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The sepoys, local squaddies serving within the British military, are massing in accordance with a prophecy predicting the tip of the reign of the British East India corporation. Alexander Sheridan—in command of a scratch cavalry strength of civilian volunteers, unemployed officials and constant Indian squaddies stands opposed to atrocities on each side of the clash, judging all by way of their advantage instead of through the colour in their dermis or the main points in their faith.

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Like many of his kind, the annexation had left • 57 • The Sepoy Mutiny him bitter and vengeful, feeling himself, perhaps with reason, the victim of injustice. A number of the ex-king’s soldiers had enlisted in the Company’s regiments, unwilling or unable to follow any other calling and presumably it was for this reason that Ismail Khan had come to Lucknow. ” He was right, Alex realized. He felt in his pocket for some coins. “Give these to the head syce for the funeral rites, Partap Singh, and ask him if he can recommend two good men.

The finely tempered steel glittered in the lantern-light, innocent of stains. “See for yourself,” he invited. ” There would, of course, have been time for him to wipe and polish the blade, ample time, but to rid his hands and clothing of any telltale signs of guilt would have taken much longer and, indeed, could not easily have been done without attracting the attention of someone in the stable. Yet no one had reported it. Alex returned the dagger, his suspicions largely allayed. ” he asked curiously.

If it should fail, on the other hand, I am of the firm opinion that the planned insurrection will fizzle out everywhere else like a damp squib. I think it was some fourteen years ago that I published an article in the Calcutta Review, pointing out with what ease a hostile force could seize Delhi . . ” His tone was wry. “I can even quote to you from memory the grim forecast I made. ’ Alas, I believe those words to be true now and the danger never greater. ” Alex inclined his head, aware of the strange anomaly by means of which the last Mogul Emperor, the eighty-year-old Shah Mohammed Bahadur—although, in fact, a pensioned puppet— had been permitted to retain the outward trappings of his lost • 46 • The Sepoy Mutiny sovereignty.

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