His Chance in
Life by Rudyard Kipling
Then a pile of heads be laid--
Thirty thousand heaped on high--
All to please the Kafir maid,
Where the Oxus ripples by.
Grimly spake Atulla Khan:--
"Love hath made this thing a Man."
If you go straight away from Levees and Government House Lists,
past Trades' Balls--far beyond everything and everybody you ever knew
in your respectable life--you cross, in time, the Border line where
the last drop of White blood ends and the full tide of Black sets in.
It would be easier to talk to a new made Duchess on the spur of the
moment than to the Borderline folk without violating some of their
conventions or hurting their feelings. The Black and the White mix
very quaintly in their ways. Sometimes the White shows in spurts of
fierce, childish pride--which is Pride of Race run crooked--and
sometimes the Black in still fiercer abasement and humility, half
heathenish customs and strange, unaccountable impulses to crime. One
of these days, this people--understand they are far lower than the
class whence Derozio, the man who imitated Byron, sprung--will turn
out a writer or a poet; and then we shall know how they live and what
they feel. In the meantime, any stories about them cannot be
absolutely correct in fact or inference.
Miss Vezzis came from across the Borderline to look after some
children who belonged to a lady until a regularly ordained nurse
could come out. The lady said Miss Vezzis was a bad, dirty nurse and
inattentive. It never struck her that Miss Vezzis had her own life to
lead and her own affairs to worry over, and that these affairs were
the most important things in the world to Miss Vezzis. Very few
mistresses admit this sort of reasoning. Miss Vezzis was as black as
a boot, and to our standard of taste, hideously ugly. She wore
cotton-print gowns and bulged shoes; and when she lost her temper with
the children, she abused them in the language of the Borderline--which
is part English, part Portuguese, and part Native. She was not
attractive; but she had her pride, and she preferred being called
Every Sunday she dressed herself wonderfully and went to see her
Mamma, who lived, for the most part, on an old cane chair in a greasy
tussur-silk dressing-gown and a big rabbit-warren of a house full of
Vezzises, Pereiras, Ribieras, Lisboas and Gansalveses, and a floating
population of loafers; besides fragments of the day's bazar, garlic,
stale incense, clothes thrown on the floor, petticoats hung on strings
for screens, old bottles, pewter crucifixes, dried immortelles, pariah
puppies, plaster images of the Virgin, and hats without crowns. Miss
Vezzis drew twenty rupees a month for acting as nurse, and she
squabbled weekly with her Mamma as to the percentage to be given
towards housekeeping. When the quarrel was over, Michele D'Cruze used
to shamble across the low mud wall of the compound and make love to
Miss Vezzis after the fashion of the Borderline, which is hedged about
with much ceremony. Michele was a poor, sickly weed and very black;
but he had his pride. He would not be seen smoking a huqa for
anything; and he looked down on natives as only a man with
seven-eighths native blood in his veins can. The Vezzis Family had
their pride too. They traced their descent from a mythical
plate-layer who had worked on the Sone Bridge when railways were new
in India, and they valued their English origin. Michele was a
Telegraph Signaller on Rs. 35 a month. The fact that he was in
Government employ made Mrs. Vezzis lenient to the shortcomings of his
There was a compromising legend--Dom Anna the tailor brought it
from Poonani--that a black Jew of Cochin had once married into the
D'Cruze family; while it was an open secret that an uncle of Mrs.
D'Cruze was at that very time doing menial work, connected with
cooking, for a Club in Southern India! He sent Mrs D'Cruze seven
rupees eight annas a month; but she felt the disgrace to the family
very keenly all the same.
However, in the course of a few Sundays, Mrs. Vezzis brought
herself to overlook these blemishes and gave her consent to the
marriage of her daughter with Michele, on condition that Michele
should have at least fifty rupees a month to start married life upon.
This wonderful prudence must have been a lingering touch of the
mythical plate-layer's Yorkshire blood; for across the Borderline
people take a pride in marrying when they please--not when they can.
Having regard to his departmental prospects, Miss Vezzis might as
well have asked Michele to go away and come back with the Moon in his
pocket. But Michele was deeply in love with Miss Vezzis, and that
helped him to endure. He accompanied Miss Vezzis to Mass one Sunday,
and after Mass, walking home through the hot stale dust with her hand
in his, he swore by several Saints, whose names would not interest
you, never to forget Miss Vezzis; and she swore by her Honor and the
Saints--the oath runs rather curiously; "In nomine Sanctissimae--"
(whatever the name of the she-Saint is) and so forth, ending with a
kiss on the forehead, a kiss on the left cheek, and a kiss on the
mouth--never to forget Michele.
