As the jamadars stood hesitatingly, Sewlal swung to the Frenchman: “Sirdar Sahib, make the order that I cease payment of the thousand rupees a day to these rebels, cowards. Go!” and he looked at Ajeet; “talk it over amongst yourselves, and send to me one of your wives that will lead a company—lend your women your tulwars.”
Ajeet’s black eyes flashed anger, and his brows were drawn into a knot just above his thin, hawk-like nose; suppressed passion at the Dewan’s deadly insult was in the even, snarling tone of his voice:
“Dewan Sahib, harsh words are profitless—” his eyes, glittering, were fixed on the bulbous orbs of the man of the quill—“and the talk of women in the affairs of men is not in keeping with caste. If you pass the order that we are not to have rations now that we are far from home, what are we to do? Think you that Raja Karowlee—”
“Do! do! if you serve not Sindhia what care I what you do. Go back to your honourable trade of thieving. And as to Raja Karowlee, a man who keeps a colony of cowards—what care I for him. Go, go!”
The jamadars with glowering eyes turned from the Dewan, even the harsh salaam they uttered in going sounded like a curse.
And when they had gone, Baptiste was startled by a gurgling laugh bubbling up from the Dewan’s fat throat.
“Sirdar,” he chuckled, “I’ve given that posing Rajput a poem to commit to memory. Ha-ha! They have two strong reasons now for going—their shame and lean stomachs.”
“They won’t go,” Baptiste declared. “When a man is afraid of anything he can find a thousand reasons for not making the endeavour. If Sindhia will give me the troops I will make an end of Amir Khan.”
“And make enemies of the Pindaris: that we do not want; we want them to fight with us, not against us. The great struggle is about to take place; Holkar and Bhonsla and Sindhia, perhaps even the King of Oudh, leagued together, the accursed English will be driven from India. But even now they are trying to win over Amir Khan and his hundred thousand horsemen by promises of territory and gold. With the Chief out of the way they would disband; he is a great leader, and they flock to his flag. You saw the Englishman, Captain Barlow?”
“Yes, Dewani. Good soldier, I should say.”
“Well, Sirdar, we think that he waits here to undertake some mission to Amir Khan. You see, no office can be conducted without clerks, and sometimes clerks talk.”
The Frenchman twisted nervously at his slim grey moustache. “I comprehend, Dewani,” he said presently; “it is expedient that Amir Khan be eliminated.”
“It would be a merciful thing,” Sewlal added—“it would save bloodshed.”
“Well, Dewani, I must depart now. It will be interesting to see what your Bagrees do, especially when they become hungry.”