A.E. W. Mason.

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mouth might have meant nothing at all. Captain Phillips turned round in
his saddle. Dadu was still standing where he had left him, and was
following the rider with his eyes.

"I wonder if there is anything up the valley which I ought to know
about?" Captain Phillips said to himself, and he rode forward now with a
watchful eye. The hills began to close in; the bosom of the valley to
narrow. Nine miles from Kohara it became a defile through which the river
roared between low precipitous cliffs. Above the cliffs on each side a
level of stony ground, which here and there had been cleared and
cultivated, stretched to the mountain walls. At one point a great fan of
débris spread out from a side valley. Across this fan the track mounted,
and then once more the valley widened out. On the river's edge a roofless
ruin of a building, with a garden run wild at one end of it, stood apart.
A few hundred yards beyond there was a village buried among bushes, and
then a deep nullah cut clean across the valley. It was a lonely and a
desolate spot. Yet Captain Phillips never rode across the fan of shale
and came within sight of it but his imagination began to people it with
living figures and a surge of wild events. He reined in his horse as he
came to the brow of the hill, and sat for a moment looking downwards.
Then he rode very quickly a few yards down the hill. Before, he and his
horse had been standing out clear against the sky. Now, against the
background of grey and brown he would be an unnoticeable figure.

He halted again, but this time his eyes, instead of roving over the
valley, were fixed intently upon one particular spot. Under the wall of
the great ruined building he had seen something move. He made sure now of
what the something was. There were half a dozen horses - no, seven - seven
horses tethered apart from each other, and not a syce for any one of
them. Captain Phillips felt his blood quicken. The Khan's protestations
and Dadu's startled question, had primed him to expectation. Cautiously
he rode down into the valley, and suspense grew upon him as he rode. It
was a still, windless day, and noise carried far. The only sound he heard
was the sound of the stones rattling under the hoofs of his horse. But in
a little while he reached turf and level ground and so rode forward in
silence. When he was within a couple of hundred yards of the ruin he
halted and tied up his horse in a grove of trees. Thence he walked across
an open space, passed beneath the remnant of a gateway into a court and,
crossing the court, threaded his way through a network of narrow alleys
between crumbling mud walls. As he advanced the sound of a voice reached
his ears - a deep monotonous voice, which spoke with a kind of rhythm. The
words Phillips could not distinguish, but there was no need that he
should. The intonation, the flow of the sentences, told him clearly
enough that somewhere beyond was a man praying. And then he stopped, for
other voices broke suddenly in with loud and, as it seemed to Phillips,
with fierce appeals. But the appeals died away, the one voice again took
up the prayer, and again Phillips stepped forward.

At the end of the alley he came to a doorway in a high wall. There was no
door. He stood on the threshold of the doorway and looked in. He looked
into a court open to the sky, and the seven horses and the monotonous
voice were explained to him. There were seven young men - nobles of
Chiltistan, as Phillips knew from their _chogas_ of velvet and Chinese
silk - gathered in the court. They were kneeling with their backs towards
him and the doorway, so that not one of them had noticed his approach.
They were facing a small rough-hewn obelisk of stone which stood at the
head of a low mound of earth at the far end of the court. Six of them
were grouped in a sort of semi-circle, and the seventh, a man clad from
head to foot in green robes, knelt a little in advance and alone. But
from none of the seven nobles did the voice proceed. In front of them all
knelt an old man in the brown homespun of the people. Phillips, from the
doorway, could see his great beard wagging as he prayed, and knew him for
one of the incendiary priests of Chiltistan.

The prayer was one with which Phillips was familiar: The Day was at hand;
the infidels would be scattered as chaff; the God of Mahommed was
besought to send the innumerable company of his angels and to make his
faithful people invulnerable to wounds. Phillips could have gone on with
the prayer himself, had the Mullah failed. But it was not the prayer
which held him rooted to the spot, but the setting of the prayer.

The scene was in itself strange and significant enough. These seven gaily
robed youths assembled secretly in a lonely and desolate ruin nine miles
from Kohara had come thither not merely for prayer. The prayer would be
but the seal upon a compact, the blessing upon an undertaking where life
and death were the issues. But there was something more; and that
something more gave to the scene in Phillips' eyes a very startling
irony. He knew well how quickly in these countries the actual record of
events is confused, and how quickly any tomb, or any monument becomes a
shrine before which "the faithful" will bow and make their prayer. But
that here of all places, and before this tomb of all tombs, the God of
the Mahommedans should be invoked - this was life turning playwright with
a vengeance. It needed just one more detail to complete the picture and
the next moment that detail was provided. For Phillips moved.

