6 SH1VAJI. [CH. I.
and stout hearts found greater rewards and a higher position by serving in the armies of the mighty monarchies of the central plateau. An able partisan leader was sure of high pay, noble rank, and it might be the proud position of a king-maker, at any of these Courts, which were constantly at war with their neighbours, and prepared to bid high for the lances of useful condottieri from the Desh tract.
But such occasional visitors only brought a breath of the outer world to the sequestered vales of Maharashtra; they did not disturb the noiseless tenor of the life of the natives, for the natives themselves had hardly occasion to move. Even when they went abroad as soldiers, they usually settled there in the fiefs given to them and rarely returned to their barren ancestral homes.
The Maratha people's inborn love of independence and isolation was greatly helped by Nature, which provided them with many ready-made and easily defensible forts close at hand, where they could quickly flee for refuge and whence they could offer a tenacious resistance. Unlike the Gangetic plain, this country could not be conquered and annexed by one cavalry dash or even one year's campaigning. Here the natives had the chance of making a long struggle against superior numbers and, it may be, of recovering their own when the invader was worn out. "The whole of the Ghats and neighbouring mountains often terminate towards the top in a wall of smooth rock, the highest points