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“The Finest Story in the World” • 10,900 Words
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“Or ever the knightly years were gone
With the old world to the grave,
I was a king in Babylon
And you were a Christian slave,”
W.E. Henley.

His name was Charlie Mears; he was the only son of his mother who was a widow, and he lived in the north of London, coming into the City every day to work in a bank. He was twenty years old and suffered from aspirations. I met him in a public billiard-saloon where the marker called him by his given name, and he called the marker “Bullseyes.” Charlie explained, a little nervously, that he had only come to the place to look on, and since looking on at games of skill is not a cheap amusement for the young, I suggested that Charlie should go back to his mother.

That was our first step toward better acquaintance. He would call on me sometimes in the evenings instead of running about London with his fellow-clerks; and before long, speaking of himself as a young man must, he told me of his aspirations, which were all literary. He desired to make himself an undying name chiefly through verse, though he was not above sending stories of love and death to the drop-a-penny-in-the-slot journals. It was my fate to sit still while Charlie read me poems of many hundred lines, and bulky fragments of plays that would surely shake the world. My reward was his unreserved confidence, and the self-revelations and troubles of a young man are almost as holy as those of a maiden. Charlie had never fallen in love, but was anxious to do so on the first opportunity; he believed in all things good and all things honorable, but, at the same time, was curiously careful to let me see that he knew his way about the world as befitted a bank clerk on twenty-five shillings a week. He rhymed “dove” with “love” and “moon” with “June,” and devoutly believed that they had never so been rhymed before. The long lame gaps in his plays he filled up with hasty words of apology and description and swept on, seeing all that he intended to do so clearly that he esteemed it already done, and turned to me for applause.

I fancy that his mother did not encourage his aspirations, and I know that his writing-table at home was the edge of his washstand. This he told me almost at the outset of our acquaintance; when he was ravaging my bookshelves, and a little before I was implored to speak the truth as to his chances of “writing something really great, you know.” Maybe I encouraged him too much, for, one night, he called on me, his eyes flaming with excitement, and said breathlessly:

“Do you mind—can you let me stay here and write all this evening? I won’t interrupt you, I won’t really. There’s no place for me to write in at my mother’s.”

“What’s the trouble?” I said, knowing well what that trouble was.

“I’ve a notion in my head that would make the most splendid story that was ever written. Do let me write it out here. It’s such a notion!”

There was no resisting the appeal. I set him a table; he hardly thanked me, but plunged into the work at once. For half an hour the pen scratched without stopping. Then Charlie sighed and tugged his hair. The scratching grew slower, there were more erasures, and at last ceased. The finest story in the world would not come forth.

“It looks such awful rot now,” he said, mournfully. “And yet it seemed so good when I was thinking about it. What’s wrong?”

I could not dishearten him by saying the truth. So I answered: “Perhaps you don’t feel in the mood for writing.”

“Yes I do—except when I look at this stuff. Ugh!”

“Read me what you’ve done,” I said.

“He read, and it was wondrous bad, and he paused at all the specially turgid sentences, expecting a little approval; for he was proud of those sentences, as I knew he would be.

“It needs compression,” I suggested, cautiously.

“I hate cutting my things down. I don’t think you could alter a word here without spoiling the sense. It reads better aloud than when I was writing it.”

“Charlie, you’re suffering from an alarming disease afflicting a numerous class. Put the thing by, and tackle it again in a week.”

“I want to do it at once. What do you think of it?”

“How can I judge from a half-written tale? Tell me the story as it lies in your head.”

Charlie told, and in the telling there was everything that his ignorance had so carefully prevented from escaping into the written word. I looked at him, and wondering whether it were possible that he did not know the originality, the power of the notion that had come in his way? It was distinctly a Notion among notions. Men had been puffed up with pride by notions not a tithe as excellent and practicable. But Charlie babbled on serenely, interrupting the current of pure fancy with samples of horrible sentences that he purposed to use. I heard him out to the end. It would be folly to allow his idea to remain in his own inept hands, when I could do so much with it. Not all that could be done indeed; but, oh so much!

“What do you think?” he said, at last. “I fancy I shall call it ‘The Story of a Ship.’”

“I think the idea’s pretty good; but you won’t be able to handle it for ever so long. Now I”——

“Would it be of any use to you? Would you care to take it? I should be proud,” said Charlie, promptly.

There are few things sweeter in this world than the guileless, hot-headed, intemperate, open admiration of a junior. Even a woman in her blindest devotion does not fall into the gait of the man she adores, tilt her bonnet to the angle at which he wears his hat, or interlard her speech with his pet oaths. And Charlie did all these things. Still it was necessary to salve my conscience before I possessed myself of Charlie’s thoughts.

“Let’s make a bargain. I’ll give you a fiver for the notion,” I said.

Charlie became a bank-clerk at once.

“Oh, that’s impossible. Between two pals, you know, if I may call you so, and speaking as a man of the world, I couldn’t. Take the notion if it’s any use to you. I’ve heaps more.”

He had—none knew this better than I—but they were the notions of other men.

“Look at it as a matter of business—between men of the world,” I returned. “Five pounds will buy you any number of poetry-books. Business is business, and you may be sure I shouldn’t give that price unless”——

“Oh, if you put it that way,” said Charlie, visibly moved by the thought of the books. The bargain was clinched with an agreement that he should at unstated intervals come to me with all the notions that he possessed, should have a table of his own to write at, and unquestioned right to inflict upon me all his poems and fragments of poems. Then I said, “Now tell me how you came by this idea.”

“It came by itself,” Charlie’s eyes opened a little.

“Yes, but you told me a great deal about the hero that you must have read before somewhere.”

“I haven’t any time for reading, except when you let me sit here, and on Sundays I’m on my bicycle or down the river all day. There’s nothing wrong about the hero, is there?”

“Tell me again and I shall understand clearly. You say that your hero went pirating. How did he live?”

“He was on the lower deck of this ship-thing that I was telling you about.”

“What sort of ship?”

“It was the kind rowed with oars, and the sea spurts through the oar-holes and the men row sitting up to their knees in water. Then there’s a bench running down between the two lines of oars and an overseer with a whip walks up and down the bench to make the men work.”

“How do you know that?”

“It’s in the tale. There’s a rope running overhead, looped to the upper deck, for the overseer to catch hold of when the ship rolls. When the overseer misses the rope once and falls among the rowers, remember the hero laughs at him and gets licked for it. He’s chained to his oar of course—the hero.”

“How is he chained?”

“With an iron band round his waist fixed to the bench he sits on, and a sort of handcuff on his left wrist chaining him to the oar. He’s on the lower deck where the worst men are sent, and the only light comes from the hatchways and through the oar-holes. Can’t you imagine the sunlight just squeezing through between the handle and the hole and wobbling about as the ship moves?”

“I can, but I can’t imagine your imagining it.”

“How could it be any other way? Now you listen to me. The long oars on the upper deck are managed by four men to each bench, the lower ones by three, and the lowest of all by two. Remember, it’s quite dark on the lowest deck and all the men there go mad. When a man dies at his oar on that deck he isn’t thrown overboard, but cut up in his chains and stuffed through the oar-hole in little pieces.”

“Why?” I demanded, amazed, not so much at the information as the tone of command in which it was flung out.

“To save trouble and to frighten the others. It needs two overseers to drag a man’s body up to the top deck; and if the men at the lower deck oars were left alone, of course they’d stop rowing and try to pull up the benches by all standing up together in their chains.”

“You’ve a most provident imagination. Where have you been reading about galleys and galley-slaves?”

“Nowhere that I remember. I row a little when I get the chance. But, perhaps, if you say so, I may have read something.”

He went away shortly afterward to deal with booksellers, and I wondered how a bank clerk aged twenty could put into my hands with a profligate abundance of detail, all given with absolute assurance, the story of extravagant and bloodthirsty adventure, riot, piracy, and death in unnamed seas. He had led his hero a desperate dance through revolt against the overseers, to command of a ship of his own, and ultimate establishment of a kingdom on an island “somewhere in the sea, you know”; and, delighted with my paltry five pounds, had gone out to buy the notions of other men, that these might teach him how to write. I had the consolation of knowing that this notion was mine by right of purchase, and I thought that I could make something of it.

When next he came to me he was drunk—royally drunk on many poets for the first time revealed to him. His pupils were dilated, his words tumbled over each other, and he wrapped himself in quotations. Most of all was he drunk with Longfellow.

“Isn’t it splendid? Isn’t it superb?” he cried, after hasty greetings. “Listen to this—

“‘Wouldst thou,’—so the helmsman answered,
‘Know the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery.’”

By gum!

“‘Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery,’”

he repeated twenty times, walking up and down the room and forgetting me. “But I can understand it too,” he said to himself. “I don’t know how to thank you for that fiver, And this; listen—

“‘I remember the black wharves and the ships
And the sea-tides tossing free,
And the Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.’”

I haven’t braved any dangers, but I feel as if I knew all about it.”

“You certainly seem to have a grip of the sea. Have you ever seen it?”

“When I was a little chap I went to Brighton once; we used to live in Coventry, though, before we came to London. I never saw it,

“‘When descends on the Atlantic
The gigantic
Storm-wind of the Equinox.’”

He shook me by the shoulder to make me understand the passion that was shaking himself.

“When that storm comes,” he continued, “I think that all the oars in the ship that I was talking about get broken, and the rowers have their chests smashed in by the bucking oar-heads. By the way, have you done anything with that notion of mine yet?”

“No. I was waiting to hear more of it from you. Tell me how in the world you’re so certain about the fittings of the ship. You know nothing of ships.”

“I don’t know. It’s as real as anything to me until I try to write it down. I was thinking about it only last night in bed, after you had loaned me ‘Treasure Island’; and I made up a whole lot of new things to go into the story.”

“What sort of things?”

“About the food the men ate; rotten figs and black beans and wine in a skin bag, passed from bench to bench.”

“Was the ship built so long ago as that?”

“As what? I don’t know whether it was long ago or not. It’s only a notion, but sometimes it seems just as real as if it was true. Do I bother you with talking about it?”

“Not in the least. Did you make up anything else?”

“Yes, but it’s nonsense.” Charlie flushed a little.

“Never mind; let’s hear about it.”

“Well, I was thinking over the story, and after awhile I got out of bed and wrote down on a piece of paper the sort of stuff the men might be supposed to scratch on their oars with the edges of their handcuffs. It seemed to make the thing more lifelike. It is so real to me, y’know.”

“Have you the paper on you?”

“Ye-es, but what’s the use of showing it? It’s only a lot of scratches. All the same, we might have ‘em reproduced in the book on the front page.”

“I’ll attend to those details. Show me what your men wrote.”

He pulled out of his pocket a sheet of note-paper, with a single line of scratches upon it, and I put this carefully away.

“What is it supposed to mean in English?” I said.

“Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps it means ‘I’m beastly tired.’ It’s great nonsense,” he repeated, “but all those men in the ship seem as real as people to me. Do do something to the notion soon; I should like to see it written and printed.”

“But all you’ve told me would make a long book.”

“Make it then. You’ve only to sit down and write it out.”

“Give me a little time. Have you any more notions?”

“Not just now. I’m reading all the books I’ve bought. They’re splendid.”

When he had left I looked at the sheet of note-paper with the inscription upon it. Then I took my head tenderly between both hands, to make certain that it was not coming off or turning round. Then … but there seemed to be no interval between quitting my rooms and finding myself arguing with a policeman outside a door marked Private in a corridor of the British Museum. All I demanded, as politely as possible, was “the Greek antiquity man.” The policeman knew nothing except the rules of the Museum, and it became necessary to forage through all the houses and offices inside the gates. An elderly gentleman called away from his lunch put an end to my search by holding the note-paper between finger and thumb and sniffing at it scornfully.

“What does this mean? H’mm,” said he. “So far as I can ascertain it is an attempt to write extremely corrupt Greek on the part”—here he glared at me with intention—”of an extremely illiterate—ah—person.” He read slowly from the paper, “Pollock, Erckmann, Tauchnitz, Henniker“-four names familiar to me.

“Can you tell me what the corruption is supposed to mean—the gist of the thing?” I asked.

“I have been—many times—overcome with weariness in this particular employment. That is the meaning.” He returned me the paper, and I fled without a word of thanks, explanation, or apology.

I might have been excused for forgetting much. To me of all men had been given the chance to write the most marvelous tale in the world, nothing less than the story of a Greek galley-slave, as told by himself. Small wonder that his dreaming had seemed real to Charlie. The Fates that are so careful to shut the doors of each successive life behind us had, in this case, been neglectful, and Charlie was looking, though that he did not know, where never man had been permitted to look with full knowledge since Time began. Above all, he was absolutely ignorant of the knowledge sold to me for five pounds; and he would retain that ignorance, for bank-clerks do not understand metempsychosis, and a sound commercial education does not include Greek. He would supply me—here I capered among the dumb gods of Egypt and laughed in their battered faces—with material to make my tale sure—so sure that the world would hail it as an impudent and vamped fiction. And I—I alone would know that it was absolutely and literally true. I—I alone held this jewel to my hand for the cutting and polishing. Therefore I danced again among the gods till a policeman saw me and took steps in my direction.

It remained now only to encourage Charlie to talk, and here there was no difficulty. But I had forgotten those accursed books of poetry. He came to me time after time, as useless as a surcharged phonograph—drunk on Byron, Shelley, or Keats. Knowing now what the boy had been in his past lives, and desperately anxious not to lose one word of his babble, I could not hide from him my respect and interest. He misconstrued both into respect for the present soul of Charlie Mears, to whom life was as new as it was to Adam, and interest in his readings; and stretched my patience to breaking point by reciting poetry—not his own now, but that of others. I wished every English poet blotted out of the memory of mankind. I blasphemed the mightiest names of song because they had drawn Charlie from the path of direct narrative, and would, later, spur him to imitate them; but I choked down my impatience until the first flood of enthusiasm should have spent itself and the boy returned to his dreams.

“What’s the use of my telling you what I think, when these chaps wrote things for the angels to read?” he growled, one evening. “Why don’t you write something like theirs?”

“I don’t think you’re treating me quite fairly,” I said, speaking under strong restraint.

“I’ve given you the story,” he said, shortly, replunging into “Lara.”

“But I want the details.”

“The things I make up about that damned ship that you call a galley? They’re quite easy. You can just make ‘em up yourself. Turn up the gas a little, I want to go on reading.”

I could have broken the gas globe over his head for his amazing stupidity. I could indeed make up things for myself did I only know what Charlie did not know that he knew. But since the doors were shut behind me I could only wait his youthful pleasure and strive to keep him in good temper. One minute’s want of guard might spoil a priceless revelation; now and again he would toss his books aside—he kept them in my rooms, for his mother would have been shocked at the waste of good money had she seen them—and launched into his sea dreams, Again I cursed all the poets of England. The plastic mind of the bank-clerk had been overlaid, colored and distorted by that which he had read, and the result as delivered was a confused tangle of other voices most like the muttered song through a City telephone in the busiest part of the day.

He talked of the galley—his own galley had he but known it—with illustrations borrowed from the “Bride of Abydos.” He pointed the experiences of his hero with quotations from “The Corsair,” and threw in deep and desperate moral reflections from “Cain” and “Manfred,” expecting me to use them all. Only when the talk turned on Longfellow were the jarring cross-currents dumb, and I knew that Charlie was speaking the truth as he remembered it.

“What do you think of this?” I said one evening, as soon as I understood the medium in which his memory worked best, and, before he could expostulate, read him the whole of “The Saga of King Olaf!”

He listened open-mouthed, flushed, his hands drumming on the back of the sofa where he lay, till I came to the Song of Einar Tamberskelver and the verse:

“Einar then, the arrow taking
From the loosened string,
Answered: ‘That was Norway breaking
‘Neath thy hand, O King.’”

He gasped with pure delight of sound.

“That’s better than Byron, a little,” I ventured.

“Better? Why it’s true! How could he have known?”

I went back and repeated:

“What was that?’ said Olaf, standing
On the quarter-deck,
‘Something heard I like the stranding
Of a shattered wreck?’”

“How could he have known how the ships crash and the oars rip out and go z-zzp all along the line? Why only the other night…. But go back please and read ‘The Skerry of Shrieks’ again.”

“No, I’m tired. Let’s talk. What happened the other night?”

“I had an awful nightmare about that galley of ours. I dreamed I was drowned in a fight. You see we ran alongside another ship in harbor. The water was dead still except where our oars whipped it up. You know where I always sit in the galley?” He spoke haltingly at first, under a fine English fear of being laughed at,

“No. That’s news to me,” I answered, meekly, my heart beginning to beat.

“On the fourth oar from the bow on the right side on the upper deck. There were four of us at that oar, all chained. I remember watching the water and trying to get my handcuffs off before the row began. Then we closed up on the other ship, and all their fighting men jumped over our bulwarks, and my bench broke and I was pinned down with the three other fellows on top of me, and the big oar jammed across our backs.”

“Well?” Charlie’s eyes were alive and alight. He was looking at the wall behind my chair.

“I don’t know how we fought. The men were trampling all over my back, and I lay low. Then our rowers on the left side—tied to their oars, you know—began to yell and back water. I could hear the water sizzle, and we spun round like a cockchafer and I knew, lying where I was, that there was a galley coming up bow-on, to ram us on the left side. I could just lift up my head and see her sail over the bulwarks. We wanted to meet her bow to bow, but it was too late. We could only turn a little bit because the galley on our right had hooked herself on to us and stopped our moving. Then, by gum! there was a crash! Our left oars began to break as the other galley, the moving one y’know, stuck her nose into them. Then the lower-deck oars shot up through the deck planking, butt first, and one of them jumped clean up into the air and came down again close to my head.”

“How was that managed?”

“The moving galley’s bow was plunking them back through their own oar-holes, and I could hear the devil of a shindy in the decks below. Then her nose caught us nearly in the middle, and we tilted sideways, and the fellows in the right-hand galley unhitched their hooks and ropes, and threw things on to our upper deck—arrows, and hot pitch or something that stung, and we went up and up and up on the left side, and the right side dipped, and I twisted my head round and saw the water stand still as it topped the right bulwarks, and then it curled over and crashed down on the whole lot of us on the right side, and I felt it hit my back, and I woke.”

“One minute, Charlie. When the sea topped the bulwarks, what did it look like?” I had my reasons for asking. A man of my acquaintance had once gone down with a leaking ship in a still sea, and had seen the water-level pause for an instant ere it fell on the deck.

“It looked just like a banjo-string drawn tight, and it seemed to stay there for years,” said Charlie.

Exactly! The other man had said: “It looked like a silver wire laid down along the bulwarks, and I thought it was never going to break.” He had paid everything except the bare life for this little valueless piece of knowledge, and I had traveled ten thousand weary miles to meet him and take his knowledge at second hand. But Charlie, the bank-clerk on twenty-five shillings a week, he who had never been out of sight of a London omnibus, knew it all. It was no consolation to me that once in his lives he had been forced to die for his gains. I also must have died scores of times, but behind me, because I could have used my knowledge, the doors were shut.

“And then?” I said, trying to put away the devil of envy.

“The funny thing was, though, in all the mess I didn’t feel a bit astonished or frightened. It seemed as if I’d been in a good many fights, because I told my next man so when the row began. But that cad of an overseer on my deck wouldn’t unloose our chains and give us a chance. He always said that we’d all be set free after a battle, but we never were; we never were.” Charlie shook his head mournfully.

“What a scoundrel!”

“I should say he was. He never gave us enough to eat, and sometimes we were so thirsty that we used to drink salt-water. I can taste that salt-water still.”

“Now tell me something about the harbor where the fight was fought.”

“I didn’t dream about that. I know it was a harbor, though; because we were tied up to a ring on a white wall and all the face of the stone under water was covered with wood to prevent our ram getting chipped when the tide made us rock.”

“That’s curious. Our hero commanded the galley, didn’t he?”

“Didn’t he just! He stood by the bows and shouted like a good ‘un. He was the man who killed the overseer.”

“But you were all drowned together, Charlie, weren’t you?”

“I can’t make that fit quite,” he said, with a puzzled look. “The galley must have gone down with all hands, and yet I fancy that the hero went on living afterward. Perhaps he climbed into the attacking ship. I wouldn’t see that, of course. I was dead, you know.” He shivered slightly and protested that he could remember no more.

I did not press him further, but to satisfy myself that he lay in ignorance of the workings of his own mind, deliberately introduced him to Mortimer Collins’s “Transmigration,” and gave him a sketch of the plot before he opened the pages.

“What rot it all is!” he said, frankly, at the end of an hour. “I don’t understand his nonsense about the Red Planet Mars and the King, and the rest of it. Chuck me the Longfellow again.”

I handed him the book and wrote out as much as I could remember of his description of the sea-fight, appealing to him from time to time for confirmation of fact or detail. He would answer without raising his eyes from the book, as assuredly as though all his knowledge lay before him on the printed page. I spoke under the normal key of my voice that the current might not be broken, and I know that he was not aware of what he was saying, for his thoughts were out on the sea with Longfellow.

“Charlie,” I asked, “when the rowers on the gallies mutinied how did they kill their overseers?”

“Tore up the benches and brained ‘em. That happened when a heavy sea was running. An overseer on the lower deck slipped from the centre plank and fell among the rowers. They choked him to death against the side of the ship with their chained hands quite quietly, and it was too dark for the other overseer to see what had happened. When he asked, he was pulled down too and choked, and the lower deck fought their way up deck by deck, with the pieces of the broken benches banging behind ‘em. How they howled!”

“And what happened after that?”

“I don’t know. The hero went away—red hair and red beard and all. That was after he had captured our galley, I think.”

The sound of my voice irritated him, and he motioned slightly with his left hand as a man does when interruption jars.

“You never told me he was red-headed before, or that he captured your galley,” I said, after a discreet interval.

Charlie did not raise his eyes.

“He was as red as a red bear,” said he, abstractedly. “He came from the north; they said so in the galley when he looked for rowers—not slaves, but free men. Afterward—years and years afterward—news came from another ship, or else he came back”—

His lips moved in silence. He was rapturously retasting some poem before him.

“Where had he been, then?” I was almost whispering that the sentence might come gentle to whichever section of Charlie’s brain was working on my behalf.

“To the Beaches—the Long and Wonderful Beaches!” was the reply, after a minute of silence.

“To Furdurstrandi?” I asked, tingling from head to foot.

“Yes, to Furdurstrandi,” he pronounced the word in a new fashion. “And I too saw”——The voice failed.

“Do you know what you have said?” I shouted, incautiously.

He lifted his eyes, fully roused now, “No!” he snapped. “I wish you’d let a chap go on reading. Hark to this:

“‘But Othere, the old sea captain,
He neither paused nor stirred
Till the king listened, and then
Once more took up his pen
And wrote down every word,

“‘And to the King of the Saxons
In witness of the truth,
Raising his noble head,
He stretched his brown hand and said,
“Behold this walrus tooth.”‘

By Jove, what chaps those must have been, to go sailing all over the shop never knowing where they’d fetch the land! Hah!”

“Charlie,” I pleaded, “if you’ll only be sensible for a minute or two I’ll make our hero in our tale every inch as good as Othere.”

“Umph! Longfellow wrote that poem. I don’t care about writing things any more. I want to read.” He was thoroughly out of tune now, and raging over my own ill-luck, I left him.

Conceive yourself at the door of the world’s treasure-house guarded by a child—an idle irresponsible child playing knuckle-bones—on whose favor depends the gift of the key, and you will imagine one half my torment. Till that evening Charlie had spoken nothing that might not lie within the experiences of a Greek galley-slave. But now, or there was no virtue in books, he had talked of some desperate adventure of the Vikings, of Thorfin Karlsefne’s sailing to Wineland, which is America, in the ninth or tenth century. The battle in the harbor he had seen; and his own death he had described. But this was a much more startling plunge into the past. Was it possible that he had skipped half a dozen lives and was then dimly remembering some episode of a thousand years later? It was a maddening jumble, and the worst of it was that Charlie Mears in his normal condition was the last person in the world to clear it up. I could only wait and watch, but I went to bed that night full of the wildest imaginings. There was nothing that was not possible if Charlie’s detestable memory only held good.

I might rewrite the Saga of Thorfin Karlsefne as it had never been written before, might tell the story of the first discovery of America, myself the discoverer. But I was entirely at Charlie’s mercy, and so long as there was a three-and-six-penny Bohn volume within his reach Charlie would not tell. I dared not curse him openly; I hardly dared jog his memory, for I was dealing with the experiences of a thousand years ago, told through the mouth of a boy of to-day; and a boy of to-day is affected by every change of tone and gust of opinion, so that he lies even when he desires to speak the truth.

I saw no more of him for nearly a week. When next I met him it was in Gracechurch Street with a billhook chained to his waist. Business took him over London Bridge and I accompanied him. He was very full of the importance of that book and magnified it. As we passed over the Thames we paused to look at a steamer unloading great slabs of white and brown marble. A barge drifted under the steamer’s stern and a lonely cow in that barge bellowed. Charlie’s face changed from the face of the bank-clerk to that of an unknown and—though he would not have believed this—a much shrewder man. He flung out his arm across the parapet of the bridge and laughing very loudly, said:

“When they heard our bulls bellow the Skroelings ran away!”

I waited only for an instant, but the barge and the cow had disappeared under the bows of the steamer before I answered.

“Charlie, what do you suppose are Skroelings?”

“Never heard of ‘em before. They sound like a new kind of seagull. What a chap you are for asking questions!” he replied. “I have to go to the cashier of the Omnibus Company yonder. Will you wait for me and we can lunch somewhere together? I’ve a notion for a poem.”

“No, thanks. I’m off. You’re sure you know nothing about Skroelings?”

“Not unless he’s been entered for the Liverpool Handicap.” He nodded and disappeared in the crowd.

Now it is written in the Saga of Eric the Red or that of Thorfin Karlsefne, that nine hundred years ago when Karlsefne’s galleys came to Leif’s booths, which Leif had erected in the unknown land called Markland, which may or may not have been Rhode Island, the Skroelings—and the Lord He knows who these may or may not have been—came to trade with the Vikings, and ran away because they were frightened at the bellowing of the cattle which Thorfin had brought with him in the ships. But what in the world could a Greek slave know of that affair? I wandered up and down among the streets trying to unravel the mystery, and the more I considered it, the more baffling it grew. One thing only seemed certain, and that certainty took away my breath for the moment. If I came to full knowledge of anything at all it would not be one life of the soul in Charlie Mears’s body, but half a dozen—half a dozen several and separate existences spent on blue water in the morning of the world!

Then I walked round the situation.

Obviously if I used my knowledge I should stand alone and unapproachable until all men were as wise as myself. That would be something, but manlike I was ungrateful. It seemed bitterly unfair that Charlie’s memory should fail me when I needed it most. Great Powers above—I looked up at them through the fog smoke—did the Lords of Life and Death know what this meant to me? Nothing less than eternal fame of the best kind, that comes from One, and is shared by one alone. I would be content—remembering Clive, I stood astounded at my own moderation,—with the mere right to tell one story, to work out one little contribution to the light literature of the day. If Charlie were permitted full recollection for one hour—for sixty short minutes—of existences that had extended over a thousand years—I would forego all profit and honor from all that I should make of his speech. I would take no share in the commotion that would follow throughout the particular corner of the earth that calls itself “the world.” The thing should be put forth anonymously. Nay, I would make other men believe that they had written it. They would hire bull-hided self-advertising Englishmen to bellow it abroad. Preachers would found a fresh conduct of life upon it, swearing that it was new and that they had lifted the fear of death from all mankind. Every Orientalist in Europe would patronize it discursively with Sanskrit and Pali texts. Terrible women would invent unclean variants of the men’s belief for the elevation of their sisters. Churches and religions would war over it. Between the hailing and re-starting of an omnibus I foresaw the scuffles that would arise among half a dozen denominations all professing “the doctrine of the True Metempsychosis as applied to the world and the New Era”; and saw, too, the respectable English newspapers shying, like frightened kine, over the beautiful simplicity of the tale. The mind leaped forward a hundred—two hundred—a thousand years. I saw with sorrow that men would mutilate and garble the story; that rival creeds would turn it upside down till, at last, the western world which clings to the dread of death more closely than the hope of life, would set it aside as an interesting superstition and stampede after some faith so long forgotten that it seemed altogether new. Upon this I changed the terms of the bargain that I would make with the Lords of Life and Death. Only let me know, let me write, the story with sure knowledge that I wrote the truth, and I would burn the manuscript as a solemn sacrifice. Five minutes after the last line was written I would destroy it all. But I must be allowed to write it with absolute certainty.

There was no answer. The flaming colors of an Aquarium poster caught my eye and I wondered whether it would be wise or prudent to lure Charlie into the hands of the professional mesmerist, and whether, if he were under his power, he would speak of his past lives. If he did, and if people believed him … but Charlie would be frightened and flustered, or made conceited by the interviews. In either case he would begin to lie, through fear or vanity. He was safest in my own hands,

“They are very funny fools, your English,” said a voice at my elbow, and turning round I recognized a casual acquaintance, a young Bengali law student, called Grish Chunder, whose father had sent him to England to become civilized. The old man was a retired native official, and on an income of five pounds a month contrived to allow his son two hundred pounds a year, and the run of his teeth in a city where he could pretend to be the cadet of a royal house, and tell stories of the brutal Indian bureaucrats who ground the faces of the poor.

Grish Chunder was a young, fat, full-bodied Bengali dressed with scrupulous care in frock coat, tall hat, light trousers and tan gloves. But I had known him in the days when the brutal Indian Government paid for his university education, and he contributed cheap sedition to Sachi Durpan, and intrigued with the wives of his schoolmates.

“That is very funny and very foolish,” he said, nodding at the poster. “I am going down to the Northbrook Club. Will you come too?”

I walked with him for some time. “You are not well,” he said. “What is there in your mind? You do not talk.”

“Grish Chunder, you’ve been too well educated to believe in a God, haven’t you?”

“Oah, yes, here! But when I go home I must conciliate popular superstition, and make ceremonies of purification, and my women will anoint idols.”

“And hang up tulsi and feast the purohit, and take you back into caste again and make a good khuttri of you again, you advanced social Free-thinker. And you’ll eat desi food, and like it all, from the smell in the courtyard to the mustard oil over you.”

“I shall very much like it,” said Grish Chunder, unguardedly, “Once a Hindu—always a Hindu. But I like to know what the English think they know.”

“I’ll tell you something that one Englishman knows. It’s an old tale to you.”

I began to tell the story of Charlie in English, but Grish Chunder put a question in the vernacular, and the history went forward naturally in the tongue best suited for its telling. After all it could never have been told in English. Grish Chunder heard me, nodding from time to time, and then came up to my rooms where I finished the tale.

Beshak,” he said, philosophically. “Lekin darwaza band hai. (Without doubt, but the door is shut.) I have heard of this remembering of previous existences among my people. It is of course an old tale with us, but, to happen to an Englishman—a cow-fed Malechh—an outcast. By Jove, that is most peculiar!”

“Outcast yourself, Grish Chunder! You eat cow-beef every day. Let’s think the thing over. The boy remembers his incarnations.”

“Does he know that?” said Grish Chunder, quietly, swinging his legs as he sat on my table. He was speaking in English now.

“He does not know anything. Would I speak to you if he did? Go on!”

“There is no going on at all. If you tell that to your friends they will say you are mad and put it in the papers. Suppose, now, you prosecute for libel.”

“Let’s leave that out of the question entirely. Is there any chance of his being made to speak?”

“There is a chance. Oah, yess! But if he spoke it would mean that all this world would end now—instanto—fall down on your head. These things are not allowed, you know. As I said, the door is shut.”

“Not a ghost of a chance?”

“How can there be? You are a Christian, and it is forbidden to eat, in your books, of the Tree of Life, or else you would never die. How shall you all fear death if you all know what your friend does not know that he knows? I am afraid to be kicked, but I am not afraid to die, because I know what I know. You are not afraid to be kicked, but you are afraid to die. If you were not, by God! you English would be all over the shop in an hour, upsetting the balances of power, and making commotions. It would not be good. But no fear. He will remember a little and a little less, and he will call it dreams. Then he will forget altogether. When I passed my First Arts Examination in Calcutta that was all in the cram-book on Wordsworth. Trailing clouds of glory, you know.”

“This seems to be an exception to the rule.”

“There are no exceptions to rules. Some are not so hard-looking as others, but they are all the same when you touch. If this friend of yours said so-and-so and so-and-so, indicating that he remembered all his lost lives, or one piece of a lost life, he would not be in the bank another hour. He would be what you called sack because he was mad, and they would send him to an asylum for lunatics. You can see that, my friend.”

“Of course I can, but I wasn’t thinking of him. His name need never appear in the story,”

“Ah! I see. That story will never be written. You can try,”

“I am going to.”

“For your own credit and for the sake of money, of course?”

“No. For the sake of writing the story. On my honor that will be all.”

“Even then there is no chance. You cannot play with the Gods. It is a very pretty story now. As they say, Let it go on that—I mean at that. Be quick; he will not last long.”

“How do you mean?”

“What I say. He has never, so far, thought about a woman.”

“Hasn’t he, though!” I remembered some of Charlie’s confidences.

“I mean no woman has thought about him. When that comes; bushogya—all up! I know. There are millions of women here. Housemaids, for instance.”

I winced at the thought of my story being ruined by a housemaid. And yet nothing was more probable.

Grish Chunder grinned.

“Yes—also pretty girls—cousins of his house, and perhaps not of his house. One kiss that he gives back again and remembers will cure all this nonsense, or else”—

“Or else what? Remember he does not know that he knows.”

“I know that. Or else, if nothing happens he will become immersed in the trade and the financial speculations like the rest. It must be so. You can see that it must be so. But the woman will come first, I think.”

There was a rap at the door, and Charlie charged in impetuously. He had been released from office, and by the look in his eyes I could see that he had come over for a long talk; most probably with poems in his pockets. Charlie’s poems were very wearying, but sometimes they led him to talk about the galley.

Grish Chunder looked at him keenly for a minute.

“I beg your pardon,” Charlie said, uneasily; “I didn’t know you had any one with you.”

“I am going,” said Grish Chunder,

He drew me into the lobby as he departed.

“That is your man,” he said, quickly. “I tell you he will never speak all you wish. That is rot—bosh. But he would be most good to make to see things. Suppose now we pretend that it was only play”—I had never seen Grish Chunder so excited—”and pour the ink-pool into his hand. Eh, what do you think? I tell you that he could see anything that a man could see. Let me get the ink and the camphor. He is a seer and he will tell us very many things.”

“He may be all you say, but I’m not going to trust him to your gods and devils.”

“It will not hurt him. He will only feel a little stupid and dull when he wakes up. You have seen boys look into the ink-pool before.”

“That is the reason why I am not going to see it any more. You’d better go, Grish Chunder.”

He went, declaring far down the staircase that it was throwing away my only chance of looking into the future.

This left me unmoved, for I was concerned for the past, and no peering of hypnotized boys into mirrors and ink-pools would help me to that. But I recognized Grish Chunder’s point of view and sympathized with it.

“What a big black brute that was!” said Charlie, when I returned to him. “Well, look here, I’ve just done a poem; did it instead of playing dominoes after lunch. May I read it?”

“Let me read it to myself.”

“Then you miss the proper expression. Besides, you always make my things sound as if the rhymes were all wrong.”

“Read it aloud, then. You’re like the rest of ‘em.”

Charlie mouthed me his poem, and it was not much worse than the average of his verses. He had been reading his books faithfully, but he was not pleased when I told him that I preferred my Longfellow undiluted with Charlie.

Then we began to go through the MS. line by line; Charlie parrying every objection and correction with:

“Yes, that may be better, but you don’t catch what I’m driving at.”

Charles was, in one way at least, very like one kind of poet.

There was a pencil scrawl at the back of the paper and “What’s that?” I said.

“Oh that’s not poetry at all. It’s some rot I wrote last night before I went to bed and it was too much bother to hunt for rhymes; so I made it a sort of blank verse instead.”

Here is Charlie’s “blank verse”:

“We pulled for you when the wind was against us and the sails were low. Will you never let us go?
We ate bread and onions when you took towns or ran aboard quickly when you were beaten back by the foe,
The captains walked up and down the deck in fair weather singing songs, but we were below,
We fainted with our chins on the oars and you did not see that we were idle for we still swung to and fro. Will you never let us go?

The salt made the oar bandies like sharkskin; our knees were cut to the bone with salt cracks; our hair was stuck to our foreheads; and our lips were cut to our gums and you whipped us because we could not row, Will you never let us go?

But in a little time we shall run out of the portholes as the water runs along the oarblade, and though you tell the others to row after us you will never catch us till you catch the oar-thresh and tie up the winds in the belly of the sail. Aho! Will you never let us go?

“H’m. What’s oar-thresh, Charlie?”

“The water washed up by the oars. That’s the sort of song they might sing in the galley, y’know. Aren’t you ever going to finish that story and give me some of the profits?”

“It depends on yourself. If you had only told me more about your hero in the first instance it might have been finished by now. You’re so hazy in your notions.”

“I only want to give you the general notion of it—the knocking about from place to place and the fighting and all that. Can’t you fill in the rest yourself? Make the hero save a girl on a pirate-galley and marry her or do something.”

“You’re a really helpful collaborator. I suppose the hero went through some few adventures before he married.”

“Well then, make him a very artful card—a low sort of man—a sort of political man who went about making treaties and breaking them—a black-haired chap who hid behind the mast when the fighting began.”

“But you said the other day that he was red-haired.”

“I couldn’t have. Make him black-haired of course. You’ve no imagination.”

Seeing that I had just discovered the entire principles upon which the half-memory falsely called imagination is based, I felt entitled to laugh, but forbore, for the sake of the tale.

“You’re right You’re the man with imagination. A black-haired chap in a decked ship,” I said.

“No, an open ship—like a big boat.”

This was maddening.

“Your ship has been built and designed, closed and decked in; you said so yourself,” I protested.

“No, no, not that ship. That was open, or half decked because—By Jove you’re right You made me think of the hero as a red-haired chap. Of course if he were red, the ship would be an open one with painted sails,”

Surely, I thought, he would remember now that he had served in two galleys at least—in a three-decked Greek one under the black-haired “political man,” and again in a Viking’s open sea-serpent under the man “red as a red bear” who went to Markland. The devil prompted me to speak.

“Why, ‘of course,’ Charlie?” said I.

“I don’t know. Are you making fun of me?”

The current was broken for the time being. I took up a notebook and pretended to make many entries in it.

“It’s a pleasure to work with an imaginative chap like yourself,” I said, after a pause. “The way that you’ve brought out the character of the hero is simply wonderful.”

“Do you think so?” he answered, with a pleased flush. “I often tell myself that there’s more in me than my mo—than people think.”

“There’s an enormous amount in you.”

“Then, won’t you let me send an essay on The Ways of Bank Clerks to Tit-Bits, and get the guinea prize?”

“That wasn’t exactly what I meant, old fellow; perhaps it would be better to wait a little and go ahead with the galley-story.”

“Ah, but I sha’n’t get the credit of that. Tit-Bits would publish my name and address if I win. What are you grinning at? They would.”

“I know it. Suppose you go for a walk. I want to look through my notes about our story.”

Now this reprehensible youth who left me, a little hurt and put back, might for aught he or I knew have been one of the crew of the Argo—had been certainly slave or comrade to Thorfin Karlsefne. Therefore he was deeply interested in guinea competitions. Remembering what Grish Chunder had said I laughed aloud. The Lords of Life and Death would never allow Charlie Mears to speak with full knowledge of his pasts, and I must even piece out what he had told me with my own poor inventions while Charlie wrote of the ways of bank clerks.

I got together and placed on one file all my notes; and the net result was not cheering. I read them a second time. There was nothing that might not have been compiled at secondhand from other people’s books—except, perhaps, the story of the fight in the harbor. The adventures of a Viking had been written many times before; the history of a Greek galley-slave was no new thing, and though I wrote both, who could challenge or confirm the accuracy of my details? I might as well tell a tale of two thousand years hence. The Lords of Life and Death were as cunning as Grish Chunder had hinted. They would allow nothing to escape that might trouble or make easy the minds of men. Though I was convinced of this, yet I could not leave the tale alone. Exaltation followed reaction, not once, but twenty times in the next few weeks. My moods varied with the March sunlight and flying clouds. By night or in the beauty of a spring morning I perceived that I could write that tale and shift continents thereby. In the wet, windy afternoons, I saw that the tale might indeed be written, but would be nothing more than a faked, false-varnished, sham-rusted piece of Wardour Street work at the end. Then I blessed Charlie in many ways—though it was no fault of his. He seemed to be busy with prize competitions, and I saw less and less of him as the weeks went by and the earth cracked and grew ripe to spring, and the buds swelled in their sheaths. He did not care to read or talk of what he had read, and there was a new ring of self-assertion in his voice. I hardly cared to remind him of the galley when we met; but Charlie alluded to it on every occasion, always as a story from which money was to be made.

“I think I deserve twenty-five per cent., don’t I, at least,” he said, with beautiful frankness. “I supplied all the ideas, didn’t I?”

This greediness for silver was a new side in his nature. I assumed that it had been developed in the City, where Charlie was picking up the curious nasal drawl of the underbred City man.

“When the thing’s done we’ll talk about it. I can’t make anything of it at present. Red-haired or black-haired hero are equally difficult.”

He was sitting by the fire staring at the red coals. “I can’t understand what you find so difficult. It’s all as clear as mud to me,” he replied. A jet of gas puffed out between the bars, took light and whistled softly. “Suppose we take the red-haired hero’s adventures first, from the time that he came south to my galley and captured it and sailed to the Beaches.”

I knew better now than to interrupt Charlie. I was out of reach of pen and paper, and dared not move to get them lest I should break the current. The gas-jet puffed and whinnied, Charlie’s voice dropped almost to a whisper, and he told a tale of the sailing of an open galley to Furdurstrandi, of sunsets on the open sea, seen under the curve of the one sail evening after evening when the galley’s beak was notched into the centre of the sinking disc, and “we sailed by that for we had no other guide,” quoth Charlie. He spoke of a landing on an island and explorations in its woods, where the crew killed three men whom they found asleep under the pines. Their ghosts, Charlie said, followed the galley, swimming and choking in the water, and the crew cast lots and threw one of their number overboard as a sacrifice to the strange gods whom they had offended. Then they ate sea-weed when their provisions failed, and their legs swelled, and their leader, the red-haired man, killed two rowers who mutinied, and after a year spent among the woods they set sail for their own country, and a wind that never failed carried them back so safely that they all slept at night. This, and much more Charlie told. Sometimes the voice fell so low that I could not catch the words, though every nerve was on the strain, He spoke of their leader, the red-haired man, as a pagan speaks of his God; for it was he who cheered them and slew them impartially as he thought best for their needs; and it was he who steered them for three days among floating ice, each floe crowded with strange beasts that “tried to sail with us,” said Charlie, “and we beat them back with the handles of the oars.”

The gas-jet went out, a burned coal gave way, and the fire settled down with a tiny crash to the bottom of the grate. Charlie ceased speaking, and I said no word,

“By Jove!” he said, at last, shaking his head. “I’ve been staring at the fire till I’m dizzy. What was I going to say?”

“Something about the galley.”

“I remember now. It’s 25 per cent. of the profits, isn’t it?”

“It’s anything you like when I’ve done the tale.”

“I wanted to be sure of that. I must go now. I’ve—I’ve an appointment.” And he left me.

Had my eyes not been held I might have known that that broken muttering over the fire was the swan-song of Charlie Mears. But I thought it the prelude to fuller revelation. At last and at last I should cheat the Lords of Life and Death!

When next Charlie came to me I received him with rapture. He was nervous and embarrassed, but his eyes were very full of light, and his lips a little parted.

“I’ve done a poem,” he said; and then, quickly: “it’s the best I’ve ever done. Read it.” He thrust it into my hand and retreated to the window.

I groaned inwardly. It would be the work of half an hour to criticise—that is to say praise—the poem sufficiently to please Charlie. Then I had good reason to groan, for Charlie, discarding his favorite centipede metres, had launched into shorter and choppier verse, and verse with a motive at the back of it. This is what I read:

“The day Is most fair, the cheery wind
Halloos behind the hill,
Where he bends the wood as seemeth good,
And the sapling to his will!
Riot O wind; there is that in my blood
That would not have thee still!

“She gave me herself, O Earth, O Sky;
Grey sea, she is mine alone!
Let the sullen boulders hear my cry,
And rejoice tho’ they be but stone!

“Mine! I have won her O good brown earth,
Make merry! ‘Tis hard on Spring;
Make merry; my love is doubly worth
All worship your fields can bring!
Let the hind that tills you feel my mirth
At the early harrowing,”

“Yes, it’s the early harrowing, past a doubt,” I said, with a dread at my heart, Charlie smiled, but did not answer.

“Red cloud of the sunset, tell it abroad;
I am victor. Greet me O Sun,
Dominant master and absolute lord
Over the soul of one!”

“Well?” said Charlie, looking over my shoulder.

I thought it far from well, and very evil indeed, when he silently laid a photograph on the paper—the photograph of a girl with a curly head, and a foolish slack mouth.

“Isn’t it—isn’t it wonderful?” he whispered, pink to the tips of his ears, wrapped in the rosy mystery of first love. “I didn’t know; I didn’t think—it came like a thunderclap.”

“Yes. It comes like a thunderclap. Are you very happy, Charlie?”

“My God—she—she loves me!” He sat down repeating the last words to himself. I looked at the hairless face, the narrow shoulders already bowed by desk-work, and wondered when, where, and how he had loved in his past lives.

“What will your mother say?” I asked, cheerfully.

“I don’t care a damn what she says.”

At twenty the things for which one does not care a damn should, properly, be many, but one must not include mothers in the list. I told him this gently; and he described Her, even as Adam must have described to the newly named beasts the glory and tenderness and beauty of Eve. Incidentally I learned that She was a tobacconist’s assistant with a weakness for pretty dress, and had told him four or five times already that She had never been kissed by a man before.

Charlie spoke on and on, and on; while I, separated from him by thousands of years, was considering the beginnings of things. Now I understood why the Lords of Life and Death shut the doors so carefully behind us. It is that we may not remember our first wooings. Were it not so, our world would be without inhabitants in a hundred years.

“Now, about that galley-story,” I said, still more cheerfully, in a pause in the rush of the speech.

Charlie looked up as though he had been hit. “The galley—what galley? Good heavens, don’t joke, man! This is serious! You don’t know how serious it is!”

Grish Chunder was right, Charlie had tasted the love of woman that kills remembrance, and the finest story in the world would never be written.

With the Main Guard • 5,500 Words

Der jungere Uhlanen
Sit round mit open mouth
While Breitmann tell dem stories
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’ kepe this melancolius 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 Dina 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 tantalize 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 ginger ale.

“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 of his neck, was pegging 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 in 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 fistesses. 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 Colors 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 Ghuzni ’twas.”

“Don’t know what the bloomin’ Paythans called it. We call 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 natur! Our Scotchies an’ lashins av Gurkys was poundin’ into some Paythan rig’mints, I think ’twas. Scotchies an’ Gurkys 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 av 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.[1]
Now first of the foemen of Boh Da Thone
Was Captain O’Neil of the Black Tyrone.
The Ballad of Boh Da Thone.
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 arm-pit 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. Well, you’ll remimber thin, Jock, 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. Leastaways, 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 gev ‘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 for-ninst 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 Depôt. 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 goin’ to be onwell!’ Faith they gave me room at the wurrud, though they would not ha’ given 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 aftherward.’

“‘Good,’ sez I; ”tis the likes av him makes the likes av the Commandher-in-Chief, 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, but, 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 dishpleased at 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 honor av 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 have enjoyed the performinces av a Roshus.’

“Thin I knew that man for the Dublin dockrat he was—wan av the bhoys that made the lessee av Silver’s Theatre grey 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 ut 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 Gurkys 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”—

“GUARRD, TURN OUT!”

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 blurr 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.

Footnotes

[1]
Now first of the foemen of Boh Da Thone
Was Captain O’Neil of the Black Tyrone.
The Ballad of Boh Da Thone.

Wee Willie Winkie • 3,900 Words

“An officer and a gentleman.”

His full name was Percival William Williams, but he picked up the other name in a nursery-book, and that was the end of the christened titles. His mother’s ayah called him Willie-Baba, but as he never paid the faintest attention to anything that the ayah said, her wisdom did not help matters.

His father was the Colonel of the 195th, and as soon as Wee Willie Winkie was old enough to understand what Military Discipline meant, Colonel Williams put him under it. There was no other way of managing the child. When he was good for a week, he drew good-conduct pay; and when he was bad, he was deprived of his good-conduct stripe. Generally he was bad, for India offers so many chances to little six-year-olds of going wrong.

Children resent familiarity from strangers, and Wee Willie Winkie was a very particular child. Once he accepted an acquaintance, he was graciously pleased to thaw. He accepted Brandis, a subaltern of the 195th, on sight. Brandis was having tea at the Colonel’s, and Wee Willie Winkie entered strong in the possession of a good-conduct badge won for not chasing the hens round the compound. He regarded Brandis with gravity for at least ten minutes, and then delivered himself of his opinion.

“I like you,” said he, slowly, getting off his chair and coming over to Brandis. “I like you. I shall call you Coppy, because of your hair. Do you mind being called Coppy? it is because of ve hair, you know.”

Here was one of the most embarrassing of Wee Willie Winkie’s peculiarities. He would look at a stranger for some time, and then, without warning or explanation, would give him a name. And the name stuck. No regimental penalties could break Wee Willie Winkie of this habit. He lost his good-conduct badge for christening the Commissioner’s wife “Pobs”; but nothing that the Colonel could do made the Station forego the nickname, and Mrs. Collen remained Mrs. “Pobs” till the end of her stay. So Brandis was christened “Coppy,” and rose, therefore, in the estimation of the regiment.

If Wee Willie Winkie took an interest in any one, the fortunate man was envied alike by the mess and the rank and file. And in their envy lay no suspicion of self-interest. “The Colonel’s son” was idolized on his own merits entirely. Yet Wee Willie Winkie was not lovely. His face was permanently freckled, as his legs were permanently scratched, and in spite of his mother’s almost tearful remonstrances he had insisted upon having his long yellow locks cut short in the military fashion. “I want my hair like Sergeant Tummil’s,” said Wee Willie Winkie, and, his father abetting, the sacrifice was accomplished.

Three weeks after the bestowal of his youthful affections on Lieutenant Brandis—henceforward to be called “Coppy” for the sake of brevity—Wee Willie Winkie was destined to behold strange things and far beyond his comprehension.

Coppy returned his liking with interest. Coppy had let him wear for five rapturous minutes his own big sword—just as tall as Wee Willie Winkie. Coppy had promised him a terrier puppy; and Coppy had permitted him to witness the miraculous operation of shaving. Nay, more—Coppy had said that even he, Wee Willie Winkie, would rise in time to the ownership of a box of shiny knives, a silver soap-box and a silver-handled “sputter-brush,” as Wee Willie Winkie called it. Decidedly, there was no one except his father, who could give or take away good-conduct badges at pleasure, half so wise, strong, and valiant as Coppy with the Afghan and Egyptian medals on his breast. Why, then, should Coppy be guilty of the unmanly weakness of kissing—vehemently kissing—a “big girl,” Miss Allardyce to wit? In the course of a morning ride, Wee Willie Winkie had seen Coppy so doing, and, like the gentleman he was, had promptly wheeled round and cantered back to his groom, lest the groom should also see.

Under ordinary circumstances he would have spoken to his father, but he felt instinctively that this was a matter on which Coppy ought first to be consulted.

“Coppy,” shouted Wee Willie Winkie, reining up outside that subaltern’s bungalow early one morning—”I want to see you, Coppy!”

“Come in, young ‘un,” returned Coppy, who was at early breakfast in the midst of his dogs. “What mischief have you been getting into now?”

Wee Willie Winkie had done nothing notoriously bad for three days, and so stood on a pinnacle of virtue.

“I’ve been doing nothing bad,” said he, curling himself into a long chair with a studious affectation of the Colonel’s languor after a hot parade. He buried his freckled nose in a tea-cup and, with eyes staring roundly over the rim, asked:—”I say, Coppy, is it pwoper to kiss big girls?”

“By Jove! You’re beginning early. Who do you want to kiss?”

“No one. My muvver’s always kissing me if I don’t stop her. If it isn’t pwoper, how was you kissing Major Allardyce’s big girl last morning, by ve canal?”

Coppy’s brow wrinkled. He and Miss Allardyce had with great craft managed to keep their engagement secret for a fortnight. There were urgent and imperative reasons why Major Allardyce should not know how matters stood for at least another month, and this small marplot had discovered a great deal too much.

“I saw you,” said Wee Willie Winkie, calmly. “But ve groom didn’t see. I said, ‘Hut jao.’”

“Oh, you had that much sense, you young Rip,” groaned poor Coppy, half amused and half angry. “And how many people may you have told about it?”

“Only me myself. You didn’t tell when I twied to wide ve buffalo ven my pony was lame; and I fought you wouldn’t like.”

“Winkie,” said Coppy, enthusiastically, shaking the small hand, “you’re the best of good fellows. Look here, you can’t understand all these things. One of these days—hang it, how can I make you see it!—I’m going to marry Miss Allardyce, and then she’ll be Mrs. Coppy, as you say. If your young mind is so scandalized at the idea of kissing big girls, go and tell your father.”

“What will happen?” said Wee Willie Winkie, who firmly believed that his father was omnipotent.

“I shall get into trouble.” said Coppy, playing his trump card with an appealing look at the holder of the ace.

“Ven I won’t,” said Wee Willie Winkie, briefly. “But my faver says it’s un-man-ly to be always kissing, and I didn’t fink you’d do vat, Coppy.”

“I’m not always kissing, old chap. It’s only now and then, and when you’re bigger you’ll do it too. Your father meant it’s not good for little boys.”

“Ah!” said Wee Willie Winkie, now fully enlightened. “It’s like ve sputter-brush?”

“Exactly,” said Coppy, gravely.

“But I don’t fink I’ll ever want to kiss big girls, nor no one, ‘cept my muvver. And I must vat, you know.”

There was a long pause, broken by Wee Willie Winkie,

“Are you fond of vis big girl, Coppy?”

“Awfully!” said Coppy.

“Fonder van you are of Bell or ve Butcha—or me?”

“It’s in a different way,” said Coppy. “You see, one of these days Miss Allardyce will belong to me, but you’ll grow up and command the Regiment and—all sorts of things. It’s quite different, you see.”

“Very well,” said Wee Willie Winkie, rising. “If you’re fond of ve big girl, I won’t tell any one. I must go now.”

Coppy rose and escorted his small guest to the door, adding: “You’re the best of little fellows, Winkie. I tell you what. In thirty days from now you can tell if you like—tell any one you like.”

Thus the secret of the Brandis-Allardyce engagement was dependent on a little child’s word. Coppy, who knew Wee Willie Winkie’s idea of truth, was at ease, for he felt that he would not break promises. Wee Willie Winkie betrayed a special and unusual interest in Miss Allardyce, and, slowly revolving round that embarrassed young lady, was used to regard her gravely with unwinking eye. He was trying to discover why Coppy should have kissed her. She was not half so nice as his own mother. On the other hand, she was Coppy’s property, and would in time belong to him. Therefore it behooved him to treat her with as much respect as Coppy’s big sword or shiny pistol.

The idea that he shared a great secret in common with Coppy kept Wee Willie Winkie unusually virtuous for three weeks. Then the Old Adam broke out, and he made what he called a “camp-fire” at the bottom of the garden. How could he have foreseen that the flying sparks would have lighted the Colonel’s little hayrick and consumed a week’s store for the horses? Sudden and swift was the punishment—deprivation of the good-conduct badge and, most sorrowful of all, two days confinement to barracks—the house and veranda—coupled with the withdrawal of the light of his father’s countenance.

He took the sentence like the man he strove to be, drew himself up with a quivering under-lip, saluted, and, once clear of the room, ran to weep bitterly in his nursery—called by him “my quarters,” Coppy came in the afternoon and attempted to console the culprit.

“I’m under awwest,” said Wee Willie Winkie, mournfully, “and I didn’t ought to speak to you.”

Very early the next morning he climbed on to the roof of the house—that was not forbidden—and beheld Miss Allardyce going for a ride.

“Where are you going?” cried Wee Willie Winkie.

“Across the river,” she answered, and trotted forward.

Now the cantonment in which the 195th lay was bounded on the north by a river—dry in the winter. From his earliest years, Wee Willie Winkie had been forbidden to go across the river, and had noted that even Coppy—the almost almighty Coppy—had never set foot beyond it. Wee Willie Winkie had once been read to, out of a big blue book, the history of the Princess and the Goblins—a most wonderful tale of a land where the Goblins were always warring with the children of men until they were defeated by one Curdie. Ever since that date it seemed to him that the bare black and purple hills across the river were inhabited by Goblins, and, in truth, every one had said that there lived the Bad Men. Even in his own house the lower halves of the windows were covered with green paper on account of the Bad Men who might, if allowed clear view, fire into peaceful drawing-rooms and comfortable bedrooms. Certainly, beyond the river, which was the end of all the Earth, lived the Bad Men. And here was Major Allardyce’s big girl, Coppy’s property, preparing to venture into their borders! What would Coppy say if anything happened to her? If the Goblins ran off with her as they did with Curdie’s Princess? She must at all hazards be turned back.

The house was still. Wee Willie Winkie reflected for a moment on the very terrible wrath of his father; and then—broke his arrest! It was a crime unspeakable. The low sun threw his shadow, very large and very black, on the trim garden-paths, as he went down to the stables and ordered his pony. It seemed to him in the hush of the dawn that all the big world had been bidden to stand still and look at Wee Willie Winkie guilty of mutiny. The drowsy groom handed him his mount, and, since the one great sin made all others insignificant, Wee Willie Winkie said that he was going to ride over to Coppy Sahib, and went out at a foot-pace, stepping on the soft mould of the flower-borders.

The devastating track of the pony’s feet was the last misdeed that cut him off from all sympathy of Humanity, He turned into the road, leaned forward; and rode as fast as the pony could put foot to the ground in the direction of the river.

But the liveliest of twelve-two ponies can do little against the long canter of a Waler. Miss Allardyce was far ahead, had passed through the crops, beyond the Police-post when all the guards were asleep, and her mount was scattering the pebbles of the river bed as Wee Willie Winkie left the cantonment and British India behind him. Bowed forward and still flogging, Wee Willie Winkie shot into Afghan territory, and could just see Miss Allardyce a black speck, flickering across the stony plain. The reason of her wandering was simple enough. Coppy, in a tone of too-hastily-assumed authority, had told her over night, that she must not ride out by the river. And she had gone to prove her own spirit and teach Coppy a lesson.

Almost at the foot of the inhospitable hills, Wee Willie Winkie saw the Waler blunder and come down heavily. Miss Allardyce struggled clear, but her ankle had been severely twisted, and she could not stand. Having thus demonstrated her spirit, she wept copiously, and was surprised by the apparition of a white, wide-eyed child in khaki, on a nearly spent pony.

“Are you badly, badly hurted?” shouted Wee Willie Winkie, as soon as he was within range. “You didn’t ought to be here.”

“I don’t know,” said Miss Allardyce, ruefully, ignoring the reproof. “Good gracious, child, what are you doing here?”

“You said you was going acwoss ve wiver,” panted Wee Willie Winkie, throwing himself off his pony. “And nobody—not even Coppy—must go acwoss ve wiver, and I came after you ever so hard, but you wouldn’t stop, and now you’ve hurted yourself, and Coppy will be angwy wiv me, and—I’ve bwoken my awwest! I’ve bwoken my awwest!”

The future Colonel of the 195th sat down and sobbed. In spite of the pain in her ankle the girl was moved.

“Have you ridden all the way from cantonments, little man? What for?”

“You belonged to Coppy. Coppy told me so!” wailed Wee Willie Winkie, disconsolately. “I saw him kissing you, and he said he was fonder of you van Bell or ve Butcha or me. And so I came. You must get up and come back. You didn’t ought to be here. Vis is a bad place, and I’ve bwoken my awwest.”

“I can’t move, Winkie,” said Miss Allardyce, with a groan. “I’ve hurt my foot. What shall I do?”

She showed a readiness to weep afresh, which steadied Wee Willie Winkie, who had been brought up to believe that tears were the depth of unmanliness. Still, when one is as great a sinner as Wee Willie Winkie, even a man may be permitted to break down,

“Winkie,” said Miss Allardyce, “when you’ve rested a little, ride back and tell them to send out something to carry me back in. It hurts fearfully.”

The child sat still for a little time and Miss Allardyce closed her eyes; the pain was nearly making her faint. She was roused by Wee Willie Winkie tying up the reins on his pony’s neck and setting it free with a vicious cut of his whip that made it whicker. The little animal headed toward the cantonments.

“Oh, Winkie! What are you doing?”

“Hush!” said Wee Willie Winkie. “Vere’s a man coming—one of ve Bad Men. I must stay wiv you. My faver says a man must always look after a girl. Jack will go home, and ven vey’ll come and look for us. Vat’s why I let him go.”

