by Percival Christopher Wren
CHAPTER II. THE
CHAPTER III. THE
“MEET AND LEAVE
The Stories of a Man, a Boy, a Woman, and Certain Other People Who
Strangely Met Upon the Sea of Life
THE STORIES OF A MAN, A BOY, A WOMAN, AND CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE WHO
STRANGELY MET UPON THE SEA OF LIFE
CAPTAIN PERCIVAL CHRISTOPHER WREN, I.A.R.
AUTHOR OF “DEW AND MILDEW", “FATHER GREGORY", “SNAKE AND SWORD",
“Like driftwood spars which meet and pass
Upon the boundless ocean-plain,
So on the sea of life, alas!
Man nears man, meets, and leaves again"
TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED WIFE
NOTE.—This book was written in the year 1912
CHAPTER I. THE MAN.
(Mainly concerning the early life of John Robin Ross-Ellison.)
Truth is stranger than fiction, and many of the coincidences of real
life are truly stranger than the most daring imaginings of the
Now, I, Major Michael Malet-Marsac, happened at the moment to be
thinking of my dear and deeply lamented friend John Ross-Ellison, and
to be pondering, for the thousandth time, his extraordinary life and
more extraordinary death. Nor had I the very faintest notion that the
Subedar-Major had ever heard of such a person, much less that he was
actually his own brother, or, to be exact, his half-brother. You see I
had known Ross-Ellison intimately as one only can know the man with
whom one has worked, soldiered, suffered, and faced death. Not only had
I known, admired and respected him—I had loved him. There is no other
word for it; I loved him as a brother loves a brother, as a son loves
his father, as the fighting-man loves the born leader of fighting-men:
I loved him as Jonathan loved David. Indeed it was actually a case of
“passing the love of women” for although he killed Cleopatra Dearman,
the only woman for whom I ever cared, I fear I have forgiven him and
almost forgotten her.
But to return to the Subedar-Major. “Peace, fool! Art blind as
Ibrahim Mahmud the Weeper,” growled that burly Native Officer as the
zealous and over-anxious young sentry cried out and pointed to where,
in the moonlight, the returning reconnoitring-patrol was to be seen as
it emerged from the lye-bushes of the dry river-bed.
A recumbent comrade of the outpost sentry group sniggered.
My own sympathies were decidedly with the sentry, for I had fever,
and “fever is another man”. In any case, hours of peering, watching,
imagining and waiting, for the attack that will surely come—and never
comes—try even experienced nerves.
“And who was Ibrahim the Weeper, Subedar-Major Saheb?” I inquired of
the redoubtable warrior as he joined me.
“He was my brother's enemy, Sahib,” replied Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz
Ullah Khan, principal Native Officer of the 99th Baluch Light Infantry
and member of the ruling family of Mekran Kot in far Kubristan.
“And what made him so blind as to be for a proverb unto you?”
“Just some little drops of water, Sahib, nothing more,” replied the
big man with a smile that lifted the curling moustache and showed the
dazzling perfect teeth.
It was bitter, bitter cold—cold as it only can be in hot countries
(I have never felt the cold in Russia as I have in India) and the khaki
flannel shirt, khaki tunic, shorts and putties that had seemed so hot
in the cruel heat of the day as we made our painful way across the
valley, seemed miserably inadequate at night, on the windy hill-top.
Moreover I was in the cold stage of a go of fever, and to have escaped
sunstroke in the natural oven of that awful valley at mid-day seemed
but the prelude to being frost-bitten on the mountain at midnight.
Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan appeared wholly
unaffected by the 100 deg. variation in temperature, but then he had a
few odd stone of comfortable fat and was bred to such climatic trifles.
He, moreover, knew not fever, and, unlike me, had not experienced
dysentery, malaria, enteric and pneumonia fairly recently.
“And had the hand of your brother anything to do with the little
drops of water that made Ibrahim the Weeper so blind?” I asked.
“Something, Sahib,” replied Mir Daoud Khan with a laugh, “but the
hand of Allah had more than that of my brother. It is a strange story.
True stories are sometimes far stranger than those of the bazaar
tale-tellers whose trade it is to invent or remember wondrous tales and
stories, myths, and legends.”
“We have a proverb to that effect, Mir Saheb. Let us sit in the
shelter of this rock and you shall tell me the story. Our eyes can work
while tongue and ear play—or would you sleep?”
“Nahin, Sahib! Am I a Sahib that I should regard night as the
time wholly sacred to sleep and day as the time when to sleep is sin? I
will tell the Sahib the tale of the Blindness of Ibrahim Mahmud the
Weeper, well knowing that he, a truth-speaker, will believe the truth
spoken by his servant. To no liar would it seem possible.
“Know then, Sahib, that this brother of mine was not my mother's
son, though the son of my father (Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan Mir Faquir
Mahommed Afzul Khan), who was the youngest son of His Highness the Jam
Saheb of Mekran Kot in Kubristan. And he, my father, was a great
traveller, a restless wanderer, and crossed the Black Water many times.
To Englistan he went, and without crossing water he also went to the
capital of the Amir of Russia to say certain things, quietly, from the
King of Islam, the Amir of Afghanistan. To where the big Waler horses
come from he also went, and to where they take the camels for use in
the hot and sandy northern parts.”
“Yes, Australia” I remarked.
“Without doubt, if the Sahib be pleased to say it. And there, having
taken many camels in a ship that he might sell them at a profit, he
wedded a white woman—a woman of the race of the Highland soldiers of
Englistan, such as are in this very Brigade.”
“Married a Scotchwoman?”
“Without doubt. Of a low caste—her father being a drunkard and
landless (though grandson of a Lord Sahib), living by horses and camels
menially, out-casted, a jail-bird. Formerly he had carried the mail
through the desert, a fine rider and brave man, but sharab
had loosened the thigh in the saddle and palsied hand and eye. On
hearing this news, the Jam Saheb was exceeding wroth, for he had
planned a good marriage for his son, and he arranged that the woman
should die if my father, on whom be Peace, brought her to Mekran Kot.
'Tis but desert and mountain, Sahib, with a few big jagirs
and some villages, a good fort, a crumbling tower, and a town on the
Caravan Road—but the Jam Saheb's words are clearly heard and for many
“Our father, however, was not so foolish as to bring the woman to
his home, for he knew that Pathan horse-dealers, camel-men, and traders
would have taken the truth, and more than the truth, concerning the
woman's social position to the gossips of Mekran Kot. And, apart from
the fact that her father was a drunkard, landless, a jail-bird,
out-casted by his caste-fellows, no father loves to see his son marry
with a woman of another community, nor with any woman but her with
whose father he has made his arrangements.
“So my father, bringing the fair woman, his wife, by ship to
Karachi, travelled by the relwey terain to Kot Ghazi and left
her there in India, where she would be safe. There he left her with her
butcha, my half-brother, and journeyed toward the setting sun to
look upon the face of his father the Jam Saheb. And the Jam Saheb long
turned his face from him and would not look upon him nor give him his
blessing—and only relented when my father took to himself another
wife, my mother, the lady of noble birth whom the Jam Saheb had desired
for him—and sojourned for a season at Mekran Kot. But after I was born
of this union (I am of pure and noble descent) his heart wearied, being
with the fair woman at Kot Ghazi, for whom he yearned, and with her
son, his own son, yet so white of skin, so blue of eye, the fairest
child who ever had a Pathan father. Yea, my brother was even fairer
than I, who, as the Huzoor knoweth, have grey eyes, and hair and beard
that are not darkly brown.
“So my father began to make journeys to Kot Ghazi to visit the woman
his first wife, and the boy his first-born. And she, who loved him
much, and whom he loved, prevailed upon him to name my brother after
her father as well as after himself, the child's father (as is our
custom) and so my brother was rightly called Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras
el-Isan Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan.”
“And what part of that is the name of his mother's father?” I asked,
for the Subedar-Major's rapid utterance of the name conveyed nothing of
familiar English or Scottish names to my mind.
“Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan,” replied Mir Daoud Khan; “that was her
father's name, Sahib.”
“Say it again, slowly.”
“Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan.”
“I have it! Yes, but what?—John Robin Ross-Ellison? Good
God! But I knew a John Robin Ross-Ellison when I was a
Captain. He was Colonel of the Corps of which I was Adjutant, in
fact—the Gungapur Volunteer Rifles.... By Jove! That explains a lot.
John Robin Ross-Ellison!”
I was too incredulous to be astounded. It could not be.
“Han Sahib, be shak! Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan
Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan was his name. And his mother
called him Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan and his father, Mir Hafiz Ullah
Khan, called him Ilderim Dost Mahommed.”
 Without doubt.
“H'm! A Scotch Pathan, brought up by an Australian girl in India,
would be a rare bird—and of rare possibilities naturally,” I murmured,
while my mind worked quickly backward.
“My brother was unlike us in some things, Sahib. He was fond of the
sharab called 'Whisky' and of dogs; he drank smoke from the
cheroot after the fashion of the Sahib-log and not from the hookah nor
the bidi; he wore boots; he struck with the clenched fist
when angered; and never did he squat down upon his heels nor sit
cross-legged upon the ground. Yet he was true Pathan in many ways
during his life, and he died as a Pathan should, concerning his honour
(and a woman). Yea—and in his last fight, ere he was hanged, he killed
more men with his long Khyber knife, single-handed against a mob, than
ever did lone man before with cold steel in fair fight.”
 Native cigarette.
Then it was so. And the Subedar-Major was John Robin Ross-Ellison's
“He may have been foolishly kind to women, servants and dogs, and of
a foolish type of honour that taketh not every possible advantage of
the foe—but he was very brave, Huzoor, a strong enemy, and when he
began he made an end, and if that same honour were affronted he killed
his man. And yet he did not kill Ibrahim Mahmud the Weeper, who surely
earned his death twice, and who tried to kill him in a manner most
terrible to think of. No, he did not—but it shall be told.... And the
white woman prevailed upon our father to make her man-child a Sahib and
to let him go to the maktab and madressah-tul-Islam
at Kot Ghazi, to learn the clerkly lore that gives no grip to the hand
on the sword-hilt and lance-shaft nor to the thighs in the saddle, no
skill to the fingers on the reins, no length of sight to the eye, no
steadiness to the rifle and the lance, no understanding of the world
and men and things. But our father corrected all this, that the
learning might do him no harm, for oft-times he brought him to Mekran
Kot (where my mother tried to poison him), and he took him across the
Black Water and to Kabul and Calcutta and showed him the world. Also he
taught him all he knew of the horse, the rifle, the sword, and the
lance—which was no small matter. Thus, much of the time wasted at
school was harmless, and what the boy lost through the folly of his
mother was redeemed by the wisdom of his father. Truly are our mothers
our best friends and worst enemies. Why, when I was but a child my
mother gave me money and bade me go prove—but I digress. Well, thus my
brother grew up not ignorant of the things a man should know if he is
to be a man and not a babu, but the woman, his mother, wept sore
whenever he was taken from her, and gave my father trouble and
annoyance as women ever do. And when, at last, she begged that the boy
might enter the service of the Sirkar as a wielder of the pen in an
office in Kot Ghazi, and strive to become a leading munshi
and then a Deputy-Saheb, a babu in very fact, my father was
wroth, and said the boy would be a warrior—yea, though he had to die
in his first skirmish and ere his beard were grown. Then the woman wept
and wearied my father until it seemed better to him that she should die
and, being at peace, bring peace. No quiet would he have at Mekran Kot
from my mother and his father, the Jam Saheb, while the woman lived,
nor would she herself allow him quiet at Kot Ghazi. And was she not
growing old and skinny moreover? And so he sent my brother to Mekran
Kot—and the woman died, without scandal. So my brother dwelt
thenceforward in Mekran Kot, knowing many things, for he had passed a
great imtahan at Bombay and won a sertifcut
thereby, whereof the Jam Saheb was very pleased, for the son of the
Vizier had also gone to a madresseh and won a sertifcut,
and it was time the pride of the Vizier and his son were abated.
 Mohammedan High School.
“Now the son of the Vizier, Mahmud Shahbaz, was Ibrahim—and a mean
mangy pariah cur this Ibrahim Mahmud was, having been educated, and he
hated my brother bitterly by reason of the sertifcut and on
account of a matter concerning a dancing-girl, one of those beautiful
fat Mekranis, and, by reason of his hatred and envy and jealousy, my
mother made common cause with him, she also desiring my brother's
death, in that her husband loved this child of another woman, an alien,
his first love, better than he loved hers. But I bore him no
ill-will, Huzoor. I loved him and admired his deeds.
“Many attempts they made, but though my mother was clever and
Ibrahim Mahmud and his father the Vizier were unscrupulous, my brother
was in the protection of the Prophet. Moreover he was much away from
Mekran Kot, being, like our father, a great traveller and soon irked by
whatever place he might be in. And, one time, he returned home, having
been to Germany on secret service (a thing he often did before he
became a Sahib) and to France and Africa on a little matter of rifles
for Afghanistan and the Border, and spoke to us of that very Somaliland
to which this very pultan, the 99th Baluch Light Infantry, went
in 1908 (was it?), and how the English were losing prestige there and
would have to send troops or receive boondah and the
blackened face from him they called the Mad Mullah. And yet another
time he returned from India bringing a Somali boy, a black-faced youth,
but a good Mussulman, whom, some time before, he had known and saved
from death in Africa, and now had most strangely encountered again. And
this Somali lad—who was not a hubshi, a Woolly One, not a
Sidi slave—saved my brother's life in his turn. I said he was not
a slave—but in a sense he was, for he asked nothing better than to sit
in the shadow of my brother throughout his life; for he loved my
brother as the Huzoors' dogs love their masters, yea—he would rather
have had blows from my brother than gold from another. He it was who
saved Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan from the terrible death prepared for
him by Ibrahim Mahmud. It was during this visit to Mekran Kot that
Mahmud Shahbaz, the Vizier, announced that he was about to send his
learned son, the dog Ibrahim, to Englistan to become English-made
first-class Pleader—what they called—'Barishtar-at-Lar' is it
 An insulting and contemptuous gesture.
 A class of negroes, much employed as sailors and boatmen,
“That's it, Mir Saheb,” replied I, sitting alert with chattering
teeth and shivering ague-stricken body. “Barrister-at Law.... Sit as
close to me as you can, for warmth.... Hark! Is that a signal?” as a
long high wavering note rose from the dry river-bed before us and
wailed lugubriously upon the night, rising and falling in mournful
“'Twas a genuine jackal-cry, Huzoor. One can always tell the
imitation if jackals have sung one's lullaby from birth—though most
Pathans can deceive white ears in the matter.... Well, this made things
no pleasanter, for Ibrahim crowed like the dung-hill cock he was, and
boasted loudly. Also my mother urged him to do a deed ere he left
Mekran Kot for so long a sojourn in Belait. And to her incitements
and his own inclination and desires was added that which made revenge
and my brother's death the chiefest things in all the world to Ibrahim
Mahmud, and it happened thus.... But do I weary the Sahib with my
“Nay—nay—far from it, Mir Saheb,” replied I. “The sentry of talk
challenges the approaching skirmishers of sleep. The thong of narrative
drives off the dogs of tedium. Tell on.” And in point of fact I was now
too credulous to be anything but astounded.... John Robin
“Well, one day, my brother and I went forth to shoot sand-grouse,
tuloor, chikor, chinkara and perchance ibex, leaving behind
this black body-servant Moussa Isa, the Somali boy, because he was
sick. And it was supposed that we should not return for a week at the
least. But on the third day we returned, my brother's eyes being
inflamed and sore and he fearing blindness if he remained out in the
desert glare. This is a common thing, as the Sahib knoweth, when dust
and sun combine against the eyes of those who have read over-many books
and written over-much with the steel pen upon white paper, and my
brother was somewhat prone to this trouble in the desert if he
exhausted himself with excessive shikar and—other matters. And
this angered him greatly. Yet it was all ordained by Allah for the
undoing of that unclean dog Ibrahim Mahmud—for, returning and riding
on his white camel (a far-famed pacer of speed and endurance) under the
great gateway of the Jam's fort—high enough for a camel-rider to pass
unstooping and long enough for a relwey-tunnel—he came upon
Mahmud Ibrahim and his friends and followers (for he had many such, who
thought he might succeed his father as Vizier) doing a thing that
enraged my brother very greatly. Swinging at the end of a cord tied to
his hands, which were bound behind his back, was the boy Moussa Isa the
Somali, apparently dead, for his eyes were closed and he gave no sign
of pain as Ibrahim's gang of pimps, panders, bullies and budmashes
 kept him swinging to and fro by blows of lathis and by
kicks, while Ibrahim and his friends, at a short distance, strove to
hit the moving body with stones. I suppose the agony of hanging forward
from the arms, and the blows of staff and stone, had stunned the
lad—who had offended Ibrahim, it appeared, by preventing him from
entering my brother's house—probably to poison his water-lotah
 and gurrah—at the door of which he, Moussa Isa, lay
sick. My brother, Mir Jan, sprang from his camel without waiting for
the driver to make it kneel, and going up to Ibrahim, he struck him
with his closed, but empty, hand. Not with the slap that stings and
angers, he struck him, but with the thud that stuns and injures, upon
the mouth, removing certain of his teeth,—such being his anger and his
strength. Rising from the ground and plucking forth his knife, Ibrahim
sprang at my brother who, unarmed, straightway smote him senseless, and
that is talked of in Mekran Kot to this day. Yea—senseless. Placing
the thumb upon the knuckles of the clenched fingers, he smote at the
chin of Ibrahim, and laid him, as one dead, upon the earth. Straight to
the front from the shoulder and not downwards nor swinging sideways he
struck, and it was as though Ibrahim had been shot. The Sahib being
English will believe this, but many Baluchis and Pathans do not. They
cannot believe it, though to me Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz
Ullah Khan of the 99th Baluch Light Infantry of the Army of the King
Emperor of India, they pretend that they do, when I tell of that great
deed.... Then my brother loosed Moussa Isa with his own hand, saying
that even as he had served Ibrahim Mahmud so would he serve any man who
injured a hair of the head of his body-servant. And Moussa Isa clave to
my brother yet the more, and when a great Sidi slave entered the room
of my brother by night, doubtless hired by Ibrahim Mahmud to slay him,
Moussa Isa, grappling with him, tore out his throat with his teeth,
though stabbed many times by the Sidi, ere my brother could light torch
or wick to tell friend from foe. Whether he were thief or hired
murderer, none could say—least of all the Sidi when Moussa Isa, at my
brother's bidding, loosed his teeth from the man's throat. But all men
held that it was the work of Ibrahim, for, on recovering his senses
that day of the blow, he had walked up to my brother Mir Jan and
 A kind of partridge.
 Bad characters.
 Long staves.
 Brass cup or vase.
 Basin or pot.
“'For that blow will I have a great revenge, O Jan Rah-bin-Ras
el-Isan Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan, descendant of Mirs
and of mlecca dogs, this year or next year, or ten years hence,
or when thou art old, or upon thy first-born. By the sacred names of
God, by the Beard of the Prophet, by the hilt and blade of this my
knife, and by the life of my oldest son, I swear to have a vengeance on
thee that shall turn men pale as they whisper it. And may Allah
smite me blind if I do not unto thee a thing of which children yet
unborn shall speak with awe.'
“Thus spake Ibrahim, son of Mahmud, for though a dog, a mangy pariah
cur, he was still a Pathan.
“But my brother laughed in his face and said but 'It would seem that
I too have tortured a slave' whereat Ibrahim repeated again 'Yea—
may Allah smite me blind!'
“And something of this coming to the ears of our father, now heir to
the Jam of Mekran Kot, as his brothers were dead (in the big Border War
they died), he prayed the Jam Saheb to hasten the departure of the
Vizier's cub, and also told the Vizier that he would surely cut out his
tongue if aught befell Mir Jan. So the Vizier sent Ibrahim to Kot Ghazi
on business of investing moneys—wrung by knavery, doubtless, from
litigant suitors, candidates, criminals, and the poor of Mekran Kot.
And shortly after, the Jam Saheb heard of a new kind of gun that fires
six of the fat cartridges such as are used for the shooting of birds,
without reloading; and he bade Mir Jan who understood all things, and
the ways of the European gun-shop at Kot Ghazi, to hasten forthwith and
procure him a couple, and if none were in Kot Ghazi to send a tar
 to Bombay for them, or even, if necessary, to Englistan, though at
a cost of two rupees a word. With such a gun the Jam hoped to get
better shikar when sitting on his camel and circling round the
foolish crouching grouse or tuloor, and firing at them as they
sat. He thought he might fire twice or thrice at them sitting, and
again twice or thrice at the remnant flying, and perchance hit some on
the wing, after the wonderful manner of the Sahibs. So he sent my
brother, knowing him to be both clever and honest and understanding the
speech and ways of the English most fully.
“Now it is many days' journey, Sahib, across the desert and the
mountains, from Mekran Kot in Kubristan to Kot Ghazi in India, but at
Kot Ghazi is a fine bungalow, the property of the Jam Saheb, and there
all travellers from his house may sojourn and rest after their long and
“Taking me and Mir Abdul Haq and Mir Hussein Ali and many men and
servants, among whom was the body-servant, the boy Moussa Isa Somali,
he set forth, a little depressed that we heard not the cry of the
partridge in the fields of Mekran Kot as we started—not exactly a bad
omen, but lacking a good one. And sure enough, ere we won to Kot Ghazi,
his eyes became red and inflamed, very sore and painful to use. So, he
put the tail of his puggri about his face and rode all day
from sun-rise to sun-set in darkness, his camel being driven by
Abdulali Gulamali Bokhari—the same who later rose to fame and honour
as an outlaw and was hanged at Peshawar after a brave and successful
career. And being arrived, in due course, at Kot Ghazi, before entering
the bungalow belonging to the Jam Saheb, he knelt his camel at the door
of the shop of a European hakim—in English a—er—”
“Chemist, Mir Saheb,” I suggested.
“Doubtless, since your honour says it—of a kimmish, and
entering, to the Eurasian dog therein said in English, of which he knew
everything (and taught me much, as your honour knows), 'Look you. I
need lotion for my eyes, eye medicine, and a bath for them' and the man
mixed various waters and poured them into a blue bottle with red
labels, very beautiful to see, and wrote upon it. Also he gave my
brother a small cup of glass, shaped like the mouth of the pulla
fish or the eye-socket of a man. And my brother, knowing what to do,
used the things then and there, to the wonder of Abdul Haq and Hussein
Ali, pouring the liquor into the glass cup, and holding it to his eyes,
and with back-thrown head washing the eye and soothing it.
“'Shahbas!' quoth he. 'It is good,' and anon we proceeded to the
gun-shop and then to the bungalow belonging to the Jam Saheb. And lo
and behold, here we discovered the dog Ibrahim Mahmud, and my brother
twisted the knife of memory in the wound of insult by ordering him to
quit the room he occupied and seek another, since Mir Jan intended the
room for his body-servant, Moussa Isa Somali—the servant of a Mir
being more deserving of the room than the son of a Vizier! This was
unwise, but my brother's heart was too great to fear (or to fathom) the
guile of such a serpent as Ibrahim.
 Bravo! Excellent!
“And when he had bathed and prayed, eaten and drunk and rested, my
brother again anointed his eyes with the liquid—which though only like
water, was strong to soothe and heal. And our servants and people
watched him doing this with wonder and admiration, and the news of it
spread to the servants of Ibrahim Mahmud, who told their master of this
cleverness of Mir Jan,—and Ibrahim, after a while, sent a message and
a present to my brother, humbling himself, and asking that he too might
see this thing.
“And Mir Jan, perhaps a little proud of his English ways, sat upon
his charpai, and bathed his eyes in the little bath, until,
wearying of the trouble of pouring back the liquid into the bottle, he
would press the bottle itself to his eye and throw back his head. So
his eyes were quickly eased of pain, and in the evening we all went
forth to enjoy.
 Native cot or bed.
“On his return to the room, Mir Jan flung himself, weary, upon his
charpai and Moussa Isa lay across the doorway.
“In the morning my brother awoke and sitting on the charpai,
took up the blue bottle, drew the cork, and raised the bottle towards
his eyes. As he did this, Moussa Isa entered, and knowing not why he
did so, sprang at his master and dashed the bottle from his hand. It
fell to the ground but broke not, the floor being dhurrie
“In greatest amazement Mir Jan glanced from Moussa Isa to the
bottle, clenching his hand to strike the boy—when behold! the very
floor bubbled and smoked beneath the touch of the liquid as it ran from
the bottle. By the Beard of the Prophet, that stone floor bubbled and
smoked like water and the dhurrie was burnt! Snatching up the
bottle my brother dropped drops from it upon the blade of his knife,
upon the leather of his boots, upon paint and brass and clothing—and
behold it was liquid fire, burning and corroding all that it touched!
To me he called, and, being shown these things, I could scarce
believe—and then I cried aloud 'Ibrahim Mahmud! Thine enemy!... Oh, my
brother,—thine eyes!' and I remembered the words of Ibrahim, 'a
vengeance that shall turn men pale as they whisper it—a thing of which
children yet unborn shall speak with awe' and we rushed to his
room,—to find it empty. He and his best camel and its driver were
gone, but all his people and servants and oont-wallahs were
in the serai, and said they knew not where he was, but had
received a hookum over-night to set out that day for Mekran
Kot. And, catching up a pariah puppy, I re-entered the house and
dropped one drop from the blue bottle into its eye. Sahib, even I
pitied the creature and slew it quickly with my knife. And it was this
that Ibrahim Mahmud had intended for the blue eyes of my beautiful
brother. This was the vengeance of which men should speak in whispers.
Those who saw and heard that puppy would speak of it in whispers
indeed—or not at all. I felt sick and my fingers itched to madness for
the throat of Ibrahim Mahmud. Had I seen him then, I would have put out
his eyes with my thumbs. Nay—I would have used the burning liquid upon
him as he had designed it should be used by my brother.
 Halting-enclosure, rest-house.
“Hearing Mir Jan's voice, I hurried forth, and found that his white
pacing-camel was already saddled and that he sat in the front seat,
prepared to drive. 'Up, Daoud Khan' he cried to me 'we go
a-hunting'—and I sprang to the rear saddle even as the camel rose.
'Lead on, Moussa Isa, and track as thou hast never tracked before, if
thou wouldst live,' said he to the Somali, a noted paggi,
even among the Baluch and Sindhi paggis of the police at
Peshawar and Kot Ghazi. 'I can track the path of yesterday's bird
through the air and of yesterday's fish through the water,' answered
the black boy; 'and I would find this Ibrahim by smell though he had
blinded me,' and he led on. Down the Sudder Bazaar he went
unfaltering, though hundreds of feet of camels, horses, bullocks and of
men were treading its dust. As we passed the shop of the European
hakim, yes, the kimmish, my brother leapt down and entering
the shop asked questions. Returning and mounting he said to me: ''Tis
as I thought. Hither he came last night, and, saying he was
science-knowing failed B.Sc., demanded certain acids, that, being
mixed, will eat up even gold—which no other acid can digest, nor even
“Aqua Regia, or vitriol, I believe,” I murmured, still
marvelling ... Ross-Ellison!
“Doubtless, if your honour is pleased to say so. 'He must have
poured these acids into the bottle while we were abroad last night,'
continued my brother. 'Oh, the dog! The treacherous dreadful dog!...
'Twas in a good hour that I saved Moussa Isa,' and indeed I too blessed
that Somali, so mysteriously moved by Allah to dash the bottle from my
“'Think you that Ibrahim Mahmud bribed Moussa and that he repented
as he saw you about to anoint your eyes with the acid?' I asked of my
“'Nay—Moussa was with me until I returned,' replied he, 'and
returning, I put the bottle beneath my pillow. Besides, Ibrahim had
fled ere we returned to the bungalow. Moreover, Moussa would lose his
tongue ere he would tell me a lie, his eyes ere he would see me suffer,
his hand ere he would take a bribe against me. No—Allah moved his
heart—rewarding me for saving his life at the risk of mine own, when
he lay beneath a lion,—or else it is that the black dog hath the
instincts of a dog and knows when evil threatens what it loves.' And
indeed it is a wonderful thing and true; and Moussa Isa never knew how
he knew, but said his arm moved of itself and that he wondered at
himself as he struck the bottle from his master's hand. And, in time,
we left the city and followed the road and found that Ibrahim was
fleeing to Mekran Kot, doubtless to be far away when the thing
happened, and also to get counsel and money from his father and my
mother, should suspicion fall on him and flight be necessary. And anon
even untrained eyes could see where he had left the Caravan Road and
taken the shorter route whereby camels bearing no heavy load could come
by steeper passes and dangerous tracks in shorter time to Mekran Kot,
provided the rider bore water sufficient—for there was no oasis nor
well. 'Enough, Moussa Isa, thou mayest return, I can track the camel of
Ibrahim now that he hath left the road,' quoth my brother, breaking a
long silence; but Moussa Isa, panting as he ran before, replied: 'I
come, Mir Saheb. I shall not fall until mine eyes have beheld thy
vengeance—in which perchance, I may take a part. He called me “
“'He hath many hours' start, Moussa,' said my brother, 'and his
camel is a good one. He will not halt and sleep for many hours even
though he suppose me dead!'
“'I can run for a day; for a day and a night I can run,' replied the
Somali, 'and I can run until the hour of thy vengeance cometh. He
called me “Hubshi"' ... and he ran on.
“Sahib, for the whole of that day he ran beside the fast camel, my
brother drawing rein for no single minute, and when, at dawn, I awoke
from broken slumber in the saddle, Moussa Isa was running yet! And then
we heard the cry of the partridge and knew that our luck was good.
“'He may have left the track,' quoth my brother soon after dawn,
'but I think he is making for Mekran Kot, to get money and documents
and to escape again ere news of his deed—or the suspicion of
him—reaches the Jam Saheb. We may have missed him, but I could not
halt and wait for daylight. He cannot be far ahead of us now. This
camel shall live on milk and meal and wheaten bread, finest bhoosa
 and chosen young green shoots, and buds, and leaves—and he shall
have a collar of gold with golden bells, and reins of silk, and hanging
silken tassels, and he shall——” and then Moussa Isa gave a hoarse
scream and pointed to the sky-line above which rose a wisp of smoke.
“'It is he,' said my brother, and within the hour we beheld the
little bush-tent of Ibrahim Mahmud (made with cloths thrown over a bent
bush) and his camel, near to which, his oont-wallah Suleiman
Abdulla had kindled a fire and prepared food. (Later this liar swore
that he made the fire smoke with green twigs to guide the pursuit,—a
foolish lie, for he knew not what Ibrahim had done, nor anything but
that his master hastened.)
“Moussa Isa staggered to where Ibrahim Mahmud lay asleep, looked
upon his face, and fell, seeming to be about to die.
“Making a little chukker round, my brother drove the
camel between Suleiman and the tent and made it kneel.
 Circuit, course.
“'Salaam aleikoum, Mir Saheb,' said Suleiman, and my
 A Mussulman greeting.
“'Salaam. Tend thou my camel and prepare food for me, and my
brother, and my servant. And if thou wouldst not hang in a pig's skin,
be wise and wary, and keep eyes, ears, and mouth closed.' And we drank
“Then, treading softly, we went to the tent where Ibrahim Mahmud
slept and sat us down where we could look upon his face. There he
slept, Sahib, peacefully, like a little child!—having left Mir Jan to
die the death 'whereof men should speak with awe,' as he had
“We sat beside him and watched. Saying nothing, we sat and watched.
An hour passed and an hour again. For another hour without moving or
speaking we sat and Moussa Isa joined us and watched.
“'Twas sweet, and I licked my lips and hoped he might not wake for
hours, although I hungered. The actual revenge is very, very sweet,
Sahib, but does it exceed the joy of watching the enemy as he lies
wholly at your mercy, lies in the hollow of your hand and is your poor
foolish plaything,—knave made fool at last? Like statues we sat,
moving not our eyes from his face, and we were very happy.
“Then, suddenly, he awoke and his eyes fell on my brother—and he
shrieked aloud, as the hare shrieks when hound or jackal seize her; as
the woman shrieks when the door goes down before the raiders and the
thatch goes up in flame.
“Thus he shrieked.
“We moved not.
“'Why cryest thou, dear brother?' asked Mir Jan in a soft, sweet
“'I—I—thought thou wast a spirit, come to—' he faltered, and my
“'And why should I be a spirit, my brother? Am I not young
“'I dreamed,' quavered Ibrahim.
“'I too have had a dream,' said my brother.
“''Twas but a dream, Mir Jan. I will arise and prepare some—'
replied Ibrahim, affecting ease of manner but poorly, for he had no
“'Thou wilt not arise yet, Ibrahim Mahmud,' murmured my brother
“'Because thine eyes are somewhat wearied and I purpose to wash them
with my magic water,' and as he held up the blue bottle with the red
label Ibrahim screamed like a girl and flung himself forward at my
brother's feet, shrieking and praying for mercy:—
“'No, No!' he howled; 'not that! Mercy, O kingly son
of Kings! I will give thee—”
“'Nay, my brother,—what is this?' asked Mir Jan softly, with kind
caressing voice. 'What is all this? I do but propose to bathe thine
eyes with this same magic water wherewith I bathed mine own, the day
before yesterday. Thou didst see me do it—thou didst watch me do it.'
“'Mercy—most noble Mir! Have pity, 'twas not I. Mercy!' he
“'But, Ibrahim, dear brother' expostulated Mir Jan, 'why this
objection to my magic water? It gave me great relief and my eyes were
quickly healed. Thine own need care—for see—water gushes from them
“The dog howled—like a dog—and offered lakhs of rupees.
“'But surely, my brother, what gave me relief will give thee relief?
Thou knowest how my eyes were soothed and healed, and that it is a
potent charm, and surely it is not changed?' Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras
el-Isan was all Pathan then, Sahib, whatever he may have been at other
times. I could not have played more skilfully with the dog myself.
“At last, turning to Moussa Isa he said:—
“'Our brother seemeth distraught, and perchance will do himself some
injury if he be not tended with care and watched over. Bind him, to
make sure that he hurt not himself in this strange madness that hath
o'ertaken him, making him fancy harm even in this healing balm. Bind
him tightly.' And at that, the treacherous, murderous dog found his
manhood for a moment and made to spring to his feet and fight, but as
he tried to rise, Moussa Isa kicked him in the face and fell upon him.
“'Shall I serve thee as I served thy Hubshi hireling, thy
Sidi slave?' he grunted and showed his sharp strong teeth.
“'Perchance 'twould cure him of his madness if we bled the poor soul
a little,' cooed my brother, putting his hand to his cummerbund where
was his long Afghan knife, and Ibrahim Mahmud lay still. Picking up his
big, green turban from beside his rug, I bound his arms to his sides
and then, going forth, got baggage-cords from the oont-wallah
and likewise his puggri, and Moussa Isa bound his feet and hands
“Then my brother called Suleiman Abdulla the oont-wallah, and
bade Moussa Isa sleep—which he did with his knife in his hand, having
bound his foot to that of Ibrahim.
“'Look, thou dog,' said Mir Jan to Suleiman, 'should this rat-flea
escape, thy soul and thy body shall pay, for I will put out thine eyes
with glowing charcoal and hang thee in the skin of a pig, if I have to
follow thee to Cabul to do it—yea, to Balkh or Bokhara. See to it.'
And Suleiman put his head upon my brother's feet, poured dust upon it
and said 'So be it, Mir Saheb. Do this and more if he escape,' and we
“Anon we awoke, ate, drank and smoked, my brother smoking the
cheroots of the Sahib-log and I having to be content with the bidis
of Suleiman as there was no hookah.
“And when we had rested we went and sat before the face of Ibrahim
and gazed upon him long, without words.
“And he wept. Like a woman he wept, and said 'Slay me, Mir Saheb,
and have done. Slay me with thy knife.'
“But my brother replied softly and sweetly:—
“'What wild words are these, Ibrahim? Why should I slay thee? Some
matter of a quarrel there was concerning thy torturing of my
servant—but I am not of them that bear grudges and nurse hatred. In no
anger slay thee with my knife? Why should I injure thee? I do most
solemnly swear, Ibrahim, that I will do thee no wilful hurt. I will but
anoint thine eyes with the contents of this bottle just as I did anoint
my own. Why should I slay thee or do thee hurt?'
“And I chuckled aloud. He was all Pathan then, Sahib, and handling
his enemy right subtly.
“And Ibrahim wept yet more loudly and said again:—
“'Slay me and have done.' Then my brother gave him the name by which
he was known ever after, saying:—
“'Why should I slay thee, Ibrahim, the Weeper?' and he
produced the bottle and held it above that villain's face.
“His screams were music to me, and in the joy of his black heart
Moussa Isa burst into some strange chant in his own Somali tongue.
“'Nay, our friends must hear thy eloquence and songs, Ibrahim,' said
my brother, after he had held the bottle tilted above the face of the
Weeper for some minutes. ''Twere greedy to keep this to ourselves.'
“Again and again that day my brother would say: 'Nay—I cannot wait
longer. Poor Ibrahim's weeping eyes must be relieved at once,' and he
would produce the bottle, uncork it, and hold it over Ibrahim's face as
he writhed and screamed and twisted in his bonds.
“'What ails thee, Ibrahim the Weeper?' he would coo. 'Thou knowest
it is a soothing lotion. Didst thou not see me use it on mine own
eyes?' Yea, he was true Pathan then, and I loved him the more.
“A hundred times that day he did thus and enjoyed the music of
Ibrahim's screams, and by night the dog was a little mad. So, lest we
defeat ourselves and lose something of the sport our souls loved, we
left him in peace that night, if 'peace' it is to know that the
dreadful death you have prepared for another now overhangs you. Moussa
Isa kept watch through the night. And in the morning came Abdul Haq and
Hussein Ali and the servants and oont-wallahs, save a few who
had been sent with laden camels by the Caravan Road. And, when all had
eaten and rested, my brother held durbar, having placed
Ibrahim Mahmud in the midst, bound, and looking like one who has long
lain upon a bed of sickness.
“This durbar proceeded with the greatest solemnity and no man
smiled when my brother said: 'And now, touching the matter of my
beloved and respected Ibrahim Mahmud, son of our grandfather's
Vizier,—the learned Ibrahim, who shortly goeth (perhaps) across the
black water to Englistan to become a great and famous pleader,—can any
suggest the cause of the strange and distressing madness that hath come
upon him so suddenly? For, behold, I have to keep him bound lest he do
himself an injury, and constantly he crieth, “Kill me, Mir Saheb, kill
me with thy knife and make an end.” And when I go to bathe his poor
eyes, so sore and red with weeping, behold he shrieketh like the
relwey terain at Peshawar and weepeth like a woman.'
“And Abdul Haq spoke and said: 'Is it so indeed, Mir Saheb?' And my
brother said: 'It is so;' and Hussein Ali said: 'Is it so indeed, Mir
Saheb?' And my brother said 'It is so;' and all men said the same thing
gravely and my brother made the same answer.
“Sahib, I shall never forget the joy of that durbar with
Ibrahim the Weeper there, like a trapped rat, in the midst, looking
from face to face for mercy.
“'Yea—it is so. It is indeed so,' again said my brother when all
had asked. 'You shall see—and hear. Behold I will drop but one drop of
my soothing lotion into each of his eyes!' ... and he turned to Ibrahim
the Weeper, with the uncorked bottle in his hand—the bottle from which
came forth smoke, though it was cold. But Ibrahim rolled screaming, and
strove to thrust his face into the ground. 'It is strange indeed,'
mused Abdul Haq, stroking his beard, while none smiled. 'Strange, in
every truth. But thou hast not dropped the drops, Mir Saheb. Perchance
he will arise and thank thee and be cured of this madness when he feels
the healing anointment that so benefited thine own eyes. Oh, the
cleverness of these European hakims,' and he raised hands and
eyes in wonder as he sighed piously.
“'Yea—perchance he will,' agreed my brother and bade Moussa Isa
hold him by the ears with his face to the sky while the oont-wallahs
kept him on his back. And Ibrahim's body heaved up those four strong
men as it bent like a bow and bucked like a horse, while my brother
removed the cork once again.
“His shrieks delighted my soul.
“''Tis a marvellous mystery to me,' sighed my brother. 'He knows how
innocent and healing are these waters and yet he refuses them. He saw
me use them on my own eyes—and surely the medicine is unchanged?' And
he balanced the bottle sideways above the face of his enemy and allowed
the devilish acid to well up and impend upon the very edge of the neck
of the bottle, as he murmured: 'But a single drop for each eye! More I
cannot spare—to-day. Perchance a drop for each ear to-morrow, and one
for his tongue on the next day—if his madness spare him to us for so
“Then, as Ibrahim, foaming, shrieked curses and cried aloud to Allah
and Mohammed his Prophet, he said: 'Nay, this is ingratitude. He shall
not have them to-day at all, but shall endure without them till sunrise
to-morrow. Take him yonder, and lay him on that flat rock, bareheaded
in the sun, that his tears may be dried for him.' ...
“Yea! I found no fault with my brother then, Sahib.
“He was a master in his revenge. And the durbar murmured its
applause, and praised and thanked my brother. Not one of them but had
suffered at the hands of Mahmud Shahbaz, his father, the Vizier, or at
the insolent hands of this his own son.... Then Mir Jan called to
Moussa Isa, his body-servant, and said unto him:—
“'Hear, Moussa Isa, and make no tiny error if thou wouldst see
to-morrow's sun and go to Paradise anon. Feed that carrion well and
pretend to be filled with the pity that is the child of avarice. Ask
what he will give thee to help him to escape. Affect to haggle long,
and speak much of the difficulties and dangers of the deed. At length
agree to put him on my fast camel this night at moon-rise, if thou art
left as his guard and we are wrapt in slumber. Play thy part well, and
show thy remorse at cheating thy master—even for a lakh of
rupees—yea, and show fear of what will happen to thee, and pretend
distrust of him. At length succumb again, and as the moon just shows
above the mountains untie his bonds and do thus and thus—' and he
whispered instructions while a light shone in the eyes of Moussa Isa,
the Somali, and a smile played about his mouth.
 One hundred thousand.
“And Mir Jan told the matter that night to all and gave
“Moussa Isa meanwhile did everything as he was bid and, while we
ate, he carried his own food to the Weeper, as though secretly.
“Long and merrily we feasted, pretending to drink to excess of the
forbidden sharab, singing and behaving like toddy-laden coolies,
and in time we staggered to our carpets, put on our poshteens, pulled rugs over our heads and slept—not.
 Warm sheep-skin coats.
“From under his rug my brother kept watch. Shortly after, Moussa Isa
arose from beside Ibrahim the Weeper and crawled like a snake to where
the camels knelt in a ring, and there he saddled the swift white camel
of Mir Jan, and I heard its bubbling snarl as he made it rise, and led
it over near to where Ibrahim lay. There he made it kneel again, and,
throwing the nose-rope over its head, he laid the loop thereof, with
his stick, on the front seat of the saddle. This done, he crept back to
Ibrahim Mahmud and feigned sleep awhile. Anon, none stirring, he began
to untie with his teeth and knife-point the cords that bound the
captive, and when, at length, the man was free, Moussa chafed his
stiffened arms and legs, his hands and feet.
“When, after a time, Ibrahim tried to rise, he fell again and again,
and the moon not yet having risen above the mountains, the
avaricious-seeming Moussa again massaged and chafed the limbs of the
villain Ibrahim, who earnestly prayed Moussa Isa to lay him on the
saddle as he was—and depart ere some sleeper awoke. But Moussa said
'twould be vain to start until Ibrahim could sit in the saddle and hold
on, and he continued to rub his arms and legs.
“But when the edge of the moon shone above the mountain, Moussa
placed the arm of Ibrahim around his neck, put his arm round Ibrahim's
body, and staggered with him to where the racing-camel knelt. After a
few steps the strength of Ibrahim seemed to return, and, by the time
they reached the camel, he could totter on his feet and stand without
help. With some difficulty Moussa hoisted him into the rear saddle.
Having done so, he thrust the stirrups upon his feet and commenced to
unwind his puggri.
“'Mount, mount!' whispered Ibrahim.
“'Nay, I must tie thee on,' replied Moussa Isa and, knotting one end
of the puggri to the back of the saddle, he passed it twice
round Ibrahim and tied the other end near the first. This done, and
Ibrahim being in a frantic fever of haste and fear and hope, Moussa Isa
commenced to bargain, Ibrahim agreeing to every demand and promising
“'Anything! anything!' he shrieked beneath his breath. 'Bargain as
we go. You cannot ask too much. I and my father will strip ourselves
for thee.' ... And having tortured him awhile, Moussa sprang into the
saddle and brought the camel to its feet—as my brother's voice said,
softly and sweetly:—
“'Wouldst thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my friend?' and my own chimed
“'Could'st thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my brother's friend?' and the
voice of Abdul Haq followed with:—
“'Shouldst thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my cousin's friend?' and
Hussein Ali's voice added:—
“'Do not leave us, O Ibrahim, my friend's friend.' Like the
wolf-pack, every other voice in the camp in turn implored:—
“'Never leave us, O Ibrahim, our master's friend.'
“'Go! go!' shrieked Ibrahim, kicking with his heels at the camel's
sides and striking at Moussa Isa, as that obedient youth, raising his
stick, caused the camel to bound forward, and drove it, swiftly
trotting—to where my brother lay, and there made it kneel again....
“Dost thou sleep, Huzoor?”
“Nay, Mir Saheb,” I replied, “nor would I till your tale be done and
I have seen the return of another reconnoitring-patrol. We might then
take turns.... Nay, I will not sleep at all. 'Tis too near dawn—when
things are wont to happen in time of war.”
Little did the worthy Subedar-Major guess how, or why, his tale
“I have nearly done, Sahib.... On the morrow my brother said:
'To-day I will make an end. After the evening prayer let all assemble
and behold the anointing of the eyes of Ibrahim the Weeper with the
same balm that he intended to be applied to mine.' And during the day
men drove strong stakes deep into the ground, the distance between them
being equal to the width of Ibrahim's head, which they
measured—telling him why. Also pegs were driven into the ground
convenient for the fastening of his hands and feet, and stones were
collected as large as men could carry.
“And, after evening prayer and prostration we took Ibrahim, and
forcing his head between the stakes so that he could not turn it, we
tied his hands and feet to the pegs and weighted his body with the
stones, being careful to do him no injury and to cause no such pain as
might detract from the real torture, and lessen his punishment.
“And then Mir Jan stood over him with the bottle and said, softly
“'Ibrahim, my friend, thou didst vow upon me a vengeance, the
telling of which should turn men pale, because I struck thee for
torturing my servant. And now I return good for thine evil, for I take
pity on thy weeping eyes and heal them. These several days thou hast
refused this benefaction with floods of tears, and sobs and screams.
Now, behold, and see how foolish thou hast been,' and he spilt a drop
from the bottle, so that it fell near the face of Ibrahim, but not on
“And I was amazed to see that the stone upon which the drop fell did
not bubble and boil. This prolongation and refinement of the torture I
could appreciate and enjoy—but why did not the acid affect the stone?
'Twas as though mere cold water had fallen upon it. Nor was the bottle
smoking as always hitherto.
“And even as I wondered, my brother quickly stooped and dashed some
of the contents of the bottle in the eyes of Ibrahim the Weeper.
“With a shriek that pierced our ear-drums and must have been heard
for many kos, Ibrahim writhed and jerked so that the stones were
thrown from his body and the pegs that held his feet and hands were
torn from the ground. The stakes holding his head firmly, he flung his
body over until his head was beneath it and then back again, and
screamed like a wounded horse. At last he wrenched his head free, and,
holding his hands to his face—which appeared to be in no way
injured—leapt up and ran round and round in circles, until he was
seized, and, by my brother's orders, his hands were torn from his face.
