The Complete Novels and Stories of Rudyard Kipling
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Here you will find the complete novels and stories of Rudyard Kipling in the chronological order of their original publication.
- Plain Tales from the Hills (a collection of 40 short stories)
- Soldiers Three (a collection of 9 short stories)
- The Story of the Gadsbys (a collection of 8 short stories)
- In Black and White (a collection of 8 short stories)
- Under the Deodars (a collection of 8 short stories)
- The Phantom Rickshaw and other Tales (a collection of 4 short stories)
- Wee Willie Winkie and Other Child Stories (a collection of 4 short stories)
- Life's Handicap (a collection of 27 short stories)
- The Light That Failed (a novel)
- The Naulahka: A Story of West and East (a novel)
- Many Inventions (a collection of 14 short stories)
- The Jungle Book (a collection of 7 short stories)
- The Second Jungle Book (a collection of 8 short stories)
- Captains Courageous (a novel)
- The Day's Work (a collection of 13 short stories)
- Stalky & Co. (a collection of 9 short stories)
- Kim (a novel)
- Just So Stories for Little Children (a collection of 13 short stories)
- Traffics and Discoveries (a collection of 11 short stories)
- Puck of Pook's Hill (a collection of 10 short stories)
- Actions and Reactions (a collection of 8 short stories)
- Rewards and Fairies (a collection of 11 short stories)
- A Diversity of Creatures (a collection of 14 short stories)
- The Eyes of Asia (a collection of 4 short stories)



Publié par
Date de parution 28 novembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 28
EAN13 9789897781308
Langue English
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo

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Rudyard Kipling
Table of Contents
Plain Tales from the Hills
Soldiers Three
The Story of the Gadsbys
In Black and White
Under the Deodars
The Phantom Rickshaw and Other Tales
Wee Willie Winkie and Other Child Stories
Life’s Handicap
The Light That Failed
The Naulahka: A Story of West and East
Many Inventions
The Jungle Book
The Second Jungle Book
Captains Courageous
The Day’s Work
Stalky & Co.
Just So Stories for Little Children
Traffics and Discoveries
Puck of Pook's Hill
Actions and Reactions
Rewards and Fairies
A Diversity of Creatures
The Eyes of Asia
Plain Tales from the Hills
a collection of forty short stories
First published: 1888
1 — Lispeth
2 — Three and—An Extra
3 — Thrown Away
4 — Miss Youghal’s Sais
5 — Yoked with an Unbeliever
6 — False Dawn
7 — The Rescue of Pluffles
8 — Cupid’s Arrows
9 — The Three Musketeers
10 — His Chance in Life
11 — Watches of the Night
12 — The Other Man
13 — Consequences
14 — The Conversion of Aurelian McGoggin
15 — The Taking of Lungtungpen
16 — A Germ Destroyer
17 — Kidnapped
18 — The Arrest of Lieutenant Golightly
19 — The House of Suddhoo
20 — His Wedded Wife
21 — The Broken Link Handicapped
22 — Beyond the Pale
23 — In Error
24 — A Bank Fraud
25 — Tod’s Amendment
26 — The Daughter of the Regiment
27 — In the Pride of His Youth
28 — Pig
29 — The Rout of the White Hussars
30 — The Bronckhorst Divorce-Case
31 — Venus Annodomini
32 — The Bisara of Pooree
33 — A Friend's Friend
34 — The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows
35 — The Madness of Private Ortheris
36 — The Story of Muhammad Din
37 — On the Strength of a Likeness
38 — Wressley of the Foreign Office
39 — By Word of Mouth
40 — To Be Field for Reference.
1 — Lispeth
Look, you have cast out Love! What Gods are these
You bid me please?
The Three in One, the One in Three? Not so!
To my own Gods I go.
It may be they shall give me greater ease
Than your cold Christ and tangled Trinities.
—The Convert
She was the daughter of Sonoo, a Hill-man, and Jadeh his wife. One year their maize failed, and two bears spent the night in their only poppy-field just above the Sutlej Valley on the Kotgarth side; so, next season, they turned Christian, and brought their baby to the Mission to be baptized. The Kotgarth Chaplain christened her Elizabeth, and “Lispeth” is the Hill or pahari pronunciation.
Later, cholera came into the Kotgarth Valley and carried off Sonoo and Jadeh, and Lispeth became half-servant, half-companion to the wife of the then Chaplain of Kotgarth. This was after the reign of the Moravian missionaries, but before Kotgarth had quite forgotten her title of “Mistress of the Northern Hills.”
Whether Christianity improved Lispeth, or whether the gods of her own people would have done as much for her under any circumstances, I do not know; but she grew very lovely. When a Hill girl grows lovely, she is worth traveling fifty miles over bad ground to look upon. Lispeth had a Greek face — one of those faces people paint so often, and see so seldom. She was of a pale, ivory color and, for her race, extremely tall. Also, she possessed eyes that were wonderful; and, had she not been dressed in the abominable print-cloths affected by Missions, you would, meeting her on the hill-side unexpectedly, have thought her the original Diana of the Romans going out to slay.
Lispeth took to Christianity readily, and did not abandon it when she reached womanhood, as do some Hill girls. Her own people hated her because she had, they said, become a memsahib and washed herself daily; and the Chaplain’s wife did not know what to do with her. Somehow, one cannot ask a stately goddess, five foot ten in her shoes, to clean plates and dishes. So she played with the Chaplain’s children and took classes in the Sunday School, and read all the books in the house, and grew more and more beautiful, like the Princesses in fairy tales. The Chaplain’s wife said that the girl ought to take service in Simla as a nurse or something “genteel.” But Lispeth did not want to take service. She was very happy where she was.
When travellers — there were not many in those years — came to Kotgarth, Lispeth used to lock herself into her own room for fear they might take her away to Simla, or somewhere out into the unknown world.
One day, a few months after she was seventeen years old, Lispeth went out for a walk. She did not walk in the manner of English ladies — a mile and a half out, and a ride back again. She covered between twenty and thirty miles in her little constitutionals, all about and about, between Kotgarth and Narkunda. This time she came back at full dusk, stepping down the breakneck descent into Kotgarth with something heavy in her arms. The Chaplain’s wife was dozing in the drawing-room when Lispeth came in breathing hard and very exhausted with her burden. Lispeth put it down on the sofa, and said simply:
“This is my husband. I found him on the Bagi Road. He has hurt himself. We will nurse him, and when he is well, your husband shall marry him to me.”
This was the first mention Lispeth had ever made of her matrimonial views, and the Chaplain’s wife shrieked with horror. However, the man on the sofa needed attention first. He was a young Englishman, and his head had been cut to the bone by something jagged. Lispeth said she had found him down the khud, so she had brought him in. He was breathing queerly and was unconscious.
He was put to bed and tended by the Chaplain, who knew something of medicine; and Lispeth waited outside the door in case she could be useful. She explained to the Chaplain that this was the man she meant to marry; and the Chaplain and his wife lectured her severely on the impropriety of her conduct. Lispeth listened quietly, and repeated her first proposition. It takes a great deal of Christianity to wipe out uncivilized Eastern instincts, such as falling in love at first sight. Lispeth, having found the man she worshipped, did not see why she should keep silent as to her choice. She had no intention of being sent away, either. She was going to nurse that Englishman until he was well enough to marry her. This was her little programme.
After a fortnight of slight fever and inflammation, the Englishman recovered coherence and thanked the Chaplain and his wife, and Lispeth — especially Lispeth — for their kindness. He was a traveller in the East, he said — they never talked about “globe-trotters” in those days, when the P. & O. fleet was young and small — and had come from Dehra Dun to hunt for plants and butterflies among the Simla hills. No one at Simla, therefore, knew anything about him. He fancied he must have fallen over the cliff while stalking a fern on a rotten tree-trunk, and that his coolies must have stolen his baggage and fled. He thought he would go back to Simla when he was a little stronger. He desired no more mountaineering.
He made small haste to go away, and recovered his strength slowly. Lispeth objected to being advised either by the Chaplain or his wife; so the latter spoke to the Englishman, and told him how matters stood in Lispeth’s heart. He laughed a good deal, and said it was very pretty and romantic, a perfect idyl of the Himalayas; but, as he was engaged to a girl at Home, he fancied that nothing would happen. Certainly he would behave with discretion. He did that. Still he found it very pleasant to talk to Lispeth, and walk with Lispeth, and say nice things to her, and call her pet names while he was getting strong enough to go away. It meant nothing at all to him, and everything in the world to Lispeth. She was very happy while the fortnight lasted, because she had found a man to love.
Being a savage by birth, she took no trouble to hide her feelings, and the Englishman was amused. When he went away, Lispeth walked with him, up the Hill as far as Narkunda, very troubled and very miserable. The Chaplain’s wife, being a good Christian and disliking anything in the shape of fuss or scandal — Lispeth was beyond her management entirely — had told the Englishman to tell Lispeth that he was coming back to marry her. “She is but a child, you know, and, I fear, at heart a heathen,” said the Chaplain’s wife. So all the twelve miles up the hill the Englishman, with his arm around Lispeth’s waist, was assuring the girl that he would come back and marry her; and Lispeth made him promise over and over again. She wept on the Narkunda Ridge till he had passed out of sight along the Muttiani path.
Then she dried her tears and went in to Kotgarth again, and said to the Chaplain’s wife: “He will come back and marry me. He has gone to his own people to tell them so.” And the Chaplain’s wife soothed Lispeth and said: “He will come back.” At the end of two months, Lispeth grew impatient, and was told that the Englishman had gone over the seas to England. She knew where England was, because she had read little geography primers; but, of course, she had no conception of the nature of the sea, being a Hill girl. There was an old puzzle-map of the World in the House. Lispeth had played with it when she was a child. She unearthed it again, and put it together of evenings, and cried to herself, and tried to imagine where her Englishman was. As she had no ideas of distance or steamboats, her notions were somewhat erroneous. It would not have made the least difference had she been perfectly correct; for the Englishman had no intention of coming back to marry a Hill girl. He forgot all about her by the time he was butterfly-hunting in Assam. He wrote a book on the East afterwards. Lispeth’s name did not appear.
At the end of three months, Lispeth made daily pilgrimage to Narkunda to see if her Englishman was coming along the road. It gave her comfort, and the Chaplain’s wife, finding her happier, thought that she was getting over her “barbarous and most indelicate folly.” A little later the walks ceased to help Lispeth and her temper grew very bad. The Chaplain’s wife thought this a profitable time to let her know the real state of affairs — that the Englishman had only promised his love to keep her quiet — that he had never meant anything, and that it was “wrong and improper” of Lispeth to think of marriage with an Englishman, who was of a superior clay, besides being promised in marriage to a girl of his own people. Lispeth said that all this was clearly impossible, because he had said he loved her, and the Chaplain’s wife had, with her own lips, asserted that the Englishman was coming back.
“How can what he and you said be untrue?” asked Lispeth.
“We said it as an excuse to keep you quiet, child,” said the Chaplain’s wife.
“Then you have lied to me,” said Lispeth, “you and he?”
The Chaplain’s wife bowed her head, and said nothing. Lispeth was silent, too for a little time; then she went out down the valley, and returned in the dress of a Hill girl — infamously dirty, but without the nose and ear rings. She had her hair braided into the long pig-tail, helped out with black thread, that Hill women wear.
“I am going back to my own people,” said she. “You have killed Lispeth. There is only left old Jadeh’s daughter — the daughter of a pahari and the servant of Tarka Devi. You are all liars, you English.”
By the time that the Chaplain’s wife had recovered from the shock of the announcement that Lispeth had ’verted to her mother’s gods, the girl had gone; and she never came back.
She took to her own unclean people savagely, as if to make up the arrears of the life she had stepped out of; and, in a little time, she married a wood-cutter who beat her, after the manner of paharis, and her beauty faded soon.
“There is no law whereby you can account for the vagaries of the heathen,” said the Chaplain’s wife, “and I believe that Lispeth was always at heart an infidel.” Seeing she had been taken into the Church of England at the mature age of five weeks, this statement does not do credit to the Chaplain’s wife.
Lispeth was a very old woman when she died. She always had a perfect command of English, and when she was sufficiently drunk, could sometimes be induced to tell the story of her first love-affair.
It was hard then to realize that the bleared, wrinkled creature, so like a wisp of charred rag, could ever have been “Lispeth of the Kotgarth Mission.”
2 — Three and—An Extra
When halter and heel ropes are slipped, do not give chase with sticks but with gram.
—Punjabi Proverb.
After marriage arrives a reaction, sometimes a big, sometimes a little one; but it comes sooner or later, and must be tided over by both parties if they desire the rest of their lives to go with the current.
In the case of the Cusack–Bremmils this reaction did not set in till the third year after the wedding. Bremmil was hard to hold at the best of times; but he was a beautiful husband until the baby died and Mrs. Bremmil wore black, and grew thin, and mourned as if the bottom of the universe had fallen out. Perhaps Bremmil ought to have comforted her. He tried to do so, I think; but the more he comforted the more Mrs. Bremmil grieved, and, consequently, the more uncomfortable Bremmil grew. The fact was that they both needed a tonic. And they got it. Mrs. Bremmil can afford to laugh now, but it was no laughing matter to her at the time.
You see, Mrs. Hauksbee appeared on the horizon; and where she existed was fair chance of trouble. At Simla her bye-name was the “Stormy Petrel.” She had won that title five times to my own certain knowledge. She was a little, brown, thin, almost skinny, woman, with big, rolling, violet-blue eyes, and the sweetest manners in the world. You had only to mention her name at afternoon teas for every woman in the room to rise up, and call her — well — NOT blessed. She was clever, witty, brilliant, and sparkling beyond most of her kind; but possessed of many devils of malice and mischievousness. She could be nice, though, even to her own sex. But that is another story.
Bremmil went off at score after the baby’s death and the general discomfort that followed, and Mrs. Hauksbee annexed him. She took no pleasure in hiding her captives. She annexed him publicly, and saw that the public saw it. He rode with her, and walked with her, and talked with her, and picnicked with her, and tiffined at Peliti’s with her, till people put up their eyebrows and said: “Shocking!” Mrs. Bremmil stayed at home turning over the dead baby’s frocks and crying into the empty cradle. She did not care to do anything else. But some eight dear, affectionate lady-friends explained the situation at length to her in case she should miss the cream of it. Mrs. Bremmil listened quietly, and thanked them for their good offices. She was not as clever as Mrs. Hauksbee, but she was no fool. She kept her own counsel, and did not speak to Bremmil of what she had heard. This is worth remembering. Speaking to, or crying over, a husband never did any good yet.
When Bremmil was at home, which was not often, he was more affectionate than usual; and that showed his hand. The affection was forced partly to soothe his own conscience and partly to soothe Mrs. Bremmil. It failed in both regards.
Then “the A.-D.-C. in Waiting was commanded by Their Excellencies, Lord and Lady Lytton, to invite Mr. and Mrs. Cusack–Bremmil to Peterhoff on July 26th at 9.30 P. M.”—“Dancing” in the bottom-left-hand corner.
“I can’t go,” said Mrs. Bremmil, “it is too soon after poor little Florrie . . . but it need not stop you, Tom.”
She meant what she said then, and Bremmil said that he would go just to put in an appearance. Here he spoke the thing which was not; and Mrs. Bremmil knew it. She guessed — a woman’s guess is much more accurate than a man’s certainty — that he had meant to go from the first, and with Mrs. Hauksbee. She sat down to think, and the outcome of her thoughts was that the memory of a dead child was worth considerably less than the affections of a living husband. She made her plan and staked her all upon it. In that hour she discovered that she knew Tom Bremmil thoroughly, and this knowledge she acted on.
“Tom,” said she, “I shall be dining out at the Longmores’ on the evening of the 26th. You’d better dine at the club.”
This saved Bremmil from making an excuse to get away and dine with Mrs. Hauksbee, so he was grateful, and felt small and mean at the same time — which was wholesome. Bremmil left the house at five for a ride. About half-past five in the evening a large leather-covered basket came in from Phelps’ for Mrs. Bremmil. She was a woman who knew how to dress; and she had not spent a week on designing that dress and having it gored, and hemmed, and herring-boned, and tucked and rucked (or whatever the terms are) for nothing. It was a gorgeous dress — slight mourning. I can’t describe it, but it was what The Queen calls “a creation”— a thing that hit you straight between the eyes and made you gasp. She had not much heart for what she was going to do; but as she glanced at the long mirror she had the satisfaction of knowing that she had never looked so well in her life. She was a large blonde and, when she chose, carried herself superbly.
After the dinner at the Longmores, she went on to the dance — a little late — and encountered Bremmil with Mrs. Hauksbee on his arm. That made her flush, and as the men crowded round her for dances she looked magnificent. She filled up all her dances except three, and those she left blank. Mrs. Hauksbee caught her eye once; and she knew it was war — real war — between them. She started handicapped in the struggle, for she had ordered Bremmil about just the least little bit in the world too much; and he was beginning to resent it. Moreover, he had never seen his wife look so lovely. He stared at her from doorways, and glared at her from passages as she went about with her partners; and the more he stared, the more taken was he. He could scarcely believe that this was the woman with the red eyes and the black stuff gown who used to weep over the eggs at breakfast.
Mrs. Hauksbee did her best to hold him in play, but, after two dances, he crossed over to his wife and asked for a dance.
“I’m afraid you’ve come too late, MISTER Bremmil,” she said, with her eyes twinkling.
Then he begged her to give him a dance, and, as a great favor, she allowed him the fifth waltz. Luckily 5 stood vacant on his programme. They danced it together, and there was a little flutter round the room. Bremmil had a sort of notion that his wife could dance, but he never knew she danced so divinely. At the end of that waltz he asked for another — as a favor, not as a right; and Mrs. Bremmil said: “Show me your programme, dear!” He showed it as a naughty little schoolboy hands up contraband sweets to a master. There was a fair sprinkling of “H” on it besides “H” at supper. Mrs. Bremmil said nothing, but she smiled contemptuously, ran her pencil through 7 and 9 — two “H’s”— and returned the card with her own name written above — a pet name that only she and her husband used. Then she shook her finger at him, and said, laughing: “Oh, you silly, SILLY boy!”
Mrs. Hauksbee heard that, and — she owned as much — felt that she had the worst of it. Bremmil accepted 7 and 9 gratefully. They danced 7, and sat out 9 in one of the little tents. What Bremmil said and what Mrs. Bremmil said is no concern of any one’s.
When the band struck up “The Roast Beef of Old England,” the two went out into the verandah, and Bremmil began looking for his wife’s dandy (this was before ’rickshaw days) while she went into the cloak-room. Mrs. Hauksbee came up and said: “You take me in to supper, I think, Mr. Bremmil.” Bremmil turned red and looked foolish. “Ah — h’m! I’m going home with my wife, Mrs. Hauksbee. I think there has been a little mistake.” Being a man, he spoke as though Mrs. Hauksbee were entirely responsible.
Mrs. Bremmil came out of the cloak-room in a swansdown cloak with a white “cloud” round her head. She looked radiant; and she had a right to.
The couple went off in the darkness together, Bremmil riding very close to the dandy.
Then says Mrs. Hauksbee to me — she looked a trifle faded and jaded in the lamplight: “Take my word for it, the silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it needs a very clever woman to manage a fool.”
Then we went in to supper.
3 — Thrown Away
And some are sulky, while some will plunge
[So ho! Steady! Stand still, you!]
Some you must gentle, and some you must lunge.
[There! There! Who wants to kill you?]
Some — there are losses in every trade —
Will break their hearts ere bitted and made,
Will fight like fiends as the rope cuts hard,
And die dumb-mad in the breaking-yard.
—Toolungala Stockyard Chorus.
To rear a boy under what parents call the “sheltered life system” is, if the boy must go into the world and fend for himself, not wise. Unless he be one in a thousand he has certainly to pass through many unnecessary troubles; and may, possibly, come to extreme grief simply from ignorance of the proper proportions of things.
Let a puppy eat the soap in the bath-room or chew a newly-blacked boot. He chews and chuckles until, by and by, he finds out that blacking and Old Brown Windsor make him very sick; so he argues that soap and boots are not wholesome. Any old dog about the house will soon show him the unwisdom of biting big dogs’ ears. Being young, he remembers and goes abroad, at six months, a well-mannered little beast with a chastened appetite. If he had been kept away from boots, and soap, and big dogs till he came to the trinity full-grown and with developed teeth, just consider how fearfully sick and thrashed he would be! Apply that motion to the “sheltered life,” and see how it works. It does not sound pretty, but it is the better of two evils.
There was a Boy once who had been brought up under the “sheltered life” theory; and the theory killed him dead. He stayed with his people all his days, from the hour he was born till the hour he went into Sandhurst nearly at the top of the list. He was beautifully taught in all that wins marks by a private tutor, and carried the extra weight of “never having given his parents an hour’s anxiety in his life.” What he learnt at Sandhurst beyond the regular routine is of no great consequence. He looked about him, and he found soap and blacking, so to speak, very good. He ate a little, and came out of Sandhurst not so high as he went in. Them there was an interval and a scene with his people, who expected much from him. Next a year of living “unspotted from the world” in a third-rate depot battalion where all the juniors were children, and all the seniors old women; and lastly he came out to India, where he was cut off from the support of his parents, and had no one to fall back on in time of trouble except himself.
Now India is a place beyond all others where one must not take things too seriously — the midday sun always excepted. Too much work and too much energy kill a man just as effectively as too much assorted vice or too much drink. Flirtation does not matter because every one is being transferred and either you or she leave the Station, and never return. Good work does not matter, because a man is judged by his worst output and another man takes all the credit of his best as a rule. Bad work does not matter, because other men do worse, and incompetents hang on longer in India than anywhere else. Amusements do not matter, because you must repeat them as soon as you have accomplished them once, and most amusements only mean trying to win another person’s money. Sickness does not matter, because it’s all in the day’s work, and if you die another man takes over your place and your office in the eight hours between death and burial. Nothing matters except Home furlough and acting allowances, and these only because they are scarce. This is a slack, kutcha country where all men work with imperfect instruments; and the wisest thing is to take no one and nothing in earnest, but to escape as soon as ever you can to some place where amusement is amusement and a reputation worth the having.
But this Boy — the tale is as old as the Hills — came out, and took all things seriously. He was pretty and was petted. He took the pettings seriously, and fretted over women not worth saddling a pony to call upon. He found his new free life in India very good. It DOES look attractive in the beginning, from a Subaltern’s point of view — all ponies, partners, dancing, and so on. He tasted it as the puppy tastes the soap. Only he came late to the eating, with a growing set of teeth. He had no sense of balance — just like the puppy — and could not understand why he was not treated with the consideration he received under his father’s roof. This hurt his feelings.
He quarrelled with other boys, and, being sensitive to the marrow, remembered these quarrels, and they excited him. He found whist, and gymkhanas, and things of that kind (meant to amuse one after office) good; but he took them seriously too, just as he took the “head” that followed after drink. He lost his money over whist and gymkhanas because they were new to him.
He took his losses seriously, and wasted as much energy and interest over a two-goldmohur race for maiden ekka-ponies with their manes hogged, as if it had been the Derby. One-half of this came from inexperience — much as the puppy squabbles with the corner of the hearth-rug — and the other half from the dizziness bred by stumbling out of his quiet life into the glare and excitement of a livelier one. No one told him about the soap and the blacking because an average man takes it for granted that an average man is ordinarily careful in regard to them. It was pitiful to watch The Boy knocking himself to pieces, as an over-handled colt falls down and cuts himself when he gets away from the groom.
This unbridled license in amusements not worth the trouble of breaking line for, much less rioting over, endured for six months — all through one cold weather — and then we thought that the heat and the knowledge of having lost his money and health and lamed his horses would sober The Boy down, and he would stand steady. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred this would have happened. You can see the principle working in any Indian Station. But this particular case fell through because The Boy was sensitive and took things seriously — as I may have said some seven times before. Of course, we couldn’t tell how his excesses struck him personally. They were nothing very heart-breaking or above the average. He might be crippled for life financially, and want a little nursing. Still the memory of his performances would wither away in one hot weather, and the shroff would help him to tide over the money troubles. But he must have taken another view altogether and have believed himself ruined beyond redemption. His Colonel talked to him severely when the cold weather ended. That made him more wretched than ever; and it was only an ordinary “Colonel’s wigging!”
What follows is a curious instance of the fashion in which we are all linked together and made responsible for one another. THE thing that kicked the beam in The Boy’s mind was a remark that a woman made when he was talking to her. There is no use in repeating it, for it was only a cruel little sentence, rapped out before thinking, that made him flush to the roots of his hair. He kept himself to himself for three days, and then put in for two days’ leave to go shooting near a Canal Engineer’s Rest House about thirty miles out. He got his leave, and that night at Mess was noisier and more offensive than ever. He said that he was “going to shoot big game”, and left at half-past ten o’clock in an ekka. Partridge — which was the only thing a man could get near the Rest House — is not big game; so every one laughed.
Next morning one of the Majors came in from short leave, and heard that The Boy had gone out to shoot “big game.” The Major had taken an interest in The Boy, and had, more than once, tried to check him in the cold weather. The Major put up his eyebrows when he heard of the expedition and went to The Boy’s room, where he rummaged.
Presently he came out and found me leaving cards on the Mess. There was no one else in the ante-room.
He said: “The Boy has gone out shooting. DOES a man shoot tetur with a revolver and a writing-case?”
I said: “Nonsense, Major!” for I saw what was in his mind.
He said: “Nonsense or nonsense, I’m going to the Canal now — at once. I don’t feel easy.”
Then he thought for a minute, and said: “Can you lie?”
“You know best,” I answered. “It’s my profession.”
“Very well,” said the Major; “you must come out with me now — at once — in an ekka to the Canal to shoot black-buck. Go and put on shikar-kit — quick — and drive here with a gun.”
The Major was a masterful man; and I knew that he would not give orders for nothing. So I obeyed, and on return found the Major packed up in an ekka — gun-cases and food slung below — all ready for a shooting-trip.
He dismissed the driver and drove himself. We jogged along quietly while in the station; but as soon as we got to the dusty road across the plains, he made that pony fly. A country-bred can do nearly anything at a pinch. We covered the thirty miles in under three hours, but the poor brute was nearly dead.
Once I said: “What’s the blazing hurry, Major?”
He said, quietly: “The Boy has been alone, by himself, for — one, two, five — fourteen hours now! I tell you, I don’t feel easy.”
This uneasiness spread itself to me, and I helped to beat the pony.
When we came to the Canal Engineer’s Rest House the Major called for The Boy’s servant; but there was no answer. Then we went up to the house, calling for The Boy by name; but there was no answer.
“Oh, he’s out shooting,” said I.
Just then I saw through one of the windows a little hurricane-lamp burning. This was at four in the afternoon. We both stopped dead in the verandah, holding our breath to catch every sound; and we heard, inside the room, the “brr — brr — brr” of a multitude of flies. The Major said nothing, but he took off his helmet and we entered very softly.
The Boy was dead on the charpoy in the centre of the bare, lime-washed room. He had shot his head nearly to pieces with his revolver. The gun-cases were still strapped, so was the bedding, and on the table lay The Boy’s writing-case with photographs. He had gone away to die like a poisoned rat!
The Major said to himself softly: “Poor Boy! Poor, POOR devil!” Then he turned away from the bed and said: “I want your help in this business.”
Knowing The Boy was dead by his own hand, I saw exactly what that help would be, so I passed over to the table, took a chair, lit a cheroot, and began to go through the writing-case; the Major looking over my shoulder and repeating to himself: “We came too late! — Like a rat in a hole! — Poor, POOR devil!”
The Boy must have spent half the night in writing to his people, and to his Colonel, and to a girl at Home; and as soon as he had finished, must have shot himself, for he had been dead a long time when we came in.
I read all that he had written, and passed over each sheet to the Major as I finished it.
We saw from his accounts how very seriously he had taken everything. He wrote about “disgrace which he was unable to bear”—“indelible shame”—“criminal folly”—“wasted life,” and so on; besides a lot of private things to his Father and Mother too much too sacred to put into print. The letter to the girl at Home was the most pitiful of all; and I choked as I read it. The Major made no attempt to keep dry-eyed. I respected him for that. He read and rocked himself to and fro, and simply cried like a woman without caring to hide it. The letters were so dreary and hopeless and touching. We forgot all about The Boy’s follies, and only thought of the poor Thing on the charpoy and the scrawled sheets in our hands. It was utterly impossible to let the letters go Home. They would have broken his Father’s heart and killed his Mother after killing her belief in her son.
At last the Major dried his eyes openly, and said: “Nice sort of thing to spring on an English family! What shall we do?”
I said, knowing what the Major had brought me but for: “The Boy died of cholera. We were with him at the time. We can’t commit ourselves to half-measures. Come along.”
Then began one of the most grimy comic scenes I have ever taken part in-the concoction of a big, written lie, bolstered with evidence, to soothe The Boy’s people at Home. I began the rough draft of a letter, the Major throwing in hints here and there while he gathered up all the stuff that The Boy had written and burnt it in the fireplace. It was a hot, still evening when we began, and the lamp burned very badly. In due course I got the draft to my satisfaction, setting forth how The Boy was the pattern of all virtues, beloved by his regiment, with every promise of a great career before him, and so on; how we had helped him through the sickness — it was no time for little lies, you will understand — and how he had died without pain. I choked while I was putting down these things and thinking of the poor people who would read them. Then I laughed at the grotesqueness of the affair, and the laughter mixed itself up with the choke — and the Major said that we both wanted drinks.
I am afraid to say how much whiskey we drank before the letter was finished. It had not the least effect on us. Then we took off The Boy’s watch, locket, and rings.
Lastly, the Major said: “We must send a lock of hair too. A woman values that.”
But there were reasons why we could not find a lock fit to send. The Boy was black-haired, and so was the Major, luckily. I cut off a piece of the Major’s hair above the temple with a knife, and put it into the packet we were making. The laughing-fit and the chokes got hold of me again, and I had to stop. The Major was nearly as bad; and we both knew that the worst part of the work was to come.
We sealed up the packet, photographs, locket, seals, ring, letter, and lock of hair with The Boy’s sealing-wax and The Boy’s seal.
Then the Major said: “For God’s sake let’s get outside — away from the room — and think!”
We went outside, and walked on the banks of the Canal for an hour, eating and drinking what we had with us, until the moon rose. I know now exactly how a murderer feels. Finally, we forced ourselves back to the room with the lamp and the Other Thing in it, and began to take up the next piece of work. I am not going to write about this. It was too horrible. We burned the bedstead and dropped the ashes into the Canal; we took up the matting of the room and treated that in the same way. I went off to a village and borrowed two big hoes — I did not want the villagers to help — while the Major arranged — the other matters. It took us four hours’ hard work to make the grave. As we worked, we argued out whether it was right to say as much as we remembered of the Burial of the Dead. We compromised things by saying the Lord’s Prayer with a private unofficial prayer for the peace of the soul of The Boy. Then we filled in the grave and went into the verandah — not the house — to lie down to sleep. We were dead-tired.
When we woke the Major said, wearily: “We can’t go back till tomorrow. We must give him a decent time to die in. He died early THIS morning, remember. That seems more natural.” So the Major must have been lying awake all the time, thinking.
I said: “Then why didn’t we bring the body back to the cantonments?”
The Major thought for a minute:—“Because the people bolted when they heard of the cholera. And the ekka has gone!”
That was strictly true. We had forgotten all about the ekka-pony, and he had gone home.
So, we were left there alone, all that stifling day, in the Canal Rest House, testing and re-testing our story of The Boy’s death to see if it was weak at any point. A native turned up in the afternoon, but we said that a Sahib was dead of cholera, and he ran away. As the dusk gathered, the Major told me all his fears about The Boy, and awful stories of suicide or nearly-carried-out suicide — tales that made one’s hair crisp. He said that he himself had once gone into the same Valley of the Shadow as the Boy, when he was young and new to the country; so he understood how things fought together in The Boy’s poor jumbled head. He also said that youngsters, in their repentant moments, consider their sins much more serious and ineffaceable than they really are. We talked together all through the evening, and rehearsed the story of the death of The Boy. As soon as the moon was up, and The Boy, theoretically, just buried, we struck across country for the Station. We walked from eight till six o’clock in the morning; but though we were dead-tired, we did not forget to go to The Boy’s room and put away his revolver with the proper amount of cartridges in the pouch. Also to set his writing-case on the table. We found the Colonel and reported the death, feeling more like murderers than ever. Then we went to bed and slept the clock round; for there was no more in us.
The tale had credence as long as was necessary, for every one forgot about The Boy before a fortnight was over. Many people, however, found time to say that the Major had behaved scandalously in not bringing in the body for a regimental funeral. The saddest thing of all was a letter from The Boy’s mother to the Major and me — with big inky blisters all over the sheet. She wrote the sweetest possible things about our great kindness, and the obligation she would be under to us as long as she lived.
All things considered, she WAS under an obligation; but not exactly as she meant.
4 — Miss Youghal’s Sais
When Man and Woman are agreed, what can the Kazi do?
—Mahomedan Proverb
Some people say that there is no romance in India. Those people are wrong. Our lives hold quite as much romance as is good for us. Sometimes more.
Strickland was in the Police, and people did not understand him; so they said he was a doubtful sort of man and passed by on the other side. Strickland had himself to thank for this. He held the extraordinary theory that a Policeman in India should try to know as much about the natives as the natives themselves. Now, in the whole of Upper India, there is only ONE man who can pass for Hindu or Mohammedan, chamar or faquir, as he pleases. He is feared and respected by the natives from the Ghor Kathri to the Jamma Musjid; and he is supposed to have the gift of invisibility and executive control over many Devils. But what good has this done him with the Government? None in the world. He has never got Simla for his charge; and his name is almost unknown to Englishmen.
Strickland was foolish enough to take that man for his model; and, following out his absurd theory, dabbled in unsavory places no respectable man would think of exploring — all among the native riff-raff. He educated himself in this peculiar way for seven years, and people could not appreciate it. He was perpetually “going Fantee” among the natives, which, of course, no man with any sense believes in. He was initiated into the Sat Bhai at Allahabad once, when he was on leave; he knew the Lizard–Song of the Sansis, and the Halli–Hukk dance, which is a religious can-can of a startling kind. When a man knows who dances the Halli–Hukk, and how, and when, and where, he knows something to be proud of. He has gone deeper than the skin. But Strickland was not proud, though he had helped once, at Jagadhri, at the Painting of the Death Bull, which no Englishman must even look upon; had mastered the thieves’-patter of the changars; had taken a Eusufzai horse-thief alone near Attock; and had stood under the mimbar-board of a Border mosque and conducted service in the manner of a Sunni Mollah.
His crowning achievement was spending eleven days as a faquir in the gardens of Baba Atal at Amritsar, and there picking up the threads of the great Nasiban Murder Case. But people said, justly enough: “Why on earth can’t Strickland sit in his office and write up his diary, and recruit, and keep quiet, instead of showing up the incapacity of his seniors?” So the Nasiban Murder Case did him no good departmentally; but, after his first feeling of wrath, he returned to his outlandish custom of prying into native life. By the way, when a man once acquires a taste for this particular amusement, it abides with him all his days. It is the most fascinating thing in the world; Love not excepted. Where other men took ten days to the Hills, Strickland took leave for what he called shikar, put on the disguise that appealed to him at the time, stepped down into the brown crowd, and was swallowed up for a while. He was a quiet, dark young fellow — spare, black-eyes — and, when he was not thinking of something else, a very interesting companion. Strickland on Native Progress as he had seen it was worth hearing. Natives hated Strickland; but they were afraid of him. He knew too much.
When the Youghals came into the station, Strickland — very gravely, as he did everything — fell in love with Miss Youghal; and she, after a while, fell in love with him because she could not understand him. Then Strickland told the parents; but Mrs. Youghal said she was not going to throw her daughter into the worst paid Department in the Empire, and old Youghal said, in so many words, that he mistrusted Strickland’s ways and works, and would thank him not to speak or write to his daughter any more. “Very well,” said Strickland, for he did not wish to make his lady-love’s life a burden. After one long talk with Miss Youghal he dropped the business entirely.
The Youghals went up to Simla in April.
In July, Strickland secured three months’ leave on “urgent private affairs.” He locked up his house — though not a native in the Providence would wittingly have touched “Estreekin Sahib’s” gear for the world — and went down to see a friend of his, an old dyer, at Tarn Taran.
Here all trace of him was lost, until a sais met me on the Simla Mall with this extraordinary note:
Dear old man,
Please give bearer a box of cheroots — Supers, No. I, for preference. They are freshest at the Club. I’ll repay when I reappear; but at present I’m out of Society.
E. Strickland.
I ordered two boxes, and handed them over to the sais with my love. That sais was Strickland, and he was in old Youghal’s employ, attached to Miss Youghal’s Arab. The poor fellow was suffering for an English smoke, and knew that whatever happened I should hold my tongue till the business was over.
Later on, Mrs. Youghal, who was wrapped up in her servants, began talking at houses where she called of her paragon among saises — the man who was never too busy to get up in the morning and pick flowers for the breakfast-table, and who blacked — actually BLACKED— the hoofs of his horse like a London coachman! The turnout of Miss Youghal’s Arab was a wonder and a delight. Strickland — Dulloo, I mean — found his reward in the pretty things that Miss Youghal said to him when she went out riding. Her parents were pleased to find she had forgotten all her foolishness for young Strickland and said she was a good girl.
Strickland vows that the two months of his service were the most rigid mental discipline he has ever gone through. Quite apart from the little fact that the wife of one of his fellow-saises fell in love with him and then tried to poison him with arsenic because he would have nothing to do with her, he had to school himself into keeping quiet when Miss Youghal went out riding with some man who tried to flirt with her, and he was forced to trot behind carrying the blanket and hearing every word! Also, he had to keep his temper when he was slanged in “Benmore” porch by a policeman — especially once when he was abused by a Naik he had himself recruited from Isser Jang village — or, worse still, when a young subaltern called him a pig for not making way quickly enough.
But the life had its compensations. He obtained great insight into the ways and thefts of saises — enough, he says, to have summarily convicted half the chamar population of the Punjab if he had been on business. He became one of the leading players at knuckle-bones, which all jhampanis and many saises play while they are waiting outside the Government House or the Gaiety Theatre of nights; he learned to smoke tobacco that was three-fourths cowdung; and he heard the wisdom of the grizzled Jemadar of the Government House saises, whose words are valuable. He saw many things which amused him; and he states, on honor, that no man can appreciate Simla properly, till he has seen it from the sais’s point of view. He also says that, if he chose to write all he saw, his head would be broken in several places.
Strickland’s account of the agony he endured on wet nights, hearing the music and seeing the lights in “Benmore,” with his toes tingling for a waltz and his head in a horse-blanket, is rather amusing. One of these days, Strickland is going to write a little book on his experiences. That book will be worth buying; and even more, worth suppressing.
Thus, he served faithfully as Jacob served for Rachel; and his leave was nearly at an end when the explosion came. He had really done his best to keep his temper in the hearing of the flirtations I have mentioned; but he broke down at last. An old and very distinguished General took Miss Youghal for a ride, and began that specially offensive “you’re-only-a-little-girl” sort of flirtation — most difficult for a woman to turn aside deftly, and most maddening to listen to. Miss Youghal was shaking with fear at the things he said in the hearing of her sais. Dulloo — Strickland — stood it as long as he could. Then he caught hold of the General’s bridle, and, in most fluent English, invited him to step off and be heaved over the cliff. Next minute Miss Youghal began crying; and Strickland saw that he had hopelessly given himself away, and everything was over.
The General nearly had a fit, while Miss Youghal was sobbing out the story of the disguise and the engagement that wasn’t recognized by the parents. Strickland was furiously angry with himself and more angry with the General for forcing his hand; so he said nothing, but held the horse’s head and prepared to thrash the General as some sort of satisfaction, but when the General had thoroughly grasped the story, and knew who Strickland was, he began to puff and blow in the saddle, and nearly rolled off with laughing. He said Strickland deserved a V. C., if it were only for putting on a sais’s blanket. Then he called himself names, and vowed that he deserved a thrashing, but he was too old to take it from Strickland. Then he complimented Miss Youghal on her lover. The scandal of the business never struck him; for he was a nice old man, with a weakness for flirtations. Then he laughed again, and said that old Youghal was a fool. Strickland let go of the cob’s head, and suggested that the General had better help them, if that was his opinion. Strickland knew Youghal’s weakness for men with titles and letters after their names and high official position. “It’s rather like a forty-minute farce,” said the General, “but begad, I WILL help, if it’s only to escape that tremendous thrashing I deserved. Go along to your home, my sais-Policeman, and change into decent kit, and I’ll attack Mr. Youghal. Miss Youghal, may I ask you to canter home and wait?”
About seven minutes later, there was a wild hurroosh at the Club. A sais, with a blanket and head-rope, was asking all the men he knew: “For Heaven’s sake lend me decent clothes!” As the men did not recognize him, there were some peculiar scenes before Strickland could get a hot bath, with soda in it, in one room, a shirt here, a collar there, a pair of trousers elsewhere, and so on. He galloped off, with half the Club wardrobe on his back, and an utter stranger’s pony under him, to the house of old Youghal. The General, arrayed in purple and fine linen, was before him. What the General had said Strickland never knew, but Youghal received Strickland with moderate civility; and Mrs. Youghal, touched by the devotion of the transformed Dulloo, was almost kind. The General beamed, and chuckled, and Miss Youghal came in, and almost before old Youghal knew where he was, the parental consent had been wrenched out and Strickland had departed with Miss Youghal to the Telegraph Office to wire for his kit. The final embarrassment was when an utter stranger attacked him on the Mall and asked for the stolen pony.
So, in the end, Strickland and Miss Youghal were married, on the strict understanding that Strickland should drop his old ways, and stick to Departmental routine, which pays best and leads to Simla. Strickland was far too fond of his wife, just then, to break his word, but it was a sore trial to him; for the streets and the bazars, and the sounds in them, were full of meaning to Strickland, and these called to him to come back and take up his wanderings and his discoveries. Some day, I will tell you how he broke his promise to help a friend. That was long since, and he has, by this time, been nearly spoilt for what he would call shikar. He is forgetting the slang, and the beggar’s cant, and the marks, and the signs, and the drift of the undercurrents, which, if a man would master, he must always continue to learn.
But he fills in his Departmental returns beautifully.
5 — Yoked with an Unbeliever
I am dying for you, and you are dying for another.
—Punjabi Proverb
When the Gravesend tender left the P. & O. steamer for Bombay and went back to catch the train to Town, there were many people in it crying. But the one who wept most, and most openly was Miss Agnes Laiter. She had reason to cry, because the only man she ever loved — or ever could love, so she said — was going out to India; and India, as every one knows, is divided equally between jungle, tigers, cobras, cholera, and sepoys.
Phil Garron, leaning over the side of the steamer in the rain, felt very unhappy too; but he did not cry. He was sent out to “tea.” What “tea” meant he had not the vaguest idea, but fancied that he would have to ride on a prancing horse over hills covered with tea-vines, and draw a sumptuous salary for doing so; and he was very grateful to his uncle for getting him the berth. He was really going to reform all his slack, shiftless ways, save a large proportion of his magnificent salary yearly, and, in a very short time, return to marry Agnes Laiter. Phil Garron had been lying loose on his friends’ hands for three years, and, as he had nothing to do, he naturally fell in love. He was very nice; but he was not strong in his views and opinions and principles, and though he never came to actual grief his friends were thankful when he said good-bye, and went out to this mysterious “tea” business near Darjiling. They said:—“God bless you, dear boy! Let us never see your face again,”— or at least that was what Phil was given to understand.
When he sailed, he was very full of a great plan to prove himself several hundred times better than any one had given him credit for — to work like a horse, and triumphantly marry Agnes Laiter. He had many good points besides his good looks; his only fault being that he was weak, the least little bit in the world weak. He had as much notion of economy as the Morning Sun; and yet you could not lay your hand on any one item, and say: “Herein Phil Garron is extravagant or reckless.” Nor could you point out any particular vice in his character; but he was “unsatisfactory” and as workable as putty.
Agnes Laiter went about her duties at home — her family objected to the engagement — with red eyes, while Phil was sailing to Darjiling —“a port on the Bengal Ocean,” as his mother used to tell her friends. He was popular enough on board ship, made many acquaintances and a moderately large liquor bill, and sent off huge letters to Agnes Laiter at each port. Then he fell to work on this plantation, somewhere between Darjiling and Kangra, and, though the salary and the horse and the work were not quite all he had fancied, he succeeded fairly well, and gave himself much unnecessary credit for his perseverance.
In the course of time, as he settled more into collar, and his work grew fixed before him, the face of Agnes Laiter went out of his mind and only came when he was at leisure, which was not often. He would forget all about her for a fortnight, and remember her with a start, like a school-boy who has forgotten to learn his lesson. She did not forget Phil, because she was of the kind that never forgets. Only, another man — a really desirable young man — presented himself before Mrs. Laiter; and the chance of a marriage with Phil was as far off as ever; and his letters were so unsatisfactory; and there was a certain amount of domestic pressure brought to bear on the girl; and the young man really was an eligible person as incomes go; and the end of all things was that Agnes married him, and wrote a tempestuous whirlwind of a letter to Phil in the wilds of Darjiling, and said she should never know a happy moment all the rest of her life. Which was a true prophecy.
Phil got that letter, and held himself ill-treated. This was two years after he had come out; but by dint of thinking fixedly of Agnes Laiter, and looking at her photograph, and patting himself on the back for being one of the most constant lovers in history, and warming to the work as he went on, he really fancied that he had been very hardly used. He sat down and wrote one final letter — a really pathetic “world without end, amen,” epistle; explaining how he would be true to Eternity, and that all women were very much alike, and he would hide his broken heart, etc., etc.; but if, at any future time, etc., etc., he could afford to wait, etc., etc., unchanged affections, etc., etc., return to her old love, etc., etc., for eight closely-written pages. From an artistic point of view, it was very neat work, but an ordinary Philistine, who knew the state of Phil’s real feelings — not the ones he rose to as he went on writing — would have called it the thoroughly mean and selfish work of a thoroughly mean and selfish, weak man. But this verdict would have been incorrect. Phil paid for the postage, and felt every word he had written for at least two days and a half. It was the last flicker before the light went out.
That letter made Agnes Laiter very unhappy, and she cried and put it away in her desk, and became Mrs. Somebody Else for the good of her family. Which is the first duty of every Christian maid.
Phil went his ways, and thought no more of his letter, except as an artist thinks of a neatly touched-in sketch. His ways were not bad, but they were not altogether good until they brought him across Dunmaya, the daughter of a Rajput ex-Subadar–Major of our Native Army. The girl had a strain of Hill blood in her, and, like the Hill women, was not a purdah nashin. Where Phil met her, or how he heard of her, does not matter. She was a good girl and handsome, and, in her way, very clever and shrewd; though, of course, a little hard. It is to be remembered that Phil was living very comfortably, denying himself no small luxury, never putting by an anna, very satisfied with himself and his good intentions, was dropping all his English correspondents one by one, and beginning more and more to look upon this land as his home. Some men fall this way; and they are of no use afterwards. The climate where he was stationed was good, and it really did not seem to him that there was anything to go Home for.
He did what many planters have done before him — that is to say, he made up his mind to marry a Hill girl and settle down. He was seven and twenty then, with a long life before him, but no spirit to go through with it. So he married Dunmaya by the forms of the English Church, and some fellow-planters said he was a fool, and some said he was a wise man. Dunmaya was a thoroughly honest girl, and, in spite of her reverence for an Englishman, had a reasonable estimate of her husband’s weaknesses. She managed him tenderly, and became, in less than a year, a very passable imitation of an English lady in dress and carriage. [It is curious to think that a Hill man, after a lifetime’s education, is a Hill man still; but a Hill woman can in six months master most of the ways of her English sisters. There was a coolie woman once. But that is another story.] Dunmaya dressed by preference in black and yellow, and looked well.
Meantime the letter lay in Agnes’s desk, and now and again she would think of poor resolute hard-working Phil among the cobras and tigers of Darjiling, toiling in the vain hope that she might come back to him. Her husband was worth ten Phils, except that he had rheumatism of the heart. Three years after he was married — and after he had tried Nice and Algeria for his complaint — he went to Bombay, where he died, and set Agnes free. Being a devout woman, she looked on his death and the place of it, as a direct interposition of Providence, and when she had recovered from the shock, she took out and reread Phil’s letter with the “etc., etc.,” and the big dashes, and the little dashes, and kissed it several times. No one knew her in Bombay; she had her husband’s income, which was a large one, and Phil was close at hand. It was wrong and improper, of course, but she decided, as heroines do in novels, to find her old lover, to offer him her hand and her gold, and with him spend the rest of her life in some spot far from unsympathetic souls. She sat for two months, alone in Watson’s Hotel, elaborating this decision, and the picture was a pretty one. Then she set out in search of Phil Garron, Assistant on a tea plantation with a more than usually unpronounceable name.
She found him. She spent a month over it, for his plantation was not in the Darjiling district at all, but nearer Kangra. Phil was very little altered, and Dunmaya was very nice to her.
Now the particular sin and shame of the whole business is that Phil, who really is not worth thinking of twice, was and is loved by Dunmaya, and more than loved by Agnes, the whole of whose life he seems to have spoilt.
Worst of all, Dunmaya is making a decent man of him; and he will be ultimately saved from perdition through her training.
Which is manifestly unfair.
6 — False Dawn
To-night God knows what thing shall tide,
The Earth is racked and faint —
Expectant, sleepless, open-eyed;
And we, who from the Earth were made,
Thrill with our Mother’s pain.
—In Durance
No man will ever know the exact truth of this story; though women may sometimes whisper it to one another after a dance, when they are putting up their hair for the night and comparing lists of victims. A man, of course, cannot assist at these functions. So the tale must be told from the outside — in the dark — all wrong.
Never praise a sister to a sister, in the hope of your compliments reaching the proper ears, and so preparing the way for you later on. Sisters are women first, and sisters afterwards; and you will find that you do yourself harm.
Saumarez knew this when he made up his mind to propose to the elder Miss Copleigh. Saumarez was a strange man, with few merits, so far as men could see, though he was popular with women, and carried enough conceit to stock a Viceroy’s Council and leave a little over for the Commander-inChief’s Staff. He was a Civilian. Very many women took an interest in Saumarez, perhaps, because his manner to them was offensive. If you hit a pony over the nose at the outset of your acquaintance, he may not love you, but he will take a deep interest in your movements ever afterwards. The elder Miss Copleigh was nice, plump, winning and pretty. The younger was not so pretty, and, from men disregarding the hint set forth above, her style was repellant and unattractive. Both girls had, practically, the same figure, and there was a strong likeness between them in look and voice; though no one could doubt for an instant which was the nicer of the two.
Saumarez made up his mind, as soon as they came into the station from Behar, to marry the elder one. At least, we all made sure that he would, which comes to the same thing. She was two and twenty, and he was thirty-three, with pay and allowances of nearly fourteen hundred rupees a month. So the match, as we arranged it, was in every way a good one. Saumarez was his name, and summary was his nature, as a man once said. Having drafted his Resolution, he formed a Select Committee of One to sit upon it, and resolved to take his time. In our unpleasant slang, the Copleigh girls “hunted in couples.” That is to say, you could do nothing with one without the other. They were very loving sisters; but their mutual affection was sometimes inconvenient. Saumarez held the balance-hair true between them, and none but himself could have said to which side his heart inclined; though every one guessed. He rode with them a good deal and danced with them, but he never succeeded in detaching them from each other for any length of time.
Women said that the two girls kept together through deep mistrust, each fearing that the other would steal a march on her. But that has nothing to do with a man. Saumarez was silent for good or bad, and as business-likely attentive as he could be, having due regard to his work and his polo. Beyond doubt both girls were fond of him.
As the hot weather drew nearer, and Saumarez made no sign, women said that you could see their trouble in the eyes of the girls — that they were looking strained, anxious, and irritable. Men are quite blind in these matters unless they have more of the woman than the man in their composition, in which case it does not matter what they say or think. I maintain it was the hot April days that took the color out of the Copleigh girls’ cheeks. They should have been sent to the Hills early. No one — man or woman — feels an angel when the hot weather is approaching. The younger sister grew more cynical — not to say acid — in her ways; and the winningness of the elder wore thin. There was more effort in it.
Now the Station wherein all these things happened was, though not a little one, off the line of rail, and suffered through want of attention. There were no gardens or bands or amusements worth speaking of, and it was nearly a day’s journey to come into Lahore for a dance. People were grateful for small things to interest them.
About the beginning of May, and just before the final exodus of Hill-goers, when the weather was very hot and there were not more than twenty people in the Station, Saumarez gave a moonlight riding-picnic at an old tomb, six miles away, near the bed of the river. It was a “Noah’s Ark” picnic; and there was to be the usual arrangement of quarter-mile intervals between each couple, on account of the dust. Six couples came altogether, including chaperons. Moonlight picnics are useful just at the very end of the season, before all the girls go away to the Hills. They lead to understandings, and should be encouraged by chaperones; especially those whose girls look sweetish in riding habits. I knew a case once. But that is another story. That picnic was called the “Great Pop Picnic,” because every one knew Saumarez would propose then to the eldest Miss Copleigh; and, beside his affair, there was another which might possibly come to happiness. The social atmosphere was heavily charged and wanted clearing.
We met at the parade-ground at ten: the night was fearfully hot. The horses sweated even at walking-pace, but anything was better than sitting still in our own dark houses. When we moved off under the full moon we were four couples, one triplet, and Mr. Saumarez rode with the Copleigh girls, and I loitered at the tail of the procession, wondering with whom Saumarez would ride home. Every one was happy and contented; but we all felt that things were going to happen. We rode slowly: and it was nearly midnight before we reached the old tomb, facing the ruined tank, in the decayed gardens where we were going to eat and drink. I was late in coming up; and before I went into the garden, I saw that the horizon to the north carried a faint, dun-colored feather. But no one would have thanked me for spoiling so well-managed an entertainment as this picnic — and a dust-storm, more or less, does no great harm.
We gathered by the tank. Some one had brought out a banjo — which is a most sentimental instrument — and three or four of us sang. You must not laugh at this. Our amusements in out-of-the-way Stations are very few indeed. Then we talked in groups or together, lying under the trees, with the sun-baked roses dropping their petals on our feet, until supper was ready. It was a beautiful supper, as cold and as iced as you could wish; and we stayed long over it.
I had felt that the air was growing hotter and hotter; but nobody seemed to notice it until the moon went out and a burning hot wind began lashing the orange-trees with a sound like the noise of the sea. Before we knew where we were, the dust-storm was on us, and everything was roaring, whirling darkness. The supper-table was blown bodily into the tank. We were afraid of staying anywhere near the old tomb for fear it might be blown down. So we felt our way to the orange-trees where the horses were picketed and waited for the storm to blow over. Then the little light that was left vanished, and you could not see your hand before your face. The air was heavy with dust and sand from the bed of the river, that filled boots and pockets and drifted down necks and coated eyebrows and moustaches. It was one of the worst dust-storms of the year. We were all huddled together close to the trembling horses, with the thunder clattering overhead, and the lightning spurting like water from a sluice, all ways at once. There was no danger, of course, unless the horses broke loose. I was standing with my head downward and my hands over my mouth, hearing the trees thrashing each other. I could not see who was next me till the flashes came. Then I found that I was packed near Saumarez and the eldest Miss Copleigh, with my own horse just in front of me. I recognized the eldest Miss Copleigh, because she had a pagri round her helmet, and the younger had not. All the electricity in the air had gone into my body and I was quivering and tingling from head to foot — exactly as a corn shoots and tingles before rain. It was a grand storm. The wind seemed to be picking up the earth and pitching it to leeward in great heaps; and the heat beat up from the ground like the heat of the Day of Judgment.
The storm lulled slightly after the first half-hour, and I heard a despairing little voice close to my ear, saying to itself, quietly and softly, as if some lost soul were flying about with the wind: “O my God!” Then the younger Miss Copleigh stumbled into my arms, saying: “Where is my horse? Get my horse. I want to go home. I WANT to go home. Take me home.”
I thought that the lightning and the black darkness had frightened her; so I said there was no danger, but she must wait till the storm blew over. She answered: “It is not THAT! It is not THAT! I want to go home! O take me away from here!”
I said that she could not go till the light came; but I felt her brush past me and go away. It was too dark to see where. Then the whole sky was split open with one tremendous flash, as if the end of the world were coming, and all the women shrieked.
Almost directly after this, I felt a man’s hand on my shoulder and heard Saumarez bellowing in my ear. Through the rattling of the trees and howling of the wind, I did not catch his words at once, but at last I heard him say: “I’ve proposed to the wrong one! What shall I do?” Saumarez had no occasion to make this confidence to me. I was never a friend of his, nor am I now; but I fancy neither of us were ourselves just then. He was shaking as he stood with excitement, and I was feeling queer all over with the electricity. I could not think of anything to say except:—“More fool you for proposing in a dust-storm.” But I did not see how that would improve the mistake.
Then he shouted: “Where’s Edith — Edith Copleigh?” Edith was the youngest sister. I answered out of my astonishment:—“What do you want with HER?” Would you believe it, for the next two minutes, he and I were shouting at each other like maniacs — he vowing that it was the youngest sister he had meant to propose to all along, and I telling him till my throat was hoarse that he must have made a mistake! I can’t account for this except, again, by the fact that we were neither of us ourselves. Everything seemed to me like a bad dream — from the stamping of the horses in the darkness to Saumarez telling me the story of his loving Edith Copleigh since the first. He was still clawing my shoulder and begging me to tell him where Edith Copleigh was, when another lull came and brought light with it, and we saw the dust-cloud forming on the plain in front of us. So we knew the worst was over. The moon was low down, and there was just the glimmer of the false dawn that comes about an hour before the real one. But the light was very faint, and the dun cloud roared like a bull. I wondered where Edith Copleigh had gone; and as I was wondering I saw three things together: First Maud Copleigh’s face come smiling out of the darkness and move towards Saumarez, who was standing by me. I heard the girl whisper, “George,” and slide her arm through the arm that was not clawing my shoulder, and I saw that look on her face which only comes once or twice in a lifetime-when a woman is perfectly happy and the air is full of trumpets and gorgeous-colored fire and the Earth turns into cloud because she loves and is loved. At the same time, I saw Saumarez’s face as he heard Maud Copleigh’s voice, and fifty yards away from the clump of orange-trees I saw a brown holland habit getting upon a horse.
It must have been my state of over-excitement that made me so quick to meddle with what did not concern me. Saumarez was moving off to the habit; but I pushed him back and said:—“Stop here and explain. I’ll fetch her back!” and I ran out to get at my own horse. I had a perfectly unnecessary notion that everything must be done decently and in order, and that Saumarez’s first care was to wipe the happy look out of Maud Copleigh’s face. All the time I was linking up the curb-chain I wondered how he would do it.
I cantered after Edith Copleigh, thinking to bring her back slowly on some pretence or another. But she galloped away as soon as she saw me, and I was forced to ride after her in earnest. She called back over her shoulder —“Go away! I’m going home. Oh, go away!” two or three times; but my business was to catch her first, and argue later. The ride just fitted in with the rest of the evil dream. The ground was very bad, and now and again we rushed through the whirling, choking “dust-devils” in the skirts of the flying storm. There was a burning hot wind blowing that brought up a stench of stale brick-kilns with it; and through the half light and through the dust-devils, across that desolate plain, flickered the brown holland habit on the gray horse. She headed for the Station at first. Then she wheeled round and set off for the river through beds of burnt down jungle-grass, bad even to ride a pig over. In cold blood I should never have dreamed of going over such a country at night, but it seemed quite right and natural with the lightning crackling overhead, and a reek like the smell of the Pit in my nostrils. I rode and shouted, and she bent forward and lashed her horse, and the aftermath of the dust-storm came up and caught us both, and drove us downwind like pieces of paper.
I don’t know how far we rode; but the drumming of the horse-hoofs and the roar of the wind and the race of the faint blood-red moon through the yellow mist seemed to have gone on for years and years, and I was literally drenched with sweat from my helmet to my gaiters when the gray stumbled, recovered himself, and pulled up dead lame. My brute was used up altogether. Edith Copleigh was in a sad state, plastered with dust, her helmet off, and crying bitterly. “Why can’t you let me alone?” she said. “I only wanted to get away and go home. Oh, PLEASE let me go!”
“You have got to come back with me, Miss Copleigh. Saumarez has something to say to you.”
It was a foolish way of putting it; but I hardly knew Miss Copleigh; and, though I was playing Providence at the cost of my horse, I could not tell her in as many words what Saumarez had told me. I thought he could do that better himself. All her pretence about being tired and wanting to go home broke down, and she rocked herself to and fro in the saddle as she sobbed, and the hot wind blew her black hair to leeward. I am not going to repeat what she said, because she was utterly unstrung.
This, if you please, was the cynical Miss Copleigh. Here was I, almost an utter stranger to her, trying to tell her that Saumarez loved her and she was to come back to hear him say so! I believe I made myself understood, for she gathered the gray together and made him hobble somehow, and we set off for the tomb, while the storm went thundering down to Umballa and a few big drops of warm rain fell. I found out that she had been standing close to Saumarez when he proposed to her sister and had wanted to go home and cry in peace, as an English girl should. She dabbled her eyes with her pocket-handkerchief as we went along, and babbled to me out of sheer lightness of heart and hysteria. That was perfectly unnatural; and yet, it seemed all right at the time and in the place. All the world was only the two Copleigh girls, Saumarez and I, ringed in with the lightning and the dark; and the guidance of this misguided world seemed to lie in my hands.
When we returned to the tomb in the deep, dead stillness that followed the storm, the dawn was just breaking and nobody had gone away. They were waiting for our return. Saumarez most of all. His face was white and drawn. As Miss Copleigh and I limped up, he came forward to meet us, and, when he helped her down from her saddle, he kissed her before all the picnic. It was like a scene in a theatre, and the likeness was heightened by all the dust-white, ghostly-looking men and women under the orange-trees, clapping their hands, as if they were watching a play — at Saumarez’s choice. I never knew anything so unEnglish in my life.
Lastly, Saumarez said we must all go home or the Station would come out to look for us, and WOULD I be good enough to ride home with Maud Copleigh? Nothing would give me greater pleasure, I said.
So, we formed up, six couples in all, and went back two by two; Saumarez walking at the side of Edith Copleigh, who was riding his horse.
The air was cleared; and little by little, as the sun rose, I felt we were all dropping back again into ordinary men and women and that the “Great Pop Picnic” was a thing altogether apart and out of the world — never to happen again. It had gone with the dust-storm and the tingle in the hot air.
I felt tired and limp, and a good deal ashamed of myself as I went in for a bath and some sleep.
There is a woman’s version of this story, but it will never be written. . . . unless Maud Copleigh cares to try.
7 — The Rescue of Pluffles
Thus, for a season, they fought it fair —
She and his cousin May —
Tactful, talented, debonnaire,
Decorous foes were they;
But never can battle of man compare
With merciless feminine fray.
—Two and One
Mrs. Hauksbee was sometimes nice to her own sex. Here is a story to prove this; and you can believe just as much as ever you please.
Pluffles was a subaltern in the “Unmentionables.” He was callow, even for a subaltern. He was callow all over — like a canary that had not finished fledging itself. The worst of it was he had three times as much money as was good for him; Pluffles’ Papa being a rich man and Pluffles being the only son. Pluffles’ Mamma adored him. She was only a little less callow than Pluffles and she believed everything he said.
Pluffles’ weakness was not believing what people said. He preferred what he called “trusting to his own judgment.” He had as much judgment as he had seat or hands; and this preference tumbled him into trouble once or twice. But the biggest trouble Pluffles ever manufactured came about at Simla — some years ago, when he was four-and-twenty.
He began by trusting to his own judgment, as usual, and the result was that, after a time, he was bound hand and foot to Mrs. Reiver’s ’rickshaw wheels.
There was nothing good about Mrs. Reiver, unless it was her dress. She was bad from her hair — which started life on a Brittany’s girl’s head — to her boot-heels, which were two and three-eighth inches high. She was not honestly mischievous like Mrs. Hauksbee; she was wicked in a business-like way.
There was never any scandal — she had not generous impulses enough for that. She was the exception which proved the rule that Anglo–Indian ladies are in every way as nice as their sisters at Home. She spent her life in proving that rule.
Mrs. Hauksbee and she hated each other fervently. They heard far too much to clash; but the things they said of each other were startling — not to say original. Mrs. Hauksbee was honest — honest as her own front teeth — and, but for her love of mischief, would have been a woman’s woman. There was no honesty about Mrs. Reiver; nothing but selfishness. And at the beginning of the season, poor little Pluffles fell a prey to her. She laid herself out to that end, and who was Pluffles, to resist? He went on trusting to his judgment, and he got judged.
I have seen Hayes argue with a tough horse — I have seen a tonga-driver coerce a stubborn pony — I have seen a riotous setter broken to gun by a hard keeper — but the breaking-in of Pluffles of the “Unmentionables” was beyond all these. He learned to fetch and carry like a dog, and to wait like one, too, for a word from Mrs. Reiver. He learned to keep appointments which Mrs. Reiver had no intention of keeping. He learned to take thankfully dances which Mrs. Reiver had no intention of giving him. He learned to shiver for an hour and a quarter on the windward side of Elysium while Mrs. Reiver was making up her mind to come for a ride. He learned to hunt for a ’rickshaw, in a light dress-suit under a pelting rain, and to walk by the side of that ’rickshaw when he had found it. He learned what it was to be spoken to like a coolie and ordered about like a cook. He learned all this and many other things besides. And he paid for his schooling.
Perhaps, in some hazy way, he fancied that it was fine and impressive, that it gave him a status among men, and was altogether the thing to do. It was nobody’s business to warn Pluffles that he was unwise. The pace that season was too good to inquire; and meddling with another man’s folly is always thankless work. Pluffles’ Colonel should have ordered him back to his regiment when he heard how things were going. But Pluffles had got himself engaged to a girl in England the last time he went home; and if there was one thing more than another which the Colonel detested, it was a married subaltern. He chuckled when he heard of the education of Pluffles, and said it was “good training for the boy.” But it was not good training in the least. It led him into spending money beyond his means, which were good: above that, the education spoilt an average boy and made it a tenth-rate man of an objectionable kind. He wandered into a bad set, and his little bill at Hamilton’s was a thing to wonder at.
Then Mrs. Hauksbee rose to the occasion. She played her game alone, knowing what people would say of her; and she played it for the sake of a girl she had never seen. Pluffles’ fiancee was to come out, under the chaperonage of an aunt, in October, to be married to Pluffles.
At the beginning of August, Mrs. Hauksbee discovered that it was time to interfere. A man who rides much knows exactly what a horse is going to do next before he does it. In the same way, a woman of Mrs. Hauksbee’s experience knows accurately how a boy will behave under certain circumstances — notably when he is infatuated with one of Mrs. Reiver’s stamp. She said that, sooner or later, little Pluffles would break off that engagement for nothing at all — simply to gratify Mrs. Reiver, who, in return, would keep him at her feet and in her service just so long as she found it worth her while. She said she knew the signs of these things. If she did not, no one else could.
Then she went forth to capture Pluffles under the guns of the enemy; just as Mrs. Cusack–Bremmil carried away Bremmil under Mrs. Hauksbee’s eyes.
This particular engagement lasted seven weeks — we called it the Seven Weeks’ War — and was fought out inch by inch on both sides. A detailed account would fill a book, and would be incomplete then. Any one who knows about these things can fit in the details for himself. It was a superb fight — there will never be another like it as long as Jakko stands — and Pluffles was the prize of victory. People said shameful things about Mrs. Hauksbee. They did not know what she was playing for. Mrs. Reiver fought, partly because Pluffles was useful to her, but mainly because she hated Mrs. Hauksbee, and the matter was a trial of strength between them. No one knows what Pluffles thought. He had not many ideas at the best of times, and the few he possessed made him conceited. Mrs. Hauksbee said:—“The boy must be caught; and the only way of catching him is by treating him well.”
So she treated him as a man of the world and of experience so long as the issue was doubtful. Little by little, Pluffles fell away from his old allegiance and came over to the enemy, by whom he was made much of. He was never sent on out-post duty after ’rickshaws any more, nor was he given dances which never came off, nor were the drains on his purse continued. Mrs. Hauksbee held him on the snaffle; and after his treatment at Mrs. Reiver’s hands, he appreciated the change.
Mrs. Reiver had broken him of talking about himself, and made him talk about her own merits. Mrs. Hauksbee acted otherwise, and won his confidence, till he mentioned his engagement to the girl at Home, speaking of it in a high and mighty way as a “piece of boyish folly.” This was when he was taking tea with her one afternoon, and discoursing in what he considered a gay and fascinating style. Mrs. Hauksbee had seen an earlier generation of his stamp bud and blossom, and decay into fat Captains and tubby Majors.
At a moderate estimate there were about three and twenty sides to that lady’s character. Some men say more. She began to talk to Pluffles after the manner of a mother, and as if there had been three hundred years, instead of fifteen, between them. She spoke with a sort of throaty quaver in her voice which had a soothing effect, though what she said was anything but soothing. She pointed out the exceeding folly, not to say meanness, of Pluffles’ conduct, and the smallness of his views. Then he stammered something about “trusting to his own judgment as a man of the world;” and this paved the way for what she wanted to say next. It would have withered up Pluffles had it come from any other woman; but in the soft cooing style in which Mrs. Hauksbee put it, it only made him feel limp and repentant — as if he had been in some superior kind of church. Little by little, very softly and pleasantly, she began taking the conceit out of Pluffles, as you take the ribs out of an umbrella before re-covering it. She told him what she thought of him and his judgment and his knowledge of the world; and how his performances had made him ridiculous to other people; and how it was his intention make love to herself if she gave him the chance. Then she said that marriage would be the making of him; and drew a pretty little picture — all rose and opal — of the Mrs. Pluffles of the future going through life relying on the “judgment” and “knowledge of the world” of a husband who had nothing to reproach himself with. How she reconciled these two statements she alone knew. But they did not strike Pluffles as conflicting.
Hers was a perfect little homily — much better than any clergyman could have given — and it ended with touching allusions to Pluffles’ Mamma and Papa, and the wisdom of taking his bride Home.
Then she sent Pluffles out for a walk, to think over what she had said. Pluffles left, blowing his nose very hard and holding himself very straight. Mrs. Hauksbee laughed.
What Pluffles had intended to do in the matter of the engagement only Mrs. Reiver knew, and she kept her own counsel to her death. She would have liked it spoiled as a compliment, I fancy.
Pluffles enjoyed many talks with Mrs. Hauksbee during the next few days. They were all to the same end, and they helped Pluffles in the path of Virtue.
Mrs. Hauksbee wanted to keep him under her wing to the last. Therefore she discountenanced his going down to Bombay to get married. “Goodness only knows what might happen by the way!” she said. “Pluffles is cursed with the curse of Reuben, and India is no fit place for him!”
In the end, the fiancee arrived with her aunt; and Pluffles, having reduced his affairs to some sort of order — here again Mrs. Hauksbee helped him — was married.
Mrs. Hauksbee gave a sigh of relief when both the “I wills” had been said, and went her way.
Pluffies took her advice about going Home. He left the Service, and is now raising speckled cattle inside green painted fences somewhere at Home. I believe he does this very judiciously. He would have come to extreme grief out here.
For these reasons if any one says anything more than usually nasty about Mrs. Hauksbee, tell him the story of the Rescue of Pluffles.
8 — Cupid’s Arrows
Pit where the buffalo cooled his hide,
By the hot sun emptied, and blistered and dried;
Log in the reh-grass, hidden and alone;
Bund where the earth-rat’s mounds are strown:
Cave in the bank where the sly stream steals;
Aloe that stabs at the belly and heels,
Jump if you dare on a steed untried —
Safer it is to go wide — go wide!
Hark, from in front where the best men ride:—
“Pull to the off, boys! Wide! Go wide!”
—The Peora Hunt
Once upon a time there lived at Simla a very pretty girl, the daughter of a poor but honest District and Sessions Judge. She was a good girl, but could not help knowing her power and using it. Her Mamma was very anxious about her daughter’s future, as all good Mammas should be.
When a man is a Commissioner and a bachelor and has the right of wearing open-work jam-tart jewels in gold and enamel on his clothes, and of going through a door before every one except a Member of Council, a Lieutenant–Governor, or a Viceroy, he is worth marrying. At least, that is what ladies say. There was a Commissioner in Simla, in those days, who was, and wore, and did, all I have said. He was a plain man — an ugly man — the ugliest man in Asia, with two exceptions. His was a face to dream about and try to carve on a pipe-head afterwards. His name was Saggott — Barr–Saggott — Anthony Barr–Saggott and six letters to follow. Departmentally, he was one of the best men the Government of India owned. Socially, he was like a blandishing gorilla.
When he turned his attentions to Miss Beighton, I believe that Mrs. Beighton wept with delight at the reward Providence had sent her in her old age.
Mr. Beighton held his tongue. He was an easy-going man.
Now a Commissioner is very rich. His pay is beyond the dreams of avarice — is so enormous that he can afford to save and scrape in a way that would almost discredit a Member of Council. Most Commissioners are mean; but Barr–Saggott was an exception. He entertained royally; he horsed himself well; he gave dances; he was a power in the land; and he behaved as such.
Consider that everything I am writing of took place in an almost prehistoric era in the history of British India. Some folk may remember the years before lawn-tennis was born when we all played croquet. There were seasons before that, if you will believe me, when even croquet had not been invented, and archery — which was revived in England in 1844 — was as great a pest as lawn-tennis is now. People talked learnedly about “holding” and “loosing,” “steles,” “reflexed bows,” “56-pound bows,” “backed” or “self-yew bows,” as we talk about “rallies,” “volleys,” “smashes,” “returns,” and “16-ounce rackets.”
Miss Beighton shot divinely over ladies’ distance — 60 yards, that is — and was acknowledged the best lady archer in Simla. Men called her “Diana of Tara–Devi.”
Barr–Saggott paid her great attention; and, as I have said, the heart of her mother was uplifted in consequence. Kitty Beighton took matters more calmly. It was pleasant to be singled out by a Commissioner with letters after his name, and to fill the hearts of other girls with bad feelings. But there was no denying the fact that Barr–Saggott was phenomenally ugly; and all his attempts to adorn himself only made him more grotesque. He was not christened “The Langur”— which means gray ape — for nothing. It was pleasant, Kitty thought, to have him at her feet, but it was better to escape from him and ride with the graceless Cubbon — the man in a Dragoon Regiment at Umballa — the boy with a handsome face, and no prospects. Kitty liked Cubbon more than a little. He never pretended for a moment the he was anything less than head over heels in love with her; for he was an honest boy. So Kitty fled, now and again, from the stately wooings of Barr–Saggott to the company of young Cubbon, and was scolded by her Mamma in consequence. “But, Mother,” she said, “Mr. Saggot is such — such a — is so FEARFULLY ugly, you know!”
“My dear,” said Mrs. Beighton, piously, “we cannot be other than an all-ruling Providence has made us. Besides, you will take precedence of your own Mother, you know! Think of that and be reasonable.”
Then Kitty put up her little chin and said irreverent things about precedence, and Commissioners, and matrimony. Mr. Beighton rubbed the top of his head; for he was an easy-going man.
Late in the season, when he judged that the time was ripe, Barr–Saggott developed a plan which did great credit to his administrative powers. He arranged an archery tournament for ladies, with a most sumptuous diamond-studded bracelet as prize. He drew up his terms skilfully, and every one saw that the bracelet was a gift to Miss Beighton; the acceptance carrying with it the hand and the heart of Commissioner Barr–Saggott. The terms were a St. Leonard’s Round — thirty-six shots at sixty yards — under the rules of the Simla Toxophilite Society.
All Simla was invited. There were beautifully arranged tea-tables under the deodars at Annandale, where the Grand Stand is now; and, alone in its glory, winking in the sun, sat the diamond bracelet in a blue velvet case. Miss Beighton was anxious — almost too anxious to compete. On the appointed afternoon, all Simla rode down to Annandale to witness the Judgment of Paris turned upside down. Kitty rode with young Cubbon, and it was easy to see that the boy was troubled in his mind. He must be held innocent of everything that followed. Kitty was pale and nervous, and looked long at the bracelet. Barr–Saggott was gorgeously dressed, even more nervous than Kitty, and more hideous than ever.
Mrs. Beighton smiled condescendingly, as befitted the mother of a potential Commissioneress, and the shooting began; all the world standing in a semicircle as the ladies came out one after the other.
Nothing is so tedious as an archery competition. They shot, and they shot, and they kept on shooting, till the sun left the valley, and little breezes got up in the deodars, and people waited for Miss Beighton to shoot and win. Cubbon was at one horn of the semicircle round the shooters, and Barr–Saggott at the other. Miss Beighton was last on the list. The scoring had been weak, and the bracelet, PLUS Commissioner Barr–Saggott, was hers to a certainty.
The Commissioner strung her bow with his own sacred hands. She stepped forward, looked at the bracelet, and her first arrow went true to a hair — full into the heart of the “gold”— counting nine points.
Young Cubbon on the left turned white, and his Devil prompted Barr–Saggott to smile. Now horses used to shy when Barr–Saggott smiled. Kitty saw that smile. She looked to her left-front, gave an almost imperceptible nod to Cubbon, and went on shooting.
I wish I could describe the scene that followed. It was out of the ordinary and most improper. Miss Kitty fitted her arrows with immense deliberation, so that every one might see what she was doing. She was a perfect shot; and her 46-pound bow suited her to a nicety. She pinned the wooden legs of the target with great care four successive times. She pinned the wooden top of the target once, and all the ladies looked at each other. Then she began some fancy shooting at the white, which, if you hit it, counts exactly one point. She put five arrows into the white. It was wonderful archery; but, seeing that her business was to make “golds” and win the bracelet, Barr–Saggott turned a delicate green like young water-grass. Next, she shot over the target twice, then wide to the left twice — always with the same deliberation — while a chilly hush fell over the company, and Mrs. Beighton took out her handkerchief. Then Kitty shot at the ground in front of the target, and split several arrows. Then she made a red — or seven points — just to show what she could do if she liked, and finished up her amazing performance with some more fancy shooting at the target-supports. Here is her score as it was picked off:—
Gold. Red. Blue. Black. White. Total Hits. Total Score Miss Beighton 1 1 0 0 5 7 21
Barr–Saggott looked as if the last few arrowheads had been driven into his legs instead of the target’s, and the deep stillness was broken by a little snubby, mottled, half-grown girl saying in a shrill voice of triumph: “Then I’VE won!”
Mrs. Beighton did her best to bear up; but she wept in the presence of the people. No training could help her through such a disappointment. Kitty unstrung her bow with a vicious jerk, and went back to her place, while Barr–Saggott was trying to pretend that he enjoyed snapping the bracelet on the snubby girl’s raw, red wrist. It was an awkward scene — most awkward. Every one tried to depart in a body and leave Kitty to the mercy of her Mamma.
But Cubbon took her away instead, and — the rest isn’t worth printing.
9 — The Three Musketeers
An' when the war began, we chased the bold Afghan,
An' we made the bloomin' Ghazi for to flee, boys O!
An' we marched into Kabul, an' we tuk the Balar 'Issar
An' we taught 'em to respec' the British Soldier.
—Barrack Room Ballad.
Mulvaney, Ortheris and Learoyd are Privates in B Company of a Line Regiment, and personal friends of mine. Collectively I think, but am not certain, they are the worst men in the regiment so far as genial blackguardism goes.
They told me this story, in the Umballa Refreshment Room while we were waiting for an up-train. I supplied the beer. The tale was cheap at a gallon and a half.
All men know Lord Benira Trig. He Is a Duke, or an Earl, or something unofficial; also a Peer; also a Globe-trotter. On all three counts, as Ortheris says, "'e didn't deserve no consideration." He was out in India for three months collecting materials for a book on "Our Eastern Impedimenta," and quartering himself upon everybody, like a Cossack in evening-dress.
His particular vice—because he was a Radical, men said—was having garrisons turned out for his inspection. He would then dine with the Officer Commanding, and insult him, across the Mess table, about the appearance of the troops. That was Benira's way.
He turned out troops once too often. He came to Helanthami Cantonment on a Tuesday. He wished to go shopping in the bazars on Wednesday, and he "desired" the troops to be turned out on a Thursday. On—a—Thursday. The Officer Commanding could not well refuse; for Benira was a Lord. There was an indignation-meeting of subalterns in the Mess Room, to call the Colonel pet names.
"But the rale dimonstrashin," said Mulvaney, "was in B Comp'ny barrick; we three headin' it."
Mulvaney climbed on to the refreshment-bar, settled himself comfortably by the beer, and went on, "Whin the row was at ut's foinest an' B Comp'ny was fur goin' out to murther this man Thrigg on the p'rade-groun', Learoyd here takes up his helmut an' sez—fwhat was ut ye said?"
"Ah said," said Learoyd, "gie us t' brass. Tak oop a subscripshun, lads, for to put off t' p'rade, an' if t' p'rade's not put off, ah'll gie t' brass back agean. Thot's wot ah said. All B Coomp'ny knawed me. Ah took oop a big subscripshun—fower rupees eight annas 'twas—an' ah went oot to turn t' job over. Mulvaney an' Orth'ris coom with me."
"We three raises the Divil In couples gin'rally," explained Mulvaney.
Here Ortheris interrupted. "'Ave you read the papers?" said he.
"Sometimes," I said,
"We 'ad read the papers, an' we put hup a faked decoity, a—a sedukshun."
"Abdukshin, ye cockney," said Mulvaney.
"Abdukshin or sedukshun—no great odds. Any'ow, we arranged to taik an' put Mister Benhira out o' the way till Thursday was hover, or 'e too busy to rux 'isself about p'raids. Hi was the man wot said, 'We'll make a few rupees off o' the business.'"
"We hild a Council av War," continued Mulvaney, "walkin' roun' by the Artill'ry Lines. I was Prisidint, Learoyd was Minister av Finance, an' little Orth'ris here was"—
"A bloomin' Bismarck! Hi made the 'ole show pay."
"This interferin' bit av a Benira man," said Mulvaney, "did the thrick for us himself; for, on me sowl, we hadn't a notion av what was to come afther the next minut. He was shoppin' in the bazar on fut. Twas dhrawin' dusk thin, an' we stud watchin' the little man hoppin' in an' out av the shops, thryin' to injuce the naygurs to mallum his bat. Prisintly, he sthrols up, his arrums full av thruck, an' he sez in a consiquinshal way, shticking out his little belly, 'Me good men,' sez he, 'have ye seen the Kernel's b'roosh?'—'B'roosh?' says Learoyd. 'There's no b'roosh here—nobbut a hekka.'—'Fwhat's that?' sez Thrigg. Learoyd shows him wan down the sthreet, an' he sez, 'How thruly Orientil! I will ride on a hekka.' I saw thin that our Rigimintal Saint was for givin' Thrigg over to us neck an' brisket. I purshued a hekka, an' I sez to the dhriver-divil, I sez, 'Ye black limb, there's a Sahib comin' for this hekka. He wants to go jildi to the Padsahi Jhil'—'twas about tu moiles away—'to shoot snipe—chirria. You dhrive Jehannum ke marfik, mallum—like Hell? 'Tis no manner av use bukkin' to the Sahib, bekaze he doesn't samjao your talk. Av he bolos anything, just you choop and chel. Dekker? Go arsty for the first arder-mile from cantonmints. Thin chel, Shaitan ke marfik, an' the chooper you choops an' the jildier you chels the better kooshy will that Sahib be; an' here's a rupee for ye?'
"The hekka-man knew there was somethin' out av the common in the air. He grinned an' sez, 'Bote achee! I goin' damn fast.' I prayed that the Kernel's b'roosh wudn't arrive till me darlin' Benira by the grace av God was undher weigh. The little man puts his thruck into the hekka an' scuttles in like a fat guinea-pig; niver offerin' us the price av a dhrink for our services in helpin' him home, 'He's off to the Padsahi jhil,' sez I to the others."
Ortheris took up the tale—
"Jist then, little Buldoo kim up, 'oo was the son of one of the Artillery grooms—'e would 'av made a 'evinly newspaper-boy in London, bein' sharp an' fly to all manner o' games, 'E 'ad bin watchin' us puttin' Mister Benhira into 'is temporary baroush, an' 'e sez, 'What 'ave you been a doin' of, Sahibs?' sez 'e. Learoyd 'e caught 'im by the ear an 'e sez"—
"Ah says,' went on Learoyd, 'Young mon, that mon's gooin' to have t' goons out o' Thursday—to-morrow—an' thot's more work for you, young mon. Now, sitha, tak' a tat an' a lookri, an' ride tha domdest to t' Padsahi Jhil. Cotch thot there hekka, and tell t' driver iv your lingo thot you've coorn to tak' his place. T' Sahib doesn't speak t' bat, an' he's a little mon. Drive t' hekka into t' Padsahi Jhil into t' waiter. Leave t' Sahib theer an' roon hoam; an' here's a rupee for tha,'"
Then Mulvaney and Ortheris spoke together in alternate fragments: Mulvaney leading [You must pick out the two speakers as best you can]:—"He was a knowin' little divil was Bhuldoo,—'e sez bote achee an' cuts—wid a wink in his oi—but Hi sez there's money to be made—an' I wanted to see the ind av the campaign—so Hi says we'll double hout to the Padsahi Jhil—an' save the little man from bein' dacoited by the murtherin' Bhuldoo—an' turn hup like reskooers in a Vic'oria Melodrama-so we doubled for the jhil, an' prisintly there was the divil av a hurroosh behind us an' three bhoys on grasscuts' ponies come by, poundin' along for the dear life—s'elp me Bob, hif Buldoo 'adn't raised a rig'lar harmy of decoits—to do the job in shtile. An' we ran, an' they ran, shplittin' with laughin', till we gets near the jhil—and 'ears sounds of distress floatin' molloncolly on the hevenin' hair." [Ortheris was growing poetical under the influence of the beer. The duet recommenced: Mulvaney leading again.]
"Thin we heard Bhuldoo, the dacoit, shoutin' to the hekka man, an' wan of the young divils brought his stick down on the top av the hekka-cover, an' Benira Thrigg inside howled 'Murther an' Death.' Buldoo takes the reins and dhrives like mad for the jhil, havin' dishpersed the hekka-dhriver—'oo cum up to us an' 'e sez, sez 'e, 'That Sahib's nigh mad with funk! Wot devil's work 'ave you led me into?'—'Hall right,' sez we, 'you catch that there pony an' come along. This Sahib's been decoited, an' we're going to resky 'im!' Says the driver, 'Decoits! Wot decoits? That's Buldoo the budmash'—'Bhuldoo be shot!' sez we, Tis a woild dissolute Pathan frum the hills. There's about eight av thim coercin' the Sahib. You remimber that an you'll get another rupee!' Thin we heard the whop-whop-whop av the hekka turnin' over, an' a splash av water an' the voice av Benira Thrigg callin' upon God to forgive his sins—an' Buldoo an' 'is friends squotterin' in the water like boys in the Serpentine."
Here the Three Musketeers retired simultaneously into the beer.
"Well? What came next?" said I.
