FICTION

The Arms of Anne

A story of hazardous adventure on Indias northern frontier

RICHARD OLIVER November 1 1932
FICTION

The Arms of Anne

A story of hazardous adventure on Indias northern frontier

RICHARD OLIVER November 1 1932

The Arms of Anne

A story of hazardous adventure on Indias northern frontier

RICHARD OLIVER

FICTION

A GIRL and a man shxxl outside the verandah of the Chief Commissioner's bungalow. They had stopped involuntarily, for the beauty of the Indian night held them.

Anne Penterley shivered and drew the gossamer Kashmiri shawl closely around her shoulders.

"Cold, dear? I'll get a cloak." Her tall companion held the girl more closely to him.

"No. It's a lovely night. But those hills look so cruel, so cold and hard. They frighten me."

"They're grand." Squadron leader Dircombe threw back his head to get a fair view of the prospect. To the northward, tier above tier of rock piled up to meet the star-hung sky. Beyond the mountains was Afghanistan: to the south the great plain of British India lay. with the mighty Indus sprawled across its bosom; and the village of Tank snuggled against the mountains' base.

"They’re wonderful,” he continued. "Mighty slabs of earth, a barrier between us and our enemies to the north. You shouldn't be afraid of them. I've got a soft place in my heart for Waziristan. I f it were not for the frontier, you and 1 might not have met.”

“1 know but I hate the idea of you flying over that country. The Pat hans are as cruel as their lulls.”

"You’re saying that? You. a daughter of the Chief Commissioner and the affianced of the Commanding Officer of the Air Force Squadron? The Pathans are your father's children—bad boys sometimes, but—”

"Dirky, I know. What was it daddy said about that awful Kurrum? Should have come in for a jirga and hasn’t?"

"Oh, Kurrum. He’s hostile; won’t work with us. His lost an arm in a bomb raid last year. It soured the old man and he may cause trouble. But forget it. There is you and me, and what else matters?"

They strolled across the compound and out on to the plain. The sand crust crumbled gently beneath their feet : it was soft and soundless as velvet to walk on. The moonlight glinted on the polished wings and metal of an airplane picketed against the compound wall.

"I am happy. Dirk. So happy that I’m frightened for us,” the girl whispered.

“It’s only until next year. dear. Then home—you and me together always. I think your mother suspects. When shall I speak to Nut-face?”

Anne laughed.

“You are a brigand. How long have we known each other? Less than a month, and you w'oulci carry me off like one of your mountain ruffians. In a month from now you can tell Daddy Nut-face about me."

“A whole month? Have a heart, Anne. I can only get down here about once a week. Think of me languishing up at Miram Shah, cold and lonely, while you’re down here on the plains. Make it a fortnight.”

"Six weeks after we met? It’s indecorous; most improper.”

THEY stcx>d for a while near the ebony shadow^ cast by the rifle butts, the girl’s slimness accentuated by her long evening gown and closely held shawl. The moonlight glinted on her curly chestnut hair, and her soft brown eyes glowed like black pearls. The blue mess kit of the man was only relieved by the white patch of his shirt and the row of meda’ ribbons on his breast. Dircombe had the fine face of

an aesthete: he tapered from his great square shoulders down past narrow hips to his feet. The eyes of Anne saw nothing that she would have different.

“Corne, dear, we must go back.” They turned toward the lights of the bungalow, shining low against the background of mountains.

Suddenly Dircombe was startled by a sound behind him. He half turned, but was felled to the ground ere he saw an assailant. In the same instant Anne was seized from behind.

a cloth was pressed tightly to her mouth, greyclothed figures closed round her, and she was carried into the shadow of the rifle butts.

The whole episode took but a few seconds. A dozen or more men passed slowly away to the westward in single file, and there was apparently nothing unusual in their manner of going. One of the bundles slung across a camel’s back was Anne Penterley. only daughter of the Chief Commissioner in Waziristan, and an Englishman lay breathing stertorously on the edge of the butts’ shadow.

Dircombe’s next conscious moments were on a settee in the drawing-room of the Penterleys’ bungalow. He awoke to meet the questioning, anguished eyes of Mrs. Penterley. The colonel was bathing his head, and Captain Lackton of the Political Department was holding a glass of brandy.

