This morning they had told him it was the third of June:—barely three weeks since that strange, poignant parting with Rose. Not seven weeks since the infinitely more poignant and terrible parting with Lance. Yet, as his mind stirred unwillingly, picking up threads, he seemed to be looking back across a measureless gulf into another life....
“The Sahib has slept? His countenance has been more favourable since these few days?”
It was the voice of Jiwan Singh; and the man himself followed it—taut and wiry, instinct with a degree of energy and purpose almost irritating to one who was feeling emptied of both; aimless as a jelly-fish stranded by the tide.
“Not smoking, Hazur? Has that scoundrel Azim Khan forgotten the cigarettes?”
Roy unearthed his case, and held it up, smiling.
“The scoundrel forgets nothing,” said he, knowing very well how the two of them had vied with one another in forestalling his needs. “Sit down, my friend—and tell me news. I am too lazy to read.” He touched an unopened ‘Civil and Military Gazette.’ “Too lazy even to cast out the devil of laziness. But very ready to listen. Are things all quiet now? Any more tamashas?”
“Only a very little one across the frontier,” said the Sikh with his grim smile: and proceeded to explain that the Indian Government had lately become entangled in a sort of a war with Afghanistan; a rather ’kutcha bandobast’ in Jiwan Singh’s estimation; and not quite up to time; but a war, for all that.
“You mean——” asked Roy, his numbed interest faintly astir, “that it was to have been part of the same game as the trouble down there?”
“God has given me ears—and wits, Hazur,” was the cautious answer. “That would be pukka bundobast, for war and trouble to come at one stroke in the hot season, when so many of the white soldier-log are in the Hills. Does your Honour suppose that merely by chance the Amir read in his paper of riots in India, and said in his heart, ’Wah! Now is the time for lighting little fires along the Border’?”
“N-no—I don’t suppose——”
“Does your Honour suppose Hindus and Moslems—outside a highly educated few—are truly falling on each other’s necks, without one thought of political motive?”
“No, my friend—I do not suppose.”
“Yet these things are said openly among our people: and too few, now, have courage to speak their thought. For it is the loyal who suffer—shurrum ki bhat! Is it surprising, Hazur, if we, who distrust this new madness, begin to ask ourselves, ’Has the British Raj lost the will—or the power—of former days to protect friends and smite enemies’? If the noisy few clamouring for Swaraj make India once more a battlefield, your people can go. We Sikhs must remain, with Pathans and Afghans—as of old—hammering at our doors——”