"Fwhat nex'?" answered Mulvaney, wiping his mouth. "Wud ye let three bould sodger-bhoys lave the ornamint av the House av Lords to be dhrowned an' dacoited in a jhil? We formed line av quarther-column an' we discinded upon the inimy. For the better part av tin minutes you could not hear yerself spake. The tattoo was screamin' in chune wid Benira Thrigg an' Bhuldoo's army, an' the shticks was whistlin' roun' the hekka, an' Orth'ris was beatin' the hekka-cover wid his fistes, an' Learoyd yellin', 'Look out for their knives!' an' me cuttin' into the dark, right an' lef', dishpersin' arrmy corps av Pathans. Holy Mother av Moses! 'twas more disp'rit than Ahmid Kheyl wid Maiwund thrown in. Afther a while Bhuldoo an' his bhoys flees. Have ye iver seen a rale live Lord thryin' to hide his nobility undher a fut an' a half av brown swamp-wather? Tis the livin' image av a water-carrier's goatskin wid the shivers. It tuk toime to pershuade me frind Benira he was not disimbowilled: an' more toime to get out the hekka. The dhriver come up afther the battle, swearin' he tuk a hand in repulsin' the inimy. Benira was sick wid the fear. We escorted him back, very slow, to cantonmints, for that an' the chill to soak into him. It suk! Glory be to the Rigimintil Saint, but it suk to the marrow av Lord Benira Thrigg!"
Here Ortheris, slowly, with immense pride—"'E sez, 'You har my noble preservers,' sez 'e. 'You har a honor to the British Harmy,' sez 'e. With that e' describes the hawful band of dacoits wot set on 'im. There was about forty of 'em an' 'e was hoverpowered by numbers, so 'e was; but 'e never lorst 'is presence of mind, so 'e didn't. 'E guv the hekka-driver five rupees for 'is noble assistance, an' 'e said 'e would see to us after 'e 'ad spoken to the Kernul. For we was a honor to the Regiment, we was."
"An' we three," said Mulvaney, with a seraphic smile, "have dhrawn the par-ti-cu-lar attinshin av Bobs Bahadur more than wanst. But he's a rale good little man is Bobs. Go on, Orth'ris, my son."
"Then we leaves 'im at the Kernul's 'ouse, werry sick, an' we cuts hover to B Comp'ny barrick an' we sez we 'ave saved Benira from a bloody doom, an' the chances was agin there bein' p'raid on Thursday. About ten minutes later come three envelicks, one for each of us. S'elp me Bob, if the old bloke 'adn't guv us a fiver apiece—sixty-four rupees in the bazar! On Thursday 'e was in 'orspital recoverin' from 'is sanguinary encounter with a gang of Pathans, an' B Comp'ny was drinkin' 'emselves into Clink by squads. So there never was no Thursday p'raid. But the Kernal, when 'e 'eard of our galliant conduct, 'e sez, 'Hi know there's been some devilry somewheres,' sez 'e, 'but I can't bring it 'ome to you three.'"
"An' my privit imprisshin is," said Mulvaney, getting off the bar and turning his glass upside down, "that, av they had known they wudn't have brought ut home. 'Tis flyin' in the face, firstly av Nature, secon' av the Rig'lations, an' third the will av Terence Mulvaney, to hold p'rades av Thursdays."
"Good, ma son!" said Learoyd; "but, young mon, what's t' notebook for?"
"'Let be," said Mulvaney; "this time next month we're in the Sherapis. 'Tis immortial fame the gentleman's goin' to give us. But kape it dhark till we're out av the range av me little frind Bobs Bahadur."
And I have obeyed Mulvaney's order.
10 — His Chance in Life
Then a pile of heads be laid —
Thirty thousand heaped on high —
All to please the Kafir maid,
Where the Oxus ripples by.
Grimly spake Atulla Khan:—
“Love hath made this thing a Man.”
—Oatta’s Story
If you go straight away from Levees and Government House Lists, past Trades’ Balls — far beyond everything and everybody you ever knew in your respectable life — you cross, in time, the Border line where the last drop of White blood ends and the full tide of Black sets in. It would be easier to talk to a new made Duchess on the spur of the moment than to the Borderline folk without violating some of their conventions or hurting their feelings. The Black and the White mix very quaintly in their ways. Sometimes the White shows in spurts of fierce, childish pride — which is Pride of Race run crooked — and sometimes the Black in still fiercer abasement and humility, half heathenish customs and strange, unaccountable impulses to crime. One of these days, this people — understand they are far lower than the class whence Derozio, the man who imitated Byron, sprung — will turn out a writer or a poet; and then we shall know how they live and what they feel. In the meantime, any stories about them cannot be absolutely correct in fact or inference.
Miss Vezzis came from across the Borderline to look after some children who belonged to a lady until a regularly ordained nurse could come out. The lady said Miss Vezzis was a bad, dirty nurse and inattentive. It never struck her that Miss Vezzis had her own life to lead and her own affairs to worry over, and that these affairs were the most important things in the world to Miss Vezzis. Very few mistresses admit this sort of reasoning. Miss Vezzis was as black as a boot, and to our standard of taste, hideously ugly. She wore cotton-print gowns and bulged shoes; and when she lost her temper with the children, she abused them in the language of the Borderline — which is part English, part Portuguese, and part Native. She was not attractive; but she had her pride, and she preferred being called “Miss Vezzis.”
Every Sunday she dressed herself wonderfully and went to see her Mamma, who lived, for the most part, on an old cane chair in a greasy tussur-silk dressing-gown and a big rabbit-warren of a house full of Vezzises, Pereiras, Ribieras, Lisboas and Gansalveses, and a floating population of loafers; besides fragments of the day’s bazar, garlic, stale incense, clothes thrown on the floor, petticoats hung on strings for screens, old bottles, pewter crucifixes, dried immortelles, pariah puppies, plaster images of the Virgin, and hats without crowns. Miss Vezzis drew twenty rupees a month for acting as nurse, and she squabbled weekly with her Mamma as to the percentage to be given towards housekeeping. When the quarrel was over, Michele D’Cruze used to shamble across the low mud wall of the compound and make love to Miss Vezzis after the fashion of the Borderline, which is hedged about with much ceremony. Michele was a poor, sickly weed and very black; but he had his pride. He would not be seen smoking a huqa for anything; and he looked down on natives as only a man with seven-eighths native blood in his veins can. The Vezzis Family had their pride too. They traced their descent from a mythical plate-layer who had worked on the Sone Bridge when railways were new in India, and they valued their English origin. Michele was a Telegraph Signaller on Rs. 35 a month. The fact that he was in Government employ made Mrs. Vezzis lenient to the shortcomings of his ancestors.
There was a compromising legend — Dom Anna the tailor brought it from Poonani — that a black Jew of Cochin had once married into the D’Cruze family; while it was an open secret that an uncle of Mrs. D’Cruze was at that very time doing menial work, connected with cooking, for a Club in Southern India! He sent Mrs D’Cruze seven rupees eight annas a month; but she felt the disgrace to the family very keenly all the same.
However, in the course of a few Sundays, Mrs. Vezzis brought herself to overlook these blemishes and gave her consent to the marriage of her daughter with Michele, on condition that Michele should have at least fifty rupees a month to start married life upon. This wonderful prudence must have been a lingering touch of the mythical plate-layer’s Yorkshire blood; for across the Borderline people take a pride in marrying when they please — not when they can.
Having regard to his departmental prospects, Miss Vezzis might as well have asked Michele to go away and come back with the Moon in his pocket. But Michele was deeply in love with Miss Vezzis, and that helped him to endure. He accompanied Miss Vezzis to Mass one Sunday, and after Mass, walking home through the hot stale dust with her hand in his, he swore by several Saints, whose names would not interest you, never to forget Miss Vezzis; and she swore by her Honor and the Saints — the oath runs rather curiously; “In nomine Sanctissimae —” (whatever the name of the she-Saint is) and so forth, ending with a kiss on the forehead, a kiss on the left cheek, and a kiss on the mouth — never to forget Michele.
Next week Michele was transferred, and Miss Vezzis dropped tears upon the window-sash of the “Intermediate” compartment as he left the Station.
If you look at the telegraph-map of India you will see a long line skirting the coast from Backergunge to Madras. Michele was ordered to Tibasu, a little Sub-office one-third down this line, to send messages on from Berhampur to Chicacola, and to think of Miss Vezzis and his chances of getting fifty rupees a month out of office hours. He had the noise of the Bay of Bengal and a Bengali Babu for company; nothing more. He sent foolish letters, with crosses tucked inside the flaps of the envelopes, to Miss Vezzis.
When he had been at Tibasu for nearly three weeks his chance came.
Never forget that unless the outward and visible signs of Our Authority are always before a native he is as incapable as a child of understanding what authority means, or where is the danger of disobeying it. Tibasu was a forgotten little place with a few Orissa Mohamedans in it. These, hearing nothing of the Collector–Sahib for some time, and heartily despising the Hindu Sub–Judge, arranged to start a little Mohurrum riot of their own. But the Hindus turned out and broke their heads; when, finding lawlessness pleasant, Hindus and Mahomedans together raised an aimless sort of Donnybrook just to see how far they could go. They looted each other’s shops, and paid off private grudges in the regular way. It was a nasty little riot, but not worth putting in the newspapers.
Michele was working in his office when he heard the sound that a man never forgets all his life — the “ah-yah” of an angry crowd. [When that sound drops about three tones, and changes to a thick, droning ut, the man who hears it had better go away if he is alone.] The Native Police Inspector ran in and told Michele that the town was in an uproar and coming to wreck the Telegraph Office. The Babu put on his cap and quietly dropped out of the window; while the Police Inspector, afraid, but obeying the old race-instinct which recognizes a drop of White blood as far as it can be diluted, said:—“What orders does the Sahib give?”
The “Sahib” decided Michele. Though horribly frightened, he felt that, for the hour, he, the man with the Cochin Jew and the menial uncle in his pedigree, was the only representative of English authority in the place. Then he thought of Miss Vezzis and the fifty rupees, and took the situation on himself. There were seven native policemen in Tibasu, and four crazy smooth-bore muskets among them. All the men were gray with fear, but not beyond leading. Michele dropped the key of the telegraph instrument, and went out, at the head of his army, to meet the mob. As the shouting crew came round a corner of the road, he dropped and fired; the men behind him loosing instinctively at the same time.
The whole crowd — curs to the backbone — yelled and ran; leaving one man dead, and another dying in the road. Michele was sweating with fear, but he kept his weakness under, and went down into the town, past the house where the Sub–Judge had barricaded himself. The streets were empty. Tibasu was more frightened than Michele, for the mob had been taken at the right time.
Michele returned to the Telegraph–Office, and sent a message to Chicacola asking for help. Before an answer came, he received a deputation of the elders of Tibasu, telling him that the Sub–Judge said his actions generally were “unconstitional,” and trying to bully him. But the heart of Michele D’Cruze was big and white in his breast, because of his love for Miss Vezzis, the nurse-girl, and because he had tasted for the first time Responsibility and Success. Those two make an intoxicating drink, and have ruined more men than ever has Whiskey. Michele answered that the Sub–Judge might say what he pleased, but, until the Assistant Collector came, the Telegraph Signaller was the Government of India in Tibasu, and the elders of the town would be held accountable for further rioting. Then they bowed their heads and said: “Show mercy!” or words to that effect, and went back in great fear; each accusing the other of having begun the rioting.
Early in the dawn, after a night’s patrol with his seven policemen, Michele went down the road, musket in hand, to meet the Assistant Collector, who had ridden in to quell Tibasu. But, in the presence of this young Englishman, Michele felt himself slipping back more and more into the native, and the tale of the Tibasu Riots ended, with the strain on the teller, in an hysterical outburst of tears, bred by sorrow that he had killed a man, shame that he could not feel as uplifted as he had felt through the night, and childish anger that his tongue could not do justice to his great deeds. It was the White drop in Michele’s veins dying out, though he did not know it.
But the Englishman understood; and, after he had schooled those men of Tibasu, and had conferred with the Sub–Judge till that excellent official turned green, he found time to draught an official letter describing the conduct of Michele. Which letter filtered through the Proper Channels, and ended in the transfer of Michele up-country once more, on the Imperial salary of sixty-six rupees a month.
So he and Miss Vezzis were married with great state and ancientry; and now there are several little D’Cruzes sprawling about the verandahs of the Central Telegraph Office.
But, if the whole revenue of the Department he serves were to be his reward Michele could never, never repeat what he did at Tibasu for the sake of Miss Vezzis the nurse-girl.
Which proves that, when a man does good work out of all proportion to his pay, in seven cases out of nine there is a woman at the back of the virtue.
The two exceptions must have suffered from sunstroke.
11 — Watches of the Night
What is in the Brahmin’s books that is in the Brahmin’s heart.
Neither you nor I knew there was so much evil in the world.
—Hindu Proverb
This began in a practical joke; but it has gone far enough now, and is getting serious.
Platte, the Subaltern, being poor, had a Waterbury watch and a plain leather guard.
The Colonel had a Waterbury watch also, and for guard, the lip-strap of a curb-chain. Lip-straps make the best watch guards. They are strong and short. Between a lip-strap and an ordinary leather guard there is no great difference; between one Waterbury watch and another there is none at all. Every one in the station knew the Colonel’s lip-strap. He was not a horsey man, but he liked people to believe he had been on once; and he wove fantastic stories of the hunting-bridle to which this particular lip-strap had belonged. Otherwise he was painfully religious.
Platte and the Colonel were dressing at the Club — both late for their engagements, and both in a hurry. That was Kismet. The two watches were on a shelf below the looking-glass — guards hanging down. That was carelessness. Platte changed first, snatched a watch, looked in the glass, settled his tie, and ran. Forty seconds later, the Colonel did exactly the same thing; each man taking the other’s watch.
You may have noticed that many religious people are deeply suspicious. They seem — for purely religious purposes, of course — to know more about iniquity than the Unregenerate. Perhaps they were specially bad before they became converted! At any rate, in the imputation of things evil, and in putting the worst construction on things innocent, a certain type of good people may be trusted to surpass all others. The Colonel and his Wife were of that type. But the Colonel’s Wife was the worst. She manufactured the Station scandal, and — TALKED TO HER AYAH! Nothing more need be said. The Colonel’s Wife broke up the Laplace’s home. The Colonel’s Wife stopped the Ferris–Haughtrey engagement. The Colonel’s Wife induced young Buxton to keep his wife down in the Plains through the first year of the marriage. Whereby little Mrs. Buxton died, and the baby with her. These things will be remembered against the Colonel’s Wife so long as there is a regiment in the country.
But to come back to the Colonel and Platte. They went their several ways from the dressing-room. The Colonel dined with two Chaplains, while Platte went to a bachelor-party, and whist to follow.
Mark how things happen! If Platte’s sais had put the new saddle-pad on the mare, the butts of the territs would not have worked through the worn leather, and the old pad into the mare’s withers, when she was coming home at two o’clock in the morning. She would not have reared, bolted, fallen into a ditch, upset the cart, and sent Platte flying over an aloe-hedge on to Mrs. Larkyn’s well-kept lawn; and this tale would never have been written. But the mare did all these things, and while Platte was rolling over and over on the turf, like a shot rabbit, the watch and guard flew from his waistcoat — as an Infantry Major’s sword hops out of the scabbard when they are firing a feu de joie — and rolled and rolled in the moonlight, till it stopped under a window.
Platte stuffed his handkerchief under the pad, put the cart straight, and went home.
Mark again how Kismet works! This would not happen once in a hundred years. Towards the end of his dinner with the two Chaplains, the Colonel let out his waistcoat and leaned over the table to look at some Mission Reports. The bar of the watch-guard worked through the buttonhole, and the watch — Platte’s watch — slid quietly on to the carpet. Where the bearer found it next morning and kept it.
Then the Colonel went home to the wife of his bosom; but the driver of the carriage was drunk and lost his way. So the Colonel returned at an unseemly hour and his excuses were not accepted. If the Colonel’s Wife had been an ordinary “vessel of wrath appointed for destruction,” she would have known that when a man stays away on purpose, his excuse is always sound and original. The very baldness of the Colonel’s explanation proved its truth.
See once more the workings of Kismet! The Colonel’s watch which came with Platte hurriedly on to Mrs. Larkyn’s lawn, chose to stop just under Mrs. Larkyn’s window, where she saw it early in the morning, recognized it, and picked it up. She had heard the crash of Platte’s cart at two o’clock that morning, and his voice calling the mare names. She knew Platte and liked him. That day she showed him the watch and heard his story. He put his head on one side, winked and said:—“How disgusting! Shocking old man! with his religious training, too! I should send the watch to the Colonel’s Wife and ask for explanations.”
Mrs. Larkyn thought for a minute of the Laplaces — whom she had known when Laplace and his wife believed in each other — and answered:—“I will send it. I think it will do her good. But remember, we must NEVER tell her the truth.”
Platte guessed that his own watch was in the Colonel’s possession, and thought that the return of the lip-strapped Waterbury with a soothing note from Mrs. Larkyn, would merely create a small trouble for a few minutes. Mrs. Larkyn knew better. She knew that any poison dropped would find good holding-ground in the heart of the Colonel’s Wife.
The packet, and a note containing a few remarks on the Colonel’s calling-hours, were sent over to the Colonel’s Wife, who wept in her own room and took counsel with herself.
If there was one woman under Heaven whom the Colonel’s Wife hated with holy fervor, it was Mrs. Larkyn. Mrs. Larkyn was a frivolous lady, and called the Colonel’s Wife “old cat.” The Colonel’s Wife said that somebody in Revelations was remarkably like Mrs. Larkyn. She mentioned other Scripture people as well. From the Old Testament. [But the Colonel’s Wife was the only person who cared or dared to say anything against Mrs. Larkyn. Every one else accepted her as an amusing, honest little body.] Wherefore, to believe that her husband had been shedding watches under that “Thing’s” window at ungodly hours, coupled with the fact of his late arrival on the previous night, was. . . . .
At this point she rose up and sought her husband. He denied everything except the ownership of the watch. She besought him, for his Soul’s sake, to speak the truth. He denied afresh, with two bad words. Then a stony silence held the Colonel’s Wife, while a man could draw his breath five times.
The speech that followed is no affair of mine or yours. It was made up of wifely and womanly jealousy; knowledge of old age and sunken cheeks; deep mistrust born of the text that says even little babies’ hearts are as bad as they make them; rancorous hatred of Mrs. Larkyn, and the tenets of the creed of the Colonel’s Wife’s upbringing.
Over and above all, was the damning lip-strapped Waterbury, ticking away in the palm of her shaking, withered hand. At that hour, I think, the Colonel’s Wife realized a little of the restless suspicions she had injected into old Laplace’s mind, a little of poor Miss Haughtrey’s misery, and some of the canker that ate into Buxton’s heart as he watched his wife dying before his eyes. The Colonel stammered and tried to explain. Then he remembered that his watch had disappeared; and the mystery grew greater. The Colonel’s Wife talked and prayed by turns till she was tired, and went away to devise means for “chastening the stubborn heart of her husband.” Which translated, means, in our slang, “tail-twisting.”
You see, being deeply impressed with the doctrine of Original Sin, she could not believe in the face of appearances. She knew too much, and jumped to the wildest conclusions.
But it was good for her. It spoilt her life, as she had spoilt the life of the Laplaces. She had lost her faith in the Colonel, and — here the creed-suspicion came in-he might, she argued, have erred many times, before a merciful Providence, at the hands of so unworthy an instrument as Mrs. Larkyn, had established his guilt. He was a bad, wicked, gray-haired profligate. This may sound too sudden a revulsion for a long-wedded wife; but it is a venerable fact that, if a man or woman makes a practice of, and takes a delight in, believing and spreading evil of people indifferent to him or her, he or she will end in believing evil of folk very near and dear. You may think, also, that the mere incident of the watch was too small and trivial to raise this misunderstanding. It is another aged fact that, in life as well as racing, all the worst accidents happen at little ditches and cut-down fences. In the same way, you sometimes see a woman who would have made a Joan of Arc in another century and climate, threshing herself to pieces over all the mean worry of housekeeping. But that is another story.
Her belief only made the Colonel’s Wife more wretched, because it insisted so strongly on the villainy of men. Remembering what she had done, it was pleasant to watch her unhappiness, and the penny-farthing attempts she made to hide it from the Station. But the Station knew and laughed heartlessly; for they had heard the story of the watch, with much dramatic gesture, from Mrs. Larkyn’s lips.
Once or twice Platte said to Mrs. Larkyn, seeing that the Colonel had not cleared himself:—“This thing has gone far enough. I move we tell the Colonel’s Wife how it happened.” Mrs. Larkyn shut her lips and shook her head, and vowed that the Colonel’s Wife must bear her punishment as best she could. Now Mrs. Larkyn was a frivolous woman, in whom none would have suspected deep hate. So Platte took no action, and came to believe gradually, from the Colonel’s silence, that the Colonel must have “run off the line” somewhere that night, and, therefore, preferred to stand sentence on the lesser count of rambling into other people’s compounds out of calling hours. Platte forgot about the watch business after a while, and moved down-country with his regiment. Mrs. Larkyn went home when her husband’s tour of Indian service expired. She never forgot.
But Platte was quite right when he said that the joke had gone too far. The mistrust and the tragedy of it — which we outsiders cannot see and do not believe in-are killing the Colonel’s Wife, and are making the Colonel wretched. If either of them read this story, they can depend upon its being a fairly true account of the case, and can “kiss and make friends.”
Shakespeare alludes to the pleasure of watching an Engineer being shelled by his own Battery. Now this shows that poets should not write about what they do not understand. Any one could have told him that Sappers and Gunners are perfectly different branches of the Service. But, if you correct the sentence, and substitute Gunner for Sapper, the moral comes just the same.
12 — The Other Man
When the earth was sick and the skies were gray,
And the woods were rotted with rain,
The Dead Man rode through the autumn day
To visit his love again.
—Old Ballad
Far back in the “seventies,” before they had built any Public Offices at Simla, and the broad road round Jakko lived in a pigeon-hole in the P. W. D. hovels, her parents made Miss Gaurey marry Colonel Schriederling. He could not have been MUCH more than thirty-five years her senior; and, as he lived on two hundred rupees a month and had money of his own, he was well off. He belonged to good people, and suffered in the cold weather from lung complaints. In the hot weather he dangled on the brink of heat-apoplexy; but it never quite killed him.
Understand, I do not blame Schriederling. He was a good husband according to his lights, and his temper only failed him when he was being nursed. Which was some seventeen days in each month. He was almost generous to his wife about money matters, and that, for him, was a concession. Still Mrs. Schreiderling was not happy. They married her when she was this side of twenty and had given all her poor little heart to another man. I have forgotten his name, but we will call him the Other Man. He had no money and no prospects. He was not even good-looking; and I think he was in the Commissariat or Transport. But, in spite of all these things, she loved him very madly; and there was some sort of an engagement between the two when Schreiderling appeared and told Mrs. Gaurey that he wished to marry her daughter. Then the other engagement was broken off — washed away by Mrs. Gaurey’s tears, for that lady governed her house by weeping over disobedience to her authority and the lack of reverence she received in her old age. The daughter did not take after her mother. She never cried. Not even at the wedding.
The Other Man bore his loss quietly, and was transferred to as bad a station as he could find. Perhaps the climate consoled him. He suffered from intermittent fever, and that may have distracted him from his other trouble. He was weak about the heart also. Both ways. One of the valves was affected, and the fever made it worse. This showed itself later on.
Then many months passed, and Mrs. Schreiderling took to being ill. She did not pine away like people in story books, but she seemed to pick up every form of illness that went about a station, from simple fever upwards. She was never more than ordinarily pretty at the best of times; and the illness made her ugly. Schreiderling said so. He prided himself on speaking his mind.
When she ceased being pretty, he left her to her own devices, and went back to the lairs of his bachelordom. She used to trot up and down Simla Mall in a forlorn sort of way, with a gray Terai hat well on the back of her head, and a shocking bad saddle under her. Schreiderling’s generosity stopped at the horse. He said that any saddle would do for a woman as nervous as Mrs. Schreiderling. She never was asked to dance, because she did not dance well; and she was so dull and uninteresting, that her box very seldom had any cards in it. Schreiderling said that if he had known that she was going to be such a scare-crow after her marriage, he would never have married her. He always prided himself on speaking his mind, did Schreiderling!
He left her at Simla one August, and went down to his regiment. Then she revived a little, but she never recovered her looks. I found out at the Club that the Other Man is coming up sick — very sick — on an off chance of recovery. The fever and the heart-valves had nearly killed him. She knew that, too, and she knew — what I had no interest in knowing — when he was coming up. I suppose he wrote to tell her. They had not seen each other since a month before the wedding. And here comes the unpleasant part of the story.
A late call kept me down at the Dovedell Hotel till dusk one evening. Mrs. Schreidlerling had been flitting up and down the Mall all the afternoon in the rain. Coming up along the Cart-road, a tonga passed me, and my pony, tired with standing so long, set off at a canter. Just by the road down to the Tonga Office Mrs. Schreiderling, dripping from head to foot, was waiting for the tonga. I turned up-hill, as the tonga was no affair of mine; and just then she began to shriek. I went back at once and saw, under the Tonga Office lamps, Mrs. Schreiderling kneeling in the wet road by the back seat of the newly-arrived tonga, screaming hideously. Then she fell face down in the dirt as I came up.
Sitting in the back seat, very square and firm, with one hand on the awning-stanchion and the wet pouring off his hat and moustache, was the Other Man — dead. The sixty-mile up-hill jolt had been too much for his valve, I suppose. The tonga-driver said:—“The Sahib died two stages out of Solon. Therefore, I tied him with a rope, lest he should fall out by the way, and so came to Simla. Will the Sahib give me bukshish? IT,” pointing to the Other Man, “should have given one rupee.”
The Other Man sat with a grin on his face, as if he enjoyed the joke of his arrival; and Mrs. Schreiderling, in the mud, began to groan. There was no one except us four in the office and it was raining heavily. The first thing was to take Mrs. Schreiderling home, and the second was to prevent her name from being mixed up with the affair. The tonga-driver received five rupees to find a bazar ’rickshaw for Mrs. Schreiderling. He was to tell the tonga Babu afterwards of the Other Man, and the Babu was to make such arrangements as seemed best.
Mrs. Schreiderling was carried into the shed out of the rain, and for three-quarters of an hour we two waited for the ’rickshaw. The Other Man was left exactly as he had arrived. Mrs. Schreiderling would do everything but cry, which might have helped her. She tried to scream as soon as her senses came back, and then she began praying for the Other Man’s soul. Had she not been as honest as the day, she would have prayed for her own soul too. I waited to hear her do this, but she did not. Then I tried to get some of the mud off her habit. Lastly, the ’rickshaw came, and I got her away — partly by force. It was a terrible business from beginning to end; but most of all when the ’rickshaw had to squeeze between the wall and the tonga, and she saw by the lamp-light that thin, yellow hand grasping the awning-stanchion.
She was taken home just as every one was going to a dance at Viceregal Lodge —“Peterhoff” it was then — and the doctor found that she had fallen from her horse, that I had picked her up at the back of Jakko, and really deserved great credit for the prompt manner in which I had secured medical aid. She did not die — men of Schreiderling’s stamp marry women who don’t die easily. They live and grow ugly.
She never told of her one meeting, since her marriage, with the Other Man; and, when the chill and cough following the exposure of that evening, allowed her abroad, she never by word or sign alluded to having met me by the Tonga Office. Perhaps she never knew.
She used to trot up and down the Mall, on that shocking bad saddle, looking as if she expected to meet some one round the corner every minute. Two years afterward, she went Home, and died — at Bournemouth, I think.
Schreiderling, when he grew maudlin at Mess, used to talk about “my poor dear wife.” He always set great store on speaking his mind, did Schreiderling!
13 — Consequences
Rosicrucian subtleties
In the Orient had rise;
Ye may find their teachers still
Under Jacatala’s Hill.
Seek ye Bombast Paracelsus,
Read what Flood the Seeker tells us
Of the Dominant that runs
Through the cycles of the Suns —
Read my story last and see
Luna at her apogee.
There are yearly appointments, and two-yearly appointments, and five-yearly appointments at Simla, and there are, or used to be, permanent appointments, whereon you stayed up for the term of your natural life and secured red cheeks and a nice income. Of course, you could descend in the cold weather; for Simla is rather dull then.
Tarrion came from goodness knows where — all away and away in some forsaken part of Central India, where they call Pachmari a “Sanitarium,” and drive behind trotting bullocks, I believe. He belonged to a regiment; but what he really wanted to do was to escape from his regiment and live in Simla forever and ever. He had no preference for anything in particular, beyond a good horse and a nice partner. He thought he could do everything well; which is a beautiful belief when you hold it with all your heart. He was clever in many ways, and good to look at, and always made people round him comfortable — even in Central India.
So he went up to Simla, and, because he was clever and amusing, he gravitated naturally to Mrs. Hauksbee, who could forgive everything but stupidity. Once he did her great service by changing the date on an invitation-card for a big dance which Mrs. Hauksbee wished to attend, but couldn’t because she had quarrelled with the A.-D.-C., who took care, being a mean man, to invite her to a small dance on the 6th instead of the big Ball of the 26th. It was a very clever piece of forgery; and when Mrs. Hauksbee showed the A.-D.-C. her invitation-card, and chaffed him mildly for not better managing his vendettas, he really thought he had made a mistake; and — which was wise — realized that it was no use to fight with Mrs. Hauksbee. She was grateful to Tarrion and asked what she could do for him. He said simply: “I’m a Freelance up here on leave, and on the lookout for what I can loot. I haven’t a square inch of interest in all Simla. My name isn’t known to any man with an appointment in his gift, and I want an appointment — a good, sound, pukka one. I believe you can do anything you turn yourself to do. Will you help me?” Mrs. Hauksbee thought for a minute, and passed the last of her riding-whip through her lips, as was her custom when thinking. Then her eyes sparkled, and she said:—“I will;” and she shook hands on it. Tarrion, having perfect confidence in this great woman, took no further thought of the business at all. Except to wonder what sort of an appointment he would win.
Mrs. Hauksbee began calculating the prices of all the Heads of Departments and Members of Council she knew, and the more she thought the more she laughed, because her heart was in the game and it amused her. Then she took a Civil List and ran over a few of the appointments. There are some beautiful appointments in the Civil List. Eventually, she decided that, though Tarrion was too good for the Political Department, she had better begin by trying to get him in there. What were her own plans to this end, does not matter in the least, for Luck or Fate played into her hands, and she had nothing to do but to watch the course of events and take the credit of them.
All Viceroys, when they first come out, pass through the “Diplomatic Secrecy” craze. It wears off in time; but they all catch it in the beginning, because they are new to the country. The particular Viceroy who was suffering from the complaint just then — this was a long time ago, before Lord Dufferin ever came from Canada, or Lord Ripon from the bosom of the English Church — had it very badly; and the result was that men who were new to keeping official secrets went about looking unhappy; and the Viceroy plumed himself on the way in which he had instilled notions of reticence into his Staff.
Now, the Supreme Government have a careless custom of committing what they do to printed papers. These papers deal with all sorts of things — from the payment of Rs. 200 to a “secret service” native, up to rebukes administered to Vakils and Motamids of Native States, and rather brusque letters to Native Princes, telling them to put their houses in order, to refrain from kidnapping women, or filling offenders with pounded red pepper, and eccentricities of that kind. Of course, these things could never be made public, because Native Princes never err officially, and their States are, officially, as well administered as Our territories. Also, the private allowances to various queer people are not exactly matters to put into newspapers, though they give quaint reading sometimes. When the Supreme Government is at Simla, these papers are prepared there, and go round to the people who ought to see them in office-boxes or by post. The principle of secrecy was to that Viceroy quite as important as the practice, and he held that a benevolent despotism like Ours should never allow even little things, such as appointments of subordinate clerks, to leak out till the proper time. He was always remarkable for his principles.
There was a very important batch of papers in preparation at that time. It had to travel from one end of Simla to the other by hand. It was not put into an official envelope, but a large, square, pale-pink one; the matter being in MS. on soft crinkley paper. It was addressed to “The Head Clerk, etc., etc.” Now, between “The Head Clerk, etc., etc.,” and “Mrs. Hauksbee” and a flourish, is no very great difference if the address be written in a very bad hand, as this was. The chaprassi who took the envelope was not more of an idiot than most chaprassis. He merely forgot where this most unofficial cover was to be delivered, and so asked the first Englishman he met, who happened to be a man riding down to Annandale in a great hurry. The Englishman hardly looked, said: “Hauksbee Sahib ki Mem,” and went on. So did the chaprasss, because that letter was the last in stock and he wanted to get his work over. There was no book to sign; he thrust the letter into Mrs. Hauksbee’s bearer’s hands and went off to smoke with a friend. Mrs. Hauksbee was expecting some cut-out pattern things in flimsy paper from a friend. As soon as she got the big square packet, therefore, she said, “Oh, the DEAR creature!” and tore it open with a paper-knife, and all the MS. enclosures tumbled out on the floor.
Mrs. Hauksbee began reading. I have said the batch was rather important. That is quite enough for you to know. It referred to some correspondence, two measures, a peremptory order to a native chief and two dozen other things. Mrs. Hauksbee gasped as she read, for the first glimpse of the naked machinery of the Great Indian Government, stripped of its casings, and lacquer, and paint, and guard-rails, impresses even the most stupid man. And Mrs. Hauksbee was a clever woman. She was a little afraid at first, and felt as if she had laid hold of a lightning-flash by the tail, and did not quite know what to do with it. There were remarks and initials at the side of the papers; and some of the remarks were rather more severe than the papers. The initials belonged to men who are all dead or gone now; but they were great in their day. Mrs. Hauksbee read on and thought calmly as she read. Then the value of her trove struck her, and she cast about for the best method of using it. Then Tarrion dropped in, and they read through all the papers together, and Tarrion, not knowing how she had come by them, vowed that Mrs. Hauksbee was the greatest woman on earth. Which I believe was true, or nearly so.
“The honest course is always the best,” said Tarrion after an hour and a half of study and conversation. “All things considered, the Intelligence Branch is about my form. Either that or the Foreign Office. I go to lay siege to the High Gods in their Temples.”
He did not seek a little man, or a little big man, or a weak Head of a strong Department, but he called on the biggest and strongest man that the Government owned, and explained that he wanted an appointment at Simla on a good salary. The compound insolence of this amused the Strong Man, and, as he had nothing to do for the moment, he listened to the proposals of the audacious Tarrion. “You have, I presume, some special qualifications, besides the gift of self-assertion, for the claims you put forwards?” said the Strong Man. “That, Sir,” said Tarrion, “is for you to judge.” Then he began, for he had a good memory, quoting a few of the more important notes in the papers — slowly and one by one as a man drops chlorodyne into a glass. When he had reached the peremptory order — and it WAS a peremptory order — the Strong Man was troubled.
Tarrion wound up:—“And I fancy that special knowledge of this kind is at least as valuable for, let us say, a berth in the Foreign Office, as the fact of being the nephew of a distinguished officer’s wife.” That hit the Strong Man hard, for the last appointment to the Foreign Office had been by black favor, and he knew it. “I’ll see what I can do for you,” said the Strong Man. “Many thanks,” said Tarrion. Then he left, and the Strong Man departed to see how the appointment was to be blocked.
Followed a pause of eleven days; with thunders and lightnings and much telegraphing. The appointment was not a very important one, carrying only between Rs. 500 and Rs. 700 a month; but, as the Viceroy said, it was the principle of diplomatic secrecy that had to be maintained, and it was more than likely that a boy so well supplied with special information would be worth translating. So they translated him. They must have suspected him, though he protested that his information was due to singular talents of his own. Now, much of this story, including the after-history of the missing envelope, you must fill in for yourself, because there are reasons why it cannot be written. If you do not know about things Up Above, you won’t understand how to fill it in, and you will say it is impossible.
What the Viceroy said when Tarrion was introduced to him was:—“So, this is the boy who ‘rusked’ the Government of India, is it? Recollect, Sir, that is not done TWICE.” So he must have known something.
What Tarrion said when he saw his appointment gazetted was:—“If Mrs. Hauksbee were twenty years younger, and I her husband, I should be Viceroy of India in twenty years.”
What Mrs. Hauksbee said, when Tarrion thanked her, almost with tears in his eyes, was first:—“I told you so!” and next, to herself:—“What fools men are!”
14 — The Conversion of Aurelian McGoggin
Ride with an idle whip, ride with an unused heel.
But, once in a way, there will come a day
When the colt must be taught to feel
The lash that falls, and the curb that galls,
and the sting of the rowelled steel.
—Life’s Handicap
This is not a tale exactly. It is a Tract; and I am immensely proud of it. Making a Tract is a Feat.
Every man is entitled to his own religious opinions; but no man — least of all a junior — has a right to thrust these down other men’s throats. The Government sends out weird Civilians now and again; but McGoggin was the queerest exported for a long time. He was clever — brilliantly clever — but his cleverness worked the wrong way. Instead of keeping to the study of the vernaculars, he had read some books written by a man called Comte, I think, and a man called Spencer, and a Professor Clifford. [You will find these books in the Library.] They deal with people’s insides from the point of view of men who have no stomachs. There was no order against his reading them; but his Mamma should have smacked him. They fermented in his head, and he came out to India with a rarefied religion over and above his work. It was not much of a creed. It only proved that men had no souls, and there was no God and no hereafter, and that you must worry along somehow for the good of Humanity.
One of its minor tenets seemed to be that the one thing more sinful than giving an order was obeying it. At least, that was what McGoggin said; but I suspect he had misread his primers.
I do not say a word against this creed. It was made up in Town, where there is nothing but machinery and asphalt and building — all shut in by the fog. Naturally, a man grows to think that there is no one higher than himself, and that the Metropolitan Board of Works made everything. But in this country, where you really see humanity — raw, brown, naked humanity — with nothing between it and the blazing sky, and only the used-up, over-handled earth underfoot, the notion somehow dies away, and most folk come back to simpler theories. Life, in India, is not long enough to waste in proving that there is no one in particular at the head of affairs. For this reason. The Deputy is above the Assistant, the Commissioner above the Deputy, the Lieutenant–Governor above the Commissioner, and the Viceroy above all four, under the orders of the Secretary of State, who is responsible to the Empress. If the Empress be not responsible to her Maker — if there is no Maker for her to be responsible to — the entire system of Our administration must be wrong. Which is manifestly impossible. At Home men are to be excused. They are stalled up a good deal and get intellectually “beany.” When you take a gross, “beany” horse to exercise, he slavers and slobbers over the bit till you can’t see the horns. But the bit is there just the same. Men do not get “beany” in India. The climate and the work are against playing bricks with words.
If McGoggin had kept his creed, with the capital letters and the endings in “isms,” to himself, no one would have cared; but his grandfathers on both sides had been Wesleyan preachers, and the preaching strain came out in his mind. He wanted every one at the Club to see that they had no souls too, and to help him to eliminate his Creator. As a good many men told him, HE undoubtedly had no soul, because he was so young, but it did not follow that his seniors were equally undeveloped; and, whether there was another world or not, a man still wanted to read his papers in this. “But that is not the point — that is not the point!” Aurelian used to say. Then men threw sofa-cushions at him and told him to go to any particular place he might believe in. They christened him the “Blastoderm”— he said he came from a family of that name somewhere, in the prehistoric ages — and, by insult and laughter, strove to choke him dumb, for he was an unmitigated nuisance at the Club; besides being an offence to the older men. His Deputy Commissioner, who was working on the Frontier when Aurelian was rolling on a bed-quilt, told him that, for a clever boy, Aurelian was a very big idiot. And, you know, if he had gone on with his work, he would have been caught up to the Secretariat in a few years. He was just the type that goes there — all head, no physique and a hundred theories. Not a soul was interested in McGoggin’s soul. He might have had two, or none, or somebody’s else’s. His business was to obey orders and keep abreast of his files instead of devastating the Club with “isms.”
He worked brilliantly; but he could not accept any order without trying to better it. That was the fault of his creed. It made men too responsible and left too much to their honor. You can sometimes ride an old horse in a halter; but never a colt. McGoggin took more trouble over his cases than any of the men of his year. He may have fancied that thirty-page judgments on fifty-rupee cases — both sides perjured to the gullet — advanced the cause of Humanity. At any rate, he worked too much, and worried and fretted over the rebukes he received, and lectured away on his ridiculous creed out of office, till the Doctor had to warn him that he was overdoing it. No man can toil eighteen annas in the rupee in June without suffering. But McGoggin was still intellectually “beany” and proud of himself and his powers, and he would take no hint. He worked nine hours a day steadily.
“Very well,” said the doctor, “you’ll break down because you are over-engined for your beam.” McGoggin was a little chap.
One day, the collapse came — as dramatically as if it had been meant to embellish a Tract.
It was just before the Rains. We were sitting in the verandah in the dead, hot, close air, gasping and praying that the black-blue clouds would let down and bring the cool. Very, very far away, there was a faint whisper, which was the roar of the Rains breaking over the river. One of the men heard it, got out of his chair, listened, and said, naturally enough:—“Thank God!”
Then the Blastoderm turned in his place and said:—“Why? I assure you it’s only the result of perfectly natural causes — atmospheric phenomena of the simplest kind. Why you should, therefore, return thanks to a Being who never did exist — who is only a figment —”
“Blastoderm,” grunted the man in the next chair, “dry up, and throw me over the Pioneer. We know all about your figments.” The Blastoderm reached out to the table, took up one paper, and jumped as if something had stung him. Then he handed the paper over.
“As I was saying,” he went on slowly and with an effort —“due to perfectly natural causes — perfectly natural causes. I mean —”
“Hi! Blastoderm, you’ve given me the Calcutta Mercantile Advertiser.”
The dust got up in little whorls, while the treetops rocked and the kites whistled. But no one was looking at the coming of the Rains. We were all staring at the Blastoderm, who had risen from his chair and was fighting with his speech. Then he said, still more slowly:—
“Perfectly conceivable — dictionary — red oak — amenable — cause — retaining — shuttlecock — alone.”
“Blastoderm’s drunk,” said one man. But the Blastoderm was not drunk. He looked at us in a dazed sort of way, and began motioning with his hands in the half light as the clouds closed overhead. Then — with a scream:—
“What is it? — Can’t — reserve — attainable — market — obscure —”
But his speech seemed to freeze in him, and — just as the lightning shot two tongues that cut the whole sky into three pieces and the rain fell in quivering sheets — the Blastoderm was struck dumb. He stood pawing and champing like a hard-held horse, and his eyes were full of terror.
The Doctor came over in three minutes, and heard the story. “It’s aphasia,” he said. “Take him to his room. I KNEW the smash would come.” We carried the Blastoderm across, in the pouring rain, to his quarters, and the Doctor gave him bromide of potassium to make him sleep.
Then the Doctor came back to us and told us that aphasia was like all the arrears of “Punjab Head” falling in a lump; and that only once before — in the case of a sepoy — had he met with so complete a case. I myself have seen mild aphasia in an overworked man, but this sudden dumbness was uncanny — though, as the Blastoderm himself might have said, due to “perfectly natural causes.”
“He’ll have to take leave after this,” said the Doctor. “He won’t be fit for work for another three months. No; it isn’t insanity or anything like it. It’s only complete loss of control over the speech and memory. I fancy it will keep the Blastoderm quiet, though.”
Two days later, the Blastoderm found his tongue again. The first question he asked was: “What was it?” The Doctor enlightened him. “But I can’t understand it!” said the Blastoderm; “I’m quite sane; but I can’t be sure of my mind, it seems — my OWN memory — can I?”
“Go up into the Hills for three months, and don’t think about it,” said the Doctor.
“But I can’t understand it,” repeated the Blastoderm. “It was my OWN mind and memory.”
“I can’t help it,” said the Doctor; “there are a good many things you can’t understand; and, by the time you have put in my length of service, you’ll know exactly how much a man dare call his own in this world.”
The stroke cowed the Blastoderm. He could not understand it. He went into the Hills in fear and trembling, wondering whether he would be permitted to reach the end of any sentence he began.
This gave him a wholesome feeling of mistrust. The legitimate explanation, that he had been overworking himself, failed to satisfy him. Something had wiped his lips of speech, as a mother wipes the milky lips of her child, and he was afraid — horribly afraid.
So the Club had rest when he returned; and if ever you come across Aurelian McGoggin laying down the law on things Human — he doesn’t seem to know as much as he used to about things Divine — put your forefinger on your lip for a moment, and see what happens.
Don’t blame me if he throws a glass at your head!
15 — The Taking of Lungtungpen
So we loosed a bloomin' volley,
An' we made the beggars cut,
An' when our pouch was emptied out.
We used the bloomin' butt,
Ho! My!
Don't yer come anigh,
When Tommy is a playin' with the baynit an' the butt.
—Barrack Room Ballad
My friend Private Mulvaney told me this, sitting on the parapet of the road to Dagshai, when we were hunting butterflies together. He had theories about the Army, and colored clay pipes perfectly. He said that the young soldier is the best to work with, "on account av the surpassing innocinse av the child."
"Now, listen!" said Mulvaney, throwing himself full length on the wall in the sun. "I'm a born scutt av the barrick-room! The Army's mate an' dhrink to me, bekaze I'm wan av the few that can't quit ut. I've put in sivinteen years, an' the pipeclay's in the marrow av me. Av I cud have kept out av wan big dhrink a month, I wud have been a Hon'ry Lift'nint by this time—a nuisince to my betthers, a laughin'-shtock to my equils, an' a curse to meself. Bein' fwhat I am, I'm Privit Mulvaney, wid no good-conduc' pay an' a devourin' thirst. Always barrin' me little frind Bobs Bahadur, I know as much about the Army as most men."
I said something here.
"Wolseley be shot! Betune you an' me an' that butterfly net, he's a ramblin', incoherint sort av a divil, wid wan oi on the Quane an' the Coort, an' the other on his blessed silf—everlastin'ly playing Saysar an' Alexandrier rowled into a lump. Now Bobs is a sinsible little man. Wid Bobs an' a few three-year-olds, I'd swape any army av the earth into a towel, an' throw it away aftherward. Faith, I'm not jokin'! Tis the bhoys—the raw bhoys—that don't know fwhat a bullut manes, an' wudn't care av they did—that dhu the work. They're crammed wid bull-mate till they fairly ramps wid good livin'; and thin, av they don't fight, they blow each other's hids off. 'Tis the trut' I'm tellin' you. They shud be kept on water an' rice in the hot weather; but there'd be a mut'ny av 'twas done.
"Did ye iver hear how Privit Mulvaney tuk the town av Lungtungpen? I thought not! 'Twas the Lift'nint got the credit; but 'twas me planned the schame. A little before I was inviladed from Burma, me an' four-an'-twenty young wans undher a Lift'nint Brazenose, was ruinin' our dijeshins thryin' to catch dacoits. An' such double-ended divils I niver knew! Tis only a dah an' a Snider that makes a dacoit, Widout thim, he's a paceful cultivator, an' felony for to shoot. We hunted, an' we hunted, an' tuk fever an' elephints now an' again; but no dacoits, Evenshually, we puckarowed wan man, 'Trate him tinderly,' sez the Lift'nint. So I tuk him away into the jungle, wid the Burmese Interprut'r an' my clanin'-rod. Sez I to the man, 'My paceful squireen,' sez I, 'you shquot on your hunkers an' dimonstrate to my frind here, where your frinds are whin they're at home?' Wid that I introjuced him to the clanin'-rod, an' he comminst to jabber; the Interprut'r interprutin' in betweens, an' me helpin' the Intilligince Departmint wid my clanin'-rod whin the man misremimbered.
"Prisintly, I learn that, acrost the river, about nine miles away, was a town just dhrippin' wid dahs, an' bohs an' arrows, an' dacoits, and elephints, an' jingles. 'Good!' sez I; 'this office will now close!'
"That night, I went to the Lift'nint an' communicates my information. I never thought much of Lift'nint Brazenose till that night. He was shtiff wid books an' theouries, an' all manner av thrimmin's no manner av use. 'Town did ye say?' sez he. 'Accordin' to the theouries av War, we shud wait for reinforcemints.'—'Faith!' thinks I, 'we'd betther dig our graves thin;' for the nearest throops was up to their shtocks in the marshes out Mimbu way. 'But,' says the Lift'nint, 'since 'tis a speshil case, I'll make an excepshin. We'll visit this Lungtungpen to-night.'
"The bhoys was fairly woild wid deloight whin I tould 'em; an', by this an' that, they wint through the jungle like buck-rabbits. About midnight we come to the shtrame which I had clane forgot to minshin to my orficer. I was on, ahead, wid four bhoys, an' I thought that the Lift'nint might want to theourise. 'Shtrip boys!' sez I. 'Shtrip to the buff, an' shwim in where glory waits!'—'But I can't shwim!' sez two av thim. 'To think I should live to hear that from a bhoy wid a board-school edukashin!' sez I. 'Take a lump av timber, an' me an' Conolly here will ferry ye over, ye young ladies!'
"We got an ould tree-trunk, an' pushed off wid the kits an' the rifles on it. The night was chokin' dhark, an' just as we was fairly embarked, I heard the Lift'nint behind av me callin' out. 'There's a bit av a nullah here, sorr,' sez I, 'but I can feel the bottom already.' So I cud, for I was not a yard from the bank.
"'Bit av a nullah! Bit av an eshtuary!' sez the Lift'nint. 'Go on, ye mad Irishman! Shtrip bhoys!' I heard him laugh; an' the bhoys begun shtrippin' an' rollin' a log into the wather to put their kits on. So me an' Conolly shtruck out through the warm wather wid our log, an' the rest come on behind.
"That shtrame was miles woide! Orth'ris, on the rear-rank log, whispers we had got into the Thames below Sheerness by mistake. 'Kape on shwimmin', ye little blayguard,' sez I, 'an' don't go pokin' your dirty jokes at the Irriwaddy,'—'Silince, men!' sings out the Lift'nint. So we shwum on into the black dhark, wid our chests on the logs, trustin' in the Saints an' the luck av the British Army.
"Evenshually, we hit ground—a bit av sand—an' a man. I put my heel on the back av him. He skreeched an' ran.
"'Now we've done it!' sez Lift'nint Brazenose. 'Where the Divil is Lungtungpen?' There was about a minute and a half to wait. The bhoys laid a hould av their rifles an' some thried to put their belts on; we was marchin' wid fixed baynits av coorse. Thin we knew where Lungtungpen was; for we had hit the river-wall av it in the dhark, an' the whole town blazed wid thim messin' jingles an' Sniders like a cat's back on a frosty night. They was firin' all ways at wanst, but over our hids into the shtrame.
"'Have you got your rifles?' sez Brazenose. 'Got 'em!' sez Orth'ris. 'I've got that thief Mulvaney's for all my back-pay, an' she'll kick my heart sick wid that blunderin' long shtock av hers.'—'Go on!' yells Brazenose, whippin' his sword out. 'Go on an' take the town! An' the Lord have mercy on our sowls!'
"Thin the bhoys gave wan divastatin' howl, an' pranced into the dhark, feelin' for the town, an' blindin' an' stiffin' like Cavalry Ridin' Masters whin the grass pricked their bare legs. I hammered wid the butt at some bamboo-thing that felt wake, an' the rest come an' hammered contagious, while the jingles was jingling, an' feroshus yells from inside was shplittin' our ears. We was too close under the wall for thim to hurt us.
"Evenshually, the thing, whatever ut was, bruk; an' the six-and-twinty av us tumbled, wan after the other, naked as we was borrun, into the town of Lungtungpen. There was a melly av a sumpshus kind for a whoile; but whether they tuk us, all white an' wet, for a new breed av divil, or a new kind av dacoit, I don't know. They ran as though we was both, an' we wint into thim, baynit an' butt, shriekin' wid laughin'. There was torches in the shtreets, an' I saw little Orth'ris rubbin' his showlther ivry time he loosed my long-shtock Martini; an' Brazenose walkin' into the gang wid his sword, like Diarmid av the Gowlden Collar—barring he hadn't a stitch av clothin' on him. We diskivered elephints wid dacoits under their bellies, an', what wid wan thing an' another, we was busy till mornin' takin' possession av the town of Lungtungpen.
"Thin we halted an' formed up, the wimmen howlin' in the houses an' Lift'nint Brazenose blushin' pink in the light av the mornin' sun. 'Twas the most ondasint p'rade I iver tuk a hand in. Foive-and-twenty privits an' a orficer av the Line in review ordher, an' not as much as wud dust a fife betune 'em all in the way of clothin'! Eight av us had their belts an' pouches on; but the rest had gone in wid a handful av cartridges an' the skin God gave thim. They was as nakid as Vanus.
"'Number off from the right!' sez the Lift'nint. 'Odd numbers fall out to dress; even numbers pathrol the town till relieved by the dressing party.' Let me tell you, pathrollin' a town wid nothing on is an expayrience. I pathrolled for tin minutes, an' begad, before 'twas over, I blushed. The women laughed so. I niver blushed before or since; but I blushed all over my carkiss thin. Orth'ris didn't pathrol. He sez only, 'Portsmith Barricks an' the 'Ard av a Sunday! Thin he lay down an' rowled any ways wid laughin'.
"Whin we was all dhressed, we counted the dead—sivinty-foive dacoits besides wounded. We tuk five elephints, a hunder' an' sivinty Sniders, two hunder' dahs, and a lot av other burglarious thruck. Not a man av us was hurt—excep' maybe the Lift'nint, an' he from the shock to his dasincy.
"The Headman av Lungtungpen, who surrinder'd himself, asked the Interprut'r— Av the English fight like that wid their clo'es off, what in the wurruld do they do wid their clo'es on?' Orth'ris began rowlin' his eyes an' crackin' his fingers an' dancin' a step-dance for to impress the Headman. He ran to his house; an' we spint the rest av the day carryin' the Lift'nint on our showlthers round the town, an' playin' wid the Burmese babies—fat, little, brown little divils, as pretty as picturs.
"Whin I was inviladed for the dysent'ry to India, I sez to the Lift'nint, 'Sorr,' sez I, 'you've the makin's in you av a great man; but, av you'll let an ould sodger spake, you're too fond of the-ourisin'.' He shuk hands wid me and sez, 'Hit high, hit low, there's no plasin' you, Mulvaney. You've seen me waltzin' through Lungtungpen like a Red Injin widout the warpaint, an' you say I'm too fond av the-ourisin'?'—'Sorr,' sez I, for I loved the bhoy; 'I wud waltz wid you in that condishin through Hell, an' so wud the rest av the men!' Thin I wint downshtrame in the flat an' left him my blessin'. May the Saints carry ut where ut shud go, for he was a fine upstandin' young orficer,
"To reshume. Fwhat I've said jist shows the use av three-year-olds. Wud fifty seasoned sodgers have taken Lungtungpen in the dhark that way? No! They'd know the risk av fever and chill. Let alone the shootin'. Two hundher' might have done ut. But the three-year-olds know little an' care less; an' where there's no fear, there's no danger. Catch thim young, feed thim high, an' by the honor av that great, little man Bobs, behind a good orficer 'tisn't only dacoits they'd smash wid their clo'es off—'tis Con-ti-nental Ar-r-r-mies! They tuk Lungtungpen nakid; an' they'd take St. Pethersburg in their dhrawers! Begad, they would that!
"Here's your pipe, sorr. Shmoke her tinderly wid honey-dew, afther letting the reek av the Canteen plug die away. But 'tis no good, thanks to you all the same, fillin' my pouch wid your chopped hay. Canteen baccy's like the Army. It shpoils a man's taste for moilder things."
So saying, Mulvaney took up his butterfly-net, and returned to barracks.
16 — A Germ Destroyer
Pleasant it is for the Little Tin Gods,
When great Jove nods;
But Little Tin Gods make their little mistakes
In missing the hour when great Jove wakes.
As a general rule, it is inexpedient to meddle with questions of State in a land where men are highly paid to work them out for you. This tale is a justifiable exception.
Once in every five years, as you know, we indent for a new Viceroy; and each Viceroy imports, with the rest of his baggage, a Private Secretary, who may or may not be the real Viceroy, just as Fate ordains. Fate looks after the Indian Empire because it is so big and so helpless.
There was a Viceroy once, who brought out with him a turbulent Private Secretary — a hard man with a soft manner and a morbid passion for work. This Secretary was called Wonder — John Fennil Wonder. The Viceroy possessed no name — nothing but a string of counties and two-thirds of the alphabet after them. He said, in confidence, that he was the electro-plated figurehead of a golden administration, and he watched in a dreamy, amused way Wonder’s attempts to draw matters which were entirely outside his province into his own hands. “When we are all cherubims together,” said His Excellency once, “my dear, good friend Wonder will head the conspiracy for plucking out Gabriel’s tail-feathers or stealing Peter’s keys. THEN I shall report him.”
But, though the Viceroy did nothing to check Wonder’s officiousness, other people said unpleasant things. Maybe the Members of Council began it; but, finally, all Simla agreed that there was “too much Wonder, and too little Viceroy,” in that regime. Wonder was always quoting “His Excellency.” It was “His Excellency this,” “His Excellency that,” “In the opinion of His Excellency,” and so on. The Viceroy smiled; but he did not heed. He said that, so long as his old men squabbled with his “dear, good Wonder,” they might be induced to leave the “Immemorial East” in peace.
“No wise man has a policy,” said the Viceroy. “A Policy is the blackmail levied on the Fool by the Unforeseen. I am not the former, and I do not believe in the latter.”
I do not quite see what this means, unless it refers to an Insurance Policy. Perhaps it was the Viceroy’s way of saying:—“Lie low.”
That season, came up to Simla one of these crazy people with only a single idea. These are the men who make things move; but they are not nice to talk to. This man’s name was Mellish, and he had lived for fifteen years on land of his own, in Lower Bengal, studying cholera. He held that cholera was a germ that propagated itself as it flew through a muggy atmosphere; and stuck in the branches of trees like a wool-flake. The germ could be rendered sterile, he said, by “Mellish’s Own Invincible Fumigatory”— a heavy violet-black powder —“the result of fifteen years’ scientific investigation, Sir!”
Inventors seem very much alike as a caste. They talk loudly, especially about “conspiracies of monopolists;” they beat upon the table with their fists; and they secrete fragments of their inventions about their persons.
Mellish said that there was a Medical “Ring” at Simla, headed by the Surgeon–General, who was in league, apparently, with all the Hospital Assistants in the Empire. I forget exactly how he proved it, but it had something to do with “skulking up to the Hills;” and what Mellish wanted was the independent evidence of the Viceroy —“Steward of our Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, Sir.” So Mellish went up to Simla, with eighty-four pounds of Fumigatory in his trunk, to speak to the Viceroy and to show him the merits of the invention.
But it is easier to see a Viceroy than to talk to him, unless you chance to be as important as Mellishe of Madras. He was a six-thousand-rupee man, so great that his daughters never “married.” They “contracted alliances.” He himself was not paid. He “received emoluments,” and his journeys about the country were “tours of observation.” His business was to stir up the people in Madras with a long pole — as you stir up stench in a pond — and the people had to come up out of their comfortable old ways and gasp:—“This is Enlightenment and progress. Isn’t it fine!” Then they gave Mellishe statues and jasmine garlands, in the hope of getting rid of him.
Mellishe came up to Simla “to confer with the Viceroy.” That was one of his perquisites. The Viceroy knew nothing of Mellishe except that he was “one of those middle-class deities who seem necessary to the spiritual comfort of this Paradise of the Middle-classes,” and that, in all probability, he had “suggested, designed, founded, and endowed all the public institutions in Madras.” Which proves that His Excellency, though dreamy, had experience of the ways of six-thousand-rupee men.
Mellishe’s name was E. Mellishe and Mellish’s was E. S. Mellish, and they were both staying at the same hotel, and the Fate that looks after the Indian Empire ordained that Wonder should blunder and drop the final “e;” that the Chaprassi should help him, and that the note which ran: “Dear Mr. Mellish. — Can you set aside your other engagements and lunch with us at two tomorrow? His Excellency has an hour at your disposal then,” should be given to Mellish with the Fumigatory. He nearly wept with pride and delight, and at the appointed hour cantered off to Peterhoff, a big paper-bag full of the Fumigatory in his coat-tail pockets. He had his chance, and he meant to make the most of it. Mellishe of Madras had been so portentously solemn about his “conference,” that Wonder had arranged for a private tiffin — no A.-D. C.’s, no Wonder, no one but the Viceroy, who said plaintively that he feared being left alone with unmuzzled autocrats like the great Mellishe of Madras.
But his guest did not bore the Viceroy. On the contrary, he amused him. Mellish was nervously anxious to go straight to his Fumigatory, and talked at random until tiffin was over and His Excellency asked him to smoke. The Viceroy was pleased with Mellish because he did not talk “shop.”
As soon as the cheroots were lit, Mellish spoke like a man; beginning with his cholera-theory, reviewing his fifteen years’ “scientific labors,” the machinations of the “Simla Ring,” and the excellence of his Fumigatory, while the Viceroy watched him between half-shut eyes and thought: “Evidently, this is the wrong tiger; but it is an original animal.” Mellish’s hair was standing on end with excitement, and he stammered. He began groping in his coat-tails and, before the Viceroy knew what was about to happen, he had tipped a bagful of his powder into the big silver ash-tray.
“J-j-judge for yourself, Sir,” said Mellish. “Y’ Excellency shall judge for yourself! Absolutely infallible, on my honor.”
He plunged the lighted end of his cigar into the powder, which began to smoke like a volcano, and send up fat, greasy wreaths of copper-colored smoke. In five seconds the room was filled with a most pungent and sickening stench — a reek that took fierce hold of the trap of your windpipe and shut it. The powder then hissed and fizzed, and sent out blue and green sparks, and the smoke rose till you could neither see, nor breathe, nor gasp. Mellish, however, was used to it.
“Nitrate of strontia,” he shouted; “baryta, bone-meal, etcetera! Thousand cubic feet smoke per cubic inch. Not a germ could live — not a germ, Y’ Excellency!”
But His Excellency had fled, and was coughing at the foot of the stairs, while all Peterhoff hummed like a hive. Red Lancers came in, and the Head Chaprassi, who speaks English, came in, and mace-bearers came in, and ladies ran downstairs screaming “fire;” for the smoke was drifting through the house and oozing out of the windows, and bellying along the verandahs, and wreathing and writhing across the gardens. No one could enter the room where Mellish was lecturing on his Fumigatory, till that unspeakable powder had burned itself out.
Then an Aide-deCamp, who desired the V. C., rushed through the rolling clouds and hauled Mellish into the hall. The Viceroy was prostrate with laughter, and could only waggle his hands feebly at Mellish, who was shaking a fresh bagful of powder at him.
“Glorious! Glorious!” sobbed his Excellency. “Not a germ, as you justly observe, could exist! I can swear it. A magnificent success!”
Then he laughed till the tears came, and Wonder, who had caught the real Mellishe snorting on the Mall, entered and was deeply shocked at the scene. But the Viceroy was delighted, because he saw that Wonder would presently depart. Mellish with the Fumigatory was also pleased, for he felt that he had smashed the Simla Medical “Ring.”
Few men could tell a story like His Excellency when he took the trouble, and the account of “my dear, good Wonder’s friend with the powder” went the round of Simla, and flippant folk made Wonder unhappy by their remarks.
But His Excellency told the tale once too often — for Wonder. As he meant to do. It was at a Seepee Picnic. Wonder was sitting just behind the Viceroy.
“And I really thought for a moment,” wound up His Excellency, “that my dear, good Wonder had hired an assassin to clear his way to the throne!”
Every one laughed; but there was a delicate subtinkle in the Viceroy’s tone which Wonder understood. He found that his health was giving way; and the Viceroy allowed him to go, and presented him with a flaming “character” for use at Home among big people.
“My fault entirely,” said His Excellency, in after seasons, with a twinkling in his eye. “My inconsistency must always have been distasteful to such a masterly man.”
17 — Kidnapped
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken any way you please, is bad,
And strands them in forsaken guts and creeks
No decent soul would think of visiting.
You cannot stop the tide; but now and then,
You may arrest some rash adventurer
Who — h’m — will hardly thank you for your pains.
—Vibart’s Moralities
We are a high-caste and enlightened race, and infant-marriage is very shocking and the consequences are sometimes peculiar; but, nevertheless, the Hindu notion — which is the Continental notion — which is the aboriginal notion — of arranging marriages irrespective of the personal inclinations of the married, is sound. Think for a minute, and you will see that it must be so; unless, of course, you believe in “affinities.” In which case you had better not read this tale. How can a man who has never married; who cannot be trusted to pick up at sight a moderately sound horse; whose head is hot and upset with visions of domestic felicity, go about the choosing of a wife? He cannot see straight or think straight if he tries; and the same disadvantages exist in the case of a girl’s fancies. But when mature, married and discreet people arrange a match between a boy and a girl, they do it sensibly, with a view to the future, and the young couple live happily ever afterwards. As everybody knows.
Properly speaking, Government should establish a Matrimonial Department, efficiently officered, with a Jury of Matrons, a Judge of the Chief Court, a Senior Chaplain, and an Awful Warning, in the shape of a love-match that has gone wrong, chained to the trees in the courtyard. All marriages should be made through the Department, which might be subordinate to the Educational Department, under the same penalty as that attaching to the transfer of land without a stamped document. But Government won’t take suggestions. It pretends that it is too busy. However, I will put my notion on record, and explain the example that illustrates the theory.
Once upon a time there was a good young man — a first-class officer in his own Department — a man with a career before him and, possibly, a K. C. G. E. at the end of it. All his superiors spoke well of him, because he knew how to hold his tongue and his pen at the proper times. There are today only eleven men in India who possess this secret; and they have all, with one exception, attained great honor and enormous incomes.
This good young man was quiet and self-contained — too old for his years by far. Which always carries its own punishment. Had a Subaltern, or a Tea–Planter’s Assistant, or anybody who enjoys life and has no care for tomorrow, done what he tried to do not a soul would have cared. But when Peythroppe — the estimable, virtuous, economical, quiet, hard-working, young Peythroppe — fell, there was a flutter through five Departments.
The manner of his fall was in this way. He met a Miss Castries — d’Castries it was originally, but the family dropped the d’ for administrative reasons — and he fell in love with her even more energetically that he worked. Understand clearly that there was not a breath of a word to be said against Miss Castries — not a shadow of a breath. She was good and very lovely — possessed what innocent people at home call a “Spanish” complexion, with thick blue-black hair growing low down on her forehead, into a “widow’s peak,” and big violet eyes under eyebrows as black and as straight as the borders of a Gazette Extraordinary when a big man dies. But — but — but —. Well, she was a VERY sweet girl and very pious, but for many reasons she was “impossible.” Quite so. All good Mammas know what “impossible” means. It was obviously absurd that Peythroppe should marry her. The little opal-tinted onyx at the base of her finger-nails said this as plainly as print. Further, marriage with Miss Castries meant marriage with several other Castries — Honorary Lieutenant Castries, her Papa, Mrs. Eulalie Castries, her Mamma, and all the ramifications of the Castries family, on incomes ranging from Rs. 175 to Rs. 470 a month, and THEIR wives and connections again.
It would have been cheaper for Peythroppe to have assaulted a Commissioner with a dog-whip, or to have burned the records of a Deputy Commissioner’s Office, than to have contracted an alliance with the Castries. It would have weighted his after-career less — even under a Government which never forgets and NEVER forgives. Everybody saw this but Peythroppe. He was going to marry Miss Castries, he was — being of age and drawing a good income — and woe betide the house that would not afterwards receive Mrs. Virginie Saulez Peythroppe with the deference due to her husband’s rank. That was Peythroppe’s ultimatum, and any remonstrance drove him frantic.
These sudden madnesses most afflict the sanest men. There was a case once — but I will tell you of that later on. You cannot account for the mania, except under a theory directly contradicting the one about the Place wherein marriages are made. Peythroppe was burningly anxious to put a millstone round his neck at the outset of his career and argument had not the least effect on him. He was going to marry Miss Castries, and the business was his own business. He would thank you to keep your advice to yourself. With a man in this condition, mere words only fix him in his purpose. Of course he cannot see that marriage out here does not concern the individual but the Government he serves.
Do you remember Mrs. Hauksbee — the most wonderful woman in India? She saved Pluffles from Mrs. Reiver, won Tarrion his appointment in the Foreign Office, and was defeated in open field by Mrs. Cusack–Bremmil. She heard of the lamentable condition of Peythroppe, and her brain struck out the plan that saved him. She had the wisdom of the Serpent, the logical coherence of the Man, the fearlessness of the Child, and the triple intuition of the Woman. Never — no, never — as long as a tonga buckets down the Solon dip, or the couples go a-riding at the back of Summer Hill, will there be such a genius as Mrs. Hauksbee. She attended the consultation of Three Men on Peythroppe’s case; and she stood up with the lash of her riding-whip between her lips and spake.
Three weeks later, Peythroppe dined with the Three Men, and the Gazette of India came in. Peythroppe found to his surprise that he had been gazetted a month’s leave. Don’t ask me how this was managed. I believe firmly that if Mrs. Hauksbee gave the order, the whole Great Indian Administration would stand on its head.
The Three Men had also a month’s leave each. Peythroppe put the Gazette down and said bad words. Then there came from the compound the soft “pad-pad” of camels —“thieves’ camels,” the bikaneer breed that don’t bubble and howl when they sit down and get up.
After that I don’t know what happened. This much is certain. Peythroppe disappeared — vanished like smoke — and the long foot-rest chair in the house of the Three Men was broken to splinters. Also a bedstead departed from one of the bedrooms.
Mrs. Hauksbee said that Mr. Peythroppe was shooting in Rajputana with the Three Men; so we were compelled to believe her.
At the end of the month, Peythroppe was gazetted twenty days’ extension of leave; but there was wrath and lamentation in the house of Castries. The marriage-day had been fixed, but the bridegroom never came; and the D’Silvas, Pereiras, and Ducketts lifted their voices and mocked Honorary Lieutenant Castries as one who had been basely imposed upon. Mrs. Hauksbee went to the wedding, and was much astonished when Peythroppe did not appear. After seven weeks, Peythroppe and the Three Men returned from Rajputana. Peythroppe was in hard, tough condition, rather white, and more self-contained than ever.
One of the Three Men had a cut on his nose, cause by the kick of a gun. Twelve-bores kick rather curiously.
Then came Honorary Lieutenant Castries, seeking for the blood of his perfidious son-inlaw to be. He said things — vulgar and “impossible” things which showed the raw rough “ranker” below the “Honorary,” and I fancy Peythroppe’s eyes were opened. Anyhow, he held his peace till the end; when he spoke briefly. Honorary Lieutenant Castries asked for a “peg” before he went away to die or bring a suit for breach of promise.
Miss Castries was a very good girl. She said that she would have no breach of promise suits. She said that, if she was not a lady, she was refined enough to know that ladies kept their broken hearts to themselves; and, as she ruled her parents, nothing happened. Later on, she married a most respectable and gentlemanly person. He travelled for an enterprising firm in Calcutta, and was all that a good husband should be.
So Peythroppe came to his right mind again, and did much good work, and was honored by all who knew him. One of these days he will marry; but he will marry a sweet pink-and-white maiden, on the Government House List, with a little money and some influential connections, as every wise man should. And he will never, all his life, tell her what happened during the seven weeks of his shooting-tour in Rajputana.
But just think how much trouble and expense — for camel hire is not cheap, and those Bikaneer brutes had to be fed like humans — might have been saved by a properly conducted Matrimonial Department, under the control of the Director General of Education, but corresponding direct with the Viceroy.
18 — The Arrest of Lieutenant Golightly
‘I’ve forgotten the countersign,’ sez ’e.
‘Oh! You ’ave, ’ave you?’ sez I.
‘But I’m the Colonel,’ sez ’e.
‘Oh! You are, are you?’ sez I. ‘Colonel nor no Colonel, you waits ’ere till I’m relieved, an’ the Sarjint reports on your ugly old mug. Coop!’ sez I.

An’ s’help me soul, ’twas the Colonel after all! But I was a recruity then.
—The Unedited Autobiography of Private Ortheris
If there was one thing on which Golightly prided himself more than another, it was looking like “an Officer and a gentleman.” He said it was for the honor of the Service that he attired himself so elaborately; but those who knew him best said that it was just personal vanity. There was no harm about Golightly — not an ounce. He recognized a horse when he saw one, and could do more than fill a cantle. He played a very fair game at billiards, and was a sound man at the whist-table. Everyone liked him; and nobody ever dreamed of seeing him handcuffed on a station platform as a deserter. But this sad thing happened.
He was going down from Dalhousie, at the end of his leave — riding down. He had cut his leave as fine as he dared, and wanted to come down in a hurry.
It was fairly warm at Dalhousie, and knowing what to expect below, he descended in a new khaki suit — tight fitting — of a delicate olive-green; a peacock-blue tie, white collar, and a snowy white solah helmet. He prided himself on looking neat even when he was riding post. He did look neat, and he was so deeply concerned about his appearance before he started that he quite forgot to take anything but some small change with him. He left all his notes at the hotel. His servants had gone down the road before him, to be ready in waiting at Pathankote with a change of gear. That was what he called travelling in “light marching-order.” He was proud of his faculty of organization — what we call bundobust.
Twenty-two miles out of Dalhousie it began to rain — not a mere hill-shower, but a good, tepid monsoonish downpour. Golightly bustled on, wishing that he had brought an umbrella. The dust on the roads turned into mud, and the pony mired a good deal. So did Golightly’s khaki gaiters. But he kept on steadily and tried to think how pleasant the coolth was.
His next pony was rather a brute at starting, and Golightly’s hands being slippery with the rain, contrived to get rid of Golightly at a corner. He chased the animal, caught it, and went ahead briskly. The spill had not improved his clothes or his temper, and he had lost one spur. He kept the other one employed. By the time that stage was ended, the pony had had as much exercise as he wanted, and, in spite of the rain, Golightly was sweating freely. At the end of another miserable half-hour, Golightly found the world disappear before his eyes in clammy pulp. The rain had turned the pith of his huge and snowy solah-topee into an evil-smelling dough, and it had closed on his head like a half-opened mushroom. Also the green lining was beginning to run.
Golightly did not say anything worth recording here. He tore off and squeezed up as much of the brim as was in his eyes and ploughed on. The back of the helmet was flapping on his neck and the sides stuck to his ears, but the leather band and green lining kept things roughly together, so that the hat did not actually melt away where it flapped.
Presently, the pulp and the green stuff made a sort of slimy mildew which ran over Golightly in several directions — down his back and bosom for choice. The khaki color ran too — it was really shockingly bad dye — and sections of Golightly were brown, and patches were violet, and contours were ochre, and streaks were ruddy red, and blotches were nearly white, according to the nature and peculiarities of the dye. When he took out his handkerchief to wipe his face and the green of the hat-lining and the purple stuff that had soaked through on to his neck from the tie became thoroughly mixed, the effect was amazing.
Near Dhar the rain stopped and the evening sun came out and dried him up slightly. It fixed the colors, too. Three miles from Pathankote the last pony fell dead lame, and Golightly was forced to walk. He pushed on into Pathankote to find his servants. He did not know then that his khitmatgar had stopped by the roadside to get drunk, and would come on the next day saying that he had sprained his ankle. When he got into Pathankote, he couldn’t find his servants, his boots were stiff and ropy with mud, and there were large quantities of dirt about his body. The blue tie had run as much as the khaki. So he took it off with the collar and threw it away. Then he said something about servants generally and tried to get a peg. He paid eight annas for the drink, and this revealed to him that he had only six annas more in his pocket — or in the world as he stood at that hour.
He went to the Station–Master to negotiate for a first-class ticket to Khasa, where he was stationed. The booking-clerk said something to the Station–Master, the Station–Master said something to the Telegraph Clerk, and the three looked at him with curiosity. They asked him to wait for half-an-hour, while they telegraphed to Umritsar for authority. So he waited, and four constables came and grouped themselves picturesquely round him. Just as he was preparing to ask them to go away, the Station–Master said that he would give the Sahib a ticket to Umritsar, if the Sahib would kindly come inside the booking-office. Golightly stepped inside, and the next thing he knew was that a constable was attached to each of his legs and arms, while the Station–Master was trying to cram a mailbag over his head.
There was a very fair scuffle all round the booking-office, and Golightly received a nasty cut over his eye through falling against a table. But the constables were too much for him, and they and the Station–Master handcuffed him securely. As soon as the mail-bag was slipped, he began expressing his opinions, and the head-constable said:—“Without doubt this is the soldier-Englishman we required. Listen to the abuse!” Then Golightly asked the Station–Master what the this and the that the proceedings meant. The Station–Master told him he was “Private John Binkle of the —— Regiment, 5 ft. 9 in., fair hair, gray eyes, and a dissipated appearance, no marks on the body,” who had deserted a fortnight ago. Golightly began explaining at great length; and the more he explained the less the Station–Master believed him. He said that no Lieutenant could look such a ruffian as did Golightly, and that his instructions were to send his capture under proper escort to Umritsar. Golightly was feeling very damp and uncomfortable, and the language he used was not fit for publication, even in an expurgated form. The four constables saw him safe to Umritsar in an “intermediate” compartment, and he spent the four-hour journey in abusing them as fluently as his knowledge of the vernaculars allowed.
At Umritsar he was bundled out on the platform into the arms of a Corporal and two men of the —— Regiment. Golightly drew himself up and tried to carry off matters jauntily. He did not feel too jaunty in handcuffs, with four constables behind him, and the blood from the cut on his forehead stiffening on his left cheek. The Corporal was not jocular either. Golightly got as far as —“This is a very absurd mistake, my men,” when the Corporal told him to “stow his lip” and come along. Golightly did not want to come along. He desired to stop and explain. He explained very well indeed, until the Corporal cut in with:—“YOU a orficer! It’s the like o’ YOU as brings disgrace on the likes of US. Bloom-in’ fine orficer you are! I know your regiment. The Rogue’s March is the quickstep where you come from. You’re a black shame to the Service.”
Golightly kept his temper, and began explaining all over again from the beginning. Then he was marched out of the rain into the refreshment-room and told not to make a qualified fool of himself. The men were going to run him up to Fort Govindghar. And “running up” is a performance almost as undignified as the Frog March.
Golightly was nearly hysterical with rage and the chill and the mistake and the handcuffs and the headache that the cut on his forehead had given him. He really laid himself out to express what was in his mind. When he had quite finished and his throat was feeling dry, one of the men said:—“I’ve ’eard a few beggars in the click blind, stiff and crack on a bit; but I’ve never ’eard any one to touch this ’ere ’orficer.’” They were not angry with him. They rather admired him. They had some beer at the refreshment-room, and offered Golightly some too, because he had “swore won’erful.” They asked him to tell them all about the adventures of Private John Binkle while he was loose on the countryside; and that made Golightly wilder than ever. If he had kept his wits about him he would have kept quiet until an officer came; but he attempted to run.
Now the butt of a Martini in the small of your back hurts a great deal, and rotten, rain-soaked khaki tears easily when two men are jerking at your collar.
Golightly rose from the floor feeling very sick and giddy, with his shirt ripped open all down his breast and nearly all down his back. He yielded to his luck, and at that point the down-train from Lahore came in carrying one of Golightly’s Majors.
This is the Major’s evidence in full:—
“There was the sound of a scuffle in the second-class refreshment-room, so I went in and saw the most villainous loafer that I ever set eyes on. His boots and breeches were plastered with mud and beer-stains. He wore a muddy-white dunghill sort of thing on his head, and it hung down in slips on his shoulders, which were a good deal scratched. He was half in and half out of a shirt as nearly in two pieces as it could be, and he was begging the guard to look at the name on the tail of it. As he had rucked the shirt all over his head, I couldn’t at first see who he was, but I fancied that he was a man in the first stage of D. T. from the way he swore while he wrestled with his rags. When he turned round, and I had made allowance for a lump as big as a pork-pie over one eye, and some green war-paint on the face, and some violet stripes round the neck, I saw that it was Golightly. He was very glad to see me,” said the Major, “and he hoped I would not tell the Mess about it. I didn’t, but you can if you like, now that Golightly has gone Home.”
Golightly spent the greater part of that summer in trying to get the Corporal and the two soldiers tried by Court–Martial for arresting an “officer and a gentleman.” They were, of course, very sorry for their error. But the tale leaked into the regimental canteen, and thence ran about the Province.
19 — The House of Suddhoo
A stone’s throw out on either hand
From that well-ordered road we tread,
And all the world is wild and strange;
Churel and ghoul and Djinn and sprite
Shall bear us company to-night,
For we have reached the Oldest Land
Wherein the Powers of Darkness range.
—From the Dusk to the Dawn
The house of Suddhoo, near the Taksali Gate, is two-storied, with four carved windows of old brown wood, and a flat roof. You may recognize it by five red hand-prints arranged like the Five of Diamonds on the whitewash between the upper windows. Bhagwan Dass, the bunnia, and a man who says he gets his living by seal-cutting, live in the lower story with a troop of wives, servants, friends, and retainers. The two upper rooms used to be occupied by Janoo and Azizun and a little black-and-tan terrier that was stolen from an Englishman’s house and given to Janoo by a soldier. To-day, only Janoo lives in the upper rooms. Suddhoo sleeps on the roof generally, except when he sleeps in the street. He used to go to Peshawar in the cold weather to visit his son, who sells curiosities near the Edwardes’ Gate, and then he slept under a real mud roof. Suddhoo is a great friend of mine, because his cousin had a son who secured, thanks to my recommendation, the post of head-messenger to a big firm in the Station. Suddhoo says that God will make me a Lieutenant–Governor one of these days. I daresay his prophecy will come true. He is very, very old, with white hair and no teeth worth showing, and he has outlived his wits — outlived nearly everything except his fondness for his son at Peshawar. Janoo and Azizun are Kashmiris, Ladies of the City, and theirs was an ancient and more or less honorable profession; but Azizun has since married a medical student from the North–West and has settled down to a most respectable life somewhere near Bareilly. Bhagwan Dass is an extortionate and an adulterator. He is very rich. The man who is supposed to get his living by seal-cutting pretends to be very poor. This lets you know as much as is necessary of the four principal tenants in the house of Suddhoo. Then there is Me, of course; but I am only the chorus that comes in at the end to explain things. So I do not count.
Suddhoo was not clever. The man who pretended to cut seals was the cleverest of them all — Bhagwan Dass only knew how to lie — except Janoo. She was also beautiful, but that was her own affair.
Suddhoo’s son at Peshawar was attacked by pleurisy, and old Suddhoo was troubled. The seal-cutter man heard of Suddhoo’s anxiety and made capital out of it. He was abreast of the times. He got a friend in Peshawar to telegraph daily accounts of the son’s health. And here the story begins.
Suddhoo’s cousin’s son told me, one evening, that Suddhoo wanted to see me; that he was too old and feeble to come personally, and that I should be conferring an everlasting honor on the House of Suddhoo if I went to him. I went; but I think, seeing how well-off Suddhoo was then, that he might have sent something better than an ekka, which jolted fearfully, to haul out a future Lieutenant–Governor to the City on a muggy April evening. The ekka did not run quickly. It was full dark when we pulled up opposite the door of Ranjit Singh’s Tomb near the main gate of the Fort. Here was Suddhoo and he said that, by reason of my condescension, it was absolutely certain that I should become a Lieutenant–Governor while my hair was yet black. Then we talked about the weather and the state of my health, and the wheat crops, for fifteen minutes, in the Huzuri Bagh, under the stars.
Suddhoo came to the point at last. He said that Janoo had told him that there was an order of the Sirkar against magic, because it was feared that magic might one day kill the Empress of India. I didn’t know anything about the state of the law; but I fancied that something interesting was going to happen. I said that so far from magic being discouraged by the Government it was highly commended. The greatest officials of the State practiced it themselves. (If the Financial Statement isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.) Then, to encourage him further, I said that, if there was any jadoo afoot, I had not the least objection to giving it my countenance and sanction, and to seeing that it was clean jadoo — white magic, as distinguished from the unclean jadoo which kills folk. It took a long time before Suddhoo admitted that this was just what he had asked me to come for. Then he told me, in jerks and quavers, that the man who said he cut seals was a sorcerer of the cleanest kind; that every day he gave Suddhoo news of the sick son in Peshawar more quickly than the lightning could fly, and that this news was always corroborated by the letters. Further, that he had told Suddhoo how a great danger was threatening his son, which could be removed by clean jadoo; and, of course, heavy payment. I began to see how the land lay, and told Suddhoo that I also understood a little jadoo in the Western line, and would go to his house to see that everything was done decently and in order. We set off together; and on the way Suddhoo told me he had paid the seal-cutter between one hundred and two hundred rupees already; and the jadoo of that night would cost two hundred more. Which was cheap, he said, considering the greatness of his son’s danger; but I do not think he meant it.
The lights were all cloaked in the front of the house when we arrived. I could hear awful noises from behind the seal-cutter’s shop-front, as if some one were groaning his soul out. Suddhoo shook all over, and while we groped our way upstairs told me that the jadoo had begun. Janoo and Azizun met us at the stair-head, and told us that the jadoo-work was coming off in their rooms, because there was more space there. Janoo is a lady of a freethinking turn of mind. She whispered that the jadoo was an invention to get money out of Suddhoo, and that the seal-cutter would go to a hot place when he died. Suddhoo was nearly crying with fear and old age. He kept walking up and down the room in the half light, repeating his son’s name over and over again, and asking Azizun if the seal-cutter ought not to make a reduction in the case of his own landlord. Janoo pulled me over to the shadow in the recess of the carved bow-windows. The boards were up, and the rooms were only lit by one tiny lamp. There was no chance of my being seen if I stayed still.
Presently, the groans below ceased, and we heard steps on the staircase. That was the seal-cutter. He stopped outside the door as the terrier barked and Azizun fumbled at the chain, and he told Suddhoo to blow out the lamp. This left the place in jet darkness, except for the red glow from the two huqas that belonged to Janoo and Azizun. The seal-cutter came in, and I heard Suddhoo throw himself down on the floor and groan. Azizun caught her breath, and Janoo backed to one of the beds with a shudder. There was a clink of something metallic, and then shot up a pale blue-green flame near the ground. The light was just enough to show Azizun, pressed against one corner of the room with the terrier between her knees; Janoo, with her hands clasped, leaning forward as she sat on the bed; Suddhoo, face down, quivering, and the seal-cutter.
I hope I may never see another man like that seal-cutter. He was stripped to the waist, with a wreath of white jasmine as thick as my wrist round his forehead, a salmon-colored loin-cloth round his middle, and a steel bangle on each ankle. This was not awe-inspiring. It was the face of the man that turned me cold. It was blue-gray in the first place. In the second, the eyes were rolled back till you could only see the whites of them; and, in the third, the face was the face of a demon — a ghoul — anything you please except of the sleek, oily old ruffian who sat in the day-time over his turning-lathe downstairs. He was lying on his stomach, with his arms turned and crossed behind him, as if he had been thrown down pinioned. His head and neck were the only parts of him off the floor. They were nearly at right angles to the body, like the head of a cobra at spring. It was ghastly. In the centre of the room, on the bare earth floor, stood a big, deep, brass basin, with a pale blue-green light floating in the centre like a night-light. Round that basin the man on the floor wriggled himself three times. How he did it I do not know. I could see the muscles ripple along his spine and fall smooth again; but I could not see any other motion. The head seemed the only thing alive about him, except that slow curl and uncurl of the laboring back-muscles. Janoo from the bed was breathing seventy to the minute; Azizun held her hands before her eyes; and old Suddhoo, fingering at the dirt that had got into his white beard, was crying to himself. The horror of it was that the creeping, crawly thing made no sound — only crawled! And, remember, this lasted for ten minutes, while the terrier whined, and Azizun shuddered, and Janoo gasped, and Suddhoo cried.
I felt the hair lift at the back of my head, and my heart thump like a thermantidote paddle. Luckily, the seal-cutter betrayed himself by his most impressive trick and made me calm again. After he had finished that unspeakable triple crawl, he stretched his head away from the floor as high as he could, and sent out a jet of fire from his nostrils. Now, I knew how fire-spouting is done — I can do it myself — so I felt at ease. The business was a fraud. If he had only kept to that crawl without trying to raise the effect, goodness knows what I might not have thought. Both the girls shrieked at the jet of fire and the head dropped, chin down, on the floor with a thud; the whole body lying then like a corpse with its arms trussed. There was a pause of five full minutes after this, and the blue-green flame died down. Janoo stooped to settle one of her anklets, while Azizun turned her face to the wall and took the terrier in her arms. Suddhoo put out an arm mechanically to Janoo’s huqa, and she slid it across the floor with her foot. Directly above the body and on the wall, were a couple of flaming portraits, in stamped paper frames, of the Queen and the Prince of Wales. They looked down on the performance, and, to my thinking, seemed to heighten the grotesqueness of it all.
