About noon there was a bustle in the square and Fazir Khan with a dozen of his tail swaggered in. He came straight to the hut, and two men entered and brought out the prisoner. Lewis stiffened his back and prepared not reluctantly for a change in the situation. He had no special fear of this smiling, sinister chieftain. So far he had been spared, and now it seemed unlikely that in the midst of this bustle of war there would be room for the torture which alone he dreaded. So he met the chief’s look squarely, and at the moment he thanked the lot which had given him two more inches of height.
“I have sent for thee, my son,” said Fazir Khan, “that you may see how great my people is.”
“I have seen,” said Lewis, looking round. “You have a large collection of jackals, but you will not bring many back.”
The notion tickled Fazir Khan and he laughed with great good-humour. “So, so,” he cried. “Behold how great is the wisdom of youth. I will tell you a secret, my son. In a little the Bada-Mawidi, my people, will be in Bardur and a little later in the fat corn lands of the south, and I, Fazir Khan, will sit in King’s palaces.” He looked contemptuously round at his mud walls, his heart swelling with pride.
“What the devil do you mean?” Lewis asked with rising suspicion. This was not the common talk of a Border cateran.
“I mean what I mean,” said the other. “In a little all the world shall see. But because I have a liking for a bold cockerel like thee, I will speak unwisely. The days of your people are numbered. This very night there are those coming from the north who will set their foot on your necks.”
Lewis went sick at heart. A thousand half-forgotten suspicions called clamorously. This was the secret of the burlesque at Forza, and the new valour of the Badas. He saw Marker’s game with the fatal clearness of one who is too late. He had been given a chance of a little piece of service to avert his suspicions. Marker had fathomed him well as one who must satisfy a restless conscience but had no stomach for anything beyond. Doubtless he thought that now he would be enjoying the rest after labour at Forza, flattering himself on saving a garrison, when all the while the force poured down which was to destroy an empire. An army from the north, backed and guided by every Border half-breed and outlaw—what hope of help in God’s name was to be found in the sleepy forts and the unsuspecting Bardur?
And the Kashmir and the Punjab? A train laid in every town and village. Supplies in readiness, communications waiting to be held, railways ready for capture. Europe was on the edge of a volcano. He saw an outbreak there which would keep Britain employed at home, while the great power with her endless forces and bottomless purse poured her men over the frontier. But at the thought of the frontier he checked himself. There was no road by which an army could march; if there was any it could be blocked by a handful. A week’s, a day’s delay would save the north, and the north would save the empire.