« AnkstesnisTęsti »
caught, it is very likely that the soldiers of a red-coat regiment will kick you and trample upon you till all your bones are broken and you die; on the other hand, the men of a native regiment, if they catch you, will make a great din of talking and pull you in bits while they do so. So that you die in either case.
Again, having run that risk successfully, there are others quite as bad to follow. When you have got your rifles without stirring up the bees' nest, you make off as fast as you can either by byroads to a frontier or to a prearranged caché. And before you runs the Telegraph, and behind you come the Police. Yes, the Police-a sweating deputy-superintendent in a terai-hat and untidy clothes, a natty inspector, constables ad lib.; and in front of them, nosing out the spoor you leave behind you, the Police Tracker leads the way. The Tracker, a person unkempt and unclean, who reads tracks as the Mullah reads the Koran, with difficulty at times, but on the whole with sureness. The Tracker is a pest-to the dishonest; and then there are other police disguised as gentlemen, as babus, as what you like, who, receiving messages by the wire (which, though it hums in your ears as you pass never gives you a warning), lie in wait for you and arrest you when you least expect it. And lastly, you know that nearly all the world is against you; for even coolies, tempted by the reward and banded together, will not fear to lay you by the heels.
And then, ten years perhaps in the Andamans!
It hardly bears thinking of.
Yes it does, if you think at the same time of Lala Gul.
Hafiz Ullah and his brother lay on their stomachs and wriggled a little
closer to the shallow depression. hardly a ditch, that ran between the road and the parade-ground. Across the road were the barracks of a British infantry regiment, arranged in blocks that receded from the road in two more or less parallel lines; nearest the road, facing it, and fifty yards from it, was the quarterguard, its door open and its oil-lamp shining dimly through the darkness of the sweltering night. The shadowy form of the sentry obscured it each time that he passed the door, pacing steadily to and fro upon his beat; another sentry stood motionless in the verandah, and upon the latter were fixed the eyes of Hafiz Ullah. The standing sentry was the one who had chiefly to be reckoned with, the other might be dodged; but a thief, even a Cabuli thief, could hardly expect to enter the door unseen by a man who stood beside it. Once inside the guardroom the affair would not be so difficult; the other members of the guard would probably be heavy with sleep, their drowsy ears would hear nothing. If one awaked, he might perhaps be knifed, or the lamp could be knocked over, and the intruders could bolt through the door and fly into the darkness, risking the hasty aim of the sentries. But first of all that sentry standing motionless by the door must be avoided.
In this matter Hafiz Ullah had a plan, for he was far too wise to attempt that sort of thing haphazard; but his plan depended on various things, and luck counted largely. Hitherto luck had not favored him; for nearly three weeks he had waited patiently night after night for the chance that he wanted, but it had not come, and dawn after dawn had seen him and his brother withdraw carefully and cunningly to the bazaar where by day they lay in hiding.
The standing sentry turned and peered into the guardroom, then de
scending from the verandah took the mallet and struck the hour upon the gong; the ringing strokes sounded curiously loud in the dead stillness of the June night, one two-three four-five six-seven eight-nine ten-eleven-. The man hung the mallet upon the tripod of the gong, and straightened himself.
"No. 1 and all's well," he cried in a sing-song voice.
"No. 2 and all's well," replied the other sentry, and from round the corner there came, like an echo, the voice of the sentry upon the magazine"No. 3 and all's well."
In the distance, to show that they too heard, some jackals howled and yowled miserably, their voices sounding like the cries of babies in torment.
Hafiz Ullah turned upon his back and studied the sky. At last, a long last, it seemed as if his chance was coming. The stifling, heavy, breathless air, the heat oppressive, almost insupportable even at this late hour of night, gave presage of relief to comerelief that would come with rousing violence and would give to Hafiz Ullah the chance which he so much desired.
As he turned to look at the sky the distant rumbling and grumbling of thunder broke upon his ear; a ponderous inky mass of cloud, showing dense against the murky darkness, filled the whole of the lower sky. Hafiz Ullah heard, saw, hoped, braced his muscles for action. The silver ring on his finger rattled faintly on the haft of his knife as he hitched it forward to his hand.
"In three minutes," he whispered to his companion; "in three minutes, if it be the will of God."
Slowly, slowly, the minutes passed; fast and faster came the great sombre mass of cloud. There was a great stillness of the air, but the thunder, sounding ever nearer and nearer, was
like a continuous ruffle of the drums of heaven.
And then, and then, with a roar, with a howling shriek the dust-storm swept upon them; it wrenched at the straining, creaking trees, it leapt at them like a tidal wave, bending them and tearing them till their limbs cracked and fell. And the dust! The yellow, blinding, choking dust, which forced its way into the hair, the eyes, the nose, the mouth; which made the darkness, black enough before, impenetrable with its driving, drifting grains of sand.
The guardroom light flickered for a moment, and then its feeble ray vanished, as with a crash the wind hurled the lantern to the ground.
