The Broken Road by A. E. W. Mason

The Broken Road

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subjects: Historical Adventure Fiction

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Description

The Broken Road, one of two books by the author set in British India. It is an exciting adventure story involving the Indian Army, Rajas and secret agents. It was the Road which caused the trouble. It usually is the road. That and a reigning prince who was declared by his uncle secretly to have sold his country to the British, and a half-crazed priest from out beyond the borders of Afghanistan, who sat on a slab of stone by the river-bank and preached a djehad. But above all it was the road-Linforth’s road. It came winding down from the passes, over slopes of shale; it was built with wooden galleries along the precipitous sides of cliffs; it snaked treacherously further and further across the rich valley of Chiltistan towards the Hindu Kush, until the people of that valley could endure it no longer. Then suddenly from Peshawur the wires began to flash their quiet and ominous messages.


97,429 words, with a reading time of ~ 5.9 hours (~ 389 pages), and first published in 1907. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, .

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Excerpt

It was the Road which caused the trouble. It usually is the road. That and a reigning prince who was declared by his uncle secretly to have sold his country to the British, and a half-crazed priest from out beyond the borders of Afghanistan, who sat on a slab of stone by the river-bank and preached a djehad. But above all it was the road–Linforth’s road. It came winding down from the passes, over slopes of shale; it was built with wooden galleries along the precipitous sides of cliffs; it snaked treacherously further and further across the rich valley of Chiltistan towards the Hindu Kush, until the people of that valley could endure it no longer.

Then suddenly from Peshawur the wires began to flash their quiet and ominous messages. The road had been cut behind Linforth and his coolies. No news had come from him. No supplies could reach him. Luffe, who was in the country to the east of Chiltistan, had been informed. He had gathered together what troops he could lay his hands on and had already started over the eastern passes to Linforth’s relief. But it was believed that the whole province of Chiltistan had risen. Moreover it was winter-time and the passes were deep in snow. The news was telegraphed to England. Comfortable gentlemen read it in their first-class carriages as they travelled to the City and murmured to each other commonplaces about the price of empire. And in a house at the foot of the Sussex Downs Linforth’s young wife leaned over the cot of her child with the tears streaming from her eyes, and thought of the road with no less horror than the people of Chiltistan. Meanwhile the great men in Calcutta began to mobilise a field force at Nowshera, and all official India said uneasily, “Thank Heaven, Luffe’s on the spot.”

Charles Luffe had long since abandoned the army for the political service, and, indeed, he was fast approaching the time-limit of his career. He was a man of breadth and height, but rather heavy and dull of feature, with a worn face and a bald forehead. He had made enemies, and still made them, for he had not the art of suffering fools gladly; and, on the other hand, he made no friends. He had no sense of humour and no general information. He was, therefore, of no assistance at a dinner-party, but when there was trouble upon the Frontier, or beyond it, he was usually found to be the chief agent in the settlement.

Luffe alone had foreseen and given warning of the danger. Even Linforth, who was actually superintending the making of the road, had been kept in ignorance. At times, indeed, some spokesman from among the merchants of Kohara, the city of Chiltistan where year by year the caravans from Central Asia met the caravans from Central India, would come to his tent and expostulate.

“We are better without the road, your Excellency. Will you kindly stop it!” the merchant would say; and Linforth would then proceed to demonstrate how extremely valuable to the people of Chiltistan a better road would be:

“Kohara is already a great mart. In your bazaars at summer-time you see traders from Turkestan and Tibet and Siberia, mingling with the Hindoo merchants from Delhi and Lahore. The road will bring you still more trade.”

The spokesman went back to the broad street of Kohara seemingly well content, and inch by inch the road crept nearer to the capital.

But Luffe was better acquainted with the Chiltis, a soft-spoken race of men, with musical, smooth voices and polite and pretty ways. But treachery was a point of honour with them and cold-blooded cruelty a habit. There was one particular story which Luffe was accustomed to tell as illustrative of the Chilti character.

“There was a young man who lived with his mother in a little hamlet close to Kohara. His mother continually urged him to marry, but for a long while he would not. He did not wish to marry. Finally, however, he fell in love with a pretty girl, made her his wife, and brought her home, to his mother’s delight. But the mother’s delight lasted for just five days. She began to complain, she began to quarrel; the young wife replied, and the din of their voices greatly distressed the young man, besides making him an object of ridicule to his neighbours. One evening, in a fit of passion, both women said they would stand it no longer. They ran out of the house and up the hillside, but as there was only one path they ran away together, quarrelling as they went. Then the young Chilti rose, followed them, caught them up, tied them in turn hand and foot, laid them side by side on a slab of stone, and quietly cut their throats.

“‘Women talk too much,’ he said, as he came back to a house unfamiliarly quiet. ‘One had really to put a stop to it.’”