The Head of the
There's a convict more in the Central Jail,
Behind the old mud wall;
There's a lifter less on the Border trail,
And the Queen's Peace over all,
The Queen's Peace over all.
For we must bear our leader's blame,
On us the shame will fall,
If we lift our hand from a fettered land
And the Queen's Peace over all,
The Queen's Peace over all!
THE RUNNING OF SHINDAND.
The Indus had risen in flood without warning. Last night it was a
fordable shallow; to-night five miles of raving muddy water parted
bank and caving bank, and the river was still rising under the moon. A
litter borne by six bearded men, all unused to the work, stopped in
the white sand that bordered the whiter plain.
'It's God's will,' they said. 'We dare not cross to-night, even in
a boat. Let us light a fire and cook food. We be tired men.'
They looked at the litter inquiringly. Within, the Deputy
Commissioner of the Kot-Kumharsen district lay dying of fever. They
had brought him across country, six fighting-men of a frontier clan
that he had won over to the paths of a moderate righteousness, when he
had broken down at the foot of their inhospitable hills. And
Tallantire, his assistant, rode with them, heavy-hearted as heavy-eyed
with sorrow and lack of sleep. He had served under the sick man for
three years, and had learned to love him as men associated in toil of
the hardest learn to love—or hate. Dropping from his horse he parted
the curtains of the litter and peered inside.
'Orde—Orde, old man, can you hear? We have to wait till the river
goes down, worse luck.'
'I hear,' returned a dry whisper. 'Wait till the river goes down. I
thought we should reach camp before the dawn. Polly knows. She'll meet
One of the litter-men stared across the river and caught a faint
twinkle of light on the far side. He whispered to Tallantire, 'There
are his camp-fires, and his wife. They will cross in the morning, for
they have better boats. Can he live so long?'
Tallantire shook his head. Yardley-Orde was very near to death.
What need to vex his soul with hopes of a meeting that could not be?
The river gulped at the banks, brought down a cliff of sand, and
snarled the more hungrily. The litter-men sought for fuel in the
waste-dried camel- thorn and refuse of the camps that had waited at
the ford. Their sword- belts clinked as they moved softly in the haze
of the moonlight, and Tallantire's horse coughed to explain that he
would like a blanket.
'I'm cold too,' said the voice from the litter. 'I fancy this is
the end. Poor Polly!'
Tallantire rearranged the blankets. Khoda Dad Khan, seeing this,
stripped off his own heavy-wadded sheepskin coat and added it to the
pile. 'I shall be warm by the fire presently,' said he. Tallantire
took the wasted body of his chief into his arms and held it against
his breast. Perhaps if they kept him very warm Orde might live to see
his wife once more. If only blind Providence would send a three-foot
fall in the river!
'That's better,' said Orde faintly. 'Sorry to be a nuisance, but
is—is there anything to drink?'
They gave him milk and whisky, and Tallantire felt a little warmth
against his own breast. Orde began to mutter.
'It isn't that I mind dying,' he said. 'It's leaving Polly and the
district. Thank God! we have no children. Dick, you know, I'm dipped—
awfully dipped—debts in my first five years' service. It isn't much
of a pension, but enough for her. She has her mother at home. Getting
there is the difficulty. And—and—you see, not being a soldier's
'We'll arrange the passage home, of course,' said Tallantire
'It's not nice to think of sending round the hat; but, good Lord!
how many men I lie here and remember that had to do it! Morten's
dead—he was of my year. Shaughnessy is dead, and he had children; I
remember he used to read us their school-letters; what a bore we
thought him! Evans is dead—Kot-Kumharsen killed him! Ricketts of
Myndonie is dead—and I'm going too. "Man that is born of a woman is
small potatoes and few in the hill." That reminds me, Dick; the four
Khusru Kheyl villages in our border want a one-third remittance this
spring. That's fair; their crops are bad. See that they get it, and
speak to Ferris about the canal. I should like to have lived till that
was finished; it means so much for the North-Indus villages—but
Ferris is an idle beggar—wake him up. You'll have charge of the
district till my successor comes. I wish they would appoint you
permanently; you know the folk. I suppose it will be Bullows, though.
'Good man, but too weak for frontier work; and he doesn't understand
the priests. The blind priest at Jagai will bear watching. You'll find
it in my papers,—in the uniform-case, I think. Call the Khusru Kheyl
men up; I'll hold my last public audience. Khoda Dad Khan!'
The leader of the men sprang to the side of the litter, his
'Men, I'm dying,' said Orde quickly, in the vernacular; 'and soon
there will be no more Orde Sahib to twist your tails and prevent you
from raiding cattle.'
'God forbid this thing!' broke out the deep bass chorus. 'The Sahib
is not going to die.'
'Yes, he is; and then he will know whether Mahomed speaks truth, or
Moses. But you must be good men, when I am not here. Such of you as
live in our borders must pay your taxes quietly as before. I have
spoken of the villages to be gently treated this year. Such of you as
live in the hills must refrain from cattle-lifting, and burn no more
thatch, and turn a deaf ear to the voice of the priests, who, not
knowing the strength of the Government, would lead you into foolish
wars, wherein you will surely die and your crops be eaten by
strangers. And you must not sack any caravans, and must leave your
arms at the police-post when you come in; as has been your custom, and
my order. And Tallantire Sahib will be with you, but I do not know who
takes my place. I speak now true talk, for I am as it were already
dead, my children,—for though ye be strong men, ye are children.'
