The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories
by Rudyard Kipling
THE PHANTOM 'RICKSHAW
May no ill dreams disturb my rest,
Nor Powers of Darkness me molest.
ONE of the few advantages that India has over England is a great
Knowability. After five years' service a man is directly or
indirectly acquainted with the two or three hundred Civilians in his
Province, all the Messes of ten or twelve Regiments and Batteries,
and some fifteen hundred other people of the non-official caste. In
ten years his knowledge should be doubled, and at the end of
twenty he knows, or knows something about, every Englishman in
the Empire, and may travel anywhere and everywhere without
Globe-trotters who expect entertainment as a right, have, even
within my memory, blunted this open-heartedness, but none the
less to-day, if you belong to the Inner Circle and are neither a Bear
nor a Black Sheep, all houses are open to you, and our small world
is very, very kind and helpful.
Rickett of Kamartha stayed with Polder of Kumaon some fifteen
years ago. He meant to stay two nights, but was knocked down by
rheumatic fever, and for six weeks disorganized Polder's
establishment, stopped Polder's work, and nearly died in Polder's
bedroom. Polder behaves as though he had been placed under
eternal obligation by Rickett, and yearly sends the little Ricketts a
box of presents and toys. It is the same everywhere. The men who
do not take the trouble to conceal from you their opinion that you
are an incompetent ass, and the women who blacken your
character and misunderstand your wife's amusements, will work
themselves to the bone in your behalf if you fall sick or into
Heatherlegh, the Doctor, kept, in addition to his regular practice, a
hospital on his private account-an arrangement of loose boxes for
Incurables, his friend called it-but it was really a sort of fitting-up
shed for craft that had been damaged by stress of weather. The
weather in India is often sultry, and since the tale of bricks is
always a fixed quantity, and the only liberty allowed is permission
to work overtime and get no thanks, men occasionally break down
and become as mixed as the metaphors in this sentence.
Heatherlegh is the dearest doctor that ever was, and his invariable
prescription to all his patients is, "lie low, go slow, and keep cool."
He says that more men are killed by overwork than the importance
of this world justifies. He maintains that overwork slew Pansay,
who died under his hands about three years ago. He has, of course,
the right to speak authoritatively, and he laughs at my theory that
there was a crack in Pansay's head and a little bit of the Dark
World came through and pressed him to death. "Pansay went off
the handle," says Heatherlegh, "after the stimulus of long leave at
Home. He may or he may not have behaved like a blackguard to
Mrs. Keith-Wessington. My notion is that the work of the
Katabundi Settlement ran him off his legs, and that he took to
brooding and making much of an ordinary P. & 0. flirtation. He
certainly was engaged to Miss Mannering, and she certainly broke
off the engagement. Then he took a feverish chill and all that
nonsense about ghosts developed. Overwork started his illness,
kept it alight, and killed him poor devil. Write him off to the
System-one man to take the work of two and a half men."
I do not believe this. I used to sit up with Pansay sometimes when
Heatherlegh was called out to patients, and I happened to be within
claim. The man would make me most unhappy by describing in a
low, even voice, the procession that was always passing at the
bottom of his bed. He had a sick man's command of language.
When he recovered I suggested that he should write out the whole
affair from beginning to end, knowing that ink might assist him to
ease his mind. When little boys have learned a new bad word they
are never happy till they have chalked it up on a door. And this
also is Literature.
He was in a high fever while he was writing, and the blood-and-
thunder Magazine diction he adopted did not calm him. Two
months afterward he was reported fit for duty, but, in spite of the
fact that he was urgently needed to help an undermanned
Commission stagger through a deficit, he preferred to die; vowing
at the last that he was hag-ridden. I got his manuscript before he
died, and this is his version of the affair, dated 1885:
My doctor tells me that I need rest and change of air. It is not
improbable that I shall get both ere long-rest that neither the
red-coated messenger nor the midday gun can break, and change
of air far beyond that which any homeward-bound steamer can
give me. In the meantime I am resolved to stay where I am; and,
in flat defiance of my doctor's orders, to take all the world into my
confidence. You shall learn for yourselves the precise nature of
my malady; and shall, too, judge for yourselves whether any man
born of woman on this weary earth was ever so tormented as I.
Speaking now as a condemned criminal might speak ere the
drop-bolts are drawn, my story, wild and hideously improbable as
it may appear, demands at least attention. That it will ever receive
credence I utterly disbelieve. Two months ago I should have
scouted as mad or drunk the man who had dared tell me the like.
Two months ago I was the happiest man in India. Today, from
Peshawur to the sea, there is no one more wretched. My doctor
and I are the only two who know this. His explanation is, that my
brain, digestion, and eyesight are all slightly affected; giving rise
to my frequent and persistent "delusions." Delusions, indeed! I
call him a fool; but he attends me still with the same unwearied
smile, the same bland professional manner, the same neatly
trimmed red whiskers, till I begin to suspect that I am an
ungrateful, evil-tempered invalid. But you shall judge for
Three years ago it was my fortune my great misfortune to sail from
Gravesend to Bombay, on return from long leave, with one Agnes
Keith-Wessington, wife of an officer on the Bombay side. It does
not in the least concern you to know what manner of woman she
was. Be content with the knowledge that, ere the voyage had
ended, both she and I were desperately and unreasoningly in love
with one another. Heaven knows that I can make the admission
now without one particle of vanity. In matters of this sort there is
always one who gives and another who accepts. From the first day
of our ill-omened attachment, I was conscious that Agnes's
passion was a stronger, a more dominant, and-if I may use the
expression-a purer sentiment than mine. Whether she recognized
the fact then, I do not know. Afterward it was bitterly plain to both
Arrived at Bombay in the spring of the year, we went our
respective ways, to meet no more for the next three or four
months, when my leave and her love took us both to Simla. There
we spent the season together; and there my fire of straw burned
itself out to a pitiful end with the closing year. I attempt no
excuse. I make no apology. Mrs. Wessington had given up much
for my sake, and was prepared to give up all. From my own lips,
in August, 1882, she learned that I was sick of her presence, tired
of her company, and weary of the sound of her voice. Ninety-nine
women out of a hundred would have wearied of me as I wearied of
them; seventy-five of that number would have promptly avenged
themselves by active and obtrusive flirtation 'with other men. Mrs.
Wessington was the hundredth. On her neither my openly
expressed aversion nor the cutting brutalities with which I
garnished our interviews had the least effect.
"Jack, darling!" was her one eternal cuckoo cry: "I'm sure it's all a
mistake -a hideous mistake; and we'll be good friends again some
day. Please forgive me, Jack, dear."
I was the offender, and I knew it. That knowledge transformed my
pity into passive endurance, and, eventually, into blind hat~the
same instinct, I suppose, which prompts a man to savagely stamp
on the spider he has but half killed. And with this hate in my
bosom the season of 1882 came to an end.
Next year we met again at Simla-she with her monotonous face
and timid attempts at reconciliation, and I with loathing of her in
every fibre of my frame. Several times I could not avoid meeting
her alone; and on each occasion her words were identically the
same. Still the unreasoning wail that it was all a "mistake"; and
still the hope of eventually "making friends." I might have seen
had I cared to look, that that hope only was keeping her alive. She
grew more wan and thin month by month. You will agree with
me, at least, that such conduct would have driven any one to
despair. It was uncalled for; childish; unwomanly. I maintain that
she was much to blame. And again, sometimes, in the black,
fever-stricken night-watches, I have begun to think that I might
have been a little kinder to her. But that really is a "delusion." I
could not have continued pretending to love her when I didn't;
could I? It would have been unfair to us both.
Last year we met again-on the same terms as before. The same
weary appeal, and the same curt answers from my lips. At least I
would make her see how wholly wrong and hopeless were her
attempts at resuming the old relationship. As the season wore on,
we fell apart-that is to say, she found it difficult to meet me, for I
had other and more absorbing interests to attend to. When I think it
over quietly in my sick-room, the season of 1884 seems a confused
nightmare wherein light and shade were fantastically intermingled
-my courtship of little Kitty Mannering; my hopes, doubts, and
fears; our long rides together; my trembling avowal of attachment;
her reply; and now and again a vision of a white face flitting by in
the 'rickshaw with the black and white liveries I once watched for
so earnestly; the wave of Mrs. Wessington's gloved hand; and,
when she met me alone, which was but seldom, the irksome
monotony of her appeal. I loved Kitty Mannering; honestly,
heartily loved her, and with my love for her grew my hatred for
Agnes. In August Kitty and I were engaged. The next day I met
those accursed "magpie" jhampanies at the back of Jakko, and,
moved by some passing sentiment of pity, stopped to tell Mrs.
Wessington everything. She knew it already.
"So I hear you're engaged, Jack dear." Then, without a moment's
pause -"I'm sure it's all a mistake-a hideous mistake. We shall be as
good friends some day, Jack, as we ever were."
My answer might have made even a man wince. It cut the dying
woman before me like the blow of' a whip. "Please forgive me,
Jack; I didn't mean to make you angry; but it's true, it's true!"
And Mrs. Wessington broke down completely. I turned away and
left her to finish her journey in peace, feeling, but only for a
moment or two, that I had been an unutterably mean hound. I
looked back, and saw that she had turned her 'rickshaw with the
idea, I suppose, of overtaking me.
The scene and its surroundings were photographed on my memory.
The rain-swept sky (we were at the end of the wet weather), the
sodden, dingy pines, the muddy road, and the black powder-riven
cliffs formed a gloomy background against which the black and
white liveries of the jhampanies, the yellow-paneled 'rickshaw and
Mrs. Wessington's down-bowed golden head stood out clearly.
She was holding her handkerchief in her left hand and was leaning
hack exhausted against the 'rickshaw cushions. I turned my horse
up a bypath near the Sanjowlie Reservoir and literally ran away.
Once I fancied I heard a faint call of "Jack!" This may have been
imagination. I never stopped to verify it. Ten minutes later I came
across Kitty on horseback; and, in the delight of a long ride with
her, forgot all about the interview.
A week later Mrs. Wessington died, and the inexpressible burden
of her existence was removed from my life. I went Plainsward
perfectly happy. Before three months were over I had forgotten all
about her, except that at times the discovery of some of her old
letters reminded me unpleasantly of our bygone relationship. By
January I had disinterred what was left of our correspondence from
among my scattered belongings and had burned it. At the
beginning of April of this year, 1885, I was at Simla-semi-deserted
Simla-once more, and was deep in lover's talks and walks with
Kitty. It was decided that we should be married at the end of June.
You will understand, therefore, that, loving Kitty as I did, I am not
saying too much when I pronounce myself to have been, at that
time, the happiest man in India.
Fourteen delightful days passed almost before I noticed their flight.
Then, aroused to the sense of what was proper among mortals
circumstanced as we were, I pointed out to Kitty that an
engagement ring was the outward and visible sign of her dignity as
an engaged girl; and that she must forthwith come to Hamilton's to
be measured for one. Up to that moment, I give you my word, we
had completely forgotten so trivial a matter. To Hamilton's we
accordingly went on the 15th of April, 1885. Remember
that-whatever my doctor may say to the contrary-I was then in
perfect health, enjoying a well-balanced mind and an absolute
tranquil spirit. Kitty and I entered Hamilton's shop together, and
there, regardless of the order of affairs, I measured Kitty for the
ring in the presence of the amused assistant. The ring was a
sapphire with two diamonds. We then rode out down the slope
that leads to the Combermere Bridge and Peliti's shop.
While my Waler was cautiously feeling his way over the loose
shale, and Kitty was laughing and chattering at my side-while all
Simla, that is to say as much of it as had then come from the
Plains, was grouped round the Reading-room and Peliti's
veranda,-I was aware that some one, apparently at a vast distance,
was calling me by my Christian name. It struck me that I had heard
the voice before, but when and where I could not at once
determine. In the short space it took to cover the road between the
path from Hamilton's shop and the first plank of the Comber-mere
Bridge I had thought over half a dozen people who might have
committed such a solecism, and had eventually decided that it
must have been singing in my ears. Immediately opposite Peliti's
shop my eye was arrested by the sight of four jharnpanies in
"magpie" livery, pulling a yellow-paneled, cheap, bazar 'rickshaw.
In a moment my mind flew back to the previous season and Mrs.
Wessington with a sense of irritation and disgust. Was it not
enough that the woman was dead and done with, without her black
and white servitors reappearing to spoil the day's happiness?
Whoever employed them now I thought I would call upon, and ask
as a personal favor to change her Jhampanies' livery. I would hire
the men myself, and, if necessary, buy their coats from off their
backs. It is impossible to say here what a flood of undesirable
memories their presence evoked.
"Kitty," I cried, "there are poor Mrs. Wessington's jhampanies
turned up again! I wonder who has them now?"
Kitty had known Mrs. Wessington slightly last season, and had
always been interested in the sickly woman.
"What? Where?" she asked. "I can't see them anywhere."
Even as she spoke her horse, swerving from a laden mule, threw
himself directly in front of the advancing 'rickshaw. I had scarcely
time to utter a word of warning when, to my unutterable horror,
horse and rider passed through men and carriage as if they had
been thin air.
"What's the matter?" cried Kitty; "what made you call out so
foolishly, Jack? If I am engaged I don't want all creation to know
about it. There was lots of space between the mule and the
veranda; and, if you think I can't ride
Whereupon wilful Kitty set off, her dainty little head in the air, at a
hand-gallop in the direction of the Bandstand; fully expecting, as
she herself afterward told me, that I should follow her. What was
the matter? Nothing indeed. Either that I was mad or drunk, or
that Simla was haunted with devils. I reined in my impatient cob,
and turned round. The 'rickshaw had turned too, and now stood
immediately facing me, near the left railing of the Comber-mere
"Jack! Jack, darling!" (There was no mistake about the words this
time: they rang through my brain as if they had been shouted in my
ear.) "It's some hideous mistake, I'm sure. Please forgive me, jack,
and let's be friends again."
The 'rickshaw-hood had fallen back, and inside, as I hope and pray
daily for the death I dread by night, sat Mrs. Keith-Wessington,
handkerchief in hand, and golden head bowed on her breast.
How long I stared motionless I do not know. Finally, I was
aroused by my ysce taking the Waler's bridle and asking whether I
was ill. From the horrible to the commonplace is but a step. I
tumbled off my horse and dashed, half fainting, into Peliti's for a
glass of cherry-brandy. There two or three couples were gathered
round the coffee-tables discussing the gossip of the day. Their
trivialities were more comforting to me just then than the
consolations of religion could have been. I plunged into the midst
of the conversation at once; chatted, laughed, and jested with a
face (when I caught a glimpse of it in a mirror) as white and drawn
as that of a corpse. Three or four mem noticed my condition; and,
evidently setting it down to the results of over-many pegs,
charitably endeavoured to draw me apart from the rest of the
loungers. But I refused to be led away. I wanted the company of
my kind-as a child rushes into the midst of the dinner-party after a
fright in the dark. I must have talked for about ten minutes or so,
though it seemed an eternity to me, when I heard Kitty's clear
voice outside inquiring for me. In another minute she had entered
the shop, prepared to roundly upbraid me for failing so signally in
my duties. Something in my face stopped her.
"Why, Jack," she cried, "what have you been doing? What has
happened? Are you ill?" Thus driven into a direct lie, I said that
the sun had been a little too much for me. It was close upon five
o'clock of a cloudy April afternoon, and the sun had been hidden
all day. I saw my mistake as soon as the words were out of my
mouth: attempted to recover it; blundered hopelessly and followed
Kitty in a regal rage, out of doors, amid the smiles of my
acquaintances. I made some excuse (I have forgotten what) on the
score of my feeling faint; and cantered away to my hotel, leaving
Kitty to finish the ride by herself.
In my room I sat down and tried calmly to reason out the matter.
Here was I, Theobald Jack Pansay, a well-educated Bengal
Civilian in the year of grace, 1885, presumably sane, certainly
healthy, driven in terror from my sweetheart's side by the
apparition of a woman who had been dead and buried eight
months ago. These were facts that I could not blink. Nothing was
further from my thought than any memory of Mrs. Wessington
when Kitty and I left Hamilton's shop. Nothing was more utterly
commonplace than the stretch of wall opposite Peliti's. It was
broad daylight. The road was full of people; and yet here, look
you, in defiance of every law of probability, in direct outrage of
Nature's ordinance, there had appeared to me a face from the
Kitty's Arab had gone through the 'rickshaw: so that my first hope
that some woman marvelously like Mrs. Wessington had hired the
carriage and the coolies with their old livery was lost. Again and
again I went round this treadmill of thought; and again and again
gave up baffled and in despair. The voice was as inexplicable as
the apparition. I had originally some wild notion of confiding it all
to Kitty; of begging her to marry me at once; and in her arms
defying the ghostly occupant of the 'rickshaw. "After all," I
argued, "the presence of the 'rickshaw is in itself enough to prove
the existence of a spectral illusion. One may see ghosts of men and
women, but surely never of
coolies and carriages. The whole thing is absurd Fancy the ghost
of a hill-man!"
Next morning I sent a penitent note to Kitty, imploring her to
overlook my strange conduct of the previous afternoon. My
Divinity was still very wroth, and a personal apology was
necessary. I explained, with a fluency born of night-long pondering
over a falsehood, that I had been attacked with sudden palpitation
of the heart-the result of indigestion. This eminently practical
solution had its effect; and Kitty and I rode out that afternoon with
the shadow of my first lie dividing us.
Nothing would please her save a canter round Jakko. With my
nerves still unstrung from the previous night I feebly protested
against the notion, suggesting Observatory Hill, Jutogh, the
Boileaugunge road - anything rather than the Jakko round. Kitty
was angry and a little hurt: so I yielded from fear of provoking
further misunderstanding, and we set out together toward Chota
Simla. We walked a greater part of the way, and, according to our
custom, cantered from a mile or so below the Convent to the
stretch of level road by the Sanjowlie Reservoir. The wretched
horses appeared to fly, and my heart beat quicker and quicker as
we neared the crest of the ascent. My mind had been full of Mrs.
Wessington all the afternoon; and every inch of the Jakko road
bore witness to our oldtime walks and talks. The bowlders were
full of it; the pines sang it aloud overhead; the rain-fed torrents
giggled and chuck led unseen over the shameful story; and the
wind in my ears chanted the iniquity aloud.
As a fitting climax, in the middle of the level men call the Ladies'
Mile the Horror was awaiting me. No other 'rickshaw was in
sight-only the four black and white jhampanies, the yellow-
paneled carriage, and the golden head of the woman within-all
apparently just as I had left them eight months and one fortnight
ago! For an instant I fancied that Kitty must see what I saw-we
were so marvelously sympathetic in all things. Her next words
undeceived me-'~Not a soul in sight! Come along, Jack, and I'll
race you to the Reservoir buildings!" Her wiry little Arab was off
like a bird, my Waler following close behind, and in this order we
dashed under the cliffs. Half a minute brought us within fifty yards
of the 'rickshaw. I pulled my Waler and fell back a little. The
'rickshaw was directly in the middle of the road; and once more the
Arab passed through it, my horse following. "Jack! Jack dear!
Pease forgive me," rang with a wail in my ears, and, after an
interval:-"It's a mistake, a hideous mistake!"
I spurred my horse like a man possessed. When I turned my head
at the Reservoir works, the black and white liveries were still
waiting-patiently waiting-under the grey hillside, and the wind
brought me a mocking echo of the words I had just heard. Kitty
bantered me a good deal on my silence throughout the remainder
of the ride. I had been talking up till then wildly and at random.
To save my life I could not speak afterward naturally, and from
Sanjowlie to the Church wisely held my tongue.
I was to dine with the Mannerings that night, and had barely time
to canter home to dress. On the road to Elysium Hill I overheard
two men talking together in the dusk.-"It's a curious thing," said
one, "how completely all trace of it disappeared. You know my
wife was insanely fond of the woman ('never could see anything in
her myself), and wanted me to pick up her old 'rickshaw and
coolies if they were to be got for love or money. Morbid sort of
fancy I call it; but I've got to do what the Memsahib tells me.
Would you believe that the man she hired it from tells me that all
four of the men-they were brothers-died of cholera on the way to
Hardwar, poor devils, and the 'rickshaw has been broken up by the
man himself. 'Told me he never used a dead Memsakib's
'rickshaw. 'Spoiled his luck. Queer notion, wasn't it? Fancy poor
little Mrs. Wessington spoiling any one's luck except her own!" I
laughed aloud at this point; and my laugh jarred on me as I uttered
it. So there were ghosts of 'rickshaws after all, and ghostly
employments in the other world! How much did Mrs. Wessington
give her men? What were their hours? Where did they go?
And for visible answer to my last question I saw the infernal Thing
blocking my path in the twilight. The dead travel fast, and by short
cuts unknown to ordinary coolies. I laughed aloud a second time
and checked my laughter suddenly, for I was afraid I was going
mad. Mad to a certain extent I must have been, for I recollect that
I reined in my horse at the head of the 'rickshaw, and politely
wished Mrs. Wessington "Good-evening." Her answer was one I
knew only too well. I listened to the end; and replied that I had
heard it all before, but should be delighted if she had anything
further to say. Some malignant devil stronger than I must have
entered into me that evening, for I have a dim recollection of
talking the commonplaces of the day for five minutes to the Thing
in front of me.
"Mad as a hatter, poor devil-or drunk. Max, try and get him to
Surely that was not Mrs. Wessington's voice! The two men had
overheard me speaking to the empty air, and had returned to look
after me. They were very kind and considerate, and from their
words evidently gathered that I was extremely drunk. I thanked
them confusedly and cantered away to my hotel, there changed,
and arrived at the Mannerings' ten minutes late. I pleaded the
darkness of the night as an excuse; was rebuked by Kitty for my
unlover-like tardiness; and sat down.
The conversation had already become general; and under cover of
it, I was addressing some tender small talk to my sweetheart when
I was aware that at the further end of the table a short red-
whiskered man was describing, with much broidery, his encounter
with a mad unknown that evening.
A few sentences convinced me that he was repeating the incident
of half an hour ago. In the middle of the story he looked round for
applause, as professional story-tellers do, caught my eye, and
straightway collapsed. There was a moment's awkward silence,
and the red-whiskered man muttered something to the effect that
he had "forgotten the
rest," thereby sacrificing a reputation as a good story~teller which
he had built up for six seasons past. I blessed him from the bottom
of my heart, and-went on with my fish.
In the fulness of time that dinner came to an end; and with genuine
regret I tore myself away from Kitty-as certain as I was of my own
existence that It would be waiting for me outside the door. The
red-whiskered man, who had been introduced to me as Doctor
Heatherlegh, of Simla, volunteered to bear me company as far as
our roads lay together. I accepted his offer with gratitude.
My instinct had not deceived me. It lay in readiness in the Mall,
and, in what seemed devilish mockery of our ways, with a lighted
head-lamp. The red-whiskered man went to the point at once, in a
manner that showed he bad been thinking over it all dinner time.
"I say, Pansay, what the deuce was the matter with you this
evening on the Elysium road?" The suddenness of the question
wrenched an answer from me before I was aware.
"That!." said I, pointing to It.
"That may be either D. T. or Eyes for aught I know. Now you
don't liquor. I saw as much at dinner, so it can't be D. T. There's
nothing whatever where you're pointing, though you're sweating
and trembling with fright like a scared pony. Therefore, I
conclude that it's Eyes. And I ought to understand all about them.
Come along home with me. I'm on the Blessington lower road."
To my intense delight the 'rickshaw instead of waiting for us kept
about twenty yards ahead-and this, too whether we walked, trotted,
or cantered. In the course of that long night ride I had told my
companion almost as much as I have told you here.
"Well, you've spoiled one of the best tales I've ever laid tongue to,"
said he, "but I'll forgive you for the sake of what you've gone
through. Now come home and do what I tell you; and when I've
cured you, young man, let this be a lesson to you to steer clear of
women and indigestible food till the day of your death."
The 'rickshaw kept steady in front; and my red-whiskered friend
seemed to derive great pleasure from my account of its exact
"Eyes, Pansay-all Eyes, Brain, and Stomach. And the greatest of
these three is Stomach. You've too much conceited Brain, too little
Stomach, and thoroughly unhealthy Eyes. Get your Stomach
straight and the rest follows. And all that's French for a liver pill.
I'll take sole medical charge of you from this hour! for you're too
interesting a phenomenon to be passed over."
By this time we were deep in the shadow of the Blessington lower
road and the 'rickshaw came to a dead stop under a pine-clad,
over-hanging shale cliff. Instinctively I halted too, giving my
reason. Heatherlegh rapped out an oath.
'Now, if you think I'm going to spend a cold night on the hillside
for the sake of a stomach-cum-Brain-cum-Eye illusion . . . Lord,
ha' mercy! What's that?"
There was a muffled report, a blinding smother of dust just in front
of us, a crack, the noise of rent boughs, and about ten yards of the
cliff-side-pines., undergrowth, and all-slid down into the road
below, completely blocking it up. The uprooted trees swayed and
tottered for a moment like drunken giants in the gloom, and then
fell prone among their fellows with a thunderous crash. Our two
horses stood motionless and sweating with fear. As soon as the
rattle of falling earth and stone had subsided, my companion
muttered:-"Man, if we'd gone forward we should have been ten
feet deep in our graves by now. 'There are more things in heaven
and earth.' . . . Come home, Pansay, and thank God. I want a peg
We retraced our way over the Church Ridge, and I arrived at Dr.
Heatherlegh's house shortly after midnight.
His attempts toward my cure commenced almost immediately, and
for a week I never left his sight. Many a time in the course of that
week did I bless the good-fortune which had thrown me in contact
with Simla's best and kindest doctor. Day by day my spirits grew
lighter and more equable. Day by day, too, I became more and
more inclined to fall in with Heatherlegh's "spectral illusion"
theory, implicating eyes, brain, and stomach. I wrote to Kitty,
telling her that a slight sprain caused by a fall from my horse kept
me indoors for a few days; and that I should be recovered before
she had time to regret my absence.
