Then the commander ordered the advance, and saluting, said: “Salaam, Captain Sahib, and if I meet with your servants I will give them news that you desire their presence.”
When the huge cannon had rumbled by, and behind it had passed a company of sepoys on foot, Barlow turned his horse into the jungle for Gulab.
Bootea’s eyes glistened like stars when, lowering a hand, Barlow said: “Put a foot upon mine, Gulab, and I’ll swing you up.”
When they were on the road she said; “I saw them. It is as the runner said, war—is it so, Sahib?”
“The Captain says that he goes to collect revenue, but it may be that he spoke a lie, for it is said that a man of the land of the Five Rivers, which is the Punjaub, has five ways of telling a tale, and but one of them is the truth and comes last.”
The girl pondered over this for a little, and then asked; “Does the Sahib think perhaps it is war against his people?”
That was just what was in Barlow’s mind since he had seen the big gun going forth at night; that perhaps the plot that was just a whisper, fainter than the hum of a humming bird’s wing, was moving with swift silent velocity.
“Why do you ask that question? Have you heard from lips—perhaps loosened by wine or desire—aught of this?”
When she remained without answer, Barlow tapped his fingers lightly upon her shoulder, saying, “Tell me, girl.”
“I have heard nothing of war,” she said. “There was a something though that men whispered in the dark.”
“What was it?”
“It was of the Chief of the Pindaris.”
She felt the quivering start that ran through Barlow’s body; but he said quietly: “With the Pindaris there is always trouble. Something of robbery—of a raid, was it?”
“I will listen again to those that whisper in the dark,” she answered, “and perhaps if it concerns you, for your protection, I will tell.”
“I hope those men didn’t fall in with my two chaps,” Barlow said, rather voicing his thoughts than in the way of speaking to the girl.
“The two who rode—they were the Captain Sahib’s servants?”
Barlow started. “Yes, they were: I suppose I can trust you.”
“And the Sahib is troubled? Perhaps it was a message for the Sahib that they carried.”
“I don’t know,” he answered, evasively. “I was thinking that perhaps they might be messengers, for our sepoys are not stationed here, and come but on such errands.”
“And if they were lulled, and the message stolen, it would cause trouble?”
She felt him tremble as he looked down into her eyes.
“I don’t know. But the messages of a Raj are not for the ears of men to whom they have not been sent.”
Barlow had an intuition that the girl’s words were not prompted by idle curiosity. He was possessed of a sudden gloomy impression that she knew something of the two men who rode. And it was strange that they had not been seen upon either of the roads. The officer spoke of them frankly, and not as a man hiding something.