'And thou art our father and our mother,' broke in Khoda Dad Khan
with an oath. 'What shall we do, now there is no one to speak for us,
or to teach us to go wisely!'
'There remains Tallantire Sahib. Go to him; he knows your talk and
your heart. Keep the young men quiet, listen to the old men, and obey.
Khoda Dad Khan, take my ring. The watch and chain go to thy brother.
Keep those things for my sake, and I will speak to whatever God I may
encounter and tell him that the Khusru Kheyl are good men. Ye have my
leave to go.'
Khoda Dad Khan, the ring upon his finger, choked audibly as he
caught the well-known formula that closed an interview. His brother
turned to look across the river. The dawn was breaking, and a speck of
white showed on the dull silver of the stream. 'She comes,' said the
man under his breath. 'Can he live for another two hours?' And he
pulled the newly-acquired watch out of his belt and looked
uncomprehendingly at the dial, as he had seen Englishmen do.
For two hours the bellying sail tacked and blundered up and down
the river, Tallantire still clasping Orde in his arms, and Khoda Dad
Khan chafing his feet. He spoke now and again of the district and his
wife, but, as the end neared, more frequently of the latter. They
hoped he did not know that she was even then risking her life in a
crazy native boat to regain him. But the awful foreknowledge of the
dying deceived them. Wrenching himself forward, Orde looked through
the curtains and saw how near was the sail. 'That's Polly,' he said
simply, though his mouth was wried with agony. 'Polly and—the
grimmest practical joke ever played on a man.
And an hour later Tallantire met on the bank a woman in a gingham
riding-habit and a sun-hat who cried out to him for her husband—her
boy and her darling—while Khoda Dad Khan threw himself face-down on
the sand and covered his eyes.
The very simplicity of the notion was its charm. What more easy to
win a reputation for far-seeing statesmanship, originality, and, above
all, deference to the desires of the people, than by appointing a
child of the country to the rule of that country? Two hundred millions
of the most loving and grateful folk under Her Majesty's dominion
would laud the fact, and their praise would endure for ever. Yet he
was indifferent to praise or blame, as befitted the Very Greatest of
All the Viceroys. His administration was based upon principle, and the
principle must be enforced in season and out of season. His pen and
tongue had created the New India, teeming with
possibilities—loud-voiced, insistent, a nation among nations—all his
very own. Wherefore the Very Greatest of All the Viceroys took another
step in advance, and with it counsel of those who should have advised
him on the appointment of a successor to Yardley- Orde. There was a
gentleman and a member of the Bengal Civil Service who had won his
place and a university degree to boot in fair and open competition
with the sons of the English. He was cultured, of the world, and, if
report spoke truly, had wisely and, above all, sympathetically ruled a
crowded district in South-Eastern Bengal. He had been to England and
charmed many drawing-rooms there. His name, if the Viceroy recollected
aright, was Mr. Grish Chunder De, M. A. In short, did anybody see any
objection to the appointment, always on principle, of a man of the
people to rule the people? The district in South-Eastern Bengal might
with advantage, he apprehended, pass over to a younger civilian of Mr.
G. C. De's nationality (who had written a remarkably clever pamphlet
on the political value of sympathy in administration); and Mr. G. C.
De could be transferred northward to Kot-Kumharsen. The Viceroy was
averse, on principle, to interfering with appointments under control
of the Provincial Governments. He wished it to be understood that he
merely recommended and advised in this instance. As regarded the mere
question of race, Mr. Grish Chunder De was more English than the
English, and yet possessed of that peculiar sympathy and insight which
the best among the best Service in the world could only win to at the
end of their service.
The stern, black-bearded kings who sit about the Council-board of
India divided on the step, with the inevitable result of driving the
Very Greatest of All the Viceroys into the borders of hysteria, and a
bewildered obstinacy pathetic as that of a child.
'The principle is sound enough,' said the weary-eyed Head of the
Red Provinces in which Kot-Kumharsen lay, for he too held theories.
'The only difficulty is—'
'Put the screw on the District officials; brigade De with a very
strong Deputy Commissioner on each side of him; give him the best
assistant in the Province; rub the fear of God into the people
beforehand; and if anything goes wrong, say that his colleagues didn't
back him up. All these lovely little experiments recoil on the
District-Officer in the end,' said the Knight of the Drawn Sword with
a truthful brutality that made the Head of the Red Provinces shudder.
And on a tacit understanding of this kind the transfer was
accomplished, as quietly as might be for many reasons.
