“Nothing,” said he, “except that we have fed you and armed you. By your own acts you are the servants of my master.”
The mullah was rapidly working himself into a frenzy. He swung his long bony arms across his breast and turned his face skywards. “Ye hear that, my children. The free people, the Bada-Mawidi, of whose loins sprang Abraham the prophet, are the servants of some foreign dog in the north. If ye were like your fathers, ye would have long ago ere this wiped out the taunt in blood.”
The man sat perfectly composed, save that his right hand had grasped a revolver. He was playing a bold game, but he had played it before. And he knew the man he had to deal with.
“I say again, you are my master’s servants by your own confession. I did not say his slaves. You are a free people, but you will serve a greater in this affair. As for this dog who blasphemes, when we have settled more important matters we will attend to him.”
The mullah was scarcely a popular member of his tribe, for no one stirred at the call. The stranger sat watching him with very bright, eager eyes. Suddenly the priest ceased his genuflexions, there was a gleam of steel among his rags, then something bright flashed in the air. It fell short, because at the very moment of throwing, a revolver had cracked out in the silence, and a bullet had broken two of his fingers. The man flung himself writhing on the ground, howling forth imprecations.
The stranger looked half apologetically at the chief, whose glum demeanour had never relaxed. “Sorry,” he said; “it had to be done in self-defence. But I ask your pardon for it.”
Fazir Khan nodded carelessly. “He is a disturber of peace, and to one who cannot fight a hand matters little. But, by Allah, ye northerners shoot quick.”
The stranger relinquished the cherry-wood pipe and filled a meerschaum from a pouch which he carried in the pocket of his cloak. He took a long drink from the loving-cup of mulled wine which was passing round.
“Your mad priest has method in his folly,” he said. “It is true that we are attacking a great people; therefore the more need of wariness for you and me, Fazir Khan. If we fail there will be the devil to pay for you. The English will shift their frontier-line beyond the mountains, and there will be no more lifting of women and driving of cattle for the Bada-Mawidi. You will all be sent to school, and your guns will be taken from you.”
The chief compressed his attractive features into a savage scowl. “That may not be in my lifetime,” he said. “Besides, are there no mountains all around? In five hours I shall be in China, and in a little more I might be beyond the Amu. But why talk of this? The accursed English shall not escape us, I swear by the hilt of my sword and the hearts of my fathers.”
A subdued murmur of applause ran around the circle.
“You are men after my own heart,” said the stranger. “Meanwhile, a word in your own ear, Fazir Khan. Dare you come to Bardur with me?”