Next week Michele was transferred, and Miss Vezzis dropped tears
upon the window-sash of the "Intermediate" compartment as he left the
If you look at the telegraph-map of India you will see a long line
skirting the coast from Backergunge to Madras. Michele was ordered
to Tibasu, a little Sub-office one-third down this line, to send
messages on from Berhampur to Chicacola, and to think of Miss Vezzis
and his chances of getting fifty rupees a month out of office hours.
He had the noise of the Bay of Bengal and a Bengali Babu for company;
nothing more. He sent foolish letters, with crosses tucked inside the
flaps of the envelopes, to Miss Vezzis.
When he had been at Tibasu for nearly three weeks his chance came.
Never forget that unless the outward and visible signs of Our
Authority are always before a native he is as incapable as a child of
understanding what authority means, or where is the danger of
disobeying it. Tibasu was a forgotten little place with a few Orissa
Mohamedans in it. These, hearing nothing of the Collector- Sahib for
some time, and heartily despising the Hindu Sub-Judge, arranged to
start a little Mohurrum riot of their own. But the Hindus turned out
and broke their heads; when, finding lawlessness pleasant, Hindus and
Mahomedans together raised an aimless sort of Donnybrook just to see
how far they could go. They looted each other's shops, and paid off
private grudges in the regular way. It was a nasty little riot, but
not worth putting in the newspapers.
Michele was working in his office when he heard the sound that a
man never forgets all his life--the "ah-yah" of an angry crowd. [When
that sound drops about three tones, and changes to a thick, droning
ut, the man who hears it had better go away if he is alone.] The
Native Police Inspector ran in and told Michele that the town was in
an uproar and coming to wreck the Telegraph Office. The Babu put on
his cap and quietly dropped out of the window; while the Police
Inspector, afraid, but obeying the old race- instinct which recognizes
a drop of White blood as far as it can be diluted, said:--"What orders
does the Sahib give?"
The "Sahib" decided Michele. Though horribly frightened, he felt
that, for the hour, he, the man with the Cochin Jew and the menial
uncle in his pedigree, was the only representative of English
authority in the place. Then he thought of Miss Vezzis and the fifty
rupees, and took the situation on himself. There were seven native
policemen in Tibasu, and four crazy smooth-bore muskets among them.
All the men were gray with fear, but not beyond leading. Michele
dropped the key of the telegraph instrument, and went out, at the head
of his army, to meet the mob. As the shouting crew came round a
corner of the road, he dropped and fired; the men behind him loosing
instinctively at the same time.
The whole crowd--curs to the backbone--yelled and ran; leaving one
man dead, and another dying in the road. Michele was sweating with
fear, but he kept his weakness under, and went down into the town,
past the house where the Sub-Judge had barricaded himself. The
streets were empty. Tibasu was more frightened than Michele, for the
mob had been taken at the right time.
Michele returned to the Telegraph-Office, and sent a message to
Chicacola asking for help. Before an answer came, he received a
deputation of the elders of Tibasu, telling him that the Sub-Judge
said his actions generally were "unconstitional," and trying to bully
him. But the heart of Michele D'Cruze was big and white in his
breast, because of his love for Miss Vezzis, the nurse-girl, and
because he had tasted for the first time Responsibility and Success.
Those two make an intoxicating drink, and have ruined more men than
ever has Whiskey. Michele answered that the Sub- Judge might say what
he pleased, but, until the Assistant Collector came, the Telegraph
Signaller was the Government of India in Tibasu, and the elders of the
town would be held accountable for further rioting. Then they bowed
their heads and said: "Show mercy!" or words to that effect, and went
back in great fear; each accusing the other of having begun the
Early in the dawn, after a night's patrol with his seven policemen,
Michele went down the road, musket in hand, to meet the Assistant
Collector, who had ridden in to quell Tibasu. But, in the presence
of this young Englishman, Michele felt himself slipping back more and
more into the native, and the tale of the Tibasu Riots ended, with the
strain on the teller, in an hysterical outburst of tears, bred by
sorrow that he had killed a man, shame that he could not feel as
uplifted as he had felt through the night, and childish anger that his
tongue could not do justice to his great deeds. It was the White drop
in Michele's veins dying out, though he did not know it.
But the Englishman understood; and, after he had schooled those men
of Tibasu, and had conferred with the Sub-Judge till that excellent
official turned green, he found time to draught an official letter
describing the conduct of Michele. Which letter filtered through the
Proper Channels, and ended in the transfer of Michele up- country once
more, on the Imperial salary of sixty-six rupees a month.
So he and Miss Vezzis were married with great state and ancientry;
and now there are several little D'Cruzes sprawling about the
verandahs of the Central Telegraph Office.
But, if the whole revenue of the Department he serves were to be
his reward Michele could never, never repeat what he did at Tibasu
for the sake of Miss Vezzis the nurse-girl.
Which proves that, when a man does good work out of all proportion
to his pay, in seven cases out of nine there is a woman at the back
of the virtue.
The two exceptions must have suffered from sunstroke.