The Man Who Would be King
Published by Brentanos at 31 Union Square New York
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy.
The Law, as quoted, lays down a fair conduct of life, and one not easy to follow. I have been fellow to a beggar again and again under circumstances which prevented either of us finding out whether the other was worthy. I have still to be brother to a Prince, though I once came near to kinship with what might have been a veritable King and was promised the reversion of a Kingdom army, law-courts, revenue and policy all complete. But, to-day, I greatly fear that my King is dead, and if I want a crown I must go and hunt it for myself.
The beginning of everything was in a railway train upon the road to Mhow from Ajmir. There had been a deficit in the Budget, which necessitated travelling, not Second-class, which is only half as dear as First-class, but by Intermediate, which is very awful indeed. There are no cushions in the Intermediate class, and the population are either Intermediate, which is Eurasian, or native, which for a long night journey is nasty; or Loafer, which is amusing though intoxicated. Intermediates do not patronize refreshment-rooms. They carry their food in bundles and pots, and buy sweets from the native sweetmeat-sellers, and drink the roadside water. That is why in the hot weather Intermediates are taken out of the carriages dead, and in all weathers are most properly looked down upon.
My particular Intermediate happened to be empty till I reached Nasirabad, when a huge gentleman in shirt-sleeves entered, and, following the custom of Intermediates, passed the time of day. He was a wanderer and a vagabond like myself, but with an educated taste for whiskey. He told tales of things he had seen and done, of out-of-the-way corners of the Empire into which he had penetrated, and of adventures in which he risked his life for a few days food. If India was filled with men like you and me, not knowing more than the crows where theyd get their next days rations, it isnt seventy millions of revenue the land would be payingits seven hundred million, said he; and as I looked at his mouth and chin I was disposed to agree with him. We talked politicsthe politics of Loaferdom that sees things from the underside where the lath and plaster is not smoothed offand we talked postal arrangements because my friend wanted to send a telegram back from the next station to Ajmir, which is the turning-off place from the Bombay to the Mhow line as you travel westward. My friend had no money beyond eight annas which he wanted for dinner, and I had no money at all, owing to the hitch in the Budget before mentioned. Further, I was going into a wilderness where, though I should resume touch with the Treasury, there were no telegraph offices. I was, therefore, unable to help him in any way.
We might threaten a Station-master, and make him send a wire on tick, said my friend, but thatd mean inquiries for you and for me, and Ive got my hands full these days. Did you say you are travelling back along this line within any days?
Within ten, I said.
Cant you make it eight? said he. Mine is rather urgent business.
I can send your telegram within ten days if that will serve you, I said.
I couldnt trust the wire to fetch him now I think of it. Its this way. He leaves Delhi on the 23d for Bombay. That means hell be running through Ajmir about the night of the 23d.
But Im going into the Indian Desert, I explained.
Well and good, said he. Youll be changing at Marwar Junction to get into Jodhpore territoryyou must do thatand hell be coming through Marwar Junction in the early morning of the 24th by the Bombay Mail. Can you be at Marwar Junction on that time? Twont be inconveniencing you because I know that theres precious few pickings to be got out of these Central India Stateseven though you pretend to be correspondent of the Backwoodsman.
Have you ever tried that trick? I asked.
Again and again, but the Residents find you out, and then you get escorted to the Border before youve time to get your knife into them. But about my friend here. I must give him a word o mouth to tell him whats come to me or else he wont know where to go. I would take it more than kind of you if you was to come out of Central India in time to catch him at Marwar Junction, and say to him:He has gone South for the week. Hell know what that means. Hes a big man with a red beard, and a great swell he is. Youll find him sleeping like a gentleman with all his luggage round him in a second-class compartment. But dont you be afraid. Slip down the window, and say:He has gone South for the week, and hell tumble. Its only cutting your time of stay in those parts by two days. I ask you as a strangergoing to the West, he said with emphasis.