Just when the silence was getting unendurable, the body turned over and rolled away from the basin to the side of the room, where it lay stomach up. There was a faint “plop” from the basin — exactly like the noise a fish makes when it takes a fly — and the green light in the centre revived.
I looked at the basin, and saw, bobbing in the water, the dried, shrivelled, black head of a native baby — open eyes, open mouth and shaved scalp. It was worse, being so very sudden, than the crawling exhibition. We had no time to say anything before it began to speak.
Read Poe’s account of the voice that came from the mesmerized dying man, and you will realize less than one-half of the horror of that head’s voice.
There was an interval of a second or two between each word, and a sort of “ring, ring, ring,” in the note of the voice, like the timbre of a bell. It pealed slowly, as if talking to itself, for several minutes before I got rid of my cold sweat. Then the blessed solution struck me. I looked at the body lying near the doorway, and saw, just where the hollow of the throat joins on the shoulders, a muscle that had nothing to do with any man’s regular breathing, twitching away steadily. The whole thing was a careful reproduction of the Egyptian teraphin that one read about sometimes and the voice was as clever and as appalling a piece of ventriloquism as one could wish to hear. All this time the head was “lip-lip-lapping” against the side of the basin, and speaking. It told Suddhoo, on his face again whining, of his son’s illness and of the state of the illness up to the evening of that very night. I always shall respect the seal-cutter for keeping so faithfully to the time of the Peshawar telegrams. It went on to say that skilled doctors were night and day watching over the man’s life; and that he would eventually recover if the fee to the potent sorcerer, whose servant was the head in the basin, were doubled.
Here the mistake from the artistic point of view came in. To ask for twice your stipulated fee in a voice that Lazarus might have used when he rose from the dead, is absurd. Janoo, who is really a woman of masculine intellect, saw this as quickly as I did. I heard her say “Asli nahin! Fareib!” scornfully under her breath; and just as she said so, the light in the basin died out, the head stopped talking, and we heard the room door creak on its hinges. Then Janoo struck a match, lit the lamp, and we saw that head, basin, and seal-cutter were gone. Suddhoo was wringing his hands and explaining to any one who cared to listen, that, if his chances of eternal salvation depended on it, he could not raise another two hundred rupees. Azizun was nearly in hysterics in the corner; while Janoo sat down composedly on one of the beds to discuss the probabilities of the whole thing being a bunao, or “make-up.”
I explained as much as I knew of the seal-cutter’s way of jadoo; but her argument was much more simple:—“The magic that is always demanding gifts is no true magic,” said she. “My mother told me that the only potent love-spells are those which are told you for love. This seal-cutter man is a liar and a devil. I dare not tell, do anything, or get anything done, because I am in debt to Bhagwan Dass the bunnia for two gold rings and a heavy anklet. I must get my food from his shop. The seal-cutter is the friend of Bhagwan Dass, and he would poison my food. A fool’s jadoo has been going on for ten days, and has cost Suddhoo many rupees each night. The seal-cutter used black hens and lemons and mantras before. He never showed us anything like this till to-night. Azizun is a fool, and will be a pur dahnashin soon. Suddhoo has lost his strength and his wits. See now! I had hoped to get from Suddhoo many rupees while he lived, and many more after his death; and behold, he is spending everything on that offspring of a devil and a she-ass, the seal-cutter!”
Here I said:—“But what induced Suddhoo to drag me into the business? Of course I can speak to the seal-cutter, and he shall refund. The whole thing is child’s talk — shame — and senseless.”
“Suddhoo IS an old child,” said Janoo. “He has lived on the roofs these seventy years and is as senseless as a milch-goat. He brought you here to assure himself that he was not breaking any law of the Sirkar, whose salt he ate many years ago. He worships the dust off the feet of the seal-cutter, and that cow-devourer has forbidden him to go and see his son. What does Suddhoo know of your laws or the lightning-post? I have to watch his money going day by day to that lying beast below.”
Janoo stamped her foot on the floor and nearly cried with vexation; while Suddhoo was whimpering under a blanket in the corner, and Azizun was trying to guide the pipe-stem to his foolish old mouth.
Now the case stands thus. Unthinkingly, I have laid myself open to the charge of aiding and abetting the seal-cutter in obtaining money under false pretences, which is forbidden by Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. I am helpless in the matter for these reasons, I cannot inform the Police. What witnesses would support my statements? Janoo refuses flatly, Azizun is a veiled woman somewhere near Bareilly — lost in this big India of ours. I cannot again take the law into my own hands, and speak to the seal-cutter; for certain am I that, not only would Suddhoo disbelieve me, but this step would end in the poisoning of Janoo, who is bound hand and foot by her debt to the bunnia. Suddhoo is an old dotard; and whenever we meet mumbles my idiotic joke that the Sirkar rather patronizes the Black Art than otherwise. His son is well now; but Suddhoo is completely under the influence of the seal-cutter, by whose advice he regulates the affairs of his life. Janoo watches daily the money that she hoped to wheedle out of Suddhoo taken by the seal-cutter, and becomes daily more furious and sullen.
She will never tell, because she dare not; but, unless something happens to prevent her, I am afraid that the seal-cutter will die of cholera — the white arsenic kind — about the middle of May. And thus I shall have to be privy to a murder in the House of Suddhoo.
20 — His Wedded Wife
Cry “Murder!” in the market-place, and each
Will turn upon his neighbor anxious eyes
That ask:—“Art thou the man?” We hunted Cain,
Some centuries ago, across the world,
That bred the fear our own misdeeds maintain
—Vibart’s Moralities
Shakespeare says something about worms, or it may be giants or beetles, turning if you tread on them too severely. The safest plan is never to tread on a worm — not even on the last new subaltern from Home, with his buttons hardly out of their tissue paper, and the red of sappy English beef in his cheeks. This is the story of the worm that turned. For the sake of brevity, we will call Henry Augustus Ramsay Faizanne, “The Worm,” although he really was an exceedingly pretty boy, without a hair on his face, and with a waist like a girl’s when he came out to the Second “Shikarris” and was made unhappy in several ways. The “Shikarris” are a high-caste regiment, and you must be able to do things well — play a banjo or ride more than a little, or sing, or act — to get on with them.
The Worm did nothing except fall off his pony, and knock chips out of gate-posts with his trap. Even that became monotonous after a time. He objected to whist, cut the cloth at billiards, sang out of tune, kept very much to himself, and wrote to his Mamma and sisters at Home. Four of these five things were vices which the “Shikarris” objected to and set themselves to eradicate. Every one knows how subalterns are, by brother subalterns, softened and not permitted to be ferocious. It is good and wholesome, and does no one any harm, unless tempers are lost; and then there is trouble. There was a man once — but that is another story.
The “Shikarris” shikarred The Worm very much, and he bore everything without winking. He was so good and so anxious to learn, and flushed so pink, that his education was cut short, and he was left to his own devices by every one except the Senior Subaltern, who continued to make life a burden to The Worm. The Senior Subaltern meant no harm; but his chaff was coarse, and he didn’t quite understand where to stop. He had been waiting too long for his company; and that always sours a man. Also he was in love, which made him worse.
One day, after he had borrowed The Worm’s trap for a lady who never existed, had used it himself all the afternoon, had sent a note to The Worm purporting to come from the lady, and was telling the Mess all about it, The Worm rose in his place and said, in his quiet, ladylike voice: “That was a very pretty sell; but I’ll lay you a month’s pay to a month’s pay when you get your step, that I work a sell on you that you’ll remember for the rest of your days, and the Regiment after you when you’re dead or broke.” The Worm wasn’t angry in the least, and the rest of the Mess shouted. Then the Senior Subaltern looked at The Worm from the boots upwards, and down again, and said, “Done, Baby.” The Worm took the rest of the Mess to witness that the bet had been taken, and retired into a book with a sweet smile.
Two months passed, and the Senior Subaltern still educated The Worm, who began to move about a little more as the hot weather came on. I have said that the Senior Subaltern was in love. The curious thing is that a girl was in love with the Senior Subaltern. Though the Colonel said awful things, and the Majors snorted, and married Captains looked unutterable wisdom, and the juniors scoffed, those two were engaged.
The Senior Subaltern was so pleased with getting his Company and his acceptance at the same time that he forgot to bother The Worm. The girl was a pretty girl, and had money of her own. She does not come into this story at all.
One night, at the beginning of the hot weather, all the Mess, except The Worm, who had gone to his own room to write Home letters, were sitting on the platform outside the Mess House. The Band had finished playing, but no one wanted to go in. And the Captains’ wives were there also. The folly of a man in love is unlimited. The Senior Subaltern had been holding forth on the merits of the girl he was engaged to, and the ladies were purring approval, while the men yawned, when there was a rustle of skirts in the dark, and a tired, faint voice lifted itself:
“Where’s my husband?”
I do not wish in the least to reflect on the morality of the “Shikarris;” but it is on record that four men jumped up as if they had been shot. Three of them were married men. Perhaps they were afraid that their wives had come from Home unbeknownst. The fourth said that he had acted on the impulse of the moment. He explained this afterwards.
Then the voice cried:—“Oh, Lionel!” Lionel was the Senior Subaltern’s name. A woman came into the little circle of light by the candles on the peg-tables, stretching out her hands to the dark where the Senior Subaltern was, and sobbing. We rose to our feet, feeling that things were going to happen and ready to believe the worst. In this bad, small world of ours, one knows so little of the life of the next man — which, after all, is entirely his own concern — that one is not surprised when a crash comes. Anything might turn up any day for any one. Perhaps the Senior Subaltern had been trapped in his youth. Men are crippled that way occasionally. We didn’t know; we wanted to hear; and the Captains’ wives were as anxious as we. If he HAD been trapped, he was to be excused; for the woman from nowhere, in the dusty shoes, and gray travelling dress, was very lovely, with black hair and great eyes full of tears. She was tall, with a fine figure, and her voice had a running sob in it pitiful to hear. As soon as the Senior Subaltern stood up, she threw her arms round his neck, and called him “my darling,” and said she could not bear waiting alone in England, and his letters were so short and cold, and she was his to the end of the world, and would he forgive her. This did not sound quite like a lady’s way of speaking. It was too demonstrative.
Things seemed black indeed, and the Captains’ wives peered under their eyebrows at the Senior Subaltern, and the Colonel’s face set like the Day of Judgment framed in gray bristles, and no one spoke for a while.
Next the Colonel said, very shortly:—“Well, Sir?” and the woman sobbed afresh. The Senior Subaltern was half choked with the arms round his neck, but he gasped out:—“It’s a d —— d lie! I never had a wife in my life!” “Don’t swear,” said the Colonel. “Come into the Mess. We must sift this clear somehow,” and he sighed to himself, for he believed in his “Shikarris,” did the Colonel.
We trooped into the ante-room, under the full lights, and there we saw how beautiful the woman was. She stood up in the middle of us all, sometimes choking with crying, then hard and proud, and then holding out her arms to the Senior Subaltern. It was like the fourth act of a tragedy. She told us how the Senior Subaltern had married her when he was Home on leave eighteen months before; and she seemed to know all that we knew, and more too, of his people and his past life. He was white and ashy gray, trying now and again to break into the torrent of her words; and we, noting how lovely she was and what a criminal he looked, esteemed him a beast of the worst kind. We felt sorry for him, though.
I shall never forget the indictment of the Senior Subaltern by his wife. Nor will he. It was so sudden, rushing out of the dark, unannounced, into our dull lives. The Captains’ wives stood back; but their eyes were alight, and you could see that they had already convicted and sentenced the Senior Subaltern. The Colonel seemed five years older. One Major was shading his eyes with his hand and watching the woman from underneath it. Another was chewing his moustache and smiling quietly as if he were witnessing a play. Full in the open space in the centre, by the whist-tables, the Senior Subaltern’s terrier was hunting for fleas. I remember all this as clearly as though a photograph were in my hand. I remember the look of horror on the Senior Subaltern’s face. It was rather like seeing a man hanged; but much more interesting. Finally, the woman wound up by saying that the Senior Subaltern carried a double F. M. in tattoo on his left shoulder. We all knew that, and to our innocent minds it seemed to clinch the matter. But one of the Bachelor Majors said very politely:—“I presume that your marriage certificate would be more to the purpose?”
That roused the woman. She stood up and sneered at the Senior Subaltern for a cur, and abused the Major and the Colonel and all the rest. Then she wept, and then she pulled a paper from her breast, saying imperially:—“Take that! And let my husband — my lawfully wedded husband — read it aloud — if he dare!”
There was a hush, and the men looked into each other’s eyes as the Senior Subaltern came forward in a dazed and dizzy way, and took the paper. We were wondering as we stared, whether there was anything against any one of us that might turn up later on. The Senior Subaltern’s throat was dry; but, as he ran his eye over the paper, he broke out into a hoarse cackle of relief, and said to the woman:—“You young blackguard!”
But the woman had fled through a door, and on the paper was written:—“This is to certify that I, The Worm, have paid in full my debts to the Senior Subaltern, and, further, that the Senior Subaltern is my debtor, by agreement on the 23d of February, as by the Mess attested, to the extent of one month’s Captain’s pay, in the lawful currency of the India Empire.”
Then a deputation set off for The Worm’s quarters and found him, betwixt and between, unlacing his stays, with the hat, wig, serge dress, etc., on the bed. He came over as he was, and the “Shikarris” shouted till the Gunners’ Mess sent over to know if they might have a share of the fun. I think we were all, except the Colonel and the Senior Subaltern, a little disappointed that the scandal had come to nothing. But that is human nature. There could be no two words about The Worm’s acting. It leaned as near to a nasty tragedy as anything this side of a joke can. When most of the Subalterns sat upon him with sofa-cushions to find out why he had not said that acting was his strong point, he answered very quietly:—“I don’t think you ever asked me. I used to act at Home with my sisters.” But no acting with girls could account for The Worm’s display that night. Personally, I think it was in bad taste. Besides being dangerous. There is no sort of use in playing with fire, even for fun.
The “Shikarris” made him President of the Regimental Dramatic Club; and, when the Senior Subaltern paid up his debt, which he did at once, The Worm sank the money in scenery and dresses. He was a good Worm; and the “Shikarris” are proud of him. The only drawback is that he has been christened “Mrs. Senior Subaltern;” and as there are now two Mrs. Senior Subalterns in the Station, this is sometimes confusing to strangers.
Later on, I will tell you of a case something like, this, but with all the jest left out and nothing in it but real trouble.
21 — The Broken Link Handicapped
While the snaffle holds, or the “long-neck” stings,
While the big beam tilts, or the last bell rings,
While horses are horses to train and to race,
Then women and wine take a second place
For me — for me —
While a short “ten-three”
Has a field to squander or fence to face!
—Song of the G. R.
There are more ways of running a horse to suit your book than pulling his head off in the straight. Some men forget this. Understand clearly that all racing is rotten — as everything connected with losing money must be. Out here, in addition to its inherent rottenness, it has the merit of being two-thirds sham; looking pretty on paper only. Every one knows every one else far too well for business purposes. How on earth can you rack and harry and post a man for his losings, when you are fond of his wife, and live in the same Station with him? He says, “on the Monday following, I can’t settle just yet.” You say, “All right, old man,” and think your self lucky if you pull off nine hundred out of a two-thousand rupee debt. Any way you look at it, Indian racing is immoral, and expensively immoral. Which is much worse. If a man wants your money, he ought to ask for it, or send round a subscription-list, instead of juggling about the country, with an Australian larrikin; a “brumby,” with as much breed as the boy; a brace of chumars in gold-laced caps; three or four ekka-ponies with hogged manes, and a switch-tailed demirep of a mare called Arab because she has a kink in her flag. Racing leads to the shroff quicker than anything else. But if you have no conscience and no sentiments, and good hands, and some knowledge of pace, and ten years’ experience of horses, and several thousand rupees a month, I believe that you can occasionally contrive to pay your shoeing-bills.
Did you ever know Shackles — b. w. g., 15.13.8 — coarse, loose, mule-like ears — barrel as long as a gate-post — tough as a telegraph-wire — and the queerest brute that ever looked through a bridle? He was of no brand, being one of an ear-nicked mob taken into the Bucephalus at 4l.-10s. a head to make up freight, and sold raw and out of condition at Calcutta for Rs. 275. People who lost money on him called him a “brumby;” but if ever any horse had Harpoon’s shoulders and The Gin’s temper, Shackles was that horse. Two miles was his own particular distance. He trained himself, ran himself, and rode himself; and, if his jockey insulted him by giving him hints, he shut up at once and bucked the boy off. He objected to dictation. Two or three of his owners did not understand this, and lost money in consequence. At last he was bought by a man who discovered that, if a race was to be won, Shackles, and Shackles only, would win it in his own way, so long as his jockey sat still. This man had a riding-boy called Brunt — a lad from Perth, West Australia — and he taught Brunt, with a trainer’s whip, the hardest thing a jock can learn — to sit still, to sit still, and to keep on sitting still. When Brunt fairly grasped this truth, Shackles devastated the country. No weight could stop him at his own distance; and The fame of Shackles spread from Ajmir in the South, to Chedputter in the North. There was no horse like Shackles, so long as he was allowed to do his work in his own way. But he was beaten in the end; and the story of his fall is enough to make angels weep.
At the lower end of the Chedputter racecourse, just before the turn into the straight, the track passes close to a couple of old brick-mounds enclosing a funnel-shaped hollow. The big end of the funnel is not six feet from the railings on the off-side. The astounding peculiarity of the course is that, if you stand at one particular place, about half a mile away, inside the course, and speak at an ordinary pitch, your voice just hits the funnel of the brick-mounds and makes a curious whining echo there. A man discovered this one morning by accident while out training with a friend. He marked the place to stand and speak from with a couple of bricks, and he kept his knowledge to himself. EVERY peculiarity of a course is worth remembering in a country where rats play the mischief with the elephant-litter, and Stewards build jumps to suit their own stables. This man ran a very fairish country-bred, a long, racking high mare with the temper of a fiend, and the paces of an airy wandering seraph — a drifty, glidy stretch. The mare was, as a delicate tribute to Mrs. Reiver, called “The Lady Regula Baddun”— or for short, Regula Baddun.
Shackles’ jockey, Brunt, was a quiet, well-behaved boy, but his nerves had been shaken. He began his career by riding jump-races in Melbourne, where a few Stewards want lynching, and was one of the jockeys who came through the awful butchery — perhaps you will recollect it — of the Maribyrnong Plate. The walls were colonial ramparts — logs of jarrak spiked into masonry — with wings as strong as Church buttresses. Once in his stride, a horse had to jump or fall. He couldn’t run out. In the Maribyrnong Plate, twelve horses were jammed at the second wall. Red Hat, leading, fell this side, and threw out The Glen, and the ruck came up behind and the space between wing and wing was one struggling, screaming, kicking shambles. Four jockeys were taken out dead; three were very badly hurt, and Brunt was among the three. He told the story of the Maribyrnong Plate sometimes; and when he described how Whalley on Red Hat, said, as the mare fell under him:—“God ha’ mercy, I’m done for!” and how, next instant, Sithee There and White Otter had crushed the life out of poor Whalley, and the dust hid a small hell of men and horses, no one marvelled that Brunt had dropped jump-races and Australia together. Regula Baddun’s owner knew that story by heart. Brunt never varied it in the telling. He had no education.
Shackles came to the Chedputter Autumn races one year, and his owner walked about insulting the sportsmen of Chedputter generally, till they went to the Honorary Secretary in a body and said:—“Appoint Handicappers, and arrange a race which shall break Shackles and humble the pride of his owner.” The Districts rose against Shackles and sent up of their best; Ousel, who was supposed to be able to do his mile in 1–53; Petard, the stud-bred, trained by a cavalry regiment who knew how to train; Gringalet, the ewe-lamb of the 75th; Bobolink, the pride of Peshawar; and many others.
They called that race The Broken–Link Handicap, because it was to smash Shackles; and the Handicappers piled on the weights, and the Fund gave eight hundred rupees, and the distance was “round the course for all horses.” Shackles’ owner said:—“You can arrange the race with regard to Shackles only. So long as you don’t bury him under weight-cloths, I don’t mind.” Regula Baddun’s owner said:—“I throw in my mare to fret Ousel. Six furlongs is Regula’s distance, and she will then lie down and die. So also will Ousel, for his jockey doesn’t understand a waiting race.” Now, this was a lie, for Regula had been in work for two months at Dehra, and her chances were good, always supposing that Shackles broke a blood-vessel — OR BRUNT MOVED ON HIM.
The plunging in the lotteries was fine. They filled eight thousand-rupee lotteries on the Broken Link Handicap, and the account in the Pioneer said that “favoritism was divided.” In plain English, the various contingents were wild on their respective horses; for the Handicappers had done their work well. The Honorary Secretary shouted himself hoarse through the din; and the smoke of the cheroots was like the smoke, and the rattling of the dice-boxes like the rattle of small-arm fire.
Ten horses started — very level — and Regula Baddun’s owner cantered out on his back to a place inside the circle of the course, where two bricks had been thrown. He faced towards the brick-mounds at the lower end of the course and waited.
The story of the running is in the Pioneer. At the end of the first mile, Shackles crept out of the ruck, well on the outside, ready to get round the turn, lay hold of the bit and spin up the straight before the others knew he had got away. Brunt was sitting still, perfectly happy, listening to the “drum, drum, drum” of the hoofs behind, and knowing that, in about twenty strides, Shackles would draw one deep breath and go up the last half-mile like the “Flying Dutchman.” As Shackles went short to take the turn and came abreast of the brick-mound, Brunt heard, above the noise of the wind in his ears, a whining, wailing voice on the offside, saying:—“God ha’ mercy, I’m done for!” In one stride, Brunt saw the whole seething smash of the Maribyrnong Plate before him, started in his saddle and gave a yell of terror. The start brought the heels into Shackles’ side, and the scream hurt Shackles’ feelings. He couldn’t stop dead; but he put out his feet and slid along for fifty yards, and then, very gravely and judicially, bucked off Brunt — a shaking, terror-stricken lump, while Regula Baddun made a neck-and-neck race with Bobolink up the straight, and won by a short head — Petard a bad third. Shackles’ owner, in the Stand, tried to think that his field-glasses had gone wrong. Regula Baddun’s owner, waiting by the two bricks, gave one deep sigh of relief, and cantered back to the stand. He had won, in lotteries and bets, about fifteen thousand.
It was a broken-link Handicap with a vengeance. It broke nearly all the men concerned, and nearly broke the heart of Shackles’ owner. He went down to interview Brunt. The boy lay, livid and gasping with fright, where he had tumbled off. The sin of losing the race never seemed to strike him. All he knew was that Whalley had “called” him, that the “call” was a warning; and, were he cut in two for it, he would never get up again. His nerve had gone altogether, and he only asked his master to give him a good thrashing, and let him go. He was fit for nothing, he said. He got his dismissal, and crept up to the paddock, white as chalk, with blue lips, his knees giving way under him. People said nasty things in the paddock; but Brunt never heeded. He changed into tweeds, took his stick and went down the road, still shaking with fright, and muttering over and over again:—“God ha’ mercy, I’m done for!” To the best of my knowledge and belief he spoke the truth.
So now you know how the Broken–Link Handicap was run and won. Of course you don’t believe it. You would credit anything about Russia’s designs on India, or the recommendations of the Currency Commission; but a little bit of sober fact is more than you can stand!
22 — Beyond the Pale
Love heeds not caste nor sleep a broken bed. I went in search of love and lost myself.
—Hindu Proverb
A man should, whatever happens, keep to his own caste, race and breed. Let the White go to the White and the Black to the Black. Then, whatever trouble falls is in the ordinary course of things — neither sudden, alien, nor unexpected.
This is the story of a man who wilfully stepped beyond the safe limits of decent every-day society, and paid for it heavily.
He knew too much in the first instance; and he saw too much in the second. He took too deep an interest in native life; but he will never do so again.
Deep away in the heart of the City, behind Jitha Megji’s bustee, lies Amir Nath’s Gully, which ends in a dead-wall pierced by one grated window. At the head of the Gully is a big cow-byre, and the walls on either side of the Gully are without windows. Neither Suchet Singh nor Gaur Chand approved of their women-folk looking into the world. If Durga Charan had been of their opinion, he would have been a happier man today, and little Biessa would have been able to knead her own bread. Her room looked out through the grated window into the narrow dark Gully where the sun never came and where the buffaloes wallowed in the blue slime. She was a widow, about fifteen years old, and she prayed the Gods, day and night, to send her a lover; for she did not approve of living alone.
One day the man — Trejago his name was — came into Amir Nath’s Gully on an aimless wandering; and, after he had passed the buffaloes, stumbled over a big heap of cattle food.
Then he saw that the Gully ended in a trap, and heard a little laugh from behind the grated window. It was a pretty little laugh, and Trejago, knowing that, for all practical purposes, the old Arabian Nights are good guides, went forward to the window, and whispered that verse of “The Love Song of Har Dyal” which begins:
Can a man stand upright in the face of the naked Sun; or a Lover in the Presence of his Beloved?
If my feet fail me, O Heart of my Heart, am I to blame, being blinded by the glimpse of your beauty?
There came the faint tchinks of a woman’s bracelets from behind the grating, and a little voice went on with the song at the fifth verse:
Alas! alas! Can the Moon tell the Lotus of her love when the Gate of Heaven is shut and the clouds gather for the rains?
They have taken my Beloved, and driven her with the pack-horses to the North.
There are iron chains on the feet that were set on my heart.
Call to the bowman to make ready —
The voice stopped suddenly, and Trejago walked out of Amir Nath’s Gully, wondering who in the world could have capped “The Love Song of Har Dyal” so neatly.
Next morning, as he was driving to the office, an old woman threw a packet into his dog-cart. In the packet was the half of a broken glass bangle, one flower of the blood red dhak, a pinch of bhusa or cattle-food, and eleven cardamoms. That packet was a letter — not a clumsy compromising letter, but an innocent, unintelligible lover’s epistle.
Trejago knew far too much about these things, as I have said. No Englishman should be able to translate object-letters. But Trejago spread all the trifles on the lid of his office-box and began to puzzle them out.
A broken glass-bangle stands for a Hindu widow all India over; because, when her husband dies a woman’s bracelets are broken on her wrists. Trejago saw the meaning of the little bit of the glass. The flower of the dhak means diversely “desire,” “come,” “write,” or “danger,” according to the other things with it. One cardamom means “jealousy;” but when any article is duplicated in an object-letter, it loses its symbolic meaning and stands merely for one of a number indicating time, or, if incense, curds, or saffron be sent also, place. The message ran then:—“A widow dhak flower and bhusa — at eleven o’clock.” The pinch of bhusa enlightened Trejago. He saw — this kind of letter leaves much to instinctive knowledge — that the bhusa referred to the big heap of cattle-food over which he had fallen in Amir Nath’s Gully, and that the message must come from the person behind the grating; she being a widow. So the message ran then:—“A widow, in the Gully in which is the heap of bhusa, desires you to come at eleven o’clock.”
Trejago threw all the rubbish into the fireplace and laughed. He knew that men in the East do not make love under windows at eleven in the forenoon, nor do women fix appointments a week in advance. So he went, that very night at eleven, into Amir Nath’s Gully, clad in a boorka, which cloaks a man as well as a woman. Directly the gongs in the City made the hour, the little voice behind the grating took up “The Love Song of Har Dyal” at the verse where the Panthan girl calls upon Har Dyal to return. The song is really pretty in the Vernacular. In English you miss the wail of it. It runs something like this:—
Alone upon the housetops, to the North
I turn and watch the lightning in the sky —
The glamour of thy footsteps in the North,
Come back to me, Beloved, or I die!
Below my feet the still bazar is laid
Far, far below the weary camels lie —
The camels and the captives of thy raid,
Come back to me, Beloved, or I die!
My father’s wife is old and harsh with years,
And drudge of all my father’s house am I. —
My bread is sorrow and my drink is tears,
Come back to me, Beloved, or I die!
As the song stopped, Trejago stepped up under the grating and whispered:—“I am here.”
Bisesa was good to look upon.
That night was the beginning of many strange things, and of a double life so wild that Trejago today sometimes wonders if it were not all a dream. Bisesa or her old handmaiden who had thrown the object-letter had detached the heavy grating from the brick-work of the wall; so that the window slid inside, leaving only a square of raw masonry, into which an active man might climb.
In the day-time, Trejago drove through his routine of office-work, or put on his calling-clothes and called on the ladies of the Station; wondering how long they would know him if they knew of poor little Bisesa. At night, when all the City was still, came the walk under the evil-smelling boorka, the patrol through Jitha Megji’s bustee, the quick turn into Amir Nath’s Gully between the sleeping cattle and the dead walls, and then, last of all, Bisesa, and the deep, even breathing of the old woman who slept outside the door of the bare little room that Durga Charan allotted to his sister’s daughter. Who or what Durga Charan was, Trejago never inquired; and why in the world he was not discovered and knifed never occurred to him till his madness was over, and Bisesa . . . But this comes later.
Bisesa was an endless delight to Trejago. She was as ignorant as a bird; and her distorted versions of the rumors from the outside world that had reached her in her room, amused Trejago almost as much as her lisping attempts to pronounce his name —“Christopher.” The first syllable was always more than she could manage, and she made funny little gestures with her rose-leaf hands, as one throwing the name away, and then, kneeling before Trejago, asked him, exactly as an Englishwoman would do, if he were sure he loved her. Trejago swore that he loved her more than any one else in the world. Which was true.
After a month of this folly, the exigencies of his other life compelled Trejago to be especially attentive to a lady of his acquaintance. You may take it for a fact that anything of this kind is not only noticed and discussed by a man’s own race, but by some hundred and fifty natives as well. Trejago had to walk with this lady and talk to her at the Band-stand, and once or twice to drive with her; never for an instant dreaming that this would affect his dearer out-of-the-way life. But the news flew, in the usual mysterious fashion, from mouth to mouth, till Bisesa’s duenna heard of it and told Bisesa. The child was so troubled that she did the household work evilly, and was beaten by Durga Charan’s wife in consequence.
A week later, Bisesa taxed Trejago with the flirtation. She understood no gradations and spoke openly. Trejago laughed and Bisesa stamped her little feet — little feet, light as marigold flowers, that could lie in the palm of a man’s one hand.
Much that is written about “Oriental passion and impulsiveness” is exaggerated and compiled at second-hand, but a little of it is true; and when an Englishman finds that little, it is quite as startling as any passion in his own proper life. Bisesa raged and stormed, and finally threatened to kill herself if Trejago did not at once drop the alien Memsahib who had come between them. Trejago tried to explain, and to show her that she did not understand these things from a Western standpoint. Bisesa drew herself up, and said simply:
“I do not. I know only this — it is not good that I should have made you dearer than my own heart to me, Sahib. You are an Englishman. I am only a black girl”— she was fairer than bar-gold in the Mint —“and the widow of a black man.”
Then she sobbed and said: “But on my soul and my Mother’s soul, I love you. There shall no harm come to you, whatever happens to me.”
Trejago argued with the child, and tried to soothe her, but she seemed quite unreasonably disturbed. Nothing would satisfy her save that all relations between them should end. He was to go away at once. And he went. As he dropped out at the window, she kissed his forehead twice, and he walked away wondering.
A week, and then three weeks, passed without a sign from Bisesa. Trejago, thinking that the rupture had lasted quite long enough, went down to Amir Nath’s Gully for the fifth time in the three weeks, hoping that his rap at the sill of the shifting grating would be answered. He was not disappointed.
There was a young moon, and one stream of light fell down into Amir Nath’s Gully, and struck the grating, which was drawn away as he knocked. From the black dark, Bisesa held out her arms into the moonlight. Both hands had been cut off at the wrists, and the stumps were nearly healed.
Then, as Bisesa bowed her head between her arms and sobbed, some one in the room grunted like a wild beast, and something sharp — knife, sword or spear — thrust at Trejago in his boorka. The stroke missed his body, but cut into one of the muscles of the groin, and he limped slightly from the wound for the rest of his days.
The grating went into its place. There was no sign whatever from inside the house — nothing but the moonlight strip on the high wall, and the blackness of Amir Nath’s Gully behind.
The next thing Trejago remembers, after raging and shouting like a madman between those pitiless walls, is that he found himself near the river as the dawn was breaking, threw away his boorka and went home bareheaded.
What the tragedy was — whether Bisesa had, in a fit of causeless despair, told everything, or the intrigue had been discovered and she tortured to tell, whether Durga Charan knew his name, and what became of Bisesa — Trejago does not know to this day. Something horrible had happened, and the thought of what it must have been comes upon Trejago in the night now and again, and keeps him company till the morning. One special feature of the case is that he does not know where lies the front of Durga Charan’s house. It may open on to a courtyard common to two or more houses, or it may lie behind any one of the gates of Jitha Megji’s bustee. Trejago cannot tell. He cannot get Bisesa — poor little Bisesa — back again. He has lost her in the City, where each man’s house is as guarded and as unknowable as the grave; and the grating that opens into Amir Nath’s Gully has been walled up.
But Trejago pays his calls regularly, and is reckoned a very decent sort of man.
There is nothing peculiar about him, except a slight stiffness, caused by a riding-strain, in the right leg.
23 — In Error
They burnt a corpse upon the sand —
The light shone out afar;
It guided home the plunging boats
That beat from Zanzibar.
Spirit of Fire, where’er Thy altars rise.
Thou art Light of Guidance to our eyes!
—Salsette Boat–Song
There is hope for a man who gets publicly and riotously drunk more often that he ought to do; but there is no hope for the man who drinks secretly and alone in his own house — the man who is never seen to drink.
This is a rule; so there must be an exception to prove it. Moriarty’s case was that exception.
He was a Civil Engineer, and the Government, very kindly, put him quite by himself in an out-district, with nobody but natives to talk to and a great deal of work to do. He did his work well in the four years he was utterly alone; but he picked up the vice of secret and solitary drinking, and came up out of the wilderness more old and worn and haggard than the dead-alive life had any right to make him. You know the saying that a man who has been alone in the jungle for more than a year is never quite sane all his life after. People credited Moriarty’s queerness of manner and moody ways to the solitude, and said it showed how Government spoilt the futures of its best men. Moriarty had built himself the plinth of a very god reputation in the bridge-dam-girder line. But he knew, every night of the week, that he was taking steps to undermine that reputation with L. L. L. and “Christopher” and little nips of liqueurs, and filth of that kind. He had a sound constitution and a great brain, or else he would have broken down and died like a sick camel in the district, as better men have done before him.
Government ordered him to Simla after he had come out of the desert; and he went up meaning to try for a post then vacant. That season, Mrs. Reiver — perhaps you will remember her — was in the height of her power, and many men lay under her yoke. Everything bad that could be said has already been said about Mrs. Reiver, in another tale. Moriarty was heavily-built and handsome, very quiet and nervously anxious to please his neighbors when he wasn’t sunk in a brown study. He started a good deal at sudden noises or if spoken to without warning; and, when you watched him drinking his glass of water at dinner, you could see the hand shake a little. But all this was put down to nervousness, and the quiet, steady, “sip-sip-sip, fill and sip-sip-sip, again,” that went on in his own room when he was by himself, was never known. Which was miraculous, seeing how everything in a man’s private life is public property out here.
Moriarty was drawn, not into Mrs. Reiver’s set, because they were not his sort, but into the power of Mrs. Reiver, and he fell down in front of her and made a goddess of her. This was due to his coming fresh out of the jungle to a big town. He could not scale things properly or see who was what.
Because Mrs. Reiver was cold and hard, he said she was stately and dignified. Because she had no brains, and could not talk cleverly, he said she was reserved and shy. Mrs. Reiver shy! Because she was unworthy of honor or reverence from any one, he reverenced her from a distance and dowered her with all the virtues in the Bible and most of those in Shakespeare.
This big, dark, abstracted man who was so nervous when a pony cantered behind him, used to moon in the train of Mrs. Reiver, blushing with pleasure when she threw a word or two his way. His admiration was strictly platonic: even other women saw and admitted this. He did not move out in Simla, so he heard nothing against his idol: which was satisfactory. Mrs. Reiver took no special notice of him, beyond seeing that he was added to her list of admirers, and going for a walk with him now and then, just to show that he was her property, claimable as such. Moriarty must have done most of the talking, for Mrs. Reiver couldn’t talk much to a man of his stamp; and the little she said could not have been profitable. What Moriarty believed in, as he had good reason to, was Mrs. Reiver’s influence over him, and, in that belief, set himself seriously to try to do away with the vice that only he himself knew of.
His experiences while he was fighting with it must have been peculiar, but he never described them. Sometimes he would hold off from everything except water for a week. Then, on a rainy night, when no one had asked him out to dinner, and there was a big fire in his room, and everything comfortable, he would sit down and make a big night of it by adding little nip to little nip, planning big schemes of reformation meanwhile, until he threw himself on his bed hopelessly drunk. He suffered next morning.
One night, the big crash came. He was troubled in his own mind over his attempts to make himself “worthy of the friendship” of Mrs. Reiver. The past ten days had been very bad ones, and the end of it all was that he received the arrears of two and three-quarter years of sipping in one attack of delirium tremens of the subdued kind; beginning with suicidal depression, going on to fits and starts and hysteria, and ending with downright raving. As he sat in a chair in front of the fire, or walked up and down the room picking a handkerchief to pieces, you heard what poor Moriarty really thought of Mrs. Reiver, for he raved about her and his own fall for the most part; though he ravelled some P. W. D. accounts into the same skein of thought. He talked, and talked, and talked in a low dry whisper to himself, and there was no stopping him. He seemed to know that there was something wrong, and twice tried to pull himself together and confer rationally with the Doctor; but his mind ran out of control at once, and he fell back to a whisper and the story of his troubles. It is terrible to hear a big man babbling like a child of all that a man usually locks up, and puts away in the deep of his heart. Moriarty read out his very soul for the benefit of any one who was in the room between ten-thirty that night and two-forty-five next morning.
From what he said, one gathered how immense an influence Mrs. Reiver held over him, and how thoroughly he felt for his own lapse. His whisperings cannot, of course, be put down here; but they were very instructive as showing the errors of his estimates.
When the trouble was over, and his few acquaintances were pitying him for the bad attack of jungle-fever that had so pulled him down, Moriarty swore a big oath to himself and went abroad again with Mrs. Reiver till the end of the season, adoring her in a quiet and deferential way as an angel from heaven. Later on he took to riding — not hacking, but honest riding — which was good proof that he was improving, and you could slam doors behind him without his jumping to his feet with a gasp. That, again, was hopeful.
How he kept his oath, and what it cost him in the beginning, nobody knows. He certainly managed to compass the hardest thing that a man who has drank heavily can do. He took his peg and wine at dinner, but he never drank alone, and never let what he drank have the least hold on him.
Once he told a bosom-friend the story of his great trouble, and how the “influence of a pure honest woman, and an angel as well” had saved him. When the man — startled at anything good being laid to Mrs. Reiver’s door — laughed, it cost him Moriarty’s friendship. Moriarty, who is married now to a woman ten thousand times better than Mrs. Reiver — a woman who believes that there is no man on earth as good and clever as her husband — will go down to his grave vowing and protesting that Mrs. Reiver saved him from ruin in both worlds.
That she knew anything of Moriarty’s weakness nobody believed for a moment. That she would have cut him dead, thrown him over, and acquainted all her friends with her discovery, if she had known of it, nobody who knew her doubted for an instant.
Moriarty thought her something she never was, and in that belief saved himself. Which was just as good as though she had been everything that he had imagined.
But the question is, what claim will Mrs. Reiver have to the credit of Moriarty’s salvation, when her day of reckoning comes?
24 — A Bank Fraud
He drank strong waters and his speech was coarse;
He purchased raiment and forebore to pay;
He struck a trusting junior with a horse,
And won Gymkhanas in a doubtful way.
Then, ’twixt a vice and folly, turned aside
To do good deeds and straight to cloak them, lied.
—The Mess Room
If Reggie Burke were in India now, he would resent this tale being told; but as he is in Hong–Kong and won’t see it, the telling is safe. He was the man who worked the big fraud on the Sind and Sialkote Bank. He was manager of an up-country Branch, and a sound practical man with a large experience of native loan and insurance work. He could combine the frivolities of ordinary life with his work, and yet do well. Reggie Burke rode anything that would let him get up, danced as neatly as he rode, and was wanted for every sort of amusement in the Station.
As he said himself, and as many men found out rather to their surprise, there were two Burkes, both very much at your service. “Reggie Burke,” between four and ten, ready for anything from a hot-weather gymkhana to a riding-picnic; and, between ten and four, “Mr. Reginald Burke, Manager of the Sind and Sialkote Branch Bank.” You might play polo with him one afternoon and hear him express his opinions when a man crossed; and you might call on him next morning to raise a two-thousand rupee loan on a five hundred pound insurance-policy, eighty pounds paid in premiums. He would recognize you, but you would have some trouble in recognizing him.
The Directors of the Bank — it had its headquarters in Calcutta and its General Manager’s word carried weight with the Government — picked their men well. They had tested Reggie up to a fairly severe breaking-strain. They trusted him just as much as Directors ever trust Managers. You must see for yourself whether their trust was misplaced.
Reggie’s Branch was in a big Station, and worked with the usual staff — one Manager, one Accountant, both English, a Cashier, and a horde of native clerks; besides the Police patrol at nights outside. The bulk of its work, for it was in a thriving district, was hoondi and accommodation of all kinds. A fool has no grip of this sort of business; and a clever man who does not go about among his clients, and know more than a little of their affairs, is worse than a fool. Reggie was young-looking, clean-shaved, with a twinkle in his eye, and a head that nothing short of a gallon of the Gunners’ Madeira could make any impression on.
One day, at a big dinner, he announced casually that the Directors had shifted on to him a Natural Curiosity, from England, in the Accountant line. He was perfectly correct. Mr. Silas Riley, Accountant, was a MOST curious animal — a long, gawky, rawboned Yorkshireman, full of the savage self-conceit that blossom’s only in the best county in England. Arrogance was a mild word for the mental attitude of Mr. S. Riley. He had worked himself up, after seven years, to a Cashier’s position in a Huddersfield Bank; and all his experience lay among the factories of the North. Perhaps he would have done better on the Bombay side, where they are happy with one-half per cent. profits, and money is cheap. He was useless for Upper India and a wheat Province, where a man wants a large head and a touch of imagination if he is to turn out a satisfactory balance-sheet.
He was wonderfully narrow-minded in business, and, being new to the country, had no notion that Indian banking is totally distinct from Home work. Like most clever self-made men, he had much simplicity in his nature; and, somehow or other, had construed the ordinarily polite terms of his letter of engagement into a belief that the Directors had chosen him on account of his special and brilliant talents, and that they set great store by him. This notion grew and crystallized; thus adding to his natural North-country conceit. Further, he was delicate, suffered from some trouble in his chest, and was short in his temper.
You will admit that Reggie had reason to call his new Accountant a Natural Curiosity. The two men failed to hit it off at all. Riley considered Reggie a wild, feather-headed idiot, given to Heaven only knew what dissipation in low places called “Messes,” and totally unfit for the serious and solemn vocation of banking. He could never get over Reggie’s look of youth and “you-be-damned” air; and he couldn’t understand Reggie’s friends — clean-built, careless men in the Army — who rode over to big Sunday breakfasts at the Bank, and told sultry stories till Riley got up and left the room. Riley was always showing Reggie how the business ought to be conducted, and Reggie had more than once to remind him that seven years’ limited experience between Huddersfield and Beverly did not qualify a man to steer a big up-country business. Then Riley sulked and referred to himself as a pillar of the Bank and a cherished friend of the Directors, and Reggie tore his hair. If a man’s English subordinates fail him in this country, he comes to a hard time indeed, for native help has strict limitations. In the winter Riley went sick for weeks at a time with his lung complaint, and this threw more work on Reggie. But he preferred it to the everlasting friction when Riley was well.
One of the Travelling Inspectors of the Bank discovered these collapses and reported them to the Directors. Now Riley had been foisted on the Bank by an M. P., who wanted the support of Riley’s father, who, again, was anxious to get his son out to a warmer climate because of those lungs. The M. P. had an interest in the Bank; but one of the Directors wanted to advance a nominee of his own; and, after Riley’s father had died, he made the rest of the Board see that an Accountant who was sick for half the year, had better give place to a healthy man. If Riley had known the real story of his appointment, he might have behaved better; but knowing nothing, his stretches of sickness alternated with restless, persistent, meddling irritation of Reggie, and all the hundred ways in which conceit in a subordinate situation can find play. Reggie used to call him striking and hair-curling names behind his back as a relief to his own feelings; but he never abused him to his face, because he said: “Riley is such a frail beast that half of his loathsome conceit is due to pains in the chest.”
Late one April, Riley went very sick indeed. The doctor punched him and thumped him, and told him he would be better before long. Then the doctor went to Reggie and said:—“Do you know how sick your Accountant is?” “No!” said Reggie —“The worse the better, confound him! He’s a clacking nuisance when he’s well. I’ll let you take away the Bank Safe if you can drug him silent for this hot-weather.”
But the doctor did not laugh —“Man, I’m not joking,” he said. “I’ll give him another three months in his bed and a week or so more to die in. On my honor and reputation that’s all the grace he has in this world. Consumption has hold of him to the marrow.”
Reggie’s face changed at once into the face of “Mr. Reginald Burke,” and he answered:—“What can I do?”
“Nothing,” said the doctor. “For all practical purposes the man is dead already. Keep him quiet and cheerful and tell him he’s going to recover. That’s all. I’ll look after him to the end, of course.”
The doctor went away, and Reggie sat down to open the evening mail. His first letter was one from the Directors, intimating for his information that Mr. Riley was to resign, under a month’s notice, by the terms of his agreement, telling Reggie that their letter to Riley would follow and advising Reggie of the coming of a new Accountant, a man whom Reggie knew and liked.
Reggie lit a cheroot, and, before he had finished smoking, he had sketched the outline of a fraud. He put away —“burked”— the Directors letter, and went in to talk to Riley, who was as ungracious as usual, and fretting himself over the way the bank would run during his illness. He never thought of the extra work on Reggie’s shoulders, but solely of the damage to his own prospects of advancement. Then Reggie assured him that everything would be well, and that he, Reggie, would confer with Riley daily on the management of the Bank. Riley was a little soothed, but he hinted in as many words that he did not think much of Reggie’s business capacity. Reggie was humble. And he had letters in his desk from the Directors that a Gilbarte or a Hardie might have been proud of!
The days passed in the big darkened house, and the Directors’ letter of dismissal to Riley came and was put away by Reggie, who, every evening, brought the books to Riley’s room, and showed him what had been going forward, while Riley snarled. Reggie did his best to make statements pleasing to Riley, but the Accountant was sure that the Bank was going to rack and ruin without him. In June, as the lying in bed told on his spirit, he asked whether his absence had been noted by the Directors, and Reggie said that they had written most sympathetic letters, hoping that he would be able to resume his valuable services before long. He showed Riley the letters: and Riley said that the Directors ought to have written to him direct. A few days later, Reggie opened Riley’s mail in the half-light of the room, and gave him the sheet — not the envelope — of a letter to Riley from the Directors. Riley said he would thank Reggie not to interfere with his private papers, specially as Reggie knew he was too weak to open his own letters. Reggie apologized.
Then Riley’s mood changed, and he lectured Reggie on his evil ways: his horses and his bad friends. “Of course, lying here on my back, Mr. Burke, I can’t keep you straight; but when I’m well, I DO hope you’ll pay some heed to my words.” Reggie, who had dropped polo, and dinners, and tennis, and all to attend to Riley, said that he was penitent and settled Riley’s head on the pillow and heard him fret and contradict in hard, dry, hacking whispers, without a sign of impatience. This at the end of a heavy day’s office work, doing double duty, in the latter half of June.
When the new Accountant came, Reggie told him the facts of the case, and announced to Riley that he had a guest staying with him. Riley said that he might have had more consideration than to entertain his “doubtful friends” at such a time. Reggie made Carron, the new Accountant, sleep at the Club in consequence. Carron’s arrival took some of the heavy work off his shoulders, and he had time to attend to Riley’s exactions — to explain, soothe, invent, and settle and resettle the poor wretch in bed, and to forge complimentary letters from Calcutta. At the end of the first month, Riley wished to send some money home to his mother. Reggie sent the draft. At the end of the second month, Riley’s salary came in just the same. Reggie paid it out of his own pocket; and, with it, wrote Riley a beautiful letter from the Directors.
Riley was very ill indeed, but the flame of his life burnt unsteadily. Now and then he would be cheerful and confident about the future, sketching plans for going Home and seeing his mother. Reggie listened patiently when the office work was over, and encouraged him.
At other times Riley insisted on Reggie’s reading the Bible and grim “Methody” tracts to him. Out of these tracts he pointed morals directed at his Manager. But he always found time to worry Reggie about the working of the Bank, and to show him where the weak points lay.
This indoor, sick-room life and constant strains wore Reggie down a good deal, and shook his nerves, and lowered his billiard-play by forty points. But the business of the Bank, and the business of the sick-room, had to go on, though the glass was 116 degrees in the shade.
At the end of the third month, Riley was sinking fast, and had begun to realize that he was very sick. But the conceit that made him worry Reggie, kept him from believing the worst. “He wants some sort of mental stimulant if he is to drag on,” said the doctor. “Keep him interested in life if you care about his living.” So Riley, contrary to all the laws of business and the finance, received a 25-per-cent, rise of salary from the Directors. The “mental stimulant” succeeded beautifully. Riley was happy and cheerful, and, as is often the case in consumption, healthiest in mind when the body was weakest. He lingered for a full month, snarling and fretting about the Bank, talking of the future, hearing the Bible read, lecturing Reggie on sin, and wondering when he would be able to move abroad.
But at the end of September, one mercilessly hot evening, he rose up in his bed with a little gasp, and said quickly to Reggie:—“Mr. Burke, I am going to die. I know it in myself. My chest is all hollow inside, and there’s nothing to breathe with. To the best of my knowledge I have done nowt”— he was returning to the talk of his boyhood —“to lie heavy on my conscience. God be thanked, I have been preserved from the grosser forms of sin; and I counsel YOU, Mr. Burke. . . . ”
Here his voice died down, and Reggie stooped over him.
“Send my salary for September to my mother. . . . done great things with the Bank if I had been spared. . . . mistaken policy. . . . no fault of mine.”
Then he turned his face to the wall and died.
Reggie drew the sheet over Its face, and went out into the verandah, with his last “mental stimulant”— a letter of condolence and sympathy from the Directors — unused in his pocket.
“If I’d been only ten minutes earlier,” thought Reggie, “I might have heartened him up to pull through another day.”
25 — Tod’s Amendment
The World hath set its heavy yoke
Upon the old white-bearded folk
Who strive to please the King.
God’s mercy is upon the young,
God’s wisdom in the baby tongue
That fears not anything.
—The Parable of Chajju Bhagat
Now Tods’ Mamma was a singularly charming woman, and every one in Simla knew Tods. Most men had saved him from death on occasions. He was beyond his ayah’s control altogether, and perilled his life daily to find out what would happen if you pulled a Mountain Battery mule’s tail. He was an utterly fearless young Pagan, about six years old, and the only baby who ever broke the holy calm of the supreme Legislative Council.
It happened this way: Tods’ pet kid got loose, and fled up the hill, off the Boileaugunge Road, Tods after it, until it burst into the Viceregal Lodge lawn, then attached to “Peterhoff.” The Council were sitting at the time, and the windows were open because it was warm. The Red Lancer in the porch told Tods to go away; but Tods knew the Red Lancer and most of the Members of Council personally. Moreover, he had firm hold of the kid’s collar, and was being dragged all across the flower-beds. “Give my salaam to the long Councillor Sahib, and ask him to help me take Moti back!” gasped Tods. The Council heard the noise through the open windows; and, after an interval, was seen the shocking spectacle of a Legal Member and a Lieutenant–Governor helping, under the direct patronage of a Commander-inChief and a Viceroy, one small and very dirty boy in a sailor’s suit and a tangle of brown hair, to coerce a lively and rebellious kid. They headed it off down the path to the Mall, and Tods went home in triumph and told his Mamma that ALL the Councillor Sahibs had been helping him to catch Moti. Whereat his Mamma smacked Tods for interfering with the administration of the Empire; but Tods met the Legal Member the next day, and told him in confidence that if the Legal Member ever wanted to catch a goat, he, Tods, would give him all the help in his power. “Thank you, Tods,” said the Legal Member.
Tods was the idol of some eighty jhampanis, and half as many saises. He saluted them all as “O Brother.” It never entered his head that any living human being could disobey his orders; and he was the buffer between the servants and his Mamma’s wrath. The working of that household turned on Tods, who was adored by every one from the dhoby to the dog-boy. Even Futteh Khan, the villainous loafer khit from Mussoorie, shirked risking Tods’ displeasure for fear his co-mates should look down on him.
So Tods had honor in the land from Boileaugunge to Chota Simla, and ruled justly according to his lights. Of course, he spoke Urdu, but he had also mastered many queer side-speeches like the chotee bolee of the women, and held grave converse with shopkeepers and Hill-coolies alike. He was precocious for his age, and his mixing with natives had taught him some of the more bitter truths of life; the meanness and the sordidness of it. He used, over his bread and milk, to deliver solemn and serious aphorisms, translated from the vernacular into the English, that made his Mamma jump and vow that Tods MUST go home next hot weather.
Just when Tods was in the bloom of his power, the Supreme Legislature were hacking out a Bill, for the Sub–Montane Tracts, a revision of the then Act, smaller than the Punjab Land Bill, but affecting a few hundred thousand people none the less. The Legal Member had built, and bolstered, and embroidered, and amended that Bill, till it looked beautiful on paper. Then the Council began to settle what they called the “minor details.” As if any Englishman legislating for natives knows enough to know which are the minor and which are the major points, from the native point of view, of any measure! That Bill was a triumph of “safe guarding the interests of the tenant.” One clause provided that land should not be leased on longer terms than five years at a stretch; because, if the landlord had a tenant bound down for, say, twenty years, he would squeeze the very life out of him. The notion was to keep up a stream of independent cultivators in the Sub–Montane Tracts; and ethnologically and politically the notion was correct. The only drawback was that it was altogether wrong. A native’s life in India implies the life of his son. Wherefore, you cannot legislate for one generation at a time. You must consider the next from the native point of view. Curiously enough, the native now and then, and in Northern India more particularly, hates being over-protected against himself. There was a Naga village once, where they lived on dead AND buried Commissariat mules. . . . But that is another story.
For many reasons, to be explained later, the people concerned objected to the Bill. The Native Member in Council knew as much about Punjabis as he knew about Charing Cross. He had said in Calcutta that “the Bill was entirely in accord with the desires of that large and important class, the cultivators;” and so on, and so on. The Legal Member’s knowledge of natives was limited to English-speaking Durbaris, and his own red chaprassis, the Sub–Montane Tracts concerned no one in particular, the Deputy Commissioners were a good deal too driven to make representations, and the measure was one which dealt with small landholders only. Nevertheless, the Legal Member prayed that it might be correct, for he was a nervously conscientious man. He did not know that no man can tell what natives think unless he mixes with them with the varnish off. And not always then. But he did the best he knew. And the measure came up to the Supreme Council for the final touches, while Tods patrolled the Burra Simla Bazar in his morning rides, and played with the monkey belonging to Ditta Mull, the bunnia, and listened, as a child listens to all the stray talk about this new freak of the Lat Sahib’s.
One day there was a dinner-party, at the house of Tods’ Mamma, and the Legal Member came. Tods was in bed, but he kept awake till he heard the bursts of laughter from the men over the coffee. Then he paddled out in his little red flannel dressing-gown and his night-suit, and took refuge by the side of his father, knowing that he would not be sent back. “See the miseries of having a family!” said Tods’ father, giving Tods three prunes, some water in a glass that had been used for claret, and telling him to sit still. Tods sucked the prunes slowly, knowing that he would have to go when they were finished, and sipped the pink water like a man of the world, as he listened to the conversation. Presently, the Legal Member, talking “shop,” to the Head of a Department, mentioned his Bill by its full name —“The Sub–Montane Tracts Ryotwari Revised Enactment.” Tods caught the one native word, and lifting up his small voice said:—“Oh, I know ALL about that! Has it been murramutted yet, Councillor Sahib?”
“How much?” said the Legal Member.
“Murramutted — mended. — Put theek, you know — made nice to please Ditta Mull!”
The Legal Member left his place and moved up next to Tods.
“What do you know about Ryotwari, little man?” he said.
“I’m not a little man, I’m Tods, and I know ALL about it. Ditta Mull, and Choga Lall, and Amir Nath, and — oh, lakhs of my friends tell me about it in the bazars when I talk to them.”
“Oh, they do — do they? What do they say, Tods?”
Tods tucked his feet under his red flannel dressing-gown and said:—“I must fink.”
The Legal Member waited patiently. Then Tods, with infinite compassion:
“You don’t speak my talk, do you, Councillor Sahib?”
“No; I am sorry to say I do not,” said the Legal’ Member.
“Very well,” said Tods. “I must fink in English.”
He spent a minute putting his ideas in order, and began very slowly, translating in his mind from the vernacular to English, as many Anglo–Indian children do. You must remember that the Legal Member helped him on by questions when he halted, for Tods was not equal to the sustained flight of oratory that follows.
“Ditta Mull says:—‘This thing is the talk of a child, and was made up by fools.’ But I don’t think you are a fool, Councillor Sahib,” said Todds, hastily. “You caught my goat. This is what Ditta Mull says:—‘I am not a fool, and why should the Sirkar say I am a child? I can see if the land is good and if the landlord is good. If I am a fool, the sin is upon my own head. For five years I take my ground for which I have saved money, and a wife I take too, and a little son is born.’ Ditta Mull has one daughter now, but he SAYS he will have a son, soon. And he says: ‘At the end of five years, by this new bundobust, I must go. If I do not go, I must get fresh seals and takkus-stamps on the papers, perhaps in the middle of the harvest, and to go to the law-courts once is wisdom, but to go twice is Jehannum.’ That is QUITE true,” explained Tods, gravely. “All my friends say so. And Ditta Mull says:—‘Always fresh takkus and paying money to vakils and chaprassis and law-courts every five years or else the landlord makes me go. Why do I want to go? Am I fool? If I am a fool and do not know, after forty years, good land when I see it, let me die! But if the new bundobust says for FIFTEEN years, then it is good and wise. My little son is a man, and I am burnt, and he takes the ground or another ground, paying only once for the takkus-stamps on the papers, and his little son is born, and at the end of fifteen years is a man too. But what profit is there in five years and fresh papers? Nothing but dikh, trouble, dikh. We are not young men who take these lands, but old ones — not jais, but tradesmen with a little money — and for fifteen years we shall have peace. Nor are we children that the Sirkar should treat us so.”
Here Tods stopped short, for the whole table were listening. The Legal Member said to Tods: “Is that all?”
“All I can remember,” said Tods. “But you should see Ditta Mull’s big monkey. It’s just like a Councillor Sahib.”
“Tods! Go to bed,” said his father.
Tods gathered up his dressing-gown tail and departed.
The Legal Member brought his hand down on the table with a crash —“By Jove!” said the Legal Member, “I believe the boy is right. The short tenure IS the weak point.”
He left early, thinking over what Tods had said. Now, it was obviously impossible for the Legal Member to play with a bunnia’s monkey, by way of getting understanding; but he did better. He made inquiries, always bearing in mind the fact that the real native — not the hybrid, University-trained mule — is as timid as a colt, and, little by little, he coaxed some of the men whom the measure concerned most intimately to give in their views, which squared very closely with Tods’ evidence.
So the Bill was amended in that clause; and the Legal Member was filled with an uneasy suspicion that Native Members represent very little except the Orders they carry on their bosoms. But he put the thought from him as illiberal. He was a most Liberal Man.
After a time the news spread through the bazars that Tods had got the Bill recast in the tenure clause, and if Tods’ Mamma had not interfered, Tods would have made himself sick on the baskets of fruit and pistachio nuts and Cabuli grapes and almonds that crowded the verandah. Till he went Home, Tods ranked some few degrees before the Viceroy in popular estimation. But for the little life of him Tods could not understand why.
In the Legal Member’s private-paper-box still lies the rough draft of the Sub–Montane Tracts Ryotwari Revised Enactment; and, opposite the twenty-second clause, pencilled in blue chalk, and signed by the Legal Member, are the words “Tods’ Amendment.”
26 — The Daughter of the Regiment
Jain 'Ardin' was a Sarjint's wife,
A Sarjint's wife wus she,
She married of 'im in Orldershort
An' comed across the sea.
'Ave you never 'eard tell o' Jain 'Ardin'?
Jain 'Ardin'?
Jain 'Ardin'?
'Ave you never 'eard tell o' Jain 'Ardin'?
The pride o' the Companee?
—Old Barrack Room Ballad
"A gentleman who doesn't know the Circasian Circle ought not to stand up for it—puttin' everybody out." That was what Miss McKenna said, and the Sergeant who was my vis-à-vis looked the same thing. I was afraid of Miss McKenna. She was six feet high, all yellow freckles and red hair, and was simply clad in white satin shoes, a pink muslin dress, an apple-green stuff sash, and black silk gloves, with yellow roses in her hair. Wherefore I fled from Miss McKenna and sought my friend Private Mulvaney, who was at the cant—refreshment-table.
"So you've been dancin' with little Jhansi McKenna, sorr—she that's goin' to marry Corp'ril Slane? Whin you next conversh wid your lorruds an' your ladies, tell thim you've danced wid little Jhansi. 'Tis a thing to be proud av."
But I wasn't proud. I was humble. I saw a story in Private Mulvaney's eye; and besides, if he stayed too long at the bar, he would, I knew, qualify for more pack-drill. Now to meet an esteemed friend doing pack-drill outside the guardroom is embarrassing, especially if you happen to be walking with his Commanding Officer.
"Come on to the parade-ground, Mulvaney, it's cooler there, and tell me about Miss McKenna. What is she, and who is she, and why is she called 'Jhansi'?"
"D'ye mane to say you've niver heard av Ould Pummeloe's daughter? An' you thinkin' you know things! I'm wid ye in a minut whin me poipe's lit."
We came out under the stars. Mulvaney sat down on one of the artillery bridges, and began in the usual way: his pipe between his teeth, his big hands clasped and dropped between his knees, and his cap well on the back of his head—
"Whin Mrs. Mulvaney, that is, was Miss Shadd that was, you were a dale younger than you are now, an' the Army was dif'rint in sev'ril e-senshuls. Bhoys have no call for to marry nowadays, an' that's why the Army has so few rale good, honust, swearin', strapagin', tinder-hearted, heavy-futted wives as ut used to have whin I was a Corp'ril. I was rejuced aftherward—but no matther—I was a Corp'ril wanst. In thim times, a man lived an' died wid his regiment; an' by natur', he married whin he was a man. Whin I was Corp'ril—Mother av Hivin, how the rigimint has died an' been borrun since that day!—my Color-Sar'jint was Ould McKenna—an' a married man tu. An' his woife—his first woife, for he married three times did McKenna—was Bridget McKenna, from Portarlington, like mesilf. I've misremembered fwhat her first name was; but in B Comp'ny we called her 'Ould Pummeloe,' by reason av her figure, which was entirely cir-cum-fe-renshill. Like the big dhrum! Now that woman—God rock her sowl to rest in glory!—was for everlastin' havin' childher; an' McKenna, whin the fifth or sixth come squallin' on to the musther-roll, swore he wud number thim off in future. But Ould Pummeloe she prayed av him to christen them after the names av the stations they was borrun in. So there was Colaba McKenna, an' Muttra McKenna, an' a whole Presidincy av other McKennas, an' little Jhansi, dancin' over yonder. Whin the childher wasn't bornin', they was dying; for, av our childher die like sheep in these days, they died like flies thin, I lost me own little Shadd—but no matther. 'Tis long ago, and Mrs. Mulvaney niver had another.
"I'm digresshin. Wan divil's hot summer, there come an order from some mad ijjit, whose name I misremember, for the rigimint to go up-country. Maybe they wanted to know how the new rail carried throops. They knew! On me sowl, they knew before they was done! Old Pummeloe had just buried Muttra McKenna; an', the season bein' onwholesim, only little Jhansi McKenna, who was four year ould thin, was left on hand.
"Five children gone in fourteen months. 'Twas harrd, wasn't ut?
"So we wint up to our new station in that blazin' heat—may the curse av Saint Lawrence conshume the man who gave the ordher! Will I iver forget that move? They gave us two wake thrains to the rigimint; an' we was eight hundher' and sivinty strong. There was A, B, C, an' D Companies in the secon' thrain, wid twelve women, no orficers' ladies, an' thirteen childher. We was to go six hundher' miles, an' railways was new in thim days. Whin we had been a night in the belly av the thrain—the men ragin' in their shirts an' dhrinkin' anything they cud find, an' eatin' bad fruit-stuff whin they cud, for we cudn't stop 'em—I was a Corp'ril thin—the cholera bruk out wid the dawnin' av the day.
"Pray to the Saints, you may niver see cholera in a throop-thrain! 'Tis like the judgmint av God hittin' down from the nakid sky! We run into a rest-camp—as ut might have been Ludianny, but not by any means so comfortable. The Orficer Commandin' sent a telegrapt up the line, three hundher' mile up, askin' for help. Faith, we wanted ut, for ivry sowl av the followers ran for the dear life as soon as the thrain stopped; an' by the time that telegrapt was writ, there wasn't a naygur in the station exceptin' the telegrapt-clerk—an' he only bekaze he was held down to his chair by the scruff av his sneakin' black neck. Thin the day began wid the noise in the carr'ges, an' the rattle av the men on the platform fallin' over, arms an' all, as they stud for to answer the Comp'ny muster-roll before goin' over to the camp. 'Tisn't for me to say what like the cholera was like. Maybe the Doctor cud ha' tould, av he hadn't dropped on to the platform from the door av a carriage where we was takin' out the dead. He died wid the rest. Some bhoys had died in the night. We tuk out siven, and twenty more was sickenin' as we tuk thim. The women was huddled up anyways, screamin' wid fear.
"Sez the Commandin' Orficer whose name I misremember, 'Take the women over to that tope av trees yonder. Get thim out av the camp. 'Tis no place for thim.'
"Ould Pummeloe was sittin' on her beddin'-rowl, thryin' to kape little Jhansi quiet. 'Go off to that tope!' sez the Orficer. 'Go out av the men's way!'
"'Be damned av I do!' sez Ould Pummeloe, an' little Jhansi, squattin' by her mother's side, squeaks out, 'Be damned av I do,' tu. Thin Ould Pummeloe turns to the women an' she sez, 'Are ye goin' to let the bhoys die while you're picnickin', ye sluts?' sez she. 'Tis wather they want. Come on an' help.'
"Wid that, she turns up her sleeves an' steps out for a well behind the rest-camp—little Jhansi trottin' behind wid a lotah an' string, an' the other women followin' like lambs, wid horse-buckets and cookin' pots. Whin all the things was full, Ould Pummeloe marches back into camp—'twas like a battlefield wid all the glory missin'—at the hid av the rigimint av women.
"'McKenna, me man!' she sez, wid a voice on her like grand-roun's challenge, 'tell the bhoys to be quiet. Ould Pummeloe's comin' to look afther thim—wid free dhrinks.'
"Thin we cheered, an' the cheerin' in the lines was louder than the noise av the poor divils wid the sickness on thim. But not much.
"You see, we was a new an' raw rigimint in those days, an' we cud make neither head nor tail av the sickness; an' so we was useless. The men was goin' roun' an' about like dumb sheep, waitin' for the nex' man to fall over, an' sayin' undher their spache, 'Fwhat is ut? In the name av God, fwhat is ut?' 'Twas horrible. But through ut all, up an' down, an' down an' up, wint Ould Pummeloe an' little Jhansi—all we cud see av the baby, undher a dead man's helmut wid the chin-strap swingin' about her little stummick—up an' down wid the wather an' fwhat brandy there was.
"Now an' thin Ould Pummeloe, the tears runnin' down her fat, red face, sez, 'Me bhoys, me poor, dead, darlin' bhoys!' But, for the most, she was thryin' to put heart into the men an' kape thim stiddy; and little Jhansi was tellin' thim all they wud be 'betther in the mornin'.' 'Twas a thrick she'd picked up from hearin' Ould Pummeloe whin Muttra was burnin' out wid fever. In the mornin'! 'Twas the iverlastin' mornin' at St. Pether's Gate was the mornin' for seven-an'-twenty good men; and twenty more was sick to the death in that bitter, burnin' sun. But the women worked like angils as I've said, an' the men like divils, till two doctors come down from above, and we was rescued.
"But, just before that, Ould Pummeloe, on her knees over a bhoy in my squad—right-cot man to me he was in the barrick—tellin' him the worrud av the Church that niver failed a man yet, sez, 'Hould me up, bhoys! I'm feelin' bloody sick!' 'Twas the sun, not the cholera, did ut. She mis-remembered she was only wearin' her ould black bonnet, an' she died wid 'McKenna, me man,' houldin' her up, an' the bhoys howled whin they buried her.
"That night, a big wind blew, an' blew, an' blew, an' blew the tents flat. But it blew the cholera away an' niver another case there was all the while we was waitin'—ten days in quarintin'. Av you will belave me, the thrack av the sickness in the camp was for all the wurruld the thrack av a man walkin' four times in a figur-av-eight through the tents. They say 'tis the Wandherin' Jew takes the cholera wid him. I believe ut.
"An' that," said Mulvaney, illogically, "is the cause why little Jhansi McKenna is fwhat she is. She was brought up by the Quartermaster Sergeant's wife whin McKenna died, but she b'longs to B Comp'ny; and this tale I'm tellin' you-wid a proper appreciashin av Jhansi McKenna—I've belted into ivry recruity av the Comp'ny as he was drafted. 'Faith, 'twas me belted Corp'ril Slane into askin' the girl!"
"Not really?"
"Man, I did! She's no beauty to look at, but she's Ould Pummeloe's daughter, an' 'tis my juty to provide for her. Just before Slane got his promotion I sez to him, 'Slane,' sez I, 'to-morrow 'twill be insubordinashin av me to chastise you; but, by the sowl av Ould Pummeloe, who is now in glory, av you don't give me your wurrud to ask Jhansi McKenna at wanst, I'll peel the flesh off yer bones wid a brass huk to-night, 'Tis a dishgrace to B Comp'ny she's been single so long!' sez I. Was I goin' to let a three-year-ould preshume to discoorse wid me—my will bein' set? No! Slane wint an' asked her. He's a good bhoy is Slane. Wan av these days he'll get into the Com'ssariat an' dhrive a buggy wid his—savin's. So I provided for Ould Pummeloe's daughter; an' now you go along an' dance agin wid her."
And I did.
I felt a respect for Miss Jhansi McKenna; and I went to her wedding later on.
Perhaps I will tell you about that one of these days.
27 — In the Pride of His Youth
“Stopped in the straight when the race was his own!
Look at him cutting it — cur to the bone!”
“Ask ere the youngster be rated and chidden,
What did he carry and how was he ridden?
Maybe they used him too much at the start;
Maybe Fate’s weight-cloths are breaking his heart.”
—Life’s Handicap
When I was telling you of the joke that The Worm played off on the Senior Subaltern, I promised a somewhat similar tale, but with all the jest left out. This is that tale:
Dicky Hatt was kidnapped in his early, early youth — neither by landlady’s daughter, housemaid, barmaid, nor cook, but by a girl so nearly of his own caste that only a woman could have said she was just the least little bit in the world below it. This happened a month before he came out to India, and five days after his one-and-twentieth birthday. The girl was nineteen — six years older than Dicky in the things of this world, that is to say — and, for the time, twice as foolish as he.
Excepting, always, falling off a horse there is nothing more fatally easy than marriage before the Registrar. The ceremony costs less than fifty shillings, and is remarkably like walking into a pawn-shop. After the declarations of residence have been put in, four minutes will cover the rest of the proceedings — fees, attestation, and all. Then the Registrar slides the blotting-pad over the names, and says grimly, with his pen between his teeth:—“Now you’re man and wife;” and the couple walk out into the street, feeling as if something were horribly illegal somewhere.
But that ceremony holds and can drag a man to his undoing just as thoroughly as the “long as ye both shall live” curse from the altar-rails, with the bridesmaids giggling behind, and “The Voice that breathed o’er Eden” lifting the roof off. In this manner was Dicky Hatt kidnapped, and he considered it vastly fine, for he had received an appointment in India which carried a magnificent salary from the Home point of view. The marriage was to be kept secret for a year. Then Mrs. Dicky Hatt was to come out and the rest of life was to be a glorious golden mist. That was how they sketched it under the Addison Road Station lamps; and, after one short month, came Gravesend and Dicky steaming out to his new life, and the girl crying in a thirty-shillings a week bed-and-living room, in a back street off Montpelier Square near the Knightsbridge Barracks.
But the country that Dicky came to was a hard land, where “men” of twenty-one were reckoned very small boys indeed, and life was expensive. The salary that loomed so large six thousand miles away did not go far. Particularly when Dicky divided it by two, and remitted more than the fair half, at 1–6, to Montpelier Square. One hundred and thirty-five rupees out of three hundred and thirty is not much to live on; but it was absurd to suppose that Mrs. Hatt could exist forever on the 20 pounds held back by Dicky, from his outfit allowance. Dicky saw this, and remitted at once; always remembering that Rs. 700 were to be paid, twelve months later, for a first-class passage out for a lady. When you add to these trifling details the natural instincts of a boy beginning a new life in a new country and longing to go about and enjoy himself, and the necessity for grappling with strange work — which, properly speaking, should take up a boy’s undivided attention — you will see that Dicky started handicapped. He saw it himself for a breath or two; but he did not guess the full beauty of his future.
As the hot weather began, the shackles settled on him and ate into his flesh. First would come letters — big, crossed, seven sheet letters — from his wife, telling him how she longed to see him, and what a Heaven upon earth would be their property when they met. Then some boy of the chummery wherein Dicky lodged would pound on the door of his bare little room, and tell him to come out and look at a pony — the very thing to suit him. Dicky could not afford ponies. He had to explain this. Dicky could not afford living in the chummery, modest as it was. He had to explain this before he moved to a single room next the office where he worked all day. He kept house on a green oil-cloth table-cover, one chair, one charpoy, one photograph, one tooth-glass, very strong and thick, a seven-rupee eight-anna filter, and messing by contract at thirty-seven rupees a month. Which last item was extortion. He had no punkah, for a punkah costs fifteen rupees a month; but he slept on the roof of the office with all his wife’s letters under his pillow. Now and again he was asked out to dinner where he got both a punkah and an iced drink. But this was seldom, for people objected to recognizing a boy who had evidently the instincts of a Scotch tallow-chandler, and who lived in such a nasty fashion. Dicky could not subscribe to any amusement, so he found no amusement except the pleasure of turning over his Bank-book and reading what it said about “loans on approved security.” That cost nothing. He remitted through a Bombay Bank, by the way, and the Station knew nothing of his private affairs.
Every month he sent Home all he could possibly spare for his wife — and for another reason which was expected to explain itself shortly and would require more money.
About this time, Dicky was overtaken with the nervous, haunting fear that besets married men when they are out of sorts. He had no pension to look to. What if he should die suddenly, and leave his wife unprovided for? The thought used to lay hold of him in the still, hot nights on the roof, till the shaking of his heart made him think that he was going to die then and there of heart-disease. Now this is a frame of mind which no boy has a right to know. It is a strong man’s trouble; but, coming when it did, it nearly drove poor punkah-less, perspiring Dicky Hatt mad. He could tell no one about it.
A certain amount of “screw” is as necessary for a man as for a billiard-ball. It makes them both do wonderful things. Dicky needed money badly, and he worked for it like a horse. But, naturally, the men who owned him knew that a boy can live very comfortably on a certain income — pay in India is a matter of age, not merit, you see, and if their particular boy wished to work like two boys, Business forbid that they should stop him! But Business forbid that they should give him an increase of pay at his present ridiculously immature age! So Dicky won certain rises of salary — ample for a boy — not enough for a wife and child — certainly too little for the seven-hundred-rupee passage that he and Mrs. Hatt had discussed so lightly once upon a time. And with this he was forced to be content.
Somehow, all his money seemed to fade away in Home drafts and the crushing Exchange, and the tone of the Home letters changed and grew querulous. “Why wouldn’t Dicky have his wife and the baby out? Surely he had a salary — a fine salary — and it was too bad of him to enjoy himself in India. But would he — could he — make the next draft a little more elastic?” Here followed a list of baby’s kit, as long as a Parsee’s bill. Then Dicky, whose heart yearned to his wife and the little son he had never seen — which, again, is a feeling no boy is entitled to — enlarged the draft and wrote queer half-boy, half-man letters, saying that life was not so enjoyable after all and would the little wife wait yet a little longer? But the little wife, however much she approved of money, objected to waiting, and there was a strange, hard sort of ring in her letters that Dicky didn’t understand. How could he, poor boy?
Later on still — just as Dicky had been told — apropos of another youngster who had “made a fool of himself,” as the saying is — that matrimony would not only ruin his further chances of advancement, but would lose him his present appointment — came the news that the baby, his own little, little son, had died, and, behind this, forty lines of an angry woman’s scrawl, saying that death might have been averted if certain things, all costing money, had been done, or if the mother and the baby had been with Dicky. The letter struck at Dicky’s naked heart; but, not being officially entitled to a baby, he could show no sign of trouble.
How Dicky won through the next four months, and what hope he kept alight to force him into his work, no one dare say. He pounded on, the seven-hundred-rupee passage as far away as ever, and his style of living unchanged, except when he launched into a new filter. There was the strain of his office-work, and the strain of his remittances, and the knowledge of his boy’s death, which touched the boy more, perhaps, than it would have touched a man; and, beyond all, the enduring strain of his daily life. Gray-headed seniors, who approved of his thrift and his fashion of denying himself everything pleasant, reminded him of the old saw that says:
If a youth would be distinguished in his art, art, art,
He must keep the girls away from his heart, heart, heart.
And Dicky, who fancied he had been through every trouble that a man is permitted to know, had to laugh and agree; with the last line of his balanced Bank-book jingling in his head day and night.
But he had one more sorrow to digest before the end. There arrived a letter from the little wife — the natural sequence of the others if Dicky had only known it — and the burden of that letter was “gone with a handsomer man than you.” It was a rather curious production, without stops, something like this:—“She was not going to wait forever and the baby was dead and Dicky was only a boy and he would never set eyes on her again and why hadn’t he waved his handkerchief to her when he left Gravesend and God was her judge she was a wicked woman but Dicky was worse enjoying himself in India and this other man loved the ground she trod on and would Dicky ever forgive her for she would never forgive Dicky; and there was no address to write to.”
Instead of thanking his lucky stars that he was free, Dicky discovered exactly how an injured husband feels — again, not at all the knowledge to which a boy is entitled — for his mind went back to his wife as he remembered her in the thirty-shilling “suite” in Montpelier Square, when the dawn of his last morning in England was breaking, and she was crying in the bed. Whereat he rolled about on his bed and bit his fingers. He never stopped to think whether, if he had met Mrs. Hatt after those two years, he would have discovered that he and she had grown quite different and new persons. This, theoretically, he ought to have done. He spent the night after the English Mail came in rather severe pain.
Next morning, Dicky Hatt felt disinclined to work. He argued that he had missed the pleasure of youth. He was tired, and he had tasted all the sorrow in life before three-and-twenty. His Honor was gone — that was the man; and now he, too, would go to the Devil — that was the boy in him. So he put his head down on the green oil-cloth table-cover, and wept before resigning his post, and all it offered.
But the reward of his services came. He was given three days to reconsider himself, and the Head of the establishment, after some telegraphings, said that it was a most unusual step, but, in view of the ability that Mr. Hatt had displayed at such and such a time, at such and such junctures, he was in a position to offer him an infinitely superior post — first on probation, and later, in the natural course of things, on confirmation. “And how much does the post carry?” said Dicky. “Six hundred and fifty rupees,” said the Head slowly, expecting to see the young man sink with gratitude and joy.
And it came then! The seven hundred rupee passage, and enough to have saved the wife, and the little son, and to have allowed of assured and open marriage, came then. Dicky burst into a roar of laughter — laughter he could not check — nasty, jangling merriment that seemed as if it would go on forever. When he had recovered himself he said, quite seriously:—“I’m tired of work. I’m an old man now. It’s about time I retired. And I will.”
“The boy’s mad!” said the Head.
I think he was right; but Dicky Hatt never reappeared to settle the question.
28 — Pig
Go, stalk the red deer o’er the heather
Ride, follow the fox if you can!
But, for pleasure and profit together,
Allow me the hunting of Man —
The chase of the Human, the search for the Soul
To its ruin — the hunting of Man.
—The Old Shikarri
I believe the difference began in the matter of a horse, with a twist in his temper, whom Pinecoffin sold to Nafferton and by whom Nafferton was nearly slain. There may have been other causes of offence; the horse was the official stalking-horse. Nafferton was very angry; but Pinecoffin laughed and said that he had never guaranteed the beast’s manners. Nafferton laughed, too, though he vowed that he would write off his fall against Pinecoffin if he waited five years. Now, a Dalesman from beyond Skipton will forgive an injury when the Strid lets a man live; but a South Devon man is as soft as a Dartmoor bog. You can see from their names that Nafferton had the race-advantage of Pinecoffin. He was a peculiar man, and his notions of humor were cruel. He taught me a new and fascinating form of shikar. He hounded Pinecoffin from Mithankot to Jagadri, and from Gurgaon to Abbottabad up and across the Punjab, a large province and in places remarkably dry. He said that he had no intention of allowing Assistant Commissioners to “sell him pups,” in the shape of ramping, screaming countrybreds, without making their lives a burden to them.
Most Assistant Commissioners develop a bent for some special work after their first hot weather in the country. The boys with digestions hope to write their names large on the Frontier and struggle for dreary places like Bannu and Kohat. The bilious ones climb into the Secretariat. Which is very bad for the liver. Others are bitten with a mania for District work, Ghuznivide coins or Persian poetry; while some, who come of farmers’ stock, find that the smell of the Earth after the Rains gets into their blood, and calls them to “develop the resources of the Province.” These men are enthusiasts. Pinecoffin belonged to their class. He knew a great many facts bearing on the cost of bullocks and temporary wells, and opium-scrapers, and what happens if you burn too much rubbish on a field, in the hope of enriching used-up soil. All the Pinecoffins come of a landholding breed, and so the land only took back her own again. Unfortunately — most unfortunately for Pinecoffin — he was a Civilian, as well as a farmer. Nafferton watched him, and thought about the horse. Nafferton said:—“See me chase that boy till he drops!” I said:—“You can’t get your knife into an Assistant Commissioner.” Nafferton told me that I did not understand the administration of the Province.
Our Government is rather peculiar. It gushes on the agricultural and general information side, and will supply a moderately respectable man with all sorts of “economic statistics,” if he speaks to it prettily. For instance, you are interested in gold-washing in the sands of the Sutlej. You pull the string, and find that it wakes up half a dozen Departments, and finally communicates, say, with a friend of yours in the Telegraph, who once wrote some notes on the customs of the gold-washers when he was on construction-work in their part of the Empire. He may or may not be pleased at being ordered to write out everything he knows for your benefit. This depends on his temperament. The bigger man you are, the more information and the greater trouble can you raise.
Nafferton was not a big man; but he had the reputation of being very earnest. An “earnest” man can do much with a Government. There was an earnest man who once nearly wrecked . . . but all India knows THAT story. I am not sure what real “earnestness” is. A very fair imitation can be manufactured by neglecting to dress decently, by mooning about in a dreamy, misty sort of way, by taking office-work home after staying in office till seven, and by receiving crowds of native gentlemen on Sundays. That is one sort of “earnestness.”
Nafferton cast about for a peg whereon to hang his earnestness, and for a string that would communicate with Pinecoffin. He found both. They were Pig. Nafferton became an earnest inquirer after Pig. He informed the Government that he had a scheme whereby a very large percentage of the British Army in India could be fed, at a very large saving, on Pig. Then he hinted that Pinecoffin might supply him with the “varied information necessary to the proper inception of the scheme.” So the Government wrote on the back of the letter:—“Instruct Mr. Pinecoffin to furnish Mr. Nafferton with any information in his power.” Government is very prone to writing things on the backs of letters which, later, lead to trouble and confusion.
Nafferton had not the faintest interest in Pig, but he knew that Pinecoffin would flounce into the trap. Pinecoffin was delighted at being consulted about Pig. The Indian Pig is not exactly an important factor in agricultural life; but Nafferton explained to Pinecoffin that there was room for improvement, and corresponded direct with that young man.
You may think that there is not much to be evolved from Pig. It all depends how you set to work. Pinecoffin being a Civilian and wishing to do things thoroughly, began with an essay on the Primitive Pig, the Mythology of the Pig, and the Dravidian Pig. Nafferton filed that information — twenty-seven foolscap sheets — and wanted to know about the distribution of the Pig in the Punjab, and how it stood the Plains in the hot weather. From this point onwards, remember that I am giving you only the barest outlines of the affair — the guy-ropes, as it were, of the web that Nafferton spun round Pinecoffin.
Pinecoffin made a colored Pig-population map, and collected observations on the comparative longevity of the Pig (a) in the sub-montane tracts of the Himalayas, and (b) in the Rechna Doab. Nafferton filed that, and asked what sort of people looked after Pig. This started an ethnological excursus on swineherds, and drew from Pinecoffin long tables showing the proportion per thousand of the caste in the Derajat. Nafferton filed that bundle, and explained that the figures which he wanted referred to the Cis–Sutlej states, where he understood that Pigs were very fine and large, and where he proposed to start a Piggery. By this time, Government had quite forgotten their instructions to Mr. Pinecoffin. They were like the gentlemen, in Keats’ poem, who turned well-oiled wheels to skin other people. But Pinecoffin was just entering into the spirit of the Pig-hunt, as Nafferton well knew he would do. He had a fair amount of work of his own to clear away; but he sat up of nights reducing Pig to five places of decimals for the honor of his Service. He was not going to appear ignorant of so easy a subject as Pig.
Then Government sent him on special duty to Kohat, to “inquire into” the big-seven-foot, iron-shod spades of that District. People had been killing each other with those peaceful tools; and Government wished to know “whether a modified form of agricultural implement could not, tentatively and as a temporary measure, be introduced among the agricultural population without needlessly or unduly exasperating the existing religious sentiments of the peasantry.”
Between those spades and Nafferton’s Pig, Pinecoffin was rather heavily burdened.
Nafferton now began to take up “(a) The food-supply of the indigenous Pig, with a view to the improvement of its capacities as a flesh-former. (b) The acclimatization of the exotic Pig, maintaining its distinctive peculiarities.” Pinecoffin replied exhaustively that the exotic Pig would become merged in the indigenous type; and quoted horse-breeding statistics to prove this. The side-issue was debated, at great length on Pinecoffin’s side, till Nafferton owned that he had been in the wrong, and moved the previous question. When Pinecoffin had quite written himself out about flesh-formers, and fibrins, and glucose and the nitrogenous constituents of maize and lucerne, Nafferton raised the question of expense. By this time Pinecoffin, who had been transferred from Kohat, had developed a Pig theory of his own, which he stated in thirty-three folio pages — all carefully filed by Nafferton. Who asked for more.
