A dramatic story of a fight against cowardice
THE six spears separated into two parties, or “heats,” and Dillon’s—himself, Hally, his troop leader, and Ressaldar Major Rukan Shah—dismounted to wait, while the remaining three cantered to the far flank of the cover.
Southward billowed the tawny plain—stretches of rugged yellow earth interspersed with brakes of sagegreen thorn and swaths of golden jhow grass, girth-high and rippling in the hot wind that breathed down in long, slow gusts. Here and there were dense green tree clumps; and, halfway to the horizon like a meandering strip of steel, an arm of the Ganges gleamed in the savage sun.
The heat poured down like fluid. Horses champed and bridles jingled. High in the fierce blue of the Indian sky, kites wheeled and screamed. From the depths of the thicket of bamboo and banyan by which they waited came, faint but clear, the rattle of the beaters’ sticks, bellow of conches and yelping of mongrel dogs.
John Dillon breathed deep the hot, dry air, acrid with the smell of horse sweat and dust and bamboo blossoms, and was thrilled. It was good to be twenty, just to have joined a regiment with which your father had made history, and to be waiting with a line horse nuzzling your shoulder for your first pig-sticking,
Dillon was lithe, dark and slender, with a clear olive skin, the fine-carved features of high breeding, and steady, wide, blue eyes.
Ressaldar Major Rukan Shah eyed him approvingly. A whelp of his father’s strain, this one, even to the taste in horses shown by the Hiking bay that pawed and fretted at his bridle hand. The grizzled fighting man from beyond the Khyber said: .
"Huzoor, forty years past come Ramadan, your father killed the great boar of Kantagarh on foot, with two feet of a broken spear, half his own ribs staved in, and his gutted horse dead beside him. Returning home, we passed this very place on an elephant. I held him in my arms to ease the jolts and the boar was behind me on the crupper. He was as you are now, like as two j^eas in a pod save that he was heavier. Your figure is of your mother. She was a slim one.” Dillon looked up at the old Pathan, with his raw-boned bulk, full beard, hook nose and eagle eye, and smiled. Before he could reply there was a whirr of wings and a peacock with three hens burst out, wheeled and sailed down the jungle face, to pitch in again far down.
“Aha! Dekko!” Rukan Shah pointed. A hundred yards away, a black beast, followed by a dozen smaller ones, was trotting across the open toward a patch of jhoiv. “Sow, Sahib, with butchas. The boars wait behind to guard them as they run.”
Monkeys now showed on the jungle face. Pheasant and peafowl broke intermittently. A deer trotted out, saw the waiting group and fled in huge bounds like blown thistledown for the nearest cover. Four more old sows with trailing broods appeared, till the ground between the two groups of horsemen seemed black with scurrying swine.
Now the other beat mounted and headed away to where their boar had broken on the other side. Hally called, “Here he comes, Dillon!” Hally was a quiet, fair man, sunburned and soldierly, a famous hog spear. He spoke with that quiet
satisfaction which is the greatest display of feeling that his type permits itself. “Wait now, case he breaks back.”
Into the open, two hundred yards away, trotted a boar, high humped and grey and lean.
When he was well clear of the cover, Hally called, “All set!” They swung into the saddle, and Hally led at a smart canter to get between the beast and cover. Then he turned in the saddle and grinned. “All right, young ’un. Don’t forget what you’ve been told.”
Dillon waved his knobby-hafted hog spear and nodded, and the three swung into line and let out the horses. The boar, seeing them now pursuing him, broke into a gallop.
It was tricky riding, over rough, stony ground, down through dry watercourses, plunging blindly and belly deep in rustling grass. The sun burned down. Dillon was wet with sweat. The reek of his horse and the fine yellow dust stung his nostrils. But his spirit soared. This was living!
HTHE boar was working out toward the right. Hally -*• spurred wide to head him off. It was clear the troop commander would have first spear. He was right on the grey brute’s tail when it jinked—that lightning right-angle turn which is the wild pig’s forte. In the same instant Hally flung himself along his horse’s neck in a long spear thrust.
