King of the Khyber Rifles/Chapter XVII

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Chapter XVII[edit]

When the last evil jest has been made, and the rest
Of the ink of hypocrisy spilt,
When the awfully right have elected to fight
Lest their own should discover their guilt;
When the door has been shut on the "if" and the "but"
And it's up to the men with the guns,
On their knees in that day let diplomatists pray
For forgiveness from prodigal sons.


Instead of the mullah, growling texts out of a Quran on his lap, the Orakzai Pathan sat and sunned himself in the cave mouth, emitting worldlier wisdom unadulterated with divinity. As King went toward him to see to whom he spoke he grinned and pointed with his thumb, and King looked down on some sick and wounded men who sat in a crowd together on the ramp, ten feet or so below the cave.

They seemed stout soldierly fellows. Men of another type were being kept at a distance by dint of argument and threats. Away in the distance was Muhammad Anim with his broad back turned to the cave, in altercation with a dozen other mullahs. For the time he was out of the reckoning.

"Some of these are wounded," the Pathan explained. "Some have sores. ome have the belly ache. Then again, some are sick of words, hot and cold by day and night. All have served in the army. All have medals. All are deserters, some for one reason, some for another and some for no reason at all. Bull-with-a-beard looks the other way. Speak thou to them about the pardon that is offered!"

So King went down among them, taking some of the tools of his supposed trade with him and trying to crowd down the triumph that would well up. The seed he had sown had multiplied by fifty in a night. He wanted to shout, as men once did before the walls of Jericho.

A man bared a sword cut. He bent over him, and if the mullah had turned to look there would have been no ground for suspicion. So in a voice just loud enough to reach them all, he repeated what he had told the Pathan the day before.

"But who art thou?" asked one of them suspiciously. Perhaps there had been a shade too much cocksureness in the hakim's voice, but he acted faultlessly when he answered. Voice, accent, mannerism, guilty pride, were each perfect.

"Political offender. My brother yonder in the cave mouth"—(The Pathan smirked. He liked the imputation)—"suggested I seek pardon, too. He thinks if I persuade many to apply for pardon then the sirkar may forgive me for service rendered."

The Pathan's smirk grew to a grin. He liked grandly to have the notion fathered on himself; and his complacency of course was suggestive of the hakim's trustworthiness. But the East is ever cautious.

"Some say thou art a very great liar," remarked a man with half a nose.

"Nay," answered King. "Liar I may be, but I am one against many. Which of you would dare stand alone and lie to all the others? Nay, sahibs, I am a political offender, not a soldier!"

They all laughed at that and seizing the moment when they were in a pliant mood the Orakzai Pathan proceeded to bring proposals to a head.

"Are we agreed?" he asked. "Or have we waggled our beards all night long in vain? Take him with us, say I. Then, if pardons are refused us he at least will gain nothing by it. We can plunge our knives in him first, whatever else happens."

"Aye!"

That was reasonable and they approved in chorus. Possibility of pardon and reinstatement, though only heard of at second hand, had brought unity into being. And unity brought eagerness.

"Let us start to-night!" urged one man, and nobody hung back.

"Aye! Aye! Aye!" they chorused. And eagerness, as always in the "Hills," brought wilder counsel in its wake.

"Who dare stab Bull-with-a-beard? He has sought blood and has let blood. Let him drink his own."

"Aye!"

"Nay! He is too well guarded."

"Not he!"

"Let us stab him and take his head with us; there well may be a price on it."

They took a vote on it and were agreed; but that did not suit King at all, whatever Muhammad Anim's personal deserts might be. To let him be stabbed would be to leave Yasmini without a check on her of any kind, and then might India defend herself! Yet to leave the mullah and Yasmini both at large would be almost equally dangerous, for they might form an alliance. There must be some other way, and he set out to gain time.

"Nay, nay, sahibs!" he urged. "Nay, nay!"

"Why not?"

"Sahibs, I have wife and children in Lahore. Same are most dear to me and I to them. I find it expedient to make great effort for my pardon. Ye are but fifty. Ye are less than fifty. Nay, let us gather a hundred men."

"Who shall find a hundred?" somebody demanded, and there was a chorus of denial. "We be all in this camp who ate the salt."