“Anne! Where is Anne?” Dircombe tried to rise.

“Steady, young man, steady,” said the colonel.

“Yes, where is Anne?” cried Mrs. Penterley.

“Give the man a chance, dear,” said her husband.

“She was with me near the butts. I heard a noise and—” Dircombe closed his eyes.

“And then?” Anne’s mother was frantic with anxiety.

“I don’t remember. I’m sorry.”

“You get him to bed,” said the colonel. “I’ll get some men out. The tribesmen have a couple of hours start, but—”

“Oh, Charles! Do you think she’s been kidnapped? My Anne! What shall I do?” Tears coursed down Mrs. Penterlev’s cheeks.

“I’ll get some messages off.” Colonel Penterley squared his shoulders, thrust out his chin and hurried from the room.

FOUR hours later Penterley faced two subordinates across the table in his office. The light of therising sun was in the eastern sky. The three men were dusty and tired, but their eyes burned with feverish vitality. Major Greyath. the political agent for South Waziristan. had searched to the west; Lackton had done the same to the east.

“You have no news; I have no news. All that is possible has been done. Every road and track is watched; every post has been warned.” The colonel paused. “We must wait for news.”

“She can’t be 'more than twenty miles away even now.” said Greyath. “If the hillmen have her, she’s in the foothills, sir.”

“The passes are being watched.” said Penterley. “We shall know the worst in a few hours.” His voice quavered. “You fellows go and bath. After breakfast there may lx> work to do.”

The proud old soldier was suffering as he had never suffered before. No material discomforts of campaigning, no hunger or thirst, were commensurate with his present anxiety.

Before the two officers had reached the door a servant entered and handed the Commissioner a note. He glanced hastily at the inscription.

“Where from, Yussuf?”

“The chit was on the mounting stone, sahib. I saw no messenger.”

“Right.” The colonel’s compressed lips drew his grey mustache half over his mouth. He spread the paper on his desk.

“Kurrum. Blast him, it’s Kurrum!” he cried hoarsely.

Lackton and Greyath leaned over him while he translated the tattered missive.

“The woman child of the Commissioner is held by Kurrum, malik of Waziris. He demands that he and his children be left undisturbed in all the land, that he pay no taxes, that he is issued an allowance of 4,000 rupees each year. The English took an arm from the son of Kurrum; Kurrum will take an arm from the daughter of the English if . . . ”

The colonel fell back limply in the chair, the message falling from his hand to the floor.

Lackton picked it up and continued the translation.

“No soldiers or sky ships are to be sent beyond the great road. Twenty thousand rupees must be sent by a messenger with a red band in his pugree up the Taki Zam, and 2,000 rupees will be placed on the cairn of stones outside Sararogha. If these orders are not

obeyed, the daughter of the English will die at sunrise tomorrow !”

The colonel’s thoughts had been miles away, but suddenly he demanded :

"Read that again."

Lackton did so, and then the two men stood silently by, while the colonel paced up and down the room. After a few minutes he stopped and faced the others; and when he sjxike his voice did not quaver.

"The Government of India cannot consider such a proposal. I am speaking now as Chief Commissioner for the last time. Lackton, I propose to take leave. From now you will act as His Majesty’s representative here. Private affairs—er—interfere with my duty.” His voice softened. “Lackton, I speak now to you as the father of Anne. You will do what you can to save my daughter.”

“I will, sir.” Lackton looked into the sunburned, wrinkled face of the colonel, the eyes already sunk in dark shadows, and suffered with him.

“I shall be with my wife. You will let me know what it is fit that I should know. I am just an ordinary individual now. I'll send a message to Delhi about leave.” He sat down and wrote his last official message.

"P\IRECTLY the colonel had gone. Lackton took his chair and bent over the dirty paper of the ultimatum.

“We must get the two thousand rupees off at once by air to Sararogha landing ground,” Lackton said. “Also a parcel of clothes, blankets and things. Will you see Mrs. Penterley, Greyath, and get that ready? I’ve got to get a report off to Delhi and arrange about an airplane.”

