A Walk in the Karakorum
Fandom: Fix Bay'nets!
Disclaimer: Fix Bay'nets! OR, The Regiment in the Hills was written by G. Manville Fenn, and was published in 1899. It is out of copyright. The characters' opinions reflect the worldview of the novel.
A Walk in the Karakorum
Daegaer wrote, @ 2003-09-10 12:46:00
Current mood: manly
Inside the hall Bracy and Gedge stood silent and defiant as the chief spoke to them in disgust, then turned and gathered up his son and left in anger. The servants watched them closely, one fellow with an upright and martial bearing holding a lance casually, ready to swing it into action at a moment's notice. Gedge stole a glance at Bracy and saw the officer was pale, his lips compressed with fury.
'Sir,' said Gedge, but got no further as Bracy lifted a hand in warning.
'Quiet,' he said, 'stand easy.' Gedge obeyed instantly, and they remained in the stand easy, a position they could keep as long as needed, until a call came from down the hall. At once the men guarding them herded them towards the voice and up the stairs. They were brought back to the room in which they had spent the night and roughly pushed inside. The door shut, and they could hear the sounds of at least one man making himself comfortable outside. The shutters had been barred, they saw, and nailed shut. Bracy took an angry gulp of air and paced back and forth.
'Hah!' he ejaculated angrily, 'we shouldn't have waited to collect food. We should have gone at once, we would have got clear.'
Gedge felt a very great shame, realising that he had been the cause of their misfortune. 'Oh, if I hadn't been so greedy and stupid!' he thought, struggling to keep his gaze from falling to the floor. 'Sir,' he said in no more than a whisper, 'I'm sorry, sir.'
Bracy shot him an impatient glance. 'What?' he said.
'I'm sorry I delayed us, sir,' Gedge said in misery.
Bracy stopped his pacing and looked at Gedge intently. 'I am not angry with you, Gedge,' he said finally, 'I am angry with myself. I should have thought more quickly. You are not to blame.'
Gedge felt himself perk up a little. 'I don't want to let you down, sir,' he said.
Bracy put a hand on his shoulder. 'You haven't, my lad. We'll get out of here; don't worry. I shall just have to give it some thought.' He resumed his pacing.
After a while Gedge said, 'They seemed surprised, sir. Didn't they think we might escape?'
'You're right,' said Bracy in some surprise himself. 'They did not seem to think that. Well, we are prisoners now, and they are guarding against our leaving them.' He frowned at Gedge, saying, 'Are you all right, lad? You seem uncomfortable.'
'It's the wound, sir, in my back,' Gedge said with some embarrassment. 'I came off pretty hard down there, and then all the standing –'
'Sit down, lad,' cried Bracy, indicating the bed, 'why did you stay standing now?'
'Couldn't sit with you standing, sir,' said Gedge in shock at such a suggestion.
Bracy laughed shortly. 'We must not stand on ceremony here,' he said. 'You must sit if you feel unwell, even if I remain standing.' He made Gedge sit on the bed and smiled down at him as the lad coloured.
'Doesn't feel right,' said Gedge, 'me sitting down in front of my orficer.'
'Well, then, I order you to sit down,' laughed Bracy. 'I order you not to stand on ceremony. There are only the two of us,' he continued, more seriously, 'we must take care of each other.'
Gedge nodded. 'Yes, sir,' he said quietly. 'And you, sir, are you feeling well?' he continued, in a shy tone. 'You were shot much worse than me, before, and no one gave your leg a chance to heal, neither.'
Bracy grinned boyishly at him. 'Gedge, my lad,' he said, 'I know full well you just don't want to sit in front of me. Well, if it will make you feel better about obeying orders –' he sat down beside Gedge, not quite disguising a sigh of relief as he did so. 'We should rest,' he sad more sombrely. 'Who knows what will come to us now? We will need our full strength, no doubt, but we shall have to do our best in our current situation.'
They looked silently at the door and the barred window and then at each other, and settled down to wait.
* * *
It was a full two days later when they were brought from the room. During that time their food was brought to them by menservants, who entered the room under guard, and who did not greet them cheerfully as they had at first. Finally they were brought water and urged to wash. Then they were taken down to the hall, where the chief sat on his carved chair. They were made stand before him, and he spoke sternly and at length. Finally he seemed to come to a decision and pointed at Gedge firmly. At once the guards seized him and pulled him from Bracy's side.