It was plain, though, that his daring to hold out only gave them the more confidence in him.

"But Khinjan," he objected. The crimes of the Khinjan men were not to the point. Time had to be gained.

"Aye," they agreed. "There be many in Khinjan!" Mere mention of the place made them regard Orakzai Pathan and hakim with new respect, as having right of entry through the forbidden gate.

"Then I have it!" the Pathan announced at once, for he was awake to opportunity. "Many of you can hardly march. Rest ye here and let the hakim treat your belly aches. Bull-with-a-beard bade me wait here for a letter that must go to Khinjan to-day. Good. I will take his letter. And in Khinjan I will spread news about pardons. It is likely there are fifty there who will dare follow me back, and then we shall march down the Khyber like a full company of the old days! Who says that is not a good plan?"

There were several who said it was not, but they happened to have nothing the matter with them and could have marched at once. The rest were of the other way of thinking and agreed in asserting that Khinjan men were a higher caste of extra-ultra murderers whose presence doubtless would bring good luck to the venture. These prevailed after considerable argument.

Strangely enough, none of them deemed the proposition beneath Khinjan men's consideration. Pardon and leave to march again behind British officers loomed bigger in their eyes than the green banner of the Prophet, which could only lead to more outrageous outlawry. They knew Khinjan men were flesh and blood—humans with hearts—as well as they. But caution had a voice yet.

"She will catch thee in Khinjan Caves," suggested the man with part of his nose missing. "She will have thee flayed alive!"

"Take note then, I bequeath all the women in the world to thee! Be thou heir to my whole nose, too, and a blessing!" laughed the Pathan, and the butt of the jest spat savagely. In the "Hills" there is only one explanation given as to how one lost his nose, and they all laughed like hyenas until the mullah Muhammad Anim came rolling and striding back.

By that time King had got busy with his lancet, but the mullah called him off and drove the crowd away to a distance; then be drove King into the cave in front of him, his mouth working as if he were biting bits of vengeance off for future use.

"Write thy letter, thou! Write thy letter! Here is paper. There is a pen—take it! Sit! Yonder is ink—ttutt—ttutt!—Write, now, write!"

King sat at a box and waited, as if to take dictation, but the mullah, tugging at his beard, grew furious.

"Write thine own letter! Invent thine own argument! Persuade her, or die in a new way! I will invent a new way for thee!"

So King began to write, in Urdu, for reasons of his own. He had spoken once or twice in Urdu to the mullah and had received no answer. At the end of ten minutes he handed up what he had written, and Muhammad Anim made as if to read it, trying to seem deliberate, and contriving to look irresolute. It was a fair guess that be hated to admit ignorance of the scholars' language.

"Are there any alterations you suggest?" King asked him.

"Nay, what care I what the words are? If she be not persuaded, the worse for thee!"

He held it out, and as he took it King contrived to tear it; he also contrived to seem ashamed of his own clumsiness.

"I will copy it out again," he said.

The mullah swore at him, and conceiving that some extra show of authority was needful, growled out:

"Remember all I said. Set down she must surrender Khinjan Caves or I swear by Allah I will have thee tortured with fire and thorns—and her, too, when the time comes!"

Now he had said that, or something very like it, in the first letter. There was no doubt left that the Mullah was trying to hide ignorance, as men of that fanatic ambitious mold so often will at the expense of better judgment. If fanatics were all-wise, it would be a poor world for the rest.

"Very well," King said quietly. And with great pretense of copying the other letter out on fresh paper he now wrote what he wished to say, taking so long about it (for he had to weigh each word), that the mullah strode up and down the cave swearing and kicking things over.

        "Greeting,"' he wrote, "to the most beautiful and very
        wise Princess Yasmini, in her palace in the Caves in
        Khinjan, from her servant Kurram Khan the hakim, in
        the camp of the mullah Muhammad Anim, a night's march
        distant in the hills.

        "The mullah Muhammad Anim makes his stand and demands
        now surrender to himself of Khinjan Caves; and of all
        his ammunition. Further, he demands full control of
        you and of me and of all your men. He is ready to
        fight for his demands and already—as you must well
        know—he has considerable following in Khinjan Caves.
        He has at least as many men as you have, and he has
        four thousand more here.

