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Gulbaz and the Game:
Talbot Mundy:
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Gulbaz and the Game

by

Talbot Mundy

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Cover based on an image generated by Microsoft Bing

BOOK 2 IN THE YASMINI SERIES


First published in Adventure, July 1914

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2023



Cover

Adventure, July 1914, with "Gulbaz and the Game"


Headpice

TABLE OF CONTENTS


PROLOGUE

"I'll be a tiger," the jackal whined,
 Spreading himself in the sun to grow;
But he ate when the tiger had killed and dined,
 And he did not boast to the tiger so.
"Honest ambition is bound to win;
 I'll be an eagle," the blue crow cried;
But did he worry the eagle thin?
 Was it of fear that the eagle died?

T.M.


"THAT will do," said Ebbert, the Commissioner, and a subordinate removed himself, looking sidewise as he left the room at a rather portly, very grizzled, wrinkled Hindu who squatted inconspicuously in a corner; he noticed that for a stout man he was even singularly inconspicuous.

"Will you shut the door, please?"

The subordinate turned back and shut it, but not without letting his eyebrows show surprise. Sometimes there is no doubt at all why almost brilliant men remain subordinate.

"And now, Gulbaz, I want you to please listen," said the Commissioner. "We have very little time, and the matter is important."

"I am all ears, sahib," answered Gulbaz, seeming mostly shoulders as he rose and took up a subjective attitude by Ebbert's desk. His eyes were rather like a lizard's—bright and keen, but shaded by the sleepiest of lids.

Ebbert did not trouble to look hard at him, as he would have done if ordering a man whom he merely believed in. He knew Gulbaz, which was different.

"The reports are all in, including yours. I have studied them, and they have been studied higher up. They tally. The evidence fits piece by piece, and—er—he is on the way. Of course, you'll readily understand without my elaborating it that this is one of those occasions on which more than ever we must draw a hard-and-fast line between your Service and the police."

Gulbaz allowed himself to smile.

"I mean, the police will expect to protect his Highness, and will have to be allowed to do so. You will have to manage as usual, more or less in spite of the police."

"Sahib, I have spent three and thirty years serving the Government in spite of the police."

Now Ebbert smiled. He knew better than most men that a policeman and a Secret Servant are in all essentials as the very poles apart.

"Have you decided where to spread your net?"

"At Yasmini's, sahib."

"Are you positive that the police are not too well acquainted with her? Might they not blunder in and spoil things?"

"Not with your Honor's hand on the reins," said Gulbaz.

"Doesn't Martineau see a good deal of her?"

"Yes, sahib; and of me as well."

"Might he not be in the way?"

Gulbaz smiled again.

"Sahib, he is a policeman! Many a bird has eaten grain in the shadow of a constabeel."

"Very well, Gulbaz, as long as you're on your guard."

"And this Nawazish Ali, sahib?"

"Is due for the rope as soon as we can lay our fingers on him. First, though, let him lead the rest into the trap."

"Certainly, sahib. He would stand no chance of a reprieve?"

"None whatever. How could he?"

Gulbaz blinked, but gave no other sign that the fate of this Nawazish Ali interested him.

"Then I have your leave to go, sahib?"

"Yes. Keep in touch with me, move by move, and look out for young Martineau. That young man's ambitious."

"Sahib, a policeman who is ambitious—a frog who would be a buffalo—a sparrow who would try to be a hawk—are one! We of the Secret Service are not afraid of the police!" said Gulbaz, bowing himself out and waddling, as elderly fat men walk, to where his sandals waited on the lower step outside. There he under-feed the chuprassy who stood guard over them, and departed in a hurricane of low-pitched but searching abuse, of which he had by far the better.

Not far from the office he met Martineau of the police, riding a cheap native-bred, and Martineau drew rein.

"Where are you bound for^Gulbaz?"

"Sahib, I know no more than you."

"But I do know where I'm going to."

"It is good, then, to be a policeman, sahib," answered Gulbaz. And he went on with a very deep salaam.


CHAPTER I

Brother mine, the fire is bright—
 See, the light-ring glimmer
Outward—outward to the night—
 Dimmer, growing dimmer!
Speed! The fire dies with the day!
Dawn is cheerless, dawn is gray!
Wing! While eyes and wings and way
 Shimmer—shimmer—shimmer!

Yasmini's Moth Song


NOT even the whole of India's surface is explored as yet, and perhaps that is the hundred-thousandth part of all that is explorable—or will be, when the gods permit. And the gods of India are many; their permission—seriatim, piecemeal, or in bulk —would be expensive.

For instance: there is Yasmini, and her abode, and what she did, and how she lives, and why—particularly why. The Government of India would refuse to answer questions about any of these things, and what that Government will not discuss is not within the reach of you or me.

It is better to leave some of it guessed at, and for the rest to take as true the talk of the bazaars—the hints that Gulbaz dropped occasionally (though beware of Gulbaz!) —and even, with certain reservations, Yasmini's own account.

For if Yasmini be admitted to have ladled out the truth in driblets at a time, and much diffused, at least she knew it. Bazaar talk has it that Yasmini forgets nothing. And those strange songs of hers, quick-springing out of conversation and gem-set in laughter, are not so pointless as they sometimes seem; each has its key, and each one frames a riddle.

Listen, then. Piece song to song, and hint to hint. Remember. And be still.


SHE came to Delhi, by no means for the first time, still a-laugh from an adventure with a Bengal regiment of horse. She had done nothing particularly legal in Bengal, although she fell foul of no Government, and was forced to render no account to any one of what she did; and though for all anybody knew, her business now in Delhi might concern the universe at large, the nature of it was as inconspicuous as—say—the source of theAfridi-Pathan gun supply.

So far as the universe at large could tell, or such small part of it as came within her sphere, her present business was amusement, if that be business; she sang songs, and danced divinely, while people who were favored watched and listened.

Gulbaz was favored, and so was Martineau. But it would not do to seek Martineau's explanation, for he was a policeman; and white policemen—particularly officers—vary little in certain respects the wide world over. He would merely be polite, and finish up by making you imagine him a fool; and that, in addition to discourtesy, would be causing you to err. Yasmini handled him with a gloved hand always; and like many others of her hints, that too was worth the studying.

Gulbaz seldom spoke of Yasmini, and never directly, however often he might pay her visits. Gulbaz liked hints, and hidden metaphors, and references to "a woman whom I know," or to "her," or to "a certain one." He never ate at Yasmini's—and that is important. But he would be very pleased to talk about her garden; and from his account of it it must have been a wonder of a place.

He said it could be seen (and Martineau confirmed him) from the upper window where she sometimes sat and sang. But only her most intimate acquaintances were ever asked to share; the window seat; and even the upper window, to the rear, was hidden from the world that bows the knee and barters by a wall or two that monkeys could not scale.

You can't tell whose walls they are in India, unless you start out with your survey instruments, and know enough to find your way alive, with them through alleys that seem to defy the compass. Men said those walls were Yasmini's, but men say anything in India, and they may not have been. The lowest, at the southern end, was forty or more feet high—straight up, without a crack or cranny; and without a gate.

The trees on the other side of it (so Gulbaz said) were of a hundred sorts and shapes and heights and fragrances. Sometimes, when the warm wind came eddy-wise, jumping the wall and scooting down the alleys, one could scent delectable aromas that conceivably were picked up in her garden, and that made men think—then—that Gulbaz did not lie.

He said (and he should have known) that there were birds amid the trees, and bees to hum amid the flowers, and a fountain where the birds might bathe and trill their thanks.

He said that Yasmini loved birds and bees—although he had, too, a parable he loved to air about a bee who gathered honey and a bird who ate the bee. Perhaps he picked it up from Yasmini, for more than one of her songs played with that idea.

The entrance to her house was plain enough, and near enough to a wide street, that led into a street that led into the Chandni Chowk. One could have found it, provided he had some idea of Indian streets, almost without directions; and directions, and an introduction both, could have been had from Martineau. There was no aloofness about Yasmini, to first appearance, that was more than the ordinary wisdom of an ordinary woman might dictate.

It was when one had gained entrance by the twisty, deep-carved wooden stairs, up past the blue and red and green glass lights, and through the heavy crimson curtains that tinkled as one passed—up from the stink of India into India delectable and passionate and dim—that one would be confronted with a barrier.

A maid would meet the visitor—a little snuff-brown maid, who purred, and laughed with egg-shell teeth, and led one to a comfortable divan by a window; but, beyond a curtained alcove, that window gave on to the street. It was only through another curtained door that one obtained the half-suggested scent of green things growing—a dim hint of the chattering of birds and the plash of water, and (this much quite clearly) Yasmini's laughter through the under-hum of music, or her sweet voice raised in song.

She would come out presently—if one who moved as she did could be rightly said to come. She would appear. One would look, and she was there; for when she moved she made no sound at all unless a bangle tinkled and made music to her step.

It was just as when she danced—her movements were nearly too quick to follow and too silent to believe; she would become a series of glorious blue-lit curves amid the sandal-smoke, and then be still.

She had moved. She had danced. But no living being could recall the steps she took; they were too much like the movements in a dream.

Sometimes Martineau would pass into the inner room, and sometimes he would lounge amid the yard-deep cushions of the outer hall, surrounded at a more or less respectful distance by lesser fry, who did not necessarily like police officers but who did not care to suggest their dislike. Being no part of the Covenanted Service, but a mere policeman, Martineau was not considered "much of a man" in clubdom; but he was welcome where certain subcommissioners would not have been allowed, and the life had its compensations.

Gulbaz sat only in the inner room; he objected to the outer hall publicity. But that made no difference to Yasmini; her songs would bubble up out of their mother-mirth as if only her maidens and the birds were listening, and Gulbaz might blink and nod, blink and nod, blink and nod until the stars came out; she seemed to take very little notice of him. Generally he would stay on after Martineau had gone.


MARTINEAU sent him away early, though, on the afternoon of the day that brought the Grand Duke Peter and his following of lesser lights and darknesses to Delhi. He whispered to him for a while; then, as if any excuse would do, he pointed to a tear in Gulbaz' sleeve and made a joke about it, telling him to go and clothe his nakedness.

The old man wriggled to his feet, nodded his adieux, and went, parting the curtains at the stair head and negotiating the twisty stairs short-sightedly. Martineau sank back with a sigh of comfort amid the blue-and-old-gold cushions, breathing intoxicating scents and dreaming to the music.

Then (she seemed for this occasion to have been dancing just for Gulbaz) the movement and the rhythm left Yasmini, and she came and sat by Martineau, although not near enough to give him fair excuse for pride.

"Why am I honored?" she asked him, folding both hands on one knee, and looking more bewitching than is good for ordinary men. Martineau was not an ordinary man, but he caught. himself being sorry that he was not. (He checked the thought instantly, as not being appropriate to the Game he wished to play. The Game, as will be seen, is all-demanding.)

"I came this time to speak to Gulbaz," he answered her, in that voice that young men think will pacify a woman.

"Not to speak to me?"

Her eyes were laughing at him—eyes that would have roused the jealous anger of a woman of the West; they were watching each least movement of his own, and he felt that the back of his head was naked.

"What is there to say to Yasmini except——-"

"That I am beautiful, and that my eyes shine, and that I dance more beautifully than a spirit of the woods! I have heard all that a thousand times, and then a thousand. It is true; and the truth is tiresome, too oft repeated. Yes, what else? And——-"

She spoke to him in Hindustani, as she generally did when she felt impudent. It was one of her stock jokes to make pretense that he did not understand any of the rarer tongues. Most of her jokes were subtler.

"And——-Oh, that the Grand Duke Peter will be here in Delhi."

"And——? What of it? I am to dance for him? He is to see what he will call a nautch, eh? Then, when he goes home he is to tell people that he saw—what?"

"The East in all its mystery!" Martineau laughed back at her. "He will tell them that he knows it all. His secretary will write about you in the book which the Duke intends to sign, with a photograph of you if he can persuade you to let him take it, and—er—to wear more clothes for the occasion. The Grand Duke only puts his name to highly moral books."

For once Yasmini was in the dark as to his meaning, for her morals were Eastern of the East, and she could not have understood the Grand Duke's (which were Western of the East) If she had tried for twenty years. Incidentally, she might not have gained much if she had been able to, although in his own land and to some extent throughout the rest of Europe the Duke was not without a certain reputation.

But she hated not to understand, and hated still more to admit that she did not; for East and West alike, that is the way of those who deal in mystery.

"I will not, this time!" she answered. "The lord sahib may seek other things to while away his time. There are other dancing-girls."

"I never called you dancing-girl."

"You? When you were a little butcha, so big, you would have known better! But he—he will. No. I will not!"

She motioned, and a maid began to strum an a stringed instrument. Then, as if to show Martineau how much would be denied to royalty, she began to dance to him, while he lay back and farther back amid the cushions, computing with those deep gray Western eyes of his how many thousands, in how many kinds of coin, this marvel of the East could earn in other lands.

Not that he supposed she needed money. Few princes, even in India where men think lavishly and wear their riches for the world to see, could have shown a richer nest, or one more splendidly adorned. His was the Western type of thought dammed up by Eastern circumstance, and flowing over at the line of least resistance (which is almost always commercial). Had she not stopped dancing he would have priced her jewels next—and would probably have guessed too short by thousands of rupees. Even her toes were jeweled.

But, as her custom was, she ceased when a new whim seized her, and seemed all at once to be a part of the divan again, her breath coming evenly through smiling lips as if she had not moved at all.

"Sometimes I have been of use to you," suggested Martineau, who, like most policemen, could assess the value of the little privileges he was able to confer. "Do you remember——"

"I remember more than you will ever know, sahibl" She was looking impudent again, and speaking Hindustani. "Tell me what you said a while ago to Gulbaz, that I may remember that as well."

He laughed, and looked down at the buttons on his uniform. He usually wore his full dress when he called on Yasmini, partly out of compliment and partly to remind her who and what he was—mostly, perhaps, to remind himself, for Yasmini was Yasmini.

"Are we to drive a bargain?" he asked her, looking serious again. "Are you asking me to tell official secrets?"

"Yes! If I am to dance for the lord sahib, then yes! What did you say to Gulbaz? Then yes, I dance!".

"I asked Gulbaz whether you would dance. He answered, no. So I ordered him away that I might talk with you alone. That is the exact truth."

"I said that the truth is wearisome!" sighed Yasmini.

"Now, though, we have bargained, and you promised. So you will dance, and I can follow Gulbaz."

He arose to make his words good. A maid over by the big window made a sign to Yasmini—a little, scarcely noticeable sign in the affirmative—and she arose, too, smiling up at his six feet and arching all her suppleness into a yawn.

"Yes. Go away; you weary me. Policeman sahibs only tell uninteresting things; they have the minds of little children, and the manners of the jungle folk. Yes, I will dance for the lord sahib. It is only I who can fashion things of interest."


HE MISSED the insinuation in her last remark, though two of her maids heard it and suppressed a giggle. He heard her laugh, though, as he passed through the outer hall, and nodded to himself, realizing that the West, however wise and careful, can be little but amusing to the East.

He took the stairs with something less than usual conceit, for life was rather serious to him, and he did not care at all to be amusing, even to Yasmini; and he was in a brown study when he stumbled in the street near the entrance he had just left. He had to look twice before he realized that he had stumbled over something more than ordinary.

"Get up, Gulbaz!" he commanded. "What's the matter, man? Opium, I suppose," he added in an undertone. "I thought he seemed sleepy."

He repeated the command in Hindustani, but the man lay still, and Martineau stooped over him. He could see no sign of a wound. He shook him savagely, but got no answer; then turned him over and examined him more carefully.

"Gulbaz!" he muttered. "Sure enough, Gulbaz!"

Still he could find no knife wound and no bruise; but there seemed no heartbeat either. He examined the clothing, piece by piece—the black alpaca jacket, the Hindu loin cloth, the cotton stockings and elasticsided boots, that constitute the Hindu compromise with Western habits. But for the small tear on the sleeve there was no outward sign of violence. Finally he stooped again, and sniffed the lips.

"Um-m-m! Vegetable poison of some sort!"

He glanced up and down the street and listened; but in front of Yasmini's the street bends almost sharply to either hand, and no man was in sight; so he blew his whistle. A constable came presently—at first in no apparent hurry; then, when he saw Martineau, at a swift double.

"Who is this man here?" demanded Martineau.

"Gulbaz," said the constable, stooping over him and lifting a stiffening eyelid with his thumb. Martineau seemed interested in the eyelid.

"I suppose you saw nothing?" This with more than a hint of sarcasm.

"Nay, I saw nothing, sahib."

"Heard nothing?"

"Nay, sahib, I heard nothing."

"Stay here. Don't move away or let anybody touch the body until I send some one to remove it. Understand?"

"I understand, sahib."

"Keep an eye on these half dozen houses here, and make a report afterward of who leaves any of them."

"Atcha, sahib"

The constable saluted, and Martineau walked away, again in a brown study.

"Now I wonder what the little game is?" he reflected. "Height—weight—clothing—everything the same, down to the tiniest detail. Torn sleeve, too! That was clever of Gulbaz, that was—a lesser rogue wouldn't have thought of it; and I dare bet the two tears tally to a thousandth of an inch!

"I'd give a month's pay at this minute to be on to Gulbaz' little game! Judging by his eyelid, that man has been dead at least two hours. It's stiff. I saw Gulbaz alive and well less than an hour ago. Clever! Clever! Dashed clever! Gad, I wish I could see through it!"

