« ZurückWeiter »
desultory talk that one finds citement of it. After long weeks wherever men by chance are of inaction, the news of trouble flung together in some far-off in the Hinzai district eighty corner of the earth, and forced miles away, and the order for into each other's company day a column to move out at dawn, after day with little happening woke the dull listless figures of to furnish new food for con a moment before to quick versation. The little every- alertness. day occurrences, the little time “ Who's to go ?” came in a worn jokes must needs suffice. chorus of eager voices. It is astonishing how seldom “Oh, Bransome, of course,” in such circumstances men talk was the envious reply. of home. Bransome had lived If he had not been the most side by side with some of his popular man in the regiment, fellows in the regiment for Bransome would certainly have months, yet he knew as little been the most unpopular at of their home life and their that moment. home interests as he did at the Sandon's information was start. Partly it was due to meagre, and while the others the masculine instinct to be absorbed it, such as it was, uncommunicative about per- Bransome hurried off to get sonal family affairs, partly to definite news. Outside his tent the influence of Eastern sur was an orderly with an urgent roundings, which seem to set summons to the Colonel. 80 very far away the things The Hinzai were a turbulent of home. Bransome, being by tribe inhabiting the fertile planature a conversational per- teau that lay beyond the Talson, and one whose energy no mur Hills eighty miles northamount of heat or discomfort east of Larzan. A political could altogether damp, chafed officer had recently been staagainst the reserve and con- tioned amongst them, the farversational apathy of his fel- thest outpost of British inlows; but even he, with his fluence in that direction. With cheery optimism, often failed him were only two other Engto keep things going. On this lishmen, the three of them particular evening the heat of facing the isolation and the bythe day seemed to have re- no-means-to-be-ignored danger duced everyone to a greater with all the calm indifference state of apathy than usual, and of their race. Once a week an even the small talk languished. aeroplane from the base ten
Suddenly there burst in upon miles farther down-stream from them news in the person of the Larzan camp flew over Sandon, the latest joined sub- Talmur, a warning to evilaltern, that roused the most doers and a protection to the lethargic to instant attention. Consulate. “So long as they The youthful Sandon was al- see the flag flying over us,” the most speechless with the ex- political officer had written
laconically, “they may know threatened them, and no alterthat all is well. If the flag is native was left but to return down, God help us; you'll be home and report. The aerotoo late."
plane had only been brought All these things Bransome down with great difficulty and knew. The reason for the considerable damage on reachsudden order received from the ing its own landing-ground, and General Commanding the Lar- it would be unserviceable for zan area he learned in the brief several days to come. As it interview with his Colonel. It happened, there was no other appeared that the usual flight aeroplane available, both the over Talmur had taken place others stationed there having on the previous day. The been sent out on a week's reconaeroplane had been making a naissance to the south.
. The long reconnaissance in another news brought
news brought back by the pilot direction during the morning, and observer from Talmur was and had ended up late in the sufficiently alarming; but afternoon over Talmur, which while it was being debated had come to be regarded as what action should be taken, only a perfunctory flight, orders a fresh cause for alarm ocbeing merely to see that the curred. Talmur was a fertile flag was flying over the Con- plateau, where grew all manner sulate. On this particular after- of English vegetables which noon, however, the observer were unobtainable on the sandy had been startled out of his plain of Larzan, and occasionusual unconcern to see that ally the Political Officer sent the flag was not flying. Closer in a basketful of them by the observation showed that the dâk runners, who came in once flag-staff was broken off half- a week with His Majesty's way down, and that the flag had mails. Donkin, the officer disappeared save for a few whose duty it was to open the torn shreds on the ground at mail-bags, had gone on leave its foot. Round about the a few days previously; and his Consulate, which stood by it- successor, a man new to the self in a large compound sur- division, was considerably rounded by a mud wall, there alarmed, knowing the pilot's was no sign of life. Consider- report from Talmur, when the ably alarmed, observer and dâk runner arrived minus the pilot prepared to descend, when mail-bag, but with a basket something suddenly went wrong of vegetables, among which, with the engine; and after half hidden, was the torn cover maneuvring for some time, the of a magazine bearing the pilot finally declared that he words, “When may we expect could not get the machine you?” followed by the Politidown with any hope of getting cal Officer's initials scrawled it up again. Shortage of petrol across it. Surely this was a after their long day's flight also cry for help. This torn scrap
of paper must have been all Long before dawn Bransome they were able to get hold of, was astir, and his men were or it might have been resorted the first on the parade-ground to as safer than an official whence the start was to be despatch, or perhaps they were made. They were his own 80 closely watched that this particular company, and almost was their only chance of get- as keen as himself on the exting news through. They were pedition ahead of them, though eighty miles away, absolutely they well knew the discomforts isolated, and the Hinzai were it entailed. Forced marching notorious for their turbulence across the desert in July is and treachery. The General anything but a joy-ride, and decided that a column must to fall out by the way miles march to their relief at dawn. from anywhere has no attrac
Till midnight Bransome was tion. None but the fittest busy with his preparations. could hope to stand it, and His own personal ones were Bransome looked anxiously at quickly made, but over his his men, as they waited for the
