You can't be too careful, by H. G. Wells

Chapter 13

Intimations of Empire

BEHIND the florid personality of Mr Harold Thump, other individuals advanced and retreated. There was that other student, young Frankincense from University College, who had won so many honours. He was slender and tall, surmounted by a pear-shaped head with the broad part upward, and he came to Edward Albert and said, “I gather you too are a scholarship holder?”

“Not exactly a scholarship holder,” said Edward Albert.

“I’m studying at the Imperial College of Commercial Science in Kentish Town. Civil Service and all that.”

“Oh God!” cried Mr Frankincense in undisguised contempt, and turned away, and never afterwards approached him.

Whereupon a profound hatred for Mr Frankincense was born in Edward Albert’s soul, and it troubled him profoundly that he could devise no way of getting square with him. In reveries he called him Turnip Head, and cut him out with a particularly beautiful but non-existent young lady, with whom he was desperately enamoured. In this Edward Albert’s new tailor-made suit played its part. But Frankincense paid little attention to these profound humiliations, since he knew nothing whatever about them.

Edward Albert would see him playing chess in the snuggery and particularly with the Indian young gentleman, who looked like one of the Bolter’s College Old Boys, only more so, and who spoke in a high-pitched clear staccato manner that filled Edward Albert with a strange sense of superiority, more particularly when he learnt from old Mr Blake that this way of talking was “chi-chi” and characteristic of the lesser breeds within the law who inhabit Hindustan. He was part of Edward Albert’s Indian Empire, and as for his being a somebody because he was a Rajah’s son, said old Mr Blake, “these rajahs have dozens of ’em. Hareems they have, and they tax the skins off their people to keep them up and then blame us for it. Four wives and a lot of concubines and then some. Rajah’s son he may be in India, but over here he’s nothing more than a blasted bastard. But to hear him argue at times you would think we’d robbed India of her cotton trade and every sort of wealth they ever had. . . . Hareems is their factories, and whatsoever wealth they get, they’ll produce more mouths to eat it up, trust them. Why, when I see him talking to a nice blonde English girl like Miss Pooley, and giving himself airs with her, it fair makes my blood boil. Out there she’d be a Mem Sahib and he’d be salaaming to her. . . . ”

Edward Albert, as a prospective citizen of the British Motherland would listen to his subject from afar, watch the sinister movements of his long hands, and resent his shrill laugh of delight when he gained any advantage over Turnip Head, who after all was an Englishman, and who ought to know better than to lose games of chess to his political inferior. You cannot be too careful. At any time there might be another Mutiny, if once we lost our grip on them.

And in his reveries he would deal with his subject races very firmly. Sadly and sternly he would blow them from guns, because that was what they dreaded most. It affected their resurrection in some way. He revived his fantasy of an electric gun that never required reloading, and with it he fought his way through hordes and hordes of turbaned rebels, mowing them down by the Fousand, literally by the Fousand, to rescue the foolish Turnip Head — just in time.

There the man was, hemmed in, his ammunition running short, awaiting the fate of all those who pander to the treacherous natives, yet, let this be said for him, holding out to the last, and then he heard the bagpipes. Softly in his own peculiar manner, Edward Albert whistled that inspiring tune, “The Campbells are Coming.”

He advanced along a nullah, because, whatever it may be, a nullah is what you always advance along in India, shooting right and left.

Then he discovered he was sitting quite close to the Indian rebel,. . . .

Edward Albert didn’t care if he had heard. . . .

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30