His voice came out of his throat with a crack in it like an old man’s.
“There is no road through the mountains. I have been there before and I know.”
Again Fazir Khan smiled. “I use no secrecy to my friends. There is a way, though all men do not know it. From Nazri there is a valley running towards the sunrise. At the head there is a little ridge easily crossed, and from that there is a dry channel between high precipices. It is not the width of a man’s stature, so even the sharp eyes of my brother might miss it. Beyond that there is a sandy tableland, and then another valley, and then plains.”
The plan of the place was clear in Lewis’s brain. He remembered each detail. The long nullah on which he had looked from the hill-tops had, then, an outlet, and did not end, as he had guessed, in a dead wall of rock. Fool and blind! to have missed so glorious a chance!
He stood staring dumbly around him, unconscious that he was the laughingstock of all. Then he looked at the chief.
“Am I your prisoner?” he asked hoarsely.
“Nay,” said the other good-humouredly, “thou art free. We have over-much work on hand to-day to be saddled with captives.”
“Then where is Nazri?” he asked.
The chief laughed a loud laugh of tolerant amusement. “Hear to the bold one,” he cried. “He will not miss the great spectacle. See, I will show you the road,” and he pointed out certain landmarks. “For one of my own people it is a journey of four hours; for thee it will be something more. But hurry, and haply the game will not have begun. If the northern men take thee I will buy thy life.”
Four hours; the words rang in his brain like a sentence. He had no hope, but a wild craving to attempt the hopeless. George might have returned to Nazri to wait; it was the sort of docile thing that George would do. In any case not five miles from Nazri was the end of the north road and a little telegraph hut used by the Khautmi forts. The night would be full moonlight; and by night the army would come. His watch had been stolen, but he guessed by the heavens that it was some two hours after noon. Five hours would bring him to Nazri at six, in another he might be at the hut before the wires were severed. It was a crazy chance, but it was his all, and meanwhile these grinning tribesmen were watching him like some curious animal. They had talked to him freely to mock his feebleness. His dominant wish was to escape from their sight.
He turned to the descent. “I am going to Nazri,” he said.
The chief held out his pistol. “Take your little weapon. We have no need of such things when great matters are on hand. Allah speed you, brother! A sure foot and a keen eye may bring you there in time for the sport.” And, still laughing, he turned to enter the hut.
EVENING IN THE HILLS