The Thrilling Adventures of Dick Anthony of Arran/Disowned!
HOTTER than the roof of Tophet, dazzling like diamonds, and cut up into short horizons by a haze of hot air hurrying upward, the plains to the southward of the Caspian lay.
But above, where a mountain trail ran in and out between the rocks and trees and a current of cool air crept downward from the mountain tops, a few more than a hundred men galloped behind Richard Anthony—away from Astrabad—full pelt westward.
Not very far behind him—preceded by some fifty men, and with a closed-up guard on either hand—there rode two women, and a Scotsman, six feet five or more in height and built on the Samson plan.
The Princess of Russia who rode first, astride of a high Cossack saddle, grudged each inch of the journey.
The maid who rode behind her smiled, for her eyes were for Andry MacDougal on the flank. From time to time Andry glanced at the two women, for they were his charge; but no one except Marie Mouquin could have guessed which one of them might be his sweetheart, and as a matter of fact it was the princess who drew the first response from him.
"I wish to speak to Mr. Anthony."
He shot a living, scattering passageway to Dick.
"She wants to speak wi' ye!" said Andry.
"Send her to me," Dick ordered; and Andry let his horse stand until the leading troop had overtaken him.
The Princess Olga Karageorgovich trotted her horse until she was abreast of Dick.
"Perhaps you think that all the luck in the world is yours since a storm blew and helped you smash the Caspian Fleet? Eh? You err, my friend! Russia has a long arm, and a deep purse! You must have learned that I am part of Russia's secret government. I said secret government. Do you suppose, my friend, that the Okhrana—and that is the secret government—will leave me, who know all its secrets, long in your keeping? It would rather leave me dead!"
She spoke the truth now for the first time in her dealings with Dick Anthony. The Okhrana had given her leave to use Dick Anthony in her campaign of penetration into northern Persia. She had loved and lost him. Now she was his prisoner.
"I see what you mean," he said. "They'll think I'll make you talk. It's awkward. I brought you to chaperon your maid. Andry loves her and she seems to love him. Have to keep you until we've got them safely married, or else find somebody to take your place."
"What will you do with me when you've found this other woman?"
"Let you go."
As usual, the disconcerting unexpected! Of all the possibilities on her horizon, the one she liked least, and was ready to fight hardest to prevent, was the risk of being loosed and left to her own devices to protect herself from the Okhrana.
"Then, remember," she said, smiling triumphantly, "I have made no bargain with you! When you set me free, I am free to——"
"To go where, do what and say anything you please," said Dick.
"Can't you understand?" she sobbed. "Can't you see? I betrayed Russia for you! I betrayed the Okhrana!"
"I did not ask you to."
"Does that make any difference? They call me traitress! Will you—will you—have the heart to send me back to—to face the—co-co-consequences?"
"No," said Dick, "not if you don't want to go."
"Squadron!" he shouted. "Ter-t-rot! March!"
The Princess Olga Karageorgovich had won her way; but the upper hand, the mastery, was still Dick Anthony's.
Before he rode away to invade Russia with four hundred men, Dick's orders to Usbeg Ali Khan had been peremptory. The Russian regiments were intrenched at bay, and they were to be held there, but there was to be no waste of life or effort. To make things doubly sure, Dick had insisted he would be best pleased on his return to find them still at bay. Usbeg Ali's business was merely to cut them off from all communication and to prevent them from marching on Astrabad.
To a hair he knew Dick's notions about discipline; but Dick's back had scarcely disappeared in a cloud of dust kicked up by his galloping squadron before Usbeg Ali's brain was busy with a plan for seeming to obey while disobeying.
The Russians were entrenched on a commanding height, with water in abundance and provisions that would very likely last a month. The two regiments were not at full war strength, but the scouts brought word of at least three thousand, against which Usbeg Ali had but four thousand half-trained rebels. Yet he did not hesitate.
He knew that the Russians would suppose Dick Anthony to be with the attacking force. Better than that, though, he knew that the Russians were not yet aware of Dick's capture of a battery and that six of their own guns were ready to be used against them.