It is sad to think that what goes for public opinion in India did
not generally see the wisdom of the Viceroy's appointment. There were
not lacking indeed hireling organs, notoriously in the pay of a
tyrannous bureaucracy, who more than hinted that His Excellency was a
fool, a dreamer of dreams, a doctrinaire, and, worst of all, a trifler
with the lives of men. 'The Viceroy's Excellence Gazette,' published
in Calcutta, was at pains to thank 'Our beloved Viceroy for once more
and again thus gloriously vindicating the potentialities of the
Bengali nations for extended executive and administrative duties in
foreign parts beyond our ken. We do not at all doubt that our
excellent fellow-townsman, Mr. Grish Chunder De, Esq., M. A., will
uphold the prestige of the Bengali, notwithstanding what underhand
intrigue and peshbundi may be set on foot to insidiously nip his fame
and blast his prospects among the proud civilians, some of which will
now have to serve under a despised native and take orders too. How
will you like that, Misters? We entreat our beloved Viceroy still to
substantiate himself superiorly to race- prejudice and
colour-blindness, and to allow the flower of this now OUR Civil
Service all the full pays and allowances granted to his more fortunate
'When does this man take over charge? I'm alone just now, and I
gather that I'm to stand fast under him.'
'Would you have cared for a transfer?' said Bullows keenly. Then,
laying his hand on Tallantire's shoulder: 'We're all in the same boat;
don't desert us. And yet, why the devil should you stay, if you can
get another charge?'
'It was Orde's,' said Tallantire simply.
'Well, it's De's now. He's a Bengali of the Bengalis, crammed with
code and case law; a beautiful man so far as routine and deskwork go,
and pleasant to talk to. They naturally have always kept him in his
own home district, where all his sisters and his cousins and his aunts
lived, somewhere south of Dacca. He did no more than turn the place
into a pleasant little family preserve, allowed his subordinates to do
what they liked, and let everybody have a chance at the shekels.
Consequently he's immensely popular down there.'
'I've nothing to do with that. How on earth am I to explain to the
district that they are going to be governed by a Bengali? Do you—does
the Government, I mean—suppose that the Khusru Kheyl will sit quiet
when they once know? What will the Mahomedan heads of villages say?
How will the police—Muzbi Sikhs and Pathans—how will THEY work under
him? We couldn't say anything if the Government appointed a sweeper;
but my people will say a good deal, you know that. It's a piece of
'My dear boy, I know all that, and more. I've represented it, and
have been told that I am exhibiting "culpable and puerile prejudice."
By Jove, if the Khusru Kheyl don't exhibit something worse than that I
don't know the Border! The chances are that you will have the district
alight on your hands, and I shall have to leave my work and help you
pull through. I needn't ask you to stand by the Bengali man in every
possible way. You'll do that for your own sake.'
'For Orde's. I can't say that I care twopence personally.'
'Don't be an ass. It's grievous enough, God knows, and the
Government will know later on; but that's no reason for your sulking.
YOU must try to run the district, YOU must stand between him and as
much insult as possible; YOU must show him the ropes; YOU must pacify
the Khusru Kheyl, and just warn Curbar of the Police to look out for
trouble by the way. I'm always at the end of a telegraph-wire, and
willing to peril my reputation to hold the district together. You'll
lose yours, of course, If you keep things straight, and he isn't
actually beaten with a stick when he's on tour, he'll get all the
credit. If anything goes wrong, you'll be told that you didn't support
'I know what I've got to do,' said Tallantire wearily, 'and I'm
going to do it. But it's hard.'
'The work is with us, the event is with Allah,—as Orde used to say
when he was more than usually in hot water.' And Bullows rode away.
That two gentlemen in Her Majesty's Bengal Civil Service should
thus discuss a third, also in that service, and a cultured and affable
man withal, seems strange and saddening. Yet listen to the artless
babble of the Blind Mullah of Jagai, the priest of the Khusru Kheyl,
sitting upon a rock overlooking the Border. Five years before, a
chance-hurled shell from a screw-gun battery had dashed earth in the
face of the Mullah, then urging a rush of Ghazis against half a dozen
British bayonets. So he became blind, and hated the English none the
less for the little accident. Yardley-Orde knew his failing, and had
many times laughed at him therefor.
'Dogs you are,' said the Blind Mullah to the listening tribesmen
round the fire. 'Whipped dogs! Because you listened to Orde Sahib and
called him father and behaved as his children, the British Government
have proven how they regard you. Orde Sahib ye know is dead.'
'Ai! ai! ai!' said half a dozen voices.
'He was a man. Comes now in his stead, whom think ye? A Bengali of
Bengal—an eater of fish from the South.'
'A lie!' said Khoda Dad Khan. 'And but for the small matter of thy
priesthood, I'd drive my gun butt-first down thy throat.'
'Oho, art thou there, lickspittle of the English? Go in to-morrow
across the Border to pay service to Orde Sahib's successor, and thou
shalt slip thy shoes at the tent-door of a Bengali, as thou shalt hand
thy offering to a Bengali's black fist. This I know; and in my youth,
when a young man spoke evil to a Mullah holding the doors of Heaven
and Hell, the gun-butt was not rammed down the Mullah's gullet. No!'
The Blind Mullah hated Khoda Dad Khan with Afghan hatred; both
being rivals for the headship of the tribe; but the latter was feared
for bodily as the other for spiritual gifts. Khoda Dad Khan looked at
Orde's ring and grunted, 'I go in to-morrow because I am not an old
fool, preaching war against the English. If the Government, smitten
with madness, have done this, then...'
'Then,' croaked the Mullah, 'thou wilt take out the young men and
strike at the four villages within the Border?'
