Lewis stared at the speaker, his brain busy with a problem. For a moment before the fight, and for a little during its progress he had been serenely happy. He had done something hard and perilous; he had risked bullets; he had brought authentic news of a real danger. He was happily at peace with himself; the bland quiet of conscience which he had not felt for months had given him the vision of a new life. But the danger had faded away in smoke; and here was Andover with a mystified face asking its meaning.
“I swear that those fellows never had the least intention of beating us. There were far too few of them for one thing. They looked like criminals fighting under sentence, you know, like the Persian fellows. It was more like some religious ceremony than a fight. The whole thing is beyond me, but I think no harm’s done. Hang it, I wish Holm were here. He’s a depressing beggar, but he takes responsibility off my shoulders.”
The dead men were buried as quickly and decently as the place allowed of. Things were generally cleaned up, and by noon the little fort was as spick as if the sound of a rifle had never been heard within its walls. Lewis and Andover had the midday meal in a sort of gun-room which looked over the edge of the plateau to a valley in the hills. It had been arranged and furnished by a former commandant who found in the view a repetition of the one in a much-loved Highland shooting-box. Accordingly it was comfortable and homelike beyond the average of frontier dwellings. Outside a dripping mist had clouded the hills and chilled the hot air.
The two men smoked silently, knocking out their ashes and refilling with the regularity of clockwork. Lewis was thinking hard, thinking of the bitterness of dashed hopes, of self-confidence clutched at and lost. He saw as if in an inspiration the trend of Marker’s plans. He had been given a paltry fictitious errand, like a bone to a dog, to quiet him. Some devilry was afoot and he must be got out of the road. For a second the thought pleased him, the thought that at least one man held him worthy of attention, and went out of his way to circumvent him. But the gleam of satisfaction was gone in a moment. He could not even be sure that there was guile at the back of it. It might be all foolish honesty, and to a man cursed with a sense of weakness the thought of such a pedestrian failure was trebly intolerable.
But honesty was inconceivable. He and he alone in all the frontier country knew Marker and his ways. To Andover, sucking his pipe dismally beside him, the thing appeared clear as the daylight. Marker, the best man alive, had word of some Bada-Mawidi doings and had given a friendly hint. It was not his blame if the thing had fizzled out like damp powder. But to Lewis, Marker was a man of uncanny powers and intelligence beyond others, the iron will of the true adventurer. There must be devilry behind it all, and to the eye of suspicion there was doubt in every