. I don't know where the pistol went, or how. I
never gave it a thought until some time later.

I ran back for Joan Angela, and she was gone. Yelling for the
others, with no hope of being heard against the wind, I rushed
down the ramp, overtaking three men. Two went backwards over the
ravine like ninepins as they turned and met my fist. The third
fired at me, but too close. I knocked the rifle up, and he
staggered backwards from a blow I landed on him somewhere,
leaving the rifle in my grasp. Then he ran, and I swung for him
with the butt-end, finishing that business.

That gave me a weapon, but the magazine was empty. I remember
jerking out the empty shell as I ran, and sticking my thumb down
into the magazine with a desperate notion of finding a cartridge
jammed in there. I imagined Joan Angela's throat being cut in the
darkness; for Pathans in a panic will do anything.

And panic there was. For down at the foot of the ramp where
they had piled the loads the darkness was alive with spurting
rifle-fire and the yells of the Waziris--both sides utterly
desperate--none dreaming of quarter--and no control--no chance of
it. Once I thought I heard King's voice barking commands in a
momentary lull, but that may have been delusion.

Then someone rushed by from behind me, and I thought he was
Narayan Singh. I ran my best to overtake him, and the two of us
charged neck and neck behind a line of Pathans who were kneeling
along the edge of the ramp and pouring a useless fire into the
ravine, each one yelling to the others he had killed a man for
every shot he fired. Bullets from below, as wild as theirs, were
spattering on the cliff above our heads. I tripped over a man's
legs and fell, rolling like a dead man down a steep, smooth
place until a sharp rock knocked the wind out of me, and I lay
there shamming dead for I daresay two minutes, until I could
recover breath.

Then Narayan Singh, charging and sliding down the ramp, stumbled
over me in turn, and I knew the first man had been either Akbar
bin Mahommed or an enemy in flight. I pounced on Narayan Singh to
let him know who I was before he plunged his sword into me.

"The sahiba!" he yelled. He was frantic--worse than I--neither
man nor beast in that hour, but more like the embodiment of some
ungoverned element.

"Krishna!" he screamed, and broke loose. The night swallowed him.

Then someone lit a torch down there among the loads--I suppose to
give the Pathans a point to rally on. The Waziris yelled, and the
man (or the woman, maybe) who held the torch went down under a
hail of bullets. But before the light died I had seen Kangra Khan
and three men on a rock at the foot of the ramp. No sign of Joan
Angela. I clubbed the rifle, scrambled to my feet, and went for
Kangra Khan, possessed of no thought, but an impulse.

I don't remember how I reached him. At that point there is a gap
I can't bridge, of hideous, screaming night, all streaked with
rifle-fire. Even in dreams there's a gap there, although most of
the incidents of that night recur in sleep in intricate detail.
The next I recall I was crouched beside Narayan Singh in pitch
darkness under the bulge of the rock on which Kangra Khan stood,
with the rifle like a club in one hand, and the other hand on the
Sikh's shoulder, to take the time from him.

We sprang together, like fiends out of a hellhole. He ran a man
clean through from behind with his sabre, and I clubbed another.
A third swung for me with a tulwar, but missed his footing and
fell off the rock. Kangra Khan fired a pistol and jumped for his
life, but the Sikh caught his foot, and I closed with him.

Over we went, all three together, Kangra Khan under us, down into
the hole the Sikh and I had sprung from. And now, as I write, I
can hear myself yelling, "Don't kill him! For the love o' God
don't kill him!" I wanted news.

But it was easier to hold an eel than him, and he was stronger
than any Pathan I have ever seen. Again and again he nearly broke
away from us, but at last I got him in a stranglehold, and the
Sikh seized his foot. We had him pinned then.

"The sahiba!" I gasped. "Tell me where she is, or I'll break
your neck!" And I let him feel the pressure by way of evidence
of good faith.

But I had to ease off to let him speak, although Narayan Singh
twisted his foot to remind him of urgency. And it took him about
a minute to gain enough breath. Then he coughed out a bark of a
laugh, and answered me.

"By Allah, I don't know!" he said, and laughed again. Then the
Sikh took a hand in earnest.

"Have you got him, sahib?" he asked. Then he let go the leg, and
thrust the point of his bloody sabre in between Kangra Khan's
teeth, standing over the two of us, with his weight poised to
drive the sabre home.

"Speak, thou! Where is she?" he demanded.

Kangra Khan moved his head a fraction clear, and spat before
he answered.

"By Allah, I don't know, I tell you!"

The sabre went downward an inch.

"Then you die like a dog!" said the Sikh.

"By Allah, I do not know!"

He asked no mercy--made no appeal--betrayed no sign of weakness.
Under my knee I could feel his heart thumping sturdily, and,
though I could not see his eyes, I did not doubt they stared up
as bravely as they had ever done. If he was lying he was much too
big a fool to be a chieftain in those hills, for almost any tale
would have sufficed to make us spare his life for at least a
little while. And I do like a man who can face death in a dark
hole without flinching. I would not have killed him in that way,
without more proof than I had that he had slain Joan Angela.
Perhaps he guessed that.

I bade Narayan Singh put up his sabre, and he obeyed me, for a
wonder, for he was pretty well beside himself. He stood waiting
with the sabre raised, to see what I would order next. And I
surprised him.

"Rope!" I said.

It was a mad enough order to give a man on that night, in such
surroundings. But Narayan Singh was in a mood to cut the heart
out of the impossible. The wind lulled, and I heard his sabre
thwack home twice. Then voices began calling for Kangra Khan, and
one man nearly found us, lying on his belly on the rock that
Kangra Khan had stood on to direct the fighting and peering down
in all directions. I laid my hand on Kangra Khan's mouth; not
heavily; he understood the implication well enough. I surely
would have killed him then, if he had cried out. But he made no
sound, and the man went away.

In the lull of the wind I could hear a great change in the
fighting. Lord knows how, but somehow, King had got control of
most of his Waziris; and though there was nothing like volleys,
there did seem to be a weight of firing all directed at one
place. He had persuaded them to let the piled-up loads alone, and
to attack the ramp. The Pathans, if not stampeding yet, were in a
mind for flight, for I could hear some bawling to the women to
bring the loads back to the cavern, and others crying out that
they should take to the hills. Between them there was a
prodigious rushing to and fro.

Then Narayan Singh came, and with him the moon, looking down on
the scene between wild clouds. The Sikh had a long piece of
rawhide. I turned Kangra Khan over and held him while Narayan
Singh lashed his wrists.

"I'll kill you if you make one unnecessary sound," I said in
his ear, and then let him get to his feet while I peered around
the rock.