 Kos = two miles.
“And behold, his eyes and face were unmarked and uninjured, and the
liquid that dripped upon his clothing made no mark and did no hurt.
“'Blind,' he shrieked,' I am blind! O Merciful Allah,
my eyes!' and he fell, howling.
“'Now that is very strange,' said my brother, 'for I threw pure,
plain, cold water in his face. See me drink of the remainder!' and he
drank from the bottle, and so did I, in fear and wonder. Cold, pure,
fair water it was, and nothing else!
“But Ibrahim the Weeper was blind. Stone blind to his dying day and
never looked upon the sun again. Little drops of water had struck him
blind. Nay, the Hand of Allah had struck him blind—him who had cried:
'May Allah strike me blind if I do not unto thee a thing of
which children yet unborn shall speak with awe”. He had tried to do
such a thing and God had struck him blind—though my brother, who was
very learned, spoke of self-suggestion, and of imagination being
sometimes strong enough to make the imagined come to pass. (He told of
a man who died for no reason, on a certain day at a certain hour,
because his father had done so and he believed that he would
also. But more likely it was witchcraft and he was under a curse.)
“Howbeit, little drops of pure water blinded Ibrahim the Weeper. And
there the foreign blood of my poor brother showed forth. He could not
escape the taint and was weak. At the last moment he had wavered and,
like a fool, had forgiven his enemy.”
“Was he a Christian?” I asked (and had often wondered in the past).
“Nahin, Sahib! He was a Mussulman, my father having had him
taught with special care by a holy moulvie, by reason of the
fact that his mother had had him sprinkled with holy water by her
priests and had taught him the tenets of the Christian faith—doubtless
a high and noble one since your honour is of it.”
“He had been taught the Christian doctrines, then?”
“Without doubt, Sahib. Throughout his childhood; in the absence of
his father. And doubtless this aided his foreign blood in making him
act thus foolishly.”
“Doubtless,” I agreed, with a smile.
“Yea, at the last moment he had put his vengeance from him and
behaved like a weak fool, throwing away the acid, cleaning the bottle
and filling it with pure water. He had intended to give Ibrahim a
fright (and also the opprobrious title of the Weeper), to teach
him a lesson and to let him go—provided he swore on the Q'ran never to
return to Mekran Kot when he left for England.... Such a man was my
poor brother. But the hand of Allah intervened and Ibrahim the Weeper
lived and died stone blind.... A strange man that poor brother of mine,
strong save when his foreign blood and foreign religion arose like
poison within him and made him weak.... There was the case of the
English Sergeant Larnce-Ishmeet whom he spared and sent into the
English lines in the little Border War.”
“Lance-Sergeant Smith? What regiment?” I asked.
“I know not, Sahib, save that it was a British Infantry Regiment.
(He was not Lance-Sergeant Ishmeet but Sergeant Larnce-Ishmeet.) We ...
I mean ... they ... slew many of a Company that was doing rear-guard
and their officers being slain and many men also, a Sergeant took them
off with great skill. Section by section, from point to point he
retired them, and our ... their ... triumphant joy at the capture and
slaughter of the Company was changed to gnashing of teeth—for we lost
many and the Company retired safely on the main body. But we got the
Sergeant, badly wounded, and my brother would not have him slain.
Rather he showed him much honour and had him borne to Mekran Kot, and
when he was healed he took him to within sight of the outermost Khyber
fort and set him free.... Yet was he not an enemy, Sahib, taken in war?
Strange weaknesses had my poor brother....”
“I knew a Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith,” I remarked, as light
dawned on me after pondering “Larnce-Ishmeet.” “He shot himself at Duri
some time ago.”
“He was a brave man,” said Mir Daoud Khan. “Peace be upon him.”
“And what became of your brother?” I asked, although I knew only too
“He left Mekran Kot when I did, Sahib, for our father died, the old
Jam Saheb was poisoned, and we had to flee or die. I never saw him
again for he made much money (out of rifles), travelled widely, and
became a Sahib (and I followed the pultan). But he died as a
Pathan should—for his honour. In Gungapur jail they hanged him (after
the failure of the foolish attempt by some seditious Sikhs and Punjabis
and Bengalis at a second Great Killing) and I do not care to speak of
that thing even to—”
 Infantry Regiment.
A sputter of musketry broke out in the thick vegetation of the
river-bed, crackled and spread, as Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan (once
against the civilized, brave and distinguished officer) and I sprang to
our feet and hurried to our posts—I, even at that moment, thinking how
small a World is this, and how long is the long arm of Coincidence.
Here was I, while waiting for what then seemed almost certain death,
hearing from the lips of his own brother, the early history of the
remarkable, secretive and mysterious man whom I had loved above all
men, and whose death had been the tragedy of my life.
CHAPTER II. THE BOY.
(Mainly concerning the early life of Moussa Isa Somali.)
Moussa Isa Somali never stole, lied, seduced, cheated, drank, swore,
gambled, betrayed, slandered, blasphemed, nor behaved meanly nor
cowardly—but, alas! he had personal and racial Pride.
It is written that Pride is the sin of Devils and that by it,
Lucifer, Son of the Morning, fell.
If it be remembered that he fell for nine days, be realized that he
must have fallen with an acceleration of velocity of thirty-two feet
per second, each second, and be conceded that he weighed a good average
number of pounds, some idea will be formed of the violence of the
concussion with which he came to earth.
In spite of the terrible warning provided by so great a smash there
yet remain people who will argue that it is better to fall through
Pride than to remain unfallen through lack of it. By Pride, Pride
is meant of course—not Conceit, Snobbishness and Bumptiousness, which
are all very damnable, and signs of a weak, base mind. One gathers that
Lucifer, Son of the Morning, was not conceited, snobbish, nor
bumptious. Nor was Moussa, son of Isa, Somali—but, like Lucifer, Son
of the Morning, Devil, he fell, through Pride, and came to a Bad End.
One has known people who have owned to a sneaking liking and
unwilling admiration for Lucifer, Son of the Morning—people of the
same sort as those who find it difficult wholly to revere the prideless
Erect when comparing them with the prideful Fallen—and, for the life
of me, I cannot help a sneaking liking and unwilling admiration for
Moussa Isa Somali, who fell through Pride.
There was something fine about him, even as there was about Lucifer,
Son of the Morning, and one cannot avoid feeling that if both did not
get more of hard luck and less of justice than some virtuous people one
knows, they certainly cut a better figure. Of course it is a mistake to
adopt any line of action that leads definitely to the position of
Under-Dog, and to fight when you cannot win. It is not Prudent, and
Prudence leads to Favour, Success, Decorations, and the Respect of
Others if not of yourself. It is also to be remembered that whether you
are a Wicked Rebel or a Noble True-Hearted Patriot depends very largely
on whether you succeed or fail.
All of which is mere specious and idle special pleading on behalf of
Moussa Isa, a sinful murderous Somali....
Most of the memories of Moussa Isa centred round scars. When I say
“memories of Moussa Isa” I mean Moussa Isa's own memories, for there
are no memories concerning him. The might, majesty, dominion and power
of the British Empire were arrayed against him, and the Empire's duly
appointed agents hanged him by the neck until he was dead—at an age
when some people are yet at school, albeit he had gathered in his few
years of life a quantity and quality of experience quite remarkable.
'Twas a sordid business, and yet Moussa Isa died, like many very
respectable and highly belauded folk, from the early Christians in
Italy to the late Christians in Armenia, for a principle and an idea.
He was black, he was filthy, he was savage, ignorant and ugly—but
he had his Pride, both personal and racial, for he was a Somali. A
Somali, mark you, not a mere Hubshi or Woolly One, not a common
Nigger, not a low and despicable person—worshipping idols, eating
human flesh, grubs, roots and bark—the “black ivory” of Arabs.
If you called Moussa Isa a Hubshi, he either killed you or marked
you down for death, according to circumstances.
Had Moussa Isa lived a few centuries earlier, been of another
colour, and swanked around in painful iron garments and assorted
cutlery, he would have been highly praised for his fine and proper
spirit. Poet, bard, and troubadour would have noted and published his
quickness on the point of honour. Moussa would have been set to music
and have become a source of income to the gifted. He would have become
a Pillar of the Order of Knighthood and an Ornament of the Age of
Chivalry. A wreath of laurels would have encircled his brow—instead of
a rope of hemp encircling his neck.
For such fine, quick, self-respecting Pride, such resentment of
insult, men have become Splendid Figures of the Glorious Past.
Autres jours autres moeurs.
How many people called him Hubshi, we know not; but we know,
from his own lips, of the killing of some few. Of the killing of others
he had forgotten, for his memory was poor, save for insult and
kindness. And, having caught and convicted him in one or two cases the
appointed servants of the British Empire first “reformed” and then slew
him in their turn—thus descending to his level without his excuse of
private personal insult and injury....
The scars on Moussa Isa's face with the hole in his ear were
connected with one of his very earliest memories—or one of his very
earliest memories was connected with the scars on his face and the hole
in his ear—a memory of jolting along on a camel, swinging upside-down,
while a strong hand grasped his foot; of seeing his father rush at his
captor with a long, broad-bladed spear, of being whirled and flung at
his father's head; and of seeing his father's intimate internal economy
seriously and permanently disarranged by the two-handed sword of one of
the camel rider's colleagues (who flung aside a heavy gun which he had
just emptied into Moussa's mamma) as his father fell to the ground
under the impact and weight of the novel missile. Though Moussa was
unaware, in his abysmal ignorance, of the interesting fact, the great
two-handed sword so effectually wielded by the supporter of his captor,
was exactly like that of a Crusader of old. It was like that of a
Crusader of old, because it was a direct lineal descendant of the
swords of the Crusaders who had brought the first specimens to the
country, quite a good many years previously. Indeed some people said
that a few of the swords owned by these Dervishes were real, original,
Crusaders' swords, the very weapons whose hilts were once grasped by
Norman hands, and whose blades had cloven Paynim heads in the name of
Christianity and the interests of the Sepulchre. I do not know—but it
is a wonderfully dry climate, and swords are there kept, cherished, and
bequeathed, even more religiously than were the Stately Homes of
England in that once prosperous land, in the days before park, covert,
pleasaunce, forest, glade, dell, and garden became allotments, and the
spoil of the “Working"-man.
Picked up after the raid and pursuit with a faceful of gravel, sand,
dirt, and tetanus-germs, Moussa Isa, orphan, was flung on a pile of
dead Somali spearmen and swordsmen, of horses, asses, camels, negroes,
(old) women and other cattle—and, crawling off again, received kicks
and orders to clean and polish certain much ensanguined weapons sullied
with the blood of his near and distant relatives. Thereafter he was
recognized by the above-mentioned swordsman, and accorded the privilege
of removing his own father's blood from the great two-handed sword
before alluded to—a task of a kind that does not fall to many little
boys. So willingly and cheerfully did Moussa perform his arduous duty
(arduous because the blood had had time to dry, and dried blood takes a
lot of removing from steel by one unprovided with hot water) that the
Arab swordsman instead of blowing off the child's head with his long
and beautiful gun, damascened of barrel, gold-mounted of lock, and
pearl-inlaid of stock, allowed him to rim for his life that he might
die a sporting death in hot blood, doing his devilmost. (These were not
slavers but avengers of enmity to the Mad Mullah and punishers of
friendship to the English.)
“How much law will you give me, O Emir?” asked the child.
“Perhaps ten yards, dog, perhaps a hundred, perhaps more.... Run!”
“You could hit me at a thousand yards, O Emir,” was the
reply. “Let me die by a shot that men will talk about....”
“Run, yelping dog,” growled the Arab with a sardonic smile.
And Moussa ran. He also bounded, shied, dodged, ducked, swerved,
dropped, crawled, zig-zagged and generally gave his best attention to
evading the shot of the common fighting-man whom he had propitiatorily
addressed as “Emir,” though a mere wearer of a single fillet of
camel-hair cord around his haik. Like a naval gunner—the Arab
laid his gun and waited till the sights “came on,” fired, and had the
satisfaction of seeing the child fling up his arms, leap into the air
and fall twitching to the ground. Good shot! The twitches and the last
convulsive spasm were highly artistic and creditable to the histrionic
powers of Moussa Isa, shot through the ear, and inwardly congratulating
himself that he had yet a chance. But then he had had wide opportunity
for observation, and plenty of good models, in the matter of
sudden-death spasms and twitches, so the credit is the less. Anyhow, it
deceived experienced Arab eyes at a hundred yards, and the performance
may therefore be classed as good. To the reflective person it will be
manifest that Moussa's reverence for the sanctity of human life
received but little encouragement or development from the very
Returning refugees, a few days later, found Moussa very pleased-with
himself and very displeased with uncooked putrid flesh. Being
exceedingly poor and depressed as a result of the Mad Mullah's vengeful
razzia, they sold Moussa Isa, friendless, kinless orphan, and once
again cursed the false English who made them great promises in the
Mahdi's troublous day, and abandoned them to the Mad Mullah and his
Dervishes as soon as the Mahdi was happily dead.
The Mad Mullah they could understand; the English they could not.
For the Mad Mullah they had no blame whatsoever; for the English they
had the bitterest blame, the deepest hatred and the uttermost contempt.
Who blames the lion for seeking and slaying his prey? Who defends the
unspeakable creature that throws its friends and children to the
lion—in payment of its debts and in cancellation of its obligations to
those friends and children? In discussing the raid on their way to
market with Moussa Isa, they mentioned the name of the Mad Mullah with
respect and fear. When they mentioned the English they expectorated and
made a gesture too significant to be particularized. And the tom-toms
once again throbbed through the long nights, sending (by a code that
was before Morse) from village to village, from the sea to the Nile,
from the Nile to the Niger and the Zambesi, from the Mediterranean to
the Cape, the news that once more the Mad Mullah had flouted that
failing and treacherous race, the English, and slaughtered those who
lived within their gates, under the shadow of their flag and the
promise of their protection.
Ere Moussa Isa got his next prominent scar, the signal-drums
throbbed out the news that the gates were thrown open, the flag hauled
down, and the promises shamefully broken. That the representatives of
the failing treacherous race now stood huddled along the sea-shore in
fear and trembling, while those who had helped them in their trouble
and had believed their word were slaughtered by the thousand; that the
country was the home of fire and sword, the oasis-fields yielding
nothing but corpses, the wells choked with dead ... red slaughter,
black pestilence, starvation, misery and death, where had been green
cultivation, fenced villages, the sound of the quern and the
well-wheel, the song of women and the cry of the ploughman to his oxen.
News and comments which did nothing to lessen the pride and insolence
of the Jubaland tribesmen, of the Wak tribesmen, of the bold Zubhier
sons of the desert, nor to strike terror to the hearts of the murderers
of Captain Aylmer and Mr. Jenner, of slave-traders, game-poachers,
raiders, wallowers in slaughter....
Another very noticeable and remarkable scar broke the fine lines and
smooth contours of Moussa's throat and another memory was as indelibly
established in his mind as was the said scar on his flesh.
At any time that he fingered the horrible ridged cicatrice, he could
see the boundless ocean and the boundless blue sky from a wretched
cranky canoe-shaped boat, in which certain Arab, Somali, Negro, and
other gentlemen were proceeding all the way from near Berbera to near
Aden with large trustfulness in Allah and with certain less creditable
goods. It was a long, unwieldy vessel which ten men could row, one
could steer with a broad oar, and a small three-cornered sail could
keep before the wind.
But the various-clad crew of this cranky craft were gentlemen all,
who, beyond running up the string-tied sail to the clothes-prop mast,
or taking a trick at the wheel—another clothes-prop with a large disc
of wood at the water-end, were far above work.
Trusting in Allah and Mohammed his Prophet is a lot easier than
rowing a lineless, blunt-nosed, unseaworthy boat beneath a tropical
sun. So they trusted in God, and permitted Moussa Isa, slave-boy, to do
all that it was humanly possible for him to do.
Moussa did all that was expected of him, but not so Allah and
Mohammed his Prophet.
The gentle breeze that (sometimes) carries you steadily over a
glassy sea straight up the forty-fifth meridian of east longitude from
Berbera to Aden in the month of October, failed these worthy trustful
Argonauts, and they were becalmed.
But Time is made for slaves, and the only slave upon the Argosy was
Moussa Isa, and so the becalming was neither here nor there. The cargo
would keep (if kept dry) for many a long day—and the greater the delay
in delivery, the greater the impatience of the consignees and their
willingness to pay even more than the stipulated price—its weight in
silver per rifle. But food is made for men as well as slaves,
and if you, in your noble trustfulness, resolutely decline to reduce
your daily rations, there must, with mathematical certitude of date,
arrive the final period to any given and limited supply. Though banking
wholly with Heaven in the matter of their own salvation from hunger,
the Argonauts displayed mere worldly wisdom in the case of Moussa Isa
and gave him the minimum of food that might be calculated to keep
within him strength adequate to his duties of steering, swarming up the
mast, baling, cooking, massaging the liver of the Leading Gentleman,
and so forth. And in due course, the calm continuing, these pious and
religious voyagers came to the bitter end of their water, their rice,
their dhurra, their dates—and all (except the salt and coffee
which formed part of the ostensible, bogus cargo) that they had, as
they too-slowly drifted into the track of those vessels that enter and
leave the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, the Gate of Tears, the tears of the
starving, drowning, ship-wrecked and castaway.
Salt per se is a poor diet, and, for the making of potable
coffee, fresh water is very necessary.
Some of the Argonauts were, as has been said, Negro gentlemen. On
the third day of absolute starvation, one had an Idea and made a
The Leading Gentleman entertained it with an open mind and without
The Tanga tout acclaimed it as a divine inspiration.
The one-eyed Moor literally smiled upon it. As his eye was single
and his body therefore full of light, he saw the beauty of the notion
at once. Had it been full of food instead, we may charitably suppose he
would not have remarked:—
“A pity we did not feed him up better”.
For the suggestion concerned Moussa Isa and food—Moussa Isa as
food, in point of fact. The venerable gentle-looking Arab, whose face
beamed effulgent with benevolence and virtue, murmured:—
“He will have but little blood, the dog. None of it must be—er—
wasted by the—ah—butcher.”
The huge man with the neat geometrical pattern of little scars,
perpendicular on the forehead, horizontal on the cheeks and in
concentric circles on the chest (done with loving care and a knife, in
his infancy, by his papa) said only “Ptwack” as he chewed a
mouthful of coffee-beans and hide. It may have been a pious ejaculation
or a whole speech in his own peculiar vernacular. It was a tremendous
smacking of tremendous lips, and the expression which overspread his
speaking countenance was of gusto, appreciative, and such as accords
But a very fair man (very fair beside the Negroes, Somalis, Arabs
and others our little black and brown brothers), a man with grey-blue
eyes, light brown hair and moustache, and olive complexion, said to the
originator of the Idea in faultless English, if not in faultless taste
“You damned swine”.
A look of profoundest disgust overspread his handsome young face, a
face which undoubtedly lent itself to very clear expression of such
feelings as contempt, disgust and scorn, an unusual face, with the thin
high-bridged nose of an English aristocrat, the large eyes and
pencilled black brows of an Indian noble, the sallow yet cheek-flushed
complexion of an Italian peasant-girl, and the firm lips, square jaw,
and prominent chin of a fighting-man. It was essentially an English
face in expression, and essentially foreign in detail; a face of
extraordinary contradictions. The eyes were English in colour, Oriental
in size and shape; the mouth and chin English in mould and in repose,
Oriental in mobility and animation; the whole countenance English in
shape, Oriental in complexion and profile—a fine, high-bred, strong
face, upon which played shadows of cruelty, ferocity, diabolical
cunning; a face admired more quickly than liked, inspiring more
speculation than trust.
The same duality and contradiction were proclaimed in the
hands—strong, tenacious, virile hands; small, fine, delicate hands;
hands with the powerful and purposeful thumb of the West; hands with
the supple artistic fingers and delicate finger-nails of the East.
And the man's name was in keeping with hands and face, with mind,
body, soul, and character, for, though he would not have done so, he
could have replied to the query “What is your name?” with “My name?
Well, in full, it is John Robin Ross-Ellison Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir
Hafiz Ullah Khan, and its explanation is my descent from General
Ross-Ellison, Laird of Glencairn, and from Mir Faquir Mahommed Afzul
Khan, Jam of Mekran Kot”.
In Piccadilly, wearing the garb of Piccadilly, he looked an
Englishman of the English.
In Abdul Rehman Bazaar, Cabul, wearing the garb of Abdul Rehman
Bazaar, he looked a Pathan of Pathans. In the former case, rather more
sunburnt than the average lounger in Piccadilly; in the latter, rather
fairer than the average Afghan and Pathan loafer in Abdul Rehman
“Walking down Unter den Linden in Berlin, with upturned moustache,
he looked a most Teutonic German.
“You observed, my friend?” queried the Leading Gentleman (whose
father was the son of a Negro-Arab who married, or should have married,
a Jewess captured near Fez, and whose mother was the daughter of a
Tunisian Turk by a half-bred Negress of Timbuctoo).
“I observed,” replied the fair young man in the mongrel
Arabic-Swahili lingua franca of the Red Sea and East African
littorals “that it is but natural for dogs to prey upon dogs.”
“There are times when the lion is driven to prey upon dogs, my dear
son,” interposed the mild-eyed, benevolent-looking Arab—a pensive
smile on his venerable face.
“Yes—when he is old, mangy, toothless and deserving of nothing
better, my dear father,” replied the fair young man, and his glances at
the white beard, scanty locks and mumbling mouth of the ancient
gentleman had an unpleasantly personal quality. To the casual on-looker
it would have seemed that an impudent boy deliberately insulted a
harmless benevolent old gentleman. To the fair young man, however, it
was well known that the old gentleman's name was famous across Northern
and Eastern Africa for monstrous villainy and fiendish cruelty—the
name of the worst and wickedest of those traders in “black ivory,” one
of whose side-lines is frequently gun-running. Also he knew that the
benevolent-looking old dear was desirous that the Leading Gentleman,
his partner, should join with him in a little scheme (a scheme revealed
by one Moussa Isa, eaves-dropper) to give the fair young man some
inches of steel instead of the pounds of Teutonic gold due for services
(and rifles) rendered, when they should reach the quiet spot on the
northern shore of the Persian Gulf where certain bold caravan-leaders
would await them and their precious cargo—a scheme condemned by the
Leading Gentleman on the grounds of the folly of killing the goose that
laid the golden eggs. But then the wealthy Arab patriarch was retiring
from the risky business (already nearly ruined and destroyed by English
gun-boats) after that trip, and the Leading Gentleman was not. Thus it
was that the attitude of the fair young man toward Sheikh Abou ben
Mustapha Muscati did not display that degree of respect that his grey
hairs and beautiful old face would appear to deserve.
The French-speaking Moslem Berber ex-Zouave, from Algiers,
suggested that Moussa Isa, a slave, was certainly not fitting food for
gentlemen who fight, hunt, travel, poach elephants, deal in “black
ivory,” run guns, and generally lead a life too picturesque for an
over-"educated,” utilitarian and depressing age—but what would you?
“One eats—but yes, one eats, or one ceases to live, and one does not
wish to cease to live—and therefore one eats” and he cocked a yellow
and appraising eye at Moussa Isa. The sense of the meeting appeared to
be that though one would not have chosen this particular animal,
necessity knows no rule—and if the throat be cut while the animal be
alive, one may eat of the flesh and break the Law by so much the less.
Moussa Isa must be halalled. But the fair young man drawing
a Khyber knife with two feet of blade, observed that it was now likely
that there would be a plethora of food, as he would most assuredly cut
the throat of any throat-cutter.
 To halal is to make lawful, here to cut the throat of
animal in order that its flesh may be eatable by good
Moussa Isa regarded him with the look often seen in the eye of an
The venerable Arab smiled meaningly at the Leading Gentleman, and
the Tanga tout asked if all were to hunger for the silly scruples of
one. “If the fair-faced Sheikh did not wish to eat of Moussa, none
would urge it. Live and let live. The gentlemen were hungry; ...” but
the fair young man unreasonably replied, “Then let them eat thee
since they can stomach carrion,” and for the moment the subject
dropped—largely because the fair young man was supposed always to
carry a revolver, which was not a habit of his good colleagues. It was
another evidence of his strange duality that revolver and knife were
(rare phenomenon) equally acceptable to him, though in certain
environment the pistol rather suggested itself to his left hand, while
in others his right hand went quite unconsciously to his long knife.
In the present company no thought of the fire-arm entered his
head—this was a knifing, back-stabbing outfit;—none here who stood up
to shoot and be shot at in fair fight....
The Leading Gentleman looked many times and hard at Moussa Isa
during the second day of his own starvation, which was the third of
that of his companions and the fourth of Moussa's. The Leading
Gentleman, who was as rich as he was ragged and dirty, wore a very
beautiful knife, which (though it reposed in a gaudy sheath of yellow,
green and blue beads, fringed with a dependent filigree, or lace work,
of similar beads with tassels of cowrie-shells) hailed from Damascus
and had a handle of ivory and gold, and an inlaid blade on which were
inscribed verses from the Q'ran.
Moussa Isa knew the pattern of it well by the close of day. The
Leading Gentleman took that evening to sharpening the already sharp
blade of the knife. As he sharpened it on his sandal and the side of
the boat, and tried its edge on his thumb, he regarded the thin body of
Moussa Isa very critically.
His look blended contempt, anticipation, and anxiety.
He broke a long brooding silence with the remark:—
“The little dog will be thinner still, to-morrow ”—a remark which
evoked from the fair youth the reply: “And so will you”.
Perhaps truth covered and excused a certain indelicacy and
callousness in the statement of the Leading Gentleman, albeit the fair
young man appeared annoyed at it. His British blood and instincts
became predominant when the killing and eating of a fellow-creature
were on the tapis—the said fellow-creature being on it at the
A colleague from Dar-es-Salaam, who had an ear and a half, three
teeth, six fingers, innumerable pockmarks and a German accent, said,
“He will have little fat,” and there was bitterness in his tone. As a
business man he realized a bad investment of capital. The food in which
they had wallowed should have gone to the fattening of Moussa Isa. Also
a fear struck him.
“He'll jump overboard in the night—the ungrateful dog. Tie him up,”
and he reached for a coil of cord.
“He will not be tied up,” observed the fair youth in a quiet,
“See, my friend,” said the Leading Gentleman, “it is a case of one
or many. Better that one,” and he pointed to Moussa Isa, “than
another,” and he looked meaningly at the fair young man.
“And yet, I know not,” murmured the venerable Arab, “I know not. We
are not in the debt of the slave. We are in the debt of the
Sheikh. It would cancel all obligations if the Sheikh from the North
preferred to offer himself as—”
The young man's long knife flashed from its sheath as he sprang to
his feet. “Let us eat monkey, if eat we must,” he cried, pointing to
the Arab—and, even as he spoke, the huge man with the scars, flinging
his great arms around the youth's ankles, partly rose and neatly tipped
him overboard. He had long hated the fair man.
Straightway, unseen by any, as all eyes were on the grey-eyed youth
and his assailant, Moussa Isa cast loose the toni that
nestled beneath the stern of the larger boat. He was about to shout
that he had done so when he realised that this would defeat his
purpose, and also that the fair Sheikh was still under water.
 Small dug-out canoe.
“Good,” murmured the old Arab, “now brain him as he comes up—and
secure his body.”
But the fair youth knew better than to rise in the immediate
neighbourhood of the boat. Swimming with the ease, grace and speed of a
seal, he emerged with bursting lungs a good hundred yards from where he
had disappeared. Having breathed deeply he again sank, to re-appear at
a point still more distant, and be lost in the gathering gloom.
“He is off to Cabul to lay his case before the Amir,” observed the
elderly Arab with grim humour.
“Doubtless,” agreed the Leading Gentleman, “he will swim the 2000
miles to India, and then up the Indus to Attock.” And added, “But, bear
witness all, if the young devil turn up again some day, that I
had no quarrel with him.... A pity! A pity!... Where shall we find his
like, a Prank among the Franks, an Afghan among Afghans, a Frenchman in
Algiers, a nomad robber in Persia, a Bey in Cairo, a Sahib in
Bombay—equally at home as gentleman or tribesman? Where shall we find
his like again as gatherer of the yellow honey of Berlin and as
negotiator in Marseilles (where the discarded Gras breech-loaders of
the army grow) and in Muscat? Woe! Woe!”
“Or his like for impudence to his elders, harshness in a bargain,
cunning and greed?” added the benevolent-looking Arab, who had gained a
handsome sum by the murder.
“For courage,” corrected the Leading Gentleman, and with a heavy
sigh, groaned. “We shall never see him more—and he was worth his
weight to me annually in gold.”
“No, you won't see him again,” agreed the Arab. “He'll hardly swim
to Aden—apart from the little matter of sharks.... A pity the sharks
should have so fair a body—and we starve!” and he turned a fatherly
benevolent eye on Moussa Isa—whom a tall slender black Arab, from the
hills about Port Sudan, of the true “fuzzy-wuzzy” type, had seized in
his thin but Herculean arms as the boy rose to spring into the toni
and paddle to the rescue of his benefactor.
The Dar-es-Salaam merchant threw Fuzzy Wuzzy a coil of cord and
Moussa Isa (who struggled, kicked, bit and finding resistance hopeless,
screamed, “Follow the boat, Master,” as he lay on his back), was bound
to a cracked and salt-encrusted beam or seat that supported, or was
supported by, the cracked and salt-encrusted sides of the canoe-shaped
Although very, very hungry, and perhaps as conscienceless and wicked
a gang as ever assembled together on the earth or went down to the sea
in ships, there was yet a certain reluctance on the part of some of the
members to revert to cannibalism, although all agreed that it was
Among the reluctant-to-commence were those who had no negro blood.
Among the ready-to-commence, the full-blooded negroes were the most
Although very hungry and rather weak they were in different case
from that of European castaway sailors, in that all were inured to long
periods of fasting, all had crossed the Sahara or the Sus, lived for
days on a handful of dates, and had tightened the waist-string by way
of a meal. Few of them ever thought of eating between sunrise and
sunset. The lives of the negroes were alternations of gorging and
starving, incredible repletion and more incredible fasting; devouring
vast masses of hippopotamus-flesh to-day, and starving for a week
thereafter; pounds of prime meat to-day, gnawing hunger and the
weakness of semi-starvation for the next month.
“At sunrise,” said the Leading Gentleman finality.
Good! That left the so-desirable element of chance. It left
opportunity for change of programme inasmuch as sunrise might disclose
help in the shape of a passing ship. The matter would rest with Heaven,
and pious men might lay them down to sleep with clear conscience,
reflecting that, should it be the Will of Allah that His servants
should not eat of this flesh, other would be provided; should other not
be provided it was clearly the Will of Allah that His servants should
eat of this flesh! Excellent—there would be a meal soon after sunrise.
And the Argonauts laid them down to sleep, hungry but gratefully
trustful, trustfully grateful. But Moussa Isa watched the wondrous
lustrous stars throughout the age-long, flash-short night and thought
of many things.
Had the splendid, noble Sheikh from the North heard his cry and had
he found the toni? How far had he swum ere his strength gave out
or, with sudden swirl, he was dragged under by the man-eating shark?
Would he remove his long cotton shirt, velvet waistcoat and baggy
cotton trousers? The latter would present difficulties, for the
waist-string would tangle and the water would swell the knot and
prevent the drawing of string over string.
Moreover, the garments, though very baggy, were tight round the
ankles. Would he cast off his beautiful yard-long Khyber knife? It
would go to his heart to do that, both for the sake of the weapon
itself and because he would have to go to his death unavenged, seized
by a shark without giving it its death-wound. Had he heard and would he
follow the boat in the moonlight, find the toni and escape?
Could he swim to Aden? They had said not—even leaving sharks out of
consideration, and indeed it must be forty or fifty miles away. Judging
by their progress they must have done about one hundred and fifty miles
since they embarked at the lonely spot on the Berbera coast for the
other lonely spot on the Aden coast, where certain whisperings with
certain mysterious camel-riders would preface their provisioning for
the voyage along the weary Hadramant coast to the Ras el Had and
Muscat—just a humble boat-load of poor but honest toilers and
tradesmen, interested in dried fish, dates, the pearl-fishery and the
pettiest trading. No, he would never reach land, wonderful swimmer as
he was. He would be lost in the sea as is the Webi Shebeyli River in
the sands of the South, unless he followed the drifting boat and found
the toni. Otherwise, he might be picked up, but he would have to
keep afloat all night to do that, unless he had the extraordinary luck
to be seen by dhow or ship before dark. That could hardly be, unless
the same ship or dhow were visible from their own boat, and none had
No, he must be dead—and Moussa Isa would shortly follow him. How he
wished he could have given his life to save him. Had he known, he would
have cried out, “Let them eat me, O Master,” and prevented him from
risking his life. If he should get the chance of striking one blow for
his life in the morning he would bestow it upon the scar-faced beast
who had tripped the fair Sheik overboard. If he could strike two he
would give the second to the old Arab who flogged women and children to
death with the kourbash, as an amusement, and whose
cruelties were famous in a cruel land; the old Evil who hated, and
plotted the death of, the fair Sheikh, with the leader of the
expedition in order that they might divide his large share of the
gun-running proceeds and German subsidy. If he could strike a third
blow it should be at the filthy Hubshi of the Aruwimi, the low degraded
Woolly One from the dark Interior (of human sacrifice, cannibalism and
ju-ju) who had proposed eating him. Yes—if he could grab the leader's
knife and deal three such stabs as the Sheikh dealt the lion, at these
three, he could die content. But this was absurd! They would halal
him first, of course, and unbind him afterwards.... They might unbind
him first though, so as to place him favourably with regard
to—economy. They would use the empty army-ration tin, shining there
like silver in the moonlight, the tin with which he had done so much
weary baling. Doubtless the leader and the Arab would share its
contents. He grudged it them, and hoped a quarrel and struggle might
arise and cause it to be spilt.
 Rhinoceros-hide whip.
An unpleasant death! Without cowardice one might dislike the thought
of having one's throat cut while one's hands were bound and one watched
the blood gushing into an old army-ration tin. Perhaps there would be
none to gush—and a good job too. Serve them right. Could he cut his
wrists on a nail or a splinter or with the cords, and cheat them, if
there were any blood in him now. He would try. Yes, an unpleasant
death. No one, no true Somali, that is, objected to a prod in the heart
with a shovel-headed spear, a thwack in the head with a hammered slug,
a sweep at the neck with a big sword—but to have a person sawing at
your throat with weak and shaking hands is rotten....
One quite appreciated that masters must eat and slaves must die, and
the religious necessity for cutting the throat while the animal is
alive, according to the Law—and there was great comfort in the fact
that the leader's knife was inscribed with verses of the Q'ran and
would probably be used for the job. (The leader liked jobs of that
sort.) Countless it would confer distinction in Paradise upon one
already distinguished as having died to provide food for a band of
right-thinking, religious-minded gentlemen, who, even in such terrible
straits, forgot not the Law nor omitted the ceremonies....
Where now was the fair-faced master who so resembled the English but
was so much braver, fiercer, so much more staunch? Though fair as they,
and knowing their speech, he could not be of a race that led whole
tribes to trust in them, called them “Friendlies” and then forsook
them; came to them in the day of trouble asking help, and then scuttled
away and deserted their allies, leaving them to face alone the Power
whose wrath and vengeance their help-giving had provoked. Yet there
were good men among them—there was Kafil Bey for example. Kafil
Bey whose last noble fight he had witnessed. If the fair-faced Sheikh
had any of the weak English blood in his veins it must be of such a man
as Kafil Bey.
Was he still swimming? Had he been picked up? Was he shark's food?
To think that he should have come to his death over such a thing
as a slave boy (albeit a Somali and no Hubshi).
This was an Emir indeed.
An idea!... He called aloud: “Are you there, Master? The toni
is loose and must be near,” again and again, louder and louder. Perhaps
he was following and would hear. Again, louder still.
The one-eyed man, disturbed by the cry, stirred, threw his arms
abroad, stretched, and put his foot on the mouth of a neighbour lying
head-to-foot beside him. The neighbour snored loudly and turned his
face sideways under the foot. He had slept standing jammed against the
wall in the Idris of Omdurman, one of the most terrible jails of all
time, and a huge foot on his face was a matter of no moment.
The Tanga tout suddenly emitted a scream, a blood-curdling scream,
and immediately scratched his ribs like a monkey.... Moussa Isa held
Anon the scar-faced man turned over, moving others.
Could it be near dawn already, and were his proprietors waking up?
He could see no change in the East, no paling of the lustrous stars.
Was it an hour ago or eight hours ago that the night had fallen? Had he
an hour to live or a night? Would he ever see Berbera again, steer a
boat down its deep inlet, gaze upon its two lighthouses, its fort,
hospital, barracks, piers, warehouses, bazaars; drive a camel along by
its seven miles of aqueduct, look down from the hills upon this
wonderful and mighty metropolis, greater and grander than Jibuti,
Zeyla, Bulhar and Karam, surely the greatest and most marvellous port
and city of the world, ere driving on through the thorn-bush and
acacia-jungle into the vast waterless Haud? Would he ever again see the
sun rise in the desert, smell the smoke of the camel-dung
cooking-fires.... What was that? The sky was paling in the East,
growing grey, a rose-pink flush on the horizon—dawn and death were at
Before the heralds of the sun, the moon slowly veiled her face with
lightest gossamer while the weaker stars fled. The daily miracle and
common marvel proceeded before the tired eyes of the bound slave; the
rim of the sun appeared above the rim of the sea; the moon more deeply
veiled her face from the fierce red eye, and gracefully and gradually
retired before the advance of the usurping conqueror—and the slave
seemed to hear the fat croaking voice of the leader saying, “At
Broad day and all but he asleep. Well—it had come at last. When
would they awake? Was the toni anywhere near?
The man with the geometrical pattern of scars on his face and chest
suddenly sat bolt upright like a released spring, yawned, looked at the
sky and the limp sail, and then at Moussa Isa. As his eye fell upon the
boy he smiled copiously, protruded a very red tongue between very white
teeth, and licked huge blue-black lips. He leaned over and awakened the
Leading Gentleman. Then he pointed to the Victim. Both watched the
horizon where, beyond distant Bombay and China, the sun was appearing,
rising with the rapidity of the minute hand of a big clock. Neither
looked to the West.
The child knew that when the sun had risen clear of the sea, he
might look upon it for a minute or two—and no more. A puff of wind
fanned his cheek; the sail filled and drew. The boat moved through the
water and the one-eyed gentleman, arising and treading upon the
out-lying tracts of the sleepers, stumbled to the rudder, which was
tied with coconut-fibre to an upright stake. The breeze strengthened
and there was a ripple of water at the bows. Was he saved?
The one-eyed person looked more disappointed than pleased, and
observed to the Leading Gentleman: “We cannot live to Aden, though the
wind hold. We must eat,” and he regarded the figure of Moussa Isa
critically, appraisingly, with mingled favour and disfavour. His
expressive countenance seemed to say, “He is food—but he is poor
Nevertheless an unmistakable look of relief overspread his face as
the Leading Gentleman replied with conviction, “We must eat....” and
added, “This is but a dawn-breeze and will not take us half a mile”.
“Then let us eat forthwith,” said the one-eyed man, and he fairly
beamed upon Moussa Isa, doubtless with the said light of which his body
was full, in consequence of his singleness of vision. The whole party
was by this time awake and Moussa Isa the cynosure of neighbouring
eyes. The Leading Gentleman drew his beautiful knife from its tawdry
sheath and gave it a last loving strop on his horny palm.
Willing hands dragged the head of Moussa Isa across the beam and
willing bodies sat upon him, that he might not waste time, and
something more precious, by thoughtless wriggling, delaying breakfast.
The Leading Gentleman crawled to an advantageous position, and having
bowed in prayer, sawed away industriously.
Moussa Isa wished to shriek to him that he was a fool and a bungler;
that throats were not to be cut in that fashion, with hackings and
sawing at the gullet. Knew the clumsy fumbler nothing of big
blood-vessels?... but he could not speak.
“That is not the way,” said the benevolent-looking old Arab.
“Stab, man, stab under the ear—don't cut ... not there, anyhow.”
The Leading Gentleman tried the other side of the double-edged
blade, continuing obstinately, and Moussa Isa contrived a strange sound
which died away on a curious bubbling note and he grew faint.
Suddenly the one-eyed individual at the rudder screamed aloud, and
disturbed the Leading Gentleman's earnest endeavour to prevent waste.
Not from sensibility did the one-eyed scream, nor on account of his
growing conviction that the Leading Gentleman was getting more than his
share, but because, as all realized upon looking up, a great ship was
bearing down upon them from the West.
So intent had all been upon the preparation of breakfast that the
steamer was almost audible when seen.
Good! Here came water, rice, bread, sugar, flour, and perhaps meat,
for poor castaways, and probably money—from kindly lady-passengers,
this last, for the ship was obviously a liner. The wretched Moussa
Isa's carcase was now superfluous—nay dangerous, and must be disposed
of at once, for Europeans are most kittle cattle. They will exterminate
your tribe with machine-guns, gin, small-pox, and still nastier things,
but they are fearfully shocked at a bit of killing on the part of
others. They call it murder. And though they will well-nigh depopulate
a country themselves, they will wax highly indignant if any of the
survivors do a little slaying, even if they kill but a miserable slave,
like this Somali dog.
Heave him overboard.
No. Ships carry the “far-eye,” the magic instrument that makes the
distant near, that brings things from miles away to within a few yards.
Doubtless telescopes were on them already. Keep in a close group round
the body, smuggle it under the palm-mats and make believe to have been
trying to kindle a fire in an old kerosine-oil tin.... Signals of
distress appeared and Moussa Isa disappeared. The great steamer
approached, slowed down, and came to a standstill beside the boat of
the starving castaways. From her cliff-like side the passengers,
crowding the rails of her many decks, looked down with interest upon a
prehistoric craft in which lay a number of poor emaciated blacks and
Arabs, clad for the most part in scanty cotton rags. These poor
creatures feebly extended skinny hands and feebly raised quavering
voices, as they begged for water and a little rice, only water and a
little rice in the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate. Their
tins, lotahs and goat-skins were filled, bags of rice, bread and flour
were lowered to them; a box of sugar and a packet of biscuit were
added; and a gentle little rain of coins fell as though from Heaven.
Kodaks clicked, clergymen beamed, ladies said, “How sweetly
picturesque—poor dears”; the Captain murmured, “Damnedest scoundrels
unhung—but can't leave 'em to starve”; the “poor dears” smiled largely
and ate wolfishly; Moussa Isa bled, and the great steamer resumed her
“Pat” Brighte (she was Cleopatra Diamond Brighte who married Colonel
Dearman of the Gungapur Volunteer Bines) found she had got a splendid
snap-shot when her films were developed at Gungapur. A little later she
got another when the look-out saw, and a boat picked up, a man who was
lying in a little dug-out or toni. When able to speak, he told
the serang of the lascars that he was the sole survivor of a
bunder-boat which had turned turtle and sunk. He understood nothing but
Hindustani.... Miss Brighte pitied the poor wretch but thought he
looked rather horrid....
 Native boatswain.
The hearts of the castaways were filled with contentment as their
stomachs were filled with food, and so busily did they devote
themselves to eating, drinking, and sleeping that they forgot all about
Moussa Isa beneath the palm-mats.
When they chanced upon him he was just alive, and his wound was
closed. The attitude in which he had been dumped down upon the cargo
(the ostensible and upper strata thereof, consisting of hides and salt,
with a hint of ostrich-feathers, coffee, frankincense and myrrh) had
favoured his chance of recovery, for, thanks to a friendly bundle, his
head was pressed forward to his chest and the lips of the gaping wound
in his throat were shut.
Moussa Isa was tougher than an Indian chicken.
Near Aden his proprietors were captured by an officious and
unsympathetic police (Moussa was sent to what he dreamed to be Heaven
and later perceived to be a hospital) and while they went to jail, a
number of bristly-haired Teutonic gentlemen at the Freidrichstrasse,
Arab gentlemen at Muscat, and Afghan gentlemen at Cabul, were made to
exercise the virtue of patience. So the would-be murderers of John
Robin Ross-Ellison Ilderim Dost Mahommed unintentionally saved him from
jail, but never received his acknowledgments....
Discharged from the hospital, Moussa became his own master, a
gentleman at large, and, for a time, prospered in the coal-trade.
He steered a coal-lighter that journeyed between the shore and the
One day he received a blow, a curse, and an insult, from the
maccudam or foreman of the gang that worked in the boat which he
steered. Neither blows nor curses were of any particular account to
Moussa, but this man Sulemani, a nondescript creature of no particular
race, and only a man in the sense that he was not a woman nor a
quadruped, had called him “Hubshi” Woolly One. Had called Moussa
Isa of the Somal a Hubshi, as though he had been a common black
nigger. And, of course, it was intentional, for even this eater of dogs
and swine and lizards knew the great noble, civilized and cultured
Somal, Galla, Afar and Abyssinian people from niggers. Even an English
hide-and-head-buying tripper and soi-disant big-game hunter knew
a Zulu from a Hottentot, a Masai from a Wazarambo, and a Somali from a
The only question was as to how the scoundrel should be
killed, for he was large and strong, and never far from a shovel,
crow-bar, boat-hook or some weapon. Not much hope of being able to
fasten on his throat like a young leopard on a dibatag, kudu or impala
As Moussa sat behind him at the tiller, he would regard the
villain's neck with interest, his fat neck, just below and behind the
If he only had a knife—such as the beauty that once cut his
throat—or even a scrap of iron or of really hard pointed wood, honour
could be satisfied and a stain removed from the scutcheon of Moussa Isa
of the Somal race, insulted.
One lucky night he got his next scar, the fine one that ornamented
his cheek-bone, and a really serviceable weapon of offence against the
On this auspicious night, a festive English sailor flung a bottle at
him, in merry sport, as he passed beneath the verandah of the temple of
Venus and Bacchus in which the sailor sprawled. It struck him in the
face, broke against his cheek-bone, and provided him with a new scar
and a serviceable weapon, a dagger, convenient to handle and deadly to
slay. The bottle-neck was a perfect hilt and the long tapering
needle-pointed spire of glass projecting from it was a perfect
blade—rightly used, of course. Only a fool would attempt a heart-stab
with such a dagger, as it would shatter on the ribs, leaving the fool
to pay for his folly. But the neck-stab—for the big
blood-vessels—oho! And Moussa Isa licked his chops just as he had seen
the black-maned lion do in his own fatherland; just as did the lion
from whom the fair Sheikh had saved him.
Toward the sailor, Moussa felt no resentment for the assault that
had laid him bleeding in the gutter. Had he called him “Hubshi“
it would have been a different matter—perhaps very different for the
sailor. Moussa Isa regarded curses, cruelties, blows, wounds, attempts
at murder, as mere natural manifestations of the attitude of their
originators, and part of the inevitable scheme of things. Insults to
his personal and racial Pride were in another category altogether.
Yes—the bottle must have been thus usefully broken by the hand of
the Supreme Deity himself, prompted by Moussa's own particular and
private kismet, to provide Moussa with the means of doing his
duty by himself and his race, in the matter of the dog who had likened
a long-haired, ringletty-haired aquiline-nosed, thin-lipped son of the
Somals to a Woolly One—a black beast of the jungle!
Our young friend had never heard of the historical glass-bladed
daggers of the bravos of Venice, but he saw at a glance, as he
rose to his feet and stared at the bottle, that he could do his
business (and that of the foreman) with the fortunately—shaped
fragment, and eke leave the point of the weapon in the wound for future
complications if the blow failed of immediate fatal effect.
He bided his time....