These things took ten months, and Pinecoffin’s interest in the potential Piggery seemed to die down after he had stated his own views. But Nafferton bombarded him with letters on “the Imperial aspect of the scheme, as tending to officialize the sale of pork, and thereby calculated to give offence to the Mahomedan population of Upper India.” He guessed that Pinecoffin would want some broad, free-hand work after his niggling, stippling, decimal details. Pinecoffin handled the latest development of the case in masterly style, and proved that no “popular ebullition of excitement was to be apprehended.” Nafferton said that there was nothing like Civilian insight in matters of this kind, and lured him up a bye-path —“the possible profits to accrue to the Government from the sale of hog-bristles.” There is an extensive literature of hog-bristles, and the shoe, brush, and colorman’s trades recognize more varieties of bristles than you would think possible. After Pinecoffin had wondered a little at Nafferton’s rage for information, he sent back a monograph, fifty-one pages, on “Products of the Pig.” This led him, under Nafferton’s tender handling, straight to the Cawnpore factories, the trade in hog-skin for saddles — and thence to the tanners. Pinecoffin wrote that pomegranate-seed was the best cure for hog-skin, and suggested — for the past fourteen months had wearied him — that Nafferton should “raise his pigs before he tanned them.”
Nafferton went back to the second section of his fifth question. How could the exotic Pig be brought to give as much pork as it did in the West and yet “assume the essentially hirsute characteristics of its oriental congener?” Pinecoffin felt dazed, for he had forgotten what he had written sixteen month’s before, and fancied that he was about to reopen the entire question. He was too far involved in the hideous tangle to retreat, and, in a weak moment, he wrote:—“Consult my first letter.” Which related to the Dravidian Pig. As a matter of fact, Pinecoffin had still to reach the acclimatization stage; having gone off on a side-issue on the merging of types.
THEN Nafferton really unmasked his batteries! He complained to the Government, in stately language, of “the paucity of help accorded to me in my earnest attempts to start a potentially remunerative industry, and the flippancy with which my requests for information are treated by a gentleman whose pseudo-scholarly attainments should at lest have taught him the primary differences between the Dravidian and the Berkshire variety of the genus Sus. If I am to understand that the letter to which he refers me contains his serious views on the acclimatization of a valuable, though possibly uncleanly, animal, I am reluctantly compelled to believe,” etc., etc.
There was a new man at the head of the Department of Castigation. The wretched Pinecoffin was told that the Service was made for the Country, and not the Country for the Service, and that he had better begin to supply information about Pigs.
Pinecoffin answered insanely that he had written everything that could be written about Pig, and that some furlough was due to him.
Nafferton got a copy of that letter, and sent it, with the essay on the Dravidian Pig, to a down-country paper, which printed both in full. The essay was rather highflown; but if the Editor had seen the stacks of paper, in Pinecoffin’s handwriting, on Nafferton’s table, he would not have been so sarcastic about the “nebulous discursiveness and blatant self-sufficiency of the modern Competition-wallah, and his utter inability to grasp the practical issues of a practical question.” Many friends cut out these remarks and sent them to Pinecoffin.
I have already stated that Pinecoffin came of a soft stock. This last stroke frightened and shook him. He could not understand it; but he felt he had been, somehow, shamelessly betrayed by Nafferton. He realized that he had wrapped himself up in the Pigskin without need, and that he could not well set himself right with his Government. All his acquaintances asked after his “nebulous discursiveness” or his “blatant self-sufficiency,” and this made him miserable.
He took a train and went to Nafferton, whom he had not seen since the Pig business began. He also took the cutting from the paper, and blustered feebly and called Nafferton names, and then died down to a watery, weak protest of the “I-say-it’s-too-bad-you-know” order.
Nafferton was very sympathetic.
“I’m afraid I’ve given you a good deal of trouble, haven’t I?” said he.
“Trouble!” whimpered Pinecoffin; “I don’t mind the trouble so much, though that was bad enough; but what I resent is this showing up in print. It will stick to me like a burr all through my service. And I DID do my best for your interminable swine. It’s too bad of you, on my soul it is!”
“I don’t know,” said Nafferton; “have you ever been stuck with a horse? It isn’t the money I mind, though that is bad enough; but what I resent is the chaff that follows, especially from the boy who stuck me. But I think we’ll cry quite now.”
Pinecoffin found nothing to say save bad words; and Nafferton smiled ever so sweetly, and asked him to dinner.
29 — The Rout of the White Hussars
It was not in the open fight
We threw away the sword,
But in the lonely watching
In the darkness by the ford.
The waters lapped, the night-wind blew,
Full-armed the Fear was born and grew,
And we were flying ere we knew
From panic in the night.
—Beoni Bar
Some people hold that an English Cavalry regiment cannot run. This is a mistake. I have seen four hundred and thirty-seven sabres flying over the face of the country in abject terror — have seen the best Regiment that ever drew bridle, wiped off the Army List for the space of two hours. If you repeat this tale to the White Hussars they will, in all probability, treat you severely. They are not proud of the incident.
You may know the White Hussars by their “side,” which is greater than that of all the Cavalry Regiments on the roster. If this is not a sufficient mark, you may know them by their old brandy. It has been sixty years in the Mess and is worth going far to taste. Ask for the “McGaire” old brandy, and see that you get it. If the Mess Sergeant thinks that you are uneducated, and that the genuine article will be lost on you, he will treat you accordingly. He is a good man. But, when you are at Mess, you must never talk to your hosts about forced marches or long-distance rides. The Mess are very sensitive; and, if they think that you are laughing at them, will tell you so.
As the White Hussars say, it was all the Colonel’s fault. He was a new man, and he ought never to have taken the Command. He said that the Regiment was not smart enough. This to the White Hussars, who knew they could walk round any Horse and through any Guns, and over any Foot on the face of the earth! That insult was the first cause of offence.
Then the Colonel cast the Drum–Horse — the Drum–Horse of the White Hussars! Perhaps you do not see what an unspeakable crime he had committed. I will try to make it clear. The soul of the Regiment lives in the Drum–Horse, who carries the silver kettle-drums. He is nearly always a big piebald Waler. That is a point of honor; and a Regiment will spend anything you please on a piebald. He is beyond the ordinary laws of casting. His work is very light, and he only manoeuvres at a foot-pace. Wherefore, so long as he can step out and look handsome, his well-being is assured. He knows more about the Regiment than the Adjutant, and could not make a mistake if he tried.
The Drum–Horse of the White Hussars was only eighteen years old, and perfectly equal to his duties. He had at least six years’ more work in him, and carried himself with all the pomp and dignity of a Drum–Major of the Guards. The Regiment had paid Rs. 1,200 for him.
But the Colonel said that he must go, and he was cast in due form and replaced by a washy, bay beast as ugly as a mule, with a ewe-neck, rat-tail, and cow-hocks. The Drummer detested that animal, and the best of the Band-horses put back their ears and showed the whites of their eyes at the very sight of him. They knew him for an upstart and no gentleman. I fancy that the Colonel’s ideas of smartness extended to the Band, and that he wanted to make it take part in the regular parade movements. A Cavalry Band is a sacred thing. It only turns out for Commanding Officers’ parades, and the Band Master is one degree more important than the Colonel. He is a High Priest and the “Keel Row” is his holy song. The “Keel Row” is the Cavalry Trot; and the man who has never heard that tune rising, high and shrill, above the rattle of the Regiment going past the saluting-base, has something yet to hear and understand.
When the Colonel cast the Drum-horse of the White Hussars, there was nearly a mutiny.
The officers were angry, the Regiment were furious, and the Bandsman swore — like troopers. The Drum–Horse was going to be put up to auction — public auction — to be bought, perhaps, by a Parsee and put into a cart! It was worse than exposing the inner life of the Regiment to the whole world, or selling the Mess Plate to a Jew — a black Jew.
The Colonel was a mean man and a bully. He knew what the Regiment thought about his action; and, when the troopers offered to buy the Drum–Horse, he said that their offer was mutinous and forbidden by the Regulations.
But one of the Subalterns — Hogan–Yale, an Irishman — bought the Drum–Horse for Rs. 160 at the sale; and the Colonel was wroth. Yale professed repentance — he was unnaturally submissive — and said that, as he had only made the purchase to save the horse from possible ill-treatment and starvation, he would now shoot him and end the business. This appeared to soothe the Colonel, for he wanted the Drum–Horse disposed of. He felt that he had made a mistake, and could not of course acknowledge it. Meantime, the presence of the Drum–Horse was an annoyance to him.
Yale took to himself a glass of the old brandy, three cheroots, and his friend, Martyn; and they all left the Mess together. Yale and Martyn conferred for two hours in Yale’s quarters; but only the bull-terrier who keeps watch over Yale’s boot-trees knows what they said. A horse, hooded and sheeted to his ears, left Yale’s stables and was taken, very unwillingly, into the Civil Lines. Yale’s groom went with him. Two men broke into the Regimental Theatre and took several paint-pots and some large scenery brushes. Then night fell over the Cantonments, and there was a noise as of a horse kicking his loose-box to pieces in Yale’s stables. Yale had a big, old, white Waler trap-horse.
The next day was a Thursday, and the men, hearing that Yale was going to shoot the Drum–Horse in the evening, determined to give the beast a regular regimental funeral — a finer one than they would have given the Colonel had he died just then. They got a bullock-cart and some sacking, and mounds and mounds of roses, and the body, under sacking, was carried out to the place where the anthrax cases were cremated; two-thirds of the Regiment followed. There was no Band, but they all sang “The Place where the old Horse died” as something respectful and appropriate to the occasion. When the corpse was dumped into the grave and the men began throwing down armfuls of roses to cover it, the Farrier–Sergeant ripped out an oath and said aloud:—“Why, it ain’t the Drum–Horse any more than it’s me!” The Troop–Sergeant-Majors asked him whether he had left his head in the Canteen. The Farrier–Sergeant said that he knew the Drum–Horse’s feet as well as he knew his own; but he was silenced when he saw the regimental number burnt in on the poor stiff, upturned near-fore.
Thus was the Drum–Horse of the White Hussars buried; the Farrier–Sergeant grumbling. The sacking that covered the corpse was smeared in places with black paint; and the Farrier–Sergeant drew attention to this fact. But the Troop–Sergeant-Major of E Troop kicked him severely on the shin, and told him that he was undoubtedly drunk.
On the Monday following the burial, the Colonel sought revenge on the White Hussars. Unfortunately, being at that time temporarily in Command of the Station, he ordered a Brigade field-day. He said that he wished to make the regiment “sweat for their damned insolence,” and he carried out his notion thoroughly. That Monday was one of the hardest days in the memory of the White Hussars. They were thrown against a skeleton-enemy, and pushed forward, and withdrawn, and dismounted, and “scientifically handled” in every possible fashion over dusty country, till they sweated profusely. Their only amusement came late in the day, when they fell upon the battery of Horse Artillery and chased it for two mile’s. This was a personal question, and most of the troopers had money on the event; the Gunners saying openly that they had the legs of the White Hussars. They were wrong. A march-past concluded the campaign, and when the Regiment got back to their Lines, the men were coated with dirt from spur to chin-strap.
The White Hussars have one great and peculiar privilege. They won it at Fontenoy, I think.
Many Regiments possess special rights, such as wearing collars with undress uniform, or a bow of ribbon between the shoulders, or red and white roses in their helmets on certain days of the year. Some rights are connected with regimental saints, and some with regimental successes. All are valued highly; but none so highly as the right of the White Hussars to have the Band playing when their horses are being watered in the Lines. Only one tune is played, and that tune never varies. I don’t know its real name, but the White Hussars call it:—“Take me to London again.” It sound’s very pretty. The Regiment would sooner be struck off the roster than forego their distinction.
After the “dismiss” was sounded, the officers rode off home to prepare for stables; and the men filed into the lines, riding easy. That is to say, they opened their tight buttons, shifted their helmets, and began to joke or to swear as the humor took them; the more careful slipping off and easing girths and curbs. A good trooper values his mount exactly as much as he values himself, and believes, or should believe, that the two together are irresistible where women or men, girl’s or gun’s, are concerned.
Then the Orderly–Officer gave the order:—“Water horses,” and the Regiment loafed off to the squadron-troughs, which were in rear of the stables and between these and the barracks. There were four huge troughs, one for each squadron, arranged en echelon, so that the whole Regiment could water in ten minutes if it liked. But it lingered for seventeen, as a rule, while the Band played.
The band struck up as the squadrons filed off the troughs and the men slipped their feet out of the stirrups and chaffed each other. The sun was just setting in a big, hot bed of red cloud, and the road to the Civil Lines seemed to run straight into the sun’s eye. There was a little dot on the road. It grew and grew till it showed as a horse, with a sort of gridiron thing on his back. The red cloud glared through the bars of the gridiron. Some of the troopers shaded their eyes with their hands and said:—“What the mischief as that there ’orse got on ’im!”
In another minute they heard a neigh that every soul — horse and man — in the Regiment knew, and saw, heading straight towards the Band, the dead Drum–Horse of the White Hussars!
On his withers banged and bumped the kettle-drums draped in crape, and on his back, very stiff and soldierly, sat a bare-headed skeleton.
The band stopped playing, and, for a moment, there was a hush.
Then some one in E troop — men said it was the Troop–Sergeant-Major — swung his horse round and yelled. No one can account exactly for what happened afterwards; but it seems that, at least, one man in each troop set an example of panic, and the rest followed like sheep. The horses that had barely put their muzzles into the trough’s reared and capered; but, as soon as the Band broke, which it did when the ghost of the Drum–Horse was about a furlong distant, all hooves followed suit, and the clatter of the stampede — quite different from the orderly throb and roar of a movement on parade, or the rough horse-play of watering in camp — made them only more terrified. They felt that the men on their backs were afraid of something. When horses once know THAT, all is over except the butchery.
Troop after troop turned from the troughs and ran — anywhere, and everywhere — like spit quicksilver. It was a most extraordinary spectacle, for men and horses were in all stages of easiness, and the carbine-buckets flopping against their sides urged the horses on. Men were shouting and cursing, and trying to pull clear of the Band which was being chased by the Drum–Horse whose rider had fallen forward and seemed to be spurring for a wager.
The Colonel had gone over to the Mess for a drink. Most of the officers were with him, and the Subaltern of the Day was preparing to go down to the lines, and receive the watering reports from the Troop–Sergeant Majors. When “Take me to London again” stopped, after twenty bars, every one in the Mess said:—“What on earth has happened?” A minute later, they heard unmilitary noises, and saw, far across the plain, the White Hussars scattered, and broken, and flying.
The Colonel was speechless with rage, for he thought that the Regiment had risen against him or was unanimously drunk. The Band, a disorganized mob, tore past, and at it’s heels labored the Drum–Horse — the dead and buried Drum–Horse — with the jolting, clattering skeleton. Hogan–Yale whispered softly to Martyn:—“No wire will stand that treatment,” and the Band, which had doubled like a hare, came back again. But the rest of the Regiment was gone, was rioting all over the Province, for the dusk had shut in and each man was howling to his neighbor that the Drum–Horse was on his flank. Troop–Horses are far too tenderly treated as a rule. They can, on emergencies, do a great deal, even with seventeen stone on their backs. As the troopers found out.
How long this panic lasted I cannot say. I believe that when the moon rose the men saw they had nothing to fear, and, by twos and threes and half-troops, crept back into Cantonments very much ashamed of themselves. Meantime, the Drum–Horse, disgusted at his treatment by old friends, pulled up, wheeled round, and trotted up to the Mess verandah-steps for bread. No one liked to run; but no one cared to go forward till the Colonel made a movement and laid hold of the skeleton’s foot. The Band had halted some distance away, and now came back slowly. The Colonel called it, individually and collectively, every evil name that occurred to him at the time; for he had set his hand on the bosom of the Drum–Horse and found flesh and blood. Then he beat the kettle-drums with his clenched fist, and discovered that they were but made of silvered paper and bamboo. Next, still swearing, he tried to drag the skeleton out of the saddle, but found that it had been wired into the cantle. The sight of the Colonel, with his arms round the skeleton’s pelvis and his knee in the old Drum–Horse’s stomach, was striking. Not to say amusing. He worried the thing off in a minute or two, and threw it down on the ground, saying to the Band:—“Here, you curs, that’s what you’re afraid of.” The skeleton did not look pretty in the twilight. The Band–Sergeant seemed to recognize it, for he began to chuckle and choke. “Shall I take it away, sir?” said the Band–Sergeant. “Yes,” said the Colonel, “take it to Hell, and ride there yourselves!”
The Band–Sergeant saluted, hoisted the skeleton across his saddle-bow, and led off to the stables. Then the Colonel began to make inquiries for the rest of the Regiment, and the language he used was wonderful. He would disband the Regiment — he would court-martial every soul in it — he would not command such a set of rabble, and so on, and so on. As the men dropped in, his language grew wilder, until at last it exceeded the utmost limits of free speech allowed even to a Colonel of Horse.
Martyn took Hogan–Yale aside and suggested compulsory retirement from the service as a necessity when all was discovered. Martyn was the weaker man of the two, Hogan–Yale put up his eyebrows and remarked, firstly, that he was the son of a Lord, and secondly, that he was as innocent as the babe unborn of the theatrical resurrection of the Drum–Horse.
“My instructions,” said Yale, with a singularly sweet smile, “were that the Drum–Horse should be sent back as impressively as possible. I ask you, AM I responsible if a mule-headed friend sends him back in such a manner as to disturb the peace of mind of a regiment of Her Majesty’s Cavalry?”
Martyn said:—“you are a great man and will in time become a General; but I’d give my chance of a troop to be safe out of this affair.”
Providence saved Martyn and Hogan–Yale. The Second-inCommand led the Colonel away to the little curtained alcove wherein the subalterns of the white Hussars were accustomed to play poker of nights; and there, after many oaths on the Colonel’s part, they talked together in low tones. I fancy that the Second-inCommand must have represented the scare as the work of some trooper whom it would be hopeless to detect; and I know that he dwelt upon the sin and the shame of making a public laughingstock of the scare.
“They will call us,” said the Second-inCommand, who had really a fine imagination, “they will call us the ‘Fly-by-Nights’; they will call us the ‘Ghost Hunters’; they will nickname us from one end of the Army list to the other. All the explanations in the world won’t make outsiders understand that the officers were away when the panic began. For the honor of the Regiment and for your own sake keep this thing quiet.”
The Colonel was so exhausted with anger that soothing him down was not so difficult as might be imagined. He was made to see, gently and by degrees, that it was obviously impossible to court-martial the whole Regiment, and equally impossible to proceed against any subaltern who, in his belief, had any concern in the hoax.
“But the beast’s alive! He’s never been shot at all!” shouted the Colonel. “It’s flat, flagrant disobedience! I’ve known a man broke for less, d —— d sight less. They’re mocking me, I tell you, Mutman! They’re mocking me!”
Once more, the Second-inCommand set himself to sooth the Colonel, and wrestled with him for half-an-hour. At the end of that time, the Regimental Sergeant–Major reported himself. The situation was rather novel tell to him; but he was not a man to be put out by circumstances. He saluted and said: “Regiment all come back, Sir.” Then, to propitiate the Colonel:—“An’ none of the horses any the worse, Sir.”
The Colonel only snorted and answered:—“You’d better tuck the men into their cots, then, and see that they don’t wake up and cry in the night.” The Sergeant withdrew.
His little stroke of humor pleased the Colonel, and, further, he felt slightly ashamed of the language he had been using. The Second-inCommand worried him again, and the two sat talking far into the night.
Next day but one, there was a Commanding Officer’s parade, and the Colonel harangued the White Hussars vigorously. The pith of his speech was that, since the Drum–Horse in his old age had proved himself capable of cutting up the Whole Regiment, he should return to his post of pride at the head of the band, BUT the Regiment were a set of ruffians with bad consciences.
The White Hussars shouted, and threw everything movable about them into the air, and when the parade was over, they cheered the Colonel till they couldn’t speak. No cheers were put up for Lieutenant Hogan–Yale, who smiled very sweetly in the background.
Said the Second-inCommand to the Colonel, unofficially:—“These little things ensure popularity, and do not the least affect discipline.”
“But I went back on my word,” said the Colonel.
“Never mind,” said the Second-inCommand. “The White Hussars will follow you anywhere from today. Regiment’s are just like women. They will do anything for trinketry.”
A week later, Hogan–Yale received an extraordinary letter from some one who signed himself “Secretary Charity and Zeal, 3709, E. C.,” and asked for “the return of our skeleton which we have reason to believe is in your possession.”
“Who the deuce is this lunatic who trades in bones?” said Hogan–Yale.
“Beg your pardon, Sir,” said the Band–Sergeant, “but the skeleton is with me, an’ I’ll return it if you’ll pay the carriage into the Civil Lines. There’s a coffin with it, Sir.”
Hogan–Yale smiled and handed two rupees to the Band–Sergeant, saying:—“Write the date on the skull, will you?”
If you doubt this story, and know where to go, you can see the date on the skeleton. But don’t mention the matter to the White Hussars.
I happen to know something about it, because I prepared the Drum–Horse for his resurrection. He did not take kindly to the skeleton at all.
30 — The Bronckhorst Divorce-Case
In the daytime, when she moved about me,
In the night, when she was sleeping at my side —
I was wearied, I was wearied of her presence.
Day by day and night by night I grew to hate her —
Would to God that she or I had died!
There was a man called Bronckhorst — a three-cornered, middle-aged man in the Army — gray as a badger, and, some people said, with a touch of country-blood in him. That, however, cannot be proved. Mrs. Bronckhorst was not exactly young, though fifteen years younger than her husband. She was a large, pale, quiet woman, with heavy eyelids, over weak eyes, and hair that turned red or yellow as the lights fell on it.
Bronckhorst was not nice in any way. He had no respect for the pretty public and private lies that make life a little less nasty than it is. His manner towards his wife was coarse. There are many things — including actual assault with the clenched fist — that a wife will endure; but seldom a wife can bear — as Mrs. Bronckhorst bore — with a long course of brutal, hard chaff, making light of her weaknesses, her headaches, her small fits of gayety, her dresses, her queer little attempts to make herself attractive to her husband when she knows that she is not what she has been, and — worst of all — the love that she spends on her children. That particular sort of heavy-handed jest was specially dear to Bronckhorst. I suppose that he had first slipped into it, meaning no harm, in the honeymoon, when folk find their ordinary stock of endearments run short, and so go to the other extreme to express their feelings. A similar impulse make’s a man say:—“Hutt, you old beast!” when a favorite horse nuzzles his coat-front. Unluckily, when the reaction of marriage sets in, the form of speech remains, and, the tenderness having died out, hurts the wife more than she cares to say. But Mrs. Bronckhorst was devoted to her “teddy,” as she called him. Perhaps that was why he objected to her. Perhaps — this is only a theory to account for his infamous behavior later on — he gave way to the queer savage feeling that sometimes takes by the throat a husband twenty years’ married, when he sees, across the table, the same face of his wedded wife, and knows that, as he has sat facing it, so must he continue to sit until day of its death or his own. Most men and all women know the spasm. It only lasts for three breaths as a rule, must be a “throw-back” to times when men and women were rather worse than they are now, and is too unpleasant to be discussed.
Dinner at the Bronckhorst’s was an infliction few men cared to undergo. Bronckhorst took a pleasure in saying things that made his wife wince. When their little boy came in at dessert, Bronckhorst used to give him half a glass of wine, and naturally enough, the poor little mite got first riotous, next miserable, and was removed screaming. Bronckhorst asked if that was the way Teddy usually behaved, and whether Mrs. Bronckhorst could not spare some of her time to teach the “little beggar decency.” Mrs. Bronckhorst, who loved the boy more than her own life, tried not to cry — her spirit seemed to have been broken by her marriage. Lastly, Bronckhorst used to say:—“There! That’ll do, that’ll do. For God’s sake try to behave like a rational woman. Go into the drawing-room.” Mrs. Bronckhorst would go, trying to carry it all off with a smile; and the guest of the evening would feel angry and uncomfortable.
After three years of this cheerful life — for Mrs. Bronckhorst had no woman-friends to talk to — the Station was startled by the news that Bronckhorst had instituted proceedings ON THE CRIMINAL COUNT, against a man called Biel, who certainly had been rather attentive to Mrs. Bronckhorst whenever she had appeared in public. The utter want of reserve with which Bronckhorst treated his own dishonor helped us to know that the evidence against Biel would be entirely circumstantial and native. There were no letters; but Bronckhorst said openly that he would rack Heaven and Earth until he saw Biel superintending the manufacture of carpets in the Central Jail. Mrs. Bronckhorst kept entirely to her house, and let charitable folks say what they pleased. Opinions were divided. Some two-thirds of the Station jumped at once to the conclusion that Biel was guilty; but a dozen men who knew and liked him held by him. Biel was furious and surprised. He denied the whole thing, and vowed that he would thrash Bronckhorst within an inch of his life. No jury, we knew, could convict a man on the criminal count on native evidence in a land where you can buy a murder-charge, including the corpse, all complete for fifty-four rupees; but Biel did not care to scrape through by the benefit of a doubt. He wanted the whole thing cleared: but as he said one night:—“He can prove anything with servants’ evidence, and I’ve only my bare word.” This was about a month before the case came on; and beyond agreeing with Biel, we could do little. All that we could be sure of was that the native evidence would be bad enough to blast Biel’s character for the rest of his service; for when a native begins perjury he perjures himself thoroughly. He does not boggle over details.
Some genius at the end of the table whereat the affair was being talked over, said:—“Look here! I don’t believe lawyers are any good. Get a man to wire to Strickland, and beg him to come down and pull us through.”
Strickland was about a hundred and eighty miles up the line. He had not long been married to Miss Youghal, but he scented in the telegram a chance of return to the old detective work that his soul lusted after, and next night he came in and heard our story. He finished his pipe and said oracularly:—“we must get at the evidence. Oorya bearer, Mussalman khit and methraniayah, I suppose, are the pillars of the charge. I am on in this piece; but I’m afraid I’m getting rusty in my talk.”
He rose and went into Biel’s bedroom where his trunk had been put, and shut the door. An hour later, we heard him say:—“I hadn’t the heart to part with my old makeups when I married. Will this do?” There was a lothely faquir salaaming in the doorway.
“Now lend me fifty rupees,” said Strickland, “and give me your Words of Honor that you won’t tell my Wife.”
He got all that he asked for, and left the house while the table drank his health. What he did only he himself knows. A faquir hung about Bronckhorst’s compound for twelve days. Then a mehter appeared, and when Biel heard of HIM, he said that Strickland was an angel full-fledged. Whether the mehter made love to Janki, Mrs. Bronckhorst’s ayah, is a question which concerns Strickland exclusively.
He came back at the end of three weeks, and said quietly:—“You spoke the truth, Biel. The whole business is put up from beginning to end. Jove! It almost astonishes ME! That Bronckhorst-beast isn’t fit to live.”
There was uproar and shouting, and Biel said:—“How are you going to prove it? You can’t say that you’ve been trespassing on Bronckhorst’s compound in disguise!”
“No,” said Strickland. “Tell your lawyer-fool, whoever he is, to get up something strong about ‘inherent improbabilities’ and ‘discrepancies of evidence.’ He won’t have to speak, but it will make him happy. I’M going to run this business.”
Biel held his tongue, and the other men waited to see what would happen. They trusted Strickland as men trust quiet men. When the case came off the Court was crowded. Strickland hung about in the verandah of the Court, till he met the Mohammedan khitmatgar. Then he murmured a faquir’s blessing in his ear, and asked him how his second wife did. The man spun round, and, as he looked into the eyes of “Estreeken Sahib,” his jaw dropped. You must remember that before Strickland was married, he was, as I have told you already, a power among natives. Strickland whispered a rather coarse vernacular proverb to the effect that he was abreast of all that was going on, and went into the Court armed with a gut trainer’s-whip.
The Mohammedan was the first witness and Strickland beamed upon him from the back of the Court. The man moistened his lips with his tongue and, in his abject fear of “Estreeken Sahib” the faquir, went back on every detail of his evidence — said he was a poor man and God was his witness that he had forgotten every thing that Bronckhorst Sahib had told him to say. Between his terror of Strickland, the Judge, and Bronckhorst he collapsed, weeping.
Then began the panic among the witnesses. Janki, the ayah, leering chastely behind her veil, turned gray, and the bearer left the Court. He said that his Mamma was dying and that it was not wholesome for any man to lie unthriftily in the presence of “Estreeken Sahib.”
Biel said politely to Bronckhorst:—“Your witnesses don’t seem to work. Haven’t you any forged letters to produce?” But Bronckhorst was swaying to and fro in his chair, and there was a dead pause after Biel had been called to order.
Bronckhorst’s Counsel saw the look on his client’s face, and without more ado, pitched his papers on the little green baize table, and mumbled something about having been misinformed. The whole Court applauded wildly, like soldiers at a theatre, and the Judge began to say what he thought.
Biel came out of the place, and Strickland dropped a gut trainer’s-whip in the verandah. Ten minutes later, Biel was cutting Bronckhorst into ribbons behind the old Court cells, quietly and without scandal. What was left of Bronckhorst was sent home in a carriage; and his wife wept over it and nursed it into a man again.
Later on, after Biel had managed to hush up the counter-charge against Bronckhorst of fabricating false evidence, Mrs. Bronckhorst, with her faint watery smile, said that there had been a mistake, but it wasn’t her Teddy’s fault altogether. She would wait till her Teddy came back to her. Perhaps he had grown tired of her, or she had tried his patience, and perhaps we wouldn’t cut her any more, and perhaps the mothers would let their children play with “little Teddy” again. He was so lonely. Then the Station invited Mrs. Bronckhorst everywhere, until Bronckhorst was fit to appear in public, when he went Home and took his wife with him. According to the latest advices, her Teddy did “come back to her,” and they are moderately happy. Though, of course, he can never forgive her the thrashing that she was the indirect means of getting for him.
What Biel wants to know is:—“Why didn’t I press home the charge against the Bronckhorst-brute, and have him run in?”
What Mrs. Strickland wants to know is:—“How DID my husband bring such a lovely, lovely Waler from your Station? I know ALL his money-affairs; and I’m CERTAIN he didn’t BUY it.”
What I want to know is:—“How do women like Mrs. Bronckhorst come to marry men like Bronckhorst?”
And my conundrum is the most unanswerable of the three.
31 — Venus Annodomini
And the years went on as the years must do;
But our great Diana was always new —
Fresh, and blooming, and blonde, and fair,
With azure eyes and with aureate hair;
And all the folk, as they came or went,
Offered her praise to her heart’s content.
—Diana of Ephesus
She had nothing to do with Number Eighteen in the Braccio Nuovo of the Vatican, between Visconti’s Ceres and the God of the Nile. She was purely an Indian deity — an Anglo–Indian deity, that is to say — and we called her THE Venus Annodomini, to distinguish her from other Annodominis of the same everlasting order. There was a legend among the Hills that she had once been young; but no living man was prepared to come forward and say boldly that the legend was true. Men rode up to Simla, and stayed, and went away and made their name and did their life’s work, and returned again to find the Venus Annodomini exactly as they had left her. She was as immutable as the Hills. But not quite so green. All that a girl of eighteen could do in the way of riding, walking, dancing, picnicking and over-exertion generally, the Venus Annodomini did, and showed no sign of fatigue or trace of weariness. Besides perpetual youth, she had discovered, men said, the secret of perpetual health; and her fame spread about the land. From a mere woman, she grew to be an Institution, insomuch that no young man could be said to be properly formed, who had not, at some time or another, worshipped at the shrine of the Venus Annodomini. There was no one like her, though there were many imitations. Six years in her eyes were no more than six months to ordinary women; and ten made less visible impression on her than does a week’s fever on an ordinary woman. Every one adored her, and in return she was pleasant and courteous to nearly every one. Youth had been a habit of hers for so long, that she could not part with it — never realized, in fact, the necessity of parting with it — and took for her more chosen associates young people.
Among the worshippers of the Venus Annodomini was young Gayerson. “Very Young” Gayerson, he was called to distinguish him from his father “Young” Gayerson, a Bengal Civilian, who affected the customs — as he had the heart — of youth. “Very Young” Gayerson was not content to worship placidly and for form’s sake, as the other young men did, or to accept a ride or a dance, or a talk from the Venus Annodomini in a properly humble and thankful spirit. He was exacting, and, therefore, the Venus Annodomini repressed him. He worried himself nearly sick in a futile sort of way over her; and his devotion and earnestness made him appear either shy or boisterous or rude, as his mood might vary, by the side of the older men who, with him, bowed before the Venus Annodomini. She was sorry for him. He reminded her of a lad who, three-and-twenty years ago, had professed a boundless devotion for her, and for whom in return she had felt something more than a week’s weakness. But that lad had fallen away and married another woman less than a year after he had worshipped her; and the Venus Annodomini had almost — not quite — forgotten his name. “Very Young” Gayerson had the same big blue eyes and the same way of pouting his underlip when he was excited or troubled. But the Venus Annodomini checked him sternly none the less. Too much zeal was a thing that she did not approve of; preferring instead, a tempered and sober tenderness.
“Very Young” Gayerson was miserable, and took no trouble to conceal his wretchedness. He was in the Army — a Line regiment I think, but am not certain — and, since his face was a looking-glass and his forehead an open book, by reason of his innocence, his brothers in arms made his life a burden to him and embittered his naturally sweet disposition. No one except “Very Young” Gayerson, and he never told his views, knew how old “Very Young” Gayerson believed the Venus Annodomini to be. Perhaps he thought her five and twenty, or perhaps she told him that she was this age. “Very Young” Gayerson would have forded the Gugger in flood to carry her lightest word, and had implicit faith in her. Every one liked him, and every one was sorry when they saw him so bound a slave of the Venus Annodomini. Every one, too, admitted that it was not her fault; for the Venus Annodomini differed from Mrs. Hauksbee and Mrs. Reiver in this particular — she never moved a finger to attract any one; but, like Ninon de l’Enclos, all men were attracted to her. One could admire and respect Mrs. Hauksbee, despise and avoid Mrs. Reiver, but one was forced to adore the Venus Annodomini.
“Very Young” Gayerson’s papa held a Division or a Collectorate or something administrative in a particularly unpleasant part of Bengal — full of Babus who edited newspapers proving that “Young” Gayerson was a “Nero” and a “Scylla” and a “Charybdis”; and, in addition to the Babus, there was a good deal of dysentery and cholera abroad for nine months of the year. “Young” Gayerson — he was about five and forty — rather liked Babus, they amused him, but he objects to dysentery, and when he could get away, went to Darjilling for the most part. This particular season he fancied that he would come up to Simla, and see his boy. The boy was not altogether pleased. He told the Venus Annodomini that his father was coming up, and she flushed a little and said that she should be delighted to make his acquaintance. Then she looked long and thoughtfully at “Very Young” Gayerson; because she was very, very sorry for him, and he was a very, very big idiot.
“My daughter is coming out in a fortnight, Mr. Gayerson,” she said.
“Your WHAT?” said he.
“Daughter,” said the Venus Annodomini. “She’s been out for a year at Home already, and I want her to see a little of India. She is nineteen and a very sensible, nice girl I believe.”
“Very Young” Gayerson, who was a short twenty-two years old, nearly fell out of his chair with astonishment; for he had persisted in believing, against all belief, in the youth of the Venus Annodomini. She, with her back to the curtained window, watched the effect of her sentences and smiled.
“Very Young” Gayerson’s papa came up twelve days later, and had not been in Simla four and twenty hours, before two men, old acquaintances of his, had told him how “Very Young” Gayerson had been conducting himself.
“Young” Gayerson laughed a good deal, and inquired who the Venus Annodomini might be. Which proves that he had been living in Bengal where nobody knows anything except the rate of Exchange. Then he said “boys will be boys,” and spoke to his son about the matter. “Very Young” Gayerson said that he felt wretched and unhappy; and “Young” Gayerson said that he repented of having helped to bring a fool into the world. He suggested that his son had better cut his leave short and go down to his duties. This led to an unfilial answer, and relations were strained, until “Young” Gayerson demmanded that they should call on the Venus Annodomini. “Very Young” Gayerson went with his papa, feeling, somehow, uncomfortable and small.
The Venus Annodomini received them graciously and “Young” Gayerson said:—“By Jove! It’s Kitty!” “Very Young” Gayerson would have listened for an explanation, if his time had not been taken up with trying to talk to a large, handsome, quiet, well-dressed girl — introduced to him by the Venus Annodomini as her daughter. She was far older in manners, style and repose than “Very Young” Gayerson; and, as he realized this thing, he felt sick.
Presently, he heard the Venus Annodomini saying:—“Do you know that your son is one of my most devoted admirers?”
“I don’t wonder,” said “Young” Gayerson. Here he raised his voice:—“He follows his father’s footsteps. Didn’t I worship the ground you trod on, ever so long ago, Kitty — and you haven’t changed since then. How strange it all seems!”
“Very Young” Gayerson said nothing. His conversation with the daughter of the Venus Annodomini was, through the rest of the call, fragmentary and disjointed.
“At five, tomorrow then,” said the Venus Annodomini. “And mind you are punctual.”
“At five punctual,” said “Young” Gayerson. “You can lend your old father a horse I dare say, youngster, can’t you? I’m going for a ride tomorrow afternoon.”
“Certainly,” said “Very Young” Gayerson. “I am going down tomorrow morning. My ponies are at your service, Sir.”
The Venus Annodomini looked at him across the half-light of the room, and her big gray eyes filled with moisture. She rose and shook hands with him.
“Good-bye, Tom,” whispered the Venus Annodomini.
32 — The Bisara of Pooree
Little Blind Fish, thou art marvellous wise,
Little Blind Fish, who put out thy eyes?
Open thine ears while I whisper my wish —
Bring me a lover, thou little Blind Fish.
—The Charm of the Bisara
Some natives say that it came from the other side of Kulu, where the eleven-inch Temple Sapphire is. Others that it was made at the Devil–Shrine of Ao–Chung in Thibet, was stolen by a Kafir, from him by a Gurkha, from him again by a Lahouli, from him by a khitmatgar, and by this latter sold to an Englishman, so all its virtue was lost: because, to work properly, the Bisara of Pooree must be stolen — with bloodshed if possible, but, at any rate, stolen.
These stories of the coming into India are all false. It was made at Pooree ages since — the manner of its making would fill a small book — was stolen by one of the Temple dancing-girls there, for her own purposes, and then passed on from hand to hand, steadily northward, till it reached Hanla: always bearing the same name — the Bisara of Pooree. In shape it is a tiny, square box of silver, studded outside with eight small balas-rubies. Inside the box, which opens with a spring, is a little eyeless fish, carved from some sort of dark, shiny nut and wrapped in a shred of faded gold-cloth. That is the Bisara of Pooree, and it were better for a man to take a king cobra in his hand than to touch the Bisara of Pooree.
All kinds of magic are out of date and done away with except in India where nothing changes in spite of the shiny, toy-scum stuff that people call “civilization.” Any man who knows about the Bisara of Pooree will tell you what its powers are — always supposing that it has been honestly stolen. It is the only regularly working, trustworthy love-charm in the country, with one exception.
[The other charm is in the hands of a trooper of the Nizam’s Horse, at a place called Tuprani, due north of Hyderabad.] This can be depended upon for a fact. Some one else may explain it.
If the Bisara be not stolen, but given or bought or found, it turns against its owner in three years, and leads to ruin or death. This is another fact which you may explain when you have time. Meanwhile, you can laugh at it. At present, the Bisara is safe on an ekka-pony’s neck, inside the blue bead-necklace that keeps off the Evil-eye. If the ekka-driver ever finds it, and wears it, or gives it to his wife, I am sorry for him.
A very dirty hill-cooly woman, with goitre, owned it at Theog in 1884. It came into Simla from the north before Churton’s khitmatgar bought it, and sold it, for three times its silver-value, to Churton, who collected curiosities. The servant knew no more what he had bought than the master; but a man looking over Churton’s collection of curiosities — Churton was an Assistant Commissioner by the way — saw and held his tongue. He was an Englishman; but knew how to believe. Which shows that he was different from most Englishmen. He knew that it was dangerous to have any share in the little box when working or dormant; for unsought Love is a terrible gift.
Pack —“Grubby” Pack, as we used to call him — was, in every way, a nasty little man who must have crawled into the Army by mistake. He was three inches taller than his sword, but not half so strong. And the sword was a fifty-shilling, tailor-made one. Nobody liked him, and, I suppose, it was his wizenedness and worthlessness that made him fall so hopelessly in love with Miss Hollis, who was good and sweet, and five foot seven in her tennis shoes. He was not content with falling in love quietly, but brought all the strength of his miserable little nature into the business. If he had not been so objectionable, one might have pitied him. He vapored, and fretted, and fumed, and trotted up and down, and tried to make himself pleasing in Miss Hollis’s big, quiet, gray eyes, and failed. It was one of the cases that you sometimes meet, even in this country where we marry by Code, of a really blind attachment all on one side, without the faintest possibility of return. Miss Hollis looked on Pack as some sort of vermin running about the road. He had no prospects beyond Captain’s pay, and no wits to help that out by one anna. In a large-sized man, love like his would have been touching. In a good man it would have been grand. He being what he was, it was only a nuisance.
You will believe this much. What you will not believe, is what follows: Churton, and The Man who Knew that the Bisara was, were lunching at the Simla Club together. Churton was complaining of life in general. His best mare had rolled out of stable down the hill and had broken her back; his decisions were being reversed by the upper Courts, more than an Assistant Commissioner of eight years’ standing has a right to expect; he knew liver and fever, and, for weeks past, had felt out of sorts. Altogether, he was disgusted and disheartened.
Simla Club dining-room is built, as all the world knows, in two sections, with an arch-arrangement dividing them. Come in, turn to your own left, take the table under the window, and you cannot see any one who has come in, turning to the right, and taken a table on the right side of the arch. Curiously enough, every word that you say can be heard, not only by the other diner, but by the servants beyond the screen through which they bring dinner. This is worth knowing: an echoing-room is a trap to be forewarned against.
Half in fun, and half hoping to be believed, The Man who Knew told Churton the story of the Bisara of Pooree at rather greater length than I have told it to you in this place; winding up with the suggestion that Churton might as well throw the little box down the hill and see whether all his troubles would go with it. In ordinary ears, English ears, the tale was only an interesting bit of folk-lore. Churton laughed, said that he felt better for his tiffin, and went out. Pack had been tiffining by himself to the right of the arch, and had heard everything. He was nearly mad with his absurd infatuation for Miss Hollis that all Simla had been laughing about.
It is a curious thing that, when a man hates or loves beyond reason, he is ready to go beyond reason to gratify his feelings. Which he would not do for money or power merely. Depend upon it, Solomon would never have built altars to Ashtaroth and all those ladies with queer names, if there had not been trouble of some kind in his zenana, and nowhere else. But this is beside the story. The facts of the case are these: Pack called on Churton next day when Churton was out, left his card, and STOLE the Bisara of Pooree from its place under the clock on the mantelpiece! Stole it like the thief he was by nature. Three days later, all Simla was electrified by the news that Miss Hollis had accepted Pack — the shrivelled rat, Pack! Do you desire clearer evidence than this? The Bisara of Pooree had been stolen, and it worked as it had always done when won by foul means.
There are three or four times in a man’s life-when he is justified in meddling with other people’s affairs to play Providence.
The Man who Knew felt that he WAS justified; but believing and acting on a belief are quite different things. The insolent satisfaction of Pack as he ambled by the side of Miss Hollis, and Churton’s striking release from liver, as soon as the Bisara of Pooree had gone, decided the Man. He explained to Churton and Churton laughed, because he was not brought up to believe that men on the Government House List steal — at least little things. But the miraculous acceptance by Miss Hollis of that tailor, Pack, decided him to take steps on suspicion. He vowed that he only wanted to find out where his ruby-studded silver box had vanished to. You cannot accuse a man on the Government House List of stealing. And if you rifle his room you are a thief yourself. Churton, prompted by The Man who Knew, decided on burglary. If he found nothing in Pack’s room. . . . but it is not nice to think of what would have happened in that case.
Pack went to a dance at Benmore — Benmore WAS Benmore in those days, and not an office — and danced fifteen waltzes out of twenty-two with Miss Hollis. Churton and The Man took all the keys that they could lay hands on, and went to Pack’s room in the hotel, certain that his servants would be away. Pack was a cheap soul. He had not purchased a decent cash-box to keep his papers in, but one of those native imitations that you buy for ten rupees. It opened to any sort of key, and there at the bottom, under Pack’s Insurance Policy, lay the Bisara of Pooree!
Churton called Pack names, put the Bisara of Pooree in his pocket, and went to the dance with The Man. At least, he came in time for supper, and saw the beginning of the end in Miss Hollis’s eyes. She was hysterical after supper, and was taken away by her Mamma.
At the dance, with the abominable Bisara in his pocket, Churton twisted his foot on one of the steps leading down to the old Rink, and had to be sent home in a rickshaw, grumbling. He did not believe in the Bisara of Pooree any the more for this manifestation, but he sought out Pack and called him some ugly names; and “thief” was the mildest of them. Pack took the names with the nervous smile of a little man who wants both soul and body to resent an insult, and went his way. There was no public scandal.
A week later, Pack got his definite dismissal from Miss Hollis. There had been a mistake in the placing of her affections, she said. So he went away to Madras, where he can do no great harm even if he lives to be a Colonel.
Churton insisted upon The Man who Knew taking the Bisara of Pooree as a gift. The Man took it, went down to the Cart Road at once, found an ekka pony with a blue head-necklace, fastened the Bisara of Pooree inside the necklace with a piece of shoe-string and thanked Heaven that he was rid of a danger. Remember, in case you ever find it, that you must not destroy the Bisara of Pooree. I have not time to explain why just now, but the power lies in the little wooden fish. Mister Gubernatis or Max Muller could tell you more about it than I.
You will say that all this story is made up. Very well. If ever you come across a little silver, ruby-studded box, seven-eighths of an inch long by three-quarters wide, with a dark-brown wooden fish, wrapped in gold cloth, inside it, keep it. Keep it for three years, and then you will discover for yourself whether my story is true or false.
Better still, steal it as Pack did, and you will be sorry that you had not killed yourself in the beginning.
33 — A Friend's Friend
Wherefore slew you the stranger? He brought me dishonour.
I saddled my mare Bijli. I set him upon her.
I gave him rice and goat’s flesh. He bared me to laughter;
When he was gone from my tent, swift I followed after,
Taking a sword in my hand. The hot wine had filled him
Under the stars he mocked me. Therefore I killed him.
— Hadramauti
This tale must be told in the first person for many reasons. The man I desire to expose is Tranter of the Bombay side. I want Tranter black-balled at his Club, divorced from his wife, turned out of Service, and cast into prison, until I get an apology from him in writing. I wish to warn the world against Tranter of the Bombay side. You know the casual way in which men pass on acquaintances in India. It is a great convenience, because you can get rid of a man you don’t like by writing a letter of introduction and putting him, with it, into the train. T. G.’s are best treated thus. If you keep them moving, they have no time to say insulting and offensive things about ‘Anglo-Indian Society.’ One day, late in the cold weather, I got a letter of preparation from Tranter of the Bombay side, advising me of the advent of a T. G., a man called Jevon; and saying, as usual, that any kindness shown to Jevon would be a kindness to Tranter. Every one knows the regular form of these communications. Two days later, Jevon turned up with his letter of introduction, and I did what I could for him. He was lint-haired, fresh-coloured, and very English. But he held no views about the Government of India. Nor did he insist on shooting tigers on the Station Mall, as some T. G.’s do. Nor did he call us ‘colonists,’ and dine in a flannel-shirt and tweeds, under that delusion, as other T. G.’s do. He was well behaved and very grateful for the little I won for him- most grateful of all when I secured him an invitation for the Afghan Ball, and introduced him to a Mrs. Deemes, a lady for whom I had a great respect and admiration, who danced like the shadow of a leaf in a light wind. I set great store by the friendship of Mrs. Deemes; but, had I known what was coming, I would have broken Jevon’s neck with a curtain-pole before getting him that invitation. But I did not know, and he dined at the Club, I think, on the night of the ball. I dined at home. When I went to the dance, the first man I met asked me whether I had seen Jevon. ‘No,’ said I. ‘He’s at the Club. Hasn’t he come?’- ‘Come!’ said the man. ‘Yes, he’s very much come. You’d better look at him.’ I sought for Jevon. I found him sitting on a bench and smiling to himself and a programme. Half a look was enough for me. On that one night, of all others, he had begun a long and thirsty evening, by taking too much! He was breathing heavily through his nose, his eyes were rather red, and he appeared very satisfied with all the earth. I put up a little prayer that the waltzing would work off the wine, and went about feeling uncomfortable. But I saw Jevon walk up to Mrs. Deemes for the first dance, and I knew that all the waltzing on the card was not enough to keep Jevon’s rebellious legs steady. That couple went round six times. I counted. Mrs. Deemes dropped Jevon’s arm and came across to me. I am not going to repeat what Mrs. Deemes said to me; because she was very angry indeed. I am not going to write what I said to Mrs. Deemes, because I didn’t say anything. I only wished that I had killed Jevon first and been hanged for it. Mrs. Deemes drew her pencil through all the dances that I had booked with her, and went away, leaving me to remember that what I ought to have said- was that Mrs. Deemes had asked to be introduced to Jevon because he danced well; and that I really had not carefully worked out a plot to insult her. But I realised that argument was no good, and that I had better try to stop Jevon from waltzing me into more trouble. He, however, was gone, and every third dance I set off to hunt for him. This ruined what little pleasure I expected from the entertainment. Just before supper I caught him, at the buffet with his legs wide apart, talking to a very fat and indignant chaperone. ‘If this person is a friend of yours, as I understand he is, I would recommend you to take him home,’ said she. ‘He is unfit for decent society.’ Then I knew that goodness only knew what Jevon had been doing, and I tried to get him away. But Jevon wasn’t going; not he. He knew what was good for him, he did; and he wasn’t going to be dictated to by any loconial nigger-driver, he wasn’t; and I was the friend who had formed his infant mind and brought him up to buy Benares brassware and fear God so I was; and we would have many more blazing good, drunks together, so we would; and all the she-camels in black silk in the world shouldn’t make him withdraw his opinion that there was nothing better than Benedictine to give one an appetite. And then... but he was my guest. I set him in a quiet corner of the supper-room, and went to find a wall-prop that I could trust. There was a good and kindly Subaltern- may Heaven bless that Subaltern, and make him a Commander-in-Chief! Who heard of my trouble. He was not dancing himself, and he owned a head like a five-year-old teak-baulks. He said that he would look after Jevon till the end of the ball. ‘Don’t suppose you much mind what I do with him?’ said he. ‘Mind!’ said I. ‘No! You can murder the beast if you like.’ But the Subaltern did not murder him. He trotted off to the supper-room, and sat down by Jevon, drinking peg for peg with him. I saw the two fairly established, and went away, feeling more easy. When ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’ sounded, I heard of Jevon’s performances between the first dance and my meeting with him at the buffet. After Mrs. Deemes had cast him off, it seems that he had found his way into the gallery, and offered to conduct the Band or to play any instrument in it just as the Bandmaster pleased. When the Bandmaster refused, Jevon said that he wasn’t appreciated, and he yearned for sympathy. So he trundled downstairs and sat out four dances with four girls, and proposed to three of them. One of the girls was a married woman, by the way. Then he went into the whist-room, and fell face-down and wept on the hearth-rug in front of the fire, because he had fallen into a den of card-sharpers, and his Mamma had always warned him against bad company. He had done a lot of other things, too, and had taken about three quarts of mixed liquors. Besides speaking of me in the most scandalous fashion! All the women wanted him turned out, and all the men wanted him kicked. The worst of it was, that every one said it was my fault. Now, I put it to you, how on earth could I have known that this innocent, fluffy T. G. would break out in this disgusting manner? You see he had gone round the world nearly, and his vocabulary of abuse was cosmopolitan, though mainly Japanese which he had picked up in a low tea-house at Hakodate. It sounded like whistling. While I was listening to first one man and then another telling me of Jevon’s shameless behaviour and asking me for his blood, I wondered where he was. I was prepared to sacrifice him to Society on the spot. But Jevon was gone, and, far away in the corner of the supperroom, sat my dear, good Subaltern, a little flushed, eating salad. I went over and said, ‘Where’s Jevon?’- ‘In the cloakroom,’ said the Subaltern. ‘He’ll keep till the women have gone. Don’t you interfere with my prisoner.’ I didn’t want to interfere, but I peeped into the cloakroom, and found my guest put to bed on some rolledup carpets, all comfy, his collar free, and a wet swab on his head. The rest of the evening I spent in timid attempts to explain things to Mrs. Deemes and three or four other ladies, and trying to clear my character- for I am a respectable man- from the shameful slurs that my guest had cast upon it. Libel was no word for what he had said. When I wasn’t trying to explain, I was running off to the cloakroom to see that Jevon wasn’t dead of apoplexy. I didn’t want him to die on my hands. He had eaten my salt. At last that ghastly ball ended, though I was not in the least restored to Mrs. Deemes’ favour. When the ladies had gone, and some one was calling for songs at the second supper, that angelic Subaltern told the servants to bring in the Sahib who was in the cloakroom, and clear away one end of the supper-table. While this was being done, we formed ourselves into a Board of Punishment with the Doctor for President. Jevon came in on four men’s shoulders, and was put down on the table like a corpse in a dissecting-room, while the Doctor lectured on the evils of intemperance and Jevon snored. Then we set to work. We corked the whole of his face. We filled his hair with meringuecream till it looked like a white wig. To protect everything till it dried, a man in the Ordnance Department, who understood the work, luted a big blue-paper cap from a cracker, with meringuecream, low down on Jevon’s forehead. This was punishment, not play, remember. We took the gelatine of crackers, and stuck blue gelatine on his nose, and yellow gelatine on his chin, and green and red gelatine on his cheeks, pressing each dab down till it held as firm as goldbeaters’ skin. We put a ham-frill round his neck, and tied it in a bow in front. He nodded like a mandarin. We fixed gelatine on the back of his hands, and burnt-corked them inside, and put small cutlet frills round his wrists, and tied both wrists together with string. We waxed up the ends of his moustache with isinglass. He looked very martial. We turned him over, pinned up his coat-tails between his shoulders, and put a rosette of cutlet-frills there. We took up the red cloth from the ball-room to the supper-room, and wound him up in it. There where sixty feet of red cloth, six feet broad; and he rolled up into a big fat bundle, with only that amazing head sticking out. Lastly, we tied up the surplus of the cloth beyond his feet with cocoanut-fibre string as tightly as we knew how. We were so angry that we hardly laughed at all. Just as we finished, we heard the rumble of bullock-carts taking away some chairs and things that the General’s wife had lent for the ball. So we hoisted Jevon, like a roll of carpets, into one of the carts, and the carts went away. Now the most extraordinary part of this tale is that never again did I see or hear anything of Jevon, T. G. He vanished utterly. He was not delivered at the General’s house with the carpets. He just went into the black darkness of the end of the night, and was swallowed up. Perhaps he died and was thrown into the river. But, alive or dead, I have often wondered how he got rid of the red cloth and the meringue-cream. I wonder still whether Mrs. Deemes will ever take any notice of me again, and whether I shall live down the infamous stories that Jevon set afloat about my manners and customs between the first and the ninth waltz of the Afghan Ball. They stick closer than cream. Wherefore, I want Tranter of the Bombay side, dead or alive. But dead for preference.
34 — The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows
If I can attain Heaven for a pice, why should you be envious?
—Opium Smoker’s Proverb.
This is no work of mine. My friend, Gabral Misquitta, the half-caste, spoke it all, between moonset and morning, six weeks before he died; and I took it down from his mouth as he answered my questions so:—
It lies between the Copper-smith’s Gully and the pipe-stem sellers’ quarter, within a hundred yards, too, as the crow flies, of the Mosque of Wazir Khan. I don’t mind telling any one this much, but I defy him to find the Gate, however well he may think he knows the City. You might even go through the very gully it stands in a hundred times, and be none the wiser. We used to call the gully, “the Gully of the Black Smoke,” but its native name is altogether different of course. A loaded donkey couldn’t pass between the walls; and, at one point, just before you reach the Gate, a bulged house-front makes people go along all sideways.
It isn’t really a gate though. It’s a house. Old Fung–Tching had it first five years ago. He was a boot-maker in Calcutta. They say that he murdered his wife there when he was drunk. That was why he dropped bazar-rum and took to the Black Smoke instead. Later on, he came up north and opened the Gate as a house where you could get your smoke in peace and quiet. Mind you, it was a pukka, respectable opium-house, and not one of those stifling, sweltering chandoo-khanas, that you can find all over the City. No; the old man knew his business thoroughly, and he was most clean for a Chinaman. He was a one-eyed little chap, not much more than five feet high, and both his middle fingers were gone. All the same, he was the handiest man at rolling black pills I have ever seen. Never seemed to be touched by the Smoke, either; and what he took day and night, night and day, was a caution. I’ve been at it five years, and I can do my fair share of the Smoke with any one; but I was a child to Fung–Tching that way. All the same, the old man was keen on his money, very keen; and that’s what I can’t understand. I heard he saved a good deal before he died, but his nephew has got all that now; and the old man’s gone back to China to be buried.
He kept the big upper room, where his best customers gathered, as neat as a new pin. In one corner used to stand Fung–Tching’s Joss — almost as ugly as Fung–Tching — and there were always sticks burning under his nose; but you never smelt ’em when the pipes were going thick. Opposite the Joss was Fung–Tching’s coffin. He had spent a good deal of his savings on that, and whenever a new man came to the Gate he was always introduced to it. It was lacquered black, with red and gold writings on it, and I’ve heard that Fung–Tching brought it out all the way from China. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but I know that, if I came first in the evening, I used to spread my mat just at the foot of it. It was a quiet corner you see, and a sort of breeze from the gully came in at the window now and then. Besides the mats, there was no other furniture in the room — only the coffin, and the old Joss all green and blue and purple with age and polish.
Fung–Tching never told us why he called the place “The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows.” (He was the only Chinaman I know who used bad-sounding fancy names. Most of them are flowery. As you’ll see in Calcutta.) We used to find that out for ourselves. Nothing grows on you so much, if you’re white, as the Black Smoke. A yellow man is made different. Opium doesn’t tell on him scarcely at all; but white and black suffer a good deal. Of course, there are some people that the Smoke doesn’t touch any more than tobacco would at first. They just doze a bit, as one would fall asleep naturally, and next morning they are almost fit for work. Now, I was one of that sort when I began, but I’ve been at it for five years pretty steadily, and its different now. There was an old aunt of mine, down Agra way, and she left me a little at her death. About sixty rupees a month secured. Sixty isn’t much. I can recollect a time, seems hundreds and hundreds of years ago, that I was getting my three hundred a month, and pickings, when I was working on a big timber contract in Calcutta.
I didn’t stick to that work for long. The Black Smoke does not allow of much other business; and even though I am very little affected by it, as men go, I couldn’t do a day’s work now to save my life. After all, sixty rupees is what I want. When old Fung–Tching was alive he used to draw the money for me, give me about half of it to live on (I eat very little), and the rest he kept himself. I was free of the Gate at any time of the day and night, and could smoke and sleep there when I liked, so I didn’t care. I know the old man made a good thing out of it; but that’s no matter. Nothing matters, much to me; and, besides, the money always came fresh and fresh each month.
There was ten of us met at the Gate when the place was first opened. Me, and two Baboos from a Government Office somewhere in Anarkulli, but they got the sack and couldn’t pay (no man who has to work in the daylight can do the Black Smoke for any length of time straight on); a Chinaman that was Fung–Tching’s nephew; a bazar-woman that had got a lot of money somehow; an English loafer — Mac–Somebody I think, but I have forgotten — that smoked heaps, but never seemed to pay anything (they said he had saved Fung–Tching’s life at some trial in Calcutta when he was a barrister): another Eurasian, like myself, from Madras; a half-caste woman, and a couple of men who said they had come from the North. I think they must have been Persians or Afghans or something. There are not more than five of us living now, but we come regular. I don’t know what happened to the Baboos; but the bazar-woman she died after six months of the Gate, and I think Fung–Tching took her bangles and nose-ring for himself. But I’m not certain. The Englishman, he drank as well as smoked, and he dropped off. One of the Persians got killed in a row at night by the big well near the mosque a long time ago, and the Police shut up the well, because they said it was full of foul air. They found him dead at the bottom of it. So, you see, there is only me, the Chinaman, the half-caste woman that we call the Memsahib (she used to live with Fung–Tching), the other Eurasian, and one of the Persians. The Memsahib looks very old now. I think she was a young woman when the Gate was opened; but we are all old for the matter of that. Hundreds and hundreds of years old. It is very hard to keep count of time in the Gate, and besides, time doesn’t matter to me. I draw my sixty rupees fresh and fresh every month. A very, very long while ago, when I used to be getting three hundred and fifty rupees a month, and pickings, on a big timber-contract at Calcutta, I had a wife of sorts. But she’s dead now. People said that I killed her by taking to the Black Smoke. Perhaps I did, but it’s so long since it doesn’t matter. Sometimes when I first came to the Gate, I used to feel sorry for it; but that’s all over and done with long ago, and I draw my sixty rupees fresh and fresh every month, and am quite happy. Not DRUNK happy, you know, but always quiet and soothed and contented.
How did I take to it? It began at Calcutta. I used to try it in my own house, just to see what it was like. I never went very far, but I think my wife must have died then. Anyhow, I found myself here, and got to know Fung–Tching. I don’t remember rightly how that came about; but he told me of the Gate and I used to go there, and, somehow, I have never got away from it since. Mind you, though, the Gate was a respectable place in Fung–Tching’s time where you could be comfortable, and not at all like the chandoo-khanas where the niggers go. No; it was clean and quiet, and not crowded. Of course, there were others beside us ten and the man; but we always had a mat apiece with a wadded woollen head-piece, all covered with black and red dragons and things; just like a coffin in the corner.
At the end of one’s third pipe the dragons used to move about and fight. I’ve watched ’em, many and many a night through. I used to regulate my Smoke that way, and now it takes a dozen pipes to make ’em stir. Besides, they are all torn and dirty, like the mats, and old Fung–Tching is dead. He died a couple of years ago, and gave me the pipe I always use now — a silver one, with queer beasts crawling up and down the receiver-bottle below the cup. Before that, I think, I used a big bamboo stem with a copper cup, a very small one, and a green jade mouthpiece. It was a little thicker than a walking-stick stem, and smoked sweet, very sweet. The bamboo seemed to suck up the smoke. Silver doesn’t, and I’ve got to clean it out now and then, that’s a great deal of trouble, but I smoke it for the old man’s sake. He must have made a good thing out of me, but he always gave me clean mats and pillows, and the best stuff you could get anywhere.
When he died, his nephew Tsin-ling took up the Gate, and he called it the “Temple of the Three Possessions;” but we old ones speak of it as the “Hundred Sorrows,” all the same. The nephew does things very shabbily, and I think the Memsahib must help him. She lives with him; same as she used to do with the old man. The two let in all sorts of low people, niggers and all, and the Black Smoke isn’t as good as it used to be. I’ve found burnt bran in my pipe over and over again. The old man would have died if that had happened in his time. Besides, the room is never cleaned, and all the mats are torn and cut at the edges. The coffin has gone — gone to China again — with the old man and two ounces of smoke inside it, in case he should want ’em on the way.
The Joss doesn’t get so many sticks burnt under his nose as he used to; that’s a sign of ill-luck, as sure as Death. He’s all brown, too, and no one ever attends to him. That’s the Memsahib’s work, I know; because, when Tsin-ling tried to burn gilt paper before him, she said it was a waste of money, and, if he kept a stick burning very slowly, the Joss wouldn’t know the difference. So now we’ve got the sticks mixed with a lot of glue, and they take half-an-hour longer to burn, and smell stinky. Let alone the smell of the room by itself. No business can get on if they try that sort of thing. The Joss doesn’t like it. I can see that. Late at night, sometimes, he turns all sorts of queer colors — blue and green and red — just as he used to do when old Fung–Tching was alive; and he rolls his eyes and stamps his feet like a devil.
I don’t know why I don’t leave the place and smoke quietly in a little room of my own in the bazar. Most like, Tsin-ling would kill me if I went away — he draws my sixty rupees now — and besides, it’s so much trouble, and I’ve grown to be very fond of the Gate. It’s not much to look at. Not what it was in the old man’s time, but I couldn’t leave it. I’ve seen so many come in and out. And I’ve seen so many die here on the mats that I should be afraid of dying in the open now. I’ve seen some things that people would call strange enough; but nothing is strange when you’re on the Black Smoke, except the Black Smoke. And if it was, it wouldn’t matter. Fung–Tching used to be very particular about his people, and never got in any one who’d give trouble by dying messy and such. But the nephew isn’t half so careful. He tells everywhere that he keeps a “first-chop” house. Never tries to get men in quietly, and make them comfortable like Fung–Tching did. That’s why the Gate is getting a little bit more known than it used to be. Among the niggers of course. The nephew daren’t get a white, or, for matter of that, a mixed skin into the place. He has to keep us three of course — me and the Memsahib and the other Eurasian. We’re fixtures. But he wouldn’t give us credit for a pipeful — not for anything.
One of these days, I hope, I shall die in the Gate. The Persian and the Madras man are terrible shaky now. They’ve got a boy to light their pipes for them. I always do that myself. Most like, I shall see them carried out before me. I don’t think I shall ever outlive the Memsahib or Tsin-ling. Women last longer than men at the Black–Smoke, and Tsin-ling has a deal of the old man’s blood in him, though he DOES smoke cheap stuff. The bazar-woman knew when she was going two days before her time; and SHE died on a clean mat with a nicely wadded pillow, and the old man hung up her pipe just above the Joss. He was always fond of her, I fancy. But he took her bangles just the same.
I should like to die like the bazar-woman — on a clean, cool mat with a pipe of good stuff between my lips. When I feel I’m going, I shall ask Tsin-ling for them, and he can draw my sixty rupees a month, fresh and fresh, as long as he pleases, and watch the black and red dragons have their last big fight together; and then. . . .
Well, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters much to me — only I wished Tsin-ling wouldn’t put bran into the Black Smoke.
35 — The Madness of Private Ortheris
Oh! Where would I be when my froat was dry?
Oh! Where would I be when the bullets fly?
Oh! Where would I be when I come to die?
Somewheres anigh my chum.
If 'e's liquor 'e'll give me some,
If I'm dyin' 'e'll 'old my 'ead,
An' 'e'll write 'em 'Ome when I'm dead.—
Gawd send us a trusty chum!
— Barrack Room Ballad.
My friends Mulvaney and Ortheris had gone on a shooting-expedition for one day. Learoyd was still in hospital, recovering from fever picked up in Burma. They sent me an invitation to join them, and were genuinely pained when I brought beer—almost enough beer to satisfy two Privates of the Line ... and Me.
"'Twasn't for that we bid you welkim, sorr," said Mulvaney, sulkily. "Twas for the pleasure av your comp'ny."
Ortheris came to the rescue with—"Well, 'e won't be none the worse for bringin' liquor with 'im. We ain't a file o' Dooks. We're bloomin' Tommies, ye cantankris Hirishman; an' 'eres your very good 'ealth!"
We shot all the forenoon, and killed two pariah-dogs, four green parrots, sitting, one kite by the burning-ghaut, one snake flying, one mud-turtle, and eight crows. Game was plentiful. Then we sat down to tiffin—"bull-mate an' bran-bread," Mulvaney called it—by the side of the river, and took pot shots at the crocodiles in the intervals of cutting up the food with our only pocket-knife. Then we drank up all the beer, and threw the bottles into the water and fired at them. After that, we eased belts and stretched ourselves on the warm sand and smoked. We were too lazy to continue shooting.
Ortheris heaved a big sigh, as he lay on his stomach with his head between his fists. Then he swore quietly into the blue sky.
"Fwhat's that for?" said Mulvaney, "Have ye not drunk enough?"
"Tott'nim Court Road, an' a gal I fancied there. Wot's the good of sodgerin'?"
"Orth'ris, me son," said Mulvaney, hastily, "'tis more than likely you've got throuble in your inside wid the beer. I feel that way mesilf whin my liver gets rusty."
Ortheris went on slowly, not heeding the interruption—
"I'm a Tommy—a bloomin', eight-anna, dog-stealin' Tommy, with a number instead of a decent name. Wot's the good o' me? If I 'ad a stayed at 'Ome, I might a married that gal and a kep' a little shorp in the 'Ammersmith 'Igh.—'S. Orth'ris, Prac-ti-cal Taxi-der-mist.' With a stuff' fox, like they 'as in the Haylesbury Dairies, in the winder, an' a little case of blue and yaller glass-heyes, an' a little wife to call 'shorp!' 'shorp!' when the door-bell rung. As it his, I'm on'y a Tommy—a Bloomin', Gawd-forsaken, Beer-swillin' Tommy. 'Rest on your harms—'versed, Stan' at—hease; 'Shun. 'Verse—harms. Right an' lef—tarrn. Slow—march. 'Alt—front. Rest on your harms—'versed. With blank-cartridge—load.' An' that's the end o' me." He was quoting fragments from Funeral Parties' Orders.
"Stop ut!" shouted Mulvaney. "Whin you've fired into nothin' as often as me, over a better man than yoursilf, you will not make a mock av thim orders. 'Tis worse than whistlin' the Dead March in barricks. An' you full as a tick, an' the sun cool, an' all an' all! I take shame for you. You're no better than a Pagin—you an' your firin'-parties an' your glass-eyes. Won't you stop ut, sorr?"
What could I do? Could I tell Ortheris anything that he did not know of the pleasures of his life? I was not a Chaplain nor a Subaltern, and Ortheris had a right to speak as he thought fit.
"Let him run, Mulvaney," I said. "It's the beer."
"'No! 'Tisn't the beer," said Mulvaney. "I know fwhat's comin'. He's tuk this way now an' agin, an' it's bad—it's bad—for I'm fond av the bhoy."
Indeed, Mulvaney seemed needlessly anxious; but I knew that he looked after Ortheris in a fatherly way.
"Let me talk, let me talk," said Ortheris, dreamily. "D'you stop your parrit screamin' of a 'ot day, when the cage is a-cookin' 'is pore little pink toes orf, Mulvaney?"
"Pink toes! D'ye mane to say you've pink toes undher your bullswools, ye blandanderin',"—Mulvaney gathered himself together for a terrific denunciation—"school-misthress! Pink toes! How much Bass wid the label did that ravin' child dhrink?"
"'Tain't Bass," said Ortheris, "It's a bitterer beer nor that. It's 'omesickness!"
"Hark to him! An' he goin' Home in the Sherapis in the inside av four months!"
"I don't care. It's all one to me. 'Ow d'you know I ain't 'fraid o' dyin' 'fore I gets my discharge paipers?" He recommenced, in a sing-song voice, the Orders.
I had never seen this side of Ortheris' character before, but evidently Mulvaney had, and attached serious importance to it. While Ortheris babbled, with his head on his arms, Mulvaney whispered to me—
"He's always tuk this way whin he's been checked overmuch by the childher they make Sarjints nowadays. That an' havin' nothin' to do. I can't make ut out anyways."
"Well, what does it matter? Let him talk himself through."
Ortheris began singing a parody of "The Ramrod Corps," full of cheerful allusions to battle, murder, and sudden death. He looked out across the river as he sang; and his face was quite strange to me. Mulvaney caught me by the elbow to ensure attention.
"Matther? It matthers everything! 'Tis some sort av fit that's on him. I've seen ut. 'Twill hould him all this night, an' in the middle av it he'll get out av his cot an' go rakin' in the rack for his 'coutremints. Thin he'll come over to me an' say, 'I'm goin' to Bombay. Answer for me in the mornin'.' Thin me an' him will fight as we've done before—him to go an' me to hould him—an' so we'll both come on the books for disturbin' in barricks. I've belted him, an' I've bruk his head, an' I've talked to him, but 'tis no manner av use whin the fit's on him. He's as good a bhoy as ever stepped whin his mind's clear. I know fwhat's comin', though, this night in barricks. Lord send he doesn't loose on me whin I rise to knock him down. 'Tis that that's in my mind day an' night."
This put the case in a much less pleasant light, and fully accounted for Mulvaney's anxiety. He seemed to be trying to coax Ortheris out of the fit; for he shouted down the bank where the boy was lying—
"Listen now, you wid the 'pore pink toes' an' the glass eyes! Did you shwim the Irriwaddy at night, behin' me, as a bhoy shud; or were you hidin' under a bed, as you was at Ahmid Kheyl?"
This was at once a gross insult and a direct lie, and Mulvaney meant it to bring on a fight. But Ortheris seemed shut up in some sort of trance. He answered slowly, without a sign of irritation, in the same cadenced voice as he had used for his firing-party orders—
"Hi swum the Irriwaddy in the night, as you know, for to take the town of Lungtungpen, nakid an' without fear. Hand where I was at Ahmed Kheyl you know, and four bloomin' Pathans know too. But that was summat to do, an' didn't think o' dyin'. Now I'm sick to go 'Ome—go 'Ome—go 'Ome! No, I ain't mammy-sick, because my uncle brung me up, but I'm sick for London again; sick for the sounds of 'er, an' the sights of 'er, and the stinks of 'er; orange peel and hasphalte an' gas comin' in over Vaux'all Bridge. Sick for the rail goin' down to Box'Ill, with your gal on your knee an' a new clay pipe in your face. That, an' the Stran' lights where you knows ev'ry one, an' the Copper that takes you up is a old friend that tuk you up before, when you was a little, smitchy boy lying loose 'tween the Temple an' the Dark Harches. No bloomin' guard-mountin', no bloomin' rotten-stone, nor khaki, an' yourself your own master with a gal to take an' see the Humaners practicin' a-hookin' dead corpses out of the Serpentine o' Sundays. An' I lef' all that for to serve the Widder beyond the seas, where there ain't no women and there ain't no liquor worth 'avin', and there ain't nothin' to see, nor do, nor say, nor feel, nor think. Lord love you, Stanley Orth'ris, but you're a bigger bloomin' fool than the rest o' the reg'ment and Mulvaney wired together! There's the Widder sittin' at 'Ome with a gold crownd on 'er 'ead; and 'ere am Hi, Stanley Orth'ris, the Widder's property, a rottin' FOOL!"
His voice rose at the end of the sentence, and he wound up with a six-shot Anglo-Vernacular oath. Mulvaney said nothing, but looked at me as if he expected that I could bring peace to poor Ortheris' troubled brain.
I remembered once at Rawal Pindi having seen a man, nearly mad with drink, sobered by being made a fool of. Some regiments may know what I mean. I hoped that we might slake off Ortheris in the same way, though he was perfectly sober. So I said—
"What's the use of grousing there, and speaking against The Widow?"
"I didn't!" said Ortheris, "S'elp me, Gawd, I never said a word agin 'er, an' I wouldn't—not if I was to desert this minute!"
Here was my opening. "Well, you meant to, anyhow. What's the use of cracking-on for nothing? Would you slip it now if you got the chance?"
"On'y try me!" said Ortheris, jumping to his feet as if he had been stung.
Mulvaney jumped too. "Fwhat are you going to do?" said he.
"Help Ortheris down to Bombay or Karachi, whichever he likes. You can report that he separated from you before tiffin, and left his gun on the bank here!"
"I'm to report that—am I?" said Mulvaney, slowly. "Very well. If Orth'ris manes to desert now, and will desert now, an' you, sorr, who have been a frind to me an' to him, will help him to ut, I, Terence Mulvaney, on my oath which I've never bruk yet, will report as you say, But"—here he stepped up to Ortheris, and shook the stock of the fowling-piece in his face—"your fists help you, Stanley Orth'ris, if ever I come across you agin!"
"I don't care!" said Ortheris. "I'm sick o' this dorg's life. Give me a chanst. Don't play with me. Le' me go!"
"Strip," said I, "and change with me, and then I'll tell you what to do."
I hoped that the absurdity of this would check Ortheris; but he had kicked off his ammunition-boots and got rid of his tunic almost before I had loosed my shirt-collar. Mulvaney gripped me by the arm—
"The fit's on him: the fit's workin' on him still! By my Honor and Sowl, we shall be accessiry to a desartion yet. Only, twenty-eight days, as you say, sorr, or fifty-six, but think o' the shame—the black shame to him an' me!" I had never seen Mulvaney so excited.
But Ortheris was quite calm, and, as soon as he had exchanged clothes with me, and I stood up a Private of the Line, he said shortly, "Now! Come on. What nex'? D'ye mean fair. What must I do to get out o' this 'ere a-Hell?"
I told him that, if he would wait for two or three hours near the river, I would ride into the Station and come back with one hundred rupees. He would, with that money in his pocket, walk to the nearest side-station on the line, about five miles away, and would there take a first-class ticket for Karachi. Knowing that he had no money on him when he went out shooting, his regiment would not immediately wire to the seaports, but would hunt for him in the native villages near the river. Further, no one would think of seeking a deserter in a first-class carriage. At Karachi, he was to buy white clothes and ship, if he could, on a cargo-steamer.
Here he broke in. If I helped him to Karachi, he would arrange all the rest. Then I ordered him to wait where he was until it was dark enough for me to ride into the station without my dress being noticed. Now God in His wisdom has made the heart of the British Soldier, who is very often an unlicked ruffian, as soft as the heart of a little child, in order that he may believe in and follow his officers into tight and nasty places. He does not so readily come to believe in a "civilian," but, when he does, he believes implicitly and like a dog. I had had the honor of the friendship of Private Ortheris, at intervals, for more than three years, and we had dealt with each other as man by man, Consequently, he considered that all my words were true, and not spoken lightly.
Mulvaney and I left him in the high grass near the river-bank, and went away, still keeping to the high grass, toward my horse. The shirt scratched me horribly.
We waited nearly two hours for the dusk to fall and allow me to ride off. We spoke of Ortheris in whispers, and strained our ears to catch any sound from the spot where we had left him. But we heard nothing except the wind in the plume-grass.
"I've bruk his head," said Mulvaney, earnestly, "time an' agin. I've nearly kilt him wid the belt, an' yet I can't knock thim fits out av his soft head. No! An' he's not soft, for he's reasonable an' likely by natur'. Fwhat is ut? Is ut his breedin' which is nothin', or his edukashin which he niver got? You that think ye know things, answer me that."
But I found no answer. I was wondering how long Ortheris, in the bank of the river, would hold out, and whether I should be forced to help him to desert, as I had given my word.
Just as the dusk shut down and, with a very heavy heart, I was beginning to saddle up my horse, we heard wild shouts from the river.
The devils had departed from Private Stanley Ortheris, No. 22639, B Company. The loneliness, the dusk, and the waiting had driven them out as I had hoped. We set off at the double and found him plunging about wildly through the grass, with his coat off—my coat off, I mean. He was calling for us like a madman.
When we reached him he was dripping with perspiration, and trembling like a startled horse. We had great difficulty in soothing him. He complained that he was in civilian kit, and wanted to tear my clothes off his body. I ordered him to strip, and we made a second exchange as quickly as possible.
The rasp of his own "greyback" shirt and the squeak of his boots seemed to bring him to himself. He put his hands before his eyes and said—
"Wot was it? I ain't mad, I ain't sunstrook, an' I've bin an' gone an' said, an' bin an' gone an' done.... Wot 'ave I bin an' done!"
"Fwhat have you done?" said Mulvaney. "You've dishgraced yourself—though that's no matter. You've dishgraced B Comp'ny, an' worst av all, you've dishgraced Me! Me that taught you how for to walk abroad like a man—whin you was a dhirty little, fish-backed little, whimperin' little recruity. As you are now, Stanley Orth'ris!"
Ortheris said nothing for a while, Then he unslung his belt, heavy with the badges of half a dozen regiments that his own had lain with, and handed it over to Mulvaney.
"I'm too little for to mill you, Mulvaney," he, "an' you've strook me before; but you can take an' cut me in two with this 'ere if you like."
Mulvaney turned to me.
"Lave me to talk to him, sorr," said Mulvaney.
I left, and on my way home thought a good deal over Ortheris in particular, and my friend Private Thomas Atkins whom I love, in general.
But I could not come to any conclusion of any kind whatever.
36 — The Story of Muhammad Din
Who is the happy man? He that sees in his own house at home little children crowned with dust, leaping and falling and crying.
—Munichandra, translated by Professor Peterson.
The polo-ball was an old one, scarred, chipped, and dinted. It stood on the mantelpiece among the pipe-stems which Imam Din, khitmatgar, was cleaning for me.
“Does the Heaven-born want this ball?” said Imam Din, deferentially.
The Heaven-born set no particular store by it; but of what use was a polo-ball to a khitmatgar?
“By Your Honor’s favor, I have a little son. He has seen this ball, and desires it to play with. I do not want it for myself.”
No one would for an instant accuse portly old Imam Din of wanting to play with polo-balls. He carried out the battered thing into the verandah; and there followed a hurricane of joyful squeaks, a patter of small feet, and the thud-thud-thud of the ball rolling along the ground. Evidently the little son had been waiting outside the door to secure his treasure. But how had he managed to see that polo-ball?
Next day, coming back from office half an hour earlier than usual, I was aware of a small figure in the dining-room — a tiny, plump figure in a ridiculously inadequate shirt which came, perhaps, half-way down the tubby stomach. It wandered round the room, thumb in mouth, crooning to itself as it took stock of the pictures. Undoubtedly this was the “little son.”
He had no business in my room, of course; but was so deeply absorbed in his discoveries that he never noticed me in the doorway. I stepped into the room and startled him nearly into a fit. He sat down on the ground with a gasp. His eyes opened, and his mouth followed suit. I knew what was coming, and fled, followed by a long, dry howl which reached the servants’ quarters far more quickly than any command of mine had ever done. In ten seconds Imam Din was in the dining-room. Then despairing sobs arose, and I returned to find Imam Din admonishing the small sinner who was using most of his shirt as a handkerchief.
“This boy,” said Imam Din, judicially, “is a budmash, a big budmash. He will, without doubt, go to the jail-khana for his behavior.” Renewed yells from the penitent, and an elaborate apology to myself from Imam Din.
“Tell the baby,” said I, “that the Sahib is not angry, and take him away.” Imam Din conveyed my forgiveness to the offender, who had now gathered all his shirt round his neck, string-wise, and the yell subsided into a sob. The two set off for the door. “His name,” said Imam Din, as though the name were part of the crime, “is Muhammad Din, and he is a budmash.” Freed from present danger, Muhammad Din turned round, in his father’s arms, and said gravely:—“It is true that my name is Muhammad Din, Tahib, but I am not a budmash. I am a MAN!”
From that day dated my acquaintance with Muhammad Din. Never again did he come into my dining-room, but on the neutral ground of the compound, we greeted each other with much state, though our conversation was confined to “Talaam, Tahib” from his side and “Salaam Muhammad Din” from mine. Daily on my return from office, the little white shirt, and the fat little body used to rise from the shade of the creeper-covered trellis where they had been hid; and daily I checked my horse here, that my salutation might not be slurred over or given unseemly.
Muhammad Din never had any companions. He used to trot about the compound, in and out of the castor-oil bushes, on mysterious errands of his own. One day I stumbled upon some of his handiwork far down the ground. He had half buried the polo-ball in dust, and stuck six shrivelled old marigold flowers in a circle round it. Outside that circle again, was a rude square, traced out in bits of red brick alternating with fragments of broken china; the whole bounded by a little bank of dust. The bhistie from the well-curb put in a plea for the small architect, saying that it was only the play of a baby and did not much disfigure my garden.
Heaven knows that I had no intention of touching the child’s work then or later; but, that evening, a stroll through the garden brought me unawares full on it; so that I trampled, before I knew, marigold-heads, dust-bank, and fragments of broken soap-dish into confusion past all hope of mending. Next morning I came upon Muhammad Din crying softly to himself over the ruin I had wrought. Some one had cruelly told him that the Sahib was very angry with him for spoiling the garden, and had scattered his rubbish using bad language the while. Muhammad Din labored for an hour at effacing every trace of the dust-bank and pottery fragments, and it was with a tearful apologetic face that he said, “Talaam Tahib,” when I came home from the office. A hasty inquiry resulted in Imam Din informing Muhammad Din that by my singular favor he was permitted to disport himself as he pleased. Whereat the child took heart and fell to tracing the ground-plan of an edifice which was to eclipse the marigold-polo-ball creation.
For some months, the chubby little eccentricity revolved in his humble orbit among the castor-oil bushes and in the dust; always fashioning magnificent palaces from stale flowers thrown away by the bearer, smooth water-worn pebbles, bits of broken glass, and feathers pulled, I fancy, from my fowls — always alone and always crooning to himself.
A gayly-spotted sea-shell was dropped one day close to the last of his little buildings; and I looked that Muhammad Din should build something more than ordinarily splendid on the strength of it. Nor was I disappointed. He meditated for the better part of an hour, and his crooning rose to a jubilant song. Then he began tracing in dust. It would certainly be a wondrous palace, this one, for it was two yards long and a yard broad in ground-plan. But the palace was never completed.
Next day there was no Muhammad Din at the head of the carriage-drive, and no “Talaam Tahib” to welcome my return. I had grown accustomed to the greeting, and its omission troubled me. Next day, Imam Din told me that the child was suffering slightly from fever and needed quinine. He got the medicine, and an English Doctor.
“They have no stamina, these brats,” said the Doctor, as he left Imam Din’s quarters.
A week later, though I would have given much to have avoided it, I met on the road to the Mussulman burying-ground Imam Din, accompanied by one other friend, carrying in his arms, wrapped in a white cloth, all that was left of little Muhammad Din.
37 — On the Strength of a Likeness
If your mirror be broken, look into still water; but have a care that you do not fall in.
—Hindu Proverb
Next to a requited attachment, one of the most convenient things that a young man can carry about with him at the beginning of his career, is an unrequited attachment. It makes him feel important and business-like, and blase, and cynical; and whenever he has a touch of liver, or suffers from want of exercise, he can mourn over his lost love, and be very happy in a tender, twilight fashion.
Hannasyde’s affair of the heart had been a Godsend to him. It was four years old, and the girl had long since given up thinking of it. She had married and had many cares of her own. In the beginning, she had told Hannasyde that, “while she could never be anything more than a sister to him, she would always take the deepest interest in his welfare.” This startlingly new and original remark gave Hannasyde something to think over for two years; and his own vanity filled in the other twenty-four months. Hannasyde was quite different from Phil Garron, but, none the less, had several points in common with that far too lucky man.
He kept his unrequited attachment by him as men keep a well-smoked pipe — for comfort’s sake, and because it had grown dear in the using. It brought him happily through the Simla season. Hannasyde was not lovely. There was a crudity in his manners, and a roughness in the way in which he helped a lady on to her horse, that did not attract the other sex to him. Even if he had cast about for their favor, which he did not. He kept his wounded heart all to himself for a while.
Then trouble came to him. All who go to Simla, know the slope from the Telegraph to the Public Works Office. Hannasyde was loafing up the hill, one September morning between calling hours, when a ’rickshaw came down in a hurry, and in the ’rickshaw sat the living, breathing image of the girl who had made him so happily unhappy. Hannasyde leaned against the railing and gasped. He wanted to run downhill after the ’rickshaw, but that was impossible; so he went forward with most of his blood in his temples. It was impossible, for many reasons, that the woman in the ’rickshaw could be the girl he had known. She was, he discovered later, the wife of a man from Dindigul, or Coimbatore, or some out-of-the-way place, and she had come up to Simla early in the season for the good of her health. She was going back to Dindigul, or wherever it was, at the end of the season; and in all likelihood would never return to Simla again, her proper Hill-station being Ootacamund. That night, Hannasyde, raw and savage from the raking up of all old feelings, took counsel with himself for one measured hour. What he decided upon was this; and you must decide for yourself how much genuine affection for the old love, and how much a very natural inclination to go abroad and enjoy himself, affected the decision. Mrs. Landys–Haggert would never in all human likelihood cross his path again. So whatever he did didn’t much matter. She was marvellously like the girl who “took a deep interest” and the rest of the formula. All things considered, it would be pleasant to make the acquaintance of Mrs. Landys–Haggert, and for a little time — only a very little time — to make believe that he was with Alice Chisane again. Every one is more or less mad on one point. Hannasyde’s particular monomania was his old love, Alice Chisane.