There was a battle raging on the ramp above us that would have
done the Titans good to watch. The moon showed most of it, but
threw enough in shadow to give imagination rein. King's Waziris
were storming the ramp in flank, and about a dozen of Kangra
Khan's men were holding it with a nerve and courage that did them
credit. The moonlight was against them. Those of King's men who
were covering the assault fired from shadow. Kangra Khan's men
were in full view, and using stones to hurl back the storming
parties. There appeared to be two points of assault. Unless the
Waziris had ladders, which was out of all question, they must be
swarming on one another's shoulders to reach the ramp; and the
Pathans yelled and danced with excitement every time they aimed a
stone by hazard true enough to hit the leader and hurl a whole
storming party down. Those twelve or so Pathans were having much
the best of it, but I saw four of them shot dead during the
minute or two while I watched. Then it seemed by their excitement
they had detected a new, more determined attempt. Four of them
hurried for stones, and the rest began shooting fast at a target
they could certainly not see, yelling to one another to correct
the aim, and themselves trying to take cover against a steady
hail of bullets that swept up out of the ravine. There could not
possibly be more than twenty men making the assault, and perhaps
ten firing from the dark to cover it, because there were some of
King's Waziris still shooting into the scrimmage where the loads
were being shouldered, and King had said he only had about fifty
men all told. But it doesn't need great numbers to make a
fierce affair.

One man hurled a stone from the ramp that apparently hit the
mark, for the Pathans broke cover and danced and yelled in
chorus. But I heard King's shrill whistle below, and another
attack began immediately, covered by a hotter fire than ever. But
in spite of the moonlight the odds were all with the Pathans.
Four men could have held that flank of the ramp against a hundred
unless there were some diversion.

So I had to be Diversion--Jack-in-the-box--Kismet on the flank of
the Pathans! There was no alternative, unless I wished to see
King's Waziris hopelessly beaten off.

"Guard the prisoner!" I shouted to Narayan Singh; and, clubbing
the rifle again, I scrambled out of the hole before fear, posing
as discretion, should lay a restraining hand on me. It was then
or never. In another minute any help would be too late.

So I charged into the moonlight, at the risk of being hit by the
Waziri bullets, and the first the Pathans knew of my coming was
when the butt of the rifle smacked like a poleaxe on the nearest
man's head and he toppled overside, leaving room for my swing at
the next, and the next.

And of that, I remember not much. It was battleaxe work, and my
strength was what counted. Four or five of them charged me, and I
stepped back where an overhanging buttress of the cliff made
shadow, dodging as they slashed at me, and bringing down the butt
with all the force I knew.

They told me afterwards Mahommed's Tooth preserved me. Maybe!
Something did. I was untouched!

Someone found the path that Grim, Narayan Singh and I had climbed
by. King's second storming party reached the ramp by that route
and came charging down on us. Then King and no other, with a
shield made of wood in his hand to turn the defenders' stones
aside, and his feet on a Waziri's shoulder, gained the top, and
his party came scrambling after him. The Pathans took to flight,
to add themselves to the chaos where the loads were. Lying,
standing, kneeling, the Waziris fired savagely into that mess,
sweeping the ramp and the rocks, and completing the stampede, if
yells meant anything.

King and I both tried to stop them; he, because ammunition now
was desperately short; I, because Narayan Singh was down there
in the dark, with a prisoner who might mean more to us than a
hundred men when it should come to daylight and a show-down. But
it was slow work stopping them. The priceless, irrecoverable
bullets were squandered for many minutes.

"Where's the girl?" King demanded, when he got a chance to pay
attention to me.

I told him I didn't know. He said nothing--pointedly. He
displayed no interest when I told him we had Kangra Khan with his
hands tied. He went on mastering his men, getting them posted to
repel a possible return assault, singling out the wounded,
sending them up to the cavern. There were nearly a score of
wounded, several with scant chance of recovery.

There was no sense in arguing with King about Joan Angela.
Besides, I was alone to blame. It was I who had had the opportunity
to snatch her away from her guards--I who missed it. It was up
to me to find her, and I turned and went, straight down the
ramp again.

Two-thirds of the way down I met Narayan Singh leading Kangra
Khan, who was coming quietly enough, aware that the Sikh's long
sabre would stop midway the first shout he might attempt. I
stopped them, and pushed them both back into the dark behind a
boulder out of reach of stray shots.

"Now," I said to Kangra Khan, "tell me where the sahiba is, and
as soon as I've found her I'll let you go free."

He shook his head. "Huzoor, I do not know!" he answered.

"Is she down there among your men?"

"As Allah is my witness, she did not pass me. I have not seen her
since I left her well guarded near the cavern. She is slain, no
doubt."

He looked nearly as despondent as I felt, for from his point of
view Joan Angela's death meant the loss of an enormous ransom.
But Narayan Singh was unconvinced.

"I say kill him, sahib!" he broke in. "If she is dead, he slew
her! Kill him, and then you and I together will search for her
body below there."

But I felt fairly well convinced that Kangra Khan was telling
truth; and never yet having murdered a prisoner I felt no
disposition to begin.

"Take him to the cavern," I said. "I'm going down alone."

Narayan Singh objected strenuously. He begged me to come with him
to the cavern, arguing that Kangra Khan might otherwise escape--a
manifest absurdity. He said if I would consent to that, he
would return with me and protect me while I searched for the
sahiba's body.

"For thou and I have campaigned together often. Thy honor and
mine are one!" he argued.

At last I consented to stay where I was while he led Kangra Khan
to the cavern and returned to join me in the search. It did not
amuse me to meet King again without Joan Angela dead or alive. My
mental processes are no man's business but my own, and King's
opinion of me, though I value it, was not the issue. I am the man
who must live with myself.

I waited an interminable time, listening to the scattered shots
of some of King's Waziris, who were peppering the enemy's retreat
and making it as difficult as possible to get away with the
remaining baggage. Every minute seemed priceless, yet the Sikh
did not come. I decided to go down alone, and had started, when I
heard him come hurrying behind me. I put on speed then. To wait
would only lose more time. He started to run, crying "Sahib!
sahib!" So I ran, knowing he could overtake me; but I had nearly
reached the bottom, and was by the rock where Kangra Khan had
stood, when he laid a hand on my shoulder from behind.

"Come, sahib!" he said, and turned, and started running on his
way back up the ramp.

Seeing I did not follow at once, he turned.

"Come, sahib! Quickly! King sahib's request!" he shouted.

"What has happened?" I demanded; but the wind blew the words back
in my face, and if he heard me he did not answer. He stood there
beckoning in the moonlight within easy range of the Pathans, and
I suspected by his gestures he was grinning. It looked very much
like a trick of his to prevent me from taking a long chance among
the rocks. There are always plenty of friends to dissuade a
fellow from the proper course. I turned my back on him, and
started forward.