Not one man but two or three had appeared from behind the rocks of the hills, and the heart of Wee Willie Winkie sank within him, for just in this manner were the Goblins wont to steal out and vex Curdie’s soul. Thus had they played in Curdie’s garden, he had seen the picture, and thus had they frightened the Princess’s nurse. He heard them talking to each other, and recognized with joy the bastard Pushto that he had picked up from one of his father’s grooms lately dismissed. People who spoke that tongue could not be the Bad Men. They were only natives after all.

They came up to the bowlders on which Miss Allardyce’s horse had blundered.

Then rose from the rock Wee Willie Winkie, child of the Dominant Race, aged six and three-quarters, and said briefly and emphatically “Jao!” The pony had crossed the river-bed.

The men laughed, and laughter from natives was the one thing Wee Willie Winkie could not tolerate. He asked them what they wanted and why they did not depart. Other men with most evil faces and crooked-stocked guns crept out of the shadows of the hills, till, soon, Wee Willie Winkie was face to face with an audience some twenty strong, Miss Allardyce screamed.

“Who are you?” said one of the men.

“I am the Colonel Sahib’s son, and my order is that you go at once. You black men are frightening the Miss Sahib. One of you must run into cantonments and take the news that Miss Sahib has hurt herself, and that the Colonel’s son is here with her.”

“Put our feet into the trap?” was the laughing reply. “Hear this boy’s speech!”

“Say that I sent you—I, the Colonel’s son. They will give you money.”

“What is the use of this talk? Take up the child and the girl, and we can at least ask for the ransom. Ours are the villages on the heights,” said a voice in the background.

These were the Bad Men—worse than Goblins—and it needed all Wee Willie Winkie’s training to prevent him from bursting into tears. But he felt that to cry before a native, excepting only his mother’s ayah, would be an infamy greater than any mutiny. Moreover, he, as future Colonel of the 195th, had that grim regiment at his back.

“Are you going to carry us away?” said Wee Willie Winkie, very blanched and uncomfortable.

“Yes, my little Sahib Bahadur,” said the tallest of the men, “and eat you afterward.”

“That is child’s talk,” said Wee Willie Winkie. “Men do not eat men.”

A yell of laughter interrupted him, but he went on firmly,—”And if you do carry us away, I tell you that all my regiment will come up in a day and kill you all without leaving one. Who will take my message to the Colonel Sahib?”

Speech in any vernacular—and Wee Willie Winkie had a colloquial acquaintance with three—was easy to the boy who could not yet manage his “r’s” and “th’s” aright.

Another man joined the conference, crying:—”O foolish men! What this babe says is true. He is the heart’s heart of those white troops. For the sake of peace let them go both, for if he be taken, the regiment will break loose and gut the valley. Our villages are in the valley, and we shall not escape. That regiment are devils. They broke Khoda Yar’s breast-bone with kicks when he tried to take the rifles; and if we touch this child they will fire and rape and plunder for a month, till nothing remains. Better to send a man back to take the message and get a reward. I say that this child is their God, and that they will spare none of us, nor our women, if we harm him.”

It was Din Mahommed, the dismissed groom of the Colonel, who made the diversion, and an angry and heated discussion followed. Wee Willie Winkie, standing over Miss Allardyce, waited the upshot. Surely his “wegiment,” his own “wegiment,” would not desert him if they knew of his extremity.

* * * * *

The riderless pony brought the news to the 195th, though there had been consternation in the Colonel’s household for an hour before. The little beast came in through the parade ground in front of the main barracks, where the men were settling down to play Spoil-five till the afternoon. Devlin, the Color Sergeant of E Company, glanced at the empty saddle and tumbled through the barrack-rooms, kicking up each Room Corporal as he passed. “Up, ye beggars! There’s something happened to the Colonel’s son,” he shouted.

“He couldn’t fall off! S’elp me, ‘e couldn’t fall off,” blubbered a drummer-boy, “Go an’ hunt acrost the river. He’s over there if he’s anywhere, an’ maybe those Pathans have got ‘im. For the love o’ Gawd don’t look for ‘im in the nullahs! Let’s go over the river.”

“There’s sense in Mott yet,” said Devlin. “E Company, double out to the river—sharp!”

So E Company, in its shirt-sleeves mainly, doubled for the dear life, and in the rear toiled the perspiring Sergeant, adjuring it to double yet faster. The cantonment was alive with the men of the 195th hunting for Wee Willie Winkie, and the Colonel finally overtook E Company, far too exhausted to swear, struggling in the pebbles of the river-bed.

Up the hill under which Wee Willie Winkie’s Bad Men were discussing the wisdom of carrying off the child and the girl, a look-out fired two shots.

“What have I said?” shouted Din Mahommed. “There is the warning! The pulton are out already and are coming across the plain! Get away! Let us not be seen with the boy!”

The men waited for an instant, and then, as another shot was fired, withdrew into the hills, silently as they had appeared.

“The wegiment is coming,” said Wee Willie Winkie, confidently, to Miss Allardyce, “and it’s all wight. Don’t cwy!”

He needed the advice himself, for ten minutes later, when his father came up, he was weeping bitterly with his head in Miss Allardyce’s lap.

And the men of the 195th carried him home with shouts and rejoicings; and Coppy, who had ridden a horse into a lather, met him, and, to his intense disgust, kissed him openly in the presence of the men.

But there was balm for his dignity. His father assured him that not only would the breaking of arrest be condoned, but that the good-conduct badge would be restored as soon as his mother could sew it on his blouse-sleeve. Miss Allardyce had told the Colonel a story that made him proud of his son.

“She belonged to you, Coppy,” said Wee Willie Winkie, indicating Miss Allardyce with a grimy forefinger. “I knew she didn’t ought to go acwoss ve wiver, and I knew ve wegiment would come to me if I sent Jack home.”

“You’re a hero, Winkie,” said Coppy—”a pukka hero!”

“I don’t know what vat means,” said Wee Willie Winkie, “but you mustn’t call me Winkie any no more, I’m Percival Will’am Will’ams.”

And in this manner did Wee Willie Winkie enter into his manhood.

The Rout of the White Hussars • 3,600 Words

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 that 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.1200 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 Bandsmen 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 following. 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 burned 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 miles. 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 riband 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 sounds 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, girls or guns, 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 èchelon, 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 to 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 toward the Band, the dead Drum-Horse of the White Hussars!

On his withers banged and bumped the kettledrums draped in crape, and on his back, very stiff and soldierly, sat a bareheaded 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 afterward; 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 troughs 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 spilled 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 its 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 veranda-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-in-Command 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-in-Command 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 laughing-stock of the scare.

“They will call us,” said the Second-in-Command, 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 explanation 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—dam sight less. They’re mocking me, I tell you, Mutman! They’re mocking me!”

Once more, the Second-in-Command set himself to soothe 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 to him; but he was not a man to be put out by circumstances. He saluted and said, “Regiment all comeback, Sir.” Then, to propitiate the Colonel—”An’ none of the ‘orses 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-in-Command 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-in-Command 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-in-Command. “The White Hussars will follow you anywhere from to-day. Regiments 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 happened to know something about it, because I prepared the Drum-Horse for his resurrection. He did not take kindly to the skeleton at all.

At Twenty-Two • 4,000 Words

Narrow as the womb, deep as the Pit, and dark as the heart of a man.—Sonthal Miner’s Proverb.

“A weaver went out to reap but stayed to unravel the corn-stalks. Ha! Ha! Ha! Is there any sense in a weaver?”

Janki Meah glared at Kundoo, but, as Janki Meah was blind, Kundoo was not impressed. He had come to argue with Janki Meah, and, if chance favored, to make love to the old man’s pretty young wife.

This was Kundoo’s grievance, and he spoke in the name of all the five men who, with Janki Meah, composed the gang in Number Seven gallery of Twenty-Two. Janki Meah had been blind for the thirty years during which he had served the Jimahari Collieries with pick and crowbar. All through those thirty years he had regularly, every morning before going down, drawn from the overseer his allowance of lamp-oil—just as if he had been an eyed miner. What Kundoo’s gang resented, as hundreds of gangs had resented before, was Janki Meah’s selfishness. He would not add the oil to the common stock of his gang, but would save and sell it.

“I knew these workings before you were born,” Janki Meah used to reply; “I don’t want the light to get my coal out by, and I am not going to help you. The oil is mine, and I intend to keep it.”

A strange man in many ways was Janki Meah, the white-haired, hot tempered, sightless weaver who had turned pitman. All day long—except on Sundays and Mondays when he was usually drunk—he worked in the Twenty-Two shaft of the Jimahari Colliery as cleverly as a man with all the senses. At evening he went up in the great steam-hauled cage to the pit-bank, and there called for his pony—a rusty, coal-dusty beast, nearly as old as Janki Meah. The pony would come to his side, and Janki Meah would clamber on to its back and be taken at once to the plot of land which he, like the other miners, received from the Jimahari Company. The pony knew that place, and when, after six years, the Company changed all the allotments to prevent the miners from acquiring proprietary rights, Janki Meah represented, with tears in his eyes, that were his holdings shifted, he would never be able to find his way to the new one. “My horse only knows that place,” pleaded Janki Meah, and so he was allowed to keep his land.

On the strength of this concession and his accumulated oil-savings, Janki Meah took a second wife—a girl of the Jolaha main stock of the Meahs, and singularly beautiful. Janki Meah could not see her beauty; wherefore he took her on trust, and forbade her to go down the pit. He had not worked for thirty years in the dark without knowing that the pit was no place for pretty women. He loaded her with ornaments—not brass or pewter, but real silver ones—and she rewarded him by flirting outrageously with Kundoo of Number Seven gallery gang. Kundoo was really the gang-head, but Janki Meah insisted upon all the work being entered in his own name, and chose the men that he worked with. Custom—stronger even than the Jimahari Company—dictated that Janki, by right of his years, should manage these things, and should, also, work despite his blindness. In Indian mines where they cut into the solid coal with the pick and clear it out from floor to ceiling, he could come to no great harm. At Home, where they undercut the coal and bring it down in crashing avalanches from the roof, he would never have been allowed to set foot in a pit. He was not a popular man, because of his oil-savings; but all the gangs admitted that Janki knew all the khads, or workings, that had ever been sunk or worked since the Jimahari Company first started operations on the Tarachunda fields.

Pretty little Unda only knew that her old husband was a fool who could be managed. She took no interest in the collieries except in so far as they swallowed up Kundoo five days out of the seven, and covered him with coal-dust. Kundoo was a great workman, and did his best not to get drunk, because, when he had saved forty rupees, Unda was to steal everything that she could find in Janki’s house and run with Kundoo to a land where there were no mines, and every one kept three fat bullocks and a milch-buffalo. While this scheme ripened it was his custom to drop in upon Janki and worry him about the oil savings. Unda sat in a corner and nodded approval. On the night when Kundoo had quoted that objectionable proverb about weavers, Janki grew angry.

“Listen, you pig,” said he, “blind I am, and old I am, but, before ever you were born, I was grey among the coal. Even in the days when the Twenty-Two khad was unsunk and there were not two thousand men here, I was known to have all knowledge of the pits. What khad is there that I do not know, from the bottom of the shaft to the end of the last drive? Is it the Baromba khad, the oldest, or the Twenty-Two where Tibu’s gallery runs up to Number Five?”

“Hear the old fool talk!” said Kundoo, nodding to Unda. “No gallery of Twenty-Two will cut into Five before the end of the Rains. We have a month’s solid coal before us. The Babuji says so.”

“Babuji! Pigji! Dogji! What do these fat slugs from Calcutta know? He draws and draws and draws, and talks and talks and talks, and his maps are all wrong. I, Janki, know that this is so. When a man has been shut up in the dark for thirty years, God gives him knowledge. The old gallery that Tibu’s gang made is not six feet from Number Five.”

“Without doubt God gives the blind knowledge,” said Kundoo, with a look at Unda. “Let it be as you say. I, for my part, do not know where lies the gallery of Tibu’s gang, but I am not a withered monkey who needs oil to grease his joints with.”

Kundoo swung out of the hut laughing, and Unda giggled. Janki turned his sightless eyes toward his wife and swore. “I have land, and I have sold a great deal of lamp-oil,” mused Janki; “but I was a fool to marry this child.”

A week later the Rains set in with a vengeance, and the gangs paddled about in coal-slush at the pit-banks. Then the big mine-pumps were made ready, and the Manager of the Colliery ploughed through the wet toward the Tarachunda River swelling between its soppy banks. “Lord send that this beastly beck doesn’t misbehave,” said the Manager, piously, and he went to take counsel with his Assistant about the pumps.

But the Tarachunda misbehaved very much indeed. After a fall of three inches of rain in an hour it was obliged to do something. It topped its bank and joined the flood water that was hemmed between two low hills just where the embankment of the Colliery main line crossed. When a large part of a rain-fed river, and a few acres of flood-water, made a dead set for a nine-foot culvert, the culvert may spout its finest, but the water cannot all get out. The Manager pranced upon one leg with excitement, and his language was improper.

He had reason to swear, because he knew that one inch of water on land meant a pressure of one hundred tons to the acre; and here were about five feet of water forming, behind the railway embankment, over the shallower workings of Twenty-Two. You must understand that, in a coal-mine, the coal nearest the surface is worked first from the central shaft. That is to say, the miners may clear out the stuff to within ten, twenty, or thirty feet of the surface, and, when all is worked out, leave only a skin of earth upheld by some few pillars of coal. In a deep mine where they know that they have any amount of material at hand, men prefer to get all their mineral out at one shaft, rather than make a number of little holes to tap the comparatively unimportant surface-coal.

And the Manager watched the flood.

The culvert spouted a nine-foot gush; but the water still formed, and word was sent to clear the men out of Twenty-Two. The cages came up crammed and crammed again with the men nearest the pit-eye, as they call the place where you can see daylight from the bottom of the main shaft. All away and away up the long black galleries the flare-lamps were winking and dancing like so many fireflies, and the men and the women waited for the clanking, rattling, thundering cages to come down and fly up again. But the outworkings were very far off, and word could not be passed quickly, though the heads of the gangs and the Assistant shouted and swore and tramped and stumbled. The Manager kept one eye on the great troubled pool behind the embankment, and prayed that the culvert would give way and let the water through in time. With the other eye he watched the cages come up and saw the headmen counting the roll of the gangs. With all his heart and soul he swore at the winder who controlled the iron drum that wound up the wire rope on which hung the cages.

In a little time there was a down-draw in the water behind the embankment—a sucking whirlpool, all yellow and yeasty. The water had smashed through the skin of the earth and was pouring into the old shallow workings of Twenty-Two.

Deep down below, a rush of black water caught the last gang waiting for the cage, and as they clambered in, the whirl was about their waists. The cage reached the pit-bank, and the Manager called the roll. The gangs were all safe except Gang Janki, Gang Mogul, and Gang Rahim, eighteen men, with perhaps ten basket-women who loaded the coal into the little iron carriages that ran on the tramways of the main galleries. These gangs were in the out-workings, three-quarters of a mile away, on the extreme fringe of the mine. Once more the cage went down, but with only two English men in it, and dropped into a swirling, roaring current that had almost touched the roof of some of the lower side-galleries. One of the wooden balks with which they had propped the old workings shot past on the current, just missing the cage.

“If we don’t want our ribs knocked out, we’d better go,” said the Manager. “We can’t even save the Company’s props.”

The cage drew out of the water with a splash, and a few minutes later, it was officially reported that there were at least ten feet of water in the pit’s eye. Now ten feet of water there meant that all other places in the mine were flooded except such galleries as were more than ten feet above the level of the bottom of the shaft. The deep workings would be full, the main galleries would be full, but in the high workings reached by inclines from the main roads, there would be a certain amount of air cut off, so to speak, by the water and squeezed up by it. The little science-primers explain how water behaves when you pour it down test-tubes. The flooding of Twenty-Two was an illustration on a large scale.

* * * * *

“By the Holy Grove, what has happened to the air!” It was a Sonthal gangman of Gang Mogul in Number Nine gallery, and he was driving a six-foot way through the coal. Then there was a rush from the other galleries, and Gang Janki and Gang Rahim stumbled up with their basket-women.

“Water has come in the mine,” they said, “and there is no way of getting out.”

“I went down,” said Janki—”down the slope of my gallery, and I felt the water.”

“There has been no water in the cutting in our time,” clamored the women, “Why cannot we go away?”

“Be silent!” said Janki, “Long ago, when my father was here, water came to Ten—no, Eleven—cutting, and there was great trouble. Let us get away to where the air is better.”

The three gangs and the basket-women left Number Nine gallery and went further up Number Sixteen. At one turn of the road they could see the pitchy black water lapping on the coal. It had touched the roof of a gallery that they knew well—a gallery where they used to smoke their huqas and manage their flirtations. Seeing this, they called aloud upon their Gods, and the Mehas, who are thrice bastard Muhammadans, strove to recollect the name of the Prophet. They came to a great open square whence nearly all the coal had been extracted. It was the end of the out-workings, and the end of the mine.

Far away down the gallery a small pumping-engine, used for keeping dry a deep working and fed with steam from above, was throbbing faithfully. They heard it cease.

“They have cut off the steam,” said Kundoo, hopefully. “They have given the order to use all the steam for the pit-bank pumps. They will clear out the water.”

“If the water has reached the smoking-gallery,” said Janki, “all the Company’s pumps can do nothing for three days.”

“It is very hot,” moaned Jasoda, the Meah basket-woman. “There is a very bad air here because of the lamps.”

“Put them out,” said Janki; “why do you want lamps?” The lamps were put out and the company sat still in the utter dark. Somebody rose quietly and began walking over the coals. It was Janki, who was touching the walls with his hands. “Where is the ledge?” he murmured to himself.

“Sit, sit!” said Kundoo. “If we die, we die. The air is very bad.”

But Janki still stumbled and crept and tapped with his pick upon the walls. The women rose to their feet.

“Stay all where you are. Without the lamps you cannot see, and I—I am always seeing,” said Janki. Then he paused, and called out: “Oh, you who have been in the cutting more than ten years, what is the name of this open place? I am an old man and I have forgotten.”

“Bullia’s Room,” answered the Sonthal, who had complained of the vileness of the air.

“Again,” said Janki.

“Bullia’s Room.”

“Then I have found it,” said Janki. “The name only had slipped my memory. Tibu’s gang’s gallery is here.”

“A lie,” said Kundoo. “There have been no galleries in this place since my day.”

“Three paces was the depth of the ledge,” muttered Janki, without heeding—”and—oh, my poor bones!—I have found it! It is here, up this ledge, Come all you, one by one, to the place of my voice, and I will count you,”

There was a rush in the dark, and Janki felt the first man’s face hit his knees as the Sonthal scrambled up the ledge.

“Who?” cried Janki.

“I, Sunua Manji.”

“Sit you down,” said Janki, “Who next?”

One by one the women and the men crawled up the ledge which ran along one side of “Bullia’s Room.” Degraded Muhammadan, pig-eating Musahr and wild Sonthal, Janki ran his hand over them all.

“Now follow after,” said he, “catching hold of my heel, and the women catching the men’s clothes.” He did not ask whether the men had brought their picks with them. A miner, black or white, does not drop his pick. One by one, Janki leading, they crept into the old gallery—a six-foot way with a scant four feet from hill to roof.

“The air is better here,” said Jasoda. They could hear her heart beating in thick, sick bumps.

“Slowly, slowly,” said Janki. “I am an old man, and I forget many things. This is Tibu’s gallery, but where are the four bricks where they used to put their huqa fire on when the Sahibs never saw? Slowly, slowly, O you people behind.”

They heard his hands disturbing the small coal on the floor of the gallery and then a dull sound. “This is one unbaked brick, and this is another and another. Kundoo is a young man—let him come forward. Put a knee upon this brick and strike here. When Tibu’s gang were at dinner on the last day before the good coal ended, they heard the men of Five on the other side, and Five worked their gallery two Sundays later—or it may have been one. Strike there, Kundoo, but give me room to go back.”

Kundoo, doubting, drove the pick, but the first soft crush of the coal was a call to him. He was fighting for his life and for Unda—pretty little Unda with rings on all her toes—for Unda and the forty rupees. The women sang the Song of the Pick—the terrible, slow, swinging melody with the muttered chorus that repeats the sliding of the loosened coal, and, to each cadence, Kundoo smote in the black dark. When he could do no more, Sunua Manji took the pick, and struck for his life and his wife, and his village beyond the blue hills over the Tarachunda River. An hour the men worked, and then the women cleared away the coal.

“It is farther than I thought,” said Janki. “The air is very bad; but strike, Kundoo, strike hard,”

For the fifth time Kundoo took up the pick as the Sonthal crawled back. The song had scarcely recommenced when it was broken by a yell from Kundoo that echoed down the gallery: “Par hua! Par hua! We are through, we are through!” The imprisoned air in the mine shot through the opening, and the women at the far end of the gallery heard the water rush through the pillars of “Bullia’s Room” and roar against the ledge. Having fulfilled the law under which it worked, it rose no farther. The women screamed and pressed forward, “The water has come—we shall be killed! Let us go.”

Kundoo crawled through the gap and found himself in a propped gallery by the simple process of hitting his head against a beam.

“Do I know the pits or do I not?” chuckled Janki. “This is the Number Five; go you out slowly, giving me your names. Ho! Rahim, count your gang! Now let us go forward, each catching hold of the other as before.”

They formed a line in the darkness and Janki led them—for a pit-man in a strange pit is only one degree less liable to err than an ordinary mortal underground for the first time. At last they saw a flare-lamp, and Gangs Janki, Mogul, and Rahim of Twenty-Two stumbled dazed into the glare of the draught-furnace at the bottom of Five; Janki feeling his way and the rest behind.

“Water has come into Twenty-Two. God knows where are the others. I have brought these men from Tibu’s gallery in our cutting; making connection through the north side of the gallery. Take us to the cage,” said Janki Meah.

* * * * *

At the pit-bank of Twenty-Two, some thousand people clamored and wept and shouted. One hundred men—one thousand men—had been drowned in the cutting. They would all go to their homes to-morrow. Where were their men? Little Unda, her cloth drenched with the rain, stood at the pit-mouth calling down the shaft for Kundoo. They had swung the cages clear of the mouth, and her only answer was the murmur of the flood in the pit’s eye two hundred and sixty feet below.

“Look after that woman! She’ll chuck herself down the shaft in a minute,” shouted the Manager.

But he need not have troubled; Unda was afraid of Death. She wanted Kundoo. The Assistant was watching the flood and seeing how far he could wade into it. There was a lull in the water, and the whirlpool had slackened. The mine was full, and the people at the pit-bank howled.

“My faith, we shall be lucky if we have five hundred hands on the place to-morrow!” said the Manager. “There’s some chance yet of running a temporary dam across that water. Shove in anything—tubs and bullock-carts if you haven’t enough bricks. Make them work now if they never worked before. Hi! you gangers, make them work.”

Little by little the crowd was broken into detachments, and pushed toward the water with promises of overtime. The dam-making began, and when it was fairly under way, the Manager thought that the hour had come for the pumps. There was no fresh inrush into the mine. The tall, red, iron-clamped pump-beam rose and fell, and the pumps snored and guttered and shrieked as the first water poured out of the pipe.

“We must run her all to-night,” said the Manager, wearily, “but there’s no hope for the poor devils down below. Look here, Gur Sahai, if you are proud of your engines, show me what they can do now.”

Gur Sahai grinned and nodded, with his right hand upon the lever and an oil-can in his left. He could do no more than he was doing, but he could keep that up till the dawn. Were the Company’s pumps to be beaten by the vagaries of that troublesome Tarachunda River? Never, never! And the pumps sobbed and panted: “Never, never!” The Manager sat in the shelter of the pit-bank roofing, trying to dry himself by the pump-boiler fire, and, in the dreary dusk, he saw the crowds on the dam scatter and fly.

“That’s the end,” he groaned. “‘Twill take us six weeks to persuade ‘em that we haven’t tried to drown their mates on purpose. Oh, for a decent, rational Geordie!”

But the flight had no panic in it. Men had run over from Five with astounding news, and the foremen could not hold their gangs together. Presently, surrounded by a clamorous crew, Gangs Rahim, Mogul, and Janki, and ten basket-women, walked up to report themselves, and pretty little Unda stole away to Janki’s hut to prepare his evening meal.

“Alone I found the way,” explained Janki Meah, “and now will the Company give me pension?”

The simple pit-folk shouted and leaped and went back to the dam, reassured in their old belief that, whatever happened, so great was the power of the Company whose salt they ate, none of them could be killed. But Gur Sahai only bared his white teeth and kept his hand upon the lever and proved his pumps to the uttermost.

* * * * *

“I say,” said the Assistant to the Manager, a week later, “do you recollect Germinal?

“Yes. ‘Queer thing, I thought of it In the cage when that balk went by. Why?”

“Oh, this business seems to be Germinal upside down. Janki was in my veranda all this morning, telling me that Kundoo had eloped with his wife—Unda or Anda, I think her name was.”

“Hillo! And those were the cattle that you risked your life to clear out of Twenty-Two!”

“No—I was thinking of the Company’s props, not the Company’s men.”

“Sounds better to say so now; but I don’t believe you, old fellow.”

The Courting of Dinah Shadd • 9,100 Words

What did the colonel’s lady think?
Nobody never knew.
Somebody asked the sergeant’s wife
An’ she told ‘em true.
When you git to a man in the case
They’re like a row o’ pins,
For the colonel’s lady an’ Judy O’Grady
Are sisters under their skins.
Barrack Room Ballad.

All day I had followed at the heels of a pursuing army engaged on one of the finest battles that ever camp of exercise beheld. Thirty thousand troops had by the wisdom of the Government of India been turned loose over a few thousand square miles of country to practice in peace what they would never attempt in war. Consequently cavalry charged unshaken infantry at the trot. Infantry captured artillery by frontal attacks delivered in line of quarter columns, and mounted infantry skirmished up to the wheels of an armored train which carried nothing more deadly than a twenty-five pounder Armstrong, two Nordenfeldts, and a few score volunteers all cased in three-eighths-inch boiler-plate. Yet it was a very lifelike camp. Operations did not cease at sundown; nobody knew the country and nobody spared man or horse. There was unending cavalry scouting and almost unending forced work over broken ground. The Army of the South had finally pierced the centre of the Army of the North, and was pouring through the gap hot-foot to capture a city of strategic importance. Its front extended fanwise, the sticks being represented by regiments strung out along the line of route backward to the divisional transport columns and all the lumber that trails behind an army on the move. On its right the broken left of the Army of the North was flying in mass, chased by the Southern horse and hammered by the Southern guns till these had been pushed far beyond the limits of their last support. Then the flying sat down to rest, while the elated commandant of the pursuing force telegraphed that he held all in check and observation.

Unluckily he did not observe that three miles to his right flank a flying column of Northern horse with a detachment of Ghoorkhas and British troops had been pushed round, as fast as the failing light allowed, to cut across the entire rear of the Southern Army, to break, as it were, all the ribs of the fan where they converged by striking at the transport, reserve ammunition, and artillery supplies. Their instructions were to go in, avoiding the few scouts who might not have been drawn off by the pursuit, and create sufficient excitement to impress the Southern Army with the wisdom of guarding their own flank and rear before they captured cities. It was a pretty manoeuvre, neatly carried out.

Speaking for the second division of the Southern Army, our first intimation of the attack was at twilight, when the artillery were laboring in deep sand, most of the escort were trying to help them out, and the main body of the infantry had gone on. A Noah’s Ark of elephants, camels, and the mixed menagerie of an Indian transport-train bubbled and squealed behind the guns, when there appeared from nowhere in particular British infantry to the extent of three companies, who sprang to the heads of the gun-horses and brought all to a standstill amid oaths and cheers.

“How’s that, umpire?” said the major commanding the attack, and with one voice the drivers and limber gunners answered “Hout!” while the colonel of artillery sputtered.

“All your scouts are charging our main body,” said the major. “Your flanks are unprotected for two miles. I think we’ve broken the back of this division. And listen,—there go the Ghoorkhas!”

A weak fire broke from the rear-guard more than a mile away, and was answered by cheerful howlings. The Ghoorkhas, who should have swung clear of the second division, had stepped on its tail in the dark, but drawing off hastened to reach the next line of attack, which lay almost parallel to us five or six miles away.

Our column swayed and surged irresolutely,—three batteries, the divisional ammunition reserve, the baggage, and a section of the hospital and bearer corps. The commandant ruefully promised to report himself “cut up” to the nearest umpires and commending his cavalry and all other cavalry to the special care of Eblis, toiled on to resume touch with the rest of the division.

“We’ll bivouac here to-night,” said the major, “I have a notion that the Ghoorkhas will get caught. They may want us to re-form on. Stand easy till the transport gets away,”

A hand caught my beast’s bridle and led him out of the choking dust; a larger hand deftly canted me out of the saddle; and two of the hugest hands in the world received me sliding. Pleasant is the lot of the special correspondent who falls into such hands as those of Privates Mulvaney, Ortheris, and Learoyd.

“An’ that’s all right,” said the Irishman, calmly. “We thought we’d find you somewheres here by. Is there anything av yours in the transport? Orth’ris ‘ll fetch ut out.”

Ortheris did “fetch ut out,” from under the trunk of an elephant, in the shape of a servant and an animal both laden with medical comforts. The little man’s eyes sparkled.

“If the brutil an’ licentious soldiery av these parts gets sight av the thruck,” said Mulvaney, making practiced investigation, “they’ll loot ev’rything. They’re bein’ fed on iron-filin’s an’ dog-biscuit these days, but glory’s no compensation for a belly-ache. Praise be, we’re here to protect you, sorr. Beer, sausage, bread (soft an’ that’s a cur’osity), soup in a tin, whisky by the smell av ut, an’ fowls! Mother av Moses, but ye take the field like a confectioner! ‘Tis scand’lus.”

“‘Ere’s a orficer,” said Ortheris, significantly. “When the sergent’s done lushin’ the privit may clean the pot.”

I bundled several things into Mulvaney’s haversack before the major’s hand fell on my shoulder and he said, tenderly, “Requisitioned for the Queen’s service. Wolseley was quite wrong about special correspondents: they are the soldier’s best friends. Come and take pot-luck with us to-night.”

And so it happened amid laughter and shoutings that my well-considered commissariat melted away to reappear later at the mess-table, which was a waterproof sheet spread on the ground. The flying column had taken three days’ rations with it, and there be few things nastier than government rations—especially when government is experimenting with German toys. Erbsenwurst, tinned beef of surpassing tinniness, compressed vegetables, and meat-biscuits may be nourishing, but what Thomas Atkins needs is bulk in his inside. The major, assisted by his brother officers, purchased goats for the camp and so made the experiment of no effect. Long before the fatigue-party sent to collect brushwood had returned, the men were settled down by their valises, kettles and pots had appeared from the surrounding country and were dangling over fires as the kid and the compressed vegetable bubbled together; there rose a cheerful clinking of mess-tins; outrageous demands for “a little more stuffin’ with that there liver-wing;” and gust on gust of chaff as pointed as a bayonet and as delicate as a gun-butt.

“The boys are in a good temper,” said the major. “They’ll be singing presently. Well, a night like this is enough to keep them happy.”

Over our heads burned the wonderful Indian stars, which are not all pricked in on one plane, but, preserving an orderly perspective, draw the eye through the velvet darkness of the void up to the barred doors of heaven itself. The earth was a grey shadow more unreal than the sky. We could hear her breathing lightly in the pauses between the howling of the jackals, the movement of the wind in the tamarisks, and the fitful mutter of musketry-fire leagues away to the left. A native woman from some unseen hut began to sing, the mail-train thundered past on its way to Delhi, and a roosting crow cawed drowsily. Then there was a belt-loosening silence about the fires, and the even breathing of the crowded earth took up the story.

The men, full fed, turned to tobacco and song,—their officers with them. The subaltern is happy who can win the approval of the musical critics in his regiment, and is honored among the more intricate step-dancers. By him, as by him who plays cricket cleverly, Thomas Atkins will stand in time of need, when he will let a better officer go on alone. The ruined tombs of forgotten Mussulman saints heard the ballad of Agra Town, The Buffalo Battery, Marching to Kabul, The long, long Indian Day, The Place where the Punkah-coolie died, and that crashing chorus which announces,

Youth’s daring spirit, manhood’s fire,
Firm hand and eagle eye,
Must he acquire who would aspire
To see the grey boar die.

To-day, of all those jovial thieves who appropriated my commissariat and lay and laughed round that waterproof sheet, not one remains. They went to camps that were not of exercise and battles without umpires. Burmah, the Soudan, and the frontier,—fever and fight,—took them in their time.

I drifted across to the men’s fires in search of Mulvaney, whom I found strategically greasing his feet by the blaze. There is nothing particularly lovely in the sight of a private thus engaged after a long day’s march, but when you reflect on the exact proportion of the “might, majesty, dominion, and power” of the British Empire which stands on those feet you take an interest in the proceedings.

“There’s a blister, bad luck to ut, on the heel,” said Mulvaney. “I can’t touch ut. Prick ut out, little man,”

Ortheris took out his house-wife, eased the trouble with a needle, stabbed Mulvaney in the calf with the same weapon, and was swiftly kicked into the fire.

“I’ve bruk the best av my toes over you, ye grinnin’ child av disruption,” said Mulvaney, sitting cross-legged and nursing his feet; then seeing me, “Oh, ut’s you, sorr! Be welkim, an’ take that maraudin’ scutt’s place, Jock, hold him down on the cindhers for a bit.”

But Ortheris escaped and went elsewhere, as I took possession of the hollow he had scraped for himself and lined with his greatcoat. Learoyd on the other side of the fire grinned affably and in a minute fell fast asleep.

“There’s the height av politeness for you,” said Mulvaney, lighting his pipe with a flaming branch. “But Jock’s eaten half a box av your sardines at wan gulp, an’ I think the tin too. What’s the best wid you, sorr, an’ how did you happen to be on the losin’ side this day whin we captured you?”

“The Army of the South is winning all along the line,” I said.

“Then that line’s the hangman’s rope, savin’ your presence. You’ll learn to-morrow how we rethreated to dhraw thim on before we made thim trouble, an’ that’s what a woman does. By the same tokin, we’ll be attacked before the dawnin’ an’ ut would be betther not to slip your boots. How do I know that? By the light av pure reason. Here are three companies av us ever so far inside av the enemy’s flank an’ a crowd av roarin’, tarin’, squealin’ cavalry gone on just to turn out the whole hornet’s nest av them. Av course the enemy will pursue, by brigades like as not, an’ thin we’ll have to run for ut. Mark my words. I am av the opinion av Polonius whin he said, ‘Don’t fight wid ivry scutt for the pure joy av fightin’, but if you do, knock the nose av him first an’ frequint.’. We ought to ha’ gone on an’ helped the Ghoorkhas.”

“But what do you know about Polonius?” I demanded. This was a new side of Mulvaney’s character.

“All that Shakespeare iver wrote an’ a dale more that the gallery shouted,” said the man of war, carefully lacing his boots. “Did I not tell you av Silver’s theatre in Dublin, whin I was younger than I am now an’ a patron av the drama? Ould Silver wud never pay actor-man or woman their just dues, an’ by consequince his comp’nies was collapsible at the last minut. Thin the bhoys wud clamor to take a part, an’ oft as not ould Silver made them pay for the fun. Faith, I’ve seen Hamlut played wid a new black eye an’ the queen as full as a cornucopia. I remimber wanst Hogin that ‘listed in the Black Tyrone an’ was shot in South Africa, he sejuced ould Silver into givin’ him Hamlut’s part instid av me that had a fine fancy for rhetoric in those days. Av course I wint into the gallery an’ began to fill the pit wid other people’s hats, an’ I passed the time av day to Hogin walkin’ through Denmark like a hamstrung mule wid a pall on his back, ‘Hamlut,’ sez I, ‘there’s a hole in your heel. Pull up your shtockin’s, Hamlut,’ sez I, ‘Hamlut, Hamlut, for the love av decincy dhrop that skull an’ pull up your shtockin’s.’ The whole house begun to tell him that. He stopped his soliloquishms mid-between. ‘My shtockin’s may be comin’ down or they may not,’ sez he, screwin’ his eye into the gallery, for well he knew who I was. ‘But afther this performince is over me an’ the Ghost ‘ll trample the tripes out av you, Terence, wid your ass’s bray!’ An’ that’s how I come to know about Hamlut. Eyah! Those days, those days! Did you iver have onendin’ devilmint an’ nothin’ to pay for it in your life, sorr?”

“Never, without having to pay,” I said.

“That’s thrue! ‘Tis mane whin you considher on ut; but ut’s the same wid horse or fut. A headache if you dhrink, an’ a belly-ache if you eat too much, an’ a heart-ache to kape all down. Faith, the beast only gets the colic, an’ he’s the lucky man.”

He dropped his head and stared into the fire, fingering his moustache the while. From the far side of the bivouac the voice of Corbet-Nolan, senior subaltern of B Company, uplifted itself in an ancient and much appreciated song of sentiment, the men moaning melodiously behind him.

The north wind blew coldly, she dropped from that hour,
My own little Kathleen, my sweet little Kathleen,
Kathleen, my Kathleen, Kathleen O’Moore!

With forty-five O’s in the last word: even at that distance you might have cut the soft South Irish accent with a shovel.

“For all we take we must pay, but the price is cruel high,” murmured Mulvaney when the chorus had ceased.

“What’s the trouble?” I said gently, for I knew that he was a man of an inextinguishable sorrow.

“Hear now,” said he. “Ye know what I am now. I know what I mint to be at the beginnin’ av my service. I’ve tould you time an’ again, an’ what I have not Dinah Shadd has. An’ what am I? Oh, Mary Mother av Hiven, an ould dhrunken, untrustable baste av a privit that has seen the reg’ment change out from colonel to drummer-boy, not wanst or twice, but scores av times! Ay, scores! An’ me not so near gettin’ promotion as in the first! An’ me livin’ on an’ kapin’ clear av clink, not by my own good conduck, but the kindness av some orf’cer-bhoy young enough to be son to me! Do I not know ut? Can I not tell whin I’m passed over at p’rade, tho’ I’m rockin’ full av liquor an’ ready to fall all in wan piece, such as even a suckin’ child might see, bekaze, ‘Oh, ’tis only ould Mulvaney!’ An’ whin I’m let off in ord’ly-room through some thrick of the tongue an’ a ready answer an’ the ould man’s mercy, is ut smilin’ I feel whin I fall away an’ go back to Dinah Shadd, thryin’ to carry ut all off as a joke? Not I! ‘Tis hell to me, dumb hell through ut all; an’ next time whin the fit comes I will be as bad again. Good cause the reg’ment has to know me for the best soldier in ut. Better cause have I to know mesilf for the worst man. I’m only fit to tache the new drafts what I’ll niver learn mesilf; an’ I am sure, as tho’ I heard ut, that the minut wan av these pink-eyed recruities gets away from my ‘Mind ye now,’ an’ ‘Listen to this, Jim, bhoy,’—sure I am that the sergint houlds me up to him for a warnin’. So I tache, as they say at musketry-instruction, by direct and ricochet fire. Lord be good to me, for I have stud some throuble!”

“Lie down and go to sleep,” said I, not being able to comfort or advise. “You’re the best man in the regiment, and, next to Ortheris, the biggest fool. Lie down and wait till we’re attacked. What force will they turn out? Guns, think you?”

“Try that wid your lorrds an’ ladies, twistin’ an’ turnin’ the talk, tho’ you mint ut well. Ye cud say nothin’ to help me, an’ yet ye niver knew what cause I had to be what I am.”

“Begin at the beginning and go on to the end,” I said, royally. “But rake up the fire a bit first.”

I passed Ortheris’s bayonet for a poker.

“That shows how little we know what we do,” said Mulvaney, putting it aside. “Fire takes all the heart out av the steel, an’ the next time, may be, that our little man is fighting for his life his bradawl ‘ll break, an’ so you’ll ha’ killed him, manin’ no more than to kape yourself warm. ‘Tis a recruity’s thrick that. Pass the clanin’-rod, sorr.”

I snuggled down abased; and after an interval the voice of Mulvaney began.

“Did I iver tell you how Dinah Shadd came to be wife av mine?”

I dissembled a burning anxiety that I had felt for some months—ever since Dinah Shadd, the strong, the patient, and the infinitely tender, had of her own good love and free will washed a shirt for me, moving in a barren land where washing was not.

“I can’t remember,” I said, casually. “Was it before or after you made love to Annie Bragin, and got no satisfaction?”

The story of Annie Bragin is written in another place. It is one of the many less respectable episodes in Mulvaney’s checkered career.

“Before—before—long before, was that business av Annie Bragin an’ the corp’ril’s ghost. Niver woman was the worse for me whin I had married Dinah. There’s a time for all things, an’ I know how to kape all things in place—barrin’ the dhrink, that kapes me in my place wid no hope av comin’ to be aught else.”

“Begin at the beginning,” I insisted. “Mrs. Mulvaney told me that you married her when you were quartered in Krab Bokhar barracks.”

“An’ the same is a cess-pit,” said Mulvaney, piously. “She spoke thrue, did Dinah. ‘Twas this way. Talkin’ av that, have ye iver fallen in love, sorr?”

I preserved the silence of the damned. Mulvaney continued—

“Thin I will assume that ye have not. I did. In the days av my youth, as I have more than wanst tould you, I was a man that filled the eye an’ delighted the sowl av women. Niver man was hated as I have bin. Niver man was loved as I—no, not within half a day’s march av ut! For the first five years av my service, whin I was what I wud give my sowl to be now, I tuk whatever was within my reach an’ digested ut—an’ that’s more than most men can say. Dhrink I tuk, an’ ut did me no harm. By the Hollow av Hiven, I cud play wid four women at wanst, an’ kape them from findin’ out anythin’ about the other three, an’ smile like a fullblown marigold through ut all. Dick Coulhan, av the battery we’ll have down on us to-night, could drive his team no better than I mine, an’ I hild the worser cattle! An’ so I lived, an’ so I was happy till afther that business wid Annie Bragin—she that turned me off as cool as a meat-safe, an’ taught me where I stud in the mind av an honest woman. ‘Twas no sweet dose to swallow.

“Afther that I sickened awhile an’ tuk thought to my reg’mental work; conceiting mesilf I wud study an’ be a sargint, an’ a major-gineral twinty minutes afther that. But on top av my ambitiousness there was an empty place in my sowl, an’ me own opinion av mesilf cud not fill ut. Sez I to mesilf, ‘Terence, you’re a great man an’ the best set-up in the reg’mint. Go on an’ get promotion.’ Sez mesilf to me, ‘What for?’ Sez I to mesilf, ‘For the glory av ut!’ Sez mesilf to me, ‘Will that fill these two strong arrums av yours, Terence?’ ‘Go to the devil,’ sez I to mesilf, ‘Go to the married lines,’ sez mesilf to me. ‘Tis the same thing,’ sez I to mesilf. ‘Av you’re the same man, ut is,’ said mesilf to me; an’ wid that I considhered on ut a long while. Did you iver feel that way, sorr?”

I snored gently, knowing that if Mulvaney were uninterrupted he would go on. The clamor from the bivouac fires beat up to the stars, as the rival singers of the companies were pitted against each other.

“So I felt that way an’ a bad time ut was. Wanst, bein’ a fool, I wint into the married lines more for the sake av spakin’ to our ould color-sergint Shadd than for any thruck wid womenfolk. I was a corp’ril then—rejuced aftherward, but a corp’ril then. I’ve got a photograft av mesilf to prove ut. ‘You’ll take a cup av tay wid us?’ sez Shadd. ‘I will that,’ I sez, ‘tho’ tay is not my divarsion.’

“”Twud be better for you if ut were,’ sez ould Mother Shadd, an’ she had ought to know, for Shadd, in the ind av his service, dhrank bung-full each night.

“Wid that I tuk off my gloves—there was pipe-clay in thim, so that they stud alone—an’ pulled up my chair, lookin’ round at the china ornaments an’ bits av things in the Shadds’ quarters. They were things that belonged to a man, an’ no camp-kit, here to-day an’ dishipated next. ‘You’re comfortable in this place, sergint,’ sez I. ”Tis the wife that did ut, boy,’ sez he, pointin’ the stem av his pipe to ould Mother Shadd, an’ she smacked the top av his bald head apon the compliment. ‘That manes you want money,’ sez she.

“An’ thin—an’ thin whin the kettle was to be filled, Dinah came in—my Dinah—her sleeves rowled up to the elbow an’ her hair in a winkin’ glory over her forehead, the big blue eyes beneath twinklin’ like stars on a frosty night, an’ the tread av her two feet lighter than wastepaper from the colonel’s basket in ord’ly-room whin ut’s emptied. Bein’ but a shlip av a girl she went pink at seein’ me, an’ I twisted me moustache an’ looked at a picture forninst the wall. Niver show a woman that ye care the snap av a finger for her, an’ begad she’ll come bleatin’ to your boot-heels!”

“I suppose that’s why you followed Annie Bragin till everybody in the married quarters laughed at you,” said I, remembering that unhallowed wooing and casting off the disguise of drowsiness.

“I’m layin’ down the gin’ral theory av the attack,” said Mulvaney, driving his boot into the dying fire. “If you read the Soldier’s Pocket Book, which niver any soldier reads, you’ll see that there are exceptions. Whin Dinah was out av the door (an’ ’twas as tho’ the sunlight had shut too)—’Mother av Hiven, sergint,’ sez I, ‘but is that your daughter?’—’I’ve believed that way these eighteen years,’ sez ould Shadd, his eyes twinklin’; ‘but Mrs. Shadd has her own opinion, like iv’ry woman,’—’Tis wid yours this time, for a mericle,’ sez Mother Shadd. ‘Thin why in the name av fortune did I niver see her before?’ sez I. ‘Bekaze you’ve been thrapesin’ round wid the married women these three years past. She was a bit av a child till last year, an’ she shot up wid the spring,’ sez ould Mother Shadd, ‘I’ll thrapese no more,’ sez I. ‘D’you mane that?’ sez ould Mother Shadd, lookin’ at me side-ways like a hen looks at a hawk whin the chickens are runnin’ free. ‘Try me, an’ tell,’ sez I. Wid that I pulled on my gloves, dhrank off the tay, an’ went out av the house as stiff as at gin’ral p’rade, for well I knew that Dinah Shadd’s eyes were in the small av my back out av the scullery window. Faith! that was the only time I mourned I was not a cav’lry man for the pride av the spurs to jingle.

“I wint out to think, an’ I did a powerful lot av thinkin’, but ut all came round to that shlip av a girl in the dotted blue dhress, wid the blue eyes an’ the sparkil in them. Thin I kept off canteen, an’ I kept to the married quarthers, or near by, on the chanst av meetin’ Dinah. Did I meet her? Oh, my time past, did I not; wid a lump in my throat as big as my valise an’ my heart goin’ like a farrier’s forge on a Saturday morning? ‘Twas ‘Good day to ye, Miss Dinah,’ an’ ‘Good day t’you, corp’ril,’ for a week or two, and divil a bit further could I get bekaze av the respect I had to that girl that I cud ha’ broken betune finger an’ thumb.”

Here I giggled as I recalled the gigantic figure of Dinah Shadd when she handed me my shirt.

“Ye may laugh,” grunted Mulvaney. “But I’m speakin’ the trut’, an’ ’tis you that are in fault. Dinah was a girl that wud ha’ taken the imperiousness out av the Duchess av Clonmel in those days. Flower hand, foot av shod air, an’ the eyes av the livin’ mornin’ she had that is my wife to-day—ould Dinah, and niver aught else than Dinah Shadd to me.

“‘Twas after three weeks standin’ off an’ on, an’ niver makin’ headway excipt through the eyes, that a little drummer boy grinned in me face whin I had admonished him wid the buckle av my belt for riotin’ all over the place, ‘An’ I’m not the only wan that doesn’t kape to barricks,’ sez he. I tuk him by the scruff av his neck,—my heart was hung on a hair-thrigger those days, you will onderstand—an’ ‘Out wid ut,’ sez I, ‘or I’ll lave no bone av you unbreakable,’—’Speak to Dempsey,’ sez he howlin’. ‘Dempsey which?’ sez I, ‘ye unwashed limb av Satan.’—’Av the Bob-tailed Dhragoons,’ sez he, ‘He’s seen her home from her aunt’s house in the civil lines four times this fortnight,’—’Child!’ sez I, dhroppin’ him, ‘your tongue’s stronger than your body. Go to your quarters. I’m sorry I dhressed you down.’

“At that I went four ways to wanst huntin’ Dempsey. I was mad to think that wid all my airs among women I shud ha’ been chated by a basin-faced fool av a cav’lryman not fit to trust on a trunk. Presintly I found him in our lines—the Bobtails was quartered next us—an’ a tallowy, topheavy son av a she-mule he was wid his big brass spurs an’ his plastrons on his epigastrons an’ all. But he niver flinched a hair.

“‘A word wid you, Dempsey,’ sez I. ‘You’ve walked wid Dinah Shadd four times this fortnight gone.’

“‘What’s that to you?’ sez he. ‘I’ll walk forty times more, an’ forty on top av that, ye shovel-futted clod-breakin’ infantry lance-corp’ril.’

“Before I cud gyard he had his gloved fist home on my cheek an’ down I went full-sprawl. ‘Will that content you?’ sez he, blowin’ on his knuckles for all the world like a Scots Greys orf’cer. ‘Content!’ sez I. ‘For your own sake, man, take off your spurs, peel your jackut, an’ onglove. ‘Tis the beginnin’ av the overture; stand up!’

“He stud all he know, but he niver peeled his jacket, an’ his shoulders had no fair play. I was fightin’ for Dinah Shadd an’ that cut on my cheek. What hope had he forninst me? ‘Stand up,’ sez I, time an’ again whin he was beginnin’ to quarter the ground an’ gyard high an’ go large. ‘This isn’t ridin’-school,’ I sez. ‘O man, stand up an’ let me get in at ye.’ But whin I saw he wud be runnin’ about, I grup his shtock in my left an’ his waist-belt in my right an’ swung him clear to my right front, head undher, he hammerin’ my nose till the wind was knocked out av him on the bare ground. ‘Stand up,’ sez I, ‘or I’ll kick your head into your chest!’ and I wud ha’ done ut too, so ragin’ mad I was.

“‘My collar-bone’s bruk,’ sez he. ‘Help me back to lines. I’ll walk wid her no more.’ So I helped him back.”

“And was his collar-bone broken?” I asked, for I fancied that only Learoyd could neatly accomplish that terrible throw.

“He pitched on his left shoulder point. Ut was. Next day the news was in both barricks, an’ whin I met Dinah Shadd wid a cheek on me like all the reg’mintal tailor’s samples there was no ‘Good mornin’, corp’ril,’ or aught else. ‘An’ what have I done, Miss Shadd,’ sez I, very bould, plantin’ mesilf forninst her, ‘that ye should not pass the time of day?’

“‘Ye’ve half-killed rough-rider Dempsey,’ sez she, her dear blue eyes fillin’ up.

“‘May be,’ sez I. ‘Was he a friend av yours that saw ye home four times in the fortnight?’

“‘Yes,’ sez she, but her mouth was down at the corners, ‘An’—an’ what’s that to you?’ she sez.

“‘Ask Dempsey,’ sez I, purtendin’ to go away.

“‘Did you fight for me then, ye silly man?’ she sez, tho’ she knew ut all along.

“‘Who else?’ sez I, an’ I tuk wan pace to the front.

“‘I wasn’t worth ut,’ sez she, fingerin’ in her apron.

“‘That’s for me to say,’ sez I. ‘Shall I say ut?’

“‘Yes,’ sez she, in a saint’s whisper, an’ at that I explained mesilf; and she tould me what ivry man that is a man, an’ many that is a woman, hears wanst in his life.

“‘But what made ye cry at startin’, Dinah, darlin’?’ sez I.

“‘Your—your bloody cheek,’ sez she, duckin’ her little head down on my sash (I was on duty for the day) an’ whimperin’ like a sorrowful angil.

“Now a man cud take that two ways. I tuk ut as pleased me best an’ my first kiss wid ut. Mother av Innocence! but I kissed her on the tip av the nose and undher the eye; an’ a girl that let’s a kiss come tumble-ways like that has never been kissed before. Take note av that, sorr. Thin we wint hand in hand to ould Mother Shadd like two little childher, an’ she said ’twas no bad thing, an’ ould Shadd nodded behind his pipe, an’ Dinah ran away to her own room. That day I throd on rollin’ clouds. All earth was too small to hould me. Begad, I cud ha’ hiked the sun out av the sky for a live coal to my pipe, so magnificent I was. But I tuk recruities at squad-drill instid, an’ began wid general battalion advance whin I shud ha’ been balance-steppin’ them. Eyah! that day! that day!”

A very long pause. “Well?” said I.

“‘Twas all wrong,” said Mulvaney, with an enormous sigh. “An’ I know that ev’ry bit av ut was my own foolishness. That night I tuk maybe the half av three pints—not enough to turn the hair of a man in his natural senses. But I was more than half drunk wid pure joy, an’ that canteen beer was so much whisky to me, I can’t tell how it came about, but bekaze I had no thought for anywan except Dinah, bekaze I hadn’t slipped her little white arms from my neck five minuts, bekaze the breath of her kiss was not gone from my mouth, I must go through the married lines on my way to quarters an’ I must stay talkin’ to a red-headed Mullingar heifer av a girl, Judy Sheehy, that was daughter to Mother Sheehy, the wife of Nick Sheehy, the canteen-sergint—the Black Curse av Shielygh be on the whole brood that are above groun’ this day!

“‘An’ what are ye houldin’ your head that high for, corp’ril?’ sez Judy. ‘Come in an’ thry a cup av tay,’ she sez, standin’ in the doorway. Bein’ an ontrustable fool, an’ thinkin’ av anything but tay, I wint.

“‘Mother’s at canteen,’ sez Judy, smoothin’ the hair av hers that was like red snakes, an’ lookin’ at me corner-ways out av her green cats’ eyes. ‘Ye will not mind, corp’ril?’

“‘I can endure,’ sez I; ould Mother Sheehy bein’ no divarsion av mine, nor her daughter too. Judy fetched the tea things an’ put thim on the table, leanin’ over me very close to get thim square. I dhrew back, thinkin’ av Dinah.

“‘Is ut afraid you are av a girl alone?’ sez Judy.

“‘No,’ sez I. ‘Why should I be?’

“‘That rests wid the girl,’ sez Judy, dhrawin’ her chair next to mine.

“‘Thin there let ut rest,’ sez I; an’ thinkin’ I’d been a trifle onpolite, I sez, ‘The tay’s not quite sweet enough for my taste. Put your little finger in the cup, Judy. ‘Twill make ut necthar.’

“‘What’s necthar?’ sez she.

“‘Somethin’ very sweet,’ sez I; an’ for the sinful life av me I cud not help lookin’ at her out av the corner av my eye, as I was used to look at a woman.

“‘Go on wid ye, corp’ril,’ sez she. ‘You’re a flirrt.’

“‘On me sowl I’m not,’ sez I.

“‘Then you’re a cruel handsome man, an’ that’s worse,’ sez she, heaving big sighs an’ lookin’ crossways.

“‘You know your own mind,’ sez I.

“”Twud be better for me if I did not,’ she sez.

“‘There’s a dale to be said on both sides av that,’ sez I, unthinkin’.

“‘Say your own part av ut, then, Terence, darlin’,’ sez she; ‘for begad I’m thinkin’ I’ve said too much or too little for an honest girl,’ an’ wid that she put her arms round my neck an’ kissed me.

“‘There’s no more to be said afther that,’ sez I, kissin’ her back again—Oh the mane scutt that I was, my head ringin’ wid Dinah Shadd! How does ut come about, sorr, that when a man has put the comether on wan woman, he’s sure bound to put it on another? ‘Tis the same thing at musketry, Wan day ivry shot goes wide or into the bank, an’ the next, lay high lay low, sight or snap, ye can’t get off the bull’s-eye for ten shots runnin’.”

“That only happens to a man who has had a good deal of experience. He does it without thinking,” I replied.

“Thankin’ you for the complimint, sorr, ut may be so. But I’m doubtful whether you mint ut for a complimint. Hear now; I sat there wid Judy on my knee tellin’ me all manner av nonsinse an’ only sayin’ ‘yes’ an’ ‘no,’ when I’d much better ha’ kept tongue betune teeth. An’ that was not an hour afther I had left Dinah! What I was thinkin’ av I cannot say, Presintly. quiet as a cat, ould Mother Sheehy came in velvet-dhrunk. She had her daughter’s red hair, but ’twas bald in patches, an’ I cud see in her wicked ould face, clear as lightnin’, what Judy wud be twenty years to come. I was for jumpin’ up, but Judy niver moved.

“‘Terence has promust, mother,’ sez she, an’ the could sweat bruk out all over me. Ould Mother Sheehy sat down of a heap an’ began playin’ wid the cups. ‘Thin you’re a well-matched pair,’ she sez, very thick. ‘For he’s the biggest rogue that iver spoiled the queen’s shoe-leather,’ an’—

“‘I’m off, Judy,’ sez I. ‘Ye should not talk nonsinse to your mother. Get her to bed, girl.’

“‘Nonsinse!’ sez the ould woman, prickin’ up her ears like a cat an’ grippin’ the table-edge. ”Twill be the most nonsinsical nonsinse for you, ye grinnin’ badger, if nonsinse ’tis. Git clear, you. I’m goin’ to bed.’

“I ran out into the dhark, my head in a stew an’ my heart sick, but I had sinse enough to see that I’d brought ut all on mysilf. ‘It’s this to pass the time av day to a panjandhrum av hellcats,’ sez I. ‘What I’ve said, an’ what I’ve not said do not matther. Judy an’ her dam will hould me for a promust man, an’ Dinah will give me the go, an’ I desarve ut. I will go an’ get dhrunk,’ sez I, ‘an’ forget about ut, for ’tis plain I’m not a marrin’ man.’

“On my way to canteen I ran against Lascelles, color-sergeant that was av E Comp’ny, a hard, hard man, wid a torment av a wife. ‘You’ve the head av a drowned man on your shoulders,’ sez he; ‘an’ you’re goin’ where you’ll get a worse wan. ‘Come back,’ sez he. ‘Let me go,’ sez I. ‘I’ve thrown my luck over the wall wid my own hand!’—’Then that’s not the way to get ut back again,’ sez he. ‘Have out wid your throuble, ye fool-bhoy.’ An’ I tould him how the matther was.

“He sucked in his lower lip. ‘You’ve been thrapped,’ sez he. ‘Ju Sheehy wud be the betther for a man’s name to hers as soon as can. An’ ye thought ye’d put the comether on her,—that’s the natural vanity of the baste. Terence, you’re a big born fool, but you’re not bad enough to marry into that comp’ny. If you said anythin’, an’ for all your protestations I’m sure ye did—or did not, which is worse,—eat ut all—lie like the father of all lies, but come out av ut free av Judy. Do I not know what ut is to marry a woman that was the very spit an’ image av Judy whin she was young? I’m gettin’ old an’ I’ve larnt patience, but you, Terence, you’d raise hand on Judy an’ kill her in a year. Never mind if Dinah gives you the go, you’ve desarved ut; never mind if the whole reg’mint laughs you all day. Get shut av Judy an’ her mother. They can’t dhrag you to church, but if they do, they’ll dhrag you to hell. Go back to your quarters and lie down,’ sez he. Thin over his shoulder, ‘You must ha’ done with thim,’

“Next day I wint to see Dinah, but there was no tucker in me as I walked. I knew the throuble wud come soon enough widout any handlin’ av mine, an’ I dreaded ut sore.

“I heard Judy callin’ me, but I hild straight on to the Shadds’ quarthers, an’ Dinah wud ha’ kissed me but I put her back.

“‘Whin all’s said, darlin’,’ sez I, ‘you can give ut me if ye will, tho’ I misdoubt ’twill be so easy to come by then.’

“I had scarce begun to put the explanation into shape before Judy an’ her mother came to the door. I think there was a veranda, but I’m forgettin’.

“‘Will ye not step in?’ sez Dinah, pretty and polite, though the Shadds had no dealin’s with the Sheehys. Old Mother Shadd looked up quick, an’ she was the fust to see the throuble; for Dinah was her daughter.

“‘I’m pressed for time to-day,’ sez Judy as bould as brass; ‘an’ I’ve only come for Terence,—my promust man. Tis strange to find him here the day afther the day.’

“Dinah looked at me as though I had hit her, an’ I answered straight.

“‘There was some nonsinse last night at the Sheehys’ quarthers, an’ Judy’s carryin’ on the joke, darlin’,’ sez I.

“‘At the Sheehys’ quarthers?’ sez Dinah very slow, an’ Judy cut in wid: ‘He was there from nine till ten, Dinah Shadd, an’ the betther half av that time I was sittin’ on his knee, Dinah Shadd. Ye may look and ye may look an’ ye may look me up an’ down, but ye won’t look away that Terence is my promust man, Terence, darlin’, ’tis time for us to be comin’ home.’