'Or wring thy neck, black raven of Jehannum, for a bearer of ill-
Khoda Dad Khan oiled his long locks with great care, put on his
best Bokhara belt, a new turban-cap and fine green shoes, and
accompanied by a few friends came down from the hills to pay a visit
to the new Deputy Commissioner of Kot-Kumharsen. Also he bore
tribute—four or five priceless gold mohurs of Akbar's time in a white
handkerchief. These the Deputy Commissioner would touch and remit. The
little ceremony used to be a sign that, so far as Khoda Dad Khan's
personal influence went, the Khusru Kheyl would be good boys,—till
the next time; especially if Khoda Dad Khan happened to like the new
Deputy Commissioner. In Yardley- Orde's consulship his visit concluded
with a sumptuous dinner and perhaps forbidden liquors; certainly with
some wonderful tales and great good-fellowship. Then Khoda Dad Khan
would swagger back to his hold, vowing that Orde Sahib was one prince
and Tallantire Sahib another, and that whosoever went a-raiding into
British territory would be flayed alive. On this occasion he found the
Deputy Commissioner's tents looking much as usual. Regarding himself
as privileged he strode through the open door to confont a suave,
portly Bengali in English costume writing at a table. Unversed in the
elevating influence of education, and not in the least caring for
university degrees, Khoda Dad Khan promptly set the man down for a
Babu—the native clerk of the Deputy Commissioner—a hated and
'Ugh!' said he cheerfully. 'Where's your master, Babujee?'
'I am the Deputy Commissioner,' said the gentleman in English. Now
he overvalued the effects of university degrees, and stared Khoda Dad
Khan in the face. But if from your earliest infancy you have been
accustomed to look on battle, murder, and sudden death, if spilt blood
affects your nerves as much as red paint, and, above all, if you have
faithfully believed that the Bengali was the servant of all Hindustan,
and that all Hindustan was vastly inferior to your own large, lustful
self, you can endure, even though uneducated, a very large amount of
looking over. You can even stare down a graduate of an Oxford college
if the latter has been born in a hothouse, of stock bred in a
hothouse, and fearing physical pain as some men fear sin; especially
if your opponent's mother has frightened him to sleep in his youth
with horrible stories of devils inhabiting Afghanistan, and dismal
legends of the black North. The eyes behind the gold spectacles sought
the floor. Khoda Dad Khan chuckled, and swung out to find Tallantire
hard by. 'Here,' said he roughly, thrusting the coins before him,
'touch and remit. That answers for MY good behaviour. But, O Sahib,
has the Government gone mad to send a black Bengali dog to us? And am
I to pay service to such an one? And are you to work under him? What
does it mean?' 'It is an order,' said Tallantire. He had expected
something of this kind. 'He is a very clever S-sahib.'
'He a Sahib! He's a kala admi—a black man—unfit to run at the
tail of a potter's donkey. All the peoples of the earth have harried
Bengal. It is written. Thou knowest when we of the North wanted women
or plunder whither went we? To Bengal—where else? What child's talk
is this of Sahibdom—after Orde Sahib too! Of a truth the Blind Mullah
'What of him?' asked Tallantire uneasily. He mistrusted that old
man with his dead eyes and his deadly tongue.
'Nay, now, because of the oath that I sware to Orde Sahib when we
watched him die by the river yonder, I will tell. In the first place,
is it true that the English have set the heel of the Bengali on their
own neck, and that there is no more English rule in the land?'
'I am here,' said Tallantire, 'and I serve the Maharanee of
'The Mullah said otherwise, and further that because we loved Orde
Sahib the Government sent us a pig to show that we were dogs, who till
now have been held by the strong hand. Also that they were taking away
the white soldiers, that more Hindustanis might come, and that all was
This is the worst of ill-considered handling of a very large
country. What looks so feasible in Calcutta, so right in Bombay, so
unassailable in Madras, is misunderstood by the North and entirely
changes its complexion on the banks of the Indus. Khoda Dad Khan
explained as clearly as he could that, though he himself intended to
be good, he really could not answer for the more reckless members of
his tribe under the leadership of the Blind Mullah. They might or they
might not give trouble, but they certainly had no intention whatever
of obeying the new Deputy Commissioner. Was Tallantire perfectly sure
that in the event of any systematic border-raiding the force in the
district could put it down promptly?
'Tell the Mullah if he talks any more fool's talk,' said Tallantire
curtly, 'that he takes his men on to certain death, and his tribe to
blockade, trespass-fine, and blood-money. But why do I talk to one who
no longer carries weight in the counsels of the tribe?'
Khoda Dad Khan pocketed that insult. He had learned something that
he much wanted to know, and returned to his hills to be sarcastically
complimented by the Mullah, whose tongue raging round the camp-fires
was deadlier flame than ever dung-cake fed.
