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Authors: Maria Barrett

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“Yes, colonel sir.” Ever courteous, the Indian’s English was smooth and polished. He raised his head and looked directly at
the officer, red and damp in the heat. He concealed the slightest of smiles. “We have had rumors today from the north, colonel,
from Meerut. There is news of terrible unrest. This problem of the pig and beef fat to grease the new cartridges has caused
much upset, colonel sir, with the Hindus and the Mohammedans. It is an awful prob—”

“I am well aware of the situation, Mr. Nanda!” the colonel interrupted. “You have no need to remind me.” He stood away from
the wall to assert himself. “Was this the only thing that you—”

“Oh no, colonel sir!” Nanda was not in the least intimidated. “We have heard this morning that the soldiers who would not
touch these things have been humiliated, colonel sir, all eighty-five of these men have been stripped of their uniforms, their
ankles shackled. It is most upsetting, I really do not think…”

“Mr. Nanda!” Moving forward a pace, Colonel Mills towered above the slight, elegant Indian. “I really don’t see what it could
possibly have to do with my command here in Moraphur! These men directly disobeyed the order to use the cartridges and their
officers have punished them.” The colonel gave no hint of the alarm that Nanda’s words had caused him. “It really is nothing
to do with me,” he went on, all the time wondering what the hell that fool Hewitt was doing in command up at Meerut, “and
as far as I am concerned, that is the end of the matter!”

“Perhaps so, colonel sir, but I fear that this incident has caused much anger in the lines. From Meerut, just now, we have
heard of terrible rumors…”

“Rumors? Pah! I am not in the business of listening to rumors! I command this division of the regiment on fact, that accounts
for my judgment, not blasted rumors!” Colonel Mills felt a small rivulet of sweat trickle down the side of his face and, thoroughly
irritated by the heat, Nanda’s sly superiority and the bloody fiasco up at Meerut, he turned toward the door.

“But forgive me, colonel,”—Nanda had dropped the pretense of “sir”—”the news was of feelings of great anger and offense,”
he lowered his voice, “even of mutiny!” He stepped forward a pace to keep himself level with the officer. “I really do think
that you should…”

Colonel Mills swung around. “I should go inside now and get out of this blasted heat, that’s what I should do, Mr. Nanda!”
To be spoken to in that manner by a native incensed him; his temper finally snapped. “And I’ll thank you to refrain from idle
gossip and rumor! You chaps are all the same, far too taken up with loose talk and meddling! When you have some facts, then
perhaps I will see you. But, until then, please, Mr. Nanda, stop wasting my time!” And without the courtesy of an adieu, the
colonel stamped off inside.

The darkened interior of the bungalow, although not much cooler than outside, was at least a relief from the glare of the
sun. The colonel slumped into an armchair and shouted for the bearer, wiping his face on his handkerchief. Nanda had infuriated
him, he was getting above himself. It would do to remind the maharajah exactly who ran this state, he thought angrily.

Still, the situation in Meerut was alarming, Nanda was right. His own officers had talked of unease in the lines, the men
were restless, upset and trouble among the ranks spread like wild fire. He couldn’t afford to let any strife at Meerut eat
its way into his own troops; he would have to take a ride up there in the morning to gauge the seriousness of Nanda’s rumors.

“Bearer!” he shouted a second time, the thought of a day-break start and a ride in the stifling heat up to Meerut fueling
his already foul temper. “Bearer!” he hollered. “Where the hell are you?”

He slumped back in the chair as the servant finally hurried into view. “Blasted party!” he muttered under his breath. The
last thing he needed was a late night. “Get these ruddy boots off me!” he snarled. “And be quick about it! You damn natives
are so damned slow!”

The colonel and Mrs. Mills sat silent in their carriage at seven o’clock precisely that evening, as it swung into the impressive
grounds of Indrajit Rai’s house, royal jeweler to the maharajah of Jupthana. Alicia felt the colonel stiffen beside her at
the sight of such native opulence and placed a pale cool hand on his arm reassuringly. Looking out at the torch-lined driveway,
she leaned a little closer to the open window and breathed in the warm, jasmine-scented air as they drove through the flame
trees hung with lanterns and approached the house, ablaze with light.

