And Flashman, thrust willy-nilly in the key task of advising the Khalsa leadership – invading British India- the best way of losing, has completed his work and is ready to ride out to join his compatriots. But there is still something left….
~~~~ The final scene of the comedy took place that night before I rode out. Lal was keen that I should make straight for Gough, to let him know what good boys Lal and Tej were being, offering up the Khalsa for destruction, but I wasn’t having that. Gough might be anywhere over the eastern horizon, and I had no intention of hunting him through country which by now was swarming with gorracharra; far better, I said, if I rode the couple of miles to Ferozepore, where Littler would see that Gough got the glad news in good time (and Flashy could take a well-earned repose). Tej agreed, and said I should go under a flag of truce, ostensibly carrying the Wazir’s final demand for Littler to surrender. Lal boggled at that, but Tej grew excited, pointing out the risk if I tried to sneak into Littler’s lines unobserved.
“Suppose he was shot by a sentry?” squeaks he, waving his podgy hands. “Then the Jangi lat would never know of our good will to him, and the plans we have made for the destruction of these Khalsa swine! And our dear friend” – that was me – “would have died in vain! It is not to be thought of!” I found myself liking Tej Singh’s style better by the minute.
“But will the colonels not suspect treason, if they see a courier sent to Littler Sahib?” cries Lal. The puggle had worn off by now, and he was lying exhausted on his silken bed, fretting himself witless.
“They will not even know,” cries Tej. “And only think – once our dear bahadur has spoken with Littler Sahib, our credit with the Sirkar is assured! Whwtever may happen, our friendship will have been made plain!”
That was the great thing with him – to stand well with Simla, whatever happened to the Khalsa. He even proposed that I carry a written message, expressing Lal’s undying devotion to the Sirkar; it would be so much more convincing than mere word of mouth. This so horrified Lal that he almost hid under the sheets.
“A written message? Are you mad? What if it went astray? Am I to sign my own death-warrant?” He flung about in passion. “You write it, then. You announce your treason over your signature. Why not, you’re Commander-in-Chief, you fat tub of -“
“You are Wazir!” retorts Tej. “This is a high political affair, and what am I but a soldier?” He shrugged complacently. “You need say nothing of military matters; a mere expression of friendship will suffice.”
Lal said he’d see him damned first, and they snarled and whined, with Lal weeping and tearing the bedclothes. Finally, he gave in and penned the following remarkable note to Nicolson, the political: “I have crossed with the Khalsa. You know my friendship with the British. Tell me what to do.” He bilked at signing, though, and after more shrill bickering Tej turned to me.
“It will have to do. Tell Nicolson Sahib it is from the Wazir!”
“From both of us, you greasy bastard!” yelps Lal. “Make that clear, Flashman bahadur! Both of us! And tell them, in God’s name, that we and the bibi sahiba (Jeendan) are their loyal friends, and we beg them to cut up these badmashes and burchas of the Khalsa and free us all from this evil! Tell them that!”
So it was that in the small hours that a gorracharra rider with a game leg and a white flag on his lance rode out of the Khalsa lines and down to Ferozepore, leaving behind two Sikh generals, one fat and frightened, and t’other having hysterics with a pillow over his face, both conscious of duty well done, I don’t doubt. As for me, I went half a mile and sat down under a thorn tree to wait for dawn; for one thing, now I was so nearly home, I wanted a moment to study how best to wring credit out of my unexpected arrival with such momentous news, and for another, flag of truce or not, I wasn’t risking a bullet from a nervous sepoy in the half-light.
To be continued….