Some policemen would have raised a hue and cry at once. Others might even have gone to the length of searching Yasmini's, for there are idiots in every service, not excluding the police. But Martineau was not an idiot, and did not apply for any warrant.

He walked on—the only man, apparently, who cared to walk in the three-o'clock glare —past the Chandni Chowk to where his pony waited at a corner. (He never rode to Yasmini's.) And at the Ghandni Chowk he paused a little while to look ahead of him. He laughed then, aloud, at the thought of finding Gulbaz, or any other man, amid the many-hued and many-tongued kaleidoscope that is the mart, and melting-pot in one, of Delhi and of India.

"I wonder—was that why she laughed?" he wondered. "Is she—is Yasmini in this? I'd give—I'd give the very deuce and all to know if Yasmini's in this!"


CHAPTER II

A tiger lay by a pool in wait—
 His print was there, pressed hard and deep.
The chital called his grazing mate—
 A wolf knew where they lay to sleep.
The bandar found a leaf-hid berth—
 A python seized him on the tree,
Then trailed his mark along the earth.
 'Tis only we are trackless—wel

—Song of the Secret Service Men


BY-HANDY to the River Jumna, cross-legged in a 'tween-roof aerie of a place, from whose unglazed, slit-like window could be seen the three domes of Jama Masjid (and almost nothing in between, so narrow was the opening between the masonry)—sweating a little in the heat, but seeming bland and happy as a temple idol—sat a Hindu, wrinkled, old, and grizzle-headed, blinking through silver-rimmed spectacles.

He did nothing except blink, like some tremendous toad, imprisoned by his own size within a rock hole. As a toad might, he seemed to have resigned himself to circumstances. He gave no extra blink and made no display of interest when, through the under-din of plying trades and noisy argument that arose like reinvented Babel from the floors below, there came the creak of some one heavy, coming closer, trusting his weight to the complaining stairs.

He merely moved one hand to wipe the sweat from his face, and (apparently without intention) shifted his position by an inch or two to where the sun, instreaming at the window, would just miss him and pass on to illuminate the stair head.

"Gulbaz hai? Gulbaz sahib hai?" croaked a hoarse throat from the stairs. A twisted lump of coal-black hair just showed above the topmost step, and then the question was repeated.

"Gulbaz sahib hai?"

The old Hindu clucked, and the new arrival ventured to expose his head. He looked singularly wild without his pugree—a yellow-skinned plucked eagle of a man, too wary to be altogether still, and swiveling one furtive eye perpetually downward, as if he feared enemies below. Where his other eye had been, a pinkish socket gaped in proof of Northern pleasantry; for when a Secret Service man gets caught he is sometimes offered some temptation to recant.

"Wouldst lose that second eye of thine?" wondered the ancient in spectacles.

"Nay, sahib, for I can not grow an eye, and I have no third eye. How, then, could I serve?"

"Crow on a carcass! No worse than now, with that sweet voice of thine! Sing thy foul songs to the sweeper's wife when the sweeper is in jail, and be silent on the stairs!

"Hast thou ever taken time enough, and thought enough, to think how it would feel were I to have that tongue of thine extracted by the roots? Suppose I had thee hung up by it from a hook? Dost doubt, thou, that the power is mine to order it?"

"Nay, sahib. I doubt nothing."

"Then art thou a greater idiot than ever! He who has any wisdom doubts all things—even death—until he has his fingers on the proof. Then, if he be truly wise, he maketh other men to doubt. Where is the food I sent thee for?"

The one-eyed ruffian unrolled his bundled pugree, shaking it and letting drop several little paper packages, fastened at one end as the vegetable sellers twist them; and from a fold of his loin cloth, which he had held most cautiously in one hand while he climbed the stairs, he produced a wooden bowl that reeked of spices.

"Dall, sahib, and ghee, and four chupalties; then a vegetable curry, very savory, and still warm from the cooking; sweetmeats, sahib, and a cigarette or two—I have been diligent in thy behalf, and generous!"

He alluded to the fact that he had not been paid yet, or had even been promised payment, but the suggestion that he had used his own money fell on utterly regardless ears.

"What hour is it?" demanded the toadlike Hindu. "So! Gone all this time? So long to steal a few hot scraps—and must needs brag and lie on thy return! There be two kinds of men—nay, three—who are better dead: they who know too much, and they who tell too much, and they who make too much noise—aye, and a fourth who think too much, and they are worse than any. The last, though, is a category that will never trouble thee—thou addle pate, of no shame and no modesty, and altogether no parentage!"

"But, Gulbaz sahib! Have I not served——"

"And I have fed this carrion bird upon occasion, and have wasted teaching on him! Robber of dung heaps, how often have I told thee that my name is no longer Gulbaz? What did I tell thee that my name is now?"

"But, Gulbaz sahib——"

The old man clicked his teeth and grinned diabolically. He was beginning to lose a little of his equanimity, and the pattern of the wrinkles changed. The one-eyed ruffian, peering at him sidewise past the streaming shaft of light, judged that it was time to yield a point or two.

"Atcha! Thou art Nawazish Ali, then, as thou hast said. But, sahib, thou art not dressed as a Mohammedan; thou seemest not to be one; and if I call thee so, and others hear me, and then see thee, they will mock me as a liar, or an idiot, or a plotter."

"Thou art all three! Proceed.. What else?"

"Sahib, why should I be made to seem unutterably foolish? Why should I call thee Nawazish Ali, when a thousand at the least know thee as Gulbaz here in Delhi? What have I done that I——"

The old man clicked his teeth again, and reached out for the bowl of curry.

"Enough of argument!" he answered quietly. "I will teach thee another lesson; there is time enough."

The other showed premonitory symptoms of alarm, but Gulbaz motioned to him to squat down, and reached out for the bowl of curry. He devoured it leisurely, and with something more than ordinary relish; neither age nor the exigences of intrigue would seem to have impaired his appetite.

When he had finished he picked his teeth stolidly, almost ruminantly, for a space of fifteen minutes; then eyed the one-eyed man as if he would look through him.

"Go, bring me Sookhum Lal," he ordered suddenly. "When thou hast brought him, go thy way. Thou art too big an addle head—too big a fool to teach!"

"Nay, sahib! Nay, Nawazish Ali! What, then, have I done? Have I not obeyed in all things, and risked too many things to name, and have I not kept silence?

"Nay, sahib! Sookhum Lal is but an ordinary liar, with ambition to become a knave but no courage in the matter. I am an honorable man!"

"What is my name, then?"

"Thy name, sahib, is Nawazish Ali. It never was any other name. It is a good name, a fitting name, a wonder of a name. It was thy father's name before thee——"

The old Hindu had ceased to take the slightest notice of him; he was bending above a little scrap of paper, and scribbling fast with a lead-pencil. In a moment he had screwed the paper up into a ball, and was staring once more at One-eye—this time, it would seem, almost with curiosity.

"In the matter of thy teaching," he asked suddenly, bending forward and extending an interrogatory finger, "who or what is God?"

The other stared back at him with one wide eye, and dropped his jaw stupidly. In all his service he had never yet been asked what his religion might be by his tyrant-master Gulbaz; he was not at all sure that Gulbaz had any.

"Thou patient ass! Thou basket bearer! Thou block for stopping blows! Thy brains are in thy belly, where thy food corrupts them, and the worms devour food and brains and thee!" (Gulbaz prided himself immensely, in his leisure moments, on his assimilation of Western thought, and on his use of Western epigram.)

"Thou four-footed mouth-and-belly —with what next shall I beat thee? If my name is Nawazish Ali, and thou (may all the gods of India pity me!) art my servant, what then, pray, is my religion and thine also?"

A ray of understanding seemed to flicker over the other's face.

"Who, then, or what, is God?"


"THERE is no God but God!" droned the other, rolling his one eye in ecstasies of imitative fervor. "Mohammed is his prophet! Oh, Allah il Allah—Allah il akbar!"

"So, enough! Take, then, this letter I have written to the place we know as Number Nine. Knock thrice. To him who opens, answer, 'There be leopards to be hunted.' He will ask, 'How many?' Tell him, 'Three.' Then he will admit thee. Give him the paper, receive what he gives thee, and return faster than thou camest last time!"

"And the order to bring Sookhiim Lal is withdrawn?"

It seemed that when One-eye's honor was in question it had precedence of all obedience. Tacitly the older man also admitted it.

"Aye, for this last time it is withdrawn—until thy next foolish headlong indiscretion. But I have warned thee, and my patience has a bottom to it. There is the River Jumna—and there is Sookhum Lal, yearning to fill thy shoes. Remember!"

One-eye shuddered, bowed low, and was gone. On his way down he did not make one stair creak, and Gulbaz deduced from that that the man must have scouted very carefully before he ascended with so much noise. So he began to take less care himself—to shift his position, and to look about him, instead of gazing like an idol at the stair head.

Through the low, flat slit between the masonry that was so little like a window and so much like a vantage place for half a dozen riflemen he caught the sound of military music. He nodded as if he had expected it, and crept on all fours to the opening, hanging half way through it with surprising agility for one of his age.

A bird's-eye view of the helmets of half a thousand men appeared to fascinate him, for he watched until the sound of music and the measured tramp of feet died down in the distance.

After that he resumed his squatting attitude facing the stairs, grinning to himself at times and nodding, until One-eye came again—this time as silent as a ghost, and carrying a bundle wrapped in cloth.

"Which way went the soldiers?" demanded Gulbaz, as if he did not know and had not watched them.

"To the railway, sahib."

"Good. Open."

Down on his knees, One-eye undid the wrapper and produced Mohammedan apparel for two men.

"Two kullahs, sahib, two Ludhiana lungis." He laid apart the two red, cone-shaped caps and the blue cloth stuff to be folded around them; one was of fine texture with an ornamental border for the mighty Gulbaz, and the other was a plain one for himself.

"Two kurtas, sahib, both white; one soft and good, the other as befits thy servant. Two shalwas, both of white; two cummerbunds; two achkans, one as befits thee and very splendid. The costumes are complete."

"Shave, then, my head and thine."

As a Hindu, Gulbaz wore no more hair on his head than the other—a topknot on the very crown of his shaven skull; it was the work of little more than a moment to remove both of them. Within a quarter of an hour they stood unrecognizable. Clothing, religion, attitude, and mannerisms changed together; their caste marks vanished, and there was nothing to betray them but their smooth, shaved chins.

"Open the little package," ordered Gulbaz, and the one-eyed man unwrapped the last of what the greater had contained.

A false beard, put on as skilfully as Gulbaz knew how to do it, with the aid of little bottles full of some adhesive stuff, and stains to darken the skin a little around the edge, is indetectable except by actual force; even then the skin would have to come with it, if any one should try to wrench it off.

"Now are we Mohammedans!" said Gulbaz, giving a few final touches to his servant's face, and seeing that he rolled up the Hindu clothing to be stowed under the eaves. "Now, what weapons hast thou? Show them."

One-eye raised his hands, and crooked his iron fingers into hooks that could have torn the throats out of two men with scarcely an effort.

"They are good. What others?"

One-eye flashed his teeth—long, wolfs teeth, yellow with age and service, but firm and bright. Most natives' teeth are whiter than the whitest egg, and there was something horrible about the unexpected yellowness of One-eye's fangs.

"They are good. But I need to see thy weapons, not thy beast marks."

One-eye shook his head.

"I was stripped but now, sahib. What other weapons had I? Nay, I have no others. God be my witness that I have no others!"

"So. That is good. So shouldst thou answer, when another asks thee. But now I ask. Show me thy weapons."

One-eye shook his head.

"I am a poor man, sahib; wherewith should I buy weapons? Also, I am poor, and who would rob me? For what, then, would I need them?"

"Thou belly-brained abomination, show mel None? None in truth? Then strip thy clothing off and go—bring hither Sookhum Lal! He will not come weaponless, whatever be the venture! He will leave nothing to the care of fate. He will come ready to protect me. Go—I have ordered. Bring me Sookhum Lail"

"Nay, sahib! Here! See, I have weapons—good ones; two of them!"

With a sudden movement of both wrists he produced, apparently from nowhere, a long steel sliver in each hand. They were all of eighteen inches long apiece, nearly as thin as skewers, and as sharp at the point and along one edge as razors.

"See, sahib—these let life out quickly, and leave little mark!"

On the instant his taskmaster's face changed from mere contempt to livid anger.


"THOU princeling of pollution!" he growled at him. "Thou ditch-born dog! Thou brainless, shameless, senseless, godless fool! How often have I ordered thee, and lectured thee, and taught thee NEVER to produce thy weapons unless a man must die?"

"But, sahib, thou——-"

"Silence, thou breath of vultures! I tried thee, and I found thee worthless! What is Regulation One? Repeat it!"

" 'Fighting is to be avoided whenever possible. To run is better than to fight, and weapons are for self-defense, not show,' " repeated One-eye.

Like every other member of the most amazing force on earth, he had had drilled into him in his probation period the first elementary principles of his new creed.

For the Indian Secret Service is a creed, with a caste all its own, owning no fealty to any other. The men are not known to the magistrates, and few are known even to the police; if they should happen to be arrested for having weapons they would get short shrift, and no one would come to their assistance should they be accused of killing.

The Secret Service stands alone, and its rules, which are not written, have been drawn and handed down by word of mouth accordingly. Not even the eagles own a sphere so vast; no mole digs faster or more secretly; and nowhere—nowhere, in a world all parti-color with the stains of pride—is there any such a pride of service.

One-eye (his only name was a numeral, written in red ink on the top left-hand corner of a ledger, locked away in a dingy little office up at Simla) hung his head in shame, for his offense had been too elemental for excuse. Suddenly his tormentor reached out and grabbed one strip of steel, twisting it free with a strength of wrist amazing in a man so old. He took One-eye completely by surprise.

Deliberately Gulbaz weighed the knife, wrapping a cloth around it and holding it by the blade. Then, ten times in quick succession, he struck One-eye with the hilt, selecting painful places as a musician might select piano notes when picking out a melody.

"Remember Regulation Two!" he advised, emphasizing each syllable with an extra blow. "What is Regulation Two? Repeat it."

" 'Leave no evidence behind,'" repeated One-eye.

"Dog! And is this knife of thine not evidence? Son of a nameless mother, would it not go hard with thee, were that identified as thine? And is it not here in my hand? Is there not another in thine other hand that matches it? Is that not evidence? There—take thy tool, and hide it on thee, and beware lest I trick thee again! Next time——"

Once more One-eye saw fit to shudder, as his weird knife vanished up his forearm. The shudder might have been from fear, or from relief, or it might have been part of the trick that sent the weapon out of sight. Nawazish Ali, late Gulbaz, wasted no time on analyzing shudders.

"Come!" he ordered, making for the stair head. "Go thou ahead. Nay—wait! What is thy name, now?"

"Sahib, I am but a number."

"What, then, is thy number? I have forgotten it."

"Nay, sahib! Not again! Not thus do we of the Service ask!"

"How many miles came we to Delhi?" asked the ancient with a grin.

"Nay, sahib, but I never in my life left Delhi!"

"How many miles came Akbar, then, to Delhi?"

"Sahib, there were some said eighty-eight."

"What sayest thou?"

"I have heard eleven different versions of it, sahib."

"So. Then, Ninety-nine, thy name is Akbar from now until I bid thee change it. Forward—making no more noise than can be helped!"


CHAPTER III

In seeking information, three
General working rules there be:
Who to tell is nothing loth,
Lies, or doesn't know, or both.
He who smiles and seems to know
Prays to Vanity. Grin and go.
He who listens with surprise,
Claiming ignorance, knows—and lies.

—Gulbaz to Beginners.


"MAN identified as Gulbaz found dead, sir, poisoned, lying face downward in a street off the Chandni Chowk," said Martineau, accepting a nodded invitation and dropping into the next chair to Ebbert's. He had drawn the Commissioner's office blank, and it is one of clubdom's virtues that a mere policeman and a Commissioner may meet there, even in India, on nominally equal terms.

"Oh! Which Gulbaz? Not————"

"Yes, sir. 'Fraid so. Constable identified him less than five minutes after I found him."

A man may educate himself to indirectness and evasion in the Indian Police as easily as in any job on earth, more particularly if he has ambitions for the Secret Service.

Martineau watched the Commissioner sidewise very narrowly. He deemed his own private opinion as to the dead man's identity exclusively his own, unless and until he should discover some one else who shared it. Ebbert seemed to be receiving news.

"You don't mean it! This is awfully unfortunate, Martineau; you can't imagine how awkward it is. The Grand Duke is due to get here a little before six—it's after four now, and no time to alter plans. I'd counted on Gulbaz to keep a keen eye lifting for the Grand Duke's safety."

"Well, sir, there are others!"

"Yes, but you don't understand me. The Grand Duke bears a certain reputation—they're all about the same, you know—they call it looking 'round for local color. Gu-baz was the one man in India to have piloted him safely through the places that he'll want to visit. This is nothing less than a disaster."

"I can fill the breach, sir, I expect."

This time it was Ebbert who looked sidewise, blowing cigarette rings, and pretending to be interested in the punkah overhead. He saw that Martineau was hawkeying every move he made, set that down (perhaps) to youthful ambition and desire to seem awake, and thenceforward studiously looked away.

"Do you know anything about—ah—about the—ah—sort of places?"

"The police are supposed to keep pretty well in touch with everything, sir."

