THE LITTLE SAHIB
A STRAIN of Irish and Spanish blood makes for beauty, but it does not make for a forgiving disposition. Considine Vachell was a proof of that statement. She had travelled all the way from Karachi to the Northwest Frontier station of Abbotshah to punish a man she hated, and she watched him coming along the club verandah, short and slight in the neat fitting uniform of the Fifth Piffers, for all the world as a leopardess might watch the approach of someone she knew had been cruel to her cub.
Captain Deverell was her enemy’s name. Six weeks before, his company had been besieged in Fort Kohl, one of the loneliest forts in the Furious Gomal, by an overwhelming force of Wazirs. Considine’s fiancé, Frank Harley, had been one of Deverell’s subalterns. He had been killed leading a sortie on the tenth day of the siege.
Harley had loathed Deverell. In letters he had written to Considine before the Kohl Expedition, he had described his company commander as a bully and a tyrant. It was obvious Deverell had had a spite against his subaltern from the very first.
And now Considine knew that he was a hypocrite as well. She had read the letters he had written to Harley’s relations after he was killed. “A fine lad . . . He died gallantly ... I regarded him as a most promising subaltern ...” If he had really thought so well of Frank, why had he made his life a hell on earth while Frank was still alive?
That he had done so, Considine knew for a fact. She had the letters Frank had sent from Sandemain prior to the Kohl Expedi-
tion as proof. Pitiful letters that had made her weep. letters written by a boy driven almost to desperation by continual bullying.
And now Frank was dead, and she was about to meet the man who had ill-treated him. Nobody in Abbotshah knew that she and Frank Harley had been engaged, for by Frank's wish the engagement had been kept a secret. Mathewson, the long, lean adjutant of the Scinde Cavalry who had volunteered to make the introduction, ascribed her anxiety to meet Deverell to a natural curiosity about the hero of Fort Kohl.
“Miss Vachell, this is Captain Deverell. Deverell, Miss Vachell is aching to hear all about the siege of Kohl from your own lips. Fire away, old chap, and don’t be modest.”
Lucky fellow, thought Mathewson, as he moved away. None but the brave, etc., and this was a clear case of hero worship. Miss Vachell was the first of a long line of girls who were certain to be after the man who had held Fort Kohl against fantastic odds, and if he were Deverell, he wouldn’t wait for the second ... All of which musing on Mathewson’s part goes to prove that even long, lean adjutants of Scinde Cavalry can sometimes make mistakes.
“So you’re Captain Deverell! I’ve been dying to meet you. We’ve all been thrilled by your exploits.”
He looked just like the mental pictures she had formed. A short, grim man with a tight mouth and hard eyes. You could imagine him being brutal. Driving weary men on with curses and striking stragglers with his fists. In one of his letters Frank Harley had described him doing that.
“Don’t let’s talk of Fort Kohl,” he
said curtly. "All I want is to forget the infernal place.” “You’d frightful casualties, hadn’t you?”
"Both my subs and three-quarters of my company. Seems a waste, doesn’t it? Some of the best fellows in the world gone west for the sake of an old mud-walled fort not worth three pice.”
Considine couldn’t resist the oj>ening.
"It was terribly sad about Frank Harley being killed. I mean, everybody says what a charming boy he was.”
SHE WAS watching Deverell closely when she said that.
■She noted the wary, almost embarrassed look that leaped into his eyes when she mentioned Frank’s name, and put her own construction thereon.
“Harley? Oh. yes; everybody loved Harley. Good-looking boy and tremendously popular especially with the ladies. Poor little Dolly Fortescue was the other subaltern. Jove, Miss Vachell, when 1 think of how Fortescue stuck out the march from Sandemain and that ghastly fortnight when the Wazirs had us boxed in Kohl, it makes me feel like blubbing. He was only a child, barely nineteen. Little delicate chap with fair hair—it was marvellous how he carried on. He was the real hero of Fort Kohl. I’ve sent his name up for a posthumous V.C."
"Did you recommend Harley for the Victoria Cross, too?" Considine asked jealously.
Again her perceptions, sharpened by hatred, noted the wary, hesitating look in his eyes.
Well, you see they wouldn’t give two crosses for the same show, and I thought Fortescue was the man to get it. But Harley did splendidly. He was cut down leading a night sortie against the orchard where they had the machine gun. Hacked to pieces by their knives. 1 say, I’m sorry if I • shocked you, Miss Vachell. One gets so unused to talking to ladies in these parts that one forgets one ought to suppress the lurid details."