He made it his business to get introduced to Mrs. Haggert, and the introduction prospered. He also made it his business to see as much as he could of that lady. When a man is in earnest as to interviews, the facilities which Simla offers are startling. There are garden-parties, and tennis-parties, and picnics, and luncheons at Annandale, and rifle-matches, and dinners and balls; besides rides and walks, which are matters of private arrangement. Hannasyde had started with the intention of seeing a likeness, and he ended by doing much more. He wanted to be deceived, he meant to be deceived, and he deceived himself very thoroughly. Not only were the face and figure, the face and figure of Alice Chisane, but the voice and lower tones were exactly the same, and so were the turns of speech; and the little mannerisms, that every woman has, of gait and gesticulation, were absolutely and identically the same. The turn of the head was the same; the tired look in the eyes at the end of a long walk was the same; the sloop and wrench over the saddle to hold in a pulling horse was the same; and once, most marvellous of all, Mrs. Landys–Haggert singing to herself in the next room, while Hannasyde was waiting to take her for a ride, hummed, note for note, with a throaty quiver of the voice in the second line:—“Poor Wandering One!” exactly as Alice Chisane had hummed it for Hannasyde in the dusk of an English drawing-room. In the actual woman herself — in the soul of her — there was not the least likeness; she and Alice Chisane being cast in different moulds. But all that Hannasyde wanted to know and see and think about, was this maddening and perplexing likeness of face and voice and manner. He was bent on making a fool of himself that way; and he was in no sort disappointed.
Open and obvious devotion from any sort of man is always pleasant to any sort of woman; but Mrs. Landys–Haggert, being a woman of the world, could make nothing of Hannasyde’s admiration.
He would take any amount of trouble — he was a selfish man habitually — to meet and forestall, if possible, her wishes. Anything she told him to do was law; and he was, there could be no doubting it, fond of her company so long as she talked to him, and kept on talking about trivialities. But when she launched into expression of her personal views and her wrongs, those small social differences that make the spice of Simla life, Hannasyde was neither pleased nor interested. He didn’t want to know anything about Mrs. Landys–Haggert, or her experiences in the past — she had travelled nearly all over the world, and could talk cleverly — he wanted the likeness of Alice Chisane before his eyes and her voice in his ears. Anything outside that, reminding him of another personality jarred, and he showed that it did.
Under the new Post Office, one evening, Mrs. Landys–Haggert turned on him, and spoke her mind shortly and without warning. “Mr. Hannasyde,” said she, “will you be good enough to explain why you have appointed yourself my special cavalier servente? I don’t understand it. But I am perfectly certain, somehow or other, that you don’t care the least little bit in the world for ME.” This seems to support, by the way, the theory that no man can act or tell lies to a woman without being found out. Hannasyde was taken off his guard. His defence never was a strong one, because he was always thinking of himself, and he blurted out, before he knew what he was saying, this inexpedient answer:—“No more I do.”
The queerness of the situation and the reply, made Mrs. Landys–Haggert laugh. Then it all came out; and at the end of Hannasyde’s lucid explanation, Mrs. Haggert said, with the least little touch of scorn in her voice:—“So I’m to act as the lay-figure for you to hang the rags of your tattered affections on, am I?”
Hannasyde didn’t see what answer was required, and he devoted himself generally and vaguely to the praise of Alice Chisane, which was unsatisfactory. Now it is to be thoroughly made clear that Mrs. Haggert had not the shadow of a ghost of an interest in Hannasyde. Only. . . . only no woman likes being made love through instead of to — specially on behalf of a musty divinity of four years’ standing.
Hannasyde did not see that he had made any very particular exhibition of himself. He was glad to find a sympathetic soul in the arid wastes of Simla.
When the season ended, Hannasyde went down to his own place and Mrs. Haggert to hers. “It was like making love to a ghost,” said Hannasyde to himself, “and it doesn’t matter; and now I’ll get to my work.” But he found himself thinking steadily of the Haggert–Chisane ghost; and he could not be certain whether it was Haggert or Chisane that made up the greater part of the pretty phantom.
He got understanding a month later.
A peculiar point of this peculiar country is the way in which a heartless Government transfers men from one end of the Empire to the other. You can never be sure of getting rid of a friend or an enemy till he or she dies. There was a case once — but that’s another story.
Haggert’s Department ordered him up from Dindigul to the Frontier at two days’ notice, and he went through, losing money at every step, from Dindigul to his station. He dropped Mrs. Haggert at Lucknow, to stay with some friends there, to take part in a big ball at the Chutter Munzil, and to come on when he had made the new home a little comfortable. Lucknow was Hannasyde’s station, and Mrs. Haggert stayed a week there. Hannasyde went to meet her. And the train came in, he discovered which he had been thinking of for the past month. The unwisdom of his conduct also struck him. The Lucknow week, with two dances, and an unlimited quantity of rides together, clinched matters; and Hannasyde found himself pacing this circle of thought:— He adored Alice Chisane — at least he HAD adored her. AND he admired Mrs. Landys–Haggert because she was like Alice Chisane. BUT Mrs. Landys–Haggert was not in the least like Alice Chisane, being a thousand times more adorable. NOW Alice Chisane was “the bride of another,” and so was Mrs. Landys–Haggert, and a good and honest wife too. THEREFORE, he, Hannasyde, was. . . . here he called himself several hard names, and wished that he had been wise in the beginning.
Whether Mrs. Landys–Haggert saw what was going on in his mind, she alone knows. He seemed to take an unqualified interest in everything connected with herself, as distinguished from the Alice–Chisane likeness, and he said one or two things which, if Alice Chisane had been still betrothed to him, could scarcely have been excused, even on the grounds of the likeness. But Mrs. Haggert turned the remarks aside, and spent a long time in making Hannasyde see what a comfort and a pleasure she had been to him because of her strange resemblance to his old love. Hannasyde groaned in his saddle and said, “Yes, indeed,” and busied himself with preparations for her departure to the Frontier, feeling very small and miserable.
The last day of her stay at Lucknow came, and Hannasyde saw her off at the Railway Station. She was very grateful for his kindness and the trouble he had taken, and smiled pleasantly and sympathetically as one who knew the Alice–Chisane reason of that kindness. And Hannasyde abused the coolies with the luggage, and hustled the people on the platform, and prayed that the roof might fall in and slay him.
As the train went out slowly, Mrs. Landys–Haggert leaned out of the window to say goodbye:—“On second thoughts au revoir, Mr. Hannasyde. I go Home in the Spring, and perhaps I may meet you in Town.”
Hannasyde shook hands, and said very earnestly and adoringly:—“I hope to Heaven I shall never see your face again!”
And Mrs. Haggert understood.
38 — Wressley of the Foreign Office
I closed and drew for my love’s sake,
That now is false to me,
And I slew the Riever of Tarrant Moss,
And set Dumeny free.
And ever they give me praise and gold,
And ever I moan my loss,
For I struck the blow for my false love’s sake,
And not for the men at the Moss.
—Tarrant Moss
One of the many curses of our life out here is the want of atmosphere in the painter’s sense. There are no half-tints worth noticing. Men stand out all crude and raw, with nothing to tone them down, and nothing to scale them against. They do their work, and grow to think that there is nothing but their work, and nothing like their work, and that they are the real pivots on which the administration turns. Here is an instance of this feeling. A half-caste clerk was ruling forms in a Pay Office. He said to me:—“Do you know what would happen if I added or took away one single line on this sheet?” Then, with the air of a conspirator:—“It would disorganize the whole of the Treasury payments throughout the whole of the Presidency Circle! Think of that?”
If men had not this delusion as to the ultra-importance of their own particular employments, I suppose that they would sit down and kill themselves. But their weakness is wearisome, particularly when the listener knows that he himself commits exactly the same sin.
Even the Secretariat believes that it does good when it asks an over-driven Executive Officer to take census of wheat-weevils through a district of five thousand square miles.
There was a man once in the Foreign Office — a man who had grown middle-aged in the department, and was commonly said, by irreverent juniors, to be able to repeat Aitchison’s “Treaties and Sunnuds” backwards, in his sleep. What he did with his stored knowledge only the Secretary knew; and he, naturally, would not publish the news abroad. This man’s name was Wressley, and it was the Shibboleth, in those days, to say:—“Wressley knows more about the Central Indian States than any living man.” If you did not say this, you were considered one of mean understanding.
Now-a-days, the man who says that he knows the ravel of the inter-tribal complications across the Border is of more use; but in Wressley’s time, much attention was paid to the Central Indian States. They were called “foci” and “factors,” and all manner of imposing names.
And here the curse of Anglo–Indian life fell heavily. When Wressley lifted up his voice, and spoke about such-and-such a succession to such-and-such a throne, the Foreign Office were silent, and Heads of Departments repeated the last two or three words of Wressley’s sentences, and tacked “yes, yes,” on them, and knew that they were “assisting the Empire to grapple with serious political contingencies.” In most big undertakings, one or two men do the work while the rest sit near and talk till the ripe decorations begin to fall.
Wressley was the working-member of the Foreign Office firm, and, to keep him up to his duties when he showed signs of flagging, he was made much of by his superiors and told what a fine fellow he was. He did not require coaxing, because he was of tough build, but what he received confirmed him in the belief that there was no one quite so absolutely and imperatively necessary to the stability of India as Wressley of the Foreign Office. There might be other good men, but the known, honored and trusted man among men was Wressley of the Foreign Office. We had a Viceroy in those days who knew exactly when to “gentle” a fractious big man and to hearten up a collar-galled little one, and so keep all his team level. He conveyed to Wressley the impression which I have just set down; and even tough men are apt to be disorganized by a Viceroy’s praise. There was a case once — but that is another story.
All India knew Wressley’s name and office — it was in Thacker and Spink’s Directory — but who he was personally, or what he did, or what his special merits were, not fifty men knew or cared. His work filled all his time, and he found no leisure to cultivate acquaintances beyond those of dead Rajput chiefs with Ahir blots in their ’scutcheons. Wressley would have made a very good Clerk in the Herald’s College had he not been a Bengal Civilian.
Upon a day, between office and office, great trouble came to Wressley — overwhelmed him, knocked him down, and left him gasping as though he had been a little school-boy. Without reason, against prudence, and at a moment’s notice, he fell in love with a frivolous, golden-haired girl who used to tear about Simla Mall on a high, rough waler, with a blue velvet jockey-cap crammed over her eyes. Her name was Venner — Tillie Venner — and she was delightful. She took Wressley’s heart at a hand-gallop, and Wressley found that it was not good for man to live alone; even with half the Foreign Office Records in his presses.
Then Simla laughed, for Wressley in love was slightly ridiculous. He did his best to interest the girl in himself — that is to say, his work — and she, after the manner of women, did her best to appear interested in what, behind his back, she called “Mr. Wressley’s Wajahs”; for she lisped very prettily. She did not understand one little thing about them, but she acted as if she did. Men have married on that sort of error before now.
Providence, however, had care of Wressley. He was immensely struck with Miss Venner’s intelligence. He would have been more impressed had he heard her private and confidential accounts of his calls. He held peculiar notions as to the wooing of girls. He said that the best work of a man’s career should be laid reverently at their feet. Ruskin writes something like this somewhere, I think; but in ordinary life a few kisses are better and save time.
About a month after he had lost his heart to Miss Venner, and had been doing his work vilely in consequence, the first idea of his “Native Rule in Central India” struck Wressley and filled him with joy. It was, as he sketched it, a great thing — the work of his life — a really comprehensive survey of a most fascinating subject — to be written with all the special and laboriously acquired knowledge of Wressley of the Foreign Office — a gift fit for an Empress.
He told Miss Venner that he was going to take leave, and hoped, on his return, to bring her a present worthy of her acceptance. Would she wait? Certainly she would. Wressley drew seventeen hundred rupees a month. She would wait a year for that. Her mamma would help her to wait.
So Wressley took one year’s leave and all the available documents, about a truck-load, that he could lay hands on, and went down to Central India with his notion hot in his head. He began his book in the land he was writing of. Too much official correspondence had made him a frigid workman, and he must have guessed that he needed the white light of local color on his palette. This is a dangerous paint for amateurs to play with.
Heavens, how that man worked! He caught his Rajahs, analyzed his Rajahs, and traced them up into the mists of Time and beyond, with their queens and their concubines. He dated and cross-dated, pedigreed and triple-pedigreed, compared, noted, connoted, wove, strung, sorted, selected, inferred, calendared and counter-calendared for ten hours a day. And, because this sudden and new light of Love was upon him, he turned those dry bones of history and dirty records of misdeeds into things to weep or to laugh over as he pleased. His heart and soul were at the end of his pen, and they got into the link. He was dowered with sympathy, insight, humor and style for two hundred and thirty days and nights; and his book was a Book. He had his vast special knowledge with him, so to speak; but the spirit, the woven-in human Touch, the poetry and the power of the output, were beyond all special knowledge. But I doubt whether he knew the gift that was in him then, and thus he may have lost some happiness. He was toiling for Tillie Venner, not for himself. Men often do their best work blind, for some one else’s sake.
Also, though this has nothing to do with the story, in India where every one knows every one else, you can watch men being driven, by the women who govern them, out of the rank-and-file and sent to take up points alone. A good man once started, goes forward; but an average man, so soon as the woman loses interest in his success as a tribute to her power, comes back to the battalion and is no more heard of.
Wressley bore the first copy of his book to Simla and, blushing and stammering, presented it to Miss Venner. She read a little of it. I give her review verbatim:—“Oh, your book? It’s all about those how-wid Wajahs. I didn’t understand it.”
Wressley of the Foreign Office was broken, smashed — I am not exaggerating — by this one frivolous little girl. All that he could say feebly was:—“But, but it’s my magnum opus! The work of my life.” Miss Venner did not know what magnum opus meant; but she knew that Captain Kerrington had won three races at the last Gymkhana. Wressley didn’t press her to wait for him any longer. He had sense enough for that.
Then came the reaction after the year’s strain, and Wressley went back to the Foreign Office and his “Wajahs,” a compiling, gazetteering, report-writing hack, who would have been dear at three hundred rupees a month. He abided by Miss Venner’s review. Which proves that the inspiration in the book was purely temporary and unconnected with himself. Nevertheless, he had no right to sink, in a hill-tarn, five packing-cases, brought up at enormous expense from Bombay, of the best book of Indian history ever written.
When he sold off before retiring, some years later, I was turning over his shelves, and came across the only existing copy of “Native Rule in Central India”— the copy that Miss Venner could not understand. I read it, sitting on his mule-trucks, as long as the light lasted, and offered him his own price for it. He looked over my shoulder for a few pages and said to himself drearily:—“Now, how in the world did I come to write such damned good stuff as that?” Then to me:—“Take it and keep it. Write one of your penny-farthing yarns about its birth. Perhaps — perhaps — the whole business may have been ordained to that end.”
Which, knowing what Wressley of the Foreign Office was once, struck me as about the bitterest thing that I had ever heard a man say of his own work.
39 — By Word of Mouth
Not though you die to-night, O Sweet, and wail,
A spectre at my door,
Shall mortal Fear make Love immortal fail —
I shall but love you more,
Who from Death’s house returning, give me still
One moment’s comfort in my matchless ill.
—Shadow Houses
This tale may be explained by those who know how souls are made, and where the bounds of the Possible are put down. I have lived long enough in this country to know that it is best to know nothing, and can only write the story as it happened.
Dumoise was our Civil Surgeon at Meridki, and we called him “Dormouse,” because he was a round little, sleepy little man. He was a good Doctor and never quarrelled with any one, not even with our Deputy Commissioner, who had the manners of a bargee and the tact of a horse. He married a girl as round and as sleepy-looking as himself. She was a Miss Hillardyce, daughter of “Squash” Hillardyce of the Berars, who married his Chief’s daughter by mistake. But that is another story.
A honeymoon in India is seldom more than a week long; but there is nothing to hinder a couple from extending it over two or three years. This is a delightful country for married folk who are wrapped up in one another. They can live absolutely alone and without interruption — just as the Dormice did. These two little people retired from the world after their marriage, and were very happy. They were forced, of course, to give occasional dinners, but they made no friends hereby, and the Station went its own way and forgot them; only saying, occasionally, that Dormouse was the best of good fellows, though dull. A Civil Surgeon who never quarrels is a rarity, appreciated as such.
Few people can afford to play Robinson Crusoe anywhere — least of all in India, where we are few in the land, and very much dependent on each other’s kind offices. Dumoise was wrong in shutting himself from the world for a year, and he discovered his mistake when an epidemic of typhoid broke out in the Station in the heart of the cold weather, and his wife went down. He was a shy little man, and five days were wasted before he realized that Mrs. Dumoise was burning with something worse than simple fever, and three days more passed before he ventured to call on Mrs. Shute, the Engineer’s wife, and timidly speak about his trouble. Nearly every household in India knows that Doctors are very helpless in typhoid. The battle must be fought out between Death and the Nurses, minute by minute and degree by degree. Mrs. Shute almost boxed Dumoise’s ears for what she called his “criminal delay,” and went off at once to look after the poor girl. We had seven cases of typhoid in the Station that winter and, as the average of death is about one in every five cases, we felt certain that we should have to lose somebody. But all did their best. The women sat up nursing the women, and the men turned to and tended the bachelors who were down, and we wrestled with those typhoid cases for fifty-six days, and brought them through the Valley of the Shadow in triumph. But, just when we thought all was over, and were going to give a dance to celebrate the victory, little Mrs. Dumoise got a relapse and died in a week and the Station went to the funeral. Dumoise broke down utterly at the brink of the grave, and had to be taken away.
After the death, Dumoise crept into his own house and refused to be comforted. He did his duties perfectly, but we all felt that he should go on leave, and the other men of his own Service told him so. Dumoise was very thankful for the suggestion — he was thankful for anything in those days — and went to Chini on a walking-tour. Chini is some twenty marches from Simla, in the heart of the Hills, and the scenery is good if you are in trouble. You pass through big, still deodar-forests, and under big, still cliffs, and over big, still grass-downs swelling like a woman’s breasts; and the wind across the grass, and the rain among the deodars says:—“Hush — hush — hush.” So little Dumoise was packed off to Chini, to wear down his grief with a full-plate camera, and a rifle. He took also a useless bearer, because the man had been his wife’s favorite servant. He was idle and a thief, but Dumoise trusted everything to him.
On his way back from Chini, Dumoise turned aside to Bagi, through the Forest Reserve which is on the spur of Mount Huttoo. Some men who have travelled more than a little say that the march from Kotegarh to Bagi is one of the finest in creation. It runs through dark wet forest, and ends suddenly in bleak, nipped hill-side and black rocks. Bagi dak-bungalow is open to all the winds and is bitterly cold. Few people go to Bagi. Perhaps that was the reason why Dumoise went there. He halted at seven in the evening, and his bearer went down the hill-side to the village to engage coolies for the next day’s march. The sun had set, and the night-winds were beginning to croon among the rocks. Dumoise leaned on the railing of the verandah, waiting for his bearer to return. The man came back almost immediately after he had disappeared, and at such a rate that Dumoise fancied he must have crossed a bear. He was running as hard as he could up the face of the hill.
But there was no bear to account for his terror. He raced to the verandah and fell down, the blood spurting from his nose and his face iron-gray. Then he gurgled:—“I have seen the Memsahib! I have seen the Memsahib!”
“Where?” said Dumoise.
“Down there, walking on the road to the village. She was in a blue dress, and she lifted the veil of her bonnet and said:—‘Ram Dass, give my salaams to the Sahib, and tell him that I shall meet him next month at Nuddea.’ Then I ran away, because I was afraid.”
What Dumoise said or did I do not know. Ram Dass declares that he said nothing, but walked up and down the verandah all the cold night, waiting for the Memsahib to come up the hill and stretching out his arms into the dark like a madman. But no Memsahib came, and, next day, he went on to Simla cross-questioning the bearer every hour.
Ram Dass could only say that he had met Mrs. Dumoise and that she had lifted up her veil and given him the message which he had faithfully repeated to Dumoise. To this statement Ram Dass adhered. He did not know where Nuddea was, had no friends at Nuddea, and would most certainly never go to Nuddea; even though his pay were doubled.
Nuddea is in Bengal, and has nothing whatever to do with a doctor serving in the Punjab. It must be more than twelve hundred miles from Meridki.
Dumoise went through Simla without halting, and returned to Meridki there to take over charge from the man who had been officiating for him during his tour. There were some Dispensary accounts to be explained, and some recent orders of the Surgeon–General to be noted, and, altogether, the taking-over was a full day’s work. In the evening, Dumoise told his locum tenens, who was an old friend of his bachelor days, what had happened at Bagi; and the man said that Ram Dass might as well have chosen Tuticorin while he was about it.
At that moment a telegraph-peon came in with a telegram from Simla, ordering Dumoise not to take over charge at Meridki, but to go at once to Nuddea on special duty. There was a nasty outbreak of cholera at Nuddea, and the Bengal Government, being shorthanded, as usual, had borrowed a Surgeon from the Punjab.
Dumoise threw the telegram across the table and said:—“Well?”
The other Doctor said nothing. It was all that he could say.
Then he remembered that Dumoise had passed through Simla on his way from Bagi; and thus might, possibly, have heard the first news of the impending transfer.
He tried to put the question, and the implied suspicion into words, but Dumoise stopped him with:—“If I had desired THAT, I should never have come back from Chini. I was shooting there. I wish to live, for I have things to do. . . . but I shall not be sorry.”
The other man bowed his head, and helped, in the twilight, to pack up Dumoise’s just opened trunks. Ram Dass entered with the lamps.
“Where is the Sahib going?” he asked.
“To Nuddea,” said Dumoise, softly.
Ram Dass clawed Dumoise’s knees and boots and begged him not to go. Ram Dass wept and howled till he was turned out of the room. Then he wrapped up all his belongings and came back to ask for a character. He was not going to Nuddea to see his Sahib die, and, perhaps to die himself.
So Dumoise gave the man his wages and went down to Nuddea alone; the other Doctor bidding him good-bye as one under sentence of death.
Eleven days later, he had joined his Memsahib; and the Bengal Government had to borrow a fresh Doctor to cope with that epidemic at Nuddea. The first importation lay dead in Chooadanga Dak–Bungalow.
40 — To Be Field for Reference.
By the hoof of the Wild Goat up-tossed
From the Cliff where She lay in the Sun,
Fell the Stone
To the Tarn where the daylight is lost;
So She fell from the light of the Sun,
And alone.
Now the fall was ordained from the first,
With the Goat and the Cliff and the Tarn,
But the Stone
Knows only Her life is accursed,
As She sinks in the depths of the Tarn,
And alone.
Oh, Thou who has builded the world
Oh, Thou who hast lighted the Sun!
Oh, Thou who hast darkened the Tarn!
Judge Thou
The Sin of the Stone that was hurled
By the Goat from the light of the Sun,
As She sinks in the mire of the Tarn,
Even now — even now — even now!
—From the Unpublished Papers of McIntosh Jellaludin.
Say, is it dawn, is it dusk in thy Bower,
Thou whom I long for, who longest for me?
Oh be it night — be it —
Here he fell over a little camel-colt that was sleeping in the Serai where the horse-traders and the best of the blackguards from Central Asia live; and, because he was very drunk indeed and the night was dark, he could not rise again till I helped him. That was the beginning of my acquaintance with McIntosh Jellaludin. When a loafer, and drunk, sings The Song of the Bower, he must be worth cultivating. He got off the camel’s back and said, rather thickly:—“I— I— I’m a bit screwed, but a dip in Loggerhead will put me right again; and I say, have you spoken to Symonds about the mare’s knees?”
Now Loggerhead was six thousand weary miles away from us, close to Mesopotamia, where you mustn’t fish and poaching is impossible, and Charley Symonds’ stable a half mile further across the paddocks. It was strange to hear all the old names, on a May night, among the horses and camels of the Sultan Caravanserai. Then the man seemed to remember himself and sober down at the same time. He leaned against the camel and pointed to a corner of the Serai where a lamp was burning:—
“I live there,” said he, “and I should be extremely obliged if you would be good enough to help my mutinous feet thither; for I am more than usually drunk — most — most phenomenally tight. But not in respect to my head. ‘My brain cries out against’— how does it go? But my head rides on the — rolls on the dung-hill I should have said, and controls the qualm.”
I helped him through the gangs of tethered horses and he collapsed on the edge of the verandah in front of the line of native quarters.
“Thanks — a thousand thanks! O Moon and little, little Stars! To think that a man should so shamelessly. . . . Infamous liquor, too. Ovid in exile drank no worse. Better. It was frozen. Alas! I had no ice. Good-night. I would introduce you to my wife were I sober — or she civilized.”
A native woman came out of the darkness of the room, and began calling the man names; so I went away. He was the most interesting loafer that I had the pleasure of knowing for a long time; and later on, he became a friend of mine. He was a tall, well-built, fair man fearfully shaken with drink, and he looked nearer fifty than the thirty-five which, he said, was his real age. When a man begins to sink in India, and is not sent Home by his friends as soon as may be, he falls very low from a respectable point of view. By the time that he changes his creed, as did McIntosh, he is past redemption.
In most big cities, natives will tell you of two or three Sahibs, generally low-caste, who have turned Hindu or Mussulman, and who live more or less as such. But it is not often that you can get to know them. As McIntosh himself used to say:—“If I change my religion for my stomach’s sake, I do not seek to become a martyr to missionaries, nor am I anxious for notoriety.”
At the outset of acquaintance McIntosh warned me. “Remember this. I am not an object for charity. I require neither your money, your food, nor your cast-off raiment. I am that rare animal, a self-supporting drunkard. If you choose, I will smoke with you, for the tobacco of the bazars does not, I admit, suit my palate; and I will borrow any books which you may not specially value. It is more than likely that I shall sell them for bottles of excessively filthy country-liquors. In return, you shall share such hospitality as my house affords. Here is a charpoy on which two can sit, and it is possible that there may, from time to time, be food in that platter. Drink, unfortunately, you will find on the premises at any hour: and thus I make you welcome to all my poor establishments.”
I was admitted to the McIntosh household — I and my good tobacco. But nothing else. Unluckily, one cannot visit a loafer in the Serai by day. Friends buying horses would not understand it. Consequently, I was obliged to see McIntosh after dark. He laughed at this, and said simply:—“You are perfectly right. When I enjoyed a position in society, rather higher than yours, I should have done exactly the same thing, Good Heavens! I was once”— he spoke as though he had fallen from the Command of a Regiment —“an Oxford Man!” This accounted for the reference to Charley Symonds’ stable.
“You,” said McIntosh, slowly, “have not had that advantage; but, to outward appearance, you do not seem possessed of a craving for strong drinks. On the whole, I fancy that you are the luckier of the two. Yet I am not certain. You are — forgive my saying so even while I am smoking your excellent tobacco — painfully ignorant of many things.”
We were sitting together on the edge of his bedstead, for he owned no chairs, watching the horses being watered for the night, while the native woman was preparing dinner. I did not like being patronized by a loafer, but I was his guest for the time being, though he owned only one very torn alpaca-coat and a pair of trousers made out of gunny-bags. He took the pipe out of his mouth, and went on judicially:—“All things considered, I doubt whether you are the luckier. I do not refer to your extremely limited classical attainments, or your excruciating quantities, but to your gross ignorance of matters more immediately under your notice. That for instance.”— He pointed to a woman cleaning a samovar near the well in the centre of the Serai. She was flicking the water out of the spout in regular cadenced jerks.
“There are ways and ways of cleaning samovars. If you knew why she was doing her work in that particular fashion, you would know what the Spanish Monk meant when he said —
‘I the Trinity illustrate,
Drinking watered orange-pulp —
In three sips the Aryan frustrate,
While he drains his at one gulp. —’
and many other things which now are hidden from your eyes. However, Mrs. McIntosh has prepared dinner. Let us come and eat after the fashion of the people of the country — of whom, by the way, you know nothing.”
The native woman dipped her hand in the dish with us. This was wrong. The wife should always wait until the husband has eaten. McIntosh Jellaludin apologized, saying:—
“It is an English prejudice which I have not been able to overcome; and she loves me. Why, I have never been able to understand. I fore-gathered with her at Jullundur, three years ago, and she has remained with me ever since. I believe her to be moral, and know her to be skilled in cookery.”
He patted the woman’s head as he spoke, and she cooed softly. She was not pretty to look at.
McIntosh never told me what position he had held before his fall. He was, when sober, a scholar and a gentleman. When drunk, he was rather more of the first than the second. He used to get drunk about once a week for two days. On those occasions the native woman tended him while he raved in all tongues except his own. One day, indeed, he began reciting Atalanta in Calydon, and went through it to the end, beating time to the swing of the verse with a bedstead-leg. But he did most of his ravings in Greek or German. The man’s mind was a perfect rag-bag of useless things. Once, when he was beginning to get sober, he told me that I was the only rational being in the Inferno into which he had descended — a Virgil in the Shades, he said — and that, in return for my tobacco, he would, before he died, give me the materials of a new Inferno that should make me greater than Dante. Then he fell asleep on a horse-blanket and woke up quite calm.
“Man,” said he, “when you have reached the uttermost depths of degradation, little incidents which would vex a higher life, are to you of no consequence. Last night, my soul was among the gods; but I make no doubt that my bestial body was writhing down here in the garbage.”
“You were abominably drunk if that’s what you mean,” I said.
“I WAS drunk — filthy drunk. I who am the son of a man with whom you have no concern — I who was once Fellow of a College whose buttery-hatch you have not seen. I was loathsomely drunk. But consider how lightly I am touched. It is nothing to me. Less than nothing; for I do not even feel the headache which should be my portion. Now, in a higher life, how ghastly would have been my punishment, how bitter my repentance! Believe me, my friend with the neglected education, the highest is as the lowest — always supposing each degree extreme.”
He turned round on the blanket, put his head between his fists and continued:—
“On the Soul which I have lost and on the Conscience which I have killed, I tell you that I CANNOT feel! I am as the gods, knowing good and evil, but untouched by either. Is this enviable or is it not?”
When a man has lost the warning of “next morning’s head,” he must be in a bad state, I answered, looking at McIntosh on the blanket, with his hair over his eyes and his lips blue-white, that I did not think the insensibility good enough.
“For pity’s sake, don’t say that! I tell you, it IS good and most enviable. Think of my consolations!”
“Have you so many, then, McIntosh?”
“Certainly; your attempts at sarcasm which is essentially the weapon of a cultured man, are crude. First, my attainments, my classical and literary knowledge, blurred, perhaps, by immoderate drinking — which reminds me that before my soul went to the Gods last night, I sold the Pickering Horace you so kindly lent me. Ditta Mull the Clothesman has it. It fetched ten annas, and may be redeemed for a rupee — but still infinitely superior to yours. Secondly, the abiding affection of Mrs. McIntosh, best of wives. Thirdly, a monument, more enduring than brass, which I have built up in the seven years of my degradation.”
He stopped here, and crawled across the room for a drink of water. He was very shaky and sick.
He referred several times to his “treasure”— some great possession that he owned — but I held this to be the raving of drink. He was as poor and as proud as he could be. His manner was not pleasant, but he knew enough about the natives, among whom seven years of his life had been spent, to make his acquaintance worth having. He used actually to laugh at Strickland as an ignorant man —“ignorant West and East”— he said. His boast was, first, that he was an Oxford Man of rare and shining parts, which may or may not have been true — I did not know enough to check his statements — and, secondly, that he “had his hand on the pulse of native life”— which was a fact. As an Oxford man, he struck me as a prig: he was always throwing his education about. As a Mahommedan faquir — as McIntosh Jellaludin — he was all that I wanted for my own ends. He smoked several pounds of my tobacco, and taught me several ounces of things worth knowing; but he would never accept any gifts, not even when the cold weather came, and gripped the poor thin chest under the poor thin alpaca-coat. He grew very angry, and said that I had insulted him, and that he was not going into hospital. He had lived like a beast and he would die rationally, like a man.
As a matter of fact, he died of pneumonia; and on the night of his death sent over a grubby note asking me to come and help him to die.
The native woman was weeping by the side of the bed. McIntosh, wrapped in a cotton cloth, was too weak to resent a fur coat being thrown over him. He was very active as far as his mind was concerned, and his eyes were blazing. When he had abused the Doctor who came with me so foully that the indignant old fellow left, he cursed me for a few minutes and calmed down.
Then he told his wife to fetch out “The Book” from a hole in the wall. She brought out a big bundle, wrapped in the tail of a petticoat, of old sheets of miscellaneous note-paper, all numbered and covered with fine cramped writing. McIntosh ploughed his hand through the rubbish and stirred it up lovingly.
“This,” he said, “is my work — the Book of McIntosh Jellaludin, showing what he saw and how he lived, and what befell him and others; being also an account of the life and sins and death of Mother Maturin. What Mirza Murad Ali Beg’s book is to all other books on native life, will my work be to Mirza Murad Ali Beg’s!”
This, as will be conceded by any one who knows Mirza Ali Beg’s book, was a sweeping statement. The papers did not look specially valuable; but McIntosh handled them as if they were currency-notes. Then he said slowly:—“In despite the many weaknesses of your education, you have been good to me. I will speak of your tobacco when I reach the Gods. I owe you much thanks for many kindnesses. But I abominate indebtedness. For this reason I bequeath to you now the monument more enduring than brass — my one book — rude and imperfect in parts, but oh, how rare in others! I wonder if you will understand it. It is a gift more honorable than . . . Bah! where is my brain rambling to? You will mutilate it horribly. You will knock out the gems you call ‘Latin quotations,’ you Philistine, and you will butcher the style to carve into your own jerky jargon; but you cannot destroy the whole of it. I bequeath it to you. Ethel . . . My brain again! . . . Mrs. McIntosh, bear witness that I give the sahib all these papers. They would be of no use to you, Heart of my heart; and I lay it upon you,” he turned to me here, “that you do not let my book die in its present form. It is yours unconditionally — the story of McIntosh Jellaludin, which is NOT the story of McIntosh Jellaludin, but of a greater man than he, and of a far greater woman. Listen now! I am neither mad nor drunk! That book will make you famous.”
I said, “thank you,” as the native woman put the bundle into my arms.
“My only baby!” said McIntosh with a smile. He was sinking fast, but he continued to talk as long as breath remained. I waited for the end: knowing that, in six cases out of ten the dying man calls for his mother. He turned on his side and said:—
“Say how it came into your possession. No one will believe you, but my name, at least, will live. You will treat it brutally, I know you will. Some of it must go; the public are fools and prudish fools. I was their servant once. But do your mangling gently — very gently. It is a great work, and I have paid for it in seven years’ damnation.”
His voice stopped for ten or twelve breaths, and then he began mumbling a prayer of some kind in Greek. The native woman cried very bitterly. Lastly, he rose in bed and said, as loudly as slowly:—“Not guilty, my Lord!”
Then he fell back, and the stupor held him till he died. The native woman ran into the Serai among the horses and screamed and beat her breasts; for she had loved him.
Perhaps his last sentence in life told what McIntosh had once gone through; but, saving the big bundle of old sheets in the cloth, there was nothing in his room to say who or what he had been.
The papers were in a hopeless muddle.
Strickland helped me to sort them, and he said that the writer was either an extreme liar or a most wonderful person. He thought the former. One of these days, you may be able to judge for yourself. The bundle needed much expurgation and was full of Greek nonsense, at the head of the chapters, which has all been cut out.
If the things are ever published some one may perhaps remember this story, now printed as a safeguard to prove that McIntosh Jellaludin and not I myself wrote the Book of Mother Maturin.
I don’t want the Giant’s Robe to come true in my case.
Soldiers Three
a collection of nine short stories
First published: 1888
1 — The God from the Machine
2 — Of Those Called
3 — Private Learoyd’s Story
4 — The Big Drunk Draf’
5 — The Wreck of the Visigoth
6 — The Solid Muldoon
7 — With the Main Guard
8 — In the Matter of a Private
9 — Black Jack
1 — The God from the Machine
Hit a man an’ help a woman, an’ ye can’t be far wrong anyways. 
—Maxims of Private Mulvaney

The Inexpressibles gave a ball. They borrowed a seven-pounder from the Gunners, and wreathed it with laurels, and made the dancing-floor plate-glass, and provided a supper, the like of which had never been eaten before, and set two sentries at the door of the room to hold the trays of programme-cards. My friend, Private Mulvaney, was one of the sentries, because he was the tallest man in the regiment. When the dance was fairly started the sentries were released, and Private Mulvaney went to curry favour with the Mess Sergeant in charge of the supper. Whether the Mess Sergeant gave or Mulvaney took, I cannot say. All that I am certain of is that, at supper-time, I found Mulvaney with Private Ortheris, two-thirds of a ham, a loaf of bread, half a pate-defoie-gras , and two magnums of champagne, sitting on the roof of my carriage. As I came up I heard him saying —
‘Praise be a danst doesn’t come as often as Ord’ly-room, or, by this an’ that, Orth’ris, me son, I wud be the dishgrace av the rig’mint instid av the brightest jool in uts crown.’
‘ Hand the Colonel’s pet noosance,’ said Ortheris. ‘But wot makes you curse your rations? This ’ere fizzy stuff’s good enough.’
‘Stuff, ye oncivilised pagin! ’Tis champagne we’re dhrinkin’ now. ‘Tisn’t that I am set ag’in. ’Tis this quare stuff wid the little bits av black leather in it. I misdoubt I will be distressin’ly sick wid it in the mornin’. Fwhat is ut?’
‘Goose liver,’ I said, climbing on the top of the carriage, for I knew that it was better to sit out with Mulvaney than to dance many dances.
‘Goose liver is ut?’ said Mulvaney. ‘Faith, I’m thinkin’ thim that makes it wud do betther to cut up the Colonel. He carries a power av liver undher his right arrum whin the days are warm an’ the nights chill. He wud give thim tons an’ tons av liver. ’Tis he sez so. “I’m all liver today,” sez he; an’ wid that he ordhers me ten days C. B. for as moild a dhrink as iver a good sodger tuk betune his teeth.’
‘That was when ‘e wanted for to wash ‘isself in the Fort Ditch,’ Ortheris explained. ‘Said there was too much beer in the Barrack water-butts for a God-fearing man. You was lucky in gettin’ orf with wot you did, Mulvaney.’
‘Say you so? Now I’m pershuaded I was cruel hard trated, seein’ fwhat I’ve done for the likes av him in the days whin my eyes were wider opin than they are now. Man alive, for the Colonel to whip me on the peg in that way! Me that have saved the repitation av a ten times better man than him! ’Twas ne-farious — an’ that manes a power av evil!’
‘Never mind the nefariousness,’ I said. ‘Whose reputation did you save?’
‘More’s the pity, ‘twasn’t my own, but I tuk more trouble wid ut than av ut was. ’Twas just my way, messin’ wid fwhat was no business av mine. Hear now!’ He settled himself at ease on the top of the carriage. ‘I’ll tell you all about ut. Av coorse I will name no names, for there’s wan that’s an orf’cer’s lady now, that was in ut, and no more will I name places, for a man is thracked by a place.’
‘Eyah!’ said Ortheris lazily, ‘but this is a mixed story wot’s comin’.’
‘Wanst upon a time, as the childer-books say, I was a recruity.’
‘Was you though?’ said Ortheris; ‘now that’s extry-ordinary!’
‘Orth’ris,’ said Mulvaney, ‘av you opin thim lips av yours again, I will, savin’ your presince, Sorr, take you by the slack av your trousers an’ heave you.’
‘I’m mum,’ said Ortheris. ‘Wot ‘appened when you was a recruity?’
‘I was a betther recruity than you iver was or will be, but that’s neither here nor there. Thin I became a man, an’ the divil of a man I was fifteen years ago. They called me Buck Mulvaney in thim days, an’, begad, I tuk a woman’s eye. I did that! Ortheris, ye scrub, fwhat are ye sniggerin’ at? Do you misdoubt me?’
‘Devil a doubt!’ said Ortheris; ‘but I’ve ‘eard summat like that before!’
Mulvaney dismissed the impertinence with a lofty wave of his hand and continued —
‘An’ the orf’cers av the rig’mint I was in in thim days was orf’cers — gran’ men, wid a manner on ’em, an’ a way wid ’em such as is not made these days — all but wan — wan o’ the capt’ns. A bad dhrill, a wake voice, an’ a limp leg — thim three things are the signs av a bad man. You bear that in your mind, Orth’ris, me son.
‘An’ the Colonel av the rig’mint had a daughter — wan av thim lamblike, bleatin’, pick-me-up-an’-carry-me-or-I’ll-die gurls such as was made for the natural prey av men like the Capt’n, who was iverlastin’ payin’ coort to her, though the Colonel he said time an’ over, “Kape out av the brute’s way, my dear.” But he niver had the heart for to send her away from the throuble, bein’ as he was a widower, an’ she their wan child.’
‘Stop a minute, Mulvaney,’ said I; ‘how in the world did you come to know these things?’
‘How did I come?’ said Mulvaney, with a scornful grunt; ‘bekase I’m turned durin’ the Quane’s pleasure to a lump av wood, lookin’ out straight forninst me, wid a — a — candelabbrum in my hand, for you to pick your cards out av, must I not see nor feel? Av coorse I du! Up my back, an’ in my boots, an’ in the short hair av the neck — that’s where I kape my eyes whin I’m on duty an’ the reg’lar wans are fixed. Know! Take my word for it, Sorr, ivrything an’ a great dale more is known in a rig’mint; or fwhat wud be the use av a Mess Sargint, or a Sargint’s wife doin’ wet-nurse to the Major’s baby? To reshume. He was a bad dhrill was this Capt’n — a rotten bad dhrill — an’ whin first I ran me eye over him, I sez to myself: “My Militia bantam!” I sez, “My cock av a Gosport dunghill”—’twas from Portsmouth he came to us —“there’s combs to be cut,” sez I, “an’ by the grace av God,’tis Terence Mulvaney will cut thim.”
‘So he wint menowderin’, and minanderin’, an’ blandandherin’ roun’ an’ about the Colonel’s daughter, an’ she, poor innocint, lookin’ at him like a Comm’ssariat bullock looks at the Comp’ny cook. He’d a dhirty little scrub av a black moustache, an’ he twisted an’ turned ivry wurrd he used as av he found ut too sweet for to spit out. Eyah! He was a tricky man an’ a liar by natur’. Some are born so. He was wan. I knew he was over his belt in money borrowed from natives; besides a lot av other matthers which, in regard for your presince, Sorr, I will oblitherate. A little av fwhat I knew, the Colonel knew, for he wud have none av him, an’ that, I’m thinkin’, by fwhat happened aftherwards, the Capt’n knew.
‘Wan day, bein’ mortial idle, or they wud never ha’ thried ut, the rig’mint gave amshure theatricals — orf’cers an’ orf’cers’ ladies. You’ve seen the likes time an’ agin, Sorr, an’ poor fun ’tis for them that sit in the back row an’ stamp wid their boots for the honour av the rig’mint. I was told off for to shif’ the scenes, haulin’ up this an’ draggin’ down that. Light work ut was, wid lashins av beer and the gurl that dhressed the orf’cers’ ladies — but she died in Aggra twelve years gone, an’ my tongue’s gettin’ the betther av me. They was actin’ a play thing called Sweethearts , which you may ha’ heard av, an’ the Colonel’s daughter she was a lady’s maid. The Capt’n was a boy called Broom — Spread Broom was his name in the play. Thin I saw — ut come out in the actin’— fwhat I niver saw before, an’ that was that he was no gentleman. They was too much together, thim two, a-whishperin’ behind the scenes I shifted, an’ some av what they said I heard; for I was death — blue death an’ ivy — on the comb-cuttin’. He was iverlastin’ly oppressing her to fall in wid some sneakin’ schame av his, an’ she was thryin’ to stand out against him, but not as though she was set in her will. I wonder now in thim days that my ears did not grow a yard on me head wid list’nin’. But I looked straight forninst me an’ hauled up this an’ dragged down that, such as was my duty, an’ the orf’cers’ ladies sez one to another, thinkin’ I was out av listen-reach: “Fwhat an obligin’ young man is this Corp’ril Mulvaney!” I was a Corp’ril then. I was rejuced aftherwards, but, no matther, I was a Corp’ril wanst.
‘Well, this Sweethearts’ business wint on like most amshure theatricals, an’ barrin’ fwhat I suspicioned, ‘twasn’t till the dhress-rehearsal that I saw for certain that thim two — he the blackguard, an’ she no wiser than she should ha’ been — had put up an evasion.’
‘A what?’ said I.
‘E-vasion! Fwhat you call an elopemint. E-vasion I calls it, bekaze, exceptin’ whin ’tis right an’ natural an’ proper, ’tis wrong an’ dhirty to steal a man’s wan child she not knowin’ her own mind. There was a Sargint in the Comm’ssariat who set my face upon e-vasions. I’ll tell you about that —’
‘Stick to the bloomin’ Captains, Mulvaney,’ said Ortheris; ‘Comm’ssariat Sargints is low.’
Mulvaney accepted the amendment and went on:—
‘Now I knew that the Colonel was no fool, any more than me, for I was hild the smartest man in the rig’mint, an’ the Colonel was the best orf’cer commandin’ in Asia; so fwhat he said an’ I said was a mortial truth. We knew that the Capt’n was bad, but, for reasons which I have already oblitherated, I knew more than me Colonel. I wud ha’ rolled out his face wid the butt av my gun before permittin’ av him to steal the gurl. Saints knew av he wud ha’ married her, and av he didn’t she wud be in great tormint, an’ the divil av a “scandal.” But I niver sthruck, niver raised me hand on my shuperior orf’cer; an’ that was a merricle now I come to considher it.’
‘Mulvaney, the dawn’s risin’,’ said Ortheris, ‘an’ we’re no nearer ‘ome than we was at the beginnin’. Lend me your pouch. Mine’s all dust.’
Mulvaney pitched his pouch over, and filled his pipe afresh.
‘So the dhress-rehearsal came to an end, an’, bekaze I was curious, I stayed behind whin the scene-shiftin’ was ended, an’ I shud ha’ been in barricks, lyin’ as flat as a toad under a painted cottage thing. They was talkin’ in whispers, an’ she was shiverin’ an’ gaspin’ like a fresh-hukked fish. “Are you sure you’ve got the hang av the manewvers?” sez he, or wurrds to that effec’, as the coort-martial sez. “Sure as death,” sez she, “but I misdoubt ’tis cruel hard on my father.” “Damn your father,” sez he, or anyways ’twas fwhat he thought, “the arrangement is as clear as mud. Jungi will drive the carr’ge afther all’s over, an’ you come to the station, cool an’ aisy, in time for the two o’clock thrain, where I’ll be wid your kit.” “Faith,” thinks I to myself, “thin there’s a ayah in the business tu!”
‘A powerful bad thing is a ayah. Don’t you niver have any thruck wid wan. Thin he began sootherin’ her, an’ all the orf’cers an’ orf’cers’ ladies left, an’ they put out the lights. To explain the theory av the flight, as they say at Muskthry, you must understand that afther this Sweethearts’ nonsinse was ended, there was another little bit av a play called Couples — some kind av couple or another. The gurl was actin’ in this, but not the man. I suspicioned he’d go to the station wid the gurl’s kit at the end av the first piece. ’Twas the kit that flusthered me, for I knew for a Capt’n to go trapesing about the impire wid the Lord knew what av a truso on his arrum was nefarious, an’ wud be worse than easin’ the flag, so far as the talk aftherwards wint.’
‘‘Old on, Mulvaney. Wot’s truso ?’ said Ortheris.
‘You’re an oncivilised man, me son. Whin a gurl’s married, all her kit an’ ‘coutrements are truso , which manes weddin’-portion. An’ ’tis the same whin she’s runnin’ away, even wid the biggest blackguard on the Arrmy List.
‘So I made my plan av campaign. The Colonel’s house was a good two miles away. “Dennis,” sez I to my colour-sargint, “av you love me lend me your kyart, for me heart is bruk an’ me feet is sore wid trampin’ to and from this foolishness at the Gaff.” An’ Dennis lent ut, wid a rampin’, stampin’ red stallion in the shafts. Whin they was all settled down to their Sweethearts for the first scene, which was a long wan, I slips outside and into the kyart. Mother av Hivin! but I made that horse walk, an’ we came into the Colonel’s compound as the divil wint through Athlone — in standin’ leps. There was no one there excipt the servints, an’ I wint round to the back an’ found the girl’s ayah.
‘“Ye black brazen Jezebel,” sez I, “sellin’ your masther’s honour for five rupees — pack up all the Miss Sahib’s kit an’ look slippy! Capt’n Sahib’s order,” sez I. “Going to the station we are,” I sez, an’ wid that I laid my finger to my nose an’ looked the schamin’ sinner I was.
’“Bote acchy,“ says she; so I knew she was in the business, an’ I piled up all the sweet talk I’d iver learnt in the bazars on to this she-bullock, an’ prayed av her to put all the quick she knew into the thing. While she packed, I stud outside an’ sweated, for I was wanted for to shif the second scene. I tell you, a young gurl’s e-vasion manes as much baggage as a rig’mint on the line av march! “Saints help Dennis’s springs,” thinks I, as I bundled the stuff into the thrap, “for I’ll have no mercy!”
‘“I’m comin’ too,” says the ayah.
‘“No, you don’t,” sez I, “later — pechy! You baito where you are. I’ll pechy come an’ bring you sart , along with me, you maraudin’"-niver mind fwhat I called her.
‘Thin I wint for the Gaff, an’ by the special ordher av Providence, for I was doin’ a good work you will ondersthand, Dennis’s springs hild toight. “Now, whin the Capt’n goes for that kit,” thinks I, “he’ll be throubled.” At the end av Sweethearts off the Capt’n runs in his kyart to the Colonel’s house, an’ I sits down on the steps and laughs. Wanst an’ again I slipped in to see how the little piece was goin’, an’ whin ut was near endin’ I stepped out all among the carr’ges an’ sings out very softly, “Jungi!” Wid that a carr’ge began to move, an’ I waved to the dhriver. “Hitherao!“ sez I, an’ he hitheraoed till I judged he was at proper distance, an’ thin I tuk him, fair an’ square betune the eyes, all I knew for good or bad, an’ he dhropped wid a guggle like the canteen beer-engine whin ut’s runnin’ low. Thin I ran to the kyart an’ tuk out all the kit an’ piled it into the carr’ge, the sweat runnin’ down my face in dhrops. “Go home,” sez I, to the sais; “you’ll find a man close here. Very sick he is. Take him away, an’ av you iver say wan wurrd about fwhat you’ve dekkoed , I’ll marrow you till your own wife won’t sumjao who you are!” Thin I heard the stampin’ av feet at the ind av the play, an’ I ran in to let down the curtain. Whin they all came out the gurl thried to hide herself behind wan av the pillars, an’ sez “Jungi” in a voice that wouldn’t ha’ scared a hare. I run over to Jungi’s carr’ge an’ tuk up the lousy old horse-blanket on the box, wrapped my head an’ the rest av me in ut, an’ dhrove up to where she was.
‘“Miss Sahib,” sez I; “going to the station? Captain Sahib’s order!” an’ widout a sign she jumped in all among her own kit.
‘I laid to an’ dhruv like steam to the Colonel’s house before the Colonel was there, an’ she screamed an’ I thought she was goin’ off. Out comes the ayah, saying all sorts av things about the Capt’n havin’ come for the kit an’ gone to the station.
‘“Take out the luggage, you divil,” sez I, “or I’ll murther you!”
‘The lights av the thraps people comin’ from the Gaff was showin’ across the parade ground, an’, by this an’ that, the way thim two women worked at the bundles an’ thrunks was a caution! I was dyin’ to help, but, seein’ I didn’t want to be known, I sat wid the blanket roun’ me an’ coughed an’ thanked the Saints there was no moon that night.
‘Whin all was in the house again, I niver asked for bukshish but dhruv tremenjus in the opp’site way from the other carr’ge an’ put out my lights. Presintly, I saw a naygur man wallowin’ in the road. I slipped down before I got to him, for I suspicioned Providence was wid me all through that night. ’Twas Jungi, his nose smashed in flat, all dumb sick as you please. Dennis’s man must have tilted him out av the thrap. Whin he came to, “Hutt!” sez I, but he began to howl.
‘“You black lump av dirt,” I sez, “is this the way you dhrive your gharri? That tikka has been owin’ an’ fere-owin’ all over the bloomin’ country this whole bloomin’ night, an’ you as mut-walla as Davey’s sow. Get up, you hog!” sez I, louder, for I heard the wheels av a thrap in the dark; “get up an’ light your lamps, or you’ll be run into!” This was on the road to the Railway Station.
‘“Fwhat the divil’s this?” sez the Capt’n’s voice in the dhark, an’ I could judge he was in a lather av rage.
‘“ Gharri dhriver here, dhrunk, Sorr,” sez I; “I’ve found his gharri sthrayin’ about cantonmints, an’ now I’ve found him.”
‘“Oh!” sez the Capt’n; “fwhat’s his name?” I stooped down an’ pretended to listen.
‘“He sez his name’s Jungi, Sorr,” sez I.
‘“Hould my harse,” sez the Capt’n to his man, an’ wid that he gets down wid the whip an’ lays into Jungi, just mad wid rage an’ swearin’ like the scutt he was.
‘I thought, afther a while, he wud kill the man, so I sez:—“Stop, Sorr, or you’ll, murdher him!” That dhrew all his fire on me, an’ he cursed me into Blazes, an’ out again. I stud to attenshin an’ saluted:— “Sorr,” sez I, “av ivry man in this wurruld had his rights, I’m thinkin’ that more than wan wud be beaten to a jelly for this night’s work — that niver came off at all, Sorr, as you see?” “Now,” thinks I to myself, “Terence Mulvaney, you’ve cut your own throat, for he’ll sthrike, an’ you’ll knock him down for the good av his sowl an’ your own iverlastin’ dishgrace!”
‘But the Capt’n niver said a single wurrd. He choked where he stud, an’ thin he went into his thrap widout sayin’ good-night, an’ I wint back to barricks.’
‘And then?’ said Ortheris and I together.
‘That was all,’ said Mulvaney; ‘niver another word did I hear av the whole thing. All I know was that there was no e-vasion, an’ that was fwhat I wanted. Now, I put ut to you, Sorr, is ten days’ C. B. a fit an’ a proper tratement for a man who has behaved as me?’
‘Well, any’ow,’ said Ortheris,‘tweren’t this ’ere Colonel’s daughter, an’ you was blazin’ copped when you tried to wash in the Fort Ditch.’
‘That,’ said Mulvaney, finishing the champagne, ‘is a shuparfluous an’ impert’nint observation.’
2 — Of Those Called
We were wallowing through the China Seas in a dense fog, the horn blowing every two minutes for the benefit of the fishery craft that crowded the waterways. From the bridge the fo’c’sle was invisible; from the hand-wheel at the stern the captain’s cabin. The fog held possession of everything — the pearly white fog. Once or twice when it tried to lift, we saw a glimpse of the oily sea, the flitting vision of a junk’s sail spread in the vain hope of catching the breeze, or the buoys of a line of nets. Somewhere close to us lay the land, but it might have been the Kurile Islands for aught we knew. Very early in the morning there passed us, not a cable’s-length away, but as unseen as the spirits of the dead, a steamer of the same line as ours. She howled melodiously in answer to our bellowing, and passed on.
‘Suppose she had hit us,’ said a man from Saigon. ‘Then we should have gone down,’ answered the chief officer sweetly. ‘Beastly thing to go down in a fog,’ said a young gentleman who was travelling for pleasure. ‘Chokes a man both ways, y’ know.’ We were comfortably gathered in the smoking-room, the weather being too cold to venture on the deck. Conversation naturally turned upon accidents of fog, the horn tooting significantly in the pauses between the tales. I heard of the wreck of the Eric , the cutting down of the Strathnairn within half a mile of harbour, and the carrying away of the bow plates of the Sigismund outside Sandy Hook.
‘It is astonishing,’ said the man from Saigon, ‘how many true stories are put down as sea yarns. It makes a man almost shrink from telling an anecdote.’
‘Oh, please don’t shrink on our account,’ said the smoking-room with one voice.
‘It’s not my own story,’ said the man from Saigon. ‘A fellow on a Massageries boat told it me. He had been third officer of a sort on a Geordie tramp — one of those lumbering, dish-bottomed coal-barges where the machinery is tied up with a string and the plates are rivetted with putty. The way he told his tale was this. The tramp had been creeping along some sea or other with a chart ten years old and the haziest sort of chronometers when she got into a fog — just such a fog as we have now.’
Here the smoking-room turned round as one man, and looked through the windows.
‘In the man’s own words, “just when the fog was thickest, the engines broke down. They had been doing this for some weeks, and we were too weary to care. I went forward of the bridge, and leaned over the side, wondering where I should ever get something that I could call a ship, and whether the old hulk would fall to pieces as she lay. The fog was as thick as any London one, but as white as steam. While they were tinkering at the engines below, I heard a voice in the fog about twenty yards from the ship’s side, calling out, ‘Can you climb on board if we throw you a rope?’ That startled me, because I fancied we were going to be run down the next minute by a ship engaged in rescuing a man overboard. I shouted for the engine-room whistle; and it whistled about five minutes, but never the sound of a ship could we hear. The ship’s boy came forward with some biscuit for me. As he put it into my hand, I heard the voice in the fog, crying out about throwing us a rope. This time it was the boy that yelled, ‘Ship on us!’ and off went the whistle again, while the men in the engine-room — it generally took the ship’s crew to repair the Hespa’s engines — tumbled upon deck to know what we were doing. I told them about the hail, and we listened in the smother of the fog for the sound of a screw. We listened for ten minutes, then we blew the whistle for another ten. Then the crew began to call the ship’s boy a fool, meaning that the third mate was no better. When they were going down below, I heard the hail the third time, so did the ship’s boy. ‘There you are,’ I said, ‘it is not twenty yards from us.’ The engineer sings out, ‘I heard it too! Are you all asleep?’ Then the crew began to swear at the engineer; and what with discussion, argument, and a little swearing — for there is not much discipline on board a tramp — we raised such a row that our skipper came aft to enquire. I, the engineer, and the ship’s boy stuck to our tale. ‘Voices or no voices,’ said the captain, ‘you’d better patch the old engines up, and see if you’ve got enough steam to whistle with. I’ve a notion that we’ve got into rather too crowded ways.’
‘“The engineer stayed on deck while the men went down below. The skipper hadn’t got back to the chart-room before I saw thirty feet of bowsprit hanging over the break of the fo’c’sle. Thirty feet of bowsprit, sir, doesn’t belong to anything that sails the seas except a sailing-ship or a man-of-war. I speculated quite a long time, with my hands on the bulwarks, as to whether our friend was soft wood or steel plated. It would not have made much difference to us, anyway; but I felt there was more honour in being rammed, you know. Then I knew all about it. It was a ram. We opened out. I am not exaggerating — we opened out, sir, like a cardboard box. The other ship cut us two-thirds through, a little behind the break of the fo’c’sle. Our decks split up lengthways. The mizzen-mast bounded out of its place, and we heeled over. Then the other ship blew a fog-horn. I remember thinking, as I took water from the port bulwark, that this was rather ostentatious after she had done all the mischief. After that, I was a mile and a half under sea, trying to go to sleep as hard as I could. Some one caught hold of my hair, and waked me up. I was hanging to what was left of one of our boats under the lee of a large English ironclad. There were two men with me; the three of us began to yell. A man on the ship sings out, ‘Can you climb on board if we throw you a rope?’ They weren’t going to let down a fine new man-of-war’s boat to pick up three half-drowned rats. We accepted the invitation. We climbed — I, the engineer, and the ship’s boy. About half an hour later the fog cleared entirely; except for the half of the boat away in the offing, there was neither stick nor string on the sea to show that the Hespa had been cut down.”
‘And what do you think of that now?’ said the man from Saigon.
3 — Private Learoyd’s Story
And he told a tale.
—Chronicles of Gautama Buddha.
Far from the haunts of Company Officers who insist upon kit-inspections, far from keen-nosed Sergeants who sniff the pipe stuffed into the bedding-roll, two miles from the tumult of the barracks, lies the Trap. It is an old dry well, shadowed by a twisted pipal tree and fenced with high grass. Here, in the years gone by, did Private Ortheris establish his depot and menagerie for such possessions, dead and living, as could not safely be introduced to the barrack-room. Here were gathered Houdin pullets, and fox-terriers of undoubted pedigree and more than doubtful ownership, for Ortheris was an inveterate poacher and preeminent among a regiment of neat-handed dog-stealers.
Never again will the long lazy evenings return wherein Ortheris, whistling softly, moved surgeon-wise among the captives of his craft at the bottom of the well; when Learoyd sat in the niche, giving sage counsel on the management of ‘tykes,’ and Mulvaney, from the crook of the overhanging pipal , waved his enormous boots in benediction above our heads, delighting us with tales of Love and War, and strange experiences of cities and men.
Ortheris — landed at last in the ‘little stuff bird-shop’ for which your soul longed; Learoyd — back again in the smoky, stone-ribbed North, amid the clang of the Bradford looms; Mulvaney — grizzled, tender, and very wise Ulysses, sweltering on the earthwork of a Central India line — judge if I have forgotten old days in the Trap!
Orth’ris, as allus thinks he knaws more than other foaks, said she wasn’t a real laady, but nobbut a Hewrasian. I don’t gainsay as her culler was a bit doosky like. But she was a laady. Why, she rode iv a carriage, an’ good ‘osses, too, an’ her ‘air was that oiled as you could see your faice in it, an’ she wore dimond rings an’ a goold chain, an’ silk an’ satin dresses as mun ‘a’ cost a deal, for it isn’t a cheap shop as keeps enough o’ one pattern to fit a figure like hers. Her name was Mrs. DeSussa, an’t’ waay I coom to be acquainted wi’ her was along of our Colonel’s Laady’s dog Rip.
I’ve seen a vast o’ dogs, but Rip was t’ prettiest picter of a cliver fox-tarrier ‘at iver I set eyes on. He could do owt you like but speeak, an’ t’ Colonel’s Laady set more store by him than if he hed been a Christian. She hed bairns of her awn, but they was i’ England, and Rip seemed to get all t’ coodlin’ and pettin’ as belonged to a bairn by good right.
But Rip were a bit on a rover, an’ hed a habit o’ breakin’ out o’ barricks like, and trottin’ round t’ plaice as if he were t’ Cantonment Magistrate coom round inspectin’. The Colonel leathers him once or twice, but Rip didn’t care an’ kept on gooin’ his rounds, wi’ his taail a-waggin’ as if he were flag-signallin’ to t’ world at large ‘at he was ‘gettin’ on nicely, thank yo’, and how’s yo’sen?’ An’ then t’ Colonel, as was noa sort of a hand wi’ a dog, tees him oop. A real clipper of a dog, an’ it’s noa wonder yon laady. Mrs. DeSussa, should tek a fancy tiv him. Theer’s one o’ t’ Ten Commandments says yo’ maun’t cuwet your neebor’s ox nor his jackass, but it doesn’t say nowt about his tarrier dogs, an’ happen thot’s t’ reason why Mrs. DeSussa cuvveted Rip, tho’ she went to church reg’lar along wi’ her husband who was so mich darker ‘at if he hedn’t such a good coaat tiv his back yo’ might ha’ called him a black man and nut tell a lee nawther. They said he addled his brass i’ jute, an’ he’d a rare lot on it.
Well, you seen, when they teed Rip up, t’ poor awd lad didn’t enjoy very good ‘elth. So t’ Colonel’s Laady sends for me as ‘ad a naame for bein’ knowledgeable about a dog, an’ axes what’s ailin’ wi’ him.
‘Why,’ says I, ‘he’s getten t’ mopes, an’ what he wants is his libbaty an’ coompany like t’ rest on us, wal happen a rat or two ‘ud liven him oop. It’s low, mum,’ says I,‘is rats, but it’s t’ nature of a dog; an’ soa’s cuttin’ round an’ meetin’ another dog or two an’ passin’ t’ time o’ day. an’ hevvin’ a bit of a turn-up wi’ him like a Christian.’
So she says her dog maunt niver fight an’ noa Christians iver fought.
‘Then what’s a soldier for?’ says I; an’ I explains to her t’ contrairy qualities of a dog, ‘at, when yo’ coom to think on’t, is one o’t’ curusest things as is. For they larn to behave theirsens like gentlemen born, fit for t’ fost o’ coompany — they tell me t’ Widdy herself is fond of a good dog and knaws one when she sees it as well as onny body: then on t’ other hand a-tewin’ round after cats an’ gettin’ mixed oop i’ all manners o’ blackguardly street-rows, an’ killin’ rats, an’ fightin’ like divils.
T’ Colonel’s Laady says:—‘Well, Learoyd, I doan’t agree wi’ you, but you’re right in a way o’ speeakin’, an’ I should like yo’ to tek Rip out a-walkin’ wi’ you sometimes; but yo’ maun’t let him fight, nor chase cats, nor do nowt ‘orrid’: an them was her very wods.
Soa Rip an’ me goes out a-walkin’ o’ evenin’s, he bein’ a dog as did credit tiv a man, an’ I catches a lot o’ rats an we hed a bit of a match on in an awd dry swimmin’-bath at back o’t’ cantonments, an’ it was none so long afore he was as bright as a button again. He hed a way o’ flyin’ at them big yaller pariah dogs as if he was a harrow offan a bow, an’ though his weight were nowt, he tuk ’em so suddint-like they rolled over like skittles in a halley, an’ when they coot he stretched after ’em as if he were rabbit-runnin’. Saame with cats when he cud get t’ cat agaate o’ runnin’.
One evenin’, him an’ me was trespassin’ ovver a compound wall after one of them mongooses ‘at he’d started, an’ we was busy grubbin’ round a prickle-bush, an’ when we looks up there was Mrs. DeSussa wi’ a parasel ovver her shoulder, a-watchin’ us. ‘Oh my!’ she sings out; ‘there’s that lovelee dog! Would he let me stroke him, Mister Soldier?’
‘Ay, he would, mum,’ sez I, ‘for he’s fond o’ laady’s coompany. Coom here, Rip, an’ speeak to this kind laady.’ An’Rip, seein’ ‘at t’mongoose hed getten clean awaay, cooms up like t’ gentleman he was, nivver a hauporth shy or okkord.
‘Oh, you beautiful — you prettee dog!’ she says, clippin’ an’ chantin’ her speech in a way them sooart has o’ their awn; ‘I would like a dog like you. You are so verree lovelee — so awfullee prettee,’ an’ all thot sort o’ talk, ‘at a dog o’ sense mebbe thinks nowt on, tho’ he bides it by reason o’ his breedin’.
An’ then I meks him joomp ovver my swagger-cane, an’ shek hands, an’ beg, an’ lie dead, an’ a lot o’ them tricks as laadies teeaches dogs, though I doan’t haud with it mysen, for it’s makin’ a fool o’ a good dog to do such like.
An’ at lung length it cooms out ‘at she’d been thrawin’ sheep’s eyes, as t’ sayin’ is, at Rip for many a day. Yo’ see, her childer was grown up, an’ she’d nowt mich to do, an’ were allus fond of a dog. Soa she axes me if I’d tek somethin’ to dhrink. An’ we goes into t’ drawn-room wheer her husband was a-settin’. They meks a gurt fuss ower t’ dog an’ I has a bottle o’ aale, an’ he gave me a handful o’ cigars.
Soa I coomed away, but t’ awd lass sings out —‘Oh, Mister Soldier, please coom again and bring that prettee dog.’
I didn’t let on to t’ Colonel’s Laady about Mrs. DeSussa, and Rip, he says nowt nawther; an’ I gooes again, an’ ivry time there was a good dhrink an’ a handful o’ good smooaks. An’ I telled t’ awd lass a heeap more about Rip than I’d ever heeared; how he tuk t’ fost prize at Lunnon dog-show and cost thotty-three pounds fower shillin’ from t’ man as bred him; ‘at his own brother was t’ propputty o’ t’ Prince o’ Wailes, an’ ‘at he had a pedigree as long as a Dook’s. An’ she lapped it all oop an’ were niver tired o’ admirin’ him. But when t’ awed lass took to givin’ me money an’ I seed ‘at she were gettin’ fair fond about t’ dog, I began to suspicion summat. Onny body may give a soldier t’ price of a pint in a friendly way an’ theer’s no ‘arm done, but when it cooms to five rupees slipt into your hand, sly like, why, it’s what t’ ‘lectioneerin’ fellows calls bribery an’ corruption. Specially when Mrs. DeSussa threwed hints how t’ cold weather would soon be ower an’ she was goin’ to Munsooree Pahar an’ we was goin’ to Rawalpindi, an’ she would niver see Rip any more onless somebody she knowed on would be kind tiv her.
Soa I tells Mulvaney an’ Ortheris all t’ taale thro’, beginnin’ to end.
‘’Tis larceny that wicked ould laady manes,’ says t’ Irishman, ‘ ’tis felony she is sejuicin’ ye into, my frind Learoyd, but I’ll purtect your innocince. I’ll save ye from the wicked wiles av that wealthy ould woman, an’ I’ll go wid ye this evenin’ and spake to her the wurrds av truth an’ honesty. But Jock,’ says he, waggin’ his heead, ‘’twas not like ye to kape all that good dhrink an’ thim fine cigars to yerself, while Orth’ris here an’ me have been prowlin’ round wid throats as dry as lime-kilns, and nothin’ to smoke but Canteen plug. ’Twas a dhirty thrick to play on a comrade, for why should you, Learoyd, be balancin’ yourself on the butt av a satin chair, as if Terence Mulvaney was not the aquil av anybody who thrades in jute!’
‘Let alone me sticks in Orth’ris, ‘but that’s like life. Them wot’s really fitted to decorate society get no show while a blunderin’ Yorkshireman like you —’
‘Nay,’ says I, ‘it’s none o’ t’ blunderin’ Yorkshireman she wants; it’s Rip. He’s the gentleman this journey.’
Soa t’ next day, Mulvaney an’ Rip an’ me goes to Mrs. DeSussa’s, an’ t’ Irishman bein’ a strainger she wor a bit shy at fost. But you’ve heeard Mulvaney talk, an’ yo’ may believe as he fairly bewitched t’ awd lass wal she let out ‘at she wanted to tek Rip away wi’ her to Munsooree Pahar. Then Mulvaney changes his tune an’ axes her solemn-like if she’d thought o’ t’ consequences o’ gettin’ two poor but honest soldiers sent t’ Andamning Islands. Mrs. DeSussa began to cry, so Mulvaney turns round oppen t’ other tack and smooths her down, allowin’ ‘at Rip ud be a vast better off in t’ Hills than down i’ Bengal, and ’twas a pity he shouldn’t go wheer he was so well beliked. And soa he went on, backin’ an’ fillin’ an’ workin’ up t’ awd lass wal she felt as if her life warn’t worth nowt if she didn’t hev t’ dog.
Then all of a suddint he says:—‘But ye shall have him, marm, for I’ve a feelin’ heart, not like this could-blooded Yorkshireman; but ’twill cost ye not a penny less than three hundher rupees.’
‘Don’t yo’ believe him, mum,’ says I; ‘t’ Colonel’s Laady wouldn’t tek five hundred for him.’
‘Who said she would?’ says Mulvaney; ‘it’s not buyin’ him I mane, but for the sake o’ this kind, good laady, I’ll do what I never dreamt to do in my life. I’ll stale him!’
‘Don’t say steal,’ says Mrs. DeSussa; ‘he shall have the happiest home. Dogs often get lost, you know, and then they stray, an’ he likes me and I like him as I niver liked a dog yet, an’ I must hev him. If I got him at t’ last minute I could carry him off to Munsooree Pahar and nobody would niver knaw.’
Now an’ again Mulvaney looked acrost at me, an’ though I could mak nowt o’ what he was after, I concluded to take his leead.
‘Well, mum,’ I says, ‘I never thowt to coom down to dog-steealin’, but if my comrade sees how it could be done to oblige a laady like yo’sen, I’m nut t’ man to hod back, tho’ it’s a bad business I’m thinkin’, an’ three hundred rupees is a poor set-off again t’ chance of them Damning Islands as Mulvaney talks on.’
‘I’ll mek it three fifty,’ says Mrs. DeSussa; ‘only let me hev t’dog!’
So we let her persuade us, an’ she teks Rip’s measure theer an’ then, an’ sent to Hamilton’s to order a silver collar again t’ time when he was to be her awn, which was to be t’ day she set off for Munsooree Pahar.
‘Sitha, Mulvaney,’ says I, when we was outside, ‘you’re niver goin’ to let her hev Rip!’
‘An’ would ye disappoint a poor old woman?’ says he; ‘she shall have a Rip.’
‘An’ wheer’s he to come through?’ says I.
‘Learoyd, my man,’ he sings out, ‘you’re a pretty man av your inches an’ a good comrade, but your head is made av duff. Isn’t our friend Orth’ris a Taxidermist, an’ a rale artist wid his nimble white fingers? An’ what’s a Taxidermist but a man who can thrate shkins? Do ye mind the white dog that belongs to the Canteen Sargint, bad cess to him — he that’s lost half his time an’ snarlin’ the rest? He shall be lost for good now; an’ do ye mind that he’s the very spit in shape an’ size av the Colonel’s, barrin’ that his tail is an inch too long, an’ he has none av the colour that divarsifies the rale Rip, an’ his timper is that av his masther an’ worse. But fwhat is an inch on a dog’s tail? An’ fwhat to a professional like Orth’ris is a few ringstraked shpots av black, brown, an’ white? Nothin’ at all, at all.’
Then we meets Orth’ris, an’ that little man, bein’ sharp as a needle, seed his way through t’ business in a minute. An’ he went to work a-practisin’ ‘air-dyes the very next day, beginnin’ on some white rabbits he had, an’ then he drored all Rip’s markin’s on t’ back of a white Commissariat bullock, so as to get his ‘and in an’ be sure of his colours; shadin’ off brown into black as nateral as life. If Rip hed a fault it was too mich markin’, but it was straingely reg’lar an’ Orth’ris settled himself to make a fost-rate job on it when he got haud o’ t’ Canteen Sargint’s dog. Theer niver was sich a dog as thot for bad timper, an’ it did nut get no better when his tail hed to be fettled an inch an’ a half shorter. But they may talk o’ theer Royal Academies as they like. I niver seed a bit o’ animal paintin’ to beat t’ copy as Orth’ris made of Rip’s marks, wal t’ picter itself was snarlin’ all t’ time an’ tryin’ to get at Rip standin’ theer to be copied as good as goold.
Orth’ris allus hed as mich conceit on himsen as would lift a balloon, an’ he wor so pleeased wi’ his sham Rip he wor for tekking him to Mrs. DeSussa before she went away. But Mulvaney an’ me stopped thot, knowin’ Orth’ris’s work, though niver so cliver, was nobut skin-deep.
An’ at last Mrs. DeSussa fixed t’ day for startin’ to Munsooree Pahar. We was to tek Rip to t’ stayshun i’ a basket an’ hand him ovver just when they was ready to start, an’ then she’d give us t’ brass — as was agreed upon.
An’ my wod! It were high time she were off, for them ‘air-dyes upon t’ cur’s back took a vast of paintin’ to keep t’ reet culler, tho’ Orth’ris spent a matter o’ seven rupees six annas i’ t’ best drooggist shops i’ Calcutta.
An’ t’ Canteen Sargint was lookin’ for ‘is dog everywheer; an’, wi’ bein’ tied up, t’ beast’s timper got waur nor ever.
It wor i’ t’ evenin’ when t’ train started thro’ Howrah, an’ we ‘elped Mrs. DeSussa wi’ about sixty boxes, an’ then we gave her t’ basket. Orth’ris, for pride av his work, axed us to let him coom along wi’ us, an’ he couldn’t help liftin’ t’ lid an’ showin’ t’ cur as he lay coiled oop.
‘Oh!’ says t’ awd lass; ‘the beautee! How sweet he looks!’ An’ just then t’ beauty snarled an’ showed his teeth, so Mulvaney shuts down t’ lid and says: ‘Ye’ll be careful, marm, whin ye tek him out. He’s disaccustomed to travelling by t’ railway, an’ he’ll be sure to want his rale mistress an’ his friend Learoyd, so ye’ll make allowance for his feelings at fost.’
She would do all thot an’ more for the dear, good Rip, an’ she would nut oppen t’ basket till they were miles away, for fear anybody should recognise him, an’ we were real good and kind soldier-men, we were, an’ she bonds me a bundle o’ notes, an’ then cooms up a few of her relations an’ friends to say good-by — not more than seventy-five there wasn’t — an’ we cuts away.
What coom to t’ three hundred and fifty rupees? Thot’s what I can scarcelins tell yo’, but we melted it — we melted it. It was share an’ share alike, for Mulvaney said: ‘If Learoyd got hold of Mrs. DeSussa first, sure ’twas I that renumbered the Sargint’s dog just in the nick av time, an’ Orth’ris was the artist av janius that made a work av art out av that ugly piece av ill-nature. Yet, by way av a thank-offerin’ that I was not led into felony by that wicked ould woman, I’ll send a thrifle to Father Victor for the poor people he’s always beggin’ for.’
But me an’ Orth’ris, he bein’ Cockney an’ I bein’ pretty far north, did nut see it i’ t’ saame way. We’d getten t’ brass, an’ we meaned to keep it. An’ soa we did — for a short time.
Noa, noa, we niver heered a wod more o’ t’ awd lass. Our rig’mint went to Pindi, an’ t’ Canteen Sargint he got himself another tyke insteead o’ t’ one ‘at got lost so reg’lar, an’ was lost for good at last.
4 — The Big Drunk Draf’
We’re goin’ ‘ome, we’re goin’ ‘ome —
Our ship is at the shore,
An’ you mus’ pack your ‘aversack,
For we won’t come back no more.
Ho, don’t you grieve for me,
My lovely Mary Ann,
For I’ll many you yet on a fourp’ny bit,
As a time expired ma-a-an!
—Barrack-room Ballad
An awful thing has happened! My friend, Private Mulvaney, who went home in the Serapis , time-expired, not very long ago, has come back to India as a civilian! It was all Dinah Shadd’s fault. She could not stand the poky little lodgings, and she missed her servant Abdullah more than words could tell. The fact was that the Mulvaneys had been out here too long, and had lost touch of England.
Mulvaney knew a contractor on one of the new Central India lines, and wrote to him for some sort of work. The contractor said that if Mulvaney could pay the passage he would give him command of a gang of coolies for old sake’s sake. The pay was eighty-five rupees a month, and Dinah Shadd said that if Terence did not accept she would make his life a ‘basted purgathory.’ Therefore the Mulvaneys came out as ‘civilians,’ which was a great and terrible fall; though Mulvaney tried to disguise it, by saying that he was ‘Ker’nel on the railway line, an’ a consequinshal man.’
He wrote me an invitation, on a tool-indent form, to visit him; and I came down to the funny little ‘construction’ bungalow at the side of the line. Dinah Shadd had planted peas about and about, and nature had spread all manner of green stuff round the place. There was no change in Mulvaney except the change of clothing, which was deplorable, but could not be helped. He was standing upon his trolly, haranguing a gangman, and his shoulders were as well drilled, and his big, thick chin was as clean-shaven as ever.
‘I’m a civilian now,’ said Mulvaney. ‘Cud you tell that I was iver a martial man? Don’t answer, Sorr, av you’re strainin’ betune a compliment an’ a lie. There’s no houldin’ Dinah Shadd now she’s got a house av her own. Go inside, an’ dhrink tay out av chiny in the drrrrawin’-room, an’ thin we’ll dhrink like Christians undher the tree here. Scutt, ye naygur-folk! There’s a Sahib come to call on me, an’ that’s more than he’ll iver do for you onless you run! Get out, an’ go on pilin’ up the earth, quick, till sundown.’
When we three were comfortably settled under the big sisham in front of the bungalow, and the first rush of questions and answers about Privates Ortheris and Learoyd and old times and places had died away, Mulvaney said, reflectively —‘Glory be there’s no p’rade tomorrow, an’ no bun-headed Corp’ril-bhoy to give you his lip. An’ yit I don’t know. ’Tis harrd to be something ye niver were an’ niver meant to be, an’ all the ould days shut up along wid your papers. Eyah! I’m growin’ rusty, an’ ’tis the will av God that a man mustn’t serve his Quane for time an’ all.’
He helped himself to a fresh peg, and sighed furiously.
‘Let your beard grow, Mulvaney,’ said I, ‘and then you won’t be troubled with those notions. You’ll be a real civilian.’
Dinah Shadd had told me in the drawing-room of her desire to coax Mulvaney into letting his beard grow. ’Twas so civilian-like,’ said poor Dinah, who hated her husband’s hankering for his old life.
‘Dinah Shadd, you’re a dishgrace to an honust, clanescraped man!’ said Mulvaney, without replying to me. ‘Grow a beard on your own chin, darlint, and lave my razors alone. They’re all that stand betune me and disris-pect-ability. Av I didn’t shave, I wud be torminted wid an outrajis thurrst; for there’s nothin’ so dhryin’ to the throat as a big billy-goat beard waggin’ undher the chin. Ye wudn’t have me dhrink ALWAYS, Dinah Shadd? By the same token, you’re kapin’ me crool dhry now. Let me look at that whiskey.’
The whiskey was lent and returned, but Dinah Shadd, who had been just as eager as her husband in asking after old friends, rent me with —
‘I take shame for you, Sorr, coming down here — though the Saints know you’re as welkim as the daylight whin you DO come — an’ upsettin’ Terence’s head wid your nonsense about — about fwhat’s much better forgotten. He bein’ a civilian now, an’ you niver was aught else. Can you not let the Arrmy rest? ’Tis not good for Terence.’
I took refuge by Mulvaney, for Dinah Shadd has a temper of her own.
‘Let be — let be,’ said Mulvaney. ’Tis only wanst in a way I can talk about the ould days.’ Then to me:—‘Ye say Dhrumshticks is well, an’ his lady tu? I niver knew how I liked the gray garron till I was shut av him an’ Asia.’—‘Dhrumshticks’ was the nickname of the Colonel commanding Mulvaney’s old regiment. —‘Will you be seein’ him again? You will. Thin tell him’— Mulvaney’s eyes began to twinkle —‘tell him wid Privit —’
‘MISTER, Terence,’ interrupted Dinah Shadd.
‘Now the Divil an’ all his angils an’ the Firmament av Hiven fly away wid the “Mister,” an’ the sin av making me swear be on your confession, Dinah Shadd! Privit , I tell ye. Wid Privit Mulvaney’s best obedience, that but for me the last time-expired wud be still pullin’ hair on their way to the sea.’
He threw himself back in the chair, chuckled, and was silent.
‘Mrs. Mulvaney,’ I said, ‘please take up the whiskey, and don’t let him have it until he has told the story.’
Dinah Shadd dexterously whipped the bottle away, saying at the same time, ’Tis nothing to be proud av,’ and thus captured by the enemy, Mulvaney spake:—
’Twas on Chuseday week. I was behaderin’ round wid the gangs on the ‘bankmint — I’ve taught the hoppers how to kape step an’ stop screechin’— whin a head-gangman comes up to me, wid two inches av shirt-tail hanging round his neck an’ a disthressful light in his oi. “Sahib,” sez he, “there’s a rig’mint an’ a half av soldiers up at the junction, knockin’ red cinders out av ivrything an’ ivrybody! They thried to hang me in my cloth,” he sez, “an’ there will be murder an’ ruin an’ rape in the place before nightfall! They say they’re comin’ down here to wake us up. What will we do wid our women-folk?”
‘“Fetch my throlly!” sez I; “my heart’s sick in my ribs for a wink at anything wid the Quane’s uniform on ut. Fetch my throlly, an’ six av the jildiest men, and run me up in shtyle.’”
‘He tuk his best coat,’ said Dinah Shadd reproachfully.
‘’Twas to do honour to the Widdy. I cud ha’ done no less, Dinah Shadd. You and your digresshins interfere wid the coorse av the narrative. Have you iver considhered fwhat I wud look like wid me head shaved as well as my chin? You bear that in your mind, Dinah darlin’.
‘I was throllied up six miles, all to get a shquint at that draf’. I knew ’twas a spring draf’ goin’ home, for there’s no rig’mint hereabouts, more’s the pity.’
‘Praise the Virgin!’ murmured Dinah Shadd. But Mulvaney did not hear.
‘Whin I was about three-quarters av a mile off the rest-camp, powtherin’ along fit to burrst, I heard the noise av the men an’, on my sowl, Sorr, I cud catch the voice av Peg Barney bellowin’ like a bison wid the belly-ache. You remimber Peg Barney that was in D Comp’ny — a red, hairy scraun, wid a scar on his jaw? Peg Barney that cleared out the Blue Lights’ Jubilee meeting wid the cook-room mop last year?
‘Thin I knew ut was a draf of the ould rig’mint, an’ I was conshumed wid sorrow for the bhoy that was in charge. We was harrd scrapin’s at any time. Did I iver tell you how Horker Kelley went into clink nakid as Phoebus Apollonius, wid the shirts av the Corp’ril an’ file undher his arrum? An’ he was a moild man! But I’m digreshin’. ’Tis a shame both to the rig’mints and the Arrmy sendin’ down little orf’cer bhoys wid a draf av strong men mad wid liquor an’ the chanst av gettin’ shut av India, an’ niver a punishment that’s fit to be given right down an’ away from cantonmints to the dock! ’Tis this nonsince. Whin I am servin’ my time, I’m undher the Articles av War, an’ can be whipped on the peg for thim . But whin I’ve served my time, I’m a Reserve man, an’ the Articles av War haven’t any hould on me. An orf’cer can’t do anythin’ to a time-expired savin’ confinin’ him to barricks. ’Tis a wise rig’lation bekaze a time-expired does not have any barricks; bein’ on the move all the time. ’Tis a Solomon av a rig’lation, is that. I wud like to be inthroduced to the man that made ut. ’Tis easier to get colts from a Kibbereen horse-fair into Galway than to take a bad draf’ over ten miles av country. Consiquintly that rig’lation — for fear that the men wud be hurt by the little orf’cer bhoy. No matther. The nearer my throlly came to the rest-camp, the woilder was the shine, an’ the louder was the voice av Peg Barney. “’Tis good I am here,” thinks I to myself, “for Peg alone is employmint for two or three.” He bein’, I well knew, as copped as a dhrover.
‘Faith, that rest-camp was a sight! The tent-ropes was all skew-nosed, an’ the pegs looked as dhrunk as the men — fifty av thim — the scourin’s, an’ rinsin’s, an’ Divil’s lavin’s av the Ould Rig’mint. I tell you, Sorr, they were dhrunker than any men you’ve ever seen in your mortial life. How does a draf’ get dhrunk? How does a frog get fat? They suk ut in through their shkins.
‘There was Peg Barney sittin’ on the groun’ in his shirt — wan shoe off an’ wan shoe on — whackin’ a tent-peg over the head wid his boot, an singin’ fit to wake the dead. ’Twas no clane song that he sung, though. ’Twas the Divil’s Mass.’
‘What’s that?‘I asked.
