The most important dignitaries and functionaries in Bombay were having dinner at Governor Boone’s mansion.
As the new governor, Boone had invited these personalities for a dinner party the day after he had arrived. Jonathan Small, his secretary, had made all the necessary arrangements. Most guests believed this dinner was just a chance to get acquainted with the new governor. Even Small thought the governor was merely trying to reach out to the important people of Bombay. All in all, eleven people had been invited.
These eleven included Company officials, from shipyard managers and trade analysts to military advisers and local administrators. All of them knew the importance of knowing the governor and were thus obediently present at the dinner ready to nod their heads at anything Boone had to say.
After they finished their dinner, Boone told them to assemble in the study. Most guests expected the governor to offer them a pipe and some tobacco, as was the tradition. It thus came as a rude shock to the guests when they found that there was no tobacco being offered.
‘Gentlemen’ announced Boone as entered the study with a pipe in his hand, ‘I hope you enjoyed the meal’
Boone put the pipe between his lips and let out a whiff of smoke. Some of them nodded, while others just stared at Boone blankly. No one dared to ask for a pipe.
‘I called you here for dinner, yes’ said Boone as set the pipe down on the mantel above the fireplace, ‘But there are some issues I find deeply disturbing. I wish to put them to your attention’
Small, who stood in the corner of the study felt a bead of sweat racing down his cheek. He had some idea where Boone was going with his issues, and hoped the new governor would exercise some restraint.
‘When I first caught a glimpse of Bombay from the deck of the ship, I thought about the wonders we could do here. The Indian subcontinent is home to an old civilization, rife with petty regional fights and no vision of the future. We on the other hand have a clear vision. A vision of economic prosperity, for our people back home and for the people of the subcontinent. Some people see Bombay and they see the chaos, the dirt and smell of the ragged city. They are much like the people who have a disdain for the hurly-burly of living in London. I have to tell you gentlemen that I’m not one of those people. I don’t care for the beauty of the countryside. I live for the mud and smell of the city. Give me the chance of living on a hill beside the lush meadows of Essex and I will piss on it to wander the shit-ridden streets of Brixton’
Some guests laughed gently, some didn’t laugh at all as they were struck by the style of Boone’s oratory. It was as if he had said something no one had heard or thought of before.
‘Economic prosperity is necessary and that is why we’re here. However, I ask you gentlemen. At what cost are we gaining this prosperity? Look outside and see. Our city has no walls to guard us from an enemy, no strength to withstand a direct siege, and yet we sit here talking about economic prosperity. Is that what we are willing to give up? Our very sense of security just so we can earn some extra shillings?’
There was a contemplative silence in the room. The pretensions with which the guests had come to the dinner party had all been thrown to the wind by Boone’s speech. He now held their attention.
‘We bowed to Angria a few years ago, signed a peace treaty and allowed him free reign over the seas. His men patrol the waters on our doorstep as we speak, stopping and harassing our people just to make a point. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is our land, those are our ships. How does Angria get the right to stop us, question us?’
Boone paused for a moment, meeting the eyes of his guests which were now glued to his. They were all waiting for the perfect moment to erupt. He took the pipe from the mantel and took a puff before setting it down again.
‘I know you fear him. You fear Angria and I understand your fear. The man has been a worthy enemy and has shown that he won’t be swept aside easily. However, if you keep bowing to the fear of the man, you’d soon have his men running rampant on these streets and Angria himself standing where I stand, smoking from my pipe while our bodies are buried deep in the ground’
‘We will have economic prosperity, yes, but first we need to stop this man. We will one day rule this subcontinent gentlemen, you may mark my words. However, if we keep cowering to every enemy in our path, we might as well return home and live on the countryside. When a young boy will ask us there about our exploits in Bombay, we’ll have to tell him that we were chased away with our tail between our legs by a petty pirate. Do you want to say that?’
The guests were spellbound by this point of time, and replied in unison, ‘NO!’, before they started clapping and cheering vociferously.
Boone nodded, taking note of their enthusiasm. He took a deep breath and continued. ‘You are all good men, but it’s time to be brave now. Walls have to be erected, ships have to be equipped and men have to be trained. We will go to war with Angria, and we will let him know that we are the men of England. Return to your homes now, gentlemen. Tomorrow we begin our preparation for war. Tomorrow we decide to be courageous in times of uncertainty’
Jonathan Small returned to his residence after the dinner party, the resounding sound of Boone’s voice still echoing in his ears. The newly-appointed governor had managed to excite and motivate the necessary people of Bombay with a single speech. Small had expected His Majesty back home to send a lazy official to govern Bombay and not someone of Boone’s energy and vigor to arrive and make an immediate impact.
His wife Violet was already fast asleep when he arrived. He checked the time in his pocket watch. 1 AM.
It was late in the night, but Small knew he had to stay awake. There was business which needed his attention. Leaving Violet to her slumber, Small sat down at the desk in his study and began writing. He had told Violet that it was an old habit of his to write about his day-to-day job on a piece of paper, just to clear his mind. That night, he wrote about Boone and his ideas, and what their implications could be. He wrote in detail about his view of the events and what would possibly transpire in the coming days.
He finished writing, put the piece of paper in an envelope, sealed it with red wax and placed it in the desk drawer. It was 2 by then, and he retired to his bed.
Small lay down, his eyes wide open in anticipation. A few moments later, he heard the sound of footsteps coming from the study. His pulse started racing, not from fear but sheer anxiety. A few minutes later, he heard the crisp sound of footsteps again, this time receding. It was only until the sound went away completely that he sprang from bed and went back to his study. He opened the desk drawer.
The envelope was no longer there. Instead there lay in the drawer the most magnificent gold necklace he had ever seen. Small took the necklace in his hand and closely admired its beauty. He couldn’t help but whisper to himself.
‘Pleasure doing business with you, Angria’