But his steel only found the gristle on the lean, grey hump. That angered the boar. He stopped to furrow the ground with yellow tushes. There was foam on his jaws. His small eyes glowered. Rukan Shah thundered at him, point down, arm set like steel. But at the last instant the beast wheeled cleverly, so that the horse passed on the near side before the Ressaldar could bring his spear over.
Hally had circled to come at the boar head on. It was
now thoroughly roused, and backed up a dozen yards, grunting furiously, then put down its head and charged. Hally met it in full career. There was a long, savage squeal, a clatter and a cloud of dust and flying stones; then Hally’s pony was on its haunches as he pulled it up, and the boar was struggling on the ground with the spear sunk between neck and shoulder, two feet into its vitals. A perfect thrust. Before they reached him he was dead.
Thrilled to the marrow, his eyes bright and the sweat channelling his dusty face, Dillon cantered up. But Rukan Shah hailed him. “Sahib! No time to waste ! Look there!” Off to the flank, trotting alone and deliberately across the open, was a big old boar. Hally, his foot on his game as he wrenched at his blood-stained spear, waved when they galloped past.
Hearing the hoofs, the boar glanced sideways but did not condescend to hurry. Rukan Shah pulled his horse and signalled Dillon on. The newest officer of the Usbeg Lancers sat down and rode at his first boar, striving to remember all he had been told about the technique of pig-sticking. To spear a fleeing boar, you thrust three inches from the spine, halfway between hip and shoulder.
His mouth was dry and his grip on his spear desperate. Jafar, his horse, was going magnificently. Now the boar started to gallop, but when he let Jafar out Dillon overhauled him fast. The lumbering grey beast was but five lengths ahead. Dillon could see the grotesque snout, the long yellow tushes and the ridiculous curly tail. Its hump was as high as -his stirrup. Fixing his eyes on the proper spot, he thrust. But he was a green hand. The spear struck the solid hump and the impact wrenched his wrist. The boar grunted furiously, jinked, then stopped and bucked and squealed with rage. Rukan Shah was holding off, watch-
ing with steady eyes the son of his old friend and commander spearing his first boar, as his father during his time with the regiment had speared over three hundred.
And, watching gleefully at the edge of the cover, their drive finished, now appeared the beaters; a mob of black and wildhaired villagers, with a sprinkling of olive-skinned tall sowars of the regiment who had come out for the sport of it.
The boar was nothing loth to fight. He backed in his tracks and gashed the earth with furious tushes. Dillon wheeled and rode at him as he had seen Hally do, and at once the beast charged.
Dillon held his spear for the junction of neck and shoulder. But he was too low. A flirt of the foaming jowl knocked aside the point, and they passed full speed.
With a curse he was beginning to wheel Jafar when that high-bred beast put his foot in a hole and turned a complete somersault. Dillon found himself flat on his back, smothered with dust and winded but unhurt. Where was that boar? Spitting out dust, he scrambled to his feet and grabbed his spear. The boar had turned and was coming at him like a bullet. Out of the comer of his eye he saw Rukan Shah riding to intercept it. But the pig would reach him first.
He had been schooled by old hands for just such an emergency. He must find that spot this time, though. One savage jerk of those yellow tushes . . . Planting his feet squarely, he presented his spear, bracing himself for the impact.
Dillon was quite collected, his point held low and steady.
He would not miss this time. He knew that now. His universe focused down to a small ring of stony ground about a galloping grey brute with razor hump and slavered snout and glowering and evil eyes.
Precisely what happened after that, Dillon never knew. He remembered a queer sensation that swelled in his middle and seeing the malevolent advancing head grow and grow till it appeared to tower over him like an elephant’s. The next thing of which he was conscious was running for his life over the stony ground. He had flung his spear away. Cold terror rode him. The enraged boar was snorting at his heels. There came a clatter of hoofs from one side, a thud, squeals and wild scuffling, and over his shoulder he saw the boar kicking its life out in a cloud of dust, transfixed by the spear of Rukan Shah.