But to have used all six with which to start things would have been flat disobedience of Dick's orders. One was to play the overture, and he had a right with one gun, to search out the enemy's defenses, for that was a proceeding no commander worthy of the name would dare neglect.
He took five hundred men and set them to dragging the five guns up hill, through a wild maze of ax-resisting forest, to a point a mile away that overlooked the Russian camp. To Dick, on his return, he intended it should look as if the Russians had tried to recapture their artillery; to the Russians it would look like a plan of Dick's to force the fighting.
He argued that Dick Anthony would not be back for ten days at least, for he knew nothing of Dick's plan to hurry and whelm the Russian Caspian Fleet; he supposed Dick on his way to gallop into Russia, not to steam in on a stolen Russian ship.
Day after day the five guns crept nearer to the hilltop. Again and again the Russians made a sortie from their height and tried to reach the one active gun to silence it. The fact that only one gun was being used against them led them to the false conclusion that Dick Anthony had captured only one, and it followed logically that within a day or two there would be a strong force coming from Astrabad to their relief.
On the fourth day of Usbeg Ali's almost superhuman effort, Dick was already hurrying to help him, thinking only of how soon he might cover the distance.
So, too, belly to the earth, a big Australian mare of the Indian army type thundered and sobbed beneath a Rajput sowar in her efforts to catch up.
The sowar rode from Teheran. His heavy saber lay across the pommel.
He was stopped, of course, by the rearguard. He did not speak when they demanded why he rode in such a hurry, but he showed a letter. They took his saber and in a moment they were guiding his leg-weary horse full pelt past the squadron to the front, where Dick rode.
"Give him his saber back!" Dick ordered, frowning.
The Rajput took his saber in silence, but saluted Dick. Then he held his letter out, and Dick tore it open, trembling a little as he saw that the envelope was stamped from the British Ministry at Teheran.
The letter ran:
Dear Mr. Anthony, Since you prefer to call yourself, and be addressed, by that name.
In a letter addressed to the British Minister here, you made claim to be a British subject and to the right to surrender to this legation, to be heard in your own defense on the various charges made against you by the Russian government. Since the authorities at home have notified us, in reply to your inquiry, of the death of Richard Anthony of Arran, it is not possible to admit your claim either in fact or by implication; but your letter seems to prove sincere affection for your country, and there seems no doubt at all of your nationality, whatever your real name may be. You are therefore notified that Great Britain, France and Russia, as allies, are at war with Germany and Austria.
The following guarantee is therefore made to you in absolute good faith, and with the connivance of the Russian government.
Should you discontinue your efforts against Russia, and report at this legation immediately after receipt of this communication, you are promised a free passage out of Persia in any direction you care to take, except towards Russia.
Your obedient servant,
H. J. Ommoney,
Assistant Secretary of Legation.
Dick's lips grew thin and his cheeks white beneath the tan as he read what was virtually his excommunication. Until now he had not doubted for an instant his ultimate ability to prove his real identity.
Now, in the teeth of the amazing, unexpected fact of European war, with Russia and England hand-in-hand in an unnatural alliance, he saw—as a man sees Fate's finger writing on a wall—his doom to utter outlawry and endless unrecognition.
"Ride back!" he ordered the Rajput. "Say I'll come and talk it over!"
"A letter, sahib! Give me a letter to take!"
The Rajput handed him a fountain pen and paper.
Dick wrote, resting the paper on a rifle butt that a front file laid across his saddle:
I shall come, by the main road from the West, as soon as I have relieved two Russian regiments, now surrounded. I shall come in a hurry, with a few men. Meet me anywhere along the road. Let the password be "Is it peace, Jehu?" and the answer "Peace!" I have an offer I will make, so let the man who meets me have full authority to accept or decline.
"The contents are for the eyes of the Secretary of Legation," he said quietly.
"He shall be the first to read it," said the sowar, thrusting the letter into a pocket inside his tunic. He mounted, saluted Dick, and then rode back along his way.
The princess, laughing at the guards who shouted to her to keep between them, spurred forward beside Dick, and looked up at him with an expression on her face that was the quintessence of confidential comradeship. He had to tell himself three times that she was his enemy before he could forget her loveliness and what seemed lovelight in her violet eyes.
