Got anything fresh?' said Lowndes.
'Last week's Gazette of India, and a cutting from a home paper. My father sent it out. It's rather amusing.'
'One of those vestrymen that call 'emselves M.P.s again, is it?' said Spurstow, who read his newspapers when he could get them.
'Yes. Listen to this. It's to your address, Lowndes. The man was making a speech to his constituents, and he piled it on. Here's a sample, 'And I assert unhesitatingly that the Civil Service in India is the preserve - the pet preserve - of the aristocracy of England. What does the democracy - what do the masses - get from that country, which we have step by step fraudulently annexed? I answer, nothing whatever. It is farmed with a single eye to their own interests by the scions of the aristocracy. They take good care to maintain their lavish scale of incomes, to avoid or stifle any inquiries into the nature and conduct of their administration, while they themselves force the unhappy peasant to pay with the sweat of his brow for all the luxuries in which they are lapped.'' Hummil waved the cutting above his head. ''Ear! 'ear!' said his audience.
Then Lowndes, meditatively, 'I'd give - I'd give three months' pay to have that gentleman spend one month with me and see how the free and independent native prince works things. Old Timbersides' - this was his flippant title for an honoured and decorated feudatory prince - 'has been wearing my life out this week past for money. By Jove, his latest performance was to send me one of his women as a bribe!'
'Good for you! Did you accept it?' said Mottram.
'No. I rather wish I had, now. She was a pretty little person, and she yarned away to me about the horrible destitution among the king's women-folk. The darlings haven't had any new clothes for nearly a month, and the old man wants to buy a new drag from Calcutta - solid silver railings and silver lamps, and trifles of that kind. I've tried to make him understand that he has played the deuce with the revenues for the last twenty years and must go slow. He can't see it.'
'But he has the ancestral treasure-vaults to draw on. There must be three millions at least in jewels and coin under his palace,' said Hummil.
'Catch a native king disturbing the family treasure! The priests forbid it except as the last resort. Old Timbersides has added something like a quarter of a million to the deposit in his reign.'
'Where the mischief does it all come from?' said Mottram.
'The country. The state of the people is enough to make you sick. I've known the taxmen wait by a milch-camel till the foal was born and then hurry off the mother for arrears. And what can I do? I can't get the court clerks to give me any accounts; I can't raise anything more than a fat smile from the commander-in-chief when I find out the troops are three months in arrears; and old Timbersides begins to weep when I speak to him. He has taken to the King's Peg heavily, liqueur brandy for whisky, and Heidsieck for soda-water.'
'That's what the Rao of Jubela took to. Even a native can't last long at that,' said Spurstow. 'He'll go out.'
'And a good thing, too. Then I suppose we'll have a council of regency, and a tutor for the young prince, and hand him back his kingdom with ten years' accumulations.'
'Whereupon that young prince, having been taught all the vices of the English, will play ducks and drakes with the money and undo ten years' work in eighteen months. I've seen that business before,' said Spurstow. 'I should tackle the king with a light hand if I were you, Lowndes. They'll hate you quite enough under any circumstances.
'That's all very well. The man who looks on can talk about the light hand; but you can't clean a pig-sty with a pen dipped in rose-water. I know my risks; but nothing has happened yet. My servant's an old Pathan, and he cooks for me. They are hardly likely to bribe him, and I don't accept food from my true friends, as they call themselves. Oh, but it's weary work! I'd sooner be with you, Spurstow. There's shooting near your camp.'