“Dinah Shadd niver said word to Judy. ‘Ye left me at half-past eight,’ she sez to me, ‘an’ I niver thought that ye’d leave me for Judy,—promises, or no promises. Go back wid her, you that have to be fetched by a girl! I’m done with you,’ sez she, and she ran into her own room, her mother followin’. So I was alone wid those two women and at liberty to spake my sentiments.

“‘Judy Sheehy,’ sez I, ‘if you made a fool av me betune the lights you shall not do ut in the day. I niver promised you words or lines.’

“‘You lie,’ sez ould Mother Sheehy, ‘an’ may ut choke you waere you stand!’ She was far gone in dhrink.

“‘An’ tho’ ut choked me where I stud I’d not change,’ sez I. ‘Go home, Judy. I take shame for a decent girl like you dhraggin’ your mother out bareheaded on this errand. Hear now, and have ut for an answer. I gave my word to Dinah Shadd yesterday, an’, more blame to me, I was wid you last night talkin’ nonsinse but nothin’ more. You’ve chosen to thry to hould me on ut. I will not be held thereby for anythin’ in the world. Is that enough?’

“Judy wint pink all over. ‘An’ I wish you joy av the perjury,’ sez she, duckin’ a curtsey. ‘You’ve lost a woman that would ha’ wore her hand to the bone for your pleasure; an’ ‘deed, Terence, ye were not thrapped….’ Lascelles must ha’ spoken plain to her. ‘I am such as Dinah is—’deed I am! Ye’ve lost a fool av a girl that’ll niver look at you again, an’ ye’ve lost what ye niver had,—your common honesty. If you manage your men as you manage your love-makin’, small wondher they call you the worst corp’ril in the comp’ny. Come away, mother,’ sez she.

“But divil a fut would the ould woman budge! ‘D’you hould by that?’ sez she, peerin’ up under her thick grey eyebrows.

“‘Ay, an wud,’ sez I, ‘tho’ Dinah give me the go twinty times. I’ll have no thruck with you or yours,’ sez I. ‘Take your child away, ye shameless woman.’

“‘An’ am I shameless?’ sez she, bringin’ her hands up above her head. ‘Thin what are you, ye lyin’, schamin’, weak-kneed, dhirty-souled son av a sutler? Am I shameless? Who put the open shame on me an’ my child that we shud go beggin’ through the lines in the broad daylight for the broken word of a man? Double portion of my shame be on you, Terence Mulvaney, that think yourself so strong! By Mary and the saints, by blood and water an’ by ivry sorrow that came into the world since the beginnin’, the black blight fall on you and yours, so that you may niver be free from pain for another when ut’s not your own! May your heart bleed in your breast drop by drop wid all your friends laughin’ at the bleedin’! Strong you think yourself? May your strength be a curse to you to dhrive you into the divil’s hands against your own will! Clear-eyed you are? May your eyes see dear evry step av the dark path you take till the hot cindhers av hell put thim out! May the ragin’ dry thirst in my own ould bones go to you that you shall niver pass bottle full nor glass empty. God preserve the light av your onder-standin’ to you, my jewel av a bhoy, that ye may niver forget what you mint to be an’ do, whin you’re wallowin’ in the muck! May ye see the betther and follow the worse as long as there’s breath in your body; an’ may ye die quick in a strange land; watchin’ your death before ut takes you, an’ onable to stir hand or foot!’

“I heard a scufflin’ in the room behind, and thin Dinah Shadd’s hand dhropped into mine like a rose-leaf into a muddy road.

“‘The half av that I’ll take,’ sez she, ‘an’ more too if I can. Go home, ye silly talkin’ woman,—go home an’ confess.’

“‘Come away! Come away!’ sez Judy, pullin’ her mother by the shawl. ”Twas none av Terence’s fault. For the love av Mary stop the talkin’!’

“‘An’ you!’ said ould Mother Sheehy, spinnin’ round forninst Dinah. ‘Will ye take the half av that man’s load? Stand off from him, Dinah Shadd, before he takes you down too—you that look to be a quarther-master-sergeant’s wife in five years. You look too high, child. You shall wash for the quarther-master-sergeant, whin he plases to give you the job out av charity; but a privit’s wife you shall be to the end, an’ evry sorrow of a privit’s wife you shall know and nivir a joy but wan, that shall go from you like the running tide from a rock. The pain av bearin’ you shall know but niver the pleasure av giving the breast; an’ you shall put away a man-child into the common ground wid never a priest to say a prayer over him, an’ on that man-child ye shall think ivry day av your life. Think long, Dinah Shadd, for you’ll niver have another tho’ you pray till your knees are bleedin’. The mothers av childer shall mock you behind your back when you’re wringing over the washtub. You shall know what ut is to help a dhrunken husband home an’ see him go to the gyard-room. Will that plase you, Dinah Shadd, that won’t be seen talkin’ to my daughter? You shall talk to worse than Judy before all’s over. The sergints’ wives shall look down on you contemptuous, daughter av a sergint, an’ you shall cover ut all up wid a smiling face when your heart’s burstin’. Stand off av him, Dinah Shadd, for I’ve put the Black Curse of Shielygh upon him an’ his own mouth shall make ut good.”

“She pitched forward on her head an’ began foamin’ at the mouth. Dinah Shadd ran out wid water, an’ Judy dhragged the ould woman into the veranda till she sat up.

“‘I’m old an’ forlore,’ she sez, thremblin’ an’ cryin’, ‘and ’tis like I say a dale more than I mane.’

“‘When you’re able to walk,—go,’ says ould Mother Shadd. ‘This house has no place for the likes av you that have cursed my daughter.’

“‘Eyah!’ said the ould woman. ‘Hard words break no bones, an’ Dinah Shadd ‘ll keep the love av her husband till my bones are green corn, Judy darlin’, I misremember what I came here for. Can you lend us the bottom av a taycup av tay, Mrs. Shadd?’

“But Judy dhragged her off cryin’ as tho’ her heart wud break. An’ Dinah Shadd an’ I, in ten minutes we had forgot ut all.”

“Then why do you remember it now?” said I.

“Is ut like I’d forget? Ivry word that wicked ould woman spoke fell thrue in my life aftherward, an’ I cud ha’ stud ut all—stud ut all—excipt when my little Shadd was born. That was on the line av march three months afther the regiment was taken with cholera. We were betune Umballa an’ Kalka thin, an’ I was on picket. Whin I came off duty the women showed me the child, an’ ut turned on uts side an’ died as I looked. We buried him by the road, an’ Father Victor was a day’s march behind wid the heavy baggage, so the comp’ny captain read a prayer. An’ since then I’ve been a childless man, an’ all else that ould Mother Sheehy put upon me an’ Dinah Shadd. What do you think, sorr?”

I thought a good deal, but it seemed better then to reach out for Mulvaney’s hand. The demonstration nearly cost me the use of three fingers. Whatever he knows of his weaknesses, Mulvaney is entirely ignorant of his strength.

“But what do you think?” he repeated, as I was straightening out the crushed fingers.

My reply was drowned in yells and outcries from the next fire, where ten men were shouting for “Orth’ris,” “Privit Orth’ris,” “Mistah Or—ther—ris!” “Deah boy,” “Cap’n Orth’ris,” “Field-Marshal Orth’ris,” “Stanley, you pen’north o’ pop, come ‘ere to your own comp’ny!” And the cockney, who had been delighting another audience with recondite and Rabelaisian yarns, was shot down among his admirers by the major force.

“You’ve crumpled my dress-shirt ‘orrid,” said he, “an’ I shan’t sing no more to this ‘ere bloomin’ drawin’-room.”

Learoyd, roused by the confusion, uncoiled himself, crept behind Ortheris, and slung him aloft on his shoulders.

“Sing, ye bloomin’ hummin’ bird!” said he, and Ortheris, beating time on Learoyd’s skull, delivered himself, in the raucous voice of the Ratcliffe Highway, of this song:—

My girl she give me the go onst,
When I was a London lad,
An’ I went on the drink for a fortnight,
An’ then I went to the bad.
The Queen she give me a shillin’
To fight for ‘er over the seas;
But Guv’ment built me a fever-trap,
An’ Injia give me disease.

Chorus.

Ho! don’t you ‘eed what a girl says,
An’ don’t you go for the beer;
But I was an ass when I was at grass,
An’ that is why I’m here.

I fired a shot at a Afghan,
The beggar ‘e fired again,
An’ I lay on my bed with a ‘ole in my ‘ed,
An’ missed the next campaign!
I up with my gun at a Burman
Who carried a bloomin’ dah,
But the cartridge stuck and the bay’nit bruk,
An’ all I got was the scar.

Chorus.

Ho! don’t you aim at a Afghan
When you stand on the sky-line clear;
An’ don’t you go for a Burman
If none o’ your friends is near.

I served my time for a corp’ral,
An’ wetted my stripes with pop,
For I went on the bend with a intimate friend,
An’ finished the night in the “shop.”
I served my time for a sergeant;
The colonel ‘e sez “No!
The most you’ll see is a full C.B.”
An’ … very next night ’twas so.[2]Confined to barracks.

Chorus.

Ho! don’t you go for a corp’ral
Unless your ‘ed is clear;
But I was an ass when I was at grass,
An’ that is why I’m ‘ere.

I’ve tasted the luck o’ the army
In barrack an’ camp an’ clink,
An’ I lost my tip through the bloomin’ trip
Along o’ the women an’ drink.
I’m down at the heel o’ my service
An’ when I am laid on the shelf,
My very wust friend from beginning to end
By the blood of a mouse was myself!

Chorus.

Ho! don’t you ‘eed what a girl says,
An’ don’t you go for the beer:
But I was an ass when I was at grass,
An’ that is why I’m ‘ere,

“Ay, listen to our little man now, singin’ an’ shoutin’ as tho’ trouble had niver touched him. D’ you remember when he went mad with the homesickness?” said Mulvaney, recalling a never-to-be-forgotten season when Ortheris waded through the deep waters of affliction and behaved abominably. “But he’s talkin’ bitter truth, though. Eyah!

“My very worst frind from beginnin’ to ind By the blood av a mouse was mesilf!”

* * * * *

When I woke I saw Mulvaney, the night-dew gemming his moustache, leaning on his rifle at picket, lonely as Prometheus on his rock, with I know not what vultures tearing his liver.

Footnotes

[2] Confined to barracks.

The Story of Muhammad Din • 1,200 Words

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 veranda; 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, stringwise, 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 garden, 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 grounds. He had half buried the polo-ball in dust, and stuck six shriveled 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 water-man 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 and apologetic face that he said “Talaam, Tahib,” when I came home from 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 gaily-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 the 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.

In Flood Time • 3,900 Words

Tweed said tae Till:
“What gars ye rin sae Still?”
Till said tae Tweed:
“Though ye rin wi’ speed
An’ I rin slaw—
Yet where ye droon ae man
I droon twa.”

There is no getting over the river to-night, Sahib. They say that a bullock-cart has been washed down already, and the ekka that went over a half hour before you came, has not yet reached the far side. Is the Sahib in haste? I will drive the ford-elephant in to show him. Ohè, mahout there in the shed! Bring out Ram Pershad, and if he will face the current, good. An elephant never lies, Sahib, and Ram Pershad is separated from his friend Kala Nag. He, too, wishes to cross to the far side. Well done! Well done! my King! Go half way across, mahoutji, and see what the river says. Well done, Ram Pershad! Pearl among elephants, go into the river! Hit him on the head, fool! Was the goad made only to scratch thy own fat back with, bastard? Strike! Strike! What are the boulders to thee, Ram Pershad, my Rustum, my mountain of strength? Go in! Go in!

No, Sahib! It is useless. You can hear him trumpet. He is telling Kala Nag that he cannot come over. See! He has swung round and is shaking his head. He is no fool. He knows what the Barhwi means when it is angry. Aha! Indeed, thou art no fool, my child! Salaam, Ram Pershad, Bahadur! Take him under the trees, mahout, and see that he gets his spices. Well done, thou chiefest among tuskers. Salaam to the Sirkar and go to sleep.

What is to be done? The Sahib must wait till the river goes down. It will shrink to-morrow morning, if God pleases, or the day after at the latest. Now why does the Sahib get so angry? I am his servant. Before God, I did not create this stream! What can I do? My hut and all that is therein is at the service of the Sahib, and it is beginning to rain. Come away, my Lord, How will the river go down for your throwing abuse at it? In the old days the English people were not thus. The fire-carriage has made them soft. In the old days, when they drave behind horses by day or by night, they said naught if a river barred the way, or a carriage sat down in the mud. It was the will of God—not like a fire-carriage which goes and goes and goes, and would go though all the devils in the land hung on to its tail. The fire-carriage hath spoiled the English people. After all, what is a day lost, or, for that matter, what are two days? Is the Sahib going to his own wedding, that he is so mad with haste? Ho! Ho! Ho! I am an old man and see few Sahibs. Forgive me if I have forgotten the respect that is due to them. The Sahib is not angry?

His own wedding! Ho! Ho! Ho! The mind of an old man is like the numah-tree. Fruit, bud, blossom, and the dead leaves of all the years of the past flourish together. Old and new and that which is gone out of remembrance, all three are there! Sit on the bedstead, Sahib, and drink milk. Or—would the Sahib in truth care to drink my tobacco? It is good. It is the tobacco of Nuklao. My son, who is in service there sent it to me. Drink, then, Sahib, if you know how to handle the tube. The Sahib takes it like a Musalman. Wah! Wah! Where did he learn that? His own wedding! Ho! Ho! Ho! The Sahib says that there is no wedding in the matter at all? Now is it likely that the Sahib would speak true talk to me who am only a black man? Small wonder, then, that he is in haste. Thirty years have I beaten the gong at this ford, but never have I seen a Sahib in such haste. Thirty years, Sahib! That is a very long time. Thirty years ago this ford was on the track of the bunjaras, and I have seen two thousand pack-bullocks cross in one night. Now the rail has come, and the fire-carriage says buz-buz-buz, and a hundred lakhs of maunds slide across that big bridge. It is very wonderful; but the ford is lonely now that there are no bunjaras to camp under the trees.

Nay, do not trouble to look at the sky without. It will rain till the dawn. Listen! The boulders are talking to-night in the bed of the river. Hear them! They would be husking your bones, Sahib, had you tried to cross. See, I will shut the door and no rain can enter. Wahi! Ahi! Ugh! Thirty years on the banks of the ford! An old man am I and—where is the oil for the lamp?

* * * * *

Your pardon, but, because of my years, I sleep no sounder than a dog; and you moved to the door. Look then, Sahib. Look and listen. A full half kos from bank to bank is the stream now—you can see it under the stars—and there are ten feet of water therein. It will not shrink because of the anger in your eyes, and it will not be quiet on account of your curses. Which is louder, Sahib—your voice or the voice of the river? Call to it—perhaps it will be ashamed. Lie down and sleep afresh, Sahib. I know the anger of the Barhwi when there has fallen rain in the foot-hills. I swam the flood, once, on a night tenfold worse than this, and by the Favor of God I was released from Death when I had come to the very gates thereof.

May I tell the tale? Very good talk. I will fill the pipe anew.

Thirty years ago it was, when I was a young man and had but newly come to the ford. I was strong then, and the bunjaras had no doubt when I said “this ford is clear.” I have toiled all night up to my shoulder-blades in running water amid a hundred bullocks mad with fear, and have brought them across losing not a hoof. When all was done I fetched the shivering men, and they gave me for reward the pick of their cattle—the bell-bullock of the drove. So great was the honor in which I was held! But, to-day when the rain falls and the river rises, I creep into my hut and whimper like a dog. My strength is gone from me. I am an old man and the fire-carriage has made the ford desolate. They were wont to call me the Strong One of the Barhwi.

Behold my face, Sahib—it is the face of a monkey. And my arm—it is the arm of an old woman. I swear to you, Sahib, that a woman has loved this face and has rested in the hollow of this arm. Twenty years ago, Sahib. Believe me, this was true talk—twenty years ago.

Come to the door and look across. Can you see a thin fire very far away down the stream? That is the temple-fire, in the shrine of Hanuman, of the village of Pateera. North, under the big star, is the village itself, but it is hidden by a bend of the river. Is that far to swim, Sahib? Would you take off your clothes and adventure? Yet I swam to Pateera—not once but many times; and there are muggers in the river too.

Love knows no caste; else why should I, a Musalman and the son of a Musalman, have sought a Hindu woman—a widow of the Hindus—the sister of the headman of Pateera? But it was even so. They of the headman’s household came on a pilgrimage to Muttra when She was but newly a bride. Silver tires were upon the wheels of the bullock-cart, and silken curtains hid the woman. Sahib, I made no haste in their conveyance, for the wind parted the curtains and I saw Her. When they returned from pilgrimage the boy that was Her husband had died, and I saw Her again in the bullock-cart. By God, these Hindus are fools! What was it to me whether She was Hindu or Jain—scavenger, leper, or whole? I would have married Her and made Her a home by the ford. The Seventh of the Nine Bars says that a man may not marry one of the idolaters? Is that truth? Both Shiahs and Sunnis say that a Musalman may not marry one of the idolaters? Is the Sahib a priest, then, that he knows so much? I will tell him something that he does not know. There is neither Shiah nor Sunni, forbidden nor idolater, in Love; and the Nine Bars are but nine little fagots that the flame of Love utterly burns away. In truth, I would have taken Her; but what could I do? The headman would have sent his men to break my head with staves. I am not—I was not—afraid of any five men; but against half a village who can prevail?

Therefore it was my custom, these things having been arranged between us twain, to go by night to the village of Pateera, and there we met among the crops; no man knowing aught of the matter. Behold, now! I was wont to cross here, skirting the jungle to the river bend where the railway bridge is, and thence across the elbow of land to Pateera. The light of the shrine was my guide when the nights were dark. That jungle near the river is very full of snakes—little karaits that sleep on the sand—and moreover, Her brothers would have slain me had they found me in the crops. But none knew—none knew save She and I; and the blown sand of the river-bed covered the track of my feet. In the hot months it was an easy thing to pass from the ford to Pateera, and in the first Rains, when the river rose slowly, it was an easy thing also. I set the strength of my body against the strength of the stream, and nightly I ate in my hut here and drank at Pateera yonder. She had said that one Hirnam Singh, a thief, had sought Her, and he was of a village up the river but on the same bank. All Sikhs are dogs, and they have refused in their folly that good gift of God—tobacco. I was ready to destroy Hirnam Singh that ever he had come nigh Her; and the more because he had sworn to Her that She had a lover, and that he would lie in wait and give the name to the headman unless She went away with him. What curs are these Sikhs!

After that news, I swam always with a little sharp knife in my belt, and evil would it have been for a man had he stayed me, I knew not the face of Hirnam Singh, but I would have killed any who came between me and Her.

Upon a night in the beginning of the Rains, I was minded to go across to Pateera, albeit the river was angry. Now the nature of the Barhwi is this, Sahib. In twenty breaths it comes down from the Hills, a wall three feet high, and I have seen it, between the lighting of a fire and the cooking of a chupatty, grow from a runnel to a sister of the Jumna.

When I left this bank there was a shoal a half mile down, and I made shift to fetch it and draw breath there ere going forward; for I felt the hands of the river heavy upon my heels. Yet what will a young man not do for Love’s sake? There was but little light from the stars, and midway to the shoal a branch of the stinking deodar tree brushed my mouth as I swam. That was a sign of heavy rain in the foot-hills and beyond, for the deodar is a strong tree, not easily shaken from the hillsides. I made haste, the river aiding me, but ere I had touched the shoal, the pulse of the stream beat, as it were, within me and around, and, behold, the shoal was gone and I rode high on the crest of a wave that ran from bank to bank. Has the Sahib ever been cast into much water that fights and will not let a man use his limbs? To me, my head upon the water, it seemed as though there were naught but water to the world’s end, and the river drave me with its driftwood. A man is a very little thing in the belly of a flood. And this flood, though I knew it not, was the Great Flood about which men talk still. My liver was dissolved and I lay like a log upon my back in the fear of Death. There were living things in the water, crying and howling grievously—beasts of the forest and cattle, and once the voice of a man asking for help. But the rain came and lashed the water white, and I heard no more save the roar of the boulders below and the roar of the rain above. Thus I was whirled down-stream, wrestling for the breath in me. It is very hard to die when one is young. Can the Sahib, standing here, see the railway bridge? Look, there are the lights of the mail-train going to Peshawur! The bridge is now twenty feet above the river, but upon that night the water was roaring against the lattice-work and against the lattice came I feet first, But much driftwood was piled there and upon the piers, and I took no great hurt. Only the river pressed me as a strong man presses a weaker. Scarcely could I take hold of the lattice-work and crawl to the upper boom. Sahib, the water was foaming across the rails a foot deep! Judge therefore what manner of flood it must have been. I could not hear, I could not see. I could but lie on the boom and pant for breath.

After a while the rain ceased and there came out in the sky certain new washed stars, and by their light I saw that there was no end to the black water as far as the eye could travel, and the water had risen upon the rails. There were dead beasts in the driftwood on the piers, and others caught by the neck in the lattice-work, and others not yet drowned who strove to find a foothold on the lattice-work—buffaloes and kine, and wild pig, and deer one or two, and snakes and jackals past all counting. Their bodies were black upon the left side of the bridge, but the smaller of them were forced through the lattice-work and whirled down-stream.

Thereafter the stars died and the rain came down afresh and the river rose yet more, and I felt the bridge begin to stir under me as a man stirs in his sleep ere he wakes. But I was not afraid, Sahib. I swear to you that I was not afraid, though I had no power in my limbs. I knew that I should not die till I had seen Her once more. But I was very cold, and I felt that the bridge must go.

There was a trembling in the water, such a trembling as goes before the coming of a great wave, and the bridge lifted its flank to the rush of that coming so that the right lattice dipped under water and the left rose clear. On my beard, Sahib, I am speaking God’s truth! As a Mirzapore stone-boat careens to the wind, so the Barhwi Bridge turned. Thus and in no other manner.

I slid from the boom into deep water, and behind me came the wave of the wrath of the river. I heard its voice and the scream of the middle part of the bridge as it moved from the piers and sank, and I knew no more till I rose in the middle of the great flood. I put forth my hand to swim, and lo! it fell upon the knotted hair of the head of a man. He was dead, for no one but I, the Strong One of Barhwi, could have lived in that race. He had been dead full two days, for he rode high, wallowing, and was an aid to me, I laughed then, knowing for a surety that I should yet see Her and take no harm; and I twisted my fingers in the hair of the man, for I was far spent, and together we went down the stream—he the dead and I the living. Lacking that help I should have sunk: the cold was in my marrow, and my flesh was ribbed and sodden on my bones. But he had no fear who had known the uttermost of the power of the river; and I let him go where he chose. At last we came into the power of a side-current that set to the right bank, and I strove with my feet to draw with it. But the dead man swung heavily in the whirl, and I feared that some branch had struck him and that he would sink. The tops of the tamarisk brushed my knees, so I knew we were come into flood-water above the crops, and, after, I let down my legs and felt bottom—the ridge of a field—and, after, the dead man stayed upon a knoll under a fig-tree, and I drew my body from the water rejoicing.

Does the Sahib know whither the backwash of the flood had borne me? To the knoll which is the eastern boundary-mark of the village of Pateera! No other place. I drew the dead man up on the grass for the service that he had done me, and also because I knew not whether I should need him again. Then I went, crying thrice like a jackal, to the appointed place which was near the byre of the headman’s house. But my Love was already there, weeping. She feared that the flood had swept my hut at the Barhwi Ford. When I came softly through the ankle-deep water, She thought it was a ghost and would have fled, but I put my arms round Her, and—I was no ghost in those days, though I am an old man now. Ho! Ho! Dried corn, in truth. Maize without juice. Ho! Ho![3]I grieve to say that the Warden of Barhwi ford is responsible here for two very bad puns in the vernacular.—R.K.

I told Her the story of the breaking of the Barhwi Bridge, and She said that I was greater than mortal man, for none may cross the Barhwi in full flood, and I had seen what never man had seen before. Hand in hand we went to the knoll where the dead lay, and I showed Her by what help I had made the ford. She looked also upon the body under the stars, for the latter end of the night was clear, and hid Her face in Her hands, crying: “It is the body of Hirnam Singh!” I said: “The swine is of more use dead than living, my Beloved,” and She said: “Surely, for he has saved the dearest life in the world to my love. None the less, he cannot stay here, for that would bring shame upon me.” The body was not a gunshot from her door.

Then said I, rolling the body with my hands: “God hath judged between us, Hirnam Singh, that thy blood might not be upon my head. Now, whether I have done thee a wrong in keeping thee from the burning-ghat, do thou and the crows settle together.” So I cast him adrift into the flood-water, and he was drawn out to the open, ever wagging his thick black beard like a priest under the pulpit-board. And I saw no more of Hirnam Singh.

Before the breaking of the day we two parted, and I moved toward such of the jungle as was not flooded. With the full light I saw what I had done in the darkness, and the bones of my body were loosened in my flesh, for there ran two kos of raging water between the village of Pateera and the trees of the far bank, and, in the middle, the piers of the Barhwi Bridge showed like broken teeth in the jaw of an old man. Nor was there any life upon the waters—neither birds nor boats, but only an army of drowned things—bullocks and horses and men—and the river was redder than blood from the clay of the foot-hills. Never had I seen such a flood—never since that year have I seen the like—and, O Sahib, no man living had done what I had done. There was no return for me that day. Not for all the lands of the headman would I venture a second time without the shield of darkness that cloaks danger. I went a kos up the river to the house of a blacksmith, saying that the flood had swept me from my hut, and they gave me food. Seven days I stayed with the blacksmith, till a boat came and I returned to my house. There was no trace of wall, or roof, or floor—naught but a patch of slimy mud. Judge, therefore, Sahib, how far the river must have risen.

It was written that I should not die either in my house, or in the heart of the Barhwi, or under the wreck of the Barhwi Bridge, for God sent down Hirnam Singh two days dead, though I know not how the man died, to be my buoy and support. Hirnam Singh has been in Hell these twenty years, and the thought of that night must be the flower of his torment.

Listen, Sahib! The river has changed its voice. It is going to sleep before the dawn, to which there is yet one hour. With the light it will come down afresh. How do I know? Have I been here thirty years without knowing the voice of the river as a father knows the voice of his son? Every moment it is talking less angrily. I swear that there will be no danger for one hour or, perhaps, two. I cannot answer for the morning. Be quick, Sahib! I will call Ram Pershad, and he will not turn back this time. Is the paulin tightly corded upon all the baggage? Ohè, mahout with a mud head, the elephant for the Sahib, and tell them on the far side that there will be no crossing after daylight.

Money? Nay, Sahib. I am not of that kind. No, not even to give sweetmeats to the baby-folk. My house, look you, is empty, and I am an old man.

Dutt, Ram Pershad! Dutt! Dutt! Dutt! Good luck go with you, Sahib.

Footnotes

[3] I grieve to say that the Warden of Barhwi ford is responsible here for two very bad puns in the vernacular.—R.K.

My Own True Ghost Story • 3,200 Words

As I came through the Desert thus it was—
As I came through the Desert.
The City of Dreadful Night.

Somewhere in the Other World, where there are books and pictures and plays and shop-windows to look at, and thousands of men who spend their lives in building up all four, lives a gentleman who writes real stories about the real insides of people; and his name is Mr. Walter Besant. But he will insist upon treating his ghosts—he has published half a workshopful of them—with levity. He makes his ghost-seers talk familiarly, and, in some cases, flirt outrageously, with the phantoms. You may treat anything, from a Viceroy to a Vernacular Paper, with levity; but you must behave reverently toward a ghost, and particularly an Indian one.

There are, in this land, ghosts who take the form of fat, cold, pobby corpses, and hide in trees near the roadside till a traveler passes. Then they drop upon his neck and remain. There are also terrible ghosts of women who have died in child-bed. These wander along the pathways at dusk, or hide in the crops near a village, and call seductively. But to answer their call is death in this world and the next. Their feet are turned backward that all sober men may recognize them. There are ghosts of little children who have been thrown into wells. These haunt well-curbs and the fringes of jungles, and wail under the stars, or catch women by the wrist and beg to be taken up and carried. These and the corpse-ghosts, however, are only vernacular articles and do not attack Sahibs. No native ghost has yet been authentically reported to have frightened an Englishman; but many English ghosts have scared the life out of both white and black.

Nearly every other Station owns a ghost. There are said to be two at Simla, not counting the woman who blows the bellows at Syree dâk-bungalow on the Old Road; Mussoorie has a house haunted of a very lively Thing; a White Lady is supposed to do night-watchman round a house in Lahore; Dalhousie says that one of her houses “repeats” on autumn evenings all the incidents of a horrible horse-and-precipice accident; Murree has a merry ghost, and, now that she has been swept by cholera, will have room for a sorrowful one; there are Officers Quarters in Mian Mir whose doors open without reason, and whose furniture is guaranteed to creak, not with the heat of June but with the weight of Invisibles who come to lounge in the chair; Peshawur possesses houses that none will willingly rent; and there is something—not fever—wrong with a big bungalow in Allahabad. The older Provinces simply bristle with haunted houses, and march phantom armies along their main thoroughfares.

Some of the dâk-bungalows on the Grand Trunk Road have handy little cemeteries in their compound—witnesses to the “changes and chances of this mortal life” in the days when men drove from Calcutta to the Northwest. These bungalows are objectionable places to put up in. They are generally very old, always dirty, while the khansamah is as ancient as the bungalow. He either chatters senilely, or falls into the long trances of age. In both moods he is useless. If you get angry with him, he refers to some Sahib dead and buried these thirty years, and says that when he was in that Sahib’s service not a khansamah in the Province could touch him. Then he jabbers and mows and trembles and fidgets among the dishes, and you repent of your irritation.

In these dâk-bungalows, ghosts are most likely to be found, and when found, they should be made a note of. Not long ago it was my business to live in dâk-bungalows. I never inhabited the same house for three nights running, and grew to be learned in the breed. I lived in Government-built ones with red brick walls and rail ceilings, an inventory of the furniture posted in every room, and an excited snake at the threshold to give welcome. I lived in “converted” ones—old houses officiating as dâk-bungalows—where nothing was in its proper place and there wasn’t even a fowl for dinner. I lived in second-hand palaces where the wind blew through open-work marble tracery just as uncomfortably as through a broken pane. I lived in dâk-bungalows where the last entry in the visitors’ book was fifteen months old, and where they slashed off the curry-kid’s head with a sword. It was my good-luck to meet all sorts of men, from sober traveling missionaries and deserters flying from British Regiments, to drunken loafers who threw whiskey bottles at all who passed; and my still greater good-fortune just to escape a maternity case. Seeing that a fair proportion of the tragedy of our lives out here acted itself in dâk-bungalows, I wondered that I had met no ghosts. A ghost that would voluntarily hang about a dâk-bungalow would be mad of course; but so many men have died mad in dâk-bungalows that there must be a fair percentage of lunatic ghosts.

In due time I found my ghost, or ghosts rather, for there were two of them. Up till that hour I had sympathized with Mr. Besant’s method of handling them, as shown in “The Strange Case of Mr. Lucraft and other Stories.” I am now in the Opposition.

We will call the bungalow Katmal dâk-bungalow. But that was the smallest part of the horror. A man with a sensitive hide has no right to sleep in dâk-bungalows. He should marry. Katmal dâk-bungalow was old and rotten and unrepaired. The floor was of worn brick, the walls were filthy, and the windows were nearly black with grime. It stood on a bypath largely used by native Sub-Deputy Assistants of all kinds, from Finance to Forests; but real Sahibs were rare. The khansamah, who was nearly bent double with old age, said so.

When I arrived, there was a fitful, undecided rain on the face of the land, accompanied by a restless wind, and every gust made a noise like the rattling of dry bones in the stiff toddy-palms outside. The khansamah completely lost his head on my arrival. He had served a Sahib once. Did I know that Sahib? He gave me the name of a well-known man who has been buried for more than a quarter of a century, and showed me an ancient daguerreotype of that man in his prehistoric youth. I had seen a steel engraving of him at the head of a double volume of Memoirs a month before, and I felt ancient beyond telling.

The day shut in and the khansamah went to get me food. He did not go through the pretence of calling it “khana“—man’s victuals. He said “ratub,” and that means, among other things, “grub”—dog’s rations. There was no insult in his choice of the term. He had forgotten the other word, I suppose.

While he was cutting up the dead bodies of animals, I settled myself down, after exploring the dâk-bungalow. There were three rooms, beside my own, which was a corner kennel, each giving into the other through dingy white doors fastened with long iron bars. The bungalow was a very solid one, but the partition-walls of the rooms were almost jerry-built in their flimsiness. Every step or bang of a trunk echoed from my room down the other three, and every footfall came back tremulously from the far walls. For this reason I shut the door. There were no lamps—only candles in long glass shades. An oil wick was set in the bath-room.

For bleak, unadulterated misery that dâk-bungalow was the worst of the many that I had ever set foot in. There was no fireplace, and the windows would not open; so a brazier of charcoal would have been useless. The rain and the wind splashed and gurgled and moaned round the house, and the toddy-palms rattled and roared. Half a dozen jackals went through the compound singing, and a hyena stood afar off and mocked them. A hyena would convince a Sadducee of the Resurrection of the Dead—the worst sort of Dead. Then came the ratub—a curious meal, half native and half English in composition—with the old khansamah babbling behind my chair about dead and gone English people, and the wind-blown candles playing shadow-bo-peep with the bed and the mosquito-curtains. It was just the sort of dinner and evening to make a man think of every single one of his past sins, and of all the others that he intended to commit if he lived.

Sleep, for several hundred reasons, was not easy. The lamp in the bath-room threw the most absurd shadows into the room, and the wind was beginning to talk nonsense.

Just when the reasons were drowsy with blood-sucking I heard the regular—”Let-us-take-and-heave-him-over” grunt of doolie-bearers in the compound. First one doolie came in, then a second, and then a third. I heard the doolies dumped on the ground, and the shutter in front of my door shook. “That’s some one trying to come in,” I said. But no one spoke, and I persuaded myself that it was the gusty wind. The shutter of the room next to mine was attacked, flung back, and the inner door opened, “That’s some Sub-Deputy Assistant,” I said, “and he has brought his friends with him. Now they’ll talk and spit and smoke for an hour.”

But there were no voices and no footsteps, No one was putting his luggage into the next room. The door shut, and I thanked Providence that I was to be left in peace. But I was curious to know where the doolies had gone. I got out of bed and looked into the darkness. There was never a sign of a doolie. Just as I was getting into bed again, I heard, in the next room, the sound that no man in his senses can possibly mistake—the whir of a billiard ball down the length of the slates when the striker is stringing for break. No other sound is like it. A minute afterward there was another whir, and I got into bed. I was not frightened—indeed I was not. I was very curious to know what had become of the doolies. I jumped into bed for that reason.

Next minute I heard the double click of a cannon and my hair sat up. It is a mistake to say that hair stands up. The skin of the head tightens and you can feel a faint, prickly bristling all ever the scalp. That is the hair sitting up.

There was a whir and a click, and both sounds could only have been made by one thing—a billiard ball. I argued the matter out at great length with myself; and the more I argued the less probable it seemed that one bed, one table, and two chairs—all the furniture of the room next to mine—could so exactly duplicate the sounds of a game of billiards. After another cannon, a three-cushion one to judge by the whir, I argued no more. I had found my ghost and would have given worlds to have escaped from that dâk-bungalow. I listened, and with each listen the game grew clearer. There was whir on whir and click on click. Sometimes there was a double click and a whir and another click. Beyond any sort of doubt, people were playing billiards in the next room. And the next room was not big enough to hold a billiard table!

Between the pauses of the wind I heard the game go forward—stroke after stroke. I tried to believe that I could not hear voices; but that attempt was a failure.

Do you know what fear is? Not ordinary fear of insult, injury or death, but abject, quivering dread of something that you cannot see—fear that dries the inside of the mouth and half of the throat—fear that makes you sweat on the palms of the hands, and gulp in order to keep the uvula at work? This is a fine Fear—a great cowardice, and must be felt to be appreciated. The very improbability of billiards in a dâk-bungalow proved the reality of the thing. No man—drunk or sober—could imagine a game a billiards, or invent the spitting crack of a “screw-cannon.”

A severe course of dâk-bungalows has this disadvantage—it breeds infinite credulity. If a man said to a confirmed dâk-bungalow-haunter:—”There is a corpse in the next room, and there’s a mad girl in the next but one, and the woman and man on that camel have just eloped from a place sixty miles away,” the hearer would not disbelieve because he would know that nothing is too wild, grotesque, or horrible to happen in a dâk-bungalow.

This credulity, unfortunately extends to ghosts. A rational person fresh from his own house would have turned on his side and slept. I did not. So surely as I was given up as a bad carcass by the scores of things in the bed because the bulk of my blood was in my heart, so surely did I hear every stroke of a long game at billiards played in the echoing room behind the iron-barred door. My dominant fear was that the players might want a marker. It was an absurd fear; because creatures who could play in the dark would be above such superfluities. I only know that that was my terror; and it was real.

After a long long while, the game stopped, and the door banged, I slept because I was dead tired. Otherwise I should have preferred to have kept awake. Not for everything in Asia would I have dropped the door-bar and peered into the dark of the next room.

When the morning came, I considered that I had done well and wisely, and inquired for the means of departure.

“By the way, khansamah,” I said, “what were those three doolies doing in my compound in the night?”

“There were no doolies,” said the khansamah.

I went into the next room and the daylight streamed through the open door. I was immensely brave. I would, at that hour, have played Black Pool with the owner of the big Black Pool down below.

“Has this place always been a dâk-bungalow?” I asked.

“No,” said the khansamah. “Ten or twenty years ago, I have forgotten how long, it was a billiard-room.”

“A how much?”

“A billiard-room for the Sahibs who built the Railway. I was khansamah then in the big house where all the Railway-Sahibs lived, and I used to come across with brandy-shrab. These three rooms were all one, and they held a big table on which the Sahibs played every evening. But the Sahibs are all dead now, and the Railway runs, you say, nearly to Kabul.”

“Do you remember anything about the Sahibs?”

“It is long ago, but I remember that one Sahib, a fat man and always angry, was playing here one night, and he said to me:—’Mangal Khan, brandy-pani do,’ and I filled the glass, and he bent over the table to strike, and his head fell lower and lower till it hit the table, and his spectacles came off, and when we—the Sahibs and I myself—ran to lift him he was dead. I helped to carry him out. Aha, he was a strong Sahib! But he is dead and I, old Mangal Khan, am still living, by your favor.”

That was more than enough! I had my ghost—a first-hand, authenticated article. I would write to the Society for Psychical Research—I would paralyze the Empire with the news! But I would, first of all, put eighty miles of assessed crop-land between myself and that dâk-bungalow before nightfall. The Society might send their regular agent to investigate later on.

I went into my own room and prepared to pack after noting down the facts of the case. As I smoked I heard the game begin again—with a miss in balk this time, for the whir was a short one.

The door was open and I could see into the room. Click-click! That was a cannon. I entered the room without fear, for there was sunlight within and a fresh breeze without. The unseen game was going on at a tremendous rate. And well it might, when a restless little rat was running to and fro inside the dingy ceiling-cloth, and a piece of loose window-sash was making fifty breaks off the window-bolt as it shook in the breeze!

Impossible to mistake the sound of billiard balls! Impossible to mistake the whir of a ball over the slate! But I was to be excused. Even when I shut my enlightened eyes the sound was marvelously like that of a fast game.

Entered angrily the faithful partner of my sorrows, Kadir Baksh.

“This bungalow is very bad and low-caste! No wonder the Presence was disturbed and is speckled. Three sets of doolie-bearers came to the bungalow late last night when I was sleeping outside, and said that it was their custom to rest in the rooms set apart for the English people! What honor has the khansamah? They tried to enter, but I told them to go. No wonder, if these Oorias have been here, that the Presence is sorely spotted. It is shame, and the work of a dirty man!”

Kadir Baksh did not say that he had taken from each gang two annas for rent in advance, and then, beyond my earshot, had beaten them with the big green umbrella whose use I could never before divine. But Kadir Baksh has no notions of morality.

There was an interview with the khansamah, but as he promptly lost his head, wrath gave place to pity, and pity led to a long conversation, in the course of which he put the fat Engineer-Sahib’s tragic death in three separate stations—two of them fifty miles away. The third shift was to Calcutta, and there the Sahib died while driving a dog-cart.

If I had encouraged him the khansamah would have wandered all through Bengal with his corpse.

I did not go away as soon as I intended. I stayed for the night, while the wind and the rat and the sash and the window-bolt played a ding-dong “hundred and fifty up.” Then the wind ran out and the billiards stopped, and I felt that I had ruined my one genuine, hall-marked ghost story.

Had I only stopped at the proper time, I could have made anything out of it.

That was the bitterest thought of all!

The Big Drunk Draf’ • 3,600 Words

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 marry 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 gang-man, 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 complimint 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 to-morrow, 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, clane-scraped 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 dis-ris-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 grey 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 about two inches av shirt-tail hanging round his neck an’ a disthressful light in his oi. ‘Sahib,’ sez he, ‘there’s a reg’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 womenfolk?’

“‘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 honor 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 employment 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 Army, he sings the Divil’s Mass for a good riddance; an’ that manes swearin’ at ivrything from the Commandher-in-Chief 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 not 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! mint to shake hands whin I went in. Twas the sword hangin’ on the tent-pole 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 Honor 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 noncoms, 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 in-ship.’

“‘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 in-ship 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 wid 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 friends. Tis no manner av use thryin’ to shtop the divilmint 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 to-day, 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 minuts 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 Color 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”—

“Terrence, 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 mudtipper 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.

By Word of Mouth • 1,600 Words

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 India 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 quarreled 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. India 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. Those 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 thereby, 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 traveled 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 hillside and black rocks. Bagi dâk-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 hillside 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 veranda, 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 veranda and fell down, the blood spurting from his nose and his face iron-grey. 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 veranda 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 south of 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 short-handed, 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 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 Dâk Bungalow.

The Drums of the Fore and Aft • 12,300 Words

“And a little child shall lead them.”

In the Army List they still stand as “The Fore and Fit Princess Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Auspach’s Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal Light Infantry, Regimental District 329A,” but the Army through all its barracks and canteens knows them now as the “Fore and Aft.” They may in time do something that shall make their new title honorable, but at present they are bitterly ashamed, and the man who calls them “Fore and Aft” does so at the risk of the head which is on his shoulders.

Two words breathed into the stables of a certain Cavalry Regiment will bring the men out into the streets with belts and mops and bad language; but a whisper of “Fore and Aft” will bring out this regiment with rifles.

Their one excuse is that they came again and did their best to finish the job in style. But for a time all their world knows that they were openly beaten, whipped, dumb-cowed, shaking and afraid. The men know it; their officers know it; the Horse Guards know it, and when the next war comes the enemy will know it also. There are two or three regiments of the Line that have a black mark against their names which they will then wipe out, and it will be excessively inconvenient for the troops upon whom they do their wiping.

The courage of the British soldier is officially supposed to be above proof, and, as a general rule, it is so. The exceptions are decently shoveled out of sight, only to be referred to in the freshet of unguarded talk that occasionally swamps a Mess-table at midnight. Then one hears strange and horrible stories of men not following their officers, of orders being given by those who had no right to give them, and of disgrace that, but for the standing luck of the British Army, might have ended in brilliant disaster. These are unpleasant stories to listen to, and the Messes tell them under their breath, sitting by the big wood fires, and the young officer bows his head and thinks to himself, please God, his men shall never behave unhandily,

The British soldier is not altogether to be blamed for occasional lapses; but this verdict he should not know. A moderately intelligent General will waste six months in mastering the craft of the particular war that he may be waging; a Colonel may utterly misunderstand the capacity of his regiment for three months after it has taken the field; and even a Company Commander may err and be deceived as to the temper and temperament of his own handful: wherefore the soldier, and the soldier of to-day more particularly, should not be blamed for falling back. He should be shot or hanged afterward—pour encourager les autres; but he should not be vilified in newspapers, for that is want of tact and waste of space.

He has, let us say, been in the service of the Empress for, perhaps, four years. He will leave in another two years. He has no inherited morals, and four years are not sufficient to drive toughness into his fibre, or to teach him how holy a thing is his Regiment. He wants to drink, he wants to enjoy himself—in India he wants to save money—and he does not in the least like getting hurt. He has received just sufficient education to make him understand half the purport of the orders he receives, and to speculate on the nature of clean, incised, and shattering wounds. Thus, if he is told to deploy under fire preparatory to an attack, he knows that he runs a very great risk of being killed while he is deploying, and suspects that he is being thrown away to gain ten minutes’ time. He may either deploy with desperate swiftness, or he may shuffle, or bunch, or break, according to the discipline under which he has lain for four years.

Armed with imperfect knowledge, cursed with the rudiments of an imagination, hampered by the intense selfishness of the lower classes, and unsupported, by any regimental associations, this young man is suddenly introduced to an enemy who in eastern lands is always ugly, generally tall and hairy, and frequently noisy. If he looks to the right and the left and sees old soldiers—men of twelve years’ service, who, he knows, know what they are about—taking a charge, rush, or demonstration without embarrassment, he is consoled and applies his shoulder to the butt of his rifle with a stout heart. His peace is the greater if he hears a senior, who has taught him his soldiering and broken his head on occasion, whispering:—”They’ll shout and carry on like this for five minutes. Then they’ll rush in, and then we’ve got ‘em by the short hairs!”

But, on the other hand, if he sees only men of his own term of service, turning white and playing with their triggers and saying:—”What the Hell’s up now?” while the Company Commanders are sweating into their sword-hilts and shouting:—”Front-rank, fix bayonets. Steady there—steady! Sight for three hundred—no, for five! Lie down, all! Steady! Front-rank, kneel!” and so forth, he becomes unhappy; and grows acutely miserable when he hears a comrade turn over with the rattle of fire-irons falling into the fender, and the grunt of a pole-axed ox. If he can be moved about a little and allowed to watch the effect of his own fire on the enemy he feels merrier, and may be then worked up to the blind passion of fighting, which is, contrary to general belief, controlled by a chilly Devil and shakes men like ague. If he is not moved about, and begins to feel cold at the pit of the stomach, and in that crisis is badly mauled and hears orders that were never given, he will break, and he will break badly; and of all things under the sight of the Sun there is nothing more terrible than a broken British regiment. When the worst comes to the worst and the panic is really epidemic, the men must be e’en let go, and the Company Commanders had better escape to the enemy and stay there for safety’s sake. If they can be made to come again they are not pleasant men to meet, because they will not break twice.

About thirty years from this date, when we have succeeded in half-educating everything that wears trousers, our Army will be a beautifully unreliable machine. It will know too much and it will do too little. Later still, when all men are at the mental level of the officer of to-day it will sweep the earth. Speaking roughly, you must employ either blackguards or gentlemen, or, best of all, blackguards commanded by gentlemen, to do butcher’s work with efficiency and despatch. The ideal soldier should, of course, think for himself—the Pocketbook says so. Unfortunately, to attain this virtue, he has to pass through the phase of thinking of himself, and that is misdirected genius. A blackguard may be slow to think for himself, but he is genuinely anxious to kill, and a little punishment teaches him how to guard his own skin and perforate another’s. A powerfully prayerful Highland Regiment, officered by rank Presbyterians, is, perhaps, one degree more terrible in action than a hard-bitten thousand of irresponsible Irish ruffians led by most improper young unbelievers. But these things prove the rule—which is that the midway men are not to be trusted alone. They have ideas about the value of life and an upbringing that has not taught them to go on and take the chances. They are carefully unprovided with a backing of comrades who have been shot over, and until that backing is re-introduced, as a great many Regimental Commanders intend it shall be, they are more liable to disgrace themselves than the size of the Empire or the dignity of the Army allows. Their officers are as good as good can be, because their training begins early, and God has arranged that a clean-run youth of the British middle classes shall, in the matter of backbone, brains, and bowels, surpass all other youths. For this reason a child of eighteen will stand up, doing nothing, with a tin sword in his hand and joy in his heart until he is dropped. If he dies, he dies like a gentleman. If he lives, he writes Home that he has been “potted,” “sniped,” “chipped” or “cut over,” and sits down to besiege Government for a wound-gratuity until the next little war breaks out, when he perjures himself before a Medical Board, blarneys his Colonel, burns incense round his Adjutant, and is allowed to go to the Front once more.

Which homily brings me directly to a brace of the most finished little fiends that ever banged drum or tootled fife in the Band of a British Regiment. They ended their sinful career by open and flagrant mutiny and were shot for it. Their names were Jakin and Lew—Piggy Lew—and they were bold, bad drummer-boys, both of them frequently birched by the Drum-Major of the Fore and Aft.

Jakin was a stunted child of fourteen, and Lew was about the same age. When not looked after, they smoked and drank. They swore habitually after the manner of the Barrack-room, which is cold-swearing and comes from between clinched teeth; and they fought religiously once a week. Jakin had sprung from some London gutter and may or may not have passed through Dr. Barnado’s hands ere he arrived at the dignity of drummer-boy. Lew could remember nothing except the regiment and the delight of listening to the Band from his earliest years. He hid somewhere in his grimy little soul a genuine love for music, and was most mistakenly furnished with the head of a cherub: insomuch that beautiful ladies who watched the Regiment in church were wont to speak of him as a “darling.” They never heard his vitriolic comments on their manners and morals, as he walked back to barracks with the Band and matured fresh causes of offence against Jakin.

The other drummer-boys hated both lads on account of their illogical conduct. Jakin might be pounding Lew, or Lew might be rubbing Jakin’s head in the dirt, but any attempt at aggression on the part of an outsider was met by the combined forces of Lew and Jakin; and the consequences were painful. The boys were the Ishmaels of the corps, but wealthy Ishmaels, for they sold battles in alternate weeks for the sport of the barracks when they were not pitted against other boys; and thus amassed money.

On this particular day there was dissension in the camp. They had just been convicted afresh of smoking, which is bad for little boys who use plug-tobacco, and Lew’s contention was that Jakin had “stunk so ‘orrid bad from keepin’ the pipe in pocket,” that he and he alone was responsible for the birching they were both tingling under.

“I tell you I ‘id the pipe back o’ barricks,” said Jakin, pacifically.

“You’re a bloomin’ liar,” said Lew, without heat.

“You’re a bloomin’ little barstard,” said Jakin, strong in the knowledge that his own ancestry was unknown.

Now there is one word in the extended vocabulary of barrack-room abuse that cannot pass without comment. You may call a man a thief and risk nothing. You may even call him a coward without finding more than a boot whiz past your ear, but you must not call a man a bastard unless you are prepared to prove it on his front teeth.

“You might ha’ kep’ that till I wasn’t so sore,” said Lew, sorrowfully, dodging round Jakin’s guard.

“I’ll make you sorer,” said Jakin, genially, and got home on Lew’s alabaster forehead. All would have gone well and this story, as the books say, would never have been written, had not his evil fate prompted the Bazar-Sergeant’s son, a long, employless man of five and twenty, to put in an appearance after the first round. He was eternally in need of money, and knew that the boys had silver.

“Fighting again,” said he. “I’ll report you to my father, and he’ll report you to the Color-Sergeant.”

“What’s that to you?” said Jakin, with an unpleasant dilation of the nostrils.

“Oh! nothing to me. You’ll get into trouble, and you’ve been up too often to afford that.”

“What the Hell do you know about what we’ve done?” asked Lew the Seraph. “You aren’t in the Army, you lousy, cadging civilian.”

He closed in on the man’s left flank.

“Jes’ ’cause you find two gentlemen settlin’ their differences with their fistes you stick in your ugly nose where you aren’t wanted. Run ‘ome to your ‘arf-caste slut of a Ma—or we’ll give you what-for,” said Jakin.

The man attempted reprisals by knocking the boys’ heads together. The scheme would have succeeded had not Jakin punched him vehemently in the stomach, or had Lew refrained from kicking his shins. They fought together, bleeding and breathless, for half an hour, and after heavy punishment, triumphantly pulled down their opponent as terriers pull down a jackal.

“Now,” gasped Jakin, “I’ll give you what-for.” He proceeded to pound the man’s features while Lew stamped on the outlying portions of his anatomy. Chivalry is not a strong point in the composition of the average drummer-boy. He fights, as do his betters, to make his mark.

Ghastly was the ruin that escaped, and awful was the wrath of the Bazar-Sergeant. Awful too was the scene in Orderly-room when the two reprobates appeared to answer the charge of half-murdering a “civilian.” The Bazar-Sergeant thirsted for a criminal action, and his son lied. The boys stood to attention while the black clouds of evidence accumulated.

“You little devils are more trouble than the rest of the Regiment put together,” said the Colonel, angrily. “One might as well admonish thistledown, and I can’t well put you in cells or under stoppages. You must be flogged again.”

“Beg y’ pardon, Sir. Can’t we say nothin’ in our own defence, Sir?” shrilled Jakin.

“Hey! What? Are you going to argue with me?” said the Colonel.

“No, Sir,” said Lew. “But if a man come to you, Sir, and said he was going to report you, Sir, for ‘aving a bit of a turn-up with a friend, Sir, an’ wanted to get money out o’ you, Sir”—

The Orderly-room exploded in a roar of laughter. “Well?” said the Colonel.

“That was what that measly jarnwar there did, Sir, and ‘e’d ‘a’ done it, Sir, if we ‘adn’t prevented ‘im. We didn’t ‘it ‘im much, Sir. ‘E ‘adn’t no manner o’ right to interfere with us, Sir. I don’t mind bein’ flogged by the Drum-Major, Sir, nor yet reported by any Corp’ral, but I’m—but I don’t think it’s fair, Sir, for a civilian to come an’ talk over a man in the Army.”

A second shout of laughter shook the Orderly-room, but the Colonel was grave.

“What sort of characters have these boys?” he asked of the Regimental Sergeant-Major.

“Accordin’ to the Bandmaster, Sir,” returned that revered official—the only soul in the regiment whom the boys feared—”they do everything but lie, Sir.”

“Is it like we’d go for that man for fun, Sir?” said Lew, pointing to the plaintiff.

“Oh, admonished,—admonished!” said the Colonel, testily, and when the boys had gone he read the Bazar-Sergeant’s son a lecture on the sin of unprofitable meddling, and gave orders that the Bandmaster should keep the Drums in better discipline.

“If either of you come to practice again with so much as a scratch on your two ugly little faces,” thundered the Bandmaster, “I’ll tell the Drum-Major to take the skin off your backs. Understand that, you young devils.”

Then he repented of his speech for just the length of time that Lew, looking like a Seraph in red worsted embellishments, took the place of one of the trumpets—in hospital—and rendered the echo of a battle-piece. Lew certainly was a musician, and had often in his more exalted moments expressed a yearning to master every instrument of the Band.

“There’s nothing to prevent your becoming a Bandmaster, Lew,” said the Bandmaster, who had composed waltzes of his own, and worked day and night in the interests of the Band.

“What did he say?” demanded Jakin, after practice.

“‘Said I might be a bloomin’ Bandmaster, an’ be asked in to ‘ave a glass o’ sherry-wine on Mess-nights.”

“Ho! ‘Said you might be a bloomin’ non-combatant, did ‘e! That’s just about wot ‘e would say. When I’ve put in my boy’s service—it’s a bloomin’ shame that doesn’t count for pension—I’ll take on a privit. Then I’ll be a Lance in a year—knowin’ what I know about the ins an’ outs o’ things. In three years I’ll be a bloomin’ Sergeant. I won’t marry then, not I! I’ll ‘old on and learn the orf’cers’ ways an’ apply for exchange into a reg’ment that doesn’t know all about me. Then I’ll be a bloomin’ orf’cer. Then I’ll ask you to ‘ave a glass o’ sherry-wine, Mister Lew, an’ you’ll bloomin’ well ‘ave to stay in the hanty-room while the Mess-Sergeant brings it to your dirty ‘ands.”

“‘S’pose I‘m going to be a Bandmaster? Not I, quite. I’ll be a orf’cer too. There’s nothin’ like taking to a thing an’ stickin’ to it, the Schoolmaster says. The reg’ment don’t go ‘ome for another seven years. I’ll be a Lance then or near to.”

Thus the boys discussed their futures, and conducted themselves with exemplary piety for a week. That is to say, Lew started a flirtation with the Color-Sergeant’s daughter, aged thirteen,—”not,” as he explained to Jakin, “with any intention o’ matrimony, but by way o’ keepin’ my ‘and in.” And the black-haired Cris Delighan enjoyed that flirtation more than previous ones, and the other drummer-boys raged furiously together, and Jakin preached sermons on the dangers of “bein’ tangled along o’ petticoats.”

But neither love nor virtue would have held Lew long in the paths of propriety had not the rumor gone abroad that the Regiment was to be sent on active service, to take part in a war which, for the sake of brevity, we will call “The War of the Lost Tribes.”

The barracks had the rumor almost before the Mess-room, and of all the nine hundred men in barracks not ten had seen a shot fired in anger. The Colonel had, twenty years ago, assisted at a Frontier expedition; one of the Majors had seen service at the Cape; a confirmed deserter in E Company had helped to clear streets in Ireland; but that was all. The Regiment had been put by for many years. The overwhelming mass of its rank and file had from three to four years’ service; the non-commissioned officers were under thirty years old; and men and sergeants alike had forgotten to speak of the stories written in brief upon the Colors—the New Colors that had been formally blessed by an Archbishop in England ere the Regiment came away.

They wanted to go to the Front—they were enthusiastically anxious to go—but they had no knowledge of what war meant, and there was none to tell them. They were an educated regiment, the percentage of school-certificates in their ranks was high, and most of the men could do more than read and write. They had been recruited in loyal observance of the territorial idea; but they themselves had no notion of that idea. They were made up of drafts from an over-populated manufacturing district. The system had put flesh and muscle upon their small bones, but it could not put heart into the sons of those who for generations had done overmuch work for overscanty pay, had sweated in drying-rooms, stooped over looms, coughed among white-lead and shivered on lime-barges. The men had found food and rest in the Army, and now they were going to fight “niggers”—people who ran away if you shook a stick at them.

Wherefore they cheered lustily when the rumor ran, and the shrewd, clerkly non-commissioned officers speculated on the chances of batta and of saving their pay. At Headquarters, men said:—”The Fore and Fit have never been under fire within the last generation. Let us, therefore, break them in easily by setting them to guard lines of communication.” And this would have been done but for the fact that British Regiments were wanted—badly wanted—at the Front, and there were doubtful Native Regiments that could fill the minor duties, “Brigade ‘em with two strong Regiments,” said Headquarters. “They may be knocked about a bit, but they’ll learn their business before they come through. Nothing like a night-alarm and a little cutting-up of stragglers to make a Regiment smart in the field. Wait till they’ve had half a dozen sentries’ throats cut.”

The Colonel wrote with delight that the temper of his men was excellent, that the Regiment was all that could be wished and as sound as a bell. The Majors smiled with a sober joy, and the subalterns waltzed in pairs down the Mess-room after dinner and nearly shot themselves at revolver practice. But there was consternation in the hearts of Jakin and Lew. What was to be done with the drums? Would the Band go to the Front? How many of the drums would accompany the Regiment?

They took council together, sitting in a tree and smoking.

“It’s more than a bloomin’ toss-up they’ll leave us be’ind at the Depot with the women. You’ll like that,” said Jakin, sarcastically.

“‘Cause o’ Cris, y’ mean? Wot’s a woman, or a ‘ole bloomin’ depôt o’ women, ‘longside o’ the chanst of field-service? You know I’m as keen on goin’ as you,” said Lew.

“Wish I was a bloomin’ bugler,” said Jakin, sadly. “They’ll take Tom Kidd along, that I can plaster a wall with, an’ like as not they won’t take us.”

“Then let’s go an’ make Tom Kidd so bloomin’ sick ‘e can’t bugle no more. You ‘old ‘is ‘ands an’ I’ll kick him,” said Lew, wriggling on the branch.

“That ain’t no good neither. We ain’t the sort o’ characters to presoom on our rep’tations—they’re bad. If they have the Band at the Depot we don’t go, and no error there. If they take the Band we may get cast for medical unfitness. Are you medical fit, Piggy?” said Jakin, digging Lew in the ribs with force.

“Yus,” said Lew, with an oath. “The Doctor says your ‘eart’s weak through smokin’ on an empty stummick. Throw a chest an’ I’ll try yer.”

Jakin threw out his chest, which Lew smote with all his might, Jakin turned very pale, gasped, crowed, screwed up his eyes and said,—”That’s all right.”

“You’ll do,” said Lew. “I’ve ‘eard o’ men dyin’ when you ‘it ‘em fair on the breast-bone.”

“Don’t bring us no nearer goin’, though,” said Jakin. “Do you know where we’re ordered?”

“Gawd knows, an’ ‘e won’t split on a pal. Somewheres up to the Front to kill Paythans—hairy big beggars that turn you inside out if they get ‘old o’ you. They say their women are good-looking, too.”

“Any loot?” asked the abandoned Jakin.

“Not a bloomin’ anna, they say, unless you dig up the ground an’ see what the niggers ‘ave ‘id. They’re a poor lot.” Jakin stood upright on the branch and gazed across the plain.

“Lew,” said he, “there’s the Colonel coming, ‘Colonel’s a good old beggar. Let’s go an’ talk to ‘im.”