Heatherlegh's treatment was simple to a degree. It consisted of
liver pills, cold-water baths, and strong exercise, taken in the dusk
or at early dawn-for, as he sagely observed:-"A man with a
sprained ankle doesn't walk a dozen miles a day, and your young
woman might be wondering if she saw you."
At the end of the week, after much examination of pupil and pulse,
and strict injunction' as to diet and pedestrianism, Heatherlegh
dismissed me as brusquely as he had taken charge of me. Here is
his parting benediction:-"Man, I can certify to your mental cure,
and that's as much as to say I've cured most of your bodily
ailments. Now, get your 'traps out of this as soon as you can; and
be off to make love to Miss Kitty."
I was endeavoring to express my thanks for his kindness. He cut
"Don't think I did this because I like you. I gather that you've
behaved like a blackguard all through. But, all the same, you re a
phenomenon, and as queer a phenomenon as you are a blackguard.
No!"-checking me a second time"not a rupee please. Go out and
see if you can find the eyes-brain-and-stomach business again. I'll
give you a lakh for each time you see it."
Half an hour later I was in the Mannerings' drawing-room with
Kitty-drunk with the intoxication of present happiness and the
fore-knowledge that I should never more be troubled with Its
hideous presence. Strong in the sense of my new-found security, I
proposed a ride at once; and, by preference, a canter round Jakko.
Never had I felt so well, so overladen with vitality and mere
animal spirits, as I did on the afternoon of the 30th of April. Kitty
was delighted at the change in my appearance, and complimented
me on it in her delightfully frank and outspoken manner. We left
the Mannerings' house together, laughing and talking, and cantered
along the Chota Simla road as of old.
I was in haste to reach the Sanjowlie Reservoir and there make my
assurance doubly sure. The horses did their best, but seemed all
too slow to my impatient mind. Kitty was astonished at my
boisterousness. "Why, Jack!" she cried at last, "you are behaving
like a child. What are you doing?"
We were just below the Convent, and from sheer wantonness I was
making my Waler plunge and curvet across the road as I tickled it
with the loop of my riding-whip.
"Doing?" I answered; "nothing, dear. That's just it. If you'd been
doing nothing for a week except lie up, you'd be as riotous as I."
"'Singing and murmuring in your feastful mirth,
Joying to feel yourself alive;
Lord over Nature, Lord of the visible Earth,
Lord of the senses five.'"
My quotation was hardly out of my lips before we had rounded the
corner above the Convent; and a few yards further on could see
across to Sanjowlie. In the centre of the level road stood the black
and white liveries, the yellow-paneled 'rickshaw, and Mrs.
Keith-Wessington. I pulled up, looked, rubbed my eyes, and, I
believe must have said something. The next thing I knew was that
I was lying face downward on the road with Kitty kneeling above
me in tears.
"Has it gone, child I" I gasped. Kitty only wept more bitterly.
"Has what gone, Jack dear? what does it all mean? There must be a
mistake somewhere, Jack. A hideous mistake." Her last words
brought me to my feet-mad-raving for the time being.
"Yes, there is a mistake somewhere," I repeated, "a hideous
mistake. Come and look at It."
I have an indistinct idea that I dragged Kitty by the wrist along the
road up to where It stood, and implored her for pity's sake to speak
to It; to tell It that we were betrothed; that neither Death nor Hell
could break the tie between us; and Kitty only knows how much
more to the same effect. Now and again I appealed passionately to
the Terror in the 'rickshaw to bear witness to all I had said, and to
release me from a torture that was killing me. As I talked I suppose
I must have told Kitty of my old relations with Mrs. Wessington,
for I saw her listen intently with white face and blazing eyes.
"Thank you, Mr. Pansay," she said, "that's quite enough. Syce
The syces, impassive as Orientals always are, had come up with
the recaptured horses; and as Kitty sprang into her saddle I caught
hold of the bridle, entreating her to hear me out and forgive. My
answer was the cut of her riding-whip across my face from mouth
to eye, and a word or two of farewell that even now I cannot write
down. So I judged, and judged rightly, that Kitty knew all; and I
staggered back to the side of the 'rickshaw. My face was cut and
bleeding, and the blow of the riding-whip had raised a livid blue
wheal on it. I had no self-respect. Just then, Heatherlegh, who must
have been following Kitty and me at a distance, cantered up.
"Doctor," I said, pointing to my face, "here's Miss Mannering's
signature to my order of dismissal and . . . I'll thank you for that
lakh as soon as convenient."
Heatherlegh's face, even in my abject misery, moved me to
"I'll stake my professional reputation"
-he began. "Don't be a fool," I whispered. "I've lost my life's
happiness and you'd better take me home."
As I spoke the 'rickshaw was gone. Then I lost all knowledge of
what was passing. The crest of Jakko seemed to heave and roll
like the crest of a cloud and fall in upon me.
Seven days later (on the 7th of May, that is to say) I was aware that
I was lying in Heatherlegh's room as weak as a little child.
Heatherlegh was watching me intently from behind the papers on
his writing-table. His first words were not encouraging; but I was
too far spent to be much moved by them.
"Here's Miss Kitty has sent back your letters. You corresponded a
good deal, you young people. Here's a packet that looks like a ring,
and a cheerful sort of a note from Mannering Papa, which I've
taken the liberty of reading and burning. The old gentleman's not
pleased with you."
"And Kitty?" I asked, dully.
"Rather more drawn than her father from what she says. By the
same token you must have been letting out any number of queer
reminiscences just be. fore I met you. 'Says that a man who would
have behaved to a woman as you did to Mrs. Wessington ought to
kill himself out of sheer pity for his kind. She's a hot-headed little
virago, your mash. 'Will have it too that you were suffering from
D. T. when that row on the Jakko road turned up. 'Says she'll die
before she ever speaks to you again."
I groaned and turned over to the other side.
"Now you've got your choice, my friend. This engagement has to
be broken off; and the Mannerings don't want to be too hard on
you. Was it broken through D. T. or epileptic fits? Sorry I can't
offer you a better exchange unless you'd prefer hereditary insanity.
Say the word and I'll tell 'em it~s fits. All Simla knows about that
scene on the Ladies' Mile. Come! I'll give you five minutes to
think over it."
During those five minutes I believe that I explored thoroughly the
lowest circles of the Inferno which it is permitted man to tread on
earth. And at the same time I myself was watching myself faltering
through the dark labyrinths of doubt, misery, and utter despair. I
wondered, as Heatherlegh in his chair might have wondered,
which dreadful alternative I should adopt. Presently I heard myself
answering in a voice that I hardly recognized,-"They're
about morality in these parts. Give 'em fits, Heatherlegh, and my
love. Now let me sleep a bit longer."
Then my two selves joined, and it was only I (half crazed,
devil-driven I) that tossed in my bed, tracing step by step the
history of the past month.
"But I am in Simla," I kept repeating to myself. "I, Jack Pansay, am
in Simla and there are no ghosts here. It's unreasonable of that
woman to pretend there are. Why couldn't Agnes have left me
alone? I never did her any harm. It might just as well have been
me as Agnes. Only I'd never have come hack on purpose to kill
her. Why can't I be left alone-left alone and happy?"
It was high noon when I first awoke:
and the sun was low in the sky before I slept-slept as the tortured
criminal sleeps on his rack, too worn to feel further pain.
Next day I could not leave my bed. Heatherlegh told me in the
morning that he had received an answer from Mr. Mannering, and
that, thanks to his (Heatherlegh's) friendly offices, the story of
my affliction had traveled through the length and breadth of Simla,
where I was on all sides much pitied.
"And that's rather more than you deserve, ' he concluded,
pleasantly, "though the Lord knows you've been going through a
pretty severe mill. Never mind; we'll cure you yet, you perverse
I declined firmly to be cured. "You've been much too good to me
already, old man," said I; "but I don't think I need trouble you
In my heart I knew that nothing Heatherlegh could do would
lighten the burden that had been laid upon me.
With that knowledge came also a sense of hopeless, impotent
rebellion against the unreasonableness of it all. There were scores
of men no better than I whose punishments had at least been
reserved for another world; and I felt that it was bitterly, cruelly
unfair that I alone should have been singled out for so hideous a
fate. This mood would in time give place to another where it
seemed that the 'rickshaw and I were the only realities in a world
of shadows; that Kitty was a ghost; that Mannering, Heatherlegh,
and all the other men and women I knew were all ghosts; and the
great, grey hills themselves but vain shadows devised to torture
me. From mood to mood I tossed backward and forward for seven
weary days; my body growing daily stronger and strong-er, until
the bedroom looking-glass told me that I had returned to everyday
life, and was as other men once more. Curiously enough my face
showed no signs of the struggle I had gone through. It was pale
indeed, but as expression-less and commonplace as ever. I had
expected some permanent alteration-visible evidence of the
disease that was eating me away. I found nothing.
On the 15th of May, I left Heatherlegh's house at eleven o'clock in
the morning; and the instinct of the bachelor drove me to the Club.
There I found that every man knew my story as told by
Heatherlegh, and was, in clumsy fashion, abnormally kind and
attentive. Nevertheless I recognized that for the rest of my natural
life I should be among but not of my fellows; and I envied very
bitterly indeed the laughing coolies on the Mall below. I lunched
at the Club, and at four o'clock wandered aimlessly down the Mall
in the vague hope of meeting Kitty. Close to the Band-stand the
black and white liveries joined me; and I heard Mrs. Wessington's
old appeal at my side. I had been expecting this ever since I came
out; and was only surprised at her delay. The phantom 'rickshaw
and I went side by side along the Chota Simla road in silence.
Close to the bazar, Kitty and a man on horseback overtook and
passed us. For any sign she gave I might have been a dog in the
road. She did not even pay me the compliment of quickening her
pace; though the rainy afternoon had served for an excuse.
So Kitty and her companion, and I and my ghostly Light-o'-Love,
crept round Jakko in couples. The road was streaming with water;
the pines dripped like roof-pipes on the rocks below, and the air
was full of fine, driving rain. Two or three times I found myself
saying to myself almost aloud:"I'm Jack Pan-say on leave at
Simla~at Simla! Everyday, ordinary Simla. I mustn't forget that-I
mustn't forget that." Then I would try to recollect some of the
gossip I had heard at the Club: the prices of So-and-So's
horses-anything, in fact, that related to the workaday Anglo-Indian
world I knew so well. I even repeated the multiplication-table
rapidly to myself, to make quite sure that I was not taking leave of
my senses. It gave me much comfort; and must have prevented my
hearing Mrs. Wessington for a time.
Once more I wearily climbed the Convent slope and entered the l~
vel road. Here Kitty and the man started off at a canter, and I was
left alone with Mrs. Wessington. "Agnes," said I, "will you put
back your hood and tell me what it all means?" The hood dropped
noiselessly, and I was face to face with my dead and buried
mistress. She was wearing the dress in which I had last seen her
alive; carried the same tiny handkerchief in her right hand; and the
same cardcase in her left. (A woman eight months dead with a
cardcase!) I had to pin myself down to the multiplication-table,
and to set both hands on the stone parapet of the road, to assure
myself that that at least was real.
"Agnes," I repeated, "for pity's sake tell me what it all means."
Mrs. Wessington leaned forward, with that odd, quick turn of the
head I used to know so well, and spoke.
If my story had not already so madly overleaped the hounds of all
human belief I should apologize to you now. As I know that no
one-no, not even Kitty, for whom it is written as some sort of
justification of my conduct-will believe me, I will go on. Mrs.
Wessington spoke and I walked with her from the Sanjowlie road
to the turning below the Commander-in-Chief's house as I might
walk by the side of any living woman's 'rickshaw, deep in
conversation. The second and most tormenting of my moods of
sickness had suddenly laid hold upon me, and like the Prince in
Tennyson's poem, "I seemed to move amid a world of ghosts."
There had been a garden-party at the Commander-in-Chief's, and
we two joined the crowd of homeward-hound folk. As I saw them
then it seemed that they were the shadows-impalpable, fantastic
shadows-that divided for Mrs. Wessington's 'rickshaw to pass
through. What we said during the course of that weird interview I
cannot-indeed, I dare not-tell. Heatherlegh's comment would have
been a short laugh and a remark that I had been "mashing a
brain-eye-and-stomach chimera." It was a ghastly and yet in some
indefinable way a marvelously dear experience. Could it be
possible, I wondered, that I was in this life to woo a second time
the woman I had killed by my own neglect and cruelty?
I met Kitty on the homeward road-a shadow among shadows.
If I were to describe all the incidents of the next fortnight in their
order, my story would never come to an end; and your patience
would he exhausted. Morning after morning and evening after
evening the ghostly 'rickshaw and I used to wander through Simla
together. Wherever I went there the four black and white liveries
followed me and bore me company to and from my hotel. At the
Theatre I found them amid the crowd or yelling jhampanies;
outside the Club veranda, after a long evening of whist; at the
Birthday Ball, waiting patiently for my reappearance; and in broad
daylight when I went calling. Save that it cast no shadow, the
'rickshaw was in every respect as real to look upon as one of wood
and iron. More than once, indeed, I have had to check myself front
warning some hard-riding friend against cantering over it. More
than once I have walked down the Mall deep in conversation with
Mrs. Wessington to the unspeakable amazement of the passers-by.
Before I had been out and about a week I learned that the "fit"
theory had been discarded in favor of insanity. However, I made
no change in my mode of life. I called, rode, and dined out as
freely as ever. I had a passion for the society of my kind which I
had never felt before; I hungered to be among the realities of life;
and at the same time I felt vaguely unhappy when I had been
separated too long from my ghostly companion. It would be almost
impossible to describe my varying moods from the 15th of May
up to to-day.
The presence of the 'rickshaw filled me by turns with horror, blind
fear, a dim sort of pleasure, and utter despair. I dared not leave
Simla; and I knew that my stay there was killing me. I knew,
moreover, that it was my destiny to die slowly and a little every
day. My only anxiety was to get the penance over as quietly as
might be. Alternately I hungered for a sight of Kitty and watched
her outrageous flirtations with my successor-to speak more
accurately, my successors-with amused interest. She was as much
out of my life as I was out of hers. By day I wandered with Mrs.
Wessington almost content. By night I implored Heaven to let me
return to the world as I used to know it. Above all these varying
moods lay the sensation of dull, numbing wonder that the Seen and
the Unseen should mingle so strangely on this earth to hound one
poor soul to its grave.
* * * * * * * * *
August 27.-Heatherlegh has been indefatigable in his attendance
on me; and only yesterday told me that I ought to send in an
application for sick leave. An application to escape the company
of a phantom! A request that the Government would graciously
permit me to get rid of five ghosts and an airy 'rickshaw by going
to England. Heatherlegh's proposition moved me to almost
hysterical laughter. I told him that I should await the end quietly
at Simla; and I am sure that the end is not far off. Believe me that I
dread its advent more than any word can say; and I torture myself
nightly with a thousand speculations as to the manner of my death.
Shall I die in my bed decently and as an English gentleman should
die; or, in one last walk on the Mall, will my soul be wrenched
from me to take its place forever and ever by the side of that
ghastly phantasm? Shall I return to my old lost allegiance in the
next world, or shall I meet Agnes loathing her and bound to her
side through all eternity? Shall we two hover over the scene of our
lives till the end of Time? As the day of my death draws nearer,
the intense horror that all living flesh feels toward escaped spirits
from beyond the grave grows more and more powerful. It is an
awful thing to go down quick among the dead with scarcely
one-half of your life completed. It is a thousand times more awful
to wait as I do in your midst, for I know not what unimaginable
terror. Pity me, at least on the score of my "delusion," for I
know you will never believe what I have written here Yet as
surely as ever a man was done to death by the Powers of Darkness
I am that man.
In justice, too, pity her. For as surely as ever woman was killed by
man, I killed Mrs. Wessington. And the last portion of my
punishment is ever now upon me.
MY OWN TRUE GHOST STORY
As I came through the Desert thus it was--
As I came through the Desert.
The City of Dreadful Night.
Somewhere in the Other World, where there are books and
pictures and plays and shop windows to look at, and thousands of
men who spend their lives in building up all four, lives a
gentleman who writes real stories about the real insides of people;
and his name is Mr. Walter Besant. But he will insist upon
treating his ghosts he has published half a workshopful of them--
with levity. He makes his ghost-seers talk familiarly, and, in some
cases, flirt outrageously, with the phantoms. You may treat
anything, from a Viceroy to a Vernacular Paper, with levity; but
you must behave reverently toward a ghost, and particularly an
There are, in this land, ghosts who take the form of fat, cold,
pobby corpses, and hide in trees near the roadside till a traveler
passes. Then they drop upon his neck and remain. There are also
terrible ghosts of women who have died in child-bed. These
wander along the pathways at dusk, or hide in the crops near a
village, and call seductively. But to answer their call is death in
this world and the next. Their feet are turned backward that all
sober men may recognize them. There are ghosts of little children
who have been thrown into wells. These haunt well curbs and the
fringes of jungles, and wail under the stars, or catch women by the
wrist and beg to be taken up and carried. These and the corpse
ghosts, however, are only vernacular articles and do not attack
Sahibs. No native ghost has yet been authentically reported to
have frightened an Englishman; but many English ghosts have
scared the life out of both white and black.
Nearly every other Station owns a ghost. There are said to be two
at Simla, not counting the woman who blows the bellows at Syree
dak-bungalow on the Old Road; Mussoorie has a house haunted of
a very lively Thing; a White Lady is supposed to do night-
watchman round a house in Lahore; Dalhousie says that one of her
houses "repeats" on autumn evenings all the incidents of a horrible
horse-and-precipice accident; Murree has a merry ghost, and, now
that she has been swept by cholera, will have room for a sorrowful
one; there are Officers' Quarters in Mian Mir whose doors open
without reason, and whose furniture is guaranteed to creak, not
with the heat of June but with the weight of Invisibles who come
to lounge in the chairs; Peshawur possesses houses that none will
willingly rent; and there is something--not fever--wrong with a big
bungalow in Allahabad. The older Provinces simply bristle with
haunted houses, and march phantom armies along their main
Some of the dak-bungalows on the Grand Trunk Road have handy
little cemeteries in their compound--witnesses to the "changes and
chances of this mortal life" in the days when men drove from
Calcutta to the Northwest. These bungalows are objectionable
places to put up in. They are generally very old, always dirty,
while the khansamah is as ancient as the bungalow. He either
chatters senilely, or falls into the long trances of age. In both
moods he is useless. If you get angry with him, he refers to some
Sahib dead and buried these thirty years, and says that when he
was in that Sahib's service not a khansamah in the Province could
touch him. Then he jabbers and mows and trembles and fidgets
among the dishes, and you repent of your irritation.
In these dak-bungalows, ghosts are most likely to be found, and
when found, they should be made a note of. Not long ago it was
my business to live in dak-bungalows. I never inhabited the same
house for three nights running, and grew to be learned in the breed.
I lived in Government-built ones with red brick walls and rail
ceilings, an inventory of the furniture posted in every room, and an
excited snake at the threshold to give welcome. I lived in
"converted" ones--old houses officiating as dak-bungalows--where
nothing was in its proper place and there wasn't even a fowl for
dinner. I lived in second-hand palaces where the wind blew
through open-work marble tracery just as uncomfortably as
through a broken pane. I lived in dak-bungalows where the last
entry in the visitors' book was fifteen months old, and where they
slashed off the curry-kid's head with a sword. It was my good luck
to meet all sorts of men, from sober traveling missionaries and
deserters flying from British Regiments, to drunken loafers who
threw whisky bottles at all who passed; and my still greater good
fortune just to escape a maternity case. Seeing that a fair
proportion of the tragedy of our lives out here acted itself in dak-
bungalows, I wondered that I had met no ghosts. A ghost that
would voluntarily hang about a dak-bungalow would be mad of
course; but so many men have died mad in dak-bungalows that
there must be a fair percentage of lunatic ghosts.
In due time I found my ghost, or ghosts rather, for there were two
of them. Up till that hour I had sympathized with Mr. Besant's
method of handling them, as shown in "The Strange Case of Mr.
Lucraft and Other Stories." I am now in the Opposition.
We will call the bungalow Katmal dak-bungalow. But THAT was
the smallest part of the horror. A man with a sensitive hide has no
right to sleep in dak-bungalows. He should marry. Katmal dak-
bungalow was old and rotten and unrepaired. The floor was of
worn brick, the walls were filthy, and the windows were nearly
black with grime. It stood on a bypath largely used by native Sub-
Deputy Assistants of all kinds, from Finance to Forests; but real
Sahibs were rare. The khansamah, who was nearly bent double
with old age, said so.
When I arrived, there was a fitful, undecided rain on the face of
the land, accompanied by a restless wind, and every gust made a
noise like the rattling of dry bones in the stiff toddy palms outside.
The khansamah completely lost his head on my arrival. He had
served a Sahib once. Did I know that Sahib? He gave me the
name of a well-known man who has been buried for more than a
quarter of a century, and showed me an ancient daguerreotype of
that man in his prehistoric youth. I had seen a steel engraving of
him at the head of a double volume of Memoirs a month before,
and I felt ancient beyond telling.
The day shut in and the khansamah went to get me food. He did
not go through the pretense of calling it "khana"--man's victuals.
He said "ratub," and that means, among other things, "grub"--dog's
rations. There was no insult in his choice of the term. He had
forgotten the other word, I suppose.
While he was cutting up the dead bodies of animals, I settled
myself down, after exploring the dak-bungalow. There were three
rooms, beside my own, which was a corner kennel, each giving
into the other through dingy white doors fastened with long iron
bars. The bungalow was a very solid one, but the partition walls of
the rooms were almost jerry-built in their flimsiness. Every step or
bang of a trunk echoed from my room down the other three, and
every footfall came back tremulously from the far walls. For this
reason I shut the door. There were no lamps--only candles in long
glass shades. An oil wick was set in the bathroom.
For bleak, unadulterated misery that dak-bungalow was the worst
of the many that I had ever set foot in. There was no fireplace, and
the windows would not open; so a brazier of charcoal would have
been useless. The rain and the wind splashed and gurgled and
moaned round the house, and the toddy palms rattled and roared.
Half a dozen jackals went through the compound singing, and a
hyena stood afar off and mocked them. A hyena would convince a
Sadducee of the Resurrection of the Dead--the worst sort of Dead.
Then came the ratub--a curious meal, half native and half English
in composition--with the old khansamah babbling behind my chair
about dead and gone English people, and the wind-blown candles
playing shadow-bo-peep with the bed and the mosquito-curtains.
It was just the sort of dinner and evening to make a man think of
every single one of his past sins, and of all the others that he
intended to commit if he lived.
Sleep, for several hundred reasons, was not easy. The lamp in the
bath-room threw the most absurd shadows into the room, and the
wind was beginning to talk nonsense.
Just when the reasons were drowsy with blood-sucking I heard the
regular--"Let--us--take--and--heave--him--over" grunt of doolie-
bearers in the compound. First one doolie came in, then a second,
and then a third. I heard the doolies dumped on the ground, and
the shutter in front of my door shook. "That's some one trying to
come in," I said. But no one spoke, and I persuaded myself that it
was the gusty wind. The shutter of the room next to mine was
attacked, flung back, and the inner door opened. "That's some
Sub-Deputy Assistant," I said, "and he has brought his friends with
him. Now they'll talk and spit and smoke for an hour."
But there were no voices and no footsteps. No one was putting his
luggage into the next room. The door shut, and I thanked
Providence that I was to be left in peace. But I was curious to
know where the doolies had gone. I got out of bed and looked into
the darkness. There was never a sign of a doolie. Just as I was
getting into bed again, I heard, in the next room, the sound that no
man in his senses can possibly mistake--the whir of a billiard ball
down the length of the slates when the striker is stringing for
break. No other sound is like it. A minute afterwards there was
another whir, and I got into bed. I was not frightened--indeed I
was not. I was very curious to know what had become of the
doolies. I jumped into bed for that reason.
Next minute I heard the double click of a cannon and my hair sat
up. It is a mistake to say that hair stands up. The skin of the head
tightens and you can feel a faint, prickly, bristling all over the
scalp. That is the hair sitting up.
There was a whir and a click, and both sounds could only have
been made by one thing--a billiard ball. I argued the matter out at
great length with myself; and the more I argued the less probable it
seemed that one bed, one table, and two chairs--all the furniture of
the room next to mine--could so exactly duplicate the sounds of a
game of billiards. After another cannon, a three- cushion one to
judge by the whir, I argued no more. I had found my ghost and
would have given worlds to have escaped from that dak-
bungalow. I listened, and with each listen the game grew clearer.
There was whir on whir and click on click. Sometimes there was a
double click and a whir and another click. Beyond any sort of
doubt, people were playing billiards in the next room. And the
next room was not big enough to hold a billiard table!
Between the pauses of the wind I heard the game go forward--
stroke after stroke. I tried to believe that I could not hear voices;
but that attempt was a failure.
Do you know what fear is? Not ordinary fear of insult, injury or
death, but abject, quivering dread of something that you cannot
see--fear that dries the inside of the mouth and half of the throat--
fear that makes you sweat on the palms of the hands, and gulp in
order to keep the uvula at work? This is a fine Fear--a great
cowardice, and must be felt to be appreciated. The very
improbability of billiards in a dak-bungalow proved the reality of
the thing. No man--drunk or sober--could imagine a game at
billiards, or invent the spitting crack of a "screw-cannon."
A severe course of dak-bungalows has this disadvantage--it breeds
infinite credulity. If a man said to a confirmed dak-bungalow-
haunter:--"There is a corpse in the next room, and there's a mad
girl in the next but one, and the woman and man on that camel
have just eloped from a place sixty miles away," the hearer would
not disbelieve because he would know that nothing is too wild,
grotesque, or horrible to happen in a dak-bungalow.
This credulity, unfortunately, extends to ghosts. A rational person
fresh from his own house would have turned on his side and slept.
I did not. So surely as I was given up as a bad carcass by the
scores of things in the bed because the bulk of my blood was in my
heart, so surely did I hear every stroke of a long game at billiards
played in the echoing room behind the iron-barred door. My
dominant fear was that the players might want a marker. It was an
absurd fear; because creatures who could play in the dark would
be above such superfluities. I only know that that was my terror;
and it was real.