One black night Moussa Isa sat on the stern of his barge holding to
a rope beneath the high wall of the side of the P. &O. liner, Persia, in shadow and darkness undispelled by the flickering flare of a
brazier of burning fuel, designed to illuminate the path of panting,
sweating, coal-laden coolies up and down narrow bending planks, laid
from the lighter to the gloomy hole in the ship's side.
The hot, still air was thick with coal-dust and the harmless
necessary howls of the hundreds of sons of Ham, toiling at high
In the centre of a vast, silent circle of mysterious lamp-spangled
sea and shore, and of star-spangled sky, this spot was Inferno, an
offence to the brooding still immensity.
And suddenly Moussa Isa was dimly conscious of his enemy, of him who
had insulted the great Somal race and Moussa Isa. On the broad edge of
the big barge Sulemani stood, before, and a foot below him, in the
darkness, yelling directions, threats, promises and encouragement to
his gang. If only there had been a moon or light by which he could see
to strike! Suddenly the edge of a beam of yellow light from a port-hole
struck upon Sulemani's neck, illuminating it below and behind his ear.
Mrs. “Pat” Dearman, homeward bound, had just entered her cabin and
switched on the electric light. (When last she passed Aden she had been
Miss Cleopatra Diamond Brighte, bound for Gungapur and the bungalow of
It was Mrs. Pat Dearman's habit to read a portion of the Scriptures
nightly, ere retiring to rest, for she was a Good Woman and considered
the practice to be not only a mark of, but essential to, goodness.
Doubtless the Powers of Evil smiled sardonically when they noted
that the light which she evoked for her pious exercise lit the hand of
Moussa Isa to murder, providing opportunity. Moussa Isa weighed chances
and considered. He did not want to bungle it and lose his revenge and
his life too. Would he be seen if he struck now? The light fell on the
very spot for the true infallible death-stroke. Should he strike now,
here, in the midst of the yelling mob?
Rising silently, Moussa drew his dagger of glass from beneath his
only garment, aimed at the patch of light upon the fat neck, and
struck. Sulemani lurched, collapsed, and fell between the lighter and
the ship without an audible sound in that dim pandemonium.
Even as the “dagger” touched flesh, the light was quenched, Mrs. Pat
Dearman having realized that the stuffy, hot cabin was positively
uninhabitable until the port-hole could be opened, after coaling
operations were completed.
Moussa Isa reseated himself, grabbed the rope again, and with clear
conscience, duty done, calmly awaited that which might follow.
Nothing followed. None had seen the deed, consummated in unrelieved
gloom; the light had failed most timely....
The next person who mortally affronted Moussa Isa, committing the
unpardonable sin, was a grievously fat, foolish Indian Mohammedan youth
whose father supported four wives, five sons, six daughters and himself
in idleness and an Aden shop.
It was a remarkably idle and unobtrusive shop and yet money flowed
into it without stint, mysteriously and unostentatiously, the conduits
of its flow being certain modest and retiring Arab visitors in long
brown or white haiks, with check cotton head-dresses girt with
ropes of camel-hair, who collogued with the honest tradesman and
departed as silently and unobtrusively as they came....
One of them, strangely enough, ejaculated “Himmel” and “
Donnerwetter” as often as “Bismillah” and “Inshallah“
when he swore.
The very fat son of this secretive house in an evil hour one
inauspicious evening took it upon him to revile and abuse his father's
servant, one Moussa Isa, an African boy, as he performed divers
domestic duties in the exiguous “compound” of the dwelling-place and
refused to do the fat youth's behest ere completing them.
“Haste thee at once to the bazaar, thou dog,” screamed the fat
“Later on,” replied Moussa Isa, using the words that express the
general attitude of the East.
“Now, dog. Now, Hubshi, or I will beat thee.”
“I will kill you,” replied Moussa Isa, and again bided his
“Hubshi, Hubshi, Hubshi,” goaded the misguided fat one.
His Kismet led the youth, some weeks later, to lay him down and
sleep in the shade of the house upon some broad flagstones. Here Moussa
found him and regretted the loss of his glass-dagger,—last seen in the
neck of a foreman of coal-coolies toppling into the dark void between a
barge and a ship,—but remembered a big heavy stone used to facilitate
the scaling of the compound wall.
Staggering with it to the spot where the fat youth lay slumbering
peacefully, Moussa Isa, in the sight of all men (who happened to be
looking), dashed it upon his fez-adorned head, and established the
hitherto disputable fact that the fat youth had brains.
To the Magistrate, Moussa Isa offered neither excuse nor prayer.
Explanation he vouchsafed in the words:—
“He called me, Moussa Isa of the Somali, a Hubshi!“
Being of tender years and of insignificant stature he was condemned
to flogging and seven years in a Reformatory School. He was too
juvenile for the Aden Jail. The Reformatory School nearest to Aden is
at Duri in India, and thither, in spite of earnest prayers that he
might go to hard labour in Aden Jail like a man and a Somali, was
Moussa Isa duly transported and therein incarcerated.
At the Duri Reformatory School, Moussa Isa was profoundly miserable,
most unhappy, and deeply depressed by a sense of the very cruellest
For here they simply did not know the difference between a Somal and
a woolly-haired dog of a negro. They honestly did not know that there
was a difference. To them, a clicking Bushman was as a Nubian, an
earth-eating Kattia as a Kabyle, a face-cicatrized, tooth-sharpened
cannibal of the Aruwimi as a Danakil,—a Hubshi as a Somal. They
simply did not know. To them all Africans were Hubshis (just as
to an English M.P. all the three or four hundred millions of Indians
are Bengali babus). They meant no insult; they knew no better. All
Africans were black niggers and every soul in the place, from Brahmin
to Untouchable, looked down upon the African, the Black Man, the
Nigger, the Cannibal, the Hubshi, sent from Africa to defile
their Reformatory and destroy their caste.
Here, the proud self-respecting Moussa, jealous champion of the
honour of his, to him, high and noble race, found himself a god-send to
the Out-castes, the Untouchables, the Depressed Classes, Mangs, Mahars,
and Sudras,—they whose touch, nay the touch of whose very shadow, is
defilement! For, at last, they, too, had some one to look down upon, to
despise, to insult. After being the recipients-of-contempt as naturally
and ordainedly as they were breathers-of-air, they at last could apply
a salve, and pass on to another the utter contempt and loathing which
they themselves received and accepted from the Brahmins and all those
of Caste. They had found one lower than themselves. Moussa Isa of
the Somali was the out-cast of out-casts, the pariah of pariahs,
prohibited from touching the untouchables, one of a class depressed
below the depressed classes—in short a Hubshi!
Even a broad-nosed, foreheadless, blubber—lipped aborigine from the
hill-jungles objected to his presence!
In the small, self-contained, self-supporting world of the
Reformatory, it was Moussa Isa against the World. And against the World
he stood up.
It had to learn the difference between a Somali and a Hubshi
at any cost—the cost of Moussa's life included.
What added to the sorrow of the situation was the realization of how
charming and desirable a retreat the place was in itself,—apart from
its ignorant and stupid inhabitants.
Expecting a kind of torture-house wherein he would be starved,
sweated, thrashed by brutal kourbash-wielding overseers, he
found the most palatial and comfortable of clubs, a place of perfect
peace, safety, and ease, where one was kindly treated by those in
authority, sumptuously fed, luxuriously lodged, and provided with
pleasant occupation, attractive amusements and reasonable leisure.
He had always heard and believed that the English were mad, and now
he knew it.
As a punishment for murder he had got a birching that merely tickled
him, and a free ticket to seven years' board, lodging, clothing,
lighting, medical care, instruction and diversion!
Were it not for the presence of the insolent, ignorant, untravelled,
inexperienced, soft-living, lily-livered dogs of inhabitants, the place
was the Earthly Paradise. They were the crocodile in the ointment.
A young Brahmin, son of a well-paid Government servant, and
incarcerated for forgery and theft, was his most annoying persecutor.
He was at great pains to expectorate and murmur “Hubshi” in
accents of abhorrent contempt, whenever Moussa Isa chanced between the
wind and his nobility.
The first time, Moussa replied with pitying magnanimity and all
“I am not a Hubshi, but a Somali, which is quite
different—even as a lion is different from a jackal or a man from an
To which the Brahmin replied but:—
“Hubshi,” and pointed out that there was danger of Moussa
Isa's shadow touching him, if Moussa were not careful.
“I must kill you if you call me Hubshi, understanding that I
am of the Somals,” said Moussa Isa.
“Hubshi,” would the Brahmin reply and loudly bewail his evil
Luck which had put him in the power of the accursed Feringhi
Government—a Government that compelled a Brahmin to breathe the same
air as a filthy negro dog, a Woolly One of Africa, barely human and
most untouchable, a living Contamination ... and Moussa cast about for
His first opportunity arose when he found the Brahmin, who was in
the book-binding and compositor department, working one day in the same
gardening-gang with himself.
He had but a watering-can by way of offensive weapon, but good play
can be made with a big iron watering-can wielded in the right spirit
and the right hand.
Master Brahmin was feebly tapping the earth with a kind of
single-headed pick, and watching him, Moussa Isa saw that, in a quarter
of an hour or so, he might plausibly and legitimately pass within a
yard or two of this his enemy, as he went to and fro between the
water-tap and the strip of flower-border that he was sprinkling....
Would they hang him if he killed the Brahmin, or would they feebly flog
him again and give him a longer sentence (that he be supported, fed,
lodged, clothed and cared for) than the present seven years?
There was no foretelling what the mad English would do. Sometimes
they acquitted a criminal and gave him money and education, and
sometimes they sent him to far distant islands in the South and there
housed and fed him free, for life; and sometimes they killed him at the
end of a rope.
Doubtless Allah smote the English mad to prevent them from stealing
the whole world.... If they were not mad they would do so and enslave
all other races—except their conquerors, the Dervishes, of course....
It was like the lying hypocrites to call the Great Mullah “the Mad
Mullah” knowing themselves to be mad, and being afraid of their
victorious enemy who had driven them out of Somaliland to the coast
Oh, if they would only treat him, Moussa Isa, as an adult, and send
him to the Aden Jail to hard labour. There folk knew a Somali from a
Hubshi; a gentleman of Afar and Galla stock, of Arab blood, Moslem
tenets, and Caucasian descent, from a common nigger, a low black
Ethiopian, an eater of men and insects, a worshipper of idols and
In Aden, men knew a Somali from a Hubshi as surely as they
knew an Emir from a mere Englishman.
Here, in benighted, ignorant, savage India, the Dark Continent
indeed, men knew not what a Somali was, likened him to a Negro, ranked
him lower than a Hindu even—called him a Hubshi in insolent
ignorance. If only the beautiful Reformatory were in Berbera, and
tenanted by Africans.
Better Aden Jail a thousand times than Duri Reformatory.
What a splendid joke if the dog of a Brahmin who persistently
insulted him—even after he had been shown his error and
ignorance—should be the unwitting means of his return to Aden—where a
Somali gentleman is recognized. There is no harm about a Jail as such.
Far from it. A jail is a wise man's paradise provided by fools. You
have excellent and plentiful food, a roof against the sun, unfailing
water supply, clothing, interesting occupation, and safety—protection
from your enemies. No man harries you, you are not chained, you are not
tortured; you have all that heart can desire. Freedom?... What is
Freedom? Freedom to die of thirst in the desert? Freedom to be
disembowelled by the Great Mullah? Freedom to be sold as a slave into
Arabia or Persia? Freedom to be the unfed, unpaid, well-beaten property
of gun-runners in the Gulf, or of Arab safari ruffians and
“black-ivory” men? Freedom to be left to the hyaena when you broke down
on the march? Freedom to die of starvation when you fell sick and could
not carry coal? Thanks.
If the mad English provided beautiful refuges, and made the
commission of certain crimes the requisite qualification for admission,
let wise men qualify.
Take this Reformatory—where else could a little Somali boy get such
safety, peace, food, and sumptuous luxury; everything the heart could
desire, in return for doing a little gardening? Even a house to himself
as though he were the honoured, favourite son of some chief.
To Moussa Isa, the dark and dingy cell with its bare stone walls,
mud floor, grated aperture and iron door was a fine safe house; its
iron bed-frame with cotton-rug-covered laths and stony pillow, a piece
of wanton luxury; its shelf, stool and utensils, prideful wealth. If
only the place were in Africa or Aden! Well, Aden Jail would do, and if
the Brahmin's death led to his being sent there as a serious and
respectable murderer, it would be a real case of two enemies on one
spear—an insult avenged and a most desired re-patriation achieved.
That would be subtilty,—at once washing out the insult in the
Brahmin's blood and getting sent whither his heart turned so constantly
and fondly. They had treated him as a juvenile offender because he was
so small and young, and because the killing of the fat Mussulman was
his first offence, as they supposed. Surely they would recognize that
he was a man when he had killed his second enemy—especially if he told
them about Sulemani. What in the name of Allah did they want, to
constitute a real sound criminal, fit for Aden Jail, if three murders
were not enough? Well, he would go on killing until they did have
enough, and were obliged to send him to Aden Jail. There he would
behave beautifully and kill nobody until they wanted to turn him out to
starve. Then, since murder was the requisite qualification, he would
murder to admiration. He knew they could not send him over the way to
the Duri Jail, since he belonged to Aden, had been convicted there, and
only sent to the Duri Reformatory because Aden boasted no such
Yes. The Brahmin's corpse should be the stepping-stone to higher
things and the place where people knew a Somali from a Negro.
If only he were in the carpentry department with Master Brahmin,
where there were axes, hammers, chisels, knives, saws, and various
pointed instruments. Fancy teaching the young gentleman manners and
ethnology with an axe! However, after one or two more journeys between
the tap and the flower-bed, he would pass within striking-distance of
the dog as he worked his slow way along the tract of earth he was
supposed to be digging up with the silly short-handled pick.
Should he try and seize the pick and give him one on the temple with
it? No, the Brahmin would scream and struggle and the overseer would be
on Moussa Isa in a single bound. He must strike a sudden blow in the
act of passing.
A few more journeys to the water-tap....
Now! “Hubshi,” eh?
Halting beside the crouching Brahmin youth, Moussa Isa swung up the
heavy watering-can by the spout and aimed a blow with all his strength
at the side of his enemy's head. He designed to bring the sharp strong
rim of the base behind the ear with the first blow, on the temple with
the second, and just anywhere thereafter, if time permitted of a
But the aggravating creature tossed his head as Moussa, with a grunt
of energy, brought the vessel down, and the rim merely struck the top
of the shaven skull. Another—harder. Another—with frenzied strength
and the force of long-suppressed rage and sense of wrong.
And then Moussa was knocked head over heels and sat upon by the
overseer in charge of the garden-gang, while the Brahmin twitched
convulsively on the ground. He was by no means dead, however, and the
sole immediate results, to Moussa, were penal diet, solitary
confinement in his palatial cell, a severe sentence of corn-grinding
with the heavy quern, and most joyous recollections of the sound of the
water-can on the pate of the foe.
“I have still to kill you, of course,” he whispered to his victim,
the next time they met, and the Brahmin went in terror of his life. He
was a very clever young person and had passed an astounding number of
examinations in the course of his brief career. But he was not
courageous, and his “education” had given him skill in nothing
practical, except in penmanship, which skill he had devoted to forgery.
“Why did you violently commit this dastardish deed, and assault the
harmless peaceful Brahmin?” asked the Superintendent, a worthy and
voluble babu, and then translated the question into debased Hindustani.
“He called me Hubshi, and I will kill him,” replied Moussa.
“Oho! and you kill everyone who calls you Hubshi, do you,
“I do. I wish to go to Aden Jail for attempting murder. It will be
murder if I am kept here where none knows a man from a dog.”
“Oho! And you would kill even me, I suppose, if I called you
“Of course! I will kill you in any case if I am not sent to Aden
The babu decided that it was high time for some other institution to
shelter this touchy and truculent person, and that he would lay the
case before the next weekly Visitor and ask for it to be submitted to
the Committee at their ensuing monthly meeting.
The Visitor of the week happened to be the Educational Inspector.
“Wants to leave India, does he?” said the Inspector, looking Moussa
over as he heard the statement of the Superintendent. “I admire his
taste. India is a magnificent country to leave.”
The Educational Inspector, a very keen, thoughtful and competent
educationist, was a disappointed man, like so many of his Service. He
felt that he had, for quarter of a century, strenuously woven ropes of
sand. When his liver was particularly sluggish he felt that for quarter
of a century he had worked industriously, not at a useless thing, but
at an evil thing—a terrible belief.
Moreover, after quarter of a century of faithful labour and strict
economy, he found himself with a load of debt, broken health, and a
cheaply educated family of boys and girls to whom he was a complete
stranger—merely the man who found the money and sent it Home, visiting
them from time to time at intervals of four or five years. India had
killed his wife, and broken him.
He had had what seemed to him to be bitter experience also. An
individual, notoriously slack and incompetent, ten years his junior,
had been promoted over his head, because he was somebody's cousin and
the kind of fatuous ass that only labours industriously in
drawing-rooms and at functions, recuperating by slacking idly in
offices and at duties—a paltry but paying game much practised by a
very small class in India.
Another individual, by reason of his having come to India two boats
earlier than the Inspector, drew Rs. 500 a month more than he did, this
being the Senior Inspector's Allowance. That he was reported on as
lazy, eccentric, and irregular, made no difference to the fact that he
was a fortnight senior to, and therefore worth Rs. 500 a month more
than, the next man. The recipient regarded the extra trifle (L400 a
year) as his bare right and merest due. The Inspector regarded it as an
infamous piece of injustice and folly that for fifteen years the whole
of this sum should go to a lazy fool because he happened to set sail
from England on a certain date, and not a fortnight later. So he
loathed and detested India where he had had bad luck, bad health and
what he considered bad treatment, and sympathized with the desire of
“Why do you want to go back to Aden?” he inquired in the lingua
franca of the Indian Empire, of Moussa whose heart beat high with
“Because here, where there are no lions, wolves think a lion is a
dog; here where there are no men, asses think a man is a monkey. I am a
Somal, and these ignorant camels think I am a negro—a filthy Hubshi.”
“And you tried to kill another boy because he called you 'Hubshi,'
“I did, Sahib, and I will kill him yet if I be not sent to Aden. If
that fail I will kill myself also.”
“Stout fella,” commented the Inspector in his own vernacular, and
added, musing aloud:—
“You'll come to the gallows through possessing pride, self-respect
and determination, my lad. You're behind the times—or rather you
maintain a spirit for which Civilization has no use. You must return to
the Wilds of the Earth or else you must be content to become good,
grubby, and grey, dull and dejected, sober and sorrowful, respectable
and unenterprising—like me; and you must cultivate fat, propriety,
smugness and the Dead Level.... What, you young Devil! You'd have
self-respect and pride, would you; be quick upon the point of honour,
eh? revive the duello, what? Get thee to a—er—less civilized and
respectable age or place ... in other words, Mr. Toshiwalla, bring the
case before the Committee of Visitors. I'll put up a note to the effect
that he had better be sent back to Aden. This is a Reformatory, and
there's nothing very reformatory about keeping him to plan murder and
suicide because he has been (quite unjustifiably) transported as well
as flogged and imprisoned. Yes, we'll consider the case. Meanwhile,
keep a sharp eye on him—and give him all the corn-grinding he can do.
Sweat the Original Sin out of him ... and see he does not secrete any
kind of weapon.”
Accordingly was Moussa segregated, and to the base women's-work of
corn-grinding in the cook-house, wholly relegated. It was hard,
soul-breaking work, ignoble and degrading, but he drew two crumbs of
comfort from the bread of affliction. He was developing his arm-muscles
and he was literally watering the said bread of affliction with the
sweat of labour. As the heavy drops trickled from chin and nose into
the meal around the grindstone, it pleased Moussa Isa to reflect that
his enemy should eat of it. Since the shadow of Moussa was pollution to
these travesties of men and warriors, let them have a little concrete
pollution also. But in the cook-house, while arm and soul wearied
together, one heavy day of copper sky and brazen earth, first eye and
then foot, fell upon a piece of tin, the lid of some empty milk-tin or
like vessel. The prehensile toes gathered in the trove, the foot gently
rose and the fingers of the pendant left hand secured the disc, while
the body swayed with the strenuous circlings of the right hand chat
revolved the heavy upper millstone.
That night, immediately after being locked in his cell, that there
might be the fullest time for bleeding to death, he slashed and slashed
while strength lasted at wrist and abdomen—but without succeeding in
penetrating the abdominal wall and reaching the viscera.
This effected his transfer to the Reformatory hospital and
underlined the remark of the Inspector in the Visitors' Book to the
effect that one Moussa Isa would commit suicide or murder, if kept at
Duri, and would certainly not be “reformed” in any way. In hospital,
Major Jackson of the Royal Army Medical Corps, a Visitor of the Duri
Jail, paying his periodical visits, grew interested in the sturdy
bright boy and soon came to like him for his directness, cheery
courage, and refreshing views. When the boy was convalescent he took
him on the surrounding Duri golf-links as his caddie in his endless
games with his poor friend Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith, ex
Moussa was grateful and, fingering the scar on his throat, likened
Major Jackson to his hero, the fair Sheikh who had saved him from the
lion and had lost his life through intervening on Moussa's behalf in
the boat. But he was not mad like these English. He would not,
with infinite earnestness, seriousness and mingled joy at success and
grief at failure, have pursued a little white ball with a stick, mile
after mile, knocking it with infinite precautions, every now and then,
into a little hole, and taking it out again.
No, his idea of sport across country with an iron-shod stick
would rather have been lion-hunting with an assegai (yet, curiously
enough, one, Robin Ross-Ellison, lived to play more than one game of
golf with Major Jackson on these same Duri Links). To see this adult
white man behaving so, coram publico, made Moussa bitterly
ashamed for him.
And, as the sun set, Moussa Isa earned a sharp rebuke for
inattentive slacking, as he stood sighing his soul to where it sank in
the West over Aden and Somaliland.... Wait till his chance of escape
arrived; he would journey straight for the sunset, day after day, until
he reached a sea-shore. There he would steal a canoe and paddle and
paddle straight for the sunset, day after day, until he reached a
sea-shore again. That would be Africa or Arabia, and Moussa Isa would
be where a Somal is known from a Hubshi.... Should he make a
bolt for it now? No, too weak, and not fair to this kind Sahib who had
healed him and sympathized with him in the matter of the ignorance and
impudence of those who misnamed a son of the Somals.... In due course,
the Committee of Visitors met at the Reformatory one morning, and found
on the agenda paper inter alia the case of Moussa Isa, a
murderer from Aden, his attempt at murder and suicide, and his prayer
to be sent to Aden Jail.
On the Committee were the Director of Public Instruction, the
Collector, the Executive Engineer, the Superintendent of Duri Jail, the
Educational Inspector, the Cantonment Magistrate, Major Jackson of the
Royal Army Medical Corps, and a number of Indian gentlemen. To the
Chairman's inquiries Moussa Isa made the usual replies. He had been
mortally affronted and had endeavoured to avenge the insult. He had
tried to do his duty to himself—and to his enemy. He had been put to
base women's-work as a punishment for defending his honour and he had
tried to take his life in despair. Was there no justice in
British lands? What would the Sahib himself do if his honour were
assailed? If one rose up and insulted him and his race? Called him
baboon, born of baboons, for example? Or had the Sahib no honour? Why
should he have been transported when he was not sentenced to
transportation? What had he done but defend his honour and avenge
insults? Unless he were now tried for murder and suicide, and sentenced
to hard labour in Aden Jail, he would go on murdering until they did
send him there. If they said, “Well, you shan't go there, whatever you
do,” he would kill himself. If he could get no sort of weapon he would
starve himself (he did not in his ignorance quote the gentle and joyous
Pankhurst family) or hold his breath. So they had better send him, and
that was all he had got to say about it.
“Send him for trial before the City Magistrate and recommend that he
go to Aden Jail at once, before he hurts somebody else,” said the
native members of the Committee. “Why should we be troubled with the
off-scourings of Aden?”
“Certainly not,” opined the Collector of Duri. A pretty state of
affairs if every criminal were to be allowed to select his own place of
punishment, and to terrorize any penitentiary that had the misfortune
to lack favour in his sight. Let the boy be well flogged for the
assault and attempted suicide, and then let him rejoin the ordinary
gangs and classes. It was the Superintendent's duty to watch his
charges and keep discipline in what was, after all, a school.
“Sir, he is one violent and dangerous character and will assault the
peaceful and mild. Yea—he may even attack me,” objected the
“Are we to understand that you admit your inability to maintain
order in this Reformatory?” inquired the Director of Public Instruction
from the Chair.
Anything but that. They were to understand, on the contrary, that
the babu was respectfully a most unprecedented disciplinarian.
“You don't expect cock angels in a Reformatory, y' know,” said the
engineer, suddenly awaking to light a fat black cheroot. “Got to use
the—ah—strong hand;—on their—ah—you know,” and he resumed
his slumbers, puffing mechanically and unconsciously at his cheroot.
So Moussa Isa was flogged and sent back to gardening, lessons and
Yes—the Somali was taught drawing. Not mere utilitarian
drawing-to-scale and making plans and elevations, but
“freehand"-drawing, the reproducing of meaningless twirly curves and
twiddly twists from symmetrical conventional “copies”. He copied copies
and drew lines—but never copied things, nor drew things. In time he
could, with infinite labour, produce a copy of a flat “copy” that a
really observant eye could identify with the original, but had you
asked him to draw his foot or the door of the room, his desk, his
watering-can or book, he would probably have replied, “They are
not drawing-copies,” and would have laughed at your absurd joke. No, he
was not taught to draw things, nor to give expression to
And he had a special warder all to himself, who watched him as a cat
watches a mouse. However, warders cannot prevent looks and smiles, and
whenever Moussa Isa saw the Brahmin youth, he gave a peculiar look and
a meaning smile. It was borne in upon the clever young man that the
Hubshi looked at his neck, below his ear, when he smiled that dreadful
Sometimes a significant gesture accompanied the meaning smile. For
Moussa Isa had decided, upon the rejection of his prayer by the
Committee, to wait until he was a little older and bigger, more like a
proper criminal and less of a wretched little “juvenile offender,” and
then to qualify, by murder, for the Aden Jail—with the unoffered help
of the Brahmin boy.
Allah would vouchsafe opportunity, and when he did so, Moussa Isa,
his servant, would seize it. Doubtless it would come as soon as he was
big enough to receive the privileges of an adult and serious criminal.
Anyhow, the insult would be properly punished and the honour of the
Somal race avenged....
Came the day when certain of the sinful inhabitants of the Duri
Reformatory were to be conducted to a neighbouring Government High
School, a centre for the official Drawing Examinations for the
district, there to sit and be examined in the gentle art of Art.
To this end they had been trained in the copying of lines and in the
painting of areas of conventional shape, not that they might be made to
observe natural form, express themselves in reproduction, render the
inner outer, originate, articulate ... but that they might pass an
examination in copying unnatural things in impossible colours. Thus it
came to pass that, in the big hall of this school, divers of the
Reformed found themselves copying, and colouring the copy of, a curious
picture pinned to a blackboard—the picture of a floral wonder unknown
to Botany, possessed of delicate mauve leaves, blue-veined, shaped some
like the oak-leaf and some like the ivy; of long slender blades like
those of the iris, but of tenderest pink; of beautiful and profusely
chromatic blossoms, reminding one now of the orchid, now of the
sunflower and anon of the forget-me-not; and likewise of clustering
And at the back of all these budding artists and blossoming
jail-birds, and in the same small desk sat the Brahmin youth and—Oh
Merciful Allah!—Moussa Isa, Somali.
The native gentleman in charge of the party from the Duri
Reformatory had duly escorted his charges into the hall, handed them
over to Mr. Edward Jones, the Head of the High School, and been
requested to wait outside with similar custodians of parties. (Mr.
Edward Jones had known very strange things to happen in Examination
Halls to which the friends and supporters of candidates had access
during the examination.)
To Mr. Edward Jones the thus deserted Brahmin boy made frantic and
“Oh, Sir,” prayed he, “let me sit somewhere else and not beside this
“You'll stay where you are,” replied Mr. Edward Jones, suspicious of
the appeal and the appellant. If the fat glib youth objected to the
African on principle, Mr. Edward Jones would be glad, metaphorically
speaking, to rub his Brahminical nose in it. If this were not his
reason, it was, doubtless, one even less creditable. Mr. Edward Jones
had been in India long enough to learn to look very carefully for the
Moussa Isa licked his chops once again, and, as Mr. Jones turned
away, the unhappy Brahmin cried in his anguish of soul:—
“Oh, Sir! Watch this African carefully.”
“All will be watched carefully,” was the suspicious and cold reply.
Moussa smiled broadly upon his erstwhile contemptuous and insulting
enemy, and began to consider the possibilities of a long and
well-pointed lead-pencil as a means of vengeance. Pencils were intended
for marking fair surfaces—might one not be used on this occasion for
the cleaning of a sullied surface, that of a besmirched honour?
One insulter of the Somal race had died by the stab of a piece of
broken bottle. Might not another die by the stab of a lead-pencil?
Doubtful. Very risky. The stabbing and piercing potentialities of a
lead pencil are not yet properly investigated, tabulated, established
and known. It would be a pity to do small damage and incur a heavy
corn-grinding punishment. He might never get another chance of
vengeance either, if he bungled this one.
Well, there were three hours in which to decide ... and Moussa Isa
commenced to draw, pausing, from time to time, to smile meaningly at
the Brahmin, and to lick his chops suggestively. Anon he rested from
his highly uninteresting and valueless labours, laid his pencil on the
desk, and gazed around in search of inspiration in the matter of the
best method of dealing with his enemy.
His eye fell upon a picture of a lion that ornamented the wall of
the hall; he stiffened like a pointer and fingered some scars on his
right arm. He had never seen a picture of a lion before and, for a
fraction of a second, he was shocked and alarmed—and then, while his
body sat in an Indian High School hall, his spirit flew to an East
African desert, and there sojourned awhile.
Moussa Isa was again the slave of an ivory-poaching, hide-poaching,
specimen-poaching, slave-dealing gang of Arabs, Negroes, and Portuguese
half-castes, led by a white man of the Teutonic persuasion. He could
feel the smiting heat, see the scrub, jungle, and sand shimmering and
dancing in the heat haze. He could see the line of porters, bales on
heads, the Arabs on horseback, the white man in a litter swinging from
a long bamboo pole beneath which half a dozen Swahili loped along. He
could see the velvet star-gemmed night and the camp-fires, smell the
smoke and the savoury odours of the cooking, hear the sudden shrieks
and yells that followed the roar of the springing lion, feel the
crushing crunch of its great teeth in his arm as it seized him from
beside the nearest fire and stood over him.... Yes, that was the night
when the fair Sheikh from the North had showed the mettle of his
pastures and bound Moussa Isa to him for ever in the bonds of
worshipping gratitude and love. For, while others shrieked, yelled,
fled, flung burning brands and spears, or fired hasty, unaimed,
ineffectual shots, the fair Sheikh from the North had sprung at the
lion as it stood over Moussa Isa and driven his knife into its eye, and
as it smote him to the earth, buried its fangs in his shoulder and
started to drag him away, had stabbed upward between the ribs, giving
it a second death-blow, transfixing its heart. Thus it was he had
earned the name by which he was known from Zanzibar to Berbera,
“He-who-slays-lions-with-the-knife,” had earned the envy and hatred of
the fat white man and the Arabs, the boundless admiration of the
Swahili askaris, hunters and porters, and the deep dog-like affection
of Moussa Isa....
And then Moussa's spirit returned to his body and he saw but the
picture of a lion on a High School wall. He commenced to draw again and
suddenly had an inspiration. Deliberately he broke the point of his
pencil and, rising, marched up to the dais, whereon, at a table, sat
Mr. Edward Jones.
Mr. Edward Jones had been shot with bewildering suddenness from
Cambridge quadrangles into the Indian Educational Service. Of India he
knew nothing, of education he knew less, but boldly took it upon him to
combine the two unknowns for the earning of his living. If wise and
beneficent men offered him a modest wage for becoming a professor and
exponent of that which he did not know, he had no objection to
accepting it; but there were people who wondered why it should be that,
out of forty million English people, Mr. Edward Jones should be the
chosen one to represent England to the youth of Duri, and asked whether
there were no keen, strictly conscientious, sporting, strong Englishmen
available; no enthusiastic educational experts left in all the British
Isles, that Mr. Edward Jones of all people had come to Duri?
“What do you want?” he asked (how he hated these poverty-stricken,
smelly, ignoble creatures. Why was he not a master at Eton, instead of
at Duri High School. Why wouldn't somebody give him a handsome income
for looking handsome and standing around beautifully—like these
aide-de-camp Johnnies and “staff” people. Since there was nothing on
earth he could do well, he ought to have been provided with a job in
which he could look well).
“May I borrow the Sahib's knife?” asked Moussa Isa, “I have broken
my pencil and cannot draw.” Mr. Edward Jones picked up the penknife
that lay on his desk, the cheap article of restricted utility supplied
to Government Offices by the Stationery Department, and handed it to
Moussa Isa. Even as he took it with respectful salaam, Moussa Isa
summed up its possibilities. Blade two inches long, sharp-pointed,
handle six inches long, wooden; not a clasp knife, blade immovable in
handle. It would do—and he turned to go to his seat and presumably to
sharpen his pencil.
Idly watching the boy and thinking of other things, Jones saw him
try the point of the knife on his thumb, walk up behind the other
occupant of his desk, his Brahmin neighbour, seize that neighbour by
the hair, push his head sharp over on to the shoulder, and plunge the
knife into his neck; seat himself, and commence to draw with the
unfortunate Brahmin's pencil.
Jones sprang to his feet and rushed to the spot, to find that he had
not been dreaming. No—on the back seat drooped a boy bleeding like a
stuck pig and another industriously drawing, his face illuminated by a
smile of contentment.
Jones pressed his thumbs into the neck of the sufferer, as he called
to an assistant-supervisor to run to the hospital for Dr. Almeida,
hoping to be able to close the severed jugular from which welled an
appalling stream of blood.
“It is quite useless, Sahib,” observed Moussa, “nor can a doctor
help. When one has got it there, he may give his spear to his
son and turn his face to the wall. That dog will never say 'Hubshi
' to a Somal again.”
“Catch hold of that boy,” said Mr. Edward Jones to another
assistant-supervisor who clucked around like a perturbed hen.
“Fear not, Sahib, I shall not escape. I go to Aden Jail,” said
Moussa cheerfully—but he pondered the advisability of attempting
escape from the Reformatory should he be sentenced to be hanged. It had
always seemed an impossibility, but it would be better to attempt the
impossible than to await the rope. But doubtless they would say he was
too small and light to hang satisfactorily, and would send him to Aden.
Thanks, Master Brahmin, realize as you die that you have greatly
obliged your slayer....
* * * * *
“Now you will most certainly be hanged to death by rope and I shall
be rid of troublesome fellow,” said the Superintendent to Moussa Isa
when that murderous villain was temporarily handed over to him by the
police-sepoy to whom he had been committed by Mr. Jones.
“I have avenged my people and myself,” replied Moussa Isa, “even as
I said, I go to Aden Jail—where there are men, and where a
Somal is known from a Hubshi”
“You go to hang—across the road there at Duri Gaol,” replied the
babu, and earnestly hoped to find himself a true prophet. But though
the wish was father to the thought, the expression thereof was but the
wicked uncle, for it led to the undoing of the wish. So convinced and
convincing did the babu appear to Moussa Isa, that the latter decided
to try his luck in the matter of unauthorized departure from the
Reformatory precincts. If they were going to hang him (for defending
and purging his private and racial honour), and not send him to Aden
after all, he might as well endeavour to go there at his own expense
and independently. If he were caught they could not do more than hang
him; if he were not caught he would get out of this dark ignorant land,
if he had to walk for a year....
When he came to devote his mind to the matter of escape, Moussa Isa
found it surprisingly easy. A sudden dash from his cell as the door was
incautiously opened that evening, a bound and scramble into a tree, a
leap to an out-house roof, another scramble, and a drop which would
settle the matter. If something broke he was done, if nothing broke he
was within a few yards of six-foot-high crops which extended to the
confines of the jungle, wherein were neither police, telegraph offices,
railways, roads, nor other apparatus of the enemy. Nothing broke—Duri
Reformatory saw Moussa Isa no more. For a week he travelled only by
night, and thereafter boldly by day, getting lifts in bylegharies, doing odd jobs, living as the crows and jackals live when jobs
were unavailable, receiving many a kindness from other wayfarers,
especially those of the poorer sort, but always faring onward to the
West, ever onward to the setting sun, always to the sea and Africa,
until the wonderful and blessed day when he believed for a moment that
he was mad and that his eyes and brain were playing him tricks....
After months and months of weary travel, always toward the setting sun,
he had arrived one terrible evening of June at a wide river and a
marvellous bridge—a great bridge hung by mighty chains upon mightier
posts which stood up on either distant bank. It was a pukka
road, a Grand Trunk Road suspended in the air across a river well-nigh
great as Father Nile himself.
 Bullock carts.
On the banks of this river stood an ancient walled city of tall
houses separated by narrow streets, a city of smells and filth, wherein
there were no Sahibs, few Hindus and many Mussulmans. In a mud-floored
miserable mussafarkhana, without its gates, Moussa Isa
slept, naked, hungry and very sad—for he somehow seemed to have missed
the sea. Surely if one kept on due westward always to the setting sun,
one reached the sea in time? The time was growing long, however, and he
was among a strange people, few of whom understood the Hindustani he
had learnt at Duri. Luckily they were largely Mussulmans. Should he
abandon the setting sun and take to the river, following it until it
reached the sea? He could take ship then for Africa by creeping aboard
in the darkness, and hiding himself until the ship had started....
There might be no city at the mouth of the river when he got there. It
might never reach the sea. It might just vanish into some desert like
the Webi-Shebeyli in Somaliland. No, he would keep on toward the West,
crossing the great bridge in the morning. He did so, and turned aside
to admire the railway-station of the Cantonment on the other side of
the river, to get a drink, and to see a train come in, if happily such
 Poor travellers' rest-house.
Ere he had finished rinsing his mouth and bathing his feet at the
public water-standard on the platform, the whistle of a distant train
charmed his ears and he sat him down, delighted, to enjoy the sights
and sounds, the stir and bustle, of its arrival and departure. And so
it came about that certain passengers by this North West Frontier train
were not a little intrigued to notice a small and very black boy
suddenly arise from beside the drinking-fountain and, with a strange
hoarse scream, fling himself at the feet of a young Englishman (who in
Norfolk jacket and white flannel trousers strolled up and down outside
the first-class carriage in which he was travelling to Kot Ghazi from
Karachi), and with every sign of the wildest excitement and joy embrace
and kiss his boots....
Moussa Isa was convinced that he had gone mad and that his eyes and
brain were playing him tricks.
Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison (also Mir Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir
Hafiz Ullah Khan when in other dress and other places) was likewise
more than a little surprised—and certainly a little moved, at the
sight of Moussa Isa and his wild demonstrations of uncontrollable joy.
“Well, I'm damned!” said he in the role of Mr. John Robin
Ross-Ellison. “Rum little devil. Fancy your turning up here.” And in
the role of Mir Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan added
in debased Arabic: “Take this money, little dog, and buy thee a
tikkut to Kot Ghazi. Get into this train, and at Kot Ghazi follow
me to a house.”
To the house Moussa Isa followed him and to the end of his life
likewise, visiting en route Mekran Kot, among other places, and
encountering one, Ilderim the Weeper, among other people (as was told
to Major Michael Malet-Marsac by Ross-Ellison's half-brother, the
CHAPTER III. THE WOMAN.
(And Augustus Grabble; General Murger; Sergeant-Major
Lawrence-Smith; Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green; Mr. Horace
Faggit; as well as a reformed JOHN ROBIN ROSS-ELLISON.)
Sec. 1. MR. GROBBLE.
There was something very maidenly about the appearance of Augustus
Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble. One could not imagine him doing
anything unfashionable, perspiry, rough or rude; nor could one possibly
imagine him doing anything ruthless, fine, terrible, strong or
One expected his hose to be of the same tint as his shirt and
handkerchief, his dress-trousers to be braided, his tie to be delicate
and beautiful, his dainty shoes to be laced with black silk
ribbon,—but one would never expect him to go tiger-shooting, to ride a
gay and giddy young horse, to box, or to do his own cooking and washing
in the desert or jungle.
Augustus had been at College during that bright brief period of the
attempted apotheosis of the dirty-minded little Decadent whose stock in
trade was a few Aubrey Beardsley drawings, a widow's-cruse-like bottle
of Green Chartreuse, an Oscar Wilde book, some dubious blue china, some
floppy ties, an assortment of second-hand epigrams, scent and scented
tobacco, a nil admirari attitude and long weird hair.
Augustus had become a Decadent—a silly harmless
conventionally-unconventional Decadent. But, as Carey, a contemporary
Rugger blood, coarsely remarked, he hadn't the innards to go far wrong.
It was part of his cheap and childish ritual as a Decadent to draw
the curtains after breakfast, light candles, place the flask of Green
Chartreuse and a liqueur-glass on the table, drop one drip of the
liquid into the glass, burn a stinking pastille of incense, place a
Birmingham “god” or an opening lily before him, ruffle his hair, and
sprawl on the sofa with a wicked French novel he could not read—hoping
for visitors and an audience.
If any fellow dropped in and, very naturally, exclaimed, “What the
devil are you doing?” he would reply:—
“Wha'? Oh, sunligh'? Very vulgar thing sunligh'. Art is always
superior to Nature. You love the garish day being a gross Philistine,
wha'? Now I only live at night. Glorious wicked nigh'. So I make my own
nigh'. Wha'? Have some Green Chartreuse—only drink fit for a Hedonist.
I drink its colour and I taste its glorious greenness. Ichor and Nectar
of Helicon and the Pierian Spring. I loved a Wooman once, with eyes of
just that glowing glorious green and a soul of ruby red. I called her
my Emerald-eyed, Ruby-souled Devil, and we drank together deep draughts
of the red red Wine of Life——”
Sometimes the visitor would say: “Look here, Grobb, you ought to be
in the Zoo, you know. There's a lot there like you, all in one big
cage,” or similar words of disapproval.
Sometimes a young fresher would be impressed, especially if he had
been brought up by Aunts in a Vicarage, and would also become a
During vac. the Decadents would sometimes meet in Town, and See
Life—a singularly uninteresting and unattractive side of Life (much
more like Death), and the better men among them—better because of a
little sincerity and pluck—would achieve a petty and rather sordid
Augustus had no head for Mathematics and no gift for Languages,
while his Classics had always been a trifle more than shaky. History
bored him—so he read Moral Philosophy.
There is a somewhat dull market for second-hand and third-class
Moral Philosophy in England, so Augustus took his to India. In the
first college that he adorned his classes rapidly dwindled to nothing,
and the College Board dispensed with the services of Augustus, who
passed on to another College in another Province, leaving behind him an
odour of moral dirtiness, debt, and decadence. Quite genuine decadence
this time, with nothing picturesque about it, involving doctors' bills,
alimony, and other the fine crops of wild-oat sowing.
At Gungapur he determined to “settle down,” to “turn over a new
leaf,” and laid a good space of paving-stone upon his road to reward.
He gave up the morning nip, docked the number of cocktails, went to
bed before two, took a little gentle exercise, met Mrs. Pat
Dearman—and (like Mr. Robin Ross-Ellison, General Miltiades Murger and
many another) succumbed at once.
Mrs. Pat Dearman had come to India (as Miss Cleopatra Diamond
Brighte) to see her brother, Dickie Honor Brighte, at Gungapur, and
much interested to see, also, a Mr. Dearman whom, in his letters to
her, Dickie had described as “a jolly old buster, simply full of money,
and fairly spoiling for a wife to help him blew it in.” She had not
only seen him but had, as she wrote to acidulous Auntie Priscilla at
the Vicarage, “actually married him after a week's
acquaintance—fancy!—the last thing in the world she had ever supposed
... etc.” (Auntie Priscilla had smiled in her peculiarly unpleasant way
as the artless letter enlarged upon the strangeness of her ingenuous
niece's marrying the rich man about whom her innocent-minded brother
had written so much.)
Having thoroughly enjoyed a most expensive and lavish honeymoon,
Mrs. Pat Dearman had settled down to make her good husband happy, to
have a good time and to do any amount of Good to other
people—especially to young men—who have so many temptations, are so
thoughtless, and who easily become the prey of such dreadful people and
such dreadful habits.
Now it is to be borne in mind that Mrs. Dearman's Good Time was
marred to some extent by her unreasoning dislike of all Indians, a
dislike which grew into a loathing hatred, born and bred of her
ignorance of the language, customs, beliefs and ideals of the people
among whom she lived, and from whom her husband's great wealth sprang.
To Augustus—fresh from very gilded gold, painted lilies and highly
perfumed violets—she seemed a vision of delight, a blessed damozel, a
“Incedit dea aperta,” he murmured to himself, and wondered
whether he had got the quotation right. Being a weak young gentleman,
he straightway yearned to lead a Beautiful Life so as to be worthy to
live in the same world with her, and did it—for a little while. He
became a teetotaller, he went to bed at ten and rose at five—going
forth into the innocent pure morning and hugging his new Goodness to
his soul as he composed odes and sonnets to Mrs. Pat Dearman. So far so
excellent—but in Augustus was no depth of earth, and speedily he
withered away. And his reformation was a house built upon sand, for,
even at its pinnacle, it was compatible with the practising of sweet
and pure expressions before the glass, the giving of much time to the
discovery of the really most successful location of the parting in his
long hair, the intentional entangling of his fingers with those of the
plump and pretty young lady (very brunette) in Rightaway &Mademore's,
what time she handed him “ties to match his eyes,” as he requested.
It was really only a change of pose. The attitude now was: “I, young
as you behold me, am old and weary of sin. I have Passed through the
Fires. Give me beauty and give me peace. I have done with the World and
its Dead Sea Fruit. There is no God but Beauty, and Woman is its
Prophet.” And he improved in appearance, grew thinner, shook off a
veritable Old Man of the Sea in the shape of a persistent pimple which
went ill with the Higher Aestheticism, and achieved great things in
delicate socks, sweet shirts, dream ties, a thumb ring and really
In the presence of Mrs. Pat Dearman he looked sad, smouldering,
despairing and Fighting-against-his-Lower-Self, when not looking
Young-but-Hopelessly-Depraved-though-Yearning-for-Better-Things. And he
flung out quick epigrams, sighed heavily, talked brilliantly and
wildly, and then suppressed a groan. Sometimes the pose of, “Dear Lady,
I could kiss the hem of your garment for taking an interest in me and
my past—but it is too lurid for me to speak of it, or for you to
understand it if I did,” would appear for a moment, and sometimes that
of, “Oh, help me—or my soul must drown. Ah, leave me not. If I have
sinned I have suffered, and in your hands lie my Heaven and my Hell.”
Such shocking words were never uttered of course—but there are few
things more real than an atmosphere, and Augustus Clarence could always
get his atmosphere all right.
And Mrs. Pat Dearman (who had come almost straight from a vicarage,
a vicar papa and a vicarish aunt, to an elderly, uxorious husband and
untrammelled freedom, and knew as much of the World as a little bunny
rabbit whom its mother has not brought yet out into the warren for its
first season), was mightily intrigued.
She felt motherly to the poor boy at first, being only two years his
junior; then sisterly; and, later, very friendly indeed.