Where have you come from? said I.
From the East, said he, and I am hoping that you will give him the message on the Squarefor the sake of my Mother as well as your own.
Englishmen are not usually softened by appeals to the memory of their mothers, but for certain reasons, which will be fully apparent, I saw fit to agree.
Its more than a little matter, said he, and thats why I ask you to do itand now I know that I can depend on you doing it. A second-class carriage at Marwar Junction, and a red-haired man asleep in it. Youll be sure to remember. I get out at the next station, and I must hold on there till he comes or sends me what I want.
Ill give the message if I catch him, I said, and for the sake of your Mother as well as mine Ill give you a word of advice. Dont try to run the Central India States just now as the correspondent of the Backwoodsman. Theres a real one knocking about here, and it might lead to trouble.
Thank you, said he simply, and when will the swine be gone? I cant starve because hes ruining my work. I wanted to get hold of the Degumber Rajah down here about his fathers widow, and give him a jump.
What did he do to his fathers widow, then?
Filled her up with red pepper and slippered her to death as she hung from a beam. I found that out myself and Im the only man that would dare going into the State to get hush-money for it. Theyll try to poison me, same as they did in Chortumna when I went on the loot there. But youll give the man at Marwar Junction my message?
He got out at a little roadside station, and I reflected. I had heard, more than once, of men personating correspondents of newspapers and bleeding small Native States with threats of exposure, but I had never met any of the caste before. They lead a hard life, and generally die with great suddenness. The Native States have a wholesome horror of English newspapers, which may throw light on their peculiar methods of government, and do their best to choke correspondents with champagne, or drive them out of their mind with four-in-hand barouches. They do not understand that nobody cares a straw for the internal administration of Native States so long as oppression and crime are kept within decent limits, and the ruler is not drugged, drunk, or diseased from one end of the year to the other. Native States were created by Providence in order to supply picturesque scenery, tigers and tall-writing. They are the dark places of the earth, full of unimaginable cruelty, touching the Railway and the Telegraph on one side, and, on the other, the days of Harun-al-Raschid. When I left the train I did business with divers Kings, and in eight days passed through many changes of life. Sometimes I wore dress-clothes and consorted with Princes and Politicals, drinking from crystal and eating from silver. Sometimes I lay out upon the ground and devoured what I could get, from a plate made of a flapjack, and drank the running water, and slept under the same rug as my servant. It was all in a days work.
Then I headed for the Great Indian Desert upon the proper date, as I had promised, and the night Mail set me down at Marwar Junction, where a funny little, happy-go-lucky, native managed railway runs to Jodhpore. The Bombay Mail from Delhi makes a short halt at Marwar. She arrived as I got in, and I had just time to hurry to her platform and go down the carriages. There was only one second-class on the train. I slipped the window and looked down upon a flaming red beard, half covered by a railway rug. That was my man, fast asleep, and I dug him gently in the ribs. He woke with a grunt and I saw his face in the light of the lamps. It was a great and shining face.
Tickets again? said he.
No, said I. I am to tell you that he is gone South for the week. He is gone South for the week!
The train had begun to move out. The red man rubbed his eyes. He has gone South for the week, he repeated. Now thats just like his impudence. Did he say that I was to give you anything?Cause I wont.
He didnt, I said and dropped away, and watched the red lights die out in the dark. It was horribly cold because the wind was blowing off the sands. I climbed into my own trainnot an Intermediate Carriage this timeand went to sleep.
If the man with the beard had given me a rupee I should have kept it as a memento of a rather curious affair. But the consciousness of having done my duty was my only reward.
Later on I reflected that two gentlemen like my friends could not do any good if they foregathered and personated correspondents of newspapers, and might, if they stuck up one of the little rat-trap states of Central India or Southern Rajputana, get themselves into serious difficulties. I therefore took some trouble to describe them as accurately as I could remember to people who would be interested in deporting them; and succeeded, so I was later informed, in having them headed back from the Degumber borders.