‘Whin a bad egg is shut av the Arrmy, he sings the Divil’s Mass for a good riddance; an’ that manes swearin’ at ivrything from the Commandher-inChief down to the Room–Corp’ril, such as you niver in your days heard. Some men can swear so as to make green turf crack! Have you iver heard the Curse in an Orange Lodge? The Divil’s Mass is ten times worse, an’ Peg Barney was singin’ ut, whackin’ the tent-peg on the head wid his boot for each man that he cursed. A powerful big voice had Peg Barney, an’ a hard swearer he was whin sober. I stood forninst him, an’ ’twas not me oi alone that cud tell Peg was dhrunk as a coot.
‘“Good mornin’ Peg,” I sez, whin he dhrew breath afther cursin’ the Adj’tint Gen’ral; “I’ve put on my best coat to see you, Peg Barney,” sez I.
‘“Thin take ut off again,” sez Peg Barney, latherin’ away wid the boot; “take ut off an’ dance, ye lousy civilian!”
‘Wid that he begins cursin’ ould Dhrumshticks, being so full he clean disremimbers the Brigade–Major an’ the Judge Advokit Gen’ral.
‘“Do you know me, Peg?” sez I, though me blood was hot in me wid being called a civilian.’
‘An’ him a decent married man!’ wailed Dinah Shadd.
‘“I do not,” sez Peg, “but dhrunk or sober I’ll tear the hide off your back wid a shovel whin I’ve stopped singin’.”
‘“Say you so, Peg Barney?” sez I. “’Tis clear as mud you’ve forgotten me. I’ll assist your autobiography.” Wid that I stretched Peg Barney, boot an’ all, an’ wint into the camp. An awful sight ut was!
‘“Where’s the orf’cer in charge av the detachment?” sez I to Scrub Greene — the manest little worm that ever walked.
‘“There’s no orf’cer, ye ould cook,” sez Scrub; “we’re a bloomin’ Republic.”
‘“Are you that?” sez I; “thin I’m O’Connell the Dictator, an’ by this you will larn to kape a civil tongue in your rag-box.”
‘Wid that I stretched Scrub Greene an’ wint to the orf’cer’s tent. ’Twas a new little bhoy — not wan I’d iver seen before. He was sittin’ in his tent, purtendin’ not to ‘ave ear av the racket.
‘I saluted — but for the life av me I mint to shake hands whin I went in. ’Twas the sword hangin’ on the tentpole changed my will.
‘“Can’t I help, Sorr?” sez I; “’tis a strong man’s job they’ve given you, an’ you’ll be wantin’ help by sundown.” He was a bhoy wid bowils, that child, an’ a rale gintleman.
‘“Sit down,” sez he.
‘“Not before my orf’cer,” sez I; an’ I tould him fwhat my service was.
‘“I’ve heard av you,” sez he. “You tuk the town av Lungtungpen nakid.”
‘“Faith,” thinks I, “that’s Honour an’ Glory”; for ’twas Lift’nint Brazenose did that job. “I’m wid ye, Sorr,” sez I, “if I’m av use. They shud niver ha’ sent you down wid the draf’. Savin’ your presince, Sorr,” I sez, “’tis only Lift’nint Hackerston in the Ould Rig’mint can manage a Home draf’.”
‘“I’ve niver had charge of men like this before,” sez he, playin’ wid the pens on the table; “an’ I see by the Rig’lations —”
‘“Shut your oi to the Rig’lations, Sorr,” I sez, “till the throoper’s into blue wather. By the Rig’lations you’ve got to tuck thim up for the night, or they’ll be runnin’ foul av my coolies an’ makin’ a shiverarium half through the country. Can you trust your non-coms, Sorr?”
‘“Yes,” sez he.
‘“Good,” sez I; “there’ll be throuble before the night. Are you marchin’, Sorr?”
‘“To the next station,” sez he.
‘“Better still,” sez I; “there’ll be big throuble.”
‘“Can’t be too hard on a Home draf’,” sez he; “the great thing is to get thim inship.”
‘“Faith you’ve larnt the half av your lesson, Sorr,” sez I, “but av you shtick to the Rig’lations you’ll niver get thim inship at all, at all. Or there won’t be a rag av kit betune thim whin you do.”
‘’Twas a dear little orf’cer bhoy, an’ by way av kapin’ his heart up, I tould him fwhat I saw wanst in a draf’ in Egypt.’
‘What was that, Mulvaney?’ said I.
‘Sivin an’ fifty men sittin’ on the bank av a canal, laughin’ at a poor little squidgereen av an orf’cer that they’d made wade into the slush an’ pitch the things out av the boats for their Lord High Mightinesses. That made me orf’cer bhoy woild with indignation.
‘“Soft an’ aisy, Sorr,” sez I; “you’ve niver had your draf’ in hand since you left cantonmints. Wait till the night, an’ your work will be ready to you. Wid your permission, Sorr, I will investigate the camp, an’ talk to my ould frinds. ’Tis no manner av use thryin’ to shtop the divilment now. ”
‘Wid that I wint out into the camp an’ inthrojuced mysilf to ivry man sober enough to remimber me. I was some wan in the ould days, an’ the bhoys was glad to see me — all excipt Peg Barney wid a eye like a tomata five days in the bazar, an’ a nose to match. They come round me an’ shuk me, an’ I tould thim I was in privit employ wid an income av me own, an’ a drrrawin’-room fit to bate the Quane’s; an’ wid me lies an’ me shtories an’ nonsinse gin’rally, I kept ’em quiet in wan way an’ another, knockin’ roun’ the camp. ’Twas bad even thin whin I was the Angil av Peace.
‘I talked to me ould non-coms — they was sober — an’ betune me an’ thim we wore the draf’ over into their tents at the proper time. The little orf’cer bhoy he comes round, decint an’ civil-spoken as might be.
‘“Rough quarters, men,” sez he, “but you can’t look to be as comfortable as in barricks. We must make the best av things. I’ve shut my eyes to a dale av dog’s tricks today, an’ now there must be no more av ut.”
‘“No more we will. Come an’ have a dhrink, me son,” sez Peg Barney, staggerin’ where he stud. Me little orf’cer bhoy kep’ his timper.
‘“You’re a sulky swine, you are,” sez Peg Barney, an’ at that the men in the tent began to laugh.
‘I tould you me orf’cer bhoy had bowils. He cut Peg Barney as near as might be on the oi that I’d squshed whin we first met. Peg wint spinnin’ acrost the tent.
‘“Peg him out, Sorr,” sez I, in a whishper.
‘“Peg him out!” sez me orf’cer bhoy, up loud, just as if ’twas battalion-p’rade an’ he pickin’ his wurrds from the Sargint.
‘The non-coms tuk Peg Barney — a howlin’ handful he was — an’ in three minutes he was pegged out — chin down, tight-dhrawn — on his stummick, a tent-peg to each arm an’ leg, swearin’ fit to turn a naygur white.
‘I tuk a peg an’ jammed ut into his ugly jaw. —“Bite on that, Peg Barney,” I sez; “the night is settin’ frosty, an’ you’ll be wantin’ divarsion before the mornin’. But for the Rig’lations you’d be bitin’ on a bullet now at the thriangles, Peg Barney,” sez I.
‘All the draf’ was out av their tents watchin’ Barney bein’ pegged.
‘”’Tis agin the Rig’lations! He strook him!” screeches out Scrub Greene, who was always a lawyer; an’ some of the men tuk up the shoutin’.
‘“Peg out that man!” sez my orf’cer bhoy, niver losin’ his timper; an’ the non-coms wint in and pegged out Scrub Greene by the side av Peg Barney.
‘I cud see that the draf’ was comin’ roun’. The men stud not knowin’ fwhat to do.
‘“Get to your tents!” sez me orf’cer bhoy. “Sargint, put a sintry over these two men.”
‘The men wint back into the tents like jackals, an’ the rest av the night there was no noise at all excipt the stip av the sintry over the two, an’ Scrub Greene blubberin’ like a child. ’Twas a chilly night, an’ faith, ut sobered Peg Barney.
‘Just before Revelly, my orf’cer bhoy comes out an’ sez: “Loose those men an’ send thim to their tents!” Scrub Greene wint away widout a word, but Peg Barney, stiff wid the cowld, stud like a sheep, thryin’ to make his orf’cer understhand he was sorry for playin’ the goat.
‘There was no tucker in the draf’ whin ut fell in for the march, an’ divil a wurrd about “illegality” cud I hear.
‘I wint to the ould Colour Sargint and I sez:—“Let me die in glory,” sez I. “I’ve seen a man this day!”
‘“A man he is,” sez ould Hother; “the draf’s as sick as a herrin’. They’ll all go down to the sea like lambs. That bhoy has the bowils av a cantonmint av Gin’rals.”
‘“Amin,” sez I, “an’ good luck go wid him, wheriver he be, by land or by sea. Let me know how the draf gets clear.”
‘An’ do you know how they did? That bhoy, so I was tould by letter from Bombay, bullydamned ’em down to the dock, till they cudn’t call their sowls their own. From the time they left me oi till they was ‘tween decks, not wan av thim was more than dacintly dhrunk. An’, by the Holy Articles av War, whin they wint aboard they cheered him till they cudn’t spake, an’ that , mark you, has not come about wid a draf in the mim’ry av livin’ man! You look to that little orf’cer bhoy. He has bowils. ’Tis not ivry child that wud chuck the Rig’lations to Flanders an’ stretch Peg Barney on a wink from a brokin an’ dilapidated ould carkiss like mesilf. I’d be proud to serve —’
‘Terence, you’re a civilian,’ said Dinah Shadd warningly.
‘So I am — so I am. Is ut likely I wud forget ut? But he was a gran’ bhoy all the same, an’ I’m only a mud-tipper wid a hod on my shoulthers. The whiskey’s in the heel av your hand, Sorr. Wid your good lave we’ll dhrink to the Ould Rig’mint — three fingers — standin’ up!’
And we drank.
5 — The Wreck of the Visigoth
Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bidst the mighty ocean keep
Its own appointed limits deep.
The lady passengers were trying the wheezy old harmonium in front of the cuddy, because it was Sunday night. In the patch of darkness near the wheel-grating sat the Captain, and the end of his cheroot burned like a head-lamp. There was neither breath nor motion upon the waters through which the screw was thudding. They spread, dull silver, under the haze of the moonlight till they joined the low coast of Malacca away to the eastward. The voices of the singers at the harmonium were held down by the awnings, and came to us with force.
‘Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea.’
It was as though the little congregation were afraid of the vastness of the sea. But a laugh followed, and some one said, ‘Shall we take it through again a little quicker?’ Then the Captain told the story of just such a night, lowering his voice for fear of disturbing the music and the minds of the passengers.
‘She was the Visigoth — five hundred tons, or it may have been six — in the coasting trade; one of the best steamers and best found on the Kutch–Kasauli line. She wasn’t six years old when the thing happened: on just such a night as this, with an oily smooth sea, under brilliant starlight, about a hundred miles from land. To this day no one knows really what the matter was. She was so small that she could not have struck even a log in the water without every soul on board feeling the jar; and even if she had struck something, it wouldn’t have made her go down as she did. I was fourth officer then; we had about seven saloon passengers, including the Captain’s wife and another woman, and perhaps five hundred deck-passengers going up the coast to a shrine, on just such a night as this, when she was ripping through the level sea at a level nine knots an hour. The man on the bridge, whoever it was, saw that she was sinking at the head. Sinking by the head as she went along. That was the only warning we got. She began to sink as she went along. Of course the Captain was told, and he sent me to wake up the saloon passengers and tell them to come on deck. ‘Sounds a curious sort of message that to deliver on a dead still night. The people tumbled up in their dressing-gowns and pyjamas , and wouldn’t believe me. We were just sinking as fast as we could, and I had to tell ’em that. Then the deck-passengers got wind of it, and all Hell woke up along the decks.
‘The rule in these little affairs is to get your saloon passengers off first, then to fill the boats with the balance, and afterwards — God help the extras, that’s all. I was getting the starboard stern boat — the mail-boat — away. It hung as it might be over yonder, and as I came along from the cuddy, the deck-passengers hung round me, shoving their money-belts into my hand, taking off their nose-rings and earrings, and thrusting ’em upon me to buy just one chance for life. If I hadn’t been so desperately busy, I should have thought it horrible. I put biscuits and water into the boat, and got the two ladies in. One of ’em was the Captain’s wife. She had to be put in by main force. You’ve no notion how women can struggle. The other woman was the wife of an officer going to meet her husband; and there were a couple of passengers beside the lascars. The Captain said he was going to stay with the ship. You see the rule in these affairs, I believe, is that the Captain has to bow gracefully from the bridge and go down. I haven’t had a ship under my charge wrecked yet. When that comes, I’ll have to do like the others. After the boats were away, and I saw that there was nothing to be got by waiting, I jumped overboard exactly as I might have vaulted over into a flat green field, and struck out for the mail-boat. Another officer did the same thing, but he went for a boat full of natives, and they whacked him on the chest with oars, so he had some difficulty in climbing in.
‘It was as well that I reached the mail-boat. There was a compass in it, but the idiots had managed to fill the boat half full of water somehow or another, and none of the crew seemed to know what was required of them. Then the Visigoth went down and took every one with her — ships generally do that; the corpses don’t cumber the sea for some time.
‘What did I do? I kept all the boats together, and headed into the track of the coasting steamers. The aggravating thing was the thought that we were close to land as far as a big steamer was concerned, and in the middle of eternity as far as regarded a little boat. The sea looks hugeous big from a boat at night.’
‘Oh, Christ, whose voice the waters heard
And hushed their ravings at Thy word,
Who walkedst on the foaming deep
And calm amidst its rage did keep —
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!’
sang the passengers cheerily.
‘That harmonium is disgracefully out of tune,’ said the Captain. ‘The sea air affects their insides. Well, as I was saying, we settled down in the boat. The Captain’s wife was unconscious; she lay in the bottom of the boat and moaned. I was glad she wasn’t threshing about the boat: but what I did think was wrong, was the way the two men passengers behaved. They were useless with funk — out and out fear. They lay in the boat and did nothing. Fetched a groan now and again to show they were alive; but that was all. But the other woman was a jewel. Damn it, it was worth being shipwrecked to have that woman in the boat; she was awfully handsome, and as brave as she was lovely. She helped me bail out the boat, and she worked like a man.
‘So we kicked about the sea from midnight till seven the next evening, and then we saw a steamer. “I’ll — I’ll give you anything I’m wearing to hoist as a signal of distress,” said the woman; but I had no need to ask her, for the steamer picked us up and took us back to Bombay. I forgot to tell you that, when the day broke, I couldn’t recognise the Captain’s wife — widow, I mean. She had changed in the night as if fire had gone over her. I met her a long time afterwards, and even then she hadn’t forgiven me for putting her into the boat and obeying the Captain’s orders. But the husband of the other woman — he’s in the Army — wrote me no end of a letter of thanks. I don’t suppose he considered that the way his wife behaved was enough to make any decent man do all he could. The other fellows, who lay in the bottom of the boat and groaned, I’ve never met. Don’t want to. Shouldn’t be civil to ’em if I did. And that’s how the Visigoth went down, for no assignable reason, with eighty bags of mail, five hundred souls, and not a single packet insured, on just such a night as this.’
‘Oh, Trinity of love and power,
Our brethren shield in that dread hour,
From rock and tempest, fire and foe,
Protect them whereso’er they go.
Thus evermore shall rise to Thee
Glad hymns of praise by land and sea.’
‘Strikes me they’ll go on singing that hymn all night. Imperfect sort of doctrine in the last lines, don’t you think? They might have run in an extra verse specifying sudden collapse — like the Visigoth’s . I’m going on to the bridge, now. Good-night,’ said the Captain.
And I was left alone with the steady thud, thud, of the screw and the gentle creaking of the boats at the davits.
That made me shudder.
6 — The Solid Muldoon
Did ye see John Malone, wid his shinin’, brand-new hat?
Did ye see how he walked like a grand aristocrat?
There was flags an’ banners wavin’ high, an’ dhress and shtyle were shown,
But the best av all the company was Misther John Malone.
—John Malone
There had been a royal dog-fight in the ravine at the back of the rifle-butts, between Learoyd’s Jock and Ortheris’s Blue Rot — both mongrel Rampur hounds, chiefly ribs and teeth. It lasted for twenty happy, howling minutes, and then Blue Rot collapsed and Ortheris paid Learoyd three rupees, and we were all very thirsty. A dog-fight is a most heating entertainment, quite apart from the shouting, because Rampurs fight over a couple of acres of ground. Later, when the sound of belt-badges clicking against the necks of beer-bottles had died away, conversation drifted from dog to man-fights of all kinds. Humans resemble red-deer in some respects. Any talk of fighting seems to wake up a sort of imp in their breasts, and they bell one to the other, exactly like challenging bucks. This is noticeable even in men who consider themselves superior to Privates of the Line: it shows the Refining Influence of Civilisation and the March of Progress.
Tale provoked tale, and each tale more beer. Even dreamy Learoyd’s eyes began to brighten, and he unburdened himself of a long history in which a trip to Malham Cove, a girl at Pateley Brigg, a ganger, himself and a pair of clogs were mixed in drawling tangle.
‘An’ so Ah coot’s yead oppen from t’ chin to t’ hair, an’ he was abed for t’ matter o’ a month,’ concluded Learoyd pensively.
Mulvaney came out of a reverie — he was lying down — and flourished his heels in the air. ‘You’re a man, Learoyd,’ said he critically, ‘but you’ve only fought wid men, an’ that’s an ivry-day expayrience; but I’ve stud up to a ghost, an’ that was not an ivry-day expayrience.’
‘No?’ said Ortheris, throwing a cork at him. ‘You git up an’ address the ’ouse — you an’ yer expayriences. Is it a bigger one nor usual?’
‘’Twas the livin’ trut’!’ answered Mulvaney, stretching out a huge arm and catching Ortheris by the collar. ‘Now where are ye, me son? Will ye take the wurrud av the Lorrd out av my mouth another time?’ He shook him to emphasise the question.
‘No, somethin’ else, though,’ said Ortheris, making a dash at Mulvaney’s pipe, capturing it and holding it at arm’s length; ‘I’ll chuck it acrost the ditch if you don’t let me go!’
‘You maraudin’ hathen! ’Tis the only cutty I iver loved. Handle her tinder, or I’ll chuck you acrost the nullah. If that poipe was bruk — Ah! Give her back to me, Sorr!’
Ortheris had passed the treasure to my hand. It was an absolutely perfect clay, as shiny as the black ball at Pool. I took it reverently, but I was firm.
‘Will you tell us about the ghost-fight if I do?’ I said.
‘Is ut the shtory that’s troublin’ you? Av course I will. I mint to all along. I was only gettin’ at ut my own way, as Popp Doggle said whin they found him thrying to ram a cartridge down the muzzle. Orth’ris, fall away!’
He released the little Londoner, took back his pipe, filled it, and his eyes twinkled. He has the most eloquent eyes of any one that I know.
‘Did I iver tell you,’ he began, ‘that I was wanst the divil av a man?’
‘You did,’ said Learoyd with a childish gravity that made Ortheris yell with laughter, for Mulvaney was always impressing upon us his great merits in the old days.
‘Did I iver tell you,’ Mulvaney continued calmly, ‘that I was wanst more av a divil than I am now?’
‘Mer — ria! You don’t mean it?’ said Ortheris.
‘Whin I was Corp’ril — I was rejuced aftherwards — but, as I say, whin I was Corp’ril, I was a divil of a man.’
He was silent for nearly a minute, while his mind rummaged among old memories and his eye glowed. He bit upon the pipe-stem and charged into his tale.
‘Eyah! They was great times. I’m ould now; me hide’s wore off in patches; sinthrygo has disconceited me, an’ I’m a married man tu. But I’ve had my day — I’ve had my day, an’ nothin’ can take away the taste av that! Oh my time past, whin I put me fut through ivry livin’ wan av the Tin Commandmints between Revelly and Lights Out, blew the froth off a pewter, wiped me moustache wid the back av me hand, an’ slept on ut all as quiet as a little child! But ut’s over — ut’s over, an’ ’twill niver come back to me; not though I prayed for a week av Sundays. Was there any wan in the Ould Rig’mint to touch Corp’ril Terence Mulvaney whin that same was turned out for sedukshin? I niver met him. Ivry woman that was not a witch was worth the runnin’ afther in those days, an’ ivry man was my dearest frind or — I had stripped to him an’ we knew which was the betther av the tu.
‘Whin I was Corp’ril I wud not ha’ changed wid the Colonel — no, nor yet the Commandher-inChief. I wud be a Sargint. There was nothin’ I wud not be! Mother av Hivin, look at me! Fwhat am I now?
‘We was quartered in a big cantonmint —’tis no manner av use namin’ names, for ut might give the barricks disrepitation — an’ I was the Imperor av the Earth to my own mind, an’ wan or tu women thought the same. Small blame to thim. Afther we had lain there a year, Bragin, the Colour Sargint av E Comp’ny, wint an’ took a wife that was lady’s maid to some big lady in the Station. She’s dead now is Annie Bragin — died in child-bed at Kirpa Tal, or ut may ha’ been Almorah — seven — nine years gone, an’ Bragin he married agin. But she was a pretty woman whin Bragin inthrojuced her to cantonmint society. She had eyes like the brown av a buttherfly’s wing whin the sun catches ut, an’ a waist no thicker than my arm, an’ a little sof’ button av a mouth I would ha’ gone through all Asia bristlin’ wid bay’nits to get the kiss av. An’ her hair was as long as the tail av the Colonel’s charger — forgive me mentionin’ that blunderin’ baste in the same mouthful with Annie Bragin — but’twas all shpun gold, an’ time was when a lock av ut was more than di’monds to me. There was niver pretty woman yet, an’ I’ve had thruck wid a few, cud open the door to Annie Bragin.
‘’Twas in the Cath’lic Chapel I saw her first, me oi rolling round as usual to see fwhat was to be seen.
“You’re too good for Bragin, my love,” thinks I to mesilf, “but that’s a mistake I can put straight, or my name is not Terence Mulvaney.”
‘Now take my wurrd for ut, you Orth’ris there an’ Learoyd, an’ kape out av the Married Quarters — as I did not. No good iver comes av ut, an’ there’s always the chance av your bein’ found wid your face in the dirt, a long picket in the back av your head, an’ your hands playing the fifes on the tread av another man’s doorstep. ’Twas so we found O’Hara, he that Rafferty killed six years gone, when he wint to his death wid his hair oiled, whistlin’ Larry O’Rourke betune his teeth. Kape out av the Married Quarters, I say, as I did not. ’Tis onwholesim, ’tis dangerous, an’ ’tis ivrything else that’s bad, but — O my sowl, ’tis swate while ut lasts!
‘I was always hangin’ about there whin I was off duty an’ Bragin wasn’t, but niver a sweet word beyon’ ordinar’ did I get from Annie Bragin. “’Tis the pervarsity av the sect,” sez I to mesilf, an’ gave my cap another cock on my head an’ straightened my back —’twas the back av a Dhrum Major in those days — an’ wint off as tho’ I did not care, wid all the women in the Married Quarters laughin’, I was pershuaded — most bhoys are I’m thinkin’— that no woman born av woman cud stand against me av I hild up my little finger. I had reason fer thinkin’ that way — till I met Annie Bragin.
‘Time an’ agin whin I was blandandherin’ in the dusk a man wud go past me as quiet as a cat. “That’s quare,” thinks I, “for I am, or I should be, the only man in these parts. Now what divilment can Annie be up to?” Thin I called myself a blayguard for thinkin’ such things; but I thought thim all the same. An’ that, mark you, is the way av a man.
‘Wan evenin’ I said:—“Mrs. Bragin, manin’ no disrespect to you, who is that Corp’ril man”— I had seen the stripes though I cud niver get sight av his face —“ who is that Corp’ril man that comes in always whin I’m goin’ away?”
‘“Mother av God!” sez she, turnin’ as white as my belt, “have you seen him too?”
‘“Seen him!” sez I; “av coorse I have. Did ye want me not to see him, for”— we were standin’ talkin’ in the dhark, outside the veranda av Bragin’s quarters —“you’d betther tell me to shut me eyes. Onless I’m mistaken, he’s come now.”
‘An’, sure enough, the Corp’ril was walkin’ to us, hangin’ his head down as though he was ashamed av himsilf.
‘“Good-night, Mrs. Bragin,” sez I, very cool; “’tis not for me to interfere wid your a-moors; but you might manage things wid more dacincy. I’m off to canteen,” I sez.
‘I turned on my heel an’ wint away, swearin’ I wud give that man a dhressin’ that wud shtop him messin’ about the Married Quarters for a month an’ a week. I had not tuk ten paces before Annie Bragin was hangin’ on to my arm, an’ I cud feel that she was shakin’ all over.
‘“Stay wid me, Mister Mulvaney,” sez she; “you’re flesh an’ blood, at the least — are ye not?”
‘“I’m all that,” sez I, an’ my anger wint away in a flash. “Will I want to be asked twice, Annie?”
‘Wid that I slipped my arm round her waist, for, begad, I fancied she had surrindered at discretion, an’ the honours av war were mine.
‘“Fwhat nonsinse is this?” sez she, dhrawin’ hersilf up on the tips av her dear little toes. “Wid the mother’s milk not dhry on your impident mouth? Let go!” she sez.
‘“Did ye not say just now that I was flesh an’ blood?” sez I. “I have not changed since,” I sez; an’ I kep’ my arm where ut was.
‘“Your arms to yoursilf!” sez she, an’ her eyes sparkild.
‘“Sure, ’tis only human nature,” sez I, an’ I kep’ my arm where ut was.
‘“Nature or no nature,” sez she, “you take your arm away or I’ll tell Bragin, an’ he’ll alter the nature av your head. Fwhat d’you take me for?” she sez.
‘“A woman,” sez I; “the prettiest in barricks.”
‘“A wife ,” sez she; “the straightest in cantonmints!”
‘Wid that I dropped my arm, fell back tu paces, an’ saluted, for I saw that she mint fwhat she said.’
‘Then you know something that some men would give a good deal to be certain of. How could you tell?’ I demanded in the interests of Science.
‘“Watch the hand,” said Mulvaney; “av she shuts her hand tight, thumb down over the knuckle, take up your hat an’ go. You’ll only make a fool av yoursilf av you shtay. But av the hand lies opin on the lap, or av you see her thryin’ to shut ut, an’ she can’t — go on! She’s not past reasonin’ wid.”
‘Well, as I was sayin’, I fell back, saluted, an’ was goin’ away.
‘“Shtay wid me,” she sez. “Look! He’s comin’ again.”
‘She pointed to the veranda, an’ by the Hoight av Impart’nince, the Corp’ril man was comin’ out av Bragin’s quarters.
‘“He’s done that these five evenin’s past,” sez Annie Bragin. “Oh, fwhat will I do!”
“He’ll not do ut again,” sez I, for I was fightin’ mad.
‘Kape away from a man that has been a thrifle crossed in love till the fever’s died down. He rages like a brute beast.
‘I wint up to the man in the veranda, manin’, as sure as I sit, to knock the life out av him. He slipped into the open. “Fwhat are you doin’ philanderin’ about here, ye scum av the gutter?” sez I polite, to give him his warnin’, for I wanted him ready.
‘He niver lifted his head, but sez, all mournful an’ melancolius, as if he thought I wud be sorry for him: “I can’t find her,” sez he.
‘“My troth,” sez I, “you’ve lived too long — you an’ your seekin’s an’ findin’s in a dacint married woman’s quarters! Hould up your head, ye frozen thief av Genesis,” sez I, “an’ you’ll find all you want an’ more!”
‘But he niver hild up, an’ I let go from the shoulther to where the hair is short over the eyebrows.
‘“That’ll do your business,” sez I, but it nearly did mine instid. I put my bodyweight behind the blow, but I hit nothing at all, an’ near put my shoulther out. The Corp’ril man was not there, an’ Annie Bragin, who had been watchin’ from the veranda, throws up her heels, an’ carries on like a cock whin his neck’s wrung by the dhrummer-bhoy. I wint back to her, for a livin’ woman, an’ a woman like Annie Bragin, is more than a p’rade-groun’ full av ghosts. I’d niver seen a woman faint before, an’ I stud like a shtuck calf, askin’ her whether she was dead, an’ prayin’ her for the love av me, an’ the love av her husband, an’ the love av the Virgin, to opin her blessed eyes again, an’ callin’ mesilf all the names undher the canopy av Hivin for plaguin’ her wid my miserable a-moors whin I ought to ha’ stud betune her an’ this Corp’ril man that had lost the number av his mess.
‘I misremimber fwhat nonsinse I said, but I was not so far gone that I cud not hear a fut on the dirt outside. ’Twas Bragin comin’ in, an’ by the same token Annie was comin’ to. I jumped to the far end av the veranda an’ looked as if butter wudn’t melt in my mouth. But Mrs. Quinn, the Quarter–Master’s wife that was, had tould Bragin about my hangin’ round Annie.
‘“I’m not pleased wid you, Mulvaney,” sez Bragin, unbucklin’ his sword, for he had been on duty.
‘“That’s bad hearin’,” I sez, an’ I knew that the pickets were dhriven in. “What for, Sargint?” sez I.
‘“Come outside,” sez he, “an’ I’ll show you why.”
‘“I’m willin’,” I sez; “but my stripes are none so ould that I can afford to loses him. Tell me now, who do I go out wid?” sez I.
‘He was a quick man an’ a just, an’ saw fwhat I wud be afther. “Wid Mrs. Bragin’s husband,” sez he. He might ha’ known by me askin’ that favour that I had done him no wrong.
‘We wint to the back av the arsenal an’ I stripped to him, an’ for ten minutes ’twas all I cud do to prevent him killin’ himself against my fistes. He was mad as a dumb dog — just frothing wid rage; but he had no chanst wid me in reach, or learnin’, or anything else.
‘“Will ye hear reason?” sez I, whin his first wind was run out.
‘“Not whoile I can see,” sez he. Wid that I gave him both, one after the other, smash through the low gyard that he’d been taught whin he was a boy, an’ the eyebrow shut down on the cheek-bone like the wing av a sick crow.
‘“Will ye hear reason now, ye brave man?” sez I.
‘“Not whoile I can speak,” sez he, staggerin’ up blind as a stump. I was loath to do ut, but I wint round an’ swung into the jaw side-on an’ shifted ut a half pace to the lef’.
‘“Will ye hear reason now?” sez I; “I can’t keep my timper much longer, an’ ’tis like I will hurt you.”
‘“Not whoile I can stand,” he mumbles out av one corner av his mouth. So I closed an’ threw him — blind, dumb, an’ sick, an’ jammed the jaw straight.
‘“You’re an ould fool, Mister Bragin,” sez I.
‘“You’re a young thief,” sez he, “an’ you’ve bruk my heart, you an’ Annie betune you!”
‘Thin he began cryin’ like a child as he lay. I was sorry as I had niver been before. ’Tis an awful thing to see a strong man cry.
‘“I’ll swear on the Cross!” sez I.
‘“I care for none av your oaths,” sez he.
‘“Come back to your quarters,” sez I, “an’ if you don’t believe the livin’, begad, you shall listen to the dead,” I sez.
‘I hoisted him an’ tuk him back to his quarters. “Mrs. Bragin,” sez I, “here’s a man that you can cure quicker than me.”
‘“You’ve shamed me before my wife,” he whimpers.
‘“Have I so?” sez I. “By the look on Mrs. Bragin’s face I think I’m for a dhressin’-down worse than I gave you.”
‘An’ I was! Annie Bragin was woild wid indignation. There was not a name that a dacint woman cud use that was not given my way. I’ve had my Colonel walk roun’ me like a cooper roun’ a cask for fifteen minutes in Ord’ly Room, bekaze I wint into the Corner Shop an’ unstrapped lewnatic; but all I iver tuk from his rasp av a tongue was ginger-pop to fwhat Annie tould me. An’ that, mark you, is the way av a woman.
‘Whin ut was done for want av breath, an’ Annie was bendin’ over her husband, I sez: “’Tis all thrue, an’ I’m a blayguard an’ you’re an honest woman; but will you tell him of wan service that I did you?”
‘As I finished speakin’ the Corp’ril man came up to the veranda, an’ Annie Bragin shquealed. The moon was up, an’ we cud see his face.
‘“I can’t find her,” sez the Corp’ril man, an’ wint out like the puff av a candle.
‘“Saints stand betune us an’ evil!” sez Bragin, crossin’ himself; “that’s Flahy av the Tyrone.”
‘“Who was he?” I sez, “for he has given me a dale av fightin’ this day.”
‘Bragin tould us that Flahy was a Corp’ril who lost his wife av cholera in those quarters three years gone, an’ wint mad, an’ walked afther they buried him, huntin’ for her.
‘“Well,” sez I to Bragin, “he’s been hookin’ out av Purgathory to kape company wid Mrs. Bragin ivry evenin’ for the last fortnight. You may tell Mrs. Quinn, wid my love, for I know that she’s been talkin’ to you, an’ you’ve been listenin’, that she ought to ondherstand the differ ‘twixt a man an’ a ghost. She’s had three husbands,” sez I, “an’ you ’ve got a wife too good for you. Instid av which you lave her to be boddered by ghosts an’— an’ all manner av evil spirruts. I’ll niver go talkin’ in the way av politeness to a man’s wife again. Good-night to you both,” sez I; an’ wid that I wint away, havin’ fought wid woman, man and Divil all in the heart av an hour. By the same token I gave Father Victor wan rupee to say a mass for Flahy’s soul, me havin’ discommoded him by shticking my fist into his systim.’
‘Your ideas of politeness seem rather large, Mulvaney,’ I said.
‘That’s as you look at ut,’ said Mulvaney calmly; ‘Annie Bragin niver cared for me. For all that, I did not want to leave anything behin’ me that Bragin could take hould av to be angry wid her about — whin an honust wurrd cud ha’ cleared all up. There’s nothing like opin-speakin’. Orth’ris, ye scutt, let me put me oi to that bottle, for my throat’s as dhry as whin I thought I wud get a kiss from Annie Bragin. An’ that’s fourteen years gone! Eyah! Cork’s own city an’ the blue sky above ut — an’ the times that was — the times that was!’
7 — With the Main Guard
Der jungere Uhlanen
Sit round mit open mouth
While Breitmann tell dem stdories
Of fightin’ in the South;
Und gif dem moral lessons,
How before der battle pops,
Take a little prayer to Himmel
Und a goot long drink of Schnapps.
—Hans Breitmann’s Ballads.
‘Mary, Mother av Mercy, fwhat the divil possist us to take an’ kape this melancolious counthry? Answer me that, Sorr.’
It was Mulvaney who was speaking. The time was one o’clock of a stifling June night, and the place was the main gate of Fort Amara, most desolate and least desirable of all fortresses in India. What I was doing there at that hour is a question which only concerns M’Grath, the Sergeant of the Guard, and the men on the gate.
‘Slape,’ said Mulvaney, ‘is a shuparfluous necessity. This gyard’ll shtay lively till relieved.’ He himself was stripped to the waist; Learoyd on the next bedstead was dripping from the skinful of water which Ortheris, clad only in white trousers, had just sluiced over his shoulders; and a fourth private was muttering uneasily as he dozed open-mouthed in the glare of the great guard-lantern. The heat under the bricked archway was terrifying.
‘The worrst night that iver I remimber. Eyah! Is all Hell loose this tide?’ said Mulvaney. A puff of burning wind lashed through the wicket-gate like a wave of the sea, and Ortheris swore.
‘Are ye more heasy, Jock?’ he said to Learoyd. ‘Put yer ‘ead between your legs. It’ll go orf in a minute.’
‘Ah don’t care. Ah would not care, but ma heart is plaayin’ tivvy-tivvy on ma ribs. Let me die! Oh, leave me die!’ groaned the huge Yorkshireman, who was feeling the heat acutely, being of fleshly build.
The sleeper under the lantern roused for a moment and raised himself on his elbow. —‘Die and be damned then!’ he said. ‘ I ’m damned and I can’t die!’
‘Who’s that?’ I whispered, for the voice was new to me.
‘Gentleman born,’ said Mulvaney; ‘Corp’ril wan year, Sargint nex’. Red-hot on his C’mission, but dhrinks like a fish. He’ll be gone before the cowld weather’s here. So!’
He slipped his boot, and with the naked toe just touched the trigger of his Martini. Ortheris misunderstood the movement, and the next instant the Irishman’s rifle was dashed aside, while Ortheris stood before him, his eyes blazing with reproof.
‘You!’ said Ortheris. ‘My Gawd, you! If it was you wot would we do?’
‘Kape quiet, little man,’ said Mulvaney, putting him aside, but very gently; ’tis not me, nor will ut be me whoile Dinah Shadd’s here. I was but showin’ something.’
Learoyd, bowed on his bedstead, groaned, and the gentleman-ranker sighed in his sleep. Ortheris took Mulvaney’s tendered pouch and we three smoked gravely for a space while the dust-devils danced on the glacis and scoured the red-hot plain.
‘Pop?’ said Ortheris, wiping his forehead.
‘Don’t tantalise wid talkin’ av dhrink, or I’ll shtuff you into your own breech-block an’— fire you off!’ grunted Mulvaney.
Ortheris chuckled, and from a niche in the veranda produced six bottles of gingerade.
‘Where did ye get ut, ye Machiavel?’ said Mulvaney. ‘’Tis no bazar pop.’
‘‘Ow do Hi know wot the Orf’cers drink?’ answered Ortheris. ‘Arst the mess-man.’
‘Ye’ll have a Disthrict Coort-martial settin’ on ye yet, me son,’ said Mulvaney, ‘but’— he opened a bottle —‘I will not report ye this time. Fwhat’s in the mess-kid is mint for the belly, as they say, ‘specially whin that mate is dhrink. Here’s luck! A bloody war or a — no, we’ve got the sickly season. War, thin!’— he waved the innocent ‘pop’ to the four quarters of Heaven. ‘Bloody war! North, East, South, an’ West! Jock, ye quakin’ hayrick, come an’ dhrink.’
But Learoyd, half mad with the fear of death presaged in the swelling veins in his neck, was begging his Maker to strike him dead, and fighting for more air between his prayers. A second time Ortheris drenched the quivering body with water, and the giant revived.
‘An’ Ah divn’t see thot a mon is i’ fettle for gooin’ on to live; an’ Ah divn’t see thot there is owt for t’ livin’ for. Hear now, lads! Ah’m tired — tired. There’s nobbut watter i’ ma bones. Let me die!’
The hollow of the arch gave back Learoyd’s broken whisper in a bass boom. Mulvaney looked at me hopelessly, but I remembered how the madness of despair had once fallen upon Ortheris, that weary, weary afternoon on the banks of the Khemi River, and how it had been exorcised by the skilful magician Mulvaney.
‘Talk, Terence!’ I said, ‘or we shall have Learoyd slinging loose, and he’ll be worse than Ortheris was. Talk! He’ll answer to your voice.’
Almost before Ortheris had deftly thrown all the rifles of the Guard on Mulvaney’s bedstead, the Irishman’s voice was uplifted as that of one in the middle of a story, and, turning to me, he said —
‘In barricks or out of it, as you say, Sorr, an Oirish rig’mint is the divil an’ more. ’Tis only fit for a young man wid eddicated fisteses. Oh the crame av disruption is an Oirish rig’mint, an’ rippin’, tearin’, ragin’ scattherers in the field av war! My first rig’mint was Oirish — Faynians an’ rebils to the heart av their marrow was they, an’ so they fought for the Widdy betther than most, bein’ contrairy — Oirish. They was the Black Tyrone. You’ve heard av thim, Sorr?’
Heard of them! I knew the Black Tyrone for the choicest collection of unmitigated blackguards, dog-stealers, robbers of hen-roosts, assaulters of innocent citizens, and recklessly daring heroes in the Army List. Half Europe and half Asia has had cause to know the Black Tyrone — good luck be with their tattered Colours as Glory has ever been!
‘They was hot pickils an’ ginger! I cut a man’s head tu deep wid my belt in the days av my youth, an’, afther some circumstances which I will oblitherate, I came to the Ould Rig’mint, bearin’ the character av a man wid hands an’ feet. But, as I was goin’ to tell you, I fell acrost the Black Tyrone agin wan day whin we wanted thim powerful bad. Orth’ris, me son, fwhat was the name av that place where they sint wan comp’ny av us an’ wan av the Tyrone roun’ a hill an’ down again, all for to tache the Paythans something they’d niver learned before? Afther Ghunzi ’twas.’
‘Don’t know what the bloomin’ Paythans called it. We called it Silver’s Theayter. You know that, sure!’
‘Silver’s Theatre — so ’twas. A gut betune two hills, as black as a bucket, an’ as thin as a girl’s waist. There was over-many Paythans for our convaynience in the gut, an’ begad they called thimselves a Reserve — bein’ impident by nature! Our Scotchies an’ lashins av Gurkeys was poundin’ into some Paythan rig’mints, I think ’twas. Scotchies an’ Gurkeys are twins bekaze they’re so onlike an’ they get dhrunk together whin God plazes. As I was sayin’, they sint wan comp’ny av the Ould an’ wan of the Tyrone to double up the hill an’ clane out the Paythan Reserve. Orf’cers was scarce in thim days, fwhat with dysintry an’ not takin’ care av thimselves, an’ we was sint out wid only wan orf’cer for the comp’ny; but he was a Man that had his feet beneath him, an’ all his teeth in their sockuts.’
‘Who was he?’ I asked.
‘Captain O’Neil — Old Crook — Cruikna-bulleen — him that I tould ye that tale av whin he was in Burma. Hah! He was a Man! The Tyrone tuk a little orf’cer bhoy, but divil a bit was he in command, as I’ll dimonstrate presintly. We an’ they came over the brow av the hill, wan on each side av the gut, an’ there was that ondacint Reserve waitin’ down below like rats in a pit.
‘“Howld on, men,” sez Crook, who tuk a mother’s care av us always. “Rowl some rocks on thim by way av visitin’ kyards.” We hadn’t rowled more than twinty bowlders, an’ the Paythans was beginnin’ to swear tremenjus, whin the little orf’cer bhoy av the Tyrone shqueaks out acrost the valley:—“Fwhat the devil an’ all are you doin’, shpoilin’ the fun for my men? Do ye not see they’ll stand?”
‘“Faith, that’s a rare pluckt wan!” sez Crook. “Niver mind the rocks, men. Come along down an’ take tay wid thim!”
‘“There’s damned little sugar in ut!” sez my rear-rank man; but Crook heard.
‘“Have ye not all got spoons?” he sez, laughin’, an’ down we wint as fast as we cud. Learoyd bein’ sick at the Base, he, av coorse, was not there.
‘Thot’s a lie!’ said Learoyd, dragging his bedstead nearer. ‘Ah gotten thot theer, an’ you knaw it, Mulvaney.’ He threw up his arms, and from the right armpit ran, diagonally through the fell of his chest, a thin white line terminating near the fourth left rib.
‘My mind’s goin’,’ said Mulvaney, the unabashed. ‘Ye were there. Fwhat I was thinkin’ of! ’Twas another man, av coorse. Will, you’ll remember thin, Jack, how we an’ the Tyrone met wid a bang at the bottom an’ got jammed past all movin’ among the Paythans.’
‘Ow! It was a tight ‘ole. I was squeezed till I thought I’d bloomin’ well bust,’ said Ortheris, rubbing his stomach meditatively.
‘’Twas no place for a little man, but wan little man’— Mulvaney put his hand on Ortheris’s shoulder —‘saved the life av me. There we shtuck, for divil a bit did the Paythans flinch, an’ divil a bit dare we; our business bein’ to clear ’em out. An’ the most exthryordinar’ thing av all was that we an’ they just rushed into each other’s arrums, an’ there was no firing for a long time. Nothin’ but knife an’ bay’nit when we cud get our hands free: an’ that was not often. We was breast-on to thim, an’ the Tyrone was yelpin’ behind av us in a way I didn’t see the lean av at first. But I knew later, an’ so did the Paythans.
‘“Knee to knee!” sings out Crook, wid a laugh whin the rush av our comin’ into the gut shtopped, an’ he was huggin’ a hairy great Paythan, neither bein’ able to do anything to the other, tho’ both was wishful.
‘“Breast to breast!” he sez, as the Tyrone was pushin’ us forward closer an’ closer.
‘“An’ hand over back!” sez a Sargint that was behin’. I saw a sword lick out past Crook’s ear, an’ the Paythan was tuk in the apple av his throat like a pig at Dromeen fair.
‘“Thank ye, Brother Inner Guard,” sez Crook, cool as a cucumber widout salt. “I wanted that room.” An’ he wint forward by the thickness av a man’s body, havin’ turned the Paythan undher him. The man bit the heel off Crook’s boot in his death-bite.
‘“Push, men!” sez Crook. “Push, ye paper-backed beggars!” he sez. “Am I to pull ye through?” So we pushed, an’ we kicked, an’ we swung, an’ we swore, an’ the grass bein’ slippery, our heels wouldn’t bite, an’ God help the front-rank man that wint down that day!’
‘‘Ave you ever bin in the Pit hentrance o’ the Vic, on a thick night?’ interrupted Ortheris. ‘It was worse nor that, for they was goin’ one way an’ we wouldn’t ‘ave it. Leastways, I ‘adn’t much to say.’
‘Faith, me son, ye said ut, thin. I kep’ the little man betune my knees as long as I cud, but he was pokin’ roun’ wid his bay’nit, blindin’ an’ stiffin’ feroshus. The devil of a man is Orth’ris in a ruction — aren’t ye?’ said Mulvaney.
‘Don’t make game!’ said the Cockney. ‘I knowed I wasn’t no good then, but I guv ’em compot from the lef’ flank when we opened out. No!’ he said, bringing down his hand with a thump on the bedstead, ‘a bay’nit ain’t no good to a little man — might as well ‘ave a bloomin’ fishin’-rod! I ‘ate a clawin’, maulin’ mess, but gimme a breech that’s wore out a bit, an’ hamminition one year in store, to let the powder kiss the bullet, an’ put me somewheres where I ain’t trod on by ‘ulkin swine like you, an’ s’elp me Gawd, I could bowl you over five times outer seven at height ‘undred. Would yer try, you lumberin’ Hirishman.’
‘No, ye wasp. I’ve seen ye do ut. I say there’s nothin’ better than the bay’nit, wid a long reach, a double twist av ye can, an’ a slow recover.’
‘Dom the bay’nit,’ said Learoyd, who had been listening intently. ‘Look a-here!’ He picked up a rifle an inch below the foresight with an underhand action, and used it exactly as a man would use a dagger.
‘Sitha,’ said he softly, ‘thot’s better than owt, for a mon can bash t’ faace wi’ thot, an’, if he divn’t, he can breeak t’ forearm o’ t’ gaard.’ Tis not i’ t’ books, though. Gie me t’ butt.’
‘Each does ut his own way, like makin’ love,’ said Mulvaney quietly; ‘the butt or the bay’nit or the bullet accordin’ to the natur’ av the man. Well, as I was sayin’, we shtuck there breathin’ in each other’s faces and swearin’ powerful; Orth’ris cursin’ the mother that bore him bekaze he was not three inches taller.
‘Prisintly he sez:—“Duck, ye lump, an’ I can get at a man over your shouldher!”
‘“You’ll blow me head off,” I sez, throwin’ my arm clear; “go through under my arm-pit, ye bloodthirsty little scutt,” sez I, “but don’t shtick me or I’ll wring your ears round.”
‘Fwhat was ut ye gave the Paythan man forninst me, him that cut at me whin I cudn’t move hand or foot? Hot or cowld was ut?’
‘Cold,’ said Ortheris, ‘up an’ under the rib-jint. ‘E come down flat. Best for you ‘e did.’
‘Thrue, my son! This jam thing that I’m talkin’ about lasted for five minutes good, an’ thin we got our arms clear an’ wint in. I misremimber exactly fwhat I did, but I didn’t want Dinah to be a widdy at the Depot. Thin, after some promishkuous hackin’ we shtuck again, an’ the Tyrone behin’ was callin’ us dogs an’ cowards an’ all manner av names; we barrin’ their way.
‘“Fwhat ails the Tyrone?” thinks I; “they’ve the makin’s av a most convanient fight here.”
‘A man behind me sez beseechful an’ in a whisper:—“Let me get at thim! For the Love av Mary give me room beside ye, ye tall man!”
‘“An’ who are you that’s so anxious to be kilt?” sez I, widout turnin’ my head, for the long knives was dancin’ in front like the sun on Donegal Bay whin ut’s rough.
‘“We’ve seen our dead,” he sez, squeezin’ into me; “our dead that was men two days gone! An’ me that was his cousin by blood could not bring Tim Coulan off! Let me get on,” he sez, “let me get to thim or I’ll run ye through the back!”
‘“My troth,” thinks I, “if the Tyrone have seen their dead, God help the Paythans this day!” An’ thin I knew why the Oirish was ragin’ behind us as they was.
‘I gave room to the man, an’ he ran forward wid the Haymaker’s Lift on his bay’nit an’ swung a Paythan clear off his feet by the belly-band av the brute, an’ the iron bruk at the lockin’-ring.
‘“Tim Coulan’ll slape easy to-night,” sez he wid a grin; an’ the next minut his head was in two halves and he wint down grinnin’ by sections.
‘The Tyrone was pushin’ an’ pushin’ in, an’ our men was swearin’ at thim, an’ Crook was workin’ away in front av us all, his sword-arm swingin’ like a pump-handle an’ his revolver spittin’ like a cat. But the strange thing av ut was the quiet that lay upon. ’Twas like a fight in a drame — except for thim that was dead.
‘Whin I gave room to the Oirishman I was expinded an’ forlorn in my inside. ’Tis a way I have, savin’ your presince, Sorr, in action. “Let me out, bhoys,” sez I, backin’ in among thim. “I’m going to be onwell!” Faith they gave me room at the wurrud, though they would not ha’ givin room for all Hell wid the chill off. When I got clear, I was, savin’ your presince, Sorr, outragis sick bekaze I had dhrunk heavy that day.
‘Well an’ far out av harm was a Sargint av the Tyrone sittin’ on the little orf’cer bhoy who had stopped Crook from rowlin’ the rocks. Oh, he was a beautiful bhoy, an’ the long black curses was slidin’ out av his innocint mouth like mornin’-jew from a rose!
‘“Fwhat have you got there?” sez I to the Sargint.
‘“Wan av Her Majesty’s bantams wid his spurs up,” sez he. “He’s goin’ to Coort-martial me.”
‘“Let me go!” sez the little orf’cer bhoy. “Let me go and command my men!” manin’ thereby the Black Tyrone which was beyond any command — ay, even av they had made the Divil a Field-orf’cer.
‘“His father howlds my mother’s cow-feed in Clonmel,” sez the man that was sittin’ on him. “Will I go back to his mother an’ tell her that I’ve let him throw himself away? Lie still, ye little pinch av dynamite, an’ Coort-martial me aftherwards.”
“Good,” sez I; “’tis the likes av him makes the likes av the Commandher-inChief, but we must presarve thim. Fwhat d’you want to do, Sorr?” sez I, very politeful.
‘“Kill the beggars — kill the beggars!” he shqueaks; his big blue eyes brimmin’ wid tears.
‘“An’ how’ll ye do that?” sez I. “You’ve shquibbed off your revolver like a child wid a cracker; you can make no play wid that fine large sword av yours; an’ your hand’s shakin’ like an asp on a leaf. Lie still an’ grow,” sez I.
‘“Get back to your comp’ny,” sez he; “you’re insolint!”
‘“All in good time,” sez I, “but I’ll have a dhrink first.”
‘Just thin Crook comes up, blue an’ white all over where he wasn’t red.
‘“Wather!” sez he; “I’m dead wid drouth! Oh, but it’s a gran’ day!”
‘He dhrank half a skinful, and the rest he tilts into his chest, an’ it fair hissed on the hairy hide av him. He sees the little orf’cer bhoy undher the Sargint.
‘“Fwhat’s yonder?” sez he.
‘“Mutiny, Sorr,” sez the Sargint, an’ the orf’cer bhoy begins pleadin’ pitiful to Crook to be let go: but divil a bit wud Crook budge.
‘“Kape him there,” he sez, “’tis no child’s work this day. By the same token,” sez he, “I’ll confishcate that iligant nickel-plated scent-sprinkler av yours, for my own has been vomitin’ dishgraceful!”
‘The fork av his hand was black wid the backspit av the machine. So he tuk the orf’cer bhoy’s revolver. Ye may look, Sorr, by my faith, there’s a dale more done in the field than iver gets into Field Ordhers!
‘“Come on, Mulvaney,” sez Crook; “is this a Coort-martial?” The two av us wint back together into the mess an’ the Paythans were still standin’ up. They was not too impart’nint though, for the Tyrone was callin’ wan to another to remimber Tim Coulan.
‘Crook stopped outside av the strife an’ looked anxious, his eyes rowlin’ roun’.
‘“Fwhat is ut, Sorr?” sez I; “can I get ye anything?”
‘“Where’s a bugler?” sez he.
‘I wint into the crowd — our men was dhrawin’ breath behin’ the Tyrone who was fightin’ like sowls in tormint — an’ prisintly I came acrost little Frehan, our bugler bhoy, pokin’ roun’ among the best wid a rifle an’ bay’nit.
‘“Is amusin’ yoursilf fwhat you’re paid for, ye limb?” sez I, catchin’ him by the scruff. “Come out av that an’ attind to your duty,” I sez; but the bhoy was not pleased.
‘“I’ve got wan,” sez he, grinnin’, “big as you, Mulvaney, an’ fair half as ugly. Let me go get another.”
‘I was dishplease dat the personability av that remark, so I tucks him under my arm an’ carries him to Crook who was watchin’ how the fight wint. Crook cuffs him till the bhoy cries, an’ thin sez nothin’ for a whoile.
‘The Paythans began to flicker onaisy, an’ our men roared. “Opin ordher! Double!” sez Crook. “Blow, child, blow for the honour of the British Arrmy!”
‘That bhoy blew like a typhoon, an’ the Tyrone an’ we opined out as the Paythans broke, an’ I saw that fwhat had gone before wud be kissin’ an’ huggin’ to fwhat was to come. We’d dhruv thim into a broad part av the gut whin they gave, an’ thin we opined out an’ fair danced down the valley, dhrivin’ thim before us. Oh, ’twas lovely, an’ stiddy, too! There was the Sargints on the flanks av what was left av us, kapin’ touch, an’ the fire was runnin’ from flank to flank, an’ the Paythans was dhroppin’. We opined out wid the widenin’ av the valley, an’ whin the valley narrowed we closed again like the shticks on a lady’s fan, an’ at the far ind av the gut where they thried to stand, we fair blew them off their feet, for we had expinded very little ammunition by reason av the knife work.’
‘Hi used thirty rounds goin’ down that valley,’ said Ortheris, ‘an’ it was gentleman’s work. Might ‘a’ done it in a white ‘andkerchief an’ pink silk stockin’s, that part. Hi was on in that piece.’
‘You could ha’ heard the Tyrone yellin’ a mile away,’ said Mulvaney, ‘an’ ’twas all their Sargints cud do to get thim off. They was mad — mad — mad! Crook sits down in the quiet that fell whin we had gone down the valley, an’ covers his face wid his hands. Prisintly we all came back again accordin’ to our natures and disposishins, for they, mark you, show through the hide av a man in that hour.
‘“Bhoys! bhoys!” sez Crook to himself. “I misdoubt we could ha’ engaged at long range an’ saved betther men than me.” He looked at our dead an’ said no more.
‘“Captain dear,” sez a man av the Tyrone, comin’ up wid his mouth bigger than iver his mother kissed ut, spittin’ blood like a whale; “Captain dear,” sez he, “if wan or two in the shtalls have been discommoded, the gallery enjoyed the performinces av a Roshus.”
‘Thin I knew that man for the Dublin dock-rat he was — wan av the bhoys that made the lessee av Silver’s Theatre gray before his time wid tearin’ out the bowils av the benches an’ t’rowin’ thim into the pit. So I passed the wurrud that I knew when I was in the Tyrone an’ we lay in Dublin. “I don’t know who ’twas,” I whispers, “an’ I don’t care, but anyways I’ll knock the face av you, Tim Kelly.”
‘“Eyah!” sez the man, “was you there too? We’ll call ut Silver’s Theatre.” Half the Tyrone, knowin’ the ould place, tuk it up: so we called ut Silver’s Theatre.
‘The little orf’cer bhoy av the Tyrone was thremblin’ an’ cryin’. He had no heart for the Coort-martials that he talked so big upon. “Ye’ll do well later,” sez Crook, very quiet, “for not bein’ allowed to kill yourself for amusemint.”
‘“I’m a dishgraced man!” sez the little orf’cer bhoy.
‘“Put me undher arrest, Sorr, if you will, but, by my sowl, I’d do ut again sooner than face your mother wid you dead,” sez the Sargint that had sat on his head, standin’ to attention an’ salutin’. But the young wan only cried as tho’ his little heart was breakin’.
‘Thin another man av the Tyrone came up, wid the fog av fightin’ on him.’
‘The what, Mulvaney?’
‘Fog av fightin’. You know, Sorr, that, like makin’ love, ut takes each man diff’rint. Now I can’t help bein’ powerful sick whin I’m in action. Orth’ris, here, niver stops swearin’ from ind to ind, an’ the only time that Learoyd opins his mouth to sing is whin he is messin’ wid other people’s heads; for he’s a dhirty fighter is Jock. Recruities sometime cry, an’ sometime they don’t know fwhat they do, an’ sometime they are all for cuttin’ throats an’ such like dirtiness; but some men get heavy-dead-dhrunk on the fightin’. This man was. He was staggerin’, an’ his eyes were half shut, an’ we cud hear him dhraw breath twinty yards away. He sees the little orf’cer bhoy, an’ comes up, talkin’ thick an’ drowsy to himsilf. “Blood the young whelp!” he sez; “blood the young whelp”; an’ wid that he threw up his arms, shpun roun’, an’ dropped at our feet, dead as a Paythan, an’ there was niver sign or scratch on him. They said ’twas his heart was rotten, but oh, ’twas a quare thing to see!
‘Thin we wint to bury our dead, for we wud not lave thim to the Paythans, an’ in movin’ among the haythen we nearly lost that little orf’cer bhoy. He was for givin’ wan divil wather and layin’ him aisy against a rock. “Be careful, Sorr,” sez I; “a wounded Paythan’s worse than a live wan.” My troth, before the words was out of my mouth, the man on the ground fires at the orf’cer bhoy lanin’ over him, an’ I saw the helmit fly. I dropped the butt on the face av the man an’ tuk his pistol. The little orf’cer bhoy turned very white, for the hair av half his head was singed away.
‘“I tould you so, Sorr!” sez I; an’, afther that, whin he wanted to help a Paythan I stud wid the muzzle contagious to the ear. They dare not do anythin’ but curse. The Tyrone was growlin’ like dogs over a bone that had been taken away too soon, for they had seen their dead an’ they wanted to kill ivry sowl on the ground. Crook tould thim that he’d blow the hide off any man that misconducted himself; but, seeing that ut was the first time the Tyrone had iver seen their dead, I do not wondher they were on the sharp. ’Tis a shameful sight! Whin I first saw ut I wud niver ha’ given quarter to any man north of the Khaibar — no, nor woman either, for the women used to come out afther dhark — Auggrh!
‘Well, evenshually we buried our dead an’ tuk away our wounded, an’ come over the brow av the hills to see the Scotchies an’ the Gurkeys taking tay with the Paythans in bucketsfuls. We were a gang av dissolute ruffians, for the blood had caked the dust, an’ the sweat had cut the cake, an’ our bay’nits was hangin’ like butchers’ steels betune ur legs, an’ most av us were marked one way or another.
‘A Staff Orf’cer man, clean as a new rifle, rides up an’ sez: “What damned scarecrows are you?”
‘“A comp’ny av Her Majesty’s Black Tyrone an’ wan av the Ould Rig’mint,” sez Crook very quiet, givin’ our visitors the flure as ’twas.
‘“Oh!” sez the Staff Orf’cer; “did you dislodge that Reserve?”
‘“No!” sez Crook, an’ the Tyrone laughed.
‘“Thin fwhat the divil have ye done?”
‘“Disthroyed ut,” sez Crook, an’ he took us on, but not before Toomey that was in the Tyrone sez aloud, his voice somewhere in his stummick: “Fwhat in the name av misfortune does this parrit widout a tail mane by shtoppin’ the road av his betthers?”
‘The Staff Orf’cer wint blue, an’ Toomey makes him pink by changin’ to the voice av a minowderin’ woman an’ sayin’: “Come an’ kiss me, Major dear, for me husband’s at the wars an’ I’m all alone at the Depot.”
‘The Staff Orf’cer wint away, an’ I cud see Crook’s shoulthers shakin’.
‘His Corp’ril checks Toomey. “Lave me alone,” sez Toomey, widout a wink. “I was his batman before he was married an’ he knows fwhat I mane, av you don’t. There’s nothin’ like livin’ in the hoight av society.” D’you remimber that, Orth’ris!’
‘Hi do. Toomey, ‘e died in ‘orspital, next week it was, ‘cause I bought ‘arf his kit; an’ I remember after that —’
The Relief had come; it was four o’clock. ‘I’ll catch a kyart for you, Sorr,’ said Mulvaney, diving hastily into his accoutrements. ‘Come up to the top av the Fort an’ we’ll pershue our invistigations into M’Grath’s shtable.’ The relieved Guard strolled round the main bastion on its way to the swimming-bath, and Learoyd grew almost talkative. Ortheris looked into the Fort ditch and across the plain. ‘Ho! it’s weary waitin’ for Ma-ary!’ he hummed; ‘but I’d like to kill some more bloomin’ Paythans before my time’s up. War! Bloody war! North, East, South, and West.’
‘Amen,’ said Learoyd slowly.
‘Fwhat’s here?’ said Mulvaney, checking at a blur of white by the foot of the old sentry-box. He stooped and touched it. ‘It’s Norah — Norah M’Taggart! Why, Nonie darlin’, fwhat are ye doin’ out av your mother’s bed at this time?’
The two-year-old child of Sergeant M’Taggart must have wandered for a breath of cool air to the very verge of the parapet of the Fort ditch. Her tiny night-shift was gathered into a wisp round her neck and she moaned in her sleep. ‘See there!’ said Mulvaney; ‘poor lamb! Look at the heat-rash on the innocint skin av her. ’Tis hard — crool hard even for us. Fwhat must it be for these? Wake up, Nonie, your mother will be woild about you. Begad, the child might ha’ fallen into the ditch!’
He picked her up in the growing light, and set her on his shoulder, and her fair curls touched the grizzled stubble of his temples. Ortheris and Learoyd followed snapping their fingers, while Norah smiled at them a sleepy smile. Then carolled Mulvaney, clear as a lark, dancing the baby on his arm —
‘If any young man should marry you,
Say nothin’ about the joke;
That iver ye slep’ in a sinthry-box,
Wrapped up in a soldier’s cloak.’
‘Though, on my sowl, Nonie,’ he said gravely, ‘there was not much cloak about you. Niver mind, you won’t dhress like this ten years to come. Kiss your friends an’ run along to your mother.’
Nonie, set down close to the Married Quarters, nodded with the quiet obedience of the soldier’s child, but, ere she pattered off over the flagged path, held up her lips to be kissed by the Three Musketeers. Ortheris wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and swore sentimentally; Learoyd turned pink; and the two walked away together. The Yorkshireman lifted up his voice and gave in thunder the chorus of The Sentry–Box , while Ortheris piped at his side.
‘‘Bin to a bloomin’ sing-song, you two?’ said the Artilleryman, who was taking his cartridge down to the Morning Gun. ‘You’re over merry for these dashed days.’
‘I bid ye take care o’ the brat, said he,
For it comes of a noble race,’
Learoyd bellowed. The voices died out in the swimming-bath.
‘Oh, Terence!’ I said, dropping into Mulvaney’s speech, when we were alone, ‘it’s you that have the Tongue!’
He looked at me wearily; his eyes were sunk in his head, and his face was drawn and white. ‘Eyah!’ said he; ‘I’ve blandandhered thim through the night somehow, but can thim that helps others help thimselves? Answer me that, Sorr!’
And over the bastions of Fort Amara broke the pitiless day.
8 — In the Matter of a Private
Hurrah! hurrah! a soldier’s life for me!
Shout, boys, shout! for it makes you jolly and free.
—The Ramrod Corps.
People who have seen, say that one of the quaintest spectacles of human frailty is an outbreak of hysterics in a girls’ school. It starts without warning, generally on a hot afternoon, among the elder pupils. A girl giggles till the giggle gets beyond control. Then she throws up her head, and cries, ‘ Honk, honk, honk, ’ like a wild goose, and tears mix with the laughter. If the mistress be wise, she will rap out something severe at this point to check matters. If she be tender-hearted, and send for a drink of water, the chances are largely in favour of another girl laughing at the afflicted one and herself collapsing. Thus the trouble spreads, and may end in half of what answers to the Lower Sixth of a boys’ school rocking and whooping together. Given a week of warm weather, two stately promenades per diem, a heavy mutton and rice meal in the middle of the day, a certain amount of nagging from the teachers, and a few other things, some amazing effects develop. At least, this is what folk say who have had experience.
Now, the Mother Superior of a Convent and the Colonel of a British Infantry Regiment would be justly shocked at any comparison being made between their respective charges. But it is a fact that, under certain circumstances, Thomas in bulk can be worked up into ditthering, rippling hysteria. He does not weep, but he shows his trouble unmistakably, and the consequences get into the newspapers, and all the good people who hardly know a Martini from a Snider say: ‘Take away the brute’s ammunition!’
Thomas isn’t a brute, and his business, which is to look after the virtuous people, demands that he shall have his ammunition to his hand. He doesn’t wear silk stockings, and he really ought to be supplied with a new Adjective to help him to express his opinions: but, for all that, he is a great man. If you call him ‘the heroic defender of the national honour’ one day, and a ‘brutal and licentious soldiery’ the next, you naturally bewilder him, and he looks upon you with suspicion. There is nobody to speak for Thomas except people who have theories to work off on him; and nobody understands Thomas except Thomas, and he does not always know what is the matter with himself.
That is the prologue. This is the story:—
Corporal Slane was engaged to be married to Miss Jhansi M’Kenna, whose history is well known in the regiment and elsewhere. He had his Colonel’s permission, and, being popular with the men, every arrangement had been made to give the wedding what Private Ortheris called ‘eeklar.’ It fell in the heart of the hot weather, and, after the wedding, Slane was going up to the Hills with the bride. None the less, Slane’s grievance was that the affair would be only a hired-carriage wedding, and he felt that the ‘eeklar’ of that was meagre. Miss M’Kenna did not care so much. The Sergeant’s wife was helping her to make her wedding-dress, and she was very busy. Slane was, just then, the only moderately contented man in barracks. All the rest were more or less miserable.
And they had so much to make them happy, too. All their work was over at eight in the morning, and for the rest of the day they could lie on their backs and smoke Canteen-plug and swear at the punkah-coolies. They enjoyed a fine, full flesh meal in the middle of the day, and then threw themselves down on their cots and sweated and slept till it was cool enough to go out with their ‘towny,’ whose vocabulary contained less than six hundred words, and the Adjective, and whose views on every conceivable question they had heard many times before.
There was the Canteen, of course, and there was the Temperance Room with the second-hand papers in it; but a man of any profession cannot read for eight hours a day in a temperature of 96 degrees or 98 degrees in the shade, running up sometimes to 103 degrees at midnight. Very few men, even though they get a pannikin of flat, stale, muddy beer and hide it under their cots, can continue drinking for six hours a day. One man tried, but he died, and nearly the whole regiment went to his funeral because it gave them something to do. It was too early for the excitement of fever or cholera. The men could only wait and wait and wait, and watch the shadow of the barrack creeping across the blinding white dust. That was a gay life.
They lounged about cantonments — it was too hot for any sort of game, and almost too hot for vice — and fuddled themselves in the evening, and filled themselves to distension with the healthy nitrogenous food provided for them, and the more they stoked the less exercise they took and more explosive they grew. Then tempers began to wear away, and men fell a-brooding over insults real or imaginary, for they had nothing else to think of. The tone of the repartees changed and instead of saying light-heartedly: ‘I’ll knock your silly face in.’ men grew laboriously polite and hinted that the cantonments were not big enough for themselves and their enemy, and that there would be more space for one of the two in another Place.
It may have been the Devil who arranged the thing, but the fact of the case is that Losson had for a long time been worrying Simmons in an aimless way. It gave him occupation. The two had their cots side by side, and would sometimes spend a long afternoon swearing at each other; but Simmons was afraid of Losson and dared not challenge him to a fight. He thought over the words in the hot still nights, and half the hate he felt towards Losson he vented on the wretched punkah-coolie.
Losson bought a parrot in the bazar, and put it into a little cage, and lowered the cage into the cool darkness of a well, and sat on the well-curb, shouting bad language down to the parrot. He taught it to say: ‘Simmons, ye so-oor ,’ which means swine, and several other things entirely unfit for publication. He was a big gross man, and he shook like a jelly when the parrot had the sentence correctly. Simmons, however, shook with rage, for all the room were laughing at him — the parrot was such a disreputable puff of green feathers and it looked so human when it chattered. Losson used to sit, swinging his fat legs, on the side of the cot, and ask the parrot what it thought of Simmons. The parrot would answer: ‘Simmons, ye so-oor .’ ‘Good boy,’ Losson used to say, scratching the parrot’s head; ‘ye ‘ear that, Sim?’ And Simmons used to turn over on his stomach and make answer: ‘I ‘ear. Take ‘eed you don’t ‘ear something one of these days.’
In the restless nights, after he had been asleep all day, fits of blind rage came upon Simmons and held him till he trembled all over, while he thought in how many different ways he would slay Losson. Sometimes he would picture himself trampling the life out of the man, with heavy ammunition-boots, and at others smashing in his face with the butt, and at others jumping on his shoulders and dragging the head back till the neckbone cracked. Then his mouth would feel hot and fevered, and he would reach out for another sup of the beer in the pannikin.
But the fancy that came to him most frequently and stayed with him longest was one connected with the great roll of fat under Lesson’s right ear. He noticed it first on a moonlight night, and thereafter it was always before his eyes. It was a fascinating roll of fat. A man could get his hand upon it and tear away one side of the neck; or he could place the muzzle of a rifle on it and blow away all the head in a flash. Losson had no right to be sleek and contented and well-to-do, when he, Simmons, was the butt of the room. Some day, perhaps, he would show those who laughed at the ‘Simmons, ye so-oor ’ joke, that he was as good as the rest, and held a man’s life in the crook of his forefinger. When Losson snored, Simmons hated him more bitterly than ever. Why should Losson be able to sleep when Simmons had to stay awake hour after hour, tossing and turning on the tapes, with the dull liver pain gnawing into his right side and his head throbbing and aching after Canteen? He thought over this for many many nights, and the world became unprofitable to him. He even blunted his naturally fine appetite with beer and tobacco; and all the while the parrot talked at and made a mock of him.
The heat continued and the tempers wore away more quickly than before. A Sergeant’s wife died of heat-apoplexy in the night, and the rumour ran abroad that it was cholera. Men rejoiced openly, hoping that it would spread and send them into camp. But that was a false alarm.
It was late on a Tuesday evening, and the men were waiting in the deep double verandas for ‘Last Posts,’ when Simmons went to the box at the foot of his bed, took out his pipe, and slammed the lid down with a bang that echoed through the deserted barrack like the crack of a rifle. Ordinarily speaking, the men would have taken no notice; but their nerves were fretted to fiddle-strings. They jumped up, and three or four clattered into the barrack-room only to find Simmons kneeling by his box.
‘Ow! It’s you, is it?’ they said and laughed foolishly. ‘We thought ’twas —’
Simmons rose slowly. If the accident had so shaken his fellows, what would not the reality do?
‘You thought it was — did you? And what makes you think?’ he said, lashing himself into madness as he went on; ‘to Hell with your thinking, ye dirty spies.’
‘Simmons, ye so-oor ,’ chuckled the parrot in the veranda sleepily, recognising a well-known voice. Now that was absolutely all.
The tension snapped. Simmons fell back on the arm-rack deliberately — the men were at the far end of the room — and took out his rifle and packet of ammunition. ‘Don’t go playing the goat, Sim!’ said Losson. ‘Put it down,’ but there was a quaver in his voice. Another man stooped, slipped his boot and hurled it at Simmons’s head. The prompt answer was a shot which, fired at random, found its billet in Losson’s throat. Losson fell forward without a word, and the others scattered.
‘You thought it was!’ yelled Simmons. ‘You’re drivin’ me to it! I tell you you’re drivin’ me to it! Get up, Losson, an’ don’t lie shammin’ there — you an’ your blasted parrit that druv me to it!’
But there was an unaffected reality about Losson’s pose that showed Simmons what he had done. The men were still clamouring in the veranda. Simmons appropriated two more packets of ammunition and ran into the moonlight, muttering: ‘I’ll make a night of it. Thirty roun’s, an’ the last for myself. Take you that, you dogs!’
He dropped on one knee and fired into the brown of the men on the veranda, but the bullet flew high, and landed in the brickwork with a vicious phwit that made some of the younger ones turn pale. It is, as musketry theorists observe, one thing to fire and another to be fired at.
Then the instinct of the chase flared up. The news spread from barrack to barrack, and the men doubled out intent on the capture of Simmons, the wild beast, who was heading for the Cavalry parade-ground, stopping now and again to send back a shot and a curse in the direction of his pursuers.
‘I’ll learn you to spy on me!’ he shouted; ‘I’ll learn you to give me dorg’s names! Come on, the ‘ole lot o’ you! Colonel John Anthony Deever, C. B.!’— he turned towards the Infantry Mess and shook his rifle —‘you think yourself the devil of a man — but I tell you that if you put your ugly old carcass outside o’ that door, I’ll make you the poorest-lookin’ man in the army. Come out, Colonel John Anthony Deever, C. B.! Come out and see me practiss on the rainge. I’m the crack shot of the ‘ole bloomin’ battalion.’ In proof of which statement Simmons fired at the lighted windows of the mess-house.
‘Private Simmons, E Comp’ny, on the Cavalry p’rade-ground, Sir, with thirty rounds,’ said a Sergeant breathlessly to the Colonel. ‘Shootin’ right and lef’, Sir. Shot Private Losson. What’s to be done, Sir?’
Colonel John Anthony Deever, C. B., sallied out, only to be saluted by a spurt of dust at his feet.
‘Pull up!’ said the Second in Command; ‘I don’t want my step in that way, Colonel. He’s as dangerous as a mad dog.’
‘Shoot him like one, then,’ said the Colonel bitterly, ‘if he won’t take his chance. My regiment, too! If it had been the Towheads I could have understood.’
Private Simmons had occupied a strong position near a well on the edge of the parade-ground, and was defying the regiment to come on. The regiment was not anxious to comply, for there is small honour in being shot by a fellow-private. Only Corporal Slane, rifle in hand, threw himself down on the ground, and wormed his way towards the well.
‘Don’t shoot,’ said he to the men round him; ‘like as not you’ll ‘it me. I’ll catch the beggar, livin’.’
Simmons ceased shouting for a while, and the noise of trap-wheels could be heard across the plain. Major Oldyne, Commanding the Horse Battery, was coming back from a dinner in the Civil Lines; was driving after his usual custom — that is to say, as fast as the horse could go.
‘A orf’cer! A blooming spangled orf’cer!’ shrieked Simmons; ‘I’ll make a scarecrow of that orf’cer!’ The trap stopped.
‘What’s this?’ demanded the Major of Gunners. ‘You there, drop your rifle.’
‘Why, it’s Jerry Blazes! I ain’t got no quarrel with you, Jerry Blazes. Pass frien’, an’ all’s well!’
But Jerry Blazes had not the faintest intention of passing a dangerous murderer. He was, as his adoring Battery swore long and fervently, without knowledge of fear, and they were surely the best judges, for Jerry Blazes, it was notorious, had done his possible to kill a man each time the Battery went out.
He walked towards Simmons, with the intention of rushing him, and knocking him down.
‘Don’t make me do it, Sir,’ said Simmons; ‘I ain’t got nothing agin you. Ah! you would?’— the Major broke into a run —‘Take that then!’
The Major dropped with a bullet through his shoulder, and Simmons stood over him. He had lost the satisfaction of killing Losson in the desired way: but here was a helpless body to his hand. Should he slip in another cartridge, and blow off the head, or with the butt smash in the white face? He stopped to consider, and a cry went up from the far side of the parade-ground: ‘He’s killed Jerry Blazes!’ But in the shelter of the well-pillars Simmons was safe, except when he stepped out to fire. ‘I’ll blow yer ‘andsome ‘ead off, Jerry Blazes,’ said Simmons reflectively. ‘Six an’ three is nine an’ one is ten, an’ that leaves me another nineteen, an’ one for myself.’ He tugged at the string of the second packet of ammunition. Corporal Slane crawled out of the shadow of a bank into the moonlight.
‘I see you!’ said Simmons. ‘Come a bit furder on an’ I’ll do for you.’
‘I’m comin’,’ said Corporal Slane briefly; ‘you’ve done a bad day’s work, Sim. Come out ’ere an’ come back with me.’
‘Come to — ’ laughed Simmons, sending a cartridge home with his thumb. ‘Not before I’ve settled you an’ Jerry Blazes.’
The Corporal was lying at full length in the dust of the parade-ground, a rifle under him. Some of the less-cautious men in the distance shouted: ‘Shoot ’im! Shoot ’im, Slane!’
‘You move ‘and or foot, Slane,’ said Simmons, ‘an’ I’ll kick Jerry Blazes’ ‘ead in, and shoot you after.’
‘I ain’t movin’,’ said the Corporal, raising his head; ‘you daren’t ‘it a man on ‘is legs. Let go o’ Jerry Blazes an’ come out o’ that with your fistes. Come an’ ‘it me. You daren’t, you bloomin’ dog-shooter!’
‘I dare.’
‘You lie, you man-sticker. You sneakin’ Sheeny butcher, you lie. See there!’ Slane kicked the rifle away, and stood up in the peril of his life. ‘Come on, now!’
The temptation was more than Simmons could resist, for the Corporal in his white clothes offered a perfect mark.
‘Don’t misname me,’ shouted Simmons, firing as he spoke. The shot missed, and the shooter, blind with rage, threw his rifle down and rushed at Slane from the protection of the well. Within striking distance, he kicked savagely at Slane’s stomach, but the weedy Corporal knew something of Simmons’s weakness, and knew, too, the deadly guard for that kick. Bowing forward and drawing up his right leg till the heel of the right foot was set some three inches above the inside of the left knee-cap, he met the blow standing on one leg — exactly as Gonds stand when they meditate — and ready for the fall that would follow. There was an oath, the Corporal fell over to his own left as shinbone met shinbone, and the Private collapsed, his right leg broken an inch above the ankle.
‘‘Pity you don’t know that guard, Sim,’ said Slane, spitting out the dust as he rose. Then raising his voice —‘Come an’ take him orf. I’ve bruk ‘is leg.’ This was not strictly true, for the Private had accomplished his own downfall, since it is the special merit of that leg-guard that the harder the kick the greater the kicker’s discomfiture.
Slane walked to Jerry Blazes and hung over him with ostentatious anxiety, while Simmons, weeping with pain, was carried away. ‘‘Ope you ain’t ‘urt badly, Sir,’ said Slane. The Major had fainted, and there was an ugly, ragged hole through the top of his arm. Slane knelt down and murmured: ‘S’elp me, I believe ‘e’s dead. Well, if that ain’t my blooming luck all over!’
But the Major was destined to lead his Battery afield for many a long day with unshaken nerve. He was removed, and nursed and petted into convalescence, while the Battery discussed the wisdom of capturing Simmons, and blowing him from a gun. They idolised their Major, and his reappearance on parade brought about a scene nowhere provided for in the Army Regulations.
Great, too, was the glory that fell to Slane’s share. The Gunners would have made him drunk thrice a day for at least a fortnight. Even the Colonel of his own regiment complimented him upon his coolness, and the local paper called him a hero. These things did not puff him up. When the Major offered him money and thanks, the virtuous Corporal took the one and put aside the other. But he had a request to make and prefaced it with many a ‘Beg y’ pardon, Sir.’ Could the Major see his way to letting the Slane-M’Kenna wedding be adorned by the presence of four Battery horses to pull a hired barouche? The Major could, and so could the Battery. Excessively so. It was a gorgeous wedding.
‘Wot did I do it for?’ said Corporal Slane. ‘For the ‘orses o’ course. Jhansi ain’t a beauty to look at, but I wasn’t goin’ to ‘ave a hired turn-out. Jerry Blazes? If I ‘adn’t ‘a’ wanted something, Sim might ha’ blowed Jerry Blazes’ blooming ‘ead into Hirish stew for aught I’d ‘a’ cared.’
And they hanged Private Simmons — hanged him as high as Haman in hollow square of the regiment; and the Colonel said it was Drink; and the Chaplain was sure it was the Devil; and Simmons fancied it was both, but he didn’t know, and only hoped his fate would be a warning to his companions; and half a dozen ‘intelligent publicists’ wrote six beautiful leading articles on ‘The Prevalence of Crime in the Army.’
But not a soul thought of comparing the ‘bloody-minded Simmons’ to the squawking, gaping schoolgirl with which this story opens.
9 — Black Jack
To the wake av Tim O’Hara
Came company,
All St. Patrick’s Alley
Was there to see.
—Robert Buchanan
As the Three Musketeers share their silver, tobacco, and liquor together, as they protect each other in barracks or camp, and as they rejoice together over the joy of one, so do they divide their sorrows. When Ortheris’s irrepressible tongue has brought him into cells for a season, or Learoyd has run amok through his kit and accoutrements, or Mulvaney has indulged in strong waters, and under their influence reproved his Commanding Officer, you can see the trouble in the faces of the untouched two. And the rest of the regiment know that comment or jest is unsafe. Generally the three avoid Orderly Room and the Corner Shop that follows, leaving both to the young bloods who have not sown their wild oats; but there are occasions —
For instance, Ortheris was sitting on the drawbridge of the main gate of Fort Amara, with his hands in his pockets and his pipe, bowl down, in his mouth. Learoyd was lying at full length on the turf of the glacis, kicking his heels in the air, and I came round the corner and asked for Mulvaney.
Ortheris spat into the ditch and shook his head. ‘No good seein’ ’im now,’ said Ortheris; ‘‘e’s a bloomin’ camel. Listen.’
I heard on the flags of the veranda opposite to the cells, which are close to the Guard–Room, a measured step that I could have identified in the tramp of an army. There were twenty paces crescendo, a pause, and then twenty diminuendo .
‘That’s ’im,’ said Ortheris; ‘my Gawd, that’s ’im! All for a bloomin’ button you could see your face in an’ a bit o’ lip that a bloomin’ Harkangel would ‘a’ guv back.’
Mulvaney was doing pack-drill — was compelled, that is to say, to walk up and down for certain hours in full marching order, with rifle, bayonet, ammunition, knapsack, and overcoat. And his offence was being dirty on parade! I nearly fell into the Fort Ditch with astonishment and wrath, for Mulvaney is the smartest man that ever mounted guard, and would as soon think of turning out uncleanly as of dispensing with his trousers.
‘Who was the Sergeant that checked him?’ I asked.
‘Mullins, o’ course,’ said Ortheris. ‘There ain’t no other man would whip ’im on the peg so. But Mullins ain’t a man.’ E’s a dirty little pigscraper, that’s wot ‘e is.’
‘What did Mulvaney say? He’s not the make of man to take that quietly.’
‘Said! Bin better for ’im if ‘e’d shut ‘is mouth. Lord, ow we laughed! “Sargint,” ‘e sez, “ye say I’m dirty. Well,” sez ‘e, “when your wife lets you blow your own nose for yourself, perhaps you’ll know wot dirt is. You’re himperfectly eddicated, Sargint,” sez ‘e, an’ then we fell in. But after p’rade, ‘e was up an’ Mullins was swearin’ ‘imself black in the face at Ord’ly Room that Mulvaney ‘ad called ’im a swine an’ Lord knows wot all. You know Mullins. ‘E’ll ‘ave ‘is ‘ead broke in one o’ these days. ‘E’s too big a bloomin’ liar for ord’nary consumption. “Three hours’ can an’ kit,” sez the Colonel; “not for bein’ dirty on p’rade, but for ‘avin’ said somethin’ to Mullins, tho’ I do not believe, “sez ‘e, “you said wot ‘e said you said. “An’ Mulvaney fell away sayin’ nothin’. You know ‘e never speaks to the Colonel for fear o’ gettin’ ‘imself fresh copped.’
Mullins, a very young and very much married Sergeant, whose manners were partly the result of innate depravity and partly of imperfectly digested Board School, came over the bridge, and most rudely asked Ortheris what he was doing.
‘Me?’ said Ortheris. ‘Ow! I’m waiting for my C’mission. ‘Seed it comin’ along yit?’
Mullins turned purple and passed on. There was the sound of a gentle chuckle from the glacis where Learoyd lay.
‘‘E expects to get ‘is C’mission some day,’ explained Ortheris;’ Gawd ‘elp the Mess that ‘ave to put their ‘ands into the same kiddy as ’im! Wot time d’you make it, Sir? Fower! Mulvaney’ll be out in ‘arf an hour. You don’t want to buy a dorg, Sir, do you? A pup you can trust —‘arf Rampore by the Colonel’s grey-‘ound.’
‘Ortheris,’ I answered sternly, for I knew what was in his mind,‘do you mean to say that —’
‘I didn’t mean to arx money o’ you, any’ow,’ said Ortheris; ‘I’d ‘a’ sold you the dorg good an’ cheap, but — but — I know Mulvaney’ll want somethin’ after we’ve walked ’im orf, an’ I ain’t got nothin’, nor ‘e ‘asn’t neither. I’d sooner sell you the dorg, Sir. ‘S trewth I would!’
A shadow fell on the drawbridge, and Ortheris began to rise into the air, lifted by a huge hand upon his collar.
‘Onything but t’ braass,’ said Learoyd quietly, as he held the Londoner over the ditch. ‘Onything but t’ braass, Orth’ris, ma son! Ah’ve got one rupee eight annas of ma own.’ He showed two coins, and replaced Ortheris on the drawbridge rail.
‘Very good,’ I said;’ where are you going to?’
‘Goin’ to walk ’im orf wen ‘e comes out — two miles or three or fower,’ said Ortheris.
The footsteps within ceased. I heard the dull thud of a knapsack falling on a bedstead, followed by the rattle of arms. Ten minutes later, Mulvaney, faultlessly dressed, his lips tight and his face as black as a thunderstorm, stalked into the sunshine on the drawbridge. Learoyd and Ortheris sprang from my side and closed in upon him, both leaning towards as horses lean upon the pole. In an instant they had disappeared down the sunken road to the cantonments, and I was left alone. Mulvaney had not seen fit to recognise me; so I knew that his trouble must be heavy upon him.
I climbed one of the bastions and watched the figures of the Three Musketeers grow smaller and smaller across the plain. They were walking as fast as they could put foot to the ground, and their heads were bowed. They fetched a great compass round the parade-ground, skirted the Cavalry lines, and vanished in the belt of trees that fringes the low land by the river.
I followed slowly, and sighted them — dusty, sweating, but still keeping up their long, swinging tramp — on the river bank. They crashed through the Forest Reserve, headed towards the Bridge of Boats, and presently established themselves on the bow of one of the pontoons. I rode cautiously till I saw three puffs of white smoke rise and die out in the clear evening air, and knew that peace had come again. At the bridge-head they waved me forward with gestures of welcome.
‘Tie up your ‘orse,’ shouted Ortheris, ‘an’ come on, Sir. We’re all goin’ ‘home in this ’ere bloomin’ boat.