Let it be clearly understood that Mrs. Pat Dearman was a thoroughly
good, pure-minded woman, incapable of deceiving her husband, and both
innocent and ignorant to a remarkable degree. She was the product of an
unnatural, specialized atmosphere of moral supermanity, the secluded
life, and the careful suppression of healthy, natural instincts. In
justice to Augustus Clarence also it must be stated that the impulse to
decency, though transient, was genuine as far as it went, and that he
would as soon have thought of cutting his long beautiful hair as of
thinking evil in connection with Mrs. Pat Dearman.
Yes, Mrs. Pat Dearman was mightily intrigued—and quickly came to
the conclusion that it was her plain and bounden duty to “save” the
poor, dear boy—though from what she was not quite clear. He was
evidently unhappy and obviously striving-to-be-Good—and he had such
beautiful eyes, dressed so tastefully, and looked at one with such a
respectful devotion and regard, that, really—well, it added a
tremendous savour to life. Also he should be protected from the horrid
flirting Mrs. Bickker who simply lived to collect scalps.
And so the friendship grew and ripened—quickly as is possible only
in India. The evil-minded talked evil and saw harm where none existed,
proclaiming themselves for what they were, and injuring none but
themselves. (Sad to say, these were women, with one or two exceptions
in favour of men—like the Hatter—who perhaps might be called “old
women of the male sex,” save that the expression is a vile libel upon
the sex that still contains the best of us.) Decent people expressed
the belief that it would do Augustus a lot of good—much-needed good;
and the crystallized male opinion was that the poisonous little beast
was uncommon lucky, but Mrs. Pat Dearman would find him out sooner or
As for Mr. (or Colonel) Dearman, that lovable simple soul was
grateful to Augustus for existing—as long as his existence gave Mrs.
Dearman any pleasure. If the redemption of Augustus interested her, let
Augustus be redeemed. He believed that the world neither held, nor had
held, his wife's equal in character and nobility of mind. He worshipped
an image of his own creation in the shape of Cleopatra Dearman, and the
image he had conceived was a credit to the single-minded,
Naturally he did not admire Augustus Clarence Percy Marmaduke
Grobble (learned in millinery; competent, as modes varied, to discuss
harem, hobble, pannier, directoire, slit, or lamp-shade skirts,
berthes, butterfly-motif embroideries, rucked ninon sleeves,
chiffon tunics, and similar mysteries of the latest fashion-plates,
with a lady undecided).
Long-haired men put Dearman off, and he could not connect the virile
virtues with large bows, velvet coats, scent, manicure, mannerisms and
But if Augustus gave his wife any pleasure—why Augustus had not
lived wholly in vain. His attitude to Augustus was much that of his
attitude to his wife's chocolates, fondants, and crystallized
violets—“Not absolutely nourishing and beneficial for you,
Dearest;—but harmless, and I'll bring you a ton with pleasure”.
Personally he'd as soon go about with his wife's fat French poodle
as with Augustus, but so long as either amused her—let the queer
Among the nasty-minded old women who “talked” was the Mad Hatter.
“Shameful thing the way that Dearman woman throws dust in her
husband's eyes!” said he, while sipping his third Elsie May at the club
bar. “He should divorce her. I would, to-morrow, if I were burdened
A knee took him in the small of the back with unnecessary violence
and he spun round to demand instant apology from the clumsy....
He found himself face to face with one John Robin Ross-Ellison newly
come to Gungapur, a gentleman of independent means but supposed to be
connected with the Political Department or the Secret Service or
something, who stared him in the eyes without speaking while he poised
a long drink as though wondering whether it were worth while wasting
good liquor on the face of such a thing as the Hatter.
“You'll come with me and clear the dust from Dearman's eyes at
once,” said he at last. “Made your will all right?”
The Hatter publicly apologised, then and there, and explained that
he had, for once in his life, taken a third drink and didn't know what
he was saying.
“If your third drink brings out the real man, I should recommend you
to stick to two, Bonnett,” said the young man, and went away to
Should he speak to Dearman? No. He didn't want to see so good a chap
hanged for a thing like the Bonnett. Should he go and slap Augustus
Grobble hard and make him leave the station somehow? No. Sure to be a
scandal. You can no more stop a scandal than a locust-cloud or a fog.
The best way to increase it is to notice it. What a horrid thing is a
scandal-monger—exhaling poison. It publishes the fact that it is
poisonous, of course—but the gas is not enjoyable.
Well, God help anybody Dearman might happen to hear on the subject!
Happily Mr. (or Colonel) Dearman heard nothing, for he was a quiet,
slow, jolly, red-haired man, and the wrath of a slow, quiet, red-haired
man, once roused, is apt to be a rather dangerous thing. Also Mr.
Dearman was singularly elephantine in the blundering crushing
directness of his methods, and his idea of enough might well seem more
than a feast to some.
And Mr. Dearman suffered Augustus gladly, usually finding him
present at tea, frequently at dinner, and invariably in attendance at
dances and functions.
Augustus was happy and Good—for Augustus. He dallied, he adored, he
basked. For a time he felt how much better, finer, more enjoyable, more
beautiful, was this life of innocent communion with a pure soul—pure,
if just a little insipid, after the real spankers he had hitherto
He was being saved from himself, reformed, helped, and all the rest
of it. And when privileged to bring her pen, her fan, her book, her
cushion, he always kissed the object with an appearance of wishing to
be unseen in the act. It was a splendid change from the Lurid Life and
the mean adventure. Piquant.
Unstable as water he could not excel nor endure, however, even in
dalliance; nor persevere even when adopted as the fidus Achates
of a good and beautiful woman—the poor little weather-cock. He was
essentially weak, and weakness is worse than wickedness. There is hope
for the strong bad man. He may become a strong good one. Your weak man
can never be that.
There came a lady to the Great Eastern Hotel where Augustus lived.
Her husband's name, curiously enough, was Harris, and wags referred to
him as the Mr. Harris, because he had never been seen—and like
Betsey Prig, they “didn't believe there was no sich person”. And beyond
doubt she was a spanker.
Augustus would sit and eye her at meals—and his face would grow a
little less attractive. He would think of her while he took tea with
Mrs. and Mr. Dearman, assuring himself that she was certainly a
stepper, a stunner, and, very probably,—thrilling thought—a wrong
Without the very slightest difficulty he obtained an introduction
and, shortly afterwards, decided that he was a man of the world, a
Decadent, a wise Hedonist who took the sweets of every day and hoped
for more to-morrow.
Who but a fool or a silly greenhorn lets slip the chances of
enjoyment, and loses opportunities of experiences? There was nothing in
the world, they said, to compare with War and Love. Those who wanted it
were welcome to the fighting part, he would be content with the loving
role. He would be a Dog and go on breaking hearts and collecting
trophies. What a milk-and-water young ass he had been, hanging about
round good, silly, little Mrs. Dearman, denying himself champagne at
dinner-parties, earning opprobrium as a teetotaller, going to bed early
like a bread-and-butter flapper, and generally losing all the joys of
Life! Been behaving like a backfisch. He read his Swinburne
again, and unearthed from the bottom of a trunk some books that dealt
with the decadent's joys,—poets of the Flesh, and prosers of the
Devil, in his many weary forms.
Also he redoubled his protestations (of undying, hopeless,
respectful devotion and regard) to Mrs. Dearman, until she, being a
woman, therefore suspected something and became uneasy.
One afternoon he failed to put in an appearance at tea-time, though
expected. He wrote that he had had a headache. Perhaps it was true,
but, if so, it had been borne in the boudoir of the fair spanker whose
husband may or may not have been named Harris.
As his absences from the society of Mrs. Dearman increased in
frequency, his protestations of undying gratitude and regard for her
increased in fervour.
Mrs. Dearman grew more uneasy and a little unhappy.
Could she be losing her influence for Good over the poor weak boy?
Could it be—horrible thought—that he was falling into the hands of
some nasty woman who would flirt with him, let him smoke too many
cigarettes, drink cocktails, and sit up late? Was he going to relapse
and slip back into that state of wickedness of some kind, that she
vaguely understood him to have been guilty of in the unhappy past when
he had possessed no guardian angel to keep his life pure, happy and
sweet, as he now declared it to be?
“Where's your young friend got to lately?” inquired her husband one
“I don't know, John,” she replied, “he's always missing appointments
nowadays,” and there was a pathetic droop about the childish mouth.
“Haven't quarrelled with him, or anything, have you, Pat?”
“No, John dear. It would break his heart if I were unkind to him—or
it would have used to. I mean it used to have would. Oh, you know what
I mean. Once it would have. No, I have not been unkind to him—it's
rather the other way about, I think!”
Rather the other way about! The little affected pimp unkind
to Mrs. Dearman! Mr. (or Colonel) Dearman made no remark—aloud.
Augustus came to tea next day and his hostess made much of him. His
host eyed him queerly. Very.
Augustus felt uncomfortable. Good Heavens! Was Dearman jealous? The
man was not going to cut up jealous at this time of day, surely! Not
after giving him the run of the house for months, and allowing him to
take his wife everywhere—nay, encouraging him in every way. Absurd
Beastly disturbing idea though—Dearman jealous, and on your track!
A rather direct and uncompromising person, red-haired too. But the man
was absolutely fair and just, and he'd never do such a thing as to let
a fellow be his wife's great pal, treat him as one of the family for
ages, and then suddenly round on him as though he were up to something.
No. Especially when he was, if anything, cooling off a bit.
“He was always most cordial—such a kind chap,—when I was living in
his wife's pocket almost,” reflected Augustus, “and he wouldn't go and
turn jealous just when the thing was slacking off a bit.”
But there was no doubt that Dearman was eyeing him queerly....
“Shall we go on the river to-morrow night, Gussie?” said Mrs.
Dearman, “or have a round of golf, or what?”
“Let's see how we feel to-morrow,” replied Augustus, who had other
schemes in view. “Sufficient unto the day is the joy thereof,” and he
escorted Mrs. Dearman to the Gymkhana, found her some nice, ladies'
pictorials, said, “I'll be back in a minute or two,”—and went in
search of Mrs. “Harris”.
“Well,” said that lady, “been a good little boy and eaten your bread
and butter nicely? Have a Lyddite cocktail to take the taste away. So
will I.” ...
“Don't forget to book the big punt,” said the Siren an hour or so
later. “I'll be ready for you about five.”
Augustus wrote one of his charming little notes on his charming
little note-paper that evening.
“KIND AND GRACIOUS LADYE,
“Pity me. Pity and love me. To-morrow the sun will not shine for
your slave, for he will not see it. I am unable to come over in the
evening. I stand 'twixt love and duty, and know you would counsel duty.
Would the College and all its works were beneath the ocean wave! Think
of me just once and I shall survive till the day after. Oh, that I
could think your disappointment were but one thousandth part of mine. I
live but for Thursday.
“Ever your most devoted loving slave,
Mrs. Dearman wept one small tear, for she had doubted his manner
when he had evaded making the appointment, and was suspicious. Mr.
Dearman entered and noted the one small tear ere it trickled off her
dainty little nose.
She showed him the note.
Mr. (or Colonel) Dearman thought much. What he said was “Hm!”
“I suppose he has got to invigilate at some horrid examination or
something,” she said, but she did not really suppose anything of the
kind. Even to her husband she could not admit the growing dreadful fear
that the brand she had plucked from the burning was slipping from her
hand—falling back into the flames.
At a dinner-party that night a woman whom she hated, and wrote down
an evil-minded scandal-monger and inventor and disseminator of lies,
suddenly said to her, “Who is this Mrs. Harris, my dear?”
“How should I know?” replied Mrs. Dearman.
“Oh, I thought your young friend Mr. Grobble might have told you—he
seems to know her very well,” answered the woman sweetly.
That night Mr. Dearman heard his wife sobbing in bed. Going to her
he asked what was the matter, and produced eau-de-Cologne, phenacetin,
smelling-salts and sympathy.
She said that nothing at all was the matter and he went away and
pondered. Next day he asked her if he could row her on the river as he
wanted some exercise, and Augustus was not available to take her for a
drive or anything.
“I should love it, John dear,” she said. “You row like an ox,” and
John, who had been reckoned an uncommon useful stroke, felt that a
compliment was intended if not quite materialized.
Mrs. Pat Dearman enjoyed the upstream trip, and, watching her
husband drive the heavy boat against wind and current with graceful
ease, contrasted him with the puny, if charming, Augustus—to the
latter's detriment. He was so safe, so sound, so strong, reliable and
true. But then he never needed any protection, care and help. It was
impossible to “mother” John. He loved her devotedly and beautifully but
one couldn't pretend he leaned on her for moral help. Now Augustus did
need her or he had done so—and she did so love to be needed. Had
done so? No—she would put the thought away. He needed her as much as
ever and loved her as devotedly and honourably.... The boat was turned
back at the weir and, half an hour later, reached the Club wharf.
“I want to go straight home without changing, Pat; do you mind? I'll
drop you at the Gymkhana if you don't want to get home so early,” said
Dearman, as he helped his wife out.
“Won't you change and have a drink first, John?” she replied. “You
must be thirsty.”
“No. I want to go along now, if you don't mind.”
He did want to—badly. For, rowing up, he had seen something which
his wife, facing the other way, could not see.
Under an over-hanging bush was a punt, and in the punt were Augustus
and the lady known as Mrs. Harris.
The bush met the bank at the side toward his wife, but at the other
side, facing Dearman, there was an open space and so he had seen and
she had not. Returning, he had drawn her attention to something on the
opposite bank. This had been unnecessary, however, as Augustus had
effected a change of venue without delay. And now he did not want his
wife to witness the return of the couple and learn of the duplicity of
her snatched Brand.
(He'd “brand” him anon!)
* * * * *
Augustus Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble sat in the long cane chair
in his sitting-room, a glass beside him, a cigarette between his lips,
a fleshly poet in his hand, and a reminiscent smile upon his flushed
She undoubtedly was a spanker. Knew precisely how many beans make
five. A woman of the world, that. Been about. Knew things. Sort of
woman one could tell a good story to—and get one back. Life! Life!
Knew it up and down, in and out. Damn reformation, teetotality, the
earnest, and the strenuous. Good women were unmitigated bores, and
he.... A sharp knock at the door.
“Kon hai?” he called. “Under ao.”
 Who's there.
 Come in.
The door opened and large Mr. Dearman walked in. He bore a
nasty-looking malacca cane in his hand—somewhat ostentatiously.
“Hullo, Dearman!” said Augustus after a decidedly startled and
anxious look. “What is it? Sit down. I'm just back from College. Have a
Large Mr. Dearman considered these things seriatim.
“I will sit down as I want a talk with you. You are a liar in the
matter of just being back from College. I will not have a drink.” He
then lapsed into silence and looked at Augustus very straight and very
queerly, while bending the nasty malacca suggestively. The knees of
Augustus smote together.
Good God! It had come at last! The thrashing he had so often earned
was at hand. What should he do? What should he do!
Dearman thought the young man was about to faint.
“Fine malacca that, isn't it?” he asked.
“Swishy, supple, tough.”
“Ye-yes!” (How could the brute be such a fool as to be jealous
now—now when it was all cooling off and coming to an end?)
“Grand stick to thrash a naughty boy with, what?”
“Ye-yes!—Dearman, I swear before God that there is nothing between
“Shut up, you infernal God-forsaken cub, or I shall have to whip
“Dearman, if you are jealous of me——”
“Better be quiet and listen, or I shall get cross, and
you'll get hurt.... You have given us the pleasure of a great deal
of your company this year, and I have come to ask you——”
“Dearman, I have not been so much lately, and I—”
“That's what I complain of, my young friend.”
“That's what I complain of! I have come to protest against your
making yourself almost necessary to me, in a sense, and
then—er—deserting me, in a sense.”
“You are mocking me, Dearman. If you wish to take advantage of my
being half your size and strength to assault me, you——”
“Not a bit of it, my dear Augustus. I am in most deadly earnest, as
you'll find if you are contumacious when I make my little proposition.
What I say is this. I have grown to take an interest in you,
Augustus. I have been very kind to you and tried to make a
better man of you. I have been a sort of mother to you, and you
have sworn devotion and gratitude to me. I have reformed you
somewhat, and you have admitted to me that I have made another man of
you, Augustus, and that you love me for it, you love me with a
deep Platonic love, my Augustus, and—don't you forget it.”
“I admit that your wife——”
“Don't you mention my wife, Augustus, or you and I and that malacca
will have a period of great activity. I was saying that I am
disappointed in you, Augustus, and truly grieved to find you so shallow
and false. I asked you to take me on the river to-night and you lied to
me and took a very different type of—er—person. Such meanness and
ingratitude fairly get me, Augustus. Now I never asked you to
run after me and come and swear I had saved your dirty little soul
alive, but since you did it, Augustus, and I have come to take a
deep interest in saving the thing—why, you've got to stick it,
Augustus—and if you don't—why, then I'll make you, my dear.”
“Dearman, your wife has been the noblest friend——”
“Will you come off it, Augustus? I don't want to be cruel.
Now look here. I have got accustomed to having you about the
house and employing you in those funny little ways in which you are a
useful little animal. I am under no delusion as to the value of that
Soul of yours—but, such as it is, I am determined to save it.
So just you bring it round to tea to-morrow, as usual; and don't you
ever be absent again without my permission. You began the game and I'll
end it—when I think fit. Grand malacca that.”
“Dearman, I will always——”
“'Course you will. See you at tea to-morrow, Gussie. If ever my wife
hears of this I'll kill you painfully. Bye-Bye.”
Augustus was present at tea next day, and, thenceforth, so regular
was he that Mrs. Dearman found, first, that she had been very foolish
in thinking that her Brand was slipping back into the fire and, later,
that Gussie was a bore and a nuisance.
One day he said in the presence of John:—
“I can't keep that golf engagement on Saturday, dear lady, I have to
attend a meeting of the Professors, Principal and College Board”.
“Have you seen my malacca cane, Pat,” said Dearman. “I want it.”
“But I really have!” said Augustus, springing up.
“Of course you have,” replied Dearman. “What do you mean?”
* * * * *
“John dear,” remarked Mrs. Dearman one day, “I wish you could give
Gussie a hint not to come quite so often. I have given him some very
broad ones during the last few months, but he won't take them. He would
from you, I expect.”
“Tired of the little bounder, Pat?”
“Oh, sick and tired. He bores me to tears. I wish he were in
Government Service and could be transferred. A Government man's always
transferred as soon as he has settled to his job. I can't forbid him
the house, very well, but I wish he'd realize how weary I am of
his poses and new socks.”
* * * * *
Augustus Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble sat in the long cane chair
in his sitting-room, a look of rebellious discontent upon his face.
What could he do? Better chuck his job and clear out! The strain was
getting awful. What a relentless, watchful brute Dearman was! To him
entered that gentleman after gently tapping at the chamber door.
“Gussie,” said he, “I have come to say that I think you weary me. I
don't want you to come and play with me any more. But be a nice
good boy and do me credit. I have brought you this malacca as a present
and a memento. I have another, Gussie, and am going to watch you, so be
a real credit to me.”
And Gussie was.
So once again a good woman redeemed a bad man—but a trifle
Then came General Miltiades Murger and Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison
to be saved.
During intervals in the salvation process, Mr. John Robin
Ross-Ellison vainly endeavoured to induce Mr. Augustus Clarence Percy
Marmaduke Grobble to lend his countenance, as well as the rest of his
person, to the European Company of the Gungapur Fusilier Volunteer
Corps which it was the earnest ambition of Ross-Ellison to raise and
train and consolidate into a real and genuine defence organization,
with a maxim-gun, a motor-cycle and car section, and a mounted troop,
and with, above all, a living and sturdy esprit-de-corps. Such a
Company appeared to him to be the one and only hope of regeneration for
the ludicrous corps which Colonel Dearman commanded, and to change the
metaphor, the sole possible means of leavening the lump by its example
of high standards and high achievement.
To Augustus, however, as to many other Englishmen, the idea was
merely ridiculous and its parent simply absurd.
The day dawned when Augustus, like the said many other Englishmen,
changed his mind. In his, and their defence, it may be urged that they
knew nothing of the activities of a very retiring but persevering
gentleman, known to his familiars as Ilderim the Weeper, and that they
had grown up in the belief that all England's fighting and defence can
be done by a few underpaid, unconsidered, and very vulgar hirelings.
Perish the thought that Augustus and his like should ever be
expected to do the dirty work of defending themselves, their wives,
children, homes and honour.
Sec. 2. GENERAL MURGER.
In a temporary Grand Stand of matchboarding and canvas tout
Gungapur greeted Mrs. Pat Dearman, who was quite At Home, ranged
itself, and critically inspected the horses, or the frocks, of its
friends, according to its sex.
Around the great ring on to which the Grand Stand looked, Arab,
Pathan, and other heathen raged furiously together and imagined many
vain things. Among them unobtrusively moved a Somali who listened
carefully to conversations, noted speakers, and appeared to be
collecting impressions as to the state of public opinion—and of
private opinion. Particularly he sought opportunities of hearing
reference to the whereabouts and doings of one Ilderim the Weeper. In
the ring were a course of stiff jumps, lesser rings, the judges'
office, a kind of watch-tower from which a strenuous fiend with a
megaphone bawled things that no living soul could understand, and a
number of most horsily-arrayed gentlemen, whose individual status
varied from General and cavalry-colonel to rough rider, troop
sergeant-major and stud groom.
I regret to add that there was also a Lady, that she was garbed for
riding in the style affected by mere man, and that she swaggered
loud-voiced, horsey, slapping a boot.
Let men thank the good God for womanly women while such be—and
Behind the Grand Stand were massed the motor-cars and carriages of
Society, as well as the Steward of the Gungapur Club, who there spent a
busy afternoon in eating ices and drinking Cup while his myrmidons
hurried around, washed glasses, squeezed lemons, boiled water and
dropped things. Anon he drank ices and ate Cup (with a spoon) and was
taken deviously back to his little bungalow behind the Club by the Head
Bootlaire Saheb (or butler) who loved and admired him.
Beyond the big ring ran the river, full with the summer rains,
giving a false appearance of doing much to cool the air and render the
afternoon suitable to the stiff collars and “Europe” garments of the
once sterner sex.
A glorious sea-breeze did what the river pretended to do. Beneath
the shade of a clump of palms, scores of more and less valuable horses
stamped, tossed heads, whisked tails and possibly wondered why God made
flies, while an equal number of syces squatted, smoked pungent
bidis, and told lies.
Outside a tent, near by, sat a pimply youth at a table bearing boxes
of be-ribboned labels, number-inscribed, official, levelling.
These numbers corresponded with those attached to the names of the
horses in the programme of events, and riders must tie one round each
arm ere bringing a horse up for judgment when called on.
Certain wretched carping critics alleged that this arrangement was
to prevent the possibility of error on the part of the Judges, who,
otherwise, would never know whether a horse belonged to a General or a
Subaltern, to a Member of Council or an Assistant Collector, to a Head
of a Department or a wretched underling—in short to a personage or a
You find this type of doubter everywhere—and especially in India
where official rank is but the guinea stamp and gold is brass without
Great, in the Grand Stand, was General Miltiades Murger. Beside Mrs.
Dearman, most charming of hostesses, he sate, in the stage of avuncular
affection, and told her that if the Judges knew their business his
hunter would win the Hunter-Class first prize and be “Best Horse in the
As to his charger, his hack, his trapper, his suitable-for-polo
ponies, his carriage-horses he did not worry; they might or might not
“do something,” but his big and beautiful hunter—well, he hoped the
Judges knew their business, that was all.
“Are you going to show him in the ring yourself, General?” asked
“And leave your side?” replied the great man in manner most
avuncular and with little reassuring pats upon the lady's hand. “No,
indeed. I am going to remain with you and watch Rissaldar-Major Shere
Singh ride him for me. Finest horseman in India. Good as myself. Yes, I
hope the Judges for Class XIX know their business. I imported that
horse from Home and he cost me over six thousand rupees.”
Meanwhile, it may be mentioned, evil passions surged in the soul of
Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison as he watched the General, and witnessed
his avuncular pattings and confidential whisperings. Mr. Ross-Ellison
had lunched with the Dearmans, had brought Mrs. Dearman to the Horse
Show, and was settling down, after she had welcomed her guests, to a
delightful, entrancing, and thrillful afternoon with her—to be broken
but while he showed his horse—when he had been early and utterly
routed by the General. The heart of Mr. Ross-Ellison was sore within
him, for he loved Mrs. Dearman very devotedly and respectfully.
He was always devotedly in love with some one, and she was always a
nice good woman.
When she, or he, left the station, his heart died within him, life
was hollow, and his mouth filled with Dead Sea fruit. The world he
loved so much would turn to dust and ashes at his touch. After a week
or so his heart would resurrect, life would become solid, and his mouth
filled with merry song. He would fall in love afresh and the world went
very well then.
At present he loved Mrs. Dearman—and hated General Miltiades
Murger, who had sent him for a programme and taken his seat beside Mrs.
Dearman. There was none on the other side of her—Mr. Ross-Ellison had
seen to that—and his prudent foresight had turned and rent him, for he
could not plant a chair in the narrow gangway.
He wandered disconsolately away and instinctively sought the object
of the one permanent and unwavering love of his life—his mare
“Zuleika,” late of Balkh.
Zuleika was more remarkable for excellences of physique than for
those of mind and character. To one who knew her not, she was a wild
beast, fitter for a cage in a Zoo than for human use, a wild-eyed,
screaming man-eating she-devil; and none knew her save Mr. John Robin
Ross-Ellison, who had bought her unborn. (He knew her parents.)
“If you see an ugly old cove with no hair and a blue nose come over
here for his number, just kick his foremost button, hard,” said
Mr. Ross-Ellison to her as he gathered up the reins and, dodging a
kick, prepared to mount. This was wrong of him, for Zuleika had never
suffered any harm at the hands of General Miltiades Murger,
“'eavy-sterned amateur old men” he quoted in a vicious grumble.
A wild gallop round the race-course did something to soothe the
ruffled spirit of Mr. Ross-Ellison and nothing to improve Zuleika's
appearance—just before she entered the show-ring.
On returning, Mr. Ross-Ellison met the Notable Nut (Lieutenant
Nottinger Nutt, an ornament of the Royal Horse Artillery), and they
talked evil of Dignitaries and Institutions amounting to high treason
if not blasphemy, while watching the class in progress, with young but
“I don't care what any_body says,” observed the Notable Nut. “You
read the lists of prize-winners of all the bally horse-shows ever held
here and you'll find 'em all in strict and decorous order of owner's
rank. 'Chargers. First Prize—Lieutenant-General White's “Pink
Eye”. Second Prize—Brigadier-General Black's “Red Neck”. Third
Prize—Colonel Brown's “Ham Bone”. Highly commended—Major
Green's “Prairie Oyster”. Nowhere at all—Second-Lieutenant
Blue's “Cocktail,”'—and worth all the rest put together. I tell you
I've seen horse after horse change hands after winning a First Prize as
a General's property and then win nothing at all as a common Officer's
or junior civilian's, until bought again by a Big Pot. Then it sweeps
the board. I don't for one second dream of accusing Judges of
favouritism or impropriety any kind, but I'm convinced that the glory
of a brass-bound owner casts a halo about his horse that dazzles and
blinds the average rough-rider, stud-groom and cavalry-sergeant, and
don't improve the eyesight of some of their betters, when judging.”
“You're right, Nutty,” agreed Mr. Ross-Ellison. “Look at that horse
'Runaway'. Last year it won the First Prize as a light-weight hunter,
First Prize as a hack, and Highly Commended as a charger—disqualified
from a prize on account of having no mane. It then belonged to a
Colonel of Dragoons. This year, with a mane and in, if possible, better
condition, against practically the same horses, it wins nothing at all.
This year it belongs to a junior in the P.W.D. one notices.”
“Just what I say,” acquiesced the aggrieved Nut, whose rejected
horse had been beaten by another which it had itself beaten (under
different ownership) the previous year. “Fact is, the judges should be
absolutely ignorant as to who owns the horses. They mean well enough,
but to them it stands to reason that the most exalted Pots own the most
exalted horses. Besides, is it fair to ask a troop sergeant-major to
order his own Colonel's horse out of the ring, or the General's either?
They ought not to get subordinates in at all. Army Veterinary Colonels
from other Divisions are the sort of chaps you want, and some really
knowledgeable unofficial civilians—and, as I say, to be in complete
ignorance as to ownership. No man to ride his own horse—and none of
these bally numbers to prevent the Judges from thinking a General's
horse belongs to a common man, and from getting the notion that a
subaltern's horse belongs to a General.”
“Yes” mused Mr. Ross-Ellison, “and another thing. If you want to get
a horse a win or a place in the Ladies' Hack class—get a pretty girl
to ride it. They go by the riders' faces and figures entirely....
Hullo! Class XIX wanted. That's me and Zuleika. Come and tie the labels
on my arms like a good dog.”
“Right O. But you haven't the ghost of a little look in,” opined the
Nut. “Old Murger has got a real corking English hunter in. A General
will win as usual—but he'll win with by far the best horse, for once
in the history of horse-shows.”
Dismounting and handing their reins to the syces, the two young
gentlemen strolled over to the table where presided he of the pimples
A burly Sikh was pointing to the name of General Miltiades Murger
and asking for the number printed thereagainst.
The youth handed Rissaldar-Major Shere Singh two labels each bearing
the number 99. These, the gallant Native Officer proceeded to tie upon
his arms—putting them upside down, as is the custom of the native of
India when dealing with anything in any wise reversible.
Mr. Ross-Ellison approached the table, showed his name on the
programme and asked for his number—66.
“Tie these on,” said he returning to his friend. “By Jove—there's
old Murger's horse,” he added—“what a magnificent animal!”
Looking up, the Nut saw Rissaldar-Major Shere Singh mounting the
beautiful English hunter—and also saw that he bore the number 66.
Therefore the labels handed to him were obviously 99, and as 99 he tied
on the 66 of Mr. Ross-Ellison—who observed the fact.
“I am afraid I'm all Pathan at this moment,” silently remarked he
unto his soul, and smiled an ugly smile.
“Not much good my entering Zuleika against that mare,” he
said aloud. “It must have cost just about ten times what I paid for
her. Never mind though! We'll show up—for the credit of civilians,”
and he rode into the ring—where a score of horses solemnly walked
round and round the Judges and in front of the Grand Stand....
General Murger brought Mrs. Dearman a cup of tea, and, having placed
his topi in his chair, went, for a brandy-and-soda and
cheroot, to the bar behind the rows of seats.
On his return he beheld his superb and expensive hunter behaving
superbly and expensively in the expert hands of Rissaldar-Major Shere
He feasted his eyes upon it.
Suddenly a voice, a voice he disliked intensely, the voice of Mr.
Dearman croaked fiendishly in his ear: “Why, General, they've got your
horse numbered wrongly!”
General Miltiades Murger looked again. Upon the arm of
Rissaldar-Major Shere Singh was the number 66.
Opening his programme with trembling fingers he found his name, his
horse's name, and number 99!
He rose to his feet, stammering and gesticulating. As he did so the
“Take out number 66,” were distinctly borne to the ears of the
serried ranks of the fashionable in the Grand Stand. Certain
military-looking persons at the back abandoned all dignity and fell
upon each other's necks, poured great libations, danced, called upon
their gods, or fell prostrate upon settees.
Others, seated among the ladies, looked into their bats as though in
“Has Ross-Ellison faked it?” ran from mouth to mouth, and, “He'll be
hung for this”.
A minute or so later the Secretary approached the Grand Stand and
announced in stentorian tones:
“First Prize—General Murger's Darling, Number 99”.
While behind him upon Zuleika, chosen of the Judges, sat and smiled
Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison, who lifted his voice and said:
“Thanks—No!—This horse is mine and is named Zuleika.”
He looked rather un-English, rather cunning, cruel and
unpleasant—quite different somehow, from his ordinary cheery, bright
* * * * *
“Old” Brigadier General Miltiades Murger was unique among British
Generals in that he sometimes resorted to alcoholic stimulants beyond
reasonable necessity and had a roving and a lifting eye for a pretty
woman. In one sense the General had never taken a wife—and, in
another, he had taken several. Indeed it was said of him by jealous
colleagues that the hottest actions in which he had ever been engaged
were actions for divorce or breach of promise, and that this type of
imminent deadly breach was the kind with which he was best acquainted.
Also that he was better at storming the citadel of a woman's heart than
at storming anything else.
No eminent man is without jealous detractors.
As to the stimulants, make no mistake and jump to no hasty
conclusions. General Murger had never been seen drunk in the whole of
his distinguished and famous (or as the aforesaid colleagues called it,
egregious and notorious) career.
On the other hand, the voice of jealousy said he had never been seen
sober either. In the words of envy, hatred, malice and all
uncharitableness it declared that he had been born fuddled, had lived
fuddled, and would die fuddled. And there were ugly stories.
Also some funny ones—one of which concerns the, Gungapur Fusilier
Volunteer Corps and Colonel Dearman, their beloved but shortly retiring
(and, as some said, their worthy) Commandant.
Mr. Dearman was a very wealthy (and therefore popular), very red
haired and very patriotic mill-owner who tried very hard to be proud of
his Corps, and, without trying, was immensely proud of his wife.
As to the Corps—well, it may at least be said that it would have
followed its beloved Commandant anywhere (that was neither far nor
dangerous), for every one of its Officers, except Captain John Robin
Ross-Ellison, and the bulk of its men, were his employees.
They loved him for his wealth and they trusted him
absolutely—trusted him not to march them far nor work them much. And
they were justified of their faith.
Several of the Officers were almost English—though Greeks and
Goa-Portuguese predominated, and there was undeniably a drop or two of
English blood in the ranks, well diffused of course. Some folk said
that even Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison was not as Scotch as his
On guest-nights in the Annual Camp of Exercise (when the Officers'
Mess did itself as well as any Mess in India—and only took a few
hundred rupees of the Government Grant for the purpose) Colonel Dearman
would look upon the wine when it was bubbly, see his Corps through its
golden haze, and wax so optimistic, so enthusiastic, so rash, as
roundly to state that if he had five hundred of the Gungapur Fusiliers,
with magazines charged and bayonets fixed, behind a stout entrenchment
or in a fortified building, he would stake his life on their facing any
unarmed city mob you could bring against them. But these were but
post-prandial vapourings, and Colonel Dearman never talked nor thought
any such folly when the Corps was present to the eye of flesh.
On parade he saw it for what it was—a mob of knock-kneed, sniffling
lads with just enough strength to suck a cigarette; anaemic clerks, fat
cooks, and loafers with just enough wind to last a furlong march; huge
beery old mechanics and ex-"Tommies,” forced into this coloured galley
as a condition of their “job at the works ”; and the non-native scum of
the city of Gungapur—which joined for the sake of the ammunition-boots
and khaki suit.
There was not one Englishman who was a genuine volunteer and not
half a dozen Parsis. Englishmen prefer to join a corps which consists
of Englishmen or at least has an English Company. When they have no
opportunity of so doing, it is a little unfair to class them with the
lazy, unpatriotic, degenerate young gentlemen who have the opportunity
and do not seize it. Captain Ross-Ellison was doing his utmost to
provide the opportunity—with disheartening results.
However—Colonel Dearman tried very hard to be proud of his Corps
and never forgave anyone who spoke slightingly of it.
As to his wife, there was, as stated, no necessity for any “trying”.
He was immensely and justly proud of her as one of the prettiest, most
accomplished, and most attractive women in the Bendras Presidency.
Mrs. “Pat” Dearman, nee Cleopatra Diamond Brighte, was, as
has been said, consciously and most obviously a Good Woman. Brought up
by a country rector and his vilely virtuous sister, her girlhood had
been a struggle to combine her two ambitions, that of being a Good
Woman with that of having a Good Time. In the village of Bishop's
Overley the former had been easier; in India the latter. But even in
India, where the Good Time was of the very best, she forgot not the
other ambition, went to church with unfailing regularity, read a
portion of the Scriptures daily; headed subscription lists for the
myriad hospitals, schools, widows'-homes, work-houses, Christian
associations, churches, charitable societies, shelters, orphanages,
rescue-homes and other deserving causes that appeal to the European in
India; did her duty by Colonel Dearman, and showed him daily by a
hundred little bright kindnesses that she had not married him for his
great wealth but for his—er—his—er—not exactly his beauty or
cleverness or youthful gaiety or learning or ability—no, for his
Goodness, of course, and because she loved him—loved him for the said
Goodness, no doubt. No, she never forgot the lessons of the Rectory,
that it is the Whole Duty of Man to Save his or her Soul, but
remembered to be a Good Woman while having the Good Time. Perhaps the
most industriously pursued of all her goodnesses was her unflagging
zealous labour in Saving the Souls of Others as well as her own
Soul—the “Others” being the young, presentable, gay, and well-placed
men of Gungapur Society.
Yes, Mrs. Pat Dearman went beyond the Rectory teachings and was not
content with personal salvation. A Good Woman of broad altruistic
charity, there was not a young Civilian, not a Subaltern, not a
handsome, interesting, smart, well-to-do, well-in-society, young
bachelor in whose spiritual welfare she did not take the deepest
personal interest. And, perhaps, of all such eligible souls in
Gungapur, the one whose Salvation she most deeply desired to work out
(after she wearied of the posings and posturings of Augustus Grobble)
was that of Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison of her husband's corps—an
exceedingly handsome, interesting, smart, well-to-do, well-in-society
young bachelor. The owner of this eligible Soul forebore to tell Mrs.
Pat Dearman that it was bespoke for Mohammed the Prophet of
Allah—inasmuch as almost the most entrancing, thrilling and
delightful pursuit of his life was the pursuit of soul-treatment at the
hands, the beautiful tiny white hands, of Mrs. Pat Dearman. Had her
large soulful eyes penetrated this subterfuge, he would have jettisoned
Mohammed forthwith, since, to him, the soul-treatment was of infinitely
more interest and value than the soul, and, moreover, strange as it may
seem, this Mussulman English gentleman had received real and true
Christian teaching at his mother's knee. When Mrs. Pat Dearman took him
to Church, as she frequently did, on Sunday evenings, he was filled
with great longings—and with a conviction of the eternal Truth and
Beauty of Christianity and the essential nobility of its gentle,
unselfish, lofty teachings. He would think of his mother, of some
splendid men and women he had known, especially missionaries, medical
and other, at Bannu and Poona and elsewhere, and feel that he was
really a Christian at heart; and then again in Khost and Mekran Kot,
when carrying his life in his hand, across the border, in equal danger
from the bullet of the Border Police, Guides, or Frontier Force
cavalry-outposts and from the bullet of criminal tribesmen, when a
devil in his soul surged up screaming for blood and fire and slaughter;
during the long stealthy crawl as he stalked the stalker; during the
wild, yelling, knife-brandishing rush; as he pressed the steady trigger
or guided the slashing, stabbing Khyber knife, or as he instinctively
hallaled the victim of his shikar, he knew he was a Pathan
and a Mussulman as were his fathers.
But whether circumstances brought his English blood to the surface
or his Pathan blood, whether the day were one of his most English days
or one of his most Pathan days, whether it were a day of mingled and
quickly alternating Englishry and Pathanity he now loved and supported
Britain and the British Empire for Mrs. Dearman's sake. Often as he
(like most other non-officials) had occasion to detest and desire to
kick the Imperial Englishman, championship of England and her Empire
was now his creed. And as there was probably not another England-lover
in all India who had his knowledge of under-currents, and forces within
and without, he was perhaps the most anxiously loving of all her
lovers, and the most appalled at the criminal carelessness, blind
ignorance, fatuous conceit, and folly of a proportion of her sons in
Knowing what he knew of Teutonic intrigue and influence in India,
Ceylon, Afghanistan, Aden, Persia, Egypt, East Africa, the Straits
Settlements, and China, he was reminded of the men and women of Pompeii
who ate, drank, and were merry, danced and sang, pursued pleasure and
the nimble denarius, while Vesuvius rumbled.
Constantly the comparison entered his mind.
He had sojourned with Indian “students” in India, England, Germany,
Geneva, America and Japan, and had belonged to the most secret of
societies. He had himself been a well-paid agent of Germany in both
Asia and Africa; and he had been instrumental in supplying thousands of
rifles to Border raiders, Persian bandits, and other potential
troublers of the pax Britannica. He now lived half his double
life in Indian dress and moved on many planes; and to many places where
even he could not penetrate unsuspected, his staunch and devoted slave,
Moussa Isa, went observant. And all that he learnt and knew, within and
without the confines of Ind, by itself disturbed him, as an
England-lover, not at all. Taken in conjunction with the probabilities
of a great European War it disturbed him mightily. As mightily as
unselfishly. To him the dripping weapon, the blazing roof, the
shrieking woman, the mangled corpse were but incidents, the
unavoidable, unobjectionable concomitants of the Great Game, the game
he most loved (and played upon every possible occasion)—War.
While, with one half of his soul, John Robin Ross-Ellison might fear
internal disruption, mutiny, rebellion and civil war for what it might
bring to the woman he loved, with the other half of his soul, Mir
Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan dwelt upon the joys of
battle, of campaigning, the bivouac, the rattle of rifle-fire, the
charge, the circumventing and slaying of the enemy, as he circumvents
that he may slay. Thus, it was with no selfish thought, no personal
dread, that he grew, as said, mightily disturbed at what he knew of
India whenever he saw signs of the extra imminence of the Great
European Armageddon that looms upon the horizon, now near, now nearer
still, now less near, but inevitably there, plain to the eyes of all
observant, informed and thoughtful men.
 Written in 1912.—AUTHOR.
What really astounded and appalled him was the mental attitude, the
mental condition, of British “statesmen,” who (while a mighty and
ever-growing neighbour, openly, methodically, implacably prepared for
the war that was to win her place in the sun) laboured to reap votes by
sowing class-hatred and devoted to national “insurance” moneys sorely
needed to insure national existence.
To him it was as though hens cackled of introducing
time-and-labour-saving incubators while the fox pressed against the
unfastened door, smiling to think that their cackle smothered all other
sounds ere they reached them or the watch-dog.
Yes—while England was at peace, all was well with India; but let
England find herself at war, fighting for her very existence ... and
India might, in certain parts, be an uncomfortable place for any but
the strong man armed, as soon as the British troops were withdrawn—as
they, sooner or later, most certainly would be. Then, feared Captain
John Robin Ross-Ellison of the Gungapur Fusiliers, the British Flag
would, for a terrible breathless period of stress and horror, fly,
assailed but triumphant, wherever existed a staunch well-handled
Volunteer Corps, and would flutter down into smoke, flames, ruin and
blood, where there did not. He was convinced that, for a period, the
lives of English women, children and men; English prosperity, prestige,
law and order; English rule and supremacy, would in some parts of India
depend for a time upon the Volunteers of India. At times he was
persuaded that the very continuance of the British Empire might depend
upon the Volunteers of India. If, during some Black Week (or Black
Month or Year) of England's death-struggle with her great rival she
lost India (defenceless India, denuded of British troops), she would
lose her Empire,—be the result of her European war what it might. And
knowing all that he knew, he feared for England, he feared for India,
he feared for the Empire. Also he determined that, so far as it lay in
the power of one war-trained man, the flag should be kept flying in
Gungapur when the Great European Armageddon commenced, and should fly
over a centre, and a shelter, for Mrs. Dearman, and for all who were
loyal and true.
That would be a work worthy of the English blood of him and of the
Pathan blood too. God! he would show some of these devious,
subterranean, cowardly swine what war is, if they brought war to
Gungapur in the hour of India's danger and need, the hour of England
and the Empire's danger and need.
And Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison (and still more Mir Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan), obsessed with the belief that a
different and more terrible 1857 would dawn with the first big reverse
in England's final war with her systematic, slow, sure, and certain
rival, her deliberate, scientific, implacable rival, gave all his
thoughts, abilities and time to the enthralling, engrossing game of
Perfecting his local system of secret information, hearing and
seeing all that he could with his own Pathan ears and eyes, and adding
to his knowledge by means of those of the Somali slave, he also learnt,
at first hand, what certain men were saying in Cabul and on the
Border—and what those men say in those places is worth knowing by the
meteorologist of world-politics. The pulse of the heart of Europe can
be felt very far from that heart, and as is the wrist to the
pulse-feeling doctor, is Afghanistan and the Border to the head of
India's Political Department; as is the doctor's sensitive thumb to the
doctor's brain, is the tried, trusted and approven agent of the Secret
Service to the Head of all the Politicals.... What chiefly troubled
Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison of the Gungapur Fusiliers was the
shocking condition of those same Fusiliers and the blind smug apathy,
the fatuous contentment, the short memories and shorter sight, of the
British Pompeians who were perfectly willing that the condition of the
said Fusiliers should remain so.
Clearly the first step towards a decently reliable and efficient
corps in Gungapur was the abolition of the present one, and, with
unformulated intentions towards its abolition, Mr. Ross-Ellison, by the
kind influence of Mrs. Dearman, joined as a Second Lieutenant and
speedily rose to the rank of Captain and the command of a Company. A
year's indefatigable work convinced him that he might as well endeavour
to fashion sword-blades from leaden pipes as to make a fighting unit of
his gang of essentially cowardly, peaceful, unreliable, feeble
nondescripts. That their bodies were contemptible he would have
regarded as merely deplorable, but there was no spirit, no soul, no
tradition—nothing upon which he could work. “Broken-down tapsters and
serving-men” indeed, in Cromwell's bitter words, and to be replaced by
“men of a spirit”.
They must go—and make way for men—if indeed men could be
found, men who realized that even an Englishman owes something to the
community when he goes abroad, in spite of his having grown up in a
land where honourable and manly National Service is not, and those who
keep him safe are cheap hirelings, cheaply held....
On the arrival of General Miltiades Murger he sat at his feet as
soon as, and whenever, possible; only to discover that he was not only
uninterested in, but obviously contemptuous of, volunteers and
volunteering. When, at the Dearmans' dinner-table, he endeavoured to
talk with the General on the subject he was profoundly discouraged, and
on his asking what was to happen when the white troops went home and
the Indian troops went to the Border, or even to Europe, as soon as
England's inevitable and final war broke out, he was also profoundly
When, after that dinner, General Miltiades Murger made love to Mrs.
Dearman on the verandah, he also made an enemy, a bitter, cruel, and
vindictive enemy of Mr. Ross-Ellison (or rather of Mir Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan).
Nor did his subsequent victory at the Horse Show lessen the enmity,
inasmuch as Mrs. Dearman (whom Ross-Ellison loved with the respectful
platonic devotion of an English gentleman and the fierce intensity of a
Pathan) took General Miltiades Murger at his own valuation, when that
hero described himself and his career to her by the hour. For the
General had succumbed at a glance, and confided to his Brigade-Major
that Mrs. Dearman was a dooced fine woman and the Brigade-Major might
say that he said so, damme.
As the General's infatuation increased he told everybody else
also—everybody except Colonel Dearman—who, of course, knew it
He even told Jobler, his soldier-servant, promoted butler, as that
sympathetic and admiring functionary endeavoured to induce him to go to
bed without his uniform.
At last he told Mrs. Dearman herself, as he saw her in the rosy
light that emanated from the fine old Madeira that fittingly capped a
noble luncheon given by him in her honour.
He also told her that he loved her as a father—and she besought him
not to be absurd. Later he loved her as an uncle, later still as a
cousin, later yet as a brother, and then as a man.
She had laughed deprecatingly at the paternal affection, doubtfully
at the avuncular, nervously at the cousinly, angrily at the
brotherly,—and not at all at the manly.
In fact—as the declaration of manly love had been accompanied by an
endeavour to salute what the General had called her damask-cheek—she
had slapped the General's own cheek a resounding blow....