'Let go of me, yer devils!' cried Gedge, struggling. 'Sir!' 'Let him go!' cried Bracy. 'Don't harm him! He was under –' he took a step toward the chief and was stopped by a guard with unsheathed sword. 'He was under my command,' Bracy said, 'this is my responsibility, not his. Punish me, not him.' So saying, he bowed deeply to the chief, saying more quietly, 'please, I am to blame, not him.' He knelt down, humbly.
The chief looked at him as if he had passed some test, and called out to the guards. Immediately they released Gedge who rushed back to Bracy's side. 'Get up, sir,' he pleaded. The chief called again, and his son came through a door. The chief gestured at Gedge, and the boy came over and took the lad's arm, speaking to him. Gedge resisted as he was pulled more gently from Bracy.
'No!' he said, 'I ain't goin'!'
The boy squeezed his arm in a friendly manner and nodded at Bracy, pointing then to his father, after which he patted Gedge's arm and then pointed to himself. He called cheerfully to his father who nodded, and waved the guards away, then beckoned Bracy to follow him.
'Sir?' said Gedge, 'what are we to do, sir?'
Bracy looked at him, a small and unamused smile on his face. 'I think I have suggested to them a more convenient method of dealing with us than surrounding us with guards,' he said. 'We seem to be made hostage for each other. Go with the boy, Gedge. It's better than whatever the guards were ordered.'
'How can we trust them?' Gedge said.
'We can't,' said Bracy. 'All I know is that I prefer to see you in the custody of the chief's son than being dragged away by force.' He turned to the chief. 'You see, sir,' he said bitterly, 'we are compliant.'
* * *
Their daily pattern was quickly established, with them being separated by day and returned to each other at night in the confines of their locked room. There were few constraints put upon them during the day, their captors showing by this that they were fully confident that neither would run without the other. That first night they stared at each other in hungry relief when they were brought together in the hall, the chief laughing at them genially as he waved in the evening's food. Alone in their room they quickly told each other of the day's events.
'I was brought with the chief as he examined crops,' Bracy said. 'No one paid me much attention, unless I strayed too far. Even then I was only recalled with a cry. They seem very confident of me,' he finished sourly.
Gedge shuffled, ashamed that he had had a more pleasant day. 'That boy took me round with his friends,' he said, 'the ones that saved us from the Dwats. They didn't do much of anything, just acted like boys on a day off, played ball and that.'
Bracy looked at him consideringly. 'I think,' he mused, 'they must think you of an age with the chief's son. You are very slight, Gedge, and not as tall as I. They may give you more freedom because of it.'
'I hope you don't think I'm just a boy, sir,' said Gedge, his voice rising higher in indignation, 'why, I've been a year in India, almost!'
Bracy hid a smile, saying, 'I know you are a good man, Gedge. Don't take offence; this could be useful to us. If the boy treats you in a friendly manner, don't rebuff him. He could make a useful ally.'
Gedge nodded obediently, thinking he would show the native boys a thing or two the next time they kicked a ball around.
As the days went by, Bracy felt their continued captivity keenly. 'What has happened back at the fort?' he wondered. 'They must think we are dead. Did Colonel Graves send others after us, I wonder?' He pictured Roberts searching for him, and hoped with all his heart that his old friend had not fallen in any attack on the regiment. He trailed round after the chief, or whatever prominent man the chief had assigned him to that day, paying close attention to their surroundings, and trying to seek out a way of escape. When the chief saw him so attentive to the roads and where horses could be found he laughed and patted his shoulder and spoke to him rapidly, the only word Bracy hearing in the flow of the man's speech being 'Gedge'. Bracy assumed a most inoffensive and innocent expression, which made the man laugh the more. 'To mock at one's prisoner!' thought Bracy, hoping he would never act in such a way. He felt quite useless, and envied Gedge's freedom, doing his best to hide the irritation he felt when Gedge told him of another casual day, with the chief's son, whom Gedge now called by his name, Rustem, proudly showing Gedge the very routes and plans of the valley that the chief laughed at Bracy for observing. When Gedge told him, after a hot day that Bracy had spent standing, bored, in a stiflingly hot barn watching a man apply poultices to a horse's lame leg, that he had spent the day swimming with the native lads Bracy could not contain himself.
'Do you think this is a holiday, sir?' he cried, 'or that you are on leave? We must escape from this place; have you forgotten we have a duty to perform?'
Gedge snapped to attention, contrition in his face.
