Thus with the gigantic chess-board set; the possession of India trembling in the balance; intellects of the highest development pondering; Fate held the trump card, curiously, a girl; and not one of the players had ever heard her name, the Gulab Begum.
The white sand plain surrounding Chunda was dotted with the tents of the Mahratta force Sirdar Baptiste commanded. And the Sirdar, his soul athirst for a go at the English, whom he hated with the same rabid ferocity that possessed the soul of Nana Sahib, was busy. From Pondicherry he had inveigled French gunners; and from Goa, Portuguese. Also these renegade whites were skilled in drill. If Holkar and Bhonsla did their part it would be Armageddon when the hell that was brewing burst.
But Baptiste feared the Pindari. As he swung here and there on his Arab the horse’s hoofs seemed to pound from the resonant sands the words “Amir Khan—Amir Khan! Pin-dar-is, Pin-dar-is!”
It was as he discussed this very thing with his Minister, Dewan Sewlal, that Nana Sahib swirled up the gravelled drive to the bungalow on his golden-chestnut Arab, in his mind an inspiration gleaned from something that had been.
His greeting of the two was light, sporty; his thin well-chiselled face carried the bright indifferent vivacity of a fox terrier.
“Good day, Sirdar,” he cried gaily; and, “How listen the gods to your prayers, my dear Dewani?”
Baptiste, out of the fulness of his heart soon broached the troublous thing: “Prince,” he begged, “obtain from the worthy Peshwa a command and I’ll march against this wolf, Amir Khan, and remove from our path the threatened danger.”
Nana Sahib laughed; his white, even teeth were dazzling as the black-moustached lip lifted.
“Sirdar, when I send two Rampore hounds from my kennel to make the kill of a tiger you may tackle Amir Khan. Even if we could crumple up this blighter it’s not cricket—we need those Pindari chaps—but not as dead men. Besides, I detest bloodshed.”
The Dewan rolled his bulbous eyes despairingly: “If Sindhia would send ten camel loads of gold to this accursed Musselman, we could sleep in peace,” he declared.
“If it were a woman Sindhia would,” Nana Sahib sneered.
“It is a wisdom, Prince, for that is where the revenue goes: women are a curse in the affairs of men,” the Dewan commented.
“With four wives your opinion carries weight, Dewani,” and Nana Sahib tapped the fat knee of the Minister with his riding whip.
Baptiste turned to the Prince. “There will be trouble over these Pindaris; your friends, the English—eh, Nana Sahib—”
As though the handsome aquiline face of the Peshwa’s son had been struck with a glove it changed to the face of a devil; the lips thinned, and shrinking, left the strong white teeth bare in a wolf’s snarl. Under the black eyebrows the eyes gleamed like fire-lit amber; the thin-chiselled nostrils spread and through them the palpitating breath rasped a whistling note of suppressed passion.