"May I know the news?" she asked him in a voice that would have disarmed a scorpion.
"No," he said curtly; so she drew back to her place again amid her muttering guards.
He began to wonder whither destiny was leading him, Dick Anthony, who had always prayed to be a soldier, and who had been denied.
He had men and horses. He had captured Russian guns. And he had Andry. Andry MacDougal was a godsend neither more nor less, though likely to be rendered less efficient by the presence of his sweetheart. Andry was the essence of all loyalty, and an excellent, tremendous fighting man.
It was the princess who puzzled him. What use could he make of a woman who had betrayed him, over and again, that she might have him for her own; who did not dare go back to Russia, because she had betrayed the Russian secret government; who was likely to betray him again, and Russia again.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of cannonading far ahead.
"I might have known that Usbeg Ali could not wait!" he muttered. "Damn the man!"
A cossack lookout in the top branches of a walnut tree mistook Dick Anthony's oncoming squadron for the vanguard of a relieving force. He shouted the good news down to his commander, and Col. Ivanoff sent two or more men up into the tree tops.
The lookouts had excuse for confirming the first man's report. The man with the glasses shouted down that he could see two women riding with the force, and that was enough to assure the kernel that the new arrivals were from Astrabad, and Russian. Who else but the Princess Olga Karageorgovich could the woman be? And did she ever go anywhere without her maid?
Horsemen coming at a gallop, could be but the advance guard of a relieving force, he argued; and he remembered that there were not very many cavalry in Astrabad—the horsemen must be few. But he judged that the approach of Cossacks would be just as disconcerting to his Persian enemy and to Dick Anthony, whom he still supposed in command of the attacking force, as it was reassuring to himself, and he purposed to take immediate advantage of consternation in the Persian ranks.
He decided at once to sally in force. There was nothing desultory about the sudden Russian change of front and charge. They came like an avalanche and within five minutes of the start they had thrust themselves between all Usbeg Ali, with his guns and his five hundred, and his main body drawn up to defend the other gun. It was then, for the first time, that the Russians became aware of the other five guns, and then that the fancy seized them to recapture all six guns, instead of merely one, before what they thought was their relief could reach them.
In a matter of seconds Usbeg Ali Khan was shut in at the far end of the path that he had cut, and impenetrable jungle hedged him in tight.
"Surrender!" yelled the Cossacks, from the open end.
"Stand by the guns in the name of Allah!" thundered Usbeg Ali.
As many Cossacks as could crowd into the jungle lane were at hand-grips with Usbeg Ali's men when Dick's newcomers joined the main body.
"Andry!" roared Dick, and the Scotsman laid a hand on his shoulder; he was in his place where he ought to be, one yard behind.
"Get your pipes out—get 'em going—any tune!"
There was no need to run and get the pipes: Andry had them ready. In a moment "Cock o' the North" was screaming through the trees, and Usbeg Ali, down in his deathtrap, knew that Dick had come.
"Hey, Persians!" he shouted. "Another of Allah's sendings! Dee-k-Anthonee is here! Forward in the name of Allah! Charge!"
Dick forced his way through the swarm of the main body, and the Russians reeled away in front of him. And where he went strode Andry, the gigantic, making music of a kind that mocks at fear. Section by section the Russians yielded and gave ground. There was only one line open along which they could retreat, and so they took it, up the hill behind them to the trenched camp they had left.
"You came in the nick of time, bahadur," said the voice of Usbeg Ali Khan.
It was an hour before the tale was told in full and the lines of dead and wounded lay beneath the trees in the clearing.
"Have you counted them?" asked Dick.
"Bahadur, there lie five hundred and nine Russian dead and wounded and two hundred and ninety-seven of our men."
"And my order when I left you was 'let there be no fighting!'" Usbeg Ali did not answer him.
"Now go. Take a white flag. Climb the hill and tell the Russian commandant that he may go free with the honors of war!"
"Bahadur—he will asked me why!"
"Tell him Russia, France and England are at war with Germany and Austria. Tell him I will not fight England's friends!"
Dazed, like a drunken man, and much less than half convinced, Usbeg Ali Khan attached a torn shirt to a stick and staggered up the hill.