"Yes, yes. But about the Grand Duke. Ah—the situation's delicate. A Grand Duke's not an ordinary mortal—can't be allowed to get into trouble, and yet can't be ordered about. Needs very careful handling—very."

"Know anything about Yasmini, sir?" Martineau had had it in his mind to keep what he knew about Yasmini to himself as well; but it occurred to him that Commissioners—particularly such as could give Gulbaz orders—were not inimitably ignorant. At least, he thought it would be better to throw out a feeler.

"I've heard of her, of course. Who hasn't? I imagine she would interest the Duke immensely. But—ah—do you know her well enough to—ah—make the introduction?"

"Yes, sir, I think so. I stand fairly well with her."

He said it with becoming diffidence, but Ebbert could not help but detect an undertone of pride.

"Know much about her?"

"Only what the rest know: that she was a Rajah's wife —not sure which Rajah; that she's said to have more than a drop of Russian blood in her veins. And that may be true, for her hair's golden, and don't look as if it's dyed; and her eyes aren't like those of any native woman I ever saw. That's about all, sir, except that she's Yasmini. There's nothing else like Yasmini anywhere."

"So Gulbaz told me more than once. Well, from all accounts she's able to take care of herself, and that's something.

"I confess I don't like this tampering with native women; even in the case of a foreign Grand Duke it's demoralizing, and lowers us in the eyes of the natives. But I don't see any way out of it. On the whole, it's fortunate that we have a woman of her unusual type, who can—ah—possibly keep him entertained and—ah—out of mischief."

The Anglo-Saxon seldom shows excitement under sudden stress—particularly not the type who gets to be Commissioner; he has to be worked up gradually, as a rule, before he will shake his fists and thunder, "Oh, my God!" This is more noticeably so in India, for there there are native servants who might see and carry tales. A man restrains himself.

Then, too, the Secret Service is associated rather intimately with reports of sudden death. In cases like that, a line is drawn across a page in a little thumb-marked ledger, and there are not many questions asked; the sub-heads of that Department (and nobody ever quite knows who they are) get used to dispensing at short notice with a trusted man and seeing some one else sent up to fill his shoes.

Martineau was well aware of all of that. He knew quite well that the slight effect his information seemed to have on the Commissioner was nothing at all to go by.

And he had his suspicions about Ebbert, but no more. As Commissioner, the Secret Service might quite possibly report to him, and even take orders from him in certain matters, without his being really on the inside. Martineau waited, watching points.

"Yes, Martineau," continued Ebbert, after five minutes of reflection, "you'd better make arrangements, if you can. See her tonight, and ask her to entertain the Grand Duke; then, if she agrees, and it's necessary, we can guide him up there.

"We shall do our best, while he's here, to keep the Grand Duke busy—there'll be receptions and a durbar and dinners and sports at the gymkhana, and every bally thing ingenuity can possibly devise. Yasmini will be a last resource.

"But there's the crowd that's with him, and they're going to be more nuisance than he is; the Duke trots a secretary along with him—a peculiar sort of a professor person, who writes the book the Duke intends to publish. If the worst comes to the worst, somebody'll have to take charge of the professor, and perhaps take him to Yasmini's."

"I could manage that, sir,'' said Martineau—again with diffidence, but again with a quiet note of triumph underneath.

"Well, you must do your best. I'm more than upset about poor Gulbaz; for believe me, Martineau, if there's one unremunerative proposition under the sun it's a Grand Duke with a knife between his. shoulder blades. Remember—we can't any of us be too careful. What did you do about poor Gulbaz?"

"All I could, sir. Had the body identified and taken to the morgue. If nobody claims it—he's a Hindu, I believe—it'll have to be burnt tomorrow."

"Did you set any inquiries afoot?"

"Indirectly, yes, sir. But I thought it better to report to you before making any fuss."

"Quite right, Martitneau, quite right. Well—I must refer the matter to the proper quarter before I can givo you further instructions on that point. Better keep quiet about it until you hear from me. I must hurry away now, and get ready for the Grand Duke. Good afternoon."

"So he's on the outside!" chuckled Martineau, hurrying away. "Has to ask for orders from higher up! Doesn't know a thing!"

He picked his pony out from among the thirty and odd that were waiting outside the club, and rode off jubilant, still muttering to himself.

"If I can get in on this—and there's something big on foot or I'm a Dutchman —if I can find Gulbaz and get in on his little game, I'm a Secret Service man from that day forth for ever more, amen; and may the good Lord love a mere policeman!"


BUT over at his quarters Ebbert the Commissioner was not in such a hurry to get dressed as he had given Martineau to suppose. He made time to interview and argue with a Hindu moonshee, who had sent a curious message in to him, and would not go away without an answer. The moonshee, so far as Ebbert's servant heard and according to his chatter in the kitchen afterward, was a very plaintive person.

"And the sahib said he would pay me rupees thirty per month, but now he pays me nothing; so I beseech your Honor humbly to investigate on my behalf."

"Oh, take your story to a vakil. Go to the District Court and ask for a summons —it's none of my business," grumbled Ebbert. It was then that the servant went out of hearing.

"Tell Gulbaz that everything is all clear. Has he got an assistant with him? Some one to protect him in case of need? Ninety-nine? Oh, very well. Who was the dead man? Don't know, eh? Um-m-m!"

The servant came hurrying back with Ebbert's boots.

"No. I can't do anything about it. It's a case for the District Court. Moonshees should have a definite agreement before they undertake to teach a sahib to pass in languages. No, take your trouble to the Court and be off with you—I've no time to talk. Go away, now—go away!"


CHAPTER IV

Drink, Inquisitive, drink thy fill!
Drink where waters deep and still
Gather and gain; or lave thy face
Down where the squabbling rapids race.
Choose thy dipping-place—drink thy fill!
The Secret River will roll on still!
 Drink thy fill o' the Secret River;
 Wet thy will i' the Secret River;
 Slake thy thirst! The Secret River
  Reaches the Sea in secret still!

Yasmini's Song


THE Grand Duke had a great reception, such as only India can give. The streets were packed with many-hued and many-smelled humanity, and the road was lined two deep on either hand with troops, mounted and foot—native and white alternating.

Martineau, after giving certain hurried orders at the police office—orders that were not to be entered in the day book on the desk—filled his part of the grand tamasha by working his way in and out, and here and there and everywhere amid the tiptoed crowd. Almost any crowd can vomit forth a body for a Grand Duke, and for more than an hour he kept two gray eyes busy making sure that no small section of that particular crowd looked "too dashed innocent."

He was far too much occupied with his apparent sinecure to notice Yasmini's carriage amid the swarm of others that were crowded in a dense line on the route, and he very likely would not have noticed it in any case, for it was like a hundred others.

Certainly he would never have approached it near enough to gain an inkling of the typhoon of criticism boiling up within. And because he did his duty on that occasion thoroughly and looked incessantly for danger that was not there, he missed a seeming minor happening or two which might have made him wiser.

There were others, though, who did hear the throbbing underhum of wrath below the bumping of the rubber tires. There were others yet, who noticed how on edge her servants' nerves were, and who laughed to see the two men on the footboard at the back venting second-hand profanity on anyone who blocked the way.

Even the two horses seemed to be aware of the wrath behind the whippletrees, and were treading tenderly, as if the paving of the street were eggshells and its underside a bottomless abyss.

Lalla Lal—and he knew, for he was one of the two men up behind—told Valgovind afterward in the tallow shop, at the back of Zada Lal's in the bazaar, that she had been swearing most because of what seemed fittest to everybody else concerned.

"They make a king of him!" she had uttered between tight-pressed pearls of teeth —or so he said. "How will he ever come to me, when they swathe him in ceremony as no prisoner was ever weighted down with chains? They are idiots —and English, which is altogether more, and worse!"

Valgovind vowed that he had seen the tiger-glitter of her eyes through the carriage shutter, at the moment when the Grand Duke passed her. But then, few believe Valgovind.

It is notorious that he always caps a story, however little he may know about it, and whoever tells it; it is more than probable that he was staring at the Grand Duke much too hard himself to have watched Yasmini's shutters; but his words help prove what even natives think about her eyes. They do not call them "evil," but they speak of them in terms of the superlative.

But Lalla Lal had more of her mutterings by heart, and was ready enough to tell them.

"They will fuss and trumpet 'round him until he has no moment to himself!" was one of them. And, "This foolishness is all the talking came to! It was but a hot wind blowing, leading nowhere!" was another.

Then, said Lalla Lal, when the Duke had been driven past, and Yasmini had just that second hissed the order to drive home again—hissing it so fiercely at the driver that he lashed the horses and all but ran over a woman of the dhobie caste—what should happen but that a one-eyed fool of a Mohammedan should seize the horses' heads and force them back on to their haunches?

"As though a Hindu dhobie's wife were his concern!" snorted Lalla Lal with reminiscent anger.

That is about as far as Lalla Lal's evidence is worth considering. He had plenty more to tell about it, but the truth is that from that time on he was too much occupied in threatening the one-eyed man, and calling deaf "constabeels," and saying "yes" to Yasmini, and being pompously and ludicrously incompetent, to pay much attention to the details of what happened.

The crowd surged around the carriage like a maelstrom; the troops deployed away and tramped past the little splash amid an ocean; the roll and wash of military might swallowed the lesser turmoil, and the eddy in the current ceased to be. Amir Ali, the Afghan, was about the only man who carried off anything resembling detailed recollection of the rest of it; and he told Taj Mohammed that evening, as they sat together in the darkest corner of Mirza's yard within kicking-distance, almost, of a string of horses.

They were droning (or rather Amir Ali was), as one hillman will when he finds another and has no blood feud with him—sucking alternately at one big hookah, their faces half hidden in the shamlas of their turbans. And Amir Ali thought too slightingly of what he termed the South to trouble himself to lie about its happenings.

"Truly, it was on this wise as I remember, having nothing more to think about and the matter being recent in my mind. I was standing to one side of the pavement, having seen the Prince go by and having spat at him, casting glances for my own amusement—and to my own shame, be it added —at the cow wife of a Hindu dhobie, a buxom woman though, big in the loins and strong of shoulder. And the dhobie had received a cuff across the mouth for certain insolence he dared address to me.

"The dhobie woman, enamored and bewildered by attention from a man like me, had about stepped underneath a pair of horses—was under their forefeet in fact, and as good as dead. I had actually turned away, not caring to associate myself with the troubles of any low-caste Hindu, male or female. I was still looking, to see whether she died hard or not, when what should happen, think you?"

"Who am I that I should guess?" growled Taj Mohammed. He liked to listen of an evening, and hated to be goaded into unproductive speech. "Ask me no riddles. Who am I, to tell what happened to a Hindu dhobie's wife? What judge am I of thy paramours? Tell thy tale and pass the pipe!"

And that was an awfully long speech for Taj Mohammed after dark.

"Rememberest thou that sheik —him who had been converted to the true faith up on our side of the Hills—to save his skin, no doubt? Him who traveled with our caravan—the dog, I mean, who borrowed three rupees from me on security of many promises, but forgot the loan before we got to Delhi, or rather, perhaps, remembered it too well and disappeared?

"Well, he and no other, that misbegotten dog, rushed at the carriage at the moment when a one-eyed ruffian (who was not with us of the caravan) ran forward and seized the horses' heads, thus—forcing them back upon their haunches."

"What think you?"

Amir Ali paused, to give his listener time to speculate on what was coming next.


THINGS happened then quickly, and on this wise. The fellow—he who borrowed three rupees—Nawazish Ali was the name our people gave him, I remember now; though the devils ran away with his former Hindu name, for I can not recall it. He—that dog—butted into me, not as a ram butts, thus, with his head, but thus—as a bird might, with his wings; pushing me in front of him. He pushing me, understand!—until he nearly reached the carriage.

"I sprang aside, and in less than another second he would have felt my knife's point somewhere near his liver; but the one-eyed man I spoke of—he who had hurled the horses back—prevented me."

Amir Ali was silent for at least a minute, allowing his disgruntled Afghan conscience to linger lovingly around the thought of vengeance. He reached for the pipe, and took three long pulls before resuming.

"As I said, the one-eyed son of evil stopped me, rushing in, throwing himself at me, and pinioning my arms with a strength almost unbelievable. He actually held me there, and as I looked about me for a space to move in and break free, I saw what that dog Nawazish Ali did, and heard what he said.

"He stepped on the step beside the carriage door, whispering through the shutters, and I heard him say the one word, 'Yasmini!' I heard an answer, though I did not hear its purport.

"Then I heard him whisper —thus —hoarsely, as a man speaks when he is in haste and yet would not be overheard: Tie says all is clear. At thy house, then, three nights hence!' "

"In what tongue did he whisper?"

Taj Mohammed was growing interested at the suggestion of veiled intrigue.

"In the Pashtu tongue."

"Well? What of it?".

"This. How happens it that a sheik, a one-time Kafir, a swag-bellied Southerner, a wizened grape, a pauper, a borrower of three rupees, should make assignations—at her house, mind you—with one who, if the tales I hear be true, is fairer and cleverer and richer than any other woman to the south of the Hills?

"Hast thou not heard tell of Yasmini? Within three days, when these last two horses have been sold and I am ready to journey back again, I mean to hie me to Yasmini's, friend of mine, and satisfy myself on certain points."

"As to whether the point of a knife is sharp, and whether she can use thy money?"

Taj Mohammed was no ladies' man, although they tell of him that he has a feud beyond the border that was started by a woman. If you watch him closely, you may see him thumb the hilt of his long knife when a woman's name is mentioned, and if you ever get close enough to see the hilt you may notice that on the wooden part of it there is a quite considerable row of notches.

"I have little curiosity on the woman's score," lied Amir Ali, reaching for the pipe. "I know that my knife is sharp, and I am interested to discover now whether she is that same Yasmini with whom Nawazish Ali made engagements. I would see that dog again.

"I would whisper in his ear about those three rupees. And after I have got the three rupees again —but not before —I would remind him of that little matter of the laying hands on me this afternoon. Didst thou ever see a man die by the down blow, thus—between the collar bone and shoulder bone to the heart? It is a good stroke."

Late that night Amir Ali, who had reasons of his own for hating to ask questions, and was prospecting on his own account, bumped in the darkness into Martineau, and was thoroughly well kicked for his .pains. That was the nearest that Martineau came just then to picking up the trail of things.

He went on up Yasmini's stairs, oblivious or at the most indifferent to Amir Ali's flashing teeth and more than muttered blasphemy, smiling to himself and humming little tunes. And Yasmini greeted him, came toward him, welcomed him—the smiling, sweet-tempered, mirthful Yasmini he had always known, and not at all the curtained vixen who had cursed between set teeth and glared through the carriage shutters.

"My lord is pleased to treat me as a friend!" she smiled at him. "How am I honored twice in one day? What is new?"

"Yasmini, listen! Are we friends? Are you and I friends in truth? I feel inclined to talk to you—to tell you confidences—and to ask you others."

She squealed with pleasure, and for at least the hundredth time he wished that either she were of his race or he of hers; for then he would have known just how to behave himself. He had a notion that two strong arms thrown around her would be an all but insuperable argument, and another notion that with his arms in that position a knife could slither awfully easily between his ribs.

She laughed, like a glass bell tinkling, as if she had read his thoughts; and the opportunity, if it had been one, was past. But she actually laid one hand on his shoulder, making him tingle to her touch, and led him as his ideal might lead a man—almost without his knowing it—into the inner room.

He had not realized that he was there until the fragrance of the cushions, the tinkling of stringed music, the sound of splashing water and the breeze—borne in through the big square window that showed a million stars pricked out in illimitable blue, the faint suggestion of tree branches moving just beyond the window, and the scent of garden things—all helped inform him.


YASMINI sat next him—golden-haired and jeweled, and arrayed in gauzy aura stuff—Yasmini at her most bewitchingest. Yasmini coiled herself, much as a she-cobra might, and then uncoiled herself, and lay face downward, head toward him, chin between her hands. Yasmini gazed at him, and two twin jewels glowed and gleamed and blazed as surely no other woman's eyes had ever done. Then Yasmini's low voice purred to him in Pashtu. She was not pretending now—she knew that he understood.

"Speak, Bahadur! Tell me."

He hesitated half a second; smiled to hide the hesitation, looking foolish where he thought he aped the Sphinx; and made up his mind to plunge.

"Nay, Maharanee—" he had never given her that title to her face before—"you first tell me. Afterward is my turn. We will each make confidences. Who was it who lay slain outside your door this afternoon? What was his name? Whence did he come? Who had him killed? Why was he killed? And where is Gulbaz? Tell me."

She laughed at him—low music, like the sound of water falling into nothingness—just a little gentle stream of cool water, flowing out of huge tankfuls in reserve (all cool and sweet). It made him wonder if there were anything she did not know.

"Am I, then, owner of the universe? Do I know all things? Does the sahib jest?"

"I'm very far from jesting; I'm in deadly earnest. Yasmini, did you ever hear of bargains with the devil? You've heard of most things. Are you a devil? You look like one—a beautiful, beautiful devil. Are you one?"

She laughed again, and let her eyes glow from their depths—waiting, as the devil waits. He could hear her breath come evenly between the double row of pearls; her lips were parted ever such a little; but her bosom rose and fell quite evenly where it rested on the divan between her elbows, and even in his own state of excitement he could judge that she was merely curious, and not excited in the least.

"Will you bargain with me, Yasmini?"

"Speak on, Bhadur. Once I heard of one who bargained with the gods. He bargained for a drink of water, and he offered all the world for it."

