“I understand, Colonel. You wish me to get that from the Rana?”
“Yes, Captain; and I may say that if you can get through with all this there will be no question about your Majority; you might even go higher up than Major.”
“By Jove! as to that, my dear Colonel, this trip is just good sport—I love it: less danger than playing polo with these rotters. I’ll swing over to Udaipur first—it’s just west of the Pindari camp,—been there once before on a little pow-wow—then I’ll switch back to Amir Khan.”
“I wish you luck, Captain; but be careful. If we can feel sure that this horde of Pindaris are not hovering on our army’s flank, like the Russians hovered on Napoleon’s in the Moscow affair, it will be a great thing—you will have accomplished a wonderful thing.”
“Right you are, Sir,” Barlow exclaimed blithely. The stupendous task, for it was that, tonicked him; he was like a sportsman that had received news of a tiger within killing distance. He rose, and stretched out his hand for the paper, saying: “I’ve got a job of cobbling to do—I’ll put this between the soles of my sandal, as it was carried before—it’s the safest place, really. To-morrow I’ll become an apostate, an Afghan; and I’ll be busy, for I’ve got to do it all myself. I can trust no one with a dark skin.”
“Not even the Gulab, I fear, Captain; one never knows when a woman will be swayed by some mental transition.” He was thinking of Elizabeth.
“You’re right, Colonel,” Barlow answered. “I fancy I could trust the Gulab—but I won’t.”
Captain Barlow had been through a busy day. The very fact that all he did in preparation for his journey to the Pindari camp had been done with his own hands, held under water, out of sight, had increased the strain upon him.
In India in the usual routine of matters, a staff of ten servants form a composite second self to a Sahib: to hand him his boots, and lace them; to lay out his clothes, and hold them while slipped into; to bring a cheroot or a peg of whiskey; a syce to bring the horse and rub a towel over the saddle—to hold the stirrup, even, for the lifted foot, and trotting behind, guard the horse when the Sahib makes a call; a man to go here and there with a note or to post a letter; a servant to whisk away a plate and replenish the crystal glass with pearl-beaded wine without sign from the drinker, and appear like a bidden ghost, clad in speckless white, silent and impassive of face, behind his master’s chair at the table when he dines out; everything in fact beyond the mental whirl of the brain to be arranged by one or other of the ten.
But this day Barlow had been like a man throwing detectives off his trail. Not one of his servants must suspect that he contemplated a trip—no, not just that, for the Captain had intimated casually to the butler that he would go soon to Satara.