“I am not some pettifogger Sir! But drunkenness and drugs are the bane of the cantonment and security is compromised! I don’t give a damn what the men do when they are off duty at the bazaar! They can whore and drink until they fall down into the gutter like dogs! But not on duty! Last night one of the sepoys was so high on bhang he tried to shoot me!”
“Quite right Nicholson. He will be held for court-martial. The problem is consistency!”
The Subedar Major nodded, his swagger stick wacking one hand. “Consistency! Or the lack thereof!”
“Exactly! If two officers turn a blind eye and only one officer enforces the rules then there is abuse. If all the officers enforce the rules then there is no abuse!” the adjutant added.
“Security comes from consistency!” the Subedar Major said, his Indian lilt rising up a notch as one hand swivelled the swagger stick up under his armpit. I like him. He was a Sikh and was precise in absolutely everything he did. But the Brahmins and Rajputs loathed him to an amazing degree. And he them. However, we got on well together. Perhaps it was because we were both pariahs. When my Sister cooked kosher Indian he actually came to dinner. He was the only NCO or officer who did — other than Bobby and Queenie.
“But Sir! Nicholson here bullies the men!” one of the griffin lieutenants complained. “He flogs the British and that is bad for morale.”
“I would flog the sepoys and sowars too if the NCO’s would sign off on it!” I replied. “25 blows of the lash is nothing!”
“Have you ever been flogged Nicholson?” the other lieutenant exclaimed.
“My school teachers would give me 50 lashes at a time! All of the time! And my mother would weld the belt — with the belt buckle out! Want me to show you griffins my back! I am not a prude! I don’t care what they do off duty! But on duty they cannot be drunk or drugged out of their skulls! And right now! Sir! They are!”
“Do you sign off?” the commanding officer asked his NCO’s. To my utter amazement they all nodded. “Done. At the next parade I will make the announcement myself. I believe in making sure everyone has the same game book and knows the rules. But then I also believe the rules should and must be enforced. Now. About the tigers…”
“Sir!” I said. “I have killed the worse of the tigers Sir!”
“How do you know?”
“Sir! Because today when I dragged the carcass back to the cantonment Sir! I cut the tiger open and I found Private Tubb’s missing arm Sir!”
The Subedar Major nodded. “Yes Sahib! Most splendid! Private Tubbs has his arm back!”
“Which is a disgusting thing to do!” a griffin lieutenant exclaimed.
“Private Tubbs is most delighted to have it back!” the Subedar Major replied. “He said to the doctor! Tubbs did! To the doctor Sahib! That now when he is buried he will go to heaven intact!” The Sikh nodded his head quite delighted.
“How did you kill the tiger Nicholson?” my commanding officer asked as his adjutant looked at me suspiciously. I had not been asked to join the pig sticking club naturally and everyone assumed I was incapable of hunting.
“Mughal way Sir! My munshi teacher described it and it works quite well! I borrowed a pony from the Subedar Major, and thank you again Sahib! And I spied out the tiger, a big brute. That fitted the description. Big! And a scar across it’s face. One eye missing. That is why it turned man killer. Crippled Sir! So I reckoned I had the right tiger. I then rode my borrowed pony around and around and around the tiger so it could not lunge. It got more and more frustrated and snarled impotently as I tightened the noose as it were of the circles my borrowed pony made. Sir! Then when I got close enough, just before the beast could finally lunge, I struck it with my saber Sir!”
“Please!” the other griffin lieutenants snarled incredulous.
“Well! Let us see this beast!” the commanding officer said. Everyone marched out to my bungalow. My Indian family had skinned the beast and were stretching the skin on a rack to dry it. Other than the fact the tiger had been beheaded, the skin was magnificent. The head was being cleaned to be stuffed with one glass eye. The meat was being cleaned to be given to the soldier’s mess as free meat.
“You are not going to give the meat to the mess?” One of the lieutenants replied shocked.
“Well. It is a —-man-eater! It would be like feasting on ….”
“Tubbs? Smith? Thomas? Parvez? Lallji? Omar? And the missing Pir holy man?” I asked.
“The men’s mess already said they would be delighted! Tubbs and his severed arm, now reduced to a bony souvenir, is the guest of honor! Barbecue Tiger! Tomorrow! Barbecue pit is being dug as we speak and it is going to be smoked overnight!”
“And what are you planning to use the skin for? As a rug?” my commanding officer asked all but laughing.
“Poshteen jacket Sir!” I replied very proudly. “My Uncle dirzi tailor says it will be beautiful Sir!”
“But the fur will be inside?”
“But the edges will show! And the collar will spill over about the shoulders to show off the fur! And the outside suede will be stenciled dyed with a beautiful Indian pattern! And the tail of the tiger will be a shoulder sword belt!”
The NCO’s nodded. The Subedar Major rolled back and forth on the heels of his boots in pride. The adjutant rolled his eyes. But my commanding officer roared out with laughter! “Bravo Nicholson!” And indeed it was so. And the tail made a beautiful shoulder sword belt!