In a second he was in pursuit of me again, jumping and sliding
down the ramp in a little avalanche of loose stones.

"Come!" he insisted. "King sahib sends for you!" And before I
could ask for an explanation he was gone again, scrambling up the
slide on hands and knees. Far up above me I could see King
standing in the moonlight on the ledge before the cavern, talking
to about a dozen men, of whom one looked like Kangra Khan, our
prisoner. There seemed nothing in the way of excitement going on
up there. But Narayan Singh beckoned and shouted: "Come swiftly!
King sahib waits!"

I stepped out into the moonlight from the shadow of the rock, and
climbed up on another rock to get a view of the surroundings. I
was not up there a second before King caught sight of me--blew
his whistle--and began beckoning violently.

I jumped down into shadow, still intending to go forward, but saw
King himself and half a dozen men come hurrying down the ramp,
and that decided me to wait and hear what they might have to say.
I crawled back to the bottom of the slide and stood there in
total darkness--perfectly invisible; but I could see all the ramp
and the men who came down it.

Half-way down the ramp King stopped and blew his whistle. Narayan
Singh stood up and waved his arms again, yelling, "Sahib! sahib!"
I could not pretend after that, nor could King pretend, that I
had turned back of my own free will. I was satisfied to go and
discover what King had to say before continuing the search, at
all events.

But the moment I stepped into moonlight, and he saw me coming,
King started back, beckoning to me once and taking it for granted
that I would follow him. He never once looked back to see whether
I was coming. Neither did Narayan Singh wait, but scrambled to
overtake King. So I climbed up the ramp all alone, in no hurry,
disgusted at the turn of events, and sore with King, whom I
suspected of having cold feet after as good as ordering me out on
a forlorn hope.

But it was all very matter-of-fact up there. Nobody seemed
disturbed, or to expect an attack before morning. They were
loafing about cleaning rifles, and I saw smoke issuing from the
cavern-mouth, and two Waziris climbed over the edge of the ramp
with water slopping out of half-filled kerosene cans. If they
dared use the well in the ravine it meant that the Pathans had
drawn off further than I thought. That was not reassuring. It
might mean that King had definite news that Joan Angela was
already miles away.

I came up with him at last, feeling pretty well exhausted, for a
good deal of the heavy work that night had fallen to my share,
and my head had not properly recovered from that blow I received
the first night.

"What's the news?" I demanded.

"We're all safe for tonight," he said simply, reaching out his
hand for my blood-stained rifle. He examined it casually and
tossed it over the cliff. "Why not go in and rest?" he asked,
nodding his head in the direction of the cavern. Not answering, I
stuck my hands into my pockets and accepted his advice.

There was a good fire in there. They had gathered what fuel the
Pathans had left scattered about, and a brilliant flame was
lighting up a great hole in the cliff that would have held a
thousand men. Some wounded Waziris were sitting and sprawling
around the fire, and towards the rear there were two people
bandaging the rest, who were sitting with their backs against the
wall, waiting their turn. One of the two was Grim. He turned his
head as I passed the fire, and nodded a curt greeting.

"I saw Joan Angela," I said, "but they carried her off almost
under my eyes. It was my fault. Can I help here?"

"Sure! Lend a hand," said a voice that made me nearly jump out of
my skin; and Joan Angela looked up from tearing turbans into
bandages to laugh at me. "It was Jim here who carried me off.
Come over here and get busy."




CHAPTER X


"Thou Wilt Have the Blessed Prophet's Tooth, So Who Can Harm
Thee!"



Men differ, as the pigs that perish, and all of us are brutes to
some extent. We have a lower nature that obstructs the higher and
persists in spite of all our boasted civilization.

Joan Angela, whose nature compared to mine is as a diamond to a
hunk of coal, was her normal, natural, brave self again, no
longer enjoying adventure, but making her absolute best of it;
and I think she had utterly forgotten that incident down in the
well. She looked at me, and spoke to me as to an old friend; and
if she had never been more than an acquaintance, that might have
passed muster.

But the devil of it was that she and I had been old friends. I
value friendship more than anything on earth. It rankled in
me--it had made of me that night a Berserker--that she should
have dared think I would take advantage of her in any sort of
circumstances. I did not answer her when she spoke. Her mere
proximity filled me with a burning rage. For a minute or two I
held a Waziri while Grim pushed his finger into a wound to feel
for splintered bone; and when that job was done I turned my back
on both Grim and her, and walked out. There was not the least
excuse for it. I did it.

Outside, I met King come from posting his watchmen. "Where's
Akbar bin Mahommed?" I asked, chiefly for something to say.

"Gone over to the enemy!" he answered. "By the way, he has your
pistol...snatched it, I suppose, while the fighting was on."

I remembered then that Akbar bin Mahommed had passed me during
the first rush down the ramp. But I found it hard to reconcile
desertion with his earlier faithfulness, and said so.

"You're right," King answered, "he's no deserter. He's after that
tooth, and Grim sent him to earn it. He's a spy for us. He'll let
us know before morning what the enemy intend."

He was looking at me curiously where the firelight streamed on
both our faces.

"Why don't you go and lie down?" he said presently. "You need
a rest."

He said nothing of rest for himself, and I laughed at him. I told
him it was his turn. I said I would stay there on the ledge and
keep watch, while he turned in by the fire; and I think it was
more to humour me than for any other reason that he went in and
left me standing there. I bore a grudge against him too, because
of his curtness when he came on me alive without Joan Angela. The
mere fact that he had been justified meant as much to me as that
Joan Angela had been unjustified. I would have quarreled with my
own mother just then.

Narayan Singh came and sat down in the shadow of the cliff beside
me. I resented it. He had had no right to play that trick on me,
calling me back up the ramp without explanation, thus causing me
to burst in like a fool on Joan Angela. I said nothing, savagely,
for several minutes, but he undoubtedly divined my mood.

"Where's your prisoner?" I asked at last, compressing into one
short sentence all the discourtesy I could command.

"At the back of the cavern, sahib. He is well guarded," he
answered. Then, after a pause, during which I tried to think
of some suitable rebuke: "Our Guru saith: `To fight for the
oppressed is excellent; but let not wrath consume the spirit
that has led thee!'"

I told him to go to the devil with his preaching, and he got up
and walked away, too wise to argue.

There I sat, hour after hour, watching the moon change the
shadows down in the ravine, listening to jackals and the lowering
voice of the wind, that whined as if all the Pathan wounded were
crying for help. But there were no discoverable wounded down
there. Our Waziri women had pounced on quite a number of them
before King could prevent, and their own women had found and
carried off the rest.

