“I almost wish I was going out again if I had you two as company. We don’t get the right sort out there. Our globe-trotters all want to show their cleverness, or else they are merely fools. You will find it miserably dull. Nothing but bad claret and cheap champagne at the clubs, a cliquey set of English residents, and the sort of stock sport of which you tire in a month. That’s what you may expect our frontier towns to be like.”
“And the neighbourhood?” said Lewis, with lifted eyebrows.
“Oh, the neighbourhood is wonderful enough; but our people there are too slack and stale to take advantage of it. It is a peaceful frontier, you know, and men get into a rut as easily there as elsewhere. The country’s too fat and wealthy, and people begin to forget the skeleton up among the rocks in the north.”
“What are the garrisons like?”
“Good people, but far too few for a serious row, and just sufficiently large to have time hang on their hands. Our friends the Bada-Mawidi now and then wake them up. I see from the Temps that a great stirring of the tribes in the Southern Pamirs is reported. I expect that news came overland through Russia. It’s the sort of canard these gentry are always getting up to justify a massing of troops on the Amu Daria in order that some new governor may show his strategic skill. I daresay you may find things a little livelier than I found them.”
As they went towards the Faubourg St. Honore a bitter Paris north-easter had begun to drift a fine powdered snow in their eyes. Gribton shivered and turned up the collar of his fur coat. “Ugh, I can’t stand this. It makes me sick to be back. Thank your stars that you are going to the sun and heat, and out of this hideous grey weather.”
They left him at the Embassy, and turned back to their hotel.
“He’s a useful man,” said Lewis, “he has given us a cue; life will be pretty well varied out there for you and me, I fancy.”
Then, as they entered a boulevard, and the real sweep of the wind met their faces, both men fell strangely silent. To George it was the last word of the north which they were leaving, and his recent home-sickness came back and silenced him. But to Lewis, his mind already busy with his errand, this sting of wind was the harsh disturber which carried him back to a lonely home in a cold, upland valley. It was the wintry weather which was his own, and Alice’s face, framed in a cloak, as he had seen it at the Broken Bridge, rose in the gallery of his heart. In a moment he was disillusioned. Success, enterprise, new lands and faces seemed the most dismal vexation of spirit. With a very bitter heart he walked home, and, after the fashion of his silent kind, gave no sign of his mood save by a premature and unreasonable retirement to bed.
IN THE HEART OF THE HILLS