Lew nearly fell out of the tree at the audacity of the suggestion. Like Jakin he feared not God neither regarded he Man, but there are limits even to the audacity of drummer-boy, and to speak to a Colonel was …

But Jakin had slid down the trunk and doubled in the direction of the Colonel. That officer was walking wrapped in thought and visions of a C. B.—yes, even a K.C.B., for had he not at command one of the best Regiments of the Line—the Fore and Fit? And he was aware of two small boys charging down upon him. Once before it had been solemnly reported to him that “the Drums were in a state of mutiny”; Jakin and Lew being the ringleaders. This looked like an organized conspiracy.

The boys halted at twenty yards, walked to the regulation four paces, and saluted together, each as well set-up as a ramrod and little taller.

The Colonel was in a genial mood; the boys appeared very forlorn and unprotected on the desolate plain, and one of them was handsome.

“Well!” said the Colonel, recognizing them. “Are you going to pull me down in the open? I’m sure I never interfere with you, even though”—he sniffed suspiciously—”you have been smoking.”

It was time to strike while the iron was hot. Their hearts beat tumultuously.

“Beg y’ pardon, Sir,” began Jakin. “The Reg’ment’s ordered on active service, Sir?”

“So I believe,” said the Colonel, courteously.

“Is the Band goin’, Sir?” said both together. Then, without pause, “We’re goin’, Sir, ain’t we?”

“You!” said the Colonel, stepping back the more fully to take in the two small figures. “You! You’d die in the first march.”

“No, we wouldn’t, Sir. We can march with the Regiment anywheres—p’rade an’ anywhere else,” said Jakin.

“If Tom Kidd goes ‘ell shut up like a clasp-knife,” said Lew, “Tom ‘as very close veins in both ‘is legs, Sir.”

“Very how much?”

“Very close veins, Sir. That’s why they swells after long p’rade, Sir, If ‘e can go, we can go, Sir.”

Again the Colonel looked at them long and intently.

“Yes, the Band is going,” he said, as gravely as though, he had been addressing a brother officer. “Have you any parents, either of you two?”

“No, Sir,” rejoicingly from Lew and Jakin. “We’re both orphans, Sir. There’s no one to be considered of on our account, Sir.”

“You poor little sprats, and you want to go up to the Front with the Regiment, do you? Why?”

“I’ve wore the Queen’s Uniform for two years,” said Jakin. “It’s very ‘ard, Sir, that a man don’t get no recompense for doin’ ‘is dooty, Sir.”

“An’—an’ if I don’t go, Sir,” interrupted Lew, “the Bandmaster ‘e says ‘e’ll catch an’ make a bloo—a blessed musician o’ me, Sir. Before I’ve seen any service, Sir.”

The Colonel made no answer for a long time. Then he said quietly:—”If you’re passed by the Doctor I dare say you can go. I shouldn’t smoke if I were you.”

The boys saluted and disappeared. The Colonel walked home and told the story to his wife, who nearly cried over it. The Colonel was well pleased. If that was the temper of the children, what would not the men do?

Jakin and Lew entered the boys’ barrack-room with great stateliness, and refused to hold any conversation with their comrades for at least ten minutes. Then, bursting with pride, Jakin drawled:—”I’ve bin intervooin’ the Colonel. Good old beggar is the Colonel. Says I to ‘im, ‘Colonel,’ says I, ‘let me go the Front, along o’ the Reg’ment.’ ‘To the Front you shall go,’ says ‘e, ‘an’ I only wish there was more like you among the dirty little devils that bang the bloomin’ drums.’ Kidd, if you throw your ‘coutrements at me for tellin’ you the truth to your own advantage, your legs ‘ll swell.”

None the less there was a Battle-Royal in the barrack-room, for the boys were consumed with envy and hate, and neither Jakin nor Lew behaved in conciliatory wise.

“I’m goin’ out to say adoo to my girl,” said Lew, to cap the climax. “Don’t none o’ you touch my kit because it’s wanted for active service, me bein’ specially invited to go by the Colonel”

He strolled forth and whistled in the clump of trees at the back of the Married Quarters till Cris came to him, and, the preliminary kisses being given and taken, Lew began to explain the situation.

“I’m goin’ to the Front with the Reg’ment,” he said, valiantly,

“Piggy, you’re a little liar,” said Cris, but her heart misgave her, for Lew was not in the habit of lying.

“Liar yourself, Cris,” said Lew. slipping an arm round her. “I’m goin’ When the Reg’ment marches out you’ll see me with ‘em, all galliant and gay. Give us another kiss, Cris, on the strength of it.”

“If you’d on’y a-stayed at the Depôt—where you ought to ha’ bin—you could get as many of ‘em as—as you dam please,” whimpered Cris, putting up her mouth.

“It’s ‘ard, Cris. I grant you it’s ‘ard. But what’s a man to do? If I’d a-stayed at the Depôt, you wouldn’t think anything of me,”

“Like as not, but I’d ‘ave you with me, Piggy, An’ all the thinkin’ in the world isn’t like kissin’.”

“An’ all the kissin’ in the world isn’t like ‘avin’ a medal to wear on the front o’ your coat.”

You won’t get no medal.”

“Oh, yus, I shall though. Me an’ Jakin are the only acting-drummers that’ll be took along. All the rest is full men, an’ we’ll get our medals with them.”

“They might ha’ taken anybody but you, Piggy. You’ll get killed—you’re so venturesome. Stay with me, Piggy, darlin’, down at the Depôt, an’ I’ll love you true forever.”

“Ain’t you goin’ to do that now, Cris? You said you was.”

“O’ course I am, but th’ other’s more comfortable. Wait till you’ve growed a bit, Piggy. You aren’t no taller than me now.”

“I’ve bin in the army for two years an’ I’m not goin’ to get out of a chanst o’ seein’ service an’ don’t you try to make me do so. I’ll come back, Cris, an’ when I take on as a man I’ll marry you—marry you when I’m a Lance.”

“Promise, Piggy?”

Lew reflected on the future as arranged by Jakin a short time previously, but Cris’s mouth was very near to his own.

“I promise, s’elp me Gawd!” said he.

Cris slid an arm round his neck.

“I won’t ‘old you back no more, Piggy. Go away an’ get your medal, an’ I’ll make you a new button-bag as nice as I know how,” she whispered.

“Put some o’ your ‘air into it, Cris, an’ I’ll keep it in my pocket so long’s I’m alive.”

Then Cris wept anew, and the interview ended. Public feeling among the drummer-boys rose to fever pitch and the lives of Jakin and Lew became unenviable. Not only had they been permitted to enlist two years before the regulation boy’s age—fourteen—but, by virtue, it seemed, of their extreme youth, they were allowed to go to the Front—which thing had not happened to acting-drummers within the knowledge of boy. The Band which was to accompany the Regiment had been cut down to the regulation twenty men, the surplus returning to the ranks. Jakin and Lew were attached to the Band as supernumeraries, though they would much have preferred being Company buglers.

“‘Don’t matter much,” said Jakin, after the medical inspection, “Be thankful that we’re ‘lowed to go at all. The Doctor ‘e said that if we could stand what we took from the Bazar-Sergeant’s son we’d stand pretty nigh anything.”

“Which we will,” said Lew, looking tenderly at the ragged and ill-made house-wife that Cris had given him, with a lock of her hair worked into a sprawling “L” upon the cover.

“It was the best I could,” she sobbed. “I wouldn’t let mother nor the Sergeant’s tailor ‘elp me. Keep it always, Piggy, an’ remember I love you true.”

They marched to the railway station, nine hundred and sixty strong, and every soul in cantonments turned out to see them go. The drummers gnashed their teeth at Jakin and Lew marching with the Band, the married women wept upon the platform, and the Regiment cheered its noble self black in the face.

“A nice level lot,” said the Colonel to the Second-in-Command, as they watched the first four companies entraining.

“Fit to do anything,” said the Second-in-Command, enthusiastically. “But it seems to me they’re a thought too young and tender for the work in hand. It’s bitter cold up at the Front now.”

“They’re sound enough,” said the Colonel. “We must take our chance of sick casualties.”

So they went northward, ever northward, past droves and droves of camels, armies of camp followers, and legions of laden mules, the throng thickening day by day, till with a shriek the train pulled up at a hopelessly congested junction where six lines of temporary track accommodated six forty-wagon trains; where whistles blew, Babus sweated and Commissariat officers swore from dawn till far into the night amid the wind-driven chaff of the fodder-bales and the lowing of a thousand steers.

“Hurry up—you’re badly wanted at the Front,” was the message that greeted the Fore and Aft, and the occupants of the Red Cross carriages told the same tale.

“Tisn’t so much the bloomin’ fighting,” gasped a headbound trooper of Hussars to a knot of admiring Fore and Afts. “Tisn’t so much the bloomin’ fightin’, though there’s enough o’ that. It’s the bloomin’ food an’ the bloomin’ climate. Frost all night ‘cept when it hails, and biling sun all day, and the water stinks fit to knock you down. I got my ‘ead chipped like a egg; I’ve got pneumonia too, an’ my guts is all out o’ order. Tain’t no bloomin’ picnic in those parts, I can tell you.”

“Wot are the niggers like?” demanded a private.

“There’s some prisoners in that train yonder. Go an’ look at ‘em. They’re the aristocracy o’ the country. The common folk are a dashed sight uglier. If you want to know what they fight with, reach under my seat an’ pull out the long knife that’s there.”

They dragged out and beheld for the first time the grim, bone-handled, triangular Afghan knife. It was almost as long as Lew.

“That’s the thing to jint ye,” said the trooper, feebly.

“It can take off a man’s arm at the shoulder as easy as slicing butter. I halved the beggar that used that ‘un, but there’s more of his likes up above. They don’t understand thrustin’, but they’re devils to slice.”

The men strolled across the tracks to inspect the Afghan prisoners. They were unlike any “niggers” that the Fore and Aft had ever met—these huge, black-haired, scowling sons of the Beni-Israel. As the men stared the Afghans spat freely and muttered one to another with lowered eyes.

“My eyes! Wot awful swine!” said Jakin, who was in the rear of the procession. “Say, old man, how you got puckrowed, eh? Kiswasti you wasn’t hanged for your ugly face, hey?”

The tallest of the company turned, his leg-irons, clanking at the movement, and stared at the boy. “See!” he cried to his fellows in Pushto. “They send children against us. What a people, and what fools!”

Hya!” said Jakin, nodding his head cheerily. “You go down-country. Khana get, peenikapanee get—live like a bloomin’ Raja ke marfik. That’s a better bandobust than baynit get it in your innards. Good-bye, ole man. Take care o’ your beautiful figure-’ed, an’ try to look kushy.”

The men laughed and fell in for their first march when they began to realize that a soldier’s life was not all beer and skittles. They were much impressed with the size and bestial ferocity of the niggers whom they had now learned to call “Paythans,” and more with the exceeding discomfort of their own surroundings. Twenty old soldiers in the corps would have taught them how to make themselves moderately snug at night, but they had no old soldiers, and, as the troops on the line of march said, “they lived like pigs.” They learned the heart-breaking cussedness of camp-kitchens and camels and the depravity of an E.P. tent and a wither-wrung mule. They studied animalculae in water, and developed a few cases of dysentery in their study.

At the end of their third march they were disagreeably surprised by the arrival in their camp of a hammered iron slug which, fired from a steady rest at seven hundred yards, flicked out the brains of a private seated by the fire. This robbed them of their peace for a night, and was the beginning of a long-range fire carefully calculated to that end. In the daytime they saw nothing except an occasional puff of smoke from a crag above the line of march. At night there were distant spurts of flame and occasional casualties, which set the whole camp blazing into the gloom, and, occasionally, into opposite tents. Then they swore vehemently and vowed that this was magnificent but not war.

Indeed it was not. The Regiment could not halt for reprisals against the franctireurs of the country side. Its duty was to go forward and make connection with the Scotch and Gurkha troops with which it was brigaded. The Afghans knew this, and knew too, after their first tentative shots, that they were dealing with a raw regiment. Thereafter they devoted themselves to the task of keeping the Fore and Aft on the strain. Not for anything would they have taken equal liberties with a seasoned corps—with the wicked little Gurkhas, whose delight it was to lie out in the open on a dark night and stalk their stalkers—with the terrible, big men dressed in women’s clothes, who could be heard praying to their God in the night-watches, and whose peace of mind no amount of “sniping” could shake—or with those vile Sikhs, who marched so ostentatiously unprepared and who dealt out such grim reward to those who tried to profit by that unpreparedness. This white regiment was different—quite different. It slept like a hog, and, like a hog, charged in every direction when it was roused. Its sentries walked with a footfall that could be heard for a quarter of a mile; would fire at anything that moved—even a driven donkey—and when they had once fired, could be scientifically “rushed” and laid out a horror and an offence against the morning sun. Then there were camp-followers who straggled and could be cut up without fear. Their shrieks would disturb the white boys, and the loss of their services would inconvenience them sorely.

Thus, at every march, the hidden enemy became bolder and the regiment writhed and twisted under attacks it could not avenge. The crowning triumph was a sudden night-rush ending in the cutting of many tent-ropes, the collapse of the sodden canvas and a glorious knifing of the men who struggled and kicked below. It was a great deed, neatly carried out, and it shook the already shaken nerves of the Fore and Aft. All the courage that they had been required to exercise up to this point was the “two o’clock in the morning courage”; and they, so far, had only succeeded in shooting their comrades and losing their sleep.

Sullen, discontented, cold, savage, sick, with their uniforms dulled and unclean, the “Fore and Aft” joined their Brigade.

“I hear you had a tough time of it coming up,” said the Brigadier. But when he saw the hospital-sheets his face fell.

“This is bad,” said he to himself. “They’re as rotten as sheep.” And aloud to the Colonel,—”I’m afraid we can’t spare you just yet. We want all we have, else I should have given you ten days to recruit in.”

The Colonel winced. “On my honor, Sir,” he returned, “there is not the least necessity to think of sparing us. My men have been rather mauled and upset without a fair return. They only want to go in somewhere where they can see what’s before them.”

“‘Can’t say I think much of the Fore and Fit,” said the Brigadier, in confidence, to his Brigade-Major. “They’ve lost all their soldiering, and, by the trim of them, might have marched through the country from the other side. A more fagged-out set of men I never put eyes on.”

“Oh, they’ll improve as the work goes on. The parade gloss has been rubbed off a little, but they’ll put on field polish before long,” said the Brigade-Major. “They’ve been mauled, and they don’t quite understand it.”

They did not. All the hitting was on one side, and it was cruelly hard hitting with accessories that made them sick. There was also the real sickness that laid hold of a strong man and dragged him howling to the grave. Worst of all, their officers knew just as little of the country as the men themselves, and looked as if they did. The Fore and Aft were in a thoroughly unsatisfactory condition, but they believed that all would be well if they could once get a fair go-in at the enemy. Pot-shots up and down the valleys were unsatisfactory, and the bayonet never seemed to get a chance. Perhaps it was as well, for a long-limbed Afghan with a knife had a reach of eight feet, and could carry away enough lead to disable three Englishmen, The Fore and Fit would like some rifle-practice at the enemy—all seven hundred rifles blazing together. That wish showed the mood of the men.

The Gurkhas walked into their camp, and in broken, barrack-room English strove to fraternize with them; offered them pipes of tobacco and stood them treat at the canteen. But the Fore and Aft, not knowing much of the nature of the Gurkhas, treated them as they would treat any other “niggers,” and the little men in green trotted back to their firm friends the Highlanders, and with many grins confided to them:—”That dam white, regiment no dam use. Sulky—ugh! Dirty—ugh! Hya, any tot for Johnny?” Whereat the Highlanders smote the Gurkhas as to the head, and told them not to vilify a British Regiment, and the Gurkhas grinned cavernously, for the Highlanders were their elder brothers and entitled to the privileges of kinship. The common soldier who touches a Gurkha is more than likely to have his head sliced open.

Three days later the Brigadier arranged a battle according to the rules of war and the peculiarity of the Afghan temperament. The enemy were massing in inconvenient strength among the hills, and the moving of many green standards warned him that the tribes were “up” in aid of the Afghan regular troops. A Squadron and a half of Bengal Lancers represented the available Cavalry, and two screw-guns borrowed from a column thirty miles away, the Artillery at the General’s disposal.

“If they stand, as I’ve a very strong notion that they will, I fancy we shall see an infantry fight that will be worth watching,” said the Brigadier. “We’ll do it in style. Each regiment shall be played into action by its Band, and we’ll hold the Cavalry in reserve.”

“For all the reserve?” somebody asked.

“For all the reserve; because we’re going to crumple them up,” said the Brigadier, who was an extraordinary Brigadier, and did not believe in the value of a reserve when dealing with Asiatics. And, indeed, when you come to think of it, had the British Army consistently waited for reserves in all its little affairs, the boundaries of Our Empire would have stopped at Brighton beach.

That battle was to be a glorious battle.

The three regiments debouching from three separate gorges, after duly crowning the heights above, were to converge from the centre, left and right upon what we will call the Afghan army, then stationed toward the lower extremity of a flat-bottomed valley. Thus it will be seen that three sides of the valley practically belonged to the English, while the fourth was strictly Afghan property. In the event of defeat the Afghans had the rocky hills to fly to, where the fire from the guerilla tribes in aid would cover their retreat. In the event of victory these same tribes would rush down and lend their weight to the rout of the British.

The screw-guns were to shell the head of each Afghan rush that was made in close formation, and the Cavalry, held in reserve in the right valley, were to gently stimulate the break-up which would follow on the combined attack. The Brigadier, sitting upon a rock overlooking the valley, would watch the battle unrolled at his feet. The Fore and Aft would debouch from the central gorge, the Gurkhas from the left, and the Highlanders from the right, for the reason that the left flank of the enemy seemed as though it required the most hammering. It was not every day that an Afghan force would take ground in the open, and the Brigadier was resolved to make the most of it.

“If we only had a few more men,” he said, plaintively, “we could surround the creatures and crumble ‘em up thoroughly. As it is, I’m afraid we can only cut them up as they run. It’s a great pity.”

The Fore and Aft had enjoyed unbroken peace for five days, and were beginning, in spite of dysentery, to recover their nerve. But they were not happy, for they did not know the work in hand, and had they known, would not have known how to do it. Throughout those five days in which old soldiers might have taught them the craft of the game, they discussed together their misadventures in the past—how such an one was alive at dawn and dead ere the dusk, and with what shrieks and struggles such another had given up his soul under the Afghan knife. Death was a new and horrible thing to the sons of mechanics who were used to die decently of zymotic disease; and their careful conservation in barracks had done nothing to make them look upon it with less dread.

Very early in the dawn the bugles began to blow, and the Fore and Aft, filled with a misguided enthusiasm, turned out without waiting for a cup of coffee and a biscuit; and were rewarded by being kept under arms in the cold while the other regiments leisurely prepared for the fray. All the world knows that it is ill taking the breeks off a Highlander. It is much iller to try to make him stir unless he is convinced of the necessity for haste.

The Fore and Aft awaited, leaning upon their rifles and listening to the protests of their empty stomachs. The Colonel did his best to remedy the default of lining as soon as it was borne in upon him that the affair would not begin at once, and so well did he succeed that the coffee was just ready when—the men moved off, their Band leading. Even then there had been a mistake in time, and the Fore and Aft came out into the valley ten minutes before the proper hour. Their Band wheeled to the right after reaching the open, and retired behind a little rocky knoll still playing while the regiment went past.

It was not a pleasant sight that opened on the uninstructed view, for the lower end of the valley appeared to be filled by an army in position—real and actual regiments attired in red coats, and—of this there was no doubt—firing Martini-Henri bullets which cut up the ground a hundred yards in front of the leading company. Over that pock-marked ground the regiment had to pass, and it opened the ball with a general and profound courtesy to the piping pickets; ducking in perfect time, as though it had been brazed on a rod. Being half-capable of thinking for itself, it fired a volley by the simple process of pitching its rifle into its shoulder and pulling the trigger. The bullets may have accounted for some of the watchers on the hillside, but they certainly did not affect the mass of enemy in front, while the noise of the rifles drowned any orders that might have been given.

“Good God!” said the Brigadier, sitting on the rock high above all. “That regiment has spoiled the whole show. Hurry up the others, and let the screw-guns get off.”

But the screw-guns, in working round the heights, had stumbled upon a wasp’s nest of a small mud fort which they incontinently shelled at eight hundred yards, to the huge discomfort of the occupants, who were unaccustomed to weapons of such devilish precision.

The Fore and Aft continued to go forward but with shortened stride. Where were the other regiments, and why did these niggers use Martinis? They took open order instinctively, lying down and firing at random, rushing a few paces forward and lying down again, according to the regulations. Once in this formation, each man felt himself desperately alone, and edged in toward his fellow for comfort’s sake.

Then the crack of his neighbor’s rifle at his ear led him to fire as rapidly as he could—again for the sake of the comfort of the noise. The reward was not long delayed. Five volleys plunged the files in banked smoke impenetrable to the eye, and the bullets began to take ground twenty or thirty yards in front of the firers, as the weight of the bayonet dragged down, and to the right arms wearied with holding the kick of the leaping Martini. The Company Commanders peered helplessly through the smoke, the more nervous mechanically trying to fan it away with their helmets.

“High and to the left!” bawled a Captain till he was hoarse. “No good! Cease firing, and let it drift away a bit.”

Three and four times the bugles shrieked the order, and when it was obeyed the Fore and Aft looked that their foe should be lying before them in mown swaths of men. A light wind drove the smoke to leeward, and showed the enemy still in position and apparently unaffected. A quarter of a ton of lead had been buried a furlong in front of them, as the ragged earth attested.

That was not demoralizing to the Afghans, who have not European nerves. They were waiting for the mad riot to die down, and were firing quietly into the heart of the smoke. A private of the Fore and Aft spun up his company shrieking with agony, another was kicking the earth and gasping, and a third, ripped through the lower intestines by a jagged bullet, was calling aloud on his comrades to put him out of his pain. These were the casualties, and they were not soothing to hear or see. The smoke cleared to a dull haze.

Then the foe began to shout with a great shouting and a mass—a black mass—detached itself from the main body, and rolled over the ground at horrid speed. It was composed of, perhaps, three hundred men, who would shout and fire and slash if the rush of their fifty comrades who were determined to die carried home. The fifty were Ghazis, half-maddened with drugs and wholly mad with religious fanaticism. When they rushed the British fire ceased, and in the lull the order was given to close ranks and meet them with the bayonet.

Any one who knew the business could have told the Fore and Aft that the only way of dealing with a Ghazi rush is by volleys at long ranges; because a man who means to die, who desires to die, who will gain heaven by dying, must, in nine cases out of ten, kill a man who has a lingering prejudice in favor of life if he can close with the latter. Where they should have closed and gone forward, the Fore and Aft opened out and skirmished, and where they should have opened out and fired, they closed and waited.

A man dragged from his blankets half awake and unfed is never in a pleasant frame of mind. Nor does his happiness increase when he watches the whites of the eyes of three hundred six-foot fiends upon whose beards the foam is lying, upon whose tongues is a roar of wrath, and in whose hands are three-foot knives.

The Fore and Aft heard the Gurkha bugles bringing that regiment forward at the double, while the neighing of the Highland pipes came from the left. They strove to stay where they were, though the bayonets wavered down the line like the oars of a ragged boat. Then they felt body to body the amazing physical strength of their foes; a shriek of pain ended the rush, and the knives fell amid scenes not to be told. The men clubbed together and smote blindly—as often as not at their own fellows. Their front crumpled like paper, and the fifty Ghazis passed on; their backers, now drunk with success, fighting as madly as they.

Then the rear-ranks were bidden to close up, and the subalterns dashed into the stew—alone. For the rear-rank had heard the clamor in front, the yells and the howls of pain, and had seen the dark stale blood that makes afraid. They were not going to stay. It was the rushing of the camps over again. Let their officers go to Hell, if they chose; they would get away from the knives.

“Come on!” shrieked the subalterns, and their men, cursing them, drew back, each closing into his neighbor and wheeling round.

Charteris and Devlin, subalterns of the last company, faced their death alone in the belief that their men would follow.

“You’ve killed me, you cowards,” sobbed Devlin and dropped, cut from the shoulder-strap to the centre of the chest, and a fresh detachment of his men retreating, always retreating, trampled him under foot as they made for the pass whence they had emerged.

I kissed her in the kitchen and I kissed her in the hall.
Child’un, child’un, follow me!
Oh Golly, said the cook, is he gwine to kiss us all?
Halla-Halla-Halla Hallelujah!

The Gurkhas were pouring through the left gorge and over the heights at the double to the invitation of their regimental Quickstep. The black rocks were crowned with dark green spiders as the bugles gave tongue jubilantly:

In the morning! In the morning by the bright light!
When Gabriel blows his trumpet in the morning!

The Gurkha rear-companies tripped and blundered over loose stones. The front-files halted for a moment to take stock of the valley and to settle stray boot-laces. Then a happy little sigh of contentment soughed down the ranks, and it was as though the land smiled, for behold there below was the enemy, and it was to meet them that the Gurkhas had doubled so hastily. There was much enemy. There would be amusement. The little men hitched their kukris well to hand, and gaped expectantly at their officers as terriers grin ere the stone is cast for them to fetch. The Gurkhas’ ground sloped downward to the valley, and they enjoyed a fair view of the proceedings. They sat upon the bowlders to watch, for their officers were not going to waste their wind in assisting to repulse a Ghazi rush more than half a mile away. Let the white men look to their own front.

“Hi! yi!” said the Subadar-Major, who was sweating profusely, “Dam fools yonder, stand close-order! This is no time for close order, it’s the time for volleys. Ugh!”

Horrified, amused, and, indignant, the Gurkhas beheld the retirement—let us be gentle—of the Fore and Aft with a running chorus of oaths and commentaries.

“They run! The white men run! Colonel Sahib, may we also do a little running?” murmured Runbir Thappa, the Senior Jemadar.

But the Colonel would have none of it. “Let the beggars be cut up a little,” said he wrathfully. “‘Serves ‘em right They’ll be prodded into facing round in a minute.” He looked through his field-glasses, and caught the glint of an officer’s sword.

“Beating ‘em with the flat—damned conscripts! How the Ghazis are walking into them!” said he.

The Fore and Aft, heading back, bore with them their officers. The narrowness of the pass forced the mob into solid formation, and the rear-rank delivered some sort of a wavering volley. The Ghazis drew off, for they did not know what reserves the gorge might hide. Moreover, it was never wise to chase white men too far. They returned as wolves return to cover, satisfied with the slaughter that they had done, and only stopping to slash at the wounded on the ground. A quarter of a mile had the Fore and Aft retreated, and now, jammed in the pass, was quivering with pain, shaken and demoralized with fear, while the officers, maddened beyond control, smote the men with the hilts and the flats of their swords.

“Get back! Get back, you cowards—you women! Right about face—column of companies, form—you hounds!” shouted the Colonel, and the subalterns swore aloud. But the Regiment wanted to go—to go anywhere out of the range of those merciless knives. It swayed to and fro irresolutely with shouts and outcries, while from the right the Gurkhas dropped volley after volley of cripple-stopper Snider bullets at long range into the mob of the Ghazis returning to their own troops.

The Fore and Aft Band, though protected from direct fire by the rocky knoll under which it had sat down, fled at the first rush. Jakin and Lew would have fled also, but their short legs left them fifty yards in the rear, and by the time the Band had mixed with the regiment, they were painfully aware that they would have to close in alone and unsupported.

“Get back to that rock,” gasped Jakin. “They won’t see us there.”

And they returned to the scattered instruments of the Band; their hearts nearly bursting their ribs.

“Here’s a nice show for us,” said Jakin, throwing himself full length on the ground. “A bloomin’ fine show for British Infantry! Oh, the devils! They’ve gone an’ left us alone here! Wot ‘ll we do?”

Lew took possession of a cast-off water bottle, which naturally was full of canteen rum, and drank till he coughed again.

“Drink,” said he, shortly. “They’ll come back in a minute or two—you see.”

Jakin drank, but there was no sign of the regiment’s return. They could hear a dull clamor from the head of the valley of retreat, and saw the Ghazis slink back, quickening their pace as the Gurkhas fired at them.

“We’re all that’s left of the Band, an’ we’ll be cut up as sure as death,” said Jakin.

“I’ll die game, then,” said Lew, thickly, fumbling with his tiny drummer’s sword. The drink was working on his brain as it was on Jakin’s.

“‘Old on! I know something better than fightin’,” said Jakin, stung by the splendor of a sudden thought due chiefly to rum. “Tip our bloomin’ cowards yonder the word to come back. The Paythan beggars are well away. Come on, Lew! We won’t get hurt. Take the fife an’ give me the drum. The Old Step for all your bloomin’ guts are worth! There’s a few of our men coming back now. Stand up, ye drunken little defaulter. By your right—quick march!”

He slipped the drum-sling over his shoulder, thrust the fife into Lew’s hand, and the two boys marched out of the cover of the rock into the open, making a hideous hash of the first bars of the “British Grenadiers.”

As Lew had said, a few of the Fore and Aft were coming back sullenly and shamefacedly under the stimulus of blows and abuse; their red coats shone at the head of the valley, and behind them were wavering bayonets. But between this shattered line and the enemy, who with Afghan suspicion feared that the hasty retreat meant an ambush, and had not moved therefore, lay half a mile of a level ground dotted only by the wounded.

The tune settled into full swing and the boys kept shoulder to shoulder, Jakin banging the drum as one possessed. The one fife made a thin and pitiful squeaking, but the tune carried far, even to the Gurkhas.

“Come on, you dogs!” muttered Jakin, to himself, “Are we to play forhever?” Lew was staring straight in front of him and marching more stiffly than ever he had done on parade.

And in bitter mockery of the distant mob, the old tune of the Old Line shrilled and rattled:

Some talk of Alexander,
And some of Hercules;
Of Hector and Lysander,
And such great names as these!

There was a far-off clapping of hands from the Gurkhas, and a roar from the Highlanders in the distance, but never a shot was fired by British or Afghan. The two little red dots moved forward in the open parallel to the enemy’s front.

But of all the world’s great heroes
There’s none that can compare,
With a tow-row-row-row-row-row
To the British Grenadier!

The men of the Fore and Aft were gathering thick at the entrance into the plain. The Brigadier on the heights far above was speechless with rage. Still no movement from the enemy. The day stayed to watch the children.

Jakin halted and beat the long roll of the Assembly, while the fife squealed despairingly.

“Right about face! Hold up, Lew, you’re drunk,” said Jakin. They wheeled and marched back:

Those heroes of antiquity
Ne’er saw a cannon-ball,
Nor knew the force o’ powder,

“Here they come!” said Jakin. “Go on, Lew:”

To scare their foes withal!

The Fore and Aft were pouring out of the valley. What officers had said to men in that time of shame and humiliation will never be known; for neither officers nor men speak of it now.

“They are coming anew!” shouted a priest among the Afghans. “Do not kill the boys! Take them alive, and they shall be of our faith.”

But the first volley had been fired, and Lew dropped on his face. Jakin stood for a minute, spun round and collapsed, as the Fore and Aft came forward, the maledictions of their officers in their ears, and in their hearts the shame of open shame.

Half the men had seen the drummers die, and they made no sign. They did not even shout. They doubled out straight across the plain in open order, and they did not fire.

“This,” said the Colonel of Gurkhas, softly, “is the real attack, as it ought to have been delivered. Come on, my children.”

“Ulu-lu-lu-lu!” squealed the Gurkhas, and came down with a joyful clicking of kukris—those vicious Gurkha knives.

On the right there was no rush. The Highlanders, cannily commending their souls to God (for it matters as much to a dead man whether he has been shot in a Border scuffle or at Waterloo) opened out and fired according to their custom, that is to say without heat and without intervals, while the screw-guns, having disposed of the impertinent mud fort aforementioned, dropped shell after shell into the clusters round the flickering green standards on the heights.

“Charrging is an unfortunate necessity,” murmured the Color-Sergeant of the right company of the Highlanders.

“It makes the men sweer so, but I am thinkin’ that it will come to a charrge if these black devils stand much longer. Stewarrt, man, you’re firing into the eye of the sun, and he’ll not take any harm for Government ammuneetion. A foot lower and a great deal slower! What are the English doing? They’re very quiet there in the centre. Running again?”

The English were not running. They were hacking and hewing and stabbing, for though one white man is seldom physically a match for an Afghan in a sheepskin or wadded coat, yet, through the pressure of many white men behind, and a certain thirst for revenge in his heart, he becomes capable of doing much with both ends of his rifle. The Fore and Aft held their fire till one bullet could drive through five or six men, and the front of the Afghan force gave on the volley. They then selected their men, and slew them with deep gasps and short hacking coughs, and groanings of leather belts against strained bodies, and realized for the first time that an Afghan attacked is far less formidable than an Afghan attacking; which fact old soldiers might have told them.

But they had no old soldiers in their ranks.

The Gurkhas’ stall at the bazar was the noisiest, for the men were engaged—to a nasty noise as of beef being cut on the block—with the kukri, which they preferred to the bayonet; well knowing how the Afghan hates the half-moon blade.

As the Afghans wavered, the green standards on the mountain moved down to assist them in a last rally. Which was unwise. The Lancers chafing in the right gorge had thrice despatched their only subaltern as galloper to report on the progress of affairs. On the third occasion he returned, with a bullet-graze on his knee, swearing strange oaths in Hindoostani, and saying that all things were ready. So that Squadron swung round the right of the Highlanders with a wicked whistling of wind in the pennons of its lances, and fell upon the remnant just when, according to all the rules of war, it should have waited for the foe to show more signs of wavering.

But it was a dainty charge, deftly delivered, and it ended by the Cavalry finding itself at the head of the pass by which the Afghans intended to retreat; and down the track that the lances had made streamed two companies of the Highlanders, which was never intended by the Brigadier. The new development was successful. It detached the enemy from his base as a sponge is torn from a rock, and left him ringed about with fire in that pitiless plain. And as a sponge is chased round the bath-tub by the hand of the bather, so were the Afghans chased till they broke into little detachments much more difficult to dispose of than large masses.

“See!” quoth the Brigadier. “Everything has come as I arranged. We’ve cut their base, and now we’ll bucket ‘em to pieces.”

A direct hammering was all that the Brigadier had dared to hope for, considering the size of the force at his disposal; but men who stand or fall by the errors of their opponents may be forgiven for turning Chance into Design. The bucketing went forward merrily. The Afghan forces were upon the run—the run of wearied wolves who snarl and bite over their shoulders. The red lances dipped by twos and threes, and, with a shriek, up rose the lance-butt, like a spar on a stormy sea, as the trooper cantering forward cleared his point. The Lancers kept between their prey and the steep hills, for all who could were trying to escape from the valley of death. The Highlanders gave the fugitives two hundred yards’ law, and then brought them down, gasping and choking ere they could reach the protection of the bowlders above. The Gurkhas followed suit; but the Fore and Aft were killing on their own account, for they had penned a mass of men between their bayonets and a wall of rock, and the flash of the rifles was lighting the wadded coats.

“We cannot hold them, Captain Sahib!” panted a Ressaldar of Lancers. “Let us try the carbine. The lance is good, but it wastes time.”

They tried the carbine, and still the enemy melted away—fled up the hills by hundreds when there were only twenty bullets to stop them. On the heights the screw-guns ceased firing—they had run out of ammunition—and the Brigadier groaned, for the musketry fire could not sufficiently smash the retreat. Long before the last volleys were fired, the litters were out in force looking for the wounded. The battle was over, and, but for want of fresh troops, the Afghans would have been wiped off the earth. As it was they counted their dead by hundreds, and nowhere were the dead thicker than in the track of the Fore and Aft.

But the Regiment did not cheer with the Highlanders, nor did they dance uncouth dances with the Gurkhas among the dead. They looked under their brows at the Colonel as they leaned upon their rifles and panted.

“Get back to camp, you. Haven’t you disgraced yourself enough for one day! Go and look to the wounded. It’s all you’re fit for,” said the Colonel. Yet for the past hour the Fore and Aft had been doing all that mortal commander could expect. They had lost heavily because they did not know how to set about their business with proper skill, but they had borne themselves gallantly, and this was their reward.

A young and sprightly Color-Sergeant, who had begun to imagine himself a hero, offered his water-bottle to a Highlander, whose tongue was black with thirst. “I drink with no cowards,” answered the youngster, huskily, and, turning to a Gurkha, said, “Hya, Johnny! Drink water got it?” The Gurkha grinned and passed his bottle. The Fore and Aft said no word.

They went back to camp when the field of strife had been a little mopped up and made presentable, and the Brigadier, who saw himself a Knight in three months, was the only soul who was complimentary to them. The Colonel was heart-broken and the officers were savage and sullen.

“Well,” said the Brigadier, “they are young troops of course, and it was not unnatural that they should retire in disorder for a bit.”

“Oh, my only Aunt Maria!” murmured a junior Staff Officer. “Retire in disorder! It was a bally run!”

“But they came again as we all know,” cooed the Brigadier, the Colonel’s ashy-white face before him, “and they behaved as well as could possibly be expected. Behaved beautifully, indeed. I was watching them. It’s not a matter to take to heart, Colonel. As some German General said of his men, ‘they wanted to be shooted over a little, that was all.’ To himself he said: ‘Now they’re blooded I can give ‘em responsible work. It’s as well that they got what they did. ‘Teach ‘em more than half a dozen rifle flirtations, that will—later—run alone and bite. Poor old Colonel, though.’”

All that afternoon the heliograph winked and flickered on the hills, striving to tell the good news to a mountain forty miles away. And in the evening there arrived, dusty, sweating, and sore, a misguided Correspondent who had gone out to assist at a trumpery village-burning and who had read off the message from afar, cursing his luck the while.

“Let’s have the details somehow—as full as ever you can, please. It’s the first time I’ve ever been left this campaign,” said the Correspondent to the Brigadier; and the Brigadier, nothing loath, told him how an Army of Communication had been crumpled up, destroyed, and all but annihilated by the craft, strategy, wisdom, and foresight of the Brigadier,

But some say, and among these be the Gurkhas who watched on the hillside, that that battle was won by Jakin and Lew, whose little bodies were borne up just in time to fit two gaps at the head of the big ditch-grave for the dead under the heights of Jagai.

The Sending of Dana da • 3,700 Words

When the Devil rides on your chest remember the chamar.
Native Proverb.

Once upon a time, some people in India made a new Heaven and a new Earth out of broken tea-cups, a missing brooch or two, and a hair-brush. These were hidden under brushes, or stuffed into holes in the hillside, and an entire Civil Service of subordinate Gods used to find or mend them again; and every one said: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy.” Several other things happened also, but the Religion never seemed to get much beyond its first manifestations; though it added an air-line postal service, and orchestral effects in order to keep abreast of the times, and choke off competition.

This Religion was too elastic for ordinary use. It stretched itself and embraced pieces of everything that the medicine-men of all ages have manufactured. It approved of and stole from Freemasonry; looted the Latter-day Rosicrucians of half their pet words; took any fragments of Egyptian philosophy that it found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica; annexed as many of the Vedas as had been translated into French or English, and talked of all the rest; built in the German versions of what is left of the Zend Avesta; encouraged White, Grey and Black Magic, including spiritualism, palmistry, fortune-telling by cards, hot chestnuts, double-kerneled nuts and tallow droppings; would have adopted Voodoo and Oboe had it known anything about them, and showed itself, in every way, one of the most accommodating arrangements that had ever been invented since the birth of the Sea.

When it was in thorough working order, with all the machinery, down to the subscriptions, complete, Dana Da came from nowhere, with nothing in his hands, and wrote a chapter in its history which has hitherto been unpublished. He said that his first name was Dana, and his second was Da. Now, setting aside Dana of the New York Sun, Dana is a Bhil name, and Da fits no native of India unless you except the Bengali Dè as the original spelling. Da is Lap or Finnish; and Dana Da was neither Finn, Chin, Bhil, Bengali, Lap, Nair, Gond, Romaney, Magh, Bokhariot, Kurd, Armenian, Levantine, Jew, Persian, Punjabi, Madrasi, Parsee, nor anything else known to ethnologists. He was simply Dana Da, and declined to give further information. For the sake of brevity and as roughly indicating his origin, he was called “The Native.” He might have been the original Old Man of the Mountains, who is said to be the only authorized head of the Tea-cup Creed. Some people said that he was; but Dana Da used to smile and deny any connection with the cult; explaining that he was an “Independent Experimenter.”

As I have said, he came from nowhere, with his hands behind his back, and studied the Creed for three weeks; sitting at the feet of those best competent to explain its mysteries. Then he laughed aloud and went away, but the laugh might have been either of devotion or derision.

When he returned he was without money, but his pride was unabated. He declared that he knew more about the Things in Heaven and Earth than those who taught him, and for this contumacy was abandoned altogether.

His next appearance in public life was at a big cantonment in Upper India, and he was then telling fortunes with the help of three leaden dice, a very dirty old cloth, and a little tin box of opium pills. He told better fortunes when he was allowed half a bottle of whiskey; but the things which he invented on the opium were quite worth the money. He was in reduced circumstances. Among other people’s he told the fortune of an Englishman who had once been interested in the Simla Creed, but who, later on, had married and forgotten all his old knowledge in the study of babies and things. The Englishman allowed Dana Da to tell a fortune for charity’s sake, and gave him five rupees, a dinner, and some old clothes. When he had eaten, Dana Da professed gratitude, and asked if there were anything he could do for his host—in the esoteric line.

“Is there any one that you love?” said Dana Da. The Englishman loved his wife, but had no desire to drag her name into the conversation. He therefore shook his head.

“Is there any one that you hate?” said Dana Da. The Englishman said that there were several men whom he hated deeply.

“Very good,” said Dana Da, upon whom the whiskey and the opium were beginning to tell. “Only give me their names, and I will despatch a Sending to them and kill them.”

Now a Sending is a horrible arrangement, first invented, they say, in Iceland. It is a Thing sent by a wizard, and may take any form, but, most generally, wanders about the land in the shape of a little purple cloud till it finds the Sendee, and him it kills by changing into the form of a horse, or a cat, or a man without a face. It is not strictly a native patent, though chamars of the skin and hide castes can, if irritated, despatch a Sending which sits on the breast of their enemy by night and nearly kills him, Very few natives care to irritate chamars for this reason.

“Let me despatch a Sending,” said Dana Da; “I am nearly dead now with want, and drink, and opium; but I should like to kill a man before I die. I can send a Sending anywhere you choose, and in any form except in the shape of a man.”

The Englishman had no friends that he wished to kill, but partly to soothe Dana Da, whose eyes were rolling, and partly to see what would be done, he asked whether a modified Sending could not be arranged for—such a Sending as should make a man’s life a burden to him, and yet do him no harm. If this were possible, he notified his willingness to give Dana Da ten rupees for the job.

“I am not what I was once,” said Dana Da, “and I must take the money because I am poor. To what Englishman shall I send it?”

“Send a Sending to Lone Sahib,” said the Englishman, naming a man who had been most bitter in rebuking him for his apostasy from the Tea-cup Creed. Dana Da laughed and nodded.

“I could have chosen no better man myself,” said he. “I will see that he finds the Sending about his path and about his bed.”

He lay down on the hearth-rug, turned up the whites of his eyes, shivered all over and began to snort. This was Magic, or Opium, or the Sending, or all three. When he opened his eyes he vowed that the Sending had started upon the war-path, and was at that moment flying up to the town where Lone Sahib lives,

“Give me my ten rupees,” said Dana Da, wearily, “and write a letter to Lone Sahib, telling him, and all who believe with him, that you and a friend are using a power greater than theirs. They will see that you are speaking the truth.”

He departed unsteadily, with the promise of some more rupees if anything came of the Sending,

The Englishman sent a letter to Lone Sahib, couched in what he remembered of the terminology of the Creed. He wrote: “I also, in the days of what you held to be my backsliding, have obtained Enlightenment, and with Enlightenment has come Power.” Then he grew so deeply mysterious that the recipient of the letter could make neither head nor tail of it, and was proportionately impressed; for he fancied that his friend had become a “fifth-rounder.” When a man is a “fifth-rounder” he can do more than Slade and Houdin combined,

Lone Sahib read the letter in five different fashions, and was beginning a sixth interpretation when his bearer dashed in with the news that there was a cat on the bed. Now if there was one thing that Lone Sahib hated more than another, it was a cat. He scolded the bearer for not turning it out of the house. The bearer said that he was afraid. All the doors of the bedroom had been shut throughout the morning, and no real cat could possibly have entered the room. He would prefer not to meddle with the creature.

Lone Sahib entered the room gingerly, and there, on the pillow of his bed, sprawled and whimpered a wee white kitten; not a jumpsome, frisky little beast, but a slug-like crawler with its eyes barely opened and its paws lacking strength or direction—a kitten that ought to have been in a basket with its mamma. Lone Sahib caught it by the scruff of its neck, handed it over to the sweeper to be drowned, and fined the bearer four annas.

That evening, as he was reading in his room, he fancied that he saw something moving about on the hearth-rug, outside the circle of light from his reading-lamp. When the thing began to myowl, he realized that it was a kitten—a wee white kitten, nearly blind and very miserable. He was seriously angry, and spoke bitterly to his bearer, who said that there was no kitten in the room when he brought in the lamp, and real kittens of tender age generally had mother-cats in attendance.

“If the Presence will go out into the veranda and listen,” said the bearer, “he will hear no cats. How, therefore, can the kitten on the bed and the kitten on the hearth-rug be real kittens?”

Lone Sahib went out to listen, and the bearer followed him, but there was no sound of any one mewing for her children. He returned to his room, having hurled the kitten down the hillside, and wrote out the incidents of the day for the benefit of his co-religionists. Those people were so absolutely free from superstition that they ascribed anything a little out of the common to Agencies. As it was their business to know all about the Agencies, they were on terms of almost indecent familiarity with Manifestations of every kind. Their letters dropped from the ceiling—unstamped—and Spirits used to squatter up and down their staircases all night; but they had never come into contact with kittens. Lone Sahib wrote out the facts, noting the hour and the minute, as every Psychical Observer is bound to do, and appending the Englishman’s letter because it was the most mysterious document and might have had a bearing upon anything in this world or the next. An outsider would have translated all the tangle thus: “Look out! You laughed at me once, and now I am going to make you sit up,”

Lone Sahib’s co-religionists found that meaning in it; but their translation was refined and full of four-syllable words. They held a sederunt, and were filled with tremulous joy, for, in spite of their familiarity with all the other worlds and cycles, they had a very human awe of things sent from Ghost-land. They met in Lone Sahib’s room in shrouded and sepulchral gloom, and their conclave was broken up by clinking among the photo-frames on the mantelpiece. A wee white kitten, nearly blind, was looping and writhing itself between the clock and the candlesticks. That stopped all investigations or doubtings. Here was the Manifestation in the flesh. It was, so far as could be seen, devoid of purpose, but it was a Manifestation of undoubted authenticity.

They drafted a Round Robin to the Englishman, the backslider of old days, adjuring him in the interests of the Creed to explain whether there was any connection between the embodiment of some Egyptian God or other (I have forgotten the name) and his communication. They called the kitten Ra, or Toth, or Tum, or some thing; and when Lone Sahib confessed that the first one had, at his most misguided instance, been drowned by the sweeper, they said consolingly that in his next life he would be a “bounder,” and not even a “rounder” of the lowest grade. These words may not be quite correct, but they accurately express the sense of the house.

When the Englishman received the Round Robin—it came by post—he was startled and bewildered. He sent into the bazar for Dana Da, who read the letter and laughed, “That is my Sending,” said he. “I told you I would work well. Now give me another ten rupees.”

“But what in the world is this gibberish about Egyptian Gods?” asked the Englishman,

“Cats,” said Dana Da, with a hiccough, for he had discovered the Englishman’s whiskey bottle. “Cats, and cats, and cats! Never was such a Sending. A hundred of cats. Now give me ten more rupees and write as I dictate.”

Dana Da’s letter was a curiosity. It bore the Englishman’s signature, and hinted at cats—at a Sending of Cats. The mere words on paper were creepy and uncanny to behold.

“What have you done, though?” said the Englishman; “I am as much in the dark as ever. Do you mean to say that you can actually send this absurd Sending you talk about?”

“Judge for yourself,” said Dana Da. “What does that letter mean? In a little time they will all be at my feet and yours, and I—O Glory!—will be drugged or drunk all day long.”

Dana Da knew his people.

When a man who hates cats wakes up in the morning and finds a little squirming kitten on his breast, or puts his hands into his ulster-pocket and finds a little half-dead kitten where his gloves should be, or opens his trunk and finds a vile kitten among his dress-shirts, or goes for a long ride with his mackintosh strapped on his saddle-bow and shakes a little squawling kitten from its folds when he opens it, or goes out to dinner and finds a little blind kitten under his chair, or stays at home and finds a writhing kitten under the quilt, or wriggling among his boots, or hanging, head downward, in his tobacco-jar, or being mangled by his terrier in the veranda,—when such a man finds one kitten, neither more nor less, once a day in a place where no kitten rightly could or should be, he is naturally upset. When he dare not murder his daily trove because he believes it to be a Manifestation, an Emissary, an Embodiment, and half a dozen other things all out of the regular course of nature, he is more than upset. He is actually distressed. Some of Lone Sahib’s co-religionists thought that he was a highly favored individual; but many said that if he had treated the first kitten with proper respect—as suited a Toth-Ra-Tum-Sennacherib Embodiment—all this trouble would have been averted. They compared him to the Ancient Mariner, but none the less they were proud of him and proud of the Englishman who had sent the Manifestation. They did not call it a Sending because Icelandic magic was not in their programme.

After sixteen kittens, that is to say after one fortnight, for there were three kittens on the first day to impress the fact of the Sending, the whole camp was uplifted by a letter—it came flying through a window—from the Old Man of the Mountains—the Head of all the Creed—explaining the Manifestation in the most beautiful language and soaking up all the credit of it for himself. The Englishman, said the letter, was not there at all. He was a backslider without Power or Asceticism, who couldn’t even raise a table by force of volition, much less project an army of kittens through space. The entire arrangement, said the letter, was strictly orthodox, worked and sanctioned by the highest Authorities within the pale of the Creed. There was great joy at this, for some of the weaker brethren seeing that an outsider who had been working on independent lines could create kittens, whereas their own rulers had never gone beyond crockery—and broken at best—were showing a desire to break line on their own trail. In fact, there was the promise of a schism. A second Round Robin was drafted to the Englishman, beginning: “O Scoffer,” and ending with a selection of curses from the Rites of Mizraim and Memphis and the Commination of Jugana, who was a “fifth-rounder,” upon whose name an upstart “third-rounder” once traded. A papal excommunication is a billet-doux compared to the Commination of Jugana. The Englishman had been proved, under the hand and seal of the Old Man of the Mountains, to have appropriated Virtue and pretended to have Power which, in reality, belonged only to the Supreme Head. Naturally the Round Robin did not spare him.

He handed the letter to Dana Da to translate into decent English. The effect on Dana Da was curious. At first he was furiously angry, and then he laughed for five minutes.

“I had thought,” he said, “that they would have come to me. In another week I would have shown that I sent the Sending, and they would have discrowned the Old Man of the Mountains who has sent this Sending of mine. Do you do nothing. The time has come for me to act. Write as I dictate, and I will put them to shame. But give me ten more rupees.”

At Dana Da’s dictation the Englishman wrote nothing less than a formal challenge to the Old Man of the Mountains. It wound up: “And if this Manifestation be from your hand, then let it go forward; but if it be from my hand, I will that the Sending shall cease in two days’ time. On that day there shall be twelve kittens and thenceforward none at all. The people shall judge between us.” This was signed by Dana Da, who added pentacles and pentagrams, and a crux ansaia, and half a dozen swastikas, and a Triple Tau to his name, just to show that he was all he laid claim to be.

The challenge was read out to the gentlemen and ladies, and they remembered then that Dana Da had laughed at them some years ago. It was officially announced that the Old Man of the Mountains would treat the matter with contempt; Dana Da being an Independent Investigator without a single “round” at the back of him. But this did not soothe his people. They wanted to see a fight. They were very human for all their spirituality. Lone Sahib, who was really being worn out with kittens, submitted meekly to his fate. He felt that he was being “kittened to prove the power of Dana Da,” as the poet says.

When the stated day dawned, the shower of kittens began. Some were white and some were tabby, and all were about the same loathsome age. Three were on his hearth-rug, three in his bath-room, and the other six turned up at intervals among the visitors who came to see the prophecy break down. Never was a more satisfactory Sending. On the next day there were no kittens, and the next day and all the other days were kittenless and quiet. The people murmured and looked to the Old Man of the Mountains for an explanation. A letter, written on a palm-leaf, dropped from the ceiling, but every one except Lone Sahib felt that letters were not what the occasion demanded. There should have been cats, there should have been cats,—full-grown ones. The letter proved conclusively that there had been a hitch in the Psychic Current which, colliding with a Dual Identity, had interfered with the Percipient Activity all along the main line. The kittens were still going on, but owing to some failure in the Developing Fluid, they were not materialized. The air was thick with letters for a few days afterward. Unseen hands played Glück and Beethoven on finger-bowls and clock-shades; but all men felt that Psychic Life was a mockery without materialized Kittens. Even Lone Sahib shouted with the majority on this head. Dana Da’s letters were very insulting, and if he had then offered to lead a new departure, there is no knowing what might not have happened.

But Dana Da was dying of whiskey and opium in the Englishman’s godown, and had small heart for honors.

“They have been put to shame,” said he. “Never was such a Sending. It has killed me.”

“Nonsense,” said the Englishman, “you are going to die, Dana Da, and that sort of stuff must be left behind. I’ll admit that you have made some queer things come about. Tell me honestly, now, how was it done?”

“Give me ten more rupees,” said Dana Da, faintly, “and if I die before I spend them, bury them with me.” The silver was counted out while Dana Da was fighting with Death. His hand closed upon the money and he smiled a grim smile.

“Bend low,” he whispered. The Englishman bent.

Bunnia—Mission—school—expelled—box-w allah (peddler)—Ceylon pearl-merchant—all mine English education—out-casted, and made up name Dana Da—England with American thought-reading man and—and—you gave me ten rupees several times—I gave the Sahib’s bearer two-eight a month for cats—little, little cats. I wrote, and he put them about—very clever man. Very few kittens now in the bazar. Ask Lone Sahib’s sweeper’s wife.”

So saying, Dana Da gasped and passed away into a land where, if all be true, there are no materializations and the making of new creeds is discouraged.

But consider the gorgeous simplicity of it all!

On the City Wall • 8,900 Words

Then she let them down by a cord through the window; for her house was upon the town-wall, and she dwelt upon the wall.
Joshua ii. 15.

Lalun is a member of the most ancient profession in the world. Lilith was her very-great-grandmamma, and that was before the days of Eve as every one knows. In the West, people say rude things about Lalun’s profession, and write lectures about it, and distribute the lectures to young persons in order that Morality may be preserved. In the East where the profession is hereditary, descending from mother to daughter, nobody writes lectures or takes any notice; and that is a distinct proof of the inability of the East to manage its own affairs.

Lalun’s real husband, for even ladies of Lalun’s profession in the East must have husbands, was a big jujube-tree. Her Mamma, who had married a fig-tree, spent ten thousand rupees on Lalun’s wedding, which was blessed by forty-seven clergymen of Mamma’s church, and distributed five thousand rupees in charity to the poor. And that was the custom of the land. The advantages of having a jujube-tree for a husband are obvious. You cannot hurt his feelings, and he looks imposing.

Lalun’s husband stood on the plain outside the City walls, and Lalun’s house was upon the east wall facing the river. If you fell from the broad window-seat you dropped thirty feet sheer into the City Ditch. But if you stayed where you should and looked forth, you saw all the cattle of the City being driven down to water, the students of the Government College playing cricket, the high grass and trees that fringed the river-bank, the great sand bars that ribbed the river, the red tombs of dead Emperors beyond the river, and very far away through the blue heat-haze, a glint of the snows of the Himalayas.

Wali Dad used to lie in the window-seat for hours at a time watching this view. He was a young Muhammadan who was suffering acutely from education of the English variety and knew it. His father had sent him to a Mission-school to get wisdom, and Wali Dad had absorbed more than ever his father or the Missionaries intended he should. When his father died, Wali Dad was independent and spent two years experimenting with the creeds of the Earth and reading books that are of no use to anybody.

After he had made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the Roman Catholic Church and the Presbyterian fold at the same time (the Missionaries found him out and called him names, but they did not understand his trouble), he discovered Lalun on the City wall and became the most constant of her few admirers. He possessed a head that English artists at home would rave over and paint amid impossible surroundings—a face that female novelists would use with delight through nine hundred pages. In reality he was only a clean-bred young Muhammadan, with penciled eyebrows, small-cut nostrils, little feet and hands, and a very tired look in his eyes. By virtue of his twenty-two years he had grown a neat black beard which he stroked with pride and kept delicately scented. His life seemed to be divided between borrowing books from me and making love to Lalun in the window-seat. He composed songs about her, and some of the songs are sung to this day in the City from the Street of the Mutton-Butchers to the Copper-Smiths’ ward.

One song, the prettiest of all, says that the beauty of Lalun was so great that it troubled the hearts of the British Government and caused them to lose their peace of mind. That is the way the song is sung in the streets; but, if you examine it carefully and know the key to the explanation, you will find that there are three puns in it—on “beauty,” “heart,” and “peace of mind,”—so that it runs: “By the subtlety of Lalun the administration of the Government was troubled and it lost such and such a man.” When Wali Dad sings that song his eyes glow like hot coals, and Lalun leans back among the cushions and throws bunches of jasmine-buds at Wali Dad.

But first it is necessary to explain something about the Supreme Government which is above all and below all and behind all. Gentlemen come from England, spend a few weeks in India, walk round this great Sphinx of the Plains, and write books upon its ways and its works, denouncing or praising it as their own ignorance prompts. Consequently all the world knows how the Supreme Government conducts itself, But no one, not even the Supreme Government, knows everything about the administration of the Empire. Year by year England sends out fresh drafts for the first fighting-line, which is officially called the Indian Civil Service. These die, or kill themselves by overwork, or are worried to death or broken in health and hope in order that the land may be protected from death and sickness, famine and war, and may eventually become capable of standing alone. It will never stand alone, but the idea is a pretty one, and men are willing to die for it, and yearly the work of pushing and coaxing and scolding and petting the country into good living goes forward. If an advance be made all credit is given to the native, while the Englishmen stand back and wipe their foreheads. If a failure occurs the Englishmen step forward and take the blame. Overmuch tenderness of this kind has bred a strong belief among many natives that the native is capable of administering the country, and many devout Englishmen believe this also, because the theory is stated in beautiful English with all the latest political color.

There be other men who, though uneducated, see visions and dream dreams, and they, too, hope to administer the country in their own way—that is to say, with a garnish of Red Sauce. Such men must exist among two hundred million people, and, if they are not attended to, may cause trouble and even break the great idol called Pax Britannic, which, as the newspapers say, lives between Peshawur and Cape Comorin. Were the Day of Doom to dawn to-morrow, you would find the Supreme Government “taking measures to allay popular excitement” and putting guards upon the graveyards that the Dead might troop forth orderly. The youngest Civilian would arrest Gabriel on his own responsibility if the Archangel could not produce a Deputy Commissioner’s permission to “make music or other noises” as the license says.

Whence it is easy to see that mere men of the flesh who would create a tumult must fare badly at the hands of the Supreme Government. And they do. There is no outward sign of excitement; there is no confusion; there is no knowledge. When due and sufficient reasons have been given, weighed and approved, the machinery moves forward, and the dreamer of dreams and the seer of visions is gone from his friends and following. He enjoys the hospitality of Government; there is no restriction upon his movements within certain limits; but he must not confer any more with his brother dreamers. Once in every six months the Supreme Government assures itself that he is well and takes formal acknowledgment of his existence. No one protests against his detention, because the few people who know about it are in deadly fear of seeming to know him; and never a single newspaper “takes up his case” or organizes demonstrations on his behalf, because the newspapers of India have got behind that lying proverb which says the Pen is mightier than the Sword, and can walk delicately.

So now you know as much as you ought about Wali Dad, the educational mixture, and the Supreme Government.

Lalun has not yet been described. She would need, so Wali Dad says, a thousand pens of gold and ink scented with musk. She has been variously compared to the Moon, the Dil Sagar Lake, a spotted quail, a gazelle, the Sun on the Desert of Kutch, the Dawn, the Stars, and the young bamboo. These comparisons imply that she is beautiful exceedingly according to the native standards, which are practically the same as those of the West. Her eyes are black and her hair is black, and her eyebrows are black as leeches; her mouth is tiny and says witty things; her hands are tiny and have saved much money; her feet are tiny and have trodden on the naked hearts of many men. But, as Wali Dad sings: “Lalun is Lalun, and when you have said that, you have only come to the Beginnings of Knowledge.”