"Well? What happened?"

"Oh, the gods, if I remember rightly, laughed at him and kept the water and the world. Speak on, Bahadur."

"Listen, Yasmini."

The mystery of all those multi-colored lights glowing faintly through the smoky air, the tinkling instruments and low-toned conversation of the dancing-girls by the open window, the low ceiling, the rich, incandescent gloom, the black-dark corners, and Yasmini herself so close to him combined to have their own effect.

Martineau scarcely recognized himself. He lowered his voice. He would not have confessed, even to himself that he lowered it because he could not control it otherwise.

"You know what Gulbaz was—and is. You know he isn't dead—I'm positive you know it. You know he's a Secret Service man, and that I'm not. I tell you, Yasmini, I want to be! It's my one ambition. There's nothing else in the world I want but that, and you can help me to it. Help me, then, and name your price!

"I know you don't want money—I'm not insulting you. I know I couldn't borrow and steal and earn enough in all my life to make you blink your eyes once. That's not what I mean at all, and you know it, don't you?

"I mean that as a Secret Servant there might be—there would be—ways in which I might repay you. Answer, Yasmini."

"Speak on, Bahadur. I am interested. In what way may I help?"

The tongue she used is rich in niceties of grammar, and she chose her tense as neatly as she would have picked a jewel from a tray.

"You can tell me where Gulbaz is now, for one thing."

"Am I God, Bahadur? Does a pebble on the bank know where the stream has gone?"

"You can tell me what his game is. I must get in on this. Once I'm in on it, I'm a Secret Service man for all time—I can find my own way in, then! And they'd never try to keep a man out who knew enough to track down Gulbaz! There's something happening—some game afoot—that has to do with Grand Duke Peter. I'm here to find out what it is. Now come, tell me."

"What was it that the sahib said about a price?"

"I said there was no limit! None! On my honor, not a limit! You'll have but to ask me when I'm once a Secret Servant."

"Even to the point of telling me the secrets of the Secret Service?"

He leaned toward her closer—dangerously close.

"Why, Yasmini, we'll be in the thing together—understand? We'll be in partnership. Come, tell me; you named the price, and I promised. Tell me—who lay dead before your door, and where is Gulbaz?"

She smiled still—smiled at him with red, parted lips that the hill gods where she came from would have fought to kiss; smiled, smiled, and did not answer him.

"Yasmini, tell me! It's something to do with the Grand Duke, and—and what else? With the North? Tell me—are ructions cooking in the North?"

"I will ask, sahib," she said quietly. "What were the questions?" She seemed to be listening now. "Where is Gulbaz? Who was slain? What does Gulbaz? Is trouble brewing in the North? The North, sahib—who can tell about the North? Can any man?"


HE, TOO, heard a footfall now. A moment later, and an Afghan swaggered in, preceded and made much of by a maid—for no one ever came in unannounced. He scowled fiercely at Martineau, and muttered in his red-dyed beard; but a maid brought him colored sherbet to drink, and Yasmini smiled at him and began to dance.

In a moment he was watching her, and had forgotten the Englishman completely. Then Yasmini sang, and every other thing except one flute was still; at times it was not easy to decide which was voice and was flute.

Brother, the Northern dawn is dim.

Stir up the embers, brother mine!

Brother, the Hills loom gray and grim.

Draw up the sheepskin, brother mine!

Brother, the way we came was long—

Brother, the turn we took was wrong I

Nay, but the gods get lost among

The Northern mountains, brother mine'

Martineau had never heard that song, but before a verse of it was done he felt that in some way he did not understand it was intended to refer to him. It puzzled him, and he felt depressed and mean, which puzzled him still more; for he felt sure that had the Afghan not come in he would have brought her to see reason.

Before a second verse had started though, three more rough-bearded stalwarts, from the dopes of Sikaram or even farther north, entered with a deal of fuss, and much mutual greeting, and a mock quadrille of offered and reoffered precedence. Martineau saw that his chance for that evening was altogether gone, and arose to take his leave, the four Northerners being at no pains to disguise their pleasure at the move.

"We meet again, though?" he whispered to her, as Yasmini made him over to a maid, to be smiled at and called extravagant names and led out to the street. "We meet again, and talk again—eh, what?"

"I live here," answered Yasmini, "and the sahib knows the way."

The night air and absence of all artificiality outside brought him to his senses somewhat. He began to think with more regard to the proportions and probability.

"I believe I fell down flat!" he muttered to himself. "I believe I failed as absolutely as a man can fail. She's simply laughing at me. She heard all I had to say, and promised nothing."

He would have had less doubt about it if he had known about the ringing peals of laughter—Yasmini's, beyond a possibility of doubt—that arose as soon as he was out of hearing. They were joined, too, by four other roaring throats; and grown men in the East laugh very seldom except when they are scornful—almost never just for mere amusement.

On the other hand, they might not have laughed so much had they been able to overhear what Martineau was muttering, or guess the conclusion that he reached.

"Maybe," he muttered. "Yes, maybe I missed that time, and perhaps she takes me for a fool. But there's this—I've the police to count on; and if she knows anything about it, then she's in on it. And if I catch any one, I catch her, too; and then—well, then we'll see."

He recalled the last line of her song, and started humming it—


"Nay, but the gods get lost among
The Northern mountains, brother mine!"


"Now, I wonder what, by the Ace of Spades, and the Great Horn Spoon, and the Big Lord Harry in the bargain, she meant by singing that so pointedly! Now I wonder—dashed if I don't! I wonder! And who were those hillmen? Well, that part's easy. I can find that out within an hour or two."


CHAPTER V

A committee of hell sat in judgment on Cassidy,
Probing the faults of his arrogant past.
"What shall be done to him? How shall we punish him?
What has he merited?" Satan had asked.
There wasn't a doubt of his wonderful wickedness;
Hell didn't hold a sufficient rebuke.
They reported there wasn't a penance would fit him, but
Satan said, "Reincarnate him a Duke!"

T.M.


NOW many more than one Grand Duke has had a thundering good time in India; but then most of them have elected to travel either strictly incognito, or else at least so quietly that they might find time for amusements on the way. The Grand Duke Peter traveled in his full official glory.

One need only know as much of Grand Dukes as can be seen of them from behind the backs of soldiers in the street in order to be able to realize that if the Grand Duke had his choice he would very likely not have traveled, and would surely not have traveled with his helmet on. As royalty is forced to do, he was suiting the demands of governmental policy, and not his own convenience at all.

His Government—and it consisted of a swarm of other Grand Dukes, as well as some of the shrewdest financiers still to the windward of Tophet—had taken advantage of his favorite little vanity; had introduced Professor Bourgowitch to him, and had told a publisher to start on the announcements for the Duke's forthcoming book.

Then, rather overlooking the most important factor in the case, which happened to be the Indian Government, it had given private but very definite instructions to Professor Bourgowitch, and had packed the ducal party off.

Everything fitted in, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle; for just then there was a British Commercial Mission on its blatant and self-righteous way to Siberia. There was talk (for talk has not gone up in price) of new Commercial Treaties; and there was nothing being said at all about Jews and pogroms and the Greek Church, or even about lead mines. None of those subjects for discussion would be revived until next election time, when the non-conformist conscience would need pacifying.

It seemed preëminently practical, and an altogether worthy stroke of business and politics combined, to make the Indian Government accept the Grand Duke's visit. It was considered likely to make for the peace of nations; and although the Indian Government protested once or twice, it had to give way.

For there was a famine beginning in the Central Provinces, and the Viceroy and Council feared that they would have to ask Parliament for a grant in aid before the year was out; it was as well, in other words, to keep the Government at Home in a friendly frame of mind.

But there is nothing on earth so dreadfully practical as the Indian Government, or quite so sincere in every thought or word or deed. It lies as sincerely and with as far-flung purpose as it tells the truth, and it obeys the Government at Home with a precision worthy of a better cause, when suitable occasion offers. When occasion does not offer it is apt to "regret the omission of subordinates."

It seemed this was a suitable occasion; and, taking advantage—as the Psalmist says the wicked always do—of others' troubles, no doubt, the Russian Government laughed low and long and merrily. They had forgotten a few past lessons, and were due for another one at India's expense.

The Indian Government had not forgotten Baluchistan, nor the grim gray overcoats beyond Pamir, even if there were a mission on its way to fraternize up there to the north. It chose to outshine any commercial mission that there ever had been in the world, and to extend a hospitality to the Duke that he and his staff would not forget for years to come.

Bombay was en fête for his reception, and even the Grand Duke's secretary's valet left the city weary to the bottom of his being. Calcutta next awaited them, in frills and furbelows, and disgraced herself forever (as she always does) by turning up top-hatted and frock-coated to receptions; and receptions followed one another toe on heel.

When officialdom had finished there were merchants, in layers of classes one below the other, each class with a gild or an association of its own, and each apparently determined to wine and dine the Duke and talk to him.

There were tea growers' associations, for instance, who wished to present his Imperial Highness with a silver chest containing the most amazing tea, as proof that Russia ought to cease importing overland from China; and there were representatives of Chinese tea merchants come all the way from Hong Kong to undermine that advantage to their rear, and uphold the interests of the overland trade.

Then there were Russian subjects (mostly from the holds and fo'castles of British ships) who wished to feast their eyes on him, and kiss the ducal feet. Every single inhabitant of Calcutta who could read or write appeared to be obsessed with the desire to own an autographed likeness, and every single retail merchant in the city wanted audience and the ducal patronage.

Then there were all the hospitals and all the missions. It was chiefly the professor who was treated to a dose of those. Of course the book was to be the Duke's, and he had to go through the formality of passing through the different buildings, but it was unofficially understood that Professor Bourgowitch would do the actual work and write it.

So the Professor had to become conversant with the details, and there wasn't any time left over to show him around the horse traders' stables, that he wanted so much to see. He was fed statistics, and then asked to quote comparative statistics of the Russian charities, to make quite sure that his mind was occupied.

The Duke, with characteristic British undervaluation of an enemy, was not supposed to have a mind to occupy; but he was kept physically active until he swore—almost on the edge of tears—that he was not an English lord; that he thanked his God for it; that he never would be one; that he did not propose to be treated like one and be a Bamum & Bailey's Show all by himself; and that he would go home in a huff unless deputations and processions and the pink teas ceased.

So the Indian Government (and it is dreadfully resourceful) remembered that the thing to do in Rome is what the Romans do. Conversely (and is the East not converse?) the proper thing in India to do with an Imperial Grand Duke is to set him to Grand-Duke-ing. Duke, it was recalled, means General. And so the real fun began.


THE Grand Duke Peter had been able to review as many troops as his heart could wish for from the day when he first sat up in his perambulator. He had reviewed them by the hundred, by the thousand, by the hundred thousand, and by the million—his own troops, too, from a province of his own, in whom he consequently might be supposed to take some sort of interest. He had reviewed them until the sight of troops made him physically sick.

He was a sturdy enough man, somewhere In the neighborhood of six feet high, and framed and muscled like a panther; but reviews to him meant a sick headache underneath a bullion-weighted helmet in the sun, on a horse that would not stand still.

The very mention of the word review was anathema. It meant a stuffy uniform, a hard, uncomfortable military saddle, heavy thigh boots much too tight, a pair of corsets that made his eyes bulge, and a grin.

The grin was the only easy part about it, for he had had that drilled into position when a child and it was automatic nowadays. He grinned most when he was angriest, and the illustrated papers always edited the thing, and changed it to a smile.

From now on there were reviews at all hours, under all conceivable conditions, of all kinds of troops; and all for no apparent reason in the world except to give the Grand Duke pleasure, and his professor-secretary-person opportunity to dissertate about them in the forthcoming book. The Grand Duke Peter lost his temper finally, and left Calcutta for Delhi positively grinning from ear to ear, he felt so savage. He promised himself a little relaxation in the ancient capital of India, and even threw out hints that he might stay longer than had been intended.

He threw out suggestions about sport, and it was instantly explained to him that the honored guest of the Indian Government had only to express a wish to find it instantly fulfilled. Wearily and equally politely he answered that he would be satisfied to leave it all to his hosts; but none the less he sent an apparently inconsequential personage on ahead of him to look the country over.

That was rather rude, of course, but when a Grand Duke chooses so far to forget the niceties of good behavior men look the other way. And the inconsequential personage traveled to Delhi with no less than four equally unofficial supervisors, who made him very comfortable, but who laughed in his face when he suggested getting off the track. As had been the fate of the Professor in Calcutta, he did not succeed in getting to the horse dealers' stables, and when the Grand Duke reached Delhi he found his advance agent wiser in only one particular.

He had discovered that the Government of India is something more than circumspect; only he called it perfidious, and as Napoleon did before him, pronounced the word in French.

But the Grand Duke Peter did not care. He considered he was through with military reviews, so he was happy. He arrived in Delhi almost with an appetite, and actually looking forward to a little life.

However, for an hour or two before his train came in, the whole of Delhi had been thundering to the measured tramp of men. India was made for unexpectedness, and was fixed so by the British, not altered; so from nowhere and from everywhere, from a dozen unexpected streets and apparently a dozen different directions, a brigade assembled to the brazen blare and thunder of its bands and the glitter of accouterments. Long before the Grand Duke and his smile had reached the station the square in front of it was a sea of helmet spikes, and the shock of the royal salute they gave him reverberated like the welcome of a couple of divisions.

So the very first thing he had to do in Delhi was to inspect his bodyguard. It took him fifteen patent-leather-booted minutes. And he reasoned, not illogically, that if a ducal bodyguard consisted of a whole brigade of troops, then the proportion of soldiers waiting to be reviewed at Delhi, too, must be disgustingly enormous. One achieves a new respect for royalty when remembering that in spite of everything the Grand Duke's language was still studiously pleasant and correct.

For not one second of that dusty journey had he been allowed to get away from glamour and servility and starched officialdom. At each considerable station where the special train had stopped he had been obliged to show himself, and smile and bow, and a deputation of some sort or another had waited on him to present a bouquet or an illuminated address. Once or twice a native deputation had insisted on the delightful (when you like it) custom of wreathing him in flowers; and when nothing else in the way of deputations was available the railway servants had evolved one of their own.

As a pretty general rule, some local big wig took a ride with him as far as the next stop, in order to introduce him to a new bore, who, in turn would ride with him and introduce him to another one. In fact, as the Government of India intended that he should, he had talked platitudes for twelve long hours on end.

He had been treated as India and any other truly democratic country has a right to treat all royalty. He had no single, logical, reasonable or legal ground for objection or complaint, and he was fuller of undiluted, yellow-toothed, venomous, devouring hate than a porcupine is of quills.

The distance-signals outside Delhi had revived his hope of peace and quietude to come. His smile might even have been momentarily genuine. But the sight of all that guard of honor dashed his hopes again and raised his ducal gorge. But he still smiled and was polite. He was still royalty.

He had a smile left for the assembled ranks of Thomas Atkins, and he still smiled as he strode between them, pretending to admire their trimness; but his breath came in long, uneven drafts that hissed through his teeth. He let himself be driven to a hall where an official reception awaited him and where he would have to shake three hundred people by the hand before he could go to dinner; and he was still smiling. There was no change visible in his demeanor.

He endured the whole reception. He endured the dinner afterward. He made a speech in which he addressed those present as "fellow men," and he listened to a lot of other speeches that must have bored him to the verge of desperation; but he smiled, and there was beginning to be something not quite set, not quite insipid, not quite meaningless about the pleasure he displayed. He was smiling with his eyes as well as lips, and looked almost hopeful.

"We've got to admit he's a good game sportsman, anyhow," said a Lieutenant-Governor, who had taken more than common interest in watching symptoms. "We'll have to pay his Imperial Highness the compliment of taking infinite precautions. A man who can keep his end up that way and still look cheerful, is a man to be considered. Mark my words!"


TWO hours after dinner had dragged out its insufferable course the Grand Duke was permitted to go off to bed—accompanied, of course, by half a troop of cavalry. It is fair to presume that he slept, for they changed guard often enough to make any man feel quite sure he was safe, and the noise of challenges and sharp command was one continuous lullaby. But next morning, from the sacred sanctum of his bedchamber, he gave out the ducal ultimatum, and justified to the full the words of the Lieutenant-Governor the evening before.

Though he would not have admitted it for half his income nor for half the income of the Indian Government, he had set out now to prove how slightly one needs probe them after all to prove that dukes and bricklayers are brothers, with but a single point of view. He had set his ducal foot down and refused to be a scab. His name, henceforward, could not be inscribed on the list of ducal blacklegs. He would not work overtime. He had proclaimed a strike.

Of course, since he owned no proper union he could not express himself exactly as his brothers of the cellars and foundations do; but what he did say amounted to exactly the same thing, and it was recognized as such.

He said that he was sick. He said that he was much too ill to leave his bed, but not sufficiently ill to need a doctor.

Long, curling columns of cigar smoke could be seen uprising from the veranda of his room. A pair of neat morocco slippers swayed in close proximity to the openwork veranda masonry, and a gorgeous dressing-gown that no one less than a Duke would have dared to wear was evident to all the world, throwing back his glory at the Indian sun from the depths of an arm chair.

Plenty of a most distinguished brand of dry champagne was rushed to the ducal chamber, and it was given out, proclaimed, and accepted as a ducal fact that his imperial Highness Peter was in his bed, and too ill to get out of it. The telegraph wires between Delhi and Calcutta hummed to the tune of the secret cipher code, and from Calcutta the sending-instruments clicked the news and clicked again to a listening world. The world sat up and sent its deepest sympathy; and India—official, pompous, and "perfidious"—winked the other eye (the more perfidious one), and smiled in its official sleeve.

