The Rout of the
White Hussars by Rudyard Kipling
It was not in the open fight
We threw away the sword,
But in the lonely watching
In the darkness by the ford.
The waters lapped, the night-wind blew,
Full-armed the Fear was born and grew,
And we were flying ere we knew
From panic in the night.
Some people hold that an English Cavalry regiment cannot run. This
is a mistake. I have seen four hundred and thirty-seven sabres
flying over the face of the country in abject terror--have seen the
best Regiment that ever drew bridle, wiped off the Army List for the
space of two hours. If you repeat this tale to the White Hussars
they will, in all probability, treat you severely. They are not
proud of the incident.
You may know the White Hussars by their "side," which is greater
than that of all the Cavalry Regiments on the roster. If this is not
a sufficient mark, you may know them by their old brandy. It has been
sixty years in the Mess and is worth going far to taste. Ask for the
"McGaire" old brandy, and see that you get it. If the Mess Sergeant
thinks that you are uneducated, and that the genuine article will be
lost on you, he will treat you accordingly. He is a good man. But,
when you are at Mess, you must never talk to your hosts about forced
marches or long-distance rides. The Mess are very sensitive; and, if
they think that you are laughing at them, will tell you so.
As the White Hussars say, it was all the Colonel's fault. He was a
new man, and he ought never to have taken the Command. He said that
the Regiment was not smart enough. This to the White Hussars, who
knew they could walk round any Horse and through any Guns, and over
any Foot on the face of the earth! That insult was the first cause
Then the Colonel cast the Drum-Horse--the Drum-Horse of the White
Hussars! Perhaps you do not see what an unspeakable crime he had
committed. I will try to make it clear. The soul of the Regiment
lives in the Drum-Horse, who carries the silver kettle-drums. He is
nearly always a big piebald Waler. That is a point of honor; and a
Regiment will spend anything you please on a piebald. He is beyond
the ordinary laws of casting. His work is very light, and he only
manoeuvres at a foot-pace. Wherefore, so long as he can step out and
look handsome, his well-being is assured. He knows more about the
Regiment than the Adjutant, and could not make a mistake if he tried.
The Drum-Horse of the White Hussars was only eighteen years old,
and perfectly equal to his duties. He had at least six years' more
work in him, and carried himself with all the pomp and dignity of a
Drum- Major of the Guards. The Regiment had paid Rs. 1,200 for him.
But the Colonel said that he must go, and he was cast in due form
and replaced by a washy, bay beast as ugly as a mule, with a ewe-
neck, rat-tail, and cow-hocks. The Drummer detested that animal, and
the best of the Band-horses put back their ears and showed the whites
of their eyes at the very sight of him. They knew him for an upstart
and no gentleman. I fancy that the Colonel's ideas of smartness
extended to the Band, and that he wanted to make it take part in the
regular parade movements. A Cavalry Band is a sacred thing. It only
turns out for Commanding Officers' parades, and the Band Master is one
degree more important than the Colonel. He is a High Priest and the
"Keel Row" is his holy song. The "Keel Row" is the Cavalry Trot; and
the man who has never heard that tune rising, high and shrill, above
the rattle of the Regiment going past the saluting-base, has something
yet to hear and understand.
When the Colonel cast the Drum-horse of the White Hussars, there
was nearly a mutiny.
The officers were angry, the Regiment were furious, and the
Bandsman swore--like troopers. The Drum-Horse was going to be put up
to auction--public auction--to be bought, perhaps, by a Parsee and put
into a cart! It was worse than exposing the inner life of the
Regiment to the whole world, or selling the Mess Plate to a Jew--a
The Colonel was a mean man and a bully. He knew what the Regiment
thought about his action; and, when the troopers offered to buy the
Drum-Horse, he said that their offer was mutinous and forbidden by
But one of the Subalterns--Hogan-Yale, an Irishman--bought the
Drum- Horse for Rs. 160 at the sale; and the Colonel was wroth. Yale
professed repentance--he was unnaturally submissive--and said that,
as he had only made the purchase to save the horse from possible
ill-treatment and starvation, he would now shoot him and end the
business. This appeared to soothe the Colonel, for he wanted the
Drum-Horse disposed of. He felt that he had made a mistake, and
could not of course acknowledge it. Meantime, the presence of the
Drum-Horse was an annoyance to him.