The little house on the City wall was just big enough to hold Lalun, and her maid, and a pussy-cat with a silver collar. A big pink and blue cut-glass chandelier hung from the ceiling of the reception room. A petty Nawab had given Lalun the horror, and she kept it for politeness’ sake. The floor of the room was of polished chunam, white as curds. A latticed window of carved wood was set in one wall; there was a profusion of squabby pluffy cushions and fat carpets everywhere, and Lalun’s silver huqa, studded with turquoises, had a special little carpet all to its shining self. Wali Dad was nearly as permanent a fixture as the chandelier. As I have said, he lay in the window-seat and meditated on Life and Death and Lalun—specially Lalun. The feet of the young men of the City tended to her doorways and then—retired, for Lalun was a particular maiden, slow of speech, reserved of mind, and not in the least inclined to orgies which were nearly certain to end in strife. “If I am of no value, I am unworthy of this honor,” said Lalun. “If I am of value, they are unworthy of Me,” And that was a crooked sentence.

In the long hot nights of latter April and May all the City seemed to assemble in Lalun’s little white room to smoke and to talk. Shiahs of the grimmest and most uncompromising persuasion; Sufis who had lost all belief in the Prophet and retained but little in God; wandering Hindu priests passing southward on their way to the Central India fairs and other affairs; Pundits in black gowns, with spectacles on their noses and undigested wisdom in their insides; bearded headmen of the wards; Sikhs with all the details of the latest ecclesiastical scandal in the Golden Temple; red-eyed priests from beyond the Border, looking like trapped wolves and talking like ravens; M.A.’s of the University, very superior and very voluble—all these people and more also you might find in the white room. Wali Dad lay in the window-seat and listened to the talk.

“It is Lalun’s salon,” said Wali Dad to me, “and it is electic—is not that the word? Outside of a Freemason’s Lodge I have never seen such gatherings. There I dined once with a Jew—a Yahoudi!” He spat into the City Ditch with apologies for allowing national feelings to overcome him. “Though I have lost every belief in the world,” said he, “and try to be proud of my losing, I cannot help hating a Jew. Lalun admits no Jews here.”

“But what in the world do all these men do?” I asked.

“The curse of our country,” said Wali Dad. “They talk. It is like the Athenians—always hearing and telling some new thing. Ask the Pearl and she will show you how much she knows of the news of the City and the Province. Lalun knows everything.”

“Lalun,” I said at random—she was talking to a gentleman of the Kurd persuasion who had come in from God-knows-where—”when does the 175th Regiment go to Agra?”

“It does not go at all,” said Lalun, without turning her head. “They have ordered the 118th to go in its stead. That Regiment goes to Lucknow in three months, unless they give a fresh order.”

“That is so,” said Wali Dad without a shade of doubt. “Can you, with your telegrams and your newspapers, do better? Always hearing and telling some new thing,” he went on. “My friend, has your God ever smitten a European nation for gossiping in the bazars? India has gossiped for centuries—always standing in the bazars until the soldiers go by. Therefore—you are here to-day instead of starving in your own country, and I am not a Muhammadan—I am a Product—a Demnition Product. That also I owe to you and yours: that I cannot make an end to my sentence without quoting from your authors.” He pulled at the huqa and mourned, half feelingly, half in earnest, for the shattered hopes of his youth. Wali Dad was always mourning over something or other—the country of which he despaired, or the creed in which he had lost faith, or the life of the English which he could by no means understand.

Lalun never mourned. She played little songs on the sitar, and to hear her sing, “O Peacock, cry again,” was always a fresh pleasure. She knew all the songs that have ever been sung, from the war-songs of the South that make the old men angry with the young men and the young men angry with the State, to the love-songs of the North where the swords whinny-whicker like angry kites in the pauses between the kisses, and the Passes fill with armed men, and the Lover is torn from his Beloved and cries, Ai, Ai, Ai! evermore. She knew how to make up tobacco for the huqa so that it smelled like the Gates of Paradise and wafted you gently through them. She could embroider strange things in gold and silver, and dance softly with the moonlight when it came in at the window. Also she knew the hearts of men, and the heart of the City, and whose wives were faithful and whose untrue, and more of the secrets of the Government Offices than are good to be set down in this place. Nasiban, her maid, said that her jewelry was worth ten thousand pounds, and that, some night, a thief would enter and murder her for its possession; but Lalun said that all the City would tear that thief limb from limb, and that he, whoever he was, knew it.

So she took her sitar and sat in the windowseat and sang a song of old days that had been sung by a girl of her profession in an armed camp on the eve of a great battle—the day before the Fords of the Jumna ran red and Sivaji fled fifty miles to Delhi with a Toorkh stallion at his horse’s tail and another Lalun on his saddle-bow. It was what men call a Mahratta Laonee, and it said:

Their warrior forces Chimnajee
Before the Peishwa led,
The Children of the Sun and Fire
Behind him turned and fled.

And the chorus said:

With them there fought who rides so free
With sword and turban red,
The warrior-youth who earns his fee
At peril of his head,

“At peril of his head,” said Wali Dad in English to me, “Thanks to your Government, all our heads are protected, and with the educational facilities at my command”—his eyes twinkled wickedly—”I might be a distinguished member of the local administration. Perhaps, in time, I might even be a member of a Legislative Council.”

“Don’t speak English,” said Lalun, bending over her sitar afresh. The chorus went out from the City wall to the blackened wall of Fort Amara which dominates the City. No man knows the precise extent of Fort Amara. Three kings built it hundreds of years ago, and they say that there are miles of underground rooms beneath its walls. It is peopled with many ghosts, a detachment of Garrison Artillery and a Company of Infantry. In its prime it held ten thousand men and filled its ditches with corpses.

“At peril of his head,” sang Lalun, again and again.

A head moved on one of the Ramparts—the grey head of an old man—and a voice, rough as shark-skin on a sword-hilt, sent back the last line of the chorus and broke into a song that I could not understand, though Lalun and Wali Dad listened intently.

“What is it?” I asked. “Who is it?”

“A consistent man,” said Wali Dad. “He fought you in ’46, when he was a warrior-youth; refought you in ’57, and he tried to fight you in ’71, but you had learned the trick of blowing men from guns too well. Now he is old; but he would still fight if he could.”

“Is he a Wahabi, then? Why should he answer to a Mahratta laonee if he be Wahabi—or Sikh?” said I.

“I do not know,” said Wali Dad. “He has lost perhaps, his religion. Perhaps he wishes to be a King. Perhaps he is a King. I do not know his name.”

“That is a lie, Wali Dad. If you know his career you must know his name.”

“That is quite true. I belong to a nation of liars. I would rather not tell you his name. Think for yourself.”

Lalun finished her song, pointed to the Fort, and said simply: “Khem Singh.”

“Hm,” said Wali Dad. “If the Pearl chooses to tell you the Pearl is a fool.”

I translated to Lalun, who laughed. “I choose to tell what I choose to tell. They kept Khem Singh in Burma,” said she. “They kept him there for many years until his mind was changed in him. So great was the kindness of the Government. Finding this, they sent him back to his own country that he might look upon it before he died. He is an old man, but when he looks upon this his country his memory will come. Moreover, there be many who remember him.”

“He is an Interesting Survival,” said Wali Dad, pulling at the huqa. “He returns to a country now full of educational and political reform, but, as the Pearl says, there are many who remember him. He was once a great man. There will never he any more great men in India. They will all, when they are boys, go whoring after strange gods, and they will become citizens—’fellow-citizens’—’illustrious fellow-citizens.’ What is it that the native papers call them?”

Wali Dad seemed to be in a very bad temper. Lalun looked out of the window and smiled into the dust-haze. I went away thinking about Khem Singh who had once made history with a thousand followers, and would have been a princeling but for the power of the Supreme Government aforesaid.

The Senior Captain Commanding Fort Amara was away on leave, but the Subaltern, his Deputy, drifted down to the Club, where I found him and inquired of him whether it was really true that a political prisoner had been added to the attractions of the Fort. The Subaltern explained at great length, for this was the first time that he had held Command of the Fort, and his glory lay heavy upon him.

“Yes,” said he, “a man was sent in to me about a week ago from down the line—a thorough gentleman whoever he is. Of course I did all I could for him. He had his two servants and some silver cooking-pots, and he looked for all the world like a native officer. I called him Subadar Sahib; just as well to be on the safe side, y’know. ‘Look here, Subadar Sahib,’ I said, ‘you’re handed over to my authority, and I’m supposed to guard you. Now I don’t want to make your life hard, but you must make things easy for me. All the Fort is at your disposal, from the flagstaff to the dry ditch, and I shall be happy to entertain you in any way I can, but you mustn’t take advantage of it. Give me your word that you won’t try to escape, Subadar Sahib, and I’ll give you my word that you shall have no heavy guard put over you.’ I thought the best way of getting him was by going at him straight, y’know, and it was, by Jove! The old man gave me his word, and moved about the Fort as contented as a sick crow. He’s a rummy chap—always asking to be told where he is and what the buildings about him are. I had to sign a slip of blue paper when he turned up, acknowledging receipt of his body and all that, and I’m responsible, y’know, that he doesn’t get away. Queer thing, though, looking after a Johnnie old enough to be your grandfather, isn’t it? Come to the Fort one of these days and see him?”

For reasons which will appear, I never went to the Fort while Khem Singh was then within its walls. I knew him only as a grey head seen from Lalun’s window—a grey head and a harsh voice. But natives told me that, day by day, as he looked upon the fair lands round Amara, his memory came back to him and, with it, the old hatred against the Government that had been nearly effaced in far-off Burma. So he raged up and down the West face of the Fort from morning till noon and from evening till the night, devising vain things in his heart, and croaking war-songs when Lalun sang on the City wall. As he grew more acquainted with the Subaltern he unburdened his old heart of some of the passions that had withered it. “Sahib,” he used to say, tapping his stick against the parapet, “when I was a young man I was one of twenty thousand horsemen who came out of the City and rode round the plain here. Sahib, I was the leader of a hundred, then of a thousand, then of five thousand, and now!”—he pointed to his two servants. “But from the beginning to to-day I would cut the throats of all the Sahibs in the land if I could. Hold me fast, Sahib, lest I get away and return to those who would follow me. I forgot them when I was in Burma, but now that I am in my own country again, I remember everything.”

“Do you remember that you have given me your Honor not to make your tendance a hard matter?” said the Subaltern.

“Yes, to you, only to you, Sahib,” said Khem Singh. “To you, because you are of a pleasant countenance. If my turn comes again, Sahib, I will not hang you nor cut your throat.”

“Thank you,” said the Subaltern, gravely, as he looked along the line of guns that could pound the City to powder in half an hour. “Let us go into our own quarters, Khem Singh. Come and talk with me after dinner.”

Khem Singh would sit on his own cushion at the Subaltern’s feet, drinking heavy, scented anise-seed brandy in great gulps, and telling strange stories of Fort Amara, which had been a palace in the old days, of Begums and Ranees tortured to death—aye, in the very vaulted chamber that now served as a Mess-room; would tell stories of Sobraon that made the Subaltern’s cheeks flush and tingle with pride of race, and of the Kuka rising from which so much was expected and the foreknowledge of which was shared by a hundred thousand souls. But he never told tales of ’57 because, as he said, he was the Subaltern’s guest, and ’57 is a year that no man, Black or White, cares to speak of. Once only, when the anise-seed brandy had slightly affected his head, he said: “Sahib, speaking now of a matter which lay between Sobraon and the affair of the Kukas, it was ever a wonder to us that you stayed your hand at all, and that, having stayed it, you did not make the land one prison. Now I hear from without that you do great honor to all men of our country and by your own hands are destroying the Terror of your Name which is your strong rock and defence. This is a foolish thing. Will oil and water mix? Now in ’57″—

“I was not born then, Subadar Sahib,” said the Subaltern, and Khem Singh reeled to his quarters,

The Subaltern would tell me of these conversations at the Club, and my desire to see Khem Singh increased. But Wali Dad, sitting in the window-seat of the house on the City wall, said that it would be a cruel thing to do, and Lalun pretended that I preferred the society of a grizzled old Sikh to hers.

“Here is tobacco, here is talk, here are many friends and all the news of the City, and, above all, here is myself. I will tell you stories and sing you songs, and Wali Dad will talk his English nonsense in your ears. Is that worse than watching the caged animal yonder? Go to-morrow then, if you must, but to-day such and such an one will be here, and he will speak of wonderful things.”

It happened that To-morrow never came, and the warm heat of the latter Rains gave place to the chill of early October almost before I was aware of the flight of the year. The Captain commanding the Fort returned from leave and took over charge of Khem Singh according to the laws of seniority. The Captain was not a nice man. He called all natives “niggers,” which, besides being extreme bad form, shows gross ignorance.

“What’s the use of telling off two Tommies to watch that old nigger?” said he.

“I fancy it soothes his vanity,” said the Subaltern. “The men are ordered to keep well out of his way, but he takes them as a tribute to his importance, poor old wretch.”

“I won’t have Line men taken off regular guards in this way. Put on a couple of Native Infantry.”

“Sikhs?” said the Subaltern, lifting his eyebrows.

“Sikhs, Pathans, Dogras—they’re all alike, these black vermin,” and the Captain talked to Khem Singh in a manner which hurt that old gentleman’s feelings. Fifteen years before, when he had been caught for the second time, every one looked upon him as a sort of tiger. He liked being regarded in this light. But he forgot that the world goes forward in fifteen years, and many Subalterns are promoted to Captaincies,

“The Captain-pig is in charge of the Fort?” said Khem Singh to his native guard every morning. And the native guard said: “Yes, Subadar Sahib,” in deference to his age and his air of distinction; but they did not know who he was.

In those days the gathering in Lalun’s little white room was always large and talked more than before,

“The Greeks,” said Wali Dad who had been borrowing my books, “the inhabitants of the city of Athens, where they were always hearing and telling some new thing, rigorously secluded their women—who were fools. Hence the glorious institution of the heterodox women—is it not?—who were amusing and not fools. All the Greek philosophers delighted in their company. Tell me, my friend, how it goes now in Greece and the other places upon the Continent of Europe. Are your women-folk also fools?”

“Wali Dad,” I said, “you never speak to us about your women-folk and we never speak about ours to you. That is the bar between us.”

“Yes,” said Wali Dad, “it is curious to think that our common meeting-place should be here, in the house of a common—how do you call her?” He pointed with the pipe-mouth to Lalun.

“Lalun is nothing but Lalun,” I said, and that was perfectly true. “But if you took your place in the world, Wali Dad, and gave up dreaming dreams”—

“I might wear an English coat and trouser. I might be a leading Muhammadan pleader. I might be received even at the Commissioner’s tennis-parties where the English stand on one side and the natives on the other, in order to promote social intercourse throughout the Empire. Heart’s Heart,” said he to Lalun quickly, “the Sahib says that I ought to quit you.”

“The Sahib is always talking stupid talk,” returned Lalun, with a laugh. “In this house I am a Queen and thou art a King. The Sahib”—she put her arms above her head and thought for a moment—”the Sahib shall be our Vizier—thine and mine, Wali Dad—because he has said that thou shouldst leave me.”

Wali Dad laughed immoderately, and I laughed too. “Be it so,” said he. “My friend, are you willing to take this lucrative Government appointment? Lalun, what shall his pay be?”

But Lalun began to sing, and for the rest of the time there was no hope of getting a sensible answer from her or Wall Dad. When the one stopped, the other began to quote Persian poetry with a triple pun in every other line. Some of it was not strictly proper, but it was all very funny, and it only came to an end when a fat person in black, with gold pince-nez, sent up his name to Lalun, and Wali Dad dragged me into the twinkling night to walk in a big rose-garden and talk heresies about Religion and Governments and a man’s career in life.

The Mohurrum, the great mourning-festival of the Muhammadans, was close at hand, and the things that Wali Dad said about religious fanaticism would have secured his expulsion from the loosest-thinking Muslim sect. There were the rose-bushes round us, the stars above us, and from every quarter of the City came the boom of the big Mohurrum drums, You must know that the City is divided in fairly equal proportions between the Hindus and the Musalmans, and where both creeds belong to the fighting races, a big religious festival gives ample chance for trouble. When they can—that is to say when the authorities are weak enough to allow it—the Hindus do their best to arrange some minor feast-day of their own in time to clash with the period of general mourning for the martyrs Hasan and Hussain, the heroes of the Mohurrum. Gilt and painted paper presentations of their tombs are borne with shouting and wailing, music, torches, and yells, through the principal thoroughfares of the City, which fakements are called tazias. Their passage is rigorously laid down beforehand by the Police, and detachments of Police accompany each tazias, lest the Hindus should throw bricks at it and the peace of the Queen and the heads of Her loyal subjects should thereby be broken. Mohurrum time in a “fighting” town means anxiety to all the officials, because, if a riot breaks out, the officials and not the rioters are held responsible. The former must foresee everything, and while not making their precautions ridiculously elaborate, must see that they are at least adequate.

“Listen to the drums!” said Wali Dad. “That is the heart of the people—empty and making much noise. How, think you, will the Mohurrum go this year? I think that there will be trouble.”

He turned down a side-street and left me alone with the stars and a sleepy Police patrol. Then I went to bed and dreamed that Wali Dad had sacked the City and I was made Vizier, with Lalun’s silver huqa for mark of office.

All day the Mohurrum drums beat in the City, and all day deputations of tearful Hindu gentlemen besieged the Deputy Commissioner with assurances that they would be murdered ere next dawning by the Muhammadans. “Which,” said the Deputy Commissioner, in confidence to the Head of Police, “is a pretty fair indication that the Hindus are going to make ‘emselves unpleasant. I think we can arrange a little surprise for them. I have given the heads of both Creeds fair warning. If they choose to disregard it, so much the worse for them.”

There was a large gathering in Lalun’s house that night, but of men that I had never seen before, if I except the fat gentleman in black with the gold pince-nez. Wali Dad lay in the window-seat, more bitterly scornful of his Faith and its manifestations than I had ever known him. Lalun’s maid was very busy cutting up and mixing tobacco for the guests. We could hear the thunder of the drums as the processions accompanying each tazia marched to the central gathering-place in the plain outside the City, preparatory to their triumphant reentry and circuit within the walls. All the streets seemed ablaze with torches, and only Fort Amara was black and silent.

When the noise of the drums ceased, no one in the white room spoke for a time. “The first tazia has moved off,” said Wali Dad, looking to the plain.

“That is very early,” said the man with the pince-nez.

“It is only half-past eight.” The company rose and departed.

“Some of them were men from Ladakh,” said Lalun, when the last had gone. “They brought me brick-tea such as the Russians sell, and a tea-turn from Peshawur. Show me, now, how the English Memsahibs make tea.”

The brick-tea was abominable. When it was finished Wali Dad suggested going into the streets. “I am nearly sure that there will be trouble to-night,” he said. “All the City thinks so, and Vox Populi is Vox Dei, as the Babus say. Now I tell you that at the corner of the Padshahi Gate you will find my horse all this night if you want to go about and to see things. It is a most disgraceful exhibition. Where is the pleasure of saying ‘Ya Hasan, Ya Hussain,’ twenty thousand times in a night?”

All the processions—there were two and twenty of them—were now well within the City walls. The drums were beating afresh, the crowd were howling “Ya Hasan! Ya Hussain!” and beating their breasts, the brass bands were playing their loudest, and at every corner where space allowed, Muhammadan preachers were telling the lamentable story of the death of the Martyrs. It was impossible to move except with the crowd, for the streets were not more than twenty feet wide. In the Hindu quarters the shutters of all the shops were up and cross-barred. As the first tazia, a gorgeous erection ten feet high, was borne aloft on the shoulders of a score of stout men into the semi-darkness of the Gully of the Horsemen, a brickbat crashed through its talc and tinsel sides.

“Into thy hands, O Lord?” murmured Wali Dad. profanely, as a yell went up from behind, and a native officer of Police jammed his horse through the crowd. Another brickbat followed, and the tazia staggered and swayed where it had stopped.

“Go on! In the name of the Sirkar, go forward!” shouted the Policeman; but there was an ugly cracking and splintering of shutters, and the crowd halted, with oaths and growlings, before the house whence the brickbat had been thrown.

Then, without any warning, broke the storm—not only in the Gully of the Horsemen, but in half a dozen other places. The tazias rocked like ships at sea, the long pole-torches dipped and rose round them while the men shouted: “The Hindus are dishonoring the tazias! Strike! Strike! Into their temples for the faith!” The six or eight Policemen with each tazia drew their batons, and struck as long as they could in the hope of forcing the mob forward, but they were overpowered, and as contingents of Hindus poured into the streets, the fight became general. Half a mile away where the tazias were yet untouched the drums and the shrieks of “Ya Hasan! Ya Hussain!” continued, but not for long. The priests at the corners of the streets knocked the legs from the bedsteads that supported their pulpits and smote for the Faith, while stones fell from the silent houses upon friend and foe, and the packed streets bellowed: “Din! Din! Din!” A tazia caught fire, and was dropped for a flaming barrier between Hindu and Musalman at the corner of the Gully. Then the crowd surged forward, and Wali Dad drew me close to the stone pillar of a well.

“It was intended from the beginning!” he shouted in my ear, with more heat than blank unbelief should be guilty of. “The bricks were carried up to the houses beforehand. These swine of Hindus! We shall be gutting kine in their temples to-night!”

Tazia after tazia, some burning, others torn to pieces, hurried past us and the mob with them, howling, shrieking, and striking at the house doors in their flight. At last we saw the reason of the rush. Hugonin, the Assistant District Superintendent of Police, a boy of twenty, had got together thirty constables and was forcing the crowd through the streets. His old grey Police-horse showed no sign of uneasiness as it was spurred breast-on into the crowd, and the long dog-whip with which he had armed himself was never still.

“They know we haven’t enough Police to hold ‘em,” he cried as he passed me, mopping a cut on his face, “They know we haven’t! Aren’t any of the men from the Club coming down to help? Get on, you sons of burned fathers!” The dog-whip cracked across the writhing backs, and the constables smote afresh with baton and gun-butt. With these passed the lights and the shouting, and Wali Dad began to swear under his breath. From Fort Amara shot up a single rocket; then two side by side. It was the signal for troops.

Petitt, the Deputy Commissioner, covered with dust and sweat, but calm and gently smiling, cantered up the clean-swept street in rear of the main body of the rioters, “No one killed yet,” he shouted. “I’ll keep ‘em on the run till dawn! Don’t let ‘em halt, Hugonin! Trot ‘em about till the troops come.”

The science of the defence lay solely in keeping the mob on the move. If they had breathing-space they would halt and fire a house, and then the work of restoring order would be more difficult, to say the least of it. Flames have the same effect on a crowd as blood has on a wild beast.

Word had reached the Club and men in evening-dress were beginning to show themselves and lend a hand in heading off and breaking up the shouting masses with stirrup-leathers, whips, or chance-found staves. They were not very often attacked, for the rioters had sense enough to know that the death of a European would not mean one hanging but many, and possibly the appearance of the thrice-dreaded Artillery. The clamor in the City redoubled. The Hindus had descended into the streets in real earnest and ere long the mob returned. It was a strange sight. There were no tazias—only their riven platforms—and there were no Police. Here and there a City dignitary, Hindu or Muhammadan, was vainly imploring his co-religionists to keep quiet and behave themselves—advice for which his white beard was pulled. Then a native officer of Police, unhorsed but still using his spurs with effect, would be borne along, warning all the crowd of the danger of insulting the Government. Everywhere men struck aimlessly with sticks, grasping each other by the throat, howling and foaming with rage, or beat with their bare hands on the doors of the houses.

“It is a lucky thing that they are fighting with natural weapons,” I said to Wali Dad, “else we should have half the City killed.”

I turned as I spoke and looked at his face. His nostrils were distended, his eyes were fixed, and he was smiting himself softly on the breast. The crowd poured by with renewed riot—a gang of Musalmans hard-pressed by some hundred Hindu fanatics. Wali Dad left my side with an oath, and shouting: “Ya Hasan! Ya Hussain!” plunged into the thick of the fight where I lost sight of him.

I fled by a side alley to the Padshahi Gate where I found Wali Dad’s house, and thence rode to the Fort. Once outside the City wall, the tumult sank to a dull roar, very impressive under the stars and reflecting great credit on the fifty thousand angry able-bodied men who were making it. The troops who, at the Deputy Commissioner’s instance, had been ordered to rendezvous quietly near the Fort, showed no signs of being impressed. Two companies of Native Infantry, a squadron of Native Cavalry and a company of British Infantry were kicking their heels in the shadow of the East face, waiting for orders to march in. I am sorry to say that they were all pleased, unholily pleased, at the chance of what they called “a little fun.” The senior officers, to be sure, grumbled at having been kept out of bed, and the English troops pretended to be sulky, but there was joy in the hearts of all the subalterns, and whispers ran up and down the line: “No ball-cartridge—what a beastly shame!” “D’you think the beggars will really stand up to us?” “‘Hope I shall meet my money-lender there. I owe him more than I can afford.” “Oh, they won’t let us even unsheathe swords.” “Hurrah! Up goes the fourth rocket. Fall in, there!”

The Garrison Artillery, who to the last cherished a wild hope that they might be allowed to bombard the City at a hundred yards’ range, lined the parapet above the East gateway and cheered themselves hoarse as the British Infantry doubled along the road to the Main Gate of the City. The Cavalry cantered on to the Padshahi Gate, and the Native Infantry marched slowly to the Gate of the Butchers. The surprise was intended to be of a distinctly unpleasant nature, and to come on top of the defeat of the Police who had been just able to keep the Muhammadans from firing the houses of a few leading Hindus. The bulk of the riot lay in the north and northwest wards. The east and southeast were by this time dark and silent, and I rode hastily to Lalun’s house for I wished to tell her to send some one in search of Wali Dad. The house was unlighted, but the door was open, and I climbed upstairs in the darkness. One small lamp in the white room showed Lalun and her maid leaning half out of the window, breathing heavily and evidently pulling at something that refused to come.

“Thou art late—very late,” gasped Lalun, without turning her head. “Help us now, O Fool, if thou hast not spent thy strength howling among the tazias. Pull! Nasiban and I can do no more! O Sahib, is it you? The Hindus have been hunting an old Muhammadan round the Ditch with clubs. If they find him again they will kill him. Help us to pull him up.”

I put my hands to the long red silk waist-cloth that was hanging out of the window, and we three pulled and pulled with all the strength at our command. There was something very heavy at the end, and it swore in an unknown tongue as it kicked against the City wall.

“Pull, oh, pull!” said Lalun, at the last. A pair of brown hands grasped the window-sill and a venerable Muhammadan tumbled upon the floor, very much out of breath. His jaws were tied up, his turban had fallen over one eye, and he was dusty and angry.

Lalun hid her face in her hands for an instant and said something about Wali Dad that I could not catch,

Then, to my extreme gratification, she threw her arms round my neck and murmured pretty things. I was in no haste to stop her; and Nasiban, being a handmaiden of tact, turned to the big jewel-chest that stands in the corner of the white room and rummaged among the contents. The Muhammadan sat on the floor and glared.

“One service more, Sahib, since thou hast come so opportunely,” said Lalun. “Wilt thou”—it is very nice to be thou-ed by Lalun—”take this old man across the City—the troops are everywhere, and they might hurt him for he is old—to the Kumharsen Gate? There I think he may find a carriage to take him to his house. He is a friend of mine, and thou art—more than a friend—therefore I ask this.”

Nasiban bent over the old man, tucked something into his belt, and I raised him up, and led him into the streets. In crossing from the east to the west of the City there was no chance of avoiding the troops and the crowd. Long before I reached the Gully of the Horsemen I heard the shouts of the British Infantry crying cheeringly: “Hutt, ye beggars! Hutt, ye devils! Get along! Go forward, there!” Then followed the ringing of rifle-butts and shrieks of pain. The troops were banging the bare toes of the mob with their gun-butts—for not a bayonet had been fixed. My companion mumbled and jabbered as we walked on until we were carried back by the crowd and had to force our way to the troops. I caught him by the wrist and felt a bangle there—the iron bangle of the Sikhs—but I had no suspicions, for Lalun had only ten minutes before put her arms round me. Thrice we were carried back by the crowd, and when we made our way past the British Infantry it was to meet the Sikh Cavalry driving another mob before them with the butts of their lances.

“What are these dogs?” said the old man.

“Sikhs of the Cavalry, Father,” I said, and we edged our way up the line of horses two abreast and found the Deputy Commissioner, his helmet smashed on his head, surrounded by a knot of men who had come down from the Club as amateur constables and had helped the Police mightily.

“We’ll keep ‘em on the run till dawn,” said Petitt, “Who’s your villainous friend?”

I had only time to say: “The Protection of the Sirkar!” when a fresh crowd flying before the Native Infantry carried us a hundred yards nearer to the Kumharsen Gate, and Petitt was swept away like a shadow.

“I do not know—I cannot see—this is all new to me!” moaned my companion. “How many troops are there in the City?”

“Perhaps five hundred,” I said.

“A lakh of men beaten by five hundred—and Sikhs among them! Surely, surely, I am an old man, but—the Kumharsen Gate is new. Who pulled down the stone lions? Where is the conduit? Sahib, I am a very old man, and, alas, I—I cannot stand.” He dropped in the shadow of the Kumharsen Gate where there was no disturbance. A fat gentleman wearing gold pince-nez came out of the darkness.

“You are most kind to bring my old friend,” he said, suavely. “He is a landholder of Akala. He should not be in a big City when there is religious excitement. But I have a carriage here. You are quite truly kind. Will you help me to put him into the carriage? It is very late.”

We bundled the old man into a hired victoria that stood close to the gate, and I turned back to the house on the City wall. The troops were driving the people to and fro, while the Police shouted, “To your houses! Get to your houses!” and the dog-whip of the Assistant District Superintendent cracked remorselessly. Terror-stricken bunnias clung to the stirrups of the cavalry, crying that their houses had been robbed (which was a lie), and the burly Sikh horsemen patted them on the shoulder, and bade them return to those houses lest a worse thing should happen. Parties of five or six British soldiers, joining arms, swept down the side-gullies, their rifles on their backs, stamping, with shouting and song, upon the toes of Hindu and Musalman. Never was religious enthusiasm more systematically squashed; and never were poor breakers of the peace more utterly weary and footsore. They were routed out of holes and corners, from behind well-pillars and byres, and bidden to go to their houses. If they had no houses to go to, so much the worse for their toes.

On returning to Lalun’s door I stumbled over a man at the threshold. He was sobbing hysterically and his arms flapped like the wings of a goose. It was Wali Dad, Agnostic and Unbeliever, shoeless, turbanless, and frothing at the mouth, the flesh on his chest bruised and bleeding from the vehemence with which he had smitten himself. A broken torch-handle lay by his side, and his quivering lips murmured, “Ya Hasan! Ya Hussain!” as I stooped over him. I pushed him a few steps up the staircase, threw a pebble at Lalun’s City window and hurried home.

Most of the streets were very still, and the cold wind that comes before the dawn whistled down them. In the centre of the Square of the Mosque a man was bending over a corpse. The skull had been smashed in by gun-butt or bamboo-stave.

“It is expedient that one man should die for the people,” said Petitt, grimly, raising the shapeless head. “These brutes were beginning to show their teeth too much.”

And from afar we could hear the soldiers singing “Two Lovely Black Eyes,” as they drove the remnant of the rioters within doors.

* * * * *

Of course you can guess what happened? I was not so clever. When the news went abroad that Khem Singh had escaped from the Fort, I did not, since I was then living this story, not writing it, connect myself, or Lalun, or the fat gentleman of the gold pince-nez, with his disappearance. Nor did it strike me that Wali Dad was the man who should have convoyed him across the City, or that Lalun’s arms round my neck were put there to hide the money that Nasiban gave to Kehm Singh, and that Lalun had used me and my white face as even a better safeguard than Wali Dad who proved himself so untrustworthy. All that I knew at the time was that, when Fort Amara was taken up with the riots, Khem Singh profited by the confusion to get away, and that his two Sikh guards also escaped.

But later on I received full enlightenment; and so did Khem Singh. He fled to those who knew him in the old days, but many of them were dead and more were changed, and all knew something of the Wrath of the Government. He went to the young men, but the glamour of his name had passed away, and they were entering native regiments of Government offices, and Khem Singh could give them neither pension, decorations, nor influence—nothing but a glorious death with their backs to the mouth of a gun. He wrote letters and made promises, and the letters fell into bad hands, and a wholly insignificant subordinate officer of Police tracked them down and gained promotion thereby. Moreover, Khem Singh was old, and anise-seed brandy was scarce, and he had left his silver cooking-pots in Fort Amara with his nice warm bedding, and the gentleman with the gold pince-nez was told by those who had employed him that Khem Singh as a popular leader was not worth the money paid.

“Great is the mercy of these fools of English!” said Khem Singh when the situation was put before him. “I will go back to Fort Amara of my own free will and gain honor. Give me good clothes to return in,”

So, at his own time, Khem Singh knocked at the wicket-gate of the Fort and walked to the Captain and the Subaltern, who were nearly grey-headed on account of correspondence that daily arrived from Simla marked “Private,”

“I have come back, Captain Sahib,” said Khem Singh, “Put no more guards over me. It is no good out yonder.”

A week later I saw him for the first time to my knowledge, and he made as though there were an understanding between us.

“It was well done, Sahib,” said he, “and greatly I admired your astuteness in thus boldly facing the troops when I, whom they would have doubtless torn to pieces, was with you. Now there is a man in Fort Ooltagarh whom a bold man could with ease help to escape. This is the position of the Fort as I draw it on the sand”—

But I was thinking how I had become Lalun’s Vizier after all.

On Greenhow Hill • 7,500 Words

To Love’s low voice she lent a careless ear;
Her hand within his rosy fingers lay,
A chilling weight. She would not turn or hear;
But with averted face went on her way.
But when pale Death, all featureless and grim,
Lifted his bony hand, and beckoning
Held out his cypress-wreath, she followed him,
And Love was left forlorn and wondering,
That she who for his bidding would not stay,
At Death’s first whisper rose and went away.
Rivals,

Ohè, Ahmed Din! Shafiz Ulla ahoo! Bahadur Khan, where are you? Come out of the tents, as I have done, and fight against the English. Don’t kill your own kin! Come out to me!”

The deserter from a native corps was crawling round the outskirts of the camp, firing at intervals, and shouting invitations to his old comrades. Misled by the rain and the darkness, he came to the English wing of the camp, and with his yelping and rifle-practice disturbed the men. They had been making roads all day, and were tired.

Ortheris was sleeping at Learoyd’s feet. “Wot’s all that?” he said thickly. Learoyd snored, and a Snider bullet ripped its way through the tent wall. The men swore, “it’s that bloomin’ deserter from the Aurangabadis,” said Ortheris. “Git up, some one, an’ tell ‘im ‘e’s come to the wrong shop,”

“Go to sleep, little man,” said Mulvaney, who was steaming nearest the door. “I can’t arise and expaytiate with him. Tis rainin’ entrenchin’ tools outside.”

“‘Tain’t because you bloomin’ can’t. It’s ’cause you bloomin’ won’t, ye long, limp, lousy, lazy beggar, you. ‘Ark to ‘im ‘owlin’!”

“Wot’s the good of argifying? Put a bullet into the swine! ‘E’s keepin’ us awake!” said another voice.

A subaltern shouted angrily, and a dripping sentry whined from the darkness—

“‘Tain’t no good, sir. I can’t see ‘im. ‘E’s ‘idin’ somewhere down ‘ill.”

Ortheris tumbled out of his blanket. “Shall I try to get ‘im, sir?” said he.

“No,” was the answer. “Lie down. I won’t have the whole camp shooting all round the clock. Tell him to go and pot his friends.”

Ortheris considered for a moment. Then, putting his head under the tent wall, he called, as a ‘bus conductor calls in a block, “‘Igher up, there! ‘Igher up!”

The men laughed, and the laughter was carried down wind to the deserter, who, hearing that he had made a mistake, went off to worry his own regiment half a mile away. He was received with shots; the Aurangabadis were very angry with him for disgracing their colors.

“An’ that’s all right,” said Ortheris, withdrawing his head as he heard the hiccough of the Sniders in the distance. “S’elp me Gawd, tho’, that man’s not fit to live—messin’ with my beauty-sleep this way.”

“Go out and shoot him in the morning, then,” said the subaltern incautiously. “Silence in the tents now. Get your rest, men.”

Ortheris lay down with a happy little sigh, and in two minutes there was no sound except the rain on the canvas and the all-embracing and elemental snoring of Learoyd.

The camp lay on a bare ridge of the Himalayas, and for a week had been waiting for a flying column to make connection. The nightly rounds of the deserter and his friends had become a nuisance.

In the morning the men dried themselves in hot sunshine and cleaned their grimy accoutrements. The native regiment was to take its turn of road-making that day while the Old Regiment loafed.

“I’m goin’ to lay for a shot at that man,” said Ortheris, when he had finished washing out his rifle, “‘E comes up the watercourse every evenin’ about five o’clock. If we go and lie out on the north ‘ill a bit this afternoon we’ll get ‘im.”

“You’re a bloodthirsty little mosquito,” said Mulvaney, blowing blue clouds into the air. “But I suppose I will have to come wid you. Pwhere’s Jock?”

“Gone out with the Mixed Pickles, ’cause ‘e thinks ‘isself a bloomin’ marksman,” said Ortheris, with scorn,

The “Mixed Pickles” were a detachment of picked shots, generally employed in clearing spurs of hills when the enemy were too impertinent. This taught the young officers how to handle men, and did not do the enemy much harm. Mulvaney and Ortheris strolled out of camp, and passed the Aurangabadis going to their road-making,

“You’ve got to sweat to-day,” said Ortheris, genially. “We’re going to get your man. You didn’t knock ‘im out last night by any chance, any of you?”

“No. The pig went away mocking us. I had one shot at him,” said a private, “He’s my cousin, and I ought to have cleared our dishonor. But good luck to you.”

They went cautiously to the north hill, Ortheris leading, because, as he explained, “this is a long-range show, an’ I’ve got to do it.” His was an almost passionate devotion to his rifle, which, by barrack-room report, he was supposed to kiss every night before turning in. Charges and scuffles he held in contempt, and, when they were inevitable, slipped between Mulvaney and Learoyd, bidding them to fight for his skin as well as their own. They never failed him. He trotted along, questing like a hound on a broken trail, through the wood of the north hill. At last he was satisfied, and threw himself down on the soft pine-needle slope that commanded a clear view of the watercourse and a brown, bare hillside beyond it. The trees made a scented darkness in which an army corps could have hidden from the sun-glare without.

“‘Ere’s the tail o’ the wood,” said Ortheris. “‘E’s got to come up the watercourse, ’cause it gives ‘im cover. We’ll lay ‘ere. ‘Tain’t not arf so bloomin’ dusty neither.”

He buried his nose in a clump of scentless white violets. No one had come to tell the flowers that the season of their strength was long past, and they had bloomed merrily in the twilight of the pines.

“This is something like,” he said, luxuriously. “Wot a ‘evinly clear drop for a bullet acrost! How much d’you make it, Mulvaney?”

“Seven hunder. Maybe a trifle less, bekaze the air’s so thin.”

Wop! Wop! Wop! went a volley of musketry on the rear face of the north hill.

“Curse them Mixed Pickles firin’ at nothin’! They’ll scare arf the country.”

“Thry a sightin’ shot in the middle of the row,” said Mulvaney, the man of many wiles. “There’s a red rock yonder he’ll be sure to pass. Quick!”

Ortheris ran his sight up to six hundred yards and fired. The bullet threw up a feather of dust by a clump of gentians at the base of the rock.

“Good enough!” said Ortheris, snapping the scale down. “You snick your sights to mine or a little lower. You’re always firin’ high. But remember, first shot to me, O Lordy! but it’s a lovely afternoon.”

The noise of the firing grew louder, and there was a tramping of men in the wood. The two lay very quiet, for they knew that the British soldier is desperately prone to fire at anything that moves or calls. Then Learoyd appeared, his tunic ripped across the breast by a bullet, looking ashamed of himself. He flung down on the pine-needles, breathing in snorts.

“One o’ them damned gardeners o’ th’ Pickles,” said he, fingering the rent. “Firin’ to th’ right flank, when he knowed I was there. If I knew who he was I’d ‘a’ rippen the hide offan him. Look at ma tunic!”

“That’s the spishil trustability av a marksman. Train him to hit a fly wid a stiddy rest at seven hunder, an’ he loose on anythin’ he sees or hears up to th’ mile. You’re well out av that fancy-firin’ gang, Jock. Stay here.”

“Bin firin’ at the bloomin’ wind in the bloomin’ treetops,” said Ortheris, with a chuckle. “I’ll show you some firin’ later on.”

They wallowed in the pine-needles, and the sun warmed them where they lay. The Mixed Pickles ceased firing, and returned to camp, and left the wood to a few scared apes. The watercourse lifted up its voice in the silence, and talked foolishly to the rocks. Now and again the dull thump of a blasting charge three miles away told that the Aurangabadis were in difficulties with their road-making. The men smiled as they listened and lay still, soaking in the warm leisure. Presently Learoyd, between the whiffs of his pipe—

“Seems queer—about ‘im yonder—desertin’ at all.”

“‘E’ll be a bloomin’ side queerer when I’ve done with ‘im,” said Ortheris. They were talking in whispers, for the stillness of the wood and the desire of slaughter lay heavy upon them.

“I make no doubt he had his reasons for desertin’; but, my faith! I make less doubt ivry man has good reason for killin’ him,” said Mulvaney.

“Happen there was a lass tewed up wi’it. Men do more than more for th’ sake of a lass.”

“They make most av us ‘list. They’ve no manner av right to make us desert.”

“Ah; they make us ‘list, or their fathers do,” said Learoyd, softly, his helmet over his eyes.

Ortheris’s brows contracted savagely. He was watching the valley, “If it’s a girl I’ll shoot the beggar twice over, an’ second time for bein’ a fool. You’re blasted sentimental all of a sudden, Thinkin’ o’ your last near shave?”

“Nay, lad; ah was but thinkin’ o’ what had happened,”

“An’ fwhat has happened, ye lumberin’ child av calamity, that you’re lowing like a cow-calf at the back av the pasture, an’ suggestin’ invidious excuses for the man Stanley’s goin’ to kill. Ye’ll have to wait another hour yet, little man. Spit it out, Jock, an’ bellow melojus to the moon. It takes an earthquake or a bullet graze to fetch aught out av you. Discourse, Don Juan! The a-moors av Lotharius Learoyd! Stanley, kape a rowlin’ rig’mental eye on the valley.”

“It’s along o’ yon hill there,” said Learoyd, watching the bare sub-Himalayan spur that reminded him of his Yorkshire moors. He was speaking more to himself than his fellows.

“Ay,” said he, “Rumbolds Moor stands up ower Skipton town, an’ Greenhow Hill stands up ower Pately Brig. I reckon you’ve never heeard tell o’ Greenhow Hill, but yon bit o’ bare stuff if there was nobbut a white road windin’ is like ut; strangely like. Moors an’ moors an’ moors, wi’ never a tree for shelter, an’ grey houses wi’ flagstone rooves, and pewits cryin’, an’ a windhover goin’ to and fro just like these kites. And cold! A wind that cuts you like a knife. You could tell Greenhow Hill folk by the red-apple color o’ their cheeks an’ nose tips, and their blue eyes, driven into pin-points by the wind. Miners mostly, burrowin’ for lead i’ th’ hillsides, followin’ the trail of th’ ore vein same as a field-rat. It was the roughest minin’ I ever seen. Yo’d come on a bit o’ creakin’ wood windlass like a well-head, an’ you was let down i’ th’ bight of a rope, fendin’ yoursen off the side wi’ one hand, carryin’ a candle stuck in a lump o’ clay with t’other, an’ clickin’ hold of a rope with t’other hand.”

“An’ that’s three of them,” said Mulvaney. “Must be a good climate in those parts.”

Learoyd took no heed.

“An’ then yo’ came to a level, where you crept on your hands and knees through a mile o’ windin’ drift, ‘an’ you come out into a cave-place as big as Leeds Townhall, with a engine pumpin’ water from workin’s ‘at went deeper still. It’s a queer country, let alone minin’, for the hill is full of those natural caves, an’ the rivers an’ the becks drops into what they call pot-holes, an’ come out again miles away.”

“Wot was you doin’ there?” said Ortheris.

“I was a young chap then, an’ mostly went wi’ ‘osses, leadin’ coal and lead ore; but at th’ time I’m tellin’ on I was drivin’ the waggon-team i’ th’ big sumph. I didn’t belong to that countryside by rights. I went there because of a little difference at home, an’ at fust I took up wi’ a rough lot. One night we’d been drinkin’, an’ I must ha’ hed more than I could stand, or happen th’ ale was none so good. Though i’ them days, By for God, I never seed bad ale.” He flung his arms over his head, and gripped a vast handful of white violets. “Nah,” said he, “I never seed the ale I could not drink, the bacca I could not smoke, nor the lass I could not kiss. Well, we mun have a race home, the lot on us. I lost all th’ others, an’ when I was climbin’ ower one of them walls built o’ loose stones, I comes down into the ditch, stones and all, an’ broke my arm. Not as I knawed much about it, for I fell on th’ back of my head, an’ was knocked stupid like. An’ when I come to mysen it were mornin’, an’ I were lyin’ on the settle i’ Jesse Roantree’s house-place, an’ ‘Liza Roantree was settin’ sewin’. I ached all ower, and my mouth were like a limekiln. She gave me a drink out of a china mug wi’ gold letters—’A Present from Leeds’—as I looked at many and many a time at after. ‘Yo’re to lie still while Dr. Warbottom comes, because your arm’s broken, and father has sent a lad to fetch him. He found yo’ when he was goin’ to work, an’ carried you here on his back,’ sez she. ‘Oa!’ sez I; an’ I shet my eyes, for I felt ashamed o’ mysen. ‘Father’s gone to his work these three hours, an’ he said he’ tell ‘em to get somebody to drive the tram.’ The clock ticked, an’ a bee comed in the house, an’ they rung i’ my head like mill-wheels. An’ she give me another drink an’ settled the pillow. ‘Eh, but yo’re young to be getten drunk an’ such like, but yo’ won’t do it again, will yo’?’—’Noa,’ sez I, ‘I wouldn’t if she’d not but stop they mill-wheels clatterin’.’”

“Faith, it’s a good thing to be nursed by a woman when you’re sick!” said Mulvaney. “Dir’ cheap at the price av twenty broken heads.”

Ortheris turned to frown across the valley. He had not been nursed by many women in his life.

“An’ then Dr. Warbottom comes ridin’ up, an’ Jesse Roantree along with ‘im. He was a high-larned doctor, but he talked wi’ poor folk same as theirsens. ‘What’s ta bin agaate on naa?’ he sings out. ‘Brekkin’ tha thick head?’ An’ he felt me all ovver. ‘That’s none broken. Tha’ nobbut knocked a bit sillier than ordinary, an’ that’s daaft eneaf.’ An’ soa he went on, callin’ me all the names he could think on, but settin’ my arm, wi’ Jesse’s help, as careful as could be. ‘Yo’ mun let the big oaf bide here a bit, Jesse,’ he says, when he hed strapped me up an’ given me a dose o’ physic; ‘an’ you an’ ‘Liza will tend him, though he’s scarcelins worth the trouble. An’ tha’ll lose tha work,’ sez he, ‘an’ tha’ll be upon th’ Sick Club for a couple o’ months an’ more. Doesn’t tha think tha’s a fool?’”

“But whin was a young man, high or low, the other av a fool, I’d like to know?” said Mulvaney, “Sure, folly’s the only safe way to wisdom, for I’ve thried it.”

“Wisdom!” grinned Ortheris, scanning his comrades with uplifted chin. “You’re bloomin’ Solomons, you two, ain’t you?”

Learoyd went calmly on, with a steady eye like an ox chewing the cud.

“And that was how I come to know ‘Liza Roantree. There’s some tunes as she used to sing—aw, she were always singin’—that fetches Greenhow Hill before my eyes as fair as yon brow across there. And she would learn me to sing bass, an’ I was to go to th’ chapel wi’ ‘em where Jesse and she led the singin’, th’ old man playin’ the fiddle. He was a strange chap, old Jesse, fair mad wi’ music, an’ he made me promise to learn the big fiddle when my arm was better. It belonged to him, and it stood up in a big case alongside o’ th’ eight-day clock, but Willie Satterthwaite, as played it in the chapel, had getten deaf as a door-post, and it vexed Jesse, as he had to rap him ower his head wi’ th’ fiddle-stick to make him give ower sawin’ at th’ right time.

“But there was a black drop in it all, an’ it was a man in a black coat that brought it. When th’ primitive Methodist preacher came to Greenhow, he would always stop wi’ Jesse Roantree, an’ he laid hold of me from th’ beginning. It seemed I wor a soul to be saved, and he meaned to do it. At th’ same time I jealoused ‘at he were keen o’ savin’ ‘Liza Roantree’s soul as well, and I could ha’ killed him many a time. An’ this went on till one day I broke out, an’ borrowed th’ brass for a drink from ‘Liza. After fower days I come back, wi’ my tail between my legs, just to see ‘Liza again. But Jesse were at home an’ th’ preacher—th’ Reverend Amos Barraclough. ‘Liza said naught, but a bit o’ red come into her face as were white of a regular thing. Says Jesse, tryin’ his best to be civil, ‘Nay, lad, it’s like this. You’ve getten to choose which way it’s goin’ to be. I’ll ha’ nobody across ma doorstep as goes a-drinkin’, an’ borrows my lass’s money to spend i’ their drink. Ho’d tha tongue, ‘Liza,’ sez he, when she wanted to put in a word ‘at I were welcome to th’ brass, and she were none afraid that I wouldn’t pay it back. Then the Reverend cuts in, seein’ as Jesse were losin’ his temper, an’ they fair beat me among them. But it were ‘Liza, as looked an’ said naught, as did more than either o’ their tongues, an’ soa I concluded to get converted.”

“Fwhat?” shouted Mulvaney. Then, checking himself, he said softly, “Let be! Let be! Sure the Blessed Virgin is the mother of all religion an’ most women; an’ there’s a dale av piety in a girl if the men would only let ut stay there. I’d ha’ been converted myself under the circumstances.”

“Nay, but,” pursued Learoyd with a blush, “I meaned it.”

Ortheris laughed as loudly as he dared, having regard to his business at the time.

“Ay, Ortheris, you may laugh, but you didn’t know yon preacher Barraclough—a little white-faced chap, wi’ a voice as ‘ud wile a bird off an a bush, and a way o’ layin’ hold of folks as made them think they’d never had a live man for a friend before. You never saw him, an’—an’—you never seed ‘Liza Roantree—never seed ‘Liza Roantree…. Happen it was as much ‘Liza as th’ preacher and her father, but anyways they all meaned it, an’ I was fair shamed o’ mysen, an’ so I become what they call a changed character. And when I think on, it’s hard to believe as yon chap going to prayermeetin’s, chapel, and class-meetin’s were me. But I never had naught to say for mysen, though there was a deal o’ shoutin’, and old Sammy Strother, as were almost clemmed to death and doubled up with the rheumatics, would sing out, ‘Joyful! Joyful!’ and ‘at it were better to go up to heaven in a coal-basket than down to hell i’ a coach an’ six. And he would put his poor old claw on my shoulder, sayin’, ‘Doesn’t tha feel it, tha great lump? Doesn’t tha feel it?’ An’ sometimes I thought I did, and then again I thought I didn’t, an’ how was that?”

“The iverlastin’ nature av mankind,” said Mulvaney. “An’, furthermore, I misdoubt you were built for the Primitive Methodians. They’re a new corps anyways. I hold by the Ould Church, for she’s the mother of them all—ay, an’ the father, too. I like her bekase she’s most remarkable regimental in her fittings. I may die in Honolulu, Nova Zambra, or Cape Cayenne, but wherever I die, me bein’ fwhat I am, an’ a priest handy, I go under the same orders an’ the same words an’ the same unction as tho’ the Pope himself come down from the roof av St. Peter’s to see me off. There’s neither high nor low, nor broad nor deep, nor betwixt nor between wid her, an’ that’s what I like. But mark you, she’s no manner av Church for a wake man, bekaze she takes the body and the soul av him, onless he has his proper work to do. I remember when my father died that was three months comin’ to his grave; begad he’d ha’ sold the shebeen above our heads for ten minutes’ quittance of purgathory. An’ he did all he could. That’s why I say ut takes a strong man to deal with the Ould Church, an’ for that reason you’ll find so many women go there. An’ that same’s a conundrum.”

“Wot’s the use o’ worritin’ ’bout these things?” said Ortheris. “You’re bound to find all out quicker nor you want to, any’ow.” He jerked the cartridge out of the breech-block into the palm of his hand. “Ere’s my chaplain,” he said, and made the venomous black-headed bullet bow like a marionette. “‘E’s goin’ to teach a man all about which is which, an’ wot’s true, after all, before sundown. But wot ‘appened after that, Jock?”

“There was one thing they boggled at, and almost shut th’ gate i’ my face for, and that were my dog Blast, th’ only one saved out o’ a litter o’ pups as was blowed up when a keg o’ minin’ powder loosed off in th’ storekeeper’s hut. They liked his name no better than his business, which were fightin’ every dog he comed across; a rare good dog, wi’ spots o’ black and pink on his face, one ear gone, and lame o’ one side wi’ being driven in a basket through an iron roof, a matter of half a mile.

“They said I mun give him up ’cause he were worldly and low; and would I let mysen be shut out of heaven for the sake on a dog? ‘Nay,’ says I, ‘if th’ door isn’t wide enough for th’ pair on us, we’ll stop outside, for we’ll none be parted.’ And th’ preacher spoke up for Blast, as had a likin’ for him from th’ first—I reckon that was why I come to like th’ preacher—and wouldn’t hear o’ changin’ his name to Bless, as some o’ them wanted. So th’ pair on us became reg’lar chapel-members. But it’s hard for a young chap o’ my build to cut traces from the world, th’ flesh, an’ the devil all uv a heap. Yet I stuck to it for a long time, while th’ lads as used to stand about th’ town-end an’ lean ower th’ bridge, spittin’ into th’ beck o’ a Sunday, would call after me, ‘Sitha, Learoyd, when’s ta bean to preach, ’cause we’re comin’ to hear tha.’—’Ho’d tha jaw. He hasn’t getten th’ white choaker on ta morn,’ another lad would say, and I had to double my fists hard i’ th’ bottom of my Sunday coat, and say to mysen, ‘If ’twere Monday and I warn’t a member o’ the Primitive Methodists, I’d leather all th’ lot of yond’.’ That was th’ hardest of all—to know that I could fight and I mustn’t fight.”

Sympathetic grunts from Mulvaney.

“So what wi’ singin’, practicin’, and class-meetin’s, and th’ big fiddle, as he made me take between my knees, I spent a deal o’ time i’ Jesse Roantree’s house-place. But often as I was there, th’ preacher fared to me to go oftener, and both th’ old man an’ th’ young woman were pleased to have him. He lived i’ Pately Brig, as were a goodish step off, but he come. He come all the same. I liked him as well or better as any man I’d ever seen i’ one way, and yet I hated him wi’ all my heart i’ t’other, and we watched each other like cat and mouse, but civil as you please, for I was on my best behavior, and he was that fair and open that I was bound to be fair with him. Rare good company he was, if I hadn’t wanted to wring his cliver little neck half of the time. Often and often when he was goin’ from Jesse’s I’d set him a bit on the road.”

“See ‘im ‘ome, you mean?” said Ortheris,

“Ay. It’s a way we have i’ Yorkshire o’ seein’ friends off. You was a friend as I didn’t want to come back, and he didn’t want me to come back neither, and so we’d walk together toward Pately, and then he’d set me back again, and there we’d be wal two o’clock i’ the mornin’ settin’ each other to an’ fro like a blasted pair o’ pendulums twixt hill and valley, long after th’ light had gone out i’ ‘Liza’s window, as both on us had been looking at, pretending to watch the moon.”

“Ah!” broke in Mulvaney, “ye’d no chanst against the maraudin’ psalm-singer. They’ll take the airs an’ the graces instid av the man nine times out av ten, an’ they only find the blunder later—the wimmen.”

“That’s just where yo’re wrong,” said Learoyd, reddening under the freckled tan of his cheeks. “I was th’ first wi’ ‘Liza, an’ yo’d think that were enough. But th’ parson were a steady-gaited sort o’ chap, and Jesse were strong o’ his side, and all th’ women i’ the congregation dinned it to ‘Liza ‘at she were fair fond to take up wi’ a wastrel ne’er-do-weel like me, as was scarcelins respectable an’ a fighting dog at his heels. It was all very well for her to be doing me good and saving my soul, but she must mind as she didn’t do herself harm. They talk o’ rich folk bein’ stuck up an’ genteel, but for cast-iron pride o’ respectability there’s naught like poor chapel folk. It’s as cold as th’ wind o’ Greenhow Hill—ay, and colder, for ’twill never change. And now I come to think on it, one at strangest things I know is ‘at they couldn’t abide th’ thought o’ soldiering. There’s a vast o’ fightin’ i’ th’ Bible, and there’s a deal of Methodists i’ th’ army; but to hear chapel folk talk yo’d think that soldierin’ were next door, an’ t’other side, to hangin’. I’ their meetin’s all their talk is o’ fightin’. When Sammy Strother were stuck for summat to say in his prayers, he’d sing out, ‘Th’ sword o’ th’ Lord and o’ Gideon. They were allus at it about puttin’ on th’ whole armor o’ righteousness, an’ fightin’ the good fight o’ faith. And then, atop o’ ‘t all, they held a prayer-meetin’ ower a young chap as wanted to ‘list, and nearly deafened him, till he picked up his hat and fair ran away. And they’d tell tales in th’ Sunday-school o’ bad lads as had been thumped and brayed for bird-nesting o’ Sundays and playin’ truant o’ week days, and how they took to wrestlin’, dog-fightin’, rabbit-runnin’, and drinkin’, till at last, as if ’twere a hepitaph on a gravestone, they damned him across th’ moors wi’, ‘an’ then he went and ‘listed for a soldier,’ an’ they’d all fetch a deep breath, and throw up their eyes like a hen drinkin’.”

“Fwhy is ut?” said Mulvaney, bringing down his hand on his thigh with a crack, “In the name av God, fwhy is ut? I’ve seen ut, tu. They cheat an’ they swindle an’ they lie an’ they slander, an’ fifty things fifty times worse; but the last an’ the worst by their reckonin’ is to serve the Widdy honest. It’s like the talk av childer—seein’ things all round.”

“Plucky lot of fightin’ good fights of whatsername they’d do if we didn’t see they had a quiet place to fight in. And such fightin’ as theirs is! Cats on the tiles. T’other callin’ to which to come on. I’d give a month’s pay to get some o’ them broad-backed beggars in London sweatin’ through a day’s road-makin’ an’ a night’s rain. They’d carry on a deal afterward—same as we’re supposed to carry on. I’ve bin turned out of a measly arf-license pub down Lambeth way, full o’ greasy kebmen, ‘fore now,” said Ortheris with an oath.

“Maybe you were dhrunk,” said Mulvaney, soothingly.

“Worse nor that. The Forders were drunk. I was wearin’ the Queen’s uniform.”

“I’d no particular thought to be a soldier i’ them days,” said Learoyd, still keeping his eye on the bare hill opposite, “but this sort o’ talk put it i’ my head. They was so good, th’ chapel folk, that they tumbled ower t’other side. But I stuck to it for ‘Liza’s sake, specially as she was learning me to sing the bass part in a horotorio as Jesse were gettin’ up. She sung like a throstle hersen, and we had practicin’s night after night for a matter of three months.”

“I know what a horotorio is,” said Ortheris, pertly. “It’s a sort of chaplain’s sing-song—words all out of the Bible, and hullabaloojah choruses.”

“Most Greenhow Hill folks played some instrument or t’other, an’ they all sung so you mignt have heard them miles away, and they were so pleased wi’ the noise they made they didn’t fair to want anybody to listen. The preacher sung high seconds when he wasn’t playin’ the flute, an’ they set me, as hadn’t got far with big fiddle, again Willie Satterthwaite, to jog his elbow when he had to get a’ gate playin’. Old Jesse was happy if ever a man was, for he were th’ conductor an’ th’ first fiddle an’ th’ leadin’ singer, beatin’ time wi’ his fiddle-stick, till at times he’d rap with it on the table, and cry out, ‘Now, you mun all stop; it’s my turn,’ And he’d face round to his front, fair sweating wi’ pride, to sing th’ tenor solos. But he were grandest i’ th’ choruses, waggin’ his head, flinging his arms round like a windmill, and singin’ hisself black in the face. A rare singer were Jesse.

“Yo’ see, I was not o’ much account wi’ ‘em all exceptin’ to ‘Liza Roantree, and I had a deal o’ time settin’ quiet at meetings and horotorio practices to hearken their talk, and if it were strange to me at beginnin’, it got stranger still at after, when I was shut on it, and could study what it meaned.

“Just after th’ horotorios come off, ‘Liza, as had allus been weakly like, was took very bad. I walked Dr. Warbottom’s horse up and down a deal of times while he were inside, where they wouldn’t let me go, though I fair ached to see her.