Then I became respectable, and returned to an Office where there were no Kings and no incidents except the daily manufacture of a newspaper. A newspaper office seems to attract every conceivable sort of person, to the prejudice of discipline. Zenana-mission ladies arrive, and beg that the Editor will instantly abandon all his duties to describe a Christian prize-giving in a back-slum of a perfectly inaccessible village; Colonels who have been overpassed for commands sit down and sketch the outline of a series of ten, twelve, or twenty-four leading articles on Seniority versus Selection; missionaries wish to know why they have not been permitted to escape from their regular vehicles of abuse and swear at a brother-missionary under special patronage of the editorial We; stranded theatrical companies troop up to explain that they cannot pay for their advertisements, but on their return from New Zealand or Tahiti will do so with interest; inventors of patent punkah-pulling machines, carriage couplings and unbreakable swords and axle-trees call with specifications in their pockets and hours at their disposal; tea-companies enter and elaborate their prospectuses with the office pens; secretaries of ball-committees clamor to have the glories of their last dance more fully expounded; strange ladies rustle in and say:I want a hundred ladys cards printed at once, please, which is manifestly part of an Editors duty; and every dissolute ruffian that ever tramped the Grand Trunk Road makes it his business to ask for employment as a proof-reader. And, all the time, the telephone-bell is ringing madly, and Kings are being killed on the Continent, and Empires are saying, Youre another, and Mister Gladstone is calling down brimstone upon the British Dominions, and the little black copy-boys are whining, kaa-pi chayha-yeh (copy wanted) like tired bees, and most of the paper is as blank as Modreds shield.
But that is the amusing part of the year. There are other six months wherein none ever come to call, and the thermometer walks inch by inch up to the top of the glass, and the office is darkened to just above reading light, and the press machines are red-hot of touch, and nobody writes anything but accounts of amusements in the Hill-stations or obituary notices. Then the telephone becomes a tinkling terror, because it tells you of the sudden deaths of men and women that you knew intimately, and the prickly-heat covers you as with a garment, and you sit down and write:A slight increase of sickness is reported from the Khuda Janta Khan District. The outbreak is purely sporadic in its nature, and, thanks to the energetic efforts of the District authorities, is now almost at an end. It is, however, with deep regret we record the death, etc.
Then the sickness really breaks out, and the less recording and reporting the better for the peace of the subscribers. But the Empires and the Kings continue to divert themselves as selfishly as before, and the foreman thinks that a daily paper really ought to come out once in twenty-four hours, and all the people at the Hill-stations in the middle of their amusements say:Good gracious! Why cant the paper be sparkling? Im sure theres plenty going on up here.
That is the dark half of the moon, and, as the advertisements say, must be experienced to be appreciated.
It was in that season, and a remarkably evil season, that the paper began running the last issue of the week on Saturday night, which is to say Sunday morning, after the custom of a London paper. This was a great convenience, for immediately after the paper was put to bed, the dawn would lower the thermometer from 96 to almost 84 for almost half an hour, and in that chillyou have no idea how cold is 84 on the grass until you begin to pray for ita very tired man could set off to sleep ere the heat roused him.
One Saturday night it was my pleasant duty to put the paper to bed alone. A King or courtier or a courtesan or a community was going to die or get a new Constitution, or do something that was important on the other side of the world, and the paper was to be held open till the latest possible minute in order to catch the telegram. It was a pitchy black night, as stifling as a June night can be, and the loo, the red-hot wind from the westward, was booming among the tinder-dry trees and pretending that the rain was on its heels. Now and again a spot of almost boiling water would fall on the dust with the flop of a frog, but all our weary world knew that was only pretence. It was a shade cooler in the press-room than the office, so I sat there, while the type ticked and clicked, and the night-jars hooted at the windows, and the all but naked compositors wiped the sweat from their foreheads and called for water. The thing that was keeping us back, whatever it was, would not come off, though the loo dropped and the last type was set, and the whole round earth stood still in the choking heat, with its finger on its lip, to wait the event. I drowsed, and wondered whether the telegraph was a blessing, and whether this dying man, or struggling people, was aware of the inconvenience the delay was causing. There was no special reason beyond the heat and worry to make tension, but, as the clock-hands crept up to three oclock and the machines spun their fly-wheels two and three times to see that all was in order, before I said the word that would set them off, I could have shrieked aloud.
