“Put your arms about my waist, Gulab,” he said, as the grey, to the tickle of a spur, turned to the road. “Don’t lean away from me,” he said, presently, “because we have a long way to go and that tires. That’s better, girl,” as her warm breast pressed against his body.
The big grey, with a deep breath, and a sniffle of satisfaction, scenting that his head was turned homeward, paced along the ghost-strip of roadway in long free strides. Even when a jackal, or it might have been a honey-badger, slipped across the road in front, a drifting shadow, the Turcoman only rattled the snaffle-bit in his teeth, cocked his ears, and then blew a breath of disdain from his big nostrils.
In the easy swinging cradle of the horse’s smooth stride the minds of both Barlow and the Gulab relaxed into restfulness; her arms about the strong body, Bootea felt as if she clung to a tower of strength—that she was part of a magnetic power; and the nightmare that had been, so short a time since, had floated into a dream of content, of glorious peace.
Barlow was troubling over the problem of the gorilla-faced man, and thinking how close he had been to death—all but gone out except for that figure in his arms that was so like a lotus; and the death would have meant not just the forfeit of his life, but that his duty, the mission he was upon for his own people, the British government, had been jeopardised by his participation in some native affair of strife, something he had nothing to do with. He had ridden along that road hoping to overtake the two riders that now lay dead in the pit with the other victims of the thugs—of which he knew nothing. They were bearing to him a secret message from his government, and he had ridden to Manabad to there take it from them lest in approaching the city of the Peshwa, full of seditious spies and cutthroats, the paper might be stolen. But at Manabad he had learned that the two had passed, had ridden on; and then, perhaps because of converging different roads, he had missed them.
But most extraordinarily, just one of the curious, tangented ways of Fate, the written order lay against his chest sewn between the double sole of a sandal. Once or twice the hard leather caused him to turn slightly the girl’s body, and he thought it some case in which she carried jewels.
They had gone perhaps an eighth of a mile when the road they followed joined another, joined in an arrowhead. The grey turned to the left, to the west, the homing instinct telling him that that way lay his stall in the city of the Peshwa.
“This was the way of my journey, Bootea,” Barlow said; “I rode from yonder,” and he nodded back toward the highway into which the two roads wedged. “It was here that I heard your call, the call of a woman in dread. Also it might have been a business that interested me if it were a matter of waylaying travellers. Did you see two riders of large horses, such as Arabs or of the breed I ride, men who rode as do sowars?”