Yale took to himself a glass of the old brandy, three cheroots, and
his friend, Martyn; and they all left the Mess together. Yale and
Martyn conferred for two hours in Yale's quarters; but only the
bull-terrier who keeps watch over Yale's boot-trees knows what they
said. A horse, hooded and sheeted to his ears, left Yale's stables
and was taken, very unwillingly, into the Civil Lines. Yale's groom
went with him. Two men broke into the Regimental Theatre and took
several paint-pots and some large scenery brushes. Then night fell
over the Cantonments, and there was a noise as of a horse kicking his
loose-box to pieces in Yale's stables. Yale had a big, old, white
The next day was a Thursday, and the men, hearing that Yale was
going to shoot the Drum-Horse in the evening, determined to give the
beast a regular regimental funeral--a finer one than they would have
given the Colonel had he died just then. They got a bullock-cart and
some sacking, and mounds and mounds of roses, and the body, under
sacking, was carried out to the place where the anthrax cases were
cremated; two-thirds of the Regiment followed. There was no Band, but
they all sang "The Place where the old Horse died" as something
respectful and appropriate to the occasion. When the corpse was
dumped into the grave and the men began throwing down armfuls of roses
to cover it, the Farrier-Sergeant ripped out an oath and said
aloud:--"Why, it ain't the Drum-Horse any more than it's me!" The
Troop-Sergeant-Majors asked him whether he had left his head in the
Canteen. The Farrier-Sergeant said that he knew the Drum-Horse's feet
as well as he knew his own; but he was silenced when he saw the
regimental number burnt in on the poor stiff, upturned near-fore.
Thus was the Drum-Horse of the White Hussars buried; the Farrier-
Sergeant grumbling. The sacking that covered the corpse was smeared
in places with black paint; and the Farrier-Sergeant drew attention
to this fact. But the Troop-Sergeant-Major of E Troop kicked him
severely on the shin, and told him that he was undoubtedly drunk.
On the Monday following the burial, the Colonel sought revenge on
the White Hussars. Unfortunately, being at that time temporarily in
Command of the Station, he ordered a Brigade field-day. He said that
he wished to make the regiment "sweat for their damned insolence," and
he carried out his notion thoroughly. That Monday was one of the
hardest days in the memory of the White Hussars. They were thrown
against a skeleton-enemy, and pushed forward, and withdrawn, and
dismounted, and "scientifically handled" in every possible fashion
over dusty country, till they sweated profusely. Their only amusement
came late in the day, when they fell upon the battery of Horse
Artillery and chased it for two mile's. This was a personal question,
and most of the troopers had money on the event; the Gunners saying
openly that they had the legs of the White Hussars. They were wrong.
A march-past concluded the campaign, and when the Regiment got back
to their Lines, the men were coated with dirt from spur to chin-strap.
The White Hussars have one great and peculiar privilege. They won
it at Fontenoy, I think.
Many Regiments possess special rights, such as wearing collars with
undress uniform, or a bow of ribbon between the shoulders, or red and
white roses in their helmets on certain days of the year. Some rights
are connected with regimental saints, and some with regimental
successes. All are valued highly; but none so highly as the right of
the White Hussars to have the Band playing when their horses are being
watered in the Lines. Only one tune is played. and that tune never
varies. I don't know its real name, but the White Hussars call
it:--"Take me to London again." It sound's very pretty. The Regiment
would sooner be struck off the roster than forego their distinction.
After the "dismiss" was sounded, the officers rode off home to
prepare for stables; and the men filed into the lines, riding easy.
That is to say, they opened their tight buttons, shifted their
helmets, and began to joke or to swear as the humor took them; the
more careful slipping off and easing girths and curbs. A good
trooper values his mount exactly as much as he values himself, and
believes, or should believe, that the two together are irresistible
where women or men, girl's or gun's, are concerned.
Then the Orderly-Officer gave the order:--"Water horses," and the
Regiment loafed off to the squadron-troughs, which were in rear of
the stables and between these and the barracks. There were four huge
troughs, one for each squadron, arranged en echelon, so that the whole
Regiment could water in ten minutes if it liked. But it lingered for
seventeen, as a rule, while the Band played.
The band struck up as the squadrons filed off the troughs and the
men slipped their feet out of the stirrups and chaffed each other.
The sun was just setting in a big, hot bed of red cloud, and the road
to the Civil Lines seemed to run straight into the sun's eye. There
was a little dot on the road. It grew and grew till it showed as a
horse, with a sort of gridiron thing on his back. The red cloud
glared through the bars of the gridiron. Some of the troopers shaded
their eyes with their hands and said:--"What the mischief as that
there 'orse got on 'im!"