From the bridge-head to the Forest Officer’s bungalow is but a step. The mess-man was there, and would see that a man held my horse. Did the Sahib require aught else — a peg, or beer? Ritchie Sahib had left half a dozen bottles of the latter, but since the Sahib was a friend of Ritchie Sahib, and he, the mess-man, was a poor man —
I gave my order quietly, and returned to the bridge. Mulvaney had taken off his boots, and was dabbling his toes in the water; Learoyd was lying on his back on the pontoon; and Ortheris was pretending to row with a big bamboo.
‘I’m an ould fool,’ said Mulvaney, reflectively,‘dhrag-gin’ you two out here bekaze I was undher the Black Dog — sulkin’ like a child. Me that was soldierin’ when Mullins, an’ be damned to him, was shquealin’ on a counterpin for five shillin’ a week — an’ that not paid! Bhoys, I’ve took you five miles out av natural pevarsity. Phew!’
‘Wot’s the odds so long as you’re ‘appy?’ said Ortheris, applying himself afresh to the bamboo. ‘As well ’ere as anywhere else.’
Learoyd held up a rupee and an eight-anna bit, and shook his head sorrowfully. ‘Five mile from t’ Canteen, all along o’ Mulvaney’s blaasted pride.’
‘I know ut,’ said Mulvaney penitently. ‘Why will ye come wid me? An’ yet I wud be mortial sorry if ye did not — any time — though I am ould enough to know betther. But I will do penance. I will take a dhrink av wather.’
Ortheris squeaked shrilly. The butler of the Forest bungalow was standing near the railings with a basket, uncertain how to clamber down to the pontoon. ‘Might ‘a’ know’d you’d ‘a’ got liquor out o’ bloomin’ desert, Sir,’ said Ortheris, gracefully, to me. Then to the mess-man: ‘Easy with them there bottles. They’re worth their weight in gold. Jock, ye long-armed beggar, get out o’ that an’ hike ’em down.’
Learoyd had the basket on the pontoon in an instant, and the Three Musketeers gathered round it with dry lips. They drank my health in due and ancient form, and thereafter tobacco tasted sweeter than ever. They absorbed all the beer, and disposed themselves in picturesque attitudes to admire the setting sun — no man speaking for a while.
Mulvaney’s head dropped upon his chest, and we thought that he was asleep.
‘What on earth did you come so far for?’ I whispered to Ortheris.
‘To walk ’im orf, o’ course. When ‘e’s been checked we allus walks ’im orf. ‘E ain’t fit to be spoke to those times — nor ‘e ain’t fit to leave alone neither. So we takes ’im till ‘e is.’
Mulvaney raised his head, and stared straight into the sunset. ‘I had my rifle,’ said he dreamily,‘an’ I had my bay’nit, an’ Mullins came round the corner, an’ he looked in my face an’ grinned dishpiteful. “ You can’t blow your own nose,” sez he. Now, I cannot tell fwhat Mullins’s expayrience may ha’ been, but, Mother av God, he was nearer to his death that minut’ than I have iver been to mine — and that’s less than the thicknuss av a hair!’
‘Yes,’ said Ortheris calmly, ‘you’d look fine with all your buttons took orf, an’ the Band in front o’ you, walkin’ roun’ slow time. We’re both front-rank men, me an’ Jock, when the rig’mint’s in ‘ollow square. Bloomin’ fine you’d look. “The Lord giveth an’ the Lord taketh awai — Heasy with that there drop! — Blessed be the naime o’ the Lord,”’ he gulped in a quaint and suggestive fashion.
‘Mullins! Wot’s Mullins?’ said Learoyd slowly. ‘Ah’d take a coomp’ny o’ Mullinses-ma hand behind me. Sitha, Mulvaney, don’t be a fool.’
‘ You were not checked for fwhat you did not do, an’ made a mock av afther. ’Twas for less than that the Tyrone wud ha’ sent O’Hara to hell, instid av lettin’ him go by his own choosin’, whin Rafferty shot him,’ retorted Mulvaney.
‘And who stopped the Tyrone from doing it?’ I asked.
‘That ould fool who’s sorry he didn’t stick the pig Mullins.’ His head dropped again. When he raised it he shivered and put his hands on the shoulders of his two companions.
‘Ye’ve walked the Divil out av me, bhoys,’ said he.
Ortheris shot out the red-hot dottel of his pipe on the back of the hairy fist. ‘They say ‘Ell’s ‘otter than that,’ said he, as Mulvaney swore aloud. ‘You be warned so. Look yonder!’— he pointed across the river to a ruined temple —‘Me an’ you an’ ’im’— he indicated me by a jerk of his head —‘was there one day when Hi made a bloomin’ show o’ myself. You an’ ’im stopped me doin’ such — an’ Hi was on’y wishful for to desert. You are makin’ a bigger bloomin’ show o’ yourself now.’
‘Don’t mind him, Mulvaney,’ I said; ‘Dinah Shadd won’t let you hang yourself yet awhile, and you don’t intend to try it either. Let’s hear about the Tyrone and O’Hara. Rafferty shot him for fooling with his wife. What happened before that?’
‘There’s no fool like an ould fool. You know you can do anythin’ wid me whin I’m talkin’. Did I say I wud like to cut Mullins’s liver out? I deny the imputashin, for fear that Orth’ris here wud report me — Ah! You wud tip me into the river, wud you? Sit quiet, little man. Anyways, Mullins is not worth the trouble av an extry p’rade, an’ I will trate him wid outrajis contimpt. The Tyrone an’ O’Hara! O’Hara an’ the Tyrone, begad! Ould days are hard to bring back into the mouth, but they’re always inside the head.’
Followed a long pause.
‘O’Hara was a Divil. Though I saved him, for the honour av the rig’mint, from his death that time, I say it now. He was a Divil — a long, bould, black-haired Divil.’
‘Which way?’ asked Ortheris.
‘Thin I know another.’
‘Not more than in reason, if you mane me, ye warped walkin ‘-shtick. I have been young, an’ for why should I not have tuk what I cud? Did I iver, whin I was Corp’ril, use the rise av my rank — wan step an’ that taken away, more’s the sorrow an’ the fault av me! — to prosecute a nefarious inthrigue, as O’Hara did? Did I, whin I was Corp’ril, lay my spite upon a man an’ make his life a dog’s life from day to day? Did I lie, as O’Hara lied, till the young wans in the Tyrone turned white wid the fear av the Judgment av God killin’ thim all in a lump, as ut killed the woman at Devizes? I did not! I have sinned my sins an’ I have made my confesshin, an’ Father Victor knows the worst av me. O’Hara was tuk, before he cud spake, on Rafferty’s doorstep, an’ no man knows the worst av him. But this much I know!
‘The Tyrone was recruited any fashion in the ould days. A draf from Connemara — a draf’ from Portsmouth — a draf’ from Kerry, an’ that was a blazin’ bad draf’— here, there and iverywhere — but the large av thim was Oirish — Black Oirish. Now there are Oirish an’ Oirish. The good are good as the best, but the bad are wurrst than the wurrst. ’Tis this way. They clog together in pieces as fast as thieves, an’ no wan knows fwhat they will do till wan turns informer an’ the gang is bruk. But ut begins again, a day later, meetin’ in holes an’ corners an’ swearin’ bloody oaths an’ shtickin’ a man in the back an’ runnin’ away, an’ thin waitin’ for the blood-money on the reward papers — to see if ut’s worth enough. Those are the Black Oirish, an’ ’tis they that bring dishgrace upon the name av Oireland, an’ thim I wud kill — as I nearly killed wan wanst.
‘But to reshume. My room —’twas before I was married — was wid twelve av the scum av the earth — the pickin’s av the gutter — mane men that wud neither laugh nor talk nor yet get dhrunk as a man shud. They thried some av their dog’s thricks on me, but I dhrew a line round my cot, an’ the man that thransgressed ut wint into hospital for three days good.
‘O’Hara had put his spite on the room — he was my Colour Sargint — an’ nothin’ cud we do to plaze him. I was younger than I am now, an’ I tuk what I got in the way av dressing down and punishment-dhrill wid my tongue in my cheek. But it was diff’rint wid the others, an’ why I cannot say, excipt that some men are borrun mane an’ go to dhirty murdher where a fist is more than enough. Afther a whoile, they changed their chune to me an’ was desp’rit frien’ly — all twelve av thim cursin’ O’Hara in chorus.
‘“Eyah,” sez I, “O’Hara’s a divil an’ I’m not for denyin’ ut, but is he the only man in the wurruld? Let him go. He’ll get tired av findin’ our kit foul an’ our ‘coutrements onproperly kep’.”
‘“We will not let him go,” sez they.
‘“Thin take him,” sez I, “an’ a dashed poor yield you will get for your throuble.”
‘“Is he not misconductin’ himself wid Slimmy’s wife?” sez another.
‘“She’s common to the rig’mint,” sez I. “Fwhat has made ye this partic’lar on a suddint?”
‘“Has he not put his spite on the roomful av us? Can we do anythin’ that he will not check us for?” sez another.
‘“That’s thrue,” sez I.
‘“Will ye not help us to do aught,” sez another —“a big bould man like you.”
‘“I will break his head upon his shoulthers av he puts hand on me,” sez I. “I will give him the lie av he says that I’m dhirty, an’ I wud not mind duckin’ him in the Artillery troughs if ut was not that I’m thryin’ for my shtripes.”
‘“Is that all ye will do?” sez another. “Have ye no more spunk than that, ye blood-dhrawn calf?”
‘“Blood-dhrawn I may be,” sez I, gettin’ back to my cot an’ makin’ my line round ut; “but ye know that the man who comes acrost this mark will be more blood-dhrawn than me. No man gives me the name in my mouth,” I sez. “Ondersthand, I will have no part wid you in anythin’ ye do, nor will I raise my fist to my shuperior. Is any wan comin’ on?” sez I.
‘They made no move, tho’ I gave them full time, but stud growlin’ an’ snarlin’ together at wan ind av the room. I tuk up my cap and wint out to Canteen, thinkin’ no little av mesilf, and there I grew most ondacintly dhrunk in my legs. My head was all reasonable.
‘“Houligan,” I sez to a man in E Comp’ny that was by way av bein’ a frind av mine; “I’m overtuk from the belt down. Do you give me the touch av your shoulther to presarve my formation an’ march me acrost the ground into the high grass. I’ll sleep ut off there,” sez I; an’ Houligan — he’s dead now, but good he was while he lasted — walked wid me, givin’ me the touch whin I wint wide, ontil we came to the high grass, an’, my faith, the sky an’ the earth was fair rowlin’ undher me. I made for where the grass was thickust, an’ there I slep’ off my liquor wid an easy conscience. I did not desire to come on books too frequent; my characther havin’ been shpotless for the good half av a year.
‘Whin I roused, the dhrink was dyin’ out in me, an’ I felt as though a she-cat had littered in my mouth. I had not learned to hould my liquor wid comfort in thim days. ’Tis little betther I am now. “I will get Houligan to pour a bucket over my head,” thinks I, an’ I wud ha’ risen, but I heard some wan say: “Mulvaney can take the blame av ut for the backslidin’ hound he is.”
‘“Oho!” sez I, an’ my head rang like a guard-room gong: “fwhat is the blame that this young man must take to oblige Tim Vulmea?” For ’twas Tim Vulmea that shpoke.
‘I turned on my belly an’ crawled through the grass, a bit at a time, to where the spache came from. There was the twelve av my room sittin’ down in a little patch, the dhry grass wavin’ above their heads an’ the sin av black murdher in their hearts. I put the stuff aside to get a clear view.
‘“Fwhat’s that?” sez wan man, jumpin’ up.
‘“A dog,” says Vulmea. “You’re a nice hand to this job! As I said, Mulvaney will take the blame — av ut comes to a pinch.”
‘”’Tis harrd to swear a man’s life away,” sez a young wan.
‘“Thank ye for that,” thinks I. “Now, fwhat the divil are you paragins conthrivin’ against me?”
‘”’Tis as easy as dhrinkin’ your quart,” sez Vulmea. “At seven or thereon, O’Hara will come acrost to the Married Quarters, goin’ to call on Slimmy’s wife, the swine! Wan av us’ll pass the wurrd to the room an’ we shtart the divil an’ all av a shine — laughin’ an’ crackin’ on an’ t’rowin’ our boots about. Thin O’Hara will come to give us the ordher to be quiet, the more by token bekaze the room-lamp will be knocked over in the larkin’. He will take the straight road to the ind door where there’s the lamp in the veranda, an’ that’ll bring him clear against the light as he shtands. He will not be able to look into the dhark. Wan av us will loose off, an’ a close shot ut will be, an’ shame to the man that misses. ’Twill be Mulvaney’s rifle, she that is at the head av the rack — there’s no mistakin’ that long-shtocked, cross-eyed bitch even in the dhark.”
‘The thief misnamed my ould firin’-piece out av jealousy — I was pershuaded av that — an’ ut made me more angry than all.
‘But Vulmea goes on: “O’Hara will dhrop, an’ by the time the light’s lit again, there’ll be some six av us on the chest av Mulvaney, cryin’ murdher an’ rape. Mulvaney’s cot is near the ind door, an’ the shmokin’ rifle will be lyin’ undher him whin we’ve knocked him over. We know, an’ all the rig’mint knows, that Mulvaney has given O’Hara more lip than any man av us. Will there be any doubt at the Coort–Martial? Wud twelve honust sodger-bhoys swear away the life av a dear, quiet, swate-timpered man such as is Mulvaney — wid his line av pipe-clay roun’ his cot, threatenin’ us wid murdher av we overshtepped ut, as we can truthful testify?”
‘“Mary, Mother av Mercy!” thinks I to mesilf; “it is this to have an unruly mimber an’ fistes fit to use! Oh the sneakin’ hounds!”
‘The big dhrops ran down my face, for I was wake wid the liquor an’ had not the full av my wits about me. I laid shtill an’ heard thim workin’ themselves up to swear my life by tellin’ tales av ivry time I had put my mark on wan or another; an’ my faith, they was few that was not so dishtinguished. ’Twas all in the way av fair fight, though, for niver did I raise my hand excipt whin they had provoked me to ut.
‘”’Tis all well,” sez wan av thim, “but who’s to do this shootin’?”
‘“Fwhat matther?” sez Vulmea. “’Tis Mulvaney will do that — at the Coort–Martial.”
‘“He will so,” sez the man, “but whose hand is put to the trigger — in the room? ”
‘“Who’ll do ut?” sez Vulmea, lookin’ round, but divil a man answeared. They began to dishpute till Kiss, that was always playin’ Shpoil Five, sez: “Thry the kyards!” Wid that he opined his tunic an’ tuk out the greasy palammers, an’ they all fell in wid the notion.
‘“Deal on!” sez Vulmea, wid a big rattlin’ oath, “an’ the Black Curse av Shielygh come to the man that will not do his duty as the kyards say. Amin!”
‘“Black Jack is the masther,” sez Kiss, dealin’. Black Jack, Sorr, I shud expaytiate to you, is the Ace av Shpades which from time immimorial has been intimately connect wid battle, murdher an’ suddin death.
‘ Wanst Kiss dealt an’ there was no sign, but the men was whoite wid the workin’s av their sowls. Twice Kiss dealt an’ there was a gray shine on their cheeks like the mess av an egg. Three times Kiss dealt an’ they was blue. “Have ye not lost him?” sez Vulmea, wipin’ the sweat on him; “Let’s ha’ done quick!” “Quick ut is,” sez Kiss, t’rowin’ him the kyard; an’ ut fell face up on his knee — Black Jack!
‘Thin they all cackled wid laughin’. “Duty thrippence,” sez wan av thim, “an’ damned cheap at that price!” But I cud see they all dhrew a little away from Vulmea an’ lef’ him sittin’ playin’ wid the kyard. Vulmea sez no word for a whoile but licked his lips — cat-ways. Thin he threw up his head an’ made the men swear by ivry oath known to stand by him not alone in the room but at the Coort–Martial that was to set on me! He tould off five av the biggest to stretch me on my cot whin the shot was fired, an’ another man he tould off to put out the light, an’ yet another to load my rifle. He wud not do that himself; an’ that was quare, for ’twas but a little thing considerin’.
‘Thin they swore over again that they wud not bethray wan another, an’ crep’ out av the grass in diff’rint ways, two by two. A mercy ut was that they did not come on me. I was sick wid fear in the pit av my stummick — sick, sick, sick! Afther they was all gone, I wint back to Canteen an’ called for a quart to put a thought in me. Vulmea was there, dhrinkin’ heavy, an’ politeful to me beyond reason. “Fwhat will I do — fwhat will I do?” thinks I to mesilf whin Vulmea wint away.
‘Presintly the Arm’rer Sargint comes in stiffin’ an’ crackin’ on, not pleased wid any wan, bekaze the Martini Henri bein’ new to the rig’mint in those days we used to play the mischief wid her arrangements. ’Twas a long time before I cud get out av the way av thryin’ to pull back the back-sight an’ turnin’ her over afther firin’— as if she was a Snider.
‘“Fwhat tailor-men do they give me to work wid?” sez the Arm’rer Sargint. “Here’s Hogan, his nose flat as a table, laid by for a week, an’ ivry Comp’ny sendin’ their arrums in knocked to small shivreens.”
‘“Fwhat’s wrong wid Hogan, Sargint?” sez I.
‘“Wrong!” sez the Arm’rer Sargint; “I showed him, as though I had been his mother, the way av shtrippin’ a ‘Tini, an’ he shtrup her clane an’ easy. I tould him to put her to again an’ fire a blank into the blow-pit to show how the dirt hung on the groovin’. He did that, but he did not put in the pin av the fallin’-block, an’ av coorse whin he fired he was strook by the block jumpin’ clear. Well for him ’twas but a blank — a full charge wud ha’ cut his oi out.”
‘I looked a thrifle wiser than a boiled sheep’s head. “How’s that, Sargint?” sez I.
‘“This way, ye blundherin’ man, an’ don’t you be doin’ ut,” sez he. Wid that he shows me a Waster action — the breech av her all cut away to show the inside — an’ so plazed he was to grumble that he dimonstrated fwhat Hogan had done twice over. “An’ that comes av not knowin’ the wepping you’re purvided wid,” sez he.
‘“Thank ye, Sargint,” sez I; “I will come to you again for further information.”
‘“Ye will not,” sez he. “Kape your clanin’-rod away from the breech-pin or you will get into throuble.”
‘I wint outside an’ I could ha’ danced wid delight for the grandeur av ut. “They will load my rifle, good luck to thim, whoile I’m away,” thinks I, and back I wint to the Canteen to give them their clear chanst.
‘The Canteen was fillin’ wid men at the ind av the day. I made feign to be far gone in dhrink, an’, wan by wan, all my roomful came in wid Vulmea. I wint away, walkin’ thick an’ heavy, but not so thick an’ heavy that any wan cud ha’ tuk me. Sure and thrue, there was a kyartridge gone from my pouch an’ lyin’ snug in my rifle. I was hot wid rage against thim all, an’ I worried the bullet out wid my teeth as fast as I cud, the room bein’ empty. Then I tuk my boot an’ the clanin’-rod and knocked out the pin av the fallin’-block. Oh, ’twas music when that pin rowled on the flure! I put ut into my pouch an’ stuck a dab av dirt on the holes in the plate, puttin’ the fallin’-block back. “That’ll do your business, Vulmea,” sez I, lyin’ easy on the cot. “Come an’ sit on my chest the whole room av you, an’ I will take you to my bosom for the biggest divils that iver cheated halter.” I wud have no mercy on Vulmea. His oi or his life — little I cared!
‘At dusk they came back, the twelve av thim, an’ they had all been dhrinkin’. I was shammin’ sleep on the cot. Wan man wint outside in the veranda. Whin he whishtled they began to rage roun’ the room an’ carry on tremenjus. But I niver want to hear men laugh as they did — skylarkin’ too! ’Twas like mad jackals.
‘“Shtop that blasted noise!” sez O’Hara in the dark, an’ pop goes the room-lamp. I cud hear O’Hara runnin’ up an’ the rattlin’ av my rifle in the rack an’ the men breathin’ heavy as they stud roun’ my cot. I cud see O’Hara in the light av the veranda lamp, an’ thin I heard the crack av my rifle. She cried loud, poor darlint, bein’ mishandled. Next minut’ five men were houldin’ me down. “Go easy,” I sez; “fwhat’s ut all about?”
‘Thin Vulmea, on the flure, raised a howl you cud hear from wan ind av cantonmints to the other. “I’m dead, I’m butchered, I’m blind!” sez he. “Saints have mercy on my sinful sowl! Sind for Father Constant! Oh sind for Father Constant an’ let me go clean!” By that I knew he was not so dead as I cud ha’ wished.
‘O’Hara picks up the lamp in the veranda wid a hand as stiddy as a rest. “Fwhat damned dog’s thrick is this av yours?” sez he, an turns the light on Tim Vulmea that was shwimmin’ in blood from top to toe. The fallin’-block had sprung free behin’ a full charge av powther — good care I tuk to bite down the brass af ther takin’ out the bullet that there might be somethin’ to give ut full worth — an’ had cut Tim from the lip to the corner av the right eye, lavin’ the eyelid in tatthers, an’ so up an’ along by the forehead to the hair. ’Twas more av a rakin’ plough, if you will ondherstand, than a clean cut; an’ niver did I see a man bleed as Vulmea did. The dhrink an’ the stew that he was in pumped the blood strong. The minut’ the men sittin’ on my chest heard O’Hara spakin’ they scatthered each wan to his cot, an’ cried out very politeful: “Fwhat is ut, Sargint?”
‘“Fwhat is ut!” sez O’Hara, shakin’ Tim. “Well an’ good do you know fwhat ut is, ye skulkin’ ditch-lurkin’ dogs! Get a doolie, an’ take this whimperin’ scutt away. There will be more heard av ut than any av you will care for.”
‘Vulmea sat up rockin’ his head in his hand an’ moanin’ for Father Constant.
‘“Be done!” sez O’Hara, dhraggin’ him up by the hair. “You’re none so dead that you cannot go fifteen years for thryin’ to shoot me.”
‘“I did not,” sez Vulmea; “I was shootin’ mesilf.”
‘“That’s quare,” sez O’Hara, “for the front av my jackut is black wid your powther.” He tuk up the rifle that was still warm an’ began to laugh. “I’ll make your life Hell to you,” sez he, “for attempted murdher an’ kapin’ your rifle onproperly. You’ll be hanged first an’ thin put undher stoppages for four fifteen. The rifle’s done for,” sez he.
‘“Why, ’tis my rifle!” sez I, comin’ up to look; “Vulmea, ye divil, fwhat were you doin’ wid her — answer me that?”
‘“Lave me alone,” sez Vulmea; “I’m dyin’!”
‘“I’ll wait till you’re betther,” sez I, “an’ thin we two will talk ut out umbrageous.”
‘O’Hara pitched Tim into the doolie , none too tinder, but all the bhoys kep’ by their cots, which was not the sign av innocint men. I was huntin’ ivrywhere for my fallin’-block, but not findin’ ut at all. I niver found ut.
‘“ Now fwhat will I do?” sez O’Hara, swinging the veranda light in his hand an’ lookin’ down the room. I had hate and contimpt av O’Hara an’ I have now, dead tho’ he is, but, for all that, will I say he was a brave man. He is baskin’ in Purgathory this tide, but I wish he cud hear that, whin he stud lookin’ down the room an’ the bhoys shivered before the oi av him, I knew him for a brave man an’ I liked him so .
‘“Fwhat will I do?” sez O’Hara agin, an’ we heard the voice av a woman low an’ sof’ in the veranda. ’Twas Slimmy’s wife, come over at the shot, sittin’ on wan av the benches an’ scarce able to walk.
‘“O Denny! — Denny, dear,” sez she, “have they kilt you?”
‘O’Hara looked down the room again an’ showed his teeth to the gum. Then he spat on the flure.
‘“You’re not worth ut,” sez he. “Light that lamp, ye dogs,” an’ wid that he turned away, an’ I saw him walkin’ off wid Slimmy’s wife; she thryin’ to wipe off the powther-black on the front av his jackut wid her handkerchief. “A brave man you are,” thinks I—“a brave man an’ a bad woman.”
‘No wan said a word for a time. They was all ashamed, past spache.
‘“Fwhat d’you think he will do?” sez wan av thim at last. “He knows we’re all in ut.”
‘“Are we so?” sez I from my cot. “The man that sez that to me will be hurt. I do not know,” sez I, “fwhat onderhand divilmint you have conthrived, but by what I’ve seen I know that you cannot commit murdher wid another man’s rifle — such shakin’ cowards you are. I’m goin’ to slape,” I sez, “an’ you can blow my head off whoile I lay.” I did not slape, though, for a long time. Can ye wonder?
‘Next morn the news was through all the rig’mint, an’ there was nothin’ that the men did not tell. O’Hara reports, fair an’ easy, that Vulmea was come to grief through tamperin’ wid his rifle in barricks, all for to show the mechanism. An’ by my sowl, he had the impart’nince to say that he was on the shpot at the time an’ cud certify that ut was an accidint! You might ha’ knocked my roomful down wid a straw whin they heard that. ’Twas lucky for thim that the bhoys were always thryin’ to find out how the new rifle was made, an’ a lot av thim had come up for easin’ the pull by shtickin’ bits av grass an’ such in the part av the lock that showed near the thrigger. The first issues of the ‘Tinis was not covered in, an’ I mesilf have eased the pull av mine time an’ agin. A light pull is ten points on the range to me.
‘“I will not have this foolishness!” sez the Colonel. “I will twist the tail off Vulmea!” sez he; but whin he saw him, all tied up an’ groanin’ in hospital, he changed his will. “Make him an early convalescint,” sez he to the Doctor, an’ Vulmea was made so for a warnin’. His big bloody bandages an’ face puckered up to wan side did more to kape the bhoys from messin’ wid the insides av their rifles than any punishmint.
‘O’Hara gave no reason for fwhat he’d said, an’ all my roomful were too glad to inquire, tho’ he put his spite upon thim more wearin’ than before. Wan day, howiver, he tuk me apart very polite, for he cud be that at the choosin’.
‘“You’re a good sodger, tho’ you’re a damned insolint man,” sez he.
‘“Fair words, Sargint,” sez I, “or I may be insolint again.”
‘”’Tis not like you,” sez he, “to lave your rifle in the rack widout the breech-pin, for widout the breech-pin she was whin Vulmea fired. I should ha’ found the break av ut in the eyes av the holes, else,” he sez.
‘“Sargint,” sez I, “fwhat wud your life ha’ been worth av the breech-pin had been in place, for, on my sowl, my life wud be worth just as much to me av I tould you whether ut was or was not. Be thankful the bullet was not there,” I sez.
‘“That’s thrue,” sez he, pulling his moustache; “but I do not believe that you, for all your lip, was in that business.”
‘“Sargint,” I sez, “I cud hammer the life out av a man in ten minuts wid my fistes if that man dishpleased me; for I am a good sodger, an’ I will be threated as such, an’ whoile my fistes are my own they’re strong enough for all work I have to do. They do not fly back towards me!” sez I, lookin’ him betune the eyes.
‘“You’re a good man,” sez he, lookin’ me betune the eyes — an’ oh he was a gran’-built man to see! —“you’re a good man,” he sez, “an’ I cud wish, for the pure frolic av ut, that I was not a Sargint, or that you were not a Privit; an’ you will think me no coward whin I say this thing.”
‘“I do not,” sez I. “I saw you whin Vulmea mishandled the rifle. But, Sargint,” I sez, “take the wurrd from me now, spakin’ as man to man wid the shtripes off, tho’ ’tis little right I have to talk, me being fwhat I am by natur’. This time ye tuk no harm, an’ next time ye may not, but, in the ind, so sure as Slimmy’s wife came into the veranda, so sure will ye take harm — an’ bad harm. Have thought, Sargint,” sez I. “Is ut worth ut?”
‘“Ye’re a bould man,” sez he, breathin’ harrd. “A very bould man. But I am a bould man tu. Do you go your way, Privit Mulvaney, an’ I will go mine.”
‘We had no further spache thin or afther, but, wan by another, he drafted the twelve av my room out into other rooms an’ got thim spread among the Comp’nies, for they was not a good breed to live together, an’ the Comp ‘ny orf’cers saw ut. They wud ha’ shot me in the night av they had known fwhat I knew; but that they did not.
‘An’, in the ind, as I said, O’Hara met his death from Rafferty for foolin’ wid his wife. He wint his own way too well — Eyah, too well! Shtraight to that affair, widout turnin’ to the right or to the lef’, he wint, an’ may the Lord have mercy on his sowl. Amin!’
‘‘Ear! ‘Ear!’ said Ortheris, pointing the moral with a wave of his pipe. ‘An’ this is ’im ‘oo would be a bloomin’ Vulmea all for the sake of Mullins an’ a bloomin’ button! Mullins never went after a woman in his life. Mrs. Mullins, she saw ’im one day —’
‘Ortheris,’ I said, hastily, for the romances of Private Ortheris are all too daring for publication, ‘look at the sun. It’s a quarter past six!’
‘O Lord! Three quarters of an hour for five an’ a ‘arf miles! We’ll ‘ave to run like Jimmy O.’
The Three Musketeers clambered on to the bridge, and departed hastily in the direction of the cantonment road. When I overtook them I offered them two stirrups and a tail, which they accepted enthusiastically. Ortheris held the tail, and in this manner we trotted steadily through the shadows by an unfrequented road.
At the turn into the cantonments we heard carriage wheels. It was the Colonel’s barouche, and in it sat the Colonel’s wife and daughter. I caught a suppressed chuckle, and my beast sprang forward with a lighter step.
The Three Musketeers had vanished into the night.
The Story of the Gadsbys
a collection of eight short stories
First published: 1888
1 — Poor Dear Mamma
2 — The World Without
3 — The Tents of Kedar
4 — With Any Amazement
5 — The Garden of Eden
6 — Fatima
7 — The Valley of the Shadow
8 — The Swelling of Jordan
1 — Poor Dear Mamma
The wild hawk to the wind-swept sky,
The deer to the wholesome wold,
And the heart of a man to the heart of a maid,
As it was in the days of old.
—Gypsy Song
SCENE. — Interior of MISS MINNIE THREEGAN’S bedroom at Simla. MISS THREEGAN, in window-seat, turning over a drawerful of things. MISS EMMA DEERCOURT, bosom-friend, who has come to spend the day, sitting on the bed, manipulating the bodice of a ballroom frock and a bunch of artificial lilies of the valley . Time, 5.30 P. M. on a hot May afternoon.
MISS DEERCOURT. And he said: ‘I shall never forget this dance,’ and, of course, I said: ‘Oh! how can you be so silly!’ Do you think he meant anything, dear?
MISS THREEGAN. ( Extracting long lavender silk stocking from the rubbish. ) You know him better than I do.
MISS D. Oh, do be sympathetic, Minnie! I’m sure he does. At least I would be sure if he wasn’t always riding with that odious Mrs. Hagan.
MISS T. I suppose so. How does one manage to dance through one’s heels first? Look at this — isn’t it shameful? ( Spreads stocking-heel on open hand for inspection )
MISS D. Never mind that! You can’t mend it. Help me with this hateful bodice, I’ve run the string so , and I’ve run the string so , and I can’t make the fulness come right. Where would you put this? ( Waves lilies of the valley. )
MISS T. As high up on the shoulder as possible.
MISS D. Am I quite tall enough? I know it makes May Olger look lop-sided.
MISS T. Yes, but May hasn’t your shoulders. Hers are like a hock-bottle.
BEARER. ( Rapping at door. ) Captain Sahib aya.
MISS D. ( Jumping up wildly, and hunting for body, which she has discarded owing to the heat of the day. ) Captain Sahib! What Captain Sahib? Oh, good gracious, and I’m only half dressed! Well, I shan’t bother.
MISS T. ( Calmly. ) You needn’t. It isn’t for us. That’s Captain Gadsby. He is going for a ride with Mamma. He generally comes five days out of the seven.
AGONISED VOICE. ( From an inner apartment. ) Minnie, run out and give Captain Gadsby some tea, and tell him I shall be ready in ten minutes; and, O Minnie, come to me an instant, there’s a dear girl!
MISS T. Oh, bother! ( Aloud. ) Very well, Mamma.
Exit, and reappears, after five minutes, flushed, and rubbing her fingers.
MISS D. You look pink. What has happened?
MISS T. ( In a stage whisper. ) A twenty-four-inch waist, and she won’t let it out. Where are my bangles? ( Rummages on the toilet-table, and dabs at her hair with a brush in the interval. )
MISS D. Who is this Captain Gadsby? I don’t think I’ve met him.
MISS T. You must have. He belongs to the Harrar set. I’ve danced with him, but I’ve never talked to him. He’s a big yellow man, just like a newly-hatched chicken, with an e-normous moustache. He walks like this ( imitates Cavalry swagger ), and he goes ‘Ha–Hmmm!’ deep down in his throat when he can’t think of anything to say. Mamma likes him. I don’t.
MISS D. ( Abstractedly .) Does he wax his moustache?
MISS T. ( Busy with powder-puff .} Yes, I think so. Why?
MISS D. ( Bending oner the bodice and sewing furiously .) Oh, nothing — only —
MISS T. ( Sternly .) Only what? Out with it, Emma.
MISS D. Well, May Olger — she’s engaged to Mr. Charteris, you know — said — Promise you won’t repeat this?
MISS T. Yes, I promise. What did she say?
MISS D. That — that being kissed ( with a rush ) by a man who didn’t wax his moustache was — like eating an egg without salt.
MISS T. ( At her full height, with crushing scorn .) May Olger is a horrid, nasty Thing , and you can tell her I said so. I’m glad she doesn’t belong to my set — I must go and feed this man! Do I look presentable?
MISS D. Yes, perfectly. Be quick and hand him over to your Mother, and then we can talk. I shall listen at the door to hear what you say to him.
MISS T. ‘Sure I don’t care. I’m not afraid of Captain Gadsby.
In proof of this swings into drawing-room with a mannish stride followed by two short steps, which produces the effect of a restive horse entering. Misses CAPTAIN GADSBY, who is sitting in the shadow of the window-curtain, and gazes round helplessly.
CAPTAIN GADSBY. ( Aside .) The filly, by Jove! ‘Must ha’ picked up that action from the sire. ( Aloud, rising .) Good evening, Miss Threegan.
MISS T. ( Conscious that she is flushing .) Good evening, Captain Gadsby. Mamma told me to say that she will be ready in a few minutes. Won’t you have some tea? ( Aside .) I hope Mamma will be quick. What am I to say to the creature? ( Aloud and abruptly .) Milk and sugar?
CAPT. G. No sugar, tha-anks, and very little milk. Ha–Hmmm.
MISS T. ( Aside .) If he’s going to do that, I’m lost. I shall laugh. I know I shall!
CAPT. G. ( Pulling at his moustache and watching it sideways down his nose .) Ha–Hmmm. ( Aside .) ‘Wonder what the little beast can talk about. ‘Must make a shot at it.
MISS T. ( Aside .) Oh, this is agonising. I must say something.
BOTH TOGETHER. Have you been ——
CAPT. G. I beg your pardon. You were going to say ——
MISS T. ( Who has been watching the moustache with awed fascination .) Won’t you have some eggs?
CAPT. G. ( Looking bewilderedly at the tea-table .) Eggs! ( A side .) O Hades! She must have a nursery-tea at this hour. S’pose they’ve wiped her mouth and sent her to me while the Mother is getting on her duds. ( Aloud .) No, thanks.
MISS T. ( Crimson with confusion .) Oh! I didn’t mean that. I wasn’t thinking of mou — eggs for an instant. I mean salt . Won’t you have some sa —— sweets? ( Aside .) He’ll think me a raving lunatic. I wish Mamma would come.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) It was a nursery-tea and she’s ashamed of it. By Jove! She doesn’t look half bad when she colours up like that. ( Aloud, helping himself from the dish .) Have you seen those new chocolates at Peliti’s?
MISS T. No, I made these myself. What are they like?
CAPT. G. These! De -licious. ( Aside .) And that’s a fact.
MISS T. ( Aside .) Oh, bother! he’ll think I’m fishing for compliments. ( Aloud .) No, Peliti’s of course.
CAPT. G. ( Enthusiastically .) Not to compare with these. How d’you make them? I can’t get my khansamah to understand the simplest thing beyond mutton and fowl.
MISS T. Yes? I’m not a khansamah , you know. Perhaps you frighten him. You should never frighten a servant. He loses his head. It’s very bad policy.
CAPT. G. He’s so awf’ly stupid.
MISS T. ( Folding her hands in her lap .) You should call him quietly and say: ‘O khansamah jee! ’
CAPT. G. ( Getting interested .) Yes? ( Aside .) Fancy that little featherweight saying, ‘O khansamah jee ’ to my bloodthirsty Mir Khan!
MISS T. Then you should explain the dinner, dish by dish.
CAPT. G. But I can’t speak the vernacular.
MISS T. ( Patronizingly .) You should pass the Higher Standard and try.
CAPT. G. I have, but I don’t seem to be any the wiser. Are you?
MISS T. I never passed the Higher Standard. But the khansamah is very patient with me. He doesn’t get angry when I talk about sheep’s topees , or order maunds of grain when I mean seers .
CAPT. G. ( Aside, with intense indignation .) I’d like to see Mir Khan being rude to that girl! Hullo! Steady the Buffs! ( Aloud .) And do you understand about horses, too?
MISS T. A little — not very much. I can’t doctor them, but I know what they ought to eat, and I am in charge of our stable.
CAPT. G. Indeed! You might help me then. What ought a man to give his sais in the Hills? My ruffian says eight rupees, because everything is so dear.
MISS T. Six rupees a month, and one rupee Simla allowance — neither more nor less. And a grass-cut gets six rupees. That’s better than buying grass in the bazar.
CAPT. G. ( Admiringly .) How do you know?
MISS T. I have tried both ways.
CAPT. G. Do you ride much, then? I’ve never seen you on the Mall.
MISS T. ( Aside .) I haven’t passed him more than fifty times. ( Aloud .) Nearly every day.
CAPT. G. By Jove! I didn’t know that. Ha–Hmmm! ( Pulls at his moustache and is silent for forty seconds .)
MISS T. ( Desperately, and wondering what will happen next. ) It looks beautiful. I shouldn’t touch it if I were you. ( Aside .) It’s all Mamma’s fault for not coming before. I will be rude!
CAPT. G. ( Bronzing under the tan and bringing down his hand very quickly .) Eh! Wha-at! Oh, yes! Ha! Ha! ( Laughs uneasily .) ( Aside .) Well, of all the dashed cheek! I never had a woman say that to me yet. She must be a cool hand or else — Ah! that nursery-tea!
CAPT. G. Good Gracious! What’s that?
MISS T. The dog, I think. ( Aside .) Emma has been listening, and I’ll never forgive her!
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) They don’t keep dogs here. ( Aloud .) Didn’t sound like a dog, did it?
MISS T. Then it must have been the cat. Let’s go into the veranda. What a lovely evening it is!
Steps into veranda and looks out across the hills into sunset. The Captain follows.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) Superb eyes! I wonder that I never noticed them before! ( Aloud .) There’s going to be a dance at Viceregal Lodge on Wednesday. Can you spare me one?
MISS T. ( Shortly .) No! I don’t want any of your charity-dances. You only ask me because Mamma told you to. I hop and I bump. You know I do!
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) That’s true, but little girls shouldn’t understand these things. ( Aloud .) No , on my word, I don’t. You dance beautifully.
MISS T. Then why do you always stand out after half a dozen turns? I thought officers in the Army didn’t tell fibs.
CAPT. G. It wasn’t a fib, believe me. I really do want the pleasure of a dance with you.
MISS T. ( Wickedly .) Why? Won’t Mamma dance with you any more?
CAPT. G. ( More earnestly than the necessity demands .) I wasn’t thinking of your Mother. ( Aside .) You little vixen!
MISS T. ( Still looking out of the window .) Eh? Oh, I beg your pardon. I was thinking of something else.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) Well! I wonder what she’ll say next. I’ve never known a woman treat me like this before. I might be — Dash it, I might be an Infantry subaltern! ( Aloud .) Oh, please don’t trouble. I’m not worth thinking about. Isn’t your Mother ready yet?
MISS T. I should think so; but promise me, Captain Gadsby, you won’t take poor dear Mamma twice round Jakko any more. It tires her so.
CAPT. G. She says that no exercise tires her.
MISS T. Yes, but she suffers afterwards. You don’t know what rheumatism is, and you oughtn’t to keep her out so late, when it gets chill in the evenings.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) Rheumatism! I thought she came off her horse rather in a bunch. Whew! One lives and learns. ( Aloud .) I’m sorry to hear that. She hasn’t mentioned it to me.
MISS T. ( Flurried .) Of course not! Poor dear Mamma never would. And you mustn’t say that I told you either. Promise me that you won’t. Oh, Captain Gadsby, promise me you won’t!
CAPT. G. I am dumb, or — I shall be as soon as you’ve given me that dance, and another — if you can trouble yourself to think about me for a minute.
MISS T. But you won’t like it one little bit. You’ll be awfully sorry afterwards.
CAPT. G. I shall like it above all things, and I shall only be sorry that I didn’t get more. ( Aside .) Now what in the world am I saying?
MISS T. Very well. You will have only yourself to thank if your toes are trodden on. Shall we say Seven?
CAPT. G. And Eleven. ( Aside .) She can’t be more than eight stone, but, even then, it’s an absurdly small foot. ( Looks at his own riding boots .)
MISS T. They’re beautifully shiny. I can almost see my face in them.
CAPT. G. I was thinking whether I should have to go on crutches for the rest of my life if you trod on my toes.
MISS T. Very likely. Why not change Eleven for a square?
CAPT. G. No, please! I want them both waltzes. Won’t you write them down?
MISS T. I don’t get so many dances that I shall confuse them. You will be the offender.
CAPT. G. Wait and see! ( Aside .) She doesn’t dance perfectly, perhaps, but —
MISS T. Your tea must have got cold by this time. Won’t you have another cup?
CAPT. G. No, thanks. Don’t you think it’s pleasanter out in the veranda? ( Aside .) I never saw hair take that colour in the sunshine before. ( Aloud .) It’s like one of Dicksee’s pictures.
MISS T. Yes! It’s a wonderful sunset, isn’t it? ( Bluntly .) But what do you know about Dicksee’s pictures?
CAPT. G. I go Home occasionally. And I used to know the Galleries. ( Nervously .) You mustn’t think me only a Philistine with — a moustache.
MISS T. Don’t! Please don’t! I’m so sorry for what I said then. I was horribly rude. It slipped out before I thought. Don’t you know the temptation to say frightful and shocking things just for the mere sake of saying them? I’m afraid I gave way to it.
CAPT. G. ( Watching the girl as she flushes .) I think I know the feeling. It would be terrible if we all yielded to it, wouldn’t it? For instance, I might say —
POOR DEAR MAMMA. ( Entering, habited, hatted, and booted .) Ah, Captain Gadsby! ‘Sorry to keep you waiting. ‘Hope you haven’t been bored. ‘My little girl been talking to you?
MISS T. ( Aside .) I’m not sorry I spoke about the rheumatism. I’m not! I’m NOT! I only wish I’d mentioned the corns too.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) What a shame! I wonder how old she is. It never occurred to me before. ( Aloud .) We’ve been discussing ‘Shakespeare and the musical glasses’ in the veranda.
MISS T. ( Aside. ) Nice man! He knows that quotation. He isn’t a Philistine with a moustache. ( Aloud. ) Good-bye, Captain Gadsby. ( Aside. ) What a huge hand and what a squeeze! I don’t suppose he meant it, but he has driven the rings into my fingers.
POOR DEAR MAMMA. Has Vermillion come round yet? Oh, yes! Captain Gadsby, don’t you think that the saddle is too far forward? ( They pass into the front veranda. )
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) How the dickens should I know what she prefers? She told me that she doted on horses. ( Aloud. ) I think it is.
MISS T. ( Coming out into front veranda. ) Oh! Bad Buldoo! I must speak to him for this. He has taken up the curb two links, and Vermillion hates that. ( Passes out and to horse’s head. )
CAPT. G. Let me do it.
MISS T. No, Vermillion understands me. Don’t you, old man? ( Looses curb-chain skilfully, and pats horse on nose and throttle. ) Poor Vermillion! Did they want to cut his chin off? There!
CAPTAIN GADSBY watches the interlude with undisguised admiration.
POOR DEAR MAMMA. ( Tartly to MISS T.) You’ve forgotten your guest, I think, dear.
MISS T. Good gracious! So I have! Good-bye. ( Retreats indoors hastily )
POOR DEAR MAMMA. ( Bunching reins in fingers hampered by too tight gauntlets ) Captain Gadsby!
CAPTAIN GADSBY stoops and makes the foot-rest.
POOR DEAR MAMMA blunders, halts too long, and breaks through it.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) Can’t hold up eleven stone for ever. It’s all your rheumatism. ( Aloud .) Can’t imagine why I was so clumsy. ( Aside .) Now Little Featherweight would have gone up like a bird.
They ride out of the garden. The Captain falls back.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) How that habit catches her under the arms! Ugh!
POOR DEAR MAMMA. ( With the worn smile of sixteen seasons, the worse for exchange .) You’re dull this afternoon, Captain Gadsby.
CAPT. G. ( Spurring up wearily .) Why did you keep me waiting so long?
Et caetera, et caetera, et caetera.
GILDED YOUTH. ( Sitting on railings opposite Town Hall .) Hullo, Gaddy! ‘Been trotting out the Gorgonzola! We all thought it was the Gorgon you’re mashing.
CAPT. G. ( With withering emphasis .) You young cub! What the —— does it matter to you?
Proceeds to read GILDED YOUTH a lecture on discretion and deportment, which crumbles latter like a Chinese Lantern. Departs fuming.
SCENE. — Exterior of New Simla Library on a foggy evening . MISS THREEGAN and MISS DEERCOURT meet among the ‘rickshaws . MISS T. is carrying a bundle of books under her left arm .
MISS D. ( Level intonation .) Well?
MISS T. ( Ascending intonation .) Well?
MISS D. ( Capturing her friend’s left arm, taking away all the books, placing books in ‘rickshaw, returning to arm, securing hand by the third finger and investigating .) Well! You bad girl! And you never told me.
MISS T. ( Demurely .) He — he — he only spoke yesterday afternoon.
MISS D. Bless you, dear! And I’m to be bridesmaid, aren’t I? You know you promised ever so long ago.
MISS T. Of course. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. ( Gets into’rickshaw .) O Emma!
MISS D. ( With intense interest .) Yes, dear?
MISS T. ( Piano .) It’s quite true — about — the — egg.
MISS D. What egg?
MISS T. ( Pianissimo prestissimo .) The egg without the salt. ( Forte .) Chalo ghar ko jaldi, jhampani! (Go home, jhampani .)
2 — The World Without
Certain people of importance.
SCENE. — Smoking-room of the Deychi Club. Time , 10.30 P. M. of a stuffy night in the Rains. Four men dispersed in picturesque attitudes and easy-chairs. To these enter BLAYNE of the Irregular Moguls, in evening dress .
BLAYNE. Phew! The Judge ought to be hanged in his own store-godown. Hi, khitmatgar! Poora whiskey-peg, to take the taste out of my mouth.
CURTISS. ( Royal Artillery .) That’s it, is it? What the deuce made you dine at the Judge’s? You know his bandobust .
BLAYNE. ‘Thought it couldn’t be worse than the Club; but I’ll swear he buys ullaged liquor and doctors it with gin and ink ( looking round the room ). Is this all of you tonight?
DOONE. ( P. W. D. ) Anthony was called out at dinner. Mingle had a pain in his tummy.
CURTISS. Miggy dies of cholera once a week in the Rains, and gets drunk on chlorodyne in between. ‘Good little chap, though. Any one at the Judge’s, Blayne?
BLAYNE. Cockley and his memsahib looking awfully white and fagged. ‘Female girl — couldn’t catch the name — on her way to the Hills, under the Cockleys’ charge — the Judge, and Markyn fresh from Simla — disgustingly fit.
CURTISS. Good Lord, how truly magnificent! Was there enough ice? When I mangled garbage there I got one whole lump — nearly as big as a walnut. What had Markyn to say for himself?
BLAYNE. ‘Seems that every one is having a fairly good time up there in spite of the rain. By Jove, that reminds me! I know I hadn’t come across just for the pleasure of your society. News! Great news! Markyn told me.
DOONE. Who’s dead now?
BLAYNE. No one that I know of; but Gaddy’s hooked at last!
DROPPING CHORUS. How much? The Devil! Markyn was pulling your leg. Not GADDY!
BLAYNE. (Humming.) ‘Yea, verily, verily, verily! Verily, verily, I say unto thee.’ Theodore, the gift o’ God! Our Phillup! It’s been given out up above.
MACKESY. ( Barrister-at-Law .) Huh! Women will give out anything. What does accused say?
BLAYNE. Markyn told me that he congratulated him warily — one hand held out, t’other ready to guard. Gaddy turned pink and said it was so.
CURTISS. Poor old Gaddy! They all do it. Who’s she? Let’s hear the details.
BLAYNE. She’s a girl — daughter of a Colonel Somebody.
DOONE. Simla’s stiff with Colonels’ daughters. Be more explicit.
BLAYNE. Wait a shake. What was her name? Three — something. Three —
CURTISS. Stars, perhaps. Gaddy knows that brand.
BLAYNE. Threegan — Minnie Threegan.
MACKESY. Threegan! Isn’t she a little bit of a girl with red hair?
BLAYNE. ‘Bout that — from what Markyn said.
MACKESY. Then I’ve met her. She was at Lucknow last season. ‘Owned a permanently juvenile Mamma, and danced damnably. I say, Jervoise, you knew the Threegans, didn’t you?
JERVOISE. ( Civilian of twenty-five years’ service, waking up from his doze .) Eh? What’s that? Knew who? How? I thought I was at Home, confound you!
MACKESY. The Threegan girl’s engaged, so Blayne says.
JERVOISE. ( Slowly .) Engaged — engaged! Bless my soul! I’m getting an old man! Little Minnie Threegan engaged. It was only the other day I went home with them in the Surat — no, the Massilia — and she was crawling about on her hands and knees among the ayahs . ‘Used to call me the ‘ Tick Tack Sahib ’ because I showed her my watch. And that was in Sixty-seven — no, Seventy. Good God, how time flies! I’m an old man. I remember when Threegan married Miss Derwent — daughter of old Hooky Derwent — but that was before your time. And so the little baby’s engaged to have a little baby of her own! Who’s the other fool?
MACKESY. Gadsby of the Pink Hussars.
JERVOISE. ‘Never met him. Threegan lived in debt, married in debt, and’ll die in debt. ‘Must be glad to get the girl off his hands.
BLAYNE. Gaddy has money — lucky devil. Place at Home, too.
DOONE. He comes of first-class stock. ‘Can’t quite understand his being caught by a Colonel’s daughter, and ( looking cautiously round room ) Black Infantry at that! No offence to you, Blayne.
BLAYNE. ( Stiffly .) Not much, tha-anks.
CURTISS. ( Quoting motto of Irregular Moguls .) ‘We are what we are,’ eh, old man? But Gaddy was such a superior animal as a rule. Why didn’t he go Home and pick his wife there?
MACKESY. They are all alike when they come to the turn into the straight. About thirty a man begins to get sick of living alone —
CURTISS. And of the eternal muttony-chop in the morning.
DOONE. It’s dead goat as a rule, but go on, Mackesy.
MACKESY. If a man’s once taken that way nothing will hold him. Do you remember Benoit of your service, Doone? They transferred him to Tharanda when his time came, and he married a platelayer’s daughter, or something of that kind. She was the only female about the place.
DOONE. Yes, poor brute. That smashed Benoit’s chances of promotion altogether. Mrs. Benoit used to ask: ‘Was you goin’ to the dance this evenin’?’
CURTISS. Hang it all! Gaddy hasn’t married beneath him. There’s no tar-brush in the family, I suppose.
JERVOISE. Tar-brush! Not an anna. You young fellows talk as though the man was doing the girl an honour in marrying her. You’re all too conceited — nothing’s good enough for you.
BLAYNE. Not even an empty Club, a dam’ bad dinner at the Judge’s, and a Station as sickly as a hospital. You’re quite right. We’re a set of Sybarites.
DOONE. Luxurious dogs, wallowing in —
CURTISS. Prickly heat between the shoulders. I’m covered with it. Let’s hope Beora will be cooler.
BLAYNE. Whew! Are you ordered into camp, too? I thought the Gunners had a clean sheet.
CURTISS. No, worse luck. Two cases yesterday — one died — and if we have a third, out we go. Is there any shooting at Beora, Doone?
DOONE. The country’s under water, except the patch by the Grand Trunk Road. I was there yesterday, looking at a bund, and came across four poor devils in their last stage. It’s rather bad from here to Kuchara.
CURTISS. Then we’re pretty certain to have a heavy go of it. Heigho! I shouldn’t mind changing places with Gaddy for a while. ‘Sport with Amaryllis in the shade of the Town Hall, and all that. Oh, why doesn’t somebody come and marry me, instead of letting me go into cholera camp?
MACKESY. Ask the Committee.
CURTISS. You ruffian! You’ll stand me another peg for that. Blayne, what will you take? Mackesy is fine on moral grounds. Doone, have you any preference?
DOONE. Small glass Kummel, please. Excellent carminative, these days. Anthony told me so.
MACKESY. ( Signing votucher for four drinks. ) Most unfair punishment. I only thought of Curtiss as Actaeon being chivied round the billiard tables by the nymphs of Diana.
BLAYNE. Curtiss would have to import his nymphs by train. Mrs. Cockley’s the only woman in the Station. She won’t leave Cockley, and he’s doing his best to get her to go.
CURTISS. Good, indeed! Here’s Mrs. Cockley’s health. To the only wife in the Station and a damned brave woman!
OMNES. ( Drinking. ) A damned brave woman!
BLAYNE. I suppose Gaddy will bring his wife here at the end of the cold weather. They are going to be married almost immediately, I believe.
CURTISS. Gaddy may thank his luck that the Pink Hussars are all detachment and no headquarters this hot weather, or he’d be torn from the arms of his love as sure as death. Have you ever noticed the thorough-minded way British Cavalry take to cholera? It’s because they are so expensive. If the Pinks had stood fast here, they would have been out in camp a month ago. Yes, I should decidedly like to be Gaddy.
MACKESY. He’ll go Home after he’s married, and send in his papers — see if he doesn’t.
BLAYNE. Why shouldn’t he? Hasn’t he money? Would any one of us be here if we weren’t paupers?
DOONE. Poor old pauper! What has became of the six hundred you rooked from our table last month?
BLAYNE. It took unto itself wings. I think an enterprising tradesman got some of it, and a shroff gobbled the rest — or else I spent it.
CURTISS. Gaddy never had dealings with a shroff in his life.
DOONE. Virtuous Gaddy! If I had three thousand a month, paid from England, I don’t think I’d deal with a shroff either.
MACKESY. (Yawning.) Oh, it’s a sweet life! I wonder whether matrimony would make it sweeter.
CURTISS. Ask Cockley — with his wife dying by inches!
BLAYNE. Go home and get a fool of a girl to come out to — what is it Thackeray says? —‘the splendid palace of an Indian pro-consul.’
DOONE. Which reminds me. My quarters leak like a sieve. I had fever last night from sleeping in a swamp. And the worst of it is, one can’t do anything to a roof till the Rains are over.
CURTISS. What’s wrong with you? You haven’t eighty rotting Tommies to take into a running stream.
DOONE. No: but I’m mixed boils and bad language. I’m a regular Job all over my body. It’s sheer poverty of blood, and I don’t see any chance of getting richer — either way.
BLAYNE. Can’t you take leave?
DOONE. That’s the pull you Army men have over us. Ten days are nothing in your sight. I’m so important that Government can’t find a substitute if I go away. Ye-es, I’d like to be Gaddy, whoever his wife may be.
CURTISS. You’ve passed the turn of life that Mackesy was speaking of.
DOONE. Indeed I have, but I never yet had the brutality to ask a woman to share my life out here.
BLAYNE. On my soul I believe you’re right. I’m thinking of Mrs. Cockley. The woman’s an absolute wreck.
DOONE. Exactly. Because she stays down here. The only way to keep her fit would be to send her to the Hills for eight months — and the same with any woman. I fancy I see myself taking a wife on those terms.
MACKESY. With the rupee at one and sixpence. The little Doones would be little Dehra Doones, with a fine Mussoorie chi-chi anent to bring home for the holidays.
CURTISS. And a pair of be-ewtiful sambhur -horns for Doone to wear, free of expense, presented by ——
DOONE. Yes, it’s an enchanting prospect. By the way, the rupee hasn’t done falling yet. The time will come when we shall think ourselves lucky if we only lose half our pay.
CURTISS. Surely a third’s loss enough. Who gains by the arrangement? That’s what I want to know.
BLAYNE. The Silver Question! I’m going to bed if you begin squabbling. Thank Goodness, here’s Anthony — looking like a ghost.
Enter ANTHONY, Indian Medical Staff, very white and tired.
ANTHONY. ‘Evening, Blayne. It’s raining in sheets. Whiskey-peg, lao, Khitmatgar. The roads are something ghastly.
CURTISS. How’s Mingle?
ANTHONY. Very bad, and more frightened. I handed him over to Fewton. Mingle might just as well have called him in the first place, instead of bothering me.
BLAYNE. He’s a nervous little chap. What has he got, this time?
ANTHONY. ‘Can’t quite say. A very bad tummy and a blue funk so far. He asked me at once if it was cholera, and I told him not to be a fool. That soothed him.
CURTISS. Poor devil! The funk does half the business in a man of that build.
ANTHONY. ( Lighting a cheroot. ) I firmly believe the funk will kill him if he stays down. You know the amount of trouble he’s been giving Fewton for the last three weeks. He’s doing his very best to frighten himself into the grave.
GENERAL CHORUS. Poor little devil! Why doesn’t he get away?
ANTHONY. ‘Can’t. He has his leave all right, but he’s so dipped he can’t take it, and I don’t think his name on paper would raise four annas. That’s in confidence, though.
MACKESY. All the Station knows it.
ANTHONY. ‘I suppose I shall have to die here,’ he said, squirming all across the bed. He’s quite made up his mind to Kingdom Come. And I know he has nothing more than a wet-weather tummy if he could only keep a hand on himself.
BLAYNE. That’s bad. That’s very bad. Poor little Miggy. Good little chap, too. I say —
ANTHONY. What do you say?
BLAYNE. Well, look here — anyhow. If it’s like that — as you say — I say fifty.
CURTISS. I say fifty.
MACKESY. I go twenty better.
DOONE. Bloated Croesus of the Bar! I say fifty. Jervoise, what do you say? Hi! Wake up!
JERVOISE. Eh? What’s that? What’s that?
CURTISS. We want a hundred rupees from you. You’re a bachelor drawing a gigantic income, and there’s a man in a hole.
JERVOISE. What man? Any one dead?
BLAYNE. No, but he’ll die if you don’t give the hundred. Here! Here’s a peg-voucher. You can see what we’ve signed for, and Anthony’s man will come round tomorrow to collect it. So there will be no trouble.
JERVOISE. (Signing.) One hundred, E. M. J. There you are (feebly). It isn’t one of your jokes, is it?
BLAYNE. No, it really is wanted. Anthony, you were the biggest poker-winner last week, and you’ve defrauded the tax-collector too long. Sign!
ANTHONY. Let’s see. Three fifties and a seventy — two twenty — three twenty — say four hundred and twenty. That’ll give him a month clear at the Hills. Many thanks, you men. I’ll send round the chaprassi tomorrow.
CURTISS. You must engineer his taking the stuff, and of course you mustn’t —
ANTHONY. Of course. It would never do. He’d weep with gratitude over his evening drink.
BLAYNE. That’s just what he would do, damn him. Oh! I say, Anthony, you pretend to know everything. Have you heard about Gaddy?
ANTHONY. No. Divorce Court at last?
BLAYNE. Worse. He’s engaged!
ANTHONY. How much? He can’t be!
BLAYNE. He is . He’s going to be married in a few weeks. Markyn told me at the Judge’s this evening. It’s pukka .
ANTHONY. You don’t say so? Holy Moses! There’ll be a shine in the tents of Kedar.
CURTISS. ‘Regiment cut up rough, think you?
ANTHONY. ‘Don’t know anything about the Regiment.
MACKESY. It is bigamy, then?
ANTHONY. Maybe. Do you mean to say that you men have forgotten, or is there more charity in the world than I thought?
DOONE. You don’t look pretty when you are trying to keep a secret. You bloat. Explain.
ANTHONY. Mrs. Herriott!
BLAYNE. ( After a long pause, to the room generally. ) It’s my notion that we are a set of fools.
MACKESY. Nonsense. That business was knocked on the head last season. Why, young Mallard —
ANTHONY. Mallard was a candlestick, paraded as such. Think awhile. Recollect last season and the talk then. Mallard or no Mallard, did Gaddy ever talk to any other woman?
CURTISS. There’s something in that. It was slightly noticeable now you come to mention it. But she’s at Naini Tal and he’s at Simla.
ANTHONY. He had to go to Simla to look after a globetrotter relative of his — a person with a title. Uncle or aunt.
BLAYNE. And there he got engaged. No law prevents a man growing tired of a woman.
ANTHONY. Except that he mustn’t do it till the woman is tired of him. And the Herriott woman was not that.
CURTISS. She may be now. Two months of Naini Tal work wonders.
DOONE. Curious thing how some women carry a Fate with them. There was a Mrs. Deegie in the Central Provinces whose men invariably fell away and got married. It became a regular proverb with us when I was down there. I remember three men desperately devoted to her, and they all, one after another, took wives.
CURTISS. That’s odd. Now I should have thought that Mrs. Deegie’s influence would have led them to take other men’s wives. It ought to have made them afraid of the judgment of Providence.
ANTHONY. Mrs. Herriott will make Gaddy afraid of something more than the judgment of Providence, I fancy.
BLAYNE. Supposing things are as you say, he’ll be a fool to face her. He’ll sit tight at Simla.
ANTHONY. ‘Shouldn’t be a bit surprised if he went off to Naini to explain. He’s an unaccountable sort of man, and she’s likely to be a more than unaccountable woman.
DOONE. What makes you take her character away so confidently?
ANTHONY. Primum tempus . Gaddy was her first, and a woman doesn’t allow her first man to drop away without expostulation. She justifies the first transfer of affection to herself by swearing that it is for ever and ever. Consequently —
BLAYNE. Consequently, we are sitting here till past one o’clock, talking scandal like a set of Station cats. Anthony, it’s all your fault. We were perfectly respectable till you came in. Go to bed. I’m off. Good-night all.
CURTISS. Past one! It’s past two, by Jove, and here’s the khit coming for the late charge. Just Heavens! One, two, three, four, five rupees to pay for the pleasure of saying that a poor little beast of a woman is no better than she should be. I’m ashamed of myself. Go to bed, you slanderous villains, and if I’m sent to Beora tomorrow, be prepared to hear I’m dead before paying my card account!
3 — The Tents of Kedar
Only why should it be with pain at all,
Why must I ‘twixt the leaves of coronal
Put any kiss of pardon on thy brow?
Why should the other women know so much,
And talk together:— Such the look and such
The smile he used to love with, then as now.
—Any Wife to any Husband
SCENE. — A Naini Tal dinner for thirty-four. Plate, wines, crockery, and khitmatgars carefully calculated to scale of Rs. 6000 per mensem, less Exchange. Table split lengthways by bank of flowers.
MRS. HERRIOTT. ( After conversation has risen to proper pitch. ) Ah! ‘Didn’t see you in the crush in the drawing-room. ( Sotto voce. ) Where have you been all this while, Pip?
CAPTAIN GADSBY. ( Turning from regularly ordained dinner partner and settling hock glasses. ) Good evening. ( Sotto voce. ) Not quite so loud another time. You’ve no notion how your voice carries. ( Aside. ) So much for shirking the written explanation. It’ll have to be a verbal one now. Sweet prospect! How on earth am I to tell her that I am a respectable, engaged member of society and it’s all over between us?
MRS. H. I’ve a heavy score against you. Where were you at the Monday Pop? Where were you on Tuesday? Where were you at the Lamonts’ tennis? I was looking everywhere.
CAPT. G. For me! Oh, I was alive somewhere, I suppose. ( Aside .) It’s for Minnie’s sake, but it’s going to be dashed unpleasant.
MRS. H. Have I done anything to offend you? I never meant it if I have. I couldn’t help going for a ride with the Vaynor man. It was promised a week before you came up.
CAPT. G. I didn’t know —
MRS. H. It really was .
CAPT. G. Anything about it, I mean.
MRS. H. What has upset you today? All these days? You haven’t been near me for four whole days — nearly one hundred hours. Was it kind of you, Pip? And I’ve been looking forward so much to your coming.
CAPT. G. Have you?
MRS. H. You know I have! I’ve been as foolish as a schoolgirl about it. I made a little calendar and put it in my card-case, and every time the twelve o’clock gun went off I scratched out a square and said: ‘That brings me nearer to Pip. My Pip!’
CAPT. G. ( With an uneasy laugh .) What will Mackler think if you neglect him so?
MRS. H. And it hasn’t brought you nearer. You seem farther away than ever. Are you sulking about something? I know your temper.
CAPT. G. No.
MRS. H. Have I grown old in the last few months, then? ( Reaches forward to bank of flowers for menu-card .)
MRS. H. ( To partner .) Oh, thanks. I didn’t see.
MRS. H. Keeps her arm at full stretch for three seconds .
PARTNER ON LEFT. Allow me. ( Hands menu-card .) ( Turns right again .) Is anything in me changed at all?
CAPT. G. For Goodness’ sake go on with your dinner! You must eat something. Try one of those cutlet arrangements. ( Aside .) And I fancied she had good shoulders, once upon a time! What an ass a man can make of himself!
MRS. H. ( Helping herself to a paper frill, seven peas, some stamped carrots and a spoonful of gravy .) That isn’t an answer. Tell me whether I have done anything.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) If it isn’t ended here there will be a ghastly scene somewhere else. If only I’d written to her and stood the racket — at long range! ( To Khitmatgar .) Han! Simpkin do. ( Aloud .) I’ll tell you later on.
MRS. H. Tell me now . It must be some foolish misunderstanding, and you know that there was to be nothing of that sort between us. We , of all people in the world, can’t afford it. Is it the Vaynor man, and don’t you like to say so? On my honour —
CAPT. G. I haven’t given the Vaynor man a thought.
MRS. H. But how d’you know that I haven’t?
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) Here’s my chance and may the Devil help me through with it. ( Aloud and measuredly .) Believe me, I do not care how often or how tenderly you think of the Vaynor man.
MRS. H. I wonder if you mean that. — Oh, what is the good of squabbling and pretending to misunderstand when you are only up for so short a time? Pip, don’t be a stupid!
Follows a pause, during which he crosses his left leg over his right and continues his dinner .
CAPT. G. ( In answer to the thunderstorm in her eyes .) Corns — my worst.
MRS. H. Upon my word, you are the very rudest man in the world! I’ll never do it again.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) No, I don’t think you will; but I wonder what you will do before it’s all over. ( To Khitmatgar .) Thorah ur Simpkin do .
MRS. H. Well! Haven’t you the grace to apologise, bad man?
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) I mustn’t let it drift back now . Trust a woman for being as blind as a bat when she won’t see.
MRS. H. I’m waiting: or would you like me to dictate a form of apology?
CAPT. G. ( Desperately .) By all means dictate.
MRS. H. ( Lightly .) Very well. Rehearse your several Christian names after me and go on: ‘Profess my sincere repentance.’
CAPT. G. ‘Sincere repentance.’
MRS. H. ‘For having behaved —’
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) At last! I wish to Goodness she’d look away. ‘For having behaved’— as I have behaved, and declare that I am thoroughly and heartily sick of the whole business, and take this opportunity of making clear my intention of ending it, now, henceforward, and for ever. ( Aside .) If any one had told me I should be such a blackguard —!
MRS. H. ( Shaking a spoonful of potato chips into her plate .) That’s not a pretty joke.
CAPT. G. No. It’s a reality. ( Aside .) I wonder if smashes of this kind are always so raw.
MRS. H. Really, Pip, you’re getting more absurd every day.
CAPT. G. I don’t think you quite understand me. Shall I repeat it?
MRS. H. No! For pity’s sake don’t do that. It’s too terrible, even in fun.
CAPT. G. I’ll let her think it over for a while. But I ought to be horse-whipped.
MRS. H. I want to know what you meant by what you said just now.
CAPT. G. Exactly what I said. No less.
MRS. H. But what have I done to deserve it? What have I done?
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) If she only wouldn’t look at me. ( Aloud and very slowly, his eyes on his plate .) D’you remember that evening in July, before the Rains broke, when you said that the end would have to come sooner or later — and you wondered for which of us it would come first?
MRS. H. Yes! I was only joking. And you swore that, as long as there was breath in your body, it should never come. And I believed you.
CAPT. G. ( Fingering menu-card ) Well, it has. That’s all.
A long pause, during which MRS. H. bows her head and rolls the bread-twist into little pellets: G. stares at the oleanders .
MRS. H. ( Throwing back her head and laughing naturally .) They train us women well, don’t they, Pip?
CAPT. G. ( Brutally, touching shirt-stud .) So far as the expression goes. ( Aside .) It isn’t in her nature to take things quietly. There’ll be an explosion yet.
MRS. H. ( With a shudder .) Thank you. B-but even Red Indians allow people to wriggle when they’re being tortured, I believe. ( Slips fan from girdle and fans slowly: rim of fan level with chin .)
PARTNER ON LEFT. Very close to-night, isn’t it? ‘You find it too much for you?
MRS. H. Oh, no, not in the least. But they really ought to have punkahs, even in your cool Naini Tal, oughtn’t they? ( Turns, dropping fan and raising eyebrows .)
CAPT. G. It’s all right. ( Aside .) Here comes the storm!
MRS. H. ( Her eyes on the tablecloth: fan ready in right hand .) It was very cleverly managed, Pip, and I congratulate you. You swore — you never contented yourself with merely saying a thing — you swore that, as far as lay in your power, you’d make my wretched life pleasant for me. And you’ve denied me the consolation of breaking down. I should have done it — indeed I should. A woman would hardly have thought of this refinement, my kind, considerate friend. ( Fan-guard as before .) You have explained things so tenderly and truthfully, too! You haven’t spoken or written a word of warning, and you have let me believe in you till the last minute. You haven’t condescended to give me your reason yet. No! A woman could not have managed it half so well. Are there many men like you in the world?
CAPT. G. I’m sure I don’t know. ( To Khitmatgar .) Ohe! Simpkin do .
MRS. H. You call yourself a man of the world, don’t you? Do men of the world behave like Devils when they do a woman the honour to get tired of her?
CAPT. G. I’m sure I don’t know. Don’t speak so loud!
MRS. H. Keep us respectable, O Lord, whatever happens! Don’t be afraid of my compromising you. You’ve chosen your ground far too well, and I’ve been properly brought up. ( Lowering fan .) Haven’t you any pity, Pip, except for yourself?
CAPT. G. Wouldn’t it be rather impertinent of me to say that I’m sorry for you?
MRS. H. I think you have said it once or twice before. You’re growing very careful of my feelings. My God, Pip, I was a good woman once! You said I was. You’ve made me what I am. What are you going to do with me? What are you going to do with me? Won’t you say that you are sorry? ( Helps herself to iced asparagus .)
CAPT. G. I am sorry for you, if you want the pity of such a brute as I am. I’m awf’ly sorry for you.
MRS. H. Rather tame for a man of the world. Do you think that that admission clears you?
CAPT. G. What can I do? I can only tell you what I think of myself. You can’t think worse than that?
MRS. H. Oh, yes, I can! And now, will you tell me the reason of all this? Remorse? Has Bayard been suddenly conscience-stricken?
CAPT. G. ( Angrily, his eyes still lowered .) No! The thing has come to an end on my side. That’s all. Mafisch!
MRS. H. ‘That’s all. Mafisch! ’ As though I were a Cairene Dragoman. You used to make prettier speeches. D’you remember when you said ——?
CAPT. G. For Heaven’s sake don’t bring that back! Call me anything you like and I’ll admit it —
MRS. H. But you don’t care to be reminded of old lies? If I could hope to hurt you one-tenth as much as you have hurt me to-night — No, I wouldn’t — I couldn’t do it — liar though you are.
CAPT. G. I’ve spoken the truth.
MRS. H. My dear Sir, you flatter yourself. You have lied over the reason. Pip, remember that I know you as you don’t know yourself. You have been everything to me, though you are —( Fan-guard .) Oh, what a contemptible Thing it is! And so you are merely tired of me?
CAPT. G. Since you insist upon my repeating it — Yes.
MRS. H. Lie the first. I wish I knew a coarser word. Lie seems so ineffectual in your case. The fire has just died out and there is no fresh one? Think for a minute, Pip, if you care whether I despise you more than I do. Simply Mafisch , is it?
CAPT. G. Yes. ( Aside .) I think I deserve this.
MRS. H. Lie number two. Before the next glass chokes you, tell me her name.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .). I’ll make her pay for dragging Minnie into the business! ( Aloud .) Is it likely?
MRS. H. Very likely if you thought that it would flatter your vanity. You’d cry my name on the house-tops to make people turn round.
CAPT. G. I wish I had. There would have been an end of this business.
MRS. H. Oh, no, there would not — And so you were going to be virtuous and blase , were you? To come to me and say: ‘I’ve done with you. The incident is clo-osed.’ I ought to be proud of having kept such a man so long.
CAPT. G. ( Aside .) It only remains to pray for the end of the dinner. ( Aloud .) You know what I think of myself.
MRS. H. As it’s the only person in the world you ever do think of, and as I know your mind thoroughly, I do. You want to get it all over and — Oh, I can’t keep you back! And you’re going — think of it, Pip — to throw me over for another woman. And you swore that all other women were — Pip, my Pip! She can’t care for you as I do. Believe me, she can’t! Is it any one that I know?
CAPT. G. Thank Goodness it isn’t. ( Aside .) I expected a cyclone, but not an earthquake.
MRS. H. She can’t! Is there anything that I wouldn’t do for you — or haven’t done? And to think that I should take this trouble over you, knowing what you are! Do you despise me for it?
CAPT. G. ( Wiping his mouth to hide a smile .) Again? It’s entirely a work of charity on your part.
MRS. H. Ahhh! But I have no right to resent it. — Is she better-looking than I? Who was it said —?
CAPT G. No — not that!
MRS. H. I’ll be more merciful than you were. Don’t you know that all women are alike?
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) Then this is the exception that proves the rule.
MRS. H. All of them! I’ll tell you anything you like. I will, upon my word! They only want the admiration — from anybody — no matter who — anybody! But there is always one man that they care for more than any one else in the world, and would sacrifice all the others to. Oh, do listen! I’ve kept the Vaynor man trotting after me like a poodle, and he believes that he is the only man I am interested in. I’ll tell you what he said to me.
CAPT. G. Spare him. ( Aside. ) I wonder what his version is.
MRS. H. He’s been waiting for me to look at him all through dinner. Shall I do it, and you can see what an idiot he looks?
CAPT. G. ‘But what imports the nomination of this gentleman?’
MRS. H. Watch! ( Sends a glance to the Vaynor man, who tries vainly to combine a mouthful of ice pudding, a smirk of self-satisfaction, a glare of intense devotion, and the stolidity of a British dining countenance. )
CAPT. G. ( Critically. ) He doesn’t look pretty. Why didn’t you wait till the spoon was out of his mouth?
MRS. H. To amuse you. She’ll make an exhibition of you as I’ve made of him; and people will laugh at you. Oh, Pip, can’t you see that? It’s as plain as the noonday sun. You’ll be trotted about and told lies, and made a fool of like the others. I never made a fool of you, did I?
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) What a clever little woman it is!
MRS. H. Well, what have you to say?
CAPT. G. I feel better.
MRS. H. Yes, I suppose so, after I have come down to your level. I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t cared for you so much. I have spoken the truth.
CAPT. G. It doesn’t alter the situation.
MRS. H. ( Passionately. ) Then she has said that she cares for you! Don’t believe her, Pip. It’s a lie — as bad as yours to me!
CAPT. G. Ssssteady! I’ve a notion that a friend of yours is looking at you.
MRS. H. He! I hate him. He introduced you to me.
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) And some people would like women to assist in making the laws. Introduction to imply condonement. ( Aloud. ) Well, you see, if you can remember so far back as that, I couldn’t, in common politeness, refuse the offer.
MRS. H. In common politeness! We have got beyond that!
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) Old ground means fresh trouble, ( Aloud. ) On my honour —
MRS. H. Your what? Ha, ha!
CAPT. G. Dishonour, then. She’s not what you imagine. I meant to —
MRS. H. Don’t tell me anything about her! She won’t care for you, and when you come back, after having made an exhibition of yourself, you’ll fine me occupied with —
CAPT. G. ( Insolently. ) You couldn’t while I am alive. ( Aside. ) If that doesn’t bring her pride to her rescue, nothing will.
MRS. H. ( Drawing herself up ). Couldn’t do it? I? ( Softening. ) You’re right. I don’t believe I could — though you are what you are — a coward and a liar in grain.
CAPT. G. It doesn’t hurt so much after your little lecture — with demonstrations.
MRS. H. One mass of vanity! Will nothing ever touch you in this life? There must be a Hereafter if it’s only for the benefit of —— But you will have it all to yourself.
CAPT. G. ( Under his eyebrows. ) Are you so certain of that?
MRS. H. I shall have had mine in this life; and it will serve me right.
CAPT. G. But the admiration that you insisted on so strongly a moment ago? ( Aside. ) Oh, I am a brute!
MRS. H. ( Fiercely. ) Will that console me for knowing that you will go to her with the same words, the same arguments, and the — the same pet names you used to me? And if she cares for you, you two will laugh over my story. Won’t that be punishment heavy enough even for me — even for me? — And it’s all useless. That’s another punishment.
CAPT. G. ( Feebly. ) Oh, come! I’m not so low as you think.
MRS. H. Not now, perhaps, but you will be. Oh, Pip, if a woman flatters your vanity, there’s nothing on earth that you would not tell her; and no meanness that you would not do. Have I known you so long without knowing that?
CAPT. G. If you can trust me in nothing else — and I don’t see why I should be trusted — you can count upon my holding my tongue.
MRS. H. If you denied everything you’ve said this evening and declared it was all in fun ( a long pause ), I’d trust you. Not otherwise. All I ask is, don’t tell her my name. Please don’t. A man might forget: a woman never would. ( Looks up table and sees hostess beginning to collect eyes. ) So it’s all ended, through no fault of mine — Haven’t I behaved beautifully? I’ve accepted your dismissal, and you managed it as cruelly as you could, and I have made you respect my sex, haven’t I? ( Arranging gloves and fan. ) I only pray that she’ll know you some day as I know you now. I wouldn’t be you then, for I think even your conceit will be hurt. I hope she’ll pay you back the humiliation you’ve brought on me. I hope — No. I don’t. I can’t give you up! I must have something to look forward to or I shall go crazy. When it’s all over, come back to me, come back to me, and you’ll find that you’re my Pip still!
CAPT. G. ( Very clearly. ) ‘False move, and you pay for it. It’s a girl!
MRS. H. ( Rising. ) Then it was true! They said — but I wouldn’t insult you by asking. A girl! I was a girl not very long ago. Be good to her, Pip. I daresay she believes in you.
Goes out with an uncertain smile. He watches her through the door, and settles into a chair as the men redistribute themselves.
CAPT. G. Now, if there is any Power who looks after this world, will He kindly tell me what I have done? ( Reaching out for the claret, and half aloud. ) What have I done?
4 — With Any Amazement
And are not afraid with any amazement.
—Marriage service.
SCENE. — A bachelor’s bedroom — toilet-table arranged with unnatural neatness . CAPTAIN GADSBY asleep and snoring heavily. Time , 10.30 A. M. — a glorious autumn day at Simla. Enter delicately CAPTAIN MAFFLIM of GADSBY’S regiment. Looks at sleeper, and shakes his head murmuring ‘Poor Gaddy.’ Performs violent fantasia with hair-brushes on chair-back.
CAPT. M. Wake up, my sleeping beauty! ( Roars .)
‘Uprouse ye, then, my merry merry men!
It is our opening day!
It is our opening da-ay!’
Gaddy, the little dicky-birds have been billing and cooing for ever so long; and I’m here!
CAPT. G. ( Sitting up and yawning .) ‘Mornin’. This is awf’ly good of you, old fellow. Most awf’ly good of you. ‘Don’t know what I should do without you. On my soul, I don’t. ‘Haven’t slept a wink all night.
CAPT. M. I didn’t get in till half-past eleven. ‘Had a look at you then, and you seemed to be sleeping as soundly as a condemned criminal.
CAPT. G. Jack, if you want to make those disgustingly worn-out jokes, you’d better go away. (With portentous gravity .) It’s the happiest day in my life.
CAPT. M. (Chuckling grimly.) Not by a very long chalk, my son. You’re going through some of the most refined torture you’ve ever known. But be calm. I am with you. ‘Shun! Dress !
CAPT. G. Eh! Wha-at?
CAPT. M. DO you suppose that you are your own master for the next twelve hours? If you do , of course —— ( Makes for the door .)
CAPT. G. No! For Goodness’ sake, old man, don’t do that! You’ll see me through, won’t you? I’ve been mugging up that beastly drill, and can’t remember a line of it.
CAPT. M. ( Overhauling G’s uniform .) Go and tub. Don’t bother me. I’ll give you ten minutes to dress in.
Interval, filled by the noise as of one splashing in the bath-room .
CAPT. G. ( Emerging from dressing-room .) What time is it?
CAPT. M. Nearly eleven.
CAPT. G. Five hours more. O Lord!
CAPT. M. ( Aside .) ‘First sign of funk, that. ‘Wonder if it’s going to spread. (Aloud.) Come along to breakfast.
CAPT. G. I can’t eat anything. I don’t want any breakfast.
CAPT. M. ( Aside .) So early! ( Aloud .) Captain Gadsby, I order you to eat breakfast, and a dashed good breakfast, too. None of your bridal airs and graces with me!
Leads G. downstairs, and stands over him while he eats two chops .
CAPT. G. ( Who has looked at his watch thrice in the last five minutes .) What time is it?
CAPT. M. Time to come for a walk. Light up.
CAPT. G. I haven’t smoked for ten days, and I won’t now . ( Takes cheroot which M. has cut for him, and blows smoke through his nose luxuriously .) We aren’t going down the Mall, are we?
CAPT. M. ( Aside .) They’re all alike in these stages. ( Aloud .) No, my Vestal. We’re going along the quietest road we can find.
CAPT. G. Any chance of seeing Her?
CAPT. M. Innocent! No! Come along, and, if you want me for the final obsequies, don’t cut my eye out with your stick.
CAPT. G. ( Spinning round .) I say, isn’t She the dearest creature that ever walked? What’s the time? What comes after ‘wilt thou take this woman’?
CAPT. M, You go for the ring. R’clect it’ll be on the top of my right-hand little ringer, and just be careful how you draw it off, because I shall have the Verger’s fees somewhere in my glove.
CAPT. G. ( Walking forward hastily .) D—— the Verger! Come along! It’s past twelve and I haven’t seen Her since yesterday evening. (Spinning round again.) She’s an absolute angel, Jack, and She’s a dashed deal too good for me. Look here, does She come up the aisle on my arm, or how?
CAPT. M. If I thought that there was the least chance of your remembering anything for two consecutive minutes, I’d tell you. Stop passaging about like that!
CAPT. G. ( Halting in the middle of the road .) I say, Jack.
CAPT. M. Keep quiet for another ten minutes if you can, you lunatic; and walk!
The two tramp at five miles an hour for fifteen minutes .
CAPT. G. What’s the time? How about that cursed wedding-cake and the slippers? They don’t throw ’em about in church, do they?
CAPT. M. In-variably. The Padre leads off with his boots.
CAPT. G. Confound your silly soul! Don’t make fun of me. I can’t stand it, and I won’t!
CAPT. M. ( Untroubled .) So-ooo, old horse! You’ll have to sleep for a couple of hours this afternoon.
CAPT. G. ( Spinning round ) I’m not going to be treated like a dashed child. Understand that!
CAPT. M. ( Aside ) Nerves gone to fiddle-strings. What a day we’re having! ( Tenderly putting his hand on G’s. shoulder ) My David, how long have you known this Jonathan? Would I come up here to make a fool of you-after all these years?
CAPT. G. ( Penitently .) I know, I know, Jack — but I’m as upset as I can be. Don’t mind what I say. Just hear me run through the drill and see if I’ve got it all right:——
‘To have and to hold for better or worse, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, so help me God. Amen.’
CAPT. M. ( Suffocating with suppressed laughter ) Yes. That’s about the gist of it. I’ll prompt if you get into a hat.
CAPT. G. ( Earnestly ) Yes, you’ll stick by me, Jack, won’t you? I’m awf’ly happy, but I don’t mind telling YOU that I’m in a blue funk!
CAPT. M. ( Gravely ) Are you? I should never have noticed it. You don’t LOOK like it.
CAPT. G. Don’t I? That’s all right. ( Spinning round .) On my soul and honour, Jack, She’s the sweetest little angel that ever came down from the sky. There isn’t a woman on earth fit to speak to Her.
CAPT. M. ( Aside .) And this is old Gaddy! ( Aloud .) Go on if it relieves you.
CAPT. G. You can laugh! That’s all you wild asses of bachelors are fit for.
CAPT. M. ( Drawling .) You never WOULD wait for the troop to come up. You aren’t quite married yet, y’ know.
CAPT. G. Ugh! That reminds me. I don’t believe I shall be able to get into my boots. Let’s go home and try ’em on! ( Hurries forward .)
CAPT. M. ‘Wouldn’t be in your shoes for anything that Asia has to offer.
CAPT. G. ( Spinning round .) That just shows your hideous blackness of soul-your dense stupidity-your brutal narrow-mindedness. There’s only one fault about you. You’re the best of good fellows, and I don’t know what I should have done without you, but-you aren’t married. ( Wags his head gravely .) Take a wife, Jack.
CAPT. M. ( With a face like a wall .) Ya-as. Whose for choice?
CAPT. G. If you’re going to be a blackguard, I’m going on — What’s the time?
CAPT. M. ( Hums .)——
‘An’ since ’twas very clear we drank only ginger-beer,
Faith, there must ha’been some stingo in the ginger.’
Come back, you maniac. I’m going to take you home, and you’re going to lie down.
CAPT. G. What on earth do I want to lie down for?
CAPT. M. Give me a light from your cheroot and see.
CAPT. G. ( Watching cheroot-butt quiver like a tuning-fork .) Sweet state I’m in!
CAPT. M. You are. I’ll get you a peg and you’ll go to sleep.
They return and M. compounds a four-finger peg .
CAPT. G. O bus! bus! It’ll make me as drunk as an owl.
CAPT. M. Curious thing, ‘twon’t have the slightest effect on you. Drink it off, chuck yourself down there, and go to bye-bye.
CAPT. G. It’s absurd. I shan’t sleep. I know I shan’t!
Falls into heavy doze at end of seven minutes . CAPT. M. watches him tenderly .
CAPT. M. Poor old Gaddy! I’ve seen a few turned off before, but never one who went to the gallows in this condition. ‘Can’t tell how it affects ’em, though. It’s the thoroughbreds that sweat when they’re backed into double-harness.-And that’s the man who went through the guns at Amdheran like a devil possessed of devils. ( Leans over G.) But this is worse than the guns, old pal — worse than the guns, isn’t it? (G. turns in his sleep, and M. touches him clumsily on the forehead.) Poor, dear old Gaddy! Going like the rest of ’em-going like the rest of ’em —— Friend that sticketh closer than a brother —— eight years. Dashed bit of a slip of a girl-eight weeks! And-where’s your friend? ( Smokes disconsolately till church clock strikes three .)