So Dillon stopped, and stood staring and wondering at his empty hands which should have held a spear. Rukan Shah had dismounted and was standing with bent head, looking down at the boar. Hally, who had arrived at the last moment, dropped to earth beside him. In the fringe of bamboo where the beaters stood, a muscular black Chumar with a great mop of hair said laughingly:
“A tame pig would be better for the young sahibs of this regiment!”
A sowar, Amin Khan, wheeled on the Chumar like a wolf and stretched him senseless in the brush with a blow of the staff he carried. And Shere Ali Baksh called, low but very clear:
“Such another word from any dog of you, and I tear his windpipe from his stinking carcass!”
The sowars, twenty odd of them, drew together in a tight, silent knot, watching the three officers.
Dillon walked slowly to where Rukan Shah and Hally stood by the grey carcass. He said in a strange, quiet voice:
“I can’t understand what happened.”
There was an awkward silence. Then Hally said, very self-consciously: “Might have happened to anyone, Dillon.”
Rukan Shah said nothing. But he bent the stiff spear shaft in his hands as if it were a twig, and looked at Dillon with hot, amber eyes bereft of all emotion.
Now the other beat cantered up, including the colonel.
“Well done, you three. Did you blood your spear, Dillon?”
Rukan Shah said :
“Dillon sahib blooded his spear, huzoor. Did you kill?”
“A brace, like you. Too bad we’ve so little time at this camp.”
The regiment was on the march and. happening to halt near this famous pig cover, they had seized the chance for just one beat before the sun went down. They were to move on next day.
nPHE sun was sinking as they trotted through the scrub across the tawny plain, forded the stream, and climbed the path to their camp atop the slope among bamboo and tamarisk. There were the lines of restless horses, with the pennoned lances tripod-wise behind them, the small tents of the sowars, and, a little apart, the officers’ lines and the big mess tent. Beyond, on a still higher slope, were the dun lines of camels of the Sikh Camel Corps with which the Lancers had been exercising.
Dillon slipped from Jafar’s saddle and let the groom take him away. For the first time in his life he had no interest in horseflesh. He went to his tent and flung himself on his cot. Pirtom, his Hindu servant, came and began to remove his boots, while the loin-clothed, brown water carrier filled his canvas bath. Dillon was not thinking. He was conscious solely of abysmal unhappiness. He, Johnny Dillon, son of John Dillon who for twenty years had led this regiment, had in the sight of his men thrown his spear away and fled in panic from a wild pig’s charge!
His conscious memory retained no recollection of himself when, as a tiny child, he had been left by a lazy nurse alone in an English farmyard, and an ancient sow, hot in defense of her new-born litter, had knocked him down with an angry snout, to stand over him, grunting her indignation. But potent and deep in his subconscious mind had slept the terror bom that day, to wake, in the face of the wild boar’s charge, to shuddering life and make a coward of him. Once it was roused it did not sink again, and even now as he lay in his cot, the thought of that savage head hurtling down on him turned his heart cold.
Outside, the trumpets pealed, yearning and clear. That was a sound that all his life had thrilled him inexpressibly. But tonight the silver call made him shrink in shame. They were the regiment’s trumpets, voice of its spirit; and he remembered the look in Rukan Shah’s hot, amber eyes, Hally’s acute distress, and the sidelong, incredulous, fierce looks of twenty Pathan fighting men to whom his father’s name was sacred.
He was brought back from the depths of his abstraction by the voice of Pirtom.
"Sahib, it is but a quarter hour till dinner. Wilt thou not make ready?”
In the immaculate trim white of mess kit he was very handsome, with his clean, slim body like a deer’s, the set of his black head and the expression on his lips that would distinguish him in any company. But the lilt that usually was in his blue eyes now had gone. They brooded, and his mouth was grim.