        "He threatens as a preliminary to blockade Khinjan
        Caves, unless the answer to this prove favorable,
        letting none enter, but calling his own men out to
        join him. This would suit the Indian government,
        because while the 'Hills' fight among themselves
        they can not raid India, and while he blockades
        Khinjan Caves there will be time to move against him.

        "Knowing that he dares begin and can accomplish what
        he threatens, I am sorry; because I know it is said
        how many services you have rendered of old to the
        government I serve. We who serve one raj are One—one
        to remember—one to forget—one to help each other in
        good time.

        "I have not been idle. Some of Muhammad Anim's men
        are already mine. With them I can return to India,
        taking information with me that will serve my government.
        My men are eager to be off.

        "It may be that vengeance against me would seem sweeter
        to you than return to your former allegiance. In that
        case, Princess, you only need betray me to the mullah,
        and be sure my death would leave nothing to be desired
        by the spectators. At present he does not suspect me.

        "Be assured, however, that not to betray me to him is
        to leave me free to serve my government and well able
        to do so.

        "I invite you to return to India with me, bearing news
        that the mullah Muhammad Anim and his men are bottled
        in Khinjan Caves, and to plan with me to that end.

        "If you will, then write an answer to Muhammad Anim,
        not in Urdu, but in a language he can understand; seem
        to surrender to him. But to me send a verbal message,
        either by the bearer of this or by some trustier messenger.

        "India can profit yet by your service if you will. And
        in that case I pledge my word to direct the government's
        attention only to your good service in the matter. It is
        not yet too late to choose. It is not impertinent in me
        to urge you.

        "Nor can I say how gladly I would subscribe myself your
        grateful and loyal servant."

The mullah pounced on the finished letter, pretended to read it, and watched him seal it up, smudging the hot wax with his own great gnarled thumb. Then he shouted for the Orakzai Pathan, who came striding in, all grins and swagger.

"There—take it! Make speed!" he ordered, and with his rifle at the "ready" and the letter tucked inside his shirt, the Pathan favored King with a farewell grin and obeyed.

"Get out!" the mullah snarled then immediately. "See to the sick. Tell them I sent thee. Bid them be grateful!"

King went. He recognized the almost madness that constituted the mullah's driving power. It is contagious, that madness, until it destroys itself. It had made several thousand men follow him and believe in him, but it had once given Yasmini a chance to fool him and defeat him, and now it gave King his chance. He let the mullah think himself obeyed implicitly.

He became the busiest man in all the "Hills." While the mullah glowered over the camp from the cave mouth or fulminated from the Quran or fought with other mullahs with words for weapons and abuse for argument, he bandaged and lanced and poulticed and physicked until his head swam with weariness.

The sick swarmed so around him that he had to have a body-guard to keep them at bay; so he chose twenty of the least sick from among those who had talked with him after sunrise.

And because each of those men had friends, and it is only human to wish one's friend in the same boat, especially when the sea, so to speak, is rough, the progress through the camp became a current of missionary zeal and the virtues of the Anglo-Indian raj were better spoken of than the "Hills" had heard for years.

Not that there was any effort made to convert the camp en masse. Far from it. But the likely few were pounced on and were told of a chance to enlist for a bounty in India. And what with winter not so far ahead, and what with experience of former fighting against the British army, the choosing was none so difficult. From the day when the lad first feels soft down upon his face until the old man's beard turns white and his teeth shake out, the Hillman would rather fight than eat; but he prefers to fight on the winning side if he may, and he likes good treatment.

Before if was dark that night there were thirty men sworn to hold their tongues and to wait for the word to hurry down the Khyber for the purpose of enlisting in some British-Indian regiment. Some even began to urge the hakim not to wait for the Orakzai Pathan, but to start with what he had.

"Shall I leave my brother in the lurch?" the hakim asked them; and though they murmured, they thought better of him for it.

Well for him that he had plenty of Epsom salts in his kit, for in the "Hills" physic should taste evil and show very quick results to be believed in. He found a dozen diseases of which he did not so much as know the name, but half of the sufferers swore they were cured after the first dose. They would have dubbed him faquir and have foisted him to a pillar of holiness had he cared to let them.