“Called you 'Mrs. Darlingwoman,' did he!” roared Mr. Dearman upon
being informed of the episode. “Wished to salute your damask cheek, did
he! The boozy old villain! Damask cheek! Damned cheek! Where's
my dog-whip?” ... but Mrs. Dearman had soothed and restrained her lord
for the time being, and prevented him from insulting and assaulting the
“aged roue”—who was years younger, in point of fact, than the
clean-living Mr. Dearman himself.
But he had shut his door to the unrepentant and unashamed General,
had cut him in the Club, had returned a rudely curt answer to an
invitation to dinner, and had generally shown the offender that he trod
on dangerous ground when poaching on the preserves of Mr. Dearman.
Whereat the General fumed.
Also the General swore that he would cut the comb of this insolent
Further, he intimated his desire to inspect the Gungapur Fusiliers
“on Saturday next”.
Not the great and terrible Annual Inspection, of course, but a
preliminary canter in that direction.
Doubtless, the new General desired to arrive at a just estimate of
the value of this unit of his Command, and to allot to it the place for
which it was best fitted in the scheme of local defence and things
military at Gungapur.
Perhaps he desired to teach the presumptuous upstart, Dearman, a
The Brigade Major's demy-official letter, bearing the intimation of
the impending visitation—fell as a bolt from the blue and smote the
Colonel of the Gungapur Fusiliers a blow that turned his heart to water
and loosened the tendons of his knees.
The very slack Adjutant was at home on leave; the Sergeant-Major was
absolutely new to the Corps; the Sergeant-Instructor was alcoholic and
ill; and there was not a company officer, except the admirable Captain
John Robin Ross-Ellison, competent to drill a company as a separate
unit, much less to command one in a battalion. And Captain John Robin
Ross-Ellison was away on an alleged shikar-trip across the
distant Border. Colonel Dearman knew his battalion-drill. He also knew
his Gungapur Fusiliers and what they did when they received the orders
of those feared and detested evolutions. They walked about, each man a
law unto himself, or stood fast until pushed in the desired direction
by blasphemous drill-corporals.
Nor could any excuse be found wherewith to evade the General. It was
near the end of the drill-season, the Corps was up to its full
strength, all the Officers were in the station—except Captain
Ross-Ellison and the Adjutant. And the Adjutant's absence could not be
made a just cause and impediment why the visit of the General should
not be paid, for Colonel Dearman had with some difficulty, procured the
appointment of one of his Managers as acting-adjutant.
To do so he had been moved to describe the man as an “exceedingly
smart and keen Officer,” and to state that the Corps would in no way
suffer by this temporary change from a military to a civilian adjutant,
from a professional to an amateur.
Perhaps the Colonel was right—it would have taken more than that to
make the Gungapur Fusiliers “suffer”.
And all had gone exceeding well up to the moment of the receipt of
this terrible demi-official, for the Acting-Adjutant had signed papers
when and where the Sergeant-Major told him, and had saluted the Colonel
respectfully every Saturday evening at five, as he came on parade, and
suggested that the Corps should form fours and march round and round
the parade ground, prior to attempting one or two simple movements—as
No. It would have to be—unless, of course, the General had a stroke
before Saturday, or was smitten with delirium tremens in time.
For it was an article of faith with Colonel Dearman since the
disgraceful episode—that a “stroke” hung suspended by the thinnest of
threads above the head of the “aged roue” and that, moreover, he
trembled on the verge of a terrible abyss of alcoholic diseases—a
belief strengthened by the blue face, boiled eye, congested veins and
shaking hand of the breaker of hearts. And Colonel Dearman knew that he
must not announce the awful fact until the Corps was actually
present—or few men and fewer Officers would find it possible to be on
parade on that occasion.
Saturday evening came, and with it some five hundred men and
Officers—the latter as a body, much whiter-faced than usual, on
receipt of the appalling news.
“Thank God I have nothing to do but sit around on my horse,”
murmured Major Pinto.
“Don't return thanks yet,” snapped Colonel Dearman. “You'll very
likely have to drill the battalion”—and the Major went as white as his
natural disadvantages permitted.
Bitterly did Captain Trebizondi regret his constant insistence upon
the fact that he was senior Captain—for he was given command of “A"
Company, the post of honour and danger in front of all, and was
implored to “pull it through” and not to stand staring like an owl when
the Colonel said the battalion would advance; or turn to the left when
he shouted “In succession advance in fours from the right of
And in the orderly-room was much hurried consulting of Captain
Ross-Ellison's well-trained subaltern and of drill-books; and a babel
of such questions as: “I say, what the devil do I do if I'm commanding
Number Two and he says 'Deploy outwards'? Go to the right or left?”
More than one gallant officer was seen scribbling for dear life upon
his shirt-cuff, while others, to the common danger, endeavoured to
practise the complicated sword-brandishment which is consequent upon
the order “Fall out the Officers”.
Colonel Dearman appealed to his brothers-in-arms to stand by him
nobly in his travail, but was evidently troubled by the fear that some
of them would stand by him when they ought to march by him. Captain
Petropaulovski, the acting-adjutant, endeavoured to moisten his parched
lips with a dry tongue and sat down whenever opportunity offered.
Captain Euxino Spoophitophiles was seen to tear a page from a red
manual devoted to instruction in the art of drill and to secrete it as
one “palms” a card—if one is given to the palming of cards. Captain
Schloggenboschenheimer was heard to promise a substantial trink-geld, pour-boire, or vot-you-call-tip to Sergeant-Instructor Progg in
the event of the latter official remaining mit him and prompting him
mit der-vord-to-say ven it was necessary for him der-ting-to-do.
Too late, Captain Da Costa bethought him of telephoning to his wife
(to telephone back to himself imploring him to return at once as she
was parlous ill and sinking fast), for even as he stepped quietly
toward the telephone-closet the Sergeant-Major bustled in with a salute
and the fatal words:—
“'Ere's the General, Sir!”
“For God's sake get on parade and play the man this day,” cried
Colonel Dearman, as he hurried out to meet the General, scoring his
right boot with his left spur and tripping over his sword en route.
* * * * *
The General greeted the Colonel as a total stranger, addressed him
as “Colonel,” and said he anticipated great pleasure from this his
first visit to the well-known Gungapur Fusiliers. He did, and he got
Dismounting slowly and heavily from his horse (almost as though “by
numbers") the General, followed by his smart and dapper Brigade-Major
and the perspiring Colonel Dearman, strode with clank of steel and
creak of leather, through the Headquarters building and emerged upon
the parade-ground where steadfast stood seven companies of the Gungapur
Fusilier Volunteers in quarter column—more or less at “attention”.
“'Shun!” bawled Colonel Dearman, and those who were “at ease"
'shunned, and those who were already 'shunning took their ease.
“'Shun!” again roared the Colonel, and those who were now in
that military position relinquished it—while those who were not,
assumed it in their own good time.
As the trio drew nigh unto the leading company, Captain Trebizondi,
coyly lurking behind its rear rank, shrilly screamed, “'A' Gompany!
Royal Salutes! Present Arrrrms!” while a volunteer, late a private of
the Loyal Whitechapel Regiment, and now an unwilling member of this
corps of auxiliary troops, audibly ejaculated through one corner of his
“Don't you do nothink o' the sort!” and added a brief orison in
prejudice of his eyesight.
Certain of “A's” stalwarts obeyed their Captain, while others took
the advice of the volunteer—who was known to have been a man of war in
the lurid past, and to understand these matters.
Lieutenant Toddywallah tugged valiantly at his sword for a space,
but finding that weapon coy and unwilling to leave its sheath, he
raised his helmet gracefully and respectfully to the General. His
manner was always polished.
“What the devil are they doing?” inquired the General.
“B,” “C,” “D,” “E,” “F,” and “G” Companies breathed hard and
protruded their stomachs, while Sergeant-Instructor Progg deserved well
of Captain Schloggenboschenheimer by sharply tugging his tunic-tail as
he was in the act of roaring:—
“Gomm—!” the first syllable of the word “Company,” with a
view to bestowing a royal salute likewise. Instead, the Captain
extended the hand of friendship to the General as he approached. The
look of nil admirari boredom slowly faded from the face of the
smart and dapper Brigade-Major, and for a while it displayed quite
Up and down and between the ranks strode the trio, the General
making instructive and interesting comments from time to time, such
“Are your buttons of metal or bone, my man? Polish them and find
“What did you cook in that helmet?”
“Take your belt in seven holes, and put it where your waist was.”
“Are you fourteen years old yet?”
“Personally I don't care to see brown boots, patent shoes nor carpet
slippers with uniform.”
“And when were you ninety, my poor fellow?”
“Get your belly out of my way.”
“Put this unclean person under arrest or under a pump, please,
“Can you load a rifle unaided?” and so forth.
The last-mentioned query “Can you load a rifle unaided?” addressed
to a weedy youth of seventeen who stood like a living
mark-of-interrogation, elicited the reply:—
“Oh, really! And what can you do?” replied the General
“Load a rifle Lee-Metford,” was the prompt answer.
The General smiled wintrily, and, at the conclusion of his
peregrination, remarked to Colonel Dearman:—
“Well, Colonel, I can safely say that I have never inspected a corps
quite like yours”—an observation capable of various
interpretations—and intimated a desire to witness some company drill
ere testing the abilities of the regiment in battalion drill.
“Let the rear company march out and go through some movements,” said
“Why the devil couldn't he have chosen Ross-Ellison's company,”
thought Colonel Dearman, as he saluted and lifted up his voice and
“Captain Rozario! March 'G' Company out for some company-drill.
Captain Rozario paled beneath the bronze imparted to his
well-nourished face by the suns of Portugal (or Goa), drew his sword,
dropped it, picked it up, saluted with his left hand and backed into
Lieutenant Xenophontis of “F” Company, who asked him vare the devil he
was going to—hein?...
To the first cold stroke of fright succeeded the hot flush of rage
as Captain Rozario saw the absurdity of ordering him to march his
company out for company drill. How in the name of all the Holy Saints
could he march his company out with six companies planted in front of
him? Let them be cleared away first. To his men he ejaculated:—
“Compannee——!” and they accepted the remark in silence.
The silence growing tense he further ejaculated “Ahem!” very loudly,
without visible result or consequence. The silence growing tenser,
Colonel Dearman said encouragingly but firmly:—
“Do something, Captain Rozario”.
Captain Rozario did something. He drew his whistle. He blew it. He
replaced it in his pocket.
Nothing happening, he took his handkerchief from his sleeve, blew
his nose therewith and dropped it (the handkerchief) upon the ground.
Seven obliging volunteers darted forward to retrieve it.
“May we expect the evolutions this evening, Colonel?” inquired
General Murger politely.
“We are waiting for you to move off, Captain Rozario,” stated
“Sir, how can I move off with oll the rest in my front?”
inquired Captain Rozario reasonably.
“Form fours, right, and quick march,” prompted the Sergeant-Major,
and Captain Rozario shrilled forth:
“Form right fours and march quick,” at the top of his voice.
Many members of “G” Company turned to their right and marched
towards the setting-sun, while some turned to their left and marched in
the direction of China.
These latter, discovering in good time that they had erred, hurried
to rejoin their companions—and “G” Company was soon in full swing if
not in fours....
There is a limit to all enterprise and the march of “G” Company was
stayed by a high wall.
Then Captain Rozario had an inspiration.
“About turn,” he shrieked—and “G” Company about turned as one man,
if not in one direction.
The march of “G” Company was stayed this time by the battalion into
which it comfortably nuzzled.
Again Captain Rozario seized the situation and acted promptly and
“Halt!” he squeaked, and “G” Company halted—in form an oblate
Some of its members removed their helmets and the sweat of their
brows, some re-fastened bootlaces and putties or unfastened restraining
hooks and buttons. One gracefully succumbed to his exertions and
fainting fell, with an eye upon the General.
“Interestin' evolution,” remarked that Officer. “Demmed interestin'.
May we have some more?”
“Get on, Captain Rozario,” implored Colonel Dearman. “Let's see some
“One hundred and twenty-five paces backward march,” cried Captain
Rozario after a brief calculation, and “G” Company reluctantly detached
itself from the battalion, backwards.
“Turn round this away and face to me,” continued the gallant
Captain, “and then on the left form good companee.”
The oblate spheroid assumed an archipelagic formation, melting into
irregularly-placed military islands upon a sea of dust.
“Oll get together and left dress, please,” besought Captain
Rozario, and many of the little islands amalgamated with that on their
extreme right while the remainder gravitated to their left—the result
being two continents of unequal dimensions.
As Captain Rozario besought these disunited masses to conjoin, the
voice of the General was heard in the land—
“Kindly order that mob to disperse before it is fired on, will you,
Colonel? They can go home and stay there,” said he.
Captain Rozario was a man of sensibility and he openly wept.
No one could call this a good beginning—nor could they have called
the ensuing battalion-drill a good ending.
“Put the remainder of the battalion through some simple movements if
they know any,” requested the General.
Determined to retrieve the day yet, Colonel Dearman saluted, cleared
his throat terrifically and shouted: '“Tallish, 'shun!” with such force
that a nervous man in the front rank of “A” Company dropped his rifle
and several “presented” arms.
Only one came to the “slope,” two to the “trail” and four to the
Men already at attention again stood at ease, while men already at
ease again stood at attention.
Disregarding these minor contretemps, Colonel Dearman clearly
and emphatically bellowed:—
“The battalion will advance. In succession, advance in fours from
the left of companies—”
“Why not tell off the battalion—just for luck?” suggested General
“Tell off the battalion,” said Colonel Dearman in his natural voice
and an unnaturally crestfallen manner.
Captain Trebizondi of “A” Company glared to his front, and instead
of replying “Number One” in a loud voice, held his peace—tight.
But his lips moved constantly, and apparently Captain Trebizondi was
engaged in silent prayer.
“Tell off the battalion,” bawled the Colonel again.
Captain Trebizondi's lips moved constantly.
“Will you tell off the dam battalion, Sir?” shouted the
Colonel at the enrapt supplicant.
Whether Captain Trebizondi is a Mohammedan I am not certain, but, if
so, he may have remembered words of the Prophet to the effect that it
is essential to trust in Allah absolutely, and expedient to tie up your
camel yourself, none the less. Captain Trebizondi was trusting in Allah
perchance—but he had not tied up his camel; he had not learnt his
And when Colonel Dearman personally and pointedly appealed to him in
the matter of the battalion's telling-off, he turned round and faced it
“Ah—battalion—er—” in a very friendly and persuasive voice.
Then a drill corporal took it upon him to bawl Number One as
Captain Trebizondi should have done, some one shouted Number Two
from “B” Company, the colour-sergeant of “C” bawled Number Three
and then, with ready wit, the Captains of “D,” “E,” and “F” caught up
the idea, and the thing was done.
So far so good.
And the Colonel returned to his first venture and again announced to
the battalion that it would advance in succession and in fours from the
left of companies.
It bore the news with equanimity and Captain Trebizondi visibly
brightened at the idea of leaving the spot on which he had suffered and
sweated—but he took no steps in the matter personally.
He tried to scratch his leg through his gaiter.
“'A' Company going this evening?” inquired the General. “Wouldn't
hurry you, y'know, but—I dine at nine.”
Captain Trebizondi remembered his parade-manners and threw a chest
instead of a stomach.
The jerk caused his helmet to tilt forward over his eyes and settle
down slowly and firmly upon his face as a fallen cliff upon the beach
“The Officer commanding the leading company appears to be trying to
hide,” commented General Murger.
Captain Trebizondi uncovered his face—a face of great promise but
“Will you march your company off, sir,” shouted Colonel
Dearman, “the battalion is waiting for you.”
With a look of reproachful surprise and an air of “Why couldn't you
say so?” the harassed Captain agitated his sword violently as a salute,
turned to his company and boomed finely:—
The Company obeyed its Commander.
Seeing the thing so easy of accomplishment Captains
Allessandropoulos, Schloggenboschenheimer, Da Costa, Euxino,
Spoophitophiles and Jose gave the same order and the battalion was in
motion—marching to its front in quarter-column instead of wheeling off
Unsteadily shoulder from shoulder,
Unsteadily blade from blade,
Unsteady and wrong, slouching along,
Went the boys of the old brigade.
“Halt,” roared Colonel Dearman.
“Oh, don't halt 'em,” begged General Murger, “it's the most
entertainin' show I have ever seen.”
The smart and dapper Brigade-Major's mouth was open.
Major Pinto and Captain-and-Acting-Adjutant Petropaulovski forgot to
cling to their horses with hand and heel and so endangered their lives.
The non-commissioned officers of the permanent staff commended their
souls to God and marched as men in a dream.
On hearing the Colonel's cry of “Halt” many of the men halted. Not
hearing the Colonel's cry of “Halt” many of the men did not halt.
In two minutes the battalion was without form and void.
In ten minutes the permanent staff had largely re-sorted it and, to
a great extent, re-formed the original companies.
Captain Jose offered his subaltern, Lieutenant Bylegharicontractor,
a hundred rupees to change places with him.
Offer refused, with genuine and deep regret, but firmly.
“Shall we have another try, Colonel,” inquired General Murger
silkily. “Any amount of real initiative and originality about this
Corps. But I am old-fashioned enough to prefer drill-book evolutions on
the barrack-square, I confess. Er—let the Major carry on as it is
Colonel Dearman's face flushed a rich dark purple. His eyes
protruded till they resembled those of a crab. His red hair appeared to
flame like very fire. His lips twitched and he gasped for breath. Could
he believe his ears. “Let the Major carry on as it is getting late!” Let him step into the breach “as it is getting late!” Let the more
competent, though junior, officer take over the command “as it is
getting late”. Ho!—likewise Ha! This aged roue, this miserable
wine-bibbing co-respondent, with his tremulous hand and boiled eye,
thought that Colonel Dearman did not know his drill, did he? Wanted the
wretched and incompetent Pinto to carry on, did he?—as it was getting
Good! Ha! Likewise Ho! “Let Pinto carry on as it was getting late!”
Very well! If it cost Colonel Dearman every penny he had in the
world he would have his revenge on the insolent scoundrel. He might
think he could insult Colonel Dearman's wife with impunity, he might
think himself entitled to cast ridicule on Colonel Dearman's Corps—but
“let the Major carry on as it is getting late!” By God that was too
much!—That was the last straw that breaks the camel's heart—and
Colonel Dearman would have his revenge or lose life, honour, and wealth
in the attempt.
Ha! and, moreover, Ho!
The Colonel knew his battalion-drill by heart and backwards. Was it
his fault that his officers were fools and his men damn-fools?
Major Pinto swallowed hard, blinked hard, and breathed hard. Like
the Lady of Shallott he felt that the curse had come upon him.
“Battalion will advance. Quick march,” he shouted, as a safe
beginning. But the Sergeant-Major had by this time fully explained to
the sweating Captain Trebizondi that he should have given the order
“Form fours. Left. Right wheel. Quick march,” when the Colonel had
announced that the battalion would advance “in succession from the left
Like lightning he now hurled forth the orders. “Form fours. Left.
Right wheel. Quick march.”, and the battalion was soon under way with
one company in column of fours and the remaining five companies in
Time cures all troubles, and in time “A” Company was pushed and
pulled back into line again.
The incident pleased Major Pinto as it wasted the fleeting minutes
and gave him a chance to give the only other order of which he was
“That was oll wrong,” said he. “We will now, however, oll
advance as 'A' Company did. The arder will be 'Battalion will advance.
In succession, advance in fours from the right of companees.' Thenn
each officer commanding companees will give the arder 'Form fours.
Right. Left wheel. Quick march' one after thee other.”
And the Major gave the order.
To the surprise of every living soul upon the parade-ground the
manoeuvre was correctly executed and the battalion moved off in column
of fours. And it kept on moving. And moving. For Major Pinto had come
to the end of his tether.
“Do something, man,” said Colonel Dearman with haughty scorn,
after some five minutes of strenuous tramping had told severely on the
morale of the regiment.
And Major Pinto, hoping for the best and fearing the worst, lifted
up his voice and screamed:—
“On the right form battalion!”
Let us draw a veil.
The adjective that General Murger used with the noun he called the
Gungapur Fusiliers is not to be printed.
The address he made to that Corps after it had once more found
itself would have led a French or Japanese regiment to commit suicide
by companies, taking the time from the right. A Colonel of Romance Race
would have fallen on his sword at once (and borrowed something more
lethal had it failed to penetrate).
But the corps, though not particularly British, was neither French
nor Japanese and was very glad of the rest while the General talked.
And Colonel Dearman, instead of falling on his sword, fell on General
Murger (in spirit) and swore to be revenged tenfold.
He would have his own back, cost what it might, or his name was not
Dearman—and he was going Home on leave immediately after the Volunteer
Annual Camp of Exercise, just before General Murger retired....
“I shall inspect your corps in camp,” General Murger had said, “and
the question of its disbandment may wait until I have done so.”
Disbandment! The question of the disbandment of the
fine and far-famed Fusiliers of Gungapur could wait till then, could
it? Well and good! Ha! and likewise Ho!
On Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison's return from leave, Colonel
Dearman told that officer of General Murger's twofold insult—to
Colonel Dearman's wife and to Colonel Dearman's Corps. On hearing of
the first, Captain Ross-Ellison showed his teeth in a wolfish and ugly
manner, and, on hearing of the second, propounded a scheme of vengeance
that made Colonel Dearman grin and then burst into a roar of laughter.
He bade Captain Ross-Ellison dine with him and elaborate details of the
* * * * *
To rumours of General Murger's failing health and growing alcoholism
Colonel Dearman listened with interest—nay, satisfaction. Stories of
seizures, strokes and “goes” of delirium tremens met with no
rebuke nor contradiction from him—and an air of leisured ease and
unanxious peacefulness pervaded the Gungapur Fusiliers. If any member
had thought that the sad performance of the fatal Saturday night and
the winged words of General Murger were to be the prelude to period of
fierce activity and frantic preparation, he was mistaken. It was almost
as though Colonel Dearman believed that General Murger would not live
to carry out his threat.
The corps paraded week by week, fell in, marched round the ground
and fell out again. There was no change of routine, no increase of
work, no stress, no strain.
All was peace, the corps was happy, and in the fullness of time (and
the absence of the Adjutant) it went to Annual Camp of Exercise a few
miles from Gungapur. And there the activities of Captain John Robin
Ross-Ellison and a large band of chosen men were peculiar. While the
remainder, with whom went Colonel Dearman, the officers, and the
permanent staff, marched about in the usual manner and enjoyed the
picnic, these others appeared to be privately and secretly rehearsing a
more specialized part—to the mystification and wonder of the said
remainder. Even on the great day, the day of the Annual Inspection,
this division was maintained and the “remainder” were marched off to
the other side of the wood adjacent to the Camp, some couple of hours
before the expected arrival of the General, who would come out by
The arrangement was that the horses of the General and the
Brigade-Major should await those officers at the camp station, and
that, on arrival, they would be mounted by their owners who would then
ride to the camp, a furlong distant. Near the camp a mounted orderly
would meet the General and escort him to the spot where the battalion,
with Colonel Dearman at its head, would be drawn up for his inspection.
A large bungalow, used as the Officers' Mess, a copse, and a hillock
completely screened the spot used as the battalion parade-ground, from
the view of one approaching the Camp, and the magnificent sight of the
Gungapur Fusiliers under arms would burst upon him only when he rounded
the corner of a wall of palms, cactus, and bamboos, and entered by a
narrow gap between it and a clump of dense jungle.
* * * * *
General Murger was feeling distinctly bad as he sat on the edge of
his bed and viewed with the eye of disfavour the choti hazri
set forth for his delectation.
 “Little presence,” early breakfast, petit dejeuner.
As he intended to inspect the Volunteers in the early morning and
return to a mid-day breakfast, the choti hazri was substantial,
though served on a tray in his bedroom.
The General yawned, rubbed his eyes and grunted.
“Eggs be demmed,” said he.
“Toast be demmed,” he said.
“Tea be demmed,” he shouted.
“Pate de fois gras be demmed,” shouted he.
“Jobler! Bring me a bottle of beer,” he roared.
“No, bring me a brandy-cocktail,” roared he.
For the brandy-cocktail the General felt better for a time but he
wished, first, that his hand would not shake in such a way that
hair-brushing was difficult and shaving impossible; secondly, that the
prevailing colour of everything was not blue; thirdly, that he did not
feel giddy when he stood up; fourthly, that his head did not ache;
fifthly, that his mouth would provide some other flavour than that of a
glue-coated copper coin; sixthly, that things would keep still and his
boots cease to smile at him from the corner; seventhly, that he had not
gone to the St. Andrew's dinner last night, begun on punch a la
Romaine, continued on neat whisky in quaichs and finished on
port, liqueurs, champagne and haphazard brandy-and-sodas,
whisky-and-sodas, and any old thing that was handy; and eighthly, that
he had had a quart of beer instead of the brandy-cocktail for choti
But that could easily be remedied by having the beer now. The
General had the beer and soon wished that he hadn't, for it made him
feel very bad indeed.
However, a man must do his dooty, ill or well, and when the
Brigade-Major sent up to remind the General that the train went at
seven, he was answered by the General himself and a hint that he was
officious. During the brief train-journey the General slumbered.
On mounting his horse, the General was compelled to work out a
If one has four fingers there must be three inter-finger spaces, eh?
Granted. Then how the devil are four reins to go into three places
between four fingers, eh? Absurd idea, an' damsilly. However, till the
matter was referred to the War Office and finally settled, one could
put two reins between two fingers or pass one outside the lill' finger,
what? But the General hated compromises.... The mounted orderly met the
General, saluted and directed him to the entrance to the tree-encircled
camp and parade-ground.
At the entrance, the General, leading, reined in so sharply as to
throw his horse on its haunches—his mouth fell open, his mottled face
went putty-coloured, and each hair that he possessed appeared to
He uttered a deep groan, rubbed his eyes, emitted a yell, wheeled
round and galloped for dear life, with a cry, nay a scream, of “I've
got 'em at last,” followed by his utterly bewildered but
ever-faithful Brigade-Major, who had seen nothing but foliage, scrub,
and cactus. To Gungapur the General galloped without drawing rein, took
to his bed, sent for surgeon and priest—and became a teetotaller.
And what had he seen?
The affair is wrapped in mystery.
The Brigade-Major says nothing because he knows nothing, as it
happens, and the Corps declared it was never inspected. Father Ignatius
knows what the General saw, or thinks he saw, and so does the
Surgeon-General, but neither is in the habit of repeating confessions
and confidences. What Jobler, at the keyhole, understood him to say he
had seen, or thought he had seen, is not to be believed.
Judge of it.
“I rode into the dem place and what did I behold? A dem pandemonium,
Sir, a pantomime—a lunatic asylum, Sir—all Hell out for a Bank
Holiday, I tell you. There was a battalion of Red Indians, Negroes,
Esquimaux, Ballet Girls, Angels, Sweeps, Romans, Sailors, Pierrots,
Savages, Bogeymen, Ancient Britons, Bishops, Zulus, Pantaloons,
Beef-eaters, Tramps, Life-Guards, Washerwomen, Ghosts, Clowns and
God-knows-what, armed with jezails, umbrellas, brooms, catapults,
pikes, brickbats, kukeries, pokers, clubs, axes,
horse-pistols, bottles, dead fowls, polo-sticks, assegais and bombs.
They were commanded by a Highlander in a bum-bee tartan kilt, top-hat
and one sock, with a red nose a foot long, riding on a rocking horse
and brandishing a dem great cucumber and a tea-tray made into a shield.
There was a thundering great drain-pipe mounted on a bullock-cart and a
naked man, painted blue, in a cocked-hat, laying an aim and firing a
penny-pistol down the middle of it and yelling 'Pip!'
 Ghurka knives.
“There was a chauffeur in smart livery on an elephant, twirling a
steering-wheel on its neck for dear life, and tooting a big
motor-horn.. There was a fat man in a fireman's helmet and pyjamas,
armed with a peashooter, riding a donkey backwards—and the moke wore
two pairs of trousers!... As I rubbed my poor old eyes, the devil in
command howled 'General salaam. Pre_sent-legs'—and every fiend there
fell flat on his face and raised his right leg up behind—I tell you,
Sir, I fled for my life, and—no more liquor for me.” ...
When ex-Colonel Dearman heard any reference to this mystery he
roared with laughter—but it was the Last Muster of the fine and
far-famed Gungapur Fusiliers, as such.
The Corps was disbanded forthwith and re-formed on a different basis
(of quality instead of quantity) with Lieutenant-Colonel John Robin
Ross-Ellison, promoted, in command—he having caught the keen eye of
that splendid soldier and gentleman Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur
Barnet, K.C.V.O., K.C.S.I. (G.O.C., XVIth Division), as being the very
man for the job of re-organizing the Corps, and making it worth its
“If I could get Captain Malet-Marsac as Adjutant and a
Sergeant-Major of whom I know (used to be at Duri—man named
Lawrence-Smith) I'd undertake to show you something, Sir, in a year or
two,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Ross-Ellison.
“Malet-Marsac you can certainly have,” replied Sir Arthur Barnet.
“I'll speak to your new Brigadier. If you can find your Lawrence-Smith
we'll see what can be done.” ...
And Lieutenant-Colonel Ross-Ellison wrote to Sergeant-Major
Lawrence-Smith of the Duri Volunteer Rifles to know if he would like a
transfer upon advantageous terms, and got no reply.
As it happened, Lieutenant-Colonel Ross-Ellison, in very different
guise, had seen Sergeant Lawrence-Smith extricate and withdraw his
officerless company from the tightest of tight places (on the Border)
in a manner that moved him to large admiration. It had been a case of
“and even the ranks of Tuscany” on the part of Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras
el-Isan Ilderim Dost Mahommed.... Later he had encountered him and
Captain Malet-Marsac at Duri.
Sec. 3. SERGEANT-MAJOR LAWRENCE-SMITH.
Mrs. Pat Dearman was sceptical.
“Do you mean to tell me that you, a man of science, an
eminent medical man, and a soldier, believe in the supernatural?”
“Well, you see, I'm 'Oirish' and therefore unaccountable,” replied
Colonel Jackson (of the Royal Army Medical Corps), fine doctor, fine
scholar, and fine gentleman.
“And you believe in haunted houses and ghosts and things, do you?
The salted-almond dish was empty, and Mrs. Dearman accused her other
neighbour, Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison. Having already prepared to meet
and rebut the charge of greediness he made passes over the vessel and
it was replenished.
“Supernatural!” said she.
“Most,” said he.
She prudently removed the dish to the far side of her plate—and
Colonel Jackson emptied it.
Not having prepared to meet the request to replenish the store a
second time, it was useless for Mr. Ross-Ellison to make more passes
when commanded so to do.
“The usual end of the 'supernatural,'“ observed Mrs. Dearman with
“Most usual,” said he.
“More than 'most,'“ corrected Mrs. Dearman. “It is the invariable
end of it, I believe. Just humbug and rubbish. It is either an
invention, pure and simple, or else it is perfectly explicable. Don't
you think so, Colonel Jackson?”
“Not always,” said her partner. “Now, will you, first, believe my
word, and, secondly, find the explanation—if I tell you a perfectly
true 'supernatural' story?”
“I'll certainly believe your word, Colonel, if you're serious, and
I'll try and suggest an explanation if you like,” replied Mrs. Dearman.
“Same to me, Mrs. Dearman?” asked Mr. Ross-Ellison. “I've had
'experiences' too—and can tell you one of them.”
“Same to you, Mr. Ross-Ellison,” replied Mrs. Dearman, and added:
“But why only one of them?”
Mr. Ross-Ellison smiled, glanced round the luxuriously appointed
table and the company of fair women and brave men—and thought of a
far-distant and little-known place called Mekran Kot and of a phantom
cavalry corps that haunted a valley in its vicinity.
“Only one worth telling,” said he.
“Well,—first case,” began Colonel Jackson, “I was once driving past
a cottage on my way home from College (in Ireland), and I saw the old
lady who lived in that cottage come out of the door, cross her bit of
garden, go through a gate, scuttle over the railway-line and enter a
fenced field that had belonged to her husband, and which she (and a
good many other people) believed rightly belonged to her.
“'There goes old Biddy Maloney pottering about in that plot of
ground again,' thinks I. 'She's got it on the brain since her
law-suit.' I knew it was Biddy, of course, not only because of her
coming out of Biddy's house, but because it was Biddy's figure, walk,
crutch-stick, and patched old cloak. When I got home I happened to say
to Mother: 'I saw poor old Biddy Maloney doddering round that wretched
field as I came along'.
“'What?' said my mother, 'why, your father was called to her, as she
was dying, hours ago, and she's not been out of her bed for weeks.'
When my father came in, I learned that Biddy was dead an hour before I
saw her—before I left the railway station in fact! What do you make of
that? Is there any 'explanation'?”
“Some other old lady,” suggested Mrs. Dearman.
“No. There was nobody else in those parts mistakable for Biddy
Maloney, and no other old woman was in or near the house while my
father was there. We sifted the matter carefully. It was Biddy Maloney
and no one else.”
“Auto-suggestion. Visualization on the retina of an idea in the
mind. Optical illusion,” hazarded Mrs. Dearman.
“No good. I hadn't realized I was approaching Biddy Maloney's
cottage until I saw her coming out of it and I certainly hadn't thought
of Biddy Maloney until my eye fell upon her. And it's a funny optical
illusion that deceives one into seeing an old lady opening gates,
crossing railways and limping away into fenced fields.”
“H'm! What was the other case?” asked Mrs. Dearman, turning to Mr.
“That happened here in India at a station called Duri, away in the
Northern Presidency, where I was then—er—living for a time. On the
day after my arrival I went to call on Malet-Marsac to whom I had
letters of introduction—political business—and, as he was out, but
certain to return in a minute or two from Parade, I sat me down in a
comfortable chair in the verandah——”
“And went to sleep?” interrupted Mrs. Dearman.
'“I nevah sleep,'“ quoted Mr. Ross-Ellison, “and I had no
time, if any inclination. Scarcely indeed had I seated myself, and
actually while I was placing my topi on an adjacent stool, a
lady emerged from a distant door at the end of the verandah and walked
towards me. I can tell you I was mighty surprised, for not only was
Captain Malet-Marsac a lone bachelor and a misogynist of blameless
life, but the lady looked as though she had stepped straight out of an
Early Victorian phonograph-album. She had on a crinoline sort of dress,
a deep lace collar, spring-sidey sort of boots, mittens, and a huge
cameo brooch. Also she had long ringlets. Her face is stamped on my
memory and I could pick her out from a hundred women similarly dressed,
or her picture from a hundred others....”
“What did you do?” asked Mrs. Dearman, whose neglected ice-pudding
was fast being submerged in a pink lake of its own creation.
“Do? Nothing. I grabbed my topi, stood up, bowed—and looked
“And what did the lady do?”
“Came straight on, taking no notice whatsoever of me, until she
reached the steps leading into the porch and garden.... She passed down
these and out of my sight.... That is the plain statement of an actual
fact. Have you any 'explanation' to offer?”
“Well—what about a lady staying there, unexpectedly and unbeknownst
(to the station), trying on a get-up for a Fancy Dress Ball. Going as
'My ancestress' or something?” suggested Mrs. Dearman.
“Exactly what I told myself, though I knew it was nothing of
the kind.... Well, five minutes later Malet-Marsac rode up the drive
and we were soon fraternizing over cheroots and cold drinks.... As I
was leaving, an idea struck me, and I saw a way to ask a
question—which was burning my tongue,—without being too rudely
“'By the way,' said I, 'I fear I did not send in the right number of
visiting cards, but they told me there was no lady here, so I only sent
in one—for you.'
“'There is no lady here,' he replied, eyeing me queerly.
'What made you think you had been misinformed?'
“'Well,' said I bluntly, 'a lady came out of the end room just now,
walked down the verandah, and went out into the garden. You'd better
see if anything is missing as she's not an inhabitant!'
“'No—there won't be anything missing,' he replied. 'Did she wear a
crinoline and a general air of last century?'
“'She did,' said I.
“'Our own private ghost,' was the answer—and it was the sort of
statement I had anticipated. Now I solemnly assure you that at that
time I had never heard, read, nor dreamed that there was a 'ghost' in
this bungalow, nor in Duri—nor in the whole Northern Presidency for
“'What's the story?' I asked, of course.
“'Mutiny. 1857,' said Malet-Marsac. 'Husband shot on the
parade-ground. She got the news and marched straight to the spot. They
cut her in pieces as she held his body in her arms. Lots of people have
seen her—anywhere between that room and the parade-ground.'
“'Then you have to believe in ghosts—in Duri, or how do you account
for it?' I asked.
“'I don't bother my head,' he replied. 'But I have seen that poor
lady a good many times. And no one told me a word about her until after
I had seen her.'“
And then Mrs. Dearman suddenly rose, as her hostess “caught” the
collective female eye of the table.
“Was all that about the 'ghosts' of the old Irishwoman and the Early
Victorian Lady true, you fellows?” asked John Bruce, the Professor of
Engineering, after coffee, cigars and the second glass of port had
reconciled the residue or sediment to the departure of the sterner sex.
“Didn't you hear me say my story was true?” replied Colonel Jackson
brusquely. “It was absolutely and perfectly true.”
“Same here,” added Mr. Ross-Ellison.
“Then on two separate occasions you two have seen what you can only
believe to be the ghosts of dead people?”
“On one occasion I have, without any possibility of error or doubt,
seen the ghost of a dead person,” said Colonel Jackson.
“Have you ever come across any other thoroughly substantiated cases
of ghost-seeing—cases which have really convinced you, Colonel?”
queried Mr. Ross-Ellison—being deeply interested in the subject by
reason of queer powers and experiences of his own.
“Yes. Many in which I fully believe, and one about which I am
certain. A very interesting case—and a very cruel tragedy.”
“Would you mind telling me about it?” asked Mr. Ross-Ellison.
“Pleasure. More—I'll give you as interesting and convincing a
'human document' about it as ever you read, if you like.”
“I shall be eternally grateful,” replied the other.
“It was a sad and sordid business. The man, whose last written words
I'll give you to read, was a Sergeant-Major in the Volunteer Rifles
(also at Duri where I was stationed, as you know) and he was a
gentleman born and bred, poor chap.” ["Lawrence-Smith,” murmured Mr.
John Robin Ross-Ellison with an involuntary movement of surprise. His
eyebrows rose and his jaw fell.] “Yes, he was that rare bird a
gentleman-ranker who remained a gentleman and a ranker—and became a
fine soldier. He called himself Lawrence-Smith and owned a good old
English name that you'd recognize if I mentioned it—and you'd be able
to name some of his relatives too. He was kicked out of Sandhurst for
striking one of the subordinate staff under extreme provocation. The
army was in his blood and bones, and he enlisted.”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Mr. Ross-Ellison, “you speak of this
Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith in the past tense. Is he dead then?”
“He is dead,” replied Colonel Jackson. “Did you know him?”
“I believe I saw him at Duri,” answered Mr. Ross-Ellison with an
excellent assumption of indifference. “What's the story?”
“I'll give you his own tale on paper—let me have it back—and, mind
you, every single word of it is Gospel truth. The man was a
gentleman, an educated, thoughtful, sober chap, and as sane as you
or I. I got to know him well—he was in hospital, with blood-poisoning
from panther-bite, for a time—and we became friends. Actual friends, I
mean. Used to play golf with him. (You remember the Duri Links.) In
mufti, you'd never have dreamed for a moment that he was not a Major or
a Colonel. Army life had not coarsened him in the slightest, and he
kept some lounge-suits and mess-kit by Poole. Many a good Snob of my
acquaintance has left my house under the impression that the
Lawrence-Smith he had met there, and with whom he had been
hail-fellow-well-met, was his social equal or superior.
“He simply was a refined and educated gentleman and that's all there
is about it. Well—you'll read his statement—and, as you read, you may
tell yourself that I am as convinced of its truth as I am of anything
in this world.... He was dead when I got to him.
“The stains, on the backs of some of the sheets and on the front of
the last one, are—blood stains....”
And at this point their host suggested the propriety of joining the
Colonel Jackson gave Mr. Ross-Ellison a “lift” in his powerful motor
as far as his bungalow, entered, and a few minutes later emerged with a
long and fat envelope.
“Here you are,” said he. “I took it upon myself to annex the papers
as I was his friend. Let's have 'em back. No need for me to regard them
as 'private and confidential' so far as I can see, poor chap.
Having achieved the haven of loose Pathan trousers and a muslin
shirt (worn over them) in the privacy of his bed-room, Mr.
Ross-Ellison, looking rather un-English, sat on a camp-cot (he never
really liked chairs) and read, as follows, from a sheaf of
neatly-written (and bloodstained) sheets of foolscap.
* * * * *
I have come to the point at which I decide to stop. I have had
enough. But I should like to ask one or two questions.
1. Why has a man no right to quit a world in which he no longer
desires to live? 2. Why should Evil be allowed to triumph? 3. Why
should people who cannot see spirit forms be so certain that such do
not exist, when none but an ignorant fool argues, “I believe in what I
With regard to the first question I maintain that a man has a
perfect right to “take” the life that was “given” him (without his own
consent or desire), provided it is not an act of cowardice nor an
evasion of just punishment or responsibility. I would add—provided
also that he does not, in so doing, basely desert his duty, those who
are in any way dependent on him, or those who really love him.
I detest that idiotic phrase “while of unsound mind”. I am as sound
in mind as any man living, but because I end an unbearable state of
affairs, and take the only step I can think of as likely to give me
peace—I shall be written down mad. Moreover should I fail—in my
attempt to kill myself (which I shall not) I should be prosecuted as a
To me, albeit I have lived long under strict discipline and regard
true discipline as the first essential of moral, physical, mental, and
social training, to me it seems a gross and unwarrantable interference
with the liberty of the individual—to deny him sufficient captaincy of
his soul for him to be free to control it at the dictates of his
conscience, and to keep it Here or to send it There as may seem best.
Surely the implanted love of life and fear of death are sufficient
safeguards without any legislation or insolent arrogant interference
between a man and his own ego? Anyhow, such are my views, and in
perfect soundness of mind and body, after mature reflection and with
full confidence in my right so to do, I am about to end my life here.
As to the second question, “Why should Evil be allowed to triumph?”
I confess that my mind cannot argue in a circle and say, “You are born
full of Original Sin, and if you sin you are Damned”—a vicious circle
drawn for me by the gloomy, haughty, insincere and rather unintelligent
young gentleman whom I respectfully salute as Chaplain, and who regards
me and every other non-commissioned soldier as a Common, if not Low,
He would not even answer my queries by means of the good old
loop-hole, “It is useless to appeal to Reason if you cannot to Faith"
and so beg the question. He said that things were because the
Lord said they were, and that it was impious to doubt it. More impious
was it, I gathered, to doubt him, and to allude to Criticisms he had
His infallible “proof” was “It is in the Bible”.
Possibly I shall shortly know why an Omnipotent, Omniscient,
Impeccable Deity allows this world to be the Hell it is, even if there
be no actual Hell for the souls of his errant Creatures (in spite of
the statements of the Chaplain who appears to have exclusive
information on the subject, inaccessible to laymen, and to rest
peacefully assured of a Real Hell for the wicked,—nonconforming, and
At present I cannot understand and I do not know—though I am
informed and infused with a burning and reverent desire to understand
and to know—why Evil should be allowed to triumph, as in my own case,
as well as in those of millions of others, it does. And thirdly, why
does the man who would never deny beauty in a poem or picture because
he failed to see it while others did, deny that immaterial forms of the
dead exist, because he has never seen one, though others have?
I know of so many many men who would blush to be called
“I-believe-what-I-see men,” who yet laugh to scorn the bare idea of the
materialization and visualization of visitants from the spirit world,
because they have never seen one. I have so often met the argument,
“The ghost of a man I might conceive—but I can not conceive the
appearance of the ghost of a pair of trousers or of a top-hat,” offered
as though it were unanswerable. Surely the spirit, aura, shade, ghost,
soul, ego—what you will—can permeate and penetrate and pervade
clothing and other matter as well as flesh?
Well, once again, I do not know,—and yet I have seen, not once but
repeatedly, not by moonlight in a churchyard, but under the Indian sun
on a parade-ground, the ghost of a man and of all his
accoutrements,—of a rifle, of a horse and all a horse's trappings.
I have been a teetotaller for years, I have never had sunstroke and
I am as absolutely sane as ever a man was.
And further I am in no sense remorseful, repentant, or “dogged by
the spectre of an evil deed”.
I killed Burker intentionally. Were he alive again I would kill him
again. I punished him myself because the law could not punish him as he
deserved, and I in no way regret or deplore my just and judicial
action. There are deeds a gentleman must resent and punish—with the
extreme penalty. No, it is in no sense a case of the self-tormented
wretch driven mad by the awful hallucinations of his guilty, unhinged
mind. I am no haunted murderer pursued by phantoms and illusions,
believing himself always in the presence of his victim's ghost.
All people who have read anything, have read of the irresistible
fascination that the scene of the murder has for the murderer, of the
way in which the victim “haunts” the slayer, and of how the truth that
“murder will out” is really based on the fact that the murderer is his
own most dangerous accuser by reason of his life of terror, remorse,
and terrible hallucination.
My case is in no wise parallel.
I am absolutely without fear, regret, remorse, repentance, dread or
terror in the matter of my killing Sergeant Burker. Exactly how and why
I killed him, and how and why I am about to kill myself, I will now set
forth, without the slightest exaggeration, special pleading or any
other deviation from the truth....
I am to my certain knowledge the eighth consecutive member of my
family, in the direct line, to follow the profession of arms, but am
the first to do so without bearing a commission. My father died young
in the rank of Captain, my grandfather led his own regiment in the
Crimea, my great-grandfather was a Lieutenant-General, and, if I told
you my real name, you could probably state something that he did at
I went to Sandhurst and I was expelled from Sandhurst—very rightly
and justly—for an offence, or rather the culminating offence of a
series of offences, that were everything but mean, dishonest or
underhand. I was wild, hasty, undisciplined and I was lost for want of
a father to thrash me as a boy, and by possession of a most loving and
devoted mother who worshipped, spoiled—and ruined me.
I enlisted under an assumed name in my late father's (and
grandfather's) old Regiment of Foot and quickly rose to the rank of
I might have had a commission in South Africa but I decided that I
preferred ruling in hell to serving in heaven, and declined to be a
grey-haired Lieutenant and a nuisance to the Officers' Mess of the
Corps I would not leave until compelled.
In time I was compelled and I became Sergeant-Major of the
Volunteer Rifle Corps here and husband of a—well—de mortuis nil
Why I married I don't know.
The English girl of the class from which soldiers are drawn never
attracted me in the very least, and I simply could not have married
one, though a paragon of virtue and compendium of housewifely
Admirable and pretty as Miss Higgs, Miss Bloggs, or Miss Muggins
might be, my youthful training prevented my seeing beyond her fringe,
finger-nails, figure, and aspirates, to her solid excellences;—and
from sergeants'-dances I returned quite heart-whole and still
unplighted to the Colonel's cook. But Dolores De Souza was different.
There was absolutely nothing to offend the most fastidious taste in
her speech, appearance, or manners. She was convent-bred, accomplished,
refined, gentle, worthless and wicked. The good Sisters of the Society
of the Broken Heart had polished the exterior of the Eurasian orphan
very highly—but the polish was a thin veneer on very cheap and
It is a strange fact that, while I could respect the solid virtues
of the aspirateless Misses Higgs, Bloggs or Muggins, I could never have
married one of them; yet, while I knew Dolores to be a heartless flirt,
and more than suspected her to be of most unrigid principle, I was
infatuated with her dark beauty, her grace, her wiles and witchery—and
asked her to become my wife.