His boot rattled upon a loose stone. The prayer ceased, the worshippers
rose abruptly to their feet and turned as one man towards the doorway.
Phillips saw, face to face, the youth robed in green, who had knelt at
the head of his companions. It was Shere Ali, the Prince of Chiltistan.

Phillips advanced at once into the centre of the group. He was wise
enough not to hold out his hand lest it should be refused. But he spoke
as though he had taken leave of Shere Ali only yesterday.

"So your Highness has returned?"

"Yes," replied Shere Ali, and he spoke in the same indifferent tone.

But both men knew, however unconcernedly they spoke, that Shere Ali's
return was to be momentous in the history of Chiltistan. Shere Ali's
father knew it too, that troubled man in the Palace above Kohara.

"When did you reach Kohara?" Phillips asked.

"I have not yet been to Kohara. I ride down from here this afternoon."

Shere Ali smiled as he spoke, and the smile said more than the words.
There was a challenge, a defiance in it, which were unmistakable. But
Phillips chose to interpret the words quite simply.

"Shall we go together?" he said, and then he looked towards the doorway.
The others had gathered there, the six young men and the priest. They
were armed and more than one had his hand ready upon his swordhilt. "But
you have friends, I see," he added grimly. He began to wonder whether he
would himself ride back to Kohara that afternoon.

"Yes," replied Shere Ali quietly, "I have friends in Chiltistan," and he
laid a stress upon the name of his country, as though he wished to show
to Captain Phillips that he recognised no friends outside its borders.

Again Phillips' thoughts were swept to the irony, the tragic irony of the
scene in which he now was called to play a part.

"Does your Highness know this spot?" he asked suddenly. Then he pointed
to the tomb and the rude obelisk. "Does your Highness know whose bones
are laid at the foot of that monument?"

Shere Ali shrugged his shoulders.

"Within these walls, in one of these roofless rooms, you were born," said
Phillips, "and that grave before which you prayed is the grave of a man
named Luffe, who defended this fort in those days."

"It is not," replied Shere Ali. "It is the tomb of a saint," and he
called to the mullah for corroboration of his words.

"It is the tomb of Luffe. He fell in this courtyard, struck down not by a
bullet, but by overwork and the strain of the siege. I know. I have the
story from an old soldier whom I met in Cashmere this summer and who
served here under Luffe. Luffe fell in this court, and when he died was
buried here."

Shere Ali, in spite of himself was beginning to listen to Captain
Phillips' words.

"Who was the soldier?" he asked.

"Colonel Dewes."

Shere Ali nodded his head as though he had expected the name. Then he
said as he turned away:

"What is Luffe to me? What should I know of Luffe?"

"This," said Phillips, and he spoke in so arresting a voice that Shere
Ali turned again to listen to him. "When Luffe was dying, he uttered an
appeal - he bequeathed it to India, as his last service; and the appeal
was that you should not be sent to England, that neither Eton nor Oxford
should know you, that you should remain in your own country."

The Resident had Shere Ali's attention now.

"He said that?" cried the Prince in a startled voice. Then he pointed his
finger to the grave. "The man lying there said that?"

"Yes."

"And no one listened, I suppose?" said Shere Ali bitterly.

"Or listened too late," said Phillips. "Like Dewes, who only since he met
you in Calcutta one day upon the racecourse, seems dimly to have
understood the words the dead man spoke."

Shere Ali was silent. He stood looking at the grave and the obelisk with
a gentler face than he had shown before.

"Why did he not wish it?" he asked at length.

"He said that it would mean unhappiness for you; that it might mean ruin
for Chiltistan."

"Did he say that?" said Shere Ali slowly, and there was something of awe
in his voice. Then he recovered himself and cried defiantly. "Yet in one
point he was wrong. It will not mean ruin for Chiltistan."

So far he had spoken in English. Now he turned quickly towards his
friends and spoke in his own tongue.