Narayan Singh strode past me once or twice on a sentry-go of his
own election. The third time he stopped as if to speak, but
thought better of it and passed along. Five minutes later he
saluted, military style.

"Sahib," he said, "sleep. For I need sleep. And sleep I will not
until you have slept first."

That was the thin end of the wedge that entered my abominable
mood and forced me back to a reasonable frame of mind. I began to
argue with him, but made no headway, he assuring me that a Sikh
can go without sleep for twice as long as a white man with less
than half the ill effect. He was adamant--as gentle and firm and
respectful as a well-trained nurse; and wise in the bargain.

"You are stronger than I. We may all need your strength before
morning. You should sleep first, for that if no other reason,"
he insisted.

So I yielded, and lay down where I was. I suppose it was he who
threw a sheepskin over me, but I was fast asleep before that
happened...so deep in slumber that I never heard a sound of
Akbar bin Mahommed's coming. It was Grim, about an hour before
dawn, who shook me awake.

"Conference!" he said. "You're wanted. Give me Mahommed's Tooth."

So I gave him the old tooth in its crumpled scrap of paper, and
followed him into the cavern where Joan Angela, King, Narayan
Singh, and Akbar bin Mahommed were already seated around the
dying embers of the fire. Akbar looked mighty well pleased with
himself, as if he had brought good news. I sat down between him
and Narayan Singh, sideways to Joan Angela, so as not to have to
look directly at her; and Grim took his seat facing me. King
wasted no time on preliminaries. He called for Kangra Khan, who
came from a dark corner of the cavern followed by four Waziris,
and, at King's invitation, sat down beside him, watched intently
by the guards. Then King spoke up, dealing only with essentials,
as his way is.

"Akbar bin Mahommed got in touch with Kangra Khan's men, who have
bivouacked an hour's march away at the north end of the ravine.
They expect the Orakzai Pathans, for whom we were luckily
mistaken, to join them soon after dawn. After that, they expect
to return and attack us. They believe we must be short of
ammunition. They count on cutting us off from water. They are
sure we have very little food. They say our only way of escape is
down into the ravine, where they can cut us up at leisure. On the
whole, they're about right.

"However, Akbar bin Mahommed is a diplomatist. It seems that our
Hajji Jimgrim promised him Mahommed's Tooth, and he sees the way,
when he possesses that, to make himself a man of great influence.
He has told the Pathans about the tooth; so their purpose now is
to capture the Hajji and Miss Leich alive if possible, and to
kill all the rest of us. But they are anxious about Kangra Khan
too. They're afraid we might kill him. They feel their honor is
entailed in saving his life if possible. But most of all they
want the tooth. They believe its possession will make them
prosperous and powerful, besides protecting them from other
tribes on their way home.

"Akbar bin Mahommed now makes this offer: If we will give him the
tooth, he will be responsible for leading the Pathans away and
letting us and the Waziris escape unattacked to the border. We
are here to discuss the proposal."

"The shameless dog would be a chief in my place!" Kangra Khan
growled, glaring at Akbar bin Mahommed, who met the gaze without
flinching. "Promises are wind that any rogue may belch forth!
Give me the tooth, and I will take the promise on myself. Aye, I
will fulfil it!"

King's eyes met Grim's and mine and Narayan Singh's in turn. We
all shook our heads. It was Grim who made the next proposal,
speaking Arabic, which neither Kangra Khan, Akbar bin Mahommed
nor Joan Angela understood.

"Suppose I take the tooth and go with Akbar bin Mahommed. Then if
he keeps his word, and you reach the border safely, I'll give him
the tooth, and you can exchange Kangra Khan against me."

But we voted that down instantly. Hajjis are respected in the
hills, but murder is sport and art, and a murderer would argue
that possession of the Prophet's Tooth would cleanse all sin from
his soul. They would kill Grim and then, with the tooth by way of
absolution, would attack, and wipe us out. It looked like an
impasse. There seemed no solution either way. We might have
trusted Kangra Khan, perhaps; but Grim had promised the tooth to
Akbar bin Mahommed, and we were not a treaty-making government to
cancel promises at our own convenience.

Akbar bin Mahommed, suspicious of the Arabic, began to doubt our
good faith.

"What manner of men are ye, to make a bargain with me and then
break it?" he demanded in Pushtu; and at that comprehension
dawned on Kangra Khan.

"Oho!" he exclaimed. "By Allah! That way blows the wind! Ye
have bargained to give the Prophet's Tooth to this worrier of
dung-heaps? Give it to him, if he is fit for it, but let him
prove his fitness first! Let him fight me--here--now--for the
chieftainship! Clear a space and give us weapons!"

At that, Akbar bin Mahommed drew my pistol. I knocked it
from his hand, but only in the nick of time. The blow nearly
broke his wrist.

"Allah reward thee, Ramm-is-den!" said Kangra Khan graciously.
But Akbar bin Mahommed hugged his wrist, and eyed me from
another aspect.

"That man is a liar and a traitor!" Kangra Khan said, pointing
his finger at Akbar bin Mahommed. "I am a man of my word, and ye
know it! Lo, give him the tooth, and send him forth with me. Ye
and the Waziris shall go safe to the border, Allah is my witness."

That was a handsome enough offer. Of all the long chances we
might choose from, the prospect that Kangra Khan might literally
keep his word contained the least improbability. But Akbar bin
Mahommed had risked his life on our behalf more than once, and we
would have been curs if we had accepted the proposal as it stood.

Joan Angela piped up, sitting with her arms round her knees, and
staring with great tired eyes across the embers at Kangra Khan.

"I think Kangra Khan is a man," she said. "I believe he would
keep a promise."

Kangra Khan bowed his head ever so slightly in acknowledgment.
He was not too pleased to be championed by a woman; yet his
situation was nearly as desperate as ours, and he welcomed any
hint of an approaching solution. He eyed Joan Angela intently as
she continued.

"Why not ask him to promise to do his best to find a way out of
this difficulty, and then let him go. He'd be an ingrate if he
failed us, and I don't think he has that in him."

There was silence. It was a daring suggestion, but it rang true.
If we let him go, and he deceived us, gone was our only hostage.
He and his men could get possession of the tooth by cutting us
off from food and water and attacking in their own good time.
Yet, if he were a man of his word...

"By Allah!" he broke in, "the woman has the right of it! Keep ye
your promise, and lo, I keep mine! Give ye the tooth to Akbar bin
Mahommed. Let me go. I promise ye shall reach the border
unmolested...ye and the Waziri!"

There was a fly in that amber somewhere. Akbar bin Mahommed
detected it instantly.