The good Sisters of the Society of the Broken Heart had taught
Dolores to sing beautifully, to play upon the piano and the guitar, to
embroider, to paint mauve roses on pink tambourines and many other
useful arts, graces and accomplishments—but they had not taught her
practical morality nor anything of cooking, marketing, plain
sewing, house-cleaning or anything else of house-keeping. However,
having been bred as I had been bred, I could take the form and let the
substance go, accept the shapely husks and shout not for the grain, and
prefer a pretty song, and a rose in black hair over a shell-like ear,
to a square meal. I fear the average Sergeant-Major would have beaten
Dolores within a week of matrimony, but I strove to make loss,
discomfort, and disappointment a discipline,—and music, silk dresses
and daintiness an aesthetic re-training to a barrack-blunted mind.
In justice to Dolores I should make it clear that she was not of the
slatternly, dirty, lazy, half-breed type that pigs in a peignoir
from twelve to twelve and snores again from midnight to midday. She was
trim and dainty, used good perfume or none, rose early and went in the
garden, loathed cheap and showy trash whether in dress, jewellery, or
furniture; and was incapable of wearing fine shoes over holey stockings
or a silk gown over dirty linen. No—there was nothing to offend the
fastidious about Dolores, but there was everything to offend the good
house-keeper and the moralist.
Frequently she would provide no dinner in order that we might be
compelled to dine in public at a restaurant or a hotel, a thing she
loved to do, and she would often send out for costly sweets and pastry,
drink champagne (very moderately, I admit), and generally behave as
though she were the wife of a man of means.
And she was an arrant, incorrigible, shameless flirt.
Well—I do not know that a virtuous vulgar dowd is preferable to a
wicked winsome witch of refined habits and person, and I should
probably have gone quietly on to bankruptcy without any row or rupture,
but for Burker. Having been bred in a “gentle” home I naturally took
the attitude of “as you please, my dear Dolores” and refrained from
bullying when quiet indication of the inevitable end completely failed.
Whether she intended to act in a reasonable manner and show some wifely
traits when my L250 of legacy and savings was quite dissipated I do not
know. Burker came before that consummation.
A number of gentlemen joined the Duri Volunteer Corps and formed a
Mounted Infantry troop, and, though I am a good horseman, I was not
competent to train the troop, as I had never enjoyed any experience of
mounted military work of any kind. So Sergeant Burker, late of the 54th
Lancers, was transferred to Duri as Instructor of the Mounted Infantry
Troop. Naturally I did what I could to make him comfortable and, till
his bungalow was furnished after a fashion, gave him our spare room.
Sergeant Barker was the ideal Cavalryman and the ideal breaker of
hearts,—hearts of the Mary-Ann and Eliza-Jane order.
He was a black-haired, blue-eyed Irishman with a heart as black as
his hair, and language as blue as his eye—a handsome, plausible,
selfish, wicked devil with scarcely a virtue but pride and high
courage. I disliked him at first sight, and Dolores fell in love with
him equally quickly, I am sure.
I don't think he had a solitary gentlemanly instinct.
Being desirous of learning Mounted Infantry work, I attended all his
drills, riding as troop-leader, and, between close attention to him and
close study of the drill-book, did not let the gentlemen in the ranks
know that, in the beginning, I knew as little about it as they did.
And an uncommonly good troop he soon made of it, too.
Of course it was excellent material, all good riders and good shots,
and well horsed.
Burker and I were mounted by the R.H.A. Battery here, and the three
drills we held, weekly, were seasons of delight to a horse-lover like
Now the horse I had was a high-spirited, powerful animal, and he
possessed the trait, very common among horses, of hating to be pressed
behind the saddle. Turning to look behind while “sitting-easy” one day
I rested my right hand on his back behind the saddle and he immediately
lashed out furiously with both hind legs. I did not realize for the
moment what was upsetting him—but quickly discovered that I had only
to press his back to send his hoofs out like stones from a sling. I
then remembered other similar cases and that I had also read of this
curious fact about horses—something to do with pressure on the kidneys
One day Burker was unexpectedly absent and I took the drill, finding
myself quite competent and au fait.
The same evening I went to my wife's wardrobe, she being out, to try
and find the keys of the sideboard. I knew they frequently reposed in
the pocket of her dressing-gown.
In the said pocket they were—and so was a letter in the crude large
handwriting of Sergeant Burker.
I did not read it, but I did not see the necessity of a
correspondence between my wife and such a man as I knew Sergeant Burker
to be. They met often enough, in all conscience, to say what they might
have to say to each other.
At dinner I remarked casually: “I shouldn't enter into a
correspondence with Burker if I were you, Dolly. His reputation isn't
over savoury and—” but, before I could say more, my wife was literally
screaming with rage, calling me “Spy,” “Liar,” “Coward,” and demanding
to know what I insinuated and of what I accused her. I replied that I
had accused her of nothing at all, and merely offered advice in the
matter of correspondence with Burker. I explained how I had come to
find the letter and stated that I had not read it.
“Then how do you know that we—” she began, and suddenly stopped.
“That you—what?” I inquired.
“Nothing,” she said.
At the next Sergeants' Dance at the Institute I did not like
Burker's manner to my wife at all. It was—well, amorous, and tinged
with a shade of proprietorship. I distinctly heard him call her
“Dolly,” and equally distinctly saw an expressively affectionate look
in her eyes as he hugged her in the waltzes—whereof they indulged in
no less than five.
My position was awkward and unpleasant. I loathe a row or a scene
unspeakably—though I delight in fighting when that pastime is
legitimate—and I was brought into daily contact with the ruffian and I
disliked him intensely.
I was very averse from the course of forbidding him the house and
thus insulting my wife by implication—since she obviously enjoyed his
society—and descending to pit myself against the greasy cad in a
struggle for a woman's favour, and that woman my own wife. Nor could I
conscientiously take the line of, “If she desires to go to the Devil
let her,” for a man has as much responsibility for his wife as for his
children, and it is equally his duty to guide and control her and them.
Women may vote and may legislate for men—but on men they will ever
depend and rely.
No, the position of carping, jealous husband was one that I could
not fill, and I determined to say nothing, do nothing and be
watchful—watchful, that is, to avoid exposing her to temptation. I did
my best, but I was away from home a good deal, visiting the out-station
detachments of the Corps.
Then, one day, the wretched creature I called “butler” came to me
with an air of great mystery and said: “Sahib, Sergeant Burker Sahib
sending Mem Sahib bundle of flowers and chitti inside and
diamond ring yesterday. His boy telling me and I seeing. He often
coming here too when Sahib out. Both wicked peoples.”
I raised my hand to knock his lies down his throat—and dropped it.
They were not lies, I knew, and the fellow had been faithful to me for
many years and—the folly of childish human vanity—I felt he knew I
was a “gentleman,” and I liked him for it.
I paid him his wages then and there, gave him a present and a good
testimonial and discharged him. He wept real tears and shook with sobs
of grief—easy grief, but very genuine.
When Dolores came home from the Bandstand I said quietly: “Show me
the jewellery Burker sent you, Dolly. I am very much in earnest, so
She seemed about to faint and looked very frightened—perhaps my
face was more expressive than a gentleman's should be.
“It was only a little thing for my birthday,” she whined. “Can't I
keep it? Don't be a tyrant or a fool.”
“Your next birthday or your last?” I asked. “Please get it at once.
We'll settle matters quietly and finally.”
I fear the poor girl had visions of the doorstep and a closed door.
Two, perhaps, for I am sure Burker would not have taken her in if I had
turned her out, and she may have thought the same.
It was a diamond ring, and the scoundrel must have given a couple of
months' pay for it—if he had paid for it at all. I thrust aside the
sudden conviction that Burker's own taste could not have been
responsible for its choice and that it was selected by my wife.
“Why should he give you this, Dolores?” I asked. “Will you tell me
or must I go to him?” And then she burst into tears and flung herself
at my feet, begging for mercy.
Qui s'excuse s'accuse.
What should I do?
To cast her out was to murder her soul quickly and her body slowly,
and I could foresee her career with prophetic eye and painful
And what could the Law do for me?
Publish our shame and perhaps brand me that wretched thing—the
willingly deceived and complaisant husband.
What could I do by challenging Burker?
He was a champion man-at-arms, a fine boxer, and a younger, stronger
man, I should merely experience humiliation and defeat. What could
If I said, “Go and live with your Burker,” I should be committing a
bigger crime than hers, for if he did take her in, it would not be for
I sat the night through, pondered the question carefully, looked at
it from all points of view and—decided that Burker must die. Also that
he must not drag me to jail or the scaffold as he went to his doom. If
I shot him and was punished, Dolores would become a—well, as I have
said, her soul would die quickly and her body slowly. I had married
Dolores and I must do what lay in my power to protect Dolores. But I
simply could not kill the hound in some stealthy secret manner and wait
for the footsteps of warrant-armed police for the rest of my life.
What could I do? Or rather—for the question had narrowed to
that—how could I kill him?
And as the sun struck upon my eyes at dawn, an idea struck upon my
I would leave it to Fate and if Fate willed it so, Burker should
If Burker stood behind my charger, Fate sat with down-turned
I would not seek the opportunity—but, by God, I would take it if it
If it did not, I would go to Burker and say to him quietly: “Burker,
you must leave this station at once and never see or communicate with
my wife in any way. Otherwise I have to kill you, Burker—to execute
you, you understand.” ...
A native syce from the Artillery lines led my charger into the
little compound of my tiny bungalow.
Having buckled on my belt I went out, patted him, and gave him a
lump of sugar. He nuzzled me for more, and, as he did so, I placed my
hand on his back, behind the saddle, and pressed. He lashed out wildly.
I then trotted across the maidan to the Volunteer
Headquarters and parade-ground.
 Plain; level tract of ground.
Several gentlemen of the Mounted Infantry were waiting about, some
standing by their horses, some getting bandoliers, belts, and rifles,
some cantering their horses round the ground.
Sergeant Burker strode out of the Orderly Boom.
“Morning, Smith,” said he. “How's the Missus?”
I looked him in the eye and made no reply.
He laughed, as jeering, evil, and caddish a laugh as I have ever
heard. I almost forgot my purpose and had actually turned toward the
armoury for a rifle and cartridge when I remembered and controlled my
If I shot him, then and there, I must go to the scaffold or to jail
forthwith, and Dolores must inevitably go to a worse fate. Had I been
sure that she could have kept straight, Burker would have been shot,
then and there.
“Fall in,” he shouted, but did not mount his horse.
The gentlemen assembled with their horses and faced him in line,
dismounted, I in front of the centre of the troop. How clearly I can
see every feature and detail of that morning's scene, and hear every
word and sound.
“Tell off by sections,” commanded Burker.
“One, two, three, four—one, two, three, four....”
There were exactly six sections.
“Flanks of sections, proof.”
“Section leaders, proof.”
“Centre man, proof.”
“Prepare to mount.”
The last two words were the last words Burker ever spoke. Passing on
foot along the line of mounted men, to inspect saddlery, accoutrements,
and the adjustment of rifle-buckets and slings, he halted immediately
behind me, where I sat on my charger in front of the centre of the
I could not have placed him more exactly with my own hands. Fate
sat with down-pointing thumb.
Turning round, as though to look at the troop, I rested my hand on
my horse's back—just behind the saddle—and pressed hard. He lashed
out with both hoofs and Sergeant Burker dropped—and never moved again.
The base of his skull was smashed like an egg, and his back was
broken like a dry stick....
The terrible accident roused wide sympathy with the unfortunate man,
the local reporter used all his adjectives, and a military funeral was
given to the soldier who had died in the execution of his duty.
On reaching home, after satisfying myself at the Station Hospital
that the man was dead, I said to my poor, pale and red-eyed wife:—
“Dolores, Sergeant Burker met with an accident this morning on
parade. He is dead. Let us never refer to him again.”
I spent that night also in meditation, questioning myself and
examining my soul—with every honest endeavour to be not a
I came to the conclusion that I had acted rightly and in the only
way in which a gentleman could act. I had snatched Dolores from his
foul clutches, I had punished him without depriving Dolores of my
protection, and I had avenged the stain on my honour.
“You have committed a treacherous cowardly murder,” whispered the
Fiend in my ear.
“You are a liar,” I replied. “I did not fear the man and I took this
course solely on account of Dolores. I was strong enough to accept this
position—and to risk the accusation of murder, from my conscience,
from the Devil, or from man.”
Any doubt I might otherwise have had was forestalled and inhibited
by the obvious Fate that placed Burker in the one spot favourable to my
scheme of punishment.
God had willed it?
God had not prevented it.
Surely God was consenting unto it....
And Dolores? I would forgive her and offer her the choice of
remaining with me or leaving me and receiving a half of my income and
possessions—both alternatives being contingent upon good conduct.
At dawn I prepared tea for her, and entered our bedroom. Dolores had
wound a towel round her neck, twisted the ends tightly—and suffocated
She had been dead for hours....
At the police inquiry, held the same day, I duly lied as to the
virtues of the “deceased,” and the utter impossibility of assigning any
reason for the rash and deplorable act. The usual smug stereotyped
verdict was pronounced, and, in addition to expressing their belief
that the suicide was committed “while of unsound mind,” the officials
expressed much sympathy with the bereaved husband.
Dolores was buried that evening and I returned to an empty house.
I believe opinion had been divided as to whether I was callous or
“stunned”—but the sight of her little shoes caused pains in my throat
and eyes. Had Burker been then alive I would have killed him with my
hands—and teeth. Yes, teeth.
I spent that night in packing every possession and trace of Dolores
into her boxes, and then in trying to persuade myself that I should
have acted differently.
I could not do so. I had acted for the best—so let God who gave me
free-will, intelligence, conscience and opportunity, approve the deed
or take the blame.
And let God remember how that opportunity came so convincingly—so
impellingly—and if He would judge me and ask for my defence I would
ask him who sent Burker here, and who placed him on that fatal spot?
Does God sit only in judgment?
Does God calmly watch His creatures walking blindfold to the
Pit—struggling to tear away the bandage as they walk? Can He only
judge, and can He never help?
Is God a petty-minded “jealous” God to be propitiated like the gods
of the heathen?
Must we continually ask, or, not asking, not receive?
And if we know not to ask aright and to demand the best and highest?
Cannot the well-fed, well-read, well-paid Chaplain give advice?
“God knoweth best. Ask unceasingly. Pray always.”
Why?—if. He knows best, is All Merciful, All Powerful?
Is God a child, a savage, a woman? Shall I offer adulation that
would sicken me.
“God is our Father which art in heaven.”
Would I have my son praise me to my face continually—or at all.
Would I compel him to pester me with demands for what he
desired,—good, bad and indifferent?
And would I give him what he asked regardless of what was best for
him—or say, “If you ask not, you receive not?” Give me a God finer and
greater and juster and nobler than myself—something higher than the
Chaplain's jealous, capricious, inconsequent and illogical God.
Is there a God at all?
I shall soon know.
Oh Thou, who man of baser earth didst make
And ev'n with Paradise devised the Snake,
For all the Sin the face of wretched man
Is black with—Man's forgiveness give—and take!
At dawn I said aloud:—
“This Chapter is closed. The story of Burker and Dolores is written.
I may now strive to forget.”
I was wrong.
Major Jackson of the R.A.M.C. came to see me soon after daylight. He
gave me an opiate and I slept all that day and night. I went on parade
next morning, fresh, calm, and cool—and saw Burker riding toward
the group of gentlemen who were awaiting the signal to “fall in”.
I say I was fresh, calm, and cool.
And there was Burker—looking exactly as in life, save for a slight
nebulosity, a very faint vagueness of outline, and a hint of
I had been instructed by the Adjutant to assume the post of
Instructor (as the end of the Mounted Infantry drill season was
near)—and I blew the “rally” on my whistle as many of the gentlemen
were riding about, and shouted the command: “Fall in”.
Twenty living men and one dead faced me, twenty dismounted and one
mounted. I called the corporal in charge of the armoury.
“How many on parade?” I asked.
He looked puzzled, counted, and said:—
“Why—twenty, ain't there?”
I numbered the troop.
“Tell off by sections.”
Five sections—and Burker.
A column of five sections—and Burker, in the rear.
I called out the section-leader of Number One section.
“Are the sections correctly proved?” I asked, and added: “Put the
troop back in line and tell-off again”.
“Five sections, correct,” he reported.
I held that drill, with five sections of living men, and a single
file of dead, who manoeuvred to my word.
When I gave the order “With Numbers Three for action dismount,” or
“Right-hand men, for action dismount,” Burker remained mounted. When I
dismounted the whole troop, Burker remained mounted. Otherwise he
drilled precisely as Number Twenty-one would have drilled in a troop of
Was I frightened? I do not know.
At first my heart certainly pounded as though it would leap from my
body, and I felt dazed, lost, and shocked.
I think I was frightened—not of Burker so much as of the
unfamiliar, the unknown, the impossible.
How would you feel if your piano suddenly began to play of itself?
You would be alarmed and afraid probably, not frightened of the piano,
but of the fact.
A door could not frighten you—but you would surely be alarmed at
its persistently opening, each time you shut, locked, and bolted it, if
it acted thus.
Of Burker I had no fear—but I was perturbed by the fact that
the dead could ride with the living.
When I gave the order “Dismiss” at the end of the parade Burker rode
away, as he had always done, in the direction of his bungalow.
Returning to my lonely house, I sat me down and pondered this
appalling event that had come like a torrent, sweeping away familiar
landmarks of experience, idea, and belief. I was conscious of a dull
anger against Burker and then against God.
Why should He allow Burker to haunt me?...
Why should Evil triumph?...
Was I haunted? Or was it, after all, but a hallucination—due
to grief, trouble, and the drug of the opiate?
I sat and brooded until I thought I could hear the voices of Burker
and Dolores in converse.
This I knew to be hallucination, pure and simple, and I went to see
my friend (if he will let me call him what he is in the truest and
highest sense) Major Jackson of the R.A.M.C.
He took me for a long ride, kept me to dinner, and manufactured a
job for me—a piece of work that would occupy and tire me.
He assured me that the Burker affair was pure hallucination and
staked his professional reputation that the image of Burker came upon
my retina from within and not from without. “The shock of the deaths of
your wife and your friend on consecutive days has unhinged you, and
very naturally so,” he said.
Of course I did not tell him that I had killed Burker, though I
should have liked to do so. I felt I had no right to put him in the
position of having to choose between denouncing me and condoning a
murder—compounding a felony.
Nor did I see any reason for confessing to the Police what I had
done (even though Dolores was dead) and finishing my career on the
One owes something to one's ancestors as well as to oneself. Well,
perhaps it was a hallucination. I would wait.
At the next drill Burker was present and rode as Number Three in
As there were twenty-three (living) on parade I ordered Number
Twenty-three to ride as Number Four of his section and leave a blank
Burker rode in that blank file and drilled so, throughout—save that
he would not dismount.
Once, as the troop rode in column of sections, I fell to the rear
and, coming up behind, struck with all my might at that slightly
nebulous figure, with its faint vagueness of outline and hint of
My heavy cutting-whip whistled—and touched nothing. I was as one
who beats the air. Section Six must have thought me mad.... Twice again
the dead man drilled with the living, and each time I described what
happened to Major Jackson.
“It is a persistent hallucination,” said he; “you must go on leave.”
“I won't run from Burker, nor from a hallucination,” I replied.
Then came the end.
At the next drill, twenty-one gentlemen were present and Number
Twenty-one, the Sessions Judge of Duri, a Scot, kept staring with looks
of amazement and alarm at Burker, who rode as Number Four on his flank,
making an odd file into a skeleton section. I was certain that he saw
As the gentlemen “dismissed” after parade, the Judge rode up to me
and, with a white face, demanded:—
“Who the devil was that rode with me as Number Twenty-four? It
was—it was—like—Sergeant Burker.”
“It was Sergeant Burker, Sir,” said I.
“I knew it was,” he replied, and added: “Man, you and I are fey.”
“Will you tell Major Jackson of this, Sir?” I begged. “He knows I
have seen Burker's ghost here before, and tells me it is a
“I'll go and see him now.” he replied. “He is an old friend of mine,
and—he's a damned good doctor. Man—you and I are fey.” He rode to
where his trap, with its spirited cob, was awaiting him, dismounted and
As everybody knows, Mr. Blake of the Indian Civil Service, Sessions
Judge of Duri, was thrown from his trap and killed. It happened five
minutes after he had said to me, with a queer look in his eyes, and a
queer note in his voice, “Man! you and I are fey”.... So it is no
hallucination and I am haunted by Burker's ghost. Very good. I will
fight Burker on his own ground.
My ghost shall haunt Burker's ghost—or I shall be at peace.
Though the religion of the Chaplain has failed me, the religion of
my Mother, taught to me at her knee, has implanted in me an
ineradicable belief in the ultimate justice of things, and the
unquenchable hope of “somehow good”.
I am about to go before my Maker or to obliteration and oblivion. If
the former, I am prepared to say to Him: “You made me a man. I have
played the man. I look to you for justice, and that is—compensation
and not 'forgiveness'. Much less is it punishment. You have treated me
ill and given me no help. You have bestowed free-will without
free-dom. Compensate me or know Yourself unjust.”
To a servant or child who spoke so to me and with equal reason, I
“Compensation is due to you and not 'forgiveness'—much less
punishment,” and I would act accordingly.... Why should I cringe to
God—and why should He love a cringer more than I do?
God help Men and Women—and such Children as are doomed to grow up
to be Men and Women.
As I finish this sentence I shall put my revolver in my mouth and
seek Justice or Peace....
* * * * *
“Bad luck,” murmured Mr. Robin Ross-Ellison, “that was the man of
all men for me! A gentleman, wishful to die.... That is the sort that
does things when swords are out and bullets fly. Seeks a gory grave
and gets a V.C. instead. He and Mike Malet-Marsac and I would have put
a polish on the new Gungapur Fusiliers.... Rough luck....”
He was greatly disappointed, for his experiences in the bazaars,
market-places, secret-meeting houses, and the bowers of Hearts'
Delights,—the Rialtos of Gungapur (he disguised, now as an Afghan
horse-dealer, now as a sepoy, now as a Pathan money-lender, again as a
gold-braided, velvet waistcoated, swaggering swashbuckler from the
Border)—his experiences were disquieting, were such as to make him
push on preparations, perfect plans, and work feverishly at the
“polishing” of his re-organized Corps.
Also the reports of his familiar, a Somali yclept Moussa Isa, were
disquieting, disturbing to a lover of the Empire who foresaw the Empire
at war in Europe.
Moussa Isa also knew that there was talk among Pathan horse-dealers
and budmashes of the coming of one Ilderim the Weeper, a mullah
of great influence and renown, and talk, moreover, among men of other
race, of a Great Conspiracy.
Moussa was bidden to take service as a mill-coolie in one of Colonel
Dearman's mills, and to report on the views and attitude of the
thousands who laboured therein. This he did and there learnt many
Sec. 4. MR. AND MRS. CORNELIUS GOSLING-GREEN.
It was Sunday—and therefore John Bruce, the Engineering College
Professor, was exceptionally busy. On a-week-day he only had to deliver
his carefully prepared lectures, interview students, read and return
essays, take the chair at meetings of college societies, coach one or
two “specialists,” superintend the games on the college gymkhana
ground, interview seekers after truth and perverters of the same, write
letters on various matters of college business, visit the hostel, set
question papers and correct answers, attend common-room meetings, write
articles for the college magazine and papers for the Scientific,
Philosophical, Shakespearean, Mathematical, Debating, Literary,
Historical, Students', Old Boys', or some other “union” and, if God
willed, get a little exercise and private study at his beloved
“subject” and invention, before preparing for the morrow.
On Sundays, the thousand and one things crowded out of the programme
were to be cleared up, his home mail was to be written, and then
arrears of work had to be attacked.
At four o'clock he addressed Roy Pittenweem and Mrs. MacDougall, his
dogs, and said:—
“There's a bloomin' bun-snatch somewhere, you fellers, don't it?”.
Though a Professor and one of the most keen and earnest workmen in
India, his own college blazers were not quite worn out, and Life, the
great Artist, had not yet done much sketching on the canvas of his
face—in spite of his daily contact with the Science Professor, William
Greatorex Bonnett, B.A., widely known as the Mad Hatter, the greatest
of whose many great achievements is his avoidance of death at the hands
of his colleagues and acquaintance.
Receiving no reply beyond a wink and a waggle, he dropped his blue
pencil, rose, and went to the table sacred to litter; and from a wild
welter of books, pipes, papers, golf-balls, hats, cigar-boxes,
dog-collars, switches, cartridges and other sediment, he extracted a
large gilt-edged card and studied it without enthusiasm or bias.
“Large coat of arms,” he murmured—“patience—no—a pay-sheet on a
monument asking for time; item a hand, recently washed; ditto, a dickey
bird—possibly pigeon plucked proper or gull argent; guinea-pig
regardant and expectant; supporters, two bottliwallahs rampant. Crest,
a bum-boat flottant, and motto 'Cinq-cento-percentum'. All done
in gold. Likewise in gold and deboshed gothic, the legend 'Sir and Lady
Fuggilal Potipharpar, At Home. To meet Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius
Gosling-Green, M.P. Five p.m. C.T.' ... Now what the devil, Roy
Pittenweem, is C.T.? Is it 'Curious Time' or 'Cut for Trumps' or
a new decoration for gutter plutocrats? It might mean 'Calcutta
Time,' mightn't it, as the egregious Phossy and his gang would have it?
Well, we'll go and look upon the Cornmealious Gosling-Green, M.P.'s,
and chasten our soul from sinful pride—ain't it, Mrs. MacDougall?” and
the Professor strolled across to the Sports Club for a cup of tea.
In the midst of cheery converse with a non-moral and unphilosophic
Professor of Moral Philosophy, a fat youth of the name of Augustus
Grobble whose life was one long picturesque pose, he sprang to his
feet, remarking: “I go, Augustus, I am bidden to behold some prize
Gosling-Greens or something, at 5 p.m., D.V. or D.T. or C.T. or L.S.D.
or otherwise. Perhaps it was S.T. which means 'Standard Time,' and as I
said, I go, Augustus.”
Augustus Grobble was understood to return thanks piously....
“Taxi, Sahib?” inquired the messenger-boy at the door.
“Go to,” said the Professor. “Also go call me a tikka-gharri
 and select a very senior horse, blind, angular, withered,
wilted, and answering to the name, most obviously, of
Skin-and-Grief—lest I be taken by the Grizzly-Goslings for a
down-trodden plutocrat and a brother—and not seen for the fierce and
'aughty oppressor that I am.”
 Public conveyance.
“Tikka-gharri lao, you lazy little 'ound! Don't I speak
plain English?” The Professor made it a practice to “rot” when not
working—hoping thus even in India to retain sanity and the broad and
wholesome outlook, for he was a very short-tempered person, easily
roused to dangerous wrath.
A carriage, upholding a pony who, in return, spasmodically moved the
carriage which gave evidence of having been where moths break through
and steal, lumbered into the Club garden, and the Professor, imploring
the jehu not to let the pony “die on him” in the Hibernian sense of the
expression, gingerly entered.
“Convey me to the gilded Potipharparian 'alls, Arthur,” said he.
“Why don't you listen? Palangur Hill ki pas And
don't forget you've to get me there at 5 p.m. C.T. or S.T.—I leave it
to you, partner.”
On arrival, the Professor concluded that if he had arrived at 5 p.m.
C.T. he ought to have come at 5 p.m. S.T., or vice versa; as what he
termed 'the show' was evidently about over. Fortune favours all sorts
His hostess, who looked as though she had come straight out of the
Bible via Bond Street, and his host, who looked as though he had
never come out of Petticoat Lane at all, both accused him of being
unable to work out the problem of “Find Calcutta Time given the
Standard Time,” and he professed to be proud to be able to acknowledge
the truth of the compliment.
“Come and be presented to Meester and Meesers Carneelius
Garsling-Green, M.P.,” said the lady, waddling before him; and her
“Oah, yess. Come and be presented to Meester and Meesers
Garsling-Green,” waddling after him.
Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., proved to be a tall, drooping,
melancholy creature, with “Dundreary” whiskers, reach-me-down suit of
thick cloth, wrong kind of tie, thickish boots, and no presence.
Without “form” and void.
Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green was a Severe Person, tiny,
hard-featured and even more garrulous than her husband, who watched her
anxiously and nervously as he answered any question put in her
“And, oh, why, why are not you Mohammedans loyal?”
said Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green, to a magnificent-looking specimen of
the Mussulman of the old school—stately, venerable, courteous and
honourable—who stood near, looking as though he wondered what the
devil he was doing in that galley.
Turning from his friend, Mir Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah
Khan, a fine Pathan, “Loyal, Madam! Loyal! Believe me we
Mohammedans are most intensely and devotedly loyal,” he replied. “You
have indeed been misled. Though you are only spending a month in India
for collecting the materials for your book or pamphlet, you must really
learn that much. We Mohammedans are as loyal as the English
themselves.—More loyal than some in fact,” he added, with intent. The
Pathan smiled meaningly.
“Ah, that's just it. I mean 'Why aren't you Mohammedans loyal to
The man turned and left the marquee and the garden without another
“Poor bleeding India,” corrected the Professor.
“And are you a friend and worker for India?” continued the
lady, turning to him and eyeing him with severity.
“I am. I do my humble possible in my obscure capacity, Mrs.
Grisly-Gosling,” he replied. “I beg your pardon, Mrs.
Grossly-Grin——that is—er—Gosling-Green, I should say.”
Be sure your sins will find you out. Through wilful perversion of
the pleasing name the Professor had rendered himself incapable of
“And what do you do for India,—write, speak, organize,
subscribe or what?” asked the lady with increasing severity.
“In what capacity?”
“I am a professor at the Government Engineering College, here in
“O-h-h-h-h! You're one of the overpaid idlers who bolster up the
Bureaucracy and batten on the....'“
“Allow me to assure you that I neither bolster, batten, nor bureau,
Mrs. Grizzling—I mean Gosling Green. Nor do I talk through my
hat. I——” the Professor was beginning to get angry and to lose
“Perhaps you are one of us in disguise—a Pro-Native?”
“I am intensely Pro-Native.”
The tall Pathan stared at the Professor.
“Oh, good! I beg your pardon! Cornelius, this
gentleman is a Government professor and is with us!” said this
female of the M.P. species.
“That's right,” gushed the Gosling. “We want a few in the enemy's
camp both to spy out their weakness and to embarrass them. Now about
this University business. I am going to take it up. That history affair
now! Scandalous! I cannot tell you what a wave of
indignation swept over England when that syllabus was drawn up. Nothing
truly Liberal about the whole course, much less Radical. I at
once said: 'I will see this righted. I will go to India,
and I will beard the....'“
“I think it was I who said it, Cornelius,” remarked his much
better half, coldly.
“Yes, my dear Superiora, yes. Now with your help I think we can do
something, Professor. Good. This is providential. We shall be
able to embarrass them now! Will you write me——”
“You are going a little too fast, I think,” said the Professor. “I
am a 'Pro-Native' and a servant of the Pro-Native Government of India.
As such, I don't think I can be of any service to twenty-one-day
visitors who wish to 'embarrass' the best friends of my friends the
Natives, even supposing I were the sort of gentle Judas you compliment
me by imagining me. I——”
“You distinctly say you are Pro-Native and then——”
“I repeat I am intensely Pro-Native, and so are the Viceroy, the
Governors, the entire Civil Service, the Educational Service, the
Forest Service, the P.W.D., the Medical Service, the Army, and every
other Service and Department in India as well as every decent man in
India. We are all Pro-Native, and all doing our best in our
respective spheres, in spite of a deal of ignorant and officious
interference and attempted 'embarrassment' at the hands of the
self-seeking, the foolish, the busy-body, the idle—not to mention the
vicious. What a charming day it is. I have so enjoyed the honour
of meeting you.”
* * * * *
“Well, my Scroobious Bird! And have they this day roasted in India
such a Gosling as shall never be put out?” inquired the non-moral and
unphilosophic Professor of Moral Philosophy, a little later.
“No, my Augustus,” was the reply. “It's a quacking little gosling,
and won't lead to any great commotion m the farm-yard. Nasty little
bird—like a sat-bai or whatever they call those appalling
things 'seven-sister' birds, aren't they, that chatter and squeak all
“Have a long drink and tell us all about it,” replied Mr. Augustus
Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble.
“Oh, same old game on the same old stage. Same old players. Leading
lady and gent changed only. Huge great hideous bungalow, like a Goanese
wedding-cake, in a vast garden of symmetrically arranged blue and red
glazed 'art' flower-pots. Lofty room decorated with ancestral portraits
done by Mr. Guzzlebhoy Fustomji Paintwallah; green glass chandeliers
and big blue and white tin balls; mauve carpet with purple azure roses;
wall-paper, bright pink with red lilies and yellow cabbages; immense
mouldy mirrors, and a tin alarm clock. Big crowd of all the fly-blown
rich knaves of the place who have got more than they want out of
Government or else haven't got enough. Only novelty was a splendid
Pathan chap, got-up in English except for the conical cap and puggri.
Extraordinarily like Ross-Ellison, except that he had long black Pathan
hair on his shoulders. Been to England; barrister probably, and seemed
the most viciously seditious of the lot. Silly ignorant Goslings in the
middle saying to Brahmins, 'And you are Muscleman, aren't you, or are
you a Dhobi?' and to Parsis, 'I suppose you High Caste gentlemen have
to bathe every day?' shoving their awful ignorance under the
noses of everybody, and inquiring after the healths of the 'chief
wives'. Silly fatuous geese!—and then talking the wildest piffle about
the 'burning question of the hour' and making the seditious rotters
groan at their ineptitude and folly, until they cheer them up
sudden-like with a bit of dam' treason and sedition they ought to be
jailed for. Jailed. I nearly threw a fit when the old geezer, in
a blaze of diamonds and glory, brought up old Phossy and presented him
to the Gander, and he murmured:—
“'My deah friend,' as Phossy held on to his paw in
transports, 'to think of their casting you into jail,' and old
Mother Potiphar squeaked: 'Oh, this is not the forger of that name—but
the eminent politeecian'. But poor Gosly had thought he had been a
political prisoner! Meant no offence. And then some little squirt of an
editor primed him with lies about the University and the new syllabus,
and straightway the Gander tried to get me on the 'embarrass the
Government' lay, and talked as though he knew all about it. 'I'll get
some of the ladies of my committee sent out here as History-lecturers
at your University,' says he. 'They'll teach pure Liberal History and
inculcate true ideas of liberty and self-government.' I wanted to go
outside and be ill. Good old 'Paget M.P.'—takes up a 'Question' and
writes a silly pamphlet on it and thinks he's said the last
word.—Written thousands.—Don't matter so long as he does it in
England.—Just the place for him nowadays.—But when he feels he's
shoved out of the lime-light by a longer-haired Johnny, it's rough luck
that he should try and get back by spending his blooming committee's
money coming here and deludin' the poor seditionist and seducin' your
Hatter from his allegiance to his salt.... Awful old fraud really—no
ability whatever. Came to my college to spout once, in my time. Lord!
Still he was a guest, and we let him go. Run by his missus really, I
think. Why can't she stop at home and hammer windows? They say she went
and asked the Begum of Bhopal to join her in a 'mission and crusade'.
Teach the Zenana Woman and Purdah Lady to Come Forth instead of Bring
Forth. Come Forth and smash windows. Probably true. Silly Goslings.
Drop 'em.... What did you think of our bowling yesterday? With anything
like a wicket your College should be....”
* * * * *
Entering his lonely and sequestered bungalow that evening Mir
Ilderim Dost Mahommed changed his Pathan dress for European dining-kit,
removed his beard and wig, and became Mr. Robin Ross-Ellison. After
dinner he wrote to the eminent Cold weather Visitor to India, Mr.
Cornelius Gosling-Green, as follows—
“As I promised this afternoon, when you graciously condescended to
honour me with your illuminating conversation, I enclose the papers
which I guaranteed would shed some light on certain aspects of Indian
conditions, and which I consider likely to give you food for thought.
“As I was myself educated in India, was brought up to maturity with
Indian students, and have lived among them in many different places, I
may claim to know something about them. As a class they are gentle,
affectionate, industrious, well-meaning and highly intelligent. They
are the most malleable of human metal, the finest material for the
sculptor of humanity, the most impressionable of wax. In the right
hands they can be moulded to anything, by the right leader led to any
height. And conversely, of them a devil can make fiends. By the wrong
leader they can be led down to any depth.
“The crying need of India is noble men to make noble men of these
fine impressionable youths. Read the enclosed and take it that the
writer (who wrote this recently in Gungapur Jail) is typical of a large
class of misled, much-to-be-pitied youths, wrecked and ruined and
destroyed—their undoing begun by an unspeakably false and spurious
educational ideal, and completed by the writings, and the spoken words
of heartless unscrupulous scoundrels who use them to their own vile
“Read, Sir, and realize how truly noble, useful and beautiful is
your great work of endeavouring to embarrass our wicked Government, to
weaken its prestige here and in England, to encourage its enemies, to
increase discontent and unrest, to turn the thoughts of students to
matters political, and, in short, to carry on the good work of the
usual Self-advertising Visitation M.P.
“Humbly thanking your Honour, and wishing your Honour precisely the
successes and rewards that your Honour deserves,
“The dust of your Honour's feet,
“ILDERIM DOST MAHOMMED.”
And Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., read as follows:—
... And so I am to be hanged by the neck till I am dead, am I? And
for a murder which I never committed, and in the perpetration of which
I had no hands? Is it, my masters? I trow so. But I can afford to
spit—for I did commit a murder, nevertheless, a beautiful secret
murder that no one could possibly ever bring to my home or cast in my
“Well, well! Hang me and grin in sleeve—and I will laugh on other
side of face while dancing on nothing—for if you think you are doing
me in eye, I know I have done you in eye!
“Yes. I murdered Mr. Spensonly, the Chief Secretary of the
Nuddee River Commission.
“As the Latin-and-Greeks used to say, 'Solo fesit'!
“You think Mr. Spensonly died of plague? So he did. And who caused
him to have plague? In short, who plagued him? (Ha! Ha! An
infinite jest!) You shall know all about it and about, as Omar says,
for I am going now to write my autobiography of myself, as all great
so-called Criminals have done, for the admiration of mankind and the
benefit of posterity. And my fellow-brothers and family-members shall
proudly publish it with my photo—that of a great Patriot Hero and
second Mazzini, Robespierre, Kossuth, Garibaldi, Wallace, Charlotte
Corday, Kosciusko, and Mr. Robert Bruce (of spider fame).
“And I shall welcome death and embrace the headsman ere making last
speech and dying confession. Having long desired to know what lies
Beyond, I shall make virtue of necessity and seize opportunity (of
getting to know) to play hero and die gamish.
“Not like the Pathan murderer who walked about in front of condemned
cell with Koran balanced on head, crying to his Prophet to save him,
and defying Englishes to touch him. Of course they cooked his geese,
Koran or not. One warder does more than many Prophets in Gungapur Jail.
(He! He! Quite good epigram and nice cynicality of educated man.) The
degraded and unpolished fellow decoyed two little girls into empty
house to steal their jewellery, and cut off fingers and noses and ears
to get rings and nose-jewels and ear-drops, and left to die. Holy
Fakir, gentleman of course! Pooh! and Bah! for all holy men. I give
spurnings to them all for fools, knaves, or hypocrites. There are no
gods any more for educated gentleman, except himself, and that's very
good god to worship and make offering to (Ha! Ha! What a wit will be
lost to the silly world when it permits itself to lose me.)
“Well, to return to the sheep, as the European proverb has it. I was
born here in Gungapur, which will also have honour of being my
death-and-cremation place, of poor but honest parent on thirty rupees a
mensem. He was very clever fellow and sent five sons to Primary School,
Middle School, High School and Gungapur Government College at cost of
over hundred rupees a month, all out of his thirty rupees a mensem. He
always used proverb 'Politeness lubricates wheels of life and palm
also,' and he obliged any man who made it worth his while. But he fell
into bad odours at hands of Mr. Spensonly owing to folly of
bribing-fellow sending cash to office and the letter getting into Mr.
Spensonly's post-bag and opening by mistake.
“But the Sahib took me up into his office to soften blow to
progenitor and that shows he was a bad man or his luck would not have
been to take me in and give chance to murder him.
“My good old paternal parent made me work many hours each night, and
though he knew nothing of the subjects he could read English and would
hear all my lessons and other brothers', and we had to say Skagger
Rack, Cattegat, Scaw Fell and Helvellyn, and such things to him, and he
would abuse us if we mis-arranged the figures and letters in CaH2O2 and
H2SO4 and all those things in bottles. Before the Matriculation
Examination he made a Graduate, whom he had got under his thumb-nail,
teach us all the answers to all the back questions in all subjects till
we knew them all by heart, and also made us learn ten long essays by
heart so as to make up the required essay out of parts of them. He
nearly killed my brother by starvation (saving food as well as
punishing miscreant) for failing—the only one of us who ever failed in
any examination—which he did by writing out all first chapter of
Washington Irving for essay, when the subject was 'Describe a sunrise
in the Australian back-blocks'. As parent said, he could have used 'A
moonlight stroll by the sea-shore' and change the colour from silver to
golden. But the fool was ill—so ill that he tried to kill himself and
had not the strength. He said he would rather go to the missionaries'
hell, full of Englishes, than go on learning Egbert, Ethelbald,
Ethelbert, Ethelwulf, Ethelred, Alfred, Edward the Elder, Edred, Edwy,
Edgar, Ethelred the Unready, and If two triangles have two sides
of the one equal to two angles of the other each to each and the sides
so subtended equal then shall the bases or fourth sides be equal each
to each or be isosceles.
“Well, the progenitor kept our noses in the pie night and day and we
all hated the old papa piously and wished he and we and all teachers
and text-books were burned alive.
“But we were very much loved by everybody as we were so learned and
clever, and whenever the Collector or anybody came to School, the Head
Master used to put one of us in each room and call on us to answer
questions and recite and say capes and bays without the map, and other
clever things; and when my eldest brother left I had to change coat
with another boy and do it twice sometimes, in different rooms.
“Sometimes the Educational Inspector himself would come, but then
nothing could be done, for he would not ask questions that were always
asked and were in the book, like the teachers and Deputy Inspectors
did, but questions that no one knew and had to be thought out then and
there. That is no test of Learning—and any fool who has not troubled
to mug his book by heart might be able to answer such questions, while
the man who had learnt every letter sat dumb.
“I hated the school and the books I knew by heart, but I loved Mr.
Ganeshram Joshibhai. He was a clever cunning man, and could always
tweak the leg of pompous Head Master when he came to the room, and had
beautiful ways of cheating him when he came to examine—better than
those of the other teachers.
“Before we had been with him a month he could tell us things while
being examined, and no one else knew he was doing it. The initial
letters of each word made up the words he wanted to crib to us, and
when he scratched his head with the right hand the answer was 'No,'
while with the left hand it was 'Yes'. And the clever way he taught us
sedition while teaching us History, and appearing to praise the
“He would spend hours in praising the good men who rebelled and
fought and got Magnum Charter and disrespected the King and cheeked the
Government and Members of Council. We knew all about Oliver Cromwell,
Hampden, Pim, and those crappies, and many a boy who had never heard of
Wolsey and Alfred the Great knew all about Felton the jolly fine
patriot who stabbed the Member of Council, Buckingham Esquire, in back.
“We learnt whole History book at home and he spent all History
lessons telling us about Plots, all the English History Plots and
foreign too, and we knew about the man who killed Henry of Navarre, as
well as about the killing of French and American Presidents of to-day.
He showed always why successful plots succeeded and the others failed.
And he gave weeks to the American Independence War and the French
“And all the Indian History was about the Mutiny and how and why it
failed, when he was not showing us how the Englishes have ruined and
robbed India, and comparing the Golden Age of India (when no cow ever
died and there was never famine, plague, police nor taxes) with the
miserable condition of poor bleeding India to-day.
“He was a fine fellow and so clever that we were almost his
worshippers. But I am not writing his autobiography but my own, so let
him lapse herewith into posterity and well-merited oblivious.
“At the College when we could work no longer, we who had never
learnt crickets and tennis and ping-pongs, would take a nice big
lantern with big windows in four sides of it, and sit publicly in the
middle of the grass at the Gardens (with our books for a blind) and
make speech to each other about Mother India and exhort each other to
join together in a secret society and strike a blow for the Mother, and
talk about the heroes who had died on the scaffolding for her, or who
were languishing in chokey and do poojah to their photos. But
the superior members did no poojah to anything. Then came the
Emissary in the guise of a holy man (and I thought it the most
dangerous disguise he could have assumed, for I wonder the police do
not arrest every sannyasi and fakir on suspicion) and brought us the
Message. And he took us to hear the blind Mussulman they call Ilderim
“All was ready and nothing lacked but the Instrument.
“Would any of us achieve eternal fame and undying glory by being the
“We wouldn't. No jolly fear, and thanks awfully.
“But we agreed to make a strike at the College and to drop a useless
Browning pistol where it would be found, and in various other ways to
be unrestful. And one of us, whom the Principal would not certify to
sit for his F.E. and was very stony hard-up, joined the Emissary and
went away with him to be a Servant and perhaps an Instrument later on
(if he could not get a girl with a good dowry or a service of thirty
rupees a mensem), he was so hungry and having nothing for belly.
“Yes, as Mr. Ganeshram Joshibhai used to say, that is what the
British Government does for you—educates you to be passed B.A. and
educated gent., and then grudges to give you thirty rupees a mensem and
expects you to go searching for employment and food to put in belly!
Can B.A. work with hands like maistri?
“Then there came the best of all my friends, a science-knowing
gentleman who gave all his great talents to bomb. And the cream of all
the milky joke was that he had learnt all his science free, from
Government, at school and college, and he not only used his knowledge
to be first-class superior anarchist but he got chemicals from
Government own laboratory.
“His brother was in Government Engineering College and between them
they did much—for one could make the bomb and the other could fill it.
“But they are both to be hanged at the same time that I am, and I do
not grudge that I am to be innocently hanged for their plot and the
blowing up of the bhangi by mistake for the Collector, for I
have long aspired to be holy martyr in Freedom's sacred cause and have
photo in newspapers and be talked about.
“Besides, as I have said, I am not being done brown, as I murdered
Mr. Spensonly, the Engineer.
“How I hated him!
“Why should he be big and strong while I am skinny and feeble—owing
to night-and-day burning midnight candle at both ends and unable to
make them meet?
“Besides did he not bring unmerited dishonour on grey hairs of poor
old progenitor by finding him out in bribe-taking? Did he not bring my
honoured father's aforesaying grey hairs in sorrow to reduced pension?
“Did he not upbraid and rebuke, nay, reproach me when I made
grievous little errors and backslippers?
“A thousand times Yea.
“But I should never have murdered him had I not caught the Plague,
so out of evil cometh good once more.
“The Plague came to Gungapur in its millions and we knew not what to
do but stood like drowning man splitting at a straw.
“Superstitious Natives said it was the revenge of Goddess Kali for
not sacrificing, and superstitious Europeans said it was a microbe
created by their God to punish unhygienic way of living.
“Knowing there are no gods of any sort I am in a position to state
that it was just written on our foreheads.
“To make confusion worse dumbfounded the Government of course had to
seize horns of dilemma and trouble the poor. They had all cases taken
to hospital and made segregation and inspection camps. They disinfected
houses and burnt rags and even purdah women were not allowed to die in
bosom of family. Of course police stole lakhs of rupees worth of
clothes and furniture and said it was infected. And many good men who
were enemies of Government were falsely accused of being
plague-stricken and were dragged to hospital and were never seen again.