After a long, long while the game stopped, and the door banged. I
slept because I was dead tired. Otherwise I should have preferred
to have kept awake. Not for everything in Asia would I have
dropped the door-bar and peered into the dark of the next room.
When the morning came, I considered that I had done well and
wisely, and inquired for the means of departure.
"By the way, khansamah," I said, "what were those three doolies
doing in my compound in the night?"
"There were no doolies," said the khansamah.
I went into the next room and the daylight streamed through the
open door. I was immensely brave. I would, at that hour, have
played Black Pool with the owner of the big Black Pool down
"Has this place always been a dak-bungalow?" I asked.
"No," said the khansamah. "Ten or twenty years ago, I have
forgotten how long, it was a billiard room."
"A how much?"
"A billiard room for the Sahibs who built the Railway. I was
khansamah then in the big house where all the Railway-Sahibs
lived, and I used to come across with brandy-shrab. These three
rooms were all one, and they held a big table on which the Sahibs
played every evening. But the Sahibs are all dead now, and the
Railway runs, you say, nearly to Kabul."
"Do you remember anything about the Sahibs?"
"It is long ago, but I remember that one Sahib, a fat man and
always angry, was playing here one night, and he said to me:--
'Mangal Khan, brandy-pani do,' and I filled the glass, and he bent
over the table to strike, and his head fell lower and lower till it hit
the table, and his spectacles came off, and when we--the Sahibs
and I myself--ran to lift him he was dead. I helped to carry him
out. Aha, he was a strong Sahib! But he is dead and I, old Mangal
Khan, am still living, by your favor."
That was more than enough! I had my ghost--a firsthand,
authenticated article. I would write to the Society for Psychical
Research--I would paralyze the Empire with the news! But I
would, first of all, put eighty miles of assessed crop land between
myself and that dak-bungalow before nightfall. The Society might
send their regular agent to investigate later on.
I went into my own room and prepared to pack after noting down
the facts of the case. As I smoked I heard the game begin again,--
with a miss in balk this time, for the whir was a short one.
The door was open and I could see into the room. Click--c1ick!
That was a cannon. I entered the room without fear, for there was
sunlight within and a fresh breeze without. The unseen game was
going on at a tremendous rate. And well it might, when a restless
little rat was running to and fro inside the dingy ceiling-cloth, and
a piece of loose window-sash was making fifty breaks off the
window-bolt as it shook in the breeze!
Impossible to mistake the sound of billiard balls! Impossible to
mistake the whir of a ball over the slate! But I was to be excused.
Even when I shut my enlightened eyes the sound was marvelously
like that of a fast game.
Entered angrily the faithful partner of my sorrows, Kadir Baksh.
"This bungalow is very bad and low-caste! No wonder the
Presence was disturbed and is speckled. Three sets of doolie-
bearers came to the bungalow late last night when I was sleeping
outside, and said that it was their custom to rest in the rooms set
apart for the English people! What honor has the khansamah?
They tried to enter, but I told them to go. No wonder, if these
Oorias have been here, that the Presence is sorely spotted. It is
shame, and the work of a dirty man!"
Kadir Baksh did not say that he had taken from each gang two
annas for rent in advance, and then, beyond my earshot, had beaten
them with the big green umbrella whose use I could never before
divine. But Kadir Baksh has no notions of morality.
There was an interview with the khansamah, but as he promptly
lost his head, wrath gave place to pity, and pity led to a long
conversation, in the course of which he put the fat Engineer-
Sahib's tragic death in three separate stations--two of them fifty
miles away. The third shift was to Calcutta, and there the Sahib
died while driving a dogcart.
If I had encouraged him the khansamah would have wandered all
through Bengal with his corpse.
I did not go away as soon as I intended. I stayed for the night,
while the wind and the rat and the sash and the window-bolt
played a ding-dong "hundred and fifty up." Then the wind ran out
and the billiards stopped, and I felt that I had ruined my one
genuine, hall-marked ghost story.
Had I only stopped at the proper time, I could have made anything
out of it.
That was the bitterest thought of all!
THE STRANGE RIDE OF MORROWBIE JUKES
Alive or dead-there is no other way.
THERE is, as the conjurers say, no deception about this tale.
Jukes by accident stumbled upon a village that is well known to
exist, though he is the only Englishman who has been there. A
somewhat similar institution used to flourish on the outskirts of
Calcutta, and there is a story that if you go into the heart of
Bikanir, which is in the heart of the Great Indian Desert, you shall
come across not a village but a town where the Dead who did not
die but may not live have established their headquarters. And,
since it is perfectly true that in the same Desert is a wonderful city
where all the rich money lenders retreat after they have made their
fortunes (fortunes so vast that the owners cannot trust even the
strong hand of the Government to protect them, but take refuge in
the waterless sands), and drive sumptuous C-spring barouches, and
buy beautiful girls and decorate their palaces with gold and ivory
and Minton tiles and mother-n'-pearl, I do not see why Jukes's tale
should not be true. He is a Civil Engineer, with a head for plans
and distances and things of that kind, and he certainly would not
take the trouble to invent imaginary traps. He could earn more by
doing his legitimate work. He never varies the tale in the telling,
and grows very hot and indignant when he thinks of the
disrespectful treatment he received. He wrote this quite
straightforwardly at first, but he has since touched it up in places
and introduced Moral Reflections, thus:
In the beginning it all arose from a slight attack of fever. My work
necessitated my being in camp for some months between
Pakpattan and Muharakpur-a desolate sandy stretch of country as
every one who has had the misfortune to go there may know. My
coolies were neither more nor less exasperating than other gangs,
and my work demanded sufficient attention to keep me from
moping, had I been inclined to so unmanly a weakness.
On the 23d December, 1884, I felt a little feverish. There was a
full moon at the time, and, in consequence, every dog near my tent
was baying it. The brutes assembled in twos and threes and drove
me frantic. A few days previously I had shot one loud-mouthed
singer and suspended his carcass in terrorem about fifty yards from
my tent-door. But his friends fell upon, fought for, and ultimately
devoured the body; and, as it seemed to me, sang their hymns of
thanksgiving afterward with renewed energy.
The light-heartedness which accompanies fever acts differently on
different men. My irritation gave way, after a short time, to a
fixed determination to slaughter one huge black and white beast
who had been foremost in song and first in flight throughout the
evening. Thanks to a shaking hand and a giddy head I had already
missed him twice with both barrels of my shot-gun, when it struck
me that my best plan would be to ride him down in the open and
finish him off with a hog-spear. This, of course, was merely the
semi-delirious notion of a fever patient; but I remember that it
struck me at the time as being eminently practical and feasible.
I therefore ordered my groom to saddle Pornic and bring him
round quietly to the rear of my tent. When the pony was ready, I
stood at his head prepared to mount and dash out as soon as the
dog should again lift up his voice. Pornic, by the way, had not been
out of his pickets for a couple of days; the night air was crisp and
chilly; and I was armed with a specially long and sharp pair of
persuaders with which I had been rousing a sluggish cob that
afternoon. You will easily believe, then, that when he was let go he
went quickly. In one moment, for the brute bolted as straight as a
die, the tent was left far behind, and we were flying over the
smooth sandy soil at racing speed.
In another we had passed the wretched dog, and I had almost
forgotten why it was that I had taken the horse and hogspear.
The delirium of fever and the excitement of rapid motion through
the air must have taken away the remnant of my senses. I have a
faint recollection of standing upright in my stirrups, and of
brandishing my hog-spear at the great white Moon that looked
down so calmly on my mad gallop; and of shout-log challenges to
the camel-thorn bushes as they whizzed past. Once or twice I
believe, I swayed forward on Pornic's neck, and literally hung on
by my spurs
-as the marks next morning showed.
The wretched beast went forward like a thing possessed, over what
seemed to be a limitless expanse of moonlit sand. Next, I
remember, the ground rose suddenly in front of us, and as we
topped the ascent I saw the waters of the Sutlej shining like a
silver bar below. Then Pornic blundered heavily on his nose, and
we rolled together down some unseen slope.
I must have lost consciousness, for when I recovered I was lying
on my stomach in a heap of soft white sand, and the dawn was
beginning to break dimly over the edge of the slope down which I
had fallen. As the light grew stronger I saw that I was at the
bottom of a horse-shoe shaped crater of sand, opening on one side
directly on to the shoals of the Sutlej. My fever had altogether left
me, and, with the exception of a slight dizziness in the head, I felt
no had effects from the fall over night.
Pornic, who was standing a few yards away, was naturally a good
deal exhausted, but had not hurt himself in the least. His saddle, a
favorite polo one was much knocked about, and had been twisted
under his belly. It took me some time to put him to rights, and in
the meantime I had ample opportunities of observing the spot into
which I had so foolishly dropped.
At the risk of being considered tedious, I must describe it at
length: inasmuch as an accurate mental picture of its peculiarities
will be of material assistance in enabling the reader to understand
Imagine then, as I have said before, a horseshoe-shaped crater of
sand with steeply graded sand walls about thirty-five feet high.
(The slope, I fancy, must have been about 65 degrees.) This crater
enclosed a level piece of ground about fifty yards long by thirty at
its broadest part, with a crude well in the centre. Round the bottom
of the crater, about three feet from the level of the ground proper,
ran a series of eighty-three semi-circular ovoid, square, and
multilateral holes, all about three feet at the mouth. Each hole on
inspection showed that it was carefully shored internally with
drift-wood and bamboos, and over the mouth a wooden drip-board
projected, like the peak of a jockey's cap, for two feet. No sign of
life was visible in these tunnels, but a most sickening stench
pervaded the entire amphitheatre-a stench fouler than any which
my wanderings in Indian villages have introduced me to.
Having remounted Pornic, who was as anxious as I to get back to
camp, I rode round the base of the horseshoe to find some place
whence an exit would be practicable. The inhabitants, whoever
they might be, had not thought fit to put in an appearance, so I was
left to my own devices. My first attempt to "rush" Pornic up the
steep sand-banks showed me that I had fallen into a trap exactly on
the same model as that which the ant-lion sets for its prey. At each
step the shifting sand poured down from above in tons, and rattled
on the drip-boards of the holes like small shot. A couple of
ineffectual charges sent us both rolling down to the bottom, half
choked with the torrents of sand; and I was constrained to turn my
attention to the river-bank.
Here everything seemed easy enough. The sand hills ran down to
the river edge, it is true, but there were plenty of shoals and
shallows across which I could gallop Pornic, and find my way back
to terra firma by turning sharply to the right or left. As I led Pornic
over the sands I was startled by the faint pop of a rifle across the
river; and at the same moment a bullet dropped with a sharp "whit"
close to Pornic's head.
There was no mistaking the nature of the missile-a regulation
Martini-Henry "picket." About five hundred yards away a
country-boat was anchored in midstream; and a jet of smoke
drifting away from its bows in the still morning air showed me
whence the delicate attention had come. Was ever a respectable
gentleman in such an impasse? The treacherous sand slope
allowed no escape from a spot which I had visited most
involuntarily, and a promenade on the river frontage was the signal
for a bombardment from some insane native in a boat. I'm afraid
that I lost my temper very much indeed.
Another bullet reminded me that I had better save my breath to
cool my porridge; and I retreated hastily up the sands and back to
the horseshoe, where I saw that the noise of the rifle had drawn
sixty-five human beings from the badger-holes which I had up till
that point supposed to be untenanted. I found myself in the midst
of a crowd of spectators-about forty men, twenty women, and one
child who could not have been more than five years old. They were
all scantily clothed in that salmon-colored cloth which one
associates with Hindu mendicants, and, at first sight, gave me the
impression of a band of loathsome fakirs. The filth and
repulsiveness of the assembly were beyond all description, and I
shuddered to think what their life in the badger-holes must be.
Even in these days, when local self government has destroyed the
greater part of a native's respect for a Sahib, I have been
accustomed to a certain amount of civility from my inferiors, and
on approaching the crowd naturally expected that there would be
some recognition of my presence. As a matter of fact there was;
but it was by no means what I had looked for.
The ragged crew actually laughed at me-such laughter I hope I may
never hear again. They cackled, yelled, whistled, and howled as
I walked into their midst; some of them literally throwing
themselves down on the ground in convulsions of unholy mirth. In
a moment I had let go Pornic's head, and. irritated beyond
expression at the morning's adventure, commenced cuffing those
nearest to me with all the force I could. The wretches dropped
under my blows like nine-pins, and the laughter gave place to
wails for mercy; while those yet untouched clasped me round the
knees, imploring me in all sorts of uncouth tongues to spare them.
In the tumult, and just when I was feeling very much ashamed of
myself for having thus easily given way to my temper, a thin, high
voice murmured in English from behind my shoulder:-"Sahib!
Sahib! Do you not know me? Sahib, it is Gunga Dass, the
I spun round quickly and faced the speaker.
Gunga Dass, (I have, of course, no hesitation in mentioning the
man's real name) I had known four years before as a Deccanee
Brahmin loaned by the Pun-jab Government to one of the Khalsia
States. He was in charge of a branch telegraph-office there, and
when I had last met him was a jovial, full-stomached, portly
Government servant with a marvelous capacity for making had
puns in English-a peculiarity which made me remember him
long after I had forgotten his services to me in his official capacity.
It is seldom that a Hindu makes English puns.
Now, however, the man was changed beyond all recognition.
Caste-mark, stomach, slate-colored continuations, and unctuous
speech were all gone. I looked at a withered skeleton, turban-less
and almost naked, with long matted hair and deep-set codfish-eyes.
But for a crescent-shaped scar on the left cheek-the result of an
accident for which I was responsible I should never have known
him. But it was indubitably Gunga Dass, and-for this I was
thank-full-an English-speaking native who might at least tell me
the meaning of all that I had gone through that day.
The crowd retreated to some distance as I turned toward the
miserable figure, and ordered him to show me some method of
escaping from the crate?. He held a freshly plucked crow in his
hand, and in reply to my question climbed slowly on a platform of
sand which ran in front of the holes, and commenced lighting a
fire there in silence. Dried bents, sand-poppies, and driftwood burn
quickly; and I derived much consolation from the fact that he lit
them with an ordinary sulphur-match. When they were in a bright
glow, and the crow was nearly spitted in front thereof, Gunga Dass
began without a word of preamble:
"There are only two kinds of men, Sar. The alive and the dead.
When you are dead you are dead, but when you are alive you live."
(Here the crow demanded his attention for an instant as it twirled
before the fire in danger of being burned to a cinder.) "If you die at
home and do not die when you come to the ghat to be burned you
The nature of the reeking village was made plain now, and all that
I had known or read of the grotesque and the horrible paled before
the fact just communicated by the ex-Brabmin. Sixteen years ago,
when I first landed in Bombay, I had been told by a wandering
Armenian of the existence, somewhere in India, of a place to
which such Hindus as had the misfortune to recover from trance or
catalepsy were conveyed and kept, and I recollect laughing heartily
at what I was then pleased to consider a traveler's tale.
Sitting at the bottom of the sand-trap, the memory of Watson's
Hotel, with its swinging punkahs, white-robed attendants, and the
sallow-faced Armenian, rose up in my mind as vividly as a
photograph, and I burst into a loud fit of laughter. The contrast was
Gunga Dass, as he bent over the unclean bird, watched me
curiously. Hindus seldom laugh, and his surroundings were not
such as to move Gunga Dass to any undue excess of hilarity. He
removed the crow solemnly from the wooden spit and as solemnly
devoured it. Then he continued his story, which I give in his own
"In epidemics of the cholera you are carried to be burned almost
before you are dead. When you come to the riverside the cold air,
perhaps, makes you alive, and then, if you are only little alive, mud
is put on your nose and mouth and you die conclusively. If you are
rather more alive, more mud is put; but if you are too lively they
let you go and take you away. I was too lively, and made
protestation with anger against the indignities that they endeavored
to press upon me. In those days I was Brahmin and proud man.
Now I am dead man and eat"-here he eyed the well-gnawed breast
bone with the first sign of emotion that I had seen in him since we
met-"crows, and other things. They took me from my sheets when
they saw that I was too lively and gave me medicines for one
week, and I survived successfully. Then they sent me by rail from
my place to Okara Station, with a man to take care of me; and at
Okara Station we met two other men, and they conducted we three
on camels, in the night, from Okara Station to this place, and they
propelled me from the top to the bottom, and the other two
succeeded, and I have been here ever since two and a half years.
Once I was Brahmin and proud man, and now I eat crows."
"There is no way of getting out?"
"None of what kind at all. When I first came I made experiments
frequently and all the others also, but we have always succumbed
to the sand which is precipitated upon our heads."
"But surely," I broke in at this point, "the river-front is open, and it
is worth while dodging the bullets; while at night"-I had already
matured a rough plan of escape which a natural instinct of
selfishness forbade me sharing with Gunga Dass. He, however,
divined my unspoken thought almost as soon as it was formed;
and, to my intense astonishment, gave vent to a long low chuckle
of derision-the laughter, be it Understood, of a superior or at least
of an equal.
'~You will not"-he had dropped the Sir completely after his
opening sentence-"make any escape that way. But you can try. I
have tried. Once only."
The sensation of nameless terror and abject fear which I had in
vain attempted to strive against overmastered me completely. My
long fast-it was now close upon ten o'clock, and I had eaten
nothing since tiffin on the previous day-combined with the violent
and unnatural agitation of the ride had exhausted me, and I verily
believe that, for a few minutes, I acted as one mad. I hurled myself
against the pitiless sand-slope I ran round the base of the crater,
blaspheming and praying by turns. I crawled out among the
sedges of the river-front, only to be driven back each time in an
agony of nervous dread by the rifle-bullets which cut up the sand
round me-for I dared not face the death of a mad dog among that
hideous crowd-and finally fell, spent and raving, at the curb of the
well. No one bad taken the slightest notion of an exhibition which
makes me blush hotly even when I think of it now.
Two or three men trod on my panting body as they drew water, but
they were evidently used to this sort of thing, and had no time to
waste upon me. The situation was humiliating. Gunga Dass,
indeed, when he had banked the embers of his fire with sand, was
at some pains to throw half a cupful of fetid water over my head,
an attention for which I could have fallen on my knees and
thanked him, but he was laughing all the while in the same
mirthless, wheezy key that greeted me on my first attempt to force
the shoals. And so, in a semi-comatose condition, I lay till noon.
Then, being only a man after all, I felt hungry, and intimated as
much to Gunga Dass, whom I had begun to regard as my natural
protector. Following the impulse of the outer world when dealing
with natives, I put my hand into my pocket and drew out four
annas. The absurdity of the gift struck me at once, and I was about
to replace the money.
Gunga Dass, however, was of a different opinion. "Give me the
money," said he; '~all you have, or I will get help, and we will kill
you!" All this as if it were the most natural thing in the world!
A Briton's first impulse, I believe, is to guard the contents of his
pockets; but a moment's reflection convinced me of the futility of
differing with the one man who had it in his power to make me
comfortable; and with whose help it was possible that I might
eventually escape from the crater. I gave him all the money in my
possession, Rs. 9-8-5-nine rupees eight annas and five pie-for I
always keep small change as bakshish when I am in camp. Gunga
Dass clutched the coins, and hid them at once in his ragged loin
cloth, his expression changing to something diabolical as he
looked round to assure himself that no one had observed us.
"Now I will give you something to eat," said he.
What pleasure the possession of my money could have afforded
him I am unable to say; but inasmuch as it did give him evident
delight I was not sorry that I had parted with it so readily, for I had
no doubt that he would have had me killed if I had refused. One
does not protest against the vagaries of a den of wild beasts; and
my companions were lower than any beasts. While I devoured
what Gunga Dass had provided, a coarse chapatti and a cupful of
the foul well-water, the people showed not the faintest sign of
curiosity-that curiosity which is so rampant, as a rule, in an Indian
I could even fancy that they despised me. At all events they treated
me with the most chilling indifference, and Gunga Dass was nearly
as bad. I plied him with questions about the terrible village, and
received extremely unsatisfactory answers. So far as I could
gather, it had been in existence from time immemorial-whence I
concluded that it was at least a century old-and during that time no
one had ever been known ti escape from it. [I had to control
myself here with both hands, lest the blind terror should lay hold
of me a second time and drive me raving round the crater.] Gunga
Dass took a malicious pleasure in emphasizing this point and in
watching me wince. Nothing that I could do would induce him to
tell me who the mysterious "They" were.
"It is so ordered," he would reply, "and I do not yet know any one
who has disobeyed the orders."
"Only wait till my servants find that I am missing," I retorted, "and
I promise you that this place shall be cleared off the face of the
earth, and I'll give you a lesson in civility, too, my friend."
"Your servants would be torn in pieces before they came near this
place; and, besides, you are dead, my dear friend. It is not your
fault, of course, but none the less you are dead and buried."
At irregular intervals supplies of food, I was told, were dropped
down from the land side into the amphitheatre, and the inhabitants
fought for them like wild beasts. When a man felt his death
coming on he retreated to his lair and died there. The body was
sometimes dragged out of the hole and thrown on to the sand, or
allowed to rot where it lay
The phrase "thrown on to the sand" caught my attention, and I
asked Gunga Dass whether this sort of thing was not likely to
breed a pestilence.
"That." said he. with another of his wheezy chuckles, "you may see
for yourself subsequently. You will have much time to make
Whereat, to his great delight, I winced once more and hastily
continued the conversation :-"And how do you live here from day
to day? What do you do?" The question elicited exactly the same
answer as before coupled with the information that "this place is
like your European heaven; there is neither marrying nor giving in
Gunga Dass had been educated at a Mission School, and, as he
himself admitted, had he only changed his religion '~like a wise
man," might have avoided the living grave which was now his
portion. But as long as I was with him I fancy he was happy.
Here was a Sahib, a representative of the dominant race, helpless
as a child and completely at the mercy of his native neighbors. In
a deliberate lazy way he set himself to torture me as a schoolboy
would devote a rapturous half-hour to watching the agonies of an
impaled beetle, or as a ferret in a blind burrow might glue himself
comfortably to the neck of a rabbit. The burden of his
conversation was that there was no escape 'of no kind whatever,"
and that I should stay here till I died and was "thrown on to the
sand." If it were possible to forejudge the conversation of the
Damned on the advent of a new soul in their abode, I should say
that they would speak as Gunga Dass did to me throughout that
long afternoon. I was powerless to protest or answer; all my
energies being devoted to a struggle against the inexplicable terror
that threatened to overwhelm me again and again. I can compare
the feeling to nothing except the struggles of a man against the
overpowering nausea of the Channel passage-only my agony was
of the spirit and infinitely more terrible.
As the day wore on, the inhabitants began to appear in full strength
to catch the rays of the afternoon sun, which were now sloping in
at the mouth of the crater. They assembled in little knots, and
talked among themselves without even throwing a glance in my
direction. About four o'clock, as far as I could judge Gunga Dass
rose and dived into his lair for a moment, emerging with a live
crow in his hands. The wretched bird was in a most draggled and
deplorable condition, but seemed to be in no way afraid of its
master, Advancing cautiously to the river front, Gunga Dass
stepped from tussock to tussock until he had reached a smooth
patch of sand directly in the line of the boat's fire. The occupants
of the boat took no notice. Here he stopped, and, with a couple of
dexterous turns of the wrist, pegged the bird on its back with
outstretched wings. As was only natural, the crow began to shriek
at once and beat the air with its claws. In a few seconds the
clamor had attracted the attention of a bevy of wild crows on a
shoal a few hundred yards away, where they were discussing
something that looked like a corpse. Half a dozen crows flew over
at once to see what was going on, and also, as it proved, to attack
the pinioned bird. Gunga Dass, who had lain down on a tussock,
motioned to me to be quiet, though I fancy this was U needless
precaution. In a moment,
and before I could see how it happened, a wild crow, who had
grappled with the shrieking and helpless bird, was entangled in the
latter's claws, swiftly disengaged by Gunga Dass, and pegged down
beside its companion in adversity. Curiosity, it seemed,
overpowered the rest of the flock, and almost before Gunga Dass
and I had time to withdraw to the tussock, two more captives were
struggling in the upturned claws of the decoys. So the chase-if I
can give it so dignified a name-continued until Gunga Dass had
captured seven crows. Five of them he throttled at once, reserving
two for further operations another day. I was a good deal
impressed by this, to me, novel method of securing food, and
complimented Gunga Dass on his skill.
"It is nothing to do," said he. "Tomorrow you must do it for me.
You are stronger than I am."
This calm assumption of superiority Upset me not a little, and I
answered peremptorily;~"Indeed, you old ruffian! What do you
think I have given you money for?"
"Very well," was the unmoved reply. "Perhaps not to-morrow, nor
the day after, nor subsequently; but in the end, and for many years,
you will catch crows and eat crows, and you will thank your
European God that you have crows to catch and eat."
I could have cheerfully strangled him for this; but judged it best
under the circumstances to smother my resentment. An hour later
I was eating one of the crows; and, as Gunga Dass had said,
thanking my God that I had a crow to eat. Never as long as I live
shall I forget that evening meal. The whole population were
squatting on the hard sand platform opposite their dens, huddled
over tiny fires of refuse and dried rushes. Death, having once laid
his hand upon these men and forborne to strike, seemed to stand
aloof from them now; for most of our company were old men, bent
and worn and twisted with years, and women aged to all
appearance as the Fates themselves. They sat together in knots and
talked-God only knows what they found to discuss-in low equable
tones, curiously in contrast to the strident babble with which
natives are accustomed to make day hideous. Now and then an
access of that sudden fury which had possessed me in the morning
would lay hold on a man or woman; and with yells and
imprecations the sufferer would attack the steep slope until,
baffled and bleeding, he fell back on the platform incapable of
moving a limb. The others would never even raise their eyes when
this happened, as men too well aware of the futility of their
fellows' attempts and wearied with their useless repetition. I saw
four such outbursts in the course of the evening.