“I’ll fix that up.” said Greyath. “Miss Penterley must be somewhere near Sararogha now. Within thirty miles of us, and we can’t do anything !”

“We shall know where she is soon. We must do something. We’ve got to get her out before sunrise tomorrow. We’ve got to get her out. Think of something, Greyath,

think of something.”

“Can we get some trustworthy tribesmen into the village after we learn where she is? A fellow with influence who will work up some sort of opposition to Kurrum?”

“We might if we find out where she is in time, but it’s a risk. We can’t move a soldier or an airplane beyond the road without killing the girl. It’s hellish.”

Greyath left the office to find Mrs. Penterley. Dock ton scribbled hastily and dispatched messages. Ík'fore he had time to take any other action he heard the raised voices of Dircombe and Greyath in the verandah.

“You can’t see the Acting Commissioner; he’s busy.” “What do you mean Acting Commissioner? Where’s the colonel?” Dircombe thrust his way into the office. His head was bandaged: he looked dishevelled and wild.

“The colonel is on leave: I'm acting,” said Lackton. “I’ll tell you all there is to know. Time is precious, so don’t interrupt. Anne was kidnaped by Kurrum. and he makes impossible demands for her release. He wants independence and an allowance. He says that if we move a man against him she will die. I íe wants an answer by daybreak. Now you go back to bed.”

“Ik'd! I go to bed.” Dircombe spoke slowly, he was stunned by the news.

“You say that when the girl I love is in Kurrum’s liands?” He seized a round ruler from the table and snapped it in twitching hands. “Give Kurrum what he asks. Give it at once. Is it money? I’ll get money.”

“Take hold of yourself, Dircombe. Don’t talk rubbish. It isn’t money; Kurrum wants independence. He wants to do as he will — raid, burn, steal as he thinks fit. We cannot hand over the country to anarchy in exchange for one life.” "You won’t? If you won’t. I will.” Dircombe spoke grimly. “I’ll do anything to save her.”

“If we give way now, no woman on the frontier would be safe,” Lackton explained. “The trans-frontier tribesmen would terrorize us. This is no private affair. It will decide whether we maintain order or revert to anarchy.”

“What do I care, you cold-blooded political? If you won’t give in, I will.” Dircombe staggered out on to the verandah.

“Give him a job; it’s the only thing,” advised Greyath in a whisper.

“He’s not fit,” Lackton objected. “He’s got concussion.” “I’ve seen men like him before. A job will fix him up.” “Squadron Leader Dircombe,” shouted Lackton, "I’ve got work for you.”

The Air Force officer stood at the door. He looked as if he would refuse to receive instructions, but Lackton continued before he could speak.

“There is a parcel to go to Sararogha for Miss Penterley. Land there and put it on the cairn of stones just outside the place, over the Taki Zam valley.”

Lackton and Greyath looked after Dircombe as he walked msteadily down the long verandah.

“I hope he'll be all right,” muttered Lackton.

“It’ll save his sanity.”

“Poor devil; he’s in for a bad time.”

Dircombe swung his machine northward toward the Continued on page 1$

Continued on page 42

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foothills. Directly the engine roared in his ears and his hands found the controls, he regained his composure. The necessity of concentrating on the matter in hand saved his overwrought brain. He climbed in great curves over the plains and turned his airplane up the narrow mouth of the Taki Zam valley. Precipices of rock rose on either side of him, and he was fully engaged to maintain control. Sararogha lay ahead in the main valley, up which ran the white ribbon of the road.

He saw the mud walls of the fort at Sararogha ahead, perched high beside a flat triangle of landing ground, the edges of which were vertical cliffs falling hundreds of feet into the torrent-cut river beds. He came to the entrances to the Split Toi valley, and saw the tiny huts that clustered round the minute green patches of irrigated land. Suddenly an idea came to him. His eyes had caught sight of the black dots that were the mouths of caves.

“That’s where she is. In the Split Toi caves. They could have got as far as here. That’s why I’m to leave this money at Sararogha.” He circled, peering down the valley. “Dare I go down and look? No, I can’t leave the road. She might be harmed.” He turned toward Sararogha reluctantly, his imagination drawing horrible pictures of Anne’s plight—the vermin-ridden caves, the wild men, and the awful women who drove their men to war.

