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“No, the bird will not dance. Now for your news.”

With these words Dalani Begum gave a tug at the tail of a refractory peacock. Unclasping a diamond bracelet from her wrist, she fastened it round the neck of another peacock and scattered a rose-spray over the bill and eyes of a foul-mouthed cockatoo. The cockatoo retaliated shrieking out, “slave.” This term of abuse Dalani had herself taught the bird.

At hand a serving-maid was trying to make the birds dance; to her Dalani had said, “Now for your news.”

“The news is not much," began Kulsam. “Two cargo-boats laden with arms have landed. An Englishman is in charge. These boats have been seized. Ali Ibrahim Khan is of opinion that they should be allowed to proceed. For no good there will be war with the English if their progress is obstructed. Gurgan Khan maintains—let there be war, if necessary, he will not release the boats.”

“Where are these arms going to?”

“To the factory at Patna. If war should break out, it would first break out there. To guard against sudden dispossession the English are sending arms. This is rife within the fort.”