In the shadowy big mess tent, where the barefooted servants went to and fro, the punkhas swung and the bass of his comrades’ voices mingled in their before-dinner chat, all seemed as usual. Hally was there, the colonel and the rest. Their manner was unchanged except for Hally, whose eyes avoided his. Dillon
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realized that none of the others had been told. No one knew but Hally and Rukan Shah and those twenty sowars. That being so, he might be abierto make all good somehow, as soon as a chance came. He would try. He would try with the last drop of his heart’s blood.
They were halfway through their meal when the khitmutghar hurried in and bent to speak to the colonel.
“Huzoor. The orderly jamadar with an urgent matter.”
The colonel nodded his lean and grizzled head.
“Show him in !”
Entered Mir Yar Mohammed, the Khuttuck, booted and spurred and fierce, to salute and click to rigid stillness beside the colonel’s chair.
“Well, Mir Yar Mohammed?”
“Sahib, there has been a fight. Gul Wali Baksh has killed a man of the Camel Corps, and his brother has fled to rouse the cameleers to avenge his blood. I have sent to warn their officers.”
The colonel jerked round his chair. “And why?”
The lean brown warrior from beyond the Khyber hesitated. His eyes fell.
“Speak !” snapped the colonel.
“There is a tale that a—a sahib of ours flung away his spear and ran from a pig. A camel sowar said we should tie up a pig for our young sahibs to blood their spears on. Therefore Gul Wali Baksh killed him.”
As if pulled by a common string, every face in the mess whipped round to Dillon, who stood biting his lip, his clear blue eyes shifting from one to the other in hurt and shame.
Then the colonel stood up abruptly. His face was grim.
“There’ll be trouble. We’d better see about it. Sound the ‘Fall in’ !”
TT WAS past midnight. Dillon sat on his
cot in his mauve-striped pyjamas with his head between his hands. The night was hot, but the sweat that ran down his face was not all from the heat. That day he had seen a man dead on the ground with a swordthrust in his heart because the fellow dared to speak the truth that he, John Dillon, was a coward. The officers had arrived barely in time to prevent a bloody battle between two loyal and famous regiments for the same reason. Sitting alone in his tent, with his new equipment strewn about him, he thought of his father, when he was small, telling him tales of the regiment, glamorous to his eager ears, of the dreams he had dreamed then that he might have a career great as his father’s in the same splendid company, of the look in the eyes of Rukan Shah, and of the wild pig’s head, with slavered jaws and yellow tusks and small, red eyes burning with hate. Desperately but
in vain he shook his head to dispel those thoughts. His breath escaped in a long sigh of distress.
He stood up and went to the tent door. Moonlight suffused the camp, and India’s multitudinous and brilliant stars swam in a vault of intense purple. Up from the lines came the clink of chains and the long soft snufflings of horses, and the burblings of restless camels sounded down the hill. The odor of beasts mingled with the spicy tang of tamarisk and the sweet scent of bamboo blossoms. A long time he stood there, drinking in the scene, the sounds, thinking of years to come and what he wished they’d bring him. This was his place, his life, his regiment. He realized with a grim shock that he would sooner die than not belong to it or fall short of what it asked oí him, however bitter. And quietly, clearly, with absolute finality, he realized what he must do.
He went back to the tent, pulled on shoes and a coat, and made his way to the guard tent. The sentry, tall and sombre, with his slim lance diamond-pointed and his eye whites glimmering in the moonlight, challenged in a ringing bass. The guard turned out, thinking he was the orderly officer. He said to the havildar commanding,
“Send a man to the Ressaldar Major, and say that Dillon Sahib has urgent need of him without delay !”
ACROSS the tawny plain beside the river, the first rays of the rising sun shot level, to gild bamboo and jhow and turn the black of thorn to soft grey green. Before a small patch of jungle between them and the stream, Dillon and Rukan Shah stood by their horses. Pig, drinking at night, would be sure to lie there. The sound of beaters faintly could be heard, and high above the feathery treetops crows circled, cawing indignantly.
Dillon waited by Jafar’s fiery head in silence, fidgeting with the thong of his hog spear. His face was pale and his eye sockets shadowy. But in his eyes there was a new, strange light. He was content.