Gunga Dass took an eminently business-like view of my
situation, and while we were dining-I can afford to laugh at the
recollection now, but it was painful enough at the time-
propounded the terms on which he would consent to "do" for me.
My nine rupees eight annas, he argued, at the rate of three annas a
day, would provide me with food for fifty-one days, or about seven
weeks; that is to say, he would be willing to cater for me for that
length of time. At the end of it I was to look after myself. For a
further consideration-videlicet my boots-he would be willing to
allow me to occupy the den next to his own, and would supply me
with as much dried grass for bedding as he could spare.
"Very well, Gunga Dass," I replied; "to the first terms I cheerfully
agree, but, as there is nothing on earth to prevent my killing you as
you sit here and taking everything that you have" (I thought of the
two invaluable crows at the time), "I flatly refuse to give you my
boots and shall take whichever den I please."
The stroke was a bold one, and I was glad when I saw that it had
succeeded. Gunga Dass changed his tone immediately, and
disavowed all intention of asking for my boots. At the time it did
not strike me as at all strange that I, a Civil Engineer, a man of
thirteen years' standing in the Service, and, I trust, an average
Englishman, should thus calmly threaten murder and violence
against the man who had, for a consideration it is true, taken me
under his wing. I had left the world, it seemed, for centuries. I was
as certain then as I am now of my own existence, that in the
accursed settlement there was no law save that of the strongest;
that the living dead men had thrown behind them every canon of
the world which had cast them out; and that I had to depend for my
own life on my strength and vigilance alone. The crew of the
ill-fated Mignonette are the only men who would understand my
frame of mind. "At present," I argued to myself, "I am strong and
a match for six of these wretches. It is imperatively necessary that
I should, for my own sake, keep both health and strength until the
hour of my release comes- if it ever does."
Fortified with these resolutions, I ate and drank as much as I could,
and made Gunga Dass understand that I intended to be his master,
and that the least sign of insubordination on his part would be
visited with the only punishment I had it in my power to
inflict-sudden and violent death. Shortly after this I went to bed.
That is to say, Gunga Dass gave me a double armful of dried bents
which I thrust down the mouth of the lair to the right of his, and
followed myself, feet foremost; the hole running about nine feet
into the sand with a slight downward inclination, and being neatly
shored with timbers. From my den, which faced the river-front, I
was able to watch the waters of the Sutlej flowing past under the
light of a young moon and compose myself to sleep as best I
The horrors of that night I shall never forget. My den was nearly
as narrow as a coffin, and the sides had been worn smooth and
greasy by the contact of innumerable naked bodies, added to which
it smelled abominably. Sleep was altogether out of question to one
in my excited frame of mind. As the night wore on, it seemed that
the entire amphitheatre was filled with legions of unclean devils
that, trooping up from the shoals below, mocked the unfortunates
in their lairs.
Personally I am not of an imaginative temperament,-very few
Engineers are, -but on that occasion I was as completely prostrated
with nervous terror as any woman. After half an hour or so,
however, I was able once more to calmly review my chances of
escape. Any exit by the steep sand walls was, of course,
impracticable. I had been thoroughly convinced of this some time
before. It was possible, just possible, that I might, in the uncertain
moonlight, safely run the gauntlet of the rifle shots. The place was
so full of terror for me that I was prepared to undergo any risk in
leaving it. Imagine my delight, then, when after creeping stealthily
to the river-front I found that the infernal boat was not there. My
freedom lay before me in the next few steps!
By walking out to the first shallow pool that lay at the foot of the
projecting left horn of the horseshoe, I could wade across, turn the
flank of the crater, and make my way inland. Without a moment's
hesitation I marched briskly past the tussocks where Gunga Dass
had snared the crows, and out in the direction of the smooth white
sand beyond. My first step from the tufts of dried grass showed
me how utterly futile was any hope of escape; for, as I put my foot
down, I felt an indescribable drawing, sucking motion of the sand
below. Another moment and my leg was swallowed up nearly to
the knee. In the moonlight the whole surface of the sand seemed to
be shaken with devilish delight at my disappointment. I struggled
clear, sweating with terror and exertion, back to the tussocks
behind me and fell on my face.
My only means of escape from the semicircle was protected with a
How long I lay I have not the faintest idea; but I was roused at last
by the malevolent chuckle of Gunga Dass at my ear "I would
advise you, Protector of the Poor" (the ruffian was speaking
English) "to return to your house. It is unhealthy to lie down here.
Moreover, when the boat returns, you will most certainly be rifled
at." He stood over me in the dim light of the dawn, chuckling and
laughing to himself. Suppressing my first impulse to catch the
man by the neck and throw him on to the quicksand, I rose sullenly
and followed him to the platform below the burrows.
Suddenly, and futilley as I thought while I spoke, I asked -"Gunga
Dass, what is the good of the boat if I can't get out anyhow?" I
recollect that even in my deepest trouble I had been speculating
vaguely on the waste of am-munition in guarding an already well
Gunga Dass laughed again and made answer:-"They have the boat
only ir, daytime. It is for the reason that there is a way. I hope we
shall have the pleasure of your company for much longer time. It is
a pleasant spot when you have been here some years and eaten
roast crow long enough."
I staggered, numbed and helpless, toward the fetid burrow allotted
to me, and fell asleep. An hour or so later I was awakened by a
piercing scream-the shrill, high-pitched scream of a horse in pain.
Those who have once heard that will never forget the sound. I
found some little difficulty in scrambling out of the burrow. When
I was in the open, I saw Pornic, my poor old Pornic, lying dead on
the sandy soil. How they had killed him I cannot guess. Gunga
Dass explained that horse was better than crow, and "greatest
good of greatest number is political maxim. We are now Republic,
Mister Jukes, and you are entitled to a fair share of the beast. If
you like, we will pass a vote of thanks. Shall I propose?"
Yes, we were a Republic indeed! A Republic of wild beasts
penned at the bottom of a pit, to eat and fight and sleep till we
died. I attempted no protest of any kind, but sat down and stared at
the hideous sight in front of me. In less time almost than it takes
me to write this, Pornic's body was divided, in some unclear way
or other; the men and women had dragged the fragments on to the
platform and were preparing their normal meal. Gunga Dass
cooked mine. The almost irresistible impulse to fly at the sand
walls until I was wearied laid hold of me afresh, and I had to
struggle against it with all my might. Gunga Dass was offensively
jocular till I told him that if he addressed another remark of any
kind whatever to me I should strangle him where he sat. This
silenced him till silence became insupportable, and I bade him say
"You will live here till you die like the other Feringhi," he said,
coolly, watching me over the fragment of gristle that he was
"What other Sahib, you swine? Speak at once, and don't stop to
tell me a lie."
"He is over there," answered Gunga Dass, pointing to a
burrow-mouth about four doors ta the left of my own. "You can
see for yourself. He died in the burrow as you will die, and I will
die, and as all these men and women and the one child will also
"For pity's sake tell me all you know about him. Who was he?
When did he come, and when did he die?"
This appeal was a weak step on my part. Gunga Dass only leered
and replied:-"I will not-unless you give me something first."
Then I recollected where I was, and struck the man between the
eyes, partially stunning him. He stepped down from the platform
at once, and, cringing and fawning and weeping and attempting to
embrace my feet, led me round to the burrow which he had
"I know nothing whatever about the gentleman. Your God be my
witness that I do not. He was as anxious to escape as you were,
and he was shot from the boat, though we all did all things te
prevent him from attempting. He was shot here." Gunga Dass laid
his hand on his lean stomach and bowed to the earth.
"Well, and what then? Go on!"
"And then-and then, Your Honor, we carried him in to his house
and gave him water, and put wet cloths on the wound, and he laid
down in his house and gave up the ghost."
"In how long? In how long?"
"About half an hour, after he received his wound. I call Vishnu to
witness," yelled the wretched man, "that I did everything for him.
Everything which was possible, that I did!"
He threw himself down on the ground and clasped my ankles. But
I had my doubts about Gunga Dass's benevolence, and kicked him
off as he lay protesting.
"I believe you robbed him of everything he had. But I can find out
in a minute or two. How long was the Sahib he'~?"
"Nearly a year and a half. I think he must have gone mad. But hear
me swear Protector of the Poor! Won't Your Honor hear me swear
that I never touched an article that belonged to him? What is Your
Worship going to do?"
I had taken Gunga Dass by the waist and had hauled him on to the
platform opposite the deserted burrow. As I did so I thought of my
wretched fellow-prisoner's unspeakable misery among all these
horrors for eighteen months, and the final agony of dying like a rat
in a hole, with a bullet-wound in the stomach. Gunga Dass
fancied I was going to kill him and howled pitifully. The rest of
the population, in the plethora that follows a full flesh meal,
watched us without stirring.
"Go inside, Gunga Dass," said I, "and fetch it out."
I was feeling sick and faint with horror now. Gunga Dass nearly
rolled off the platform and howled aloud.
"But I am Brahmin, Sahib-a high-caste Brahmin. By your soul, by
your father's soul, do not make me do this thing!"
"Brahmin or no Brahmin, by my soul and my father's soul, in you
go!" I said, and, seizing him by the shoulders, I crammed his head
into the mouth of the burrow, kicked the rest of him in, and, sitting
down, covered my face with my hands.
At the end of a few minutes I heard a rustle and a creak; then
Gunga Dass in a sobbing, choking whisper speaking to himself;
then a soft thud-and I uncovered my eyes.
The dry sand had turned the corpse entrusted to its keeping into a
yellow-brown mummy. I told Gunga Dass to stand off while I
The body-clad in an olive-green hunting-suit much stained and
worn, with leather pads on the shoulders-was that of a man
between thirty and forty, above middle height, with light, sandy
hair, long mustache, and a rough unkempt beard. The left canine
of the upper jaw was missing, and a portion of the lobe of the right
ear was gone. On the second finger of the left hand was a ring-a
shield-shaped bloodstone set in gold, with a monogram that might
have been either "B.K." or "B.L." On the third finger of the right
hand was a silver ring in the shape of a coiled cobra, much worn
and tarnished. Gunga Dass deposited a handful of trifles he had
picked out of the burrow at my feet, and, covering the face of the
body with my handkerchief, I turned to examine these. I give the
full list in the hope that it may lead to the identification of the
1. Bowl of a briarwood pipe, serrated at the edge; much worn and
blackened; bound with string at the crew.
2. Two patent-lever keys; wards of both broken.
3. Tortoise-shell-handled penknife, silver or nickel. name-plate,
marked with monogram "B.K."
4. Envelope, postmark Undecipherable, bearing a Victorian
stamp, addressed to "Miss Mon-" (rest illegible) -"ham"-"nt."
5. Imitation crocodile-skin notebook with pencil. First forty-five
pages blank; four and a half illegible; fifteen others filled with
private memoranda relating chiefly to three persons-a Mrs.L.
Singleton, abbreviated several times to "Lot Single," "Mrs. S.
May," and "Garmison," referred to in places as "Jerry" or "Jack."
6.Handle of small-sized hunting-knife. Blade snapped short.
Buck's horn, diamond cut, with swivel and ring on the butt;
fragment of cotton cord attached.
It must not be supposed that I inventoried all these things on the
spot as fully as I have here written them down. The notebook first
attracted my attention, and I put it in my pocket with a view of
studying it later on.
The rest of the articles I conveyed to my burrow for safety's sake,
and there being a methodical man, I inventoried them. I then
returned to the corpse and ordered Gunga Dass to help me to carry
it out to the river-front. While we were engaged in this, the
exploded shell of an old brown cartridge dropped out of one of the
pockets and rolled at my feet. Gunga Dass had not seen it; and I
fell to thinking that a man does not carry exploded cartridge-cases,
especially "browns," which will not bear loading twice, about with
him when shooting. In other words, that cartridge-case had been
fired inside the crater. Consequently there must be a gun
somewhere. I was on the verge of asking Gunga Dass, but checked
myself, knowing that he would lie. We laid the body down on the
edge of the quicksand by the tussocks. It was my intention to push
it out and let it be swallowed up-the only possible mode of burial
that I could think of. I ordered Gunga Dass to go away.
Then I gingerly put the corpse. out on the quicksand. In doing so.
it was lying face downward, I tore the frail and rotten khaki
shooting-coat open, disclosing a hideous cavity in the back. I have
already told you that the dry sand had, as it were, mummified the
body. A moment's glance showed that the gaping hole had been
caused by a gun-shot wound; the gun must have been fired with
the muzzle almost touching the back. The shooting-coat, being
intact, had been drawn over the body after death, which must have
been instantaneous. The secret of the poor wretch's death was
plain to me in a flash. Some one of the crater, presumably Gunga
Dass, must have shot him with his own gun--the gun that fitted the
brown cartridges. He had never attempted to escape in the face of
the rifle-fire from the boat.
I pushed the corpse out hastily, and saw it sink from sight literally
in a few seconds. I shuddered as I watched. In a dazed,
half-conscious way I turned to peruse the notebook. A stained and
discolored slip of paper bad been inserted between the binding and
the back, and dropped out as I opened the pages. This is what it
contained:-"Four out from crow-clump: three left; nine out; two
right; three back; two left; fourteen out; two left; seven out; one
left; nine back; two right; six back; four right; seven back." The
paper had been burned and charred at the edges. What it meant I
could not understand. I sat down on the dried bents turning it over
and over between my fingers, until I was aware of Gunga Dass
standing immediately behind me with glowing eyes and
"Have you got it?" he panted. "Will
you not let me lank at it also? I swear that I will return it."
"Got what? Return what?" asked.
"That which you have in your hands. It will help us both." He
stretched out his long, bird-like talons, trembling with eagerness.
"I could never find it," he continued. "He had secreted it about his
person. Therefore I shot him, but nevertheless I was unable to
Gunga Dass had quite forgotten his little fiction about the
rifle-bullet. I received the information perfectly calmly.
Morality is blunted by consorting with the Dead who are alive.
"What on earth are you raving about? What is it you want me to
"The piece of paper in the notebook. It will help us both. Oh, you
fool! You fool! Can you not see what it will do for us? We shall
His voice rose almost to a scream, and he danced with excitement
before me. I own I was moved at the chance of my getting away.
"Don't skip! Explain yourself. Do you mean to say that this slip of
paper will help us? What does it mean?"
"Read it aloud! Read it aloud! I beg and I pray you to read it
I did so. Gunga Dass listened delightedly, and drew an irregular
line in the sand with his fingers.
"See now! It was the length of his gun-barrels without the stock. I
have those barrels. Four gun-barrels out from the place where I
caught crows Straight out; do you follow me? Then three left-Ah!
how well I remember when that man worked it out night after
night Then nine out, and so on. Out is always straight before
you across the quicksand. He told me so before I killed him."
'~But if you knew all this why didn't you get out before?"
"I did not know it. He told me that he was working it out a year
and a half ago, and how he was working it out night after night
when the boat bad gone away, and he could get out near ~be
quicksand safely. Then he said that we would get away together.
But I was afraid that he would leave me behind one night when he
had worked it all out, and so I shot him. Besides, it is not
advisable that the men who once get in here should escape. Only
I, and I am a Brahmin."
The prospect of escape had brought Gunga Dass's caste back to
him. He stood up, walked about and gesticulated violently.
Eventually I managed to make him talk soberly, and he told me
how this Englishman had spent six months night after night in
exploring, inch by inch, the passage across the quicksand; how he
had declared it to be simplicity itself up to within about twenty
yards of the river bank after turning the flank of the left horn of the
horseshoe. This much he had evidently not completed when
Gunga Dass shot him with his own gun.
In my frenzy of delight at the possibilities of escape I recollect
shaking hands effusively with Gunga Dass, after we had decided
that we were to make an attempt to get away that very night. It was
weary work waiting throughout the afternoon.
About ten o'clock, as far as I could judge, when the Moon had just
risen above the lip of the crater, Gunga Dass made a move for his
burrow to bring out the gun-barrels whereby to measure our path.
All the other wretched inhabitants had retired to their lairs long
ago. The guardian boat drifted downstream some hours before,
and we were utterly alone by the crow-clump. Gunga Dass, while
carrying the gun-barrels, let slip the piece of paper which was to be
our guide. I stooped down hastily to recover it, and, as I did so, I
was aware that the diabolical Brahmin was aiming a violent blow
at the back of my head with the gun-barrels. It was too late to turn
round. I must have received the blow somewhere on the nape of
my neck. A hundred thousand fiery stars danced before my eyes,
and I fell forwards senseless at the edge of, the quicksand.
When I recovered consciousness, the Moon was going down, and I
was sensible of intolerable pain in the back of my head. Gunga
Dass had disappeared and my mouth was full of blood. I lay down
again and prayed that I might die without more ado. Then the
unreasoning fury which I had before mentioned, laid hold upon
me, and I staggered inland toward the walls of the crater. It
seemed that some one was calling to me in a whisper-"Sahib!
Sahib! Sahib!" exactly as my bearer used to call me in the morning
I fancied that I was delirious until a handful of sand fell at my feet.
Then I looked up and saw a head peering down into the
amphitheatre-the head of Dunnoo, my dog-boy, who attended to
my collies. As soon as he had attracted my attention, he held up his
hand and showed a rope. I motioned. staggering to and fro for the
while, that he should throw it down. It was a couple of leather
punkah-ropes knotted together, with a loop at one end. I slipped
the loop over my head and under my arms; heard Dunnoo urge
something forward; was conscious that I was being dragged, face
downward, up the steep sand slope, and the next instant found
myself choked and half fainting on the sand hills overlooking the
crater. Dunnoo, with his face ashy grey in the moonlight, implored
me not to stay but to get back to my tent at once.
It seems that he had tracked Pornic's footprints fourteen miles
across the sands to the crater; had returned and told my servants,
who flatly refused to meddle with any one, white or black, once
fallen into the hideous Village of the Dead; whereupon Dunnoo
had taken one of my ponies and a couple of punkah-ropes, returned
to the crater, and hauled me out as I have described.
To cut a long story short, Dunnoo is now my personal servant on a
gold mohur a month-a sum which I still think far too little for the
services he has rendered. Nothing on earth will induce me to go
near that devilish snot again, or to reveal its whereabouts more
clearly than I have done. Of Gunga Dass I have never found a
trace, nor do I wish to do. My sole motive in giving this to be
published is the hope that some one may possibly identify, from
the details and the inventory which I have given above, the corpse
of the man in the olive-green hunting-suit.
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy
The Law, as quoted, lays down a fair conduct of life, and one not
easy to follow. I have been fellow to a beggar again and again
under circumstances which prevented either of us finding out
whether the other was worthy. I have still to be brother to a Prince,
though I once came near to kinship with what might have been a
veritable King, and was promised the reversion of a Kingdom--
army, law-courts, revenue, and policy all complete. But, to-day, I
greatly fear that my King is dead, and if I want a crown I must go
hunt it for myself.
The beginning of everything was in a railway-train upon the road
to Mhow from Ajmir. There had been a Deficit in the Budget,
which necessitated travelling, not Second-class, which is only half
as dear as First-Class, but by Intermediate, which is very awful
indeed. There are no cushions in the Intermediate class, and the
population are either Intermediate, which is Eurasian, or native,
which for a long night journey is nasty, or Loafer, which is
amusing though intoxicated. Intermediates do not buy from
refreshment-rooms. They carry their food in bundles and pots, and
buy sweets from the native sweetmeat-sellers, and drink the
roadside water. This is why in hot weather Intermediates are taken
out of the carriages dead, and in all weathers are most properly
looked down upon.
My particular Intermediate happened to be empty till I reached
Nasirabad, when the big black-browed gentleman in shirt-sleeves
entered, and, following the custom of Intermediates, passed the
time of day. He was a wanderer and a vagabond like myself, but
with an educated taste for whisky. He told tales of things he had
seen and done, of out-of-the-way corners of the Empire into which
he had penetrated, and of adventures in which he risked his life for
a few days' food.
"If India was filled with men like you and me, not knowing more
than the crows where they'd get their next day's rations, it isn't
seventy millions of revenue the land would be paying--it's seven
hundred millions," said he; and as I looked at his mouth and chin I
was disposed to agree with him.
We talked politics,--the politics of Loaferdom that sees things
from the under side where the lath and plaster is not smoothed
off,--and we talked postal arrangements because my friend wanted
to send a telegram back from the next station to Ajmir, the turning-
off place from the Bombay to the Mhow line as you travel
westward. My friend had no money beyond eight annas which he
wanted for dinner, and I had no money at all, owing to the hitch in
the Budget before mentioned. Further, I was going into a
wilderness where, though I should resume touch with the Treasury,
there were no telegraph offices. I was, therefore, unable to help
him in any way.
"We might threaten a Station-master, and make him send a wire on
tick," said my friend, "but that'd mean inquiries for you and for me,
and I've got my hands full these days. Did you say you were
travelling back along this line within any days?"
"Within ten," I said.
"Can't you make it eight?" said he. "Mine is rather urgent
"I can send your telegrams within ten days if that will serve you," I
"I couldn't trust the wire to fetch him, now I think of it. It's this
way. He leaves Delhi on the 23rd for Bombay. That means he'll be
running through Ajmir about the night of the 23rd."
"But I'm going into the Indian Desert," I explained.
"Well and good," said he. "You'll be changing at Marwar Junction
to get into Jodhpore territory,--you must do that,--and he'll be
coming through Marwar Junction in the early morning of the 24th
by the Bombay Mail. Can you be at Marwar Junction on that time?
'T won't be inconveniencing you, because I know that there's
precious few pickings to be got out of these Central India States--
even though you pretend to be correspondent of the
"Have you ever tried that trick?" I asked.
"Again and again, but the Residents find you out, and then you get
escorted to the Border before you've time to get your knife into
them. But about my friend here. I must give him a word o' mouth
to tell him what's come to me, or else he won't know where to go. I
would take it more than kind of you if you was to come out of
Central India in time to catch him at Marwar Junction, and say to
him, 'He has gone South for the week.' He'll know what that
means. He's a big man with a red beard, and a great swell he is.
You'll find him sleeping like a gentleman with all his luggage
round him in a Second-class apartment. But don't you be afraid.
Slip down the window and say, 'He has gone South for the week,'
and he'll tumble. It's only cutting your time of stay in those parts by
two days. I ask you as a stranger--going to the West," he said, with
"Where have you come from?" said I.
"From the East," said he, "and I am hoping that you will give him
the message on the Square--for the sake of my Mother as well as
Englishmen are not usually softened by appeals to the memory of
their mothers; but for certain reasons, which will be fully apparent,
I saw fit to agree.
"It's more than a little matter," said he, "and that's why I asked you
to do it--and now I know that I can depend on you doing it. A
Second- class carriage at Marwar Junction, and a red-haired man
asleep in it. You'll be sure to remember. I get out at the next
station, and I must hold on there till he comes or sends me what I
"I'll give the message if I catch him," I said, "and for the sake of
your Mother as well as mine I'll give you a word of advice. Don't
try to run the Central India States just now as the correspondent of
the 'Backwoodsman.' There's a real one knocking about here, and it
might lead to trouble."
"Thank you," said he, simply; "and when will the swine be gone? I
can't starve because he's ruining my work. I wanted to get hold of
the Degumber Rajah down here about his father's widow, and give
him a jump."
"What did he do to his father's widow, then?"
"Filled her up with red pepper and slippered her to death as she
hung from a beam. I found that out myself, and I'm the only man
that would dare going into the State to get hush-money for it.
They'll try to poison me, same as they did in Chortumna when I
went on the loot there. But you'll give the man at Marwar Junction
He got out at a little roadside station, and I reflected. I had heard,
more than once, of men personating correspondents of newspapers
and bleeding small Native States with threats of exposure, but I
had never met any of the caste before. They lead a hard life, and
generally die with great suddenness. The Native States have a
wholesome horror of English newspapers, which may throw light
on their peculiar methods of government, and do their best to
choke correspondents with champagne, or drive them out of their
mind with four-in-hand barouches. They do not understand that
nobody cares a straw for the internal administration of Native
States so long as oppression and crime are kept within decent
limits, and the ruler is not drugged, drunk, or diseased from one
end of the year to the other. They are the dark places of the earth,
full of unimaginable cruelty, touching the Railway and the
Telegraph on one side, and, on the other, the days of Harun-al-
Raschid. When I left the train I did business with divers Kings, and
in eight days passed through many changes of life. Sometimes I
wore dress-clothes and consorted with Princes and Politicals,
drinking from crystal and eating from silver. Sometimes I lay out
upon the ground and devoured what I could get, from a plate made
of leaves, and drank the running water, and slept under the same
rug as my servant. It was all in the day's work.
Then I headed for the Great Indian Desert upon the proper date, as
I had promised, and the night Mail set me down at Marwar
Junction, where a funny little, happy-go-lucky, native-managed
railway runs to Jodhpore. The Bombay Mail from Delhi makes a
short halt at Marwar. She arrived just as I got in, and I had just
time to hurry to her platform and go down the carriages. There was
only one Second-class on the train. I slipped the window and
looked down upon a flaming-red beard, half covered by a railway-
rug. That was my man, fast asleep, and I dug him gently in the ribs.
He woke with a grunt, and I saw his face in the light of the lamps.
It was a great and shining face.
"Tickets again?" said he.
"No," said I. "I am to tell you that he is gone South for the week.
He has gone South for the week!"
The train had begun to move out. The red man rubbed his eyes.
"He has gone South for the week," he repeated. "Now that's just
like his impidence. Did he say that I was to give you anything?
'Cause I won't."
"He didn't," I said, and dropped away, and watched the red lights
die out in the dark. It was horribly cold because the wind was
blowing off the sands. I climbed into my own train--not an
Intermediate carriage this time--and went to sleep.
If the man with the beard had given me a rupee I should have kept
it as a memento of a rather curious affair. But the consciousness of
having done my duty was my only reward.