Then the roar and rattle of the wheels shivered the quiet into little bits. I rose to go away, but two men in white clothes stood in front of me. The first one said:Its him! The second said So it is! And they both laughed almost as loudly as the machinery roared, and mopped their foreheads. We see there was a light burning across the road and we were sleeping in that ditch there for coolness, and I said to my friend here, the office is open. Lets come along and speak to him as turned us back from the Degumber State, said the smaller of the two. He was the man I had met in the Mhow train, and his fellow was the red-bearded man of Marwar Junction. There was no mistaking the eyebrows of the one or the beard of the other.
I was not pleased, because I wished to go to sleep, not to squabble with loafers. What do you want? I asked.
Half an hours talk with you cool and comfortable, in the office, said the red-bearded man. Wed like some drinkthe Contrack doesnt begin yet, Peachey, so you neednt lookbut what we really want is advice. We dont want money. We ask you as a favor, because you did us a bad turn about Degumber.
I led from the press-room to the stifling office with the maps on the walls, and the red-haired man rubbed his hands. Thats something like, said he. This was the proper shop to come to. Now, Sir, let me introduce to you Brother Peachey Carnehan, thats him, and Brother Daniel Dravot, that is me, and the less said about our professions the better, for we have been most things in our time. Soldier, sailor, compositor, photographer, proof-reader, street-preacher, and correspondents of the Backwoodsman when we thought the paper wanted one. Carnehan is sober, and so am I. Look at us first and see thats sure. It will save you cutting into my talk. Well take one of your cigars apiece, and you shall see us light. I watched the test. The men were absolutely sober, so I gave them each a tepid peg.
Well and good, said Carnehan of the eyebrows, wiping the froth from his mustache. Let me talk now, Dan. We have been all over India, mostly on foot. We have been boiler-fitters, engine-drivers, petty contractors, and all that, and we have decided that India isnt big enough for such as us.
They certainly were too big for the office. Dravots beard seemed to fill half the room and Carnehans shoulders the other half, as they sat on the big table. Carnehan continued: The country isnt half worked out because they that governs it wont let you touch it. They spend all their blessed time in governing it, and you cant lift a spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil, nor anything like that without all the Government sayingLeave it alone and let us govern. Therefore, such as it is, we will let it alone, and go away to some other place where a man isnt crowded and can come to his own. We are not little men, and there is nothing that we are afraid of except Drink, and we have signed a Contrack on that. Therefore, we are going away to be Kings.
Kings in our own right, muttered Dravot.
Yes, of course, I said. Youve been tramping in the sun, and its a very warm night, and hadnt you better sleep over the notion? Come to-morrow.
Neither drunk nor sunstruck, said Dravot. We have slept over the notion half a year, and require to see Books and Atlases, and we have decided that there is only one place now in the world that two strong men can Sar-a-whack. They call it Kafiristan. By my reckoning its the top right-hand corner of Afghanistan, not more than three hundred miles from Peshawar. They have two and thirty heathen idols there, and well be the thirty-third. Its a mountainous country, and the women of those parts are very beautiful.
But that is provided against in the Contrack, said Carnehan. Neither Women nor Liquor, Daniel.
And thats all we know, except that no one has gone there, and they fight, and in any place where they fight a man who knows how to drill men can always be a King. We shall go to those parts and say to any King we findD you want to vanquish your foes? and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize his Throne and establish a Dy-nasty.