Before very long the inhabitants of the jungle began to appear on its rim, the monkeys and the pheasants and the jungle fowl. Soon a sow and brood broke and trotted busily for the nearest jhow. A yearling boar followed close, and Dillon turned to gather up his reins. But, seeing what a youngster it was, he did not mount, glancing at Rukan Shah with a shake of the head.
The Ressaldar nodded, then pointed sharply to the jungle. Standing in the fringe of it, his big head up and his curly tail quivering, was a patriarch of boars, a great grey brute whose back sloped sharply up from compact and muscled quarters to a high-peaked, bristled hump, white-scarred from many combats. The mere sight of the brute flicked agonizingly the twenty-yearold wound in Dillon's brain. The lines of his face tightened as his nerves flinched. He and Rukan Shah stood quite still as the old boar trotted out till he was well clear of the cover. Dillon felt he would have given the whole world to have been elsewhere at that moment, but he gathered up his reins deliberately and swung into the saddle. Rukan Shah did not mount; but as Dillon collected Jafar and wheeled him on his haunches, he salaamed.
Then Dillon was cantering over the stony plain after the boar, which headed for where the sow and young had entered a big patch of sage-green akka thorn. He curved in to intercept it, and as he did so, the old warrior stopped, wheeling on his quarters to see who it might be who jostled him in his own domain so early in the morning.
Dillon’s brow was wet and his mouth dust dry ; there was a cold lump in his throat and his heart pounded, but he pulled Jafar round, jammed in his spurs and hurled him into a charge. The hog stood firm till almost the last moment, then whipped half round and bolted for the thorn, with Dillon after him.
When Jafar caught up, the boar jinked, and as he did so Dillon flung himself on the horse’s neck in a long thrust. Too late.
The steel buried itself in the flank muscles and the hog, with a hoarse squeal of fury, leaped forward and smashed the spear across Jafar’s breast. They had reached rough, awkward ground, and horse and boar plunged round each other, clattering among scrub and boulders. Dillon sickened. His stomach was icy. One upward rip of those yellow tushes would let the bowels of Jafar out upon the ground and fling him helpless to the wild pig’s fury. Then the spearhead drew. With terror-driven strength he wrenched the horse about and spurred from the mêlée, the useless spear shaft flopping at the fracture. By some miracle Jafar had escaped with a long gash on one leg.
Dillon rode hard for the open, heartsick at the futile outcome, and at the same time thankful from the depths of his heart to be free of the boar, even for a single minute. Halfway to Rukan Shah, he turned in the saddle, just in time to see the beast plunge into the shelter of the friendly thorn.
Dillon pulled Jafar to a plunging halt by Rukan Shah and held up the broken spear. Rukan Shah took it silently and passed his own over. The amber eyes dwelt on Dillon’s —impassive, basilisk, yet strong, stimulating, like raw spirits in the mouth. The Pathan said: “A pity, sahib. Beaters cannot drive him from there. But there will be another.”
T'xlLLON pointed to the jungle, on whose fringe appeared in mounting numbers the sowars of the regiment, who had turned out at his request to drive pig at sunrise. The cover had been emptied and there would be no time to beat another before their absence was discovered and this day lost to him forever. A strange calm came to Dillon now. He saw it all clearly, what lay for him behind this morning’s work. The loss of this battle would mean the loss of all future battles; his dream, one day to lead the blue and yellow pennons, must be given up. It all turned on this morning’s work on this pig. He was in mortal terror of it. His very marrow froze at the thought of what he had come to do—to face and kill it on foot, after he should have wounded it. If the pig were not faced today, he knew that he would send in his resignation from the Usbeg Lancers.
He said to Rukan Shah, “Hold thou my horse, Ressaldar,” and offered him the reins.
“What does my lord do?”
Rukan Shah took the reins. Dillon dismounted, looked up at him with twitching lips and shining eyes, then turned and headed for the thorn that lay so softly grey and green in the clear morning sun.