Needless to say, the Russian commandant smelled more than one rat; he smelled half a dozen of them.
"Tell him to send those guns up here, and I will treat with him," he answered. Usbeg Ali spun on his heel with the haughtiness that few know so well as Afghans how to assume and started down the hill.
To his amazement, Dick did not order the resumption of hostilities at once. Instead, he made another white flag, gave it to a Persian, sent the man with it ahead of him uphill, and followed alone, on horseback. The commandant came out to meet him.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I have news, direct from the British Minister at Teheran," said Dick, "of a European war in which England, France and Russia are allies against Austria and Germany. As an Englishman, I offer you undisputed right of way back to Russia."
"I need proof of it!"
"Let's fight and get it over, then!" said Dick. "Come and get your guns! I'm going to train them on you from that gap. Hoist a white flag when you've had enough."
The colonel turned on his heel and hurried back toward the nearest earthwork, and the men lined up behind it took his gesture for an order.
"Fire!" yelled an officer in Russian.
A volley burst out in a livid line of flame from over the earth redout. Dick's charger reared and fell backward on the top of Dick, spurting blood from twenty places.
"Fire!" yelled an officer again.
A second volley plunked into the horse. The beast quivered and was still. Dick writhed. And then a yell that rent the forest burst from the Persian lines below. Nobody thought any longer of the guns, nor of any other thing than how to cross the space between him and the enemy in the shortest time and glut, with steel in yielding flesh, his savage hunger for revenge. For they thought Dick dead.
It was in Andry's iron arms that his breath came back to Dick.
"Stop the fighting if you can!" Dick panted; and the big man got up on his feet, to look around him, and if he might, obey.
So the fight died down. Usbeg Ali and a dozen men came struggling toward Dick, carrying Colonel Ivanoff, legs upward, fighting for sheer blasphemous disgust with his loss of dignity.
Dick did not smile. He drove his two-edged sword home into its scabbard, and turned aside to think what he should do or say to a man crazed by defeat and shame. And as he turned he heard Andry swear a deep Scot's oath behind him. His eyes sought Andry's—followed their line—and saw the French maid, Marie Mouquin, running uphill, dodging dead bodies and the arms of wounded men stretched out to clutch her skirts.
"She has gone!" said the maid. "She has taken horse! She has ridden away!"
"The princess! She! Olga Karageorgovich!"
"Ha—ha! Ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ho!" laughed Colonel Ivanoff. He did not know how utterly the princess had already dammed herself in the suspicious eyes of Russia, for he was not one of the men in touch with the secret government.
Dick had no more difficulty with him. The Persians made stretchers out of boughs and laid the Russian wounded on them, the Cossacks lifted them, and with the colonel at their head on his own horse they trudged down to the plain and to the track leading eastward for Astrabad.
"Up to the hills!" Dick ordered them.
There was one thing left that worried Dick, and it was not of the sort that generally worries generals in the field. There was a woman with his force, of a sort that does not settle down as a rule to roughing it, a woman of the rather pampered, very imaginative, city-loving type, who was in love with Andry. He owed it to Andry to preserve the maid's good name, yet he dared not, for the sake of human charity, send Marie back to be bullied, tortured, even perhaps killed by her erstwhile mistress.
"Any women with the new arrivals?" Dick demanded of Usbeg Ali Khan.
Andry brought Marie Mouquin, and stood her before Dick. Soon, timidly and one by one, twenty women followed Usbeg Ali out of blackness and grouped themselves in a semicircle to Dick's right. They were veiled, and behind them in the shadows lurked their menkind, ever watchful.
"They must serve the wounded. There is a woman here, a Feringee, who must know something of the art of aiding wounded. Marie Mouquin!"
The maid stood forward, glancing around for Andry.
"This woman has no husband. She is a prisoner. I mean that her honor shall be strictly guarded. So I give her into the keeping of these twenty women, and them into her keeping. They are to obey her, as soldiers obey an officer, yet they are never to allow her out of sight or out of reach."
And so it happened that when Dick reached his mountain aerie, out of sight and sound of the troubled plains, he was able to leave Marie Mouquin behind him and to ride on an errand of his own.