"That is for them. As for me?" he asked pointedly.

"Dog! Thou wilt have the blessed Prophet's Tooth, so who can
harm thee?"

From a hillman's viewpoint that was unanswerable. It placed us in
the horrible dilemma of having to stand up for the tooth's
authenticity or else, by admitting it would not protect Akbar bin
Mahommed, to throw away our lone chance. We simply did not dare
to drop a hint that the tooth's power was not miraculous, and
Kangra Khan, continuing, rubbed that fact home.

"Hah! It has saved the sahiba! Hah! Were it not for the tooth,
would a handful of dogs of Waziris have beaten off me and my men?
By the Prophet, whom may Allah bless, who art thou, thou dog, to
have no faith in it?"

Time was precious. Dawn would bring about the meeting of Pathans
and a view of the ramp and the cavern--our predicament and our
small numbers. We had to agree on something swiftly.

"We will take you at your word," said King, and stood up, holding
out his hand to Kangra Khan. They shook hands across the dying
embers of the fire, but Kangra Khan waited, and there was awkward
silence for a moment, until King detected what the matter was. He
went and picked up my pistol (which was really Grim's) that I had
knocked out of Akbar bin Mahommed's hand, and offered it to
Kangra Khan butt-first. The Pathan accepted it, but waited yet.

King looked about him. He could hardly take a knife from a
Waziri, and Kangra Khan's own had vanished in the dark when we
had captured him. But one of our fellows had died of his wounds
at the back of the cavern; Grim went and looked for his tulwar,
found it, and brought it back to King, who offered it to the
Pathan hilt-first. It was a brute of a weapon, weighing twenty
pounds at a guess, with a rather curved blade, and beautifully
worked with silver wire to keep the hand from slipping. Kangra
Khan seized the hilt, and King laid his hand on the blade.

"By the Name of Names, I swear!" said Kangra Khan. Then he stuck
the tulwar into his waist-cloth, bowed to us all as stately as
the devil, turned on his heel, and swaggered out.

"He's our only chance," said King, not too enthusiastically.

"Huh! Ye should have trusted me," said Akbar bin Mahommed,
kicking at the embers.

Joan Angela crossed to my side of the fire. I backed away, but
she followed. None heard us.

"I'm sorry, Jeff!" she said simply.

"So am I!" I answered.

"I was down in the well in the dark, and..."

"So was I," I said. "I went down because it never entered my head
you'd doubt me. I won't repeat the mistake."

She said no more, but stared at me for several seconds with those
great grey eyes of hers, then went and joined the others. I
walked out on the ledge and watched the dawn come.




CHAPTER XI


"So Let Us Fight."



We breakfasted off goat, singed by Grim over resinous and smoky
firebrands, washed down with water tasting of frog-spawn or
something similar that had a natural right to be in it. Then the
fire went out, and the wind rose, and it was cold. We felt like
ship-wrecked mariners, and watched an aeroplane away over near
the horizon, circling and circling without a chance of seeing us,
nor any prospect of our being helped in time, even if we were
seen. For the Pathans were on their way toward us from the other
direction, taking their time about it, keeping cover, well aware,
too, of that fowl-that-laid-eggs-on-the-wing.

Their scouts were in a screen below us very soon after dawn, but
the sun was well up over the hills before the main body arrived.
They had been reinforced by the Orakzai contingent, and for lack
of anything better to do I counted upwards of three hundred of
them. They took cover just out of practical rifle-shot, with
their left flank on the well--our only source of water, of which
we had stored two kerosene cans and eight or nine earthenware
crocks full--about enough to last until next day, unless we
should have to wash wounded.

Our Waziris were in the depths of despair. About half of them
wanted to bolt, and the other half were in favour of opening fire
with their remaining ammunition and then charging down to die.

"For let us die like men and please the Prophet...not as
cattle in the byres in famine time!"

We did not dare to encourage them with lies about the tooth. That
course would have made them fanatical. They would then have
charged ten times the number with hardly a moment's hesitation.
King kept them quiet by telling them he had a ruse in store,
appealing to their sense of cunning, never far below the surface.

It was after nine o'clock when someone waved a white cloth from a
rock in the ravine, and we answered it. They waited for us for
half an hour to go down to them, but we were not such fools as
that; so at last Kangra Khan, with eight bearded giants at his
back, came climbing up the ramp and halted in front of us, where
we sat in line in the midst of the cavern-mouth. Our Waziris,
some in the cavern, and some outside, hung around on the alert,
as nervous as a pack of wolves. Akbar bin Mahommed stood behind
us, showing his teeth in a grin mixed of apprehension and bravado.

"By Allah, I have come!" said Kangra Khan.

"Why not? Did you not promise?" answered King.

"Aye. I keep my promises. Ye go free. But ye must leave the
rifles. I have promised those to my men. And as for the Prophet's
Tooth, that man"--(he pointed to Akbar bin Mahommed)--"must fight
me for it!"

"That was not in the bargain," said King.

"Nay, there was nothing in the bargain said about it. Neither
yes, nor no. Therefore he must fight me for the tooth, since I
say so."

"I have not yet given him the tooth," said Grim.

"What odds?" said Kangra Khan. "Give it to him now. He shall come
down there"--(he made a sweeping gesture in the general direction
of the ravine)--"and fight me--he who would be chief in my place!
Then, if he wins, let him make himself chief! He shall have fair
play. When the fight is over, ye shall all go free."

It was all obviously prearranged. The eight stalwarts who stood
back of him were grinning in the way men do who know they have
you in a trap.

"You can't allow that!" said Joan Angela nervously. "Jeff! You
can't allow Akbar to be killed on our account."

She spoke to me because she knew me best; but in my mean mood
she seemed to be singling me out as the one who most needed
instruction in ethics. It added fuel to the anger that still
smouldered in me. Akbar bin Mahommed blew on it.

"How can I fight?" he demanded. "Ramm-is-den injured my wrist."

"I have promised my people there shall be a fight," said Kangra
Khan. "So fight there must be!"

He did not frame the inference in words, but his gesture as he
jerked his head towards the men below, and the truculent manner
of the chieftains he had brought with him, left little to the
imagination. There would be a fight or a wholesale slaughter, and
we might suit ourselves. So I stood up. I did not consult the
others, and I was careful to turn my back on Joan Angela.

"It's true I hurt Akbar bin Mahommed," I said. "Fight me instead!"

"Nay, fight me!" said Narayan Singh, and leapt to his feet
beside me.

"Don't, Jeff! Do sit down!" implored Joan Angela; and she could
not have said anything to make me more determined.

"Leave this to me, sahib!" urged Narayan Singh; but I gripped him
by the arm and swung him back behind me.

