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"Oh, it wasn't much. I was at Simla in the spring, when our Stalky, out of his snows, began corresponding direct with the Government."
"After the manner of a king," suggested d.i.c.k Four. "My turn now, d.i.c.k. He'd done a whole let of things he shouldn't have done, and constructively pledged the Government to all sorts of action."
"'Pledged the State's ticker, eh?" said McTurk, with a nod to me.
"About that; but the embarra.s.sin' part was that it was all so thunderin'
convenient, so well reasoned, don't you know? Came in as pat as if he'd had access to all sorts of information--which he couldn't, of course."
"Pooh!" said Tertius, "I back Stalky against the Foreign Office any day."
"He'd done pretty nearly everything he could think of, except strikin'
coins in his own image and superscription, all under cover of buildin'
this infernal road and bein' blocked by the snow. His report was simply amazin'. Von Lennaert tore his hair over it at first, and then he gasped, 'Who the dooce is this unknown Warren Hastings? He must be slain. He must be slain officially! The Viceroy'll never stand it. It's unheard of. He must be slain by his Excellency in person. Order him up here and pitch in a stinger.' Well, I sent him no end of an official stinger, and I pitched in an unofficial telegram at the same time."
"You!" This with amazement from the Infant, for Abanazar resembled nothing so much as a fluffy Persian cat.
"Yes--me," said Abanazar. "'Twasn't much, but after what you've said, d.i.c.ky, it was rather a coincidence, because I wired:
"'Aladdin now has got his wife, Your Emperor is appeased.
I think you'd better come to life: We hope you've all been pleased.'
"Funny how that old song came up in my head. That was fairly non-committal and encouragin'. The only flaw was that his Emperor wasn't appeased by very long chalks. Stalky extricated himself from his mountain fastnesses and leafed up to Simla at his leisure, to be offered up on the horns of the altar."
"But," I began, "surely the Commander-in-Chief is the proper--"
"His Excellency had an idea that if he blew up one single junior captain--same as King used to blow us up--he was holdin' the reins of empire, and, of course, as long as he had that idea, Von Lennaert encouraged him. I'm not sure Von Lennaert didn't put that notion into his head."
"They've changed the breed, then, since my time," I said.
"P'r'aps. Stalky was sent up for his wiggin' like a bad little boy. I've reason to believe that His Excellency's hair stood on end. He walked into Stalky for one hour--Stalky at attention in the middle of the floor, and (so he vowed) Von Lennaert pretending to soothe down His Excellency's topknot in dumb show in the background. Stalky didn't dare to look up, or he'd have laughed."
"Now, wherefore was Stalky not broken publicly?" said the Infant, with a large and luminous leer.
"Ah, wherefore?" said Abanazar. "To give him a chance to retrieve his blasted career, and not to break his father's heart. Stalky hadn't a father, but that didn't matter. He behaved like a--like the Sanawar Orphan Asylum, and His Excellency graciously spared him. Then he came round to my office and sat opposite me for ten minutes, puffing out his nostrils. Then he said, 'p.u.s.s.y, if I thought that basket-hanger--'"
"Hah! He remembered that," said McTurk.
"'That two-anna basket-hanger governed India, I swear I'd become a naturalized Muscovite to-morrow. I'm a _femme incomprise_. This thing's broken my heart. It'll take six months' shootin'-leave in India to mend it. Do you think I can get it, p.u.s.s.y?'
"He got it in about three minutes and a half, and seventeen days later he was back in the arms of Rutton Singh--horrid disgraced--with orders to hand over his command, etc., to Cathcart MacMonnie."
"Observe!" said d.i.c.k Four. "One colonel of the Political Department in charge of thirty Sikhs, on a hilltop. Observe, my children!"
"Naturally, Cathcart not being a fool, even if he _is_ a Political, let Stalky do his shooting within fifteen miles of Fort Everett for the next six months, and I always understood they and Rutton Singh and the prisoner were as thick as thieves. Then Stalky loafed back to his regiment, I believe. I've never seen him since."
"I have, though," said McTurk, swelling with pride.
We all turned as one man. "It was at the beginning of this hot weather.
I was in camp in the Jullunder doab and stumbled slap on Stalky in a Sikh village; sitting on the one chair of state, with half the population grovellin' before him, a dozen Sikh babies on his knees, an old harridan clappin' him on the shoulder, and a garland o' flowers round his neck. Told me he was recruitin'. We dined together that night, but he never said a word of the business at the Fort. Told me, though, that if I wanted any supplies I'd better say I was Koran Sahib's _bhai_; and I did, and the Sikhs wouldn't take my money."
"Ah! That must have been one of Rutton Singh's villages," said d.i.c.k Four; and we smoked for some time in silence.
"I say," said McTurk, casting back through the years, "did Stalky ever tell you _how_ Rabbits-Eggs came to rock King that night?"
"No," said d.i.c.k Four. Then McTurk told. "I see," said d.i.c.k Four, nodding. "Practically he duplicated that trick over again. There's n.o.body like Stalky."
"That's just where you make the mistake," I said. "India's full of Stalkies--Cheltenham and Haileybury and Marlborough chaps--that we don't know anything about, and the surprises will begin when there is really a big row on."
"Who will be surprised?" said d.i.c.k Four.
"The other side. The gentlemen who go to the front in first-cla.s.s carriages. Just imagine Stalky let loose on the south side of Europe with a sufficiency of Sikhs and a reasonable prospect of loot. Consider it quietly."
"There's something in that, but you're too much of an optimist, Beetle,"
said the Infant.
"Well, I've a right to be. Ain't I responsible for the whole thing? You needn't laugh. Who wrote 'Aladdin now has got his wife'--eh?"
"What's that got to do with it?" said Tertius.
"Everything," said I.
"Prove it," said the Infant.
And I have.