"It is time. We will go," and to Captain Phillips he said, "You shall
ride back with me to Kohara. I will leave you at the doorway of the
Residency." And these words, too, he spoke in his own tongue.

There rose a clamour among the seven who waited in the doorway, and
loudest of all rose the voice of the mullah, protesting against Shere
Ali's promise.

"My word is given," said the Prince, and he turned with a smile to
Captain Phillips. "In memory of my friend," - he pointed to the
grave - "For it seems I had a friend once amongst the white people. In
memory of my friend, I give you your life."




CHAPTER XXXII

SURPRISES FOR CAPTAIN PHILLIPS


The young nobles ceased from their outcry. They went sullenly out and
mounted their horses under the ruined wall of the old fort. But as they
mounted they whispered together with quick glances towards Captain
Phillips. The Resident intercepted the glance and had little doubt as to
the subject of the whispering.

"I am in the deuce of a tight place," he reflected; "it's seven to one
against my ever reaching Kohara, and the one's a doubtful quantity."

He looked at Shere Ali, who seemed quite undisturbed by the prospect
of mutiny amongst his followers. His face had hardened a little.
That was all.

"And your horse?" Shere Ali asked.

Captain Phillips pointed towards the clump of trees where he had
tied it up.

"Will you fetch it?" said Shere Ali, and as Phillips walked off, he
turned towards the nobles and the old mullah who stood amongst them.
Phillips heard his voice, as he began to speak, and was surprised by a
masterful quiet ring in it. "The doubtful quantity seems to have grown
into a man," he thought, and the thought gained strength when he rode
his horse back from the clump of trees towards the group. Shere Ali met
him gravely.

"You will ride on my right hand," he said. "You need have no fear."

The seven nobles clustered behind, and the party rode at a walk over the
fan of shale and through the defile into the broad valley of Kohara.
Shere Ali did not speak. He rode on with a set and brooding face, and the
Resident fell once more to pondering the queer scene of which he had been
the witness. Even at that moment when his life was in the balance his
thoughts would play with it, so complete a piece of artistry it seemed.
There was the tomb itself - an earth grave and a rough obelisk without so
much as a name or a date upon it set up at its head by some past Resident
at Kohara. It was appropriate and seemly to the man without friends, or
family, or wife, but to whom the Frontier had been all these. He would
have wished for no more himself, since vanity had played so small a part
in his career. He had been the great Force upon the Frontier, keeping the
Queen's peace by the strength of his character and the sagacity of his
mind. Yet before his grave, invoking him as an unknown saint, the nobles
of Chiltistan had knelt to pray for the destruction of such as he and the
overthrow of the power which he had lived to represent. And all because
his advice had been neglected.

Captain Phillips was roused out of his reflections as the cavalcade
approached a village. For out of that village and from the fields about
it, the men, armed for the most part with good rifles, poured towards
them with cries of homage. They joined the cavalcade, marched with it
past their homes, and did not turn back. Only the women and the children
were left behind. And at the next village and at the next the same thing
happened. The cavalcade began to swell into a small army, an army of men
well equipped for war; and at the head of the gathering force Shere Ali
rode with an impassive face, never speaking but to check a man from time
to time who brandished a weapon at the Resident.

"Your Highness has counted the cost?" Captain Phillips asked. "There will
be but the one end to it."

Shere Ali turned to the Resident, and though his face did not change from
its brooding calm, a fire burned darkly in his eyes.

"From Afghanistan to Thibet the frontier will rise," he said proudly.

Captain Phillips shook his head.

"From Afghanistan to Thibet the Frontier will wait, as it always waits.
It will wait to see what happens in Chiltistan."

But though he spoke boldly, he had little comfort from his thoughts. The
rising had been well concerted. Those who flocked to Shere Ali were not
only the villagers of the Kohara valley. There were shepherds from the
hills, wild men from the far corners of Chiltistan. Already the small
army could be counted with the hundred for its unit. To-morrow the
hundred would be a thousand. Moreover, for once in a way there was no
divided counsel. Jealousy and intrigue were not, it seemed, to do their
usual work in Chiltistan. There was only one master, and he of
unquestioned authority. Else how came it that Captain Phillips rode
amidst that great and frenzied throng, unhurt and almost unthreatened?