"Is it for the tooth?" asked Kangra Khan.

"Yes," I said, "since I'm fighting for Akbar bin Mahommed. Let
the terms be stated, though. You name them."

The men at his back were delighted. They grinned like a row of
devils, and it was clear enough my challenge would have to be
accepted or Kangra Khan would lose _izzat._ And his _izzat_ means
to a Pathan of breeding more than his religion. King and Grim sat
saying nothing. There was nothing they could say that would have
been of the slightest use.

"These be the terms," said Kangra Khan: "If I slay thee, I take
the tooth. Slay me, and keep it." Then he added in English, so
that his own men might not understand: "It is a lie about the
tooth, but it will serve, and I can use it. That man"--(he nodded
at Grim)--"may be a Hajji, but--"

He did not finish the sentence. It was Grim who jumped into that
breach. He spoke English too.

"Keep faith!" he warned. "Win the tooth, and when we reach the
border safely I will procure a writing to prove that the tooth is
authentic. But if you lose it, and do not keep faith, I will
admit I am a fraud and you a fool. Your men will kill me then;
but not until then, because I am a Hajji. They will laugh you
to scorn."

Kangra Khan nodded. It was perfectly easy to read what was
passing in his mind. He wanted the title of Ghazi--slayer of an
infidel--which would make him the unchallengeable leader of
perhaps a dozen villages; and the tooth, if he could keep up the
fable about it, would make him a match for the mullahs, who are
thorns in the sides of chieftains.

"I have sworn in the Name of Names to keep faith," he said
simply. "Moreover, I have a bone to pick with Ramm-is-den, who
took me by surprise and thinks he is as strong as I am! So
let us fight."

King and Grim had altogether too much faith in my prowess. They
regarded it as a foregone conclusion that I could beat the
Pathan, for they had both seen me in action. On more than
one occasion it had been my physical strength and skill with
old-fashioned weapons that had pulled Grim out of a tight place,
and in all our adventures it had always been understood that each
should contribute his utmost at any moment. The account was much
better than square. Grim's brains had saved me scores of times;
and King had saved us all by making friends of the Waziris. But
Joan Angela took another point of view.

"Jeff, I won't have you take this risk on my account!" she said.

She looked miserable and indignant. I did not even answer her.

"Where shall the fight be? And what weapons?" I asked.

"Below there, in front of all my men," he answered with a jerk of
the head towards the ravine. "I fight with this tulwar." And he
drew from his sash the weapon King had given him when we set
him free.

"My sahib fights with this!" said Narayan Singh, seizing his long
sabre midway down the scabbard and holding it on a level with his
eyes. Whereat all nine Pathans grinned hugely; as a weapon they
considered it contemptible.

Kangra Khan saluted me with an air of mock respect, and turned on
his heel to swagger away with his chieftains.

"I will wait for you below. No hurry. By Allah, Rammis-den, death
waits for one of us, and I feel foreknowledge of long life in me!"

King became busy at once with our Waziris, for they crowded
him, asking for explanations, and he had to instruct them very
carefully. An ill-considered move on their part, or a mistake at
the peak of excitement, was likely to upset everything and bring
on massacre; for Kangra Khan's authority was none too absolute.
Grim reinforced him, and the two had their hands full, the
Waziris bitterly resenting the proposed surrender of their
rifles. They swore they would rather die where they were,
fighting. There was mutiny, until King promised them a brand-new
rifle apiece when they should come to British territory.

Meanwhile, Joan Angela clung to my arm; and, boor though I had
been to her, I was not brute enough to throw her off. She begged
and implored me not to fight.

There were no tears in her eyes, and she did not sob or act
hysterically, but she said she would much rather go down below
there and be killed than to have me killed on her account, while
she looked on.

"Don't look, then," I advised her.

"Jeff," she said, "you're still nursing that grudge against me!
I've admitted I was wrong. I've begged your pardon. I know you're
a man who would never take advantage of a woman in a situation
like that. I was alone in the dark, in a well, and my nerves were
on end...can't you...won't you understand that?"

I did understand it perfectly. But I did not answer.

"Don't you love me, Jeff?" she asked.

That question from Joan Angela was more surprising than if all
those mountains had suddenly been swept away. I turned at last
and met her eyes--the same, good, friendly grey eyes they had
always been, as true and honest as the year is long.

"We all love you," I answered.

"Jeff, I want you to marry me. You're not to go down there and be
killed. You're to live and marry me. There's some other way out
of this. There must be!"

"That's kind, Joan," I answered. "You make me very sorry I was so
damned rude. But the sacrifice is much too great, and I'm not
worth it. I'd be still less worth it if I accepted it. Besides, I
have passed my word to fight the man."

"Jeff, I mean it! You asked me once and I refused. Now I ask you."

"To keep me from fighting!" I said, trying hard to grin at her.
It takes more manhood than I have to appear unaffected by Joan's
arm on my shoulder and her lips and eyes as near as need be.

"I mean it, Jeff!"

"Dear girl," I said, "I'm grateful for the honour, but I don't
believe you."

"Jeff, I'm telling you the truth!"

"Joan," I said, "you tell that to the Horse Marines; or tell it
again to me when this fight's over."

"All right," she said, suddenly releasing me and stepping back.
"Get into the fight then, and win! Have you forgiven me?"

Words would have been a lame reply to that. I deliberately strode
two paces up to her and kissed her twice--the first time I had
ever done that and, I don't mind betting, the last. Some day I
expect to meet the man who has the right to kiss her; and I'll
envy him.

I had forgotten Narayan Singh. Those were all-absorbing moments.
He stepped forward grinning, with the sabre in both hands, hilt
towards me.

"Now the sahib will fight like the warriors of old!" he said.
"Observe, this sabre is a good one. But beware how you take the
full weight of that tulwar on the guard. In distance you have the
advantage. At close quarters weight and cutting-edge are in his
favour. Bear that in mind, sahib!"

He knew my shortcomings. He and I have practiced sword-play by
the hour together, and though I can beat him to his knees by
sheer strength when I get close enough, he usually ends an
afternoon by pinking me neatly pretty nearly where he will.

"Now it is no matter of laughter over a dozen bruises," he
warned me. "Tulwars cut deep. He will count on the edge. Use
thou the point."

Well, it was no use waiting. I looked to my shoes, which were
worn by the rough work on the rocks. Narayan Singh cut frayed
leather away, and retied the laces firmly, cutting off the ends,
for more fights than a few have been lost by clumsy footwork. I
took the sabre, leaving the scabbard with Narayan Singh, and led
the way down the ramp. The others followed, except King, who
stayed with the Waziris to prevent them from approaching too
close to the Pathans. By the time we reached the foot of the ramp
most of our wounded were perched in a row like vultures on the
ledge, and King and the rest of the Waziris had descended by the
short cut, to squat like fans in the bleachers along a ledge
low down.