In another minute they heard a neigh that every soul--horse and
man-- in the Regiment knew, and saw, heading straight towards the
Band, the dead Drum-Horse of the White Hussars!
On his withers banged and bumped the kettle-drums draped in crape,
and on his back, very stiff and soldierly, sat a bare-headed
The band stopped playing, and, for a moment, there was a hush.
Then some one in E troop--men said it was the
Troop-Sergeant-Major-- swung his horse round and yelled. No one can
account exactly for what happened afterwards; but it seems that, at
least, one man in each troop set an example of panic, and the rest
followed like sheep. The horses that had barely put their muzzles
into the trough's reared and capered; but, as soon as the Band broke,
which it did when the ghost of the Drum-Horse was about a furlong
distant, all hooves followed suit, and the clatter of the
stampede--quite different from the orderly throb and roar of a
movement on parade, or the rough horse-play of watering in camp--made
them only more terrified. They felt that the men on their backs were
afraid of something. When horses once know THAT, all is over except
Troop after troop turned from the troughs and ran--anywhere, and
everywhere--like spit quicksilver. It was a most extraordinary
spectacle, for men and horses were in all stages of easiness, and the
carbine-buckets flopping against their sides urged the horses on. Men
were shouting and cursing, and trying to pull clear of the Band which
was being chased by the Drum-Horse whose rider had fallen forward and
seemed to be spurring for a wager.
The Colonel had gone over to the Mess for a drink. Most of the
officers were with him, and the Subaltern of the Day was preparing to
go down to the lines, and receive the watering reports from the
Troop-Sergeant Majors. When "Take me to London again" stopped, after
twenty bars, every one in the Mess said:--"What on earth has
happened?" A minute later, they heard unmilitary noises, and saw,
far across the plain, the White Hussars scattered, and broken, and
The Colonel was speechless with rage, for he thought that the
Regiment had risen against him or was unanimously drunk. The Band, a
disorganized mob, tore past, and at it's heels labored the Drum-
Horse--the dead and buried Drum-Horse--with the jolting, clattering
skeleton. Hogan-Yale whispered softly to Martyn:--"No wire will
stand that treatment," and the Band, which had doubled like a hare,
came back again. But the rest of the Regiment was gone, was rioting
all over the Province, for the dusk had shut in and each man was
howling to his neighbor that the Drum-Horse was on his flank.
Troop-Horses are far too tenderly treated as a rule. They can, on
emergencies, do a great deal, even with seventeen stone on their
backs. As the troopers found out.
How long this panic lasted I cannot say. I believe that when the
moon rose the men saw they had nothing to fear, and, by twos and
threes and half-troops, crept back into Cantonments very much ashamed
of themselves. Meantime, the Drum-Horse, disgusted at his treatment
by old friends, pulled up, wheeled round, and trotted up to the Mess
verandah-steps for bread. No one liked to run; but no one cared to go
forward till the Colonel made a movement and laid hold of the
skeleton's foot. The Band had halted some distance away, and now came
back slowly. The Colonel called it, individually and collectively,
every evil name that occurred to him at the time; for he had set his
hand on the bosom of the Drum-Horse and found flesh and blood. Then
he beat the kettle-drums with his clenched fist, and discovered that
they were but made of silvered paper and bamboo. Next, still
swearing, he tried to drag the skeleton out of the saddle, but found
that it had been wired into the cantle. The sight of the Colonel,
with his arms round the skeleton's pelvis and his knee in the old
Drum-Horse's stomach, was striking. Not to say amusing. He worried
the thing off in a minute or two, and threw it down on the ground,
saying to the Band:--"Here, you curs, that's what you're afraid of."
The skeleton did not look pretty in the twilight. The Band-Sergeant
seemed to recognize it, for he began to chuckle and choke. "Shall I
take it away, sir?" said the Band- Sergeant. "Yes," said the Colonel,
"take it to Hell, and ride there yourselves!"
The Band-Sergeant saluted, hoisted the skeleton across his saddle-
bow, and led off to the stables. Then the Colonel began to make
inquiries for the rest of the Regiment, and the language he used was
wonderful. He would disband the Regiment--he would court-martial
every soul in it--he would not command such a set of rabble, and so
on, and so on. As the men dropped in, his language grew wilder,
until at last it exceeded the utmost limits of free speech allowed
even to a Colonel of Horse.
