The talk rose higher and higher, and the regimental band played between the courses, as is the immemorial custom, till all tongues ceased for a moment with the removal of the dinner-slips and the first toast of obligation, when an officer rising said, “Mr. Vice, the Queen,” and little Mildred from the bottom of the table answered, “The Queen, God bless her,” and the big spurs clanked as the big men heaved themselves up and drank the Queen upon whose pay they were falsely supposed to settle their mess-bills. That Sacrament of the Mess never grows old, and never ceases to bring a lump into the throat of the listener wherever he be by sea or by land. Dirkovitch rose with his “brothers glorious,” but he could not understand. No one but an officer can tell what the toast means; and the bulk have more sentiment than comprehension. Immediately after the little silence that follows on the ceremony there entered the native officer who had played for the Lushkar team. He could not, of course, eat with the mess, but he came in at dessert, all six feet of him, with the blue and silver turban atop, and the big black boots below. The mess rose joyously as he thrust forward the hilt of his sabre in token of fealty for the colonel of the White Hussars to touch, and dropped into a vacant chair amid shouts of: “Rung ho, Hira Singh!” (which being translated means “Go in and win “). “Did I whack you over the knee, old man?” “Ressaidar Sahib, what the devil made you play that kicking pig of a pony in the last ten minutes?” “Shabash, Ressaidar Sahib!” Then the voice of the colonel, “The health of Ressaidar Hira Singh!”
After the shouting had died away Hira Singh rose to reply, for he was the cadet of a royal house, the son of a king’s son, and knew what was due on these occasions. Thus he spoke in the vernacular: – “Colonel Sahib and officers of this regiment. Much honour have you done me. This will I remember. We came down from afar to play you. But we were beaten.” (” No fault of yours, Ressaidar Sahib. Played on our own ground, y’ know. Your ponies were cramped from the railway. Don’t apologise!”) “Therefore perhaps we will come again if it be so ordained.” (” Hear! Hear! Hear, indeed! Bravo! Hsh!”) “Then we will play you afresh” (“Happy to meet you.”) “till there are left no feet upon our ponies. Thus far for sport.” He dropped one hand on his sword-hilt and his eye wandered to Dirkovitch lolling back in his chair. “But if by the will of God there arises any other game which is not the polo game, then be assured, Colonel Sahib and officers, that we will play it out side by side, though they,” again his eye sought Dirkovitch, “though they, I say, have fifty ponies to our one horse.” And with a deep- mouthed Rung ho! that sounded like a musket-butt on flagstones he sat down amid leaping glasses.
Dirkovitch, who had devoted himself steadily to the brandy – the terrible brandy aforementioned – did not understand, nor did the expurgated translations offered to him at all convey the point. Decidedly Hira Singh’s was the speech of the evening, and the clamour might have continued to the dawn had it not been broken by the noise of a shot without that sent every man feeling at his defenseless left side. Then there was a scuffle and a yell of pain.
“Carbine-stealing again!” said the adjutant, calmly sinking back in his chair. “This comes of reducing the guards. I hope the sentries have killed him.”
The feet of armed men pounded on the verandah flags, and it was as though something was being dragged.
“Why don’t they put him in the cells till the morning?” said the colonel testily. “See if they’ve damaged him, sergeant.”