rowan tree blossom

This is an extract from the new novel, 'Bittersweet'

Meet the Magistrate

India 1872

 

In my search for the villains I even went out to the army canton at Barrackpore to hunt down the elusive senior officers. I rode a hired hack which proved steady and reliable until a sacred cow lurched out from the ditch and jumped on the road in front of the animal. The horse, unable to bolt with my long legs wrapped round the ribs pushing it on, trembled, snorted and finished the journey in nervous fits and starts with much shaking of its head and suspicious looks in every ditch. No kind words would reassure the poor thing.

The senior officers I required were in town, the adjutant assured me.

"Indeed?" I walked through the adjutant, who gave way, protesting fiercely as I forced him into the main office. Two clerks, startled, raised heads revealing anxious faces.

"I intend to see the colonel and I will." I smiled that with-the-mouth-only-business smile at the clerks and bleating adjutant, and flung open the inner office door.

It was empty.

I left a note, Sir Cuthbert's message and the M.P.'s card.

The ride back to town was dusty and tiresome. Locals carrying baskets and bundles, bullock carts, goats scurrying after small boys, people pushing handcarts and even an elephant among the sacred cows. The horse decided the elephant was tolerable, a cart of clattering tins bearable but an empty bicycle cart swishing past merited a quick side kick, fortunately missing the vehicle. Bird shrieks, raucous monkeys and the soldiers' racket whenever they marched past did nothing to help my gloomy thoughts. Another day wasted, but I'd have them in the morning, and I did.

God, I hated those regiment commanders. Their deep plummy voices, their arrogance, unthinking rudeness, that so called upper crust bray they called a whisper. Their absolute belief that they were in the right, in the know and the world belonged to them made me long to be as rude in return. It would have been a wasted effort, they wouldn't have noticed.

The acrimony and lack of shame at what the young officers had done shocked me. I knew senior officers would want to protect their regiment, might even try to excuse their officers as 'Young men being young men'. I hadn't realised how much filth would be heaped on the victims. They were whores, sluts, loose, promiscuous, 'not of our class', rape was entirely due to their flawed immoral characters and position in life.

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