Muhammad Anim slept most of the day, like a great animal that scorns to live by rule. But at evening he came to the cave mouth and fulminated such a sermon as set the whole camp to roaring. He showed his power then. The jihad he preached would have tempted dead men from their graves to come and share the plunder, and the curses he called down on cowards and laggards and unbelievers were enough to have frightened the dead away again.

In twenty minutes he had undone all King's missionary work. And then in ten more, feeling his power and their response, and being at heart a fool as all rogues are, he built it up again.

He began to make promises too definite. He wanted Khinjan Caves. More, he needed them. So he promised them they should all be free of Khinjan Caves within a day or two, to come and go and live there at their pleasure. He promised them they should leave their wives and children and belongings safe in the Caves while they themselves went down to plunder India. He overlooked the fact that Khinjan Caves for centuries had been a secret to be spoken of in whispers, and that prospect of its violation came to them as a shock.

Half of them did not believe him. Such a thing was impossible, and if he were lying as to one point, why not as to all the others, too?

And the army veterans, who had been converted by King's talk of pardons, and almost reconverted by the sermon, shook their heads at the talk of taking Khinjan. Why waste time trying to do what never had been done, with her to reckon against, when a place in the sun was waiting for them down in India, to say nothing of the hope of pardons and clean living for a while? They shook their heads and combed their beards and eyed one another sidewise in a way the "Hills" understand.

That night, while the mullah glowered over the camp like a great old owl, with leaping firelight reflected in his eyes, the thousands under the skin tents argued, so that the night was all noise. But King slept.

All of another day and part of another night he toiled among the sick, wondering when a message would come back. It was nearly midnight when he bandaged his last patient and came out into the starlight to bend his back straight and yawn and pick his way reeling with weariness back to the mullah's cave. He had given his bag of medicines and implements to a man to carry ahead of him and had gone perhaps ten paces into the dark when a strong hand gripped him by the wrist.

"Hush!" said a voice that seemed familiar.

He turned swiftly and looked straight into the eyes of the Rangar Rewa Gunga!

"How did you get here?" he asked in English.

"Any fool could learn the password into this camp! Come over here, sahib. I bring word from her."

The ground was criss-crossed like a man's palm by the shadows of tent-ropes. The Rangar led him to where the tents were forty feet apart and none was likely to overhear them. There he turned like a flash."

"She sends you this!" he hissed."

In that same instant King was fighting for his life.

In another second they were down together among the tent-pegs, King holding the Rangar's wrist with both hands and struggling to break it, and the Rangar striving for another stroke. The dagger he held had missed King's ribs by so little that his skin yet tingled from its touch. It was a dagger with bronze blade and a gold hilt—her dagger. It was her perfume in the air.

They rolled over and over, breathing hard. King wanted to think before he gave an alarm, and he could not think with that scent in his nostrils and creeping into his lungs. Even in the stress of fighting be wondered how the Rangar's clothes and turban had come to be drenched in it. He admitted to himself afterward that it was nothing else than jealousy that suggested to him to make the Rangar prisoner and hand him over to the mullah.

That would have been a ridiculous thing to do, for it would have forced his own betrayal to the mullah. But as if the Rangar had read his mind he suddenly redoubled his efforts and King, weary to the point of sickness, had to redouble his own or die. Perhaps the jealousy helped put venom in his effort, for his strength came back to him as a madman's does. The Rangar gave a moan and let the knife fall.

And because jealousy is poison King did the wrong thing then. He pounced on the knife instead of on the Rangar. He could have questioned him—knelt on him and perhaps forced explanations from him. But with a sudden swift effort like a snake's the Rangar freed himself and was up and gone before King could struggle to his feet—gone like a shadow among shadows.

King got up and felt himself all over, for they had fought on stony ground and he was bruised. But bruises faded into nothing, and weariness as well, as his mind began to dwell on the new complication to his problem.

It was plain that the moment he had returned from his message to the Khyber the Rangar had been sent on this new murderous mission. If Yasmini had told the truth a letter had gone into India describing him, King, as a traitor, and from her point of view that might be supposed to cut the very ground away from under his feet.