Later on I reflected that two gentlemen like my friends could not
do any good if they foregathered and personated correspondents of
newspapers, and might, if they blackmailed one of the little rat-
trap States of Central India or Southern Rajputana, get themselves
into serious difficulties. I therefore took some trouble to describe
them as accurately as I could remember to people who would be
interested in deporting them; and succeeded, so I was later
informed, in having them headed back from the Degumber
Then I became respectable, and returned to an office where there
were no Kings and no incidents outside the daily manufacture of a
newspaper. A newspaper office seems to attract every conceivable
sort of person, to the prejudice of discipline. Zenana-mission
ladies arrive, and beg that the Editor will instantly abandon all his
duties to describe a Christian prize-giving in a back slum of a
perfectly inaccessible village; Colonels who have been overpassed
for command sit down and sketch the outline of a series of ten,
twelve, or twenty- four leading articles on Seniority versus
Selection; missionaries wish to know why they have not been
permitted to escape from their regular vehicles of abuse, and swear
at a brother missionary under special patronage of the editorial
We; stranded theatrical companies troop up to explain that they
cannot pay for their advertisements, but on their return from New
Zealand or Tahiti will do so with interest; inventors of patent
punka-pulling machines, carriage couplings, and unbreakable
swords and axletrees call with specifications in their pockets and
hours at their disposal; tea companies enter and elaborate their
prospectuses with the office pens; secretaries of ball committees
clamour to have the glories of their last dance more fully
described; strange ladies rustle in and say, "I want a hundred lady's
cards printed at once, please," which is manifestly part of an
Editor's duty; and every dissolute ruffian that ever tramped the
Grand Trunk Road makes it his business to ask for employment as
a proof- reader. And, all the time, the telephone-bell is ringing
madly, and Kings are being killed on the Continent, and Empires
are saying, "You're another," and Mister Gladstone is calling down
brimstone upon the British Dominions, and the little black
copyboys are whining, "kaa-pi chay-ha-yeh" ("Copy wanted"), like
tired bees, and most of the paper is as blank as Modred's shield.
But that is the amusing part of the year. There are six other months
when none ever come to call, and the thermometer walks inch by
inch up to the top of the glass, and the office is darkened to just
above reading-light, and the press-machines are red-hot to touch,
and nobody writes anything but accounts of amusements in the
Hill-stations or obituary notices. Then the telephone becomes a
tinkling terror, because it tells you of the sudden deaths of men
and women that you knew intimately, and the prickly heat covers
you with a garment, and you sit down and write: "A slight increase
of sickness is reported from the Khuda Janta Khan District. The
outbreak is purely sporadic in its nature, and, thanks to the
energetic efforts of the District authorities, is now almost at an
end. It is, however, with deep regret we record the death," etc.
Then the sickness really breaks out, and the less recording and
reporting the better for the peace of the subscribers. But the
Empires and the Kings continue to divert themselves as selfishly as
before, and the Foreman thinks that a daily paper really ought to
come out once in twenty-four hours, and all the people at the Hill-
stations in the middle of their amusements say, "Good gracious!
why can't the paper be sparkling? I'm sure there's plenty going on
That is the dark half of the moon, and, as the advertisements say,
"must be experienced to be appreciated."
It was in that season, and a remarkably evil season, that the paper
began running the last issue of the week on Saturday night, which
is to say Sunday morning, after the custom of a London paper. This
was a great convenience, for immediately after the paper was put
to bed the dawn would lower the thermometer from 96 degrees to
almost 84 degrees for half an hour, and in that chill--you have no
idea how cold is 84 degrees on the grass until you begin to pray for
it--a very tired man could get off to sleep ere the heat roused him.
One Saturday night it was my pleasant duty to put the paper to bed
alone. A King or courtier or a courtesan or a Community was
going to die or get a new Constitution, or do something that was
important on the other side of the world, and the paper was to be
held open till the latest possible minute in order to catch the
It was a pitchy-black night, as stifling as a June night can be, and
the loo, the red-hot wind from the westward, was booming among
the tinder-dry trees and pretending that the rain was on its heels.
Now and again a spot of almost boiling water would fall on the
dust with the flop of a frog, but all our weary world knew that was
only pretence. It was a shade cooler in the press-room than the
office, so I sat there, while the type ticked and clicked, and the
night-jars hooted at the windows, and the all but naked
compositors wiped the sweat from their foreheads and called for
water. The thing that was keeping us back, whatever it was, would
not come off, though the loo dropped and the last type was set, and
the whole round earth stood still in the choking heat, with its
finger on its lip, to wait the event. I drowsed, and wondered
whether the telegraph was a blessing, and whether this dying man,
or struggling people, might be aware of the inconvenience the
delay was causing. There was no special reason beyond the heat
and worry to make tension, but, as the clock-hands crept up to
three o-clock and the machines spun their fly-wheels two and three
times to see that all was in order, before I said the word that would
set them off, I could have shrieked aloud.
Then the roar and rattle of the wheels shivered the quiet into little
bits. I rose to go away, but two men in white clothes stood in front
of me. The first one said, "It's him!" The second said, "So it is!"
And they both laughed almost as loudly as the machinery roared,
and mopped their foreheads. "We seed there was a light burning
across the road, and we were sleeping in that ditch there for
coolness, and I said to my friend here, 'The office is open. Let's
come along and speak to him as turned us back from Degumber
State,' " said the smaller of the two. He was the man I had met in
the Mhow train, and his fellow was the red-bearded man of
Marwar Junction. There was no mistaking the eyebrows of the one
or the beard of the other.
I was not pleased, because I wished to go to sleep, not to squabble
with loafers. "What do you want?" I asked.
"Half an hour's talk with you, cool and comfortable, in the office,"
said the red-bearded man. "We'd like some drink,--the Contrack
doesn't begin yet, Peachey, so you needn't look,--but what we
really want is advice. We don't want money. We ask you as a
favour, because we found out you did us a bad turn about
I led from the press-room to the stifling office with the maps on
the walls, and the red-haired man rubbed his hands. "That's
something like," said he. "This was the proper shop to come to.
Now, Sir, let me introduce you to Brother Peachey Carnehan, that's
him, and Brother Daniel Dravot, that is me, and the less said about
our professions the better, for we have been most things in our
time--soldier, sailor, compositor, photographer, proof-reader,
street-preacher, and correspondents of the 'Backwoodsman' when
we thought the paper wanted one. Carnehan is sober, and so am I.
Look at us first, and see that's sure. It will save you cutting into my
talk. We'll take one of your cigars apiece, and you shall see us light
I watched the test. The men were absolutely sober, so I gave them
each a tepid whisky-and-soda.
"Well and good," said Carnehan of the eyebrows, wiping the froth
from his moustache. "Let me talk now, Dan. We have been all over
India, mostly on foot. We have been boiler-fitters, engine-drivers,
petty contractors, and all that, and we have decided that India isn't
big enough for such as us."
They certainly were too big for the office. Dravot's beard seemed
to fill half the room and Carnehan's shoulders the other half, as
they sat on the big table. Carnehan continued: "The country isn't
half worked out because they that governs it won't let you touch it.
They spend all their blessed time in governing it, and you can't lift
a spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil, nor anything like that,
without all the Government saying, 'Leave it alone, and let us
govern.' Therefore, such as it is, we will let it alone, and go away
to some other place where a man isn't crowded and can come to
his own. We are not little men, and there is nothing that we are
afraid of except Drink, and we have signed a Contrack on that.
Therefore we are going away to be Kings."
"Kings in our own right," muttered Dravot.
"Yes, of course," I said. "You've been tramping in the sun, and it's
a very warm night, and hadn't you better sleep over the notion?
"Neither drunk nor sunstruck," said Dravot. "We have slept over
the notion half a year, and require to see Books and Atlases, and
we have decided that there is only one place now in the world that
two strong men can Sar-a-whack. They call it Kafiristan. By my
reckoning it's the top right-hand corner of Afghanistan, not more
than three hundred miles from Peshawar. They have two and thirty
heathen idols there, and we'll be the thirty-third and fourth. It's a
mountaineous country, the women of those parts are very
"But that is provided against in the Contrack," said Carnehan.
"Neither Women nor Liqu-or, Daniel."
"And that's all we know, except that no one has gone there, and
they fight, and in any place where they fight a man who knows
how to drill men can always be a King. We shall go to those parts
and say to any King we find, 'D' you want to vanquish your foes?'
and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better
than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize his
Throne and establish a Dy-nasty."
"You'll be cut to pieces before you're fifty miles across the
Border," I said. "You have to travel through Afghanistan to get to
that country. It's one mass of mountains and peaks and glaciers,
and no Englishman has been through it. The people are utter
brutes, and even if you reached them you couldn't do anything."
"That's more like," said Carnehan. "If you could think us a little
more mad we would be more pleased. We have come to you to
know about this country, to read a book about it, and to be shown
maps. We want you to tell us that we are fools and to show us your
books." He turned to the bookcases.
"Are you at all in earnest?" I said.
"A little," said Dravot, sweetly. "As big a map as you have got,
even if it's all blank where Kafiristan is, and any books you've got.
We can read, though we aren't very educated."
I uncased the big thirty-two-miles-to-the-inch map of India and
two smaller Frontier maps, hauled down volume INF-KAN of the
"Encyclopaedia Britannica," and the men consulted them.
"See here!" said Dravot, his thumb on the map. "Up to Jagdallak,
Peachey and me know the road. We was there with Robert's Army.
We'll have to turn off to the right at Jagdallak through Laghmann
territory. Then we get among the hills--fourteen thousand feet--
fifteen thousand --it will be cold work there, but it don't look very
far on the map."
I handed him Wood on the "Sources of the Oxus." Carnehan was
deep in the "Encyclopaedia."
"They're a mixed lot," said Dravot, reflectively; "and it won't help
us to know the names of their tribes. The more tribes the more
they'll fight, and the better for us. From Jagdallak to Ashang.
"But all the information about the country is as sketchy and
inaccurate as can be," I protested. "No one knows anything about it
really. Here's the file of the 'United Services' Institute.' Read what
"Blow Bellew!" said Carnehan. "Dan, they're a stinkin' lot of
heathens, but this book here says they think they're related to us
I smoked while the men poured over Raverty, Wood, the maps,
and the "Encyclopaedia."
"There is no use your waiting," said Dravot, politely. "It's about
four o'clock now. We'll go before six o'clock if you want to sleep,
and we won't steal any of the papers. Don't you sit up. We're two
harmless lunatics, and if you come to-morrow evening down to the
Serai we'll say good-bye to you."
"You are two fools," I answered. "You'll be turned back at the
Frontier or cut up the minute you set foot in Afghanistan. Do you
want any money or a recommendation down-country? I can help
you to the chance of work next week."
"Next week we shall be hard at work ourselves, thank you," said
Dravot. "It isn't so easy being a King as it looks. When we've got
our Kingdom in going order we'll let you know, and you can come
up and help us govern it."
"Would two lunatics make a Contrack like that?" said Carnehan,
with subdued pride, showing me a greasy half-sheet of notepaper
on which was written the following. I copied it, then and there, as
This Contracx between me and you persuing witnesseth in
the name of God--Amen and so forth.
(One) That me and you will settle this matter
together; i.e., to be Kings of Kafiristan.
(Two) That you and me will not, while this
matter is being settled, look at any
Liquor, nor any Woman, black, white,
or brown, so as to get mixed up with
one or the other harmful.
(Three) That we conduct ourselves with Dignity
and Discretion, and if one of us gets
into trouble the other will stay by him.
Signed by you and me this day.
Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan.
Both Gentlemen at Large.
"There was no need for the last article," said Carnehan, blushing
modestly; "but it looks regular. Now you know the sort of men that
loafers are,--we are loafers, Dan, until we get out of India,--and do
you think that we would sign a Contrack like that unless we was in
earnest? We have kept away from the two things that make life
"You won't enjoy your lives much longer if you are going to try
this idiotic adventure. Don't set the office on fire," I said, "and go
away before nine o'clock."
I left them still poring over the maps and making notes on the back
of the "Contrack." "Be sure to come down to the Serai to-morrow,"
were their parting words.
The Kumharsen Serai is the great foursquare sink of humanity
where the strings of camels and horses from the North load and
unload. All the nationalities of Central Asia may be found there,
and most of the folk of India proper. Balkh and Bokhara there
meet Bengal and Bombay, and try to draw eye-teeth. You can buy
ponies, turquoises, Persian pussy- cats, saddle-bags, fat-tailed
sheep, and musk in the Kumharsen Serai, and get many strange
things for nothing. In the afternoon I went down to see whether my
friends intended to keep their word or were lying there drunk.
A priest attired in fragments of ribbons and rags stalked up to me,
gravely twisting a child's paper whirligig. Behind him was his
servant bending under the load of a crate of mud toys. The two
were loading up two camels, and the inhabitants of the Serai
watched them with shrieks of laughter.
"The priest is mad," said a horse-dealer to me. "He is going up to
Kabul to sell toys to the Amir. He will either be raised to honour or
have his head cut off. He came in here this morning and has been
behaving madly ever since."
"The witless are under the protection of God," stammered a flat-
cheeked Usbeg in broken Hindi. "They foretell future events."
"Would they could have foretold that my caravan would have been
cut up by the Shinwaris almost within shadow of the Pass!"
grunted the Eusufzai agent of a Rajputana trading-house whose
goods had been diverted into the hands of other robbers just across
the Border, and whose misfortunes were the laughing-stock of the
bazaar. "Ohe, priest, whence come you and whither do you go?"
"From Roum have I come," shouted the priest, waving his
whirligig; "from Roum, blown by the breath of a hundred devils
across the sea! O thieves, robbers, liars, the blessing of Pir Khan
on pigs, dogs, and perjurers! Who will take the Protected of God to
the North to sell charms that are never still to the Amir? The
camels shall not gall, the sons shall not fall sick, and the wives
shall remain faithful while they are away, of the men who give me
place in their caravan. Who will assist me to slipper the King of
the Roos with a golden slipper with a silver heel? The protection
of Pir Khan be upon his labours!" He spread out the skirts of his
gabardine and pirouetted between the lines of tethered horses.
"There starts a caravan from Peshawar to Kabul in twenty days,
Huzrut," said the Eusufzai trader. "My camels go therewith. Do
thou also go and bring us good luck."
"I will go even now!" shouted the priest. "I will depart upon my
winged camels, and be at Peshawar in a day! Ho! Hazar Mir
Khan," he yelled to his servant, "drive out the camels, but let me
first mount my own."
He leaped on the back of his beast as it knelt, and, turning round to
me, cried, "Come thou also, Sahib, a little along the road, and I
will sell thee a charm--an amulet that shall make thee King of
Then the light broke upon me, and I followed the two camels out
of the Serai till we reached open road and the priest halted.
"What d' you think o' that?" said he in English. "Carnehan can't talk
their patter, so I've made him my servant. He makes a handsome
servant. 'T isn't for nothing that I've been knocking about the
country for fourteen years. Didn't I do that talk neat? We'll hitch on
to a caravan at Peshawar till we get to Jagdallak, and then we'll see
if we can get donkeys for our camels, and strike into Kafiristan.
Whirligigs for the Amir, O Lor'! Put your hand under the
camelbags and tell me what you feel."
I felt the butt of a Martini, and another and another.
"Twenty of 'em," said Dravot, placidly. "Twenty of 'em and
ammunition to correspond, under the whirligigs and the mud
"Heaven help you if you are caught with those things!" I said. "A
Martini is worth her weight in silver among the Pathans."
"Fifteen hundred rupees of capital--every rupee we could beg,
borrow, or steal--are invested on these two camels," said Dravot.
"We won't get caught. We're going through the Khaiber with a
regular caravan. Who'd touch a poor mad priest?"
"Have you got everything you want?" I asked, overcome with
"Not yet, but we shall soon. Give us a momento of your kindness,
Brother. You did me a service yesterday, and that time in Marwar.
Half my Kingdom shall you have, as the saying is." I slipped a
small charm compass from my watch-chain and handed it up to the
"Good-bye," said Dravot, giving me hand cautiously. "It's the last
time we'll shake hands with an Englishman these many days.
Shake hands with him, Carnehan," he cried, as the second camel
Carnehan leaned down and shook hands. Then the camels passed
away along the dusty road, and I was left alone to wonder. My eye
could detect no failure in the disguises. The scene in the Serai
proved that they were complete to the native mind. There was just
the chance, therefore, that Carnehan and Dravot would be able to
wander through Afghanistan without detection. But, beyond, they
would find death-- certain and awful death.
Ten days later a native correspondent, giving me the news of the
day from Peshawar, wound up his letter with: "There has been
much laughter here on account of a certain mad priest who is
going in his estimation to sell petty gauds and insignificant trinkets
which he ascribes as great charms to H. H. the Amir of Bokhara.
He passed through Peshawar and associated himself to the Second
Summer caravan that goes to Kabul. The merchants are pleased
because through superstition they imagine that such mad fellows
bring good fortune."
The two, then, were beyond the Border. I would have prayed for
them, but that night a real King died in Europe, and demanded an
The wheel of the world swings through the same phases again and
again. Summer passed and winter thereafter, and came and passed
again. The daily paper continued and I with it, and upon the third
summer there fell a hot night, a night issue, and a strained waiting
for something to be telegraphed from the other side of the world,
exactly as had happened before. A few great men had died in the
past two years, the machines worked with more clatter, and some
of the trees in the office garden were a few feet taller. But that was
all the difference.
I passed over to the press-room, and went through just such a scene
as I have already described. The nervous tension was stronger than
it had been two years before, and I felt the heat more acutely. At
three o'clock I cried, "Print off," and turned to go, when there crept
to my chair what was left of a man. He was bent into a circle, his
head was sunk between his shoulders, and he moved his feet one
over the other like a bear. I could hardly see whether he walked or
crawled--this rag-wrapped, whining cripple who addressed me by
name, crying that he was come back. "Can you give me a drink?"
he whimpered. "For the Lord's sake, give me a drink!"
I went back to the office, the man following with groans of pain,
and I turned up the lamp.
"Don't you know me?" he gasped, dropping into a chair, and he
turned his drawn face, surmounted by a shock of gray hair, to the
I looked at him intently. Once before had I seen eyebrows that met
over the nose in an inch-broad black band, but for the life of me I
could not tell where.
"I don't know you," I said, handing him the whisky. "What can I do
He took a gulp of the spirit raw, and shivered in spite of the
"I've come back," he repeated; "and I was the King of Kafiristan--
me and Dravot--crowned Kings we was! In this office we settled it-
-you setting there and giving us the books. I am Peachey,--Peachey
Taliaferro Carnehan,--and you've been setting here ever since--O
I was more than a little astonished, and expressed my feelings
"It's true," said Carnehan, with a dry cackle, nursing his feet, which
were wrapped in rags--"true as gospel. Kings we were, with
crowns upon our heads--me and Dravot--poor Dan--oh, poor, poor
Dan, that would never take advice, not though I begged of him!"
"Take the whisky," I said, "and take your own time. Tell me all you
can recollect of everything from beginning to end. You got across
the Border on your camels, Dravot dressed as a mad priest and you
his servant. Do you remember that?"
"I ain't mad--yet, but I shall be that way soon. Of course I
remember. Keep looking at me, or maybe my words will go all to
pieces. Keep looking at me in my eyes and don't say anything."
I leaned forward and looked into his face as steadily as I could. He
dropped one hand upon the table and I grasped it by the wrist. It
was twisted like a bird's claw, and upon the back was a ragged,
red, diamond-shaped scar.
"No, don't look there. Look at me," said Carnehan. "That comes
afterward, but for the Lord's sake don't distrack me. We left with
that caravan, me and Dravot playing all sorts of antics to amuse
the people we were with. Dravot used to make us laugh in the
evenings when all the people was cooking their dinners--cooking
their dinners, and . . . what did they do then? They lit little fires
with sparks that went into Dravot's beard, and we all laughed--fit
to die. Little red fires they was, going into Dravot's big red beard--
so funny." His eyes left mine and he smiled foolishly.
"You went as far as Jagdallak with that caravan," I said, at a
venture, "after you had lit those fires. To Jagdallak, where you
turned off to try to get into Kafiristan."
"No, we didn't, neither. What are you talking about? We turned off
before Jagdallak, because we heard the roads was good. But they
wasn't good enough for our two camels--mine and Dravot's. When
we left the caravan, Dravot took off all his clothes and mine too,
and said we would be heathen, because the Kafirs didn't allow
Mohammedans to talk to them. So we dressed betwixt and
between, and such a sight as Daniel Dravot I never saw yet nor
expect to see again. He burned half his beard, and slung a
sheepskin over his shoulder, and shaved his head into patterns. He
shaved mine too, and made me wear outrageous things to look like
a heathen. That was in a most mountaineous country, and our
camels couldn't go along any more because of the mountains. They
were tall and black, and coming home I saw them fight like wild
goats --there are lots of goats in Kafiristan. And these mountains,
they never keep still, no more than the goats. Always fighting they
are, and don't let you sleep at night."
"Take some more whisky," I said, very slowly. "What did you and
Daniel Dravot do when the camels could go no farther because of
the rough roads that led into Kafiristan?"
"What did which do? There was a party called Peachey Taliaferro
Carnehan that was with Dravot. Shall I tell you about him? He
died out there in the cold. Slap from the bridge fell old Peachey,
turning and twisting in the air like a penny whirligig that you can
sell to the Amir. No; they was two for three ha'pence, those
whirligigs, or I am much mistaken and woful sore. . . . And then
these camels were no use, and Peachey said to Dravot, 'For the
Lord's sake let's get out of this before our heads are chopped off,'
and with that they killed the camels all among the mountains, not
having anything in particular to eat, but first they took off the
boxes with the guns and the ammunition, till two men came along
driving four mules. Dravot up and dances in front of them, singing,
'Sell me four mules.' Says the first man, 'If you are rich enough to
buy, you are rich enough to rob;' but before ever he could put his
hand to his knife, Dravot breaks his neck over his knee, and the
other party runs away. So Carnehan loaded the mules with the
rifles that was taken off the camels, and together we starts forward
into those bitter-cold mountaineous parts, and never a road broader
than the back of your hand."
He paused for a moment, while I asked him if he could remember
the nature of the country through which he had journeyed.
"I am telling you as straight as I can, but my head isn't as good as it
might be. They drove nails through it to make me hear better how
Dravot died. The country was mountaineous and the mules were
most contrary, and the inhabitants was dispersed and solitary. They
went up and up, and down and down, and that other party,
Carnehan, was imploring of Dravot not to sing and whistle so loud,
for fear of bringing down the tremenjus avalanches. But Dravot
says that if a King couldn't sing it wasn't worth being King, and
whacked the mules over the rump, and never took no heed for ten
cold days. We came to a big level valley all among the mountains,
and the mules were near dead, so we killed them, not having
anything in special for them or us to eat. We sat upon the boxes,
and played odd and even with the cartridges that was jolted out.
"Then ten men with bows and arrows ran down that valley, chasing
twenty men with bows and arrows, and the row was tremenjus.
They was fair men--fairer than you or me--with yellow hair and
remarkable well built. Says Dravot, unpacking the guns, 'This is
the beginning of the business. We'll fight for the ten men,' and with
that he fires two rifles at the twenty men, and drops one of them at
two hundred yards from the rock where he was sitting. The other
men began to run, but Carnehan and Dravot sits on the boxes
picking them off at all ranges, up and down the valley. Then we
goes up to the ten men that had run across the snow too, and they
fires a footy little arrow at us. Dravot he shoots above their heads,
and they all falls down flat. Then he walks over them and kicks
them, and then he lifts them up and shakes hands all round to
make them friendly like. He calls them and gives them the boxes
to carry, and waves his hand for all the world as though he was
King already. They takes the boxes and him across the valley and
up the hill into a pine wood on the top, where there was half a
dozen big stone idols. Dravot he goes to the biggest--a fellow they
call Imbra--and lays a rifle and a cartridge at his feet, rubbing his
nose respectfuly with his own nose, patting him on the head, and
nods his head, and says, 'That's all right. I'm in the know too, and
these old jimjams are my friends.' Then he opens his mouth and
points down it, and when the first man brings him food, he says,
'No;' and when the second man brings him food, he says 'no;' but
when one of the old priests and the boss of the village brings him
food, he says, 'Yes;' very haughty, and eats it slow. That was how
he came to our first village without any trouble, just as though we
had tumbled from the skies. But we tumbled from one of those
damned rope-bridges, you see, and--you couldn't expect a man to
laugh much after that?"
"Take some more whisky and go on," I said. "That was the first
village you came into. How did you get to be King?"
"I wasn't King," said Carnehan. "Dravot he was the King, and a
handsome man he looked with the gold crown on his head and all.
Him and the other party stayed in that village, and every morning
Dravot sat by the side of old Imbra, and the people came and
worshipped. That was Dravot's order. Then a lot of men came into
the valley, and Carnehan Dravot picks them off with the rifles
before they knew where they was, and runs down into the valley
and up again the other side, and finds another village, same as the
first one, and the people all falls down flat on their faces, and
Dravot says, 'Now what is the trouble between you two villages?'
and the people points to a woman, as fair as you or me, that was
carried off, and Dravot takes her back to the first village and
counts up the dead--eight there was. For each dead man Dravot
pours a little milk on the ground and waves his arms like a
whirligig, and 'That's all right,' says he. Then he and Carnehan
takes the big boss of each village by the arm, and walks them
down the valley, and shows them how to scratch a line with a
spear right down the valley, and gives each a sod of turf from both
sides of the line. Then all the people comes down and shouts like
the devil and all, and Dravot says, 'Go and dig the land, and be
fruitful and multiply,' which they did, though they didn't
understand. Then we asks the names of things in their lingo--bread
and water and fire and idols and such; and Dravot leads the priest
of each village up to the idol, and says he must sit there and judge
the people, and if anything goes wrong he is to be shot.
"Next week they was all turning up the land in the valley as quiet
as bees and much prettier, and the priests heard all the complaints
and told Dravot in dumb-show what it was about. 'That's just the
beginning,' says Dravot. 'They think we're Gods.' He and Carnehan
picks out twenty good men and shows them how to click off a rifle
and form fours and advance in line; and they was very pleased to
do so, and clever to see the hang of it. Then he takes out his pipe
and his baccy-pouch, and leaves one at one village and one at the
other, and off we two goes to see what was to be done in the next
valley. That was all rock, and there was a little village there, and
Carnehan says, 'Send 'em to the old valley to plant,' and takes 'em
there and gives 'em some land that wasn't took before. They were a
poor lot, and we blooded 'em with a kid before letting 'em into the
new Kingdom. That was to impress the people, and then they
settled down quiet, and Carnehan went back to Dravot, who had
got into another valley, all snow and ice and most mountaineous.
