The Half-Hearted HTML version

21. In The Heart Of The Hills
All around was stone and scrub, rising in terraces to the foot of sheer cliffs which
opened up here and there in nullahs and gave a glimpse of great snow hills behind
them. On one of the flat ridge-tops a little village of stunted, slaty houses squatted like
an ape, with a vigilant eye on twenty gorges. Thin, twisting paths led up to it, and
before, on the more clement slopes, some fields of grain were tilled as our Aryan
forefathers tilled the soil on the plains of Turkestan. The place was at least 8,000 feet
above the sea, so the air was highland, clear and pleasant, save for the dryness which
the great stone deserts forced upon the soft south winds. You will not find the place
marked in any map, for it is a little beyond even the most recent geographer's ken, but it
is none the less a highly important place, for the nameless village is one of the seats of
that most active and excellent race of men, the Bada-Mawidi, who are so old that they
can afford to look down on their neighbours from a vantage-ground of some thousands
of years. It is well known that when God created the earth He first fashioned this tangle
of hill land, and set thereon a primitive Bada-Mawidi, the first of the clan, who was the
ancestor, in the thousandth degree, of the excellent Fazir Khan, the present father of
the tribe.
The houses clustered on the scarp and enclosed a piece of well-beaten ground and one
huge cedar tree. Sounds came from the near houses, but around the tree itself the more
privileged sat in solemn conclave. Food and wine were going the round, for the Maulai
kohammedans have no taboos in eating and drinking. Fazir Khan sat smoking next the
tree trunk, a short, sinewy man with a square, Aryan face, clear-cut and cruel. His chiefs
were around him, all men of the same type, showing curiously fair skins against their
oiled black hair. A mullah sat cross-legged, his straggling beard in his lap, repeating
some crazy charm to himself and looking every now and again with anxious eyes to the
guest who sat on the chief's right hand.
The guest was a long, thin man, clad in the Cossacks' fur lined military cloak, under
which his untanned riding-boots showed red in the moonlight. He was still busy eating
goat's flesh, cheese and fruits, and drinking deeply from the sweet Hunza wine, like a
man who had come far and fast. He ate with the utmost disregard of his company. He
might have been a hunter supping alone in the solitary hills for all the notice he took of
the fifty odd men around him.
By and by be finished, pulled forth a little silver toothpick from an inner pocket, and
reached a hand for the long cherry-wood pipe which had been placed beside him. He lit
it, and blew a few clouds into the calm air.