Thrown Away by Rudyard Kipling
"And some are sulky, while some will plunge
[So ho! Steady! Stand still, you!]
Some you must gentle, and some you must lunge.
[There! There! Who wants to kill you?]
Some--there are losses in every trade--
Will break their hearts ere bitted and made,
Will fight like fiends as the rope cuts hard,
And die dumb-mad in the breaking-yard."
Toolungala Stockyard Chorus.
To rear a boy under what parents call the "sheltered life system"
is, if the boy must go into the world and fend for himself, not wise.
Unless he be one in a thousand he has certainly to pass through many
unnecessary troubles; and may, possibly, come to extreme grief simply
from ignorance of the proper proportions of things.
Let a puppy eat the soap in the bath-room or chew a newly-blacked
boot. He chews and chuckles until, by and by, he finds out that
blacking and Old Brown Windsor make him very sick; so he argues that
soap and boots are not wholesome. Any old dog about the house will
soon show him the unwisdom of biting big dogs' ears. Being young, he
remembers and goes abroad, at six months, a well-mannered little beast
with a chastened appetite. If he had been kept away from boots, and
soap, and big dogs till he came to the trinity full-grown and with
developed teeth, just consider how fearfully sick and thrashed he
would be! Apply that motion to the "sheltered life," and see how it
works. It does not sound pretty, but it is the better of two evils.
There was a Boy once who had been brought up under the "sheltered
life" theory; and the theory killed him dead. He stayed with his
people all his days, from the hour he was born till the hour he went
into Sandhurst nearly at the top of the list. He was beautifully
taught in all that wins marks by a private tutor, and carried the
extra weight of "never having given his parents an hour's anxiety in
his life." What he learnt at Sandhurst beyond the regular routine is
of no great consequence. He looked about him, and he found soap and
blacking, so to speak, very good. He ate a little, and came out of
Sandhurst not so high as he went in. Them there was an interval and a
scene with his people, who expected much from him. Next a year of
living "unspotted from the world" in a third-rate depot battalion
where all the juniors were children, and all the seniors old women;
and lastly he came out to India, where he was cut off from the support
of his parents, and had no one to fall back on in time of trouble
Now India is a place beyond all others where one must not take
things too seriously--the midday sun always excepted. Too much work
and too much energy kill a man just as effectively as too much
assorted vice or too much drink. Flirtation does not matter because
every one is being transferred and either you or she leave the
Station, and never return. Good work does not matter, because a man
is judged by his worst output and another man takes all the credit of
his best as a rule. Bad work does not matter, because other men do
worse, and incompetents hang on longer in India than anywhere else.
Amusements do not matter, because you must repeat them as soon as you
have accomplished them once, and most amusements only mean trying to
win another person's money. Sickness does not matter, because it's all
in the day's work, and if you die another man takes over your place
and your office in the eight hours between death and burial. Nothing
matters except Home furlough and acting allowances, and these only
because they are scarce. This is a slack, kutcha country where all
men work with imperfect instruments; and the wisest thing is to take
no one and nothing in earnest, but to escape as soon as ever you can
to some place where amusement is amusement and a reputation worth the
But this Boy--the tale is as old as the Hills--came out, and took
all things seriously. He was pretty and was petted. He took the
pettings seriously, and fretted over women not worth saddling a pony
to call upon. He found his new free life in India very good. It DOES
look attractive in the beginning, from a Subaltern's point of
view--all ponies, partners, dancing, and so on. He tasted it as the
puppy tastes the soap. Only he came late to the eating, with a
growing set of teeth. He had no sense of balance--just like the
puppy--and could not understand why he was not treated with the
consideration he received under his father's roof. This hurt his
He quarrelled with other boys, and, being sensitive to the marrow,
remembered these quarrels, and they excited him. He found whist, and
gymkhanas, and things of that kind (meant to amuse one after office)
good; but he took them seriously too, just as he took the "head" that
followed after drink. He lost his money over whist and gymkhanas
because they were new to him.
He took his losses seriously, and wasted as much energy and
interest over a two-goldmohur race for maiden ekka-ponies with their
manes hogged, as if it had been the Derby. One-half of this came from
inexperience--much as the puppy squabbles with the corner of the
hearth-rug--and the other half from the dizziness bred by stumbling
out of his quiet life into the glare and excitement of a livelier one.
No one told him about the soap and the blacking because an average
man takes it for granted that an average man is ordinarily careful in
regard to them. It was pitiful to watch The Boy knocking himself to
pieces, as an over-handled colt falls down and cuts himself when he
gets away from the groom.
