“It is the accursed Sahib,” Hunsa snarled between his grinding teeth. He brooded over the advent of the messenger and racked his animal brain for some scheme to accomplish his mission of murder, and counteract the other’s influence. And presently a bit of rare deviltry crept into his mind, joint partner with the murder thought. If he could but kill the Chief and have the blame of it cast upon the Sahib, who, no doubt, would have his interviews with Amir Khan alone.
During the time Hunsa had been there, several times in the palace, somewhat of a privileged character, known to be connected with the Gulab, he had familiarised himself with the plan of the marble building: the stairways that ran down to the central court; the many passages; the marble fret-work screen niches and mysterious chambers.
Either Hunsa or Sookdee was now always trailing Barlow—his every move was known. And then, as if some evil genii had taken a spirit hand in the guidance of events, Hunsa’s chance came. Barlow, who had tried three times to see Amir Khan, one day received a message at the gate that he was to come back that evening, when the Chief, having said his prayers, would give him a private audience.
Hunsa had seen Barlow making his way from the serai where he camped with his horse toward the palace, and hurrying with the swift celerity of a jungle creature, he reached the gate first. His head wrapped in the folds of a turban so that his ugly face was all but hidden, he was talking to the guard when Barlow gave the latter his yellow slip of passport; and as the guard left his post and entered the dim entrance to call up the stairway for one to usher in the Afghan, Hunsa slipped nonchalantly through the gate and stood in the shadow of a jutting wall, his black body and drab loin-cloth merging into the gloom.
“Is the one alone?” Amir Khan asked when a servant had presented Barlow’s yellow slip of paper.
“But for the orderly that is with him.”
“Tell him to enter, and go where your ears will remain safe upon your head.”
The bearer withdrew and Captain Barlow entered, preceded by the orderly, who, with a deep salaam announced:
“Sultan Amir Khan, it is Ayub Alli who would have audience.” Then he stepped to one side, and stood erect against the wall.
“Salaam, Chief,” Barlow said with a sweep of a hand to his forehead, and Amir Khan from his seat in a black ebony chair inlaid with pearl-shell and garnets, returned the salutation, asking: “And what favour would Ayub Alli ask?”
“A petition such as your servant would make is but for the ears of Amir Khan.”
The black eyes of the Pindari, deep set under the shaggy eyebrows, hung upon the speaker’s face with the fierce watchful stab of a falcon’s.
Barlow saw the distrust, the suspicion. He unslung from his waist his heavy pistol, took the tulwar from the wide brass-studded belt about his waist, and tendered them to the orderly saying: “It is a message of peace but also it is alone for the ears of Amir Khan.”