The chief made a gesture of repugnance. “I hate that place of mud and lime. The blood of my people cries on me when I enter the gates. But if it is your counsel I will come with you.”
“I wish to assure myself that the place is quiet. Our success depends upon the whole country being unsuspicious and asleep. Now if word has got to the south, and worse still to England, there will be questions asked and vague instructions sent up to the frontier. We shall find a stir among the garrisons, and perhaps some visitors in the place. And at the very worst we might find some fool inquiring about the Nazri Pass. There was once a man in Bardur who did, but people laughed at him and he has gone.”
“Where?” asked the chief.
“To England. But he was a harmless man, and he is too old to have any vigour.”
As the darkness grew over the hills the fires were brightened and the curious game of khoti was played in groups of six. The women came to the house-doors to sit and gossip, and listened to the harsh laughter of their lords from beside the fires. A little after midnight, when the stars were picked out in the deep, velvet sky, Fazir Khan and the stranger, both muffled to the ears, stole beyond the street and scrambled down the perilous path-ways to the south.
Towards the close of a wet afternoon two tongas discharged Lewis, George, two native servants, and a collection of gun-cases in the court-yard of the one hotel in Bardur. They had made a record journey up country, stopping to present no letters of introduction, which are the thieves of time. Now, as Lewis found himself in the strait valley, with the eternal snows where the sky should be, and sniffed the dry air from the granite walls, he glowed with the pleasure of recollection.
The place was the same as ever. The same medley of races perambulated the streets. Sheep-skinned Central Asians and Mongolian merchants from Yarkand still displayed their wares and their cunning; Hunza tribesmen, half-clad Chitralis, wild-eyed savages from Yagistan mingled in the narrow stone streets with the civilized Persian and Turcoman from beyond the mountains. Kashmir sepoys, an untidy race, still took their ease in the sun, and soldiers of South India from the Imperial Service Troops showed their odd accoutrements and queer race mixtures. The place looked and smelled like a kind of home, and Lewis, with one eye on the gun-cases and one on the great hills, forgot his heart-sickness and had leisure for the plain joys of expectation.
“I am going to get to work at once,” he said, when he had washed the dust out of his eyes and throat. “I shall go and call on the Logans this very minute, and I expect we shall see Thwaite and some of the soldiers at the club to-night.” So George, much against his will, was compelled to don a fresh suit and suffer himself to be conducted to the bungalow of the British Resident.