"Come," cried Hafiz Ullah into his brother's ear; and the two rose and with bent bodies ran for the guard
"Hurry up with that lamp, you men," called the sergeant of the guard to the two sentries, who were vainly trying to light it. The sergeant hurried to join them; within the guardroom the other soldiers of the guard, cursing or chaffing as the mood took them, covered each his mouth with his blanket and wished for day. The noise in the room was deafening, for the wind whirled and swirled, whistling through the timbers of the roof, seeking for crannies to escape; outside the storm roared and the deafening crashes of the thunder seemed to split the sky.
So no one saw or heard the two dusty figures, each with a knife between its teeth, which crept quickly in, and silently seizing the arm-rack carried it bodily forth into the outer darkness.
The night swallowed them up; "The wind passed over them and they were gone," gone with four of the Government's new short Lee-Enfield rifles. And when the sweating deputy-su
perintendent of police arrived very early next morning with his myrmidons, the natty inspector, the constables in blue coats and mustard-colored trousers, and that pest of a man the Tracker, Hafiz Ullah and his brother, mounted on swift camels, were speeding by little-used tracks towards the frontier.
The pest of a Tracker made casts like a pack of hounds while the police officers catechised cringing sweepers and other barrack servants. He was making casts during the whole of the morning, and making them vainly.
"Protector of the Poor," said the Tracker at last, "the wind and the dust have destroyed all tracks. Therefore I am helpless."
"You are the Son of an Owl," said the D.S.P., who was notoriously fond of abuse.
And the sergeant of the guard, under arrest in his quarters, thought bitterly upon dust-storms and wondered who would be president of the courtmartial.
But Hafiz Ullah, travelling by a thieves' road, thought blithely of a certain damsel and pictured her as drawing water from the well, which pleased his heart and tantalized his parched and drouthy throat.
And in a husky voice he gave tongue to the well-known bazaar song: "Taza ba-taza, Nau-ba-nau."
Hafiz Ullah, weary but happy, ap proached his father's house. He had saved his time with a month and more to spare, and cunningly hidden in bales of merchandise were four rifles, all with the Government mark, all in good condition. In vain had trackers tracked, policemen searched, detectives watched, telegraphs ticked. Hafiz Ullah had baffled them all-had, as it were, defeated the British Empire off his own bat, and with a minimum
of bloodshed. There had been one little scuffle, but one policeman's life was of small account when weighed in the balance with the girl who drew water at her father's well.
Therefore Hafiz Ullah rejoiced and was glad, and entered his father's house with a light heart and a happy smile. He greeted his mother, and saw not that she eyed him anxiously, and had to swallow before she could speak; he failed to note the concern in her face and the compassion in her eyes when she looked at him.
"Give me food, oh mother," he said, "that I may eat before I go to the house of Chirag Ud Din. All is well, and though I have not the ammunition I can balance the matter with an extra rifle. God has been merciful; my kismet is good. Therefore bring food quickly that no delay may occur."
His mother loved Hafiz Ullah; she shrank from telling him the news that would hurt him: It was hard that it must be her hand that dealt the wound to the creature she loved most in all the world. But it had to be, and she spoke.
"She is married to Sher Khan; that son of a burnt father would not wait for thy return. Sher Khan offered him money, and he gave him the girl, laughing at me when I spoke of thee."
The old woman wept, and Hafiz Ullah stared at her as though he had not heard.
Perhaps half an hour passed in silence, while the woman cried gently, and Hafiz Ullah sat motionless with eyes fixed on the floor, his face void of expression. But in his heart was a furnace, and the temper of a devil held him.
Chirag Ud Din had played him a trick; Lala Gul was the wife of Sher Khan; Sher Khan, whom he had always despised in his heart, was the husband of Lala Gul. At length Hafiz Ullah spoke.
"It was a jest of Chirag Ud Din's; but what of it? What is a woman to me? And in truth I have the rifles. There are other women besides the daughter of Chirag Ud Din. Enough!"
He went out, and his mother rocked herself to and fro, crying bitterly.
"Do I not know him? Is he not his father's son, so that when he says least he means most? I, who know his heart, can see the fire that is burning him."
She continued muttering to herself, and then habit reasserting itself, she put her trouble from her while she went about her household duties. But her heart was heavy within her, for she knew that trouble was brewing.
Hafiz Ullah sat in the house of Chirag Ud Din and talked pleasantly with his host.
"So then the girl is married to Sher Khan, and thou did'st not wait for my return. Well, thou did'st wisely, for in truth I could get no rifles, and have returned with empty hands."
"Ah, I knew it," said Chirag Ud Din; "when I set thee the task I did but jest, for well I knew that you could not perform it. In truth, I thought not that thou would'st try, and therefore I considered it needless to await thee."
