BLTC Press Titles

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The Characters of Theophrastus


The Diplomatic Background of the War

Charles Seymour

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Theory of Colours

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

King--of the Khyber rifles

by Talbot Mundy



DELHI boasts a round half-dozen railway stations, all of them designed with regard to war, so that to King there was nothing unexpected in the fact that the train had brought him to an unexpected station. He plunged into its crowd much as a man in the mood might plunge into a whirlpool,—laughing as he plunged, for it was the most intoxicating splurge of color, din and smell that even India, the manypeopled—even Delhi, mother of dynasties—ever had (evolved.

The station echoed—reverberated—hummed. A roar went up of human voices, babbling in twenty tongues, and above that rose in differing degrees the ear-splitting shriek of locomotives, the blare of bugles, the neigh of led horses, the bray of mules, the jingle of gun-chains and the thundering cadence of drilled feet.

At one minute the whole building shook to the thunder of a grinning regiment; an instant later it clattered to the wrought-steel hammer, of a thousand hoofs, as led troop-horses danced into formation to. invade the waiting trucks. Loaded trucks banged into one another and thunderclapped their way into the sidings. And soldiers of nearly every Indian military caste stood about everywhere, in what was picturesque confusion to the uninitiated, yet like the letters of an index to a man who knew. And King knew. Down the back of each platform Tommy Atkins stood in long straight lines, talking or munching great sandwiches or smoking.

The heat smelt and felt of another world. The din was from the same sphere. Yet everywhere was hope and geniality and by-your-leave as if weddings were in the wind and not the overture to death.

Threading his way in and out among the motley swarm with a great black cheroot between his teeth and sweat running into his eyes from his helmet-band, Athelstan King strode at ease—at home—intent—* amused—awake—and almost awfully happy. He was not in the least less happy because perfectly aware that a native was following him at a distance, although he did wonder how the native had contrived to pass within the lines.

The general at Peshawur had compressed about si ton of miscellaneous information into fifteen hurried minutes, but mostly he had given him leave and orders to inform himself; so the fun was under way of winning exact knowledge in spite of officers, not one of whom would not have grown instantly suspicious at the first asked question. At the end of fifteen minutes there was not a glib staff-officer there who could have deceived him as to the numbers and destination of the force entraining.

"Kerachi!" he told himself, chewing the butt of his cigar and keeping well ahead of the shadowing native. Always keep a "shadow" moving until you're ready to deal with him is one of Cocker's very soundest rules.

"Turkey hasn't taken a hand yet—the general said so. No holy war yet. These'l l be held in readiness to cross to Basra in case the Turks begin. While they wait for that at Kerachi the tribes won't dare begin anything. One or two spies are sure to break North and tell them what this force is for—but the tribes won't believe. They'll wait until the force has moved to Basra before they take chances. Good! That means no especial hurry for me!"

He did not have to return salutes, because he did not look for them. Very few people noticed him at all, although he was recognized once or twice by former messmates, and one officer stopped him with an outstretched hand.

"Shake hands, you old tramp! Where are you bound for next? Tibet by any chance—or is it Samarkand this time?"

"Oh, hullo, Carmichel!" he answered, beaming instant good-fellowship. "Where are you bound for?" And the other did not notice that his own question had not been answered.

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