The business of landing dragged his mind from its torturing imaginings. He spoke to the officer in command of the irregulars at Sararogha, asked for news, and explained his mission as one in a dream. He walked with a small guard to the cairn and deposited his bundles, and was then escorted back to his machine. The rocks in the valley quivered. rose and fell, approached and receded before his eyes.

He wrenched the airplane off the landingground too soon and hung quivering over the ravine for a second or so. The overloaded engine choked and the planes creaked with the extra strain. One of those narrow valleys below him held the girl he loved. He wanted to return to Tank in order to urge Lackton to greater efforts, but his orders were to return to his squadron at Miram Shah.

He climbed over the sharp-toothed back of the ridge and swung toward his aerodrome talking to his airplane as if it were a live thing, apologizing for his maltreatment. The Tochi valley lay green before him. and he saw the hangars at Miram Shah nestled against the walls of the old fort. Gently he glided down and landed on the dusty plain. Khaki-clad mechanics ran to the wing tips. They seemed to be the first real beings he had seen since he walked out into the moonlight the evening before.

“Hullo, sir. Have you had a crash?” asked Cottesbury, the senior flight lieutenant.

“No, Rattles. I’m okay. Bit of a rumpus last night at Tank. I say, Cottesbury. how much money have we in the camp? Silver and paper, I mean.”

“Oh, four or five thousand rupees. I expect, sir. We don’t keep much. We can get some from the bank at Bannu tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow will be too late. I want it now. See what we’ve got. Borrow from every one. Collect all we’ve got.”

Cottesbury was mystified, but the appearance of his commanding officer and the emphatic way in which he spoke made it impossible to ask questions.

Dircombe entered the squadron office and tried to deal with the correspondence, but the details of administration could not hold his attention. The vision of a girl in a long evening frock who feared the cruelty of the mountains intervened between the typewritten words and his eyes. After a time he gave up the struggle and walked about the room.

The medical officer tried to take him in charge, but Dircombe drove him away.

“I’m okay. Just a scratch. See you tomorrow, doc.”

Cottesbury returned.

“I’ve got just over 8,000 rupees, sir. Is that enough?”

“No, but it must do. Cottesbury, I’ve got a job for you. Not yet, but we must be ready.” The squadron leader leaned back and spoke for a long time. He told of the abduction, the ultimatum, and his surmises. “Directly we know where she is, I want you to drop me near, by parachute. Kurrum mustn’t see or near the machine. I want you to glide down the next valley, drop me and then go on down to the road without putting your engine on, see? I’ll walk the rest. That’s the only way.”

“It’s a bit risky, isn’t it, sir—pulling off low down. We shall have to be right in a valley not to be seen. Suppose the parachute doesn’t open properly. I don’t like it.” “Can’t help that Rattles, it’s got to be done. I’ve got to get to Kurrum as a friend —an intermediary.”

“Very good, sir. I’ll have a look over my machine.”

Dircombe went to the mess and tried to eat but found he could not; he walked aimlessly through the hangars, his grim visage kept every one at a distance. At last he could bear the suspense no longer, he telephoned to Lackton and demanded news.

“We are getting ‘friendlies’ into Kurrum’s camp,” the latter replied. “I’ve got a Mullah and a dozen or so Waziris there. Don’t worry.” The voice sounded thin and tired over the telephone.

“Where is she, then?”Dircombe demanded. “In the Split Toi—the last lot of caves before the valley runs into the Taki Zam.” “Then I’m off to the Split Toi now. Going by air. Going to drop off in a parachute in the next valley and walk in. I’m taking 8,000 rupees.” Dircombe slammed down the telephone.

TT WAS late afternoon before the airplane that carried Cottesbury and Dircombe turned down toward the Split Toi. The white-tipped hills and snow-filled crevasses stood out dully in the deep shadows. Dircombe struggled out of the cockpit and fought his way, against the pressure of air, into the lower plane. His movements were encumbered by the packed parachute tied to his back; he reached the end of the wings and clung to the struts, his hands numbed by the cold. Dircombe peered down and decided it was time for him to leave the machine lest they approached too near the caves. He pulled the ring on the harness and the parachute fabric fell loose by his side, the next second it was a great distended sail that plucked him irresistibly from the machine. He was drawn sideways by the great umbrella for a distance before he swung downward. He cut great arcs in the air, swinging as a pendulum. A tiny atom of humanity being swallowed by the giant hillsides. He struck the ground ; ran stumbled and fell in the darkness of the valley. He released the harness and stood, collecting himself.

