Wressley of the
by Rudyard Kipling
I closed and drew for my love's sake,
That now is false to me,
And I slew the Riever of Tarrant Moss,
And set Dumeny free.
And ever they give me praise and gold,
And ever I moan my loss,
For I struck the blow for my false love's sake,
And not for the men at the Moss.
One of the many curses of our life out here is the want of
atmosphere in the painter's sense. There are no half-tints worth
noticing. Men stand out all crude and raw, with nothing to tone them
down, and nothing to scale them against. They do their work, and grow
to think that there is nothing but their work, and nothing like their
work, and that they are the real pivots on which the administration
turns. Here is an instance of this feeling. A half- caste clerk was
ruling forms in a Pay Office. He said to me:--"Do you know what would
happen if I added or took away one single line on this sheet?" Then,
with the air of a conspirator:--"It would disorganize the whole of the
Treasury payments throughout the whole of the Presidency Circle!
Think of that?"
If men had not this delusion as to the ultra-importance of their
own particular employments, I suppose that they would sit down and
kill themselves. But their weakness is wearisome, particularly when
the listener knows that he himself commits exactly the same sin.
Even the Secretariat believes that it does good when it asks an
over-driven Executive Officer to take census of wheat-weevils through
a district of five thousand square miles.
There was a man once in the Foreign Office--a man who had grown
middle-aged in the department, and was commonly said, by irreverent
juniors, to be able to repeat Aitchison's "Treaties and Sunnuds"
backwards, in his sleep. What he did with his stored knowledge only
the Secretary knew; and he, naturally, would not publish the news
abroad. This man's name was Wressley, and it was the Shibboleth, in
those days, to say:--"Wressley knows more about the Central Indian
States than any living man." If you did not say this, you were
considered one of mean undertanding.
Now-a-days, the man who says that he knows the ravel of the inter-
tribal complications across the Border is of more use; but in
Wressley's time, much attention was paid to the Central Indian
States. They were called "foci" and "factors," and all manner of
And here the curse of Anglo-Indian life fell heavily. When
Wressley lifted up his voice, and spoke about such-and-such a
succession to such-and-such a throne, the Foreign Office were silent,
and Heads of Departments repeated the last two or three words of
Wressley's sentences, and tacked "yes, yes," on them, and knew that
they were "assisting the Empire to grapple with serious political
contingencies." In most big undertakings, one or two men do the work
while the rest sit near and talk till the ripe decorations begin to
Wressley was the working-member of the Foreign Office firm, and, to
keep him up to his duties when he showed signs of flagging, he was
made much of by his superiors and told what a fine fellow he was. He
did not require coaxing, because he was of tough build, but what he
received confirmed him in the belief that there was no one quite so
absolutely and imperatively necessary to the stability of India as
Wressley of the Foreign Office. There might be other good men, but
the known, honored and trusted man among men was Wressley of the
Foreign Office. We had a Viceroy in those days who knew exactly when
to "gentle" a fractious big man and to hearten up a collar- galled
little one, and so keep all his team level. He conveyed to Wressley
the impression which I have just set down; and even tough men are apt
to be disorganized by a Viceroy's praise. There was a case once--but
that is another story.
All India knew Wressley's name and office--it was in Thacker and
Spink's Directory--but who he was personally, or what he did, or what
his special merits were, not fifty men knew or cared. His work filled
all his time, and he found no leisure to cultivate acquaintances
beyond those of dead Rajput chiefs with Ahir blots in their
'scutcheons. Wressley would have made a very good Clerk in the
Herald's College had he not been a Bengal Civilian.
Upon a day, between office and office, great trouble came to
Wressley--overwhelmed him, knocked him down, and left him gasping as
though he had been a little school-boy. Without reason, against
prudence, and at a moment's notice, he fell in love with a frivolous,
golden-haired girl who used to tear about Simla Mall on a high, rough
waler, with a blue velvet jockey-cap crammed over her eyes. Her name
was Venner--Tillie Venner--and she was delightful. She took Wressley's
heart at a hand-gallop, and Wressley found that it was not good for
man to live alone; even with half the Foreign Office Records in his
Then Simla laughed, for Wressley in love was slightly ridiculous.
He did his best to interest the girl in himself--that is to say, his
work--and she, after the manner of women, did her best to appear
interested in what, behind his back, she called "Mr. Wressley's
Wajahs"; for she lisped very prettily. She did not understand one
little thing about them, but she acted as if she did. Men have
married on that sort of error before now.