CAPT. M. Up with you! Get into your kit.
CAPT. G. Already? Isn’t it too soon? Hadn’t I better have a shave?
CAPT. M. NO! You’re all right. ( Aside .) He’d chip his chin to pieces.
CAPT. G. What’s the hurry?
CAPT. M. You’ve got to be there first.
CAPT. G. To be stared at?
CAPT. M. Exactly. You’re part of the show. Where’s the burnisher? Your spurs are in a shameful state.
CAPT. G. ( Gruffly ) Jack, I be damned if you shall do that for me.
CAPT. M. ( More gruffly. ) Dry up and get dressed! If I choose to clean your spurs, you’re under my orders.
CAPT. G. dresses . M. follows suit.
CAPT. M. ( Critically, walking round. ) M’yes, you’ll do. Only don’t look so like a criminal. Ring, gloves, fees — that’s all right for me. Let your moustache alone. Now, if the ponies are ready, we’ll go.
CAPT. G. ( Nervously. ) It’s much too soon. Let’s light up! Let’s have a peg! Let’s —
CAPT. M. Let’s make bally asses of ourselves!
BELLS. ( Without. )—
‘Good — peo — ple — all
To prayers — we call.”
CAPT. M. There go the bells! Come on — unless you’d rather not. ( They ride off. )
‘We honour the King
And Brides joy do bring —
Good tidings we tell,
And ring the Dead’s knell.’
CAPT. G. ( Dismounting at the door of the Church. ) I say, aren’t we much too soon? There are no end of people inside. I say, aren’t we much too late? Stick by me, Jack! What the devil do I do?
CAPT. M. Strike an attitude at the head of the aisle and wait for Her. (G. groans as M. wheels him into position before three hundred eyes. )
CAPT. M. ( Imploringly. ) Gaddy, if you love me, for pity’s sake, for the Honour of the Regiment, stand up! Chuck yourself into your uniform! Look like a man! I’ve got to speak to the Padre a minute. (G. breaks into a gentle perspiration. ) If you wipe your face I’ll never be your best man again. Stand up! (G. trembles visibly. )
CAPT. M. ( Returning. ) She’s coming now. Look out when the music starts. There’s the organ beginning to clack.
Bride steps out of ‘rickshaw at Church door. G. catches a glimpse of her and takes heart.
‘The Voice that breathed o’er Eden,
That earliest marriage day,
The primal marriage-blessing,
It hath not passed away.’
CAPT. M. ( Watching G.) By Jove! He is looking well. ‘Didn’t think he had it in him.
CAPT. G. How long does this hymn go on for?
CAPT. M. It will be over directly. ( Anxiously. ) Beginning to bleach and gulp? Hold on, Gaddy, and think o’ the Regiment.
CAPT. G. ( Measuredly. ) I say, there’s a big brown lizard crawling up that wall.
CAPT. M. My Sainted Mother! The last stage of collapse!
Bride comes up to left of altar, lifts her eyes once to G. who is suddenly smitten mad.
CAPT. G. ( To himself again and again. ) Little Featherweight’s a woman — a woman! And I thought she was a little girl.
CAPT. M. ( In a whisper. ) Form the halt — inward wheel.
CAPT. G. obeys mechanically and the ceremony proceeds.
PADRE. . . . only unto her as long as ye both shall live?
CAPT. G. ( His throat useless. ) Ha-hmmm!
CAPT. M. Say you will or you won’t. There’s no second deal here.
Bride gives response with perfect coolness, and is given away by the father.
CAPT. G. ( Thinking to show his learning. ) Jack, give me away now, quick!
CAPT. M. You’re given yourself away quite enough. Her right hand, man! Repeat! Repeat! ‘Theodore Philip.’ Have you forgotten your own name?
CAPT. G. stumbles through Affirmation, which Bride repeats without a tremor.
CAPT. M. Now the ring! Follow the Padre! Don’t pull off my glove! Here it is! Great Cupid, he’s found his voice!
G. repeats Troth in a voice to be heard to the end of the Church and turns on his heel.
CAPT. M. ( Desperately. ) Rein back! Back to your troop! ‘Tisn’t half legal yet.
PADRE. . . . joined together let no man put asunder.
CAPT. G. paralysed with fear jibs after Blessing.
CAPT. M. ( Quickly. ) On your own front — one length. Take her with you. I don’t come. You’ve nothing to say. (CAPT. G. jingles up to altar. )
CAPT. M. ( In a piercing rattle meant to be a whisper. ) Kneel, you stiff-necked ruffian! Kneel!
PADRE. . . . whose daughters are ye so long as ye do well and are not afraid with any amazement.
CAPT. M. Dismiss! Break off! Left wheel! All troop to vestry. They sign.
CAPT. M. Kiss Her, Gaddy.
CAPT. G. ( Rubbing the ink into his glove. ) Eh! Wha — at?
CAPT. M. ( Taking one pace to Bride. ) If you don’t, I shall.
CAPT. G. ( Interposing an arm. ) Not this journey!
General kissing, in which CAPT. G. is pursued by unknown female.
CAPT. G. ( Faintly to M.) This is Hades! Can I wipe my face now?
CAPT. M. My responsibility has ended. Better ask Missis Gadsby.
CAPT. G. winces as though shot and procession is Mendelssohned out of Church to house, where usual tortures take place over the wedding-cake.
CAPT. M. ( At table. ) Up with you, Gaddy. They expect a speech.
CAPT. G. ( After three minutes’ agony. ) Ha-hmmm. ( Thunders of applause. )
CAPT. M. Doocid good, for a first attempt. Now go and change your kit while Mamma is weeping over —‘the Missus.’ (CAPT. G. disappears. CAPT. M. starts up tearing his hair. ) It’s not half legal. Where are the shoes? Get an ayah.
AYAH. Missie Captain Sahib done gone band karo all the jutis.
CAPT. M. ( Brandishing scabbarded sword. ) Woman, produce those shoes! Some one lend me a bread-knife. We mustn’t crack Gaddy’s head more than it is. ( Slices heel off white satin slipper and puts slipper up his sleeve. ) Where is the Bride? ( To the company at large. ) Be tender with that rice. It’s a heathen custom. Give me the big bag.
Bride slips out quietly into ‘rickshaw and departs towards the sunset.
CAPT. M. ( In the open. ) Stole away, by Jove! So much, the worse for Gaddy! Here he is. Now Gaddy, this’ll be livelier than Amdheran! Where’s your horse?
CAPT. G. ( Furiously, seeing that the women are out of earshot. ) Where the —— is my Wife?
CAPT. M. Half-way to Mahasu by this time. You’ll have to ride like Young Lochinvar.
Horse comes round on his hind legs; refuses to let G. handle him.
CAPT. G. Oh you will, will you? Get round, you brute-you hog-you beast! Get round!
Wrenches horse’s head over, nearly breaking lower jaw; swings himself into saddle, and sends home both spurs in the midst of a spattering gale of Best Patna.
CAPT. M. For your life and your love — ride, Gaddy! — And God bless you!
Throws half a pound of rice at G., who disappears, bowed forward on the saddle, in a cloud of sunlit dust.
CAPT. M. I’ve lost old Gaddy. ( Lights cigarette and strolls off, singing absently ):—
‘You may carve it on his tombstone, you may cut it on his card,
That a young man married is a young man marred!’
MISS DEERCOURT. ( From her horse. ) Really, Captain Mafflin! You are more plain spoken than polite!
CAPT. M. ( Aside. ) They say marriage is like cholera. ‘Wonder who’ll be the next victim.
White satin slipper slides from his sleeve and falls at his feet. Left wondering.
5 — The Garden of Eden
And ye shall be as — Gods!
SCENE. — Thymy grass-plot at back of the Mahasu dak-bungalow, overlooking little wooded valley. On the left, glimpse of the Dead Forest of Fagoo; on the right, Simla Hills. In background, line of the Snows. CAPTAIN GADSBY, now three weeks a husband, is smoking the pipe of peace on a rug in the sunshine. Banjo and tobacco-pouch on rug. Overhead the Fagoo eagles. MRS. G. comes out of bungalow.
MRS. G. My husband!
CAPT. G. ( Lazily, with intense enjoyment. ) Eh, wha-at? Say that again.
MRS. G. I’ve written to Mamma and told her that we shall be back on the 17th.
CAPT. G. Did you give her my love?
MRS. G. No, I kept all that for myself. ( Sitting down by his side. ) I thought you wouldn’t mind.
CAPT. G. ( With mock sternness. ) I object awf’ly. How did you know that it was yours to keep?
MRS. G. I guessed, Phil.
CAPT. G. ( Rapturously. ) Lit-tle Featherweight!
MRS. G. I won’t be called those sporting pet names, bad boy.
CAPT. G. You’ll be called anything I choose. Has it ever occurred to you, Madam, that you are my Wife?
MRS. G. It has. I haven’t ceased wondering at it yet.
CAPT. G. Nor I. It seems so strange; and yet, somehow, it doesn’t. ( Confidently. ) You see, it could have been no one else.
MRS. G. ( Softly. ) No. No one else — for me or for you. It must have been all arranged from the beginning. Phil, tell me again what made you care for me.
CAPT. G. How could I help it? You were you , you know.
MRS. G. Did you ever want to help it? Speak the truth!
CAPT. G. ( A twinkle in his eye. ) I did, darling, just at the first. But only at the very first. ( Chuckles. ) I called you — stoop low and I’ll whisper —‘a little beast.’ Ho! Ho! Ho!
MRS. G. ( Taking him by the moustache and making him sit up. ) ‘A— little — beast!’ Stop laughing over your crime! And yet you had the — the — awful cheek to propose to me!
CAPT. G. I’d changed my mind then. And you weren’t a little beast any more.
MRS. G. Thank you, Sir! And when was I ever?
CAPT. G. Never! But that first day, when you gave me tea in that peach-coloured muslin gown thing, you looked — you did indeed, dear — such an absurd little mite. And I didn’t know what to say to you.
MRS. G. ( Twisting moustache. ) So you said ‘little beast.’ Upon my word, Sir! I called you a ‘Crrrreature,’ but I wish now I had called you something worse.
CAPT. G. ( Very meekly. ) I apologise, but you’re hurting me awf’ly. ( Interlude. ) You’re welcome to torture me again on those terms.
MRS. G. Oh, why did you let me do it?
CAPT. G. ( Looking across valley. ) No reason in particular, but — if it amused you or did you any good — you might — wipe those dear little boots of yours on me.
MRS. G. ( Stretching out her hands. ) Don’t! Oh, don’t! Philip, my King, please don’t talk like that. It’s how I feel. You’re so much too good for me. So much too good!
CAPT. G. Me! I’m not fit to put my arm round you. ( Puts it round. )
MRS. G. Yes, you are. But I— what have I ever done?
CAPT. G. Given me a wee bit of your heart, haven’t you, my Queen?
MRS. G. That’s nothing. Any one would do that. They cou — couldn’t help it.
CAPT. G. Pussy, you’ll make me horribly conceited. Just when I was beginning to feel so humble, too.
MRS. G. Humble! I don’t believe it’s in your character.
CAPT. G. What do you know of my character, Impertinence?
MRS. G. Ah, but I shall, shan’t I, Phil? I shall have time in all the years and years to come, to know everything about you; and there will be no secrets between us.
CAPT. G. Little witch! I believe you know me thoroughly already.
MRS. G. I think I can guess. You’re selfish?
CAPT. G. Yes.
MRS. G. Foolish?
CAPT. G. Very.
MRS. G. And a dear?
CAPT. G. That is as my lady pleases.
MRS. G. Then your lady is pleased. ( A pause. ) D’you know that we’re two solemn, serious, grown-up people —
CAPT. G. ( Tilting her straw hat over her eyes. ) You grown-up! Pooh! You’re a baby.
MRS. G. And we’re talking nonsense.
CAPT. G. Then let’s go on talking nonsense. I rather like it. Pussy, I’ll tell you a secret. Promise not to repeat?
MRS. G. Ye — es. Only to you.
CAPT. G. I love you.
MRS. G. Re-ally! For how long?
CAPT. G. For ever and ever.
MRS. G. That’s a long time.
CAPT. G. ‘Think so? It’s the shortest I can do with.
MRS. G. You’re getting quite clever.
CAPT. G. I’m talking to you.
MRS. G. Prettily turned. Hold up your stupid old head and I’ll pay you for it!
CAPT. G. ( Affecting supreme contempt. ) Take it yourself if you want it.
MRS. G. I’ve a great mind to — and I will! ( Takes it and is repaid with interest. )
CAPT. G. Little Featherweight, it’s my opinion that we are a couple of idiots.
MRS. G. We’re the only two sensible people in the world! Ask the eagle. He’s coming by.
CAPT. G. Ah! I dare say he’s seen a good many sensible people at Mahasu. They say that those birds live for ever so long.
MRS. G. How long?
CAPT. G. A hundred and twenty years.
MRS. G. A hundred and twenty years! O-oh! And in a hundred and twenty years where will these two sensible people be?
CAPT. G. What does it matter so long as we are together now?
MRS. G. ( Looking round the horizon. ) Yes. Only you and I— I and you — in the whole wide, wide world until the end. ( Sees the line of the Snows. ) How big and quiet the hills look! D’you think they care for us?
CAPT. G. ‘Can’t say I’ve consulted ’em particularly. I care, and that’s enough for me.
MRS. G. ( Drawing nearer to him. ) Yes, now — but afterwards. What’s that little black blur on the Snows?
CAPT. G. A snowstorm, forty miles away. You’ll see it move, as the wind carries it across the face of that spur, and then it will be all gone.
MRS. G. And then it will be all gone. ( Shivers. )
CAPT. G. ( Anxiously. ) ‘Not chilled, pet, are you? ‘Better let me get your cloak.
MRS. G. No. Don’t leave me, Phil. Stay here. I believe I am afraid. Oh, why are the hills so horrid! Phil, promise me, promise me that you’ll always love me.
CAPT. G. What’s the trouble, darling? I can’t promise any more than I have; but I’ll promise that again and again if you like.
MRS. G. ( Her head on his shoulder. ) Say it, then — say it! N-no — don’t! The — the — eagles would laugh. ( Recovering. ) My husband, you’ve married a little goose.
CAPT. G. ( Very tenderly. ) Have I? I am content whatever she is, so long as she is mine.
MRS. G. ( Quickly. ) Because she is yours or because she is me mineself?
CAPT. G. Because she is both. ( Piteously. ) I’m not clever, dear, and I don’t think I can make myself understood properly.
MRS. G. I understand. Pip, will you tell me something?
CAPT. G. Anything you like. ( Aside. ) I wonder what’s coming now.
MRS. G. ( Haltingly, her eyes lowered. ) You told me once in the old days — centuries and centuries ago — that you had been engaged before. I didn’t say anything — then.
CAPT. G. ( Innocently. ) Why not?
MRS. G. ( Raising her eyes to his. ) Because — because I was afraid of losing you, my heart. But now — tell about it — please.
CAPT. G. There’s nothing to tell. I was awf’ly old then — nearly two and twenty — and she was quite that.
MRS. G. That means she was older than you. I shouldn’t like her to have been younger. Well?
CAPT. G. Well, I fancied myself in love and raved about a bit, and — oh, yes, by Jove! I made up poetry. Ha! Ha!
MRS. G. You never wrote any for me! What happened?
CAPT. G. I came out here, and the whole thing went phut. She wrote to say that there had been a mistake, and then she married.
MRS. G. Did she care for you much?
CAPT. G. No. At least she didn’t show it as far as I remember.
MRS. G. As far as you remember! Do you remember her name? ( Hears it and bows her head. ) Thank you, my husband.
CAPT. G. Who but you had the right? Now, Little Featherweight, have you ever been mixed up in any dark and dismal tragedy?
MRS. G. If you call me Mrs. Gadsby, p’raps I’ll tell.
CAPT. G. ( Throwing Parade rasp into his voice. ) Mrs. Gadsby, confess!
MRS. G. Good Heavens, Phil! I never knew that you could speak in that terrible voice.
CAPT. G. You don’t know half my accomplishments yet. Wait till we are settled in the Plains, and I’ll show you how I bark at my troop. You were going to say, darling?
MRS. G. I— I don’t like to, after that voice. ( Tremulously. ) Phil, never you dare to speak to me in that tone, whatever I may do!
CAPT. G. My poor little love! Why, you’re shaking all over. I am so sorry. Of course I never meant to upset you. Don’t tell me anything. I’m a brute.
MRS. G. No, you aren’t, and I will tell — There was a man.
CAPT. G. ( Lightly. ) Was there? Lucky man!
MRS. G. ( In a whisper. ) And I thought I cared for him.
CAPT. G. Still luckier man! Well?
MRS. G. And I thought I cared for him — and I didn’t — and then you came — and I cared for you very, very much indeed. That’s all. ( Face hidden. ) You aren’t angry, are you?
CAPT. G. Angry? Not in the least. ( Aside. ) Good Lord, what have I done to deserve this angel?
MRS. G. ( Aside. ) And he never asked for the name! How funny men are! But perhaps it’s as well.
CAPT. G. That man will go to heaven because you once thought you cared for him. ‘Wonder if you’ll ever drag me up there?
MRS. G. ( Firmly. ) ‘Shan’t go if you don’t.
CAPT. G. Thanks. I say, Pussy, I don’t know much about your religious beliefs. You were brought up to believe in a heaven and all that, weren’t you?
MRS. G. Yes. But it was a pincushion heaven, with hymn-books in all the pews.
CAPT. G. ( Wagging his head with intense conviction. ) Never mind. There is a pukka heaven.
MRS. G. Where do you bring that message from, my prophet?
CAPT. G. Here! Because we care for each other. So it’s all right.
MRS. G. ( As a troop of langurs crash through the branches. ) So it’s all right. But Darwin says that we came from those!
CAPT. G. ( Placidly. ) Ah! Darwin was never in love with an angel. That settles it. Sstt, you brutes! Monkeys, indeed! You shouldn’t read those books.
MRS. G. ( Folding her hands. ) If it pleases my Lord the King to issue proclamation.
CAPT. G. Don’t, dear one. There are no orders between us. Only I’d rather you didn’t. They lead to nothing, and bother people’s heads.
MRS. G. Like your first engagement.
CAPT.G. ( With an immense calm. ) That was a necessary evil and led to you. Are you nothing?
MRS. G. Not so very much, am I?
CAPT. G. All this world and the next to me.
MRS. G. ( Very softly. ) My boy of boys! Shall I tell you something?
CAPT. G. Yes, if it’s not dreadful — about other men.
MRS. G. It’s about my own bad little self.
CAPT. G. Then it must be good. Go on, dear.
MRS. G. ( Slowly. ) I don’t know why I’m telling you, Pip; but if ever you marry again —( Interlude. ) Take your hand from my mouth or I’ll bite! In the future, then remember — I don’t know quite how to put it!
CAPT. G. ( Snorting indignantly. ) Don’t try. ‘Marry again,’ indeed!
MRS. G. I must. Listen, my husband. Never, never, never tell your wife anything that you do not wish her to remember and think over all her life. Because a woman — yes, I am a woman — can’t forget.
CAPT. G. By Jove, how do you know that?
MRS. G. ( Confusedly. ) I don’t. I’m only guessing. I am — I was — a silly little girl; but I feel that I know so much, oh, so very much more than you, dearest. To begin with, I’m your wife.
CAPT. G. So I have been led to believe.
MRS. G. And I shall want to know every one of your secrets — to share everything you know with you. ( Stares round desperately. )
CAPT. G. So you shall, dear, so you shall — but don’t look like that.
MRS. G. For your own sake don’t stop me, Phil. I shall never talk to you in this way again. You must not tell me! At least, not now. Later on, when I’m an old matron it won’t matter, but if you love me, be very good to me now; for this part of my life I shall never forget! Have I made you understand?
CAPT. G. I think so, child. Have I said anything yet that you disapprove of?
MRS. G. Will you be very angry? That — that voice, and what you said about the engagement —
CAPT. G. But you asked to be told that, darling.
MRS. G. And that’s why you shouldn’t have told me! You must be the judge, and, oh, Pip, dearly as I love you, I shan’t be able to help you! I shall hinder you, and you must judge in spite of me!
CAPT. G. ( Meditatively. ) We have a great many things to find out together, God help us both — say so, Pussy — but we shall understand each other better every day; and I think I’m beginning to see now. How in the world did you come to know just the importance of giving me just that lead?
MRS. G. I’ve told you that I don’t know. Only somehow it seemed that, in all this new life, I was being guided for your sake as well as my own.
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) Then Mafflin was right! They know, and we — we’re blind — all of us. ( Lightly. ) ‘Getting a little beyond our depth, dear, aren’t we? I’ll remember, and, if I fail, let me be punished as I deserve.
MRS. G. There shall be no punishment. We’ll start into life together from here — you and I— and no one else.
CAPT. G. And no one else. ( A pause. ) Your eyelashes are all wet, Sweet? Was there ever such a quaint little Absurdity?
MRS. G. Was there ever such nonsense talked before?
CAPT. G. ( Knocking the ashes out of his pipe. ) ‘Tisn’t what we say, it’s what we don’t say, that helps. And it’s all the profoundest philosophy. But no one would understand — even if it were put into a book.
MRS. G. The idea! No — only we ourselves, or people like ourselves — if there are any people like us.
CAPT. G. ( Magisterially. ) All people, not like ourselves, are blind idiots.
MRS. G. ( Wiping her eyes. ) Do you think, then, that there are any people as happy as we are?
CAPT. G. ‘Must be — unless we’ve appropriated all the happiness in the world.
MRS. G. ( Looking towards Simla. ) Poor dears! Just fancy if we have!
CAPT. G. Then we’ll hang on to the whole show, for it’s a great deal too jolly to lose — eh, wife o’ mine?
MRS. G. O Pip! Pip! How much of you is a solemn, married man and how much a horrid, slangy schoolboy?
CAPT. G. When you tell me how much of you was eighteen last birthday and how much is as old as the Sphinx and twice as mysterious, perhaps I’ll attend to you. Lend me that banjo. The spirit moveth me to yowl at the sunset.
MRS. G. Mind! It’s not tuned. Ah! How that jars.
CAPT. G. ( Turning pegs. ) It’s amazingly difficult to keep a banjo to proper pitch.
MRS. G. It’s the same with all musical instruments. What shall it be?
CAPT. G. ‘Vanity,’ and let the hills hear. ( Sings through the first and half of the second verse. Turning to MRS. G.) Now, chorus! Sing, Pussy!
BOTH TOGETHER. ( Con brio, to the horror of the monkeys who are settling for the night. )—
‘Vanity, all is Vanity,’ said Wisdom, scorning me —
I clasped my true Love’s tender hand and answered frank and free — ee:—
‘If this be Vanity who’d be wise?
If this be Vanity who’d be wise?
If this be Vanity who’d be wi — ise?
(Crescendo.) Vanity let it be!’
MRS. G. ( Defiantly to the gray of the evening sky. ) ‘Vanity let it be!’
ECHO. ( From the Fagoo spur. ) Let it be!
6 — Fatima
And you may go into every room of the house and see everything that is there, but into the Blue Room you must not go.
—The Story of Blue Beard
SCENE. — The GADSBYS’ bungalow in the Plains. Time, 11 A. M. on a Sunday morning. CAPTAIN GADSBY, in his shirt-sleeves, is bending over a complete set of Hussar’s equipment, from saddle to picketing-rope, which is neatly spread over the floor of his study. He is smoking an unclean briar, and his forehead is puckered with thought.
CAPT. G. ( To himself, fingering a headstall. ) Jack’s an ass. There’s enough brass on this to load a mule — and, if the Americans know anything about anything, it can be cut down to a bit only. ‘Don’t want the watering-bridle, either. Humbug! — Half a dozen sets of chains and pulleys for one horse! Rot! ( Scratching his head. ) Now, let’s consider it all over from the beginning. By Jove, I’ve forgotten the scale of weights! Ne’er mind. ‘Keep the bit only, and eliminate every boss from the crupper to breastplate. No breastplate at all. Simple leather strap across the breast — like the Russians. Hi! Jack never thought of that!
MRS. G. ( Entering hastily, her hand bound in a cloth. ) Oh, Pip, I’ve scalded my hand over that horrid, horrid Tiparee jam!
CAPT. G. ( Absently. ) Eh! Wha-at?
MRS. G. ( With round-eyed reproach. ) I’ve scalded it aw -fully! Aren’t you sorry? And I did so want that jam to jam properly.
CAPT. G. Poor little woman! Let me kiss the place and make it well. ( Unrolling bandage. ) You small sinner! Where’s that scald? I can’t see it.
MRS. G. On the top of the little finger. There! — It’s a most ‘normous big burn!
CAPT. G. ( Kissing little finger. ) Baby! Let Hyder look after the jam. You know I don’t care for sweets.
MRS. G. In-deed? — Pip!
CAPT. G. Not of that kind, anyhow. And now run along, Minnie, and leave me to my own base devices. I’m busy.
MRS. G. ( Calmly settling herself in long chair. ) So I see. What a mess you’re making! Why have you brought all that smelly leather stuff into the house?
CAPT. G. To play with. Do you mind, dear?
MRS. G. Let me play too. I’d like it.
CAPT. G. I’m afraid you wouldn’t, Pussy — Don’t you think that jam will burn, or whatever it is that jam does when it’s not looked after by a clever little housekeeper?
MRS. G. I thought you said Hyder could attend to it. I left him in the veranda, stirring — when I hurt myself so.
CAPT. G. ( His eye returning to the equipment. ) Po-oor little woman! — Three pounds four and seven is three eleven, and that can be cut down to two eight, with just a lee -tle care, without weakening anything. Farriery is all rot in incompetent hands. What’s the use of a shoe-case when a man’s scouting? He can’t stick it on with a lick — like a stamp — the shoe! Skittles!
MRS. G. What’s skittles? Pah! What is this leather cleaned with?
CAPT. G. Cream and champagne and — Look here, dear, do you really want to talk to me about anything important?
MRS. G. No. I’ve done my accounts, and I thought I’d like to see what you’re doing.
CAPT. G. Well, love, now you’ve seen and — Would you mind? — That is to say — Minnie, I really am busy.
MRS. G. You want me to go?
CAPT. G. Yes, dear, for a little while. This tobacco will hang in your dress, and saddlery doesn’t interest you.
MRS. G. Everything you do interests me, Pip.
CAPT. G. Yes, I know, I know, dear. I’ll tell you all about it some day when I’ve put a head on this thing. In the meantime —
MRS. G. I’m to be turned out of the room like a troublesome child?
CAPT. G. No-o. I don’t mean that exactly. But, you see, I shall be tramping up and down, shifting these things to and fro, and I shall be in your way. Don’t you think so?
MRS. G. Can’t I lift them about? Let me try. ( Reaches forward to trooper’s saddle. )
CAPT. G. Good gracious, child, don’t touch it. You’ll hurt yourself. ( Picking up saddle. ) Little girls aren’t expected to handle numdahs. Now, where would you like it put? ( Holds saddle above his head. )
MRS. G. ( A break in her voice. ) Nowhere. Pip, how good you are — and how strong! Oh, what’s that ugly red streak inside your arm?
CAPT. G. ( Lowering saddle quickly. ) Nothing. It’s a mark of sorts. ( Aside. ) And Jack’s coming to tiffin with his notions all cut and dried!
MRS. G. I know it’s a mark, but I’ve never seen it before. It runs all up the arm. What is it?
CAPT. G. A cut — if you want to know.
MRS. G. Want to know! Of course I do! I can’t have my husband cut to pieces in this way. How did it come? Was it an accident? Tell me, Pip.
CAPT. G. ( Grimly. ) No. ‘Twasn’t an accident. I got it — from a man — in Afghanistan.
MRS. G. In action? Oh, Pip, and you never told me!
CAPT. G. I’d forgotten all about it.
MRS. G. Hold up your arm! What a horrid, ugly scar! Are you sure it doesn’t hurt now? How did the man give it you?
CAPT. G. ( Desperately looking at his watch. ) With a knife. I came down — old Van Loo did, that’s to say — and fell on my leg, so I couldn’t run. And then this man came up and began chopping at me as I sprawled.
MRS. G. Oh, don’t, don’t! That’s enough! — Well, what happened?
CAPT. G. I couldn’t get to my holster, and Mafflin came round the corner and stopped the performance.
MRS. G. How? He’s such a lazy man, I don’t believe he did.
CAPT. G. Don’t you? I don’t think the man had much doubt about it. Jack cut his head off.
MRS. G. Cut — his — head — off! ‘With one blow,’ as they say in the books?
CAPT. G. I’m not sure. I was too interested in myself to know much about it. Anyhow, the head was off, and Jack was punching old Van Loo in the ribs to make him get up. Now you know all about it, dear, and now —
MRS. G. You want me to go, of course. You never told me about this, though I’ve been married to you for ever so long; and you never would have told me if I hadn’t found out; and you never do tell me anything about yourself, or what you do, or what you take an interest in.
CAPT. G. Darling, I’m always with you, aren’t I?
MRS. G. Always in my pocket, you were going to say. I know you are; but you are always thinking away from me.
CAPT. G. ( Trying to hide a smile. ) Am I? I wasn’t aware of it. I’m awf’ly sorry.
MRS. G. ( Piteously. ) Oh, don’t make fun of me! Pip, you know what I mean. When you are reading one of those things about Cavalry, by that idiotic Prince — why doesn’t he be a Prince instead of a stable-boy?
CAPT. G. Prince Kraft a stable-boy — Oh, my Aunt! Never mind, dear. You were going to say?
MRS. G. It doesn’t matter; you don’t care for what I say. Only — only you get up and walk about the room, staring in front of you, and then Mafflin comes in to dinner, and after I’m in the drawing-room I can hear you and him talking, and talking, and talking, about things I can’t understand, and — oh, I get so tired and feel so lonely! — I don’t want to complain and be a trouble, Pip; but I do — indeed I do!
CAPT. G. My poor darling! I never thought of that. Why don’t you ask some nice people in to dinner?
MRS. G. Nice people! Where am I to find them? Horrid frumps! And if I did , I shouldn’t be amused. You know I only want you.
CAPT. G. And you have me surely, Sweetheart?
MRS. G. I have not! Pip, why don’t you take me into your life?
CAPT. G. More than I do? That would be difficult, dear.
MRS. G. Yes, I suppose it would — to you. I’m no help to you — no companion to you; and you like to have it so.
CAPT. G. Aren’t you a little unreasonable, Pussy?
MRS. G. ( Stamping her foot. ) I’m the most reasonable woman in the world — when I’m treated properly.
CAPT. G. And since when have I been treating you improperly?
MRS. G. Always — and since the beginning. You know you have.
CAPT. G. I don’t; but I’m willing to be convinced.
MRS. G. ( Pointing to saddlery. ) There!
CAPT. G. How do you mean?
MRS. G. What does all that mean? Why am I not to be told? Is it so precious?
CAPT. G. I forget its exact Government value just at present. It means that it is a great deal too heavy.
MRS. G. Then why do you touch it?
CAPT. G. To make it lighter. See here, little love, I’ve one notion and Jack has another, but we are both agreed that all this equipment is about thirty pounds too heavy. The thing is how to cut it down without weakening any part of it, and, at the same time, allowing the trooper to carry everything he wants for his own comfort — socks and shirts and things of that kind.
MRS. G. Why doesn’t he pack them in a little trunk?
CAPT. G. ( Kissing her. ) Oh, you darling! Pack them in a little trunk, indeed! Hussars don’t carry trunks, and it’s a most important thing to make the horse do all the carrying.
MRS. G. But why need you bother about it? You’re not a trooper.
CAPT. G. No; but I command a few score of him; and equipment is nearly everything in these days.
MRS. G. More than me?
CAPT. G. Stupid! Of course not; but it’s a matter that I’m tremendously interested in, because if I or Jack, or I and Jack, work out some sort of lighter saddlery and all that, it’s possible that we may get it adopted.
MRS. G. How?
CAPT. G. Sanctioned at Home, where they will make a sealed pattern — a pattern that all the saddlers must copy — and so it will be used by all the regiments.
MRS. G. And that interests you?
CAPT. G. It’s part of my profession, y’know, and my profession is a good deal to me. Everything in a soldier’s equipment is important, and if we can improve that equipment, so much the better for the soldiers and for us.
MRS.G. Who’s ‘us’?
CAPT. G. Jack and I; only Jack’s notions are too radical. What’s that big sigh for, Minnie?
MRS. G. Oh, nothing — and you’ve kept all this a secret from me! Why?
CAPT. G. Not a secret, exactly, dear. I didn’t say anything about it to you because I didn’t think it would amuse you.
MRS. G. And am I only made to be amused?
CAPT. G. No, of course. I merely mean that it couldn’t interest you.
MRS. G. It’s your work and — and if you’d let me, I’d count all these things up. If they are too heavy, you know by how much they are too heavy, and you must have a list of things made out to your scale of lightness, and —
CAPT. G. I have got both scales somewhere in my head; but it’s hard to tell how light you can make a headstall, for instance, until you’ve actually had a model made.
MRS. G. But if you read out the list, I could copy it down, and pin it up there just above your table. Wouldn’t that do?
CAPT. G. It would be awf’ly nice, dear, but it would be giving you trouble for nothing. I can’t work that way. I go by rule of thumb. I know the present scale of weights, and the other one — the one that I’m trying to work to — will shift and vary so much that I couldn’t be certain, even if I wrote it down.
MRS. G. I’m so sorry. I thought I might help. Is there anything else that I could be of use in?
CAPT. G. ( Looking round the room. ) I can’t think of anything. You’re always helping me, you know.
MRS. G. Am I? How?
CAPT. G. You are you of course, and as long as you’re near me — I can’t explain exactly, but it’s in the air.
MRS. G. And that’s why you wanted to send me away?
CAPT. G. That’s only when I’m trying to do work — grubby work like this.
MRS. G. Mafflin’s better, then, isn’t he?
CAPT. G. ( Rashly. ) Of course he is. Jack and I have been thinking along the same groove for two or three years about this equipment. It’s our hobby, and it may really be useful some day.
MRS. G. ( After a pause. ) And that’s all that you have away from me?
CAPT. G. It isn’t very far away from you now. Take care the oil on that bit doesn’t come off on your dress.
MRS. G. I wish — I wish so much that I could really help you. I believe I could — if I left the room. But that’s not what I mean.
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) Give me patience! I wish she would go. ( Aloud. ) I assure you you can’t do anything for me, Minnie, and I must really settle down to this. Where’s my pouch?
MRS. G. ( Crossing to writing-table. ) Here you are, Bear. What a mess you keep your table in!
CAPT. G. Don’t touch it. There’s a method in my madness, though you mightn’t think of it.
MRS. G. ( At table. ) I want to look — Do you keep accounts, Pip?
CAPT. G. ( Bending over saddlery. ) Of a sort. Are you rummaging among the Troop papers? Be careful.
MRS. G. Why? I shan’t disturb anything. Good gracious! I had no idea that you had anything to do with so many sick horses.
CAPT. G. ‘Wish I hadn’t, but they insist on falling sick. Minnie, if I were you I really should not investigate those papers. You may come across something that you won’t like.
MRS. G. Why will you always treat me like a child? I know I’m not displacing the horrid things.
CAPT. G. ( Resignedly. ) Very well, then. Don’t blame me if anything happens. Play with the table and let me go on with the saddlery. ( Slipping hand into trousers-pocket. ) Oh, the deuce!
MRS. G. ( Her back to G.) What’s that for?
CAPT. G. Nothing. ( Aside. ) There’s not much in it, but I wish I’d torn it up.
MRS. G. ( Turning over contents of table. ) I know you’ll hate me for this; but I do want to see what your work is like. ( A pause. ) Pip, what are ‘farcy-buds’?
CAPT. G. Hah! Would you really like to know? They aren’t pretty things.
MRS. G. This Journal of Veterinary Science says they are of ‘absorbing interest.’ Tell me.
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) It may turn her attention.
Gives a long and designedly loathsome account of glanders and farcy
MRS. G. Oh, that’s enough. Don’t go on!
CAPT. G. But you wanted to know — Then these things suppurate and matterate and spread —
MRS. G. Pip, you’re making me sick! You’re a horrid, disgusting schoolboy.
CAPT. G. ( On his knees among the bridles. ) You asked to be told. It’s not my fault if you worry me into talking about horrors.
MRS. G. Why didn’t you say — No?
CAPT. G. Good Heavens, child! Have you come in here simply to bully me?
MRS. G. I bully you? How could I! You’re so strong. ( Hysterically. ) Strong enough to pick me up and put me outside the door and leave me there to cry. Aren’t you?
CAPT. G. It seems to me that you’re an irrational little baby. Are you quite well?
MRS. G. Do I look ill? ( Returning to table. ) Who is your lady friend with the big gray envelope and the fat monogram outside?
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) Then it wasn’t locked up, confound it. ( Aloud. ) ‘God made her, therefore let her pass for a woman.’ You remember what farcy-buds are like?
MRS. G. ( Showing envelope. ) This has nothing to do with them. I’m going to open it. May I?
CAPT. G. Certainly, if you want to. I’d sooner you didn’t, though. I don’t ask to look at your letters to the Deercourt girl.
MRS. G. You’d better not, Sir! ( Takes letter from envelope. ) Now, may I look? If you say no, I shall cry.
CAPT. G. You’ve never cried in my knowledge of you, and I don’t believe you could.
MRS. G. I feel very like it today, Pip. Don’t be hard on me. ( Reads letter. ) It begins in the middle, without any ‘Dear Captain Gadsby,’ or anything. How funny!
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) No, it’s not Dear Captain Gadsby, or anything, now. How funny!
MRS. G. What a strange letter! ( Reads. ) ‘And so the moth has come too near the candle at last, and has been singed into — shall I say Respectability? I congratulate him, and hope he will be as happy as he deserves to be.’ What does that mean? Is she congratulating you about our marriage?
CAPT. G. Yes, I suppose so.
MRS. G. ( Still reading letter. ) She seems to be a particular friend of yours.
CAPT. G. Yes. She was an excellent matron of sorts — a Mrs. Herriott — wife of a Colonel Herriott. I used to know some of her people at Home long ago — before I came out.
MRS. G. Some Colonels’ wives are young — as young as me. I knew one who was younger.
CAPT. G. Then it couldn’t have been Mrs. Herriott. She was old enough to have been your mother, dear.
MRS. G. I remember now. Mrs. Scargill was talking about her at the Duffins’ tennis, before you came for me, on Tuesday. Captain Mafflin said she was a ‘dear old woman.’ Do you know, I think Mafflin is a very clumsy man with his feet.
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) Good old Jack! ( Aloud. ) Why, dear?
MRS. G. He had put his cup down on the ground then, and he literally stepped into it. Some of the tea spirted over my dress — the gray one. I meant to tell you about it before.
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) There are the makings of a strategist about Jack, though his methods are coarse. ( Aloud. ) You’d better get a new dress, then. ( Aside. ) Let us pray that that will turn her.
MRS. G. Oh, it isn’t stained in the least. I only thought that I’d tell you. ( Returning to letter. ) What an extraordinary person! ( Reads. ) ‘But need I remind you that you have taken upon yourself a charge of wardship’— what in the world is a charge of wardship? —‘which, as you yourself know, may end in Consequences —’
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) It’s safest to let ’em see everything as they come across it; but ‘seems to me that there are exceptions to the rule. ( Aloud. ) I told you that there was nothing to be gained from rearranging my table.
MRS. G. ( Absently. ) What does the woman mean? She goes on talking about Consequences —‘almost inevitable Consequences’ with a capital C— for half a page. ( Flushing scarlet. ) Oh, good gracious! How abominable!
CAPT. G. ( Promptly. ) Do you think so? Doesn’t it show a sort of motherly interest in us? ( Aside. ) Thank Heaven, Harry always wrapped her meaning up safely! ( Aloud. ) Is it absolutely necessary to go on with the letter, darling?
MRS. G. It’s impertinent — it’s simply horrid. What right has this woman to write in this way to you? She oughtn’t to.
CAPT. G. When you write to the Deercourt girl, I notice that you generally fill three or four sheets. Can’t you let an old woman babble on paper once in a way? She means well.
MRS. G. I don’t care. She shouldn’t write, and if she did, you ought to have shown me her letter.
CAPT. G. Can’t you understand why I kept it to myself, or must I explain at length — as I explained the farcy-buds?
MRS. G. ( Furiously. ) Pip, I hate you! This is as bad as those idiotic saddle-bags on the floor. Never mind whether it would please me or not, you ought to have given it to me to read.
CAPT. G. It comes to the same thing. You took it yourself.
MRS. G. Yes, but if I hadn’t taken it, you wouldn’t have said a word. I think this Harriet Herriott — it’s like a name in a book — is an interfering old Thing.
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) So long as you thoroughly understand that she is old, I don’t much care what you think. ( Aloud. ) Very good, dear. Would you like to write and tell her so? She’s seven thousand miles away.
MRS. G. I don’t want to have anything to do with her, but you ought to have told me. ( Turning to last page of letter. ) And she patronises me , too. I ’ve never seen her! ( Reads. ) ‘I do not know how the world stands with you; in all human probability I shall never know; but whatever I may have said before, I pray for her sake more than for yours that all may be well. I have learnt what misery means, and I dare not wish that any one dear to you should share my knowledge.’
CAPT. G. Good God! Can’t you leave that letter alone, or, at least, can’t you refrain from reading it aloud? I’ve been through it once. Put it back on the desk. Do you hear me?
MRS. G. ( Irresolutely. ) I sh — shan’t! ( Looks at G’.s eyes. ) Oh, Pip, please! I didn’t mean to make you angry —‘Deed, I didn’t. Pip, I’m so sorry. I know I’ve wasted your time ——
CAPT. G. ( Grimly. ) You have. Now, will you be good enough to go — if there is nothing more in my room that you are anxious to pry into?
MRS. G. ( Putting out her hands. ) Oh, Pip, don’t look at me like that! I’ve never seen you look like that before and it hu-urts me! I’m sorry. I oughtn’t to have been here at all, and — and — and —( sobbing ). Oh, be good to me! Be good to me! There’s only you — anywhere!
Breaks down in long chair, hiding face in cushions.
CAPT. G. ( Aside. ) She doesn’t know how she flicked me on the raw. ( Aloud, bending over chair. ) I didn’t mean to be harsh, dear — I didn’t really. You can stay here as long as you please, and do what you please. Don’t cry like that. You’ll make yourself sick. ( Aside. ) What on earth has come over her? ( Aloud. ) Darling, what’s the matter with you?
MRS. G. ( Her face still hidden. ) Let me go — let me go to my own room. Only — only say you aren’t angry with me.
CAPT. G. Angry with you , love! Of course not. I was angry with myself. I’d lost my temper over the saddlery — Don’t hide your face, Pussy. I want to kiss it.
Bends lower , MRS. G. slides right arm round his neck. Several interludes and much sobbing.
MRS. G. ( In a whisper. ) I didn’t mean about the jam when I came in to tell you ——
CAPT. G. Bother the jam and the equipment! ( Interlude. )
MRS. G. ( Still more faintly. ) My finger wasn’t scalded at all . I— I wanted to speak to you about — about — something else, and — I didn’t know how.
CAPT. G. Speak away, then. ( Looking into her eyes. ) Eh! Wha — at? Minnie! Here, don’t go away! You don’t mean?
MRS. G. ( Hysterically, backing to portiere and hiding her face in its folds. ) The — the Almost Inevitable Consequences! ( Flits though portiere as G. attempts to catch her, and bolts herself in her own room. )
CAPT. G. ( His arms full of portiere. ) Oh! ( Sitting down heavily in chair. ) I’m a brute — a pig — a bully, and a blackguard. My poor, poor little darling! ‘Made to be amused only —?
7 — The Valley of the Shadow
Knowing Good and Evil.
SCENE. — The GADSBYS’ bungalow in the Plains, in June. Punkah-coolies asleep in veranda where CAPTAIN GADSBY is walking up and down. DOCTOR’S trap in porch. JUNIOR CHAPLAIN drifting generally and uneasily through the house. Time, 3.40 A. M. Heat 94 degrees in veranda.
DOCTOR. ( Coming into veranda and touching G. on the shoulder. ) You had better go in and see her now.
CAPT. G. ( The colour of good cigar-ash. ) Eh, wha-at? Oh, yes, of course. What did you say?
DOCTOR. ( Syllable by syllable. ) Go — in-to — the — room — and — see — her. She wants to speak to you. ( Aside, testily. ) I shall have him on my hands next.
JUNIOR CHAPLAIN. ( In half-lighted dining-room. ) Isn’t there any —?
DOCTOR. ( Savagely. ) Hsh, you little fool!
JUNIOR CHAPLAIN. Let me do my work. Gadsby, stop a minute! ( Edges after G.)
DOCTOR. Wait till she sends for you at least — at least . Man alive, he’ll kill you if you go in there! What are you bothering him for?
JUNIOR CHAPLAIN. ( Coming into veranda. ) I’ve given him a stiff brandy-peg. He wants it. You’ve forgotten him for the last ten hours and — forgotten yourself too.
G. enters bedroom, which is lit by one night-lamp. Ayah on the floor pretending to be asleep.
VOICE. ( From the bed. ) All down the street — such bonfires! Ayah , go and put them out! ( Appealingly. ) How can I sleep with an installation of the C.I.E. in my room? No — not C.I.E. Something else. What was it?
CAPT. G. ( Trying to control his voice. ) Minnie, I’m here. ( Bending over bed. ) Don’t you know me, Minnie? It’s me — it’s Phil — it’s your husband.
VOICE. ( Mechanically. ) It’s me — it’s Phil — it’s your husband.
CAPT. G. She doesn’t know me! — It’s your own husband, darling,
VOICE. Your own husband, darling.
AYAH. ( With an inspiration. ) Memsahib understanding all I saying.
CAPT. G. Make her understand me then — quick!
AYAH. ( Hand on MRS. G’s forehead. ) Memsahib! Captain Sahib here.
VOICE. Salma do. ( Fretfully. ) I know I’m not fit to be seen.
AYAH. ( Aside to G.) Say ’marneen’ same as breakfash.
CAPT. G. Good-morning, little woman. How are we today?
VOICE. That’s Phil. Poor old Phil. ( Viciously. ) Phil, you fool, I can’t see you. Come nearer.
CAPT. G. Minnie! Minnie! It’s me — you know me?
VOICE. ( Mockingly. ) Of course I do. Who does not know the man who was so cruel to his wife — almost the only one he ever had?
CAPT. G. Yes, dear. Yes — of course, of course. But won’t you speak to him? He wants to speak to you so much.
VOICE. They’d never let him in. The Doctor would give darwaza bund even if he were in the house. He’ll never come. ( Despairingly. ) O Judas! Judas! Judas!
CAPT. G. ( Putting out his arms. ) They have let him in, and he always was in the house. Oh, my love — don’t you know me?
VOICE. ( In a half chant. ) ‘And it came to pass at the eleventh hour that this poor soul repented.’ It knocked at the gates, but they were shut — tight as a plaster — a great, burning plaster. They had pasted our marriage certificate all across the door, and it was made of red-hot iron — people really ought to be more careful, you know.
CAPT. G. What am I to do? ( Takes her in his arms. ) Minnie! speak to me — to Phil.
VOICE. What shall I say? Oh, tell me what to say before it’s too late! They are all going away and I can’t say anything.
CAPT. G. Say you know me! Only say you know me!
DOCTOR. ( Who has entered quietly. ) For pity’s sake don’t take it too much to heart, Gadsby. It’s this way sometimes. They won’t recognise. They say all sorts of queer things — don’t you see?
CAPT. G. All right! All right! Go away now, she’ll recognise me; you’re bothering her. She must — mustn’t she?
DOCTOR. She will before — Have I your leave to try —?
CAPT. G. Anything you please, so long as she’ll know me. It’s only a question of — hours, isn’t it?
DOCTOR. ( Professionally. ) While there’s life there’s hope, y’know. But don’t build on it.
CAPT. G. I don’t. Pull her together if it’s possible. ( Aside. ) What have I done to deserve this?
DOCTOR. ( Bending over bed. ) Now, Mrs. Gadsby! We shall be all right tomorrow. You must take it, or I shan’t let Phil see you. It isn’t nasty, is it?
VOICE. Medicines! Always more medicines! Can’t you leave me alone?
CAPT. G. Oh, leave her in peace, Doc!
DOCTOR. ( Stepping back — aside. ) May I be forgiven if I’ve done wrong. ( Aloud. ) In a few minutes she ought to be sensible; but I daren’t tell you to look for anything. It’s only —
CAPT. G. What? Go on , man.
DOCTOR. ( In a whisper. ) Forcing the last rally.
CAPT. G. Then leave us alone.
DOCTOR. Don’t mind what she says at first, if you can. They — they — they turn against those they love most sometimes in this. — It’s hard, but —
CAPT. G. Am I her husband or are you? Leave us alone for what time we have together.
VOICE. ( Confidentially. ) And we were engaged quite suddenly, Emma. I assure you that I never thought of it for a moment; but, oh, my little Me! — I don’t know what I should have done if he hadn’t proposed.
CAPT. G. She thinks of that Deercourt girl before she thinks of me. ( Aloud. ) Minnie!
VOICE. Not from the shops, Mummy dear. You can get the real leaves from Kaintu, and ( laughing weakly ) never mind about the blossoms — Dead white silk is only fit for widows, and I won’t wear it. It’s as bad as a winding sheet. ( A long pause. )
CAPT. G. I never asked a favour yet. If there is anybody to listen to me, let her know me — even if I die too!
VOICE. ( Very faintly. ) Pip, Pip dear.
CAPT. G. I’m here, darling.
VOICE. What has happened? They’ve been bothering me so with medicines and things, and they wouldn’t let you come and see me. I was never ill before. Am I ill now?
CAPT. G. You — you aren’t quite well.
VOICE. How funny! Have I been ill long?
CAPT. G. Some days; but you’ll be all right in a little time.
VOICE. Do you think so, Pip? I don’t feel well and — Oh! what have they done to my hair?
CAPT. G. I d-d-don’t know.
VOICE. They’ve cut it off. What a shame!
CAPT. G. It must have been to make your head cooler.
VOICE. ‘Just like a boy’s wig. Don’t I look horrid?
CAPT. G. Never looked prettier in your life, dear. ( Aside. ) How am I to ask her to say good-bye?
VOICE. I don’t feel pretty. I feel very ill. My heart won’t work. It’s nearly dead inside me, and there’s a funny feeling in my eyes. Everything seems the same distance — you and the almirah and the table — inside my eyes or miles away. What does it mean, Pip?
CAPT. G. You’re a little feverish, Sweetheart — very feverish. ( Breaking down. ) My love! my love! How can I let you go?
VOICE. I thought so. Why didn’t you tell me that at first?
CAPT. G. What?
VOICE. That I am going to — die.
CAPT. G. But you aren’t! You shan’t.
AYAH to punkah-coolie . ( Stepping into veranda after a glance at the bed. ) Punkah chor do! (Stop pulling the punkah.)
VOICE. It’s hard, Pip. So very, very hard after one year — just one year. ( Wailing. ) And I’m only twenty. Most girls aren’t even married at twenty. Can’t they do anything to help me? I don’t want to die.
CAPT. G. Hush, dear. You won’t.
VOICE. What’s the use of talking? Help me! You’ve never failed me yet. Oh, Phil, help me to keep alive. ( Feverishly. ) I don’t believe you wish me to live. You weren’t a bit sorry when that horrid Baby thing died. I wish I’d killed it!
CAPT. G. ( Drawing his hand across his forehead. ) It’s more than a man’s meant to bear — it’s not right. ( Aloud. ) Minnie, love, I’d die for you if it would help.
VOICE. No more death. There’s enough already. Pip, don’t you die too.
CAPT. G. I wish I dared.
VOICE. It says: ‘Till Death do us part.’ Nothing after that — and so it would be no use. It stops at the dying. Why does it stop there? Only such a very short life, too. Pip, I’m sorry we married.
CAPT. G. No! Anything but that, Min!
VOICE. Because you’ll forget and I’ll forget. Oh, Pip, don’t forget! I always loved you, though I was cross sometimes. If I ever did anything that you didn’t like, say you forgive me now.
CAPT. G. You never did, darling. On my soul and honour you never did. I haven’t a thing to forgive you.
VOICE. I sulked for a whole week about those petunias. ( With a laugh. ) What a little wretch I was, and how grieved you were! Forgive me that, Pip.
CAPT. G. There’s nothing to forgive. It was my fault. They were too near the drive. For God’s sake don’t talk so, Minnie! There’s such a lot to say and so little time to say it in.
VOICE. Say that you’ll always love me — until the end.
CAPT. G. Until the end. ( Carried away. ) It’s a lie. It must be, because we’ve loved each other. This isn’t the end.
VOICE. ( Relapsing into semi-delirium. ) My Church-service has an ivory-cross on the back, and it says so, so it must be true. ‘Till Death do us part.’— But that’s a lie. ( With a parody of G.‘s manner. ) A damned lie! ( Recklessly. ) Yes, I can swear as well as Trooper Pip. I can’t make my head think, though. That’s because they cut off my hair. How can one think with one’s head all fuzzy? ( Pleadingly. ) Hold me, Pip! Keep me with you always and always. ( Relapsing. ) But if you marry the Thorniss girl when I’m dead, I’ll come back and howl under our bedroom window all night. Oh, bother! You’ll think I’m a jackal. Pip, what time is it?
CAPT. G. I— I— I can’t help it, dear.
VOICE. How funny! I couldn’t cry now to save my life. (G. shivers. ) I want to sing.
CAPT. G. Won’t it tire you? Better not, perhaps.
VOICE. Why? I won’t be bothered about. ( Begins in a hoarse quaver ):—
‘Minnie bakes oaten cake, Minnie brews ale,
All because her Johnnie’s coming home from the sea.
(That’s parade, Pip.)
And she grows red as rose, who was so pale;
And “Are you sure the church-clock goes?” says she.’
( Pettishly. ) I knew I couldn’t take the last note. How do the bass chords run? ( Puts out her hands and begins playing piano on the sheet. )
CAPT. G. ( Catching up hands. ) Ahh! Don’t do that, Pussy, if you love me.
VOICE. Love you? Of course I do. Who else should it be? ( A pause. )
VOICE. ( Very clearly. ) Pip, I’m going now. Something’s choking me cruelly. ( Indistinctly. ) Into the dark — without you, my heart. — But it’s a lie, dear — we mustn’t believe it. — For ever and ever, living or dead. Don’t let me go, my husband — hold me tight. — They can’t — whatever happens. ( A cough. ) Pip — my Pip! Not for always — and — so — soon! ( Voice ceases. )
Pause of ten minutes. G. buries his face in the side of the bed while ayah bends over bed from opposite side and feels MRS. G.‘s breast and forehead.
CAPT. G. ( Rising. ) Doctor Sahib ko salaam do.
AYAH. ( Still by bedside, with a shriek. ) Ai! Ai! Tuta —— phuta! My Memsahib! Not getting — not have got! — Pusseena agya! (The sweat has come.) ( Fiercely to G. ) TUM jao Doctor Sahib ko jaldi! ( You go to the doctor.) Oh, my Memsahib!
DOCTOR. ( Entering hastily. ) Come away, Gadsby. ( Bends over bed. ) Eh! The Dev — What inspired you to stop the punkah? Get out, man — go away — wait outside! Go! Here, Ayah! ( Over his shoulder to G.) Mind, I promise nothing.
The dawn breaks as G. stumbles into the garden.
CAPT. M. ( Reining up at the gate on his way to parade and very soberly. ) Old man, how goes?
CAPT. G. ( Dazed. ) I don’t quite know. Stay a bit. Have a drink or something. Don’t run away. You’re just getting amusing. Ha! Ha!
CAPT. M. ( Aside. ) What am I let in for? Gaddy has aged ten years in the night.
CAPT. G. ( Slowly, fingering charger’s headstall. ) Your curb’s too loose.
CAPT. M. So it is. Put it straight, will you? ( Aside. ) I shall be late for parade. Poor Gaddy.
CAPT. G. links and unlinks curb-chain aimlessly, and finally stands staring towards the veranda. The day brightens.
DOCTOR. ( Knocked out of professional gravity, tramping across flower-beds and shaking G.‘s hands. ) It’s — it’s — it’s! — Gadsby, there’s a fair chance — a dashed fair chance! The flicker, y’know. The sweat, y’know! I saw how it would be. The punkah, y’know. Deuced clever woman that Ayah of yours. Stopped the punkah just at the right time. A dashed good chance! No — you don’t go in. We’ll pull her through yet I promise on my reputation — under Providence. Send a man with this note to Bingle. Two heads better than one. ‘Specially the Ayah! We’ll pull her round. ( Retreats hastily to house. )
CAPT. G. ( His head on neck of M.‘s charger. ) Jack! I bub — bub — believe, I’m going to make a bub — bub — bloody exhibitiod of byself.
CAPT. M. ( Sniffing openly and feeling in his left cuff. ) I b-b — believe, I’b doing it already. Old bad, what cad I say? I’b as pleased as — Cod dab you, Gaddy! You’re one big idiot and I’b adother. ( Pulling himself together. ) Sit tight! Here comes the Devil-dodger.
JUNIOR CHAPLAIN. ( Who is not in the Doctor’s confidence. ) We — we are only men in these things, Gadsby. I know that I can say nothing now to help —
CAPT. M. ( Jealously. ) Then don’t say it! Leave him alone. It’s not bad enough to croak over. Here, Gaddy, take the chit to Bingle and ride hell-for-leather. It’ll do you good. I can’t go.
JUNIOR CHAPLAIN. Do him good! ( Smiling. ) Give me the chit and I’ll drive. Let him lie down. Your horse is blocking my cart — please!
CAPT. M. ( Slowly without reining back. ) I beg your pardon — I’ll apologise. On paper if you like.
JUNIOR CHAPLAIN. ( Flicking M.‘s charger. ) That’ll do, thanks. Turn in, Gadsby, and I’ll bring Bingle back — ahem —‘hell-for-leather.’
CAPT. M. ( Solus. ) It would have served me right if he’d cut me across the face. He can drive too. I shouldn’t care to go that pace in a bamboo cart. What a faith he must have in his Maker — of harness! Come hup , you brute! ( Gallops off to parade, blowing his nose, as the sun rises. )
MRS. G. ( Very white and pinched, in morning wrapper at breakfast table. ) How big and strange the room looks, and oh how glad I am to see it again! What dust, though! I must talk to the servants. Sugar, Pip? I’ve almost forgotten. ( Seriously. ) Wasn’t I very ill?
CAPT. G. Iller than I liked. ( Tenderly. ) Oh, you bad little Pussy, what a start you gave me!
MRS. G. I’ll never do it again.
CAPT. G. You’d better not. And now get those poor pale cheeks pink again, or I shall be angry. Don’t try to lift the urn. You’ll upset it. Wait. ( Comes round to head of table and lifts urn. )
MRS. G. ( Quickly. ) Khitmatgar, bowarchi-khana see kettly lao . Butler, get a kettle from the cook-house. ( Drawing down G.‘s face to her own. ) Pip dear, I remember.
CAPT. G. What?
MRS. G. That last terrible night.
CAPT. G. Then just you forget all about it.
MRS. G. ( Softly, her eyes filling. ) Never. It has brought us very close together, my husband. There! ( Interlude. ) I’m going to give Junda a saree.
CAPT. G. I gave her fifty dibs.
MRS. G. So she told me. It was a ‘normous reward. Was I worth it? ( Several interludes. ) Don’t! Here’s the khitmatgar . — Two lumps or one, Sir?
8 — The Swelling of Jordan
If thou hast run with the footmen and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? And if in the land of peace wherein thou trustedst they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?
SCENE. — The GADSEYS’ bungalow in the Plains, on a January morning. MRS. G. arguing with bearer in back veranda.
CAPT. M. rides up.
CAPT. M. ‘Mornin’, Mrs. Gadsby. How’s the Infant Phenomenon and the Proud Proprietor?
MRS. G. You’ll find them in the front veranda; go through the house. I’m Martha just now.
CAPT. M. ‘Cumbered about with cares of khitmatgars? I fly.
Passes into front veranda, where GADSBY is watching GADSBY JUNIOR, aged ten months, crawling about the matting.
CAPT. M. What’s the trouble, Gaddy — spoiling an honest man’s Europe morning this way? ( Seeing G. JUNIOR.) By Jove, that yearling’s comin’ on amazingly! Any amount of bone below the knee there.
CAPT. G. Yes, he’s a healthy little scoundrel. Don’t you think his hair’s growing?
M. Let’s have a look. Hi! Hst! Come here, General Luck, and we’ll report on you.
MRS. G. ( Within. ) What absurd name will you give him next? Why do you call him that?
M. Isn’t he our Inspector–General of Cavalry? Doesn’t he come down in his seventy-two perambulator every morning the Pink Hussars parade? Don’t wriggle, Brigadier. Give us your private opinion on the way the third squadron went past. ‘Trifle ragged, weren’t they?
G. A bigger set of tailors than the new draft I don’t wish to see. They’ve given me more than my fair share — knocking the squadron out of shape. It’s sickening!
M. When you’re in command, you’ll do better, young ’un. Can’t you walk yet? Get my finger and try. ( To G.) ‘Twon’t hurt his hocks, will it?
G. Oh, no. Don’t let him flop, though, or he’ll lick all the blacking off your boots.
MRS. G. ( Within. ) Who’s destroying my son’s character?
M. And my Godson’s. I’m ashamed of you, Gaddy. Punch your father in the eye, Jack! Don’t you stand it! Hit him again!
G. ( Sotto voce. ) Put The Butcha down and come to the end of the veranda. I’d rather the Wife didn’t hear — just now.
M. You look awf’ly serious. Anything wrong?
G. ‘Depends on your view entirely. I say, Jack, you won’t think more hardly of me than you can help, will you? Come further this way. — The fact of the matter is, that I’ve made up my mind — at least I’m thinking seriously of — cutting the Service.
M. Hwhatt?
G. Don’t shout. I’m going to send in my papers.
M. You! Are you mad?
G. No — only married.
M. Look here! What’s the meaning of it all? You never intend to leave us . You can’t . Isn’t the best squadron of the best regiment of the best cavalry in all the world good enough for you?
G. ( Jerking his head over his shoulder .) She doesn’t seem to thrive in this God-forsaken country, and there’s The Butcha to be considered and all that, you know.
M. Does she say that she doesn’t like India?
G. That’s the worst of it. She won’t for fear of leaving me.
M. What are the Hills made for?
G. Not for my wife at any rate.
M. You know too much, Gaddy, and — I don’t like you any the better for it!
G. Never mind that. She wants England, and The Butcha would be all the better for it. I’m going to chuck. You don’t understand.
M. ( Hotly. ) I understand this . One hundred and thirty-seven new horses to be licked into shape somehow before Luck comes round again; a hairy-heeled draft who’ll give more trouble than the horses; a camp next cold weather for a certainty; ourselves the first on the roster; the Russian shindy ready to come to a head at five minutes’ notice, and you, the best of us all, backing out of it all! Think a little, Gaddy. You won’t do it.
G. Hang it, a man has some duties towards his family, I suppose.
M. I remember a man, though, who told me, the night after Amdheran, when we were picketed under Jagai, and he’d left his sword — by the way, did you ever pay Ranken for that sword? — in an Utmanzai’s head — that man told me that he’d stick by me and the Pinks as long as he lived. I don’t blame him for not sticking by me — I’m not much of a man — but I do blame him for not sticking by the Pink Hussars.
G. ( Uneasily .) We were little more than boys then. Can’t you see, Jack, how things stand? ‘Tisn’t as if we were serving for our bread. We’ve all of us, more or less, got the filthy lucre. I’m luckier than some, perhaps. There’s no call for me to serve on.
M. None in the world for you or for us, except the Regimental. If you don’t choose to answer to that , of course —
G. Don’t be too hard on a man. You know that a lot of us only take up the thing for a few years and then go back to Town and catch on with the rest.
M. Not lots, and they aren’t some of Us .
G. And then there are one’s affairs at Home to be considered — my place and the rents, and all that. I don’t suppose my father can last much longer, and that means the title, and so on.
M. ‘Fraid you won’t be entered in the Stud Book correctly unless you go Home? Take six months, then, and come out in October. If I could slay off a brother or two, I s’pose I should be a Marquis of sorts. Any fool can be that; but it needs men , Gaddy — men like you — to lead flanking squadrons properly. Don’t you delude yourself into the belief that you’re going Home to take your place and prance about among pink-nosed Kabuli dowagers. You aren’t built that way. I know better.
G. A man has a right to live his life as happily as he can. You aren’t married.
M. No — praise be to Providence and the one or two women who have had the good sense to jawab me.
G. Then you don’t know what it is to go into your own room and see your wife’s head on the pillow, and when everything else is safe and the house shut up for the night, to wonder whether the roof-beams won’t give and kill her.
M. ( Aside .) Revelations first and second! ( Aloud .) So-o! I knew a man who got squiffy at our Mess once and confided to me that he never helped his wife on to her horse without praying that she’d break her neck before she came back. All husbands aren’t alike, you see.
G. What on earth has that to do with my case? The man must ha’ been mad, or his wife as bad as they make ’em.
M. ( Aside .) ‘No fault of yours if either weren’t all you say. You’ve forgotten the tune when you were insane about the Herriott woman. You always were a good hand at forgetting. ( Aloud .) Not more mad than men who go to the other extreme. Be reasonable, Gaddy. Your roof-beams are sound enough.
G. That was only a way of speaking. I’ve been uneasy and worried about the Wife ever since that awful business three years ago — when — I nearly lost her. Can you wonder?
M. Oh, a shell never falls twice in the same place. You’ve paid your toll to misfortune — why should your wife be picked out more than anybody else’s?
G. I can talk just as reasonably as you can, but you don’t understand — you don’t understand. And then there’s The Butcha. Deuce knows where the Ayah takes him to sit in the evening! He has a bit of a cough. Haven’t you noticed it?
M. Bosh! The Brigadier’s jumping out of his skin with pure condition. He’s got a muzzle like a rose-leaf and the chest of a two-year-old. What’s demoralised you?
G. Funk. That’s the long and the short of it. Funk!
M. But what is there to funk?
G. Everything. It’s ghastly.
M. Ah! I see.
You don’t want to fight,
And by Jingo when we do,
You’ve got the kid, you’ve got the Wife,
You’ve got the money, too.
That’s about the case, eh?
G. I suppose that’s it. But it’s not for myself. It’s because of them. At least I think it is.
M. Are you sure? Looking at the matter in a cold-blooded light, the Wife is provided for even if you were wiped out to-night. She has an ancestral home to go to, money, and the Brigadier to carry on the illustrious name.
G. Then it is for myself or because they are part of me. You don’t see it. My life’s so good, so pleasant, as it is, that I want to make it quite safe. Can’t you understand?
M. Perfectly. ‘Shelter-pit for the Orf’cer’s charger,’ as they say in the Line.
G. And I have everything to my hand to make it so. I’m sick of the strain and the worry for their sakes out here; and there isn’t a single real difficulty to prevent my dropping it altogether. It’ll only cost me — Jack, I hope you’ll never know the shame that I’ve been going through for the past six months.
M. Hold on there! I don’t wish to be told. Every man has his moods and tenses sometimes.
G. ( Laughing bitterly .) Has he? What do you call craning over to see where your near-fore lands?
M. In my case it means that I have been on the Considerable Bend, and have come to parade with a Head and a Hand. It passes in three strides.
G. ( Lowering voice .) It never passes with me, Jack. I’m always thinking about it. Phil Gadsby funking a fall on parade! Sweet picture, isn’t it! Draw it for me.
M. ( Gravely .) Heaven forbid! A man like you can’t be as bad as that. A fall is no nice thing, but one never gives it a thought.
G. Doesn’t one? Wait till you’ve got a wife and a youngster of your own, and then you’ll know how the roar of the squadron behind you turns you cold all up the back.
M. ( Aside. ) And this man led at Amdheran after Bagal–Deasin went under, and we were all mixed up together, and he came out of the show dripping like a butcher. ( Aloud. ) Skittles! The men can always open out, and you can always pick your way more or less. We haven’t the dust to bother us, as the men have, and whoever heard of a horse stepping on a man?
G. Never — as long as he can see. But did they open out for poor Errington?
M. Oh, this is childish!
G. I know it is, worse than that. I don’t care. You’ve ridden Van Loo. Is he the sort of brute to pick his way —‘specially when we’re coming up in column of troop with any pace on?
M. Once in a Blue Moon do we gallop in column of troop, and then only to save time. Aren’t three lengths enough for you?
G. Yes — quite enough. They just allow for the full development of the smash. I’m talking like a cur, I know: but I tell you that, for the past three months, I’ve felt every hoof of the squadron in the small of my back every time that I’ve led.
M. But, Gaddy, this is awful!
G. Isn’t it lovely? Isn’t it royal? A Captain of the Pink Hussars watering up his charger before parade like the blasted boozing Colonel of a Black Regiment!
M. You never did!
G. Once only. He squelched like a mussuck , and the Troop–Sergeant-Major cocked his eye at me. You know old Haffy’s eye. I was afraid to do it again.
M. I should think so. That was the best way to rupture old Van Loo’s tummy, and make him crumple you up. You knew that.
G. I didn’t care. It took the edge off him.
M. ‘Took the edge off him’? Gaddy, you — you — you mustn’t , you know! Think of the men.
G. That’s another thing I am afraid of. D’you s’pose they know?
M. Let’s hope not; but they’re deadly quick to spot skrim — little things of that kind. See here, old man, send the Wife Home for the hot weather and come to Kashmir with me. We’ll start a boat on the Dal or cross the Rhotang — shoot ibex or loaf — which you please. Only come! You’re a bit off your oats and you’re talking nonsense. Look at the Colonel — swag-bellied rascal that he is. He has a wife and no end of a bow-window of his own. Can any one of us ride round him — chalk-stones and all? I can’t, and I think I can shove a crock along a bit.
G. Some men are different. I haven’t the nerve. Lord help me, I haven’t the nerve! I’ve taken up a hole and a half to get my knees well under the wallets. I can’t help it. I’m so afraid of anything happening to me. On my soul, I ought to be broke in front of the squadron, for cowardice.
M. Ugly word, that. I should never have the courage to own up.
G. I meant to lie about my reasons when I began, but — I’ve got out of the habit of lying to you, old man. Jack, you won’t? — But I know you won’t.
M. Of course not. ( Half aloud .) The Pinks are paying dearly for their Pride.
G. Eh! Wha-at?
M. Don’t you know? The men have called Mrs. Gadsby the Pride of the Pink Hussars ever since she came to us.
G. ‘Tisn’t her fault. Don’t think that. It’s all mine.
M. What does she say?
G. I haven’t exactly put it before her. She’s the best little woman in the world, Jack, and all that — but she wouldn’t counsel a man to stick to his calling if it came between him and her. At least, I think —
M. Never mind. Don’t tell her what you told me. Go on the Peerage and Landed–Gentry tack.
G. She’d see through it. She’s five times cleverer than I am.
M. ( Aside. ) Then she’ll accept the sacrifice and think a little bit worse of him for the rest of her days.
G. ( Absently. ) I say, do you despise me?
M. ‘Queer way of putting it. Have you ever been asked that question? Think a minute. What answer used you to give?
G. So bad as that? I’m not entitled to expect anything more, but it’s a bit hard when one’s best friend turns round and —
M. So I have found. But you will have consolations — Bailiffs and Drains and Liquid Manure and the Primrose League, and, perhaps, if you’re lucky, the Colonelcy of a Yeomanry Cav-al-ry Regiment — all uniform and no riding, I believe. How old are you?
G. Thirty-three. I know it’s —
M. At forty you’ll be a fool of a J.P. landlord. At fifty you’ll own a bath-chair, and The Brigadier, if he takes after you, will be fluttering the dovecotes of — what’s the particular dunghill you’re going to? Also, Mrs. Gadsby will be fat.
G. ( Limply. ) This is rather more than a joke.
M. D’you think so? Isn’t cutting the Service a joke? It generally takes a man fifty years to arrive at it. You’re quite right, though. It is more than a joke. You’ve managed it in thirty-three.
G. Don’t make me feel worse than I do. Will it satisfy you if I own that I am a shirker, a skrim-shanker, and a coward?
M. It will not , because I’m the only man in the world who can talk to you like this without being knocked down. You mustn’t take all that I’ve said to heart in this way. I only spoke — a lot of it at least — out of pure selfishness, because, because — Oh, damn it all, old man — I don’t know what I shall do without you. Of course, you’ve got the money and the place and all that — and there are two very good reasons why you should take care of yourself.
G. ‘Doesn’t make it any the sweeter. I’m backing out — I know I am. I always had a soft drop in me somewhere — and I daren’t risk any danger to them.
M. Why in the world should you? You’re bound to think of your family — bound to think. Er-hmm. If I wasn’t a younger son I’d go too — be shot if I wouldn’t!
G. Thank you, Jack. It’s a kind lie, but it’s the blackest you’ve told for some time. I know what I’m doing, and I’m going into it with my eyes open. Old man, I can’t help it. What would you do if you were in my place?
M. ( Aside. ) ‘Couldn’t conceive any woman getting permanently between me and the Regiment. ( Aloud. ) ‘Can’t say. ‘Very likely I should do no better. I’m sorry for you — awf’ly sorry — but ‘if them’s your sentiments,’ I believe, I really do, that you are acting wisely.
G. Do you? I hope you do. ( In a whisper. ) Jack, be very sure of yourself before you marry. I’m an ungrateful ruffian to say this, but marriage — even as good a marriage as mine has been — hampers a man’s work, it cripples his sword-arm, and oh, it plays Hell with his notions of duty! Sometimes — good and sweet as she is — sometimes I could wish that I had kept my freedom — No, I don’t mean that exactly.
MRS. G. ( Coming down the veranda. ) What are you wagging your head over, Pip?
M. ( Turning quickly. ) Me, as usual. The old sermon. Your husband is recommending me to get married. ‘Never saw such a one-ideaed man!
MRS. G. Well, why don’t you? I daresay you would make some woman very happy.
G. There’s the Law and the Prophets, Jack. Never mind the Regiment. Make a woman happy. ( Aside. ) O Lord!
M. We’ll see. I must be off to make a Troop Cook desperately unhappy. I won’t have the wily Hussar fed on Government Bullock Train shinbones —( Hastily. ) Surely black ants can’t be good for The Brigadier. He’s picking ’em off the matting and eating ’em. Here, Senor Commandante Don Grubbynose, come and talk to me. ( Lifts G. JUNIOR in his arms. ) ‘Want my watch? You won’t be able to put it into your mouth, but you can try. (G. JUNIOR drops watch, breaking dial and hands. )
MRS. G. Oh, Captain Mafflin, I am so sorry! Jack, you bad, bad little villain. Ahhh!
M. It’s not the least consequence, I assure you. He’d treat the world in the same way if he could get it into his hands. Everything’s made to be played with and broken, isn’t it, young ’un?
Mrs. G. Mafflin didn’t at all like his watch being broken, though he was too polite to say so. It was entirely his fault for giving it to the child. Dem little puds are werry, werry feeble, aren’t dey, my Jack-indebox? ( To G.) What did he want to see you for?
G. Regimental shop as usual.
MRS. G. The Regiment! Always the Regiment. On my word, I sometimes feel jealous of Mafflin.
G. ( Wearily. ) Poor old Jack? I don’t think you need. Isn’t it time for The Butcha to have his nap? Bring a chair out here, dear. I’ve got something to talk over with you.
And this is the end of the Story of the Gadsbys.
In Black and White
a collection of eight short stories
First published: 1888
1 — Dray Wara Yow Dee
2 — The Judgment of Dungara
3 — At Howli Thana
4 — Gemini
5 — At Twenty-Two
6 — In Flood Time
7 — The Sending of Dana Da
8 — On the City Wall
1 — Dray Wara Yow Dee
For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance.
—Prov. vi. 34.
Almonds and raisins, Sahib? Grapes from Kabul? Or a pony of the rarest if the Sahib will only come with me. He is thirteen three, Sahib, plays polo, goes in a cart, carries a lady and — Holy Kurshed and the Blessed Imams, it is the Sahib himself! My heart is made fat and my eye glad. May you never be tired! As is cold water in the Tirah, so is the sight of a friend in a far place. And what do you in this accursed land? South of Delhi, Sahib, you know the saying —‘Rats are the men and trulls the women.’ It was an order? Ahoo! An order is an order till one is strong enough to disobey. O my brother, O my friend, we have met in an auspicious hour! Is all well in the heart and the body and the house? In a lucky day have we two come together again.
I am to go with you? Your favour is great. Will there be picket-room in the compound? I have three horses and the bundles and the horse-boy. Moreover, remember that the police here hold me a horse-thief. What do these Lowland bastards know of horse-thieves? Do you remember that time in Peshawur when Kamal hammered on the gates of Jumrud — mountebank that he was — and lifted the Colonel’s horses all in one night? Kamal is dead now, but his nephew has taken up the matter, and there will be more horses amissing if the Khaiber Levies do not look to it.
The Peace of God and the favour of His Prophet be upon this house and all that is in it! Shafizullah, rope the mottled mare under the tree and draw water. The horses can stand in the sun, but double the felts over the loins. Nay, my friend, do not trouble to look them over. They are to sell to the Officer fools who know so many tilings of the horse. The mare is heavy in foal; the gray is a devil unlicked; and the dun — but you know the trick of the peg. When they are sold I go back to Pubbi, or, it may be, the Valley of Peshawur.
O friend of my heart, it is good to see you again. I have been bowing and lying all day to the Officer–Sahibs in respect to those horses; and my mouth is dry for straight talk. Auggrh! Before a meal tobacco is good. Do not join me, for we are not in our own country. Sit in the veranda and I will spread my cloth here. But first I will drink. In the name of God returning thanks, thrice! This is sweet water, indeed — sweet as the water of Sheoran when it comes from the snows.
They are all well and pleased in the North — Khoda Baksh and the others. Yar Khan has come down with the horses from Kurdistan — six and thirty head only, and a full half pack-ponies — and has said openly in the Kashmir Serai that you English should send guns and blow the Amir into Hell. There are fifteen rolls now on the Kabul road; and at Dakka, when he thought he was clear, Yar Khan was stripped of all his Balkh stallions by the Governor! This is a great injustice, and Yar Khan is hot with rage. And of the others: Mahbub Ali is still at Pubbi, writing God knows what. Tugluq Khan is in jail for the business of the Kohat Police Post. Faiz Beg came down from Ismail-ki-Dhera with a Bokhariot belt for thee, my brother, at the closing of the year, but none knew whither thou hadst gone: there was no news left behind. The Cousins have taken a new run near Pakpattan to breed mules for the Government carts, and there is a story in Bazar of a priest. Oho! Such a salt tale! Listen —
Sahib, why do you ask that? My clothes are fouled because of the dust on the road. My eyes are sad because of the glare of the sun. My feet are swollen because I have washed them in bitter water, and my cheeks are hollow because the food here is bad. Fire burn your money! What do I want with it? I am rich and I thought you were my friend; but you are like the others — a Sahib. Is a man sad? Give him money, say the Sahibs. Is he dishonoured? Give him money, say the Sahibs. Hath he a wrong upon his head? Give him money, say the Sahibs. Such are the Sahibs, and such art thou — even thou.
Nay, do not look at the feet of the dun. Pity it is that I ever taught you to know the legs of a horse. Footsore? Be it so. What of that? The roads are hard. And the mare footsore? She bears a double burden, Sahib.
And now I pray you, give me permission to depart. Great favour and honour has the Sahib done me, and graciously has he shown his belief that the horses are stolen. Will it please him to send me to the Thana? To call a sweeper and have me led away by one of these lizard-men? I am the Sahib’s friend. I have drunk water in the shadow of his house, and he has blackened my face. Remains there anything more to do? Will the Sahib give me eight annas to make smooth the injury and — complete the insult —?
Forgive me, my brother. I knew not — I know not now — what I say. Yes, I lied to you! I will put dust on my head — and I am an Afridi! The horses have been marched footsore from the Valley to this place, and my eyes are dim, and my body aches for the want of sleep, and my heart is dried up with sorrow and shame. But as it was my shame, so by God the Dispenser of Justice — by Allah-al-Mumit — it shall be my own revenge!
We have spoken together with naked hearts before this, and our hands have dipped into the same dish and thou hast been to me as a brother. Therefore I pay thee back with lies and ingratitude — as a Pathan. Listen now! When the grief of the soul is too heavy for endurance it may be a little eased by speech, and, moreover, the mind of a true man is as a well, and the pebble of confession dropped therein sinks and is no more seen. From the Valley have I come on foot, league by league, with a fire in my chest like the fire of the Pit. And why? Hast thou, then, so quickly forgotten our customs, among this folk who sell their wives and their daughters for silver? Come back with me to the North and be among men once more. Come back, when this matter is accomplished and I call for thee! The bloom of the peach-orchards is upon all the Valley, and here is only dust and a great stink. There is a pleasant wind among the mulberry trees, and the streams are bright with snow-water, and the caravans go up and the caravans go down, and a hundred fires sparkle in the gut of the Pass, and tent-peg answers hammer-nose, and pack-horse squeals to pack-horse across the drift smoke of the evening. It is good in the North now. Come back with me. Let us return to our own people! Come!
Whence is my sorrow? Does a man tear out his heart and make fritters thereof over a slow fire for aught other than a woman? Do not laugh, friend of mine, for your time will also be. A woman of the Abazai was she, and I took her to wife to staunch the feud between our village and the men of Ghor. I am no longer young? The lime has touched my beard? True. I had no need of the wedding? Nay, but I loved her. What saith Rahman: ‘Into whose heart Love enters, there is Folly and naught else. By a glance of the eye she hath blinded thee; and by the eyelids and the fringe of the eyelids taken thee into the captivity without ransom, and naught else. ’ Dost thou remember that song at the sheep-roasting in the Pindi camp among the Uzbegs of the Amir?
The Abazai are dogs and their women the servants of sin. There was a lover of her own people, but of that her father told me naught. My friend, curse for me in your prayers, as I curse at each praying from the Fakr to the Isha, the name of Daoud Shah, Abazai, whose head is still upon his neck, whose hands are still upon his wrists, who has done me dishonour, who has made my name a laughing-stock among the women of Little Malikand.
I went into Hindustan at the end of two months — to Cherat. I was gone twelve days only; but I had said that I would be fifteen days absent. This I did to try her, for it is written: ‘Trust not the incapable.’ Coming up the gorge alone in the falling of the light, I heard the voice of a man singing at the door of my house; and it was the voice of Daoud Shah, and the song that he sang was ‘ Dray wara yow dee ’—‘All three are one.’ It was as though a heelrope had been slipped round my heart and all the Devils were drawing it tight past endurance. I crept silently up the hill-road, but the fuse of my matchlock was wetted with the rain, and I could not slay Daoud Shah from afar. Moreover, it was in my mind to kill the woman also. Thus he sang, sitting outside my house, and, anon, the woman opened the door, and I came nearer, crawling on my belly among the rocks. I had only my knife to my hand. But a stone slipped under my foot, and the two looked down the hillside, and he, leaving his matchlock, fled from my anger, because he was afraid for the life that was in him. But the woman moved not till I stood in front of her, crying: ‘O woman, what is this that thou hast done?’ And she, void of fear, though she knew my thought, laughed, saying: ‘It is a little thing. I loved him, and thou art a dog and cattle-thief coming by night. Strike!’ And I, being still blinded by her beauty, for, O my friend, the women of the Abazai are very fair, said: ‘Hast thou no fear?’ And she answered: ‘None — but only the fear that I do not die.’ Then said I: ‘Have no fear.’ And she bowed her head, and I smote it off at the neck-bone so that it leaped between my feet. Thereafter the rage of our people came upon me, and I hacked off the breasts, that the men of Little Malikand might know the crime, and cast the body into the water-course that flows to the Kabul river. Dray wara yow dee! Dray wara yow dee! The body without the head, the soul without light, and my own darkling heart — all three are one — all three are one!
That night, making no halt, I went to Ghor and demanded news of Daoud Shah. Men said: ‘He is gone to Pubbi for horses. What wouldst thou of him? There is peace between the villages.’ I made answer: ‘Aye! The peace of treachery and the love that the Devil Atala bore to Gurel.’ So I fired thrice into the gate and laughed and went my way.
In those hours, brother and friend of my heart’s heart, the moon and the stars were as blood above me, and in my mouth was the taste of dry earth. Also, I broke no bread, and my drink was the rain of the Valley of Ghor upon my face.
At Pubbi I found Mahbub Ali, the writer, sitting upon his charpoy and gave up my arms according to your Law. But I was not grieved, for it was in my heart that I should kill Daoud Shah with my bare hands thus — as a man strips a bunch of raisins. Mahbub Ali said: ‘Daoud Shah has even now gone hot-foot to Peshawur, and he will pick up his horses upon the road to Delhi, for it is said that the Bombay Tramway Company are buying horses there by the truck-load; eight horses to the truck.’ And that was a true saying.
Then I saw that the hunting would be no little thing, for the man was gone into your borders to save himself against my wrath. And shall he save himself so? Am I not alive? Though he run northward to the Dora and the snow, or southerly to the Black Water, I will follow him, as a lover follows the footsteps of his mistress, and coming upon him I will take him tenderly — Aho! so tenderly! — in my arms, saying: ‘Well hast thou done and well shalt thou be repaid.’ And out of that embrace Daoud Shah shall not go forth with the breath in his nostrils. Auggrh! Where is the pitcher? I am as thirsty as a mother-mare in the first month.
Your Law! What is your Law to me? When the horses fight on the runs do they regard the boundary pillars; or do the kites of Ali Musjid forbear because the carrion lies under the shadow of Ghor Kuttri? The matter began across the Border. It shall finish where God pleases. Here, in my own country, or in Hell. All three are one.
Listen now, sharer of the sorrow of my heart, and I will tell of the hunting. I followed to Peshawur from Pubbi, and I went to and fro about the streets of Peshawur like a houseless dog, seeking for my enemy. Once I thought I saw him washing his mouth in the conduit in the big square, but when I came up he was gone. It may be that it was he, and, seeing my face, he had fled.
A girl of the bazar said that he would go to Nowshera. I said: ‘O heart’s heart, does Daoud Shah visit thee?’ And she said: ‘Even so.’ I said: ‘I would fain see him, for we be friends parted for two years. Hide me, I pray, here in the shadow of the window shutter, and I will wait for his coming.’ And the girl said: ‘O Pathan, look into my eyes!’ And I turned, leaning upon her breast, and looked into her eyes, swearing that I spoke the very Truth of God. But she answered: ‘Never friend waited friend with such eyes. Lie to God and the Prophet, but to a woman ye cannot lie. Get hence! There shall be no harm befall Daoud Shah by cause of me.’
I would have strangled that girl but for the fear of your Police; and thus the hunting would have come to naught. Therefore I only laughed and departed, and she leaned over the window-bar in the night and mocked me down the street. Her name is Jamun. When I have made my account with the man I will return to Peshawur and — her lovers shall desire her no more for her beauty’s sake. She shall not be Jamun but Ak , the cripple among trees. Ho! Ho! Ak shall she be!
At Peshawur I bought the horses and grapes, and the almonds and dried fruits, that the reason of my wanderings might be open to the Government, and that there might be no hindrance upon the road. But when I came to Nowshera he was gone, and I knew not where to go. I stayed one day at Nowshera, and in the night a Voice spoke in my ears as I slept among the horses. All night it flew round my head and would not cease from whispering. I was upon my belly, sleeping as the Devils sleep, and it may have been that the Voice was the voice of a Devil. It sai