“And here,” another added, “as the riders checked at sight of the dead, Ajeet pulled one from his horse and killed him, but the other, with a pistol, shot Ajeet and he is dead.”
“The Chief is not dead,” said the one who held his head in his lap; “he is but shot in the shoulder, and I have stopped the blood with my hand.”
“And we have killed the other soldier,” another said, “for, having seen the bodies, we could not let him live.”
From Sookdee’s hand dangled a coat of one of the dead.
“This that is a leather purse,” he said, “contains letters; the red thing on them I have looked upon before—it is the seal of the Englay. It was here in the coat of that one who is a sergeant—the other being a soldier.”
He put the leather case within the bosom of his shirt, adding: “This may even be of value to the Dewan. Beyond that, there was little of loot upon these dogs of the Englay—eight rupees. The coats and the turbans we will burn.”
Hunsa stooped down and slipped the sandals from the feet of the one Sookdee had pointed out as the officer.
“The footwear is of little value, but we will take the brass cooking pots of the merchant,” Sookdee said, eyeing this performance; there was suspicion in his eyes lighted from the flare of their camp fires.
“Sookdee,” Hunsa said, “you have the Englay leather packet, but they do not send sowars through the land of the Mahratta with the real message written on the back of the messenger. In quiet I will rip apart the soles of this footwear. Do you that with the saddles; therein is often hidden the true writing. In the slaying of these two we have acquired a powerful enemy, the English, and the message, if there be one, might be traded for our lives. Here are the keys to the box, for it is heavy.”
Into Hunsa’s mind had flashed the thought that the gods had opened the way, for he had plotted to do this thing—the destruction of Ajeet.
“Have all the bodies thrown into the pit, Sookdee,” he advised; “make perfect the covering of the fire and ash, and while you prepare for flight I will go and bring Bootea’s cart to carry Ajeet.”
Then Hunsa was swallowed up in the gloom of the night, melting like a shadow into the white haze of the road as he raced like a grey wolf toward the Gulab, who now had certainly been delivered into his hands.
Soon his heart pumped and the choke of exertion slowed him to a fast walk. The sandals, bulky with their turned-up toes, worried him. He drew a knife from his sash and slit the tops off, muttering: “If it is here, the message of value, it will be between the two skins of the soles.”
Now they lay flat and snug in his hand as he quickened his pace.
The Gulab heard the shot at the Bagree camp, and Hunsa found her trembling from apprehension.