Be pleased to consider here for a moment the unknown district of
Kot- Kumharsen. It lay cut lengthways by the Indus under the line of
the Khusru hills—ramparts of useless earth and tumbled stone. It was
seventy miles long by fifty broad, maintained a population of
something less than two hundred thousand, and paid taxes to the extent
of forty thousand pounds a year on an area that was by rather more
than half sheer, hopeless waste. The cultivators were not gentle
people, the miners for salt were less gentle still, and the
cattle-breeders least gentle of all. A police-post in the top
right-hand corner and a tiny mud fort in the top left-hand corner
prevented as much salt-smuggling and cattle-lifting as the influence
of the civilians could not put down; and in the bottom right-hand
corner lay Jumala, the district headquarters—a pitiful knot of
lime-washed barns facetiously rented as houses, reeking with frontier
fever, leaking in the rain, and ovens in the summer.
It was to this place that Grish Chunder De was travelling, there
formally to take over charge of the district. But the news of his
coming had gone before. Bengalis were as scarce as poodles among the
simple Borderers, who cut each other's heads open with their long
spades and worshipped impartially at Hindu and Mahomedan shrines. They
crowded to see him, pointing at him, and diversely comparing him to a
gravid milch- buffalo, or a broken-down horse, as their limited range
of metaphor prompted. They laughed at his police-guard, and wished to
know how long the burly Sikhs were going to lead Bengali apes. They
inquired whether he had brought his women with him, and advised him
explicitly not to tamper with theirs. It remained for a wrinkled hag
by the roadside to slap her lean breasts as he passed, crying, 'I have
suckled six that could have eaten six thousand of HIM. The Government
shot them, and made this That a king!' Whereat a blue-turbaned
huge-boned plough-mender shouted, 'Have hope, mother o' mine! He may
yet go the way of thy wastrels.' And the children, the little brown
puff-balls, regarded curiously. It was generally a good thing for
infancy to stray into Orde Sahib's tent, where copper coins were to be
won for the mere wishing, and tales of the most authentic, such as
even their mothers knew but the first half of. No! This fat black man
could never tell them how Pir Prith hauled the eye-teeth out of ten
devils; how the big stones came to lie all in a row on top of the
Khusru hills, and what happened if you shouted through the
village-gate to the gray wolf at even 'Badl Khas is dead.' Meantime
Grish Chunder De talked hastily and much to Tallantire, after the
manner of those who are 'more English than the English,'—of Oxford
and 'home,' with much curious book-knowledge of bump-suppers,
cricket-matches, hunting-runs, and other unholy sports of the alien.
'We must get these fellows in hand,' he said once or twice uneasily;
'get them well in hand, and drive them on a tight rein. No use, you
know, being slack with your district.'
And a moment later Tallantire heard Debendra Nath De, who
brotherliwise had followed his kinsman's fortune and hoped for the
shadow of his protection as a pleader, whisper in Bengali, 'Better are
dried fish at Dacca than drawn swords at Delhi. Brother of mine, these
men are devils, as our mother said. And you will always have to ride
upon a horse!'
That night there was a public audience in a broken-down little town
thirty miles from Jumala, when the new Deputy Commissioner, in reply
to the greetings of the subordinate native officials, delivered a
speech. It was a carefully thought-out speech, which would have been
very valuable had not his third sentence begun with three innocent
words, 'Hamara hookum hai—It is my order.' Then there was a laugh,
clear and bell-like, from the back of the big tent, where a few border
landholders sat, and the laugh grew and scorn mingled with it, and the
lean, keen face of Debendra Nath De paled, and Grish Chunder turning
to Tallantire spake: 'YOU—you put up this arrangement.' Upon that
instant the noise of hoofs rang without, and there entered Curbar, the
District Superintendent of Police, sweating and dusty. The State had
tossed him into a corner of the province for seventeen weary years,
there to check smuggling of salt, and to hope for promotion that never
came. He had forgotten how to keep his white uniform clean, had
screwed rusty spurs into patent-leather shoes, and clothed his head
indifferently with a helmet or a turban. Soured, old, worn with heat
and cold, he waited till he should be entitled to sufficient pension
to keep him from starving.
'Tallantire,' said he, disregarding Grish Chunder De, 'come
outside. I want to speak to you.' They withdrew. 'It's this,'
continued Curbar. 'The Khusru Kheyl have rushed and cut up half a
dozen of the coolies on Ferris's new canal-embankment; killed a couple
of men and carried off a woman. I wouldn't trouble you about
that—Ferris is after them and Hugonin, my assistant, with ten mounted
police. But that's only the beginning, I fancy. Their fires are out on
the Hassan Ardeb heights, and unless we're pretty quick there'll be a
flare-up all along our Border. They are sure to raid the four Khusru
villages on our side of the line; there's been bad blood between them
for years; and you know the Blind Mullah has been preaching a holy war
since Orde went out. What's your notion?'
'Damn!' said Tallantire thoughtfully. 'They've begun quick. Well,
it seems to me I'd better ride off to Fort Ziar and get what men I can
there to picket among the lowland villages, if it's not too late.
Tommy Dodd commands at Fort Ziar, I think. Ferris and Hugonin ought to
teach the canal-thieves a lesson, and—No, we can't have the Head of
the Police ostentatiously guarding the Treasury. You go back to the
canal. I'll wire Bullows to come into Jumala with a strong
police-guard, and sit on the Treasury. They won't touch the place, but
it looks well.'
'I—I—I insist upon knowing what this means,' said the voice of
the Deputy Commissioner, who had followed the speakers.
