by Rudyard Kipling
Pleasant it is for the Little Tin Gods,
When great Jove nods;
But Little Tin Gods make their little mistakes
In missing the hour when great Jove wakes.
As a general rule, it is inexpedient to meddle with questions of
State in a land where men are highly paid to work them out for you.
This tale is a justifiable exception.
Once in every five years, as you know, we indent for a new Viceroy;
and each Viceroy imports, with the rest of his baggage, a Private
Secretary, who may or may not be the real Viceroy, just as Fate
ordains. Fate looks after the Indian Empire because it is so big and
There was a Viceroy once, who brought out with him a turbulent
Private Secretary--a hard man with a soft manner and a morbid passion
for work. This Secretary was called Wonder--John Fennil Wonder. The
Viceroy possessed no name--nothing but a string of counties and
two-thirds of the alphabet after them. He said, in confidence, that
he was the electro-plated figurehead of a golden administration, and
he watched in a dreamy, amused way Wonder's attempts to draw matters
which were entirely outside his province into his own hands. "When we
are all cherubims together," said His Excellency once, my dear, good
friend Wonder will head the conspiracy for plucking out Gabriel's
tail-feathers or stealing Peter's keys. THEN I shall report him."
But, though the Viceroy did nothing to check Wonder's
officiousness, other people said unpleasant things. Maybe the
Members of Council began it; but, finally, all Simla agreed that
there was "too much Wonder, and too little Viceroy," in that regime.
Wonder was always quoting "His Excellency." It was "His Excellency
this," "His Excellency that," "In the opinion of His Excellency," and
so on. The Viceroy smiled; but he did not heed. He said that, so long
as his old men squabbled with his "dear, good Wonder," they might be
induced to leave the "Immemorial East" in peace.
"No wise man has a policy," said the Viceroy. "A Policy is the
blackmail levied on the Fool by the Unforeseen. I am not the former,
and I do not believe in the latter."
I do not quite see what this means, unless it refers to an
Insurance Policy. Perhaps it was the Viceroy's way of saying:-- "Lie
That season, came up to Simla one of these crazy people with only a
single idea. These are the men who make things move; but they are
not nice to talk to. This man's name was Mellish, and he had lived
for fifteen years on land of his own, in Lower Bengal, studying
cholera. He held that cholera was a germ that propagated itself as
it flew through a muggy atmosphere; and stuck in the branches of
trees like a wool-flake. The germ could be rendered sterile, he
said, by "Mellish's Own Invincible Fumigatory"--a heavy violet- black
powder--"the result of fifteen years' scientific investigation, Sir!"
Inventors seem very much alike as a caste. They talk loudly,
especially about "conspiracies of monopolists;" they beat upon the
table with their fists; and they secrete fragments of their
inventions about their persons.
Mellish said that there was a Medical "Ring" at Simla, headed by
the Surgeon-General, who was in league, apparently, with all the
Hospital Assistants in the Empire. I forget exactly how he proved
it, but it had something to do with "skulking up to the Hills;" and
what Mellish wanted was the independent evidence of the Viceroy--
"Steward of our Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, Sir." So Mellish
went up to Simla, with eighty-four pounds of Fumigatory in his trunk,
to speak to the Viceroy and to show him the merits of the invention.
But it is easier to see a Viceroy than to talk to him, unless you
chance to be as important as Mellishe of Madras. He was a six-
thousand-rupee man, so great that his daughters never "married." They
"contracted alliances." He himself was not paid. He "received
emoluments," and his journeys about the country were "tours of
observation." His business was to stir up the people in Madras with a
long pole--as you stir up stench in a pond--and the people had to come
up out of their comfortable old ways and gasp:-- "This is
Enlightenment and progress. Isn't it fine!" Then they gave Mellishe
statues and jasmine garlands, in the hope of getting rid of him.