"Of course," smiled a Lieutenant-Governor, "it would have been better for every one concerned if we could have simply kept him busy and prevented it. But I said last night he was a downy bird, and so he is.

"Well, there's only one thing now, and that's to let him go ahead. Give him lots of rope and keep tight hold to the end of it. You'll have to hold the rope, Ebbert, and I think I can safely leave it to you."

"I think you can, sir," said the Commissioner.

"Gracious Heaven!" sighed the Lieutenant-Governor thankfully, "but I'm glad I wasn't born to the purple! Think of having to do dirty work for a Russian Government! Think of having to smile through it all and take the blame, and brazen it out afterwards!

"And, mother of me! Think of the fun of being found out! Poor, suffering, helpless devil, but I'm sorry for him! Well, go on, Ebbert; go ahead; mark the knots, hold one end tight, and give him all the rope he wants."

"What's interesting me most," smiled Ebbert, "is guessing what it is that he's going to find out."

"Yes? I could write down here now, in one minute, just exactly what he's going to find out, names and all. I don't believe I'd miss one name."

"Oh, is it as simple as that?"

"It isn't very simple. It's important, too."

"Ah—worth discovering?" asked Ebbert.

"Oh, certainly." The Lieutenant Governor arose to go. "Call on me at once if you're in difficulties, and be sure to give my compliments and all that kind of thing to his Imperial Highness. Tell him I'll hope to see him again as soon as he's well enough to be about."

Nineteen guns announced the Lieutenant-Governor's departure, and then the Commissioner "allowed himself the honor of announcing" to the Duke that in view of his Highness' unfortunate indisposition and the pressing calls of duty, the Lieutenant-Governor had reluctantly been forced to cancel all arrangements for the ducal entertainment for the next few days. He trusted that his Imperial Highness would appreciate with what reluctance the course had been decided on, and how nothing less than the most pressing affairs of State could have induced—etc., etc., etc.

"I'd forgive the humorist who wrote that letter almost anything," remarked the Grand Duke, tossing the communication on the table and motioning to his secretary. "Convey my profound regrets that I should have missed seeing all the ——soldiers; ask after Mrs. Commissioner, if there is one—I honestly forget—promise nothing, and remain. Write it in English, and sign it yourself; say I'm too ill to hold a pen. Oh, and have another bottle of that champagne put ready on the ice, will you? Thanks."

Ebbert received the ducal note and filed it in its proper place. Then, instead of writing as he might have done, he called for his pony and rode in search of Martineau.


CHAPTER VI

Waste ye the hours, then, in seeking the honeycomb?
Wonder ye where is the store of the bees?
Seek ye the track of the gauze-wingéd laborers
Through the dim jungle and over the trees?
Sharp are the thorns, hard the rocks, weary ones;
Long are the leagues that the honeybees roam!
Rest ye! And trap you a bee, and give sweets to him;
Free him, and watch him, and follow him home!

—Yasmini's song.


ABOUT a hundred thoughts flashed through the mind of Charlie Martineau when Ebbert trotted into view, for as a very general rule some one is going to have his wool pulled when a Commissioner takes time to call in person. It is easiest to write and keep a copy on the files for future reference; but the more charitable course is to do what Ebbert nearly always did, and say things to a fellow's face. It bears better and less bitter fruit.

But in this instance Martineau's hastily aroused alarm and instantly assumed defensive state of mind were thrown away. Ebbert was smiling and a little enigmatic, but as unofficial and as far removed from cavil as the flowers in June.

"Busy, Martineau?"

Martineau glanced left and right at the high piles of printed forms and scrawled reports. His attitude was quite correct, for a policeman—noncommittal, ready on the instant to prove himself the busiest man in all India, or the opposite, as opportunity decreed.

"If you haven't got too much to do—too much, I mean, that calls for personal attention—if you could delegate official business to your subordinates for the next two or three days, there's something else on which you might be almost equally well engaged."

Confound him! Why the devil couldn't Commissioners learn to be explicit? Charlie Martineau most particularly wanted three* days to himself, for he thought that in three days he could track down Gulbaz. And here was perhaps another opportunity, better than he could make for himself! Why couldn't Ebbert learn to get things off his chest? he wondered.

"Is it very important, sir?"

"Couldn't say, I'm sure. Things have a way of turning out important from the most commonplace beginnings; haven't you noticed that? Point is, are you busy?"

Forced against a wall, even a policeman can give an unequivocating answer;,and Martineau admitted that he had enough to do, but could postpone all of it without much loss to Government.

"Then get your pony and come with me," said Ebbert, who could see through a stone wall as far as any man who lived; Martineau was altogether in the wrong in thinking himself the would-be mind reader.

Ebbert saw through the make-believe of giving hurried last-minute orders; and although he did not overhear Martineau telling a plain-clothes constable to follow him, and consequently did not suspect the move, he did detect a mental atmosphere of interruption. And he knew quite well that he had broken off some private move of Martineau's half way.

"What have you done about Gulbaz?" he asked abruptly, as Martineau mounted beside him and legged his native-bred into a walk.

"Nothing yet, sir. You remember, you said I was to await instructions from you."

"Quite so. Well, I'm told that—ah—another branch of the Service has the case in hand. Ah—I'd—ah—you'd better let it alone."

"Very well, sir."

"I mean just that. Let the case alone. Nothing at all to do with you any more. Get me?"

"Perfectly."

"All right. What I want you for now is another matter altogether. There's a Professor Bourgowitch—I think I mentioned him to you yesterday—sort of private secretary to the Duke. He's a restless sort of gentleman—wants to run around a lot and see things.

"No earthly objection to his seeing what he likes, you understand, but a very grave objection to his getting into trouble. Get my meaning? Well, I'm going to take you up and introduce you, and I want you to make friends with him and show him all over the place. Take him anywhere—be a sort of demi-official guide to him—see he doesn't get lost and doesn't get stabbed in the back, that's all.

"These Russians are sometimes apt to be a little high-handed with the natives, and you may have to use tact and all that kind of thing. Look after him, you know."

"Are there no restrictions on his movements, sir?"

"No. None."

"I mean——"

"Positively none. Take him anywhere—let him see, hear, or do anything. No restrictions at all."

"For instance, last night I mentioned Yasmini——"

"Very good idea. Take him there. If a sick Grand Duke who isn't sick is a white elephant, Martineau, his private Professor is a kalsomined mammoth—you may take that from me as Gospel. All you're required to do is to take him anywhere and keep him out of mischief. He's been put up for the club—all that sort of thing has been attended to. You amuse him."

"I had an idea, sir, that he might perhaps need watching."

"How d'ye mean?"

"Why—er—aren't these Russians——I er—I mean——Hang it! There's Baluchistan land—er —the Northwest Frontier, and——"!

Ebbert laughed outright, and looked at Martineau quizzically—almost pityingly.

"If there were anything of that kind it would be attended to by the Political, Mr. Martineau. Your business will be strictly confined to looking after the Professor's personal safety."

Stung by the rebuke, Martineau lapsed into silence until they reached the palace where the Grand Duke and his staff were all immured behind a most observant guard of honor.

So he was a personal attendant, was he? A mere bodyguard to a stuffy professor person? Well, perhaps, he thought, he might yet find opportunity to show the whole crowd that he was something rather different.

He had half a notion in his head to send the plain-clothes constable after Ebbert, to watch what he did next and report; wild thoughts come into the heads of men who have ambition such as Martineau's.

He was in a brown study when they reached the palace gates, and did not quite regain his usual alertness until he found himself being pushed forward and introduced to the Professor.

"By the big brass Bangalorum, what a man!"

He nearly said it aloud, he was so astonished, and he did not quite recover for five minutes. He was standing up, this apparition, stepping toward him, and smiling at him through a shock of dun-colored, disheveled whiskers.

He wore a beard that came full half way to his waist, and there seemed enough of it to make three beards with; it stuck out in every conceivable direction, and looked as if it never had been trimmed at all; although each hair, strangely enough, seemed scrupulously glossy on its own account.

One doubled fist, as big as a knotted club, rested on his right hip pocket; one hand, stretched out to swallow Martineau's, looked as if Rodin might have carved it out of granite. It was freckled, and red hairs stood up along the back of it.

The fingernails were smooth and clean and polished, and made the hand look horrible .by comparison; Martineau felt a distinct sense of repulsion at the thought of taking hold of it, and a moment later felt mad-angry as his own was crushed in a titanic squeeze.

"Very glad to meet you," said the Professor in quite good English; and for another minute the two stood still and looked each other up and down, Martineau fighting like a schoolboy between a wish to be rude and a hatred of admitting himself hurt, and the Professor unashamedly inquisitive.

"Well, I'll leave you two together," interrupted Ebbert, and Martineau forgot all about the orders he had meant to give to the plain-clothes constable who waited at the gate. "Give him the best time you can, Martineau, and show him everything. You'll excuse me, Professor, won't you? The office is waiting for me."

"I am interested very much in native horses," said the Professor, seeming to bend over Martineau, although he was not really much more than an inch taller. "If he would show me 'round some of the dealers' stables, now——"

"Why not take him to Mirza's stables first?" suggested Ebbert. "Well, good-by, Professor; I must be going."


FIVE minutes later Martineau sauntered out with the Professor at his side. He looked and felt insignificant, and was vaguely angry. The sight of his obedient plain-clothes man waiting at a corner made him angrier yet. Why had not the idiot gone away?

"We'll drive, of course?" he suggested, remembering the strings of various equipages provided for the Grand Duke and his staff. Either way, he imagined, he could vent his spleen on the plain-clothes man; should he see them he would have a run for it that would help condition him, and should he not see them he would be punished afterward for gross neglect of duty. He turned to give the necessary order to a liveried chuprassy at the door.

"No, let us walk," said the Professor. "I have had too much of driving 'round in state. By all means let us walk."

The Professor took no notice of the saluting sentry; he seemed anxious to get over in the shade and hurried, giving Martineau all he could do to retain his dignity and yet keep up with him. He headed straight for where the plain-clothes man was arguing with a one-eyed Mohammedan. One-eye was looking nasty and was making strange signals with his arm. As the two drew nearer he seemed about to make a rush for either Martineau or the Professor.

Still twenty yards away, Martineau saw fit to be discreet.

"Arrest that man!" he ordered, loud enough for the plain-clothes man but not loud enough for the sentries behind to hear. The obedient minion of the law closed in, but One-eye slipped around him.

It was the Professor he was making for, beyond a doubt; and he would have reached the Russian but for an elderly Mohammedan gentleman who stepped in just in time and interposed himself. He was old and not active, but he held the one-eyed ruffian long enough to enable the plain-clothes man to effect a capture.

"Take him to.the lockup!" ordered Martineau, delighted at what he now remembered had been foresight on his own part. The Professor was trying to make clear his gratitude to the elderly Mohammedan, but without much success.

Martineau, eying the prisoner, did not see the Russian's hand go in his pocket; he only turned in time to see him offer the Mohammedan a folded bank note.

The Mohammedan was all outraged dignity on the instant. He grinned, which is never a good sign. He seemed almost about to spit, but looked at Martineau and thought better of it. Instead, he handed back the bank note with a muttered growl of execration and hurried off.

"You shouldn't have done that, Professor," explained Martineau. "Some of these native gentlemen, you know, are great sticklers for their dignity. Never tip any one in India without first knowing that he'll take it."

"I thought that perhaps he saved my life," said the Professor. "I would have liked to reward him."

"He'd have been satisfied with just a word from you. You made a mistake, that's all. Never mind. It's all over now anyhow."

"Ah!" said the Professor, with his hand again in his hip pocket. "I dislike to make mistakes. Perhaps it is better that we drive, after all; then I will make no more mistakes. Yes?"

So fifteen minutes later the two set out again—this time in a pair-horse carriage, but looking as unofficial as they could.

"Mirza's stables you said, didn't you?" asked Martineau.

"I said so, yes; but it is unimportant. Take me anywhere you wish. Let us see Delhi; let us see the city; anything of interest."

He had in his hand what the elderly Mohammedan had given back to him. It looked like a bank note until he unfolded it. Before long he pretended to consult a little pocketbook; and Martineau, watching with the eye in his ear that every policeman ought to have, noticed that between its open sheets was laid a sheet of crumpled paper bearing Persian characters. Martineau said nothing, but he remembered.

Later—perhaps an hour later, as they drove about the city, growing momentarily more familiar—there came a pause in the conversation, and Martineau saw fit to seize the opportunity.

"Know any Persian?" he inquired casually.

"No," said the Professor. "Why?"

"I wondered, that was all. You Russians are always said to be such expert linguists."

"No. I know no Persian."

"That's a pity," said Martineau. "I thought of taking you this evening to a place where more Persian will be spoken than any other language. You'd enjoy it more if you could understand what was said."

"Take me, none the less," said the Professor. "I can always find enjoyment anywhere."


CHAPTER VII

Brother, the Northern wind cuts keen!
 Eat of the wind, then, brother mine!
Brother, I'm faint and wasted lean!
 Bite on a thong, then, brother mine!
Brother, I'm weak and thou art strong;
I owe thee nothing—I did no wrong!
 Men pay each other's debts among
 The Northern mountains, brother mine!

—Yasmini's song.


NOW since it is no use asking Martineau, the only man who could throw light on the next link in the chain would be Amir Ali the Afghan. For reasons that seemed good enough to him he told the truth to Taj Mohammed, when he limped back that same night to Mirza's yard, a few hours after Martineau had kicked him.

"Where, then, was thy knife?" asked Taj Mohammed, sucking at the everlasting pipe, and showing only one eye and half his face from beneath the folds of a sleep-crumpled turban. "Had he no ribs to wedge apart, and thou no wrist?"

"It was that that started him—may God deal ill with his descendants unto ten generations! I had drawn my knife when the pig of an infidel first stumbled into me.

"He saw the knife—may Allah deprive his son and his son's son of their eyesight! He struck my wrist so, with his foot; then—hast thou eyes to see in the dark? Then, look—as my knife went spinning through the blackness to I know not where, for I never found it, he struck me thrice in the face with his knotted fist.' I speak truth. There are the marks to see.

"Before I fell—nay, even as I fell—he kicked me again three times with his right foot, this time in the belly, till I lay and groaned, having no wind left in me and no desire to live.

"He went, then, through the little door that leads to hers—nay, it is no palace door. And I, after a great while as strength returned to me, began searching for my knife. It was a good knife, and had done service more than once."

For five minutes he consoled his injured feelings with the pipe that Taj Mohammed passed to him, and there was no sound except the pipe's bubbling and the stamping here and there of a half-awakened horse. Then he passsed the pipe back and continued:

"I did not find my knife, though I searched long and in each cranny. But soon—an hour, or perhaps two hours, after he had struck me—I heard steps returning down the stairs. I had seen many go up them—four men at the least, and all men of the Hills; but none had returned until this one, and I waited, hiding In the dark. It was he again and he did not see me."

"Hadst thou no other knife?"

"Aye, one other, but no courage. I followed him a little way, but there was great laughter from the rooms above, where he had been; and what with curiosity and with his keeping in the middle of the street, and with thinking that all things should be done in proper turn (for I had not forgotten Nawazish Ali yet, nor yet the three rupees), and what with wondering about Yasmini—I retraced my steps and entered."

He paused again. Once more Taj Mohammed passed him the bubbling pipe, and for five more minutes he sat still, squatted on his heels, remembering.

"Pass me the pipe back, and let thine imagination rest a while. Tell only of what happened."

Amir Ali chose to overlook the imputation.

"She is as they told me. She is wonderful. She is not as a woman of the hills, nor as one of the plains, nor as one of these Feringhee women, nor as all the three together. Neither is her voice like any voice I ever heard before.

"True, her hair is golden as is the hair of some of the Feringhees whom I have seen and heard of, yet she is not a Feringhee. Nor is she a devil, though her laughter is alone enough to stir grown men to madness.

"Aye, she is a sight for old men's eyes, and for young men's; and her dancing is like sin, my brother—a man can not look away."

"What said she?"

"She made me welcome. First, a maid met me at the stair head, and to her I said that I was injured and sought the charity of rest and soft cushions and a little ease.

"Then when she had left me for a moment in an outer room where many divans were and rich carpets from the North, and colored lights, and many strange-smelling scents, came Yasmini herself and smiled at me, and asked me what I needed. When I had found my senses, which were wandering because her beauty was so great and her smile so wonderful, I told her that I came in search of one Nawazish Ali."

"What then?"

"She asked me why I sought Nawazish Ali at her house."

"Well? And what saidst thou? Forward with thy tale! The hour grows late, and I would be sleeping."

"I said that Nawazish Ali told me he would meet me there."

"And what said she? Did the white sahib kick thee in the mouth, too, that thy speech halts?"

"She told me that I lied. She smiled while she said it, but she said it twice—nay, three times. She said, 'By that I know thou liest!" And she asked me again what I sought in her house. And I said Nawazish Ali.

"She bade me then wait a while, and returned to the inner room, where was much laughter and some music, and every little while some singing. I think that I sat there one hour; though perhaps it was longer. I am not sure.

"Then she came again, this time seeming more lovely than before, and not as other women who are always uglier at second glimpse. With many smiles she bade me follow her, and I did—still limping more than a little, and none too upright. I went with her into the room within."