'Oh!' said Curbar, who being in the Police could not understand
that fifteen years of education must, on principle, change the Bengali
into a Briton. 'There has been a fight on the Border, and heaps of men
are killed. There's going to be another fight, and heaps more will be
'Because the teeming millions of this district don't exactly
approve of you, and think that under your benign rule they are going
to have a good time. It strikes me that you had better make
arrangements. I act, as you know, by your orders. What do you advise?'
'I—I take you all to witness that I have not yet assumed charge of
the district,' stammered the Deputy Commissioner, not in the tones of
the 'more English.'
'Ah, I thought so. Well, as I was saying, Tallantire, your plan is
sound. Carry it out. Do you want an escort?'
'No; only a decent horse. But how about wiring to headquarters?'
'I fancy, from the colour of his cheeks, that your superior officer
will send some wonderful telegrams before the night's over. Let him do
that, and we shall have half the troops of the province coming up to
see what's the trouble. Well, run along, and take care of
yourself—the Khusru Kheyl jab upwards from below, remember. Ho! Mir
Khan, give Tallantire Sahib the best of the horses, and tell five men
to ride to Jumala with the Deputy Commissioner Sahib Bahadur. There is
a hurry toward.'
There was; and it was not in the least bettered by Debendra Nath De
clinging to a policeman's bridle and demanding the shortest, the very
shortest way to Jumala. Now originality is fatal to the Bengali.
Debendra Nath should have stayed with his brother, who rode
steadfastly for Jumala on the railway-line, thanking gods entirely
unknown to the most catholic of universities that he had not taken
charge of the district, and could still—happy resource of a fertile
And I grieve to say that when he reached his goal two policemen,
not devoid of rude wit, who had been conferring together as they
bumped in their saddles, arranged an entertainment for his behoof. It
consisted of first one and then the other entering his room with
prodigious details of war, the massing of bloodthirsty and devilish
tribes, and the burning of towns. It was almost as good, said these
scamps, as riding with Curbar after evasive Afghans. Each invention
kept the hearer at work for half an hour on telegrams which the sack
of Delhi would hardly have justified. To every power that could move a
bayonet or transfer a terrified man, Grish Chunder De appealed
telegraphically. He was alone, his assistants had fled, and in truth
he had not taken over charge of the district. Had the telegrams been
despatched many things would have occurred; but since the only
signaller in Jumala had gone to bed, and the station-master, after one
look at the tremendous pile of paper, discovered that railway
regulations forbade the forwarding of imperial messages, policemen Ram
Singh and Nihal Singh were fain to turn the stuff into a pillow and
slept on it very comfortably.
Tallantire drove his spurs into a rampant skewbald stallion with
china- blue eyes, and settled himself for the forty-mile ride to Fort
Ziar. Knowing his district blindfold, he wasted no time hunting for
short cuts, but headed across the richer grazing-ground to the ford
where Orde had died and been buried. The dusty ground deadened the
noise of his horse's hoofs, the moon threw his shadow, a restless
goblin, before him, and the heavy dew drenched him to the skin.
Hillock, scrub that brushed against the horse's belly, unmetalled road
where the whip-like foliage of the tamarisks lashed his forehead,
illimitable levels of lowland furred with bent and speckled with
drowsing cattle, waste, and hillock anew, dragged themselves past, and
the skewbald was labouring in the deep sand of the Indus-ford.
Tallantire was conscious of no distinct thought till the nose of the
dawdling ferry-boat grounded on the farther side, and his horse shied
snorting at the white headstone of Orde's grave. Then he uncovered,
and shouted that the dead might hear, 'They're out, old man! Wish me
luck.' In the chill of the dawn he was hammering with a stirrup-iron
at the gate of Fort Ziar, where fifty sabres of that tattered
regiment, the Belooch Beshaklis were supposed to guard Her Majesty's
interests along a few hundred miles of Border. This particular fort
was commanded by a subaltern, who, born of the ancient family of the
Derouletts, naturally answered to the name of Tommy Dodd. Him
Tallantire found robed in a sheepskin coat, shaking with fever like an
aspen, and trying to read the native apothecary's list of invalids.
'So you've come, too,' said he. 'Well, we're all sick here, and I
don't think I can horse thirty men; but we're bub—bub—bub blessed
willing. Stop, does this impress you as a trap or a lie?' He tossed a
scrap of paper to Tallantire, on which was written painfully in
crabbed Gurmukhi, 'We cannot hold young horses. They will feed after
the moon goes down in the four border villages issuing from the Jagai
pass on the next night.' Then in English round hand—'Your sincere
'Good man!' said Tallantire. 'That's Khoda Dad Khan's work, I know.
It's the only piece of English he could ever keep in his head, and he
is immensely proud of it. He is playing against the Blind Mullah for
his own hand—the treacherous young ruffian!'
'Don't know the politics of the Khusru Kheyl, but if you're
satisfied, I am. That was pitched in over the gate-head last night,
and I thought we might pull ourselves together and see what was on.
Oh, but we're sick with fever here and no mistake! Is this going to be
a big business, think you?' said Tommy Dodd.