Considine liad turned deathly pale. Hacked to pieces by their knives! Her Frank! So young, so beautiful in his strength !
"You—you didn’t recover the body?”
“The Wazirs didn’t give us a chance. They carried it off, of course, for the sake of the uniform. I sav, you do look pale. May I get you a glass of bubbly?”
‘No, thanks. But how sorry you must have been to lose
both your subalterns. I suppose the three of you were tremendous pals.”
Deverell stared at her.
"Pals?” he repeated. “Oh, yes; we were good enough friends. But I’m afraid both Fortescue and Harley thought me a bit of a tail-twister. One has to be if one’s going to get proper discipline. I don’t believe in pampering mv vourig officers.”
.Considine’s lip curled. There is a world of difference between pampering and bullying. This man was all that Frank had said in his letters. An inhuman little martinet. He’d the mentality of a bullying sergeant in the Foreign Legion.
He looked trim and efficient like some compact little machine, leaning over the verandah rail beside her. His hair was meticulously brushed, his uniform fitted like a glove, his Wellingtons and spurs shone like mirrors. She’d heard that small men were always dandies. The Little Sahib—that, she knew, was Deverell’s nickname—was polished and groomed to the nth degree.
Only the arrival of the colonel of the Piffers, come to claim a dance, stopped her from speaking then and there the words that would have pricked the bubble of Deverell’s self-esteem. But she didn’t want to make a scene at the dance. She gave her enemy a nod and went away on the colonel’s arm.
Later that night, in the room she had engaged in the rest bungalow, she took out her dead fiancé’s letters for the thousandth time. Much reading and handling had made them almost undecipherable.
At the sight of the dead boy’s handwriting tears filled her eyes. Frank ! Frank! Oh, if only he would come back. She was so lonely. Life without Frank was not worth living.
Frank s photograph stood on her dressing table. It showed him broad-shouldered and handsome, with boyish, laughing face. Impossible to believe he was dead. Impossible to realize she would never hear that merry laugh again .
A letter fluttered to the floor. Bending to pick it up, she saw the words written in the bold, sehoolboyish hand. They came to her at that moment like a cry for vengeance from the grave.
"Devereli IE.A nasty bit of work. He’s taken a spite against me and his one idea is to make my life hell. It’s nag. nag, nag. from morning till night. Nothing I do
pleases him. I’ve a good mind to chuck the Indian Army. If the little swine wasn’t my senior officer I’d give him the thrashing of his life ...”
Frank s hands had been tied by his rank. She, however, wasn’t Deverell’s junior officer. Her tongue was free. She would tell him what she thought, lacerate his soul with words of biting scorn. To hurt him as deeply as in her power lay was a duty she owed to her dead fiancé.
“Coward, bully, cad ! Y’ou threw away my man’s life for the sake of your own reputation. Of your spite, you sent him to his death. If you’d been half a man, you’d have led that sortie into the orchard yourself ...”
Those were some of the phrases she had composed before she fell asleep.
IN THE MEANTIME the object of her hatred was strollI ing back to his own bungalow. His brow was furrowed with perplexity. For almost the first time in his life. Captain Deverell of the Fifth Piffers was at a loss to understand the working of his own mind.
It was as if his mind had suddenly turned traitor. One of the main articles of his creed was that he’d no use for women. Chattering, gossiping set of dolls ! Why any fellow should get married beat him. He never would. He agreed with Kipling that he travels fastest who travels alone.
But Miss \ achell was unlike any girl he had ever met before. Those dark blue eyes ! She wasn’t a doll. Whether she loved or whether she hated, she wouldn’t do things by halves. He had sensed a capacity for feeling beyond the ordinary.
Now if a fellow had a mate like that at his shoulder . . . “Steel-true and sword-straight" ... No fear of her letting you down . . . She’d ride straight and hard as any man . . .
Suddenly the Little Sahib stopped dead. Where the devil were his dreams leading him? As if a beautiful girl like Miss Vachell . . .
“Y’ou blithering idiot. Look at yourself in the glass, you undersized monkey. Come off it, Steve. Girls like that don’t marry’ men they can look down upon. Miss Y’achell wouldn’t look at you once in a thousand years. YY’hen she yokes up, it will be with some splendid six-footer with a face like a matinee idol. The lean, handsome hero of fiction. A Greek god like young Harlev.”
The name had suggested itself inevitably. His late subaltern had been one of the finest looking men Deverell had ever seen. A Rudolph Valentino in Piffer uniform.
