He went through the house from bottom to top. Not a living person was to be seen. But in one of the rooms his quick eye caught sight of a small hairpin such as only a European woman would use. He picked it up. In another room a cooking pot had been left, and it was evident that it had but lately been used. The simple furniture was in some disorder.
The khansaman had with much labor managed to mount the stairs.
“Allah is Allah!” he said. “They are gone!”
The khansaman’s surprise was clearly genuine, and Desmond refrained from visiting on him his disappointment. Bitter as that was, his alarm was still more keen. What had become of the ladies! With all his old impulsiveness he had come to rescue them, never pausing to think of what risks he himself might run. And now they were gone! Could Diggle have suspected that his carefully-hidden tracks were being followed up, and have removed the prisoners to some spot remoter from the river? It was idle to speculate; they were gone; and there was no obvious clue to their whereabouts.
The khansaman, limp and damp after his unwonted exercise, had squatted on the floor and was fanning himself, groaning deeply. Desmond went to the window of the room and looked out over the country; wondering, longing, fearing. As he gazed disconsolately before him, he caught sight of a party of horsemen rapidly approaching. Bidding the khansaman stifle his groans, he watched them eagerly through the chiks of the window. Soon a dozen native horsemen cantered up to the front gate and drew rein.
One of them, clad in turban of gold tissue, short blue jacket lavishly decorated with gold, and crimson trousers, bade the rest dismount. He was a tall man, a handsome figure in his fine array. He wore a sword with hilt inlaid with gold, the scabbard covered with crimson velvet; and in his girdle was stuck a knife with agate handle, and a small Moorish dagger ornamented with gold and silver.
He stood for a time gazing as in perplexity at the broken gateway. His face was concealed by his turban from Desmond, looking from above. But when he directed his glance upward, Desmond, peering through the chiks, could scarcely believe his eyes. The features were those of Marmaduke Diggle. His heart thumped against his ribs. Never, perhaps, in the whole course of his adventures, had he been in such deadly peril. The appearance of the party had been so sudden, and he had been so deeply engrossed with his musings, that he had not had time to think of his own situation.
“Come, son of a pig,” said Diggle at length, throwing himself from his horse and beckoning to his syce, “we will search the place. There must be something to show who the dacoits were.”
He strode into the compound, followed by his trembling servant.