Half-way through the meal Andover returned, his lean face red with exertion. “I’ve got things more or less in order. They may easily starve us out, for we are wretchedly provisioned, but I don’t think they’ll get us with a rush. I wonder when the show is to commence.” He drank some coffee, and then filled a pipe.
“I left a man at Nazri. If the thing turns out to be a small affair I am to meet him there to-night; but if I don’t come he is to know that it is serious and go and warn the Khautmi people. You haven’t a connection by any chance?”
“No. Wish we had. The heliograph is no good, and the telegraph is still under the consideration of some engineer man. But how do you propose to get to Nazri? It’s only twelve miles, but they are mostly up on end.”
“I did it when I was here before. It’s easy enough if you have done any rock-climbing, and I can leave with the light. Besides, there’s a moon.”
Andover laughed. “You’ve turned over a new leaf, Lewis. Your energy puts us all to shame. I wish I had your physical gifts, my son. The worst of being long and lanky in a place like this is that you’re always as stiff as a poker. I shall die of sciatica before I am forty. But upon my word it is queer meeting you here in the loneliest spot in creation. When I saw you in town before I came out, you were going into Parliament or some game of that kind. Then I heard that you had been out here, and gone back; and now for no earthly reason I waken up one fine morning to find you being potted at before my gate. You’re as sudden as Marker, and a long chalk more mysterious.”
Lewis looked grave. “I wish Marker were only as simple as me, or I as sudden as him. It’s a gift not learned in a day. Anyhow I’m here, and we’ve got a day’s sport before us. Hullo, the ball seems about to open.” Little puffs of smoke and dust were rising from beyond the wall, and on the heavy air came the faint ping-ping of rifles.
Andover stretched himself elaborately. “Lord alive, but this is absurd. What do these beggars expect to do? They can’t shell a fort with stolen expresses.”
The two men went up to the edge of the wall and looked over the plateau. A hundred yards off stood a group of tribesmen formed in some semblance of military order, each with a smoking rifle in his hand. It was like a parody of a formation, and Andover after rubbing his eyes burst into a roar of laughter.
“The beggars must be mad. What in heaven’s name do they expect to do, standing there like mummies and potting at a stone wall? There’s two more companies of them over there. It isn’t war, it’s comic opera.” And he sat down, still laughing, on the edge of a gun-case to put on the boots which his orderly had brought.
It was comic opera, but the tinge of melodrama was not absent. When a sufficient number of rounds had been fired, the tribesmen, as if acting on half-understood instructions from some prehistoric manual, slung their rifles on their shoulders and came on. The fire from the fort did not stop them, though it broke their line. In a minute they were clutching at every hand-grip and foothold on the wall, and Andover with a beaming face directed the disposition of his men.