A footstep broke into his meditations. Looking up, he saw the towering form of his Pathan orderly, Rustum Khan. Rustum was a six-footer with the arms and chest of a Hercules. But there his claim to masculine beauty faded out, for his face resembled that of a particularly ferocious gorilla.
His hand shot to his turban in salute.
“Sahib, I had to come to look for thee. One from the hills has arrived at our bungalow and refuses to leave. A redbearded rascal of a Kuttuck horse thief. I told him with blows of my belt that the Presence would never have speech with such a basebom jackal as he is, but the accursed spawn refuses to go away. He declares he must have speech with thee privily.”
“Where does he come from?” he asked in Pushtu.
“Allah alone knows. He spoke of crossing the Bajaur Hills at the northernmost end of the Gomal. A liar without doubt. Beyond the Bajaur Hills is the state of Dir where the tiger men dwell—devils whose feet are turned backward and who eat the bodies of the dead.”
“I suppose I must see the fellow,” Deverell said. “Perhaps he has brought word of a snow leopard worthy to be shot. Where have you left him?”
“On the verandah of our bungalow, sahib. The syce is watching lest he should creep into thy room and steal thy gear. But beware how you approach him, sahib. It may be he has come to seek the reward the Gomal Wazirs are offering for thy head.”
On the verandah, the horse thief rose and salaamed. He was typical of his breed. Tall and wolfish, with a beard dyed red and a bearded skullcap on the back of his sloping forehead.
“Leave the jezail and knife outside,” Deverell ordered. “Now sit on the floor where the light of the lamp can fall upon thy face. Make haste for I am tired. And remember that if you tell lies, my orderly will give such a beating as has never been seen before.”
Rustum Khan grinned. As a Pathan of the Bungi Khel, he had no love for the Kuttucks.
The horse thief’s whining voice claimed Deverell’s attention.
“Sahib, forgive me if what I say is false. A little time ago a strange tale came to my ears, not once but three or four times from different men who had had no speech with one another. There was a pilgrim by whose fire I 9at one night in the Jagai Ravine. And there was a Baluch sweetseller on the caravan route to Shri, and yet others I have forgotten. They told the same story, sahib. It is being whispered throughout the bazaars in the Gomal. And by the token that many men have spoken it, I believe it is true.” What was coming, Deverell wondered lazily. A snow leopard with three heads or a Russian army camped in the Bajaur Hills? He caught Rustum Khan’s eager eye and gave his head an imperceptible shake. First let the fool earn his beating by telling his preposterous lie.
“. . . one said to me, ‘Tell it to the Little Sahib and perchance he will reward thee.’ Therefore have I come, sahib. But if the Haji of Dir City knew I was giving the information, I would be better dead. It was for fear of the Haji’s wrath that I came at night.”
Deverell opened his eyes.
“Your story concerns the Haji of Dir?”
“Ay, sahib. The story is that in Dir City a white man is held prisoner. A sahib of the officer caste like thyself. It is said that he belongs to thy regiment—”
“Then it’s a lie,” Deverell snarled. “No officer sahib of my regiment is missing. Has the Haji paid you to entice me into Dir? Rustum—”
The Pathan sprang forward, but at the horse thief’s next words Deverell waved him back.
“They say that he is one of the sahibs who was with thee in the great fighting at Fort Kohl. The Wazirs captured him—how, I know not. They left him prisoner for many weeks, then sold him to the Haji.”
“Lies,” Rustum Khan cried. “Harley Sahib and Fortescue Sahib were both slain in the fighting. Fortescue Sahib was shot through the chest when the Wazirs burst in the gate, and Harley Sahib was cut down in the orchard. Deverell Sahib himseli was witness to both their deaths. How then—”
“Silence,” Deverell roared. “Since when have I been unable to speak for myself, Rustum Khan? Well, horse thief? What else has the Haji paid thee to say?”
“I am not in the Haji’s pay, sahib I swear it by the bones of my father. The story runs that he is holding this officer sahib in Dir until the celebration of the feast of the Maharra.
Then the sahib will die as a sacrifice to Maharra. He wil die slowly under the knives of the priests. Thou knowest the customs of the men of Dir, sahib, and how they treat their prisoners? And it is known that Haji has no love for white men. Even if the British Raj offered a ransom, he would refuse to hand him back.”
That, at least, was true. Deverell knew of the Haji of Dir, both by repute and also by personal experience. A diseased creature whose fiendish cruelty had shocked even the Furious Gomal.
After a pause he asked:
“Have you any proof of what you say?”