"Liar," muttered Hafiz Ullah under bis breath; but smiling pleasantly he said, "Of course it was a jest about the rifles. And indeed Sher Khan is a rich man, and doubtless the wedding was a fine one, with much dancing and singing. But I warrant Sher Khan knew nought of the jest of the rifles that thou madest with me."
He laughed heartily at the idea. "No, I had not mentioned it to him, for had I done so he would have thought it strange that you had set eyes on the girl in the first place. No, he knows nought of thee, and as LIVING AGE. VOL. XLIV.
for Lala Gul, what concern was it of hers?"
That was what Hafiz Ullah had come to find out, and his business was now finished-nearly.
"Ah, it is well then," he said. "And now of thy kindness give me a draught of sherbet, for I am thirsty."
Chirag Ud Din rose to get it, and as he turned his back Hafiz Ullah's knife was planted in it, neatly, violently, fatally.
Hafiz Ullah went swiftly forth. None had seen him enter, for he had waited to do so till the coast was clear; none saw him leave. Therefore none knew, save perhaps the mother of Hafiz Ullah, who it was that. had slain Chirag Ud Din.
Hafiz Ullah had wiped off one score, but he was not satisfied. In his heart were rage and envy, hatred and love, and what he could not have himself another should not have if he could help it. Therefore Sher Khan must die; yes, and Lala Gul too, if there were any difficulty. For disappointed love had turned, in his warped and bitter mind, to hatred, and unconsciously he had begun to hold her responsible for her father's falseness. In his first blaze of anger he had been something devilish; but now in the brooding, smouldering, selfish, torturing resentment which fed upon his heart and twisted his bitter, miserable mind, he was something far worse -something snake-like, treacherous, poisonous, a thing that could wait for revenge with patience, that lusted for blood so deeply that it could bide its time and its chance, calculating coldly and calmly the means, the opportunity, the probablities of success.
But how could he get at Sher Khan? He was a man of means, who had many servants, who went well armed himself and saw that his retainers did likewise. There was little chance of
killing him in the open. An ambush would be of little avail; for what could one man do against the eight or ten who generally accompanied Sher Khan when he went abroad? A long shot was too uncertain and too risky.
So the devil entered into Hafiz Ullah and whispered to him that the only way was to do it by treachery—to get on terms of friendship with Sher Khan, to become, if possible, his intimate, and thus to find the opportunity that his heart desired. And Hafiz Ullah lent a willing ear to the devil and set himself patiently to work.
Weeks passed, and every bitter day brought greater bitterness to Hafiz Ullah's heart. His smiling face, as he talked, walked, hawked, with Sher Khan, was a masque that hid a cruel, treacherous, malicious, devilish mind.
Day after day, week after week, till at length it grew to be month after month, he talked with Sher Khan, hunted with him, played with him, rode with him, ate with him, drank with him, almost lived with him; he was ready to do everything and anything with him, save only to forgive him for the wrong towards himself that Sher Khan had not been guilty of.
In fact Hafiz Ullah was obsessed: he was a maniac in this one respect, and to it he sacrificed everything-his selfrespect, his honor, his position of trusted friend. He was false to himself, to the love that had turned to gall, to Sher Khan, to the salt that he had eaten.
Indeed he had verified Yakub's saying, and had become a son of Satan.
And at last one day he felt that his cup of bitterness was full. For an heir was born to Sher Khan, and the brown baby lifted up his voice and wept, as though he realized his own piteous state; for he had hardly entered the world before Lala Gul-The
Tulip Rose, the maid drawing water at the well-smiling happily, sighed and died.
And Hafiz Ullah, possessed of seven devils, and himself a son of Satan, retired to a lonely place and wept scalding tears of sorrow, self-pity, loneliness, and envy.
The child that should have been his was Sher Khan's; the maid that should have been his had been Sher Khan's, and was now dead and beyond his reach to kill or to take as he pleased when he had disposed of her husband. Hafiz Ullah, ex-trooper, with two good conduct stripes and two medals, wept bitterly.
And still the months went on; for now Hafiz Ullah, a definite plan in his head, could wait in patience. He had found a way by which Sher Khan should make him at least partial restitution, and his thoughts dwelt now more upon the future than the past.
And little Allah Buksh-"The Gift of God"-throve and waxed fat and was merry. He was the joy of his father's house, and the brown fingers that plucked strongly at Hafiz Ullah's beard gripped still more strongly at Hafiz Ullah's heart. Never were seen two such devoted friends as the brown baby that smiled and gurgled and the treacherous Afghan who held him in his muscular, hair-covered arms. In secret Hafiz Ullah addressed him as My Son, and continually he sharpened the knife and passed his thumb along its razor edge.
And the months passed rapidly till the child was weaned. When he was eight months old Allah Buksh was a strong little boy, and the women of the household, with holding up of hands, averred that never had been seen such legs, such arms, such a powerful little body.
And one of them, a servant, seeing Hafiz Ullah as usual playing with the child, called to him and said