“I speak as of a different nation,” Marker said, looking towards Lewis. “But I find the curse of modern times is this mock-seriousness. Some centuries ago men and women were serious about honour and love and religion. Nowadays we are frivolous and sceptical about these things, but we are deadly in earnest about fads. Plans to abolish war, schemes to reform criminals, and raise the condition of woman, and supply the Bada-Mawidi with tooth-picks are sure of the most respectful treatment and august patronage.”
“I agree,” said Lewis. “The Bada-Mawidi live there?” And he pointed to the hill line.
Marker nodded. He had used the name inadvertently as an illustration, and he had no wish to answer questions on the subject.
“A troublesome tribe, rather?” asked Lewis, noticing the momentary hesitation.
“In the past. Now they are quiet enough.”
“But I understood that there was a ferment in the Pamirs. The other side threatened, you know.” He had almost said “your side,” but checked himself.
“Ah yes, there are rumours of a rising, but that is further west. The Bada-Mawidi are too poor to raise two swords in the whole tribe. You will come across them if you go north, and I can recommend them as excellent beaters.”
“Is the north the best shooting quarter?” asked Lewis with sharp eyes. “I am just a little keen on some geographical work, and if I can join both I shall be glad. Due north is the Russian frontier?
“Due north after some scores of the most precipitous miles in the world. It is a preposterous country. I myself have been on the verge of it, and know it as well as most. The geographical importance, too, is absurdly exaggerated. It has never been mapped because there is nothing about it to map, no passes, no river, no conspicuous mountain, nothing but desolate, unvaried rock. The pass to Yarkand goes to the east, and the Afghan routes are to the west. But to the north you come to a wall, and if you have wings you may get beyond it. The Bada-Mawidi live in some of the wretched nullahs. There is sport, of course, of a kind, but not perhaps the best. I should recommend you to try the more easterly hills.”
The speaker’s manner was destitute of all attempt to dissuade, and yet Lewis felt in some remote way that this man was trying to dissuade him. The rock-wall, the Bada-Mawidi, whatever it was, something existed between Bardur and the Russian frontier which this pleasant gentleman did not wish him to see.
“Our plans are all vague,” he said, “and of course we are glad of your advice.”
“And I am glad to give it, though in many ways you know the place better than I do. Your book is the work of a very clever and observant man, if you will excuse my saying so. I was thankful to find that you were not the ordinary embryo-publicist who looks at the frontier hills from Bardur, and then rushes home and talks about invasion.”