There was no people there, and the Army got afraid; so Dravot
shoots one of them, and goes on till he finds some people in a
village, and the Army explains that unless the people wants to be
killed they had better not shoot their little matchlocks, for they had
matchlocks. We makes friends with the priest, and I stays there
alone with two of the Army, teaching the men how to drill; and a
thundering big Chief comes across the snow with kettledrums and
horns twanging, because he heard there was a new God kicking
about. Carnehan sights for the brown of the men half a mile across
the snow and wings one of them. Then he sends a message to the
Chief that, unless he wished to be killed, he must come and shake
hands with me and leave his arms behind. The Chief comes alone
first, and Carnehan shakes hands with him and whirls his arms
about, same as Dravot used, and very much surprised that Chief
was, and strokes my eyebrows. Then Carnehan goes alone to the
Chief, and asks him in dumb- show if he had an enemy he hated. 'I
have,' says the chief. So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men,
and sets the two of the Army to show them drill, and at the end of
two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So
he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a
mountain, and the Chief's men rushes into a village and takes it;
we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy. So we took
that village too, and I gives the Chief a rag from my coat, and says,
'Occupy till I come;' which was scriptural. By way of a reminder,
when me and the Army was eighteen hundred yards away, I drops
a bullet near him standing on the snow, and all the people falls flat
on their faces. Then I sends a letter to Dravot wherever he be by
land or by sea."
At the risk of throwing the creature out of train I interrupted: "How
could you write a letter up yonder?"
"The letter?--oh!--the letter! Keep looking at me between the eyes,
please. It was a string-talk letter, that we'd learned the way of it
from a blind beggar in the Punjab."
I remember that there had once come to the office a blind man
with a knotted twig, and a piece of string which he wound round
the twig according to some cipher of his own. He could, after the
lapse of days or hours, repeat the sentence which he had reeled up.
He had reduced the alphabet to eleven primitive sounds, and tried
to teach me his method, but I could not understand.
"I sent that letter to Dravot," said Carnehan, "and told him to come
back because this Kingdom was growing too big for me to handle;
and then I struck for the first valley, to see how the priests were
working. They called the village we took along with the Chief,
Bashkai, and the first village we took, Er-Heb. The priests at Er-
Heb was doing all right, but they had a lot of pending cases about
land to show me, and some men from another village had been
firing arrows at night. I went out and looked for that village, and
fired four rounds at it from a thousand yards. That used all the
cartridges I cared to spend, and I waited for Dravot, who had been
away two or three months, and I kept my people quiet.
"One morning I heard the devil's own noise of drums and horns,
and Dan Dravot marches down the hill with his Army and a tail of
hundreds of men, and, which was the most amazing, a great gold
crown on his head. 'My Gord, Carnehan,' says Daniel, 'this is a
tremenjus business, and we've got the whole country as far as it's
worth having. I am the son of Alexander by Queen Semiramis, and
you're my younger brother and a God too! It's the biggest thing
we've ever seen. I've been marching and fighting for six weeks
with the Army, and every footy little village for fifty miles has
come in rejoiceful; and more than that, I've got the key of the
whole show, as you'll see, and I've got a crown for you! I told 'em
to make two of 'em at a place called Shu, where the gold lies in the
rock like suet in mutton. Gold I've seen, and turquoise I've kicked
out of the cliffs, and there's garnets in the sands of the river, and
here's a chunk of amber that a man brought me. Call up all the
priests and, here, take your crown.'
"One of the men opens a black hair bag, and I slips the crown on.
It was too small and too heavy, but I wore it for the glory.
Hammered gold it was--five pounds weight, like a hoop of a barrel.
" 'Peachey,' says Dravot, 'we don't want to fight no more. The
Craft's the trick, so help me!' and he brings forward that same
Chief that I left at Bashkai--Billy Fish we called him afterward,
because he was so like Billy Fish that drove the big tank-engine at
Mach on the Bolan in the old days. 'Shake hands with him,' says
Dravot; and I shook hands and nearly dropped, for Billy Fish gave
me the Grip. I said nothing, but tried him with the Fellow-craft
Grip. He answers all right, and I tried the Master's Grip, but that
was a slip. 'A Fellow-craft he is!' I says to Dan. 'Does he know the
word?' 'He does,' says Dan, 'and all the priests know. It's a miracle!
The Chiefs and the priests can work a Fellow-craft Lodge in a way
that's very like ours, and they've cut the marks on the rocks, but
they don't know the Third Degree, and they've come to find out. It's
Gord's Truth. I've known these long years that the Afghans knew
up to the Fellow-craft Degree, but this is a miracle. A God and a
Grand Master of the Craft am I, and a Lodge in the Third Degree I
will open, and we'll raise the head priests and the Chiefs of the
" 'It's against all the law,' I says, 'holding a Lodge without warrant
from any one; and you know we never held office in any Lodge.'
" 'It's a master stroke o' policy,' says Dravot. 'It means running the
country as easy as a four-wheeled bogie on a down grade. We can't
stop to inquire now, or they'll turn against us. I've forty Chiefs at
my heel, and passed and raised according to their merit they shall
be. Billet these men on the villages, and see that we run up a
Lodge of some kind. The temple of Imbra will do for a Lodge-
room. The women must make aprons as you show them. I'll hold a
levee of Chiefs to-night and Lodge to-morrow.'
"I was fair run off my legs, but I wasn't such a fool as not to see
what a pull this Craft business gave us. I showed the priests'
families how to make aprons of the degrees, but for Dravot's apron
the blue border and marks was made of turquoise lumps on white
hide, not cloth. We took a great square stone in the temple for the
Master's chair, and little stones for the officer's chairs, and painted
the black pavement with white squares, and did what we could to
make things regular.
"At the levee which was held that night on the hillside with big
bonfires, Dravot gives out that him and me were Gods and sons of
Alexander, and Passed Grand Masters in the Craft, and was come
to make Kafiristan a country where every man should eat in peace
and drink in quiet, and specially obey us. Then the Chiefs come
round to shake hands, and they were so hairy and white and fair it
was just shaking hands with old friends. We gave them names
according as they was like men we had known in India--Billy Fish,
Holly Dilworth, Pikky Kergan, that was Bazaar-master when I was
at Mhow, and so on, and so on.
"The most amazing miracles was at Lodge next night. One of the
old priests was watching us continuous, and I felt uneasy, for I
knew we'd have to fudge the Ritual, and I didn't know what the
men knew. The old priest was a stranger come in from beyond the
village of Bashkai. The minute Dravot puts on the Master's apron
that the girls had made for him, the priest fetches a whoop and a
howl, and tries to overturn the stone that Dravot was sitting on. 'It's
all up now,' I says. 'That comes of meddling with the Craft without
warrant!' Dravot never winked an eye, not when ten priests took
and tilted over the Grand Master's chair--which was to say, the
stone of Imbra. The priest begins rubbing the bottom end of it to
clear away the black dirt, and presently he shows all the other
priests the Master's Mark, same as was on Dravot's apron, cut into
the stone. Not even the priests of the temple of Imbra knew it was
there. The old chap falls flat on his face at Dravot's feet and kisses
'em. 'Luck again,' says Dravot, across the Lodge, to me; 'they say
it's the missing Mark that no one could understand the why of.
We're more than safe now.' Then he bangs the butt of his gun for a
gavel and says, 'By virtue of the authority vested in me by my own
right hand and the help of Peachey, I declare myself Grand Master
of all Freemasonry in Kafiristan in this the Mother Lodge o' the
country, and King of Kafiristan equally with Peachey!' At that he
puts on his crown and I puts on mine,--I was doing Senior
Warden,--and we opens the Lodge in most ample form. It was an
amazing miracle! The priests moved in Lodge through the first two
degrees almost without telling, as if the memory was coming back
to them. After that Peachey and Dravot raised such as was worthy-
-high priests and Chiefs of far- off villages. Billy Fish was the first,
and I can tell you we scared the soul out of him. It was not in any
way according to Ritual, but it served our turn. We didn't raise
more than ten of the biggest men, because we didn't want to make
the Degree common. And they was clamouring to be raised.
" 'In another six months,' says Dravot, 'we'll hold another
Communication and see how you are working.' Then he asks them
about their villages, and learns that they was fighting one against
the other, and were sick and tired of it. And when they wasn't
doing that they was fighting with the Mohammedans. 'You can
fight those when they come into our country,' says Dravot. 'Tell off
every tenth man of your tribes for a Frontier guard, and send two
hundred at a time to this valley to be drilled. Nobody is going to be
shot or speared any more so long as he does well, and I know that
you won't cheat me, because you're white people--sons of
Alexander--and not like common black Mohammedans. You are
my people, and, by God,' says he, running off into English at the
end, 'I'll make a damned fine Nation of you, or I'll die in the
"I can't tell all we did for the next six months, because Dravot did
a lot I couldn't see the hang of, and he learned their lingo in a way
I never could. My work was to help the people plough, and now
and again go out with some of the Army and see what the other
villages were doing, and make 'em throw rope bridges across the
ravines which cut up the country horrid. Dravot was very kind to
me, but when he walked up and down in the pine wood pulling
that bloody red beard of his with both fists I knew he was thinking
plans I could not advise about, and I just waited for orders.
"But Dravot never showed me disrespect before the people. They
were afraid of me and the Army, but they loved Dan. He was the
best of friends with the priests and the Chiefs; but any one could
come across the hills with a complaint, and Dravot would hear him
out fair, and call four priests together and say what was to be done.
He used to call in Billy Fish from Bashkai, and Pikky Kergan from
Shu, and an old Chief we called Kafuzelum,--it was like enough to
his real name,--and hold councils with 'em when there was any
fighting to be done in small villages. That was his Council of War,
and the four priests of Bashkai, Shu, Khawak, and Madora was his
Privy Council. Between the lot of 'em they sent me, with forty men
and twenty rifles, and sixty men carrying turquoises, into the
Ghorband country to buy those hand- made Martini rifles, that
come out of the Amir's workshops at Kabul, from one of the
Amir's Herati regiments that would have sold the very teeth out of
their mouths for turquoises.
"I stayed in Ghorband a month, and gave the Governor there the
pick of my baskets for hush-money, and bribed the Colonel of the
regiment some more, and, between the two and the tribes-people,
we got more than a hundred hand-made Martinis, a hundred good
Kohat Jezails that'll throw to six hundred yards, and forty man-
loads of very bad ammunition for the rifles. I came back with what
I had, and distributed 'em among the men that the Chiefs sent in to
me to drill. Dravot was too busy to attend to those things, but the
old Army that we first made helped me, and we turned out five
hundred men that could drill, and two hundred that knew how to
hold arms pretty straight. Even those cork-screwed, hand-made
guns was a miracle to them. Dravot talked big about powder-
shops and factories, walking up and down in the pine wood when
the winter was coming on.
" 'I won't make a Nation,' says he. 'I'll make an Empire! These men
aren't niggers; they're English! Look at their eyes--look at their
mouths. Look at the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their
own houses. They're the Lost Tribes, or something like it, and
they've grown to be English. I'll take a census in the spring if the
priests don't get frightened. There must be a fair two million of 'em
in these hills. The villages are full o' little children. Two million
people-- two hundred and fifty thousand fighting men--and all
English! They only want the rifles and a little drilling. Two
hundred and fifty thousand men, ready to cut in on Russia's right
flank when she tries for India! Peachey, man,' he says, chewing his
beard in great hunks, 'we shall be Emperors--Emperors of the
Earth! Rajah Brooke will be a suckling to us. I'll treat with the
Viceroy on equal terms. I'll ask him to send me twelve picked
English--twelve that I know of--to help us govern a bit. There's
Mackray, Serjeant Pensioner at Segowli-- many's the good dinner
he's given me, and his wife a pair of trousers. There's Donkin, the
Warder of Tounghoo Jail; there's hundreds that I could lay my
hand on if I was in India. The Viceroy shall do it for me; I'll send a
man through in the spring for those men, and I'll write for a
dispensation from the Grand Lodge for what I've done as Grand
Master. That--and all the Sniders that'll be thrown out when the
native troops in India take up the Martini. They'll be worn smooth,
but they'll do for fighting in these hills. Twelve English, a hundred
thousand Sniders run through the Amir's country in driblets,--I'd be
content with twenty thousand in one year,--and we'd be an Empire.
When everything was shipshape I'd hand over the crown--this
crown I'm wearing now--to Queen Victoria on my knees, and she'd
say, "Rise up, Sir Daniel Dravot." Oh, it's big! It's big, I tell you!
But there's so much to be done in every place--Bashkai, Khawak,
Shu, and everywhere else.'
" 'What is it?' I says. 'There are no more men coming in to be
drilled this autumn. Look at those fat black clouds. They're
bringing the snow.'
" 'It isn't that,' says Daniel, putting his hand very hard on my
shoulder; 'and I don't wish to say anything that's against you, for no
other living man would have followed me and made me what I am
as you have done. You're a first-class Commander-in-Chief, and
the people know you; but--it's a big country, and somehow you
can't help me, Peachey, in the way I want to be helped.'
" 'Go to your blasted priests, then!' I said, and I was sorry when I
made that remark, but it did hurt me sore to find Daniel talking so
superior, when I'd drilled all the men and done all he told me.
" 'Don't let's quarrel, Peachey,' says Daniel, without cursing. 'You're
a King too, and the half of this Kingdom is yours; but can't you
see, Peachey, we want cleverer men than us now--three or four of
'em, that we can scatter about for our Deputies. It's a hugeous great
State, and I can't always tell the right thing to do, and I haven't
time for all I want to do, and here's the winter coming on and all.'
He put half his beard into his mouth, all red like the gold of his
" 'I'm sorry, Daniel,' says I. 'I've done all I could. I've drilled the
men and shown the people how to stack their oats better; and I've
brought in those tinware rifles from Ghorband--but I know what
you're driving at. I take it Kings always feel oppressed that way.'
" 'There's another thing too,' says Dravot, walking up and down.
'The winter's coming, and these people won't be giving much
trouble, and if they do we can't move about. I want a wife.'
" 'For Gord's sake leave the women alone!' I says. 'We've both got
all the work we can, though I am a fool. Remember the Contrack,
and keep clear o' women.'"
" 'The Contrack only lasted till such time as we was Kings; and
Kings we have been these months past,' says Dravot, weighing his
crown in his hand. 'You go get a wife too, Peachey--a nice,
strappin', plump girl that'll keep you warm in the winter. They're
prettier than English girls, and we can take the pick of 'em. Boil
'em once or twice in hot water, and they'll come out like chicken
" 'Don't tempt me!' I says. 'I will not have any dealings with a
woman, not till we are a dam' side more settled than we are now.
I've been doing the work o' two men, and you've been doing the
work of three. Let's lie off a bit, and see if we can get some better
tobacco from Afghan country and run in some good liquor; and no
" 'Who's talking o' women?' says Dravot. 'I said wife--a Queen to
breed a King's son for the King. A Queen out of the strongest tribe,
that'll make them your blood-brothers, and that'll lie by your side
and tell you all the people thinks about you and their own affairs.
That's what I want.'
" 'Do you remember that Bengali woman I kept at Mogul Serai
when I was a plate-layer?' says I. 'A fat lot o' good she was to me.
She taught me the lingo and one or two other things; but what
happened? She ran away with the Station-master's servant and half
my month's pay. Then she turned up at Dadur Junction in tow of a
half-caste, and had the impidence to say I was her husband--all
among the drivers in the running-shed too!'
" 'We've done with that,' says Dravot; 'these women are whiter than
you or me, and a Queen I will have for the winter months.'
" 'For the last time o' asking, Dan, do not,' I says. 'It'll only bring us
harm. The Bible says that Kings ain't to waste their strength on
women, 'specially when they've got a new raw Kingdom to work
" 'For the last time of answering, I will,' said Dravot, and he went
away through the pine-trees looking like a big red devil, the sun
being on his crown and beard and all.
"But getting a wife was not as easy as Dan thought. He put it
before the Council, and there was no answer till Billy Fish said
that he'd better ask the girls. Dravot damned them all round.
'What's wrong with me?' he shouts, standing by the idol Imbra. 'Am
I a dog, or am I not enough of a man for your wenches? Haven't I
put the shadow of my hand over this country? Who stopped the last
Afghan raid?' It was me really, but Dravot was too angry to
remember. 'Who bought your guns? Who repaired the bridges?
Who's the Grand Master of the sign cut in the stone?' says he, and
he thumped his hand on the block that he used to sit on in Lodge,
and at Council, which opened like Lodge always. Billy Fish said
nothing, and no more did the others. 'Keep your hair on, Dan,' said
I, 'and ask the girls. That's how it's done at Home, and these people
are quite English.'
" 'The marriage of the King is a matter of State,' says Dan, in a
white-hot rage, for he could feel, I hope, that he was going against
his better mind. He walked out of the Council-room, and the others
sat still, looking at the ground.
" 'Billy Fish,' says I to the Chief of Bashkai, 'what's the difficulty
here? A straight answer to a true friend.'
" 'You know,' says Billy Fish. 'How should a man tell you who
knows everything? How can daughters of men marry Gods or
Devils? It's not proper.'
"I remembered something like that in the Bible; but, if after seeing
us as long as they had, they still believed we were Gods, it wasn't
for me to undeceive them.
" 'A God can do anything,' says I. 'If the King is fond of a girl he'll
not let her die.' 'She'll have to,' said Billy Fish. 'There are all sorts
of Gods and Devils in these mountains, and now and again a girl
marries one of them and isn't seen any more. Besides, you two
know the Mark cut in the stone. Only the Gods know that. We
thought you were men till you showed the sign of the Master.'
"I wished then that we had explained about the loss of the genuine
secrets of a Master Mason at the first go-off; but I said nothing. All
that night there was a blowing of horns in a little dark temple half-
way down the hill, and I heard the girl crying fit to die. One of the
priests told us that she was being prepared to marry the King.
" 'I'll have no nonsense of that kind,' says Dan. 'I don't want to
interfere with your customs, but I'll take my own wife.' 'The girl's a
little bit afraid,' says the priest. 'She thinks she's going to die, and
they are a-heartening of her up down in the temple.'
" 'Hearten her very tender, then,' says Dravot, 'or I'll hearten you
with the butt of a gun so you'll never want to be heartened again.'
He licked his lips, did Dan, and stayed up walking about more than
half the night, thinking of the wife that he was going to get in the
morning. I wasn't any means comfortable, for I knew that dealings
with a woman in foreign parts, though you was a crowned King
twenty times over, could not but be risky. I got up very early in the
morning while Dravot was asleep, and I saw the priests talking
together in whispers, and the Chiefs talking together too, and they
looked at me out of the corners of their eyes.
" 'What is up, Fish?' I say to the Bashkai man, who was wrapped up
in his furs and looking splendid to behold.
" 'I can't rightly say,' says he; 'but if you can make the King drop all
this nonsense about marriage, you'll be doing him and me and
yourself a great service.'
" 'That I do believe,' says I. 'But sure, you know, Billy, as well as
me, having fought against and for us, that the King and me are
nothing more than two of the finest men that God Almighty ever
made. Nothing more, I do assure you.'
" 'That may be,' says Billy Fish, 'and yet I should be sorry if it was.'
He sinks his head upon his great fur cloak for a minute and thinks.
'King,' says he, 'be you man or God or Devil, I'll stick by you to-
day. I have twenty of my men with me, and they will follow me.
We'll go to Bashkai until the storm blows over.'
" A little snow had fallen in the night, and everything was white
except the greasy fat clouds that blew down and down from the
north. Dravot came out with his crown on his head, swinging his
arms and stamping his feet, and looking more pleased than Punch.
" 'For the last time, drop it, Dan,' says I, in a whisper; 'Billy Fish
here says that there will be a row.'
" 'A row among my people!' says Dravot. 'Not much. Peachey,
you're a fool not to get a wife too. Where's the girl?' says he, with a
voice as loud as the braying of a jackass. 'Call up all the Chiefs and
priests, and let the Emperor see if his wife suits him.'
"There was no need to call any one. They were all there leaning on
their guns and spears round the clearing in the centre of the pine
wood. A lot of priests went down to the little temple to bring up
the girl, and the horns blew fit to wake the dead. Billy Fish
saunters round and gets as close to Daniel as he could, and behind
him stood his twenty men with matchlocks--not a man of them
under six feet. I was next to Dravot, and behind me was twenty
men of the regular Army. Up comes the girl, and a strapping
wench she was, covered with silver and turquoises, but white as
death, and looking back every minute at the priests.
" 'She'll do,' said Dan, looking her over. 'What's to be afraid of,
lass? Come and kiss me.' He puts his arm round her. She shuts her
eyes, gives a bit of a squeak, and down goes her face in the side of
Dan's flaming-red beard.
" 'The slut's bitten me!' says he, clapping his hand to his neck, and,
sure enough, his hand was red with blood. Billy Fish and two of his
matchlock men catches hold of Dan by the shoulders and drags
him into the Bashkai lot, while the priests howls in their lingo,
'Neither God nor Devil, but a man!' I was all taken aback, for a
priest cut at me in front, and the Army behind began firing into the
" 'God A'mighty!' says Dan, 'what is the meaning o' this?'
" 'Come back! Come away!' says Billy Fish. 'Ruin and Mutiny is
the matter. We'll break for Bashkai if we can.'
"I tried to give some sort of orders to my men,--the men o' the
regular Army,--but it was no use, so I fired into the brown of 'em
with an English Martini and drilled three beggars in a line. The
valley was full of shouting, howling creatures, and every soul was
shrieking, 'Not a God nor a Devil, but only a man!' The Bashkai
troops stuck to Billy Fish all they were worth, but their matchlocks
wasn't half as good as the Kabul breech-loaders, and four of them
dropped. Dan was bellowing like a bull, for he was very wrathy;
and Billy Fish had a hard job to prevent him running out at the
" 'We can't stand,' says Billy Fish. 'Make a run for it down the
valley! The whole place is against us.' The matchlock-men ran, and
we went down the valley in spite of Dravot. He was swearing
horrible and crying out that he was a King. The priests rolled great
stones on us, and the regular Army fired hard, and there wasn't
more than six men, not counting Dan, Billy Fish, and Me, that
came down to the bottom of the valley alive.
"Then they stopped firing, and the horns in the temple blew again.
'Come away--for Gord's sake come away!' says Billy Fish. 'They'll
send runners out to all the villages before ever we get to Bashkai. I
can protect you there, but I can't do anything now."
"My own notion is that Dan began to go mad in his head from that
hour. He stared up and down like a stuck pig. Then he was all for
walking back alone and killing the priests with his bare hands;
which he could have done. 'An Emperor am I,' says Daniel, 'and
next year I shall be a Knight of the Queen.'
" 'All right, Dan,' says I; 'but come along now while there's time.'
" 'It's your fault,' says he, 'for not looking after your Army better.
There was mutiny in the midst, and you didn't know--you damned
engine- driving, plate-laying, missionary's-pass-hunting hound!' He
sat upon a rock and called me every foul name he could lay tongue
to. I was too heart-sick to care, though it was all his foolishness
that brought the smash.
" 'I'm sorry, Dan,' says I, 'but there's no accounting for natives. This
business is our Fifty-seven. Maybe we'll make something out of it
yet, when we've got to Bashkai.'
" 'Let's get to Bashkai, then,' says Dan, 'and, by God, when I come
back here again I'll sweep the valley so there isn't a bug in a
"We walked all that day, and all that night Dan was stumping up
and down on the snow, chewing his beard and muttering to
" 'There's no hope o' getting clear,' said Billy Fish. 'The priests have
sent runners to the villages to say that you are only men. Why
didn't you stick on as Gods till things was more settled? I'm a dead
man,' says Billy Fish, and he throws himself down on the snow and
begins to pray to his Gods.
"Next morning we was in a cruel bad country--all up and down, no
level ground at all, and no food, either. The six Bashkai men
looked at Billy Fish hungry-way as if they wanted to ask
something, but they never said a word. At noon we came to the top
of a flat mountain all covered with snow, and when we climbed up
into it, behold, there was an Army in position waiting in the
" 'The runners have been very quick,' says Billy Fish, with a little
bit of a laugh. 'They are waiting for us.'
"Three or four men began to fire from the enemy's side, and a
chance shot took Daniel in the calf of the leg. That brought him to
his senses. He looks across the snow at the Army, and sees the
rifles that we had brought into the country.
" 'We're done for,' says he. 'They are Englishmen, these people,--
and it's my blasted nonsense that has brought you to this. Get back,
Billy Fish, and take your men away; you've done what you could,
and now cut for it. Carnehan,' says he, 'shake hands with me and go
along with Billy, Maybe they won't kill you. I'll go and meet 'em
alone. It's me that did it! Me, the King!'
" 'Go!' says I. 'Go to Hell, Dan! I'm with you here. Billy Fish, you
clear out, and we two will meet those folk.'
" 'I'm a Chief,' says Billy Fish, quite quiet. 'I stay with you. My men
"The Bashkai fellows didn't wait for a second word, but ran off,
and Dan and Me and Billy Fish walked across to where the drums
were drumming and the horns were horning. It was cold--awful
cold. I've got that cold in the back of my head now. There's a lump
of it there."
The punka-coolies had gone to sleep. Two kerosene lamps were
blazing in the office, and the perspiration poured down my face
and splashed on the blotter as I leaned forward. Carnehan was
shivering, and I feared that his mind might go. I wiped my face,
took a fresh grip of the piteously mangled hands, and said, "What
happened after that?"
The momentary shift of my eyes had broken the clear current.