“‘She’ll be better i’ noo, lad—better i’ noo,’ he used to say. ‘Tha mun ha’ patience.’ Then they said if I was quiet I might go in, and th’ Reverend Amos Barraclough used to read to her lyin’ propped up among th’ pillows. Then she began to mend a bit, and they let me carry her on to th’ settle, and when it got warm again she went about same as afore. Th’ preacher and me and Blast was a deal together i’ them days, and i’ one way we was rare good comrades. But I could ha’ stretched him time and again with a good will. I mind one day he said he would like to go down into th’ bowels o’ th’ earth, and see how th’ Lord had builded th’ framework o’ th’ everlastin’ hills. He were one of them chaps as had a gift o’ sayin’ things. They rolled off the tip of his clever tongue, same as Mulvaney here, as would ha’ made a rare good preacher if he had nobbut given his mind to it. I lent him a suit o’ miner’s kit as almost buried th’ little man, and his white face down i’ th’ coat-collar and hat-flap looked like the face of a boggart, and he cowered down i’ th’ bottom o’ the waggon. I was drivin’ a tram as led up a bit of an incline up to th’ cave where the engine was pumpin’, and where th’ ore was brought up and put into th’ waggons as went down o’ themselves, me puttin’ th’ brake on and th’ horses a-trottin’ after. Long as it was daylight we were good friends, but when we got fair into th’ dark, and could nobbut see th’ day shinin’ at the hole like a lamp at a street-end, I feeled downright wicked. Ma religion dropped all away from me when I looked back at him as were always comin’ between me and ‘Liza. The talk was ‘at they were to be wed when she got better, an’ I couldn’t get her to say yes or nay to it. He began to sing a hymn in his thin voice, and I came out wi’ a chorus that was all cussin’ an’ swearin’ at my horses, an’ I began to know how I hated him. He were such a little chap, too. I could drop him wi’ one hand down Garstang’s Copper-hole—a place where th’ beck slithered ower th’ edge on a rock, and fell wi’ a bit of a whisper into a pit as no rope i’ Greenhow could plump.”

Again Learoyd rooted up the innocent violets. “Ay, he should see th’ bowels o’ th’ earth an’ never naught else. I could take him a mile or two along th’ drift, and leave him wi’ his candle doused to cry hallelujah, wi’ none to hear him and say amen. I was to lead him down th’ ladder-way to th’ drift where Jesse Roantree was workin’, and why shouldn’t he slip on th’ ladder, wi’ my feet on his fingers till they loosed grip, and I put him down wi’ my heel? If I went fust down th’ ladder I could click hold on him and chuck him over my head, so as he should go squshin’ down the shaft breakin’ his bones at ev’ry timberin’ as Bill Appleton did when he was fresh, and hadn’t a bone left when he wrought to th’ bottom. Niver a blasted leg to walk from Pately. Niver an arm to put round ‘Liza Roantree’s waist. Niver no more—niver no more.”

The thick lips curled back over the yellow teeth, and that flushed face was not pretty to look upon. Mulvaney nodded sympathy, and Ortheris, moved by his comrade’s passion, brought up the rifle to his shoulder, and searched the hillside for his quarry, muttering ribaldry about a sparrow, a spout, and a thunderstorm. The voice of the watercourse supplied the necessary small talk till Learoyd picked up his story,

“But it’s none so easy to kill a man like yon. When I’d given up my horses to th’ lad as took my place and I was showin’ th’ preacher th’ workin’s, shoutin’ into his ear across th’ clang o’ th’ pumpin’ engines, I saw he were afraid o’ naught; and when the lamplight showed his black eyes, I could feel as he was masterin’ me again. I were no better nor Blast chained up short and growlin’ i’ the depths of him while a strange dog went safe past.

“‘Th’ art a coward and a fool,’ I said to mysen; an’ I wrestled i’ my mind again’ him till, when we come to Garstang’s Copper-hole, I laid hold o’ the preacher and lifted him up over my head and held him into the darkest on it. ‘Now, lad,’ I says, ‘it’s to be one or t’other on us—thee or me—for ‘Liza Roantree. Why, isn’t thee afraid for thysen?’ I says, for he were still i’ my arms as a sack. ‘Nay; I’m but afraid for thee, my poor lad, as knows naught,’ says he. I set him down on th’ edge, an’ th’ beck run stiller, an’ there was no more buzzin’ in my head like when th’ bee come through th’ window o’ Jesse’s house. ‘What dost tha mean?’ says I.

“‘I’ve often thought as thou ought to know,’ says he, ‘but ’twas hard to tell thee. ‘Liza Roantree’s for neither on us, nor for nobody o’ this earth, Dr. Warbottom says—and he knows her, and her mother before her—that she is in a decline, and she cannot live six months longer. He’s known it for many a day. Steady, John! Steady!’ says he. And that weak little man pulled me further back and set me again’ him, and talked it all over quiet and still, me turnin’ a bunch o’ candles in my hand, and counting them ower and ower again as I listened. A deal on it were th’ regular preachin’ talk, but there were a vast lot as made me begin to think as he were more of a man than I’d ever given him credit for, till I were cut as deep for him as I were for mysen.

“Six candles we had, and we crawled and climbed all that day while they lasted, and I said to mysen, ”Liza Roantree hasn’t six months to live.’ And when we came into th’ daylight again we were like dead men to look at, an’ Blast come behind us without so much as waggin’ his tail. When I saw ‘Liza again she looked at me a minute and says, ‘Who’s telled tha? For I see tha knows.’ And she tried to smile as she kissed me, and I fair broke down.

“Yo’ see, I was a young chap i’ them days, and had seen naught o’ life, let alone death, as is allus a-waitin’. She telled me as Dr. Warbottom said as Greenhow air was too keen, and they were goin’ to Bradford, to Jesse’s brother David, as worked i’ a mill, and I mun hold up like a man and a Christian, and she’d pray for me. Well, and they went away, and the preacher that same back end o’ th’ year were appointed to another circuit, as they call it, and I were left alone on Greenhow Hill.

“I tried, and I tried hard, to stick to th’ chapel, but ’tweren’t th’ same thing at after. I hadn’t ‘Liza’s voice to follow i’ th’ singin’, nor her eyes a-shinin’ acrost their heads. And i’ th’ class-meetings they said as I mun have some experiences to tell, and I hadn’t a word to say for mysen.

“Blast and me moped a good deal, and happen we didn’t behave ourselves over well, for they dropped us and wondered however they’d come to take us up. I can’t tell how we got through th’ time, while i’ th’ winter I gave up my job and went to Bradford. Old Jesse were at th’ door o’ th’ house, in a long street o’ little houses. He’d been sendin’ th’ children ‘way as were clatterin’ their clogs in th’ causeway, for she were asleep.

“‘Is it thee?’ he says; ‘but you’re not to see her. I’ll none have her wakened for a nowt like thee. She’s goin’ fast, and she mun go in peace. Thou ‘lt never be good for naught i’ th’ world, and as long as thou lives thou’ll never play the big fiddle. Get away, lad, get away!’ So he shut the door softly i’ my face.

“Nobody never made Jesse my master, but it seemed to me he was about right, and I went away into the town and knocked up against a recruiting sergeant. The old tales o’ th’ chapel folk came buzzin’ into my head. I was to get away, and this were th’ regular road for the likes o’ me, I listed there and then, took th’ Widow’s shillin’, and had a bunch o’ ribbons pinned i’ my hat.

“But next day I found my way to David Roantree’s door, and Jesse came to open it. Says he, ‘Thou’s come back again wi’ th’ devil’s colors flyin’—thy true colors, as I always telled thee.’

“But I begged and prayed of him to let me see her nobbut to say good-bye, till a woman calls down th’ stairway, ‘She says John Learoyd’s to come up.’ Th’ old man shifts aside in a flash, and lays his hand on my arm, quite gentle like. ‘But thou’lt be quiet, John,’ says he, ‘for she’s rare and weak. Thou was allus a good lad.’

“Her eyes were all alive wi’ light, and her hair was thick on the pillow round her, but her cheeks were thin—thin to frighten a man that’s strong. ‘Nay, father, yo mayn’t say th’ devil’s colors. Them ribbons is pretty.’ An’ she held out her hands for th’ hat, an’ she put all straight as a woman will wi’ ribbons. ‘Nay, but what they’re pretty,’ she says. ‘Eh, but I’d ha’ liked to see thee i’ thy red coat, John, for thou was allus my own lad—my very own lad, and none else.’

“She lifted up her arms, and they come round my neck i’ a gentle grip, and they slacked away, and she seemed fainting. ‘Now yo’ mun get away, lad,’ says Jesse, and I picked up my hat and I came downstairs.

“Th’ recruiting sergeant were waitin’ for me at th’ corner public-house. ‘You’ve seen your sweetheart?’ says he. ‘Yes, I’ve seen her,’ says I. ‘Well, we’ll have a quart now, and you’ll do your best to forget her,’ says he, bein’ one o’ them smart, bustlin’ chaps. ‘Ay, sergeant,’ says I. ‘Forget her.’ And I’ve been forgettin’ her ever since.”

He threw away the wilted clump of white violets as he spoke. Ortheris suddenly rose to his knees, his rifle at his shoulder, and peered across the valley in the clear afternoon light. His chin cuddled the stock, and there was a twitching of the muscles of the right cheek as he sighted: Private Stanley Ortheris was engaged on his business, A speck of white crawled up the watercourse.

“See that beggar? … Got ‘im,”

Seven hundred yards away, and a full two hundred down the hillside, the deserter of the Aurangabadis pitched forward, rolled down a red rock, and lay very still, with his face in a clump of blue gentians, while a big raven flapped out of the pine wood to make investigation.

“That’s a clean shot, little man,” said Mulvaney.

Learoyd thoughtfully watched the smoke clear away. “Happen there was a lass tewed up wi’ him, too,” said he.

Ortheris did not reply. He was staring across the valley, with the smile of the artist who looks on the completed work.

To be Filed for Reference • 3,000 Words

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 hast 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 Jellaluidin.

“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 farther 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. We 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 dunghill 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 veranda 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 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 establishment.”

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 Arian 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 foregathered 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—filthily 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 loaned 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 Mohammedan 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 Murad 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 said he 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 a 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 yourselves. 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 thing is 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.

The Man Who Would be King • 14,700 Words

“Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy.”

The Law, as quoted, lays down a fair conduct of life, and one not easy to follow. I have been fellow to a beggar again and again under circumstances which prevented either of us finding out whether the other was worthy. I have still to be brother to a Prince, though I once came near to kinship with what might have been a veritable King and was promised the reversion of a Kingdom—army, law-courts, revenue and policy all complete. But, to-day, I greatly fear that my King is dead, and if I want a crown I must go and hunt it for myself.

The beginning of everything was in a railway train upon the road to Mhow from Ajmir. There had been a Deficit in the Budget, which necessitated traveling, not Second-class, which is only half as dear as First-class, but by Intermediate, which is very awful indeed. There are no cushions in the Intermediate class, and the population are either Intermediate, which is Eurasian, or native, which for a long night journey is nasty, or Loafer, which is amusing though intoxicated. Intermediates do not patronize refreshment-rooms. They carry their food in bundles and pots, and buy sweets from the native sweetmeat-sellers, and drink the roadside water. That is why in the hot weather Intermediates are taken out of the carriages dead, and in all weathers are most properly looked down upon.

My particular Intermediate happened to be empty till I reached Nasirabad, when a huge gentleman in shirt-sleeves entered, and, following the custom of Intermediates, passed the time of day. He was a wanderer and a vagabond like myself, but with an educated taste for whiskey. He told tales of things he had seen and done, of out-of-the-way corners of the Empire into which he had penetrated, and of adventures in which he risked his life for a few days’ food. “If India was filled with men like you and me, not knowing more than the crows where they’d get their next day’s rations, it isn’t seventy millions of revenue the land would be paying—it’s seven hundred millions,” said he: and as I looked at his mouth and chin I was disposed to agree with him. We talked politics—the politics of Loaferdom that sees things from the underside where the lath and plaster is not smoothed off—and we talked postal arrangements because my friend wanted to send a telegram back from the next station to Ajmir, which is the turning-off place from the Bombay to the Mhow line as you travel westward. My friend had no money beyond eight annas which he wanted for dinner, and I had no money at all, owing to the hitch in the Budget before mentioned. Further, I was going into a wilderness where, though I should resume touch with the Treasury, there were no telegraph offices. I was, therefore, unable to help him in any way.

“We might threaten a Station-master, and make him send a wire on tick,” said my friend, “but that’d mean inquiries for you and for me, and I’ve got my hands full these days. Did you say you are traveling back along this line within any days?”

“Within ten,” I said.

“Can’t you make it eight?” said he. “Mine is rather urgent business.”

“I can send your telegram within ten days if that will serve you,” I said.

“I couldn’t trust the wire to fetch him now I think of it. It’s this way. He leaves Delhi on the 23d for Bombay. That means he’ll be running through Ajmir about the night of the 23d.”

“But I’m going into the Indian Desert,” I explained.

“Well and good,” said he. “You’ll be changing at Marwar Junction to get into Jodhpore territory—you must do that—and he’ll be coming through Marwar Junction in the early morning of the 24th by the Bombay Mail. Can you be at Marwar Junction on that time? ‘Twon’t be inconveniencing you because I know that there’s precious few pickings to be got out of these Central India States—even though you pretend to be correspondent of the Backwoodsman.”

“Have you ever tried that trick?” I asked.

“Again and again, but the Residents find you out, and then you get escorted to the Border before you’ve time to get your knife into them. But about my friend here. I must give him a word o’ mouth to tell him what’s come to me or else he won’t know where to go. I would take it more than kind of you if you was to come out of Central India in time to catch him at Marwar junction, and say to him:—’He has gone South for the week.’ He’ll know what that means. He’s a big man with a red beard, and a great swell he is. You’ll find him sleeping like a gentleman with all his luggage round him in a Second-class compartment. But don’t you be afraid. Slip down the window, and say:—’He has gone South for the week,’ and he’ll tumble. It’s only cutting your time of stay in those parts by two days. I ask you as a stranger—going to the West,” he said, with emphasis.

“Where have you come from?” said I.

“From the East,” said he, “and I am hoping that you will give him the message on the Square—for the sake of my Mother as well as your own.”

Englishmen are not usually softened by appeals to the memory of their mothers, but for certain reasons, which will be fully apparent, I saw fit to agree.

“It’s more than a little matter,” said he, “and that’s why I ask you to do it—and now I know that I can depend on you doing it. A Second-class carriage at Marwar Junction, and a red-haired man asleep in it. You’ll be sure to remember. I get out at the next station, and I must hold on there till he comes or sends me what I want.”

“I’ll give the message if I catch him,” I said, “and for the sake of your Mother as well as mine I’ll give you a word of advice. Don’t try to run the Central India States just now as the correspondent of the Backwoodsman. There’s a real one knocking about here, and it might lead to trouble.”

“Thank you,” said he, simply, “and when will the swine be gone? I can’t starve because he’s ruining my work. I wanted to get hold of the Degumber Rajah down here about his father’s widow, and give him a jump.”

“What did he do to his father’s widow then?”

“Filled her up with red pepper and slippered her to death as she hung from a beam. I found that out myself and I’m the only man that would dare going into the State to get hush-money for it. They’ll try to poison me, same as they did in Chortumna when I went on the loot there. But you’ll give the man at Marwar Junction my message?”

He got out at a little roadside station, and I reflected. I had heard, more than once, of men personating correspondents of newspapers and bleeding small Native States with threats of exposure, but I had never met any of the caste before. They lead a hard life, and generally die with great suddenness. The Native States have a wholesome horror of English newspapers, which may throw light on their peculiar methods of government, and do their best to choke correspondents with champagne, or drive them out of their mind with four-in-hand barouches. They do not understand that nobody cares a straw for the internal administration of Native States so long as oppression and crime are kept within decent limits, and the ruler is not drugged, drunk, or diseased from one end of the year to the other. Native States were created by Providence in order to supply picturesque scenery, tigers, and tall-writing. They are the dark places of the earth, full of unimaginable cruelty, touching the Railway and the Telegraph on one side, and, on the other, the days of Harun-al-Raschid. When I left the train I did business with divers Kings, and in eight days passed through many changes of life. Sometimes I wore dress-clothes and consorted with Princes and Politicals, drinking from crystal and eating from silver. Sometimes I lay out upon the ground and devoured what I could get, from a plate made of a flapjack, and drank the running water, and slept under the same rug as my servant. It was all in the day’s work.

Then I headed for the Great Indian Desert upon the proper date, as I had promised, and the night Mail set me down at Marwar Junction, where a funny little, happy-go-lucky, native-managed railway runs to Jodhpore. The Bombay Mail from Delhi makes a short halt at Marwar. She arrived as I got in, and I had just time to hurry to her platform and go down the carriages. There was only one Second-class on the train. I slipped the window and looked down upon a flaming red beard, half covered by a railway rug. That was my man, fast asleep, and I dug him gently in the ribs. He woke with a grunt and I saw his face in the light of the lamps. It was a great and shining face.

“Tickets again?” said he.

“No,” said I. “I am to tell you that he is gone South for the week. He is gone South for the week!”

The train had begun to move out. The red man rubbed his eyes. “He has gone South for the week,” he repeated. “Now that’s just like his impidence. Did he say that I was to give you anything?—’Cause I won’t.”

“He didn’t,” I said, and dropped away, and watched the red lights die out in the dark. It was horribly cold because the wind was blowing off the sands. I climbed into my own train—not an Intermediate Carriage this time—and went to sleep.

If the man with the beard had given me a rupee I should have kept it as a memento of a rather curious affair. But the consciousness of having done my duty was my only reward.

Later on I reflected that two gentlemen like my friends could not do any good if they foregathered and personated correspondents of newspapers, and might, if they “stuck up” one of the little rat-trap states of Central India or Southern Rajputana, get themselves into serious difficulties. I therefore took some trouble to describe them as accurately as I could remember to people who would be interested in deporting them: and succeeded, so I was later informed, in having them headed back from the Degumber borders.

Then I became respectable, and returned to an Office where there were no Kings and no incidents except the daily manufacture of a newspaper. A newspaper office seems to attract every conceivable sort of person, to the prejudice of discipline. Zenana-mission ladies arrive, and beg that the Editor will instantly abandon all his duties to describe a Christian prize-giving in a back-slum of a perfectly inaccessible village; Colonels who have been overpassed for commands sit down and sketch the outline of a series of ten, twelve, or twenty-four leading articles on Seniority versusSelection; missionaries wish to know why they have not been permitted to escape from their regular vehicles of abuse and swear at a brother-missionary under special patronage of the editorial We; stranded theatrical companies troop up to explain that they cannot pay for their advertisements, but on their return from New Zealand or Tahiti will do so with interest; inventors of patent punkah-pulling machines, carriage couplings and unbreakable swords and axle-trees call with specifications in their pockets and hours at their disposal; tea-companies enter and elaborate their prospectuses with the office pens; secretaries of ball-committees clamor to have the glories of their last dance more fully expounded; strange ladies rustle in and say:—”I want a hundred lady’s cards printed at once, please,” which is manifestly part of an Editor’s duty; and every dissolute ruffian that ever tramped the Grand Trunk Road makes it his business to ask for employment as a proofreader. And, all the time, the telephone-bell is ringing madly, and Kings are being killed on the Continent, and Empires are saying—”You’re another,” and Mister Gladstone is calling down brimstone upon the British Dominions, and the little black copy-boys are whining, “kaa-pi-chay-ha-yeh” (copy wanted) like tired bees, and most of the paper is as blank as Modred’s shield,

But that is the amusing part of the year. There are six other months wherein none ever come to call, and the thermometer walks inch by inch up to the top of the glass, and the office is darkened to just above reading-light, and the press machines are red-hot of touch, and nobody writes anything but accounts of amusements in the Hill-stations or obituary notices. Then the telephone becomes a tinkling terror, because it tells you of the sudden deaths of men and women that you knew intimately, and the prickly-heat covers you as with a garment, and you sit down and write:—”A slight increase of sickness is reported from the Khuda Janta Khan District. The outbreak is purely sporadic in its nature, and, thanks to the energetic efforts of the District authorities, is now almost at an end. It is, however, with deep regret we record the death, etc.”

Then the sickness really breaks out, and the less recording and reporting the better for the peace of the subscribers. But the Empires and the Kings continue to divert themselves as selfishly as before, and the Foreman thinks that a daily paper really ought to come out once in twenty-four hours, and all the people at the Hill-stations in the middle of their amusements say:—”Good gracious! Why can’t the paper be sparkling? I’m sure there’s plenty going on up here.”

That is the dark half of the moon, and, as the advertisements say, “must be experienced to be appreciated.”

It was in that season, and a remarkably evil season, that the paper began running the last issue of the week on Saturday night, which is to say Sunday morning, after the custom of a London paper. This was a great convenience, for immediately after the paper was put to bed, the dawn would lower the thermometer from 96 to almost 84 for half an hour, and in that chill—you have no idea how cold is 84 on the grass until you begin to pray for it—a very tired man could set off to sleep ere the heat roused him.

One Saturday night it was my pleasant duty to put the paper to bed alone. A King or courtier or a courtesan or a community was going to die or get a new Constitution, or do something that was important on the other side of the world, and the paper was to be held open till the latest possible minute in order to catch the telegram. It was a pitchy black night, as stifling as a June night can be, and the loo, the red-hot wind from the westward, was booming among the tinder-dry trees and pretending that the rain was on its heels. Now and again a spot of almost boiling water would fall on the dust with the flop of a frog, but all our weary world knew that was only pretence. It was a shade cooler in the press-room than the office, so I sat there, while the type ticked and clicked, and the night-jars hooted at the windows, and the all but naked compositors wiped the sweat from their foreheads and called for water. The thing that was keeping us back, whatever it was, would not come off, though the loo dropped and the last type was set, and the whole round earth stood still in the choking heat, with its finger on its lip, to wait the event. I drowsed, and wondered whether the telegraph was a blessing, and whether this dying man, or struggling people was aware of the inconvenience the delay was causing. There was no special reason beyond the heat and worry to make tension, but, as the clock hands crept up to three o’clock and the machines spun their fly-wheels two and three times to see that all was in order, before I said the word that would set them off, I could have shrieked aloud.

Then the roar and rattle of the wheels shivered the quiet into little bits. I rose to go away, but two men in white clothes stood in front of me. The first one said:—”It’s him!” The second said:—”So it is!” And they both laughed almost as loudly as the machinery roared, and mopped their foreheads. “We see there was a light burning across the road and we were sleeping in that ditch there for coolness, and I said to my friend here, The office is open. Let’s come along and speak to him as turned us back from the Degumber State,” said the smaller of the two. He was the man I had met in the Mhow train, and his fellow was the red-bearded man of Marwar Junction. There was no mistaking the eyebrows of the one or the beard of the other.

I was not pleased, because I wished to go to sleep, not to squabble with loafers. “What do you want?” I asked.

“Half an hour’s talk with you cool and comfortable, in the office,” said the red-bearded man. “We’d like some drink—the Contrack doesn’t begin yet, Peachey, so you needn’t look—but what we really want is advice. We don’t want money. We ask you as a favor, because you did us a bad turn about Degumber.”

I led from the press-room to the stifling office with the maps on the walls, and the red-haired man rubbed his hands. “That’s something like,” said he, “This was the proper shop to come to. Now, Sir, let me introduce to you Brother Peachey Carnehan, that’s him, and Brother Daniel Dravot, that is me, and the less said about our professions the better, for we have been most things in our time. Soldier, sailor, compositor, photographer, proof-reader, street-preacher, and correspondents of the Backwoodsman when we thought the paper wanted one. Carnehan is sober, and so am I. Look at us first and see that’s sure. It will save you cutting into my talk. We’ll take one of your cigars apiece, and you shall see us light.”

I watched the test. The men were absolutely sober, so I gave them each a tepid peg.

“Well and good,” said Carnehan of the eyebrows, wiping the froth from his moustache. “Let me talk now, Dan, We have been all over India, mostly on foot. We have been boiler-fitters, engine-drivers, petty contractors, and all that, and we have decided that India isn’t big enough for such as us.”

They certainly were too big for the office. Dravot’s beard seemed to fill half the room and Carnehan’s shoulders the other half, as they sat on the big table. Carnehan continued:—”The country isn’t half worked out because they that governs it won’t let you touch it. They spend all their blessed time in governing it, and you can’t lift a spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil, nor anything like that without all the Government saying—’Leave it alone and let us govern.’ Therefore, such as it is, we will let it alone, and go away to some other place where a man isn’t crowded and can come to his own. We are not little men, and there is nothing that we are afraid of except Drink, and we have signed a Contrack on that. Therefore, we are going away to be Kings.”

“Kings in our own right,” muttered Dravot.

“Yes, of course,” I said. “You’ve been tramping in the sun, and it’s a very warm night, and hadn’t you better sleep over the notion? Come to-morrow.”

“Neither drunk nor sunstruck,” said Dravot. “We have slept over the notion half a year, and require to see Books and Atlases, and we have decided that there is only one place now in the world that two strong men can Sar-a-whack. They call it Kafiristan. By my reckoning it’s the top right-hand corner of Afghanistan, not more than three hundred miles from Peshawur. They have two and thirty heathen idols there, and we’ll be the thirty-third. It’s a mountaineous country, and the women of those parts are very beautiful.”

“But that is provided against in the Contrack,” said Carnehan. “Neither Women nor Liquor, Daniel.”

“And that’s all we know, except that no one has gone there, and they fight, and in any place where they fight a man who knows how to drill men can always be a King. We shall go to those parts and say to any King we find—’D’you want to vanquish your foes?’ and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize his Throne and establish a Dy-nasty.”

“You’ll be cut to pieces before you’re fifty miles across the Border,” I said. “You have to travel through Afghanistan to get to that country. It’s one mass of mountains and peaks and glaciers, and no Englishman has been through it. The people are utter brutes, and even if you reached them you couldn’t do anything.”

“That’s more like,” said Carnehan. “If you could think us a little more mad we would be more pleased. We have come to you to know about this country, to read a book about it, and to be shown maps. We want you to tell us that we are fools and to show us your books.” He turned to the bookcases.

“Are you at all in earnest?” I said.

“A little,” said Dravot, sweetly. “As big a map as you have got, even if it’s all blank where Kafiristan is, and any books you’ve got. We can read, though we aren’t very educated.”

I uncased the big thirty-two-miles-to-the-inch map of India, and two smaller Frontier maps, hauled down volume INF-KAN of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the men consulted them.

“See here!” said Dravot, his thumb on the map. “Up to Jagdallak, Peachey and me know the road. We was there with Roberts’s Army. We’ll have to turn off to the right at Jagdallak through Laghmann territory. Then we get among the hills—fourteen thousand feet—fifteen thousand—it will be cold work there, but it don’t look very far on the map.”

I handed him Wood on the Sources of the Oxus. Carnehan was deep in the Encyclopaedia.

“They’re a mixed lot,” said Dravot, reflectively; “and it won’t help us to know the names of their tribes. The more tribes the more they’ll fight, and the better for us. From Jagdallak to Ashang. H’mm!”

“But all the information about the country is as sketchy and inaccurate as can be,” I protested. “No one knows anything about it really. Here’s the file of the United Services Institute. Read what Bellew says.”

“Blow Bellew!” said Carnehan. “Dan, they’re an all-fired lot of heathens, but this book here says they think they’re related to us English.”

I smoked while the men pored over Raverty, Wood, the maps and the Encyclopaedia.

“There is no use your waiting,” said Dravot, politely, “It’s about four o’clock now. We’ll go before six o’clock if you want to sleep, and we won’t steal any of the papers. Don’t you sit up. We’re two harmless lunatics, and if you come, to-morrow evening, down to the Serai we’ll say good-bye to you.”

“You are two fools,” I answered, “You’ll be turned back at the Frontier or cut up the minute you set foot in Afghanistan. Do you want any money or a recommendation down-country? I can help you to the chance of work next week.”

“Next week we shall be hard at work ourselves, thank you,” said Dravot. “It isn’t so easy being a King as it looks. When we’ve got our Kingdom in going order we’ll let you know, and you can come up and help us to govern it.”

“Would two lunatics make a Contrack like that?” said Carnehan, with subdued pride, showing me a greasy half-sheet of note-paper on which was written the following. I copied it, then and there, as a curiosity:

This Contract between me and you persuing witnesseth in the name of God—Amen and so forth.

(One) That me and you will settle this matter together: i.e.,
to be Kings of Kafiristan.

(Two) That you and me will not, while this matter is being settled,
look at any Liquor, nor any Woman, black, white or brown, so
as to get mixed up with one or the other harmful.

(Three) That we conduct ourselves with dignity and discretion, and
if one of us gets into trouble the other will stay by him.

Signed by you and me this day.

Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan.
Daniel Dravot.
Both Gentlemen at Large.

“There was no need for the last article,” said Carnehan, blushing modestly; “but it looks regular. Now you know the sort of men that loafers are—we are loafers, Dan, until we get out of India—and do you think that we would sign a Contrack like that unless we was in earnest? We have kept away from the two things that make life worth having.”

“You won’t enjoy your lives much longer if you are going to try this idiotic adventure. Don’t set the office on fire,” I said, “and go away before nine o’clock.”

I left them still poring over the maps and making notes on the back of the “Contrack.” “Be sure to come down to the Serai to-morrow,” were their parting words.

The Kumharsen Serai is the great four-square sink of humanity where the strings of camels and horses from the North load and unload. All the nationalities of Central Asia may be found there, and most of the folk of India proper. Balkh and Bokhara there meet Bengal and Bombay, and try to draw eye-teeth. You can buy ponies, turquoises, Persian pussy-cats, saddle-bags, fat-tailed sheep and musk in the Kumharsen Serai, and get many strange things for nothing. In the afternoon I went down there to see whether my friends intended to keep their word or were lying about drunk.

A priest attired in fragments of ribbons and rags stalked up to me, gravely twisting a child’s paper whirligig. Behind him was his servant bending under the load of a crate of mud toys, The two were loading up two camels, and the inhabitants of the Serai watched them with shrieks of laughter.

“The priest is mad,” said a horse-dealer to me, “He is going up to Kabul to sell toys to the Amir. He will either be raised to honor or have his head cut off. He came in here this morning and has been behaving madly ever since.”

“The witless are under the protection of God,” stammered a flat-cheeked Usbeg in broken Hindi. “They foretell future events.”

“Would they could have foretold that my caravan would have been cut up by the Shinwaris almost within shadow of the Pass!” grunted the Eusufzai agent of a Rajputana trading-house whose goods had been feloniously diverted into the hands of other robbers just across the Border, and whose misfortunes were the laughing-stock of the bazar. “Ohè, priest, whence come you and whither do you go?”

“From Roum have I come,” shouted the priest, waving his whirligig; “from Roum, blown by the breath of a hundred devils across the sea! O thieves, robbers, liars, the blessing of Pir Khan on pigs, dogs, and perjurers! Who will take the Protected of God to the North to sell charms that are never still to the Amir? The camels shall not gall, the sons shall not fall sick, and the wives shall remain faithful while they are away, of the men who give me place in their caravan. Who will assist me to slipper the King of the Roos with a golden slipper with a silver heel? The protection of Pir Khan be upon his labors!” He spread out the skirts of his gaberdine and pirouetted between the lines of tethered horses.

“There starts a caravan from Peshawur to Kabul in twenty days, Huzrut,” said the Eusufzai trader, “My camels go therewith. Do thou also go and bring us good luck.”

“I will go even now!” shouted the priest, “I will depart upon my winged camels, and be at Peshawur in a day! Ho! Hazar Mir Khan,” he yelled to his servant, “drive out the camels, but let me first mount my own.”

He leaped on the back of his beast as it knelt, and, turning round to me, cried:—”Come thou also, Sahib, a little along the road, and I will sell thee a charm—an amulet that shall make thee King of Kafiristan.”

Then the light broke upon me, and I followed the two camels out of the Serai till we reached open road and the priest halted.

“What d’ you think o’ that?” said he in English. “Carnehan can’t talk their patter, so I’ve made him my servant. He makes a handsome servant, ‘Tisn’t for nothing that I’ve been knocking about the country for fourteen years. Didn’t I do that talk neat? We’ll hitch on to a caravan at Peshawur till we get to Jagdallak, and then we’ll see if we can get donkeys for our camels, and strike into Kafiristan. Whirligigs for the Amir, O Lor! Put your hand under the camel-bags and tell me what you feel.”

I felt the butt of a Martini, and another and another.

“Twenty of ‘em,” said Dravot, placidly. “Twenty of ‘em, and ammunition to correspond, under the whirligigs and the mud dolls.”

“Heaven help you if you are caught with those things!” I said. “A Martini is worth her weight in silver among the Pathans.”

“Fifteen hundred rupees of capital—every rupee we could beg, borrow, or steal—are invested on these two camels,” said Dravot. “We won’t get caught. We’re going through the Khaiber with a regular caravan. Who’d touch a poor mad priest?”

“Have you got everything you want?” I asked, overcome with astonishment.

“Not yet, but we shall soon. Give us a memento of your kindness, Brother. You did me a service yesterday, and that time in Marwar. Half my Kingdom shall you have, as the saying is.” I slipped a small charm compass from my watch-chain and handed it up to the priest.

“Good-bye,” said Dravot, giving me hand cautiously. “It’s the last time we’ll shake hands with an Englishman these many days. Shake hands with him, Carnehan,” he cried, as the second camel passed me.

Carnehan leaned down and shook hands. Then the camels passed away along the dusty road, and I was left alone to wonder. My eye could detect no failure in the disguises. The scene in Serai attested that they were complete to the native mind. There was just the chance, therefore, that Carnehan and Dravot would be able to wander through Afghanistan without detection. But, beyond, they would find death, certain and awful death.

Ten days later a native friend of mine, giving me the news of the day from Peshawur, wound up his letter with:—”There has been much laughter here on account of a certain mad priest who is going in his estimation to sell petty gauds and insignificant trinkets which he ascribes as great charms to H.H. the Amir of Bokhara. He passed through Peshawur and associated himself to the Second Summer caravan that goes to Kabul. The merchants are pleased because through superstition they imagine that such mad fellows bring good-fortune.”

The two, then, were beyond the Border. I would have prayed for them, but, that night, a real King died in Europe, and demanded on obituary notice.

* * * * *

The wheel of the world swings through the same phases again and again. Summer passed and winter thereafter, and came and passed again. The daily paper continued and I with it, and upon the third summer there fell a hot night, a night-issue, and a strained waiting for something to be telegraphed from the other side of the world, exactly as had happened before. A few great men had died in the past two years, the machines worked with more clatter, and some of the trees in the Office garden were a few feet taller. But that was all the difference.

I passed over to the press-room, and went through just such a scene as I have already described. The nervous tension was stronger than it had been two years before, and I felt the heat more acutely. At three o’clock I cried, “Print off,” and turned to go, when there crept to my chair what was left of a man. He was bent into a circle, his head was sunk between his shoulders, and he moved his feet one over the other like a bear. I could hardly see whether he walked or crawled—this rag-wrapped, whining cripple who addressed me by name, crying that he was come back. “Can you give me a drink?” he whimpered. “For the Lord’s sake, give me a drink!”

I went back to the office, the man following with groans of pain, and I turned up the lamp.

“Don’t you know me?” he gasped, dropping into a chair, and he turned his drawn face, surmounted by a shock of grey hair, to the light.

I looked at him intently. Once before had I seen eyebrows that met over the nose in an inch-broad black band, but for the life of me I could not tell where.

“I don’t know you,” I said, handing him the whiskey. “What can I do for you?”

He took a gulp of the spirit raw, and shivered in spite of the suffocating heat.

“I’ve come back,” he repeated; “and I was the King of Kafiristan—me and Dravot—crowned Kings we was! In this office we settled it—you setting there and giving us the books. I am Peachey—Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan, and you’ve been setting here ever since—O Lord!”

I was more than a little astonished, and expressed my feelings accordingly,

“It’s true,” said Carnehan, with a dry cackle, nursing his feet, which were wrapped in rags. “True as gospel. Kings we were, with crowns upon our heads—me and Dravot—poor Dan—oh, poor, poor Dan, that would never take advice, not though I begged of him!”

“Take the whiskey,” I said, “and take your own time. Tell me all you can recollect of everything from beginning to end. You got across the border on your camels, Dravot dressed as a mad priest and you his servant. Do you remember that?”

“I ain’t mad—yet, but I shall be that way soon. Of course I remember. Keep looking at me, or maybe my words will go all to pieces. Keep looking at me in my eyes and don’t say anything.”

I leaned forward and looked into his face as steadily as I could. He dropped one hand upon the table and I grasped it by the wrist. It was twisted like a bird’s claw, and upon the back was a ragged, red, diamond-shaped scar.

“No, don’t look there. Look at me,” said Carnehan.

“That comes afterward, but for the Lord’s sake don’t distrack me. We left with that caravan, me and Dravot playing all sorts of antics to amuse the people we were with. Dravot used to make us laugh in the evenings when all the people was cooking their dinners—cooking their dinners, and … what did they do then? They lit little fires with sparks that went into Dravot’s beard, and we all laughed—fit to die. Little red fires they was, going into Dravot’s big red beard—so funny.” His eyes left mine and he smiled foolishly.

“You went as far as Jagdallak with that caravan,” I said, at a venture, “after you had lit those fires. To Jagdallak, where you turned off to try to get into Kafiristan.”

“No, we didn’t neither. What are you talking about? We turned off before Jagdallak, because we heard the roads was good. But they wasn’t good enough for our two camels—mine and Dravot’s. When we left the caravan, Dravot took off all his clothes and mine too, and said we would be heathen, because the Kafirs didn’t allow Mohammedans to talk to them. So we dressed betwixt and between, and such a sight as Daniel Dravot I never saw yet nor expect to see again. He burned half his beard, and slung a sheep-skin over his shoulder, and shaved his head into patterns. He shaved mine, too, and made me wear outrageous things to look like a heathen. That was in a most mountaineous country, and our camels couldn’t go along any more because of the mountains. They were tall and black, and coming home I saw them fight like wild goats—there are lots of goats in Kafiristan. And these mountains, they never keep still, no more than the goats. Always fighting they are, and don’t let you sleep at night.”

“Take some more whiskey,” I said, very slowly. “What did you and Daniel Dravot do when the camels could go no further because of the rough roads that led into Kafiristan?”

“What did which do? There was a party called Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan that was with Dravot. Shall I tell you about him? He died out there in the cold. Slap from the bridge fell old Peachey, turning and twisting in the air like a penny whirligig that you can sell to the Amir.—No; they was two for three ha’pence, those whirligigs, or I am much mistaken and woful sore. And then these camels were no use, and Peachey said to Dravot—’For the Lord’s sake, let’s get out of this before our heads are chopped off,’ and with that they killed the camels all among the mountains, not having anything in particular to eat, but first they took off the boxes with the guns and the ammunition, till two men came along driving four mules. Dravot up and dances in front of them, singing,—’Sell me four Mules.’ Says the first man,—’If you are rich enough to buy, you are rich enough to rob;’ but before ever he could put his hand to his knife, Dravot breaks his neck over his knee, and the other party runs away. So Carnehan loaded the mules with the rifles that was taken off the camels, and together we starts forward into those bitter cold mountaineous parts, and never a road broader than the back of your hand.”

He paused for a moment, while I asked him if he could remember the nature of the country through which he had journeyed.

“I am telling you as straight as I can, but my head isn’t as good as it might be. They drove nails through it to make me hear better how Dravot died. The country was mountaineous and the mules were most contrary, and the inhabitants was dispersed and solitary. They went up and up, and down and down, and that other party, Carnehan, was imploring of Dravot not to sing and whistle so loud, for fear of bringing down the tremenjus avalanches. But Dravot says that if a King couldn’t sing it wasn’t worth being King, and whacked the mules over the rump, and never took no heed for ten cold days. We came to a big level valley all among the mountains, and the mules were near dead, so we killed them, not having anything in special for them or us to eat. We sat upon the boxes, and played odd and even with the cartridges that was jolted out,

“Then ten men with bows and arrows ran down that valley, chasing twenty men with bows and arrows, and the row was tremenjus. They was fair men—fairer than you or me—with yellow hair and remarkable well built. Says Dravot, unpacking the guns—’This is the beginning of the business. We’ll fight for the ten men,’ and with that he fires two rifles at the twenty men, and drops one of them at two hundred yards from the rock where we was sitting. The other men began to run, but Carnehan and Dravot sits on the boxes picking them off at all ranges, up and down the valley. Then we goes up to the ten men that had run across the snow too, and they fires a footy little arrow at us. Dravot he shoots above their heads and they all falls down flat. Then he walks over them and kicks them, and then he lifts them up and shakes hands all round to make them friendly like. He calls them and gives them the boxes to carry, and waves his hand for all the world as though he was King already. They takes the boxes and him across the valley and up the hill into a pine wood on the top, where there was half a dozen big stone idols. Dravot he goes to the biggest—a fellow they call Imbra—and lays a rifle and a cartridge at his feet, rubbing his nose respectful with his own nose, patting him on the head, and saluting in front of it. He turns round to the men and nods his head, and says,—’That’s all right. I’m in the know too, and all these old jim-jams are my friends.’ Then he opens his mouth and points down it, and when the first man brings him food, he says—’No;’ and when the second man brings him food, he says—’No;’ but when one of the old priests and the boss of the village brings him food, he says—’Yes;’ very haughty, and eats it slow. That was how we came to our first village, without any trouble, just as though we had tumbled from the skies. But we tumbled from one of those damned rope-bridges, you see, and you couldn’t expect a man to laugh much after that.”

“Take some more whiskey and go on,” I said. “That was the first village you came into. How did you get to be King?”

“I wasn’t King,” said Carnehan. “Dravot he was the King, and a handsome man he looked with the gold crown on his head and all. Him and the other party stayed in that village, and every morning Dravot sat by the side of old Imbra, and the people came and worshipped. That was Dravot’s order. Then a lot of men came into the valley, and Carnehan and Dravot picks them off with the rifles before they knew where they was, and runs down into the valley and up again the other side, and finds another village, same as the first one, and the people all falls down flat on their faces, and Dravot says, ‘Now what is the trouble between you two villages?’ and the people points to a woman, as fair as you or me, that was carried off, and Dravot takes her back to the first village and counts up the dead—eight there was. For each dead man Dravot pours a little milk on the ground and waves his arms like a whirligig and ‘That’s all right,’ says he. Then he and Carnehan takes the big boss of each village by the arm and walks them down into the valley, and shows them how to scratch a line with a spear right down the valley, and gives each a sod of turf from both sides o’ the line. Then all the people comes down and shouts like the devil and all, and Dravot says,—’Go and dig the land, and be fruitful and multiply,’ which they did, though they didn’t understand. Then we asks the names of things in their lingo—bread and water and fire and idols and such, and Dravot leads the priest of each village up to the idol, and says he must sit there and judge the people, and if anything goes wrong he is to be shot.

“Next week they was all turning up the land in the valley as quiet as bees and much prettier, and the priests heard all the complaints and told Dravot in dumb show what it was about. ‘That’s just the beginning,’ says Dravot. ‘They think we’re Gods.’ He and Carnehan picks out twenty good men and shows them how to click off a rifle, and form fours, and advance in line, and they was very pleased to do so, and clever to see the hang of it. Then he takes out his pipe and his baccy-pouch and leaves one at one village and one at the other, and off we two goes to see what was to be done in the next valley. That was all rock, and there was a little village there, and Carnehan says,—’Send ‘em to the old valley to plant,’ and takes ‘em there and gives ‘em some land that wasn’t took before. They were a poor lot, and we blooded ‘em with a kid before letting ‘em into the new Kingdom. That was to impress the people, and then they settled down quiet, and Carnehan went back to Dravot who had got into another valley, all snow and ice and most mountaineous. There was no people there and the Army got afraid, so Dravot shoots one of them, and goes on till he finds some people in a village, and the Army explains that unless the people wants to be killed they had better not shoot their little matchlocks; for they had matchlocks. We makes friends with the priest and I stays there alone with two of the Army, teaching the men how to drill, and a thundering big Chief comes across the snow with kettle-drums and horns twanging, because he heard there was a new God kicking about. Carnehan sights for the brown of the men half a mile across the snow and wings one of them. Then he sends a message to the Chief that, unless he wished to be killed, he must come and shake hands with me and leave his arms behind. The chief comes alone first, and Carnehan shakes hands with him and whirls his arms about, same as Dravot used, and very much surprised that Chief was, and strokes my eyebrows. Then Carnehan goes alone to the Chief, and asks him in dumb show if he had an enemy he hated. ‘I have,’ says the Chief. So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chief’s men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy. So we took that village too, and I gives the Chief a rag from my coat and says, ‘Occupy till I come:’ which was scriptural. By way of a reminder, when me and the Army was eighteen hundred yards away, I drops a bullet near him standing on the snow, and all the people falls flat on their faces. Then I sends a letter to Dravot, wherever he be by land or by sea.”

At the risk of throwing the creature out of train I interrupted,—”How could you write a letter up yonder?”

“The letter?—Oh!—The letter! Keep looking at me between the eyes, please. It was a string-talk letter, that we’d learned the way of it from a blind beggar in the Punjab.”

I remember that there had once come to the office a blind man with a knotted twig and a piece of string which he wound round the twig according to some cypher of his own. He could, after the lapse of days or hours, repeat the sentence which he had reeled up. He had reduced the alphabet to eleven primitive sounds; and tried to teach me his method, but failed.

“I sent that letter to Dravot,” said Carnehan; “and told him to come back because this Kingdom was growing too big for me to handle, and then I struck for the first valley, to see how the priests were working. They called the village we took along with the Chief, Bashkai, and the first village we took, Er-Heb. The priests at Er-Heb was doing all right, but they had a lot of pending cases about land to show me, and some men from another village had been firing arrows at night. I went out and looked for that village and fired four rounds at it from a thousand yards. That used all the cartridges I cared to spend, and I waited for Dravot, who had been away two or three months, and I kept my people quiet.

“One morning I heard the devil’s own noise of drums and horns, and Dan Dravot marches down the hill with his Army and a tail of hundreds of men, and, which was the most amazing—a great gold crown on his head. ‘My Gord, Carnehan,’ says Daniel, ‘this is a tremenjus business, and we’ve got the whole country as far as it’s worth having. I am the son of Alexander by Queen Semiramis, and you’re my younger brother and a God too! It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever seen. I’ve been marching and fighting for six weeks with the Army, and every footy little village for fifty miles has come in rejoiceful; and more than that, I’ve got the key of the whole show, as you’ll see, and I’ve got a crown for you! I told ‘em to make two of ‘em at a place called Shu, where the gold lies in the rock like suet in mutton. Gold I’ve seen, and turquoise I’ve kicked out of the cliffs, and there’s garnets in the sands of the river, and here’s a chunk of amber that a man brought me. Call up all the priests and, here, take your crown.’

“One of the men opens a black hair bag and I slips the crown on. It was too small and too heavy, but I wore it for the glory. Hammered gold it was—five pound weight, like a hoop of a barrel.

“‘Peachey,’ says Dravot, ‘we don’t want to fight no more. The Craft’s the trick so help me!’ and he brings forward that same Chief that I left at Bashkai—Billy Fish we called him afterward, because he was so like Billy Fish that drove the big tank-engine at Mach on the Bolan in the old days. ‘Shake hands with him,’ says Dravot, and I shook hands and nearly dropped, for Billy Fish gave me the Grip. I said nothing, but tried him with the Fellow Craft Grip. He answers, all right, and I tried the Master’s Grip, but that was a slip. ‘A Fellow Craft he is!’ I says to Dan. ‘Does he know the word?’ ‘He does,’ says Dan, ‘and all the priests know. It’s a miracle! The Chiefs and the priests can work a Fellow Craft Lodge in a way that’s very like ours, and they’ve cut the marks on the rocks, but they don’t know the Third Degree, and they’ve come to find out. It’s Gord’s Truth. I’ve known these long years that the Afghans knew up to the Fellow Craft Degree, but this is a miracle. A God and a Grand-Master of the Craft am I, and a Lodge in the Third Degree I will open, and we’ll raise the head priests and the Chiefs of the villages.’

“‘It’s against all the law,’ I says, ‘holding a Lodge without warrant from any one; and we never held office in any Lodge.’

“‘It’s a master-stroke of policy,’ says Dravot. ‘It means running the country as easy as a four-wheeled bogy on a down grade. We can’t stop to inquire now, or they’ll turn against us. I’ve forty Chiefs at my heel, and passed and raised according to their merit they shall be. Billet these men on the villages and see that we run up a Lodge of some kind. The temple of Imbra will do for the Lodge-room. The women must make aprons as you show them. I’ll hold a levee of Chiefs to-night and Lodge to-morrow.’

“I was fair run off my legs, but I wasn’t such a fool as not to see what a pull this Craft business gave us. I showed the priests’ families how to make aprons of the degrees, but for Dravot’s apron, the blue border and marks was made of turquoise lumps on white hide, not cloth. We took a great square stone in the temple for the Master’s chair, and little stones for the officers’ chairs, and painted the black pavement with white squares, and did what we could to make things regular.

“At the levee which was held that night on the hillside with big bonfires, Dravot gives out that him and me were Gods and sons of Alexander, and Past Grand-Masters in the Craft, and was come to make Kafiristan a country where every man should eat in peace and drink in quiet, and specially obey us. Then the Chiefs come round to shake hands, and they was so hairy and white and fair it was just shaking hands with old friends. We gave them names according as they was like men we had known in India—Billy Fish, Holly Dilworth, Pikky Kergan that was Bazar-master when I was at Mhow, and so on and so on.

The most amazing miracle was at Lodge next night. One of the old priests was watching us continuous, and I felt uneasy, for I knew we’d have to fudge the Ritual, and I didn’t know what the men knew. The old priest was a stranger come in from beyond the village of Bashkai. The minute Dravot puts on the Master’s apron that the girls had made for him, the priest fetches a whoop and a howl, and tries to overturn the stone that Dravot was sitting on. ‘It’s all up now,’ I says. ‘That comes of meddling with the Craft without warrant!’ Dravot never winked an eye, not when ten priests took and tilted over the Grand-Master’s chair—which was to say the stone of Imbra. The priest begins rubbing the bottom end of it to clear away the black dirt, and presently he shows all the other priests the Master’s Mark, same as was on Dravot’s apron, cut into the stone. Not even the priests of the temple of Imbra knew it was there. The old chap falls flat on his face at Dravot’s feet and kisses ‘em. ‘Luck again,’ says Dravot, across the Lodge to me, ‘they say it’s the missing Mark that no one could understand the why of. We’re more than safe now.’ Then he bangs the butt of his gun for a gavel and says:—’By virtue of the authority vested in me by my own right hand and the help of Peachey, I declare myself Grand-Master of all Freemasonry in Kafiristan in this the Mother Lodge o’ the country, and King of Kafiristan equally with Peachey!’ At that he puts on his crown and I puts on mine—I was doing Senior Warden—and we opens the Lodge in most ample form. It was a amazing miracle! The priests moved in Lodge through the first two degrees almost without telling, as if the memory was coming back to them. After that, Peachey and Dravot raised such as was worthy—high priests and Chiefs of far-off villages. Billy Fish was the first, and I can tell you we scared the soul out of him. It was not in any way according to Ritual, but it served our turn. We didn’t raise more than ten of the biggest men because we didn’t want to make the Degree common. And they was clamoring to be raised.

“‘In another six months,’ says Dravot, ‘we’ll hold another Communication and see how you are working.’ Then he asks them about their villages, and learns that they was fighting one against the other and were fair sick and tired of it. And when they wasn’t doing that they was fighting with the Mohammedans. ‘You can fight those when they come into our country,’ says Dravot. ‘Tell off every tenth man of your tribes for a Frontier guard, and send two hundred at a time to this valley to be drilled. Nobody is going to be shot or speared any more so long as he does well, and I know that you won’t cheat me because you’re white people—sons of Alexander—and not like common, black Mohammedans. You are my people and by God,’ says he, running off into English at the end—’I’ll make a damned fine Nation of you, or I’ll die in the making!’

“I can’t tell all we did for the next six months because Dravot did a lot I couldn’t see the hang of, and he learned their lingo in a way I never could. My work was to help the people plough, and now and again go out with some of the Army and see what the other villages were doing, and make ‘em throw rope-bridges across the ravines which cut up the country horrid. Dravot was very kind to me, but when he walked up and down in the pine wood pulling that bloody red beard of his with both fists I knew he was thinking plans I could not advise him about, and I just waited for orders.

“But Dravot never showed me disrespect before the people. They were afraid of me and the Army, but they loved Dan. He was the best of friends with the priests and the Chiefs; but any one could come across the hills with a complaint and Dravot would hear him out fair, and call four priests together and say what was to be done. He used to call in Billy Fish from Bashkai, and Pikky Kergan from Shu, and an old Chief we called Kafuzelum—it was like enough to his real name—and hold councils with ‘em when there was any fighting to be done in small villages. That was his Council of War, and the four priests of Bashkai, Shu, Khawak, and Madora was his Privy Council. Between the lot of ‘em they sent me, with forty men and twenty rifles, and sixty men carrying turquoises, into the Ghorband country to buy those hand-made Martini rifles, that come out of the Amir’s workshops at Kabul, from one of the Amir’s Herati regiments that would have sold the very teeth out of their mouths for turquoises.

“I stayed in Ghorband a month, and gave the Governor there the pick of my baskets for hush-money, and bribed the Colonel of the regiment some more, and, between the two and the tribespeople, we got more than a hundred hand-made Martinis, a hundred good Kohat Jezails that’ll throw to six hundred yards, and forty man-loads of very bad ammunition for the rifles. I came back with what I had, and distributed ‘em among the men that the Chiefs sent to me to drill. Dravot was too busy to attend to those things, but the old Army that we first made helped me, and we turned out five hundred men that could drill, and two hundred that knew how to hold arms pretty straight. Even those cork-screwed, hand-made guns was a miracle to them. Dravot talked big about powder-shops and factories, walking up and down in the pine wood when the winter was coming on.

“‘I won’t make a Nation,’ says he. ‘I’ll make an Empire! These men aren’t niggers; they’re English! Look at their eyes—look at their mouths. Look at the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their own houses. They’re the Lost Tribes, or something like it, and they’ve grown to be English. I’ll take a census in the spring if the priests don’t get frightened. There must be a fair two million of ‘em in these hills. The villages are full o’ little children. Two million people—two hundred and fifty thousand fighting men—and all English! They only want the rifles and a little drilling. Two hundred and fifty thousand men, ready to cut in on Russia’s right flank when she tries for India! Peachey, man,’ he says, chewing his beard in great hunks, ‘we shall be Emperors—Emperors of the Earth! Rajah Brooke will be a suckling to us. I’ll treat with the Viceroy on equal terms. I’ll ask him to send me twelve picked English—twelve that I know of—to help us govern a bit. There’s Mackray, Sergeant-pensioner at Segowli—many’s the good dinner he’s given me, and his wife a pair of trousers. There’s Donkin, the Warder of Tounghoo Jail; there’s hundreds that I could lay my hand on if I was in India. The Viceroy shall do it for me. I’ll send a man through in the spring for those men, and I’ll write for a dispensation from the Grand Lodge for what I’ve done as Grand-Master. That—and all the Sniders that’ll be thrown out when the native troops in India take up the Martini. They’ll be worn smooth, but they’ll do for fighting in these hills. Twelve English, a hundred thousand Sniders run through the Amir’s country in driblets—I’d be content with twenty thousand in one year—and we’d be an Empire. When everything was shipshape, I’d hand over the crown—this crown I’m wearing now—to Queen Victoria on my knees, and she’d say: “Rise up, Sir Daniel Dravot.” Oh, it’s big! It’s big, I tell you! But there’s so much to be done in every place—Bashkai, Khawak, Shu, and everywhere else.’

“‘What is it?’ I says. ‘There are no more men coming in to be drilled this autumn. Look at those fat, black clouds. They’re bringing the snow.’

“‘It isn’t that,’ says Daniel, putting his hand very hard on my shoulder; ‘and I don’t wish to say anything that’s against you, for no other living man would have followed me and made me what I am as you have done. You’re a first-class Commander-in-Chief, and the people know you; but—it’s a big country, and somehow you can’t help me, Peachey, in the way I want to be helped.’

“‘Go to your blasted priests, then!’ I said, and I was sorry when I made that remark, but it did hurt me sore to find Daniel talking so superior when I’d drilled all the men, and done all he told me.

“‘Don’t let’s quarrel, Peachey,’ says Daniel, without cursing. ‘You’re a King too, and the half of this Kingdom is yours; but can’t you see, Peachey, we want cleverer men than us now—three or four of ‘em, that we can scatter about for our Deputies. It’s a hugeous great State, and I can’t always tell the right thing to do, and I haven’t time for all I want to do, and here’s the winter coming on and all.’ He put half his beard into his mouth, and it was as red as the gold of his crown.

“‘I’m sorry, Daniel,’ says I, ‘I’ve done all I could. I’ve drilled the men and shown the people how to stack their oats better; and I’ve brought in those tinware rifles from Ghorband—but I know what you’re driving at. I take it Kings always feel oppressed that way.’

“‘There’s another thing too,’ says Dravot, walking up and down, ‘The winter’s coming and these people won’t be giving much trouble, and if they do we can’t move about. I want a wife.’

“‘For Gord’s sake leave the women alone!’ I says. ‘We’ve both got all the work we can, though I am a fool. Remember the Contrack, and keep clear o’ women.’

“‘The Contrack only lasted till such time as we was Kings; and Kings we have been these months past,’ says Dravot, weighing his crown in his hand. ‘You go get a wife too, Peachey—a nice, strappin’, plump girl that’ll keep you warm in the winter. They’re prettier than English girls, and we can take the pick of ‘em. Boil ‘em once or twice in hot water, and they’ll come as fair as chicken and ham.’

“‘Don’t tempt me!’ I says. ‘I will not have any dealings with a woman not till we are a dam’ side more settled than we are now. I’ve been doing the work o’ two men, and you’ve been doing the work o’ three. Let’s lie off a bit, and see if we can get some better tobacco from Afghan country and run in some good liquor; but no women.’

“‘Who’s talking o’ women?’ says Dravot. ‘I said wife—a Queen to breed a King’s son for the King. A Queen out of the strongest tribe, that’ll make them your blood-brothers, and that’ll lie by your side and tell you all the people thinks about you and their own affairs. That’s what I want.’

“‘Do you remember that Bengali woman I kept at Mogul Serai when I was a plate-layer?’ says I. ‘A fat lot o’ good she was to me. She taught me the lingo and one or two other things; but what happened? She ran away with the Station Master’s servant and half my month’s pay. Then she turned up at Dadur Junction in tow of a half-caste, and had the impidence to say I was her husband—all among the drivers in the running-shed!’

“‘We’ve done with that,’ says Dravot. ‘These women are whiter than you or me, and a Queen I will have for the winter months.’

“‘For the last time o’ asking, Dan, do not,’ I says. ‘It’ll only bring us harm. The Bible says that Kings ain’t to waste their strength on women, ‘specially when they’ve got a new raw Kingdom to work over.’

“‘For the last time of answering I will,’ said Dravot, and he went away through the pine-trees looking like a big red devil. The low sun hit his crown and beard on one side and the two blazed like hot coals.

“But getting a wife was not as easy as Dan thought. He put it before the Council, and there was no answer till Billy Fish said that he’d better ask the girls. Dravot damned them all round. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ he shouts, standing by the idol Imbra. ‘Am I a dog or am I not enough of a man for your wenches? Haven’t I put the shadow of my hand over this country? Who stopped the last Afghan raid?’ It was me really, but Dravot was too angry to remember. ‘Who brought your guns? Who repaired the bridges? Who’s the Grand-Master of the sign cut in the stone?’ and he thumped his hand on the block that he used to sit on in Lodge, and at Council, which opened like Lodge always. Billy Fish said nothing and no more did the others. ‘Keep your hair on, Dan,’ said I; ‘and ask the girls. That’s how it’s done at Home, and these people are quite English.’

“‘The marriage of the King is a matter of State,’ says Dan, in a white-hot rage, for he could feel, I hope, that he was going against his better mind. He walked out of the Council-room, and the others sat still, looking at the ground.

“‘Billy Fish,’ says I to the Chief of Bashkai, ‘what’s the difficulty here? A straight answer to a true friend.’ ‘You know,’ says Billy Fish. ‘How should a man tell you who know everything? How can daughters of men marry Gods or Devils? It’s not proper.’

“I remembered something like that in the Bible; but if, after seeing us as long as they had, they still believed we were Gods, it wasn’t for me to undeceive them.

“‘A God can do anything,’ says I. ‘If the King is fond of a girl he’ll not let her die.’ ‘She’ll have to,’ said Billy Fish. ‘There are all sorts of Gods and Devils in these mountains, and now and again a girl marries one of them and isn’t seen any more. Besides, you two know the Mark cut in the stone. Only the Gods know that. We thought you were men till you showed the sign of the Master.’

“I wished then that we had explained about the loss of the genuine secrets of a Master-Mason at the first go-off; but I said nothing. All that night there was a blowing of horns in a little dark temple half-way down the hill, and I heard a girl crying fit to die. One of the priests told us that she was being prepared to marry the King.

