The Winds of the World/Chapter 8
So in a darkness that grew blacker every minute, Warrington swung his lantern and found his way toward D Squadron's quarters. He felt rather pleased with himself. From his own point of view he would have rather enjoyed to have a story anent himself and Yasmini go the round of barracks—with modifications, of course, and the kneeling part left out—but he realized that it would not do at all to have Colonel Kirby's name involved in anything of the sort, and he rather flattered himself on his tact in bribing the babu or being blackmailed by him.
"Got to admit that babu's quite a huntsman!" he told himself, beginning to hum. "One day, if the war doesn't account for me, I'll come back and take a fall out of that babu. Hallo—what's that? Who in thunder—who's waking up the horses at this unearthly hour? Sick horse, I suppose. Why don't they get him out and let the others sleep?"
He began to hurry. A light in stables close to midnight was not to be accounted for on any other supposition than an accident or serious emergency, and if there were either it was his affair as adjutant to know all the facts at once.
"What's going on in there?" he shouted in a voice of authority while he was yet twenty yards away.
But there was no answer. He could hear a horse plunge, but nothing more.
"Um-m-m! Horse cast himself!" he straightway decided.
But there was no cast horse, as he was aware the moment he had looked down both long lines of sleepy brutes that whickered their protest against interrupted sleep. At the far end he could see that two men labored, and a big horse fiercely resented their unseasonable attentions to himself. He walked down the length of the stable, and presently recognized Bagh, Ranjoor Singh's charger.
"What are you grooming him for at this hour?" he demanded.
"It is an order, sahib."
"Ranjoor Singh sahib's order."
"The deuce it is! When did the order come?"
"Who brought it?"
"A babu, with a leather apron."
Warrington walked away ten paces in order to get command of himself, and pinch himself, and make quite sure he was awake.
"A fat babu?" he asked, walking back again.
"Very fat," said one of the troopers, continuing to brush the resentful charger.
"So he delivered his message first, and then went to hunt for his loin-cloth!" mused Warrington. "And he had enough intuition, and guts enough, to look for it first in the shay! I'm beginning to admire that man!" Aloud he asked the trooper: "What was the wording of the risaldar-major sahib's message?"
"'Let Bagh be well groomed and held ready against all contingencies!'" said the trooper.
"Then take him outside!" ordered Warrington. "Groom him where you won't disturb the other horses! How often have you got to be told that a horse needs sleep as much as a man? The squadron won't be fit to march a mile if you keep 'em awake all night! Lead him out quietly, now! Whoa, you brute! Now—take him out and keep him out—put him in the end stall in my stable when you've finished him—d'you hear?"
He flattered himself again. With all these mysterious messages and orders coming in from nowhere, he told himself it would be good to know at all times where Ranjoor Singh's charger was, as well as a service to Ranjoor Singh to stable the brute comfortably. He told himself that was a very smart move, and one for which Ranjoor Singh would some day thank him, provided, of course, that——
"Provided what?" he wondered half aloud. "Seems to me as if Ranjoor Singh has got himself into some kind of a scrape, and hopes to get out of it by the back-door route and no questions asked! Well, let's hope he gets out! Let's hope there'll be no court-martial nastiness! Let's hope—oh, damn just hoping! Ranjoor Singh's a better man than I am. Here's believing in him! Here's to him, thick and thin! Forward—walk—march!"
He turned out the guard, and the particular troop sergeant with whom he wished to speak not being on duty, he ordered him sent for. Ten minutes later the sergeant came, still yawning, from his cot.
"Come over here, Arjan Singh," he called, thinking fast and furiously as he led the way.
If he made one false move or aroused one suspicion in the man's mind, he was likely to learn less than nothing; but if he did not appear to know at least something, he would probably learn nothing either.
As he turned, at a distance from the guard-room light, to face the sergeant, though not to meet his eyes too keenly, the fact that would not keep out of his brain was that the fat babu had been out in the road, offering to eat Germans, a little while before he and the colonel had started out that evening. And, according to what Brammle had told him when they met near the colonel's quarters, it was very shortly after that that the squadron came out of its gloom.
"What was the first message that the babu brought this evening?" he asked, still being very careful not to look into the sergeant's eyes. He spoke as comrade to comrade—servant of the "Salt" to servant of the "Salt."
"Which babu, sahib?" asked Arjan Singh, unblinking.
Now, in all probability, this man—since he had been asleep—knew nothing about the message to groom Bagh. To have answered, "The babu who spoke about the charger," might have been a serious mistake.
"Arjan Singh, look me in the eyes!" he ordered, and the Sikh obeyed. He was taller than Warrington, and looked down on him.
"Are you a true friend of the risaldar-major?"
"May I die, sahib, if I am not!"
"And I? What of me? Am I his friend or his enemy?"