The thousands were awake to watched Dick go. The forest crashed to the thunder of their cheering as he rode through the gap at the lower end beside the watercourse, and it was minutes before Andry, riding along behind, could make his voice heard above the din.
They skirted Astrabad by twilight, slept within ten miles of the city, and were off again at dawn on the road to Teheran before there was any risk of being seen. It was a little after dawn on the second day after passing Astrabad that they were overtaken by two Afghans, with a note written in Persian from Usbeg Ali Khan. The men had ridden hard. The note was short and to the point:
Sahib bahadur, these are my two best personal followers, whose honor is my honor and whose blood and breath are my blood and breath. It is not good to ride so far as to Teheran with but one man. Thou, I and Andry would have been enough. These two take my place, just as I take thy place here. A salaam.
Usbeg Ali Khan.
"Ride on," said Dick. "Keep a mile ahead of me, and one of you ride back to warn me of anything suspicious."
He could not have told, had anybody asked him, why he felt nervous; but nervousness was so foreign to him that he took it seriously.
At dusk he expected to overtake the Afghans. Mile after mile he rode, and it was when the night shut down with no signs of his advance guard that the uncomfortable feeling of foreboding came back.
It was near a landslide that a voice said, "Ees eet peace, Jehu?" in an accent that was utterly un-English, and Dick knew himself betrayed. Instantly his mind flew back to the Rajput, who had brought a letter to him and to whom he had given a written answer. He recalled that he had given the password allowed to the Rajput before consenting to write his answer, and that the princess could not well have helped overhearing it.
"War!" he answered, following his pistol's click.
"King Dick! Will monsieur the king confer on me the favor of a minute's conversation?"
"Andry! Where are you, man?" Dick shouted.
There was no answer from behind him. In front Dick could see the dark form of Andry's horse looming. From somewhere near the horse the woman's voice began again, sweet, silvery, mocking:
"There were two men to account for him and he should be strangled by this time."
Dick did not speak. He dismounted, since a horseman is usually at a disadvantage in the dark and against men on foot.
She stepped out. Suddenly she flashed an electric torch at him full in his eyes.
"Lower it or I'll shoot!" he ordered; and since she knew for a certainty that he would keep his word, whatever he promised, she lowered it until it played on his horse's legs. He did not hear two stealthy footfalls drawing nearer, nor a third, not quite so stealthy from behind.
Suddenly she switched the light out, and Dick strained his ears for sound of movement in her direction.
"Monsieur le roi, I want you to come with me. I want you in Russia—alive! You are caught, my friend."
It was not until they were each within a yard of him and his horse shied at them that he heard two men; and then they were rushing at him with a rope and it was too late to move his pistol-arm or reach his sword.
A rope went around his neck and another snared his legs. The nooses tightened, and a man's full weight swung against each to throw him. He felt the blood surging to his temples and his knees begin to give.
Then, with no warning and no sound, two huge arms came from the depth of night behind him. Each wound itself around a Russian's waist. The tension was relaxed on the ropes, and a second later the men who held them screamed, writhed, bent backwards struggling, and were still.
Then a giant arose from the dark night and seized one Russian with both hands. Speechless, he raised him, poised him, tried his weight and hurled him with a grunt. The Russian seemed to hit nothing, but night swallowed him as if he had been a shadow.
Before Dick could get the blood of out his head and ears, the huge man stooped and seized the other rope-man. He whirled him by the legs, and sent him down the landslide after the first.
A pistol shot spat through the night, and the flash proved who had fired it, but she missed the horse and Dick.
"You throw a knife better!" Dick taunted her.
The princess fired again, and missed again. She was by Dick's horse before his order to stand where she was left his lips.
"As you say, I'm better with the knife!" she smiled, and her hand went to her bosom.
It was a sudden, unexpected move of Andry's that deprived her of the torch she held at her back. He flashed the torch full on her, and a clasp-knife shimmered in its rays as she aimed it at Dick's face. Andry spun her, and the knife went whirring through the dark.
"Kill me!" she said, laying a hand on Dick.
