He had mapped this route out carefully in the day and knew just how to avoid the patrolling guards, and he was back in the narrow chouk of the town that was a struggling stream of swaggering Pindaris, and darker skinned Marwari bunnias and shopkeepers. Hunsa pushed his way through this motley crowd and continued on to the gate of the palace.
To the guard who halted him he said: “If the other who went up to see the Chief has gone, I would go now, meer sahib. As I have said, it is a message from the Gulab Begum.”
“I looked for you when I returned from above,” the guard answered, “but you had gone. The Afghan has gone but a little since—stay you here.”
He called within, “Yacoub!”
It was the orderly who had conducted Barlow to Amir Khan who answered, and to him the guard said: “Go to the Chief’s apartment and say that one waits here with word from the favourite.”
Hunsa sat down nonchalantly upon a marble step, and drew the guard into a talk of raids, explaining that he had ridden once upon a time with Chitu, on his foray into the territory of the Nizam.
Hunsa had come back to the palace in haste so that the murder of Amir Khan might be discovered soon after Captain Barlow had left, and that the crime might be fastened upon the Sahib. As he waited, chatting to the guard, there was suddenly a frenzied deep-throated call of alarm from the upper level of rooms that was answered by other voices here and there crying out; there was the hurrying scuffling of feet on the marble stairs, and Yacoub appeared, his eyes wide in fright, crying:
“The Chief has been stabbed! he’s dead! he’s murdered! Guard the door—let no one out—let no one in!”
“Beat the nakara,” the guard commanded; “raise the alarm!”
He seized his long-barrelled matchlock, blew on the fuse, and pointing up toward the moonlit sky, fired. Just within, in a little court, Yacoub, with heavy drum-stick, was pounding from the huge drum a thunderous vibrant roar, and somebody at his command had seized a horn, and from its copper throat a strident shriek of alarm split the air.
The narrow street was now one surging mass of excited Pindaris. With their riding whips they slashed viciously at any one other than their own soldier caste that ventured near, driving them out, crying: “This is alone for the Pindaris!”
A powerful, whiskered jamadar pushed his way through the mob, throwing men to the right and left with sweeps of his strong arm, and, reaching the guard, was told that Amir Khan lay up in his room, murdered. Then an hazari (commander of five thousand) came running and pushed through the throng that the full force of the tragedy held almost silent.
The guard saluted, saying: “Commander Kassim, the Chief has been slain.”