This unbridled license in amusements not worth the trouble of
breaking line for, much less rioting over, endured for six months--
all through one cold weather--and then we thought that the heat and
the knowledge of having lost his money and health and lamed his
horses would sober The Boy down, and he would stand steady. In
ninety-nine cases out of a hundred this would have happened. You can
see the principle working in any Indian Station. But this particular
case fell through because The Boy was sensitive and took things
seriously--as I may have said some seven times before. Of course, we
couldn't tell how his excesses struck him personally. They were
nothing very heart-breaking or above the average. He might be
crippled for life financially, and want a little nursing. Still the
memory of his performances would wither away in one hot weather, and
the shroff would help him to tide over the money troubles. But he
must have taken another view altogether and have believed himself
ruined beyond redemption. His Colonel talked to him severely when the
cold weather ended. That made him more wretched than ever; and it was
only an ordinary "Colonel's wigging!"
What follows is a curious instance of the fashion in which we are
all linked together and made responsible for one another. THE thing
that kicked the beam in The Boy's mind was a remark that a woman made
when he was talking to her. There is no use in repeating it, for it
was only a cruel little sentence, rapped out before thinking, that
made him flush to the roots of his hair. He kept himself to himself
for three days, and then put in for two days' leave to go shooting
near a Canal Engineer's Rest House about thirty miles out. He got his
leave, and that night at Mess was noisier and more offensive than
ever. He said that he was "going to shoot big game, and left at
half-past ten o'clock in an ekka. Partridge--which was the only thing
a man could get near the Rest House--is not big game; so every one
Next morning one of the Majors came in from short leave, and heard
that The Boy had gone out to shoot "big game." The Major had taken
an interest in The Boy, and had, more than once, tried to check him
in the cold weather. The Major put up his eyebrows when he heard of
the expedition and went to The Boy's room, where he rummaged.
Presently he came out and found me leaving cards on the Mess.
There was no one else in the ante-room.
He said: "The Boy has gone out shooting. DOES a man shoot tetur
with a revolver and a writing-case?"
I said: "Nonsense, Major!" for I saw what was in his mind.
He said: "Nonsense or nonsense, I'm going to the Canal now--at
once. I don't feel easy."
Then he thought for a minute, and said: "Can you lie?"
"You know best," I answered. "It's my profession."
"Very well," said the Major; "you must come out with me now--at
once--in an ekka to the Canal to shoot black-buck. Go and put on
shikar-kit--quick--and drive here with a gun."
The Major was a masterful man; and I knew that he would not give
orders for nothing. So I obeyed, and on return found the Major
packed up in an ekka--gun-cases and food slung below--all ready for a
He dismissed the driver and drove himself. We jogged along quietly
while in the station; but as soon as we got to the dusty road across
the plains, he made that pony fly. A country-bred can do nearly
anything at a pinch. We covered the thirty miles in under three
hours, but the poor brute was nearly dead.
Once I said: "What's the blazing hurry, Major?"
He said, quietly: "The Boy has been alone, by himself, for--one,
two, five--fourteen hours now! I tell you, I don't feel easy."
This uneasiness spread itself to me, and I helped to beat the pony.
When we came to the Canal Engineer's Rest House the Major called
for The Boy's servant; but there was no answer. Then we went up to
the house, calling for The Boy by name; but there was no answer.
"Oh, he's out shooting," said I.
Just then I saw through one of the windows a little hurricane-lamp
burning. This was at four in the afternoon. We both stopped dead in
the verandah, holding our breath to catch every sound; and we heard,
inside the room, the "brr--brr--brr" of a multitude of flies. The
Major said nothing, but he took off his helmet and we entered very
The Boy was dead on the charpoy in the centre of the bare, lime-
washed room. He had shot his head nearly to pieces with his
revolver. The gun-cases were still strapped, so was the bedding, and
on the table lay The Boy's writing-case with photographs. He had gone
away to die like a poisoned rat!
The Major said to himself softly: "Poor Boy! Poor, POOR devil!"
Then he turned away from the bed and said: "I want your help in this
Knowing The Boy was dead by his own hand, I saw exactly what that
help would be, so I passed over to the table, took a chair, lit a
cheroot, and began to go through the writing-case; the Major looking
over my shoulder and repeating to himself: "We came too late!--Like a
rat in a hole!--Poor, POOR devil!"
The Boy must have spent half the night in writing to his people,
and to his Colonel, and to a girl at Home; and as soon as he had
finished, must have shot himself, for he had been dead a long time
when we came in.
I read all that he had written, and passed over each sheet to the
Major as I finished it.
We saw from his accounts how very seriously he had taken
everything. He wrote about "disgrace which he was unable to bear"--
"indelible shame"--"criminal folly"--"wasted life," and so on;
besides a lot of private things to his Father and Mother too much too
sacred to put into print. The letter to the girl at Home was the most
pitiful of all; and I choked as I read it. The Major made no attempt
to keep dry-eyed. I respected him for that. He read and rocked
himself to and fro, and simply cried like a woman without caring to
hide it. The letters were so dreary and hopeless and touching. We
forgot all about The Boy's follies, and only thought of the poor Thing
on the charpoy and the scrawled sheets in our hands. It was utterly
impossible to let the letters go Home. They would have broken his
Father's heart and killed his Mother after killing her belief in her
At last the Major dried his eyes openly, and said: "Nice sort of
thing to spring on an English family! What shall we do?"
