The Dewan half guessed what was in the air, but he blinked his big eyes solemnly, and reaching for a small lacquer box took from it a Ran leaf, with a finger smeared some ground lime on it, and wrapping the leaf around a piece of betel-nut popped it into his capacious mouth.
“These Bagrees are in the protection of Rajas, Karowlee, are they not?” Nana Sahib asked.
“Yes, Prince; even some of Bhart’s relatives are there—one Ajeet Singh; he’s a celebrated leader of these decoits.”
“And Sindhia took from Karowlee some territory, didn’t he?”
“Yes; Karowlee refused to pay the taxes.”
“I should think the Raja would like to have it back.”
“No doubt, Prince.”
Nana Sahib, holding the cigarette to his lips between two fingers gazed mockingly at the large-paunched Brahmin. Then he said; “I see the illuminating light of understanding in your eyes, Dewani—a subtle comprehension. Small wonder that you are Minister to the delightful Sindhia. If you are making any promises to Karowlee, I should make them in the name of Sindhia—through Sirdar Baptiste, of course. And, Dewani, this restless cuss, Amir Khan, might make a treaty with the English any time. The dear fish-eyed Resident has been particularly active—my spies can hardly keep up with him. I shouldn’t lose any time—Ajeet Singh sounds promising.”
Nana Sahib drew a slim flat gold watch from his pocket. “I now must leave you two interesting gentlemen,” he said, “for I am to play a few chuckers of polo with—particularly, Captain Barlow. He is jackal to the bloodless Resident. I really thought a couple of days ago that he would have to be sent home on sick leave. One of my officers rode him off the ball in a fierce drive for goal, and by some devilish mistake the post hadn’t been sawed half-through, so when Barlow crashed into it it stood up. As he lay perfectly still after his cropper it looked as though Resident Hodson had lost his jackal. But Barlow is one of those whip-cord Englishmen that die of old age; he was in the saddle again in two days. Well, au revoir and salaam.”
When the clattering scurry of Nana Sahib’s Arab had died out Baptiste turned to the Dewan, saying:
“I will write the letter to Raja Karowlee, but you must sign it, Sirdar; also furnish a fast riding camel and a trusty officer,” the Dewan answered simply.
“But Nana Sahib was nebulous—we may be made the goat of sacrifice.”
“It is a wisdom, Sirdar; but, also, it is from the Prince an order; and my office is always one of blame when there are excuses to make—it is always that way. When a head is required the Dewan’s is always offered.”
In answer to the Dewan’s request Raja Karowlee sent a force of two hundred Bagrees to Jean Baptiste’s camp. Evidently the old Raja had run the official comb through his territories, for the decoit force was composed of a hundred men from Karowlee, under Ajeet Singh, and a hundred from Alwar, led by Sookdee.