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The two younger men had felt subdued and chastened ever since they had left Rawal Pindi, some days before. Major Endicott was too good a fellow to insist on the disapproval with which he regarded their company, but they were conscious of being on sufferance, which was the more irksome because of the whole-hearted admiration they were ready to lavish upon him. His mission was a delicate one,–one which, to any but a political officer of the frontier, would have appeared not a little hazardous; and he felt that it was gratuitously complicated by the journey of two young civilians through so wild a region at this particular time. A tribe in one of the valleys west of the mountain road, some three days’ march from the spot on which the travellers were now encamped, had been giving trouble of late. It had always been troublesome. Only once had it been visited by a white man, Major Endicott himself; yet, accompanied by no more than a dozen troopers, he was venturing alone among these wild hill-men, to demand the payment of a fine in expiation of a recent raid upon their neighbours, and security for their future good behaviour. The alternative was an expedition in force, and Major Endicott had preferred to take whatever personal risks a visit might involve, rather than recommend a hill campaign, with all its difficulties and its heavy cost in money and men.
But he did not relish the accidental responsibility cast upon him by the presence of these two young Englishmen, little more than lads, who had no concern in his business, and were indeed strangers to the country. He regarded it as a very unfortunate coincidence that they arrived in Rawal Pindi at the moment of his setting out, and that the road they proposed to follow in their further journey northward would be for several days the same as his own. They were travelling at their own risk; it was no part of his duty to safeguard them; but he could do no less than suggest that they should accompany him over so much of the road as was common to their party and his. Privately he wished them at Halifax.
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