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Corcoran made no attempt to bring him back, and instead climbed, without stopping, the two hundred and sixty steps which led to the terrace from where Prince Holkar silently contemplated the Narmada Valley.

Louison went ahead of her master, and was the first to reach the terrace. Pg_059

On seeing the tigress, Sita let out a cry of fear, and Prince Holkar got up hurriedly, pulling a pistol from his belt and firing it at Louison. Fortunately, the bullet hit the wall, and then ricocheted into Corcoran, who was following closely behind his friend, causing a slight injury to his hand.

‘You are a lively fellow, Lord Holkar,’ shouted the Captain, without showing any surprise about being hurt. ‘Come here, Louison!’

It was time to hold back the tigress, who was about to leap on Prince Holkar and tear him to pieces.

‘Here, my child,’ continued Corcoran. ‘There, that’s good. Sit at my feet. Very good. And now, go and crawl up to the Princess and pay your respects. You have nothing to fear, Madame. Louison is as docile as a lamb. She’s asking your pardon for having frightened you. Go Louison, go my darling, ask the Princess to pardon you.’

Louison obeyed, and Sita, reassured, stroked her gently, which seemed to please the tigress greatly.

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However, Holkar was still on the defensive.

‘Who are you?’ he asked haughtily. ‘How did you manage to get in here? Have I already been betrayed by my own servants and handed over to the English?’

‘My Lord,’ replied Corcoran softly, ‘you have not been betrayed. If there is one thing to thank God for, after he had the goodness to make me a Breton called Corcoran, it is that he did not make me an Englishman.’

Holkar, without responding to him, picked up a small silver hammer and used it to bang a large gong.

Nobody appeared.

‘My Lord Holkar,’ said Corcoran with a smile, ‘no one can hear you. When they saw Louison, they all ran away. But be assured, Louison is a well-brought-up girl, and knows how to behave herself. And now, my Lord, what is this treason that you fear?’

‘If you are not English,’ replied Holkar, ‘then who are you and where do you come from?’

‘My Lord,’ said Corcoran, ‘there are, in this vast universe, two sorts of men – or, if you want, two principal races, not including yours. They are the French and the English, who are to each other as the dog is to the wolf, or the tiger to the buffalo, or the panther to the rattlesnake. Each of these pairings is hungry – the one for praise, the other for money – but they are equally quarrelsome, and always ready to meddle in the affairs of the other without being invited. I belong to the first of these two races. I am Captain Corcoran…’

‘What?’ said Holkar ‘you are the famous captain who commanded the brig called The Son of the Tempest?’

‘Famous or not,’ said the Breton, ‘I am the same Captain Corcoran.’

‘And it’s you,’ asked Holkar, ‘who, when surprised by two hundred Malay pirates near Singapore, with your seven soldiers, threw the pirates into the sea?’

‘That’s me,’ said Corcoran.

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Alfred Assollant’s Once Upon A Time In India, translated by Sam Miller, is now available on the Juggernaut app here.

 

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