and horses he fussed order to start, devoutly hoping around for hours. And yet that he would have no casualfussed is not the right word, ties to report en route. for Bransome was above all Then the long march began. things methodical and unhur- The first hour was almost exried. But this was his first hilarating. There is a freshexpedition on his own in ness in the air in that first Mespot, and excitement was hour about the dawn in Mespot, reasonable. Besides his own the last remnant of the cool company, a company of native night, that gives no inkling of infantry and a couple of guns the terror that shall walk by had been ordered on the march, day. The horses were fresh, the whole under the command and seemed to sense that this of a Major of infantry. The was no ordinary parade. The journey would take them five men were eager as to what lay days at the least. Road there ahead. The dull monotony of was none, A rough track daily routine for a time was across the desert was all that broken. That first hour of the offered, and made heavy going. march was full of life and Motors, with all their modern interest. How often in the mechanism, were helpless in hours to come it was looked face of it. Unfortunately there back upon with astonishment was no moon, and, owing to and envy. For never again did fear of ambush, orders were that little company, even as it “No moon, no marching," so drew near its goal, quite rethat they could not take advan- capture that first hour's entage of the coolness of the thusiasm and exhilaration. night. Five blazing hot days For three hours, with inin the open lay ahead of them. tervals, they marched that
morning, and each hour Bran- to know what burning heat and some watched his men and real thirst meant. How little horses grow more weary, more could they understand the damp with sweat, more list- agony of desire of the hart for less, more slow-moving. It the water-brook How in the was only nearing seven o'clock same way, it suddenly occurred as the last hour's march drew to him, could they, buried deep to a close, yet the sun was in their English customs and ablaze as if it had been mid- conventions, understand the day. Not yet risen high in the problems of the East ! Yet it sky, it seemed to strike right was these same people, who under the topi straight into were singing so uncomprehendthe eyes, relentless, unwinking. ingly about the hart and the If only for one moment it would water-brooks, who were at this veil itself ! If only for one
If only for one very moment dictating our moment one might find shade! Eastern policy.
Eastern policy. It was beEven Bransome for all his fit cause of them that he was here ness was feeling it. “Like as experiencing discomforts that the hart desireth the water would never enter into their brooks," that hackneyed phrase comfortable lives. It was befrom the Psalms that he had cause of them that he was out heard so often, carelessly not in Mespot, helping to occupy even dimly comprehending, in this vast land of sojourning the old church at home and in and force upon it Western school chapel, came back to ideas of law and order that it him now, and reiterated itself had never known and did not in a dull stupid way in his want. How could those homebrain to the thud of his horse's keeping, only mildly interested hoofs in the sand. How little people, singing placidly in he had understood it. How happy England, really know thoroughly and completely he anything of the conditions and understood it now. And then, needs of Mespot! It was all in the midst of the heat and too deep for him. The heat discomfort, the humour of it was too appalling, and his head struck him, and he laughed nodded as he rode. aloud. There were hundreds And then suddenly, under and thousands of people sing. the blazing Eastern sun, and ing that verse, perhaps singing in the midst of the dust of the it at that very moment, as desert that almost blinded and indifferently, as little compre- choked him, he was back again hendingly as he had done, safe in England. He was passing and comfortable in their Eng. through the old stone-pillared lish houses, with the water laid gateway that he had always on in taps or near-by in a deep known, the same yet surely cool well. Never in all their more beautiful than he had calm, luxurious, uneventful ever realised. The herbaceous lives would they have cause border along the greystone
wall was in full bloom. Why ing's march was almost over. had he never before appreciated Just off the beaten track stood the triumphant splendour of a group of palms and a few it? A bend in the drive, and mud-built huts that promised the wonderful smooth stretch water and some meagre shade. of the great lawn almost brought For ten long listless hours, him to a halt with a thrill of while the sun blazed high in admiration at its exquisite the heavens, this was to be freshness of green. But he their home. What a contrast hurried on the forbidden short- to the home of his dreams ! cut straight across it, for within It was a hot, tired, and the house itself that lay beyond dusty company, men and horses, stone-pillared gateway, border, that came to a halt beside the and lawn, there was surely palm-trees, scarce recognisable awaiting him something more as the same that had set out wonderful, more exquisite even spick and span but three hours than they. He was through the before. Even here the shade outer oak doorway that always was limited, and for all the stood hospitably open, and in- long hours of the day many side the great hall, calling aloud of the horses had to stand in for her whose quick footsteps the open, the men restlessly had never failed to welcome trying to find shelter beside him. Again and again his them in the shadow that they voice rang up to the great oak threw. Added to the heat came roof high above. The utter the flies, that made sleep imstillness of the unanswering possible save with the head silence that followed struck a stiflingly covered. Bransome sudden chill upon his eager lay full length in the shadow enthusiasm. Quickly he ran of one of the mud-walled huts, from room to room, to find his saddle for a pillow, a handthem just as he had always kerchief over his face. Even known them, but empty of all then the flies settled on his human presence. Surely there hands and arms, fold them as must be
be something wrong. closely as he might, and nearly Frantically he leapt up the drove him frantic with irritagreat oak staircase, only to tion. If only there had been find the rooms above as empty something to do! Even moveas those below. Frantically ment in the heat would have back again in the great hall, been better than this awful, he lifted up his voice in one long-drawn-out, listless waiting last shout. And then
for the sun to cross the sky. He woke with a start. He Flies and heat combined made had dozed as he rode. Half reading a difficulty. A terrible angrily he turned to the orderly dull drowsiness that persistently who had galloped up beside refused to end in sleep seemed him with a message, breaking to engulf body and mind alike, in upon his dream. The morn- leaving dominant only one con