Down the valley the roof-tops of Kohara began to show amongst the trees.
The high palace on the hill with its latticed windows bulked against the
evening sky. The sound of many drums was borne to the Resident's ears.
The Residency stood a mile and a half from the town in a great garden. A
high wall enclosed it, but it was a house, not a fortress; and Phillips
had at his command but a few levies to defend it. One of them stood by
the gate. He kept his ground as Shere Ali and his force approached. The
only movement which he made was to stand at attention, and as Shere Ali
halted at the entrance, he saluted. But it was Captain Phillips whom he
saluted, and not the Prince of Chiltistan. Shere Ali spoke with the same
quiet note of confident authority which had surprised Captain Phillips
before, to the seven nobles at his back. Then he turned to the Resident.

"I will ride with you to your door," he said.

The two men passed alone through the gateway and along a broad path which
divided the forecourt to the steps of the house. And not a man of all
that crowd which followed Shere Ali to Kohara pressed in behind them.
Captain Phillips looked back as much in surprise as in relief. But there
was no surprise on the face of Shere Ali. He, it was plain, expected
obedience.

"Upon my word," cried Phillips in a burst of admiration, "you have got
your fellows well in hand."

"I?" said Shere Ali. "I am nothing. What could I do who a week ago was
still a stranger to my people? I am a voice, nothing more. But the God of
my people speaks through me"; and as he spoke these last words, his voice
suddenly rose to a shrill trembling note, his face suddenly quivered with
excitement.

Captain Phillips stared. "The man's in earnest," he muttered to himself.
"He actually believes it."

It was the second time that Captain Phillips had been surprised within
five minutes, and on this occasion the surprise came upon him with a
shock. How it had come about - that was all dark to Captain Phillips. But
the result was clear. The few words spoken as they had been spoken
revealed the fact. The veneer of Shere Ali's English training had gone.
Shere Ali had reverted. His own people had claimed him.

"And I guessed nothing of this," the Resident reflected bitterly.
Signs of trouble he had noticed in abundance, but this one crucial
fact which made trouble a certain and unavoidable thing - that had
utterly escaped him. His thoughts went back to the nameless tomb in
the courtyard of the fort.

"Luffe would have known," he thought in a very bitter humility. "Nay, he
did know. He foresaw."

There was yet a third surprise in store for Captain Phillips. As the two
men rode up the broad path, he had noticed that the door of the house was
standing open, as it usually did. Now, however, he saw it swing to - very
slowly, very noiselessly. He was surprised, for he knew the door to be a
strong heavy door of walnut wood, not likely to swing to even in a wind.
And there was no wind. Besides, if it had swung to of its own accord, it
would have slammed. Its weight would have made it slam. Whereas it was
not quite closed. As he reined in his horse at the steps, he saw that
there was a chink between the door and the door-post.

"There's someone behind that door," he said to himself, and he glanced
quietly at Shere Ali. It would be quite in keeping with the Chilti
character for Shere Ali politely to escort him home knowing well that an
assassin waited behind the door; and it was with a smile of some irony
that he listened to Shere Ali taking his leave.

"You will be safe, so long as you stay within your grounds. I will place
a guard about the house. I do not make war against my country's guests.
And in a few days I will send an escort and set you and your attendants
free from hurt beyond our borders. But" - and his voice lost its
courtesy - "take care you admit no one, and give shelter to no one."

The menace of Shere Ali's tone roused Captain Phillips. "I take no orders
from your Highness," he said firmly. "Your Highness may not have noticed
that," and he pointed upwards to where on a high flagstaff in front of
the house the English flag hung against the pole.

"I give your Excellency no orders," replied Shere Ali. "But on the other
hand I give you a warning. Shelter so much as one man and that flag will
not save you. I should not be able to hold in my men."

Shere Ali turned and rode back to the gates. Captain Phillips dismounted,
and calling forward a reluctant groom, gave him his horse. Then he
suddenly flung back the door. But there was no resistance. The door swung
in and clattered against the wall. Phillips looked into the hall, but the
dusk was gathering in the garden. He looked into a place of twilight and
shadows. He grasped his riding-crop a little more firmly in his hand and
strode through the doorway. In a dark corner something moved.

"Ah! would you!" cried Captain Phillips, turning sharply on the instant.
He raised his crop above his head and then a crouching figure fell at his
feet and embraced his knees; and a trembling voice of fear cried:

"Save me! Your Excellency will not give me up! I have been a good friend
to the English!"