“Terrible calamities fell upon our city and at last it nearly lost
me myself. I was seized, dragged from my family-bosom, cast into
hospital and cured. And in hospital I learned from fellow who was
subordinate-medical that rats get plague in sewers and cesspools and
when they die of it their fleas must go elsewhere for food, and so hop
on to other rat and give that poor chap plague too, by biting him with
dirty mouths from dead rat, and then he dies and so in adfinitum, as the poet has it. But suppose no other rat is handy, what is poor
hungry flea to do? When you can't get curry, eat rice! When flea can't
get rat he eats man—turns to nastier food. (He! He!)
“So when flea from plague-stricken rat jumps on to man and bites
him, poor fellow gets plague—bus.
 Finale, enough, the end.
“Didn't friends and family-members skeddaddle and bunk when they saw
rat after I told them all that! But I didn't care, I had had plague
once, and one cannot get it twice. Not one man in thousand recovers
when he has got it, but I did. Old uneducated fool maternal parent did
lots of thanks-givings and poojah because gods specially
attentive to me—but I said 'Go to, old woman. It was written on
“And when I returned to work, one day I had an idea—an idea of how
to punish Mr. Spensonly for propelling honoured parent head first out
of job, and idea for striking blow at British prestige. We had our
office in private bungalow in those days before new Secretariat was
built, and it was unhealthy bungalow in which no one would live because
“Mr. Spensonly didn't care, and he had office on top floor, but
bottom floor was clerks' office who went away at night also. Now it was
my painful duty to go every morning up to his office-room and see that
peon had put fresh ink and everything ready and that the hamal
had dusted properly. So it was not long before I was aware that all the
drawers were locked except the top right-hand drawer, and that was not
used as there was a biggish hole in the front of it where the edge was
broken away from the above, some miscreant having once forced it open
“And verily it came to pass that one day, entering my humble
abode-room, I saw a plague-rat lying suffering from in extremis
and about to give up ghost. But having had plague I did not trouble
about the fleas that would leave his body when it grew stiff and cold,
in search of food. Instead I let it lie there while my food was being
prepared, and regretted that it was not beneath the chair of some enemy
of mine who had not had plague, instead of beneath my own ... that of
Mr. Spensonly for example!...
“It was Saturday night. I returned to the office that evening,
knowing that Mr. Spensonly was out; and I went to his office-room with
idle excuse to the peon sitting in verandah—and in my pocket was poor
old rat kicking bucket fast.
“Who was to say I put deceasing rat in the Sahib's
table-drawer just where he would come and sit all day—being in the
habit of doing work on Sunday the Christian holy day (being a man of no
religion or caste)? What do I know of rats and their properties when at
death's front door?
“Cannot rat go into a Sahib's drawer as well as into poor man's? If
he did no work on Sunday very likely the fleas would remain until
Monday, the rat dying slowly and remaining warm and not in rigour
mortuis. Anyhow when they began to seek fresh fields and pastures
new, being fed up with old rat—or rather not able to get fed up
enough, they would be jolly well on the look out, and glad enough to
take nibble even at an Englishman! (He! He!) So I argued, and put good
old rat in drawer and did slopes. On Monday, Mr. Spensonly went early
from office, feeling feverish; and when I called, as in duty bound, to
make humble inquiries on Tuesday, he was reported jolly sickish with
Plague—and he died Tuesday night. I never heard of any other Sahib
dying of Plague in Gungapur except one missionary fellow who lived in
the native city with native fellows.
“So they can hang me for share in bomb-outrage and welcome (though I
never threw the bomb nor made it, and only took academic interest in
affair as I told the Judge Sahib)—for I maintain with my dying breath
that it was I who murdered Mr. Spensonly and put tongue in cheeks when
Gungapur Gazette wrote column about the unhealthy bungalow in which
he was so foolish as to have his office. When I reflect that by this
time to-morrow I shall be Holy Martyr I rejoice and hope photo will be
good one, and I send this message to all the world—
* * * * *
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Gosling-Green, M.P., liked this Pathan
gentleman so well after reading his letter and enclosure. Before long
they liked him very much less—although they did not know it—which
Sec. 5. MR. HORACE FAGGIT.
“Fair cautions, ain't they, these bloomin' niggers,” observed Mr.
Horace Faggit, as the train rested and refreshed itself at a wayside
station on its weary way to distant Gungapur.
Colonel Wilberforce Wriothesley, of the 99th Baluch Light Infantry,
apparently did not feel called upon to notice the remark of Horace,
whom he regarded as a Person.
“Makes you proud to think you are one of the Ruling Rice to look at
the silly blighters, don't it?” he persisted.
“No authority on rice,” murmured the Colonel, without looking up
from his book.
Stuffy old beggar he seemed to the friendly and genial Horace, but
Horace was too deeply interested in India and Horace to be affected by
For Mr. Horace Faggit had only set foot in his Imperial Majesty the
King Emperor's Indian Empire that month, and he was dazed with
impressions, drunk with sensations, and uplifted with pride. Was he not
one of the Conquerors, a member of the Superior Society, one of the
Ruling Race, and, in short, a Somebody?
The train started again and Horace sank back upon the long couch of
the unwonted first-class carriage, and sighed with contentment and
How different from Peckham and from the offices of the fine old
British Firm of Schneider, Schnitzel, Schnorrer &Schmidt! A Somebody at
last—after being office-boy, clerk, strap-hanger, gallery-patron,
cheap lodger, and paper-collar wearer. A Somebody, a Sahib, an English
gent., one of the Ruling and Upper Class after being a fourpenny
luncher, a penny-'bus-and-twopenny—tuber, a waverer 'twixt Lockhart
For him, now, the respectful salaam, precedence, the first-class
carriage, the salutes of police and railway officials, hotels, a
servant (elderly and called a “Boy"), cabs (more elderly and called
“gharries"), first-class refreshment and waiting rooms, a funny but
imposing sun-helmet, silk and cotton suits, evening clothes, deference,
regard and prompt attention everywhere. Better than Peckham and the
City, this! My! What tales he'd have to tell Gwladwys Gwendoline when
he had completed his circuit and returned.
For Mr. Horace Faggit, plausible, observant, indefatigably cunning,
and in business most capable (“No bloomin' flies on 'Orris F.” as he
would confidently and truthfully assure you) was the first tentative
tentacle advanced to feel its way by the fine old British Firm of
Schneider, Schnitzel, Schnorrer &Schmidt, in the mazy markets of the
gorgeous Orient, and to introduce to the immemorial East their famous
jewellery and wine of Birmingham and Whitechapel respectively; also to
introduce certain exceeding-private documents to various gentlemen of
Teutonic sympathies and activities in various parts of India—documents
of the nature of which Horace was entirely ignorant.
And the narrow bosom of Horace swelled with pride, as he realized
that, here at least, he was a Gentleman and a Sahib.
Well, he'd let 'em know it too. Those who did him well and pleased
him should get tips, and those who didn't should learn what it was to
earn the displeasure of the Sahib and to evoke his wrath. And he would
endeavour to let all and sundry see the immeasurable distance and
impassable gulf that lay between a Sahib and a nigger—of any degree
This was the country to play the gentleman in and no error! You
could fling your copper cash about in a land where a
one-and-fourpenny piece was worth a hundred and ninety-two copper
coins, where you could get a hundred good smokes to stick in your face
for about a couple of bob, and where you could give a black cabby
sixpence and done with it. Horace had been something of a Radical at
home (and, indeed, when an office-boy, a convinced Socialist),
especially when an old-age pension took his lazy, drunken old father
off his hands, and handsomely rewarded the aged gentleman for an
unswervingly regular and unbroken career of post-polishing and
pub-pillaring. But now he felt he had been mistaken. Travel widens the
horizon and class-hatred is only sensible and satisfactory when you are
no class yourself. When you have got a position you must keep it
up—and being one of the Ruling Race was a position undoubtedly. Horace
Faggit would keep it up too, and let 'em see all about it.
The train entered another station and drew in from the heat and
glare to the heat and comparative darkness.
Yes, he would keep up his position as a Sahib haughtily and with
jealousy,—and he stared with terrible frown and supercilious hauteur
at what he mentally termed a big, fat buck-nigger who dared and
presumed to approach the carriage and look in. The man wore an enormous
white turban, a khaki Norfolk jacket, white jodhpore riding-breeches
that fitted the calf like skin, and red shoes with turned-up pointed
toes. His beard was curled, and his hair hung in ringlets from his
turban to his shoulders in a way Horace considered absurd. Could the
blighter be actually looking to see whether there might be room for
him, and meditating entry? If so Horace would show him his mistake.
Pretty thing if niggers were to get into First-Class carriages with
Sahibs like Horace!
“'Ere! What's the gaime?” he inquired roughly. “Can't yer see this
is Firs-Class, and if you got a Firs-Class ticket, can't yer see
there's two Sahibs 'ere? Sling yer 'ook, sour. Go on,
 Go away.
The man gave no evidence of having understood Horace.
“Sahib!” said he softly, addressing Colonel Wilberforce Wriothesley.
The Colonel went on reading.
“Jao, I tell yer,” repeated Horace, rather proud of his grasp
of the vernacular. “Slope, barnshoot.”
 An insulting epithet.
“Sahib!” said the man again.
The Colonel looked up and then sprang to his feet with outstretched
“Bahut salaam, Subedar Major Saheb,” he cried, and wrung
the hand of the “big fat buck-nigger” (who possessed the same
medal-ribbons that he himself did) as he poured forth a torrent of
mingled Pushtu, Urdu, and English while the Native Officer alternately
saluted and pressed the Colonel's hand to his forehead in transports of
pure and wholly disinterested joy.
 Hearty greeting.
“They told me the Colonel Sahib would be passing through this week,”
he said, “and I have met all the trains that I might look upon his
face. I am weary of my furlough and would rejoin but for my law-suit.
Praise be to Allah that I have met my Colonel Sahib,” and the man who
had five war decorations was utterly unashamed of the tear that
“How does my son, Sahib?” he asked in Urdu.
“Well, Subedar Major Saheb, well. Worthily of his father—whose
place in the pultan may he come to occupy.”
“Praise be to God, Sahib! Let him no more seek his father's house
nor look upon his father's face again, if he please thee not in all
things. And is there good news of Malet-Marsac Sahib, O Colonel Sahib?”
Then, with a glance at Horace, he asked: “Why does this low-born one
dare to enter the carriage of the Colonel Sahib and sit? Truly the
relwey terain is a great caste-breaker! Clearly he belongs to the
class of the ghora-log, the common soldiers.” ...
“'Oo was that,—a Rajah?” inquired the astounded Horace, as the
train moved on.
“One of the people who keep India safe for you bagmen,” replied the
Colonel, who was a trifle indignant on behalf of the insulted Subedar
Major Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan of the 99th Baluch Light
“No doubt he thought I was another officer,” reflected Horace. “They
think you're a gent, if you chivvy 'em.”
At Umbalpur Colonel Wilberforce Wriothesley left the train and Mr.
Faggit had the carriage to himself—for a time.
And it was only through his own firmness and proper pride that he
had it to himself for so long, for at the very next station a beastly
little brute of a black man actually tried to get in—in with him, Mr. Horace Faggit of the fine old British Firm of Schneider,
Schnitzel, Schnorrer & Schmidt, manufacturers of best quality
Birmingham jewellery and “importers” of a fine Whitechapel wine.
But Horace settled him all right and taught him to respect
Sahibs. It happened thus. Horace lay idly gazing at the ever-shifting
scene of the platform in lordly detachment and splendid isolation,
when, just as the train was starting, a little fat man, dressed in a
little red turban like a cotton bowler, a white coat with a white sash
over the shoulder, a white apron tucked up behind, pink silk socks, and
patent leather shoes, told his servant to open the door. Ere the
stupefied Horace could arise from his seat the man was climbing in! The
door opened inwards however, and Horace was in time to give it a sharp
thrust with his foot and send the little man, a mere Judge of the High
Court, staggering backwards on to the platform where he sprawled at
full length, while his turban, which Horace thought most ridiculous for
a grown man, rolled in the dust. Slamming the door the “Sahib” leant
out and jeered, while the insolent presumptuous “nigger” wiped the
blood from his nose with a corner of the dhoti or apron-like
garment (which Horace considered idiotic if not improper)....
But Homer nodded, and—Horace went to sleep.
When he awoke he saw by the dim light of the screened roof-lamp that
he was not alone, and that on the opposite couch a native had
actually made up a bed with sheets, blankets and pillow, undressed
himself, put on pyjamas and gone to bed! Gord streuth, he had! He'd
attend to him in the morning—though it would serve the brute right if
Horace threw him out at the next station—without his kit. But he
looked rather large, and Mercy is notoriously a kingly attribute.
In the morning Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan Mir Ilderim Dost Mahommed
of Mekran Kot, Gungapur, and the world in general, awoke, yawned,
stretched himself and arose.
He arose to some six feet and three inches of stature, and his thin
pyjamasuit was seen to cover a remarkably fine and robustious
figure—provided with large contours where contours are desirable, and
level tracts where such are good. As he lay flat back again, Horace
noted that his chest rose higher than his head and the more southerly
portion of his anatomy, while the action of clasping his hands behind
his neck brought into prominence a pair of biceps that strained their
sleeves almost to bursting. He was nearly as fair as London-bred
Horace, but there were his turbanned conical hat, his curly toed shoes,
his long silk coat, his embroidered velvet waistcoat and other wholly
Oriental articles of attire. Besides, his vest was of patterned muslin
and he had something on a coloured string round his neck.
“What are you doing 'ere?” demanded Horace truculently, as this bold
abandoned “native” caught his eye and said “Good-morning”.
“At present I am doing nothing,” was the reply, “unless passive
reclining may count as being something. I trust I do not intrude or
“You do intrude and likewise you do annoy also. I ain't accustomed
to travel with blacks, and I ain't agoing to have you spitting about
'ere. You got in when I was asleep.”
“You were certainly snoring when I got in, and I was careful not to
awaken you—but not on account of any great sensation of guilt or fear.
I assure you I have no intention of spitting or being in any way rude,
unmannerly, or offensive. And since you object to travelling with
'blacks' I suggest—that you leave the carriage.”
Did Horace's ears deceive him? Did he sleep, did he dream, and were
visions about? Leave the carriage?
“Look 'ere,” he shouted, “you keep a civil tongue in your 'ead.
Don't you know I am a gentleman? What do you mean by getting into a
first-class carriage with a gentleman and insulting 'im? Want me to
throw you out before we reach a station? Do yer?”
“No, to tell you the truth I did not realize that you are a
gentleman—and I have known a great number of English gentlemen in
England and India, and generally found them mirrors of chivalry and the
pink of politeness and courtesy. And I hope you won't try to throw me
out either in a station or elsewhere for I might get annoyed and hurt
What a funny nigger it was! What did he mean by “mirrors of
chivalry”. Talked like a bloomin' book. Still, Horace would learn him
not to presoom.
The presumptuous one retired to the lavatory; washed, shaved, and
reappeared dressed in full Pathan kit. But for this, there was nothing
save his very fine physique and stature to distinguish him from an
inhabitant of Southern Europe.
Producing a red-covered official work on Mounted Infantry Training,
he settled down to read.
Horace regretted that India provided not his favourite Comic Cuts
and Photo Bits.
“May I offer you a cigarette and light one myself?” said the “black"
man in his quiet cultured voice.
“I don't want yer fags—and I don't want you smoking while I got a
empty stummick,” replied the Englishman.
Anon the train strolled into an accidental-looking station with an
air of one who says, “Let's sit down for a bit—what?” and Horace
sprang to the window and bawled for the guard.
“'Ere—ask this native for 'is ticket,” he said, on the arrival of
that functionary. “Wot's 'e doing in 'ere with me?”
“Ticket, please?” said the guard—a very black Goanese.
The Pathan produced his ticket.
“Will you kindly see if there is another empty first-class carriage,
Guard?” said he.
“There iss one next a'door,” replied the guard.
“Then you can escape from your unpleasant predicament by going in
there, Sir,” said the Pathan.
“I shall remine where I ham,” was the dignified answer.
“And so shall I,” said the Pathan.
“Out yer go,” said the bagman, rising threateningly.
“I am afraid I shall have to put you to the trouble of ejecting me,”
said the Pathan, with a smile.
“I wouldn't bemean myself,” countered Horace loftily, and didn't.
“One often hears of the dangerous classes in India,” said the
Pathan, as the train moved on again. “You belong to the most dangerous
of all. You and your kind are a danger to the Empire and I have a good
mind to be a public benefactor and destroy you. Put you to the edge of
the sword—or rather of the tin-opener,” and he pulled his lunch-basket
from under the seat.
“Have some chicken, little Worm?” he continued, opening the basket
and preparing to eat.
“Keep your muck,” replied Horace.
“No, no, little Cad,” corrected the strange and rather terrible
person; “you are going to breakfast with me and you are going to learn
a few things about India—and yourself.”
And Horace did....
“Where are you going?” asked the Pathan person later.
“I'm going to work up a bit o' trade in a place called Gungerpore,”
was the reply of the cowed Horace.
But in Gungapur Horace adopted the very last trade that he,
respectable man, ever expected to adopt—that of War.
CHAPTER IV. “MEET AND LEAVE AGAIN.”
“So on the sea of life, Alas!
Man nears man, meets and leaves again.”
It had come. Ross-Ellison had proved a true prophet (and was to
prove himself a true soldier and commander of men).
Possibly the most remarkable thing about it was the quickness and
quietness, the naturalness and easiness with which it had come. A week
or two of newspaper forecast and fear, a week or two of recrimination
and feverish preparation, an ultimatum—England at war. The navy
mobilized, the army mobilizing, auxiliaries warned to be in readiness,
overseas battalions, batteries and squadrons recalled, or
re-distributed, reverses and “regrettable incidents,”—and outlying
parts of India (her native troops massed in the North or doing
garrison-duty overseas) an archipelago of safety-islands in a sea of
danger; Border parts of India for a time dependent upon their various
volunteer battalions for the maintenance, over certain areas, of their
civil governance, their political organization and public services.
In Gungapur, as in a few other Border cities, the lives of the
European women, children and men, the safety of property, and the
continuance of the local civil government depended for a little while
upon the local volunteer corps.
Gungapur, whose history became an epitome of that of certain other
isolated cities, was for a few short weeks an intermittently besieged
garrison, a mark for wandering predatory bands composed of budmashes
outlaws, escaped convicts, deserters, and huge mobs drawn from that
enormous body of men who live on the margin of respectability, peaceful
cultivator today, bloodthirsty dacoit to-morrow, wielders of the spade
and mattock or of the lathi and tulwar according to
season, circumstance, and the power of the Government; recruits for a
mighty army, given the leader and the opportunity—the hour of a
 Quarter-staff and sword.
As had been pointed out, time after time, in the happy and
happy-go-lucky past, the practical civilian seditionist and active
civilian rebel is more fortunately situated in India than is his
foreign brother, in that his army exists ready to hand, all round him,
in the thousands of the desperately poor, devoid of the
“respectability” that accompanies property, thousands with nothing to
lose and high hopes of much to gain, heaven-sent material for the
Thanks to the energy of Colonel John Robin Ross-Ellison, his unusual
organizing ability, his personality, military genius and fore-knowledge
of what was coming, Gungapur suffered less than might have been
expected in view of its position on the edge of a Border State of
always-doubtful friendliness, its large mill-hand element, and the
poverty and turbulence of its general population.
The sudden departure of the troops was the sign for the commencement
of a state of insecurity and anxiety which quickly merged into one of
danger and fear, soon to be replaced by a state of war.
From the moment that it was known for certain that the garrison
would be withdrawn, Colonel Ross-Ellison commenced to put into practice
his projected plans and arrangements. On the day that Mr. Dearman's
coolies (after impassioned harangues by a blind Mussulman fanatic known
as Ibrahim the Weeper, a faquir who had recently come over the Border
to Gungapur and attained great influence; and by a Hindu professional
agitator who had obtained a post at the mills in the guise of a
harmless clerk) commenced rioting, beat Mr. Dearman to death with
crowbars, picks, and shovels, murdered all the European and Eurasian
employees, looted all that was worth stealing, and, after having set
fire to the mills, invaded the Cantonment quarter, burning, murdering,
destroying,—Colonel Ross-Ellison called out his corps, declared
martial law, and took charge of the situation, the civil authorities
being dead or cut off in the “districts”.
The place which he had marked out for his citadel in time of trouble
was the empty Military Prison, surrounded by a lofty wall provided with
an unassailable water-supply, furnished with cook-houses, infirmary,
work-shop, and containing a number of detached bungalows (for
officials) in addition to the long lines of detention barracks.
As soon as his men had assembled at Headquarters he marched to the
place and commenced to put it in a state of defence and preparation for
While Captain Malet-Marsac and Captain John Bruce (of the Gungapur
Engineering College) slaved at carrying out his orders in the Prison,
other officers, with picked parties of European Volunteers, went out to
bring in fugitives, to commandeer the contents of provision and grain
shops, to drive in cattle, to seize cooks, sweepers and other servants,
to shoot rioters and looters in the Cantonment area, to search for
wounded and hidden victims of the riot, to bury corpses, extinguish
fires, penetrate to European bungalows in the city and in outlying
places, to publish abroad that the Military Prison was a safe refuge,
to seize and empty ammunition shops and toddy shops, to mount guards at
the railway-station, telegraph office, the banks, the gate-house of the
great Jail, the Treasury and the Kutcherry, and generally, to use
their common sense and their rifles as the situation demanded.
 Collector's Court and Office.
Day by day external operation became more restricted as the mob grew
larger and bolder, better armed and better organized, daily augmented
and assisted from without. The last outpost which Colonel Ross-Ellison
withdrew was the one from the railway-station, and that was maintained
until it was known that large bridges had been blown up on either side
and the railway rendered useless. In the Jail gate-house he established
a strong guard under the Superintendent, and urged him to use it
ruthlessly, to kill on the barest suspicion of mutiny, and to welcome
the first opportunity of giving the sharpest of lessons.
In this matter he set a personal example and behaved, to actual
rioters, with what some of his followers considered unnecessary
severity, and what others viewed as wise war-ending firmness.
When remonstrated with by Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green (caught, alas!
with his admirable wife in this sudden and terrible maelstrom), for
shooting, against the Prison wall, a squad of armed men caught by night
and under more than suspicious circumstances, within Cantonment limits,
he replied curtly and rudely:—
“My good little Gosling, I'd shoot you with my own hand if
you failed me in the least particular—so stick to your drill and hope
to become a Corporal before the war is over”.
The world-famous Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., hoping to become
a Corporal! Meanwhile he was less—a private soldier, doing four hard
drills a day—not to mention sentry-go and fatigues. Like Augustus
Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble, he grumbled bitterly—but he obeyed,
having been offered the hard choice of enrolment or exclusion.
“I'll have no useless male mouths here,” had said Colonel
Ross-Ellison. “Enroll or clear out and take your chance. I'll look
after your wife.”
“But, my dear Sir....”
“'Sir' without the 'my dear,' please.”
“I was about to say that I could—ah—assist, advise, sit upon your
councils, give you the benefit of my—er—experience, ...” the
Publicist had expostulated.
“Experience of war?”
“Enroll or clear out—and when you have enrolled remember that you
are under martial law and in time of war.”
A swift, fierce, masterful man, harsh and ruthless making war
without kid gloves—that it might end the sooner and be the longer
remembered by the survivors. The flag was to be kept flying in
Gungapur, the women and children were to be saved, all possible damage
was to be inflicted on the rebels and rioters, more particularly upon
those who led and incited them. The Gosling-Greens and Grobbles who
could not materially assist to this end could go, those who could
thwart or hinder this end could die.
Gleams of humour enlivened the situation. Mrs. Gosling-Green (nee
a Pounding-Pobble, Superiora Pounding-Pobble, one of the
Pounding-Pobbles of Putney) was under the orders, very much under the
orders, of the wife of the Sergeant-Major, and early and plainly learnt
that good woman's opinion that she was a poor, feckless body and eke a
fushionless, not worth the salt of her porridge—a lazy slut withal.
Among the “awkward squads” enrolled when rioting broke out and the
corps seized the old Prison, were erstwhile grave and reverend seniors
learning to “stand up like a man an' look prahd o' yourself” at the
orders of the Sergeant-Major. Among them were two who had been Great
Men, Managers signing per and pro, Heads of Departments,
almost Tin Gods, and one of them, alas, was at the mercy of a mere boy
whom he had detested and frequently “squashed” in the happy days of
yore. The mere boy (a cool, humorous, and somewhat vindictive person,
one of the best subalterns of the Corps and especially chosen by
Colonel Ross-Ellison when re-organizing the battalion after its
disbandment) was giving his close attention to the improvement of his
late manager, a pompous, dull and silly bureaucrat, even as his late
manager had done for him.
“Now, Private Bulliton,” he would urge, “do learn which is
your right hand and which is your left. And do stand up....
No—don't drop your rifle when you are told to 'shoulder'. That's
better—we shall make something of you yet. Head up, man, head up! Try
and look fierce. Look at Private Faggit—he'll be a Sergeant yet” ...
and indeed Private Horace Faggit was looking very fierce indeed, for he
desired the blood of these interfering villains who were hindering the
development of the business of the fine old British firm of Messrs.
Schneider, Schnitzel, Schnorrer &Schmidt and the commissions of their
representative. Also he felt that he was assisting at the making of
history. 'Orace in a bloomin' siege—Gorblimey!—and he, who had never
killed anything bigger than an insect in his life, lusted to know how
it felt to shove your bayonet into a feller or shoot 'im dead at short
rynge. So Horace drilled with alacrity and zest, paid close attention
to aiming-instruction and to such visual-training and distance-judging
as his officer, Captain John Bruce, could give him, and developed a
military aptitude surprising to those who had known him only as Horace
Faggit, Esquire, the tried and trusted Representative of the fine old
British Firm of Schneider, Schnitzel, Schnorrer &Schmidt.
To Captain Malet-Marsac, an unusually thoughtful, observant and
studious soldier, it was deeply interesting to see how War affected
different people how values changed, how the Great became exceeding
small, and the insignificant person became important. By the end of the
first month of what was virtually the siege of the Military Prison,
Horace Faggit, late office-boy, clerk, and bagman, was worth
considerably more than Augustus Grobble, late Professor of Moral
Philosophy; Cornelius Gosling-Green, late Publicist; Edward Jones, late
(alleged) Educationist, of Duri formerly; and a late Head of a
Department,—all rolled into one—a keen, dapper, self-reliant soldier,
courageous, prompt, and very bloodthirsty.
As he strolled up and down, supervising drills, went round the
sentry-posts by night, or marched at the head of a patrol, Captain
Malet-Marsac would reflect upon the relativity of things, the false
values of civilization, and the extraordinary devitalising and
deteriorating results of “education”. When it came to vital issues,
elementals, stark essential manhood,—then the elect of civilization,
the chosen of education, weighed, was found not only wanting but
largely negligible. Where the highly “educated” was as good as the
other he was so by reason of his games and sports, his shikar,
or his specialized training—as in the case of the engineers and other
Captain John Bruce, for example, Professor of Engineering, was a
soldier in a few weeks and a fine one. In time of peace, a quiet,
humorous, dour and religious-minded man, he was now a stern
disciplinarian and a cunning foe who fought to kill, rejoicing in the
carnage that taught a lesson and made for earlier peace. The mind that
had dreamed of universal brotherhood and the Oneness of Humanity now
dreamed of ambushes, night-attacks, slaughterous strategy and
magazine-fire on a cornered foe.
Surely and steadily the men enclosed behind the walls of the old
Prison rose into the ranks of the utterly reliable, the indefatigable,
the fearless and the fine, or sank into those of the shifty, unhearty,
unreliable, and unworthy—save the few who remained steadily mediocre,
well-meaning, unsoldierly, fairly trustworthy—a useful second line,
but not to be sent on forlorn hopes, dangerous reconnoitring, risky
despatch-carrying, scouting, or ticklish night-work. One siege is very
like another—and Ross-Ellison's garrison knew increasing weariness,
hunger, disease and casualties.
Mrs. Dearman's conduct raised Colonel Ross-Ellison's love to a
burning, yearning devotion, and his defence of Gungapur became his
defence of Mrs. Dearman. For her husband she appeared to mourn but
little—there was little time to mourn—and, for a while, until sights,
sounds and smells became increasingly horrible, she appeared almost to
enjoy her position of Queen of the Garrison, the acknowledged Ladye of
the Officers and men of the Corps. Until she fell sick herself, she
played the part of amateur Florence Nightingale right well, going
regularly with a lamp—the Lady with the Lamp—at night through the
hospital ward. Captain John Bruce was the only one who was not loud in
her praises, though he uttered no dispraises. He, a dour and practical
person, thought the voyage with the Lamp wholly unnecessary and likely
to awaken sleepers to whom sleep was life; that lint-scraping would
have been a more useful employment than graciousness to the poor
wounded; that a woman, as zealous as Mrs. Dearman looked, would have
torn up dainty cotton and linen confections for bandages instead of
wearing them; that the Commandant didn't need all the personal
encouragement and enheartenment that she wished to give him—and many
other uncomfortable, cynical, and crabby thoughts. Captain Malet-Marsac
loved her without criticism.
Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green, after haranguing all and sundry,
individually and collectively, on the economic unsoundness, the
illogic, and the unsocial influence of War, took to her bed and stayed
there until she found herself totally neglected. Arising and demanding
an interview with the Commandant, she called him to witness that she
entered a formal protest against the whole proceedings and registered
her emphatic——until the Commandant, sending for Cornelius (whose
duties cut him off, unrepining, from his wife's society), ordered him
to remove her, silence her, beat her if necessary—and so save her from
the unpleasant alternative of solitary confinement on bread and water
until she could be, if not useful, innocuous.
Many a poor woman of humble station proved herself (what most women
are) an uncomplaining, unconsidered heroine, and more than one
“subordinate” of mixed ancestry and unpromising exterior, a brave
devoted man. As usual, what kept the flag flying and gave ultimate
victory to the immeasurably weaker side was the spirit, the
personality, the force, the power, of one man.
To Captain Malet-Marsac this was a revelation. Even to him, who knew
John Robin Ross-Ellison well, and had known and studied him for some
time at Duri and elsewhere, it was a wonderful thing to see how the
quiet, curious, secretive man (albeit a fine athlete, horseman and
adventurous traveller) stepped suddenly into the fierce light of
supreme command in time of war, a great, uncompromising, resourceful
ruler of men, skilful strategist and tactician, remarkable both as
organizer, leader, and personal fighter.
Did he ever sleep? Night after night he penetrated into the
city disguised as a Pathan (a disguise he assumed with extraordinary
skill and which he strengthened by a perfect knowledge of many Border
dialects as well as of Pushtoo), or else personally led some night
attack, sally, reconnaissance or foraging expedition. Day after day he
rode out on Zuleika with the few mounted men at his command, scouting,
reconnoitring, gleaning information, attacking and slaughtering small
parties of marauders as occasion offered.
From him the professional soldier, his adjutant, learned much, and
wondered where his Commandant had learned all he had to teach. Captain
Malet-Marsac owned him master, his military as well as his official
superior, and grew to feel towards him as his immediate followers felt
toward Napoleon—to love him with a devoted respect, a respecting
devotion. He recognized in him the born guerrilla leader—and more, the
trained guerrilla leader, and wondered where on earth this strange
civilian had garnered his practical military knowledge and skill.
Wherever he went on foot, especially when he slipped out of the
Prison for dangerous spy-work among the forces of the mutineers,
rebels, rioters and budmashes of the city, he was followed by
his servant, an African, concerning whom Colonel Ross-Ellison had
advised the servants of the Officers' Mess to be careful and also to
bear in mind that he was not a Hubshi. Only when the Colonel
rode forth on horseback was he separated from this man who, when the
Colonel was in his room, invariably slept across the door thereof.
On night expeditions, the Somali would be disguised, sometimes as a
leprous beggar, as stable-boy, again as an Arab, sometimes as a
renegade sepoy from a Native Border Levy, sometimes as a poor
fisherman, again as a Sidi boatman, he being, like his master,
exceptionally good at disguises of all kinds, and knowing Hindustani,
Arabic, and his native Somal dialect.
He was an expert bugler, and in that capacity stuck like a burr to
the Colonel by day, looking very smart and workmanlike in khaki uniform
and being of more than average usefulness with rifle and bayonet. Not
until after the restoration of order did Mr. Edward Jones, formerly of
the Duri High School, long puzzled as to where he had seen him before,
realize who he was.
* * * * *
In a low dark room, dimly lighted that evening by wick-and-saucer
butties, squatted, lay, sat, stood and sprawled a curious
collection of scoundrels. The room was large, and round the four sides
of it ran a very broad, very low, and very filthy divan, intended for
the rest and repose of portly bunnias, seths,
brokers, shopkeepers and others of the commercial fraternity, what time
they assembled to chew pan and exchange lies and truths anent money and
the markets. A very different assembly now occupied its greasy lengths
vice the former habitues of the salon, now dispersed, dead,
robbed, ruined, held to ransom, or cruelly blackmailed.
In the seat of honour (an extra cushion), sat the blind faquir who,
with his clerkly colleague, had set the original match to the magazine
by inciting the late Mr. Dearman's coolies. Apparently a relentless,
terrible fanatic and bitter hater of the English, for his councils were
all of blood and fire, rapine and slaughter, he taunted his hearers
with their supine cowardice in that the Military Prison still held out,
its handful of defenders still manned its walls, nay, from time to
time, made sallies and terrible reprisals upon a careless
“Were I but as other men! Had I but mine eyes!” he screamed, “I
would overwhelm the place in an hour. Hundreds to one you are—and you
are mocked, robbed, slaughtered.”
A thin-faced, evil-looking, squint-eyed Hindu whose large, thick,
gold-rimmed goggles accorded ill with the sword that lay athwart his
crossed legs, addressed him in English.
“Easy to talk, Moulvie. Had you your sight you could perhaps drill
and arm the mob into an army, eh? Find them repeating rifles and
ammunition, find them officers, find them courage? Is it not? Yes.”
“Hundreds to one, Babu,” grunted the blind man, and spat.
“I would urge upon this august assemblee,” piped a youthful weedy
person, “that recreemination is not argument, and that many words
butter no parsneeps, so to speak. We are met to decide as to whether
the treasure shall be removed to Pirgunge or still we keep it with us
here in view of sudden sallies of foes. I hereby beg to propose and my
honourable friend Mister——”
“Sit down, crow,” said the blind faquir unkindly and there was a
snigger. “The treasure will be removed at once—this night, or I will
remove myself from Gungapur with all my followers—and go where deeds
are being done. I weary of waiting while pi-dogs yelp around the walls
they cannot enter. Cowards! Thousands to one—and ye do not kill two of
them a day. Conquer and slay them? Nay—rather must our own treasure be
removed lest some night the devil, in command there, swoop upon it,
driving ye off like sheep and carrying back with him——”
“Flesh and blood cannot face a machine-gun, Moulvie,” said the
squint-eyed Hindu. “Even your holy sanctity would scarcely
protect you from bullets. Come forth and try to-morrow.”
“Nor can flesh and blood—such flesh and blood as Gungapur
provides—surround the machine-gun and rush upon it from flank and rear
of course,” replied the blind man. “Do machine guns fire in all
directions at once? When they ran the accursed thing down to the
market-place and fired it into the armed crowd that listened to my
words, could ye not have fled by other streets to surround it? Had all
rushed bravely from all directions how long would it have fired? Even
thus, could more have died than did die? Scores they slew—and retired
but when they could fire no longer.... And ye allowed it to go because
a dozen men stood between it and you——,” and again the good man spat.
“I do not say 'Sit down, crow' for thou art already sitting,” put in
a huge, powerful-looking man, arrayed in a conical puggri-encircled
cap, long pink shirt over very baggy peg-top trousers, and a green
waistcoat, “but I weary of thy chatter Blind-Man. Keep thy babble for
fools in the market-place, where, I admit, it hath its uses. Remain our
valued and respected talker and interfere not with fighting men, nor
criticize. And say not 'The treasure will be removed this night,' nor
anything else concerning command. I will decide in the matter of
the treasure and I prefer to keep it here under mine hand....”
“Doubtless,” sneered the blind man. “Under thy hand—until, in the
end, it be found to consist of boxes of stones and old iron. Look
you—the treasure goes to-night or I go, and certain others go
with me. And suppose I change my tune in the market-place, Havildar
Nazir Ali Khan, and say certain words concerning thee and thy
designs, give hints of treachery—and where is the loud-mouthed Nazir
Ali Khan?...” and his blind eyes glared cold ferocity at the last
speaker who handled his sword and replied nothing.
The secret of the man's power was clear.
“The treasure will be removed to night,” he repeated and a
discussion of limes, routes, escort and other details followed. A
dispute arose between the big man addressed as Havildar Nazir Ali Khan
and a squat broad-shouldered Pathan as to the distance and probable
time that a convoy, moving at the rate of laden bullock-carts, would
take in reaching Pirgunge.
The short thick-set Pathan turned for confirmation of his estimate
to another Pathan, grey-eyed but obviously a Pathan, nevertheless.
“I say it is five kos and the carts should start at moonrise
and arrive before the moon sets.”
“You are right, brother,” replied the grey-eyed Pathan, who, for his
own reasons, particularly desired that the convoy should move by
moonlight. This individual had not spoken hitherto in the hearing of
the blind faquir, and, as he did so now, the blind man turned sharply
in his direction, a look of startled surprise and wonder on his face.
“Who spoke?” he snapped.
But the grey-eyed man arose, yawned hugely, and, arranging his
puggri and straightening his attire, swaggered towards the door of the
room, passed out into a high-walled courtyard, exchanged a few words
with the guardian of a low gateway, and emerged into a narrow alley
where he was joined by an African-looking camel-man.
The blind man, listening intently, sat motionless for a minute and
then again asked sharply:—
“Who spoke? Who spoke?”
“Many have spoken Pir Saheb,” replied the squat Pathan.
“Who said 'You are right, brother,' but now? Who? Quick!” he
“Who? Why, 'twas one of us,” replied the squat Pathan. “Yea, 'twas
Abdulali Habbibullah, the money-lender. I have known him long....”
“Let him speak again,” said the blind man.
“Where is he? He has gone out, I think,” answered the other.
“Call him back, Hidayetullah. Take others and bring him back. I must
hear his voice again,” urged the faquir.
“He will come again, Moulvie Saheb, he is often here,” said the
short man soothingly. “I know him well. He will be here to-morrow.”
“See, Hidayetullah,” said the blind faquir “when next he comes, say
then to me, 'May I bring thee tobacco, Pir Saheb,' if he be sitting
near, but say 'May I bring thee tobacco, Moulvie Saheb,' if he be
sitting afar off. If this, speak to him across the room that I may hear
his voice in answer, and call him by his name, Abdulali Habbibullah.
And if I should, on a sudden, cry out 'Hold the door,' do thou draw
knife and leap to the door....”
“A spy, Pir Saheb?” asked the interested man.
“That I shall know when next I hear his voice—and, if it be he whom
I think, thou shalt scrape the flesh from the bones of his face with
thy knife and put his eyeballs in his mouth. But he must not die. Nay!
The Pathan smiled.
“Thou shalt hear his voice, Pir Saheb,” he promised.
* * * * *
An hour later the African-looking camel-man and the Pathan
approached the gates of the Military Prison and at a distance of a
couple of hundred yards the African imitated the cry of a jackal, the
barking of a dog and the call of the “Did-ye-do-it” bird.
Approaching the gate he whispered a countersign and was admitted,
the gate being then held open for the Pathan who followed him at a
distance of a hundred yards. Entering Colonel Ross-Ellison's room the
Pathan quickly metamorphosed himself into Colonel Ross-Ellison, and
sent for his Adjutant, Captain Malet-Marsac.
“Fifty of the best, with fifty rounds each, to parade at the gate in
half an hour,” he said. “Bruce to accompany me, you to remain in
command here. All who can, to wear rubber-soled shoes, others to go
barefoot or bandage their boots with putties over cardboard or paper.
No man likely to cough or sneeze is to go. Luminous-paint discs to be
served out to half a dozen. No rations, no water,—just shirts, shorts
and bandoliers. Nothing white or light-coloured to be worn. Put a
strong outpost, all European, under Corporal Faggit on the hill, and
double all guards and sentries. Shove sentry-groups at the top of the
Sudder Bazaar, West Street and Edward Road.—You know all about
it.... I've got a good thing on. There'll be a lot of death about
to-night, if all goes well.”
Half an hour later Captain Bruce called his company of fifty picked
men to “attention” as Colonel Ross-Ellison approached, the gate was
opened and an advance-guard of four men, with four flankers, marched
out and down the road leading to the open country. Two of these wore
each a large tin disc painted with luminous paint fastened to his back.
When these discs were only just visible from the gate a couple more
disc-adorned men started forth, and before their discs faded into the
darkness the remainder of the party “formed fours” and marched after
them, all save a section of fours which followed a couple of hundred
yards in the rear, as a rear-guard. In silence the small force advanced
for an hour, passed some cross-roads, and then Colonel Ross-Ellison,
who had joined the advance-guard, signalled a halt and moved away by
himself to the right of the road.
In the shadow of the trees, the moon having risen, Captain Bruce
ordered his men to lie down, announcing in a whisper that he would have
the life of anyone who made a sound or struck a match. This was known
to be but half in jest, for the Captain was a good disciplinarian and a
man of his word.
Save for the occasional distant bark of the village-dogs, the night
was very still. Sitting staring out into the moon-lit hazy dusk in the
direction in which his chief had disappeared, Captain John Bruce
wondered if he were really one of a band of armed men who hoped shortly
to pour some two and a half thousand bullets into other men, really a
soldier fighting and working and starving that the Flag might fly,
really a primitive fighting-man with much blood upon his hands and an
earnest desire for more—or whether he were not a respectable Professor
who would shortly wake, beneath mosquito-curtains, from a very dreadful
dream. How thin a veneer was this thing called Civilization, and how
unchanged was human nature after centuries and centuries of——
Colonel Ross-Ellison appeared.
“Bring twenty-five men and follow me. Hurry up,” he said quietly,
and, a minute later, led the way from the high-road across country.
Five minutes marching brought the party, advancing in file, to the
mouth of a nullah which ran parallel with the road. Along this, Colonel
Ross-Ellison led them, and, when he gave the signal to halt, it was
seen that they were behind a high sloping bank within fifty yards of
“Now,” said the Colonel to Captain John Bruce, “I'm going to leave
you here. Let your men lie below the top of the bank and if any man
looks over, till your command 'Up and fire,' kick his face in. You will
peep through that bit of bush and no one else will move. Do nothing
until I open fire from the other side. The moment I open fire, up your
lot come and do the same. Magazine, of course. The moon will improve as
it rises more. You'll fix bayonets and charge magazines now. I expect a
pretty big convoy—and before very long. Probably a mob all round a
couple of bylegharies and a crowd following—everybody
distrusting every one, as it is treasure, looted from all round. Don't
shoot the bullocks, but I particularly want to kill a blind bloke who
may be with 'em, so if we charge, barge in too, and look out for a
blinder and don't give him any quarter—give him half instead—half
your sword. He's a ringleader—and I want him for auld lang syne too,
as it happens. He doesn't look blind at all, but he would be led....
“No, Sir. I'm to hide till you fire. Then fire, magazine, and charge
if you do. A blind man to be captured if possible. The bullocks not to
be shot, if possible.”
“Eight O. Carry on,” and the Colonel strode back to where the
remaining twenty-five waited, under a Sergeant. These he placed behind
an old stone wall that marked the boundary of a once-cultivated patch
of land, some forty yards from the road, to which the ground sloped
A nice trap if all went well.
All went exceeding well.
Within an hour and a half of the establishment of the ambush, the
creaking of ungreased wheels was heard and the loud nasal singing of
some jovial soul. Down the silent deserted road came three
bullock-carts piled high with boxes and escorted by a ragged regiment
of ex-sepoys, ex-police, mutineers, almost a battalion from the forces
of the wild Border State neighbouring Gungapur. A small crowd of
variously armed uniformless men preceded the escort and carts, while a
large one followed them.
No advance-guard nor flanking-parties guaranteed the force from
ambush or attack.
Suddenly, as the carts crossed a long culvert and the escort
perforce massed on to the road, instead of straggling on either side
beneath the trees, a voice said coolly in English “Up and fire,” and as
scores of surprised faces turned in the direction of the voice the
night was rent with the crash of fifty rifles pouring in magazine fire
at the rate of fifteen rounds a minute. Magazine fire at less than
fifty yards, into a close-packed body of men. Scarcely a hundred shots
were returned and, by the time a couple of thousand rounds had been
fired (less than three minutes), and Colonel Boss-Ellison had cried
“Ch-a-a-a-r-ge” there was but little to charge and not much for the
bayonet to do. Of the six bullocks four were uninjured.
“Load as many boxes as you can on two carts, and leave half a dozen
men to bring them in. They'll have to take their chance. We must get
back ek dum,” said Colonel Ross-Ellison.
 At once.
Even as he spoke, the sound of distant firing fell upon the ears of
the party and the unmistakable stammer-hammer racket of the maxim.
“They're attacked, by Jove,” he cried. “I thought it likely. There
may have been an idea that we should know something of this convoy and
go for it. All ready? Now a steady double. We'll double and quick-march
alternately. Double march.”
* * * * *
Near the Military Prison was a low conical hill, bare of vegetation
and buildings, a feature of the situation which was a constant source
of anxiety to Colonel Ross-Ellison, for he realized that life in the
beleaguered fortress would be very much harder, and the casualty rate
very much higher, if the enemy had the sense to occupy it in strength
and fire down into the Prison. Against this contingency he always
maintained a picket there at night and a special sentry to watch it by
day, and he had caused deep trenches to be dug and a covered way made
in the Prison compound, so that the fire-swept area could be crossed,
when necessary, with the minimum of risk. Until the night of the
convoy-sortie, however, the enemy had not had the ordinary common sense
to grasp the fact that the hill was the key of the situation and to
“Bloomin' cold up 'ere, Privit Greens, wot?” observed Corporal
Horace Faggit to the famous Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., in
kindly and condescending manner, as he placed him back to back with
Private Augustus Grobble on the hill-top. “But you'll keep awake all
the better for that, me lad.... Now you other four men can go to sleep,
see? You'll lie right close up agin the feet o' Privits Greens an'
Grabbles, and when they've done their two hours, they'll jes' give two
o' you a kick and them two'll rise up an' take their plaices while they
goes to sleep. Then them two'll waike 'tother two, see? An' if hannyone
approaches, the sentry as is faicin' 'im will 'olleraht 'Alt! 'Oo comes
there?' an' if the bloke or blokes say, 'Friend,' then 'e'll say
'Hadvance one an' give the countersign,' and if he can't give no
countersign, then blow 'is bleedin' 'ead off, see?... Now I
shall visit yer from time to time, an' let me find you spry an' smart
with yer,' 'Alt,' 'Oo comes there? see? An' if either sentry sees
anythink suspicious down below there—let 'im send the other sentry
across fer me over in the picket there, see? 'E'll waike up the others
meanwhile an' they'll all watch out till I comes and gives orders, see?
An' if you're attacked afore I come, then retire firing. Retire on the
picket, see? We won't shoot yer. Don't make a bloomin' blackguard-rush
for the picket though. Jest retire one by one firin' steady, see? Now
I'm goin' back to the picket. Ow! an' don' fergit the reconnoitrin'
patrol. Don' go an' shoot at 'em as they comes back. 'Alt 'em for the
countersign as they comes out, and 'alt 'em fer it agin as they comes
in, see? Right O. Now you keep yer eyes skinned, Greens and Grobbles.”