"What was you pleased to say?" whined Carnehan. "They took
them without any sound. Not a little whisper all along the snow,
not though the King knocked down the first man that set hand on
him--not though old Peachey fired his last cartridge into the brown
of 'em. Not a single solitary sound did those swines make. They
just closed up tight, and I tell you their furs stunk. There was a
man called Billy Fish, a good friend of us all, and they cut his
throat, Sir, then and there, like a pig; and the King kicks up the
bloody snow and says, 'We've had a dashed fine run for our money.
What's coming next?' But Peachey, Peachey Taliaferro, I tell you,
Sir, in confidence as betwixt two friends, he lost his head, Sir. No,
he didn't, neither. The King lost his head, so he did, all along o' one
of those cunning rope bridges. Kindly let me have the paper-cutter,
Sir. It tilted this way. They marched him a mile across that snow to
a rope bridge over a ravine with a river at the bottom. You may
have seen such. They prodded him behind like an ox. 'Damn your
eyes!' says the King. 'D' you suppose I can't die like a gentleman?'
He turns to Peachey-- Peachey that was crying like a child. 'I've
brought you to this, Peachey,' says he. 'Brought you out of your
happy life to be killed in Kafiristan, where you was late
Commander-in-Chief of the Emperor's forces. Say you forgive me,
Peachey.' 'I do,' says Peachey. 'Fully and freely do I forgive you,
Dan.' 'Shake hands, Peachey,' says he. 'I'm going now.' Out he goes,
looking neither right nor left, and when he was plumb in the
middle of those dizzy dancing ropes, 'Cut you beggars,' he shouts;
and they cut, and old Dan fell, turning round and round and round,
twenty thousand miles, for he took half an hour to fall till he struck
the water, and I could see his body caught on a rock with the gold
crown close beside.
"But do you know what they did to Peachey between two pine-
trees? They crucified him, Sir, as Peachey's hand will show. They
used wooden pegs for his hands and feet; but he didn't die. He
hung there and screamed, and they took him down next day, and
said it was a miracle that he wasn't dead. They took him down--
poor old Peachey that hadn't done them any harm--that hadn't done
He rocked to and fro and wept bitterly, wiping his eyes with the
back of his scarred hands and moaning like a child for some ten
"They was cruel enough to feed him up in the temple, because they
said he was more of a God than old Daniel that was a man. Then
they turned him out on the snow, and told him to go home, and
Peachey came home in about a year, begging along the roads quite
safe; for Daniel Dravot he walked before and said, 'Come along,
Peachey. It's a big thing we're doing.' The mountains they danced
at night, and the mountains they tried to fall on Peachey's head, but
Dan he held up his hand, and Peachey came along bent double. He
never let go of Dan's hand, and he never let go of Dan's head. They
gave it to him as a present in the temple, to remind him not to
come again; and though the crown was pure gold and Peachey was
starving, never would Peachey sell the same. You know Dravot,
Sir! You knew Right Worshipful Brother Dravot! Look at him
He fumbled in the mass of rags round his bent waist; brought out a
black horsehair bag embroidered with silver thread; and shook
therefrom on to my table--the dried, withered head of Daniel
Dravot! The morning sun, that had long been paling the lamps,
struck the red beard and blind sunken eyes; struck, too, a heavy
circlet of gold studded with raw turquoises, that Carnehan placed
tenderly on the battered temples.
"You be'old now," said Carnehan, "the Emperor in his 'abit as he
lived --the King of Kafiristan with his crown upon his head. Poor
old Daniel that was a monarch once!"
I shuddered, for, in spite of defacements manifold, I recognised the
head of the man of Marwar Junction. Carnehan rose to go. I
attempted to stop him. He was not fit to walk abroad. "Let me take
away the whisky, and give me a little money," he gasped. "I was a
King once. I'll go to the Deputy Commissioner and ask to set in the
Poorhouse till I get my health. No, thank you, I can't wait till you
get a carriage for me. I've urgent private affairs--in the south--at
He shambled out of the office and departed in the direction of the
Deputy Commissioner's house. That day at noon I had occasion to
go down the blinding-hot Mall, and I saw a crooked man crawling
along the white dust of the roadside, his hat in his hand, quavering
dolorously after the fashion of street-singers at Home. There was
not a soul in sight, and he was out of all possible earshot of the
houses. And he sang through his nose, turning his head from right
"The Son of Man goes forth to war,
A golden crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar--
Who follows in His train?"
I waited to hear no more, but put the poor wretch into my carriage
and drove him off to the nearest missionary for eventual transfer to
the Asylum. He repeated the hymn twice while he was with me,
whom he did not in the least recognise, and I left him singing it to
Two days later I inquired after his welfare of the Superintendent of
"He was admitted suffering from sunstroke. He died early
yesterday morning," said the Superintendent. "Is it true that he was
half an hour bareheaded in the sun at midday?"
"Yes," said I; "but do you happen to know if he had anything upon
him by any chance when he died?"
"Not to my knowledge," said the Superintendent.
And there the matter rests.
"THE FINEST STORY IN THE WORLD"
"O' ever the knightly years were gone
With the old world to the grave,
I was a king in Babylon
And you were a Christian slave."
-W. E. Henley.
His name was Charlie Mears; he was the only son of his mother
who was a widow, and he lived in the north of London, coming
into the City every day to work in a bank. He was twenty years old
and suffered from aspirations. I met him in a public
billiard-saloon where the marker called him by his given name,
and he called the marker "Bulls-eyes." Charley explained, a little
nervously, that he had only come to the place to look on, and since
looking on at games of skill is not a cheap amusement for the
young, I suggested that Charlie should go back to his mother.
That was our first step toward better acquaintance. He would call
on me sometimes in the evenings instead of running about London
with his fellow-clerks; and before long, speaking of himself as a
young man must, he told me of his aspirations, which were all
literary. He desired to make himself an undying name chiefly
through verse, though he was not above sending stories of love and
death to the drop-a-penny-in-the-slot journals. It was my fate to sit
still while Charlie read me poems of many hundred lines, and
bulky fragments of plays that would surely shake the world. My
reward was his unreserved confidence, and the self-revelations and
troubles of a young man are almost as holy as those of a maiden.
Charlie had never fallen in love, but was anxious to do so on the
first opportunity; he believed in all things good and all things
honorable, but, at the same time, was curiously careful to let me
see that he knew his way about the world as befitted a bank clerk
on twenty-five shillings a week. He rhymed "dove" with "love"
and "moon" with "June," and devoutly believed that they had never
so been rhymed before. The long lame gaps in his plays he filled
up with hasty words of apology and description and swept on,
seeing all that he intended to do so clearly that he esteemed it
already done, and turned to me for applause.
I fancy that his mother did not encourage his aspirations, and I
know that his writing-table at home was the edge of his washstand.
This he told me almost at the outset of our acquaintance; when he
was ravaging my bookshelves, and a little before I was implored to
speak the truth as to his chances of "writing something really great,
you know." Maybe I encouraged him too much, for, one night, he
called on me, his eyes flaming with excitement, and said
"Do you mind-can you let me stay here and write all this evening?
I won't interrupt you, I won't really. There's no place for me to
write in at my mother's."
"What's the trouble?" I said, knowing well what that trouble was.
"I've a notion in my head that would make the most splendid story
that was ever written. Do let me write it out here. It's suck a
There was no resisting the appeal. I set him a table; he hardly
thanked me, but plunged into the work at once. For half an hour
the pen scratched without stopping. Then Charlie sighed and
tugged his hair. The scratching grew slower, there were more
erasures, and at last ceased. The finest story in the world would
not come forth.
"It looks such awful rot now" he said, mournfully. "And yet it
seemed so good when I was thinking about it. ~~hat's wrong?"
I could not dishearten him by saying the truth. So I answered:
"Perhaps you don't feel in the mood for writing."
"Yes I do-except when I look at this stuff. Ugh!"
"Read me what you've done," I said. He read, and it was wondrous
bad and he paused at all the specially turgid sentences, expecting a
little approval; for he was proud of those sentences, as I knew he
"It needs compression," I suggested, cautiously.
"I hate cutting my things down. I don't think you could alter a
word here without spoiling the sense. It reads better aloud than
when I was writing it."
"Charlie, you're suffering from an alarming disease afflicting a
numerous class. Put the thing by, and tackle it again in a week."
"I want to do it at once. What do you think of it?"
"How can I judge from a half-written tale? Tell me the story as it
lies in your head."
Charlie told, and in the telling there was everything that his
ignorance had so carefully prevented from escaping into the
written word. I looked at him, and wondering whether it were
possible, that he did not know the originality, the power of the
notion that had come in his way? It was distinctly a Notion among
notions. Men had been puffed up with pride by notions not a tithe
as excellent and practicable. But Charlie babbled on serenely,
interrupting the current of pure fancy with samples of horrible
sentences that he purposed to use. I heard him out to the end. It
would be folly to allow his idea to remain in his own inept hands,
when I could do so much with it. Not all that could be done
indeed; but, oh so much!
"What do you think?" he said, at last. "I fancy I shall call it 'The
Story of a Ship.'"
"I think the idea's pretty good; but you won't he able to handle it
for ever so long. Now I"-"Would it be of any use to you?
Would you care to take it? I should be proud," said Charlie,
There are few things sweeter in this world than the guileless,
hot-headed, intemperate, open admiration of a junior. Even a
woman in her blindest devotion does not fall into the gait of the
man she adores, tilt her bonnet to the angle at which he wears his
hat, or interlard her speech with his pet oaths. And Charlie did all
these things. Still it was necessary to salve my conscience before I
possessed myself of Charlie's thoughts.
"Let's make a bargain. I'll give you a fiver for the notion," I said.
Charlie became a bank-clerk at once.
"Oh, that's impossible. Between two pals, you know, if I may call
you so, and speaking as a man of the world, I couldn't. Take the
notion if it's any use to you. I've heaps more."
He had-none knew this better than I
-but they were the notions of other men.
"Look at it as a matter of business-between men of the world," I
returned. "Five pounds will buy you any number of poetry-books.
Business is business, and you may be sure I shouldn't give that
price unless"-"Oh, if you put it that way," said Charlie, visibly
moved by the thought of the books. The bargain was clinched
with an agreement that he should at un> stated intervals come to
me with all the notions that he possessed, should have a table of
his own to write at, and unquestioned right to inflict upon me all
his poems and fragments of poems. Then I said, "Now tell me how
you came by this idea."
"It came by itself." Charlie's eyes opened a little.
"Yes, but you told me a great deal about the hero that you must
have read before somewhere."
"I haven't any time for reading, except when you let me sit here,
and on Sundays I'm on my bicycle or down the river all day.
There's nothing wrong about the hero, is there?"
"Tell me again and I shall understand clearly. You say that your
hero went pirating. How did he live?"
"He was on the lower deck of this ship-thing that I was telling you
"What sort of ship?"
"It was the kind rowed with oars, and the sea spurts through the
oar-holes and the men row sitting up to their knees in water. Then
there's a bench running down between the two lines of oars and an
overseer with a whip walks up and down the bench to make the
"How do you know that?"
"It's in the table. There's a rope running overhead, looped to the
upper deck, for the overseer to catch hold of when the ship rolls.
When the overseer misses the rope once and falls among the
rowers, remember the hero laughs at him and gets licked for it.
He's chained to his oar of course-the hero."
'~How is he chained?"
"With an iron band round his waist fixed to the bench he sits on,
and a sort of handcuff on his left wrist chaining him to the oar.
He's on the lower deck where the worst men are ent, and the only
light comes from the hatchways and through the oar-holes. Can't
you imagine the sunlight just squeezing through between the
handle and the hole and wobbling about as the ship moves?"
"I can, but I can't imagine your imagining it."
"How could it be any other way? Now you listen to me. The long
oars on the upper deck are managed by four men to each bench,
the lower ones by three, and the lowest of all by two. Remember
it's quite dark on the lowest deck and all the men there go mad.
When a man dies at his oar on that deck he isn't thrown overboard,
but cut up in his chains and stuffed through the oar-hole in little
"Why?" I demanded, amazed, not so much at the information as
the tone of command in which it was flung out.
"To save trouble and to frighten the others. It needs two overseers
to drag a man's body up to the top deck; and if the men at the
lower deck oars were left alone, of course they'd stop rowing and
try to pull up the benches by all standing up together in their
"You've a most provident imagination. Where have you been
reading about galleys and galley-slaves?"
"Nowhere that I remember. I row a little when I get the chance.
But, perhaps, if you say so, I may have read something."
He went away shortly afterward to deal with booksellers, and I
wondered how a bank clerk aged twenty could put into my hands
with a profligate abundance of detail, all given with absolute
assurance, the story of extravagant and bloodthirsty adventure,
riot, piracy, and death in unnamed seas. He had led his hero a
desperate dance through revolt against the overseas, to command
of a ship of his own, and ultimate establishment of a kingdom on
an island "somewhere in the sea, you know"; and, delighted with
my paltry five pounds, had gone out to buy the notions of other
men, that these might teach him how to write. I had the
consolation of knowing that this notion was mine by right of
purchase, and I thought that I could make something of it.
When next he came to me he was drunk-royally drunk on many
poets for the first time revealed to him. His pupils were dilated, his
words tumbled over each other, and he wrapped himself in
quotations. Most of all was he drunk with Longfellow.
"Isn't it splendid? Isn't it superb?" he cried, after hasty greetings.
"Listen to this-
"'Would~t thou,' so the helmsman answered,
'Know the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery.'
"'Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery.'"
be repeated twenty times, walking up and down the room and
forgetting me. "But I can understand it too," he said to himself. "I
don't know how to thank you for that fiver. And this; listen-
"'I remember the black wharves and the ships
And the sea-tides tossing free,
And the Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.'
I haven't braved any dangers, but I feel as if I knew all about it."
"You certainly seem to have a grip of the sea. Have you ever seen
"When I was a little chap I went to Brighton once; we used to live
in Coventry, though, before we came to London. I never saw it,
'When descends on the Atlantic
Storm-wind of the Equinox.'"
He shook me by the shoulder to make me understand the passion
that was shaking himself.
"When that storm comes," he continued, "I think that all the oars in
the ship that I was talking about get broken, and the rowers have
their chests smashed in by the bucking oar-heads. By the way,
have you done anything with that notion of mine yet?"
"No. I was waiting to hear more of it from you. Tell me how in the
world you re so certain about the fittings of the ship. You know
nothing of ships."
"I don't know. It's as real as anything to me until I try to write it
down. I was thinking about it only last night in bed, after you had
loaned me 'Treasure Island'; and I made up a a whole lot of new
things to go into the story."
"What sort of things?"
"About the food the men ate; rotten figs and black beans and wine
in a skin bag, passed from bench to bench."
"Was the ship built so long ago as that?"
"As what? I don't know whether it was long ago or not. It's only a
notion, but sometimes it seems just as real as if it was true. Do I
bother you with talking about it?"
"Not in the least. Did you make up anything else?"
"Yes, but it's nonsense." Charlie flushed a little.
"Never mind; let's hear about it."
"Well, I was thinking over the story, and after awhile I got out of
bed and wrote down on a piece of paper the sort of stuff the men
might be supposed to scratch on their oars with the edges of their
handcuffs. It seemed to make the thing more lifelike. It is so real
to me, y'know."
"Have you the paper on you?"
"Ye-es, but what's the use of showing it? It's only a lot of
scratches. All the same, we might have 'em reproduced in the
book on the front page."
"I'll attend to those details. Show me what your men wrote."
He pulled out of his pocket a sheet of note-paper, with a single
line of scratches upon it, and I put this carefully away.
"What is it supposed to mean in English?" I said.
"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps it means 'I'm beastly tired.' It's great
nonsence," he repeated, "but all those men in the ship seem as real
people to me. Do do something to the notion soon; I should like
to see it written and printed."
"But all you've told me would make a long book."
"Make it then. You've only to sit down and write it out."
"Give me a little time. Have you any more notions?"
"Not just now. I'm reading all the books I've bought. They're
When he had left I looked at the sheet of note-paper with the
inscription upon it. Then I took my head tenderly between both
hands, to make certain that it was not coming off or turning round.
Then . . . but there seemed to be no interval between quitting my
rooms and finding myself arguing with a policeman outside a door
marked Private in a corridor of the British Museum. All I
demanded, as politely as possible, was "the Greek antiquity man."
The policeman knew nothing except the rules of the Museum, and
it became necessary to forage through all the houses and offices
inside the gates. An elderly gentleman called away from his lunch
put an end to my search by holding the note-paper between finger
and thumb and sniffing at it scornfully.
"What does this mean? H'mm," said he. "So far as I can ascertain
it is an attempt to write extremely corrupt Greek on the part"-here
he glared at me with intention-"of an extremely illiterate-ah-
person." He read slowly from the paper, "Pollock, Erckman,
Tauchnitz, Henniker"- four names familiar to me.
"Can you tell me what the corruption is supposed to mean-the gist
of the thing?" I asked.
"I have been-many times-overcome with weariness in this
particular employment. That is the meaning." He returned me the
paper, and I fled without a word of thanks, explanation, or
I might have been excused for forgetting much. To me of all men
had been given the chance to write the most marvelous tale in the
world, nothing less than the story of a Greek galley-slave, as told
by himself. Small wonder that his dreaming had seemed real to
Charlie. The Fates that are so careful to shut the doors of each
successive life behind us had, in this case, been neglectful, and
Charlie was looking, though that he did not know, where never
man had been permitted to look with full knowledge since Time
began. Above all he was absolutely ignorant of the knowledge
sold to me for five pounds; and he would retain that ignorance, for
bank-clerks do not understand metempsychosis, and a sound
commercial education does not include Greek. He would supply
m~here I capered among the dumb gods of Egypt and laughed in
their battered faces-with material to make my tale sur~so sure that
the world would hail it as an impudent and vamped fict~on. And
I-I alone would know that it was absolutely and literally true. 1,-I
alone held this jewel to my hand for the cutting and polishing.
Therefore I danced again among the gods till a policeman saw me
and took steps in my direction.
It remained now only to encourage Charlie to talk, and here there
was no difficulty. But I had forgotten those accursed books of
poetry. He came to me time after time, as useless as a surcharged
phonograph-drunk on Byron, Shelley, or Keats. Knowing now
what the boy had been in his past lives, and desperately anxious
not to lose one word of his babble, I could not hide from him my
respect and interest. He misconstrued both into respect for the
present soul of Charlie Mears, to whom life was as new as it was
to Adam, and interest in his readings; and stretched my patience to
breaking point by reciting poetry-not his own now, but that of
others. I wished every English poet blotted out of the memory of
mankind. I blasphemed the mightiest names of song because they
had drawn Charlie from the path of direct narrative, and would,
later, spur him to imitate them; but I choked down my impatience
until the first flood of enthusiasm should have spent itself and the
boy returned to his dreams.
"What's the use of my telling you what I think, when these chaps
wrote things for the angels to read?" he growled, one evening.
"Why don't you write something like theirs?"
"I don't think you're treating me quite fairly," I said, speaking under
"I've given you the story," he said, shortly replunging into "Lara."
"But I want the details."
"The things I make up about that damned ship that you call a
galley? They're quite easy. You can just make
em up yourself. Turn up the gas a little, I want to go on reading."
I could have broken the gas globe over his head for his amazing
stupidity. I could indeed make up things for myself did I only
know what Charlie did not know that he knew. But since the
doors were shut behind me I could only wait his youthful pleasure
and strive to keep him in good temper. One minute's want of guard
might spoil a priceless revelation: now and again he would toss his
books aside-he kept them in my rooms, for his mother would have
been shocked at the waste of good money had she seen them-and
launched into his sea dreams. Again I cursed all the poets of
England. The plastic mind of the bank-clerk had been overlaid,
colored and distorted by that which he had read, and the result as
delivered was a confused tangle of other voices most like the
muttered song through a City telephone in the busiest part of the
He talked of the galley-his own galley had he but known it-with
illustrations borrowed from the "Bride of Abydos." He pointed the
experiences of his hero with quotations from "The Corsair," and
threw in deep and desperate moral reflections from "Cain" and
"Manfred," expecting me to use them all. Only when the talk
turned on Longfellow were the jarring cross-currents dumb, and I
knew that Charlie was speaking the truth as he remembered it.
"What do you think of this?" I said one evening, as soon as I
understood the medium in which his memory worked best, and,
before he could expostulate read him the whole of "The Sag of
He listened open-mouthed, flushed his hands drumming on the
back of the sofa where he lay, till I came to the Songs of Emar
Tamberskelver and the verse:
"Emar then, the arrow taking
From the loosened string,
Answered: 'That was Norway breaking
'Neath thy hand, O King.'"
He gasped with pure delight of sound.
"That's better than Byron, a little," I ventured.
"Better? Why it's true! How could he have known?"
I went back and repeated:
"'What was that?' said Olaf, standing
On the quarter-deck,
'Something heard I like the stranding
Of a shattered wreck.'"
"How could he have known how the ships crash and the oars rip
out and go z-zzp all along the line? Why only the other night. . . .
But go back please and read 'The Skerry of Shrieks' again."
"No, I'm tired. Let's talk. What happened the other night?"
"I had an awful nightmare about that galley of ours. I dreamed I
was drowned in a fight. You see we ran alongside another ship in
harbor. The water was dead still except where our oars whipped it
up. You know where I always sit in the galley?" He spoke haltingly
at first, under a fine English fear of being laughed at.
"No. That's news to me," I answered, meekly, my heart beginning
"On the fourth oar from the bow on the right side on the upper
deck. There were four of us at the oar, all chained. I remember
watching the water and trying to get my handcuffs off before the
row began. Then we closed up on the other ship, and all their
fighting men jumped over our bulwarks, and my bench broke and I
was pinned down with the three other fellows on top of me, and
the big oar jammed across our backs."
"Well?" Charlie's eyes were alive and alight. He was looking at the
wall behind my chair.
"I don't know how we fought. The men were trampling all over
my back, and I lay low. Then our rowers on the left side-tied to
their oars, you know-began to yell and back water. I could hear
the water sizzle, and we spun round like a cockchafer and I knew,
lying where I was, that there was a galley coming up bow-on, to
ram us on the left side. I could just lift up my head and see her sail
over the bulwarks. We wanted to meet her bow to bow, but it was
too late. We could only turn a little bit because the galley on our
right had hooked herself on to us and stopped our moving. Then,
by gum! there was a crash! Our left oars began to break as the
other galley, the moving one y'know, stuck her nose into them.
Then the lower-deck oars shot up through the deck-planking, but
first, and one of them jumped clean up into the air and came down
again close to my head."
"How was that managed?"
"The moving galley's bow was plunking them back through their
own oarholes, and I could hear the devil of a shindy in the decks
below. Then her nose caught us nearly in the middle, and we tilted
sideways, and the fellows in the right-hand galley unhitched their
hooks and ropes, and threw things on to our upper deck-arrows,
and hot pitch or something that stung, and we went up and up and
up on the left side, and the right side dipped, and I twisted my head
round and saw the water stand still as it topped the right bulwarks,
and then it curled over and crashed down on the whole lot of us on
the right side, and I felt it hit my back, and I woke."
"One minute, Charlie. When the sea topped the bulwarks, what did
it look like?" I had my reasons for asking. A man of my
acquaintance had once gone down with a leaking ship in a still sea,
and had seen the water-level pause for an instant ere it fell on the
"It looked just like a banjo-string drawn tight, and it seemed to stay
there for years," said Charlie.
Exactly! The other man had said:
"It looked like a silver wire laid down along the bulwarks, and I
thought it was never going to break." He had paid everything
except the bare life for this little valueless piece of knowledge, and
I had traveled ten thousand weary miles to meet him and take his
knowledge at second hand. But Charlie, the bank-clerk, on
twenty-five shillings a week, he who bad never been out of sight of
a London omnibus, knew it all. It was no consolation to me that
once in his lives he had been forced to die for his gains. I also
must have died scores of times, but hebina me, because I could
have used my knowledge, the doors were shut.
"And then?" I said, trying to put away the devil of envy.
"The funny thing was, though, in all the mess I didn't feel a bit
astonished or frightened. It seemed as if I'd been in a good many
fights, because I told my next man so when the row began. But
that cad of an overseer on my deck wouldn't unloose our chains
and give us a chance. He always said that we'd all he set free after
a battle, but we never were; We never were." Charlie shook his
"What a scoundrel!"
"I should say he was. He never gave us enough to eat, and
sometimes we were so thirsty that we used to drink salt-water. I
can taste that salt-water still.''
"Now tell me something about the harbor where the fight was
"I didn't dream about that. I know it was a harbor, though; becabse
we were tied up to a ring on a white wall and all the face of the
stone under water was covered with wood to prevent our ram
getting chipped when the tide made us rock."
"That's curious. Our hero commanded the galley? Didn't he?"
"Didn't he just! He stood by the bows and shouted like a good 'un.
He was the man who killed the overseer."
"But you were all drowned together, Charlie, weren't you?"
"I can't make that fit quite," he said with a puzzled look. "The
galley must have gone down with all hands and yet I fancy that the
hero went on living afterward. Perhaps he climbed into the
attacking ship. I wouldn't see that, of course. I was dead, you
He shivered slightly and protested that he could remember no
I did not press him further, but to satisfy myself that he lay in
ignorance of the workings of his own mind, deliberately
introduced him to Mortimer Collins's "Transmigration," and gave
him a sketch of the plot before he opened the pages.
"What rot it all is!" he said, frankly, at the end of an hour. "I don't
understand his nonsense about the Red Planet Mars and the King,
and the rest of it. Chuck me the Longfellow again."
I handed him the book and wrote out as much as I could remember
of his description of the sea-fight, appealing to him from time to
time for confirmation of fact or detail. He would answer without
raising his eyes from the book, as assuredly as though all his
knowledge lay before flint on the printed page. I spoke under the
normal key of my voice that the current might not be broken, and I
know that he was not aware of what he was saying, for his
thoughts were out on the sea with Longfellow.
"Charlie," I asked, "when the rowers on the galleys mutinied how
did they kill their overseers?"