“Nothing, sahib. For myself I would not venture within Dir State for a lakh of rupees. But I do know that the story is believed in the bazaars. Even now there are thousands of pilgrims flocking to Dir for the celebration of the feast of the Maharra. And one and all are hastening for the same reason. They go to see the white man sacrificed by the priests.”
“Even if thy story were true, which it certainly is not, I could do nothing,” Deverell said harshly. “An Unbeliever would be safer in hell itself than in Dir at this time. Go back to the Haji and tell him I will pay him a visit at a time of my own choosing. Say also that I know his story is false. And now begone, fool. The hour is late and I am weary of your lies.”
“But, sahib, I am a poor man. I am not in the Haji’s pay, and I journeyed many koss to tell thee of the rumor.”
To Rustum Khan’s disgust, Deverell threw a twentyrupee note on the floor.
“Such a good lie deserves a reward,” he said. "Had I not known both Harley Sahib and Fortescue Sahib were dead, I might almost have believed you. Now go. Send him away, Rustum Khan.”
WHEN THE PATHAN returned he found Deverell unrolling a large-scale map of the Northwest Frontier, “He is gone, sahib. By the beard of the Prophet, that was a fine lie he told. Did w'e not know' for a certainty tliat both Harley Sahib and Fortescue Sahib were dead—”
Deverell made an impatient gesture.
“It is impossible to know anything of a certainty. Think back, Rustum Khan. You were with me in Port Kohl. Have you any clear remembrance of w hat happened?”
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“Nay, sahib. What with the lack of water and food and sleep. I was like a man in delirium. The siege seems now like an evil dream to look back upon.’’
“Exactly. And I was in the same plight. When, therefore, I fancied I saw Harley Sahib cut down by the Wazirs, it is possible I was mistaken. Remember the night was very dark. It was impossible to distinguish faces in the orchard. And remember that on account of the snipers the British officers were wearing the same uniform as the sepoys. I say, therefore, that it is possible I made a mistake.”
I The Pathan gazed at him in surprise.
“But, sahib, you told us with much detail how gallantly Harley Sahib had died. How he shot two Wazirs with his revolver and how—”
“I say again it may have been another man’s death I saw. There were no other .witnesses. It is in my mind that the horse thief's story may have been true. Perhaps I will go to Dir City to investigate the matter further.”
“Sahib, I believe that this is a cunning trap set by the Haji,” Rustum Khan cried. “He is an old enemy and wishes to entice you into his power. If you go there, you will never return. The plan is madness.”
“Madness or not, I intend to go. First I will make certain enquiries, and if what I hear shows that there may be truth in the horse thief’s story I will apply for shooting leave. Dir is no great distance from this station. From Shri I can cross the Bajaur Hills to where the caravan route from Nepal to Dir runs. There will be many parties of pilgrims hastening for the feast of the Maharra. I can join one such and—”
He was tracing the route on the map. Rustum Khan gaped at him like a dog hoping for a walk.
“When shall we leave Abbotshah, sahib?” “We? So you are weary of the service of the British Raj? You think that to die under the knives of the Haji’s priests would be better than forming fours?”
“I am your orderly, sahib. If I remained while you went to Dir, my shame would be great. Besides, if Harley Sahib is really a prisoner the rescue will take two men.”
“A task for two thousand more likely,” Deverell grunted. “All right, Rustum Khan. Since you think I am too small to manage this affair alone, you can come, too. If the leave is granted we will depart for Shri tomorrow. Now go. I require nothing further.”
Long after his orderly had gone, the Little Sahib remained poring over the map, smoking interminable cheroots and revolving plans. He had no delusions as to what lay ahead. It would be safer for a white man to enter a cage of hungry lions than Dir City, where the fiercest fanatics on the frontier were celebrating the festival of the Maharra.
“TWO DAYS LATER, Considinc Vachell I heard that Captain Deverell had left Abbotshah on shooting leave. Mathewson was her informant. When the long, lean adjutant of Scinde Cavalry saw her look of dismay, he thought to himself that Deverell was a fool to have left Abbotshah at that particular time.
And, indeed, Considinc was taken aback by his news. For an instant she wondered if Deverell could have gone purposely to avoid her. No, that was impossible. The engagement had been kept a dead secret. Deverell did not even know that Frank Harley and herself had ever met.
“How long will he be away for?”
“He’s been given two months leave, but I don’t suppose he’ll take it all. Too keen on his job to stay away for long. What are your plans, Miss Vachell? I hope you’re not tired of Abbotshah yet?”
As if it made any difference where she was, now that Frank was dead !
“Oh. no. I like Abbotshah. I think 1 11 stay a little longer.”