Tallantire gave him briefly the outlines of the case, and Tommy
Dodd whistled and shook with fever alternately. That day he devoted to
strategy, the art of war, and the enlivenment of the invalids, till at
dusk there stood ready forty-two troopers, lean, worn, and
dishevelled, whom Tommy Dodd surveyed with pride, and addressed thus:
'O men! If you die you will go to Hell. Therefore endeavour to keep
alive. But if you go to Hell that place cannot be hotter than this
place, and we are not told that we shall there suffer from fever.
Consequently be not afraid of dying. File out there!' They grinned,
It will be long ere the Khusru Kheyl forget their night attack on
the lowland villages. The Mullah had promised an easy victory and
unlimited plunder; but behold, armed troopers of the Queen had risen
out of the very earth, cutting, slashing, and riding down under the
stars, so that no man knew where to turn, and all feared that they had
brought an army about their ears, and ran back to the hills. In the
panic of that flight more men were seen to drop from wounds inflicted
by an Afghan knife jabbed upwards, and yet more from long-range
carbine-fire. Then there rose a cry of treachery, and when they
reached their own guarded heights, they had left, with some forty dead
and sixty wounded, all their confidence in the Blind Mullah on the
plains below. They clamoured, swore, and argued round the fires; the
women wailing for the lost, and the Mullah shrieking curses on the
Then Khoda Dad Khan, eloquent and unbreathed, for he had taken no
part in the fight, rose to improve the occasion. He pointed out that
the tribe owed every item of its present misfortune to the Blind
Mullah, who had lied in every possible particular and talked them into
a trap. It was undoubtedly an insult that a Bengali, the son of a
Bengali, should presume to administer the Border, but that fact did
not, as the Mullah pretended, herald a general time of license and
lifting; and the inexplicable madness of the English had not in the
least impaired their power of guarding their marches. On the contrary,
the baffled and out- generalled tribe would now, just when their
food-stock was lowest, be blockaded from any trade with Hindustan
until they had sent hostages for good behaviour, paid compensation for
disturbance, and blood-money at the rate of thirty-six English pounds
per head for every villager that they might have slain. 'And ye know
that those lowland dogs will make oath that we have slain scores. Will
the Mullah pay the fines or must we sell our guns?' A low growl ran
round the fires. 'Now, seeing that all this is the Mullah's work, and
that we have gained nothing but promises of Paradise thereby, it is in
my heart that we of the Khusru Kheyl lack a shrine whereat to pray. We
are weakened, and henceforth how shall we dare to cross into the Madar
Kheyl border, as has been our custom, to kneel to Pir Sajji's tomb?
The Madar men will fall upon us, and rightly. But our Mullah is a holy
man. He has helped two score of us into Paradise this night. Let him
therefore accompany his flock, and we will build over his body a dome
of the blue tiles of Mooltan, and burn lamps at his feet every Friday
night. He shall be a saint: we shall have a shrine; and there our
women shall pray for fresh seed to fill the gaps in our fighting-tale.
How think you?'
A grim chuckle followed the suggestion, and the soft wheep, wheep
of unscabbarded knives followed the chuckle. It was an excellent
notion, and met a long felt want of the tribe. The Mullah sprang to
his feet, glaring with withered eyeballs at the drawn death he could
not see, and calling down the curses of God and Mahomed on the tribe.
Then began a game of blind man's buff round and between the fires,
whereof Khuruk Shah, the tribal poet, has sung in verse that will not
They tickled him gently under the armpit with the knife-point. He
leaped aside screaming, only to feel a cold blade drawn lightly over
the back of his neck, or a rifle-muzzle rubbing his beard. He called
on his adherents to aid him, but most of these lay dead on the plains,
for Khoda Dad Khan had been at some pains to arrange their decease.
Men described to him the glories of the shrine they would build, and
the little children clapping their hands cried, 'Run, Mullah, run!
There's a man behind you!' In the end, when the sport wearied, Khoda
Dad Khan's brother sent a knife home between his ribs. 'Wherefore,'
said Khoda Dad Khan with charming simplicity, 'I am now Chief of the
Khusru Kheyl!' No man gainsaid him; and they all went to sleep very
stiff and sore.
On the plain below Tommy Dodd was lecturing on the beauties of a
cavalry charge by night, and Tallantire, bowed on his saddle, was
gasping hysterically because there was a sword dangling from his wrist
flecked with the blood of the Khusru Kheyl, the tribe that Orde had
kept in leash so well. When a Rajpoot trooper pointed out that the
skewbald's right ear had been taken off at the root by some blind
slash of its unskilled rider, Tallantire broke down altogether, and
laughed and sobbed till Tommy Dodd made him lie down and rest.
'We must wait about till the morning,' said he. 'I wired to the
Colonel just before we left, to send a wing of the Beshaklis after us.
He'll be furious with me for monopolising the fun, though. Those
beggars in the hills won't give us any more trouble.'
'Then tell the Beshaklis to go on and see what has happened to
Curbar on the canal. We must patrol the whole line of the Border.
You're quite sure, Tommy, that—that stuff was—was only the
'Oh, quite,' said Tommy. 'You just missed cutting off his head. I
saw you when we went into the mess. Sleep, old man.'