Youll be cut to pieces before youre fifty miles across the Border, I said. You have to travel through Afghanistan to get to that country. Its one mass of mountains and peaks and glaciers, and no Englishman has been through it. The people are utter brutes, and even if you reached them you couldnt do anything.
Thats more like, said Carnehan. If you could think us a little more mad we would be more pleased. We have come to you to know about this country, to read a book about it, and to be shown maps. We want you to tell us that we are fools and to show us your books. He turned to the book-cases.
Are you at all in earnest? I said.
A little, said Dravot, sweetly. As big a map as you have got, even if its all blank where Kafiristan is, and any books youve got. We can read, though we arent very educated.
I uncased the big thirty-two-miles-to-the-inch map of India, and two smaller Frontier maps, hauled down volume INF-KAN of the Encyclopdia Britannica, and the men consulted them.
See here! said Dravot, his thumb on the map. Up to Jagdallak, Peachey and me know the road. We was there with Robertss Army. Well have to turn off to the right at Jagdallak through Laghmann territory. Then we get among the hills fourteen thousand feetfifteen thousand it will be cold work there, but it dont look very far on the map.
I handed him Wood on the Sources of the Oxus. Carnehan was deep in the Encyclopdia.
Theyre a mixed lot, said Dravot, reflectively; and it wont help us to know the names of their tribes. The more tribes the more theyll fight, and the better for us. From Jagdallak to Ashang. Hmm!
But all the information about the country is as sketchy and inaccurate as can be, I protested. No one knows anything about it really. Heres the file of the United Services Institute. Read what Bellew says.
Blow Bellew! said Carnehan. Dan, theyre an all-fired lot of heathens, but this book here says they think theyre related to us English.
I smoked while the men pored over Raverty, Wood, the maps and the Encyclopdia.
There is no use your waiting, said Dravot, politely. Its about four oclock now. Well go before six oclock if you want to sleep, and we wont steal any of the papers. Dont you sit up. Were two harmless lunatics, and if you come, to-morrow evening, down to the Serai well say good-by to you.
You are two fools, I answered. Youll be turned back at the Frontier or cut up the minute you set foot in Afghanistan. Do you want any money or a recommendation down-country? I can help you to the chance of work next week.
Next week we shall be hard at work ourselves, thank you, said Dravot. It isnt so easy being a King as it looks. When weve got our Kingdom in going order well let you know, and you can come up and help us to govern it.
Would two lunatics make a Contrack like that! said Carnehan, with subdued pride, showing me a greasy half-sheet of note-paper on which was written the following. I copied it, then and there, as a curiosity:
This Contract between me and you persuing witnesseth in the name of GodAmen and so forth. (One) That me and you will settle this matter together: i.e., to be Kings of Kafiristan. (Two) That you and me will not while this matter is being settled, look at any Liquor, nor any Woman black, white or brown, so as to get mixed up with one or the other harmful. (Three) That we conduct ourselves with Dignity and Discretion, and if one of us gets into trouble the other will stay by him.
Signed by you and me this day. Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan. Daniel Dravot. Both Gentlemen at Large.
There was no need for the last article, said Carnehan, blushing modestly; but it looks regular. Now you know the sort of men that loafers arewe are loafers, Dan, until we get out of Indiaand do you think that we could sign a Contrack like that unless we was in earnest? We have kept away from the two things that make life worth having.
You wont enjoy your lives much longer if you are going to try this idiotic adventure. Dont set the office on fire, I said, and go away before nine oclock.
I left them still poring over the maps and making notes on the back of the Contrack. Be sure to come down to the Serai to-morrow, were their parting words.
The Kumharsen Serai is the great four-square sink of humanity where the strings of camels and horses from the North load and unload. All the nationalities of Central Asia may be found there, and most of the folk of India proper. Balkh and Bokhara there meet Bengal and Bombay, and try to draw eye-teeth. You can buy ponies, turquoises, Persian pussy-cats, saddle-bags, fat-tailed sheep and musk in the Kumharsen Serai, and get many strange things for nothing. In the afternoon I went down there to see whether my friends intended to keep their word or were lying about drunk.