Private Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., had never looked really
impressive even on the public platform in over-long frock-coat and
turned-down collar. In ill-fitting khaki, ammunition boots, a helmet
many sizes too big, and badly-wound putties, he looked an extremely
absurd object. Private Augustus Grobble looked a little more
convincing, inasmuch as his fattish figure filled his uniform, but the
habit of wearing his helmet on the back of his neck and a general
congenital unmilitariness of habit and bearing, operated against
Two unhappier men rarely stood back to back upon a lonely, windy
hill-top. Both were very hungry, very sleepy and very cold, both were
essentially men of peace, and both had powerful
imaginations—especially of horrors happening to their cherished
Both were dealers in words; neither was conversant with things,
facts, deeds, and all that lay outside their inexpressibly artificial
and specialized little spheres. Each had been “educated” out of
physical manliness, self-reliance, courage, practical usefulness,
adaptability, “grit” and the plain virile virtues.
Cornelius burned with a peevish indignation that he, writer of
innumerable pamphlets, speaker at innumerable meetings, organizer of
innumerable societies, compiler of innumerable statistics, author of
innumerable letters to the press, he, husband of the famous suffragist
worker, speaker, organizer and leader, Superiora Gosling-Green (a
Pounding-Pobble of the Pounding-Pobbles of Putney), that he, Cornelius
Gosling-Green, Esq., M.P., should be stuck there like a common soldier,
with a heavy and dangerous gun and a nasty sharp-pointed bayonet, to
stand and shiver while others slept. To stand, too, in a horribly
dangerous situation ... he had a good mind to resign in protest, to
take his stand upon his inalienable rights as a free Englishman. Who
should dare to coerce a Gosling-Green, Member of Parliament, of the
Fabian Society, and a hundred other “bodies”. His Superiora did all the
coercing he wanted and more too. He would enter a formal protest and
tender his resignation. He had always, hitherto, been able to protest
and resign when things did not go as he wished.
He yawned, and again.
“I can see as well sitting or kneeling as I can standing,” he
remarked to Private Augustus Grobble.
“It is a great physiological truth,” replied Augustus, and they both
sat down, leaning against each other for warmth and support, back to
The soul of Augustus was filled with a melancholy sadness and a
gentle woe. To think that he, the loved of many beautiful Wimmin should
be suffering such hardships and running such risks. How his face was
falling in and how the wrinkles were gathering round his eyes. Some of
the beautiful and frail, of whom he thought when he gave his usual
toast after dinner, “To the Wimmin who have loved me,” would hardly
recognize the fair boy over whom they had raved, whose poems they had
loved, whose hair, finger-nails, eyes, ties, socks and teeth they had
complimented. A cruel, cruel waste. But how rather romantic—the
war-worn soldier! He who knew his Piccadilly, Night Clubs, the
theatres, the haunts of fair women and brave men, standing,
no—sitting, on a lonely hill-top watching, watching, the lives of the
garrison in his hands.... He would return to those haunts, bronzed,
lined, hardened—the man from the edge of the Empire, from the back of
Beyond, the man who had Done Things—and talk of camp-fires, the trek,
the Old Trail, smells of sea and desert and jungle, and the man-stifled
town, ... battle, ... brave deeds ... unrecognized heroism ... a medal
... perhaps the ... and the nodding head of Augustus settled upon his
His deep breathing and occasional snores did not attract the
attention of Private Gosling-Green, as Private Gosling-Green was sound
asleep. Nor did they awaken the weary four who made up the sentry
group—Edward Jones, educationist; Henry Grigg, barber; Walter Smith,
shopman; Reginald Ladon Gurr, Head of a Department—and whose right it
was to sleep so long as two of the six watched.
* * * * *
“Let there be no mistake then,” said the burly Havildar Nazir Ali
Khan to one Hidayetulla, squat thick-set Pathan, “at the first shot
from the hill your party, ceasing to crawl, will rush upon the picket,
and mine will swoop upon the gate bearing the tins of kerosene oil, the
faggots and the brushwood. All those with guns will fire at the walls
save the Border State company who will reserve their fire till the gate
is opened or burnt down. The dogs within must either open it to
extinguish the fire, or it must burn. On their volley, all others will
charge for the gate with knife and sword. Do thou win the hill-top and
keep up a heavy fire into the Prison. There will be Lee-Metford rifles
and ammunition there ready for thy taking—ha-ha!”
“And if we are seen and fired on as we stalk the picket on the
“Then their first shot will, as I said, be the signal for your rush
and ours. Understandest thou?”
“I understand. 'Tis a good plan of the blind Moulvie's.”
“Aye! He can plan,—and talk. We can go and be shot, and be
blamed if his plans miscarry,” grumbled the big man, and added, “How
many have you?”
“About forty,” was the reply, “and all Khost men save seven, of whom
four are Afghans of Cabul, two are Punjabis, and one a Sikh.”
“Is it three hours since the treasure started? That was the time the
Moulvie fixed for the attack.”
“It must be, perhaps,” replied the other. “Let us begin. But what if
the hill be not held, or if we capture it with the knife, none firing a
“Then get into good position, make little sungars where necessary,
and, all being ready, open fire into the Prison compound.... At the
first shot—whatever be thy luck—we shall rush in our thousands down
the Sudder Bazaar, West Street and Edward Street, and do as planned.
Are thy forty beneath the trees beyond the hill?”
“They are. I join them now,” and the squat broad-shouldered figure
rolled away with swinging, swaggering gait.
Suddenly Private Augustus Grobble started from deep sleep to acutest
wide-eyed consciousness and was aware of a man's face peering over a
boulder not twenty yards from him—a hideous hairy face, surmounted by
a close-fitting skull-cap that shone greasy in the moonlight. The blood
of Augustus froze in his veins, he held his breath, his heart shook his
body, his tongue withered and dried. He closed his eyes as a wave of
faintness swept over him, and, as he opened them again, he saw that the
man was crawling towards him, and that between his teeth was a huge
knife. The terrible Pathan, the cruel dreadful stalker, the slashing
disemboweller was upon him!—and with a mighty effort he sprang to his
feet and fled for his life down the hill in the direction of the
Prison. His sudden movements awoke Private Green, who, in one scared
glance, saw a number of terrible forms arising from behind boulders and
rushing silently and swiftly towards him and his flying comrade.
Leaping up he fled after Grabble, running as he had never run before,
and, even as he leapt clear of the sleeping group, the wave of Pathans
broke upon it and with slash and stab assured it sound sleep for ever,
all save Edward Jones, who, badly wounded as he was, survived (to the
later undoing of Moussa Isa, murderer of a Brahmin boy).
Of the four Pathans who had surprised the sentry group, one, with a
passing slash that re-arranged the face of Reginald Ladon Gurr, sped on
after the flying sentries. But that the man was short and stout of
build and that the fugitives had a down-hill start, both would have
died that night. As it was, within ten seconds, a tremendous sweep of
the heavy blade of the long Khyber knife caused Private Gosling-Green
to lose his head completely and for the last time. Augustus Grobble,
favoured of fortune for the moment, took flying leaps that would have
been impossible to him under other circumstances, bounded and ran
unstumbling, gained the shadow of the avenue of trees, and with
bursting breast sped down the road, reached the gate, shouted the
countersign with his remaining breath, and was dragged inside by
Captain Michael Malet-Marsac.
“Well?” inquired he coldly of the gasping terrified wretch.
When he could do so, Augustus sobbed out his tale.
“Bugler, sound the alarm!” said the officer. “Sergeant of the Guard
put this man in the guard-room and keep him under arrest until he is
sent for,” and, night-glasses in hand, he climbed one of the ladders
leading to the platform erected a few feet below the top of the
well-loopholed wall, just as a shot was fired and followed by others in
rapid succession on the hill whence Grobble had fled.
The shot was fired by Corporal Horace Faggit and so were the next
four as he rapidly emptied his magazine at the swiftly charging Pathans
who rose out of the earth on his first shot at the man he had seen
wriggling to the cover of a stone. As he fired and shouted, the
picket-sentry did the same, and, within a minute of Horace's first
shot, ten rifles were levelled at the spot where the rushing silent
fiends had disappeared. Within thirty yards of them were at least half
a dozen men—and not a glimpse of one to be seen.
“I got one, fer keeps, any'ow,” said Horace in the silence that
followed the brief racket; “I see 'im drop 'is knife an' fall
Perfect silence—and then ... bang ... and a man standing
beside Horace grunted, coughed, and scuffled on the ground.
“Get down! Get down! You fools,” cried Horace, who was himself
standing up. “Wha's the good of a square sungar if you stands up in it?
All magazines charged? It's magazine-fire if there's a rush.”....
“Fire at the next flash, all of yer,” he said, “an' look out fer a
rush.” Adding, “Bli' me—'ark at 'em dahn below,” as a burst of fire
and a pandemonium of yells broke out.
A yellow glare lit the scene, flickered on the sky, and even gave
sufficient light to the picket on the hill-top to see a wave of wild,
white-clad, knife-brandishing figures surge over the edge of the hill
and bear down upon them, to be joined, as they passed, by those who had
sunk behind stones at the picket's first fire.
“Stiddy,” shrilled Horace. “Aim stiddy at the b——s. Fire,”
and again the charging line vanished.
“Gone to earf,” observed Horace in the silence. “Nah look aht for
flashes an' shoot at 'em....”
Bang! and Horace lost a thumb and a portion of his left
cheek, which was in line with his left thumb as he sighted his rifle.
Before putting his left hand into his mouth he said, a little
“If I'm knocked aht you go on shootin' at flashes and do
magazine-fire fer rushes. If they gets in 'ere, we're tripe in two
Then he fainted for a while, came to, and felt much better. “Goo'
job it's the left fumb,” he observed as he strove to re-charge his
magazine. The dull thud of bullet into flesh became a frequent sound.
The last observation that Horace made to the remnant of his men was:—
“Bli' me! they're all rahnd us now—like flies rahnd a fish-barrer.
* * * * *
Firing steadily at the advancing mobs the street-end pickets retired
on the Prison and were admitted as the surging crowds amalgamated,
surrounded the walls, and opened a desultory fire at the loopholes and
such of the defenders as fired over the coping from ladders.
One detachment, with some show of military discipline and uniform,
arrayed itself opposite the gate and a couple of hundred yards from it,
lining the ditch of the road, and utilizing the cover and shadow of the
trees. Suddenly a large party, mainly composed of Mahsuds, and headed
by a very big powerful man, made a swift rush to the gate, each man
bearing a bundle of faggots or a load of cut brushwood, save two or
three who bore vessels of kerosene oil. With reckless courage and
daring, they ran the gauntlet of the loopholes and the fire from the
wall-top, piled their combustibles against the wooden gate, poured
gallons of kerosene over the heap, set fire to it, and fled.
The leaping flames spread and shot forth licking tongues and, in a
few minutes, the pile was a roaring crackling furnace.
The mob grew denser and denser toward the gate side of the Prison,
leaving the remaining portions of the perimeter thinly surrounded by
those who possessed firearms and had been instructed to shoot at
loopholes and at all who showed themselves over the wall. It was
noticeable to Captain Malet-Marsac that the ever-increasing mob
opposite the fire left a clear front to the more-or-less uniformed and
disciplined body that had taken up a position commanding the gate.
That was the game was it? Burn down the gate, pour in a tremendous
fire as the gate fell, and then let the mob rush in and do its
What was happening on the hill-top? The picket must be holding
whatever force had attacked it, for no shots were entering the Prison
compound and the only casualties were among those at the loopholes and
on the ladders and platforms round the walls. How long would the gate
last? Absolutely useless to attempt to pour water on the fire. Even if
it were not certain death to attempt it, one might as well try to fly,
as to quench that furnace with jugs and chatties of water.
There was nothing to be done. Every man who could use a rifle was at
loophole or embrasure, ammunition was plentiful, all non-combatants
were hidden. Every one understood the standing-orders in case of such
The gate was on fire. It was smoking on the inner side, warping,
cracking, little flames were beginning to appear tentatively, and
“Now bugler!” said Captain Malet-Marsac, and Moussa Isa's
locum tenens blew his only call—a series of long loud G's.... The
gate blazed, before long it would fall.... A hush fell upon the
expectant multitude without, the men of the more-or-less uniformed and
disciplined party raised their rifles, a big burly man bawled
With a crash and leaping fountain of sparks the gate fell into the
dying fire, a mighty roar burst from the multitude, and a crashing
fusillade from the rifles of the uniformed men....
As their magazine-fire slackened, dwindled to a desultory popping,
and ceased, the mob with a howl of triumph surged forward to the gaping
gateway, trampled and scattered the glowing remnants of the fire,
swarmed yelling through, and—found themselves face to face with a
stout semicircular rampart of stone, earth and sandbags, which,
loopholed, embrasured and strongly manned, spanned the gateway in a
thirty-yard arc. From the centre of it, pointing at the entrance,
looked the maxim gun.
“Fire,” shouted a voice, and in a minute the place was a
shambles. Before Maxim and Lee-Metford were too hot to touch, before
the baffled foe fell back, those who surged in through the gate
climbed, not over a wall of dead, but up on to a platform of dead, a
plateau through which ran a valley literally blasted out by the
And, as the less fanatical, less courageous, less bloodthirsty
withdrew and gathered without and to one side, where they were safe
from that terrible fire-belching rampart that was itself like the
muzzle of some gigantic thousand-barrelled machine-gun, they were
aware, in their rear, of a steady tramp of running feet and of the
“From the centre extend! At the enemy in front; fixed sights;
fire,” and of a withering hail of bullets.
Colonel Ross-Ellison had arrived in the nick of time. It was a
“crowning mercy” indeed, the beginning of the end, and when (a few days
later), over a repaired bridge, came a troop-train, gingerly advancing,
the battalion of British troops that it disgorged at Gungapur Road
Station found disappointingly little to do in a city of women,
children, and eminently respectable innocent, householders.
* * * * *
On the hill-top, at dawn, Colonel Ross-Ellison and Captain
Malet-Marsac found all that was left of the picket and
sentry-group,—of the latter, three mangled corpses, the headless
deserter, and a just-living man, horribly slashed. It was Moussa Isa
Somali who improvised a stretcher and lifted this poor fellow on to it
and tended him with the greatest solicitude and faithful care. Was he
not Jones Sahib who at Duri gave him the knife wherewith he cleansed
his honour and avenged his insulted People?
Of the picket, nine lay dead and one dying. Of the dead, one had his
lower jaw neatly and cleanly removed by a bullet. Two had bled to
“'Ullo, Guvner!” whispered Corporal Horace Faggit through parched
cracked lips. “We kep' 'em orf. We 'eld the bleedin' fort,” and the
last effect of the departing mind upon the shot-torn, knife-slashed
body was manifested in a gasping, quavering wail of—
“'Owld the Fort fer Hi am comin'“
Jesus whispers still.
“'Owld the Fort fer Hi am comin,'“
—By Thy graice we will.
Each of these corpses Moussa Isa carried reverently down to the
Prison that they might be “buried darkly at dead of night” with the
other heroes, in softer ground without the walls—a curious funeral in
which loaded rifles and belted maxim played their silent part. Apart
from the honoured dead was buried the body of Private Augustus Grabble,
shot against the Prison wall by order of Colonel Ross-Ellison for
cowardice in the face of the enemy and desertion of his post. So was
that of Private Green, deserter also. After the uninterrupted ceremony,
Moussa Isa, in the guise of an ancient beggar, lame, decrepit, and
bandaged with foul rags, sought the city and the news of the bazaar.
Limping down the lane in which stood the tall silent house that his
master often visited, he saw three men emerge from the well-known low
Two approached him while one departed in the opposite direction. One
of these two held the arm of the other.
“I must hear his voice again. I have not heard his voice again,”
urged this one insistently to the other.
“Nay—but I have heard thine, thou Dog!” said Moussa Isa to himself,
and turning, followed.
In a neighbouring bazaar the man who seemed to lead the other left
him at the entrance to a mosque—a dark and greasy entry with a short
flight of stone steps.
As he set his foot upon the lowest of these, a hand fell upon the
neck of the man who had been led, and a voice hissed:—
“Salaam! O Ibrahim the Weeper! Salaam! A 'Hubshi'
would speak with thee....” and another hand joined the first,
encircling his throat....
“Art thou dead, Dog?” snarled Moussa Isa, five minutes later....
Moussa Isa never boasted (if he realized the fact) that the collapse
of the revolt and mutiny in Gungapur, before the arrival of troops, was
due as much to the death of its chief ringleader and director, the
blind faquir, as to the disastrous repulse of the great assault upon
the Military Prison.
It had gone. Nothing remained but to clear up the mess and begin
afresh with more wisdom and sounder policy. It was over, and, among
other things now possible, Colonel John Robin Ross-Ellison might ask
the woman he loved whether she could some day become his wife. He had
saved her life, watched over her, served her with mind and body, lived
for her. And she had smiled upon him, looked at him as a woman looks at
the man she more than likes, had given him the encouragement of her
smiles, her trust, affectionate greeting on return from danger, prayers
that he would be “careful” when he went forth to danger.
He believed that she loved him, and would, after a decent interval,
even perhaps a year hence, marry him.
And then he would abandon the old life and ways, become wholly
English and settle down to make her life a happy walk through an
enchanted valley. He would take her to England and there, far from all
sights, sounds and smells of the East, far from everything wild,
turbulent, violent, crush out all the Pathan instincts so terribly
aroused and developed during the late glorious time of War. He would
take himself cruelly in hand. He would neither hunt nor shoot. He would
eat no meat, drink no alcohol, nor seek excitement. He would school
himself until he was a quiet, domesticated English
country-gentleman—respectable and respected, fit husband for a
delicately-bred English gentlewoman. And if ever his hand itched for
the knife-hilt, his finger for the trigger, his cheek for the
rifle-butt, his nostrils for the smell of the cooking-fires, his soul
for the wild mountain passes, the mad gallop, the stealthy stalk—he
would live on cold water until the Old Adam were drowned.
He would be worthy of her—and she should never dream what
blood was on his hands, what sights he had looked on, what deeds he had
done, what part he had played in wild undertakings in wild places.
English would he be to the back-bone, to the finger tips, to the
marrow; a quiet, clean, straight-dealing Englishman of normal tastes,
habits, and life.
Strange if, with all his love of fighting, he could not fight (and
conquer) himself. Yes—his last great fight should be with himself....
He would call, to-day, at the bungalow to which Mrs. Dearman, prior to
starting for Home, had removed as soon as the carefully-guarded
Cantonment area was pronounced absolutely safe as a place of residence
for the refugees who had been besieged in the old Military Prison.
She would be sufficiently “straight” in her bungalow, by this time,
to permit of a formal mid-day call being a reasonable and normal
“Good-morning, Preserver of Gungapur,” said Mrs. Dearman brightly;
“have the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Order
materialized yet—or don't they give them to Volunteers? What a shame
if they don't!”
“I want something far more valuable and desirable than those, Mrs.
Dearman,” said Colonel Ross-Ellison as he took the extended hand of his
hostess, who was a picture of coolness and health.
“Oh?—and—what is that?” she asked, seating herself on a big settee
with her back to the light.
“You,” was the direct and uncompromising reply of the man who had
been leading a remarkably direct and uncompromising life for several
Mrs. Dearman trembled, flushed and paled.
“What do you mean?” she managed to say, with a fine
affectation of coolness, unconcern, and indifference.
“I mean what I say,” was the answer. “I want you. I cannot
live without you. I want to take care of you. I want to devote my life
to making you happy. I want to make you forget this terrible experience
and tragedy. You are lonely and I worship you. I want you to marry
me—when you can—later—and let me serve you for the rest of my life.
Make me the happiest and proudest man in the world and I will strive to
be the noblest.”
He was very English then—in his fine passion. He took her hand and
it was not withdrawn. He bent to look in her eyes, she smiled, and in a
second was in his embrace, strained to his breast, her lips crushed by
For a minute he could not speak.
“I cannot believe it,” he whispered at length. “Is this a dream?”
“You are a very concrete dream—dear,” said Mrs. Dearman,
re-arranging crushed and disarranged flowers at her breast, blushing
and laughing shyly.
The man was filled with awe, reverence and a deep longing for
The woman felt happy in the sense of safety, of power, of pride in
the love of so fine a being.
“And how long have you loved me?” she murmured.
“Loved you, Cleopatra? Dearest—I have loved you from the moment my
eyes first fell on you.... Poor salt-encrusted, weary, bloodshot eyes
they were too,” he added, smiling, reminiscent.
“What do you mean?” asked Mrs. Dearman, puzzled.
“Ah—I have a secret to tell you—a confession that will open those
beautiful eyes wide with surprise. I first saw you when you were
“Good gracious!” ejaculated Mrs. Dearman in great surprise.
“I'll tell you,” said the man, smiling fondly. “You have my
photograph. You took it yourself—on board the 'Malaya'.”
“I?” said Mrs. Dearman. “What are you talking about?”
“About you, dearest, and the time when I first saw you—and fell in
love with you;—love at first sight, indeed.”
“But I never photographed you on board ship. I never saw you on a
ship. I met you first here in Gungapur.”
“Do you remember the 'Malaya' stopping to pick up a shipwrecked
sailor, a castaway, in a little dug-out canoe, somewhere in the Indian
Ocean, when you were first coming out to India? But of course you
do—you have the snap-shot in your collection....”
“Why—yes—I remember, of course—but that was a horrid, beastly
native. The creature could only speak Hindustani. He was the sole
survivor of the crew of some dhow or bunder-boat, they said.... He
lived and worked with the Lascars till we got to Bombay. Yes....”
“I was that native,” said Colonel Ross-Ellison.
“You,” whispered Mrs. Dearman. “You,” and scanned his
“Yes. I. I am half a native. My father was a Pathan. He——”
“What?” asked the woman hoarsely, drawing away. “What?
What are you saying?”
“I am half Pathan—my father was a Pathan and my mother an
Australian squatter's daughter.”
“Go,” shrieked Mrs. Dearman, springing to her feet. “Go. You wretch! You mean, base liar! To cheat me so! To pretend you were a
gentleman. Leave my house! Go! You horrible—mongrel—you——.
To take me in your arms! To make love to me! To kiss me! Ugh! I could
die for shame! I could die——”
The face of the man grew terrible to see. There was no trace of the
West in it, no sign of English ancestry, the face of a mad, blood-mad
“We will both die,” he gasped, and took her by the throat.
* * * * *
A few minutes later a Pathan in the dirty dress of his race fled
from Colonel Ross-Ellison's bungalow in Cantonments and took the road
to the city.
Threading his way through its tortuous lanes, alleys, slums and
bazaars he reached a low door in the high wall that surrounded an
almost windowless house, knocked in a particular manner, parleyed, and
The moment he was inside, the custodian of the door slammed, locked
and bolted it, and then raised an outcry.
“Come,” he shouted in Pushtoo. “The Spy! The Feringhi! The
Pushtoo-knowing English dog, that Abdulali Habbibullah,” and he drew
his Khyber knife and circled round Ross-Ellison.
A clatter of heavy boots, the opening of wooden “windows” that
looked inward on to the high-walled courtyard, and in a minute a throng
of Pathans and other Mussulmans entered the compound from the
house—some obviously aroused from heavy slumber.
“It is he,” cried one, a squat, broad-shouldered fellow, as they
stood at gaze, and long knives flashed.
“Oho, Spy! Aha, Dog! For what hast thou come?” asked one burly
fellow as he advanced warily upon the intruder, who backed slowly to
the angle of the high walls.
“To die, Hidayetullah. To die, Nazir Ali Khan. To die slaying! Come
on!” was the reply, and in one moment the speaker's Khyber knife
flashed from his loose sleeve into the throat of the nearest foe.
As he withdrew it, the door-keeper slashed at his abdomen, missed by
a hair's-breadth, raised his arm to save his neck from a slash, and was
stabbed to the heart, the knife held dagger-wise. Another Pathan
rushing forward, with uplifted knife held as a sword, was met by a
sudden low fencing-lunge and fell with a hideous wound, and then,
whirling his weapon like a claymore in an invisibly rapid Maltese cross
of flashing steel, the man who had been Ross-Ellison drove his enemies
before him, whirled about, and established himself in the opposite
corner, and spat pungent Border taunts at the infuriated crowd.
“Come on, you village curs, you landless cripples, you wifeless sons
of burnt fathers! Come on! Strike for the credit of your noseless
mothers! Run not from me as your wives ran from you—to better men!
Come on, you sweepers, you swine-herds, you down-country
street-scrapers!” and they came on to heart's content, steel clashed on
steel and thudded on flesh and bone.
“Get a rifle,” cried one, lying bleeding on the ground, striving to
rise while he held his right shoulder to his neck with his partly
severed left hand. As he fainted the shoulder gaped horribly.
“Get a cannon,” mocked Ross-Ellison. “Get a cannon, dogs, against
one man,” and again, whirling the great jade-handled knife, long as a
short sword, he rushed forward and the little mob gave ground before
the irresistible claymore-whirl, the unbreakable Maltese cross
described by the razor-edge and needle-point.
“It is a devil,” groaned a man, as his knife and his hand fell
together to the ground, and he clapped his turban on the stump as a boy
claps his hat upon some small creature that he would capture.
The madman whirled about in the third corner and, as he ceased the
wild whirl, ducked low and lunged, lessening the number of his enemies
by one. This lunge was a new thing to men who could only slash and
stab, a new thing and a terrible, for it could not be parried save by
seizing the blade and losing half a hand.
“Come on, you growing maidens! Come on, grandmothers! Come on, you
cleaners of pig-skins, you washers of dogs! Come on!” and as he
shouted, the door crashed down and a patrol of British soldiers,
attracted by the noise, and delayed by the stout door, burst into the
“At the henemy in front, fixed sights,” shouted the corporal in
charge. And added an order not to be found in the drill-book: “Blow 'em
to 'ell if they budges.”
In the hush of surprise his voice arose, addressing the fighters: “
Bus you bleedin' soors,” said Corporal Cook. “Bus;
and you dekho 'ere. If any of you jaos from where
'e is, I'll pukkaro 'im and give 'im a punch in the dekho.”
 Enough, stop.
 Jao = go (imperative).
 Seize (imperative).
And, as bayonets rose breast-high and fingers curled lovingly round
triggers, every knife but that of Ross-Ellison disappeared as by magic,
and the Corporal beheld a little crowd of innocent men endeavouring to
secure a dangerous lunatic at the risk of their lives—terrible risk,
as the bodies of five dead and dying men might testify.
“I give myself up to you as a murderer, Corporal,” said he who had
been Colonel John Robin Ross-Ellison. “I am a murderer. If you will
take me before your officer I will confess and give details.”
“I'm agoin' to take you bloomin' well all,” replied the surprised
Corporal. “Chuck down that there beastly carvin' knife. You seem a too
'andy cove wiv' it.”
At the Corporal's order of, “Prod 'em all up agin that wall and
shoot any bloke as moves 'and or 'oof,” the party of panting, bleeding
and perspiring ruffians was lined up, relieved of its weapons, and duly
marched to the guard-room.
Here, one of the gang (later identified as the man who had been
known as John Robin Ross-Ellison, and who insisted that he was a
Baluchi) declared that he had just murdered Mrs. Dearman in her
drawing-room and made a full statement—a statement found to be only
too true, its details corroborated by a trembling hamal who had
peeped and listened, as all Indian servants peep and listen.
* * * * *
Duly tried, all members of the gang received terms of imprisonment
(largely a prophylactic measure), save the extraordinary
English-speaking Baluchi, who had long imposed, it was said, upon
Gungapur Society in the days before that Society had disappeared in the
A few days before the date fixed for the execution of this very
remarkable desperado, Captain Michael Malet-Marsac, Adjutant of the
Gungapur Volunteer Corps, received two letters dated from Gungapur
Jail, one covering the other. The covering letter ran:—
“MY DEAR MALET-MARSAC,
“I forward the enclosed. Should you desire to attend the execution
you could accompany the new City Magistrate, Wellson, who will
doubtless be agreeable.
“A. RANALD, Major I.M.S.”
The accompaniment was from John Robin Ross-Ellison Mir Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan.
“MY DEAR OLD FRIEND,
“For the credit of the British I am pretending to be a Baluchi. I am
not a Baluchi and I hope to die like a Briton—at any rate like a man.
I have been held responsible for what I did when I was not responsible,
and shall be killed in cold blood by sane people, for what I did in hot
blood when quite as mad as any madman who ever lived. I don't
complain—I ex_plain. I want you to understand, if you can, that it
was not your friend John Ross-Ellison who did that awful deed. It was a
Pathan named Ilderim Dost Mahommed. And yet it was I.” ["Poor chap is
mad!” murmured the bewildered and horrified reader who had lived in a
kind of nightmare since the woman he loved had been murdered by the man
he loved. “The strain of the war has been too much for him. He must
have had sunstroke too.” He read on, with misty sight.]
“And it is I who will pay the penalty of Ilderim Dost Mahommed's
deed. As I say, I do not complain, and if the Law did not kill me I
would certainly kill myself—to get rid of Ilderim Dost Mahommed.
“I have thought of doing so and cheating the scaffold, but have
decided that Ilderim will get his deserts better if I hang, and I may
perhaps get rid of him, thus, for ever.
“Will you come? I would not ask it of any living soul but you, and I
ask it because your presence would show me that you blindly believe
that it was not John Robin Ross-Ellison who killed poor Mrs. Dearman,
and that would enable me to die quite happy. Your presence would also
be a great help to me. It would help me to feel that, whatever I have
lived, I die a Briton—that if I could not live without Ilderim Dost
Mahommed I can die without him. But this must seem lunatic wanderings
“I apologize for writing to you and I hesitated long. At length I
said, 'I will tell him the truth—that the deed was not done by
Ross-Ellison and perhaps he will understand, and come'. Mike—John
Robin Ross-Ellison did not murder Mrs. Dearman.
“Your distracted and broken-hearted ex-friend,
“He was 'queer' at times,” said Captain Michael Malet-Marsac.
“There was a kink somewhere. The bravest, coolest, keenest chap I ever
met, the finest fighting-man, the truest comrade and friend,—and from
time to time something queer peeped out, and one was puzzled....
Madness in the family, I suppose.... Poor devil, poor, poor devil!” and
Captain Malet-Marsac stamped about and swore, for his eyes tingled and
his chin quivered.
Captain Michael Malet-Marsac alighted from his horse at the great
gate of the Gungapur Jail, loosed girths, slid stirrup irons up the
leathers to the saddle, and handed his reins to the orderly who had
ridden behind him.
“Walk the horses up and down,” said he, for both were sweating and
the morning was very cold. Perhaps it was the cold that made Captain
Michael Malet-Marsac's strong face so white, made his teeth chatter and
his hands shake. Perhaps it was the cold that made him feel so sick,
and that weakened the tendons of his knees so that he could scarcely
stand—and would fain have thrown himself upon the ground.
With a curious coughing sound, as though he swallowed and cleared
his throat at the same moment, he commenced to address another order or
remark to the mounted sepoy, choked, and turned his back upon him.
Striding to the gate, he struck upon it loudly with his
hunting-crop, and turning, waved the waiting orderly away.
Not for a king's ransom could he have spoken at that moment. He
realized that something which was rising in his throat must be crushed
back and swallowed before speech would be possible. If he tried to
speak before that was done—he would shame his manhood, he would do
that which was unthinkable in a man and a soldier. What would happen if
the little iron wicket in the great iron door in the greater wooden
gates opened before he had swallowed the lump in his throat, had
crushed down the rising tumult of emotion, and a European official,
perhaps Major Ranald himself, spoke to him? He must either refuse to
answer, and show himself too overcome for speech—or he must—good God
forbid it—burst into tears. He suffered horribly. His skin tingled and
he burnt hotly from head to foot.
And then—he swallowed, his will triumphed—and he was again as
outwardly self-possessed and nonchalant as he strove to appear.
He might tremble, his face might be blanched and drawn, he might
feel physically sick and almost too weak and giddy to stand, but he had
swallowed, he had triumphed over the rising flood that had threatened
to engulf him, and he was, outwardly, himself again. He could go
through with it now, and though his face might be ghastly, his lips
white, his hand uncertain, his gait considered and careful, he would he
able to chat lightly, to meet Ross-Ellison's jest with jest—for that
Ross-Ellison would die jesting he knew....
Why did not the door open? Had his knock gone unheard? Should he
knock again, louder? And then his eye fell upon the great iron
bell-pull and chain, and he stepped towards it. Of course—one entered
a place like this on the sonorous clanging of a deep-throated bell that
roused the echoes of the whole vast congeries of buildings encircled by
the hideous twelve-foot wall, unbroken save by the great gatehouse
before which he stood insignificant. As his shaking hand touched the
bell-pull he suddenly remembered, and withdrew it. He was to meet the
City Magistrate outside the jail and enter with him. He could gain
admittance in no other way.
He looked at his watch. Seventeen minutes to seven. Wellson should
be there in a minute—he had said, “At the jail-entrance at 6.45”. God
send him soon or the new-found self-control might weaken and a rising
tide creep up and up until it submerged his will-power again.
With an effort he swallowed, and turning, strode up and down on a
rapid, mechanical sentry-go.
A guard of police-sepoys emerged from a neighbouring guard-room and
“fell in” under the word of command of an Inspector. They were armed
with Martini-Henry rifles and triangular-bladed bayonets, very long.
Their faces looked cruel, the stones of the gate-house and main-guard
looked cruel, the beautiful misty morning looked cruel.
Would that damned magistrate never come? Didn't he know that
Malet-Marsac was fighting for his manhood and terribly afraid? Didn't
he know that unless he came quickly Malet-Marsac would either leap on
his horse and ride it till it fell, or else lose control inside the
jail and either burst into tears, faint, or—going mad—put up a fight
for his friend there in the jail itself, snatch weapons, get back to
back with him and die fighting then and there—or, later, on the same
scaffold? His friend—by whose side he had fought, starved, suffered,
triumphed—his poor two-natured friend....
Could not one of these cursed clever physicians, alienists,
psychologists, hypnotists—whatever they were—have cut the strange
savagery and ferocity out of the splendid John Robin Ross-Ellison?...
A buffalo passed, driven by a barely human lout. The lout was
free—the brainless, soulless bovine lout was free in God's beautiful
world—and Ross-Ellison, soldier and gentleman, lay in a stone cell,
and in quarter of an hour would dangle by the neck in a pit below a
platform—perhaps suffering unthinkable agonies—who could tell?... His
old friend and commandant—
Would Wellson never come? What kept the fellow? It was disgraceful
conduct on the part of a public servant in such circumstances. Think
what an eternity of mental suffering each minute must now be to
Ross-Ellison! What was he doing? What were they doing to him? Could
the agony of Ross-Ellison be greater than that of Malet-Marsac? It must
be a thousand times greater. How could that tireless activity, that
restless initiative, that cool courage, that unfathomable ingenuity be
quenched in a second? How could such a wild free nature exist in a
cell, submit to pinioning, be quietly led like a sheep to the
slaughter? He who so loved the mountain, the wild desert, the ocean,
the free wandering life of adventure and exploration.
Would Wellson never come? It must be terribly late. Could they have
hanged Ross-Ellison already? Could he have gone to his death thinking
his friend had failed him; had passed by, like the Levite, on the other
side; had turned up a sanctimonious nose at the letter of the Murderer;
had behaved as some “friends” do behave in time of trouble?
Could he have died thinking this? If so, he must now know the truth,
if the Parsons were right, those unconvincing very-human Parsons of
like passions, and pretence of unlike passions. Could his friend be
dead, his friend whom he had so loved and admired? And yet he was a
murderer—and he had murdered ... her....
Captain Michael Malet-Marsac leant against a tree and was violently
Curse the weak frail body that was failing him in his hour of need!
It had never failed him in battle nor in athletic struggle. Why should
it weaken now. He would see his friend, and bear himself as a
man, to help him in his dreadful hour.
Would that scoundrel never come? He was the one who should be
A clatter of hoofs behind, and Malet-Marsac turned to see the City
Magistrate trot across the road from the open country. He drew out his
watch accusingly and as a torrent of reproach rose to his white parched
lips, he saw that the time was—exactly quarter to seven.
“'Morning, Marsac,” said the City Magistrate as he swung down from
the saddle. “You're looking precious blue about the gills.”
“'Morning, Wellson,” replied the other shortly.
To the City Magistrate a hanging was no more than a hair-cut, a
neither pleasing nor displeasing interlude, hindering the doing of more
strenuous duties; a nuisance, cutting into his early-morning
report—writing and other judicial work. He handed his reins to an
obsequious sepoy, eased his jodhpores at the knee, and rang the bell.
The grille-cover slid back, a dusky face appeared behind the bars
and scrutinized the visitors, the grille was closed again and the tiny
door opened. Malet-Marsac stepped in over the foot-high base of the
door-way and found himself in a kind of big gloomy strong-room in which
were native warders and a jailer with a bunch of huge keys. On either
side of the room was an office. Following Wellson to a large desk, on
which reposed a huge book, he wrote his name, address, and business,
controlling his shaking hand by a powerful effort of will.
This done, and the entrance-door being again locked, bolted, and
barred, the jailer led the way to another pair of huge gates opposite
the pair through which they had entered, and opened a similar small
door therein. Through this Malet-Marsac stepped and found himself,
light-dazzled, in the vast enclosure of Gungapur Jail, a small town of
horribly-similar low buildings, painfully regular streets,
soul-stunning uniformity, and living death.
“'Morning, Malet-Marsac,” said Major Ranald of the Indian Medical
Service, Superintendent of the jail. “You look a bit blue about the
“'Morning, Ranald,” replied Malet-Marsac, “I am a little
Was he really speaking? Was that voice his? He supposed so.
Could he pretend to gaze round with an air of intelligent interest?
He would try.
A line of convicts, clad in a kind of striped sacking, stood with
their backs to a wall while a native warder strode up and down in front
of them, watching another convict placing brushes and implements before
them. Suddenly the warder spoke to the end man, an elderly stalwart
fellow, obviously from the North. The reply was evidently
unsatisfactory, perhaps insolent, for the warder suddenly seized the
grey beard of the convict, tugged his head violently from side to side,
shook him, and then smote him hard on either cheek. The elderly convict
gave no sign of having felt either the pain or the indignity, but gazed
straight over the warder's head. Of what was he thinking? Of what might
be the fate of that warder were he suddenly transported to the wilds of
Kathiawar, to lie at the mercy of his late victim and the famous band
of outlaws whom he had once led to fame—a fame as wide as Ind?
There was something fine about the old villain, once a real Robin
Hood, something mean about the little tyrant.
Had Ranald seen the incident? No, he stood with his back to a
buttress looking in the opposite direction. Did he always stand with a
wall behind him in this terrible place? How could he live in it? A
minute of it made one sick if one were cursed with imagination. Oh, the
horror of the prison system—especially for brave men, men with a code
of honour of their own—possibly sometimes a higher code than that of
the average British politician, not to mention the be-knighted
cosmopolitan financier, friend of princes and honoured of kings.
Could not men be segregated in a place of peace and beauty and
improved, instead of being segregated in a dull hell and crushed? What
a home of soulless, hopeless horror!... And his friend was here....
Could he contain himself?... He must say something.
“Do you always keep your back to a wall when standing still, in
here?” he asked of Major Ranald.
“I do,” was the reply, “and I walk with a trustworthy man close
behind me.” “Would you like to go round, sometime?” he added.
“No, thank you,” said Malet-Marsac. “I would like to get as far away
as possible and stay there.”
Major Ranald laughed.
“Wouldn't like to visit the mortuary and see a post-mortem?”
“No, thank you.”
“What about the Holy One?” put in the City Magistrate. “Did you
'autopsy' him? A pleasure to hang a chap like him.”
“Yes, the brute. I'll show you his neck vertebrae presently if you
like. Kept 'em as a curiosity. An absolute break of the bone itself.
People talk about pain, strangulation, suffocation and all that.
Nothing of the sort. Literally breaks the neck. Not mere separation of
the vertebrae you know. I'll show you the vertebra itself—clean
Captain Malet-Marsac swayed on his feet. What should he do? A blue
mist floated before his eyes and a sound of rushing waters filled his
ears. Was he fainting? He must not faint, and fail his friend.
And then, the roar of the waters was pierced and dominated by the voice
of that friend saying—
“Hul_lo! old bird. Awf'ly good of you to turn out, such a beastly
John Robin Ross-Ellison had come round an adjacent corner, a
European warder on either side of him and another behind him, all
three, to their credit, as white as their white uniforms and helmets.
On his head was a curious bag-like cap.
Ross-Ellison appeared perfectly cheerful, absolutely natural, and
without the slightest outward and visible sign of any form of
“'Morning, Ranald,” he continued. “Sorry to be the cause of turning
you out in the cold. Gad! isn't it parky. Hope you aren't going
to keep me standing. If I might be allowed I'd quote unto you the words
which a pretty American girl once used when I asked if I might kiss
her—'Wade right in, Bub!'“
“'Fraid I can't 'wade in' till seven o'clock—er—Ross-Ellison,”
answered the horribly embarrassed Major Ranald. “It won't be long.”
“Right O, I was only thinking of your convenience. I'm all
right,” said the remarkable criminal, about to suffer by the Mosaic law
at the hands of Christians, to receive Old Testament mercy from the
disciples of the New, to be done-by as he had done.
An Indian clerk, salaaming, joined the group, and prepared to read
from an official-looking document.
“Read,” said Major Ranald, and the clerk in a high sing-song voice,
regardless of punctuation, read out the charge, conviction and
death-warrant of the man formerly calling himself John Robin
Ross-Ellison, and now professing and confessing himself to be a
Baluchi. Having finished, the clerk smiled as one well pleased with a
duty well performed, salaamed and clacked away in his heelless
“It is my duty to inquire whether you have anything to say or any
last request to make,” said Major Ranald to the prisoner.
“Well, I've only to say that I'm sorry to cause all this fuss, y'
know—and, well, yes, I would like a smoke,” replied the
condemned man, and added hastily: “Don't think I want to delay things
for a moment though—but if there is time....”
“It is four minutes to seven,” said Major Ranald, “and tobacco and
matches are not supposed to be found in a Government Jail.”
Ross-Ellison winked at the Major and glanced at a bulge on the right
side of the breast of the Major's coat.
At this moment the warder standing behind the condemned man seized
both his wrists, drew them behind him and fastened them with a broad,
“H'm! That's done it, I suppose,” said the murderer. “Can't smoke
without my hands. Queer idea too—never thought of it before. Can't
smoke without hands.... Rather late in life to realize it, what?”
“Oh, yes, you can,” said the Major, drawing his big silver
cheroot-case from his pocket and selecting a cheroot. Placing it
between the prisoner's lips he struck a match and held it to the end of
the cigar. Ross-Ellison drew hard and the cigar was lit. He puffed
luxuriously and sighed.
“Gad! That's good,” he said, “May some one do as much for you, old
chap, when you come to be—er—no, I don't mean that, of
course.... Haven't had a smoke for weeks. Yes—you can smoke without
hands after all—but not for long without feeling the inconvenience. I
used to know an American (wicked old gun-running millionaire he was,
Cuba way, and down South too) who could change his cigar from one
corner of his mouth right across to the other with his tongue.
Fascinatin' sight to watch....”
Captain Malet-Marsac swallowed continuously, lest he lose the
faculty of swallowing—and be choked.
Major Ranald looked at his watch.
“Two minutes to seven. Come on,” he said, and took the cheroot from
the prisoner's mouth.
“Good-bye, Mike,” said that person to the swallowing fainting
wretch. “Don't try and say anything. I know exactly what you feel.
Sorry we can't shake hands,” and he stepped off in the wake of Major
Ranald, closely guarded by three warders.
The City Magistrate and Captain Malet-Marsac followed. At Major
Ranald's knock, the small inner door of the gate-house was opened and
the procession filed through it into the strong room where the warders
stood to attention. Having re-fastened the door, the jailer opened the
outer one and the procession passed out of the jail into the blessed
free world, the world that might be such a place of wonder, beauty,
delight, health and joy, were man not educated to materialism, false
ideals, false standards, and blind strife for nothing worth.
The sepoy-guard stood in a semicircle from the gate-house to the
entrance to a door-way in the jail-wall. Ross-Ellison took his last
look at the sky, the distant hills, the trees, God's good world, and
then turned into the doorless door-way with his jailers, and faced the
scaffold in a square, roofless cell. The warder behind him drew the cap
down over his face, and he was led up a flight of shallow stairs on to
a platform on which was a roughly-chalked square where two hinged flaps
met. As he stood on this spot the noose of the greased rope was placed
round his neck by a warder who then looked to Major Ranald for a sign,
received it, and pulled over a lever which withdrew the bolts
supporting the hinged flaps. These fell apart, Ross-Ellison dropped
through the platform, and Christian Society was avenged.
Without a word, Captain Malet-Marsac strode, as in a dream, to his
horse, rode home, and, as in a dream, entered his sanctum, took his
revolver from its holster and loaded it.
Laying it on the table beside him, he sat down to write a few words
to the Colonel of his regiment, Colonel Wilberforce Wriothesley of the
99th Baluch Light Infantry, and to send his will to a brother-officer
whom he wished to be his executor.
This done, he took up the revolver, placed the muzzle in his mouth,
the barrel pointing upward, and—pulled the trigger.
And nothing more.
A tiny, nerve-shattering, world-shaking, little universe-rocking
click—and nothing more.
A bad cartridge. He remembered complaints about the revolver
ammunition from the Duri Small Arms Ammunition Factory. Too long in
Should he try the same one again, or go on to the next? Probably get
better results from the first, as the cap would be already dented by
the concussion. He took the muzzle of the big revolver from his aching
mouth and, releasing the chamber, spun it round.... He would place it
to his temple this time. Holding one's mouth open was undignified. He
raised the revolver—and John Bruce burst into the room. He had seen
Malet-Marsac ride by, and knew where he had been.
“Half a second!” he shouted. “News! Do that afterwards.”
“What is it?” asked Malet-Marsac, taken by surprise.
“Put that beastly thing in the drawer while I tell you, then. It
might go off. I hate pistols,” said Bruce.
Malet-Marsac obeyed. Bruce was a man to be listened to, and what had
to be done could be done when he had gone. If it were some last piece
of duty or service, it should be seen to.
“It is this,” said Bruce. “You are a liar, a forger, a thief, a
dirty pickpocket, a coward, a seller of secrets to Foreign Powers,”
and, ere the astounded soldier could speak, John Bruce sprang at him
and tried to knock him out. “Take that you greasy cad—and fight me if
you dare,” he shouted as the other dodged his punch.
Malet-Marsac sprang to his feet, furious, and returned the blow. In
a second the men were fighting fiercely, coolly, murderously.
Bruce was the bigger, stronger, more scientific, and there could be
but one result, given ordinary luck. It was a long, severe, and
“Time,” gasped Malet-Marsac at length, and dropped his hands.
“Get—breath—fight—decently—time—'nother round—after,” and as he
spoke Bruce knocked him down and out, proceeding instantly to tie his
feet with the punkah-cord and his hands with two handkerchiefs and a
pair of braces. This done, he carried him into his bedroom, and laid
him on the bed, and sprinkled his face with water.
Malet-Marsac blinked and stirred.
“Awful sorry, old chap,” said Bruce at length. “I thought it the
best plan. Will you give me your word to chuck the suicide idea, or do
you want some more?”
“You damned fool! I....” began the trussed one.
“Yes, I know—but I solemnly swear I won't untie you, nor let
anybody else, until you've promised.”
Malet-Marsac swore violently, struggled valiantly and, anon, slept.
When he awoke, ten hours later, he informed Bruce, sitting by the
bed, that he had no intention of committing suicide....
Years later, as a grey-haired Major, he learnt, from the man's own
brother, the story of the strange hero who had fascinated him, and of
whose past he had known nothing—save that it had been that of a man.