“‘I’ll have no nonsense of that kind,’ says, Dan. ‘I don’t want to interfere with your customs, but I’ll take my own wife.’ ‘The girl’s a little bit afraid,’ says the priest. ‘She thinks she’s going to die, and they are a-heartening of her up down in the temple.’

“‘Hearten her very tender, then,’ says Dravot, ‘or I’ll hearten you with the butt of a gun so that you’ll never want to be heartened again.’ He licked his lips, did Dan, and stayed up walking about more than half the night, thinking of the wife that he was going to get in the morning. I wasn’t any means comfortable, for I knew that dealings with a woman in foreign parts, though you was a crowned King twenty times over, could not but be risky. I got up very early in the morning while Dravot was asleep, and I saw the priests talking together in whispers, and the Chiefs talking together too, and they looked at me out of the corners of their eyes.

“‘What is up, Fish?’ I says to the Bashkai man, who was wrapped up in his furs and looking splendid to behold.

“‘I can’t rightly say,’ says he; ‘but if you can induce the King to drop all this nonsense about marriage, you’ll be doing him and me and yourself a great service.’

“‘That I do believe,’ says I. ‘But sure, you know, Billy, as well as me, having fought against and for us, that the King and me are nothing more than two of the finest men that God Almighty ever made. Nothing more, I do assure you.’

“‘That may be,’ says Billy Fish, ‘and yet I should be sorry if it was.’ He sinks his head upon his great fur cloak for a minute and thinks. ‘King,’ says he, ‘be you man or God or Devil, I’ll stick by you to-day. I have twenty of my men with me, and they will follow me. We’ll go to Bashkai until the storm blows over.’

“A little snow had fallen in the night, and everything was white except the greasy fat clouds that blew down and down from the north. Dravot came out with his crown on his head, swinging his arms and stamping his feet, and looking more pleased than Punch.

“‘For the last time, drop it, Dan,’ says I, in a whisper. ‘Billy Fish here says that there will be a row.’

“‘A row among my people!’ says Dravot. ‘Not much. Peachey, you’re a fool not to get a wife too. Where’s the girl?’ says he, with a voice as loud as the braying of a jackass. ‘Call up all the Chiefs and priests, and let the Emperor see if his wife suits him.’

“There was no need to call anyone. They were all there leaning on their guns and spears round the clearing in the centre of the pine wood. A deputation of priests went down to the little temple to bring up the girl, and the horns blew up fit to wake the dead. Billy Fish saunters round and gets as close to Daniel as he could, and behind him stood his twenty men with matchlocks. Not a man of them under six feet. I was next to Dravot, and behind me was twenty men of the regular Army. Up comes the girl, and a strapping wench she was, covered with silver and turquoises but white as death, and looking back every minute at the priests.

“‘She’ll do,’ said Dan, looking her over. ‘What’s to be afraid of, lass? Come and kiss me.’ He puts his arm round her. She shuts her eyes, gives a bit of a squeak, and down goes her face in the side of Dan’s flaming red beard.

“‘The slut’s bitten me!’ says he, clapping his hand to his neck, and, sure enough, his hand was red with blood. Billy Fish and two of his matchlock-men catches hold of Dan by the shoulders and drags him into the Bashkai lot, while the priests howls in their lingo,—’Neither God nor Devil but a man!’ I was all taken aback, for a priest cut at me in front, and the Army behind began firing into the Bashkai men.

“‘God A-mighty!’ says Dan, ‘What is the meaning o’ this?’

“‘Come back! Come away!’ says Billy Fish. ‘Ruin and Mutiny is the matter. We’ll break for Bashkai if we can.’

“I tried to give some sort of orders to my men—the men o’ the regular Army—but it was no use, so I fired into the brown of ‘em with an English Martini and drilled three beggars in a line. The valley was full of shouting, howling creatures, and every soul was shrieking, ‘Not a God nor a Devil but only a man!’ The Bashkai troops stuck to Billy Fish all they were worth, but their matchlocks wasn’t half as good as the Kabul breech-loaders, and four of them dropped. Dan was bellowing like a bull, for he was very wrathy; and Billy Fish had a hard job to prevent him running out at the crowd.

“‘We can’t stand,’ says Billy Fish. ‘Make a run for it down the valley! The whole place is against us.’ The matchlock-men ran, and we went down the valley in spite of Dravot’s protestations. He was swearing horribly and crying out that he was a King. The priests rolled great stones on us, and the regular Army fired hard, and there wasn’t more than six men, not counting Dan, Billy Fish, and Me, that came down to the bottom of the valley alive.

“Then they stopped firing and the horns in the temple blew again. ‘Come away—for Gord’s sake come away!’ says Billy Fish. ‘They’ll send runners out to all the villages before ever we get to Bashkai. I can protect you there, but I can’t do anything now.’

“My own notion is that Dan began to go mad in his head from that hour. He stared up and down like a stuck pig. Then he was all for walking back alone and killing the priests with his bare hands; which he could have done. ‘An Emperor am I,’ says Daniel, ‘and next year I shall be a Knight of the Queen.’

“‘All right, Dan,’ says I; ‘but come along now while there’s time.’

“‘It’s your fault,’ says he, ‘for not looking after your Army better. There was mutiny in the midst, and you didn’t know—you damned engine-driving, plate-laying, missionary’s-pass-hunting hound!’ He sat upon a rock and called me every foul name he could lay tongue to. I was too heart-sick to care, though it was all his foolishness that brought the smash.

“‘I’m sorry, Dan,’ says I, ‘but there’s no accounting for natives. This business is our Fifty-Seven. Maybe we’ll make something out of it yet, when we’ve got to Bashkai.’

“‘Let’s get to Bashkai, then,’ says Dan, ‘and, by God, when I come back here again I’ll sweep the valley so there isn’t a bug in a blanket left!’

“We walked all that day, and all that night Dan was stumping up and down on the snow, chewing his beard and muttering to himself.

“‘There’s no hope o’ getting clear,’ said Billy Fish. ‘The priests will have sent runners to the villages to say that you are only men. Why didn’t you stick on as Gods till things was more settled? I’m a dead man,’ says Billy Fish, and he throws himself down on the snow and begins to pray to his Gods.

“Next morning we was in a cruel bad country—all up and down, no level ground at all, and no food either. The six Bashkai men looked at Billy Fish hungry-wise as if they wanted to ask something, but they said never a word. At noon we came to the top of a flat mountain all covered with snow, and when we climbed up into it, behold, there was an Army in position waiting in the middle!

“‘The runners have been very quick,’ says Billy Fish, with a little bit of a laugh. ‘They are waiting for us.’

“Three or four men began to fire from the enemy’s side, and a chance shot took Daniel in the calf of the leg. That brought him to his senses. He looks across the snow at the Army, and sees the rifles that we had brought into the country.

“‘We’re done for,’ says he. ‘They are Englishmen, these people,—and it’s my blasted nonsense that has brought you to this. Get back, Billy Fish, and take your men away; you’ve done what you could, and now cut for it. Carnehan,’ says he, ‘shake hands with me and go along with Billy. Maybe they won’t kill you. I’ll go and meet ‘em alone. It’s me that did it. Me, the King!’

“‘Go!’ says I. ‘Go to Hell, Dan. I’m with you here. Billy Fish, you clear out, and we two will meet those folk.’

“‘I’m a Chief,’ says Billy Fish, quite quiet. ‘I stay with you. My men can go.’

“The Bashkai fellows didn’t wait for a second word but ran off, and Dan and Me and Billy Fish walked across to where the drums were drumming and the horns were horning, It was cold—awful cold. I’ve got that cold in the back of my head now. There’s a lump of it there.”

The punkah-coolies had gone to sleep. Two kerosene lamps were blazing in the office, and the perspiration poured down my face and splashed on the blotter as I leaned forward. Carnehan was shivering, and I feared that his mind might go. I wiped my face, took a fresh grip of the piteously mangled hands, and said:—”What happened after that?”

The momentary shift of my eyes had broken the clear current.

“What was you pleased to say?” whined Carnehan. “They took them without any sound. Not a little whisper all along the snow, not though the King knocked down the first man that set hand on him—not though old Peachey fired his last cartridge into the brown of ‘em. Not a single solitary sound did those swines make. They just closed up tight, and I tell you their furs stunk. There was a man called Billy Fish, a good friend of us all, and they cut his throat, Sir, then and there, like a pig; and the King kicks up the bloody snow and says:—’We’ve had a dashed fine run for our money. What’s coming next?’ But Peachey, Peachey Taliaferro, I tell you, Sir, in confidence as betwixt two friends, he lost his head, Sir. No, he didn’t neither. The King lost his head, so he did, all along o’ one of those cunning rope-bridges. Kindly let me have the paper-cutter, Sir. It tilted this way. They marched him a mile across that snow to a rope-bridge over a ravine with a river at the bottom. You may have seen such. They prodded him behind like an ox. ‘Damn your eyes!’ says the King. ‘D’you suppose I can’t die like a gentleman?’ He turns to Peachey—Peachey that was crying like a child. ‘I’ve brought you to this, Peachey,’ says he. ‘Brought you out of your happy life to be killed in Kafiristan, where you was late Commander-in-Chief of the Emperor’s forces. Say you forgive me, Peachey.’ ‘I do,’ says Peachey. ‘Fully and freely do I forgive you, Dan.’ ‘Shake hands, Peachey,’ says he. ‘I’m going now.’ Out he goes, looking neither right nor left, and when he was plumb in the middle of those dizzy dancing ropes, ‘Cut, you beggars,’ he shouts; and they cut, and old Dan fell, turning round and round and round twenty thousand miles, for he took half an hour to fall till he struck the water, and I could see his body caught on a rock with the gold crown close beside.

“But do you know what they did to Peachey between two pine trees? They crucified him, Sir, as Peachey’s hand will show. They used wooden pegs for his hands and his feet; and he didn’t die. He hung there and screamed, and they took him down next day, and said it was a miracle that he wasn’t dead. They took him down—poor old Peachey that hadn’t done them any harm—that hadn’t done them any….”

He rocked to and fro and wept bitterly, wiping his eyes with the back of his scarred hands and moaning like a child for some ten minutes.

“They was cruel enough to feed him up in the temple, because they said he was more of a God than old Daniel that was a man. Then they turned him out on the snow, and told him to go home, and Peachey came home in about a year, begging along the roads quite safe: for Daniel Dravot he walked before and said:—’Come along, Peachey. It’s a big thing we’re doing.’ The mountains they danced at night, and the mountains they tried to fall on Peachey’s head, but Dan he held up his hand, and Peachey came along bent double. He never let go of Dan’s hand, and he never let go of Dan’s head. They gave it to him as a present in the temple, to remind him not to come again, and though the crown was pure gold, and Peachey was starving, never would Peachey sell the same. You knew Dravot, Sir! You knew Right Worshipful Brother Dravot! Look at him now!”

He fumbled in the mass of rags round his bent waist; brought out a black horsehair bag embroidered with silver thread; and shook therefrom on to my table—the dried, withered head of Daniel Dravot! The morning sun that had long been paling the lamps struck the red beard and blind sunken eyes; struck, too, a heavy circlet of gold studded with raw turquoises, that Carnehan placed tenderly on the battered temples.

“You behold now,” said Carnehan, “the Emperor in his habit as he lived—the King of Kafiristan with his crown upon his head. Poor old Daniel that was a monarch once!”

I shuddered, for, in spite of defacements manifold, I recognized the head of the man of Marwar Junction. Carnehan rose to go. I attempted to stop him. He was not fit to walk abroad. “Let me take away the whiskey, and give me a little money,” he gasped, “I was a King once. I’ll go to the Deputy Commissioner and ask to set in the Poorhouse till I get my health. No, thank you, I can’t wait till you get a carriage for me, I’ve urgent private affairs—in the south—at Marwar.”

He shambled out of the office and departed in the direction of the Deputy Commissioner’s house. That day at noon I had occasion to go down the blinding hot Mall, and I saw a crooked man crawling along the white dust of the roadside, his hat in his hand, quavering dolorously after the fashion of street-singers at Home. There was not a soul in sight, and he was out of all possible earshot of the houses. And he sang through his nose, turning his head from right to left:

“The Son of Man goes forth to war,
A golden crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar—
Who follows in his train?”

I waited to hear no more, but put the poor wretch into my carriage and drove him off to the nearest missionary for eventual transfer to the Asylum. He repeated the hymn twice while he was with me whom he did not in the least recognize, and I left him singing it to the missionary.

Two days later I inquired after his welfare of the Superintendent of the Asylum.

“He was admitted suffering from sunstroke. He died early yesterday morning,” said the Superintendent. “Is it true that he was half an hour bareheaded in the sun at midday?”

“Yes,” said I, “but do you happen to know if he had anything upon him by any chance when he died?”

“Not to my knowledge,” said the Superintendent.

And there the matter rests.

The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows • 2,600 Words

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 Coppersmith’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 smelled ‘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 the 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 it’s 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 that 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 woolen headpiece, all covered with black and red dragons and things; just like the 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 burned 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 is 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 burned 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 terribly 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. Then I shall lie back, quiet and comfortable, 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 wish Tsin-ling wouldn’t put bran into the Black Smoke.

The Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney • 10,100 Words

Wohl auf, my bully cavaliers,
We ride to church to-day,
The man that hasn’t got a horse
Must steal one straight away.

Be reverent, men, remember
This is a Gottes haus.
Du, Conrad, cut along der aisle
And schenck der whiskey aus.
Hans Breitmann’s Ride to Church.

Once upon a time, very far from England, there lived three men who loved each other so greatly that neither man nor woman could come between them. They were in no sense refined, nor to be admitted to the outer-door mats of decent folk, because they happened to be private soldiers in Her Majesty’s Army; and private soldiers of our service have small time for self-culture. Their duty is to keep themselves and their accoutrements specklessly clean, to refrain from getting drunk more often than is necessary, to obey their superiors, and to pray for a war. All these things my friends accomplished; and of their own motion threw in some fighting-work for which the Army Regulations did not call. Their fate sent them to serve in India, which is not a golden country, though poets have sung otherwise. There men die with great swiftness, and those who live suffer many and curious things. I do not think that my friends concerned themselves much with the social or political aspects of the East. They attended a not unimportant war on the northern frontier, another one on our western boundary, and a third in Upper Burma. Then their regiment sat still to recruit, and the boundless monotony of cantonment life was their portion. They were drilled morning and evening on the same dusty parade-ground. They wandered up and down the same stretch of dusty white road, attended the same church and the same grog-shop, and slept in the same lime-washed barn of a barrack for two long years. There was Mulvaney, the father in the craft, who had served with various regiments from Bermuda to Halifax, old in war, scarred, reckless, resourceful, and in his pious hours an unequalled soldier. To him turned for help and comfort six and a half feet of slow-moving, heavy-footed Yorkshireman, born on the wolds, bred in the dales, and educated chiefly among the carriers’ carts at the back of York railway-station. His name was Learoyd, and his chief virtue an unmitigated patience which helped him to win fights. How Ortheris, a fox-terrier of a Cockney, ever came to be one of the trio, is a mystery which even to-day I cannot explain. “There was always three av us,” Mulvaney used to say. “An’ by the grace av God, so long as our service lasts, three av us they’ll always be. ‘Tis betther so.”

They desired no companionship beyond their own, and it was evil for any man of the regiment who attempted dispute with them. Physical argument was out of the question as regarded Mulvaney and the Yorkshireman; and assault on Ortheris meant a combined attack from these twain—a business which no five men were anxious to have on their hands. Therefore they flourished, sharing their drinks, their tobacco, and their money; good luck and evil; battle and the chances of death; life and the chances of happiness from Calicut in southern, to Peshawur in northern India.

Through no merit of my own it was my good fortune to be in a measure admitted to their friendship—frankly by Mulvaney from the beginning, sullenly and with reluctance by Learoyd, and suspiciously by Ortheris, who held to it that no man not in the Army could fraternize with a red-coat. “Like to like,” said he. “I’m a bloomin’ sodger—he’s a bloomin’ civilian. ‘Tain’t natural—that’s all.”

But that was not all. They thawed progressively, and in the thawing told me more of their lives and adventures than I am ever likely to write.

Omitting all else, this tale begins with the Lamentable Thirst that was at the beginning of First Causes. Never was such a thirst—Mulvaney told me so. They kicked against their compulsory virtue, but the attempt was only successful in the case of Ortheris. He, whose talents were many, went forth into the highways and stole a dog from a “civilian”—videlicet, some one, he knew not who, not in the Army. Now that civilian was but newly connected by marriage with the colonel of the regiment, and outcry was made from quarters least anticipated by Ortheris, and, in the end, he was forced, lest a worse thing should happen, to dispose at ridiculously unremunerative rates of as promising a small terrier as ever graced one end of a leading string. The purchase-money was barely sufficient for one small outbreak which led him to the guard-room. He escaped, however, with nothing worse than a severe reprimand, and a few hours of punishment drill. Not for nothing had he acquired the reputation of being “the best soldier of his inches” in the regiment. Mulvaney had taught personal cleanliness and efficiency as the first articles of his companions’ creed. “A dhirty man,” he was used to say, in the speech of his kind, “goes to Clink for a weakness in the knees, an’ is coort-martialled for a pair av socks missin’; but a clane man, such as is an ornament to his service—a man whose buttons are gold, whose coat is wax upon him, an’ whose ‘coutrements are widout a speck—that man may, spakin’ in reason, do fwhat he likes an’ dhrink from day to divil. That’s the pride av bein’ dacint.”

We sat together, upon a day, in the shade of a ravine far from the barracks, where a watercourse used to run in rainy weather. Behind us was the scrub jungle, in which jackals, peacocks, the grey wolves of the Northwestern Provinces, and occasionally a tiger estrayed from Central India, were supposed to dwell. In front lay the cantonment, glaring white under a glaring sun; and on either side ran the broad road that led to Delhi.

It was the scrub that suggested to my mind the wisdom of Mulvaney taking a day’s leave and going upon a shooting-tour. The peacock is a holy bird throughout India, and he who slays one is in danger of being mobbed by the nearest villagers; but on the last occasion that Mulvaney had gone forth, he had contrived, without in the least offending local religious susceptibilities, to return with six beautiful peacock skins which he sold to profit. It seemed just possible then—

“But fwhat manner av use is ut to me goin’ out widout a dhrink? The ground’s powdher-dhry underfoot, an’ ut gets unto the throat fit to kill,” wailed Mulvaney, looking at me reproachfully. “An’ a peacock is not a bird you can catch the tail av onless ye run. Can a man run on wather—an’ jungle-wather too?”

Ortheris had considered the question in all its bearings. He spoke, chewing his pipe-stem meditatively the while:

“Go forth, return in glory,
To Clusium’s royal ‘ome:
An’ round these bloomin’ temples ‘ang
The bloomin’ shields o’ Rome.

You better go. You ain’t like to shoot yourself—not while there’s a chanst of liquor. Me an’ Learoyd ‘ll stay at ‘ome an’ keep shop—’case o’ anythin’ turnin’ up. But you go out with a gas-pipe gun an’ ketch the little peacockses or somethin’. You kin get one day’s leave easy as winkin’. Go along an’ get it, an’ get peacockses or somethin’.”

“Jock,” said Mulvaney, turning to Learoyd, who was half asleep under the shadow of the bank. He roused slowly.

“Sitha, Mulvaaney, go,” said he.

And Mulvaney went; cursing his allies with Irish fluency and barrack-room point.

“Take note,” said he, when he had won his holiday, and appeared dressed in his roughest clothes with the only other regimental fowling piece in his hand. “Take note, Jock, an’ you Orth’ris, I am goin’ in the face av my own will—all for to please you. I misdoubt anythin’ will come av permiscuous huntin’ afther peacockses in a desolit lan’; an’ I know that I will lie down an’ die wid thirrrst. Me catch peacockses for you, ye lazy scutts—an’ be sacrificed by the peasanthry—Ugh!”

He waved a huge paw and went away.

At twilight, long before the appointed hour, he returned empty-handed, much begrimed with dirt.

“Peacockses?” queried Ortheris from the safe rest of a barrack-room table whereon he was smoking cross-legged, Learoyd fast asleep on a bench.

“Jock,” said Mulvaney, without answering, as he stirred up the sleeper. “Jock, can ye fight? Will ye fight?”

Very slowly the meaning of the words communicated itself to the half-roused man. He understood—and again—what might these things mean? Mulvaney was shaking him savagely. Meantime the men in the room howled with delight. There was war in the confederacy at last—war and the breaking of bonds.

Barrack-room etiquette is stringent. On the direct challenge must follow the direct reply. This is more binding than the ties of tried friendship. Once again Mulvaney repeated the question. Learoyd answered by the only means in his power, and so swiftly that the Irishman had barely time to avoid the blow. The laughter around increased. Learoyd looked bewilderedly at his friend—himself as greatly bewildered. Ortheris dropped from the table because his world was falling.

“Come outside,” said Mulvaney, and as the occupants of the barrack-room prepared joyously to follow, he turned and said furiously, “There will be no fight this night—onless any wan av you is wishful to assist. The man that does, follows on.”

No man moved. The three passed out into the moonlight, Learoyd fumbling with the buttons of his coat. The parade-ground was deserted except for the scurrying jackals. Mulvaney’s impetuous rush carried his companions far into the open ere Learoyd attempted to turn round and continue the discussion.

“Be still now. ‘Twas my fault for beginnin’ things in the middle av an end, Jock. I should ha’ comminst wid an explanation; but Jock, dear, on your sowl are ye fit, think you, for the finest fight that iver was—betther than fightin’ me? Considher before ye answer.”

More than ever puzzled, Learoyd turned round two or three times, felt an arm, kicked tentatively, and answered, “Ah’m fit.” He was accustomed to fight blindly at the bidding of the superior mind.

They sat them down, the men looking on from afar, and Mulvaney untangled himself in mighty words.

“Followin’ your fools’ scheme I wint out into the thrackless desert beyond the barricks. An’ there I met a pious Hindu dhriving a bullock-kyart. I tuk ut for granted he wud be delighted for to convoy me a piece, an’ I jumped in”—

“You long, lazy, black-haired swine,” drawled Ortheris, who would have done the same thing under similar circumstances.

“‘Twas the height av policy. That naygur-man dhruv miles an’ miles—as far as the new railway line they’re buildin’ now back av the Tavi river. ”Tis a kyart for dhirt only,’ says he now an’ again timoreously, to get me out av ut. ‘Dhirt I am,’ sez I, ‘an’ the dhryest that you iver kyarted. Dhrive on, me son, an’ glory be wid you.’ At that I wint to slape, an’ took no heed till he pulled up on the embankmmt av the line where the coolies were pilin’ mud. There was a matther av two thousand coolies on that line—you remimber that. Prisintly a bell rang, an’ they throops off to a big pay-shed. ‘Where’s the white man in charge?’ sez I to my kyart-dhriver. ‘In the shed,’ sez he, ‘engaged on a riffle,’—’A fwhat?’ sez I. ‘Riffle,’ sez he, ‘You take ticket. He take money. You get nothin’.—’Oho!’ sez I, ‘that’s fwhat the shuperior an’ cultivated man calls a raffle, me misbeguided child av darkness an’ sin. Lead on to that raffle, though fwhat the mischief ’tis doin’ so far away from uts home—which is the charity-bazaar at Christmas, an’ the colonel’s wife grinnin’ behind the tea-table—is more than I know.’ Wid that I wint to the shed an’ found ’twas payday among the coolies. Their wages was on a table forninst a big, fine, red buck av a man—sivun fut high, four fut wide, an’ three fut thick, wid a fist on him like a corn-sack. He was payin’ the coolies fair an’ easy, but he wud ask each man If he wud raffle that month, an’ each man sez, ‘Yes,’ av course. Thin he wud deduct from their wages accordin’. Whin all was paid, he filled an ould cigar-box full av gun-wads an’ scatthered ut among the coolies. They did not take much joy av that performince, an’ small wondher. A man close to me picks up a black gun-wad an’ sings out, ‘I have ut,’—’Good may ut do you.’ sez I. The coolie wint forward to this big, fine, red man, who threw a cloth off av the most sumpshus, jooled, enamelled an’ variously bedivilled sedan-chair I iver saw.”

“Sedan-chair! Put your ‘ead in a bag. That was a palanquin. Don’t yer know a palanquin when you see it?” said Ortheris with great scorn.

“I chuse to call ut sedan chair, an’ chair ut shall be, little man,” continued the Irishman. “Twas a most amazin’ chair—all lined wid pink silk an’ fitted wid red silk curtains. ‘Here ut is,’ sez the red man. ‘Here ut is,’ sez the coolie, an’ he grinned weakly-ways. ‘Is ut any use to you?’ sez the red man. ‘No,’ sez the coolie; ‘I’d like to make a presint av ut to you.’—’I am graciously pleased to accept that same,’ sez the red man; an’ at that all the coolies cried aloud in fwhat was mint for cheerful notes, an’ wint back to their diggin’, lavin’ me alone in the shed. The red man saw me, an’ his face grew blue on his big, fat neck. ‘Fwhat d’you want here?’ sez he. ‘Standin’-room an’ no more,’ sez I, ‘onless it may be fwhat ye niver had, an’ that’s manners, ye rafflin’ ruffian,’ for I was not goin’ to have the Service throd upon. ‘Out of this,’ sez he. ‘I’m in charge av this section av construction.’—’I’m in charge av mesilf,’ sez I, ‘an’ it’s like I will stay a while. D’ye raffle much in these parts?’—’Fwhat’s that to you?’ sez he. ‘Nothin’,’ sez I, ‘but a great dale to you, for begad I’m thinkin’ you get the full half av your revenue from that sedan-chair. Is ut always raffled so?’ I sez, an’ wid that I wint to a coolie to ask questions. Bhoys, that man’s name is Dearsley, an’ he’s been rafflin’ that ould sedan-chair monthly this matther av nine months. Ivry coolie on the section takes a ticket—or he gives ‘em the go—wanst a month on pay-day. Ivry coolie that wins ut gives ut back to him, for ’tis too big to carry away, an’ he’d sack the man that thried to sell ut. That Dearsley has been makin’ the rowlin’ wealth av Roshus by nefarious rafflin’. Think av the burnin’ shame to the sufferin’ coolie-man that the army in Injia are bound to protect an’ nourish in their bosoms! Two thousand coolies defrauded wanst a month!”

“Dom t’ coolies. Has’t gotten t’ cheer, man?” said Learoyd.

“Hould on. Havin’ onearthed this amazin’ an’ stupenjus fraud committed by the man Dearsley, I hild a council av war; he thryin’ all the time to sejuce me into a fight wid opprobrious language. That sedan-chair niver belonged by right to any foreman av coolies. ‘Tis a king’s chair or a quane’s. There’s gold on ut an’ silk an’ all manner av trapesemints. Bhoys, ’tis not for me to countenance any sort av wrong-doin’—me bein’ the ould man—but—anyway he has had ut nine months, an’ he dare not make throuble av ut was taken from him. Five miles away, or ut may be six”—

There was a long pause, and the jackals howled merrily. Learoyd bared one arm, and contemplated it in the moonlight. Then he nodded partly to himself and partly to his friends. Ortheris wriggled with suppressed emotion.

“I thought ye wud see the reasonableness av ut,” said Mulvaney. “I make bould to say as much to the man before. He was for a direct front attack—fut, horse, an’ guns—an’ all for nothin’, seein’ that I had no thransport to convey the machine away. ‘I will not argue wid you,’ sez I, ‘this day, but subsequintly, Mister Dearsley, me rafflin’ jool, we talk ut out lengthways. ‘Tis no good policy to swindle the naygur av his hard-earned emolumints, an’ by presint informa-shin’—’twas the kyart man that tould me—’ye’ve been perpethrating that same for nine months. But I’m a just man,’ sez I, ‘an’ over-lookin’ the presumpshin that yondher settee wid the gilt top was not come by honust’—at that he turned sky-green, so I knew things was more thrue than tellable—’not come by honust. I’m willin’ to compound the felony for this month’s winnin’s.’”

“Ah! Ho!” from Learoyd and Ortheris.

“That man Dearsley’s rushin’ on his fate,” continued Mulvaney, solemnly wagging his head. “All Hell had no name bad enough for me that tide. Faith, he called me a robber! Me! that was savin’ him from continuin’ in his evil ways widout a remonstrince—an’ to a man av conscience a remonstrince may change the chune av his life. ”Tis not for me to argue,’ sez I, ‘fwhatever ye are, Mister Dearsley, but, by my hand, I’ll take away the temptation for you that lies in that sedan-chair.’—’You will have to fight me for ut,’ sez he, ‘for well I know you will never dare make report to any one.’—’Fight I will,’ sez I, ‘but not this day, for I’m rejuced for want av nourishment.’—’Ye’re an ould bould hand,’ sez he, sizin’ me up an’ down; ‘an’ a jool av a fight we will have. Eat now an’ dhrink, an’ go your way.’ Wid that he gave me some hump an’ whisky—good whisky—an’ we talked av this an’ that the while. ‘It goes hard on me now,’ sez I, wipin’ my mouth, ‘to confiscate that piece av furniture, but justice is justice.’—’Ye’ve not got ut yet,’ sez he; ‘there’s the fight between.’—’There is,’ sez I, ‘an’ a good fight. Ye shall have the pick av the best quality in my rigimint for the dinner you have given this day.’ Thin I came hot-foot to you two. Hould your tongue, the both. ‘Tis this way. To-morrow we three will go there an’ he shall have his pick betune me an’ Jock. Jock’s a deceivin’ fighter, for he is all fat to the eye, an’ he moves slow. Now I’m all beef to the look, an’ I move quick. By my reckonin’ the Dearsley man won’t take me; so me an’ Orth’ris ‘ll see fair play. Jock, I tell you, ’twill be big fightin’—whipped, wid the cream above the jam. Afther the business ’twill take a good three av us—Jock ‘ll be very hurt—to haul away that sedan-chair.”

“Palanquin.” This from Ortheris.

“Fwhatever ut is, we must have ut. Tis the only sellin’ piece av property widin reach that we can get so cheap. An’ fwhat’s a fight afther all? He has robbed the naygur-man, dishonust. We rob him honust for the sake av the whisky he gave me.”

“But wot’ll we do with the bloomin’ article when we’ve got it? Them palanquins are as big as ‘ouses, an’ uncommon ‘ard to sell, as McCleary said when ye stole the sentry-box from the Curragh.”

“Who’s goin’ to do t’ fightin’?” said Learoyd, and Ortheris subsided. The three returned to barracks without a word. Mulvaney’s last argument clinched the matter. This palanquin was property, vendible, and to be attained in the simplest and least embarrassing fashion. It would eventually become beer. Great was Mulvaney.

Next afternoon a procession of three formed itself and disappeared into the scrub in the direction of the new railway line. Learoyd alone was without care, for Mulvaney dived darkly into the future, and little Ortheris feared the unknown, What befell at that interview in the lonely pay-shed by the side of the half-built embankment, only a few hundred coolies know, and their tale is a confusing one, running thus—

“We were at work. Three men in red coats came. They saw the Sahib—Dearsley Sahib. They made oration; and noticeably the small man among the red-coats. Dearsley Sahib also made oration, and used many very strong words, Upon this talk they departed together to an open space, and there the fat man in the red coat fought with Dearsley Sahib after the custom of white men—with his hands, making no noise, and never at all pulling Dearsley Sahib’s hair. Such of us as were not afraid beheld these things for just so long a time as a man needs to cook the midday meal. The small man in the red coat had possessed himself of Dearsley Sahib’s watch. No, he did not steal that watch. He held it in his hand, and at certain seasons made outcry, and the twain ceased their combat, which was like the combat of young bulls in spring. Both men were soon all red, but Dearsley Sahib was much more red than the other. Seeing this, and fearing for his life—because we greatly loved him—some fifty of us made shift to rush upon the red-coats. But a certain man—very black as to the hair, and in no way to be confused with the small man, or the fat man who fought—that man, we affirm, ran upon us, and of us he embraced some ten or fifty in both arms, and beat our heads together, so that our livers turned to water, and we ran away. It is not good to interfere in the fightings of white men. After that Dearsley Sahib fell and did not rise, these men jumped upon his stomach and despoiled him of all his money, and attempted to fire the pay-shed, and departed. Is it true that Dearsley Sahib makes no complaint of these latter things having been done? We were senseless with fear, and do not at all remember. There was no palanquin near the pay-shed. What do we know about palanquins? Is it true that Dearsley Sahib does not return to this place, on account of his sickness, for ten days? This is the fault of those bad men in the red coats, who should be severely punished; for Dearsley Sahib is both our father and mother, and we love him much. Yet, if Dearsley Sahib does not return to this place at all, we will speak the truth. There was a palanquin, for the up-keep of which we were forced to pay nine-tenths of our monthly wage. On such mulctings Dearsley Sahib allowed us to make obeisance to him before the palanquin. What could we do? We were poor men. He took a full half of our wages. Will the Government repay us those moneys? Those three men in red coats bore the palanquin upon their shoulders and departed. All the money that Dearsley Sahib had taken from us was in the cushions of that palanquin. Therefore they stole it. Thousands of rupees were there—all our money. It was our bank-box, to fill which we cheerfully contributed to Dearsley Sahib three-sevenths of our monthly wage. Why does the white man look upon us with the eye of disfavor? Before God, there was a palanquin, and now there is no palanquin; and if they send the police here to make inquisition, we can only say that there never has been any palanquin. Why should a palanquin be near these works? We are poor men, and we know nothing.”

Such is the simplest version of the simplest story connected with the descent upon Dearsley. From the lips of the coolies I received it. Dearsley himself was in no condition to say anything, and Mulvaney preserved a massive silence, broken only by the occasional licking of the lips. He had seen a fight so gorgeous that even his power of speech was taken from him. I respected that reserve until, three days after the affair, I discovered in a disused stable in my quarters a palanquin of unchastened splendor—evidently in past days the litter of a queen. The pole whereby it swung between the shoulders of the bearers was rich with the painted papier-machè of Cashmere. The shoulder-pads were of yellow silk. The panels of the litter itself were ablaze with the loves of all the gods and goddesses of the Hindu Pantheon—lacquer on cedar. The cedar sliding doors were fitted with hasps of translucent Jaipur enamel and ran in grooves shod with silver. The cushions were of brocaded Delhi silk, and the curtains which once hid any glimpse of the beauty of the king’s palace were stiff with gold. Closer investigation showed that the entire fabric was everywhere rubbed and discolored by time and wear; but even thus it was sufficiently gorgeous to deserve housing on the threshold of a royal zenana. I found no fault with it, except that it was in my stable. Then, trying to lift it by the silver-shod shoulder-pole, I laughed. The road from Dearsley’s pay-shed to the cantonment was a narrow and uneven one, and, traversed by three very inexperienced palanquin-bearers, one of whom was sorely battered about the head, must have been a path of torment. Still I did not quite recognize the right of the three musketeers to turn me into a “fence” for stolen property.

“I’m askin’ you to warehouse ut,” said Mulvaney when he was brought to consider the question. “There’s no steal in ut. Dearsley tould us we cud have ut if we fought. Jock fought—an’, oh, sorr, when the throuble was at uts finest an’ Jock was bleedin’ like a stuck pig, an’ little Orth’ris was shquealin’ on one leg chewin’ big bites out av Dearsley’s watch, I wud ha’ given my place at the fight to have had you see wan round. He tuk Jock, as I suspicioned he would, an’ Jock was deceptive. Nine roun’s they were even matched, an’ at the tenth—About that palanquin now, There’s not the least throuble in the world, or we wud not ha’ brought ut here. You will ondherstand that the Queen—God bless her!—does not reckon for a privit soldier to kape elephints an’ palanquins an’ sich in barricks. Afther we had dhragged ut down from Dearsley’s through that cruel scrub that near broke Orth’ris’s heart, we set ut in the ravine for a night; an’ a thief av a porcupine an’ a civet-cat av a jackal roosted in ut, as well we knew in the mornin’. I put ut to you, sorr, is an elegint palanquin, fit for the princess, the natural abidin’ place av all the vermin in cantonmints? We brought ut to you, afther dhark, and put ut in your shtable. Do not let your conscience prick. Think av the rejoicin’ men in the pay-shed yonder—lookin’ at Dearsley wid his head tied up in a towel—an’ well knowin’ that they can dhraw their pay ivry month widout stoppages for riffles. Indirectly, sorr, you have rescued from an onprincipled son av a night-hawk the peasanthry av a numerous village. An’ besides, will I let that sedan-chair rot on our hands? Not I. Tis not every day a piece av pure joolry comes into the market. There’s not a king widin these forty miles”—he waved his hand round the dusty horizon—”not a king wud not be glad to buy ut. Some day meself, whin I have leisure, I’ll take ut up along the road an’ dishpose av ut.”

“How?” said I, for I knew the man was capable of anything.

“Get into ut, av coorse, and keep wan eye open through the curtains. Whin I see a likely man av the native persuasion, I will descind blushin’ from my canopy and say, ‘Buy a palanquin, ye black scutt?’ I will have to hire four men to carry me first, though; and that’s impossible till next pay-day.”

Curiously enough, Learoyd, who had fought for the prize, and in the winning secured the highest pleasure life had to offer him, was altogether disposed to undervalue it, while Ortheris openly said it would be better to break the thing up. Dearsley, he argued, might be a many-sided man, capable, despite his magnificent fighting qualities, of setting in motion the machinery of the civil law—a thing much abhorred by the soldier. Under any circumstances their fun had come and passed; the next pay-day was close at hand, when there would be beer for all. Wherefore longer conserve the painted palanquin?

“A first-class rifle-shot an’ a good little man av your inches you are,” said Mulvaney. “But you niver had a head worth a soft-boiled egg. ‘Tis me has to lie awake av nights schamin’ an’ plottin’ for the three av us. Orth’ris, me son, ’tis no matther av a few gallons av beer—no, nor twenty gallons—but tubs an’ vats an’ firkins in that sedan-chair. Who ut was, an’ what ut was, an’ how ut got there, we do not know; but I know in my bones that you an’ me an’ Jock wid his sprained thumb will get a fortune thereby. Lave me alone, an’ let me think.”

Meantime the palanquin stayed in my stall, the key of which was in Mulvaney’s hands.

Pay-day came, and with it beer. It was not in experience to hope that Mulvaney, dried by four weeks’ drought, would avoid excess. Next morning he and the palanquin had disappeared. He had taken the precaution of getting three days’ leave “to see a friend on the railway,” and the colonel, well knowing that the seasonal outburst was near, and hoping it would spend its force beyond the limits of his jurisdiction, cheerfully gave him all he demanded. At this point Mulvaney’s history, as recorded in the mess-room, stopped.

Ortheris carried it not much further. “No, ‘e wasn’t drunk,” said the little man loyally, “the liquor was no more than feelin’ its way round inside of ‘im; but ‘e went an’ filled that ‘ole bloomin’ palanquin with bottles ‘fore ‘e went off. ‘E’s gone an’ ‘ired six men to carry ‘im, an’ I ‘ad to ‘elp ‘im into ‘is nupshal couch, ’cause ‘e wouldn’t ‘ear reason. ‘E’s gone off in ‘is shirt an’ trousies, swearin’ tremenjus—gone down the road in the palanquin, wavin’ ‘is legs out o’ windy.”

“Yes,” said I, “but where?”

“Now you arx me a question. ‘E said ‘e was goin’ to sell that palanquin, but from observations what happened when I was stuffin’ ‘im through the door, I fancy ‘e’s gone to the new embankment to mock at Dearsley. ‘Soon as Jock’s off duty I’m goin’ there to see if ‘e’s safe—not Mulvaney, but t’other man. My saints, but I pity ‘im as ‘elps Terence out o’ the palanquin when ‘e’s once fair drunk!”

“He’ll come back without harm,” I said.

“‘Corse ‘e will. On’y question is, what ‘ll ‘e be doin’ on the road? Killing Dearsley, like as not. ‘E shouldn’t ‘a gone without Jock or me.”

Reinforced by Learoyd, Ortheris sought the foreman of the coolie-gang. Dearsley’s head was still embellished with towels. Mulvaney, drunk or sober, would have struck no man in that condition, and Dearsley indignantly denied that he would have taken advantage of the intoxicated brave.

“I had my pick o’ you two,” he explained to Learoyd, “and you got my palanquin—not before I’d made my profit on it. Why’d I do harm when everything’s settled? Your man did come here—drunk as Davy’s sow on a frosty night—came a-purpose to mock me—stuck his head out of the door an’ called me a crucified hodman. I made him drunker, an’ sent him along. But I never touched him.”

To these things Learoyd, slow to perceive the evidences of sincerity, answered only, “If owt comes to Mulvaaney ‘long o’ you, I’ll gripple you, clouts or no clouts on your ugly head, an’ I’ll draw t’ throat twistyways, man. See there now.”

The embassy removed itself, and Dearsley, the battered, laughed alone over his supper that evening.

Three days passed—a fourth and a fifth. The week drew to a close and Mulvaney did not return. He, his royal palanquin, and his six attendants, had vanished into air. A very large and very tipsy soldier, his feet sticking out of the litter of a reigning princess, is not a thing to travel along the ways without comment. Yet no man of all the country round had seen any such wonder. He was, and he was not; and Learoyd suggested the immediate smashment of Dearsley as a sacrifice to his ghost. Ortheris insisted that all was well, and in the light of past experience his hopes seemed reasonable.

“When Mulvaney goes up the road,” said he, “‘e’s like to go a very long ways up, specially when ‘e’s so blue drunk as ‘e is now. But what gits me is ‘is not bein’ ‘eard of pullin’ wool off the niggers somewheres about. That don’t look good. The drink must ha’ died out in ‘im by this, unless e’s broke a bank, an’ then—Why don’t ‘e come back? ‘E didn’t ought to ha’ gone off without us.”

Even Ortheris’s heart sank at the end of the seventh day, for half the regiment were out scouring the countryside, and Learoyd had been forced to fight two men who hinted openly that Mulvaney had deserted. To do him justice, the colonel laughed at the notion, even when it was put forward by his much-trusted adjutant.

“Mulvaney would as soon think of deserting as you would,” said he. “No; he’s either fallen into a mischief among the villagers—and yet that isn’t likely, for he’d blarney himself out of the Pit; or else he is engaged on urgent private affairs—some stupendous devilment that we shall hear of at mess after it has been the round of the barrack-rooms. The worst of it is that I shall have to give him twenty-eight days’ confinement at least for being absent without leave, just when I most want him to lick the new batch of recruits into shape. I never knew a man who could put a polish on young soldiers as quickly as Mulvaney can. How does he do it?”

“With blarney and the buckle-end of a belt, sir,” said the adjutant. “He is worth a couple of non-commissioned officers when we are dealing with an Irish draft, and the London lads seem to adore him. The worst of it is that if he goes to the cells the other two are neither to hold nor to bind till he comes out again. I believe Ortheris preaches mutiny on those occasions, and I know that the mere presence of Learoyd mourning for Mulvaney kills all the cheerfulness of his room, The sergeants tell me that he allows no man to laugh when he feels unhappy. They are a queer gang.”

“For all that, I wish we had a few more of them. I like a well-conducted regiment, but these pasty-faced, shifty-eyed, mealy-mouthed young slouchers from the depôt worry me sometimes with their offensive virtue. They don’t seem to have backbone enough to do anything but play cards and prowl round the married quarters. I believe I’d forgive that old villain on the spot if he turned up with any sort of explanation that I could in decency accept.”

“Not likely to be much difficulty about that, sir,” said the adjutant. “Mulvaney’s explanations are only one degree less wonderful than his performances. They say that when he was in the Black Tyrone, before he came to us, he was discovered on the banks of the Liffey trying to sell his colonel’s charger to a Donegal dealer as a perfect lady’s hack. Shackbolt commanded the Tyrone then.”

“Shackbolt must have had apoplexy at the thought of his ramping war-horses answering to that description. He used to buy unbacked devils, and tame them on some pet theory of starvation. What did Mulvaney say?”

“That he was a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, anxious to ‘sell the poor baste where he would get something to fill out his dimples.’ Shackbolt laughed, but I fancy that was why Mulvaney exchanged to ours.”

“I wish he were back,” said the colonel; “for I like him and believe he likes me.”

That evening, to cheer our souls, Learoyd, Ortheris, and I went into the waste to smoke out a porcupine. All the dogs attended, but even their clamor—and they began to discuss the shortcomings of porcupines before they left cantonments—could not take us out of ourselves. A large, low moon turned the tops of the plume-grass to silver, and the stunted camel-thorn bushes and sour tamarisks into the likenesses of trooping devils. The smell of the sun had not left the earth, and little aimless winds blowing across the rose-gardens to the southward brought the scent of dried roses and water. Our fire once started, and the dogs craftily disposed to wait the dash of the porcupine, we climbed to the top of a rain-scarred hillock of earths and looked across the scrub seamed with cattle paths, white with the long grass, and dotted with spots of level pond-bottom, where the snipe would gather in winter.

“This,” said Ortheris, with a sigh, as he took in the unkempt desolation of it all, “this is sanguinary. This is unusually sanguinary. Sort o’ mad country. Like a grate when the fire’s put out by the sun.” He shaded his eyes against the moonlight. “An’ there’s a loony dancin’ in the middle of it all. Quite right. I’d dance too if I wasn’t so downheart.”

There pranced a Portent in the face of the moon—a huge and ragged spirit of the waste, that flapped its wings from afar. It had risen out of the earth; it was coming toward us, and its outline was never twice the same. The toga, table-cloth, or dressing-gown, whatever the creature wore, took a hundred shapes. Once it stopped on a neighboring mound and flung all its legs and arms to the winds.

“My, but that scarecrow ‘as got ‘em bad!” said Ortheris. “Seems like if ‘e comes any furder we’ll ‘ave to argify with ‘im.”

Learoyd raised himself from the dirt as a bull clears his flanks of the wallow. And as a bull bellows, so he, after a short minute at gaze, gave tongue to the stars.

“MULVAANEY! MULVAANEY! A-hoo!”

Oh then it was that we yelled, and the figure dipped into the hollow, till, with a crash of rending grass, the lost one strode up to the light of the fire, and disappeared to the waist in a wave of joyous dogs! Then Learoyd and Ortheris gave greeting, bass and falsetto together, both swallowing a lump in the throat.

“You damned fool!” said they, and severally pounded him with their fists.

“Go easy!” he answered; wrapping a huge arm around each. “I would have you to know that I am a god, to be treated as such—tho’, by my faith, I fancy I’ve got to go to the guardroom just like a privit soldier.”

The latter part of the sentence destroyed the suspicions raised by the former. Any one would have been justified in regarding Mulvaney as mad. He was hatless and shoeless, and his shirt and trousers were dropping off him. But he wore one wondrous garment—a gigantic cloak that fell from collar-bone to heel—of pale pink silk, wrought all over in cunningest needlework of hands long since dead, with the loves of the Hindu gods. The monstrous figures leaped in and out of the light of the fire as he settled the folds round him.

Ortheris handled the stuff respectfully for a moment while I was trying to remember where I had seen it before. Then he screamed, “What ‘ave you done with the palanquin? You’re wearin’ the linin’.”

“I am,” said the Irishman, “an’ by the same token the ‘broidery is scrapin’ my hide off. I’ve lived in this sumpshus counterpane for four days. Me son, I begin to ondherstand why the naygur is no use, Widout me boots, an’ me trousies like an openwork stocking on a gyurl’s leg at a dance, I begin to feel like a naygur-man—all fearful an’ timoreous. Give me a pipe an’ I’ll tell on.”

He lit a pipe, resumed his grip of his two friends, and rocked to and fro in a gale of laughter.

“Mulvaney,” said Ortheris sternly, “’tain’t no time for laughin’. You’ve given Jock an’ me more trouble than you’re worth. You ‘ave been absent without leave an’ you’ll go into cells for that; an’ you ‘ave come back disgustin’ly dressed an’ most improper in the linin’ o’ that bloomin’ palanquin, Instid of which you laugh. An’ we thought you was dead all the time.”

“Bhoys,” said the culprit, still shaking gently, “whin I’ve done my tale you may cry if you like, an’ little Orth’ris here can thrample my inside out. Ha’ done an’ listen. My performinces have been stupenjus: my luck has been the blessed luck av the British Army—an’ there’s no betther than that. I went out dhrunk an’ dhrinkin’ in the palanquin, and I have come back a pink god. Did any of you go to Dearsley afther my time was up? He was at the bottom of ut all.”

“Ah said so,” murmured Learoyd. “Tomorrow ah’ll smash t’ face in upon his heead.”

“Ye will not. Dearsley’s a jool av a man. Afther Ortheris had put me into the palanquin an’ the six bearer-men were gruntin’ down the road, I tuk thought to mock Dearsley for that fight. So I tould thim, ‘Go to the embankmint,’ and there, bein’ most amazin’ full, I shtuck my head out av the concern an’ passed compliments wid Dearsley. I must ha’ miscalled him outrageous, for whin I am that way the power av the tongue comes on me. I can bare remimber tellin’ him that his mouth opened endways like the mouth av a skate, which was thrue afther Learoyd had handled ut; an’ I clear remimber his takin’ no manner nor matter av offence, but givin’ me a big dhrink of beer. Twas the beer did the thrick, for I crawled back into the palanquin, steppin’ on me right ear wid me left foot, an’ thin slept like the dead. Wanst I half-roused, an’ begad the noise in my head was tremenjus—roarin’ and rattlin’ an’ poundin’, such as was quite new to me. ‘Mother av Mercy,’ thinks I, ‘phwat a concertina I will have on my shoulders whin I wake!’ An’ wid that I curls mysilf up to sleep before ut should get hould on me. Bhoys, that noise was not dhrink, ’twas the rattle av a thrain!”

There followed an impressive pause.

“Yes, he had put me on a thrain—put me, palanquin an’ all, an’ six black assassins av his own coolies that was in his nefarious confidence, on the flat av a ballast-thruck, and we were rowlin’ an’ bowlin’ along to Benares. Glory be that I did not wake up thin an’ introjuce mysilf to the coolies. As I was sayin’, I slept for the betther part av a day an’ a night. But remimber you, that that man Dearsley had packed me off on wan av his material-thrains to Benares, all for to make me overstay my leave an’ get me into the cells.”

The explanation was an eminently rational one. Benares lay at least ten hours by rail from the cantonments, and nothing in the world could have saved Mulvaney from arrest as a deserter had he appeared there in the apparel of his orgies. Dearsley had not forgotten to take revenge. Learoyd, drawing back a little, began to place soft blows over selected portions of Mulvaney’s body. His thoughts were away on the embankment, and they meditated evil for Dearsley. Mulvaney continued—

“Whin I was full awake the palanquin was set down in a street, I suspicioned, for I cud hear people passin’ an’ talkin’. But I knew well I was far from home. There is a queer smell upon our cantonments—a smell av dried earth and brick-kilns wid whiffs av cavalry stable-litter. This place smelt marigold flowers an’ bad water, an’ wanst somethin’ alive came an’ blew heavy with his muzzle at the chink av the shutter. ‘It’s in a village I am,’ thinks I to myself, ‘an’ the parochial buffalo is investigatin’ the palanquin.’ But anyways I had no desire to move. Only lie still whin you’re in foreign parts an’ the standin’ luck av the British Army will carry ye through. That is an epigram. I made ut.

“Thin a lot av whishperin’ divils surrounded the palanquin. ‘Take ut up,’ sez wan man. ‘But who’ll pay us?’ sez another. ‘The Maharanee’s minister, av coorse,’ sez the man. ‘Oho!’ sez I to mysilf, ‘I’m a quane in me own right, wid a minister to pay me expenses. I’ll be an emperor if I lie still long enough; but this is no village I’ve found.’ I lay quiet, but I gummed me right eye to a crack av the shutters, an’ I saw that the whole street was crammed wid palanquins an’ horses, an’ a sprinklin’ av naked priests all yellow powder an’ tigers’ tails. But I may tell you, Orth’ris, an’ you, Learoyd, that av all the palanquins ours was the most imperial an’ magnificent Now a palanquin means a native lady all the world over, except whin a soldier av the Quane happens to be takin’ a ride. ‘Women an’ priests!’ sez I. ‘Your father’s son is in the right pew this time, Terence. There will be proceedin’s. Six black divils in pink muslin tuk up the palanquin, an’ oh! but the rowlin’ an’ the rockin’ made me sick. Thin we got fair jammed among the palanquins—not more than fifty av them—an’ we grated an’ bumped like Queenstown potato-smacks in a runnin’ tide. I cud hear the women gigglin’ and squirkin’ in their palanquins, but mine was the royal equipage. They made way for ut, an’, begad, the pink muslin men o’ mine were howlin’, ‘Room for the Maharanee av Gokral-Seetarun.’ Do you know aught av the lady, sorr?”

“Yes,” said I, “She is a very estimable old queen of the Central Indian States, and they say she is fat. How on earth could she go to Benares without all the city knowing her palanquin?”

“‘Twas the eternal foolishness av the naygur-man. They saw the palanquin lying loneful an’ forlornsome, an’ the beauty av ut, after Dearsley’s men had dhropped ut and gone away, an’ they gave ut the best name that occurred to thim. Quite right too. For aught we know the ould lady was travelin’ incog—like me. I’m glad to hear she’s fat. I was no light weight mysilf, an’ my men were mortial anxious to dhrop me under a great big archway promiscuously ornamented wid the most improper carvin’s an’ cuttin’s I iver saw. Begad! they made me blush—like a—like a Maharanee.”

“The temple of Prithi-Devi,” I murmured, remembering the monstrous horrors of that sculptured archway at Benares.

“Pretty Devilskins, savin’ your presence, sorr! There was nothin’ pretty about ut, except me. Twas all half dhark, an’ whin the coolies left they shut a big black gate behind av us, an’ half a company av fat yellow priests began pully-haulin’ the palanquins into a dharker place yet—a big stone hall full av pillars, an’ gods, an’ incense, an’ all manner av similar thruck. The gate disconcerted me, for I perceived I wud have to go forward to get out, my retreat bein’ cut off. By the same token a good priest makes a bad palanquin-coolie. Begad! they nearly turned me inside out draggin’ the palanquin to the temple. Now the disposishin av the forces inside was this way. The Maharanee av Gokral-Seetarun—that was me—lay by the favor av Providence on the far left flank behind the dhark av a pillar carved with elephints’ heads, The remainder av the palanquins was in a big half circle facing in to the biggest, fattest, an’ most amazin’ she-god that iver I dreamed av. Her head ran up into the black above us, an’ her feet stuck out in the light av a little fire av melted butter that a priest was feedin’ out av a butter-dish. Thin a man began to sing an’ play on somethin’ back in the dhark, an’ ’twas a queer song. Ut made my hair lift on the back av my neck, Thin the doors av all the palanquins slid back, an’ the women bundled out, I saw what I’ll niver see again. Twas more glorious than transformations at a pantomime, for they was in pink an’ blue an’ silver an’ red an’ grass green, wid di’monds an’ im’ralds an’ great red rubies all over thim. But that was the least part av the glory. O bhoys, they were more lovely than the like av any loveliness in hiven; ay, their little bare feet were better than the white hands av a lord’s lady, an’ their mouths were like puckered roses, an’ their eyes were bigger an’ dharker than the eyes av any livin’ women I’ve seen. Ye may laugh, but I’m speakin’ truth. I niver saw the like, an’ niver I will again.”

“Seeing that in all probability you were watching the wives and daughters of most of the kings of India, the chances are that you won’t,” I said, for it was dawning on me that Mulvaney had stumbled upon a big Queens’ Praying at Benares.

“I niver will,” he said, mournfully. “That sight doesn’t come twist to any man. It made me ashamed to watch. A fat priest knocked at my door. I didn’t think he’d have the insolince to disturb the Maharanee av Gokral-Seetarun, so I lay still. ‘The old cow’s asleep,’ sez he to another. ‘Let her be,’ sez that. ”Twill be long before she has a calf!’ I might ha’ known before he spoke that all a woman prays for in Injia—an’ for matter o’ that in England too—is childher. That made me more sorry I’d come, me bein’, as you well know, a childless man.”

He was silent for a moment, thinking of his little son, dead many years ago.

“They prayed, an’ the butter-fires blazed up an’ the incense turned everything blue, an’ between that an’ the fires the women looked as tho’ they were all ablaze an’ twinklin’. They took hold av the she-god’s knees, they cried out an’ they threw themselves about, an’ that world-without-end-amen music was dhrivin’ thim mad. Mother av Hiven! how they cried, an’ the ould she-god grinnin’ above thim all so scornful! The dhrink was dyin’ out in me fast, an’ I was thinkin’ harder than the thoughts wud go through my head-thinkin’ how to get out, an’ all manner of nonsense as well. The women were rockin’ in rows, their di’mond belts clickin’, an’ the tears runnin’ out betune their hands, an’ the lights were goin’ lower an’ dharker. Thin there was a blaze like lightnin’ from the roof, an’ that showed me the inside av the palanquin, an’ at the end where my foot was, stood the livin’ spit an’ image o’ mysilf worked on the linin’. This man here, ut was.”

He hunted in the folds of his pink cloak, ran a hand under one, and thrust into the firelight a foot-long embroidered presentment of the great god Krishna, playing on a flute. The heavy jowl, the staring eye, and the blue-black moustache of the god made up a far-off resemblance to Mulvaney.

“The blaze was gone in a wink, but the whole schame came to me thin, I believe I was mad too. I slid the off-shutter open an’ rowled out into the dhark behind the elephint-head pillar, tucked up my trousies to my knees, slipped off my boots an’ tuk a general hould av all the pink linin’ av the palanquin. Glory be, ut ripped out like a woman’s dhriss whin you tread on ut at a sergeants’ ball, an’ a bottle came with ut. I tuk the bottle an’ the next minut I was out av the dhark av the pillar, the pink linin’ wrapped round me most graceful, the music, thunderin’ like kettledrums, an’ a could draft blowin’ round my bare legs. By this hand that did ut, I was Khrishna tootlin’ on the flute—the god that the rig’mental chaplain talks about. A sweet sight I must ha’ looked. I knew my eyes were big, and my face was wax-white, an’ at the worst I must ha’ looked like a ghost. But they took me for the livin’ god. The music stopped, and the women were dead dumb an’ I crooked my legs like a shepherd on a china basin, an’ I did the ghost-waggle with my feet as I had done ut at the rig’mental theatre many times, an’ I slid acrost the width av that temple in front av the she-god tootlin’ on the beer bottle.”

“Wot did you toot?” demanded Ortheris the practical.

“Me? Oh!” Mulvaney sprang up, suiting the action to the word, and sliding gravely in front of us, a dilapidated but imposing deity in the half light. “I sang—

“Only say
You’ll be Mrs. Brallaghan.
Don’t say nay,
Charmin’ Judy Callaghan.”

I didn’t know me own voice when I sang. An’ oh! ’twas pitiful to see the women. The darlin’s were down on their faces. Whin I passed the last wan I cud see her poor little fingers workin’ one in another as if she wanted to touch my feet. So I dhrew the tail av this pink overcoat over her head for the greater honor, an’ I slid into the dhark on the other side av the temple, and fetched up in the arms av a big fat priest. All I wanted was to get away clear. So I tak him by his greasy throat an’ shut the speech out av him, ‘Out!’ sez I. ‘Which way, ye fat heathen?’—’Oh!’ sez he. ‘Man,’ sez I. ‘White man, soldier man, common soldier man. Where in the name av confusion is the back door?’ The women in the temple were still on their faces, an’ a young priest was holdin’ out his arms above their heads.

“‘This way,’ sez my fat friend, duckin’ behind a big bull-god an’ divin’ into a passage, Thin I remimbered that I must ha’ made the miraculous reputation av that temple for the next fifty years. ‘Not so fast,’ I sez, an’ I held out both my hands wid a wink. That ould thief smiled like a father. I tuk him by the back av the neck in case he should be wishful to put a knife into me unbeknownst, an’ I ran him up an’ down the passage twice to collect his sensibilities! ‘Be quiet,’ sez he, in English. ‘Now you talk sense,’ I sez. ‘Fwhat’ll you give me for the use av that most iligant palanquin I have no time to take away?’—’Don’t tell,’ sez he, ‘Is ut like?’ sez I, ‘But ye might give me my railway fare. I’m far from my home an’ I’ve done you a service.’ Bhoys, ’tis a good thing to be a priest. The ould man niver throubled himself to dhraw from a bank. As I will prove to you subsequint, he philandered all round the slack av his clothes an’ began dribblin’ ten-rupee notes, old gold mohurs, and rupees into my hand till I could hould no more.”

“You lie!” said Ortheris. “You’re mad or sunstrook. A native don’t give coin unless you cut it out o’ ‘im. ‘Tain’t nature.”

“Then my lie an’ my sunstroke is concealed under that lump av sod yonder,” retorted Mulvaney, unruffled, nodding across the scrub. “An’ there’s a dale more in nature than your squidgy little legs have iver taken you to, Orth’ris, me son. Four hundred an’ thirty-four rupees by my reckoning an’ a big fat gold necklace that I took from him as a remimbrancer, was our share in that business.”