Dick meant to turn aside and put the horse between her and him, but before he could move she had flung herself into his arms, and clung there sobbing.
It was Andry again, flashing the torch, who proved too canny for her. He stepped around behind her, and again his fingers seized her wrist; he wrenched a second knife from them and held it out for Dick to see.
"Dick, I have shot my last bolt! I surrender!" Both hands were hold of him again. "Take me on your own terms!"
"No," said Dick.
"Will you leave me here?"
"Certainly! Get your horse, Andry."
Andry did as he was told and Dick, swinging to the saddle, called back to the princess standing in the middle of the track.
"We'll leave your torch burning on the grave of my Afghans, if we find them!" he said.
The two Afghans were not dead, nor were their horses. They resumed the march until they came to a village where food and shelter could be had. They were more than half way to Teheran by this time.
As usual, Dick and Andry were mistaken for Russians.
Unquestioned, they were led through the gate of a mud-walled village; their horses were taken off and stabled; men stood around awkwardly, wondering what next to do. It was perfectly obvious to these village Persians that Dick was a Russian police officer and Andry his subordinate, who chose to put prisoners to the torture under cover of the night and wring confessions from them before deciding what to do next. They were shown into a square hut with a heavy-timbered roof. Cords were brought them, a pot of hot charcoal and an iron.
"Shall we bring the other prisoner?" asked the village headman.
"How long has the other been here?" Dick asked.
"A week. There was a reward for him. He came here at night with two horses and demanded food. We seized him."
"Bring him!" commanded Dick.
Five minutes later, cursing and growling threats, there was led in the Rajput sowar who should have presented Dick's letter at the Teheran legation days ago. He said nothing, but dropped his head and waited.
"Leave us!" commanded Dick.
"He is dangerous!" said the headman.
For form's sake Dick drew his pistols and examined them before studying the knotted ropes that bound the Rajput's arms.
"Where are his weapons!" he demanded. "Bring them."
The headman wrought a saber and two pistols, and at a sign from Dick laid them in a corner of the room.
"Are stabled near your excellency's," said the headman.
"Have those horses ready in ten minutes!" ordered Dick.
He picked up the cord and pushed the iron into the red hot charcoal. The headman was satisfied. Surely, truly, indisputably, here was Russian rule being asserted, and he shivered for his own skin as he slammed the door and ran to do Dick's bidding.
Then, in the light of a smoking, stinking dim grease lamp, Dick and the Rajput eyed each other until Dick laughed.
"You'd better scream," said Dick in English. "Scream like a man in pain."
He let out a yell that curdled Dick's and Andry's blood.
"Will that do?" he asked almost casually.
"Do it again!" said Dick.
Andry helped out matters by beating the floor with a cord and dancing.
Then Dick strode to the door and opened it.
"Horses there?" he asked.
The horses stood in a row, six all told.
The headman bowed low, and Dick led his "prisoners" out through the gate in one-horse file, brought up by Andry, and he did not stop until the village ceased to be a shadow in the gloom or even a black ridge on a black horizon.
But when the bark of a village pariah had died down in the distance he drew rein. Then Andry drew his knife and cut the lashings in a hurry.
"No time to talk!" said Dick. "Go like the night wind! Have your letter yet?"
"Aye! They could not find it."
"Ride on, then, and deliver it. Tell 'em to meet me outside Teheran."
"At the tomb of Shamran Mirza, sahib."
"Good," said Dick. "Good-bye. Good luck to you!"
The Rajput saluted him and wheeled his horse.
They were too near Teheran now to ride openly, and Dick chose to lie up all day and moved by night. The British Legation might be acting in good faith, but he did not choose to enter Teheran just yet.
The challenge, when it came at last, proved unexpected. A man rode down through the gathering gloom, spurring as though at a tent peg.
"It is peace, Jehu?" he laughed.
"Peace!" said Dick, and the man reined in. Though the light was dim Dick recognized an Englishman.
"I am H. Ommoney."
"I am Richard Anthony of Arran."
"Ride this way."
