In Error by Rudyard Kipling
They burnt a corpse upon the sand--
The light shone out afar;
It guided home the plunging boats
That beat from Zanzibar.
Spirit of Fire, where'er Thy altars rise.
Thou art Light of Guidance to our eyes!
There is hope for a man who gets publicly and riotously drunk more
often that he ought to do; but there is no hope for the man who
drinks secretly and alone in his own house--the man who is never seen
This is a rule; so there must be an exception to prove it.
Moriarty's case was that exception.
He was a Civil Engineer, and the Government, very kindly, put him
quite by himself in an out-district, with nobody but natives to talk
to and a great deal of work to do. He did his work well in the four
years he was utterly alone; but he picked up the vice of secret and
solitary drinking, and came up out of the wilderness more old and
worn and haggard than the dead-alive life had any right to make him.
You know the saying that a man who has been alone in the jungle for
more than a year is never quite sane all his life after. People
credited Moriarty's queerness of manner and moody ways to the
solitude, and said it showed how Government spoilt the futures of its
best men. Moriarty had built himself the plinth of a very god
reputation in the bridge-dam-girder line. But he knew, every night
of the week, that he was taking steps to undermine that reputation
with L. L. L. and "Christopher" and little nips of liqueurs, and
filth of that kind. He had a sound constitution and a great brain,
or else he would have broken down and died like a sick camel in the
district, as better men have done before him.
Government ordered him to Simla after he had come out of the
desert; and he went up meaning to try for a post then vacant. That
season, Mrs. Reiver--perhaps you will remember her--was in the height
of her power, and many men lay under her yoke. Everything bad that
could be said has already been said about Mrs. Reiver, in another
tale. Moriarty was heavily-built and handsome, very quiet and
nervously anxious to please his neighbors when he wasn't sunk in a
brown study. He started a good deal at sudden noises or if spoken to
without warning; and, when you watched him drinking his glass of
water at dinner, you could see the hand shake a little. But all this
was put down to nervousness, and the quiet, steady, "sip-sip- sip,
fill and sip-sip-sip, again," that went on in his own room when he was
by himself, was never known. Which was miraculous, seeing how
everything in a man's private life is public property out here.
Moriarty was drawn, not into Mrs. Reiver's set, because they were
not his sort, but into the power of Mrs. Reiver, and he fell down in
front of her and made a goddess of her. This was due to his coming
fresh out of the jungle to a big town. He could not scale things
properly or see who was what.
Because Mrs. Reiver was cold and hard, he said she was stately and
dignified. Because she had no brains, and could not talk cleverly,
he said she was reserved and shy. Mrs. Reiver shy! Because she was
unworthy of honor or reverence from any one, he reverenced her from a
distance and dowered her with all the virtues in the Bible and most of
those in Shakespeare.
This big, dark, abstracted man who was so nervous when a pony
cantered behind him, used to moon in the train of Mrs. Reiver,
blushing with pleasure when she threw a word or two his way. His
admiration was strictly platonic: even other women saw and admitted
this. He did not move out in Simla, so he heard nothing against his
idol: which was satisfactory. Mrs. Reiver took no special notice of
him, beyond seeing that he was added to her list of admirers, and
going for a walk with him now and then, just to show that he was her
property, claimable as such. Moriarty must have done most of the
talking, for Mrs. Reiver couldn't talk much to a man of his stamp;
and the little she said could not have been profitable. What
Moriarty believed in, as he had good reason to, was Mrs. Reiver's
influence over him, and, in that belief, set himself seriously to try
to do away with the vice that only he himself knew of.
His experiences while he was fighting with it must have been
peculiar, but he never described them. Sometimes he would hold off
from everything except water for a week. Then, on a rainy night,
when no one had asked him out to dinner, and there was a big fire in
his room, and everything comfortable, he would sit down and make a
big night of it by adding little nip to little nip, planning big
schemes of reformation meanwhile, until he threw himself on his bed
hopelessly drunk. He suffered next morning.
One night, the big crash came. He was troubled in his own mind
over his attempts to make himself "worthy of the friendship" of Mrs.
Reiver. The past ten days had been very bad ones, and the end of it
all was that he received the arrears of two and three-quarter years
of sipping in one attack of delirium tremens of the subdued kind;
beginning with suicidal depression, going on to fits and starts and
hysteria, and ending with downright raving. As he sat in a chair in
front of the fire, or walked up and down the room picking a
handkerchief to pieces, you heard what poor Moriarty really thought
of Mrs. Reiver, for he raved about her and his own fall for the most
part; though he ravelled some P. W. D. accounts into the same skein
of thought. He talked, and talked, and talked in a low dry whisper
to himself, and there was no stopping him. He seemed to know that
there was something wrong, and twice tried to pull himself together
and confer rationally with the Doctor; but his mind ran out of
control at once, and he fell back to a whisper and the story of his
troubles. It is terrible to hear a big man babbling like a child of
all that a man usually locks up, and puts away in the deep of his
heart. Moriarty read out his very soul for the benefit of any one
who was in the room between ten-thirty that night and two-forty-five
From what he said, one gathered how immense an influence Mrs.
Reiver held over him, and how thoroughly he felt for his own lapse.
His whisperings cannot, of course, be put down here; but they were
very instructive as showing the errors of his estimates.
. . . . . . . . .
When the trouble was over, and his few acquaintances were pitying
him for the bad attack of jungle-fever that had so pulled him down,
Moriarty swore a big oath to himself and went abroad again with Mrs.
Reiver till the end of the season, adoring her in a quiet and
deferential way as an angel from heaven. Later on he took to
riding--not hacking, but honest riding--which was good proof that he
was improving, and you could slam doors behind him without his
jumping to his feet with a gasp. That, again, was hopeful.
How he kept his oath, and what it cost him in the beginning, nobody
knows. He certainly managed to compass the hardest thing that a man
who has drank heavily can do. He took his peg and wine at dinner,
but he never drank alone, and never let what he drank have the least
hold on him.
Once he told a bosom-friend the story of his great trouble, and how
the "influence of a pure honest woman, and an angel as well" had
saved him. When the man--startled at anything good being laid to
Mrs. Reiver's door--laughed, it cost him Moriarty's friendship.
Moriarty, who is married now to a woman ten thousand times better
than Mrs. Reiver--a woman who believes that there is no man on earth
as good and clever as her husband--will go down to his grave vowing
and protesting that Mrs. Reiver saved him from ruin in both worlds.
That she knew anything of Moriarty's weakness nobody believed for a
moment. That she would have cut him dead, thrown him over, and
acquainted all her friends with her discovery, if she had known of
it, nobody who knew her doubted for an instant.
Moriarty thought her something she never was, and in that belief
saved himself. Which was just as good as though she had been
everything that he had imagined.
But the question is, what claim will Mrs. Reiver have to the credit
of Moriarty's salvation, when her day of reckoning comes?