Which remark Mathewson construed as meaning that she intended to remain until Deverell came back. He was quite right. Where he erred was in ascribing her decision to remain to her admiration for the man who had held Fort Kohl.
It was hatred and not admiration that was holding Considine in Abbotshah. She wasn’t going to leave until she had accomplished her purpose. When Deverell came back, she would confront him with Frank’s letters and tell him to his face that he was a bully, a liar and a hypocrite.
Nor would the punishment stop there. She had influential friends in high places at Simla. If she shoved them Frank’s letters, she believed she could contrive to have an enquiry made into Deverell’s treatment of his late subaltern and the circumstances of Frank Harley’s death. For she was convinced the whole truth was not yet known.
Officers had been cashiered before on slighter evidence than that which she had to j show. Deverell would find it difficult to : answer questions put by a court of enquiry. How reconcile his treatment of Frank Harley while alive with the things he had written about him after his death?
His career was everything to a man of Deverell’s type. If she could ruin that get him dismissed from the army as unfit to be in command of men—her revenge would be complete indeed !
SHIROZ DAL. the hawk-faced leader of the bodyguard of the Haji of Dir, was j uneasy. Never before had he seen anything i like the madness of these holy men. Day j and night they howled like wolves round the j thana (jail) where the white prisoner lay. j They cared nothing for the blows of the ! guards’ swords. Not even fear of the Haji | himself could check their religious zeal.
There they came again ! A dun-colored i cloud, rolling across the sand, lit by flashes i as the sunlight caught the blades. They had been listening to that devil, Afzuz, the j w ildest and maddest of them all. Afzuz was i leading them now. Ash-smeared and ! grotesque in his rags, he ran, pirouetted and leaped before the fanatics. With frantic gestures he hounded them on to storm the thana.
“On, brothers, in the name of the Prophet, on. What matter the swords of the guards? Die on the steel and find Paradise. Did 1 not see in a vision that the white man liad escaped? It is true, else they would allow us to behold the Unbeliever. He is gone. I tell you the guards have tricked us. The white man is gone!”
The roar of fury that went up seemed to shiver the air like an explosion. Shiroz Dal saw' his soldiers swept backward by the mob. Curse these fools! In a moment they would be inside the prison and tearing the white man to pieces.
I íe raised his voice.
“Go back, you dogs. I tell you the white prisoner is safe inside. You will see him when the time comes for the sacrifice to Maharra and not before. Don’t listen to the words of the madman, Afzuz. He knowrs not what he says.”
A bare-shouldered pilgrim threatened him with a knife.
“Beware what you say, Shiroz Dal. Afzuz is a holy man and inspired by the gods. For four days he has been telling us there is no w'hite man inside the prison, and that is why we are not allowed to enter. If j he is really there, let us see him with our own | eyes. Give us proof you are speaking the j truth.”
“He dare not, for we have been tricked.” i Afzuz howfled. “On, brothers, and rush the jail. Remember my vision. 1 tell you the j white man has escaped and they are afraid to let us know.”
There was another rush more furious than the last. Shiroz Dal thought of ordering his men to abandon their swords in favor of
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But he dare not give the order. These fanatics were holy men come from all parts for the great feast of the Maharra. If one of them were killed there would be trouble.
Something, however, would have to be done. Had he had his way, he would have allowed them to pass through the prison and see the white man lying in his cage. He was there right enough. Caged like a wild beast, delirious with fever and too weak to stand, it would have been a miracle indeed if he had escaped.
! ‘‘If he does escape it will be by reason of the fever,” Shiroz thought. ‘‘Pray Allah he doesn’t die before the day of the feast. If he does, the Haji will need all his guards to restrain these holy ones.”
A hand plucked his sleeve. It was a message from the Haji himself. Shiroz Dal’s face lightened with relief when he heard the order to allow the crowd into the thana.
Again he raised his voice.
“The Haji of his kindness has listened to Kyour request. For the space of one hour you cün pass through the thana and see the white man. But no man is to throw a stone or strike him through the bars. Remember he is very weak by reason of the fever. If he gets any fresh injury he will assuredly die before the time of the feast.”
The yell that went up was indescribable. The crowd fell back u'hile the guards hastened to open the front and rear gates of the prison. This disclosed a long, dark passage with cages on either sides. Only one cage was occupied, that in which the white man lay.
“The way is open,” Shiroz yelled. “Pass through and as you pass look to the left. But beware of injuring the white man. He— ”
The remainder of his speech was drowned in the tumult of the rush. The guards were swept aside. Like magic, the word that the prison had been opened had passed through the town of Dir. The sandy square surrounding the thana was now a boiling sea of naked arms, flashing knives and wild, fanatical faces.
