Chapter VII

Azimoolah Lays the Train

In total ignorance of the hideous plotting of the Nana and his lieutenant, and blind to the signs of the gathering storm, life in Cawnpore went on very much as usual. The chief amusement was the retailing of scandal, and for some little time the most important piece of gossip was the strange illness of Lieutenant Dick Heron. For a whole day he had been unconscious; then followed a species of delirious fever, which lasted almost a week, and when his wandering senses returned he was unable to give any explanation how he had been attacked or where he had been. Dr. Stainton was certain he had taken a drug of some kind, not necessarily a poison, but of what nature could not be determined.

Another piece of gossip was the rumour that clamorous demands were being made upon Howard Kendrick by his many creditors, and that if he could not satisfy them within a week something would have to be done. What some of these creditors feared was that he would exchange into another regiment, and that they would have to whistle for their money. His influence, thanks to his father being a director of the East India Company, would do for him what others less advantageously placed might sigh for in vain. It was true that the father, tired of his son’s extravagance and dissipation, had refused to pay any more of his debts; but though Sir Oliver Kendrick might refuse to part with money he might help his son in other ways.

Two days after Dick’s attack, Howard Kendrick was sitting in his bungalow smoking, sipping brandy-and-soda, and scowling​—​especially scowling. He had not overcome his disappointment at his failure to see the Nana, nor was he likely to forget it. Unable to pay his debts of honour, he had had the salt rubbed in pretty thickly on the parade, on the racecourse and in the mess-room. Virtually he had been sent to Coventry.

The thing was the more galling because Dick Heron being practically hors de combat, Kendrick had the field all to himself, so far as Ruth Armitage was concerned. He dared not put in an appearance at Mrs. Waring’s while the cloud was hanging over him, because the Colonel was bound to know his position, and maybe, had said something both to his wife and to Ruth about his being under a cloud.

“A cursed nuisance,” he muttered, as he knocked off the ash from his cigar. “If I write to the pater it’ll take months before I have his reply, and then it may be unfavourable. It’s no use going to the bank: I’ve already overdrawn my account pretty heavily, and dashed if I know any fellow who’d lend me even a fiver​—​not that a fiver would be of much use. Beastly nuisance. I shan’t forget in a hurry how the chaps at loo last night in the club card-room froze when they saw me coming. A month ago I was sure of a ten-pound note any night.”

This was quite true. Kendrick’s luck at all forms of card gambling was phenomenal. Some of his comrades had their doubts as to whether luck was entirely the cause of his success.

His cigar had gone out while he was cogitating, and, flinging it away with an oath, he lighted another, and was drawing the first whiff when a servant entered and announced the arrival of a visitor​—​Azimoolah Khan.

Kendrick’s scowl deepened. The sight of Azimoolah Khan reminded him of his rebuff at the palace, and he did not take the trouble to rise when the Nana’s treasurer entered, nor did he acknowledge the man’s entrance in any way. He simply stared coldly at the visitor.

Azimoolah, in spite of the important position he held in the Maharajah’s household, was treated with scant respect by the English officers. Apart from the fact that the sepoys and the natives in general were regarded slightingly, and called niggers, a term which Trevelyan tells us made its first appearance in decent society during the years which immediately preceded the Mutiny​—​Azimoolah was looked at askance because of his low birth, and because every one knew he was an adventurer.

Very few in Cawnpore knew of his prowess in London fashionable society, and those who did were only the more contemptuous in their demeanour towards him. Of these, one was Howard Kendrick. He had heard of Azimoolah’s exploits, through his father, the Company director, but it suited his purposes to keep his knowledge to himself. He had an idea the ex-khitmutgar might be useful in helping him to fleece the Nana.

Azimoolah took no notice of Kendrick’s rudeness. He bowed obsequiously, and did not presume to take a seat.

“The Maharajah has sent me to apologise to you, Captain Kendrick, and to express his regret he was unable to give himself the pleasure of receiving you when you did him the honour to call.”

“Oh,” said Kendrick gruffly, “I’ve had enough of your master’s apologies. I don’t think I want any more. If that’s the only object in your coming to see me you needn’t have wasted your time and mine.”

“I entreat you not to be angry with your servant. I quite admit that you are justified in feeling resentment towards the Maharajah, but if you will be good enough to extend to me the privilege of a few minutes’ conversation, I think I can convince you that your time will not have been wasted. I am under many obligations to you, Captain Kendrick, and I wish to show you my appreciation of your kindness, and in a very material way.”

“What does that mean, you wily scoundrel?” Kendrick asked himself. “Have you come to offer me a loan now that the fat, greasy Nana has dried up? After all, you do owe me something. I might have damned you out of every set here if I’d opened my mouth. I could have made a few good stories out of the ‘Khitmutgar Prince’ and his doings.”

“Sit down,” be growled aloud, “and say what you have to say.”

Azimoolah obeyed, arranging his limbs with the ease of a European, in what is an uncomfortable position for the Oriental, unaccustomed to chairs.

“If I might crave permission to make a suggestion to Captain Kendrick, who must be a much more skilful diplomatist than a poor ignorant man like myself can ever hope to be, I would venture to say, as one knowing intimately the weaknesses and vanity of the Maharajah, that the way to make him a generous friend is to gratify those weaknesses and flatter that vanity. Do I make myself understood to your lordship?”

“Hanged if you do? Do you mean that I’m to go cap in hand and bow and scrape to the Nana?”

“Heaven forbid,” rejoined Azimoolah, almost indignant at the insinuation. “Permit me to explain. I need not remind you that the Maharajah is smarting under a sense of having been unfairly treated by the Company and by the English Government. To Englishmen personally he is much attached. He admires them; he has given innumerable proofs of his friendship to the English residents in Cawnpore, and I fancy I am right in saying that you yourself could bear witness to that.”