“So far so good.” he muttered. He could not see or hear anything of the airplane, so concluded that Cottesbury had got away unobtrusively. His hand went into his breast for the reassuring touch of a revolver that lay among the thick bundle of notes. “Now for Kurrum and his friends,” he muttered.

After half an hour of scrambling over rocks and boulders, he saw the light of fires ahead and knew by the signs of cultivation that he was approaching a village. He stopped and shouted a greeting. It is probable that he had already been seen, for immediately men appeared round him. “Kurrum; I want speech with Kurrum.” The hillmen grunted assent and conducted him into the village, their manner indicating that they considered him more as a prisoner than a visitor.

Kurrum sat before a fire on a platform cut

in the rock outside a cave. His beard, dyed brick red, hardly hid a great scar across his high cheekbone. Dircombe was hurried forward and suddenly released. He struggled and with difficulty retained his foothold.

“Salaam, Kurrum. Is this how you treat the servants of the Raj?” Dircombe spoke in Urdu, for he was not fluent in the language of the hills.

“Salaam, foreigner. There is no Raj here but Kurrum. Why do you come without authority?” Kurrum spoke insolently, and the semicircle of men behind murmured approval.

“I bring ransom for the English lady. Is all well with her?”

“Eh, she is well. Give me the silver.” Dircombe drew the bags of silver and notes from his clothes and put them before Kurrum. He would have liked to have thrown them at his feet, but realized that it was necessary to accept the insults offered.

Slowly Kurrum counted the money, laying it piece by piece on the rug beside him.

“This is no ransom. The price for the girl is twenty thousand rupees. You have brought but eight. I will cut off her arm tonight, as my son’s arm was cut off.” Kurrum leered at the Englishman.

The latter stepped forward, but was immediately seized.

“The ransom must be here before sunrise or the girl dies,” Kurrum added. “Take the foreigner to the cave. I have two prisoners now. Ho, ho!”

Dircombe was thrust into a cave near by.

YY THO is that?” It was Anne’s voice, VV tremulous but clear.

He answered and at once was encircled by clinging arms.

“Oh, my dear, why are you here? But I o»z glad. I’ve been so frightened.”

For a moment they forgot their grim plight. Dircombe kissed the upturned face and murmured soft words.

Gradually he told the details of Kurrum’s ultimatum, of the difficulty of a rescue because of the malik’s threats. He did not mention the threat regarding her arm.

“They must not pay,” said Anne. “If they pay, the hillmen will do the same thing again. They will refuse, won’t they?”

“I don’t know. I brought some of the ransom and it will whet Kurrum’s appetite. The rest may come any time.” Dircombe tried to speak with assurance, but felt he had not succeeded. He hoped that Anne did not realize her true position, but her next words belied his hope.

“I have a knife here. I think it is long enough if it comes to the worst.” She laid a little blade on his hand; a thin, fine blade that reflected a point of light.

His hand closed over the knife, he could not bear to see it.

“I’ll keep it—it's safer—”

“No; I must have it.”

“If you want it later you shall have it.” “Have you any weapon, Dirk?” Her voice was muffled by his tunic.

“Yes, dear, I have a revolver.”

“Then give me back my knife.”

“You might get frightened and use it when it isn’t necessary.”

“But, Dirky, dear. I promise I will not use it—if—if you are alive. But I must have it. The women, they watch, they come and spit. Oh, they hate me so.”

He opened his hand and the girl’s tiny hand fluttered down and whisked away the narrow blade.

They sat against the wall just inside the cave and whispered as lovers whisper. A sentry lounged before them; a tall man who leaned on his rifle. The flickering light from a fire in front of the cave outlined him— an embodiment of their captivity.