He reached for the pipe; but Taj Mohammed thwarted him, waving his hand away.

"Tell first thy tale. Thou art over-long about it!"

Pipe or no pipe, Amir Ali chose to rest his eyes upon the star-pricked sky and dwell in memory a while before he condescended to proceed. In the end Taj Mohammed passed him the thing, and so lost five more minutes of effort trying to conceal his interest.

"I have seen no such room anywhere," said Amir Ali finally. "Nor can I tell the tenth of it, nor yet the hundredth part. It is such a room as only she would think of, and it is fit for her as the green leaves fit the blossom. Only the room is in no sense green, but golden and all other colors except green."

"What happened?" growled Taj Mohammed impatiently, but Amir Ali ignored him.

"There were seated there five others—four whom I had seen go up there, and a fifth whom I did not see enter, but who was evidently one of them. There was a seat between them, having two and two on either hand. But that seat she left empty, leading me to another one that faced them, and in such a way that the lights—which were many in that part of the room—shone full on my face; putting me to shame, what with my bruises, and leaving the rest of the room in near darkness. I was seen by all, but could not well see them."

"What said they to thee?"

"Nothing. They talked a little among themselves, but for the most part they were satisfied to see her dance and hear her sing, as indeed I was."

"And what said she?"

"Nothing."

"What happened, then?"


"NOTHING happened, except that she danced and sang; and her maidens danced and sang—though not so well as she. And then there was another knocking at the door, and one came in, preceded by a maid, whose face was hidden by his shamla.

"I saw that he was a Northerner, but naught else. Yasmini caused him to be seated near by me and a little to the front of me, and all that I could tell about him would have been as much as the fish told Yussuf Ali. Rememberest thou that story?"

"Surely I remember it. Forward with thine own tale!"

"I said, it would have been as much, but for this one thing——"

"What? A man would think that thou wert paid, so sluggish is thy tongue! What thing?"

"Yasmini, she herself, came over to me, and stood before me laughing, until all eyes in the room were on me——"

"Wondering at thy beauty, beyond all doubt!"

"——And in a voice that would have charmed a snake she asked me once again why I had come."

"So, snake out of a hole! And what saidst thou?"

"I told her again that I had come to find Nawazish Ali."

"And she believed thee this time?"

"Nay, I know not. She pointed to him who had come last, and laughed, and said, 'There is Nawazish Ali!" And the man turned, and lo, there was he—beard and eyes, and pouting lips and all."

"Ah-ha! So he felt thy knife after all! Thine other knife was handy at the moment?"

"Nay, I spared him yet, for her house is not mine, and for aught I knew the others were his friends. I had drunk her sherbet, and had rested me amid her cushions. Nay, I shed no blood in her house, although I doubt not that my eyes told something of my will to do it. Nay, I said nothing, leaving him to speak."

"And what said he?"

"He rose. He came toward me, so that I clutched my knife and made me ready. But he halted when he had come within the reach of a rather longer knife than most men carry, and peered at me between those keen-appraising eyes of his, looking as I never yet saw man look.

" 'Thou knowest me?' he asked.

" 'Aye,' said I, 'I know thee. Thou art Nawazish Ali, and thou owest three rupees.'

" 'So.' said he, 'and canst thou prove the debt?' "

"Ha!", laughed Taj Mohammed. "There he had theel Where was indeed thy proof?"

"I answered him: 'I have no proof beyond thy promises, and my ability to make thee rue the day we met! I helped thee,' I told him, *when thou wast with the caravan, because I was a fool and believed thee honest. I will be repaid because thou art a craven, and I am a man of mettle! So,' I said to him, 'so will it be done, and I will have my money!"

"A brave boast!" assented Taj Mohammed; "And what said he to that?"

"He was all fear on the instant, as I had thought he would be at the mention of reprisals. These once-Hindus are Hindus still, and craven; for it is only Allah who puts courage in the hearts of men."

"Allah il akbar!" assented Taj Mohammed.

"He was all a-stammer and a-flutter and a-gasp on the instant. T will pay thee—surely I will pay thee!' he blustered. But I remained just as I sat, smiling to myself and saying nothing.

"I have no doubt at all that Yasmini was much taken with my dignified behavior, and that it offset to some extent at least my disadvantage in having my features disfigured by the beating that I had received. She began to laugh and sing, and the song she sang was applicable to the case in some ways, although not, I think, in certain others.

"I know not what she meant about a brother. Perhaps that was the wording of the song, and could not be altered. She sang; and Nawazish Ali, pig of a one-time Hindu that he is, stood trembling before me."

"What said the other men?"

''Nothing—deeming it no doubt the part of men of wisdom not to interfere in the affairs of one quite capable of attending to them. After a little while, when I had had enough of his discomfiture and found no more amusement in it, I told Nawazish Ali that I was ready to receive the three rupees—with interest. I laid considerable stress upon the interest, being minded to take that in a way he does not contemplate."

"Well? Did he pay thee?"

"Nay. The dog did not have it, although his altered raiment gave token of greater prosperity than was his when he trudged with us down the Khaibar. He said that he would bring it to me before dawn, if I would but direct him where to come. So I told him where to find me at any time between my leaving there and daybreak, and had done with talking to him.

"I was interested more in seeing her dance than in amusing myself with that creature's fear of me. But she had finished dancing, being tired I doubt not; and soon she sang us that farewell song that the Northern women sing, so that I judged it courtesy to take my leave. Knowest thou the song?

"Belovéd, listen! When the breezes

Whisper through the deodars—

When the snow-kissed mountain breezes

Whine below the steely stars—

Hear, belovéd, when the wind voice

Murmurs through the mountain rain;

Belovéd, thou art not forgotten,

Come, belovéd—come again!"

"Aye, I know the song," said Taj Mohammed; and that was not true, for the song was Yasmini's, and neither of the two had ever heard a word of it before. "Songs are well enough in their time and place. I am waiting for the story, and growing weary of waiting."

"I have told thee the story. I wait now here for the pig Nawazish Ali and his three rupees. I am minded to have those three rupees, and afterward to see about that interest I mentioned. He said something about eighteen annas—or was it thirty-six? Truly I forget, and I know of a better interest. I am ready for him."

"I have met a many fools in my time," said Taj Mohammed reflectively, putting aside the pipe and getting ready to retire into the little shed between the horse stalls. "Many fools of many kinds, but none so great as thou! A sheik, safe back to his own land and among his friends, turned Hindu again, as like as not, and having forgotten the debt until he saw thee, will seek thee here in the dark before dawn, and pay thee what he owes? Amir Ali, didst thou ever ask a vulture to return a piece of flesh? And what said he?"

"That man was thoroughly afraid," said Amir Ali. "I await him here, and I have no doubt but that he comes."

"Then keep thy vigil alone," said Taj Mohammed, "and may the mists give thy bones something less visionary to think about. There are three hours yet till dawn, and sleep is good. Give praise to Allah! There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet."

"Allah il Allah!" assented the auditor.

Perhaps an hour later, or perhaps a little less, two men came into Mirza's yard and walked up to Amir Ali.

"Was there not one who spoke with thee?" they asked, and Amir Ali, nothing loath to have his friend awakened from slumber, told them where to find Taj Mohammed. They went in search of him and dragged him out presently, handcuffed. Amir Ali drew his knife and was knocked down promptly. Before he knew it he, too, was handcuffed, and four more men swooped on him from nowhere. Both he and Taj Mohammed were hustled through the gate to the street outside, where some one who was not Nawazish Ali peered into Amir Ali's face.

"Ha! Will free lodging answer for the three rupees?" he asked. "To the lockup!" he ordered. "Charge them with assault and with having weapons, and see that they keep silence for three days. Say to the sahib in the morning that there are leopards to be hunted, and he will understand."

So a jail door clanged on Amir Ali and his friend, and they had no opportunity to spread the information.


CHAPTER VIII

Brother, the dawn breaks gold and bright!
 Gird up thy loins, then, brother mine!
See, how the road glints in the light,
 Easy and open, brother mine!
O'er bog and swamp, on wile and wo,
Through blind ravine, on lurking foe,
Does no light shine? Do dangers go
 Unlighted only, brother mine?

—Yasmini's song.


MARTINEAU would probably have been too much impressed by the mental superiority of Professor Bourgowitch to have done much thinking on his own account, but as they dined together at the Club that evening a folded chit, addressed to him from the police office, gave him an excuse to leave the table momentarily. And the contents of the note, when he read it in the club anteroom, proved food for reflection :


The one-eyed Afghan arrested this afternoon on a charge of assault with intent, who refused to give his name, made good his escape—it is suspected with connivance of the guard, who has been placed in confinement.


The note was initialed by one of Martineau's assistants, who knew nothing at all of the inner workings of police strategy and who had no ambition in the direction of the "Game." To him it had meant nothing more than more annoyance, and the prospect of one more irritating and futile official inquiry; to Martineau, however, it meant proof again of "something big" on foot, in which he ought to have a finger, if a hand in the "Game" was ever to be his.

His ultra-suspicious policeman's brain began working against time, recalling minor incidents and piecing them together in a pattern that left huge gaps, but none the less resembled something which might prove plausible, and even true, if followed up. Thus:

The Professor could read Persian, but denied it.

The Professor had insisted on visiting the stables of local horse traders, and had unaccountably changed his mind almost the moment that the opportunity of visiting them had been accorded him.

Not long after this sudden change of mind he had been in possession of a paper, bearing Persian characters.

It needed no trained policeman to suppose the possible connection between the Persian characters and the change of mind.

Stables —Persian messages —um-m-m! The prisoners locked up in the cells a little before dawn, and held without examination pending instructions from the "Political," had been arrested, he now remembered, in Mirza's stables.

One-eye, who had seemed to want to attack the Duke's secretary, had made good his escape "probably with connivance." Um-m-m! Getting nearer!

How about the tip the Professor tried to give? And its rejection? Might the "tip" not have been a note in Russian? Might that not have been cleverly palmed, and a note in Persian substituted? And—and—and—had the presence on the spot of the old Mohammedan not been singularly, even suspiciously, opportune?

And—and—and, getting nearer again!—for a gentleman who risked his life to save that of an utter stranger, had not the Mohammedan's indignation at the offer of a tip been somewhat hasty, even for India, where creeds and castes and pride commingle and wrath rises as the fish do, without reason or warning?

As he walked back to the dinner table, taking his time about it, he wondered why the Professor—who after all was private secretary to no less a personage than a Grand Duke, and was therefore something of a personage on his own account, if only by reflection—should have been handed over to himself.

He had no false notions about his position; he knew quite well that it was relatively insignificant. There were fifty men, at the very least, who were not only better suited by rank and seniority to entertain the Grand Duke's secretary, but who would have done it eagerly. He wondered why something of the kind had not occurred to him before. And he wondered a great deal about the Grand Duke's secretary, as he took his seat facing him again.

"Nothing very serious, I hope?" the Professor asked politely.

"Oh, no; nothing serious."

^Nothing, I hope, that will interfere with our evening's amusement?" .

"Why—er—I think not," said Martineau.

("I wonder, now, what Yasmini has got to dowith this?" he was thinking.)

"Was there not some nautch, or native dance or other, that you thought of taking me to see?"

''And why—how is it that the private secretary to a Grand Duke can so far forget his official dignity as to consent to being worked off on a mere policeman?" wondered Martineau. Aloud he answered:

"Why—I don't know; there are lots of things to choose from. What would you like to do?"

"I have never seen a nautch," said the Professor.

"And, like George Washington, you never told a lie!" thought Martineau.

"A nautch is usually rather commonplace," he said aloud.

The Professor showed a distinct trace of sub-anxiety—the merest, least suspicion of a tendency to crack where the veneer was laid on thinnest. Even a finished actor finds it hard to quite control his eyes.

"Yes, Yasmini's in this!" thought Martineau.

"Didn't you say something about one that wasn't commonplace?" asked the Professor. His manner was as polite as necessary, and his inflection guarded, but the half hypnotic eye-control maneuver was a shade too obvious.

"And she asked me whether I would tell her the inside secrets, if she helped me! I wonder whether it was she who wrote that message in Persian to the Professor? I heard her laugh after I was gone, and——"

"Wasn't there some woman who was once a Rajah's wife? A—ah—what d'you call it?—a Maharanee?" hinted the Professor.

"Why, yes, there was," said Martineau. "But are you sure you want to see a nautch?"

His brain was racing.

"Got it!" he swore to himself.

"I would rather see a good nautch, staged by a woman such as she must be, than anything on earth," said the Professor.

"I haven't a doubt of it!" thought Martineau. "So it's as easy as all that, eh? As simple as that!" He smiled at the Professor. He felt above him all at once—up in the clouds above him. He felt he almost knew how God looked down on scheming kings.

"You shall see one presently," he said, with condescension that was so obvious it made the Professor wince.

"So-ho!" thought Martineau. "So-ho! So Yasmini's using me, is she? And the Commissioner's using me, and the Professor's using me; and where do little I come in? Let's see——"

He was drumming with his fingers on the tablecloth, and he knew that the Professor thought that he was considering the evening's amusement.

"I can't help what the Commissioner does, and I daren't spoil the Commissioner's little game. And the Commissioner will look after the Professor. Remains Yasmini—and she's playing false; playing false to every one, I'm willing to bet a year's pay. Well——"

"What was the woman's name?" asked the Professor, with an air that Martineau could have seen through with his eyes shut.

"As though you didn't know!" thought Martineau. Then a good idea occurred to him.

"Zira," he answered.

"Zira? Surely, no! Was that it? Has she two names? No, I don't think it was Zira, Mr. Martineau?"

"Zira dances very nicely—dances divinely. Zira would amuse you more than anything. If I didn't say Zira, I must have meant Zira," said Martineau. "Certainly, Zira's is the place to go to."

"Oh," commented Professor Bourgowitch.

"Yes," said Martineau. Then he produced his pocketbook and a pencil. "Will you excuse me if I write a note?"


IT WAS a short note, but he seemed to think it quite important; for instead of folding it he called for an envelope and sealed it with evident care. Then he excused himself, so that the Professor might not overhear the destination of the message. Outside on the veranda he found his servant squatting in a line with a string of others.

"Police office—quick! Bring an answer, but don't send the answer in. Send word in, and wait for me outside. Understand?"

The man was gone in a moment, and Martineau retraced his steps, still thinking against time.

"If Yasmini proposes to make use of me and leave me in the soup, she's laughing down the wrong sleeve," he vowed. "If Yasmini's in this, she's bound to fall foul of the Political, even if I don't forestall them—as I mean to, by the little brass gods of Burma!

"And as for the Political, the Secret Service—well, whoever would have thought the thing so simple? Why in——-don't they use policemen, and do the thing cheaply and in half the time?

"Why? Why? Why? Oh, why does any one do anything in India? We're all mad, all the time; and the Professor's the biggest ass of all of us!"

He went back to the table and made instant, wise decision between tedious excuses and more drinks. A Russian, he remembered, has amazing notions as to what an Englishman prefers to drink, and drinks with him out of sheer politeness. He had just had half a magnum of champagne, for the first time since he came to India, and he thought he might as well live up to the thing.

"Two whisky pegs!" he ordered. "That'll make the Prof, as drunk as me, in any case," he consoled himself, cutting the end off a cigar.

"Just one drink together," he explained to the Professor, "and we'll start out on the real adventure of our lives!"

"Here's to you!" answered Bourgowitch, praying that his adversary might prove drunker than himself.

Ten minutes later Martineau's man came, back with a little package, and once more the policeman left the room—this time to secrete a folding mirror on his person, and a few other things that a policeman sometimes carries with him to the consternation and confounding of his enemies.

"Can't trust her mirrors," he reflected. "There might not be one in sight this evening. So-ho! The Commissioner knows she's scheming with the Russians, eh? And she suspected Gulbaz, so they pretended to kill Gulbaz and put him on her trail.

"But she saw through that, and they don't know it. They're sicking me on to lead the Prof, into her net, where the S. S. is to get the credit of bagging the lot—eh? And where do little I come in, eh? Are they reckoning with little me?

"Or do I forestall the whole crowd, and win my spurs, and wipe the eye of Gulbaz? Do I, or do I not? . . . . Come on, Professor. Come and see Yasmini!"

"Very good," said the Professor. "Certainly I come! Yes, yes—Yasmini was the name you said; not Zira."

And Martineau, with his private ambition almost within reach, wondered whether the Professor thought that acting.

There was a little more than mere elation at the prospect of pulling off a coup throbbing through Martineau's veins that night. There was the sinful pride (than which there is no pride dearer to untransformed humanity) of showing the Professor things which Governors of Provinces would not admit they knew about, and certainly would never go to see.

He considered, too, that he was learning lessons, and rather prided himself on the admission. He had long known that it is not necessary for a clever rogue to creep and crawl and hide himself; but he discovered now that, given the necessary nerve and certain introductions, he can use the very minions of the law as stalking-horses. There is no greater gall than that, and as such he admired it, while taking its corollary to heart.

"After tonight I'm a Secret Service man," he told himself, "and I'll need all the gall I can grow or imitate. After tonight they'll give me anything I want, to keep my mouth shut—won't put it just that way, but it'll come to the same thing.

"They'll never play the game so low as to expose the Duke, and they'll have to keep me quiet—or so they'll consider. Gad! By the top of Kanchajanga! Won't Gulbaz tear his hair when he knows I've wiped his eye!"