Like stampeding cattle the natives poured into the thana. The foremost jammed in the doorway and there was a roar of impatience from those behind. The madman, Afzuz, had been hurled to the ground by the shock of charging bodies. But he was on his feet in an instant. Shrieking, striking and bleeding, he was the first man inside the thana.
"On, brothers. Death to the Unbeliever. Death in the name of the Prophet ! The white man is here. Allah is great and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah !”
He had grasped the bars in a clutch that nothing could loosen. For an instant his strength dammed the spate of humanity.
DELIRIOUS and half-unconscious as he was, the fearful tumult had roused Frank Harley. He rolled over on the straw and opened his eyes. So this was the end ! The mob had rushed the thana and were going to tear him in pieces. He shrank in horror from the caldron of faces that jibbered and howled and surged beyond the shaking bars.
Then he fell back, half-fainting. He was going mad. For out of that tempest of roaring hatred had come an English voice. Lowpitched and urgent, it had reached his ears: “Buck up, Harley. We’ll have you out tonight.”
Those were the words he imagined he had heard. And to his deranged brain it had seemed as if they came from the mouth of the madman, Afzuz, who led the pack.
Amazingly powerful as the Little Sahib was, he could not retain his grasp on the bars for more than an instant of time. The weight of those behind tore his fingers from their hold. Then he was swept on through the rear doors of the thana like a cork rushed through a culvert by a swollen stream.
But he had achieved his purpose. He had entered the thana and had seen the prisoner for himself. It was Harley--or rather the wasted ghost of the Harley he had known. For once, rumor had not lied.
rifles. A few volleys would soon clear the square of the howling dogs.
Outside in the pulsating sunlight, he collapsed on the sand in an artistic imitation of a fit. It was the signal for which Rustum Khan had been waiting. He darted from a small tent of black sheepskins pitched on a bare space as close to the thana as the guards would allow. Raising Deverell in his arms, he carried him into the tent.
Not until he had taken a long drink from a canvas waterbag did Deverell speak.
“That horse thief spoke the truth. Rustum Khan. The prisoner is Harley Sahib. He is lying in a cage where it would be cruelty to put a dog. But I think our coming was unnecessary. By his appearance I should say he was very near to death.”
“Then he was wounded by the Wazirs?”
“I saw no wounds, but it is plain that he is in a high fever. He is not like the Harley Sahib you knew at Sandemain. There is no air in that prison and it is hot as hell itself. It is a wonder that Harley Sahib has lived as long as he has.”
“Did he recognize you, sahib?” Rustum Khan asked.
“I don’t know. I took the risk of speaking in English, but if he understood he gave no ¡ sign. I could not see as clearly as I hoped. It was dark and my eyes had been dazzled by the sun. Besides, I was almost crushed to death against the bars.”
“Then what is your plan, sahib? Are we to proceed as arranged? Or shall we trust that the fever will save him from the priests?”
For a second Deverell hesitated. Common sense urged, “Save yourself while you can. Harley is dying and you can’t help him. If you try to get him out of the thana you will be throwing away your own life for no purpose.”
He dare not take the chance. It would need a lot of fever to kill a man as young and strong as Harley. Better to kill him with his own hand than leave him in his present plight.
He shook his head almost with regret.
“We cannot leave him in Dir while he still lives. Tonight we must try to put our plan into execution. If it fails I must shoot Harley Sahib myself. Then we will know for certain that he is safe from the priests.”
AS HE SPOKE he tapped his hand on / \ the board on which he lay. It sounded hollow. Underneath there was a cavity scooped in the sand long enough and broad enough for a man to lie full length as in a grave.
Three nights —ever since they had arrived in Dir -the making of that grave had occupied Rustum Khan and himself. One had worked while the other slept. Maddening work, clawing in the darkness at sand that trickled back like water. Every handful had had to be lifted out and dispersed about the floor of the tent that no telltale mound might betray what they had done. Dir City was lousy with the Haji’s spies, and even the tent of Afzuz, the holy man, was not immune from their prying eyes.
But somehow it had been done. The grave in which they proposed to hide Harley had been scooped out and the sides roughly shored with old sleeping-boards. Now the cavity was concealed by the boards and skins on which Deverell slept. Harley could be hidden there until the first fury of the hue-and-cry had subsided.