'No, sir!' he cried. 'I'm sorry, sir, I jest thought, if I could get them to trust me –'
'And what good do you think you can do when you speak no language other than English?' said Bracy with great bitterness. 'Your lack of thought is a grave disappointment, Gedge.' He looked in some satisfaction as Gedge's head drooped and the lad remained silent. Bracy angrily undressed and climbed into the bed, glaring in annoyance at the silent form still standing sadly in the centre of the floor. 'Are you going to stand there all night?' he asked.
'No, sir,' Gedge said very quietly, and got ready for bed, curling up on the very edge, leaving Bracy with most of the space.
Hours later Bracy was still awake. 'I have failed,' he thought. 'I must face that. Whatever the situation with the fort, I cannot now effect it in any way. Whatever has come to them has come to them. Oh, Rob, old man, I hope you have not come to any harm.' He looked bleakly into the darkness, blaming himself for his predicament. 'If I had turned back to the fort when Gedge said,' he thought. 'We could have set out in another and safer direction, and taken another interpreter besides. We would have had a greater chance of success. I would not have left the men unwarned and in danger.' His thoughts were interrupted by a slight noise to his side. Gedge muttered and curled up tighter in his sleep. Bracy sighed in miserable recognition of how he had treated the lad. 'I must put thoughts of the other men from me for now,' he thought. 'I have only one man under me here, and I must do right by him.' Gedge whimpered sadly, moving a little before curling tight again, and Bracy felt ashamed of how he had distressed him. He moved closer and whispered, 'It is only a dream, Gedge, it's all right.' The sleeping lad turned to him and Bracy saw in the sliver of moonlight admitted by the crack between the shutters how young and how forlorn he seemed. 'I'll get you safely home,' he promised, and pressed his lips softly to Gedge's hair. He drew the lad with him towards the centre of the bed to be more comfortable, and found that he himself could drift off to sleep at last.
* * *
Gedge did his best to discover hiding places where he might stash supplies for an escape, not wanting to disappoint Bracy further. The officer was very kind and gentle with him when they spoke now, although Gedge had managed to forestall him begging pardon for speaking harshly before. 'He's right, I ain't much good to him,' thought Gedge unhappily. 'I don't mean to be so little use. Oh, all I want's to please him!' He smiled wanly at Rustem who was looking at him oddly with his queer light green eyes. The boy seemed to like his company and had taught him some words of his language, resorting to friendly touches when a word proved too much for Gedge, or its English equivalent proved too much for him. 'I s'y, pard'ner,' said Gedge, 'teach me more of your lingo so's I can be some good to my orficer, hey?' He pointed to the grass and said, 'Grass? That's the right word? Grass?'
Rustem grinned and held up the bottle they'd been sharing. 'Wine,' he said in his own language, and then in English. He pointed at the crumbs between them, 'Bread.' He began pointing at things, 'horse, tree, grass, stone, Gedge, Rustem.' He laughed and began naming things so quickly that Gedge could not follow.
'Hey! Slow up, there. How d'yer say 'Please let us go home?' Captain Bracy's eager to get back to Gittah.'
Rustem looked at him unsmiling and said a fast sentence containing Bracy's name. Gedge didn't much like the tone.
'Here, now,' he said, 'don't be rude. We had to try to get off away from here. We're soldiers, we've got our duty. I won't have you bein' rude about him.'
Rustem flopped back down in the grass and said something sullenly. After a minute he tugged at Gedge to lie down again, and pointed up into the sky to a bird hovering, saying a word slowly and clearly.
'Bird?' said Gedge, pointing at it. He pointed at another bird flapping along at a lower level. 'Bird?'
Rustem laughed cheerfully and said another word. The hawk stooped on the other bird, taking it in a flurry of feathers. Rustem patted Gedge's leg and repeated the words.
'Hawk,' said Gedge, 'pigeon. I s'pose. I'd still like to know how to ask to go home.' He dozed off in the soft grass, waking some hours later when Rustem shook him.
'Dinner?' Rustem said, grinning.
Gedge shook his head ruefully. 'Yer know me well enough to know I won't say no,' he said, admiring the way the youth sprang lightly to the back of his unsaddled horse. 'Wish I could get on its back that easy,' he muttered, pulling himself up by Rustem's offered hand. He wrapped his arms tight round the boy's waist as they began to move. 'I'll jest never make a cavalryman,' he thought.
As they came back to the house they found a scene of chaos, with people running around crying out. Rustem slipped from the horse and ran inside, with Gedge following more awkwardly. He found Bracy standing in the hall, which was packed with people. A man was lying on the floor, writhing and gritting his teeth against crying out. His sleeve was sodden with blood and his clothes were torn, showing a bad wound beneath.
