The airless heat of afternoon lay on the rocks and dry pastures. The far snow-peaks, seen for a moment through a rift in the hills, shimmered in the glassy stillness. No cheerful sound of running water filled the hollows, for all was parched and bare with the violence of intemperate suns and storms. Soon he was out of sight and hearing of the village, travelling in a network of empty watercourses, till at length he came to the long side of mountain which he knew of old as the first landmark of the way. A thin ray of hope began to break up his despair. He knew now the exact distance he had to travel, for his gift had always been an infallible instinct for the lie of a countryside. The sun was still high in the heavens; with any luck he should be at Nazri by six o’clock.
He was still sore with wounded pride. That Marker should have divined his weakness and left open to him a task in which he might rest with a cheap satisfaction was bitter to his vanity. The candour of his mind made him grant its truth, but his new-born confidence was sadly dissipated. And he felt, too, the futility of his efforts. That one man alone in this precipitous wilderness should hope to wake the Border seemed a mere nightmare of presumption. But it was possible, he said to himself. Time only was needed. If he could wake Bardur and the north, and the forts on the passes, there would be delay enough to wake India. If George were at Nazri there would be two for the task; if not, there would be one at least willing and able.
It was characteristic of the man that the invasion was bounded for him by Nazri and Bardur. He had no ears for ultimate issues and the ruin of an empire. Another’s fancy would have been busy on the future; Lewis saw only that pass at Nazri and the telegraph-hut beyond. He must get there and wake the Border; then the world might look after itself. As he ran, half-stumbling, along the stony hillside he was hard at work recounting to himself the frontier defences. The Forza and Khautmi garrisons might hold the pass for an hour if they could be summoned. It meant annihilation, but that was in the bargain. Thwaite was strong enough in Bardur, but the town might give him trouble of itself, and he was not a man of resources. After Bardur there was no need of thought. Two hours after the telegraph clicked in the Nazri hut, the north of India would have heard the news and be bestirring itself for work. In five hours all would be safe, unless Bardur could be taken and the wires cut. There might be treason in the town, but that again was not his affair. Let him but send the message before sunset, and he would still have time to get to Khautmi, and with good luck hold the defile for sixty minutes. The thought excited him wildly. His face dripped with sweat, his boots were cut with rock till the leather hung in shreds, and a bleeding arm showed through the rents in his sleeve. But he felt no physical discomfort, only the exhilaration of a rock climber with the summit in sight, or a polo player with a clear dribble before him to the goal. At last he was playing a true game of hazard, and the chance gave him the keenest joy.