"Tore up the benches and brained 'em. That happened when a
heavy sea was running. An overseer on the lower deck slipped
from the centre plank and fell among the rowers. They choked him
to death against the side of the ship with their chained hands quite
quietly, and it was too dark for the other overseer to see what had
happened. When he asked, he was pulled down too and choked,
and the lower deck fought their way up deck by deck, with the
pieces of the broken benches banging behind 'em. How they
"And what happened after that?"
"I don't know. The hero went away-red hair and red beard and all.
That was after he had captured our galley, I think"
The sound of my voice irritated him, and he motioned slightly with
his left hand as a man does when interruption jars.
"You never told me he was redheaded before, or that he captured
your galley," I said, after a discreet interval.
Charlie did not raise his eyes.
"He was as red as a red bear," said he, abstractedly. "He came
from the north; they said so in the galley when he looked for
rowers-riot slaves, but free men. Afterward-years and years
afterward-news came from another ship, or else he came back"-His
lips moved in silence. He was rapturously retasting some poem
"Where had he been, then?" I was almost whispering that the
sentence might come gentle to whichever section of Charlie's brain
was working on my behalf.
"To the Beaches-the Long and
Wonderful Beaches!" was the reply, after a minute of silence.
"To Furdurstrandi?" I asked, tingling from head to foot.
"Yes, to Furdurstrandi," he pronounced the word in a new fashion
"And I too saw"- The voice failed.
"Do you know what you have said?" I shouted, incautiously.
He lifted his eyes, fully roused now. "No!" he snapped. "I wish
you'd let a chap go on reading. Hark to this:
"'But Othere, the old sea captain,
He neither paused nor stirred
Till the king listened, and then
'Once more took up his pen
And wrote down every word.
"'And to the King of the Saxons
In witness of the truth,
Raising his noble head,
He stretched his brown hand and said,
"Behold this walrus tooth."
By Jove, what chaps those must have been, to go sailing all over
the shop never knowing where they'd fetch the land! Hah!"
"Charlie," I pleaded, "if you'll only he sensible for a minute or two
I'll make our hero in our tale every inch as good as Othere."
"Umph! Longfellow wrote that poem. I don't care about writing
things any more. I want to read." He was thoroughly out of tune
now, and raging over my own ill-luck, I left him.
Conceive yourself at the door of the world's treasure-house
guarded by a child-an idle irresponsible child playing knuckle-
bones-on whose favor depends the gift of the key, and you will
imagine one-half my torment. Till that evening Charlie had
spoken nothing that might not lie within the experiences of a
Greek galley-slave. But now, or there was no virtue in books, he
had talked of some desperate adventure of the Vikings, of Thorfin
Karlsefne's sailing to Wineland, which is America, in the ninth or
tenth century. The battle in the harbor he had seen; and his own
death he had described. But this was a much more startling plunge
into the past. Was it possible that he had skipped half a dozen
lives and was then dimly remembering some episode of a thousand
years later? It was a maddening jumble, and the worst of it was
that Charlie Mears in his normal condition was the last person in
the world to clear it up. I could only wait and watch, but I went to
bed that night full of the wildest imaginings. There was nothing
that was not possible if Charlie's detestable memory only held
I might rewrite the Saga of Thorfin Karlsefne as it had never been
written before, might tell the story of the first discovery of
America, myself the discoverer. But I was entirely at Charlie's
mercy, and so long as there was a three-and-six-penny Bohn
volume within his reach Charlie would not tell. I dared not curse
him openly; I hardly dared jog his memory, for I was dealing with
the experiences of a thousand years ago, told through the mouth of
a boy of today; and a boy of to-day is affected by every change of
tone and gust of opinion, so that he lies even when he desires to
speak the truth.
I saw no more of him for nearly a week. When next I met him it
was in Gracechurch Street with a billbook chained to his waist.
Business took him over London Bridge and I accompanied him.
He was very full of the importance of that book and magnified it.
As we passed over the Thames we paused to look at a steamer'
unloading great slabs of white and bro""n marble. A barge drifted
under the steamer's stern and a lonely cow in that barge bellowed.
Charlie's face changed from the face of the bank-clerk to that of an
unknown and-though he would not have believed this-a much
shrewder man. He flung out his arm across the parapet of the
bridge, and laughing very loudly, said:
"When they heard our bulls bellow the Skroelings ran away!"
I waited only for an instant, but the barge and the cow had
disappeared under the bows of the steamer before I answered.
"Charlie, what do you suppose are Skroelings?"
"Never heard of 'em before. They sound like a new kind of
seagull. What a chap you are for asking questions!" he replied. "I
have to go to the cashier of the Omnibus Company yonder. Will
you wait for me and we can lunch somewhere together? I've a
notion for a poem."
"No, thanks. I'm off. You're sure you know nothing about
"Not unless he's been entered for the Liverpool Handicap." He
nodded and disappeared in the crowd.
Now it is written in the Saga of Eric the Red or that of Thorfin
Karlsefne, that nine hundred years ago when Karlsefne's galleys
came to Leif's booths, which Leif had erected in the unknown
land called Markland, which may or may not have been Rhode
Island, the Skroelings-and the Lord He knows who these may or
may not have been-came to trade with the Vikings, and ran away
because they were frightened at the bellowing of the cattle which
Thorfin had brought with him in the ships. But what in the world
could a Greek slave know of that affair? I wandered up and down
among the streets trying to unravel the mystery, and the more I
considered it, the more baffling it grew. One thing only seemed
certain and that certainty took away my breath for the moment. If
I came to full knowledge of anything at all, it would not be one life
of the soul in Charlie Mears's body, but half a dozen-half a dozen
several and separate existences spent on blue water in the morning
of the world!
Then I walked round the situation.
Obviously if I used my knowledge I should stand alone and
unapproachable until all men were as wise as myself. That would
be something, but manlike I was ungrateful. It seemed bitterly
unfair that Charlie's memory should fail me when I needed it most.
Great Powers above-I looked up at them through the fog smoke-
did the Lords of Life and Death know what this meant to me?
Nothing less than eternal fame of the best kind; that comes from
One, and is shared by one alone. I would be content-remembering
Clive, I stood astounded at my own moderation, -with the mere
right to tell one story, to work out one little contribution to the
light literature of the day. If Charlie were permitted full
recollection for one hour-for sixty short minutes -of existences that
had extended over a thousand years-I would forego all profit and
honor from all that I should make of his speech. I would take no
share in the commotion that would follow throughout the
particular corner of the earth that calls itself "the world." The thing
should be put forth anonymously. Nay, I would make other men
believe that they had written it. They would hire bull-hided
self-advertising Englishmen to bellow it abroad. Preachers
would found a fresh conduct of life upon it, swearing that it was
new and that they had lifted the fear of death from all mankind.
Every Orientalist in Europe would patronize it discursively with
Sanskrit and Pali texts. Terrible women would invent unclean
variants of the men's belief for the elevation of their sisters.
Churches and religions would war over it. Between the hailing
and re-starting of an omnibus I foresaw the scuffles that would
arise among half a dozen denominations all professing "the
doctrine of the True Metempsychosis as applied to the world and
the New Era"; and saw, too, the respectable English newspapers
shying, like frightened kine, over the beautiful simplicity of the
tale. The mind leaped forward a hundred-two hundred-a thousand
years. I saw with sorrow that men would mutilate and garble the
story; that rival creeds would turn it upside down till, at last, the
western world which clings to the dread of death more closely than
the hope of life, would set it aside as an interesting superstition
and stampede after some faith so long forgotten that it seemed
altogether new. Upon this I changed the terms of the bargain that I
would make with the Lords of Life and Death. Only let me know,
let me write, the story with sure knowledge that I wrote the truth,
and I would burn the manuscript as a solemn sacrifice. Five
minutes after the last line was written I would destroy it all. But I
must be allowed to write it with absolute certainty.
There was no answer. The flaming colors of an Aquarium poster
caught my eye and I wondered whether it would be wise or prudent
to lure Charlie into the hands of the professional mesmerist, and
whether, if he were under his power, he would speak of his past
lives. If he did, and if people believed him . . . but Charlie would
be frightened and flustered, or made conceited by the interviews.
In either case he would begin to lie, through fear or vanity. He was
safest in my own hands.
"They are very funny fools, your English," said a voice at my
elbow, and turning round I recognized a casual acquaintance, a
young Bengali law student, called Grish Chunder, whose father
had sent him to England to become civilized. The old man was a
retired native official, and on an income of five pounds a month
contrived to allow his son two hundred pounds a year, and the run
of his teeth in a city where he could pretend to be the cadet of a
royal house, and tell stories of the brutal Indian bureaucrats who
ground the faces of the poor.
Grish Chunder was a young, fat, full-bodied Bengali dressed with
scrupulous care in frock coat, tall hat, light trousers and tan gloves.
But I had known him in the days when the brutal Indian
Government paid for his university education, and he contributed
cheap sedition to Sachi Durpan, and intrigued with the wives of his
"That is very funny and very foolish," he said, nodding at the
poster. "I am going down to the Northbrook Club. Will you come
I walked with him for some time. "You 'are not well," he said.
"What is there in your mind? You do not talk."
"Grish Chunder, you've been too well educated to believe in a God,
"Oah, yes, here! But when I go home I must conciliate popular
superstition, and make ceremonies of purification, and my women
will anoint idols."
"And bang up tulsi and feast the purohit, and take you back into
caste again and make a good khuttrj of you again, you advanced
social Free-thinker. And you'll eat desi food, and like it all, from
the smell in the courtyard to the mustard oil over you."
"I shall very much like it," said Grish Chunder, unguardedly.
"Once a Hindu-always a Hindu. But I like to know what the
English think they know."
"I'll tell you something that one Englishman knows. It's an old tale
I began to tell the story of Charlie in English, but Grish Chunder
put a question in the vernacular, and the history went forward
naturally in the tongue best suited for its telling. After all it could
never have been told in English. Grish Chunder heard me, nodding
from time to time, and then came up to my rooms where I finished
"Beshak," he said, philosophically. "Lekin darwaza band hai.
(Without doubt, but the door is shut.) I have heard of this
remembering of previous existences among my people. It is of
course an old tale with us, but, to happen to an Englishman-a
cow-fed Malechk-an outcast. By Jove, that is most peculiar!"
"Outcast yourself, Grish Chunder! You eat cow-beef every day.
Let's think the thing over. The boy remembers his incarnations."
"Does he know that?" said Grish Chunder, quietly, swinging h's
legs as he sat on my table. He was speaking in English now.
"He does not know anything. Would I speak to you if he did? Go
"There is no going on at all. If you tell that to your friends they will
say you are mad and put it in the papers. Suppose, now, you
prosecute for libel."
"Let's leave that out of the question entirely. Is there any chance of
his being made to speak?"
"There is a chance. Osh, yess! But if he spoke it would mean that
all this world would end now-instanto- fall down on your head.
These things are not allowed, you know. As I said, the door is
"Not a ghost of a chance?"
"How can there be? You are a Christi-an, and it is forbidden to
eat, in your books, of the Tree of Life, or else you would never die.
How shall you all fear death if you all know what your friend does
not know that he knows? I am afraid to be kicked, but I am not
afraid to die, because I know what I know. You are not afraid to be
kicked, but you are afraid to die. If you were not, by God! you
English would be all over the shop in an hour, upsetting the
balances of power, and making commotions. It would not be
good. But no fear. He will remember a little and a little less, and
he will call it dreams. Then he will forget altogether. When I
passed my First Arts Examination in Calcutta that was all in the
cram-book on Wordsworth. Trailing clouds of glory, you know."
"This seems to be an exception to the rule."
"There are no exceptions to rules. Some are not so hard-looking as
others, but they are all the same when you touch. If this friend of
yours said so-and-so and so-and-so, indicating that he remembered
all his lost lives, or one piece of a lost life, he would not be in the
bank another hour. He would be what you called sack because he
was mad, and they would send him to an asylum for lunatics. You
can see that, my friend."
"Of course I can, but I wasn't thinking of him. His name need
never ap~ pear in the story."
"Ah! I see. That story will never be written. You can try."
"I am going to."
"For your own credit and for the sake of money, of course?"
"No. For the sake of writing the story. On my honor that will be
"Even then there is no chance. You cannot play with the Gods. It is
a very pretty story now. As they say, Let it go on that-I mean at
that. Be quick; he will not last long."
"How do you mean?"
"What I say. He has never, so far, thought about a woman."
"Hasn't he though!" I remembered some of Charlie's confidences.
"I mean no woman has thought about him. When that comes;
bus-hogya-all up' I know. There are millions of women here.
Housemaids, for in-stance."
I winced at the thought of my story being ruined by a housemaid.
And yet nothing was more probable.
Grish Chunder grinned.
"Yes-also pretty girls-cousins of his house, and perhaps not of his
house. One kiss that he gives back again and remembers will cure
all this nonsense. or else"-
"Or else what? Remember he does not know that he knows."
"I know that. Or else, if nothing happens he will become
immersed in the trade and the financial speculations like the rest.
It must be so. You can see that it must be so. But the woman will
come first, I think."
There was a rap at the door, and Charlie charged in impetuously.
He had been released from office, and by the look in his eyes I
could see that he had come over for a long talk; most probably
with poems in his pockets. Charlie's poems were very wearying,
but sometimes they led him to talk about the galley.
Grish Chunder looked at him keenly for a minute.
"I beg your pardon," Charlie said, uneasily; "I didn't know you had
any one with you."
"I am going," said Grish Chunder.
He drew me into the lobby as he de. parted.
"That is your man," he said, quickly. "I tell you he will never speak
all you wish. That is rot-bosh. But he would be most good to
make to see things. Suppose now we pretend that it was only
play"-I had never seen Grish Chunder so excited-"and pour the
ink-pool into his hand. Eh, what do you think? I tell you that he
could see anything that a man could see. Let me get the ink and the
camphor. He is a seer and he will tell us very many things."
"He may be all you say, but I'm not going to trust him to your Gods
"It will not hurt him. He will only feel a little stupid and dull when
he wakes up. You have seen boys look into the ink-pool before."
"That is the reason why I am not going to see it any more. You'd
better go, Grish Chunder."
He went, declaring far down the staircase that it was throwing
away my only chance of looking into the future.
This left me unmoved, for I was concerned for the past, and no
peering of hypnotized boys into mirrors and ink-pools would help
me do that. But I recognized Grish Chunder's point of view and
sympathized with it.
'~What a big black brute that was!" said Charlie, when I returned
to him. "Well, look here, I've just done a poem; dil it instead of
playing dominoes after lunch. May I read it?"
"Let me read it to myself."
"Then you miss the proper expression. Besides, you always make
my things sound as if the rhymes were all wrong.
"Read it aloud, then. You're like the rest of 'em."
Charlie mouthed me his poem, and it was not much worse than the
average of his verses. He had been reading his book faithfully, but
he was not pleased when I told him that I preferred my Longfellow
undiluted with Charlie.
Then we began to go through the MS. line by line; Charlie
parrying every objection and correction with:
"Yes, that may be better, but you don't catch what I'm driving at."
Charlie was, in one way at least, very like one kind of poet.
There was a pencil scrawl at the back of the paper and "What's
that?" I said.
"Oh that's not poetry 't all. It's some rot I wrote last night before I
went to bed and it was too much bother to hunt for rhymes; so I
made it a sort of a blank verse instead."
Here is Charlie's "blank verse":
"We pulled for you when the wind was against us and the sails
Will you never let us go?
We ate bread and onions when you took towns or ran aboard
quickly when you were beaten back by the foe,
The captains walked up and down the deck in fair weather singing
songs, but we were below,
We fainted with our chins on the oars and you did not see that we
were idle for we still swung to and fro.
Will you never let us go?
The salt made the oar handles like sharkskin; our knees were cut to
the bone with salt cracks; our hair was stuck to our foreheads; and
our lips were cut to our gums and you whipped us because we
could not row.
Will you never let us go?
But in a little time we shall run out of the portholes as the water
runs along thr oarblade, and though you tell the others to row after
us you will never catch us till you catch the oar-thresh and tie up
the winds in the belly of the sail. Aho!
Will you never let us go?"
"H'm. What's oar-thresh, Charlie?"
"The water washed up by the oars. That's the sort of song they
might sing in the galley, y'know. Aren't you ever going to finish
that story and give me some of the profits?"
"It depends on yourself. If you had only told me more about your
hero in the first instance it might have been finished by now.
You're so hazy in your notions."
"I only want to give you the general notion of it-the knocking
about from place to place and the fighting and all
"THE FINEST STORY IN THE WORLD"
That. Can't you fill in the rest your-self? Make the hero save a girl
on a pirate-galley and marry her or do something."
'You're a really helpful collaborator. I suppose the hero went
through some few adventures before he married."
"Well then, make him a very artful card-a low sort of man-a sort of
political man who went about making treaties and breaking them-a
black-haired chap who hid behind the mast when the fighting
"But you said the other day that he was red-haired."
"I couldn't have. Make him black-haired of course. You've no
Seeing that I had just discovered the entire principles upon which
the half-memory falsely called imagination is based, I felt entitled
to laugh, but forbore, for the sake of the tale.
"You're right. You're the man with imagination. A black-haired
chap in a decked ship," I said.
"No, an open ship-like a big boat."
This was maddening.
"Your ship has been built and designed, closed and decked in; you
said so yourself," I protested.
"No, no, not that ship. That was open, or half decked because. By
Jove you're right. You made me think of the hero as a red-haired
chap. Of course if he were red, the ship would be an open one
with painted sails."
Surely, I thought he would remember now that he had served in
two galleys at least-in a three-decked Greek one under the
black-haired "political man," and again in a Viking's open
sea-serpent under the man "red as a red bear" who went to
Markland. The devil prompted me to speak.
"Why, 'of course,' Charlie?" said I. "I don't know. Are you making
fun of me?"
The current was broken for the time being. I took up a notebook
and pre tended to make many entries in it.
"It's a pleasure to work with an imaginative chap like yourself," I
said after a pause. "The way that you've brought out the character
of the hero is simply wonderful."
"Do you think so?" he answered, with a pleased flush. "I often tell
myself that there's more in me than my m~than people think."
"There's an enormous amount in you."
"Then, won't you let me send an essay on The Ways of Bank
Clerks to Tit-Bits, and get the guinea prize?"
"That wasn't exactly what I meant, old fellow: perhaps it would be
better to wait a little and go ahead with the galley-story."
"Ah, but I sha'n't get the credit of that. Tit-Bits would publish my
name and address if I win. What are you grinning at? They
"I know it. Suppose you go for a walk. I want to look through my
notes about our story."
Now this reprehensible youth who left me, a little hurt and put
back, might for aught he or I knew have been one of the crew of
the Argo-had been certainly slave or comrade to Thorfin
Karlsefne. Therefore he was deeply interested in guinea
competitions. Remembering what Grish Chunder had said I
laughed aloud. The Lords of Life and Death would never allow
Charlie Mears to speak with full knowledge of his pasts, and I
must even piece out what he had told me with my own poor
inventions while Charlie wrote of the ways of bank-clerks.
I got together and placed on one file all my notes; and the net
result was not cheering. I read them a second time. There was
nothing that might not have been compiled at second-hand from
other people's books-except, perhaps, the story of the fight in the
harbor. The adventures of a Viking bad been written many times
before; the history of a Greek galley-slave was no new thing, and
though I wrote both, who could challenge or confirm the accuracy
of my details? I might as well tell a tale of two thousand years
hence. The Lords of Life and Death were as cunning as Grish
Chunder had hinted. They would allow nothing to escape that
might trouble or make easy the minds of men. Though I was
convinced of this, yet I could not leave the tale alone. Exaltation
followed reaction, not once, but twenty times in the next few
weeks. My moods varied with the March sunlight and flying
clouds. By night or in the beauty of a spring morning I perceived
that I could write that tale and shift continents thereby. In the wet,
windy afternoons, I saw that the tale might indeed be written, but
would be nothing more than a faked, false-varnished, sham-rusted
piece of Wardour Street work at the end. Then I blessed Charlie in
many ways-though it was no fault of his. He seemed to be busy
with prize competitions, and I saw less and less of him as the
weeks went by and the earth cracked and grew ripe to spring, and
the buds swelled in their sheaths. He did not care to read or talk of
what he had read, and there was a new ring of self-assertion in his
voice. I hardly cared to remind him of the galley when we met;
but Charlie alluded to it on every occasion, always as a story from
which money was to be made.
"I think I deserve twenty-five per cent., don't I, at least," be said,
with beautiful frankness. "I supplied all the ideas, didn't I?"
This greediness for silver was a new side in his nature. I assumed
that it had been developed in the City, where Charlie was picking
up the curious nasal drawl of the underbred City man.
"When the thing's done we'll talk about it. I can't make anything of
it at present. Red-haired or black-haired hero are equally difficult."
He was sitting by the fire staring at the red coals. "I can't
understand what you find so difficult. It's all as clean as mud to
me," he replied. A jet of gas puffed out between the bars, took
light and whistled softly. "Suppose we take the red-haired hero's
adventures first, from the time that he came south to my galley and
captured it and sailed to the Beaches."
I knew better now than to interrupt Charlie. I was out of reach of
pen and paper, and dared not move to get them lest I should break
the current. The gas-jet puffed and whinnied, Charlie's voice
dropped almost to a whisper, and he told a tale of the sail. mg of
an open galley to Furdurstrandi, of sunsets on the open sea, seen
under the curve of the one sail evening aftet evening when the
galley's beak was notched into the centre of the sinking disc, and
"we sailed by that for we had no other guide," quoth Charlie. He
spoke of a landing on an island and explorations in its woods,
where the crew killed three men whom they found asleep under
the pines. Their ghosts, Charlie said, followed the galley,
swimming and choking in the water, and the crew cast lots and
threw one of their number overboard as a sacrifice to the strange
gods whom they bad offended. Then they ate sea-weed when their
provisions failed, and their legs swelled, and their leader, the
red-haired man, killed two rowers who mutinied, and after a year
spent among the woods they set sail for their own country, and a
wind that never failed carried them back so safely that they all
slept at night. This and much more Charlie told. Sometimes the
voice fell so low that I could not catch the words, though every
nerve was on the strain. He spoke of their leader, the red-haired
man, as a pagan speaks of his God; for it was he who cheered them
and slew them impartially as he thought best for their needs; and it
was he who steered them for three days among floating ice, each
floe crowded with strange beasts that "tried to sail with us,' said
Charlie, "and we beat them back with the handles of the oars."
The gas-jet went out, a burned coal gave way, and the fire settled
down with a tiny crash to the bottom of the grate. Charlie ceased
speaking, and I said no word.
"By Jove!" he said, at last, shaking his head. "I've been staring at
the fire till I'm dizzy. What was I going to say.
"Something about the galley."
"I remember now. It's 25 per cent. of the profits, isn't it?"
"It's anything you like when I've done the tale."
"I wanted to be sure of that. I must go now. I've, I've an
appointment." And he left me.
Had my eyes not been held I might have know that that broken
muttering over the fire was the swan-song of Charlie Mears. But I
thought it the prelude to fuller revelation. At last and at last I
should cheat the Lords of Life and Death!
When next Charlie came to me I received him with rapture. He
was nervous and embarrassed, but his eyes were very full of light,
and his lips a little parted.
"I've done a poem," he said; and then quickly: "it's the best I've
ever done. Read it." He thrust it into my hand and retreated to the
I groaned inwardly. It would be the work of half an hour to
criticise-that is to say praise-the poem sufficiently to please
Charlie. Then I had good reason to groan, for Charlie, discarding
his favorite centipede metres, had launched into shorter and
choppier verse, and verse with a motive at the back of it. This is
what I read:
"The day is most fair, the cheery wind
Halloos behind the hill,
Where be bends the wood as seemeth good,
And the sapling to his will!
Riot O wind; there is that in my blood
That would not have thee still!
"She gave me herself, O Earth, O Sky:
Grey sea, she is mine alone I
Let the sullen boulders bear my cry,
And rejoice tho' they be but stone!
'Mine! I have won her O good brown earth,
Make merry! 'Tis bard on Spring;
Make merry; my love is doubly worth
All worship your fields can bring!
Let the bind tbat tills you feel my mirth
At the early harrowing."
"Yes, it's the early harrowing, past a doubt," I said, with a dread at
my heart. Charlie smiled, but did not answer.
"Red cloud of the sunset, tell it abroad;
I am victor. Greet me O Sun,
Dominant master and absolute lord
Over the soul of one!"
"Well?" said Charlie, looking over my shoulder.
I thought it far from well, and very evil indeed, when he silently
laid a photograph on the paper-the photograph of a girl with a
curly head, and a foolish slack mouth.
"Isn't it-isn't it wonderful?" he whispered, pink to the tips of his
ears, wrapped in the rosy mystery of first love. "I didn't know; I
didn't think-it came like a thunderclap."
"Yes. It comes like a thunderclap. Are you very happy, Charlie?"
"My God-she-she loves mel" He sat down repeating the last words
to himself. I looked at the hairless face, the narrow shoulders
already bowed by desk-work, and wondered when, where, and bow
he had loved in his past lives.
"What will your mother say?" I asked, cheerfully.
"I don't care a damn what she says."
At twenty the things for which one does not care a damn should,
properly, be many, but one must not include mothers in the list. I
told him this gently; and he described Her, even as Adam must
have described to the newly named beasts the glory and tenderness
and beauty of Eve. Incidentally I learned that She was a
tobacconist's assistant with a weakness for pretty dress, and had
told him four or five times already that She had never been kissed
by a man before.
Charlie spoke on, and on, and on; while I, separated from him by
thousands of years, was considering the beginnings of things. Now
I understood why the Lords of Life and Death shut the doors so
carefully behind us. It is that we may not remember our first
wooings. Were it not so, our world would be without inhabitants
in a hundred years.
"Now, about that galley-story," 1 said, still more cheerfully, in a
pause in the rush of the speech.
Charlie looked up as though he had been hit. "The galley-what
galley? Good heavens, don't joke, man! This is serious! You don't
know how serious it is!"
Grish Chunder was right. Charlie had tasted the love of woman
that kills remembrance, and the finest story' in the world would
never be written.