Providence, however, had care of Wressley. He was immensely struck
with Miss Venner's intelligence. He would have been more impressed
had he heard her private and confidential accounts of his calls. He
held peculiar notions as to the wooing of girls. He said that the
best work of a man's career should be laid reverently at their feet.
Ruskin writes something like this somewhere, I think; but in ordinary
life a few kisses are better and save time.
About a month after he had lost his heart to Miss Venner, and had
been doing his work vilely in consequence, the first idea of his
"Native Rule in Central India" struck Wressley and filled him with
joy. It was, as he sketched it, a great thing--the work of his
life--a really comprehensive survey of a most fascinating subject--
to be written with all the special and laboriously acquired knowledge
of Wressley of the Foreign Office--a gift fit for an Empress.
He told Miss Venner that he was going to take leave, and hoped, on
his return, to bring her a present worthy of her acceptance. Would
she wait? Certainly she would. Wressley drew seventeen hundred
rupees a month. She would wait a year for that. Her mamma would
help her to wait.
So Wressley took one year's leave and all the available documents,
about a truck-load, that he could lay hands on, and went down to
Central India with his notion hot in his head. He began his book in
the land he was writing of. Too much official correspondence had
made him a frigid workman, and he must have guessed that he needed
the white light of local color on his palette. This is a dangerous
paint for amateurs to play with.
Heavens, how that man worked! He caught his Rajahs, analyzed his
Rajahs, and traced them up into the mists of Time and beyond, with
their queens and their concubines. He dated and cross-dated,
pedigreed and triple-pedigreed, compared, noted, connoted, wove,
strung, sorted, selected, inferred, calendared and counter-
calendared for ten hours a day. And, because this sudden and new
light of Love was upon him, he turned those dry bones of history and
dirty records of misdeeds into things to weep or to laugh over as he
pleased. His heart and soul were at the end of his pen, and they got
into the link. He was dowered with sympathy, insight, humor and style
for two hundred and thirty days and nights; and his book was a Book.
He had his vast special knowledge with him, so to speak; but the
spirit, the woven-in human Touch, the poetry and the power of the
output, were beyond all special knowledge. But I doubt whether he
knew the gift that was in him then, and thus he may have lost some
happiness. He was toiling for Tillie Venner, not for himself. Men
often do their best work blind, for some one else's sake.
Also, though this has nothing to do with the story, in India where
every one knows every one else, you can watch men being driven, by
the women who govern them, out of the rank-and-file and sent to take
up points alone. A good man once started, goes forward; but an
average man, so soon as the woman loses interest in his success as a
tribute to her power, comes back to the battalion and is no more
Wressley bore the first copy of his book to Simla and, blushing and
stammering, presented it to Miss Venner. She read a little of it. I
give her review verbatim:--"Oh, your book? It's all about those
how-wid Wajahs. I didn't understand it."
. . . . . . . . .
Wressley of the Foreign Office was broken, smashed,--I am not
exaggerating--by this one frivolous little girl. All that he could
say feebly was:--"But, but it's my magnum opus! The work of my
life." Miss Venner did not know what magnum opus meant; but she knew
that Captain Kerrington had won three races at the last Gymkhana.
Wressley didn't press her to wait for him any longer. He had sense
enough for that.
Then came the reaction after the year's strain, and Wressley went
back to the Foreign Office and his "Wajahs," a compiling,
gazetteering, report-writing hack, who would have been dear at three
hundred rupees a month. He abided by Miss Venner's review. Which
proves that the inspiration in the book was purely temporary and
unconnected with himself. Nevertheless, he had no right to sink, in
a hill-tarn, five packing-cases, brought up at enormous expense from
Bombay, of the best book of Indian history ever written.
When he sold off before retiring, some years later, I was turning
over his shelves, and came across the only existing copy of "Native
Rule in Central India"--the copy that Miss Venner could not
understand. I read it, sitting on his mule-trucks, as long as the
light lasted, and offered him his own price for it. He looked over
my shoulder for a few pages and said to himself drearily:--"Now, how
in the world did I come to write such damned good stuff as that?"
Then to me:--"Take it and keep it. Write one of your penny-farthing
yarns about its birth. Perhaps--perhaps--the whole business may have
been ordained to that end."
Which, knowing what Wressley of the Foreign Office was once, struck
me as about the bitterest thing that I had ever heard a man say of
his own work.