“By Jove! splendid!” and Captain Barlow held out a hand.
But Baptiste, saying that he would find Miss Hodson, went out into the sunshine cursing.
“Now we will go back,” Nana Sahib was saying as the French General brought Elizabeth from among the oleanders and crotons.
The day after the Bagrees had taken the oath of allegiance to Sindhia the jamadars were summoned to the Dewan’s office to receive their instructions for the carrying out of the mission.
In writing the Raja of Karowlee for the decoits, Dewan Sewlal had not stated that the mission was for the purpose of bringing home in a bag the head of the Pindar Chief. As the wily Hindu had said to Sirdar Baptiste: “We will get them here before speaking of this dangerous errand. Once here, and Karowlee’s hopes raised over getting territory, if they then go back without accomplishing the task, that rapacious old man will cast them into prison.”
So when the Bagree leaders, closeted with Baptiste and the Dewan in a room of the latter’s bungalow, learned what was expected of them they, to put it mildly, received a shock. They had thought that it was to be a decoity of treasure, perhaps of British treasure, and in their proficient hands such an affair did not run into much danger generally.
The jamadars drew to one side and discussed the matter; then Ajeet said: “Dewan Sahib, what is asked of us should have been in the written message to our Raja. We be decoits, that is true, it is our profession, but the mission that is spoken of is not thus. Hunsa has ridden with Amir Khan upon a foray into Hyderabad, and he knows that the Chief is always well guarded, and that to try for his head in the midst of his troops would be like the folly of children.”
The Dewan’s fat neck swelled with indignation; his big ox-like eyes bulged from their holding in anger:
“Phut-t-t!” he spat in derision. “Bagrees!” he sneered; “descendants of Rajputs—bah! Have you brought women with you that will lead this force? And danger!” he snarled—he turned on Sookdee: “You are Sookdee, son of Bhart, so it was signed.”
“Yes, Dewan, it is true.”
“You are the son of your mother, not Bhart,” the Dewan raved; “he was a brave man, but you speak of danger—bah!”
The Dewan’s teeth, stained red at the edges from the chewing of pan, showed in a sneering grin like a hyena’s as he added: “Bah! Ye are but thieves who steal from those who are helpless.”
Ajeet spoke: “Dewan Sahib, we be men as brave as Bhart—we are of the same caste, but there is a difference between such an one as he took the head of and a Pindari Chief. The Pindaris are the wild dogs of Hind, they are wolves, and is it easy to trap a wolf?”
But the Dewan had worked himself into a frenzy at their questioning of the possibilities; he waved his fat hands in a gesture of dismissal crying: “Go, go!”