The sergeant hesitated.
"Can I read men's hearts?" he asked.
"Yes!" said Warrington. "And so can I. That is why I had you called from your sleep. I sent for you to learn the truth. What was the message given by the fat babu to one of the guard by the outer gate this evening, and delivered by him or by some other man to D Squadron?"
"Sahib, it was not a written message."
"Repeat it to me."
"Sahib, it was verbal. I can not remember it."
"Arjan Singh, you lie! Did I ever lie to you? Did I ever threaten you and not carry out my threats—promise you and not keep my promise? I am a soldier! Are you a cur?"
"God forbid, sahib! I——"
"Arjan Singh! Repeat that message to me word for word, please, not as a favor, nor as obeying an order, but as a friend of Ranjoor Singh to a friend of Ranjoor Singh!"
"The message was to the squadron, not to me, sahib."
"Are you not of the squadron?"
"Make it an order, sahib!"
"Certainly not—nor a favor either!"
"Nor will I threaten you! I guarantee you absolute immunity if you refuse to repeat it. My word on it! I am Ranjoor Singh's friend, and I ask of his friend!"
"The babu said: 'Says Ranjoor Singh, "Let the squadron be on its best behavior! Let the squadron know that surely before the blood runs he will be there to lead it, wherever it is! Meanwhile, let the squadron be worthy of its salt and of its officers!"'"
"Was that all?" asked Warrington.
"All, sahib. May my tongue rot if I lie!"
"Thank you, Arjan Singh. That's all. You needn't mention our conversation. Good night."
"Fooled," chuckled Warrington. "She's fooled us to the limit of our special bent, and I take it that's stiff-neckedness!"
He hurried away toward Colonel Kirby's quarters, swinging his lantern and humming to himself.
"And this isn't the Arabian Nights!" he told himself. "It's Delhi—Twentieth Century A.D.! Gad! Wouldn't the whole confounded army rock with laughter!"
Then he stopped chuckling, to hurry faster, for a giant horn had rooted chunks out of the blackness by the barrack gate, and now what sounded like a racing car was tearing up the drive. The head-lights dazzled him, but he ran and reached the colonel's porch breathless. He was admitted at once, and found the colonel and Brammle together, facing an aide-de-camp. In the colonel's hand was a medium-sized, sealed envelope.
"Shall I repeat it, sir?" asked the aide-de-camp.
"Yes, if you think it necessary" answered Kirby.
"The sealed orders are not to be opened until out at sea. You are expected to parade at dawn the day after to-morrow, and there will be somebody from headquarters to act as guide for the occasion. In fact, you will be guided at each point until it is time to open your orders. No explanations will be given about anything until later on. That's all. Good night, sir—and good luck!"
The aide-de-camp held out his hand, and Colonel Kirby shook it a trifle perfunctorily; he was not much given to display of sentiment. The aide-de-camp saluted, and a minute later the giant car spurned the gravel out from under its rear wheels as it started off to warn another regiment.
"So we've got our route!" said Kirby.
"And, thank God, we take our own horses!" said Brammle fervently.
"Bet you a thousand the other end's Marseilles!" said Warrington. "We're in luck. They'd have mounted us on bus-horses if we hadn't brought our own; we'd have had to ring a bell to start and stop a squadron. Who wouldn't be light cavalry?"
Kirby put the sealed letter in an inside pocket.
"I'm going to sleep," said Brammle, yawning. "Night, sir!"
"Night!" said Kirby; but Warrington stayed on. He went and stood near the window, and when Kirby had seen Brammle to the door, he joined him there.
"What now, Warrington?"
"Caught 'em grooming Ranjoor Singh's charger in the dark!"
"Said it was an order from Ranjoor Singh!"
"I'm getting tired of this. I don't know what to make of it."
"That isn't nearly the worst, sir. Listen to this! Long before Yasmini promised us—before we knelt to save his life and honor—Ranjoor Singh had sent a message to his squadron guaranteein' to be with 'em before the blood runs! Specific guarantee, and no conditions!"
"She fooled us, eh?"
"D'you suppose she's for or against the government, sir?"
"I don't know. Thank God we've got our marching orders! Go and wash your head! And, Warrington—hold your tongue!"
Warrington held up his right hand.
"So help me, sir!" he grinned, "But will she hold hers?"
Westward, into the hungry West,
(Oh, listen, wise men, listen ye!)
Whirls the East Wind on his quest,
Whimpering, worrying, hurrying, lest
The light o'ertake him. Listen ye!
Mark ye the burden of his sigh:
"Westward sinks the sun to die!
Westward wing the vultures!"—Aye,
(Listen, wise men, listen ye!)
The East must lose—the West must gain,
For none come back to the East again,
Though widows call them! Listen ye!