Mellishe came up to Simla "to confer with the Viceroy." That was
one of his perquisites. The Viceroy knew nothing of Mellishe except
that he was "one of those middle-class deities who seem necessary to
the spiritual comfort of this Paradise of the Middle- classes," and
that, in all probability, he had "suggested, designed, founded, and
endowed all the public institutions in Madras." Which proves that His
Excellency, though dreamy, had experience of the ways of
Mellishe's name was E. Mellishe and Mellish's was E. S. Mellish,
and they were both staying at the same hotel, and the Fate that looks
after the Indian Empire ordained that Wonder should blunder and drop
the final "e;" that the Chaprassi should help him, and that the note
which ran: "Dear Mr. Mellish.--Can you set aside your other
engagements and lunch with us at two to-morrow? His Excellency has an
hour at your disposal then," should be given to Mellish with the
Fumigatory. He nearly wept with pride and delight, and at the
appointed hour cantered off to Peterhoff, a big paper-bag full of the
Fumigatory in his coat-tail pockets. He had his chance, and he meant
to make the most of it. Mellishe of Madras had been so portentously
solemn about his "conference," that Wonder had arranged for a private
tiffin--no A.-D. C.'s, no Wonder, no one but the Viceroy, who said
plaintively that he feared being left alone with unmuzzled autocrats
like the great Mellishe of Madras.
But his guest did not bore the Viceroy. On the contrary, he amused
him. Mellish was nervously anxious to go straight to his Fumigatory,
and talked at random until tiffin was over and His Excellency asked
him to smoke. The Viceroy was pleased with Mellish because he did not
As soon as the cheroots were lit, Mellish spoke like a man;
beginning with his cholera-theory, reviewing his fifteen years'
"scientific labors," the machinations of the "Simla Ring," and the
excellence of his Fumigatory, while the Viceroy watched him between
half-shut eyes and thought: "Evidently, this is the wrong tiger; but
it is an original animal." Mellish's hair was standing on end with
excitement, and he stammered. He began groping in his coat-tails
and, before the Viceroy knew what was about to happen, he had tipped
a bagful of his powder into the big silver ash-tray.
"J-j-judge for yourself, Sir," said Mellish. "Y' Excellency shall
judge for yourself! Absolutely infallible, on my honor."
He plunged the lighted end of his cigar into the powder, which
began to smoke like a volcano, and send up fat, greasy wreaths of
copper- colored smoke. In five seconds the room was filled with a
most pungent and sickening stench--a reek that took fierce hold of the
trap of your windpipe and shut it. The powder then hissed and
fizzed, and sent out blue and green sparks, and the smoke rose till
you could neither see, nor breathe, nor gasp. Mellish, however, was
used to it.
"Nitrate of strontia," he shouted; "baryta, bone-meal, etcetera!
Thousand cubic feet smoke per cubic inch. Not a germ could live--
not a germ, Y' Excellency!"
But His Excellency had fled, and was coughing at the foot of the
stairs, while all Peterhoff hummed like a hive. Red Lancers came in,
and the Head Chaprassi, who speaks English, came in, and mace- bearers
came in, and ladies ran downstairs screaming "fire;" for the smoke was
drifting through the house and oozing out of the windows, and bellying
along the verandahs, and wreathing and writhing across the gardens.
No one could enter the room where Mellish was lecturing on his
Fumigatory, till that unspeakable powder had burned itself out.
Then an Aide-de-Camp, who desired the V. C., rushed through the
rolling clouds and hauled Mellish into the hall. The Viceroy was
prostrate with laughter, and could only waggle his hands feebly at
Mellish, who was shaking a fresh bagful of powder at him.
"Glorious! Glorious!" sobbed his Excellency. "Not a germ, as you
justly observe, could exist! I can swear it. A magnificent
Then he laughed till the tears came, and Wonder, who had caught the
real Mellishe snorting on the Mall, entered and was deeply shocked at
the scene. But the Viceroy was delighted, because he saw that Wonder
would presently depart. Mellish with the Fumigatory was also pleased,
for he felt that he had smashed the Simla Medical "Ring."
. . . . . . . . .
Few men could tell a story like His Excellency when he took the
trouble, and the account of "my dear, good Wonder's friend with the
powder" went the round of Simla, and flippant folk made Wonder
unhappy by their remarks.
But His Excellency told the tale once too often--for Wonder. As he
meant to do. It was at a Seepee Picnic. Wonder was sitting just
behind the Viceroy.
"And I really thought for a moment," wound up His Excellency, "that
my dear, good Wonder had hired an assassin to clear his way to the
Every one laughed; but there was a delicate subtinkle in the
Viceroy's tone which Wonder understood. He found that his health was
giving way; and the Viceroy allowed him to go, and presented him with
a flaming "character" for use at Home among big people.
"My fault entirely," said His Excellency, in after seasons, with a
twinkling in his eye. "My inconsistency must always have been
distasteful to such a masterly man."