"These nautches," said the Professor, speaking in his ear. "I have heard that except very rarely they are weariness itself. Is that so? The dances of a nation are of course the truest guide to a nation's character; we know what a Hindu's character is, when he has any at all, so how can his women dance but slothfully? Is she Hindu?"

"Trying to get a line on how much I know," thought Martineau. "I've often guessed and half believed—now I know that she's at least part Russian."

Aloud, he answered:

"Supposing that your ballet is what I've heard it is, Professor, Yasmini would be too good for it. She'd make the others look like dummies."

"So! ? !" said the Professor. And a Slav can put more varying expression into that one syllable than even a German can.

"Here we are," said Martineau, turning in at the unostentatious door, and studiously looking anywhere except at the Professor.

"Excuse me if I go ahead of you, but I'm known there and you're not."

He caught the Professor. As he started up the stairs he used his mirror.

"That proves two things," he muttered to himself, as he saw Yasmini coming to the stair head to welcome them. "She has a peephole that shows who comes in, otherwise a maid would have met us. And—and—and—how was it?

"Right hand held about so high. Three passes to the right, clench it—three passes to the left, clench it—three passes upward, clench it twice. Do that over and over—it's easy to remember.And—and—I couldn't swear to it in court, but I'll be——if I wouldn't bet on it; that's the same signal that the one-eyed man was making—One-eye who escaped with connivance. Why—that proves a whole lot of things."

He had the mirror out again, snuggled in the hollow of his hand, as he reached the stair top, and he saw the Professor make the same signal again. He saw, too, that Yasmini's amazing eyes were afire with recognition—of the signal if not of the man; and with something else, which, unless he mistook the signs very much indeed, was expectation of reward.

He found time to wonder what kind of reward could be large enough and rich enough and sufficiently unusual to tempt Yasmini.

"Is this the lord sahib Bahadur?" she inquired, bowing very low indeed. Martineau was not certain, but he did not think that she made any return signal.

"You know better than that," smiled Martineau, watching both of them as a tiger eyes his kill. "This is the lord sahib Bahadur's chiefest servant."

She made a little moue at Martineau that at any other time would have made him grovel to her. Now, though, he was remorseless; in his own imagination he was Charlie Martineau of the Secret Service—Martineau who didn't care a——for sentiment, but only played the GAME.

He was watching the Professor, noting what impression the surroundings and the atmosphere, and Yasmini herself, were making on him. He thought that the Professor seemed a lot too self-controlled—too thoroughly in hand.

"Bad acting! Rotten acting!" he considered it.

"You said that he would come, himself!" frowned Yasmini, leading the way toward the inner room, after many Eastern salutations to the bearded giant.

"Beauty welcoming the Beast!" thought Martineau.

He walked last of the three, watching keenly for the least resemblance to a signal, but detecting none. He was beginning to feel awfully contemptuous.

"If they're all like this one," he reflected, "then the Secret Service is an overrated business. This fellow's open as a book!"

Yasmini—all smiles and cunning curves and diffidence, though not so diffident to the Professor but that one realized how much more diffident she could have been to his Grand Ducal master—backed away and tripped in front of them on jeweled toes, her every gesture an Eastern invitation. She was not still for a second. The fascination of her movements might have been designed expressly to keep both men's eyes fixed on her, for such was its hypnotic effect.

Even Martineau—don't-care-a-blow-now Martineau of the soon-to-be Secret Service—followed like a dumb dove fascinated by a serpent. Her gauzy draperies were decked at little intervals with silver shiny things, restless as she was, that glittered as she moved and made her look singularly serpent -like and scaly—or so thought Martineau.

When he did take his eyes away, with a conscious jerk, he was all but staggered by a very different apparition. Aspirants for Secret Service honors do not show that they are disconcerted, and none of the twenty men who watched him could detect the least sign of surprise.


FORTY eyes, all brown, all steady, gazed at him from under twenty Northern turbans. At first there did not seem twenty, for they were well distributed; but as he swept each corner of the room with a quick, detail-noting, trained policeman's glance he saw that there were men in every corner and on nearly every cushioned divan. And every single man was from the North.

There was one man, near the middle of the room, whose back resembled that of Gulbaz—or so thought Martineau. He was a trifle more vivacious-seeming than the rest, and that, of course, was proof that he was not Gulbaz. He was arguing a little bit too loudly, with too many gestures and too much emphasis. There were other things, too, that made the resemblance nothing more than a mere coincidence of attitude—the beard, for instance.

It was dyed red—spade-shaped toward the lower end—and of the full length that a Mohammedan must wear. Gulbaz was a Hindu and wore no beard —could not have grown one in so short a time, would not have dared wear a false one, and would have acted better than to sit in anything resembling his own normal attitude.

No, this man was too much like Gulbaz to be Gulbaz in disguise. And besides, Gulbaz would never have looked startled. No, it certainly could not be Gulbaz. But he wondered what Gulbaz might be doing.

The other men were either listening to the whispered arguments of him with the Gulbaz shoulders, or else staring at Martineau and the Professor. Martineau, leaving the Professor to blunder foolish compliments in what he thought was Hindustani to Yasmini, took one step side-wise, to get a better look at the fellow with the red-dyed beard. But for the dye he seemed awfully like the old Mohammedan who had refused the Professor's tip, after intercepting his person so opportunely.

But, almost as if he had been aware of what was passing in Martineau's mind, Redbeard moved and was unrecognizable; and as if she, too, had divined the question, Yasmini interfered.

"He was to have come himself!" she grumbled. "Am I to dance for this pig, whose face is hidden in the fires of hell? Ugh! I have seen weeds on a garbage heap that looked more wholesome than his beard!"

" 'Please the man, control his master,' " quoted Martineau, sitting down by the Professor on the divan that she pointed out to him; and Yasmini smiled to him as if he and she were twin conspirators who understood each other's every thought.

But Martineau was not forgetting his remorselessness. He did not let her smile sink in. Smile or not, he was ready at that minute to sweep Yasmini into the discard of the Law—and jail, if the Law proved long enough.

"We Secret Servants have no other sweetheart than the Game!" He forgot who had said that, but the words ran through his head persistently.

"I will not dance!" said Yasmini, with all the sudden petulance of a neurotic—or is it temperamental?—dancer of the West. "Tonight I was to have danced to a Prince, and you have brought me this quiludar of gunwars! Ugh! Let him go back to the robber nest he came from!"

Martineau managed to suppress a giggle. He did not much care whether Yasmini chose to dance or not, for he knew in his own mind that she would bring her plan to its conclusion in some way or other.

All he had to do was watch; and he could afford the time to wonder what the Professor would have thought, had he known what a gunwar is. At present he was pretending to believe it was at least a title of respect.

"Quiludar means chieftain," he assured him in an audible aside.

"So I inferred," said the Professor.

"Does he wish to see me dance?" asked Yasmini, swaying in front of them—all supple movement and beginnings and irresolution. "Will he tell his Prince? Ask him."

But Martineau saw fit to be facetious.

"He will say that you expected the Prince, and had a committee of reception here awaiting him!" he laughed, glancing round the room. "Are these the gunwars of whom you name him chieftain?"

"They are fit hosts of a prince!'' she flared. "Their sires were kings when thine were bandar-logl They came to see the Prince, because I told them that he would be herel And you bring me this abomination!"

She fortunately used a word that is not Hindustani, so the Professor missed its meaning. There is no worse word, even in Asia, where they give imagination rein, and ladies do not hesitate to make use of the choicest—of expressions as well as other things.

"Ask him!" She stamped. "Does he wish to see me dance?"

The Professor interrupted with a bow that was affirmative as words, and Yasmini clapped her hands. Instantly the music struck up. Just as instantly the talking ceased. And for one instant—and no more —he of the red beard and the arguments looked around in quick anticipation.

"Gulbaz! By the Big Bass Drum! By the Bull of Bashan and the Pax Britannica, that's Gulbaz, or I'll eat my parchment!"

Then Yasmini danced, and all eyes in the room were fixed on her; for she could dance and sing as no other woman ever did. The Professor's eyes nearly started from his head, and he gripped Martineau's thigh as a horse bites.

"Truth!" he said. "It was truth! She is better than the Ballet. In the Ballet there is none so good!"

Martineau suffered such excruciating pain that he had to seize the Professor's wrist and force his fingers apart. Yasmini saw him, stopped, pointed with a quivering finger, and laughed aloud.

"There—he has seen! Tell him to go bring his Prince!"

With that she swept out of the room.

"Yes, I will bring the Prince," said the Professor. "Yes, his Highness the Grand Duke will be pleased with this. I will go at once and bring him!"

"But he's sick!" said Martineau.

"She—she will be medicine! I will go at once and bring him!"

He was up already, and starting for the door, and all Martineau could do was follow him, almost at a run.

"You will understand, my young friend," said the Professor, as they reached the street, "it would not be in order for you to be with us, for the Duke is sick. He is officially sick, and he and I do this alone—incognito. But tell me—what then is a gunwar? She said gunwar ."

"A particularly objectionable type of Hill robber," said Martineau. "They are very ugly, and very savage, and they practically never wash. Here's the carriage—mind your step."

And to the driver:

"Home! Drive quickly. Home!"


CHAPTER IX

Brother, my jaws are loosed with fear!
 Bind thy chin tight, brother mine!
Brother, the feet of men draw near!
 Draw thy knife, then, brother mine!
Brother, the deeps are living—hard!
Was that a breath, tight-held in the dark?
 Ah! cairns above the lone graves mark
  The Northern mountains, Brother mine!

—Yasmini's song.


IN DELHI they still talk about that night of nights, and there is nothing easier than to run across some vein of conversation that might lead, if followed up, to the truth about it all. But then it might, too, lead directly otherwise; for there are many sorts of lies in India, and few without a purpose of some sort. At all events, there would be no sense in asking Gulbaz—and Yasmini would only laugh, and sing a song or two.

Martineau would be angry at the mention of it. As he suspected they would do when the last round in the game began, they gave him promotion of a kind, to keep his mouth shut, but not at all of the kind he would have asked for; and if you sought him out in the lonely mofussil post where he is drawing extra pay, but gaining little new experience, his answers to your questions would be vague and even impolite. He is trying very hard to prove—and perhaps succeeding—that he is a man of much discreetness, these days.

He made one great, one hideous mistake that night. Before Professor Bourgowitch could reach his Grand Ducal master, Martineau had left him—which in itself was insubordination, if not worse. He had been ordered to look after and protect the Russian, and instead he left the carriage half way toward home, and ran for the police office.

Under cover of the pitch-black night, he brought a cordon of police through devious byways and drew it around Yasmini's in such a way that not a rat, even, could have left or entered undetected. His police—and nearly all of them were nothing but policemen—behaved abominably; behaved, in fact, like native "constabeels.' They interfered very roughly with occasional gentry whom they discovered lurking in inconspicuous corners, and but for sudden presence of mind on the part of Martineau himself they would have challenged even the Grand Duke, who turned up not long before midnight on the arm of the Professor. Martineau was only just in time to order them away, and let the Grand Duke walk into the trap unquestioned.

The men who had been so roughly interfered with probably were not all interested parties. Some were very likely thieves, awaiting opportunity, and others may have been enamored swains, as they protested, seeking ways to reach their lady loves. Anything is possible in India.

But one man, at the least, reached Ebbert the Commissioner, and the latter appeared in hot haste, not fifteen minutes after the Grand Duke and Professor Bourgowitch had gone together up Yasmini's stairs. Martineau was not far from the foot of them, deliberating whether it was time, or not yet time, to draw the net.

"Mr. Martineau," said Ebbert, "may I ask what you are doing here with all these men?"

"Sir, I've found something out—I'm about to make a raid." He was almost chattering with rage at the interruption. Now, he argued, he would have to share the credit with another man.

"Oh, are you? The last time I saw you I left you in charge of Professor Bourgowitch. You were to have kept him constantly in sight. May I ask you why you didn't?"

"Sir, I——"

"That'll do, Mr. Martineau. Be good enough to take your men back to their quarters, will you!"

"All of them, sir?"

"All of them. And at once, if you please!"

"But——"

"Did you hear me say, 'At once,' Mr. Martineau?"

"Very good, sir." Martineau, too, could play the Anglo-Saxon game of being awfully polite when he was angry. "I'm going now. I only wish to say, sir, that I wipe my hands of all responsibility for any consequences."

"Have you finished wiping them, sir?"

"Yes, sir! The Grand Duke is upstairs there, and so is Professor Bourgowitch, and so is Yasmini, and Gulbaz. Yes, sir, Gulbaz—alive, not dead; and there are somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty Northerners—look like Pathans and Afridis and Afghans. One, I thought, was a Baluchi——"

"Are you feeling quite well, Mr. Martineau?"

"I don't understand you, sir."

"Quite so. The Grand Duke, Mr. Martineau, is indisposed, and in his bed in the quarters provided for him. Will you be good enough to take your men away, sir? And—ah—if you care to see a doctor, the P. M. O. is at the club still."

"Thank you, sir. I need no doctor."

"Then take your men!"

So, swearing to himself in one long stream of mixed expletive and abominable metaphor, Martineau tramped back to the police station, taking less care on his way back to keep concealed. He marched back in quarter column of forty men through the widest streets.

And at the office he discovered orders waiting for him—instant orders to go instantly to a distant out-station, and do nothing until receipt of further instructions. There was no time, said the written command, to attend to packing up. There was a train that went at one A.M. that must be caught, and the luggage would be sent on later.

The writer of the orders "had the honor, sir, to be" Mr. Martineau's "obedient, humble servant, L. G. Protheroe." And he was no less than the Provincial Superintendent of Police. The train, that means, was caught—and taken; and the luggage followed later on.

That was really all that Martineau ever did know about it all, except what he read about it in the papers. So what would be the use of asking him?

You would draw Ebbert blank, of course, for Commissioners do not achieve the rank until they have become adepts at keeping their own counsel. And the Grand Duke would naturally be quite out of the question. Even if another Grand Duke were to ask him questions he would not be likely to describe the details of what happened.

Nor is it any use looking for the printed page; because, for reasons that transpire, Professor Bourgowitch did not write that book after all, and the Grand Ducal publishers were what is known as "left." All official sources are quite closed; and one must look to the bazaar, and sift the truth from half a million lies, in order to trace the thread through to its conclusion.

Ojira—she was handmaid to Yasmini, and it was always she who met the uninvited and the unexpected at the stair head—gave a somewhat intimate account of it to Amir Ali, although not in Mirza's yard. He and his friend Taj Mohammed were quite unexpectedly released the morning after their imprisonment, on the ground that there was no substantial charge against them; and nobody who knows an Afghan will need much convincing that both Amir Ali and his friend set out forthwith to find out how they might get vengeance.

Both men were satisfied that Nawazish Ali was the expert who had whelmed them in indignity, and Yasmini's was the last known trysting-place of that benevolent gentleman. So they went to Yasmini's, and were entertained by Ojira.


OJIRA may have had some hope of being a Yasmini herself some day. It is difficult to believe that any woman, let alone Ojira, could have spent so many hours in such mysterious society without being hit hard by ambition. At all events, Ojira invited Amir Ali to attend a private salon of her own, which she kept at sporadic intervals.

There were some who said that Yasmini did not know about this other little salon, run by a maid who should have devoted all her time to her mistress's designs, and there were others who maintained that there was nothing Yasmini did not know in Delhi, and that therefore Ojira, in her semi-secret apartment over beyond the Chandni Chowk, was more dangerous than otherwise. All that can be sworn to is that Ojira did have a sort of imitation Yasmini's, and that she entertained Amir Ali and Taj Mohammed there.

It is not at all certain that Amir Ali reported correctly what she told him, nor that she told him the truth—for the one was a woman and the other an Afghan; but it is known what Amir Ali said she told him, for he told a dozen men in Mirza's yard, giving his desire to find Nawazish Ali as excuse for the story. As if any story needs excusing in the East!

"She said, my brothers—and I have a notion that the wench was so in love with me she could not bring herself to lie—here he stroked his great beard, and looked upward at the night in utter self-deprecation that made all the others laugh—"she said—she was fanning me, as I remember—she said that the lord sahib Bahadur came and he was drunk."

"'Oh, true believers, surely wine is an abomination of the work of Satan'," quoted somebody; "'therefore, avoid it that ye may prosper.' "

"Truly, truly," assented Amir Ali. "The lord sahib Bahadur was full of wine as a tick is full of blood, and he prospered not. Listen! It was on this wise, or so said Ojira; and she loved me, beseeching me to come again. Nay, brothers, but I think she did not lie.

"She said that he laughed often and without cause, as the sahibs all do when in drink, whether they be English sahibs or of other nations—leaning in a very drunken manner on the man who brought him, and whom she named the Yak, because of his unkempt whiskers, though I have since heard that his name is rightly Boo-aw-ishee.

"The Yak, she said, was he who gave the signs by which they knew truly that he came from beyond even our Northern mountains (although circuitously, by the kali pani). He made signs in the street, and so they knew that it was he who should bring the lord sahib Bahadur to them, to make promises and give them proofs.

"For they, my brothers, were none other than the spokesmen of the tribes beyond the border. Even we could name a few of them, if we gave thought to it—though naming names is work for fools and women.

"Aye, fools and women!" growled a chorus from the dark.

"Nawazish Ali—so she said, and I believe the wench—was at the bottom of it all. He it was who laid the train and set the match to it. He bore a paper, done in Russian, proving him the man who, had the ear of Russia. He had but to present his paper to the lord sahib Bahadur's man—to the Yak, in fact—when he would be accepted as negotiator."