Martyn took Hogan-Yale aside and suggested compulsory retirement
from the service as a necessity when all was discovered. Martyn was
the weaker man of the two, Hogan-Yale put up his eyebrows and
remarked, firstly, that he was the son of a Lord, and secondly, that
he was as innocent as the babe unborn of the theatrical resurrection
of the Drum-Horse.
"My instructions," said Yale, with a singularly sweet smile, "were
that the Drum-Horse should be sent back as impressively as possible.
I ask you, AM I responsible if a mule-headed friend sends him back in
such a manner as to disturb the peace of mind of a regiment of Her
Martyn said:--"you are a great man and will in time become a
General; but I'd give my chance of a troop to be safe out of this
Providence saved Martyn and Hogan-Yale. The Second-in-Command led
the Colonel away to the little curtained alcove wherein the
subalterns of the white Hussars were accustomed to play poker of
nights; and there, after many oaths on the Colonel's part, they
talked together in low tones. I fancy that the Second-in-Command
must have represented the scare as the work of some trooper whom it
would be hopeless to detect; and I know that he dwelt upon the sin
and the shame of making a public laughingstock of the scare.
"They will call us," said the Second-in-Command, who had really a
fine imagination, "they will call us the 'Fly-by-Nights'; they will
call us the 'Ghost Hunters'; they will nickname us from one end of
the Army list to the other. All the explanations in the world won't
make outsiders understand that the officers were away when the panic
began. For the honor of the Regiment and for your own sake keep this
The Colonel was so exhausted with anger that soothing him down was
not so difficult as might be imagined. He was made to see, gently
and by degrees, that it was obviously impossible to court-martial the
whole Regiment, and equally impossible to proceed against any
subaltern who, in his belief, had any concern in the hoax.
"But the beast's alive! He's never been shot at all!" shouted the
Colonel. "It's flat, flagrant disobedience! I've known a man broke
for less, d----d sight less. They're mocking me, I tell you, Mutman!
They're mocking me!"
Once more, the Second-in-Command set himself to sooth the Colonel,
and wrestled with him for half-an-hour. At the end of that time, the
Regimental Sergeant-Major reported himself. The situation was rather
novel tell to him; but he was not a man to be put out by
circumstances. He saluted and said: "Regiment all come back, Sir."
Then, to propitiate the Colonel:--"An' none of the horses any the
The Colonel only snorted and answered:--"You'd better tuck the men
into their cots, then, and see that they don't wake up and cry in the
night." The Sergeant withdrew.
His little stroke of humor pleased the Colonel, and, further, he
felt slightly ashamed of the language he had been using. The
Second-in-Command worried him again, and the two sat talking far into
Next day but one, there was a Commanding Officer's parade, and the
Colonel harangued the White Hussars vigorously. The pith of his
speech was that, since the Drum-Horse in his old age had proved
himself capable of cutting up the Whole Regiment, he should return to
his post of pride at the head of the band, BUT the Regiment were a set
of ruffians with bad consciences.
The White Hussars shouted, and threw everything movable about them
into the air, and when the parade was over, they cheered the Colonel
till they couldn't speak. No cheers were put up for Lieutenant
Hogan-Yale, who smiled very sweetly in the background.
Said the Second-in-Command to the Colonel, unofficially:--"These
little things ensure popularity, and do not the least affect
"But I went back on my word," said the Colonel.
"Never mind," said the Second-in-Command. "The White Hussars will
follow you anywhere from to-day. Regiment's are just like women.
They will do anything for trinketry."
A week later, Hogan-Yale received an extraordinary letter from some
one who signed himself "Secretary Charity and Zeal, 3709, E. C.," and
asked for "the return of our skeleton which we have reason to believe
is in your possession."
"Who the deuce is this lunatic who trades in bones?" said Hogan-
"Beg your pardon, Sir," said the Band-Sergeant, "but the skeleton
is with me, an' I'll return it if you'll pay the carriage into the
Civil Lines. There's a coffin with it, Sir."
Hogan-Yale smiled and handed two rupees to the Band-Sergeant,
saying:--"Write the date on the skull, will you?"
If you doubt this story, and know where to go, you can see the date
on the skeleton. But don't mention the matter to the White Hussars.
I happen to know something about it, because I prepared the Drum-
Horse for his resurrection. He did not take kindly to the skeleton