'What's happened, sir?' cried Gedge.
'There was a fight,' Bracy said, 'that man being held by the wall attacked the wounded man, for what reason I don't know. Half the men of the town must be here, and they're paying us no attention. Come on.'
Gedge followed him, and they slipped out of the hall and down a passage. They hadn't gone far when Gedge heard a call from behind him.
He turned to see Rustem, who asked something.
'Don't need to know much to know yer askin' where we're going',' he said. 'Dinner,' he continued, pointing down at the kitchens.
Rustem walked up, talking fast, and took his arm. Gedge could feel Bracy behind him, getting ready to move, and felt a sense of sadness that he would probably be ordered to hit this boy who had befriended him. At that moment he heard footsteps from further up the passage, and Bracy made a little sound of disappointed annoyance.
'Let's go with the lad,' Bracy said. 'Perhaps we will be unwatched later.'
They were led back to the hall.
'You have been learning their language?' Bracy asked.
'Jest a little, sir,' Gedge replied. 'I wanted to know a bit more before I told you.'
Bracy smiled openly at him.
'Good lad,' he said, causing Gedge to feel a warm glow of pleasure throughout his being.
The man who had started the fight was nowhere to be seen, and an older man was now tending the wounded man's arm. He had a clever face and was packing the wound neatly. Everyone in the hall seemed to regard it as a fine entertainment, especially when a large young man, who seemed to be his assistant, was called to sit on the patient to keep him still.
'Look,' Bracy hissed, 'this is a very learned doctor – he has a book with him.'
'Like the Doctor's book of Natomy,' Gedge whispered back, 'I told him I 'oped he'd read it the whole way through before he started cuttin' the bullet from my back!'
The doctor poked at the wound and made a comment as if he found it of interest. Gedge gave Bracy a quick smile – all doctors were the same, it seemed. The assistant helped the wounded man up as the doctor washed his hands and flicked through the book that had attracted Bracy's interest. Gedge looked round vaguely, hoping that there might be a spot of food soon. Bracy stiffened beside him, and he looked at the officer quizzically.
'Sir?' he asked.
'Look,' Bracy said, nodding towards the doctor, whose open book was clearly in view. He strode forward suddenly, and seized it from the doctor's grasp, ignoring his shocked cry. 'Look, Gedge,' cried Bracy, thrusting his prize under the lad's nose, 'look!'
'Sir?' said Gedge in confusion.
'Don't you recognise this from school, Gedge?' cried Bracy, 'it's Greek!'
'Oh,' said Gedge, who, although he had indeed attended school had attended one that had thought it sufficient to instil in the boys the ability to read and write and perform arithmetic, and had not gone so far as to instruct them in the mysteries of the languages of the ancients, and he had, moreover, left when he was not quite twelve years old so that he could gain employment to support his widowed mother. 'Oh,' he repeated.
Bracy held up the book and read from it aloud. The doctor marched over and took it away. Bracy pointed at the sentence he had read and read it out again. The doctor scornfully read it out himself. It sounded quite different in his accent, and Bracy shook his head stubbornly.
'It is Greek,' he insisted, 'there are many words there I don't know, but it's Greek.'
The doctor turned to the chief, pointing at Bracy and complaining. The chief looked disapprovingly at Bracy and spoke sternly. Bracy listened with great concentration, finally bursting out in frustration, crying 'But the book is Greek! Why can't I understand you!'
'Sir,' said Gedge, 'it must be some language you don't know.'
The chief turned away, placating the doctor. Bracy seized Gedge's shoulders in sudden inspiration.
'No! If they know Greek at all, they'll know Homer!'
He stepped forward, ignoring the smiles of some of the men, and called out loudly in Greek, remembering his lessons as best he could, 'Sing, O Goddess of the anger of Achilles son of Peleus that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans!'
The hall fell silent. Bracy shone with the delight of speaking and finally being heard.
'Many a brave soul did it send scurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield prey to dogs and vultures!' he cried.
Rustem came up to Gedge's side and whispered something fast and incomprehensible in his ear. The chief took a slow step towards Bracy.
'For so were the counsels of Zeus fulfilled from the day that the son of Atreus, king of men and great Achilles first fell out with one another,' he said in an accent that while strange to Bracy's ear was nonetheless understandable.
'Yes,' said Bracy, 'yes,' and he repeated it word for word.
Every man in the hall looked at Bracy and Gedge in silence and wonder.
'We will be able to talk to them,' said Bracy, smiling in relief. 'We will be able to talk to them.'