CHAPTER X. BALUCHISTAN - GWARJAK.
After a prolonged absence of four or five hours, the latter returned, together with his Wazir and about a dozen followers. A more cut-throat looking set of ruffians I have seldom seen. All wore long black-cloth robes trimmed with scarlet, and white turbans, and carried a Snider rifle and belt stuffed with cartridges slung over the left shoulder. I now noticed with some anxiety that Malak's quiet and undemonstrative manner had completely altered to one of swaggering insolence and bravado. "The chief wishes you to know he has twenty more like this," said Kamoo, pointing to Malak's villainous-looking suite. "Tell him I am very glad to hear it," was my reply, politely meant, but which seemed to unduly exasperate the King of Gwarjak. Brushing past me, he burst into the tent, followed by his men, and seated himself on my only camp-stool. Then, producing a large American revolver, he cocked it with a loud click, placed it on the ground beside him, and called for his kalyan.
Patience has limits. With the reflection that few white men would have put up with the insults I had; that "Tommy Atkins" was, after all, only three hundred miles away; and that, in the event of my death, Malak would probably be shot, if not blown from a gun, - I ordered him (through the trembling Kamoo) to instantly leave the tent with all his followers. The fire-eating chieftain was (unlike most Baluchis) a poor creature, for to my intense relief he slunk out at once, with his tail between his legs. Having then re-appropriated the camp-stool, I ordered in the escort, fixed bayonets, loaded my revolver with ostentation, and commanded my friend to re-enter alone, which he did, and, as Americans say, "quickly."
Then ensued an uncomfortable silence, interrupted by the arrival of one of my men to say that the villagers had refused to sell provisions of any kind, although eggs, milk, and rice were to be had in plenty. "I am not the king of these people," said Malak, passionately, on being remonstrated with. "Every man here is free to do as he pleases with his own." As our stores were now running uncomfortably short, this "Boycotting" system was anything but pleasant. "Will you sell us some eggs and milk?" I asked, as my unwilling guest rose to go. It was eating humble-pie with a vengeance, but hunger, like many other things, has no laws. "I am not a stall-keeper," was the answer. A request to be permitted to ascend the hill and visit the fort was met by an emphatic refusal. I then, as a last resource, inquired, through Kamoo, if my hospitable host had any objection to my walking through the village. "If you like," was the reply; "but I will not be responsible for your safety. This is not Kelat. The English are not our masters. We care nothing for them."
Notwithstanding these mysterious warnings, however, I visited the village towards sunset, alone with Gerome, fearing lest the sight of my escort should arouse the ire and suspicions of the natives. There was little to see and nothing to interest. Gwarjak is built without any attempt at order or symmetry. Many of the houses had toppled over till their roofs touched the ground, and the whole place presented an appearance of poverty and decay strangely at variance with the smiling plains of grain, rice, and tobacco around it. Not a human being was visible, for our appearance was the signal for a general stampede indoors, but the dirty, narrow streets swarmed with huge, fierce dogs, who would have attacked us but for the heavy "nagaikas" [A] with which we were armed. We were evidently cordially hated by both men and beasts! On return to camp I gave orders for a start at four the next morning. There was no object to be gained by remaining, and the natives would have been only too glad of an excuse for open attack.
The remains of an ancient city, covering a very large area, are said to exist near Gwarjak, about a mile due south of it. I could, however, discover no trace of them, although we came from that direction, and must have traversed the supposed site.
After the fatigue and anxiety of the day, I was enjoying a cigar in the bright moonlight, when a messenger from the village arrived in camp. He had a narrow escape. Not answering the challenge of the sentry for the second time, the latter was about to fire, when I ran forward and threw up his rifle, which discharged in the air. A second later, and the man would have been shot, in which case I do not suppose we should ever have seen Quetta. The message was from Malak, inviting me to a "Zigri," a kind of religious dance, taking place just outside the village. After some reflection, I decided to go. It might, of course, mean treachery, but the probability was that the chief, afraid of being reported to the Indian Government for his insolence and insubordination, wished to atone for his conduct before I left.
Under the messenger's guidance, and attended by Gerome and a guard of five men with loaded rifles, I set out. Both the Russian and myself carried and prominently displayed a brace of revolvers. A walk of ten minutes brought us to a cleared space by the river. In the centre blazed a huge bonfire, round which, in a semicircle, were squatted some two or three hundred natives, watching the twistings and contortions of half a dozen grotesque creatures with painted faces, and long, streaming hair, who, as they turned slowly round and round, varied the performance with leaps and bounds, alternately groaning, wailing, and screaming at the top of their voices.