‘A child who will be a man In another itee years, an important distinction. Under oar customs, he must then be presented to the people, ready to take my place if need be. That is why I am anxious that he starts oa the journey to America with as little delay as possible.’
‘We must wait for another few days,’ Father Kerrigan said. Tm sure Miss Tait agrees with me.’
The Khan glanced at Janet and she nodded. 4I think Father Kerrigan is right. And we’ve time to spare. Kerim can be back within a month of the operation, you know.’
He threw his arms wide. Then I must bow before flie wind. You play chess, Miss Tate?’
®Not very well, I’m afraid.’
‘Father Kerrigan considers himself a master. It is my painful and frequent duty to prove otherwise.’
‘Indeed, so?’ the priest said, pushing back his chair and rising, glass of brandy in hand. ‘If your Highness would be good enough to lead the way to the usual place, we can get down to tag business of maJaag you eat your words.9
‘A pleasure.’ The Khan got to Ms feet and looked enquiringly at the others. ‘Gentlemen?’
Hamid glanced at Drummond and Sher DiL “Billiards?’
They both codded and Cheiisg smiled across at Janet ‘Which leaves Miss Tate and myself. With the Khan’s permission, perhaps I could show her some of the treasures of the palace?’
‘Please do. It should take me no longer than aa hour to encompass the downfall of this turbulent priest.
1g that a fact, now?’ Father Kerrigan said in mock anger and they went out
Hamidj ‘Sher Dil and Drammond had their heads together for a moment, something to do willi a report over the radio from Indian Army Headquarters about patrol clashes in the Ladakh area. Cheung joined them and Janet moved to the window and looked into the garden.
It was very beautiful Great, Grecian-style jars were spaced along the terrace, filled with dwarf iris, and the scent of hibiscus was heavy on the night air. Lower down in the shadows, the slender cypress trees stood like straight sentinels, dark against the sky, and the moon was full.
Cheung paused beside her. ‘A startling contrast, isn’t it? In here all the beauty in the world, a garden by night. Beyond those walls, a harsh, sterile land where even mere existence is a struggle.’
‘Has it always been this way?.
He nodded. ‘In the old days, the tribesmen raided into India like wolves. Their name was a byword for cruelty. But those days are gone. Now they must live off the land and the land has little to give.’
‘Can nothing be done?”
He shrugged. ‘Who knows? Brackenhurst may turn up with something in his survey, evidence of mineral deposits worth developing, perhaps. The Khan has his hopes, but I doubt if they will come to much. Bracken-hurst would not be the first geologist to waste his time here.’
‘And yet Hamid tells me the Chinese Government in Pekin has laid claim to Balpur.’
‘And Nepal and Bhutan, even parts of Assam.’ He shrugged. ‘Words, merely words. But as a matter of interest, there can be little doubt that in other times Balpur was part of the Chinese Empire. Come, I will show you.’
They went back inside, moved into the central hall, and he opened another door. The room was in dark- ness. Janet heard the click of the switch, but was totally unprepared for what followed.
On every side a row of glass showcases, each with its own illumination, sprang into view to float la the darkness. But it was their contents which drew from her aa involuntary gasp of admiration. They contained the most superb collection of pottery she had ever seen.
There were alabaster jars, pale, translucent and delicate, glazed urns in red and black, their colours as vivid as on the day they had been fired.
Most were unmistakably Chinese and others showed a distinct Chinese influence. There was also a collection of figurines like the one she had seen at Drummoad’s bungalow.
‘Jack has one of these,. she said,.He told me it was Greco-Buddhist.’
That’s right. As you’re probably aware, Alexander the Great invaded India. Amazing to what extent Greek culture penetrated the entire border area and yet ia India, their literature doesn’t evea mention his name.’