‘… some damned odd fellows in the earlies.’: Three examples IV

After the rather unexpected development in the last episode, I guess there is nothing more to do but go on with the story….

~~ Since I’ve seen a Welshman in a top hat leading a Zulu impi, and have myself ridden in an Apache war party in paint and breech clout, I dare say I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that Gurdana Khan, the complete Khyberie hillman, could talk the lingo of Brother Jonathan – there were some damned odd fellows in the earlies, I can tell you. But the circumstances were unusual, you’ll allow, and I probably gaped for several seconds before scrambling into my robe. Then reaction seized me, and I vom.., while he stood glowering like a Nonconformist at the three hooded bodies, and the naked white corpse of the poor Kashmiri s**t with the bloody water lapping round her. I say poor sl*t – she’d probably done her damnedest to have me squashed flatter than a fluke. The man I’d shot was writhing about, wailing in agony.

“Let him linger,” growls Gurdana Khan. “Mistreatment of women is something I cannot endure! Come away.”

He strode off to a staircase hidden in the shadows on the other side of the bath-house, ushering me impatiently ahead of him. We ascended, and he chivvied me along miles of turning passages, ignoring my incoherent questions, then through a lofty hall, through a guardroom where black-robed irregulars lounged, and then at last into a spacious, comfortable room for all the world like a bachelor’s den at home, with prints and trophies on the walls, book cases, and fine leather easy chairs. I was shivering with chill and shock and bewilderment; he sat me down, threw a shawl over my legs, and poured out two stiff pegs – malt whisky, if you please. He laid by his Khyber knife and pulled off his puggaree – he was a Pathan, with that close-cropped skull, hawk face, and grizzled beard, for all he grunted “Slainte” as he lifted his tumbler, first clamping his neck in that strange iron collar I’d seen in the afternoon – dear God, was it only twelve hours ago? Having drunk, he stood scowling down at me like a headmaster at an erring fag.

“Now see here, Mr Flashman – where the devil where you this evening? We combed the place, even looked under your bed, godammit! Well, sir?”

I made no sense of this – all I knew was that someone was trying to murder me, but plainly it wasn’t this cross-grained fellow…. so I’d risked horrible death hanging out of windows while he and his gang had men looking for me to protect me, by the sound of it! I removed the glass from my chattering teeth.

“I… I was out. But… who on earth are you?”

“Alexander Campbell Gardner!” snaps he. “Formerly artillery instructor to the Khalsa, presently guard commander to the Maharaja, and recently at your service – and think yourself lucky!”

“But you’re an American!”

“That I am.” He fixed me with an eye like a gimlet. “From the territory of Wisconsin.”

I must have been a picture of idiocy, for he clamped that iron object to his neck again, gulped whisky and rasped:

“Well, sir? You passed that word, as Broadfoot instructed you should, in an emergency. When, you ask? Dammit, to the little Maharaja, and again to old Ram Singh! It reached me – no matter how – and I came directly to help you, and not a hair of you in sight! Next I hear, you’re with the Maharani, playing the Devil and Jenny Golightly! Was that intelligent conduct, sir, when you knew Jawaheer Singh was out to cut your throat?” He emptied his glass, clashed his iron clamp on the table and glared. “How the dooce did you know he was after you, anyway?”

The tirade had me all adrift. “I didn’t know any such thing! Mr Gardner, I’m at a loss -“

‘Colonel Gardner! Then why the blue blazes did you sound the alarm? Hollering Wisconsin to everyone you met, concern it!”

“Did I? I must have said it inadvertently -“

“Inadvertently? Upon my soul, Mr Flashman!”

(And then there is a debate on the recent happenings and what could happen – all which is not quite germane to the post, so I will skip it)

To be continued….

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