There were 300 yards to go. of boulderstrewn and shingly ground. The going was hard, the dust choking. He was bathed in sweat.
Now the sowars had left the cover and were converging in a straggling line toward Rukan Shah. Practically the entire regiment was there. From the scrub riverward came a clatter of hoofs, and a dozen officers, headed by the colonel, wheeled in at a dead gallop and pulled up by the Ressaldar, who drew himself rigid and saluted.
The colonel was white with anger.
“Ressaldar Major! Have you all lost your senses? This is mutiny !”
“Huzoor, Dillon sahib called me in the night and begged in the name of his sire that we should come and drive pig for him between sunrise and reveille.”
“Aye, huzoor. There he goes, like his father before him, into the thorn afoot, after a great boar he has wounded.”
All eyes now turned to Dillon’s figure, lonely and stooped in the sun as he labored over the stony ground.
“The young fool!” the colonel swore. “That’s suicide. Stop him, some of you!”
As they pulled round their horses, Rukan Shah’s voice rang out like a whip crack.
“My lords! In the name of Allah, wait!”
The colonel turned on Rukan Shah and his face was not good to see. Ressaldars Major do not with impunity question their colonel’s orders to his face.
The old Pathan said;
“Huzoor, if I offend, let my commission pay the price; and I have been thirty years in the regiment. But Dillon sahib fights for his soul today. Did you not see his face last night over the corpse of that cameleer? If the boar slays him in the thorn, he will die one little death. But if he goes not in, he will die a thousand deaths in the years to come.”
The colonel glared at him for a long moment of silence, while the bridles jingled and the kites whistled overhead. Then his face changed and he said quietly, “You have done well, Rukan Shah.” And to the rest he called “Let him go.”
They watched the graceful figure, spear in hand, disappear into the fringe of the thorn.
TYILLON stood just inside the thicket, bent very low, and peered about him. At his feet was a gout of blood from the wounded boar. Before him in all directions spread a labyrinth of gnarled and naked stems, spreading to a roof of tiny leaves and thorns so dense as to shut out the sunlight. Within was a maze of rambling lanes and caverns in a green and eerie dusk, with here and there a shaft of golden light where the sun shot through a rift in the canopy. The place was stifling, filled with the stink of beasts and the aromatic perfume of drying thomflowers.
When his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, Dillon saw that the blood spot lay on a well-beaten game trail. Wetting his dry lips with his tongue and drawing a deep breath to try and relieve the tightness round his chest, he advanced along it stealthily, step by slow step, his spear, point low, before him, halting, peering, with hard held breath. Soon the last glimmer in the outer fringe of thorn was left behind. Green gloom enveloped him; his back ached with stooping, and the sweat greased his hands and ran down his face to smart his eyes and taste salty on his lips. The fear in his heart amounted to actual nausea. But he steadily went on.
Suddenly he stopped, quivering and tense, and his blood froze. Ahead, some distance down the trail, two green and baleful eyes watched him deliberately. Every nerve in his body yammered, cringing. But—and he was conscious of surprise in this—he remained motionless save for a quiet lowering of his spearpoint, and tried to visualize behind the eyes’ malevolence the great head of the old boar and to gauge where lay the vital spot his spear must find.
Suddenly the eyes advanced a dozen feet in a swift, strangely silent rush. They stopped again and hung immobile, staring.
With a creeping at his spine, Dillon saw that they belonged not to a hog, but to a leopard which had been following the blood trail just as he was, though in the opposite direction. The lovely and ferocious-looking spotted cat crouched flat and watched him, head low between gently panting shoulders, with her long tail switching jerkily from side to side.
Now, face to face with this new factor, an uncanny relief came to Dillon. He felt the tightness in his chest relax, and a warm flood seemed to course through his veins. He drew breath, slow and deep; an inhalation of relief.
The switching of the tail grew faster, and, remembering the family cat stalking a mouse, Dillon realized what was coming.
It came. With a swift, crouching run, she charged from ten feet away, and with a splendid bound sprang full upon him.