A group of men, dominated by the gaunt figure of Kurrum, sat around the blaze. Another man in the garb of a Mullah, a teacher of the philosophy of Mahomet, seemed to be the only one of the party who could stand up to him. Kurrum’s voice rose in anger as he argued with this holy man.

IT WAS slowly borne in on Dircombe that the gathering round the fire debated his future and Anne’s. Kurrum, mad with

bloodlust, urged that they should be put to ! death slowly and painfully. . The priest ¡ argued that much money could be obtained if they lived, and much killing would ensue I if they died. Dircombe said nothing to Anne, : but his intentiveness told her the import of the argument.

The older men appeared to support the priest; but the young men shouted in support of Kurrum, and the women, dark figures in the background, applauded them.

The awesome picture was accentuated by the rumbling noise of thunder behind the hills. It seemed to roll round the mountains like the noise of distant gun fire.

The argument grew in vehemence. The men who sided with the Mullah were few and old. Kurrum’s fiery eloquence drew the young fighting men to his side.

Dircombe held Anne against him. for, as Kurrum worked his adherents to a frenzy, the red-clothed forms of the fanatical native women drew closer to the cave. One tried to dodge round the sentry; he grabbed her and a scuffle ensued. The sharp tinkle of a knife falling on a rock rang out.

The scuffle and the ringing of steel threw the two parties into conflict. The jirga became a heap of struggling figures, of men fighting in darkness over the embers of the fire. Outside the circle, women ran and screamed.

Dircombe rose and stood over Anne. The girl crouched half behind him, knife held to her breast. The sentry shouted to the combatants but took no part in the fight.

Suddenly Dircombe caught sight of something moving against the curved rock wall outside. He picked out the figure of a hillman, a Pathan wrapped in a sheepskin coat. The Pathan crept slowly around, his back against the rock. Nearer he drew to the cave’s entrance. He would pass behind the sentry unnoticed. Others followed.

They could only be enemies, thought Dircombe; some of the tribe who feared that he and Anne might escape.

Something in Dircombe’s attitude caused Anne to rise. She stood beside him.

“It is the end —but wait,” he whispered.

He raised his pistol hand and stood pressed against the rock. The first man should die, perhaps the second.

“Is the woman well?” It was a guttural whisper.

“Eh? She is well,” replied Dircombe after a pause. He could hardly speak, so tense were his nerves.

“Good, Dircombe,” the voice spoke in English. “Take her to the back. There will be bullets about.”

A file of men passed before the cave’s mouth—shadowy figures that halted at a word. One moment they were robed in close-held cloaks, the next they stood revealed in the shirts and shorts of the English.

A voice roared above the turmoil :

“Into the air—fire!”

The volley re-echoed in the cave, and its vibrations slowly died into silence; a silence so complete that those who watched from far back in the cavern could hardly believe there had been noise.

THE clatter of falling arms brought Dircombe and Anne to the outer air. Men were throwing rifles, swords and knives on a great heap. The embers of the fire were kicked together and, in its light, they watched the disarmament of the surprised tribesmen.

“Hullo, Dircombe,” said Greyath. “How’s Miss Penterley? None the worse, I hope.” “I’m all right now, thank you, Major Greyath. It is a relief, though—”

Dircombe grabbed Anne or she would have fallen.

“Here, drink this.” Greyath proffered a flask.

“Thank you. I’m sorry. I feel rather silly; I want to cry,” said Anne.

“No wonder. Okay now though. Don’t worry; we’ve got the show well in hand.” “How did you get here?” asked Dircombe. “Your idea really. Parachutes. There are only ten of us,” he whispered. “We dropped into the valley next to this and climbed over. What did you think of our thunder?

Howitzers down at Bannu. Good, wasn’t it? To hide the noise of the airplanes, you I know. Noises off, what !”

The morning sun glinted on a circling airplane while the valley was yet deep in shadow. It gleamed silver in the sky.

“We are going to be convoyed by airplanes; escorted down the valley,” said Greyath.

“They will signal by wireless to the plains.” Dircombe whispered to Anne. “Your mother knows by now that all is well.”

Anne looked upward and pressed his arm ;

“One of our squadron. I know the marking.”

Dircombe laughed gaily.

“I love the ‘our,’ darling.”