The carriage drew to a halt in front of the ornate and sprawling bungalow and a young house boy stepped forward to help the
guests down; he was instantly dismissed. Colonel Mills turned and offered his hand to his wife; the thought of strange dark
fingers on her skin incensed him.

“Alicia?”

‘Thank you, Reggie.” Alicia held the hem of her evening dress in one hand and tilted her head back in a manner she assumed
fitting; they mounted the steps up the verandah toward their host.

Indrajit Rai stood, with his son on his right, waiting humbly to receive his honored British guests. It was a great coup for
him that the colonel and Mrs. Mills had accepted his invitation and it was essential that they be given the very best hospitality.
As they approached him, he bowed his head and pressed his hands together, smiling all the time but keeping his eyes averted
so as not to offend.

“Colonel Mills Sahib! And Mrs. Mills Memsahib. How good of you to come; you do a great honor to me and my family.” Indrajit
Rai’s English, like Nanda’s, was precise and carefully modulated. He had studied it fastidiously and practiced his accent
tirelessly. “Please, you are most welcome.”

Colonel Mills nodded in reply and glanced over the Indian’s head into the house to see who had already arrived.

“May I please introduce you to my son, Colonel Mills?” Indrajit Rai motioned frantically with his left hand behind his back
for his son to step forward and bow his head. “This is my son, colonel, Jagat. It is a great honor for him to meet you.”

From behind the host, a tall lean young man of seventeen stepped forward and held out his hand to the colonel. He looked directly
ahead and smiled. “How nice to meet you, Colonel Mills.” He kept his right hand extended even though it was ignored. “And
Mrs. Mills.” He turned and smiled at Alicia. “It is a pleasure indeed.”

Colonel Mills felt a hot rush of blood to his face and his nostrils flared. Who the hell did this young devil think he was?
Didn’t he know the form? He opened his mouth to protest at such damned ruddy impudence when Alicia touched him gently on the
arm. He started, noticed the sudden staring silence around them and held his tongue. Alicia was right, it wouldn’t do to cause
a scene, not in his position.

“Please, Colonel Sahib, please go into my house and the bearer will bring you a drink!” Indrajit stepped in front of his son,
his eyes lowered, and edged the colonel toward the interior of the bungalow. He had begun to sweat anxiously. “This way, Colonel
Sahib and Mrs. Mills Memsahib, please to have a nice cool drink inside.” He blocked the view of his son in an attempt to dismiss
his rudeness. “It is such an honor,” he rushed on, “to have you as a guest in my house, such a great honor for me and my family!
Please, please to go inside…”

At last the colonel smiled.

“A drink for the colonel and Mrs. Mills, bearer!” The host shouted above the chatter of the party, “Quickly!” He clapped his
hands loudly. “Quickly, a drink!” The bearer came into sight, carrying a large silver tray, and Indrajit Rai fussed extravagantly
over the refreshments. Alicia smiled at several of their acquaintances, nodding to the left and the right, and the colonel
relaxed slightly. He took a long gulp of his whisky soda and glanced around him. The difficult moment was over, at least for
the interim, and the party continued much to the relief of the agitated host.

“But what I do not understand is why so many of our countrymen do not question the supremacy of the British. Pah! It would
seem to me that we are all too afraid of putting the situation right.” Jagat Rai had his back to the rest of the party as
he spoke to a small group of young men in the corner of his father’s large open drawing room. He knew nothing of the true
situation in Meerut or of the tension in the military community and spoke simply off the top of his head; he enjoyed the thrill
of indulging in dangerous talk. “It would seem to me—” he broke off as one of his friends jabbed him in the ribs. The colonel
was within earshot and had glanced several times in their direction; his ear was constantly tuned to any talk of unrest. Jagat
was undeterred. “It would seem to me,” he went on, but louder this time, his voice rising above the swell of small talk, “that
where the British are concerned, we are frightened of speaking our minds, it would seem to me—” Jagat received a sharp prod
with a bony elbow and turned toward his friend to protest. He saw then, quite clearly, that the colonel had stopped talking
and was staring hard at him, a prominent vein in his temple distended and throbbing. The chatter around the room died away
but he matched the colonel’s stare.