“Oh, as you chaps go the Nana’s not a bad fellow. I never said he was. The best thing about him is the way he’s adapted himself to English customs and tastes. He’s as good a hand with a billiard cue as any of us; though he doesn’t play as nice a game as be used, and I told him so the last time we had a hundred up. He’s put on too much flesh.”

“You are perfectly right,” rejoined Azimoolah regretfully. “I only wish you had more opportunities of giving the Maharajah the benefit of your counsel. It is really with some such object that I have taken the liberty of calling on now. The Maharajah would like to see you again, I know. What happened the other day was not his fault, but was due to the stupid blundering of a servant who misunderstood his orders, and who has since been severely punished.”

Kendrick heard all this with secret satisfaction. At the same time, knowing as he did something of the ways of the natives, and that they never acted without a motive, he wondered what was coming.

“That’s right enough; but it was dashed annoying all the same,” said he.

“The Maharajah is quite of your opinion. He would like to see you, and not only tender his apologies in person, but proffer you some practical compensation,” rejoined Azimoolah, drooping his eyes, but without ceasing to watch the effect of his words on the young officer.

Nothing could please Kendrick more. Said he condescendingly:

“I don’t bear any malice, but I don’t intend to call on him again without a written invitation.”

“And that you will have. Pardon me for approaching a matter, which I desire to allude to with the greatest delicacy and respect. You are so lavish and open-handed, that it is not wonderful your good heart should sometimes land you into embarrassments. Now, I happen to how that the Maharajah is desirous of placing a sum of money at your disposal, and I feel certain that sum would be considerably larger if your lordship chose to amuse yourself in the way I suggested​—​I mean flattering the Maharajah’s vanity.”

Again Azimoolah drooped his eyelids as if apologising for his temerity. Kendrick saw he was approaching the object of his visit.

“How?” he asked haughtily. “Can’t you come to the point?”

“I am grateful to you for the suggestion. I will do so. The Maharajah nurses the absurd misapprehension that England is not only staggering under the blow inflicted by the Russian war, but that the maintenance of her rule in India is a heavy drain on her military resources; in a word, that she cannot spare another man to strengthen her power here. The Maharajah’s advisers know that the contrary is the case. I who have been in England have told him so, but he is difficult to convince. His notions are childish, and no one agrees with them. But what are we to do with such a nature? His craze is a harmless one, and we have to humour him. Those who do so benefit greatly.”

Azimoolah suddenly raised his eyes. Kendrick read the meaning of his glance. It had a personal application. But he said nothing. He waited for the explanation, which he knew he could not hurry by showing impatience. The native of the East is either savagely direct in his methods or tediously roundabout.

The explanation came. Azimoolah cautiously suggested that if Kendrick would condescend to play down to the Nana’s foible as to the gradual weakening of England it would be enormously to his advantage. Had not his lordship, Azimoolah asked with extreme deference, hitherto laughed at the Maharajah’s ideas on the subject?

“Why, of course; who wouldn’t?” retorted Kendrick with a jeer.

“Quite so. Your lordship is right. In England I learned a proverb. It might have been written by one of our race. It runs, ‘Answer a fool according to his folly.’ I have no more to say. I thank your lordship for the favour he has bestowed upon his servant in deigning to listen to him. The Maharajah will send his invitation.”

Bowing more in Eastern than in European fashion, Azimoolah took his departure.

“Beastly disgusting to have to kotow to a gross debauchee,” muttered Kendrick; “but it might be worth while to agree with the vain fool that England is going to the dogs. After all, it’s only what I’ve heard scores of old asses stiffened with English pipeclay say of the Service. Beggars can’t afford to be choosers.”

That evening the Nana’s invitation, couched in abjectly courteous terms, reached Howard Kendrick. He accepted it.

Within a week after his interview with the Nana, Kendrick had settled his debts of honour. To explain his possession of funds, he hinted that he had made it up with his “governor” some time ago, but until now had thought it well to keep his mouth shut. “The old boy has proved himself a trump,” said Kendrick lightly to his friends, “and there’s no necessity for any further secrecy. Of course, I’ve promised to run straight for the future, and I’m going to keep my word.”

He uttered these words for a purpose​—​he knew they would reach Colonel Waring’s ears, and he wanted them to pave the way to enable him to “make the running,” for winning Ruth Armitage, while Dick Heron was lying helplessly on his back. Two days after, Kendrick was back in his old set, and things were apparently going well with him, though he had not yet ventured to approach Ruth.

Jack Hurst in the meantime had returned from Benares with dispatches and what news he could pick up. It was now nearing the end of April, and Hurst reported that on the 8th Mungul Pandy, the private of the 34th who, under the influence of bhang and religious fanaticism, had run amok and had incited his comrades to rebellion, had been hanged at Barrackpore after being condemned by court-martial. No further outward trouble had followed the disbanding of the 34th and 19th, but the contagion of discontent was spreading, and in a very mysterious way. It was not confined to the sepoys, but had reached the domestic servants, many of whom had actually insulted their employers.

Meanwhile the distribution of chupatties, innocent-looking flat cakes of salt and dough, was going on from hand to hand in every village and hamlet with increased activity. No Englishman knew exactly what the chupatty signified, and the natives were little wiser. All that could be learned was that men would do well to keep themselves prepared, as something was about to happen.

According to Hurst’s information, this increased activity dated to about a week before his return to Cawnpore. Was it of sinister coincidence that this date should approximately agree with that of Kendrick’s visit to the Nana?