For the second time the Khan of Chiltistan had sought refuge from his own
people. Captain Phillips looked round.

"Hush," he whispered in a startled voice. "Let me shut the door!"




CHAPTER XXXIII

IN THE RESIDENCY


Captain Phillips with a sharp gesture ordered the Khan back to the
shadowy corner from which he had sprung out. Then he shut the door and,
with the shutting of the door, the darkness deepened suddenly in the
hall. He shot the bolt and put up the chain. It rattled in his ears with
a startling loudness. Then he stood without speech or movement. Outside
he heard Shere Ali's voice ring clear, and the army of tribesmen
clattered past towards the town. The rattle of their weapons, the hum of
their voices diminished. Captain Phillips took his handkerchief from his
pocket and wiped his forehead. He had the sensations of a man reprieved.

"But it's only a reprieve," he thought. "There will be no commutation."

He turned again towards the dark corner.

"How did you come?" he asked in a low voice.

"By the orchard at the back of the house."

"Did no one see you?"

"I hid in the orchard until I saw the red coat of one of your servants. I
called to him and he let me in secretly. But no one else saw me."

"No one in the city?"

"I came barefoot in a rough cloak with the hood drawn over my face," said
the Khan. "No one paid any heed to me. There was much noise and running
to and fro, and polishing of weapons. I crept out into the hill-side at
the back and so came down into your orchard."

Captain Phillips shrugged his shoulders. He opened a door and led the
Khan into a room which looked out upon the orchard.

"Well, we will do what we can," he said, "but it's very little. They will
guess immediately that you are here of course."

"Once before - " faltered the Khan, and Phillips broke in upon him
impatiently.

"Yes, once before. But it's not the same thing. This is a house, not a
fort, and I have only a handful of men to defend it; and I am not Luffe."
Then his voice sharpened. "Why didn't you listen to him? All this is your
fault - yours and Dewes', who didn't understand, and held his tongue."

The Khan was mystified by the words, but Phillips did not take the
trouble to explain. He knew something of the Chilti character. They would
have put up with the taxes, with the selling into slavery, with all the
other abominations of the Khan's rule. They would have listened to the
exhortations of the mullahs without anything coming of it, so long as no
leader appeared. They were great accepters of facts as they were. Let the
brother or son or nephew murder the ruling Khan and sit in his place,
they accepted his rule without any struggles of conscience. But let a man
rise to lead them, then they would bethink them of the exhortations of
their priests and of their own particular sufferings and flock to his
standard. And the man had risen - just because twenty-five years ago the
Khan would not listen to Luffe.

"It's too late, however, for explanations," he said, and he clapped his
hands together for a servant. In a few moments the light of a lamp
gleamed in the hall through the doorway. Phillips went quickly out of the
room, closing the door behind him.

"Fasten the shutters first," he said to the servant in the hall. "Then
bring the lamp in."

The servant obeyed, but when he brought the lamp into the room, and saw
the Khan of Chiltistan standing at the table with no more dignity of
dress or, indeed, of bearing than any beggar in the kingdom, he nearly
let the lamp fall.

"His Highness will stay in this house," said Phillips, "but his presence
must not be spoken of. Will you tell Poulteney Sahib that I would like to
speak to him?" The servant bowed his forehead to the palms of his hand
and turned away upon his errand. But Poulteney Sahib was already at the
door. He was the subaltern in command of the half company of Sikhs which
served Captain Phillips for an escort and a guard.

"You have heard the news I suppose," said Phillips.

"Yes," replied Poulteney. He was a wiry dark youth, with a little black
moustache and a brisk manner of speech. "I was out on the hill after
chikkor when my shikari saw Shere Ali and his crowd coming down the
valley. He knew all about it and gave me a general idea of the situation.
It seems the whole country's rising. I should have been here before, but
it seemed advisable to wait until it was dark. I crawled in between a
couple of guard-posts. There is already a watch kept on the house," and
then he stopped abruptly. He had caught sight of the Khan in the
background. He had much ado not to whistle in his surprise. But he
refrained and merely bowed.


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Online LibraryA.E. W. MasonThe Broken Road → online text (page 20 of 22)