The battleground was chosen already. Kangra Khan stood waiting
there, swinging his heavy tulwar, with the black breast-hair
showing through a gap in his cotton shirt. He grinned at sight of
me, and the Pathans in groups on every near-by rock set up their
battle-cry--"Allaho Akbar!" until the hills echoed it. King kept
our Waziris silent somehow, and receiving no defiant answer the
Pathans grew still.

They had picked out the only nearly level spot available--a sheet
of smooth rock, crossed by a couple of layers like steps a few
inches high. The rock was rather slippery, and sloped upward
towards his end. Moreover, he had the sun behind him. But you
can't expect a Pathan to understand the niceties of fair play.

Joan Angela, pale as a ghost, took her seat on a rock between
Grim and Narayan Singh, with her arms around her knees. She had
used the white uleema's turban to make bandages for the wounded,
and her hair was all down over her shoulders, making her look
younger, but forlorn--you might say shipwrecked.

I threw off my sheepskin jacket and gave it to her to hold, but
she put it on over her shoulders, for the wind was blowing hard
and laden with bitterness from far-off ledges where snow never
thawed. She did not speak. Grim laughed for his own encouragement
and mine.

"Rammy, old top," he said, "be quick for the Lord's sake. We want
to go home!"

I made some sort of lame joke in reply, and noticed Akbar bin
Mahommed picking his way leisurely towards us over the rocks; he
waved his hand, not exactly reassuringly. Then I strode out to
meet Kangra Khan.

He began at once to show his swordsmanship, no doubt to scare me.
He could whirl that heavy tulwar so fast that it was invisible
and sang like a dynamo. He could change hands while he did it,
never checking speed, bending his body the while in all sorts of
supple curves. His men set the ravine echoing again with their
approval, and there were cat-calls directed at me, along with
prayers to Allah to assist their chief.

But I have always thought that sort of display is rather
unwise, for it gives your opponent a line on your strength
and your weakness; and applause leads to excitement, which saps
swordsmanship. A swordsman should be an enigma. I could see he
was puzzled because I did not complain about the sun in my eyes,
or make any fuss, but stood on guard in silence, waiting for him.
The only sound from my side was the voice of Narayan Singh:

"Keep the hand low, sahib! Let the blows glance! Point!"

Then Kangra Khan came on like a whirling dervish, swinging at me
as if my head were meat on a butcher's block. I side-stepped him,
and he had to check his swing midway to guard my lunge, that even
so laid one of his rib-bones open. The speed of his rush took him
past me, and now the advantage of the sun was mine.

"Bohut atcha!" cried Narayan Singh. "The hand lower, sahib! Wait
for him!"

I did not have to wait long. The Pathan was stung, and furious.
He had to show his men the hurt was nothing and his spirit
none the worse for it. He came on with a sort of hop, like a
shot-putter's, one leg advanced, whirling the tulwar slowly; and
his shift as he came within reach of my point was like lightning.

"Watch low!" cried Narayan Singh, and a swipe at my legs glanced
off the sabre that would have shorn them both through had they
been there. His recovery was marvelous, and my point missed his
shoulder by a foot. Then I went for him, driving him backward
along the rock with blow after blow that brought sparks from his
tulwar, while Narayan Singh cried, "Steady, sahib! Steady!" It
was foolish. I was playing the Pathan's own game. He ducked and
swerved suddenly, gave me the sun in my eyes again, and I felt
blood flowing from my neck. "The point, sahib! The point!" yelled
Narayan Singh. It was easier said than done, for we were breath
to breath, and the tulwar blows were aimed like hail. But I
knocked the tulwar up at last, and gave him the hilt in his
teeth, which sent him reeling on his heels and brought my point
in play. However, he still had the sun in his favour.

"You're not hurt!" yelled Grim. "That cut's nothing." But I could
tell by the tribesmen's yelling that they thought otherwise; and
Kangra Khan's grin was not wholly due to the blow I had landed on
his mouth. He spat out a tooth and came on again.

But now I took warning and stuck to the point, he swiping and
dodging in efforts to reach me, yet giving ground foot after foot
as I lunged, with Narayan Singh's voice in my ear

"Hand low, sahib! Slower recover!"

Then I used an old trick and he fell for it. After a lunge that
forced him to give ground I left my right leg well advanced, and
he swung for it with all his might, while his men sent up a yell
that pierced the sky. But the leg was not there when he struck,
and the force of his blow made swift recovery impossible. I used
the edge then, laying his shoulder open handsomely. He barely
saved his life by clever footwork and a back-handed upward blow
with the tulwar that was as clever as anything I have ever seen.
I had the sun of him again, and took full advantage of it,
raining blow after blow on him that kept him on his heels. Then
he set one foot wrong on the ledge that crossed the rock, and
threw himself flat on his back rather than be run through. In
silence, in which you could have heard a pin drop, I set my point
at his throat and stood over him. He did not cry for quarter, but
lay glaring up at me with eyes that I pitied. I have seen a
hunted animal look that way.

"Good, Jeff! Very good!" I heard Joan Angela.

But it was not so good. There were the tribesmen to

consider, and none but Kangra Khan to hold them to their word.
That look in his eyes was a savage's. He was ashamed to be beaten
so easily. Hate, and his notions of honour, our helplessness, and
the obvious fact that a cry from him would bring the tribesmen
down on us to end the whole affair in the shortest, simplest way,
were among the odds I had to reckon.

I stepped back raising my point, and signed to him to rise,
returning to my own end. I even gave him his own ground with his
back to the sun, saluting him as he retired to have his wound
attended. He answered the salute, and it had an excellent effect
on the tribesmen; they did not applaud, but they murmured, and I
could actually feel the change of attitude towards myself, as if
it were a concrete thing that stirred the atmosphere. It began to
look as if another round or two might win their friendship.

However Grim who came to my corner with Narayan Singh to staunch
the blood flowing from my neck, brought bad news--worst imaginable.

"The tooth's gone!" he said. "While I watched you, Akbar bin
Mahommed stole it from the pocket in my sleeve! He has sneaked
away with it.

"Find another!" I suggested.

"Where? How? A green tooth won't do." Grim was all at sea. His
nerve seemed to have failed him. "Without that tooth we're done
for. Akbar bin Mahommed can show it to them, and--"

"Break a false one out of your plate!" I answered. I had never
known Grim's fertile imagination to fail in a crisis before, but
there comes a time when the best of us succumb to nerves, and the
mark of a good man then is the speed with which he regains
self-command.