Suddenly the flap of the tent was raised. Rustum Khan’s hand flew to the hilt of his knife. Then he relaxed. The visitor was the one friend they had in the city of Dir. His name was Pir Khan and he was a spy of Baluchistan Intelligence, posted in the city for the purpose of keeping watch on the doings of the Haji.
Old and crafty as a fox, he sidled into the tent. He was an Afridi, but his hooked nose and full red lips hinted at a Semitic strain. For enough money, Pir Khan would cheerfully have sold his soul to the devil.
city. But it will be a risky business, sahib. I don’t think the reward of five thousand rupees you promised is quite enough.” “Have you risked our lives and your own by coming to the tent to say that?” Deverell snarled. "What risk is there for you, Pir Khan? You’re not coming to the tharía with us tonight to knife the sentry.”
“Is that your plan, sahib? By Allah, it’s a desperate one. If you overcome the sentries and force the cage, you will carry the sahib i to this tent and hide him in the place you ¡ have prepared ! No, I don’t think the camel ! will be required after all. I have changed my mind concerning the arrangement. The . plan is too dangerous.”
“You mean you wish for a higher reward?” Pir Khan shook his head.
“No reward is high enough to tempt a I man to certain death. I am sorry, sahib. I have changed my mind.”
DEVERELL was frowning at the sand.
What did this sudden change of front on Pir Khan’s part mean? Was he contemplating treachery? Knowing the Eastern mind as he did, he deemed it all too possible. Per lia ps Pir Khan had decided that to betray him to his old enemy, the Haji, would be safer and more profitable than assisting Harley to escape.
Pir Khan leaned forward. Smiling, he scooped up a handful of sand and allowed it to trickle through his fingers.
“And yet it would seem a pity to abandon the plan when you have already risked so much. I hear that Hiroz Shah has a camel and a woman’s litter for sale such as would suit thy purpose admirably. But the price is three hundred rupees, which must be paid in cash. Alas, I have not sufficient to make the bargain. Can you. sahib, perchance advance the money?”
“What use is it buying the camel if you don’t intend to assist?”
“My mind is not yet decided, sahib. Perhaps if you get the sahib out of the prison tonight and hide him successfully, the plan may yet be carried through as arranged. Anyway, it would be no harm to purchase the camel and the litter and hold them in readiness. If you have the money, sahib, I will take it now.”
And then it came to Deverell like a flash what Pir Khan's plan was. He did mean to betray them. This visit had been made for the double purpose of finding out their exact scheme and extorting as much money as he could. He knew Deverell had brought a large sum of money into Dir; he meant to have his share of that as well as the Haji’s reward for the betrayal.
"I cannot stay long,” Pir Khan was saying. “Those who saw me enter this tent thought it was for the purpose of giving alms to Afzuz, the holy man. But the giving of alms is not usually a long business. If I don’t emerge shortly they will begin to wonder of what we speak.”
“True enough,” Deverell said. “You had better go now, Pir Khan.”
Pir Khan looked puzzled.
“But the three hundred rupees, sahib. Shall I not take them with me?”
“The money is not here. For safety I thought it better to conceal it in another part of the city. It is buried in the sand in a spot where none save myself could find it.” He told the lie with such assurance that Pir Khan was deceived. It was all the more credible because the burying of money is a common practice in India.
“Then how can I get it?”
“I will bring it to your house this evening as soon as it is dark. Be ready for me that I can enter without being seen. Now go.” Pir Khan rose and shuffled from the tent. The smile hovering about his lips was not missed by the Little Sahib. Yes. he intended to betray them. It was plain from his expression of crafty triumph.
Apparently Rustum Khan was of the same opinion.
“Were there ever such devils as these Afridis, sahib? That man has it in his mind to inform the Haji of our presence in Dir. Would it not have been better to have killed him before he left the tent?”
Deverell shook his head.
“That way would have meant certain death to Harley Sahib and ourselves. As it is, I have at least gained a little time. He will wait to secure the three hundred rupees before giving the information. To such a one, money is as dear as life itself.”
“True enough, sahib. But when you do not come in the evening—what then? Surely he will go straight to the Haji and tell him that Afzuz is the Little Sahib in disguise?”
Deverell had no reply to make. Dangerous as the situation had been while Pir Khan remained loyal, it was now doubly more so. He had been counting on the agent's aid to help to smuggle Harley out of Dir. Without his aid it would be impossible.
“Rustum.” he said, “there is a saying in English to the effect that it avails nothing to cross a bridge until you have reached it. At the moment I have no plan to offer. It looks as if all our planning had been brought to naught by Pir Khan’s treachery. So, being wise men and not fools, we must—”
“Leave Dir while there is yet time,” Rustum Khan suggested.
