In the Forbidden Land/Chapter LIV
- My time fully occupied—Our own yak drivers—A heavy blow—Along the stream—Soldiers in pursuit of us—Discovered.
THIS last disaster should, I suppose, have deterred us from further progress, but it somehow made me even more determined to persist than I was before. It was no light job to have to run afield oneself to capture the yaks, which had wandered off in search of grass; and having found them and driven them back to our primitive camping-place, to tie upon their backs the pack-saddles, and fasten on them the heavy tin-lined cases of scientific instruments and photographic plates. This task was only part of the day's routine, which included the writing up of my diary, the registering of observations, sketching, photographing, changing plates in cameras, occasionally developing them, surveying, cleaning of rifles, revolver, &c. &c. The effort of lifting up the heavy cases on to the pack-saddles was, owing to our exhausted condition, a severe tax on our strength, and the tantalising restlessness of the yaks forced us to make several attempts before we actually succeeded in properly fastening the loads, particularly as we had lost our best pieces of rope and leather straps. Our sole remaining piece of rope seemed hardly long enough to make the final knot to one of the girths; anyhow neither my bearer nor Mansing had sufficient strength to pull and make it join; so I made them hold the yak by the horns to keep him steady while I pulled my hardest. I succeeded with a great effort, and was about to get up, when a terrific blow from the yak's horn struck me in the skull an inch behind my right ear and sent me rolling head over heels. I was stunned for several moments, and the back of my head was swollen and sore for many days, the mark of the blow being visible even now.
We proceeded along the right bank of the river on a course of 85° between reddish hills and distant high snowy mountains to the N.W. and E.S.E. of us, which we saw from time to time when the rain ceased and the sky cleared. The momentary lifting of the clouds would be followed by another downpour, and the marching became very unpleasant and difficult, as we sank deep in the mud. Towards evening, we suddenly discovered some hundred and fifty soldiers riding full gallop in pursuit of us along the river valley. We pushed on, and having got out of their sight behind a hill, we deviated from our course and rapidly climbed up to the top of the hill range; my two men and the yaks concealed themselves on the other side. I remained lying flat on the top of the hill, spying with my telescope the movements of our pursuers. They rode unsuspectingly on, the tinkling of their horse-bells sounding pleasant to the ear at that deserted spot. They made a pretty picture, and, thinking probably that we had continued our way along the river, they rode past the spot where we had left the path, and, possibly owing to their haste to catch us up, did not notice our tracks up the hillside.
Rain began to fall heavily again, and we remained encamped at 17,000 feet with all our loads ready for flight at any moment; the night being spent none too comfortably. I sat up all night, rifle in hand, in case of a surprise, and I was indeed glad when day dawned. The rain had stopped, but we were now enveloped in a white mist which chilled us. I was very tired, and telling Chanden Sing to keep a sharp watch, tried to sleep for a while.
"Hazur, hazur! jaldi apka banduk!" ("Sir, sir, quick, your rifle!") muttered my bearer, rousing me. "Do you hear the sound of bells?"
The tinkling was quite plain. As our pursuers were approaching, evidently in a strong body, there was no time to be lost. To successfully evade them appeared impossible, so I decided to meet them, rather than attempt flight. Chanden Sing and I were armed with our rifles, and Mansing with his Gourkha kukri, and thus we awaited their arrival. There came out of the mist a long procession of grey, phantomlike figures, each one leading a pony. The advance guard stopped from time to time to examine the ground; having discovered our footprints only partially washed away by the rain, they were following them up. Seeing us at last on the top of the hill, they halted. There was commotion among them, and they held an excited consultation; some of them unslung their matchlocks, others drew their swords, while we sat on a rock above and watched them with undivided attention.