I said, knowing what the Major had brought me but for: "The Boy
died of cholera. We were with him at the time. We can't commit
ourselves to half-measures. Come along."
Then began one of the most grimy comic scenes I have ever taken
part in--the concoction of a big, written lie, bolstered with
evidence, to soothe The Boy's people at Home. I began the rough
draft of a letter, the Major throwing in hints here and there while
he gathered up all the stuff that The Boy had written and burnt it in
the fireplace. It was a hot, still evening when we began, and the
lamp burned very badly. In due course I got the draft to my
satisfaction, setting forth how The Boy was the pattern of all
virtues, beloved by his regiment, with every promise of a great
career before him, and so on; how we had helped him through the
sickness--it was no time for little lies, you will understand--and
how he had died without pain. I choked while I was putting down
these things and thinking of the poor people who would read them.
Then I laughed at the grotesqueness of the affair, and the laughter
mixed itself up with the choke--and the Major said that we both
I am afraid to say how much whiskey we drank before the letter was
finished. It had not the least effect on us. Then we took off The
Boy's watch, locket, and rings.
Lastly, the Major said: "We must send a lock of hair too. A woman
But there were reasons why we could not find a lock fit to send.
The Boy was black-haired, and so was the Major, luckily. I cut off a
piece of the Major's hair above the temple with a knife, and put it
into the packet we were making. The laughing-fit and the chokes got
hold of me again, and I had to stop. The Major was nearly as bad; and
we both knew that the worst part of the work was to come.
We sealed up the packet, photographs, locket, seals, ring, letter,
and lock of hair with The Boy's sealing-wax and The Boy's seal.
Then the Major said: "For God's sake let's get outside--away from
the room--and think!"
We went outside, and walked on the banks of the Canal for an hour,
eating and drinking what we had with us, until the moon rose. I know
now exactly how a murderer feels. Finally, we forced ourselves back
to the room with the lamp and the Other Thing in it, and began to take
up the next piece of work. I am not going to write about this. It
was too horrible. We burned the bedstead and dropped the ashes into
the Canal; we took up the matting of the room and treated that in the
same way. I went off to a village and borrowed two big hoes--I did
not want the villagers to help--while the Major arranged--the other
matters. It took us four hours' hard work to make the grave. As we
worked, we argued out whether it was right to say as much as we
remembered of the Burial of the Dead. We compromised things by saying
the Lord's Prayer with a private unofficial prayer for the peace of
the soul of The Boy. Then we filled in the grave and went into the
verandah--not the house--to lie down to sleep. We were dead-tired.
When we woke the Major said, wearily: "We can't go back till to-
morrow. We must give him a decent time to die in. He died early
THIS morning, remember. That seems more natural." So the Major must
have been lying awake all the time, thinking.
I said: "Then why didn't we bring the body back to the
The Major thought for a minute:--"Because the people bolted when
they heard of the cholera. And the ekka has gone!"
That was strictly true. We had forgotten all about the ekka-pony,
and he had gone home.
So, we were left there alone, all that stifling day, in the Canal
Rest House, testing and re-testing our story of The Boy's death to
see if it was weak at any point. A native turned up in the
afternoon, but we said that a Sahib was dead of cholera, and he ran
away. As the dusk gathered, the Major told me all his fears about
The Boy, and awful stories of suicide or nearly-carried-out
suicide--tales that made one's hair crisp. He said that he himself
had once gone into the same Valley of the Shadow as the Boy, when he
was young and new to the country; so he understood how things fought
together in The Boy's poor jumbled head. He also said that
youngsters, in their repentant moments, consider their sins much more
serious and ineffaceable than they really are. We talked together all
through the evening, and rehearsed the story of the death of The Boy.
As soon as the moon was up, and The Boy, theoretically, just buried,
we struck across country for the Station. We walked from eight till
six o'clock in the morning; but though we were dead-tired, we did not
forget to go to The Boy's room and put away his revolver with the
proper amount of cartridges in the pouch. Also to set his
writing-case on the table. We found the Colonel and reported the
death, feeling more like murderers than ever. Then we went to bed and
slept the clock round; for there was no more in us.
The tale had credence as long as was necessary, for every one
forgot about The Boy before a fortnight was over. Many people,
however, found time to say that the Major had behaved scandalously in
not bringing in the body for a regimental funeral. The saddest thing
of all was a letter from The Boy's mother to the Major and me--with
big inky blisters all over the sheet. She wrote the sweetest possible
things about our great kindness, and the obligation she would be under
to us as long as she lived.
All things considered, she WAS under an obligation; but not exactly
as she meant.