“Not so,” Deverell said. “What I was? going to say was that we must go to sleep and not add to our troubles by worrying.”
"THE LITTLE SAHIB had been right in I his suspicions of Pir Khan. The Afridi spy had at first been tempted by the offer of 5.000 rupees, but mature reflection had caused him to change his mind. The plan was too dangerous. It would be far safer and perhaps more profitable to sell the white man to the Haji.
First, however, he would secure the 300 rupees for himself. That part of the business need not be mentioned to the Haji. It would be a little extra profit to go into his own
But he was under no delusions as to the nature of the man he was proposing to betray. In the Furious Gomal, men said the Little Sahib was as cunning as a snake and as dangerous as a tiger. Pir Khan, who had reason to know that this reputation was no myth, prepared himself for the interview by loading every chamber of the Government revolver he carried in his belt.
That done, he sat down to wait. Darkness fell and still there was no sign of Deverell. He went out into the narrow, airless street, now heavy with the cooking smells of a thousand evening meals. It was a dark night. The Little Sahib had chosen wisely for his attempt upon the thana.
Why didn’t he come? Had he suspected? The thought made Pir Khan tremble. Perhaps he had been a fool to try for that 300 rupees. He should have gone to the Haji at once.
He’d go now. Hardly had he made the decision when he heard his name being called in the street outside. Hurrying to the door, he was confronted by an almost naked urchin, an Afridi boy of twelve whom he knew by sight.
“Salaam, Pir Khan. One gave me three annas to give thee this.”
Pir Khan snatched the piece of paper and hurried back into his house. It was written in Pushtu characters. And as he read the words the color drained from his face.
“Our plan is known. Your name also has come under suspicion. Destroy all private papers before the Haji’s soldiers come to search your house. Deverell.”
A cry broke from the spy’s lips. He was too late with his treachery. It would be useless now to tell the Haji what he already
But. praise be to Allah, the Little Sahib had suspected nothing and had sent him this warning. That act of friendship on the part of the man lie had proposed to betray would save him from the tortures. When the Haji’s men came they would find nothing. He had time to destroy the papers that were evidence he was acting as a spy for the: British Raj.
They were hidden under a loose board in an upper room. Safe enough ordinarily,
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Continued from page 44
but if the Haji’s guards came to ransack the house they would certainly be found. And then! Pir Khan’s flesh crept at the thought of wliat his fate would be.
He piled them together on the floor and struck a match. As he did so, a board creaked. He flung round just in time to glimpse a figure rushing upon him from the darkness.
And then -hardly knowing how it had liappened he found himself upon his back. Hands like steel gripped his throat. Grim eyes glared into his.
"So, witless one! You thought to betray us, did you? Did you not know that I could read the thoughts behind your false face? I knew where my note would send you. You were about to destroy the proofs that you’re a spy of the Raj."
The pressure tightened until Fir Khan’s eyeballs were starting from the sockets. Then again he heard the Little Sahib’s voice :
“I have come to make a bargain, Pir Khan, but this time it will be a different one. I propose to take that evidence and carry it on my person. Do you understand? If I am taken by the Haji the papers will be found with your name written thereon, and we’ll suffer together’on the hooks. To betray me will mean certain torture for yourself. The Haji will never forgive the man who
has been selling his secrets for years to the British Raj.”
He released the Afridi and sprang back. Pir Khan found himself looking down the barrel of a revolver.
With his free hand Deverell gathered up the papers and thrust them beneath his rags. He was laughing.
"You see I have them safe, Pir Khan. I swear that if I escape with Harley Sahib they will never be seen by the Haji. Do you think now' that the camel and the litter will be forthcoming?”
Maclean's Magazine, November I, 1933
Pir Khan bowed his head.
“Of a surety they will. While you have thefee papers your liberty is as precious to me as my own. But when you have escaped, sahib? You will return the papers and give me the promised reward?” His eyes glittered with greed.
The Little Sahib’s reply was prefaced by an unprintable oath.
“Do you think I give rewards to traitors? Nay, Pir Khan. Your only reward for our escape will be the knowledge of your own safety. Now go and pray for our success. Remember what your own fate will be if I am taken by the Haji.”
And before Pir Khan could reply he was gone.
To be Concluded
"Greetings, sahib,” he whispered. “I cannot stay long lest any should wonder what I do in the tent of Afzuz, the holy man. I have come to say that I have made arrangements for the camel and the litter. If you can get the sahib out of the prison I can arrange for him to be taken out of the