As she rose Dillon raised his point, keeping pace with her in the air. Then the rough shaft was driven backward through his slippery hands, the butt thudded on the ground, and a furry, stinking, struggling bulk swept him down so that his head struck the earth with a crack. A warm flood poured over him and fierce pains seared his leg. But at once the struggles weakened. Soon they ceased. With difficulty he heaved the warm, wet bulk off his chest, and rose to his knees. He was drenched with blood, his leg was scarified from hip to knee with claw wounds, but his spear transfixed the leopard from breast to shoulder blade.
He knelt beside her, panting and unnerved, incredulous that he wTas not seriously hurt.
Above, in the sweet open air, kites wheeled and screamed. Little birds chirped and rustled in the thorn close above him. He loved the sun and the birds.
But before he could look upon either, he had a pig to kill.
That pig was all his universe. Dillon knew that now. With an uncanny sense of detachment, he realized that he was pulling out his spear from the leopard’s body. He got to his feet, felt his thigh where the long scratches burned, rubbed the spear shaft, greasy with blood, on his arm to cleanse it. Then he resumed his stealthy progress through the labyrinth of thorn stems.
Step by soft step, it seemed for an eternity, he made his way through the hot, reeking gloom, while the blood on his clothes grew clammy, the wounds in his leg burned and spots swam before his eyes.
Then at last he recoiled convulsively as, with a great crashing and grunting, a family of pigs broke from beneath his feet and fled. He stood still, peering intently all about him for sign of his boar. But he saw nothing, save that in the direction the pigs had gone the thorn thinned and the sunlight stabbed the gloom.
Toward the golden beams he crept, till soon he perceived an island of open ground amid the thorn.
In the brush at the edge, he stopped and peered out cautiously into a small clear space, flooded with sun and carpeted with smooth brown grass. In the centre, at bay, all eyes in his direction, stood the sow and her brood. And six feet in front of them, savage and burning-eyed, with foam on his jowl and blood on his flank, stood his old boar.
In front of the leopard, all Dillon had felt had been fierce excitement and consuming curiosity. But now, seeing the hog’s belligerent and brutal self, cold fear again swept over him. This fear was met with the full surge of his will power. His dreams, the love which he had conceived for Rukan Shah, his burning desire to be what 800 Pathan fighting men expected his father’s son to be, drove his legs steadily into the open, and sent the spear, red with the leopard’s blood, forward and down.
The boar grunted w’arningly, backed up a little as angry boars do, and ploughed up the ground with yellow tushes.
Dillon heard a voice—it must have been his own—abusing the pig softly in words he did not know he had in his vocabulary. Whereupon it charged. *
Dillon fixed his eyes on the spot where the hump ran down to the shoulder beside the gargoyle snout, and, as the boar hurtled at him, concentrated every effort of which his body and his spirit had command into calming his fluttering heart and steeling his muscles.
OUT on the open plain, between the jungle and the patch of thorn, stood in a straggling crowd the sowars of the Usbeg Lancers, with their officers in a little knot beside them.
Forty-five minutes they had waited there in silence, uneasily fidgeting, straining their ears for certain sounds, watching the thorn face. Now at last a man said sharply, pointing:
“Y’Allah! There is death in the thorn.” From opposite directions, on their great black wings, three vultures were sailing purposefully down into the drowsing thorn bush. A movement ran among the waiting Pathans which the officers did not overlook. “See,” Hally said, “the vultures.”
“It’s all over,” said the colonel. He turned and shouted to Rukan Shah;
“Ressaldar, spread out the men and beat the thorn. Close in—”
Before he could finish, a mutter ran through the grim, tall Pathan soldiers that rose and soared into a deep bass thunder of acclaim. Out of the grev-green thorn into the yellow grass and sunlight, Dillon had come. From breast to boots he was crimson vfith new blood. His hat was gone and his breeches hung round his knees in tatters. But he stood upright like a new-born avatar and greeted them, his lance held high above his head and the light of triumph in his eyes.