Narayan Singh mopped up the blood on my neck and poured into my
ear the abstract of a long experience.

"You should have slain him, sahib! Never mind. Slay him the next
time, unless he is so badly hurt as to be helpless. That cut you
gave him is nothing much, and now he will be like a wolf at bay.
Beware of him! He is cunning; and he will seek to regain the
admiration of his men! Stick to the point, sahib! Put the sun in
his eyes, and keep him at a distance! The gods are good, and seek
to discredit Allah, but they are wise and dislike foolishness!
Use only the point, sahib! When you lunge, be swifter, and
recover much more slowly, keeping your eye on his eye. Never mind
that thing he wields; you have the better weapon. Watch his
eyes! Now!"

A roar went up from the Pathans as Kangra Khan stepped out on the
rock again. His shirt was a mass of blood, but there was lots of
liveliness about him, and he swung the tulwar once or twice, by
way of challenge, with all the old skill, making the blade thrum.
I walked out to meet him, stood on guard and waited. He crouched
low, and waited too, inviting me to attack, but I did not accept
the invitation.

Suddenly he rushed in, mowing like a scythe-man at my legs. He
forced me to stoop to guard myself. As I crouched lower and
lower, playing the waiting game, he watched his chance and,
letting my point pass through his shirt (it grazed his ribs),
sprang for my neck, and with a jerk of his left hand nearly threw
me forward on my face. Before I could quite recover and turn he
was down on me with the tulwar. I caught the blow on the guard
and it snapped the sabre-blade clean off. I heard Joan Angela
scream. The Pathans began yelling and dancing like devils in
hell-fire; and I felt the sting as the tulwar blade hit home,
gashing me from hip to thigh. But I did not fall, and I did crash
the hilt like a cestus into his teeth. He reeled backward, and I
closed with him. We went to the rock together, he under me, and I
rained blows on him with the hilt, while he struggled to get his
right arm free and cut my throat with the tulwar.

"Smash him, Jeff! Oh, smash him!" Grim yelled. "Crush his guts!"

"Get the tulwar, sahib!" roared Narayan Singh. "Throw that hilt
away and get the tulwar!"

I let the hilt go, for that gave me two hands, and I felt my
strength oozing through the wound. The sole chance left me was
speed and sheer strength. I dazed him with blows to the head and
then, failing to seize the tulwar, got a hold on his jaw and
tried to break his neck. I got my thumb on his windpipe. Over and
over we went. He broke the head-lock--nearly broke my grip on his
right forearm, chopping me badly in a dozen places--then yelled
in agony as I got both hands on his wrist and he had to let the
tulwar go.

Then to get the tulwar! Slimy with each other's blood, we rolled
and strained and fought to reach it, while the Pathans danced in
circles around us, yelling themselves hoarse. We were both
growing weak, I bleeding worse than he, which gave me a strange
advantage; his hand slipped wherever he gripped me. To offset
that he set his fingers into a cut in my arm, and the agony of
that spurred me to a last prodigious effort. I knew it was my
last. He had me beaten if I failed. I gripped him round the
waist, pinning one arm, whirled him, staggering to my feet, and
hurled him into the midst of his yelling men. Then the world
seemed to slide out from under my feet; I sat down backwards,
still more or less conscious, but weak, and without even will
to recover.

What followed was like the vivid details of a nightmare, in which
I seemed to have no part except as the arena in which opposing
arguments struggled for the mastery. I felt Narayan Singh's arms,
and Joan Angela's, but nothing seemed to matter, even when King
came, and I recognized his voice quite close to me. He was
talking with Grim to windward--in low tones, probably--but the
wind carried both voices, and my hearing-sense was all at sixes
and sevens. Joan Angela's voice in my ear seemed a mile away, and
her words were a jumble; King's and Grim's were perfectly distinct.

"He stole the tooth."

"Who did?"

"The Waziri who killed Akbar bin Mahommed. Then three more
Waziris fought him for it, and between them they lost it. It's
gone. Are your fingers strong? Quick! Pull out one of my teeth!"
That was King.

Then Grim: "A green tooth won't do! Wait--I've got it! Stand in
front of me!"

Then I heard, as distinctly as I now can hear the ticking of the
clock on the wall above me, the crack as Grim broke up two
hundred dollars' worth of U.S. dentistry.

"The biggest one!" said King. "Quick! They're coming! Give me the
rest--I'll hide them."

Then a war of words, in which _izzat_ and _shirm_ predominated,
along with excited argument about Waziri rifles. I know now what
happened, but then it seemed no possible concern of mine.

Kangra Khan was too beaten and weak to control the Pathans,
until King's experienced fingers bandaged him and chafed him
back to full consciousness. There were men there who considered
themselves his formidable rivals for the chieftainship who would
have preferred to see him dead. But King helped him to the middle
of the battle-rock, and Grim presented him with the tooth,
wrapped in a page of Persian notes extracted from his memorandum
book. After that it was only a question of whether Kangra Khan
would keep his word; no Pathan dared disobey him, now that he had
the Prophet's Tooth to curse or bless with.

Our Waziris refused point blank to keep their part of the
agreement, and therein lay the difficulty. They refused to
surrender their rifles, offering rather to do battle, man for
man, with the Pathans. The idea of single combat had taken hold,
and challenge followed challenge. It was King and Grim, pouring
wise words into Kangra Khan's ears, who managed the business
finally. Our Waziris were allowed to take their rifles with them
over the British border (where they were confiscated promptly by
the authorities, for various and sundry reasons, including the
good one that every single rifle was originally stolen).

And to their honor be it written that, though we had two-score
Waziris who could stand and march and bear a load, they were
eight Pathans who carried me to the border on a stretcher made of
poles and sheepskin. And they have sent a deputation since, to
tell me I am free of all their country; although I don't intend
to test that generous _laissez passer._

Joan Angela came and nursed me in the hospital, and when my great
heap of thews and bones turned atavistic and recalled the caveman
trick of recovery from what commonsense would say was certain
death, she renewed her offer, very gently and sincerely.

But my head, as well as my heart, was functioning by that time.

"God knows," I said, "I'll wear your offer in my hat until I die,
and will try to live up to it. But I'm a middle-aged man, of
middle-class means. You're a young girl, with millions, and all
your life in front of you. There's the right man somewhere. I
won't wrong him--or you."

She said she was in earnest, and she was undoubtedly. But so
was I, and I'm the man I have to live with. So we parted good
friends. And if any of you ever chance to meet Joan Angela and
win her friendship, you may take it from me, you are fortunate;
her friendship is stronger and longer, and has more grain in it
than most have nowadays.



THE END





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