“An’ ‘e give it you for love?” said Ortheris.

“We were alone in that passage. Maybe I was a trifle too pressin’, but considher fwhat I had done for the good av the temple and the iverlastin’ joy av those women. Twas cheap at the price. I wud ha’ taken more if I cud ha’ found ut. I turned the ould man upside down at the last, but he was milked dhry. Thin he opened a door in another passage an’ I found mysilf up to my knees in Benares river-water, an’ bad smellin’ ut is. More by token I had come out on the river-line close to the burnin’ ghat and contagious to a cracklin’ corpse. This was in the heart av the night, for I had been four hours in the temple. There was a crowd av boats tied up, so I tuk wan an’ wint across the river, Thin I came home acrost country, lyin’ up by day.”

“How on earth did you manage?” I said.

“How did Sir Frederick Roberts get from Cabul to Candahar? He marched an’ he niver tould how near he was to breakin’ down. That’s why he is fwhat he is. An’ now”—Mulvaney yawned portentously, “Now I will go an’ give myself up for absince widout leave. It’s eight an’ twenty days an’ the rough end of the colonel’s tongue in orderly room, any way you look at ut. But ’tis cheap at the price.”

“Mulvaney,” said I, softly. “If there happens to be any sort of excuse that the colonel can in any way accept, I have a notion that you’ll get nothing more than the dressing-down, The new recruits are in, and”—

“Not a word more, sorr. Is ut excuses the old man wants? Tis not my way, but he shall have thim. I’ll tell him I was engaged in financial operations connected wid a church,” and he flapped his way to cantonments and the cells, singing lustily—

“So they sent a corp’ril’s file,
And they put me in the gyard-room
For conduck unbecomin’ of a soldier.”

And when he was lost in the midst of the moonlight we could hear the refrain—

“Bang upon the big drum, bash upon the cymbals,
As we go marchin’ along, boys, oh!
For although in this campaign
There’s no whisky nor champagne,
We’ll keep our spirits goin’ with a song, boys!”

Therewith he surrendered himself to the joyful and almost weeping guard, and was made much of by his fellows. But to the colonel he said that he had been smitten with sunstroke and had lain insensible on a villager’s cot for untold hours; and between laughter and good-will the affair was smoothed over, so that he could, next day, teach the new recruits how to “Fear God, Honor the Queen, Shoot Straight, and Keep Clean.”

His Majesty the King • 4,100 Words

“Where the word of a King is, there is power: And who may say unto him—What doest thou?”

“Yeth! And Chimo to sleep at ve foot of ve bed, and ve pink pikky-book, and ve bwead—’cause I will be hungwy in ve night—and vat’s all, Miss Biddums. And now give me one kiss and I’ll go to sleep.—So! Kite quiet. Ow! Ve pink pikky-book has slidded under ve pillow and ve bwead is cwumbling! Miss Biddums! Miss Biddums! I’m so uncomfy! Come and tuck me up, Miss Biddums.”

His Majesty the King was going to bed; and poor, patient Miss Biddums, who had advertised herself humbly as a “young person, European, accustomed to the care of little children,” was forced to wait upon his royal caprices. The going to bed was always a lengthy process, because His Majesty had a convenient knack of forgetting which of his many friends, from the mehter’s son to the Commissioner’s daughter, he had prayed for, and, lest the Deity should take offence, was used to toil through his little prayers, in all reverence, five times in one evening. His Majesty the King believed in the efficacy of prayer as devoutly as he believed in Chimo the patient spaniel, or Miss Biddums, who could reach him down his gun—”with cursuffun caps—reel ones”—from the upper shelves of the big nursery cupboard.

At the door of the nursery his authority stopped. Beyond lay the empire of his father and mother—two very terrible people who had no time to waste upon His Majesty the King. His voice was lowered when he passed the frontier of his own dominions, his actions were fettered, and his soul was filled with awe because of the grim man who lived among a wilderness of pigeon-holes and the most fascinating pieces of red tape, and the wonderful woman who was always getting into or stepping out of the big carriage.

To the one belonged the mysteries of the “duftar-room”; to the other the great, reflected wilderness of the “Memsahib’s room” where the shiny, scented dresses hung on pegs, miles and miles up in the air, and the just-seen plateau of the toilet-table revealed an acreage of speckly combs, broidered “hanafitch bags,” and “white-headed” brushes.

There was no room for His Majesty the King either in official reserve or mundane gorgeousness. He had discovered that, ages and ages ago—before even Chimo came to the house, or Miss Biddums had ceased grizzling over a packet of greasy letters which appeared to be her chief treasure on earth. His Majesty the King, therefore, wisely confined himself to his own territories, where only Miss Biddums, and she feebly, disputed his sway.

From Miss Biddums he had picked up his simple theology and welded it to the legends of gods and devils that he had learned in the servants’ quarters.

To Miss Biddums he confided with equal trust his tattered garments and his more serious griefs. She would make everything whole. She knew exactly how the Earth had been born, and had reassured the trembling soul of His Majesty the King that terrible time in July when it rained continuously for seven days and seven nights, and—there was no Ark ready and all the ravens had flown away! She was the most powerful person with whom he was brought into contact—always excepting the two remote and silent people beyond the nursery door.

How was His Majesty the King to know that, six years ago, in the summer of his birth, Mrs. Austell, turning over her husband’s papers, had come upon the intemperate letter of a foolish woman who had been carried away by the silent man’s strength and personal beauty? How could he tell what evil the overlooked slip of note-paper had wrought in the mind of a desperately jealous wife? How could he, despite his wisdom, guess that his mother had chosen to make of it excuse for a bar and a division between herself and her husband, that strengthened and grew harder to break with each year; that she, having unearthed this skeleton in the cupboard, had trained it into a household God which should be about their path and about their bed, and poison all their ways?

These things were beyond the province of His Majesty the King. He only knew that his father was daily absorbed in some mysterious work for a thing called the Sirkar and that his mother was the victim alternately of the Nautch and the Burrakhana. To these entertainments she was escorted by a Captain-Man for whom His Majesty the King had no regard.

“He doesn’t laugh,” he argued with Miss Biddums, who would fain have taught him charity. “He only makes faces wiv his mouf, and when he wants to o-muse me I am not o-mused.” And His Majesty the King shook his head as one who knew the deceitfulness of this world.

Morning and evening it was his duty to salute his father and mother—the former with a grave shake of the hand, and the latter with an equally grave kiss. Once, indeed, he had put his arms round his mother’s neck, in the fashion he used toward Miss Biddums. The openwork of his sleeve-edge caught in an earring, and the last stage of His Majesty’s little overture was a suppressed scream and summary dismissal to the nursery.

“It’s w’ong,” thought His Majesty the King, “to hug Memsahibs wiv fings in veir ears. I will amember.” He never repeated the experiment.

Miss Biddums, it must be confessed, spoiled him as much as his nature admitted, in some sort of recompense for what she called “the hard ways of his Papa and Mamma.” She, like her charge, knew nothing of the trouble between man and wife—the savage contempt for a woman’s stupidity on the one side, or the dull, rankling anger on the other. Miss Biddums had looked after many little children in her time, and served in many establishments. Being a discreet woman, she observed little and said less, and, when her pupils went over the sea to the Great Unknown which she, with touching confidence in her hearers, called “Home,” packed up her slender belongings and sought for employment afresh, lavishing all her love on each successive batch of ingrates. Only His Majesty the King had repaid her affection with interest; and in his uncomprehending ears she had told the tale of nearly all her hopes, her aspirations, the hopes that were dead, and the dazzling glories of her ancestral home in “Calcutta, close to Wellington Square.”

Everything above the average was in the eyes of His Majesty the King “Calcutta good.” When Miss Biddums had crossed his royal will, he reversed the epithet to vex that estimable lady, and all things evil were, until the tears of repentance swept away spite, “Calcutta bad.”

Now and again Miss Biddums begged for him the rare pleasure of a day in the society of the Commissioner’s child—the wilful four-year-old Patsie, who, to the intense amazement of His Majesty the King, was idolized by her parents. On thinking the question out at length, by roads unknown to those who have left childhood behind, he came to the conclusion that Patsie was petted because she wore a big blue sash and yellow hair.

This precious discovery he kept to himself. The yellow hair was absolutely beyond his power, his own tousled wig being potato-brown; but something might be done toward the blue sash. He tied a large knot in his mosquito-curtains in order to remember to consult Patsie on their next meeting. She was the only child he had ever spoken to, and almost the only one that he had ever seen. The little memory and the very large and ragged knot held good.

“Patsie, lend me your blue wiband,” said His Majesty the King.

“You’ll bewy it,” said Patsie, doubtfully, mindful of certain fearful atrocities committed on her doll.

“No, I won’t—twoofanhonor. It’s for me to wear.”

“Pooh!” said Patsie. “Boys don’t wear sa-ashes. Zey’s only for dirls.”

“I didn’t know.” The face of His Majesty the King fell.

“Who wants ribands? Are you playing horses, chickabiddies?” said the Commissioner’s wife, stepping into the veranda.

“Toby wanted my sash,” explained Patsie.

“I don’t now,” said His Majesty the King, hastily, feeling that with one of these terrible “grown-ups” his poor little secret would be shamelessly wrenched from him, and perhaps—most burning desecration of all—laughed at.

“I’ll give you a cracker-cap,” said the Commissioner’s wife. “Come along with me, Toby, and we’ll choose it.”

The cracker-cap was a stiff, three-pointed vermilion-and-tinsel splendor. His Majesty the King fitted it on his royal brow. The Commissioner’s wife had a face that children instinctively trusted, and her action, as she adjusted the toppling middle spike, was tender.

“Will it do as well?” stammered His Majesty the King.

“As what, little one?”

“As ve wiban?”

“Oh, quite. Go and look at yourself in the glass.”

The words were spoken in all sincerity and to help forward any absurd “dressing-up” amusement that the children might take into their minds. But the young savage has a keen sense of the ludicrous. His Majesty the King swung the great cheval-glass down, and saw his head crowned with the staring horror of a fool’s cap—a thing which his father would rend to pieces if it ever came into his office. He plucked it off, and burst into tears.

“Toby,” said the Commissioner’s wife, gravely, “you shouldn’t give way to temper. I am very sorry to see it. It’s wrong.”

His Majesty the King sobbed inconsolably, and the heart of Patsie’s mother was touched. She drew the child on to her knee. Clearly it was not temper alone.

“What is it, Toby? Won’t you tell me? Aren’t you well?”

The torrent of sobs and speech met, and fought for a time, with chokings and gulpings and gasps. Then, in a sudden rush, His Majesty the King was delivered of a few inarticulate sounds, followed by the words:—”Go a—way you—dirty—little debbil!”

“Toby! What do you mean?”

“It’s what he’d say. I know it is! He said vat when vere was only a little, little eggy mess, on my t-t-unic; and he’d say it again, and laugh, if I went in wif vat on my head.”

“Who would say that?”

“M-m-my Papa! And I fought if I had ve blue wiban, he’d let me play in ve waste-paper basket under ve table.”

What blue riband, childie?”

“Ve same vat Patsie had—ve big blue wiban w-w-wound my t-ttummy!”

“What is it, Toby? There’s something on your mind. Tell me all about it, and perhaps I can help.”

“Isn’t anyfing,” sniffed His Majesty, mindful of his manhood, and raising his head from the motherly bosom upon which it was resting. “I only fought vat you—you petted Patsie ’cause she had ve blue wiban, and—and if I’d had ve blue wiban too, m-my Papa w-would pet me.”

The secret was out, and His Majesty the King sobbed bitterly in spite of the arms round him, and the murmur of comfort on his heated little forehead.

Enter Patsie tumultuously, embarrassed by several lengths of the Commissioner’s pet mahseer-rod. “Tum along, Toby! Zere’s a chu-chu lizard in ze chick, and I’ve told Chimo to watch him till we turn. If we poke him wiz zis his tail will go wiggle-wiggle and fall off. Tum along! I can’t weach.”

“I’m comin’,” said His Majesty the King, climbing down from the Commissioner’s wife’s knee after a hasty kiss.

Two minutes later, the chu-chu lizard’s tail was wriggling on the matting of the veranda, and the children were gravely poking it with splinters from the chick, to urge its exhausted vitality into “just one wiggle more, ’cause it doesn’t hurt chu-chu.”

The Commissioner’s wife stood in the doorway and watched:—”Poor little mite! A blue sash … and my own precious Patsie! I wonder if the best of us, or we who love them best, ever understand what goes on in their topsy-turvy little heads.”

A big tear splashed on the Commissioner’s wife’s wedding-ring, and she went indoors to devise a tea for the benefit of His Majesty the King.

“Their souls aren’t in their tummies at that age in this climate,” said the Commissioner’s wife, “but they are not far off. I wonder if I could make Mrs. Austell understand. Poor little fellow!”

With simple craft, the Commissioner’s wife called on Mrs. Austell and spoke long and lovingly about children; inquiring specially for His Majesty the King.

“He’s with his governess,” said Mrs. Austell, and the tone intimated that she was not interested.

The Commissioner’s wife, unskilled in the art of war, continued her questionings. “I don’t know,” said Mrs. Austell. “These things are left to Miss Biddums, and, of course, she does not ill-treat the child.”

The Commissioner’s wife left hastily. The last sentence jarred upon her nerves. “Doesn’t ill-treat the child! As if that were all! I wonder what Tom would say if I only ‘didn’t ill-treat’ Patsie!”

Thenceforward, His Majesty the King was an honored guest at the Commissioner’s house, and the chosen friend of Patsie, with whom he blundered into as many scrapes as the compound and the servants’ quarters afforded. Patsie’s Mamma was always ready to give counsel, help, and sympathy, and, if need were and callers few, to enter into their games with an abandon that would have shocked the sleek-haired subalterns who squirmed painfully in their chairs when they came to call on her whom they profanely nicknamed “Mother Bunch.”

Yet, in spite of Patsie and Patsie’s Mamma, and the love that these two lavished upon him, His Majesty the King fell grievously from grace, and committed no less a sin than that of theft—unknown, it is true, but burdensome.

There came a man to the door one day, when His Majesty was playing in the hall and the bearer had gone to dinner, with a packet for his Majesty’s Mamma. And he put it upon the hall-table, said that there was no answer, and departed.

Presently, the pattern of the dado ceased to interest His Majesty, while the packet, a white, neatly wrapped one of fascinating shape, interested him very much indeed. His Mamma was out, so was Miss Biddums, and there was pink string round the packet. He greatly desired pink string. It would help him in many of his little businesses—the haulage across the floor of his small cane-chair, the torturing of Chimo, who could never understand harness—and so forth. If he took the string it would be his own, and nobody would be any the wiser. He certainly could not pluck up sufficient courage to ask Mamma for it. Wherefore, mounting upon a chair, he carefully untied the string and, behold, the stiff white paper spread out in four directions, and revealed a beautiful little leather box with gold lines upon it! He tried to replace the string, but that was a failure. So he opened the box to get full satisfaction for his iniquity, and saw a most beautiful Star that shone and winked, and was altogether lovely and desirable.

“Vat,” said His Majesty, meditatively, “is a ‘parkle cwown, like what I will wear when I go to heaven. I will wear it on my head—Miss Biddums says so. I would like to wear it now. I would like to play wiv it. I will take it away and play wiv it, very careful, until Mamma asks for it. I fink it was bought for me to play wiv—same as my cart.”

His Majesty the King was arguing against his conscience, and he knew it, for he thought immediately after: “Never mind. I will keep it to play wiv until Mamma says where is it, and then I will say:—’I tookt it and I am sorry.’ I will not hurt it because it is a ‘parkle cwown. But Miss Biddums will tell me to put it back. I will not show it to Miss Biddums.”

If Mamma had come in at that moment all would have gone well. She did not, and His Majesty the King stuffed paper, case, and jewel into the breast of his blouse and marched to the nursery.

“When Mamma asks I will tell,” was the salve that he laid upon his conscience. But Mamma never asked, and for three whole days His Majesty the King gloated over his treasure. It was of no earthly use to him, but it was splendid, and, for aught he knew, something dropped from the heavens themselves. Still Mamma made no inquiries, and it seemed to him, in his furtive peeps, as though the shiny stones grew dim. What was the use of a ‘parkle cwown if it made a little boy feel all bad in his inside? He had the pink string as well as the other treasure, but greatly he wished that he had not gone beyond the string. It was his first experience of iniquity, and it pained him after the flush of possession and secret delight in the “‘parkle cwown” had died away.

Each day that he delayed rendered confession to the people beyond the nursery doors more impossible. Now and again he determined to put himself in the path of the beautifully attired lady as she was going out, and explain that he and no one else was the possessor of a “‘parkle cwown,” most beautiful and quite uninquired for. But she passed hurriedly to her carriage, and the opportunity was gone before His Majesty the King could draw the deep breath which clinches noble resolve. The dread secret cut him off from Miss Biddums, Patsie, and the Commissioner’s wife, and—doubly hard fate—when he brooded over it Patsie said, and told her mother, that he was cross.

The days were very long to His Majesty the King, and the nights longer still. Miss Biddums had informed him, more than once, what was the ultimate destiny of “fieves,” and when he passed the interminable mud flanks of the Central Jail, he shook in his little strapped shoes.

But release came after an afternoon spent in playing boats by the edge of the tank at the bottom of the garden. His Majesty the King went to tea, and, for the first time in his memory, the meal revolted him. His nose was very cold, and his cheeks were burning hot. There was a weight about his feet, and he pressed his head several times to make sure that it was not swelling as he sat.

“I feel vevy funny,” said His Majesty the King, rubbing his nose. “Vere’s a buzz-buzz in my head.”

He went to bed quietly. Miss Biddums was out and the bearer undressed him.

The sin of the “‘parkle cwown” was forgotten in the acuteness of the discomfort to which he roused after a leaden sleep of some hours, He was thirsty, and the bearer had forgotten to leave the drinking-water. “Miss Biddums! Miss Biddums! I’m so kirsty!”

No answer, Miss Biddums had leave to attend the wedding of a Calcutta schoolmate. His Majesty the King had forgotten that.

“I want a dwink of water!” he cried, but his voice was dried up in his throat. “I want a dwink! Vere is ve glass?”

He sat up in bed and looked round. There was a murmur of voices from the other side of the nursery door. It was better to face the terrible unknown than to choke in the dark. He slipped out of bed, but his feet were strangely wilful, and he reeled once or twice. Then he pushed the door open and staggered—a puffed and purple-faced little figure—into the brilliant light of the dining-room full of pretty ladies.

“I’m vevy hot! I’m vevy uncomfitivle,” moaned His Majesty the King, clinging to the portiére, “and vere’s no water in ve glass, and I’m so kirsty. Give me a dwink of water.”

An apparition in black and white—His Majesty the King could hardly see distinctly—lifted him up to the level of the table, and felt his wrists and forehead. The water came, and he drank deeply, his teeth chattering against the edge of the tumbler. Then every one seemed to go away—every one except the huge man in black and white, who carried him back to his bed; the mother and father following. And the sin of the “‘parkle cwown” rushed back and took possession of the terrified soul.

“I’m a fief!” he gasped. “I want to tell Miss Biddums vat I’m a fief. Vere is Miss Biddums?”

Miss Biddums had come and was bending over him. “I’m a fief,” he whispered. “A fief—like ve men in the pwison. But I’ll tell now, I tookt … I tookt ve ‘parkle cwown when the man that came left it in ve hall. I bwoke ve paper and ve little bwown box, and it looked shiny, and I tookt it to play wif, and I was afwaid. It’s in ve dooly-box at ve bottom. No one never asked for it, but I was afwaid. Oh, go an’ get ve dooly-box!”

Miss Biddums obediently stooped to the lowest shelf of the almirah and unearthed the big paper box in which His Majesty the King kept his dearest possessions. Under the tin soldiers, and a layer of mud pellets for a pellet-bow, winked and blazed a diamond star, wrapped roughly in a half-sheet of note-paper whereon were a few words.

Somebody was crying at the head of the bed, and a man’s hand touched the forehead of His Majesty the King, who grasped the packet and spread it on the bed.

“Vat is ve ‘parkle cwown,” he said, and wept bitterly; for now that he had made restitution he would fain have kept the shining splendor with him.

“It concerns you too,” said a voice at the head of the bed. “Read the note. This is not the time to keep back anything.”

The note was curt, very much to the point, and signed by a single initial. “If you wear this to-morrow night I shall know what to expect.” The date was three weeks old.

A whisper followed, and the deeper voice returned: “And you drifted as far apart as that! I think it makes us quits now, doesn’t it? Oh, can’t we drop this folly once and for all? Is it worth it, darling?”

“Kiss me too,” said His Majesty the King, dreamily. “You isn’t vevy angwy, is you?”

The fever burned itself out, and His Majesty the King slept.

When he waked, it was in a new world—peopled by his father and mother as well as Miss Biddums: and there was much love in that world and no morsel of fear, and more petting than was good for several little boys. His Majesty the King was too young to moralize on the uncertainty of things human, or he would have been impressed with the singular advantages of crime—ay, black sin. Behold, he had stolen the “‘parkle cwown,” and his reward was Love, and the right to play in the waste-paper basket under the table “for always”.

* * * * *

He trotted over to spend an afternoon with Patsie, and the Commissioner’s wife would have kissed him. “No, not vere,” said His Majesty the King, with superb insolence, fencing one corner of his mouth with his hand, “Vat’s my Mamma’s place—vere she kisses me,”

“Oh!” said the Commissioner’s wife, briefly. Then to herself: “Well, I suppose I ought to be glad for his sake. Children are selfish little grubs and—I’ve got my Patsie.”

The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes • 9,000 Words

Alive or dead—there is no other way.
Native Proverb.

There is, as the conjurers say, no deception about this tale. Jukes by accident stumbled upon a village that is well known to exist, though he is the only Englishman who has been there. A somewhat similar institution used to flourish on the outskirts of Calcutta, and there is a story that if you go into the heart of Bikanir, which is in the heart of the Great Indian Desert, you shall come across not a village but a town where the Dead who did not die but may not live have established their headquarters. And, since it is perfectly true that in the same Desert is a wonderful city where all the rich moneylenders retreat after they have made their fortunes (fortunes so vast that the owners cannot trust even the strong hand of the Government to protect them, but take refuge in the waterless sands), and drive sumptuous C-spring barouches, and buy beautiful girls and decorate their palaces with gold and ivory and Minton tiles and mother-o’-pearl, I do not see why Jukes’s tale should not be true. He is a Civil Engineer, with a head for plans and distances and things of that kind, and he certainly would not take the trouble to invent imaginary traps. He could earn more by doing his legitimate work. He never varies the tale in the telling, and grows very hot and indignant when he thinks of the disrespectful treatment he received. He wrote this quite straightforwardly at first, but he has since touched it up in places and introduced Moral Reflections, thus:

In the beginning it all arose from a slight attack of fever. My work necessitated my being in camp for some months between Pakpattan and Mubarakpur—a desolate sandy stretch of country as every one who has had the misfortune to go there may know. My coolies were neither more nor less exasperating than other gangs, and my work demanded sufficient attention to keep me from moping, had I been inclined to so unmanly a weakness.

On the 23d December, 1884, I felt a little feverish. There was a full moon at the time, and, in consequence, every dog near my tent was baying it. The brutes assembled in twos and threes and drove me frantic. A few days previously I had shot one loud-mouthed singer and suspended his carcass in terrorem about fifty yards from my tent-door. But his friends fell upon, fought for, and ultimately devoured the body: and, as it seemed to me, sang their hymns of thanksgiving afterward with renewed energy.

The light-headedness which accompanies fever acts differently on different men. My irritation gave way, after a short time, to a fixed determination to slaughter one huge black and white beast who had been foremost in song and first in flight throughout the evening. Thanks to a shaking hand and a giddy head I had already missed him twice with both barrels of my shotgun, when it struck me that my best plan would be to ride him down in the open and finish him off with a hog-spear. This, of course, was merely the semi-delirious notion of a fever patient; but I remember that it struck me at the time as being eminently practical and feasible.

I therefore ordered my groom to saddle Pornic and bring him round quietly to the rear of my tent. When the pony was ready, I stood at his head prepared to mount and dash out as soon as the dog should again lift up his voice. Pornic, by the way, had not been out of his pickets for a couple of days; the night air was crisp and chilly; and I was armed with a specially long and sharp pair of persuaders with which I had been rousing a sluggish cob that afternoon. You will easily believe, then, that when he was let go he went quickly. In one moment, for the brute bolted as straight as a die, the tent was left far behind, and we were flying over the smooth sandy soil at racing speed. In another we had passed the wretched dog, and I had almost forgotten why it was that I had taken horse and hog-spear.

The delirium of fever and the excitement of rapid motion through the air must have taken away the remnant of my senses. I have a faint recollection of standing upright in my stirrups, and of brandishing my hog-spear at the great white Moon that looked down so calmly on my mad gallop; and of shouting challenges to the camel-thorn bushes as they whizzed past. Once or twice, I believe, I swayed forward on Pornic’s neck, and literally hung on by my spurs—as the marks next morning showed.

The wretched beast went forward like a thing possessed, over what seemed to be a limitless expanse of moonlit sand. Next, I remember, the ground rose suddenly in front of us, and as we topped the ascent I saw the waters of the Sutlej shining like a silver bar below. Then Pornic blundered heavily on his nose, and we rolled together down some unseen slope.

I must have lost consciousness, for when I recovered I was lying on my stomach in a heap of soft white sand, and the dawn was beginning to break dimly over the edge of the slope down which I had fallen. As the light grew stronger I saw that I was at the bottom of a horseshoe-shaped crater of sand, opening on one side directly on to the shoals of the Sutlej. My fever had altogether left me, and, with the exception of a slight dizziness in the head, I felt no bad effects from the fall over night.

Pornic, who was standing a few yards away, was naturally a good deal exhausted, but had not hurt himself in the least. His saddle, a favorite polo one, was much knocked about, and had been twisted under his belly. It took me some time to put him to rights, and in the meantime I had ample opportunities of observing the spot into which I had so foolishly dropped.

At the risk of being considered tedious, I must describe it at length; inasmuch as an accurate mental picture of its peculiarities will be of material assistance in enabling the reader to understand what follows.

Imagine then, as I have said before, a horseshoe-shaped crater of sand with steeply graded sand walls about thirty-five feet high. (The slope, I fancy, must have been about 65 .) This crater enclosed a level piece of ground about fifty yards long by thirty at its broadest part, with a rude well in the centre. Round the bottom of the crater, about three feet from the level of the ground proper, ran a series of eighty-three semi-circular, ovoid, square, and multilateral holes, all about three feet at the mouth. Each hole on inspection showed that it was carefully shored internally with driftwood and bamboos, and over the mouth a wooden drip-board projected, like the peak of a jockey’s cap, for two feet. No sign of life was visible in these tunnels, but a most sickening stench pervaded the entire amphitheatre—a stench fouler than any which my wanderings in Indian villages have introduced me to.

Having remounted Pornic, who was as anxious as I to get back to camp, I rode round the base of the horseshoe to find some place whence an exit would be practicable. The inhabitants, whoever they might be, had not thought fit to put in an appearance, so I was left to my own devices. My first attempt to “rush” Pornic up the steep sand-banks showed me that I had fallen into a trap exactly on the same model as that which the ant-lion sets for its prey. At each step the shifting sand poured down from above in tons, and rattled on the drip-boards of the holes like small shot. A couple of ineffectual charges sent us both rolling down to the bottom, half choked with the torrents of sand; and I was constrained to turn my attention to the river-bank.

Here everything seemed easy enough. The sand hills ran down to the river edge, it is true, but there were plenty of shoals and shallows across which I could gallop Pornic, and find my way back to terra firma by turning sharply to the right or the left. As I led Pornic over the sands I was startled by the faint pop of a rifle across the river; and at the same moment a bullet dropped with a sharp “whit” close to Pornic’s head.

There was no mistaking the nature of the missile—a regulation Martini-Henry “picket.” About five hundred yards away a country-boat was anchored in midstream; and a jet of smoke drifting away from its bows in the still morning air showed me whence the delicate attention had come. Was ever a respectable gentleman in such an impasse? The treacherous sand slope allowed no escape from a spot which I had visited most involuntarily, and a promenade on the river frontage was the signal for a bombardment from some insane native in a boat. I’m afraid that I lost my temper very much indeed.

Another bullet reminded me that I had better save my breath to cool my porridge; and I retreated hastily up the sands and back to the horseshoe, where I saw that the noise of the rifle had drawn sixty-five human beings from the badger-holes which I had up till that point supposed to be untenanted. I found myself in the midst of a crowd of spectators—about forty men, twenty women, and one child who could not have been more than five years old. They were all scantily clothed in that salmon-colored cloth which one associates with Hindu mendicants, and, at first sight, gave me the impression of a band of loathsome fakirs. The filth and repulsiveness of the assembly were beyond all description, and I shuddered to think what their life in the badger-holes must be.

Even in these days, when local self-government has destroyed the greater part of a native’s respect for a Sahib, I have been accustomed to a certain amount of civility from my inferiors, and on approaching the crowd naturally expected that there would be some recognition of my presence. As a matter of fact there was; but it was by no means what I had looked for.

The ragged crew actually laughed at me—such laughter I hope I may never hear again. They cackled, yelled, whistled, and howled as I walked into their midst: some of them literally throwing themselves down on the ground in convulsions of unholy mirth. In a moment I had let go Pornic’s head, and, irritated beyond expression at the morning’s adventure, commenced cuffing those nearest to me with all the force I could. The wretches dropped under my blows like nine-pins, and the laughter gave place to wails for mercy; while those yet untouched clasped me round the knees, imploring me in all sorts of uncouth tongues to spare them.

In the tumult, and just when I was feeling very much ashamed of myself for having thus easily given way to my temper, a thin, high voice murmured in English from behind my shoulder:—”Sahib! Sahib! Do you not know me? Sahib, it is Gunga Dass, the telegraph-master.”

I spun round quickly and faced the speaker.

Gunga Dass (I have, of course, no hesitation in mentioning the man’s real name) I had known four years before as a Deccanee Brahmin loaned by the Punjab Government to one of the Khalsia States. He was in charge of a branch telegraph-office there, and when I had last met him was a jovial, full-stomached, portly Government servant with a marvelous capacity for making bad puns in English—a peculiarity which made me remember him long after I had forgotten his services to me in his official capacity. It is seldom that a Hindu makes English puns.

Now, however, the man was changed beyond all recognition. Caste-mark, stomach, slate-colored continuations, and unctuous speech were all gone. I looked at a withered skeleton, turbanless and almost naked, with long matted hair and deep-set codfish-eyes. But for a crescent-shaped scar on the left cheek—the result of an accident for which I was responsible—I should never have known him. But it was indubitably Gunga Dass, and—for this I was thankful—an English-speaking native who might at least tell me the meaning of all that I had gone through that day.

The crowd retreated to some distance as I turned toward the miserable figure, and ordered him to show me some method of escaping from the crater. He held a freshly plucked crow in his hand, and in reply to my question climbed slowly on a platform of sand which ran in front of the holes, and commenced lighting a fire there in silence. Dried bents, sand-poppies, and driftwood burn quickly; and I derived much consolation from the fact that he lit them with an ordinary sulphur-match. When they were in a bright glow, and the crow was neatly spitted in front thereof, Gunga Dass began without a word of preamble:

“There are only two kinds of men, Sar. The alive and the dead. When you are dead, you are dead, but when you are alive you live.” (Here the crow demanded his attention for an instant as it twirled before the fire in danger of being burned to a cinder.) “If you die at home and do not die when you come to the ghât to be burned you come here.”

The nature of the reeking village was made plain now, and all that I had known or read of the grotesque and the horrible paled before the fact just communicated by the ex-Brahmin. Sixteen years ago, when I first landed in Bombay, I had been told by a wandering Armenian of the existence, somewhere in India, of a place to which such Hindus as had the misfortune to recover from trance or catalepsy were conveyed and kept, and I recollect laughing heartily at what I was then pleased to consider a traveler’s tale. Sitting at the bottom of the sand-trap, the memory of Watson’s Hotel, with its swinging punkahs, white-robed attendants, and the sallow-faced Armenian, rose up in my mind as vividly as a photograph, and I burst into a loud fit of laughter. The contrast was too absurd!

Gunga Dass, as he bent over the unclean bird, watched me curiously. Hindus seldom laugh, and his surroundings were not such as to move Gunga Dass to any undue excess of hilarity. He removed the crow solemnly from the wooden spit and as solemnly devoured it. Then he continued his story, which I give in his own words:

“In epidemics of the cholera you are carried to be burned almost before you are dead. When you come to the riverside the cold air, perhaps, makes you alive, and then, if you are only little alive, mud is put on your nose and mouth and you die conclusively. If you are rather more alive, more mud is put; but if you are too lively they let you go and take you away. I was too lively, and made protestation with anger against the indignities that they endeavored to press upon me. In those days I was Brahmin and proud man. Now I am dead man and eat”—here he eyed the well-gnawed breast bone with the first sign of emotion that I had seen in him since we met—”crows, and other things. They took me from my sheets when they saw that I was too lively and gave me medicines for one week, and I survived successfully. Then they sent me by rail from my place to Okara Station, with a man to take care of me; and at Okara Station we met two other men, and they conducted we three on camels, in the night, from Okara Station to this place, and they propelled me from the top to the bottom, and the other two succeeded, and I have been here ever since two and a half years. Once I was Brahmin and proud man, and now I eat crows.”

“There is no way of getting out?”

“None of what kind at all. When I first came I made experiments frequently and all the others also, but we have always succumbed to the sand which is precipitated upon our heads.”

“But surely,” I broke in at this point, “the river-front is open, and it is worth while dodging the bullets; while at night”—

I had already matured a rough plan of escape which a natural instinct of selfishness forbade me sharing with Gunga Dass. He, however, divined my unspoken thought almost as soon as it was formed; and, to my intense astonishment, gave vent to a long low chuckle of derision—the laughter, be it understood, of a superior or at least of an equal.

“You will not”—he had dropped the Sir completely after his opening sentence—”make any escape that way. But you can try. I have tried. Once only.”

The sensation of nameless terror and abject fear which I had in vain attempted to strive against overmastered me completely. My long fast—it was now close upon ten o’clock, and I had eaten nothing since tiffin on the previous day—combined with the violent and unnatural agitation of the ride had exhausted me, and I verily believe that, for a few minutes, I acted as one mad. I hurled myself against the pitiless sand-slope. I ran round the base of the crater, blaspheming and praying by turns. I crawled out among the sedges of the river-front, only to be driven back each time in an agony of nervous dread by the rifle-bullets which cut up the sand round me—for I dared not face the death of a mad dog among that hideous crowd—and finally fell, spent and raving, at the curb of the well. No one had taken the slightest notice of an exhibition which makes me blush hotly even when I think of it now.

Two or three men trod on my panting body as they drew water, but they were evidently used to this sort of thing, and had no time to waste upon me. The situation was humiliating, Gunga Dass, indeed, when he had banked the embers of his fire with sand, was at some pains to throw half a cupful of fetid water over my head, an attention for which I could have fallen on my knees and thanked him, but he was laughing all the while in the same mirthless, wheezy key that greeted me on my first attempt to force the shoals. And so, in a semi-comatose condition, I lay till noon. Then, being only a man after all, I felt hungry, and intimated as much to Gunga Dass, whom I had begun to regard as my natural protector. Following the impulse of the outer world when dealing with natives, I put my hand into my pocket and drew out four annas. The absurdity of the gift struck me at once, and I was about to replace the money.

Gunga Dass, however, was of a different opinion, “Give me the money,” said he; “all you have, or I will get help, and we will kill you!” All this as if it were the most natural thing in the world!

A Briton’s first impulse, I believe, is to guard the contents of his pockets; but a moment’s reflection convinced me of the futility of differing with the one man who had it in his power to make me comfortable; and with whose help it was possible that I might eventually escape from the crater. I gave him all the money in my possession, Rs. 9-8-5—nine rupees eight annas and five pie—for I always keep small change as bakshish when I am in camp. Gunga Dass clutched the coins, and hid them at once in his ragged loin-cloth, his expression changing to something diabolical as he looked round to assure himself that no one had observed us.

Now I will give you something to eat,” said he.

What pleasure the possession of my money could have afforded him I am unable to say; but inasmuch as it did give him evident delight I was not sorry that I had parted with it so readily, for I had no doubt that he would have had me killed if I had refused. One does not protest against the vagaries of a den of wild beasts; and my companions were lower than any beasts. While I devoured what Gunga Dass had provided, a coarse chapatti and a cupful of the foul well-water, the people showed not the faintest sign of curiosity—that curiosity which is so rampant, as a rule, in an Indian village.

I could even fancy that they despised me. At all events they treated me with the most chilling indifference, and Gunga Dass was nearly as bad. I plied him with questions about the terrible village, and received extremely unsatisfactory answers. So far as I could gather, it had been in existence from time immemorial—whence I concluded that it was at least a century old—and during that time no one had ever been known to escape from it. [I had to control myself here with both hands, lest the blind terror should lay hold of me a second time and drive me raving round the crater.] Gunga Dass took a malicious pleasure in emphasizing this point and in watching me wince. Nothing that I could do would induce him to tell me who the mysterious “They” were.

“It is so ordered,” he would reply, “and I do not yet know any one who has disobeyed the orders.”

“Only wait till my servants find that I am missing,” I retorted, “and I promise you that this place shall be cleared off the face of the earth, and I’ll give you a lesson in civility, too, my friend.”

“Your servants would be torn in pieces before they came near this place; and, besides, you are dead, my dear friend. It is not your fault, of course, but none the less you are dead and buried.”

At irregular intervals supplies of food, I was told, were dropped down from the land side into the amphitheatre, and the inhabitants fought for them like wild beasts. When a man felt his death coming on he retreated to his lair and died there. The body was sometimes dragged out of the hole and thrown on to the sand, or allowed to rot where it lay.

The phrase “thrown on to the sand” caught my attention, and I asked Gunga Dass whether this sort of thing was not likely to breed a pestilence.

“That,” said he, with another of his wheezy chuckles, “you may see for yourself subsequently. You will have much time to make observations.”

Whereat, to his great delight, I winced once more and hastily continued the conversation:—”And how do you live here from day to day? What do you do?” The question elicited exactly the same answer as before—coupled with the information that “this place is like your European heaven; there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage.”

Gunga Dass has been educated at a Mission School, and, as he himself admitted, had he only changed his religion “like a wise man,” might have avoided the living grave which was now his portion. But as long as I was with him I fancy he was happy.

Here was a Sahib, a representative of the dominant race, helpless as a child and completely at the mercy of his native neighbors, In a deliberate lazy way he set himself to torture me as a schoolboy would devote a rapturous half-hour to watching the agonies of an impaled beetle, or as a ferret in a blind burrow might glue himself comfortably to the neck of a rabbit. The burden of his conversation was that there was no escape “of no kind whatever,” and that I should stay here till I died and was “thrown on to the sand.” If it were possible to forejudge the conversation of the Damned on the advent of a new soul in their abode, I should say that they would speak as Gunga Dass did to me throughout that long afternoon. I was powerless to protest or answer; all my energies being devoted to a struggle against the inexplicable terror that threatened to overwhelm me again and again. I can compare the feeling to nothing except the struggles of a man against the overpowering nausea of the Channel passage—only my agony was of the spirit and infinitely more terrible.

As the day wore on, the inhabitants began to appear in full strength to catch the rays or the afternoon sun, which were now sloping in at the mouth of the crater. They assembled in little knots, and talked among themselves without even throwing a glance in my direction. About four o’clock, as far as I could judge, Gunga Dass rose and dived into his lair for a moment, emerging with a live crow in his hands. The wretched bird was in a most draggled and deplorable condition, but seemed to be in no way afraid of its master. Advancing cautiously to the river front, Gunga Dass stepped from tussock to tussock until he had reached a smooth patch of sand directly in the line of the boat’s fire. The occupants of the boat took no notice. Here he stopped, and, with a couple of dexterous turns of the wrist, pegged the bird on its back with outstretched wings. As was only natural, the crow began to shriek at once and beat the air with its claws. In a few seconds the clamor had attracted the attention of a bevy of wild crows on a shoal a few hundred yards away, where they were discussing something that looked like a corpse. Half a dozen crows flew over at once to see what was going on, and also, as it proved, to attack the pinioned bird. Gunga Dass, who had lain down on a tussock, motioned to me to be quiet, though I fancy this was a needless precaution. In a moment, and before I could see how it happened, a wild crow, who had grappled with the shrieking and helpless bird, was entangled in the latter’s claws, swiftly disengaged by Gunga Dass, and pegged down beside its companion in adversity. Curiosity, it seemed, overpowered the rest of the flock, and almost before Gunga Dass and I had time to withdraw to the tussock, two more captives were struggling in the upturned claws of the decoys. So the chase—if I can give it so dignified a name—continued until Gunga Dass had captured seven crows. Five of them he throttled at once, reserving two for further operations another day. I was a good deal impressed by this, to me, novel method of securing food, and complimented Gunga Dass on his skill.

“It is nothing to do,” said he. “To-morrow you must do it for me. You are stronger than I am.”

This calm assumption of superiority upset me not a little, and I answered peremptorily;—”Indeed, you old ruffian! What do you think I have given you money for?”

“Very well,” was the unmoved reply. “Perhaps not to-morrow, nor the day after, nor subsequently; but in the end, and for many years, you will catch crows and eat crows, and you will thank your European God that you have crows to catch and eat.”

I could have cheerfully strangled him for this; but judged it best under the circumstances to smother my resentment. An hour later I was eating one of the crows; and, as Gunga Dass had said, thanking my God that I had a crow to eat. Never as long as I live shall I forget that evening meal. The whole population were squatting on the hard sand platform opposite their dens, huddled over tiny fires of refuse and dried rushes. Death, having once laid his hand upon these men and forborne to strike, seemed to stand aloof from them now; for most of our company were old men, bent and worn and twisted with years, and women aged to all appearance as the Fates themselves. They sat together in knots and talked—God only knows what they found to discuss—in low equable tones, curiously in contrast to the strident babble with which natives are accustomed to make day hideous. Now and then an access of that sudden fury which had possessed me in the morning would lay hold on a man or woman; and with yells and imprecations the sufferer would attack the steep slope until, baffled and bleeding, he fell back on the platform incapable of moving a limb. The others would never even raise their eyes when this happened, as men too well aware of the futility of their fellows’ attempts and wearied with their useless repetition. I saw four such outbursts in the course of that evening.

Gunga Dass took an eminently business-like view of my situation, and while we were dining—I can afford to laugh at the recollection now, but it was painful enough at the time—propounded the terms on which he would consent to “do” for me. My nine rupees eight annas, he argued, at the rate of three annas a day, would provide me with food for fifty-one days, or about seven weeks; that is to say, he would be willing to cater for me for that length of time. At the end of it I was to look after myself. For a further consideration—videlicet my boots—he would be willing to allow me to occupy the den next to his own, and would supply me with as much dried grass for bedding as he could spare.

“Very well, Gunga Dass,” I replied; “to the first terms I cheerfully agree, but, as there is nothing on earth to prevent my killing you as you sit here and taking everything that you have” (I thought of the two invaluable crows at the time), “I flatly refuse to give you my boots and shall take whichever den I please.”

The stroke was a bold one, and I was glad when I saw that it had succeeded, Gunga Dass changed his tone immediately, and disavowed all intention of asking for my boots. At the time it did not strike me as at all strange that I, a Civil Engineer, a man of thirteen years’ standing in the Service, and, I trust, an average Englishman, should thus calmly threaten murder and violence against the man who had, for a consideration it is true, taken me under his wing. I had left the world, it seemed, for centuries. I was as certain then as I am now of my own existence, that in the accursed settlement there was no law save that of the strongest; that the living dead men had thrown behind them every canon of the world which had cast them out; and that I had to depend for my own life on my strength and vigilance alone. The crew of the ill-fated Mignonette are the only men who would understand my frame of mind. “At present,” I argued to myself, “I am strong and a match for six of these wretches. It is imperatively necessary that I should, for my own sake, keep both health and strength until the hour of my release comes—if it ever does.”

Fortified with these resolutions, I ate and drank as much as I could, and made Gunga Dass understand that I intended to be his master, and that the least sign of insubordination on his part would be visited with the only punishment I had it in my power to inflict—sudden and violent death. Shortly after this I went to bed. That is to say, Gunga Dass gave me a double armful of dried bents which I thrust down the mouth of the lair to the right of his, and followed myself, feet foremost; the hole running about nine feet into the sand with a slight downward inclination, and being neatly shored with timbers. From my den, which faced the river-front, I was able to watch the waters of the Sutlej flowing past under the light of a young moon and compose myself to sleep as best I might.

The horrors of that night I shall never forget. My den was nearly as narrow as a coffin, and the sides had been worn smooth and greasy by the contact of Innumerable naked bodies, added to which it smelled abominably. Sleep was altogether out of question to one in my excited frame of mind. As the night wore on, it seemed that the entire amphitheatre was filled with legions of unclean devils that, trooping up from the shoals below, mocked the unfortunates in their lairs.

Personally I am not of an imaginative temperament,—very few Engineers are,—but on that occasion I was as completely prostrated with nervous terror as any woman. After half an hour or so, however, I was able once more to calmly review my chances of escape. Any exit by the steep sand walls was, of course, impracticable. I had been thoroughly convinced of this some time before. It was possible, just possible, that I might, in the uncertain moonlight, safely run the gauntlet of the rifle shots. The place was so full of terror for me that I was prepared to undergo any risk in leaving it. Imagine my delight, then, when after creeping stealthily to the river-front I found that the infernal boat was not there. My freedom lay before me in the next few steps!

By walking out to the first shallow pool that lay at the foot of the projecting left horn of the horseshoe, I could wade across, turn the flank of the crater, and make my way inland. Without a moment’s hesitation I marched briskly past the tussocks where Gunga Dass had snared the crows, and out in the direction of the smooth white sand beyond. My first step from the tufts of dried grass showed me how utterly futile was any hope of escape; for, as I put my foot down, I felt an indescribable drawing, sucking motion of the sand below. Another moment and my leg was swallowed up nearly to the knee. In the moonlight the whole surface of the sand seemed to be shaken with devilish delight at my disappointment. I struggled clear, sweating with terror and exertion, back to the tussocks behind me and fell on my face.

My only means of escape from the semicircle was protected with a quicksand!

How long I lay I have not the faintest idea; but I was roused at last by the malevolent chuckle of Gunga Dass at my ear. “I would advise you, Protector of the Poor” (the ruffian was speaking English) “to return to your house. It is unhealthy to lie down here. Moreover, when the boat returns, you will most certainly be rifled at.” He stood over me in the dim light, of the dawn, chuckling and laughing to himself.

Suppressing my first impulse to catch the man by the neck and throw him on to the quicksand, I rose sullenly and followed him to the platform below the burrows.

Suddenly, and futilely as I thought while I spoke, I asked:—”Gunga Dass, what is the good of the boat if I can’t get out anyhow?” I recollect that even in my deepest trouble I had been speculating vaguely on the waste of ammunition in guarding an already well protected foreshore.

Gunga Dass laughed again and made answer:—”They have the boat only in daytime. It is for the reason that there is a way. I hope we shall have the pleasure of your company for much longer time. It is a pleasant spot when you have been here some years and eaten roast crow long enough.”

I staggered, numbed and helpless, toward the fetid burrow allotted to me, and fell asleep. An hour or so later I was awakened by a piercing scream—the shrill, high-pitched scream of a horse in pain. Those who have once heard that will never forget the sound. I found some little difficulty in scrambling out of the burrow. When I was in the open, I saw Pornic, my poor old Pornic, lying dead on the sandy soil. How they had killed him I cannot guess. Gunga Dass explained that horse was better than crow, and “greatest good of greatest number is political maxim. We are now Republic, Mister Jukes, and you are entitled to a fair share of the beast. If you like, we will pass a vote of thanks. Shall I propose?”

Yes, we were a Republic indeed! A Republic of wild beasts penned at the bottom of a pit, to eat and fight and sleep till we died. I attempted no protest of any kind, but sat down and stared at the hideous sight in front of me. In less time almost than it takes me to write this, Pornic’s body was divided, in some unclean way or other; the men and women had dragged the fragments on to the platform and were preparing their morning meal. Gunga Dass cooked mine. The almost irresistible impulse to fly at the sand walls until I was wearied laid hold of me afresh, and I had to struggle against it with all my might. Gunga Dass was offensively jocular till I told him that if he addressed another remark of any kind whatever to me I should strangle him where he sat. This silenced him till silence became insupportable, and I bade him say something.

“You will live here till you die like the other Feringhi,” he said, coolly, watching me over the fragment of gristle that he was gnawing.

“What other Sahib, you swine? Speak at once, and don’t stop to tell me a lie.”

“He is over there,” answered Gunga Dass, pointing to a burrow-mouth about four doors to the left of my own. “You can see for yourself. He died in the burrow as you will die, and I will die, and as all these men and women and the one child will also die.”

“For pity’s sake tell me all you know about him. Who was he? When did he come, and when did he die?”

This appeal was a weak step on my part. Gunga Dass only leered and replied:—”I will not—unless you give me something first.”

Then I recollected where I was, and struck the man between the eyes, partially stunning him. He stepped down from the platform at once, and, cringing and fawning and weeping and attempting to embrace my feet, led me round to the burrow which he had indicated.

“I know nothing whatever about the gentleman, Your God be my witness that I do not He was as anxious to escape as you were, and he was shot from the boat, though we all did all things to prevent him from attempting. He was shot here.” Gunga Dass laid his hand on his lean stomach and bowed, to the earth.

“Well, and what then? Go on!”

“And then—and then, Your Honor, we carried him into his house and gave him water, and put wet cloths on the wound, and he laid down in his house and gave up the ghost.”

“In how long? In how long?”

“About half an hour, after he received his wound. I call Vishnu to witness,” yelled the wretched man, “that I did everything for him. Everything which was possible, that I did!”

He threw himself down on the ground and clasped my ankles. But I had my doubts about Gunga Dass’s benevolence, and kicked him off as he lay protesting.

“I believe you robbed him of everything he had. But I can find out in a minute or two. How long was the Sahib here?”

“Nearly a year and a half. I think he must have gone mad. But hear me swear, Protector of the Poor! Won’t Your Honor hear me swear that I never touched an article that belonged to him? What is Your Worship going to do?”

I had taken Gunga Dass by the waist and had hauled him on to the platform opposite the deserted burrow. As I did so I thought of my wretched fellow-prisoner’s unspeakable misery among all these horrors for eighteen months, and the final agony of dying like a rat in a hole, with a bullet-wound in the stomach. Gunga Dass fancied I was going to kill him and howled pitifully. The rest of the population, in the plethora that follows a full flesh meal, watched us without stirring.

“Go inside, Gunga Dass,” said I, “and fetch it out.”

I was feeling sick and faint with horror now. Gunga Dass nearly rolled off the platform and howled aloud.

“But I am Brahmin, Sahib—a high-caste Brahmin. By your soul, by your father’s soul, do not make me do this thing!”

“Brahmin or no Brahmin, by my soul and my father’s soul, in you go!” I said, and, seizing him by the shoulders, I crammed his head into the mouth of the burrow, kicked the rest of him in, and, sitting down, covered my face with my hands.

At the end of a few minutes I heard a rustle and a creak; then Gunga Dass in a sobbing, choking whisper speaking to himself; then a soft thud—and I uncovered my eyes.

The dry sand had turned the corpse entrusted to its keeping into a yellow-brown mummy. I told Gunga Dass to stand off while I examined it. The body—clad in an olive-green hunting-suit much stained and worn, with leather pads on the shoulders—was that of a man between thirty and forty, above middle height, with light, sandy hair, long mustache, and a rough unkempt beard. The left canine of the upper jaw was missing, and a portion of the lobe of the right ear was gone. On the second finger of the left hand was a ring—a shield-shaped bloodstone set in gold, with a monogram that might have been either “B.K.” or “B.L.” On the third finger of the right hand was a silver ring in the shape of a coiled cobra, much worn and tarnished. Gunga Dass deposited a handful of trifles he had picked out of the burrow at my feet, and, covering the face of the body with my handkerchief, I turned to examine these. I give the full list in the hope that it may lead to the identification of the unfortunate man:

1. Bowl of a briarwood pipe, serrated at the edge; much worn and blackened; bound with string at the screw.

2. Two patent-lever keys; wards of both broken.

3. Tortoise-shell-handled penknife, silver or nickel, name-plate, marked with monogram “B.K.”

4. Envelope, postmark undecipherable, bearing a Victorian stamp, addressed to “Miss Mon——” (rest illegible)—”ham”—”nt.”

5. Imitation crocodile-skin notebook with pencil. First forty-five pages blank; four and a half illegible; fifteen others filled with private memoranda relating chiefly to three persons—a Mrs. L. Singleton, abbreviated several times to “Lot Single,” “Mrs. S. May,” and “Garmison,” referred to in places as “Jerry” or “Jack.”

6. Handle of small-sized hunting-knife. Blade snapped short. Buck’s horn, diamond cut, with swivel and ring on the butt; fragment of cotton cord attached.

It must not be supposed that I inventoried all these things on the spot as fully as I have here written them down. The notebook first attracted my attention, and I put it in my pocket with a view to studying it later on. The rest of the articles I conveyed to my burrow for safety’s sake, and there, being a methodical man, I inventoried them. I then returned to the corpse and ordered Gunga Dass to help me to carry it out to the river-front. While we were engaged in this, the exploded shell of an old brown cartridge dropped out of one of the pockets and rolled at my feet. Gunga Dass had not seen it; and I fell to thinking that a man does not carry exploded cartridge-cases, especially “browns,” which will not bear loading twice, about with him when shooting. In other words, that cartridge-case has been fired inside the crater. Consequently there must be a gun somewhere. I was on the verge of asking Gunga Dass, but checked myself, knowing that he would lie. We laid the body down on the edge of the quicksand by the tussocks. It was my intention to push it out and let it be swallowed up—the only possible mode of burial that I could think of. I ordered Gunga Dass to go away.

Then I gingerly put the corpse out on the quicksand. In doing so, it was lying face downward, I tore the frail and rotten khaki shooting-coat open, disclosing a hideous cavity in the back. I have already told you that the dry sand had, as it were, mummified the body. A moment’s glance showed that the gaping hole had been caused by a gun-shot wound; the gun must have been fired with the muzzle almost touching the back. The shooting-coat, being intact, had been drawn over the body after death, which must have been instantaneous. The secret of the poor wretch’s death was plain to me in a flash. Some one of the crater, presumably Gunga Dass, must have shot him with his own gun—the gun that fitted the brown cartridges. He had never attempted to escape in the face of the rifle-fire from the boat.

I pushed the corpse out hastily, and saw it sink from sight literally in a few seconds. I shuddered as I watched. In a dazed, half-conscious way I turned to peruse the notebook. A stained and discolored slip of paper had been inserted between the binding and the back, and dropped out as I opened the pages. This is what it contained:—“Four out from crow-clump: three left; nine out; two right; three back; two left; fourteen out; two left; seven out; one left; nine back; two right; six back; four right; seven back.” The paper had been burned and charred at the edges. What it meant I could not understand. I sat down on the dried bents turning it over and over between my fingers, until I was aware of Gunga Dass standing immediately behind me with glowing eyes and outstretched hands.

“Have you got it?” he panted. “Will you not let me look at it also? I swear that I will return it.”

“Got what? Return what?” I asked.

“That which you have in your hands. It will help us both.” He stretched out his long, bird-like talons, trembling with eagerness,

“I could never find it,” he continued. “He had secreted it about his person. Therefore I shot him, but nevertheless I was unable to obtain it.”

Gunga Dass had quite forgotten his little fiction about the rifle-bullet. I received the information perfectly calmly. Morality is blunted by consorting with the Dead who are alive.

“What on earth are you raving about? What is it you want me to give you?”

“The piece of paper in the notebook. It will help us both. Oh, you fool! You fool! Can you not see what it will do for us? We shall escape!”

His voice rose almost to a scream, and he danced with excitement before me. I own I was moved at the chance of getting away.

“Don’t skip! Explain yourself. Do you mean to say that this slip of paper will help us? What does it mean?”

“Read it aloud! Read it aloud! I beg and I pray you to read it aloud.”

I did so. Gunga Dass listened delightedly, and drew an irregular line in the sand with his fingers.

“See now! It was the length of his gun-barrels without the stock. I have those barrels. Four gun-barrels out from the place where I caught crows. Straight out; do you follow me? Then three left—Ah! how well I remember when that man worked it out night after night. Then nine out, and so on. Out is always straight before you across the quicksand. He told me so before I killed him.”

“But if you knew all this why didn’t you get out before?”

“I did not know it. He told me that he was working it out a year and a half ago, and how he was working it out night after night when the boat had gone away, and he could get out near the quicksand safely. Then he said that we would get away together. But I was afraid that he would leave me behind one night when he had worked it all out, and so I shot him. Besides, it is not advisable that the men who once get in here should escape. Only I, and I am a Brahmin.”

The prospect of escape had brought Gunga Dass’s caste back to him. He stood up, walked about and gesticulated violently. Eventually I managed to make him talk soberly, and he told me how this Englishman had spent six months night after night in exploring, inch by inch, the passage across the quicksand; how he had declared it to be simplicity itself up to within about twenty yards of the river bank after turning the flank of the left horn of the horseshoe. This much he had evidently not completed when Gunga Dass shot him with his own gun,

In my frenzy of delight at the possibilities of escape I recollect shaking hands effusively with Gunga Dass, after we had decided that we were to make an attempt to get away that very night. It was weary work waiting throughout the afternoon.

About ten o’clock, as far as I could judge, when the Moon had just risen above the lip of the crater, Gunga Dass made a move for his burrow to bring out the gun-barrels whereby to measure our path. All the other wretched inhabitants had retired to their lairs long ago. The guardian boat drifted down-stream some hours before, and we were utterly alone by the crow-clump. Gunga Dass, while carrying the gun-barrels, let slip the piece of paper which was to be our guide. I stooped down hastily to recover it, and, as I did so, I was aware that the diabolical Brahmin was aiming a violent blow at the back of my head with the gun-barrels. It was too late to turn round. I must have received the blow somewhere on the nape of my neck. A hundred thousand fiery stars danced before my eyes, and I fell forward senseless at the edge of the quicksand.

When I recovered consciousness, the Moon was going down, and I was sensible of intolerable pain in the back of my head. Gunga Dass had disappeared and my mouth was full of blood. I lay down again and prayed that I might die without more ado. Then the unreasoning fury which I have before mentioned laid hold upon me, and I staggered inland toward the walls of the crater. It seemed that some one was calling to me in a whisper—”Sahib! Sahib! Sahib!” exactly as my bearer used to call me in the mornings. I fancied that I was delirious until a handful of sand fell at my feet, Then I looked up and saw a head peering down into the amphitheatre—the head of Dunnoo, my dog-boy, who attended to my collies. As soon as he had attracted my attention, he held up his hand and showed a rope. I motioned, staggering to and fro the while, that he should throw it down. It was a couple of leather punkah-ropes knotted together, with a loop at one end. I slipped the loop over my head and under my arms; heard Dunnoo urge something forward; was conscious that I was being dragged, face downward, up the steep sand slope, and the next instant found myself choked and half fainting on the sand hills overlooking the crater. Dunnoo, with his face ashy grey in the moonlight, implored me not to stay but to get back to my tent at once.

It seems that he had tracked Pornic’s footprints fourteen miles across the sands to the crater; had returned and told my servants, who flatly refused to meddle with any one, white or black, once fallen into the hideous Village of the Dead; whereupon Dunnoo had taken one of my ponies and a couple of punkah-ropes, returned to the crater, and hauled me out as I have described.

To cut a long story short, Dunnoo is now my personal servant on a gold mohur a month—a sum which I still think far too little for the services he has rendered. Nothing on earth will induce me to go near that devilish spot again, or to reveal its whereabouts more clearly than I have done. Of Gunga Dass I have never found a trace, nor do I wish to do. My sole motive in giving this to be published is the hope that some one may possibly identify, from the details and the inventory which I have given above, the corpse of the man in the olive-green hunting-suit.

In the House of Suddhoo • 3,100 Words

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 grocer 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 dare say 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 Northwest 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 jadooafoot, 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 exactly 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 that 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 oil-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 on 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-grey 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 daytime 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 reads 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 purdahnashin 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, and Azizun is a veiled woman somewhere near Bareilly—lost in this big India of ours. I dare not 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 be privy to a murder in the House of Suddhoo.

Black Jack • 6,900 Words

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’ Hark-angel 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 somthin’ 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 Orth’ris; “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 toward 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 recognize 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 toward 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’ ‘ome 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, “dhraggin’ 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 pervarsity. 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 blasted 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’ment’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 honor 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,

“Women.”

“Then 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 Color 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 punishmint-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 that is at the head av the rack—there’s no mistakin’ 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 number 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 grey 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-Henry bein’ new to the rig’mint in those days we used to play the mischief wid her arrangemints. ‘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 would 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—sky-larkin’ 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, and 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 afther 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 flare.

“‘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,̵