Then why so much trouble to have him killed? Either Rewa Gunga had never taken the first letter, or—and this seemed more probable—Yasniini had never believed the letter would be treated seriously by the authorities, and had only sent it in the hope of fooling him and undermining his determination. In that case, especially supposing her to have received his ultimatum on the mullah's behalf before sending Rewa Gunga with the dagger, she must consider him at least dangerous. Could she be afraid? If so her game was lost already!

Perhaps she saw her own peril. Perhaps she contemplated—gosh! what a contingency!—perhaps she contemplated bolting into India with a story of her own, and leaving the mullah to his own devices! In such a case, before going she would very likely try to have the one man stabbed who could give her away most completely. In fact, would she dare escape into India and leave himself alive behind her?

He rather thought she would dare do anything. And that thought brought reassurance. She would dare, and being what she was she almost surely would seek vengeance on the mullah before doing anything else.

Then why the dagger for himself? She must believe him in league with the mullah against her. She might believe that with him out of the way the mullah would prove an easier prey for her. And that belief might be justifiable, but as an explanation it failed to satisfy.

There was an alternative, the very thought of which made him fearfully uneasy, and yet brought a thrill with it. In all eastern lands, love scorned takes to the dagger. He had half believed her when she swore she loved him! The man who could imagine himself loved by Yasmini and not be thrilled to his core would be inhuman, whatever reason and caution and caste and creed might whisper in imagination's wake.

Reeling from fatigue (he felt like a man who had been racked, for the Rangar's strength was nearly unbelievable), he started toward where the mullah sat glowering in the cave mouth. He found the man who had carried his bag asleep at the foot of the ramp, and taking the bag away from him, let him lie there. And it took him five minutes to drag his hurt weary bones up the ramp, for the fight had taken more out of him than he had guessed at first.

The mullah glared at him but let him by without a word. It was by the fire at the back of the cave, where he stooped to dip water from the mullah's enormous crock that the next disturbing factor came to light. He kicked a brand into the fire and the flame leaped. Its light shone on a yard and a half of exquisitely fine hair, like spun gold, that caressed his shoulder and descended down one arm. One thread of hair that conjured up a million thoughts, and in a second upset every argument!

If Rewa Gunga had been near enough to her and intimate enough with her not only to become scented with her unmistakable perfume but even to get her hair on his person, then gone was all imagination of her love for himself! Then she had lied from first to last! Then she had tried to make him love her that she might use him, and finding she had failed, she had sent her true love with the dagger to make an end!

In a moment he imagined a whole picture, as it might have been in a crystal, of himself trapped and made to don the Roman's armor and forced to pose to the savage "Hills'—or fooled into posing to them—as her lover, while Rewa Gunga lurked behind the scenes and waited for the harvest in the end. And what kind of harvest?

And what kind of man must Rewa Gunga be who could lightly let go all the prejudices of the East and submit to what only the West has endured hitherto with any complacency—a "tertium quid"?

Yet what a fool he, King, had been not to appreciate at once that Rewa Gunga must be her lover. Why should he not be? Were they not alike as cousins? And the East does not love its contrary, but its complement, being older in love than the West, and wiser in its ways in all but the material. He had been blind. He had overlooked the obvious—that from first to last her plan had been to set herself and this Rewa Gunga on the throne of India!

He washed and went through the mummery of muslim prayers for the watchful mullah's sake, and climbed on to his bed. But sleep seemed out of the question. He lay and tossed for an hour, his mind as busy as a terrier in hay. And when be did fall asleep at last it was so to dream and mutter that the mullah came and shook him and preached him a half-hour sermon against the mortal sins that rob men of peaceful slumber by giving them a foretaste of the hell to come.

All that seemed kinder and more refreshing than King's own thoughts had been, for when the mullah had done at last and had gone striding back to the cave mouth, he really did fall sound asleep, and it was after dawn when he awoke. The mullah's voice, not untuneful was rousing all the valley echoes in the call to prayer.

        Allah is Almighty! Allah is Almighty!
        I declare there is no God but Allah!
        I declare Muhammad is his prophet!
        Hie ye to prayer!
        Hie ye to salvation!
        Prayer is better than sleep!
        Prayer is better than sleep!
        There is no God but Allah!

