“Lubricant!” the Dum Dum representative replied. “Lubricant! Wax is ok in cold weather but here in India! And this is not the Hot Season? We will need to add some sort of grease? Or tallow? Or oil? Or something else!” The Dum Dum representative shook his head. “Ghee? Coconut?” the Dum Dum officer speculated. “We can experiment! We will experiment!”
“Coconut!” the Enfield representative exclaimed. “The costs!”
“Ach! Man!” the Scot drawled. “We cut off the tops of coconuts and pour our daily ration of rum into them, shake them, and have rum cocktails! Look around yea! Coconuts and monkeys are everywhere!”
“What about monkey tallow?” another man offered, entirely straight faced.
“We could have the sepoys tear the cartridge apart with their fingers” an Irishman, a sniper, offered.
“Still is polluting you damn idiot” General Hearsay snarled. “Like everyone here has been telling you damn fools at Enfield! You! NCO Singh! Tell them!”
“We Sikhs could use it but …..not Hindu or Muslims.”
“I don’t think even if Dum Dum can develop a correct grease the gun could be used” another NCO said.
“Why?” General Hearsay asked the Hindu.
“Too advance technology. The rank and file sepoy is used to the musket. When the percussion cap gun was introduced and then the upgraded Baker rifle there was no end of trouble. The percussion cap Bakers could only be used in elite rifle regiments because of it. And the percussion cap. Rumors circulated Sir. The chemicals. Whether or not the chemicals could be deemed haram or polluting. Then when the paper cartridge outer paper was changed to blue last year Sir. Panic. Hysterical panic. Rumors circulated that the blue was indigo which is spiritually polluting. Changes scare the rank and fire sepoy Sir. New things scare them.”
“Say it is Shiva” I offered. “ Isn’t Shiva the god of Change. The Moon. Waxing. Waning. Change. Sell it as Shiva. The Shiva cartridge of maximum destruction.”
“Good try Sahib but….” and the NCOs gestured the dubiousness of the religious spiel.
“Ahh but it was a clever line of gab Ulster Orange boy!”
“Lisburn!” I corrected the Irish sniper who was a Southern Limerick boy.
“Could you use this?” General Hearsay asked seriously. The Hindu NCO paused and then picked up a waxed and greased cartridge, tore it, loaded the rifle, and then aimed and fired. “Foul! The barrel. As this soldier has said. Foul residue. I can use this cartridge but then I ….put my caste into my knapsack General. But …..most of the sepoys are proud of their regiments and their castes. This would scare them.”
“Even if you are just tearing it with your fingers?” the Enfield representative asked. “You are not even touching the waxed end.”
“Yes. And wax cartridges looked greased so if any rumors started then even these waxed cartridges would be considered defiled.”
“Rumors could make frightened men believe anything. And the men will be already frightened just by seeing this new gun. Change scares them.”
“Thank you for being frank!” General Hearsay replied.
“But the Jezail matchlock is out shooting our musket. 130 to our 100 yards! We have to modernize the army Sir!” a man with a most strange sand colored kurta tunic and trousers said. He wore a turban and an expensive woman’s cashmere sash around his waist. His dashing lungi was worn carelessly. He wore his beard in the Muslim way: bushy along his chin but very trimmed around his cheeks.
“Yes! Yes! I know Probyn!” General Hearsay replied rubbing his brow.
“We need this on the Frontier!” the officer added. “Henry Lawrence sent me down here just to stress our need for a modern gun! Let us test it on the Frontier at least!”
“Let us stick to the issue today!” The Dum Dum representative said. “Breech or muzzle loading?”
“It would be better as breech” one officer said. “Faster loading….”
“All in one cartridge…..” another officer said.
“Can’t we rip off the needle pin firing trick of the Pin Rifle and adopt it? That way we can have breech loading and an all in one cartridge…..”
“In the panic of battle men break needle pin cartridges.”
“Prussian Army uses them” I said.
“Your rank and fire sepoy or Brit will break the gun. Pin guns are damned expensive. Ditto the ammunition.”
“Could you reinvent the all in one pin cartridge to not have a pin?…..”
“We are trying. None of our prototypes are working. We need something that can be massed produced. That is the key. Mass production either at Enfield or here at Dum Dum. Custom hand made cartridges are too expensive and time consuming. Sooner or later you need something that can be massed produced.”
“Industrialization.” I said nodding. “Valid. Right now a paper cartridge can be hand made if you run out of manufactured supplies or even if worse comes to worse you can use loose powder, hand cast bullets, and paper wads salvaged from anything. It is a consideration.”
“What about the revolver combustible cartridge? Ramming it home crushes the cartridge. Thus there is no biting. So a Muslim or Hindu sepoy would not be offended….”
“We tried that. It cannot be adopted to a long barrel…”
“So can the Enfield be modified to use needle pin cartridges?…..”
The Scottish sniper and the Gurkha grinned as they stood by me. The Gurkha checked out my Pin rifle. “I love a good gun. It feels so…..velvety.” He grinned slyly at me.
“Aah” the Scot purred in his burl. “So smooth and warm to the touch…”
“The sort of thing you love to sleep next to….”
“And cuddle next to….”
I grabbed the rifle back.
“And fondle the nipples of…”
I snarled at them but I knew my face was blushing bright red.
“I do’na think the swells need us anymore so why not visit Calcutta and have a night of it?”
The Gurkha gestured and then he grabbed one arm as the Scot grabbed the other arm. “We three swells!” The Scot gestured walking off toward a field of mischief.
“No! I need to clean my guns and…”
“Fondle the nipples?”
“Oh fuck off!” I replied much too loudly.
“Oh!” General Hearsay replied. “I forgot about yea. You laddies can go now! Why not have a night of it! Borrow the buggy over there! Thanks for helping us out here!”
At that I was kidnaped by a six foot tall red haired Scot and a five foot two Gurkha and driven to Sin City….