Without another word he wheeled and led the way up a side-path to a tomb, domed and dignified even in its ruin, that stood like a watchtower overlooking the road from a height some half a mile away. As he followed him, Dick folded up the letter signed H.J. Ommoney very small and, checking his horse for a second, passed it back to Andry. Andry stuffed it down his boot, not knowing what it was and not caring in the least, but understanding fully that he was to hide it.
The ruined entrance to the tomb yawned dark and wide in front of them and the man who had said he was Ommoney dismounted. Dick followed suit.
"I'll talk to you alone," said Ommoney.
"I'll bring one man," said Dick.
"No!" said Ommoney.
"Yes!" said Dick.
Ommoney's eyes met Dick's and followed their line. Dick was looking at a Waler mare that bore and Indian military saddle on her back. Ommoney swore beneath his breath, and Dick knew by this, as certainly as he knew the contents of his pocket, that the Rajput sowar was inside the tomb.
"He hid the horse all right," said Dick, "but he didn't tether him tight enough!"
Ommoney said nothing, but led the way in, and Andry followed Dick, looming above him like an exaggerated shadow. At the same second Dick and Andry both caught sight of the sowar's eyes, so his voice that boomed "Salaam, bahadur!" was not a surprise.
"You may name your own price for that letter, said Ommoney with both hands in his pockets. "We want it back."
"Official recognition as Dick Anthony of Arran!" said Dick.
Ommoney shook his head.
Dick felt what he judged to be a snake that crept behind him gently, just touching him. It was the snake's attempt to get into his pocket that enlightened Dick.
The snake was a human hand that sneaked into his pocket and searched deep, but found it empty.
Then Dick moved his leg in such a way, and so suddenly, that the arm was gripped by the stout cloth. At the same second Andry pounced. A man screamed. Andry dragged a nearly naked Persian out into the candlelight, with his wrist held now in Dick's iron fingers and his hand still deep in the pocket. Dick turned about, so that the man could be dragged into the middle.
"Wrong pocket, though," said Dick. "Friend of yours, by any chance?"
"Never saw him in my life," said Ommoney.
"Well," said Dick, "for a legate of the British government, you lie handsomely."
With a smile of contempt Dick loosed the Persian, and the man ran through the ragged opening out into the night.
"If this story of war is true," said Dick, "it is I who hold trumps. I have an army of four thousand men, and it is growing. I even have some guns. You may tell the Russian Minister at Teheran, through the British Minister, that he may withdraw every Russian soldier from Persia and from the frontier, and I will guarantee both England and him that Persia will give nobody any trouble!"
"There would be no sense in my riding back to Teheran with nonsense of that sort. The terms offered you are a free passage to the sea, and transportation anywhere, provided you give back that letter."
"I refuse the terms," said Dick.
Ommoney fingered at a pistol, and looked into Dick's strange eyes. He knew that the eyes were laughing at him. He knew that Dick's hands were both behind his back. A dead Dick Anthony would have seemed to Ommoney to be a blow struck hard for England. Yet he dared not draw, although he knew he had Dick at his mercy.
"You understand, your safe conduct ceases from the minute you leave me?" he said, trying with one and the same thought to justify himself and yet excuse himself.
"I understand," said Dick, "that the British government disowns me and has sent a pup to tell me so. However, I accept the fact that I am disowned, and I'm going to take full advantage of it. Get out of here! Get out before I kick you out!"
Never had Ommoney heard such might expressed in a human voice, nor felt such terror as propelled him out into the night. The last Dick saw of him was a retreating shadow, followed at full gallop by a Rajput sowar.
"What did the sowar say?" asked Dick, walking out to the Afghans and signing to Andry to bring the horses.
"He bade us ride cautiously. He said there are Russians in the road between Teheran and here."
"Oh," said Dick. "Ready, Andry? Ready, all? Mount! Walk, march! Right wheel!"
"I am Deek Anthonee," he told them. "This is my sword of which you have heard." And he showed the great two-edged claymore with the beryl set in its basket hilt.
As once before he had come out of the dawn on Persia and had dazed her by his unexpectedness, so now he rode out of the night with a giant on a horse behind him and was accepted without question.
The dam was down at last. Dick Anthony was free! Disowned by England, scornful of Russia, free to fight for whom he would and for what he would. And the cause he chose was Persia's.