And while King knelt behind the mullah and the whole camp faced Mecca in forehead-in-the-dust abasement there came a strange procession down the midst—not strange to the "Hills," where such sights are common, but strange to that camp and hour. Somebody rose and struck them, and they knelt like the rest; but when prayer was over and cooking had begun and the camp became a place of savory smell, they came on again—seven blind men.

They were weary, ragged, lean—seven very tatter-demalions—and the front man led them, tapping the ground with a long stick. The others clung to him in line, one behind the other. He was the only clean-shaven one, and he was the tallest. He looked as if he had not been blind so long, for his physical health was better. All seven men yelled at the utmost of their lungs, but he yelled the loudest.

"Oh, the hakim—the good hakim!" they wailed. "Where is the famous hakim? We be blind men—blind we be—blind—blind! Oh, pity us! Is any kismet worse than ours? Oh, show us to the hakim! Show us the way to him! Lead us to him! Oh, the famous, great, good hakim who can heal men's eyes!"

The mullah looked down on them like a vulture waiting to see them die, and seeing they did not die, turned his back and went into his cave. Close to the ramp they stopped, and the front man, cocking his head to one side as only birds and the newly blind do, gave voice again in nasal singsong.

"Will none tell me where is the great, good, wise hakim Kurram Khan?"

"I am he," said King, and he stepped down toward him, calling to an assistant to come and bring him water and a sponge. The blind man's face looked strangely familiar, though it was partly disguised by some gummy stuff stuck all about the eyes. Taking it in both hands be tilted the eyes to the light and opened one eye with his thumb. There was nothing whatever the matter with it. He opened the other.

"Rub me an ointment on!" the man urged him, and he stared at the face again.

"Ismail!" he said. "You?"

"Aye! Father of cleverness! Make play of healing my eyes!"

So King dipped a sponge in water and sent back for his bag and made a great show of rubbing on ointment. In a minute Ismail, looking almost like a young man without his great beard, was dancing like a lunatic with both fists in the air, and yelling as if wasps had stung him.

"Aieee—aieee—aieee!" he yelled. "I see again! I see! My eyes have light in them! Allah! Oh, Allah heap riches on the great wise hakfim who can heal men's eyes! Allah reward him richly, for I am a beggar and have no goods!"

The other six blind men came struggling to be next, and while King rubbed ointment on their eyes and saw that there was nothing there he could cure the whole camp began to surge toward him to see the miracle, and his chosen body-guard rushed up to drive them back.

"Find your way down the Khyber and ask for the Wilayti dakitar. He will finish the cure."

The six blind men, half-resentful, half-believing, turned away, mainly because Ismail drove them with words and blows. And as they went a tall Afridi came striding down the camp with a letter for the mullah held out in a cleft stick in front of him.

"Her answer!" said Ismail with a wicked grin.

"What is her word? Where is the Orakzai Pathan?"

But Ismail laughed and would not answer him. It seemed to King that he scented climax. So did his near-fifty and their thirty friends. He chose to take the arrival of the blind men as a hint from Providence and to "go it blind" on the strength of what he had hoped might happen. Also he chose in that instant to force the mullah's hand, on the principle that hurried buffaloes will blunder.

"To Khinjan!" he shouted to the nearest man. "The mullah will march on Khinjan!"

They murmured and wondered and backed away from him to give him room. Ismail watched him with dropped jaw and wild eye.

"Spread it through the camp that we march on Khinjan! Shout it! Bid them strike the tents!"

Somebody behind took up the shout and it went across the camp in leaps, as men toss a ball. There was a surge toward the tents, but King called to his deserters and they clustered back to him. He had to cement their allegiance now or fail altogether, and he would not be able to do it by ordinary argument or by pleading; he had to fire their imagination. And he did.

"She is on our side!" That was a sheer guess. "She has kept our man and sent another as hostage for him in token of good faith! Listen! Ye saw this man's eyes healed. Let that be a token! Be ye the men with new eyes! Give it out! Claim the title and be true to it and see me guide you down the Khyber in good time like a regiment, many more than a hundred strong!"