Noon brought two squadrons of Beshaklis and a knot of furious
brother officers demanding the court-martial of Tommy Dodd for
'spoiling the picnic,' and a gallop across country to the canal-works
where Ferris, Curbar, and Hugonin were haranguing the terror-stricken
coolies on the enormity of abandoning good work and high pay, merely
because half a dozen of their fellows had been cut down. The sight of
a troop of the Beshaklis restored wavering confidence, and the
police-hunted section of the Khusru Kheyl had the joy of watching the
canal-bank humming with life as usual, while such of their men as had
taken refuge in the watercourses and ravines were being driven out by
the troopers. By sundown began the remorseless patrol of the Border by
police and trooper, most like the cow-boys' eternal ride round
'Now,' said Khoda Dad Khan to his fellows, pointing out a line of
twinkling fires below, 'ye may see how far the old order changes.
After their horse will come the little devil-guns that they can drag
up to the tops of the hills, and, for aught I know, to the clouds when
we crown the hills. If the tribe-council thinks good, I will go to
Tallantire Sahib—who loves me—and see if I can stave off at least
the blockade. Do I speak for the tribe?'
'Ay, speak for the tribe in God's name. How those accursed fires
wink! Do the English send their troops on the wire—or is this the
work of the Bengali?'
As Khoda Dad Khan went down the hill he was delayed by an interview
with a hard-pressed tribesman, which caused him to return hastily for
something he had forgotten. Then, handing himself over to the two
troopers who had been chasing his friend, he claimed escort to
Tallantire Sahib, then with Bullows at Jumala. The Border was safe,
and the time for reasons in writing had begun.
'Thank Heaven!' said Bullows, 'that the trouble came at once. Of
course we can never put down the reason in black and white, but all
India will understand. And it is better to have a sharp short outbreak
than five years of impotent administration inside the Border. It costs
less. Grish Chunder De has reported himself sick, and has been
transferred to his own province without any sort of reprimand. He was
strong on not having taken over the district.'
'Of course,' said Tallantire bitterly. 'Well, what am I supposed to
have done that was wrong?'
'Oh, you will be told that you exceeded all your powers, and should
have reported, and written, and advised for three weeks until the
Khusru Kheyl could really come down in force. But I don't think the
authorities will dare to make a fuss about it. They've had their
lesson. Have you seen Curbar's version of the affair? He can't write a
report, but he can speak the truth.'
'What's the use of the truth? He'd much better tear up the report.
I'm sick and heartbroken over it all. It was so utterly
unnecessary—except in that it rid us of that Babu.'
Entered unabashed Khoda Dad Khan, a stuffed forage-net in his hand,
and the troopers behind him.
'May you never be tired!' said he cheerily. 'Well, Sahibs, that was
a good fight, and Naim Shah's mother is in debt to you, Tallantire
Sahib. A clean cut, they tell me, through jaw, wadded coat, and deep
into the collar-bone. Well done! But I speak for the tribe. There has
been a fault—a great fault. Thou knowest that I and mine, Tallantire
Sahib, kept the oath we sware to Orde Sahib on the banks of the
'As an Afghan keeps his knife—sharp on one side, blunt on the
other,' said Tallantire.
'The better swing in the blow, then. But I speak God's truth. Only
the Blind Mullah carried the young men on the tip of his tongue, and
said that there was no more Border-law because a Bengali had been
sent, and we need not fear the English at all. So they came down to
avenge that insult and get plunder. Ye know what befell, and how far I
helped. Now five score of us are dead or wounded, and we are all
shamed and sorry, and desire no further war. Moreover, that ye may
better listen to us, we have taken off the head of the Blind Mullah,
whose evil counsels have led us to folly. I bring it for proof,'—and
he heaved on the floor the head. 'He will give no more trouble, for I
am chief now, and so I sit in a higher place at all audiences. Yet
there is an offset to this head. That was another fault. One of the
men found that black Bengali beast, through whom this trouble arose,
wandering on horseback and weeping. Reflecting that he had caused loss
of much good life, Alla Dad Khan, whom, if you choose, I will
to-morrow shoot, whipped off this head, and I bring it to you to cover
your shame, that ye may bury it. See, no man kept the spectacles,
though they were of gold.'
Slowly rolled to Tallantire's feet the crop-haired head of a
spectacled Bengali gentleman, open-eyed, open-mouthed—the head of
Terror incarnate. Bullows bent down. 'Yet another blood-fine and a
heavy one, Khoda Dad Khan, for this is the head of Debendra Nath, the
man's brother. The Babu is safe long since. All but the fools of the
Khusru Kheyl know that.'
'Well, I care not for carrion. Quick meat for me. The thing was
under our hills asking the road to Jumala and Alla Dad Khan showed him
the road to Jehannum, being, as thou sayest, but a fool. Remains now
what the Government will do to us. As to the blockade—'
'Who art thou, seller of dog's flesh,' thundered Tallantire, 'to
speak of terms and treaties? Get hence to the hills—go, and wait
there starving, till it shall please the Government to call thy people
out for punishment—children and fools that ye be! Count your dead,
and be still. Best assured that the Government will send you a MAN!'
'Ay,' returned Khoda Dad Khan, 'for we also be men.'
As he looked Tallantire between the eyes, he added, 'And by God,
Sahib, may thou be that man!'