“It would seem to you what exactly?” Colonel Mills demanded. He had no intention of restraining himself this time; the boy
needed to be embarrassed, put in his place. He was aware of the room’s attention focused on their exchange and he waited for
the boy to back down.

“It would seem to me,” Jagat answered, “that the British superiority in India is a figment of their imagination.” He spoke
with cool assurance, his face set and his gaze steady on Colonel Mills. A shocked murmur ran through the room. Jagat Rai,
an intelligent, educated and angry young man, was not going to back down. “The British are no better than any other ruler
in this country and perhaps they are even worse.” He saw the colonel’s face flush deep red but he went on. “Whatever they
are, colonel, the people of India are not happy with them. The situation is not a comfortable one and I think that it is going
to have to change.”

“Well I… I…” For the first time in his life, Colonel Mills was lost for words and the whole party looked on with
horror and dismay as he floundered. He had never, in all his military career, been spoken to with such insolence by an inferior,
and never, never by a native! His face took on a peculiar bilious look as the blood pounded beneath the surface of the skin
and such a sudden, overwhelming urge for violence overtook him that he had to grip the leather gloves he held in one hand
to stop himself from lunging forward and taking the blighter by the throat.

Jagat Rai simply smiled, nodded his head and then turned away, back to his friends, as if nothing untoward had happened. The
only thing that perturbed him was the fact that he might have offended his father.

“Alicia!” Colonel Mills finally announced to the still hushed room. “We are leaving. I will not stay here to be insulted!”
He glared across the room and shouted for the bearer.

“Oh my goodness! Colonel Mills Sahib!” Indrajit Rai rushed in from the verandah where he had been talking to more guests and
bowed humbly low. He had heard the colonel’s remark and his mind was in turmoil. “Please, colonel, you must not be leaving
so soon! My cook has prepared some European canapés, please, you must stay to taste of them!” He glanced up and smiled hopefully.

“Alicia, are you ready?” Colonel Mills did not even acknowledge the man. He waited a few moments for the boy to bring Alicia’s
wrap and then he held his arm for her and turned toward the door. “We are leaving,” he announced to the room, and, as Indrajit
Rai stared desolately after them, the colonel and Mrs. Mills swept arrogantly out of the party.

“Damned impudent darkie!” the colonel exploded as soon as the carriage moved off. “I’ve never heard such bloody rudeness in
my entire life!” He took out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “Stuff and bloody nonsense too! If you ask me, that
blasted boy…”

“Reggie!” Alicia protested at the bad language and Colonel Mills grudgingly apologized. They sat in silence for several minutes.
“I don’t know where the hell these fellahs think they’d be without the British!” He went on, too angry to let it drop. “I
mean, really! They have no idea of the skill and organization it takes to—” He stopped short. Alicia had placed her hand at
the top of his thigh, her long elegant fingers applying a little pressure before edging higher. There was only one way to
calm her husband down and Alicia moved her hand expertly, her touch light and exciting. Besides, she thought, hearing his
breathing slow and regulate, he always lasted much, much longer after a temper.

Colonel Mills swallowed hard, finally losing his train of thought and relaxed back against the padded velvet of the seat.
It was a long drive home and he was glad of that. Damn and blast the events of the day, he thought, not quite letting himself
go, and damn and blast tomorrow as well, with that wretched bally ride up to Meerut; it was the last thing he needed! He eased
his shoulders back as Alicia deftly stroked and let out a sigh. Had to be done though, he thought, before his mind drifted
into pleasure, no doubt about that, not after tonight there wasn’t. He closed his eyes and the face of Jagat Rai flashed into
view. “Ruddy Indians,” he murmured as a cool hand wrapped around his flesh. He blinked them open to check that the blinds
were down, then settled back once more. Couldn’t trust them an inch, he mused, only moments before his whole body shivered
and Alicia’s hands worked their magic.

2

Sunday, May 10, 1857

C
OLONEL
M
ILLS TOOK THE CROP PROFFERED TO HIM BY HIS
S
YCE
and tapped it against his thigh impatiently. It was still dark and only a faint glimmer of day could be spotted on the horizon.
Already the heat had begun. He was in a foul temper; they should have left some time ago, if they’d been able to find the
servants.

“You ready?” he shouted across at Captain Boyd.

BOOK: Dishonored
4.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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