They jumped at the idea. The "Hills"—the whole East, for that matter—are ever ready to form a new sect or join a new band or a new blood-feud. Witness the Nikalseyns, who worship a long-since dead Englishman.

"We see!" yelled one of them.

"We see!" they chorused, and the idea took charge. From that minute they were a new band, with a war-cry of their own.

"To Khinjan!" they howled, scattering through the camp, and the mullah came out to glare at them and tug his beard and wonder what possessed them.

"To Khinjan!" they roared at him. "Lead us to Khinjan!"

"To Khinjan, then!" he thundered, throwing up both arms in a sort of double apostolic blessing, and then motioning as if he threw them the reins and leave to gallop. They roared back at him like the sea under the whip of a gaining wind. And Ismail disappeared among them, leaving King alone. Then the mullah's eyes fell on King and he beckoned him.

King went up with an effort, for he ached yet from his struggle of the night before. Up there by the ashes of the fire the mullah showed him a letter he had crumpled in his fist. There were only a few lines, written in Arabic, which all mullahs are supposed to be able to read, and they were signed with a strange scrawl that might have meant anything. But the paper smelt strongly of her perfume.

"Come, then. Bring all your men, and I will let you and them enter Khinjan Caves. We will strike a bargain in the Cavern of Earth's Drink."

That was all, but the fire in the mullah's eyes showed that he thought it was enough. He did not doubt that once he should have his extra four thousand in the caves Khinjan would be his; and he said so.

"Khinjan is mine!" he growled. "India is mine!"

And King did not answer him. He did not believe Yasmini would be fool enough to trust herself in any bargain with Muhammad Anim. Yet he could see no alternative as yet. He could only be still and be glad he had set the camp moving and so had forced the mullah's hand.

"The old fatalist would have suspected her answer otherwise!" he told himself, for he knew that he himself suspected it.

While he and the mullah watched the tents began to fall and the women labored to roll them. The men began firing their rifles, and within the hour enough ammunition had been squandered to have fought a good-sized skirmish; but the mullah did not mind, for he had Khinjan Caves in view, and none knew better than he what vast store of cartridges and dynamite was piled in there. He let them waste.

Watching his opportunity, King slipped down the ramp and into the crowd, while the mullah was busy with personal belongings in the cave. King left his own belongings to the fates, or to any thief who should care to steal them. He was safe from the mullah in the midst of his nearly eighty men, who half believed him a sending from the skies.

"We see! we see!" they yelled and danced around him.

Before ever the mullah gave an order they got under way and started climbing the steep valley wall. The mullah on his brown mule thrust forward, trying to get in the lead, and King and his men hung back, to keep at a distance from him. It was when the mullah had reached the top of the slope and was not far from being in the lead that Ismail appeared again, leading King's horse, that he had found in possession of another man. That did not look like enmity or treachery. King mounted and thanked him. Ismail wiped his knife, that had blood on it, and stuck his tongue through his teeth, which did not look quite like treachery either. Yet the Afridi could not be got to say a word.

Two or three miles along the top of the escarpment the mullah sent back word that he wanted the hakim to be beside him. Doubtless he had looked back and had seen King on the horse, head and shoulders above the baggage.

But King's men treated the messenger to open scorn and sent him packing.

"Bid the mullah hunt himself another hakim! Be thou his hakim! Stay, we will give thee a lesson in how to use a knife!"

The man ran, lest they carry out their threat, for men joke grimly in the "Hills."

Ismail came and held King's stirrup, striding beside him with the easy Hillman gait.

"Art thou my man at last?" King asked him, but Ismail laughed and shook his head.

"I am her man."

"Where is she?" King asked.

"Nay, who am I that I should know?"

"But she sent thee?"

"Aye, she sent me."

"To what purpose?"'

"To her purpose!" the Afridi answered, and King could not get another word out of him. He fell behind.

But out of the corner of his eye, and once or twice by looking back deliberately, King saw that Ismail was taking the members of his new band one by one and whispering to them. What he said was a mystery, but as they talked each man looked at King. And the more they talked the better pleased they seemed. And as the day wore on the more deferential they grew. By midday if King wanted to dismount there were three at least to hold his stirrup and ten to help him mount again.