"Negotiator in what matters?"

"Aye, in what? Speak on!"

"They be always negotiating beyond the Northern mountains—but who heard aught come of it?"

"Or who heard of aught that ever came south out of Turkestan, my brother? So negotiations come to naught, eh? Remember Turkestan!"

"Tell thy tale, Amir Ali; the night grows forward, not backward. None can call back a minute that is gone!"

"Negotiator in certain matters pertaining to a rising, all together——"

"Oh!"

"Ah! Aye! Oh-ah! Listen, brothers!"

"A rising all together, and a raid, with help by way of arms and cartridges from Russia; and much payment to be made in silver, and guarantees of freedom for all time; and having reference—or so she said—to many other things."

"Well? And what had Yasmini to do with it?"

"She? Oh, it was at her house they met. But wait. There are other matters to be mentioned first. The beginning of it all was on our side of the border. So, then: Nawazish Ali, schemer of uncertain schemes, ate out of Russia's hand.

"He was, as we all know, a sheik; one time an unbeliever. None quite believed him when he said that he bore word from Russia. None would agree to rise at word from him. All asked a proof, and all asked word with some lord sahib of the Russians, and a writing, and some proofs of friendship in advance."

"Aye!"

"Aye!"

"Aye!"

"We of the North are not such fools as some. Proofs in advance, say we!"

"Aye! Who would believe Nawazish Ali?"

"Well, my brothers, this Nawazish Ali said—or so she told me—'I will give a sign,' said he, 'and I will give ye word with a lord sahib out of Russia' (though this was after many months of argument, and after they had pulled his beard and laughed in his ugly face). He told the leaders of the tribes to come to Delhi, where in due time and at his own convenience he would show them a true lord sahib out of Russia, who by his own lips would make them promises. And they quoted him the Koran, which bids men refrain from boasting."

"Aye! Aye! 'Walk not proudly in the land, for thou canst not cleave the earth,' says the Holy Book!"

"But he, my brothers, mocked them, saying, 'Ye be cowards, and ye dare not come.' "

"Why did they not slay him?"

"Because—or so she said—they were thinking always of the presents that he told them would be had. And finally they came, each by his own route and in his own good time. And he came, as we know, down the Khaibar. Then came the lord sahib Bahadur, too, to Delhi, pretending to be very sick; staying all day within the house, but sending out the Yak to make his signals, and growing very drunk by evening.

"And when night came the Yak took him, being very drunk, and brought him to Yasmini's, showing him to all. And she—Yasmini—danced—as only she can dance (for I have seen her, and I know. All other women are as cows in calf compared with her). And the lord sahib Bahadur, being full of wine——"

" 'Wine is an abomination, the work of Satan,' says the Holy Book!"

"Aye. God is great, my brothers."

"Allah il akbar!Say on, Amir Ah"

"—Being full of wine, and foolish, swore that he would carry her away to Russia, there to dance to a certain emperor he named."


"WHAT emperor would that be?"

"Nay, I know not. Yasmini laughed at him, saying: 'Show us a proof, lord sahib Bahadur. Show us a little more than empty talk. We be hungry folk—we from beyond the border; and who riseth on an empty belly?'

"So spake Yasmini, being the first to speak in any except hidden phrases. Nay, she fears nothing, and no man! And the lord sahib, being urged thereto by the Yak, subsided into silence, looking dark and letting the Yak make promises.

"He made many promises, and they asked him many questions. And when they asked him ten times over had he authority to speak, he pointed to the drunken lord sahib at his side, and the lord sahib nodded—doing all things, and agreeing always, as he said. So Yasmini took up the argument again, and it was she who brought things to a head."

"Aye, it is always a woman who does that, my brothers!"

"Silence! Let Amir Ali tell his tale!"

"She laughed and said, 'Let there, then, be a compact, written here, and signed, and given into safe keeping, that all men may see it and all may know what promises are made, and who has made them, and to whom, and what the conditions be.' And the others nodded, seeing that she spoke wisdom.

"The Yak made many arguments against it, but the lord sahib, being drunk, and anxious to see more dancing, hurried him, and urged him, until in the end a contract was drawn up, and signed, and all men present put their seals to it—the lord sahib writing with a pen, and sealing also with the ring from his little finger (though this was much against the Yak's advice, he being no doubt anxious for a loophole for escape from all the promises).

'"Then Yasmini laughed again, and danced a little. Then she said, 'What man shall keep the compact?'

"And they all began to quarrel, all speaking at once and each man claiming leadership; until Yasmini, laughing as always, seized the written compact and threw it to Nawazish Ali, saying' 'Keep thou it—show it, thou, to other men beyond the border!"

"And she had hardly spoken it, and Nawazish Ali had but then concealed it in his coat, when from below stairs there came a call of: 'They come! The soldiers come! The police come! There is a raid! Make haste and hide!'

"Ojira told me that in a moment there was nothing there to see except the lord sahib and the Yak, both looking very foolish and most helpless; both standing, and hastening to straighten down their clothes—and Yasmini imploring them to leave her house.

"For what will the English think of me?' she said—or so says Ojira. And they said many things uncomplimentary to the English, but—or so she says—they left."

"Leaving behind them the agreement?"

"Leaving behind them the agreement! Aye! So says Ojira."

"Then are the Russians bound to stand behind the rising! Then we should hurry back, my brothers!"

"Waitl" said Amir Ali. "Wait! There is other matter vet. Where is the lord sahib? Where is the Yak?"

"It was given out that the lord sahib Bahadur had been taken very seriously ill, and that the dakitars had told him to go home again if he would live. And it was told that plague had broken out at Amritzar, and traveling was not considered safe. For those reasons went the lord sahib."

"And does any man believe these reasons?" wondered Amir Ali. "Was the lord sahib not said to be sick when he went that night to Yasmini's? And if Nawazish Ali had the compact, where can it be now?"

"Find Nawazish Ali, and ask him!"

"Nay, for he is dead," rejoined Amir Ali.

"Dead? How so? Who said so? Hast thou seen him dead?"

"Nay, but I have seen his grave, and I have seen his clothing, and his knife, and certain other things he had. A man by the name of Gulbaz came to me yesterday—a Hindu; and he asked me, 'Seekest thou Nawazish Ali?' And I told him no, not being minded to converse with strangers.

"So he bade me go with him, that I might see Nawazish Ali's knife and clothing and be able to tell other men the truth about Nawazish Ali. And I went. And beyond all doubt is Nawazish Ali dead."

"Aye. Maybe. But perhaps he had given first his compact to another man. Perhaps it is already on its way to the border."

"Aye—perhaps!" said Amir Ali. "Have any of you visited the jail? Know any of ye who are in the inner cells? Then listen, for I know. Of the eighteen men who Ojira told me were at Yasmini's that night, there is not one at liberty. They lie, each man of them, within stone walls, behind iron bars, and under double guard!"

"Hey!"

"Oh!"

"Ah! Oh!"

"And the compact? What has happened to the compact?"

"Ask the English, for perhaps they know!" suggested Amir Ali.

Now what Amir Ali told the others in the night in Mirza's yard may, and again may not, be true. He got his story from a woman, and she no doubt had an object when she told him. But the facts as the wide world knew them were sufficiently in keeping with his tale to lend some verisemblance to it.

The Duke was stated to be very sick, and that no later than the morning following his visit incognito to Yasmini's. He himself issued a quite pathetic statement to the public, in which he expressed his infinite regret that his sudden indisposition should be so severe as to compel him to leave India.

He was carried on board the waiting steamer at Bombay, but was seen to be enjoying a cigar before the ship weighed anchor. But he said that he was sick; and it is considered best to take what Grand Dukes say as Gospel.

As for the jail——Gradually, one by one, it spewed out eighteen turbaned prisoners, who had answered, each, so many questions and had listened to so much parental talk, that they felt disagreeably disposed for further conversation this side of their border. They must have said things over the border, though, for in all history there has been only one period of five years during which there was no rising, and those were the five fat years that followed the visit to India of the Grand Duke Peter.

Possibly owing to a compact, hidden somewhere, that might possibly have borne a ducal signature and might possibly have brought a Grand Duke to disgrace, the Russian Government treated England very gently until the Grand Duke Peter died.

And Gulbaz? Follow Gulbaz, and be still.


CHAPTER X

Now, Rule Number One is, "Keep after the ball";
Rule Two is, "Ride straight, and don't think of a fall";
Rules Three-to-the-end are the same.
If you'd play, then adopt as your motto, my friend,
That the first and the last, the beginning and end,
And the whole in between is the GAME.

—Rules for any game at all.


EBBERT, the Commissioner, was not a man who troubled about souls and their origin or destination. In fact, he might be called an eminently practical official, given less to study of the theory of life than to the energetic practise of the utmost that he knew. Yet India had hold of him in certain ways, as she does get hold of any man who serves her, whether he rejects her gods or worships them.

Ebbert would hardly have admitted it, even to his closest friend; but away out in what the natives know as Indraprashta (and that is the ancient name of oldest Delhi) there was an utterly deserted shrine that meant more to him than his club.

The shadow of the Kulb Minar falls over it, although from the little shrine itself that most perfect of all towers is invisible, so tangled and impenetrable is the maze of jungle growth and ruins all around. Only a goat track leads to it—or perhaps it is a jackal track; and it winds in and out amid deserted, ruined streets that once reechoed to the songs and tumult of an empire, but give back now nothing more than jackal howls to the forgetful sky.

Where once was war—where followed war's waste and devastation—there is now peace, of a kind. Men have forgotten even the god's name to whom the shrine was once erected; but there Ebbert always could acquire more peace, and get, as he thought, nearer to the heart of things, than in any other place op earth.

After long, tide-under spells of concentrated work that are the lot of every Anglo-Indian official, he would take his pony out along the road that leads tourists to the Kulb Minar; leave the pony with a peasant at the crossroads, where a maze of foot trails intertwine and join up with the pony road; and walk on foot, chancing the cobras and other things that love the solitudes, to where his little shrine nestled, still uncrumbled, in the heart of all the wilderness.

It surely was his shrine, for he had found it, and he visited it. Several times he had made a test, to determine whether it was his alone, leaving twigs and grass in such a way that any one arriving must disturb them; had the shrine possessed another visitor, he would have bought him out, or possibly have ordered him away, or, failing that, would have given up his visits altogether.

It was because it was his own, and no man else's, that it meant so much to him. It was his Peace—the abiding-place of all the peace he had. He used to leave flowers there, gathering them as he came along, and smiling to see the last visit's bunch untouched still, lying withered underneath the little fluted arch.

The Grand Duke having taken his departure—to the scrunch of marching infantry and the distant thunder of saluting guns—the tension of the tight-held strings of policy being loosed a little for the moment, and a letter of acknowledgment and praise having reached him and been placed on record, Ebbert flung the reins away for one quite illegitimate and unrecorded holiday. For it was part and parcel of these interludes of peace that they must be taken utterly without official knowledge; he would disappear, and his subordinates might choose their own excuse for him. All they knew about it was that he returned each time with added calm and added energy.

He found his trail untrodden, for it was his trail, too; the twigs that he had laid across it, so cunningly that a jackal would have jumped them but a man would have cashed through, were all in place; and the silence that he loved so much was there to swallow him and soothe him back again into something very much like love for his mistress India, who works a man so hard and takes such toll from him, but gives so little in return. He felt the kind peace creeping over him as he drew nearer, and the first sight of the little lonely shrine aglow against the shadows in the fading evening light was sweeter than the sight of home had ever been—for it meant more. Home had meant hope of things ahead. The shrine stood for reflection and review.

His step quickened as he neared the trail's end, watching always for the least sign of disturbance of his marks, and taking no notice at all of the rustling retreat of snakes. He was back in memory of other visits; he could feel again the moon-bathed silence, and the sense of rest. He had always watched the sunset, squatting in between the pillars of the little arch, and he hurried to be in time again. But suddenly he jumped, as a startled black buck jumps.

"Salaam, Ebbert Sahib"

His marks were all in place, but there was a stranger sitting underneath the arch. And the stranger continued—

"Greeting, brother!"

"Gulbez!"

"Why not Gulbaz, sahib? Are you and I so unlike in all things? I said, 'Salaam'; then I said, 'Greeting, brother!' "

"Why did you come here, of all places?"

"This is my place, sahib—I am the spirit of the place!"

"Your place?"

"The old Hindu chuckled, with a sound like water flowing from a hidden spring. He looked more like a Chinaman than a Hindu; cross-legged, like an image of the Chinese Buddha.

"How did you get here without disturbing any of my marks?"

"I never did disturb them, sahib; yet I come here oftener than you."

"Greeting, brother," said Ebbert, a little tardily, but remembering his manners in the teeth of disappointment.

"I have never grudged you your visits to my shrine," said Gulbaz. "Is there not peace enough for both of us? I have been glad to see the flowers, and have prayed often that you might win understanding. Welcome, brother; but the shrine is mine!"

Ebbert drew nearer, and the ivory image of a man made room for him between the pillars, chuckling as Ebbert pulled his shoes off before treading on the sacred stone.

"So, sahib! That is why I named thee brother! Thus, and only thus, may men win understanding—by giving first respect to what they do not understand. Welcome at the threshold, brother!"

Ebbert sat beside him in silence for the best part of an hour.

"I thought I was the only man who came here—the only man who knew about this place," he said then. Even after an hour of it, he found it hard to jettison resentment. Besides, Gulbaz was a native and his own subordinate, and outward forms of dignity die hard.

"My brother, sahib, thought he was the only man who knew the Bear's trail. He was wrong. Had he been wise, he would have shared what he knew with me; but he was selfish."

"Um-m-m! That's the first I ever heard about your brother."

"Nay, sahib. You have heard about him often. I came here now for no other purpose than to offer up a few prayers for my brother."

"Do you mean your blood brother?"

"My twin brother, sahib."

"I'm sure I never heard of him."

"Yet he did a service to the Raj—not willingly, but none the less a service greater than most men perform. He died in the service of the Raj—that, too, unwillingly. But not one whit the less did he perform a service."

"What was his name?"

"Nawazish Ali."


"WHAT? He was your brother?"

"My twin brother, sahib."

"And you killed him?"

"Nay. Far be it from me! My brother had a taste—a greed it might be called—for mushrooms of a certain sort. And there be many sorts of mushrooms, much alike."

"But—er—you must have—er—provided him with—er—with the poisonous fungi?"

"Nay, sahib. There was once a time when I had need to see to details. There was once a time when he who planned the Kulb Minar laid bricks, or carried them for him who did. That day is past. I have servants of my own, and there is Yasmini. He ate at Yasmini's."

"Ah! Yasmini! I had hardly given her a thought."

"She lacked none, sahib! There is more thought in her least movement than in the whole long-drawn-out lives of many men."

"I mean I had not thought about her since she played her part."

"Since when did she cease playing, sahib?"

"Um-m-m! You mean, I suppose, that she's always active—always up to mischief?"

"Always. There is no other woman in the world like Yasmini."

"I've wondered once or twice whether she is to be trusted. Does she play the game, with a small g, or the Game with a big one—which?"

"Which is the biggest, sahib? Thou, I, she, we, all together—or the Game?"

"The Game, of course; but——-"

"Truly the Game, sahib, and we are all its servants—thou, and I, and she, and all the others! The Game has swallowed her alive, as it took my brother dead. She can not draw back, and she knows it, and she dare not try. Even she—even Yasmini, and there is no other woman like her in the world—knows it, and dare not try!"

"Well, if she did make up that mind of hers to try, it would be a——bad day for——"

"For her, for Yasmini."

"I've a notion she could do a heap of damage before the Game could throttle her."

"Listen, sahib. What happened? How many men have tasted jail? And are they men whose breath smells of forgiveness? Is it likely that in case one word were said of least suggestion, those eighteen men, or their eight-and-twenty sons, or their brothers, would desist from trailing Yasmini before her life had gone out at the bidding of a knife?

"Think you those lips that lied so glibly to the Hillmen would be left to lie again? Or think you that perhaps some Northerner might be found with courage enough, and brains, and the desire to slit off those lips and hang them to her door knob? Think you Yasmini does not know that?"

"Aye, she knows it. She weighed well the chances when she first sought leave to take a hand in the Game, and she knows now that the Game protects her, as it protects me and others—and did not protect my brother.

"Once, sahib, my brother played the Game. Playing the Game, he learned things, and later he forgot the Game. But the Game does not forget, any more than we, its servants, can forget. And the Game uses all men who have ever dipped one finger in its maze knowingly. Yasmini knows that.

"She would be used, even as my brother was used, right up to the end; and she would die, even as my brother died, for the Game, because the Game ordered it, and to serve the Game's good purpose."

"I'm sorry about your brother, Gulbaz. I did not know that the man they called Nawazish Ali was your brother. I am very sorry. It would have been so easy to have had him arrested and brought to trial That would have saved you the necessity."

"And had he been brought to trial, sahib? What then?"

"He'd have been hanged as surely—as surely as the sun is setting over yonder."

"The mushrooms tasted very good, sahib! Come again, sahib; come often! This is my place, but it is at your service. Come again, and I will go when I see you coming; you will never know that I have been here.

"Salaam, sahib; beware of the cobras! Aye, I stay here a while. I stay to think about my brother.

"Salaam, sahib. Come again!"


Tailpiece

THE END

Project Gutenberg Australia