A priest attired in fragments of ribbons and rags stalked up to me, gravely twisting a childs paper whirligig. Behind him was his servant, bending under the load of a crate of mud toys. The two were loading up two camels, and the inhabitants of the Serai watched them with shrieks of laughter.
The priest is mad, said a horse-dealer to me. He is going up to Kabul to sell toys to the Amir. He will either be raised to honor or have his head cut off. He came in here this morning and has been behaving madly ever since.
The witless are under the protection of God, stammered a flat-cheeked Usbeg in broken Hindi. They foretell future events.
Would they could have foretold that my caravan would have been cut up by the Shinwaris almost within shadow of the Pass! grunted the Eusufzai agent of a Rajputana trading-house whose goods had been feloniously diverted into the hands of other robbers just across the Border, and whose misfortunes were the laughing-stock of the bazar. Oh, priest, whence come you and whither do you go?
From Roum have I come, shouted the priest, waving his whirligig; from Roum, blown by the breath of a hundred devils across the sea! O thieves, robbers, liars, the blessing of Pir Khan on pigs, dogs, and perjurers! Who will take the Protected of God to the North to sell charms that are never still to the Amir? The camels shall not gall, the sons shall not fall sick, and the wives shall remain faithful while they are away, of the men who give me place in their caravan. Who will assist me to slipper the King of the Roos with a golden slipper with a silver heel? The protection of Pir Kahn be upon his labors! He spread out the skirts of his gaberdine and pirouetted between the lines of tethered horses.
There starts a caravan from Peshawar to Kabul in twenty days, Huzrut, said the Eusufzai trader. My camels go therewith. Do thou also go and bring us good luck.
I will go even now! shouted the priest. I will depart upon my winged camels, and be at Peshawar in a day! Ho! Hazar Mir Khan, he yelled to his servant drive out the camels, but let me first mount my own.
He leaped on the back of his beast as it knelt, and turning round to me, cried:
Come thou also, Sahib, a little along the road, and I will sell thee a charman amulet that shall make thee King of Kafiristan.
Then the light broke upon me, and I followed the two camels out of the Serai till we reached open road and the priest halted.
What d you think o that? said he in English. Carnehan cant talk their patter, so Ive made him my servant. He makes a handsome servant. Tisnt for nothing that Ive been knocking about the country for fourteen years. Didnt I do that talk neat? Well hitch on to a caravan at Peshawar till we get to Jagdallak, and then well see if we can get donkeys for our camels, and strike into Kafiristan. Whirligigs for the Amir, O Lor! Put your hand under the camel-bags and tell me what you feel.
I felt the butt of a Martini, and another and another.
Twenty of em, said Dravot, placidly.
Twenty of em, and ammunition to correspond, under the whirligigs and the mud dolls.
Heaven help you if you are caught with those things! I said. A Martini is worth her weight in silver among the Pathans.
Fifteen hundred rupees of capitalevery rupee we could beg, borrow, or stealare invested on these two camels, said Dravot. We wont get caught. Were going through the Khaiber with a regular caravan. Whod touch a poor mad priest?
Have you got everything you want? I asked, overcome with astonishment.
Not yet, but we shall soon. Give us a momento of your kindness, Brother. You did me a service yesterday, and that time in Marwar. Half my Kingdom shall you have, as the saying is. I slipped a small charm compass from my watch-chain and handed it up to the priest.
Good-by, said Dravot, giving me his hand cautiously. Its the last time well shake hands with an Englishman these many days. Shake hands with him, Carnehan, he cried, as the second camel passed me.
Carnehan leaned down and shook hands. Then the camels passed away along the dusty road, and I was left alone to wonder. My eye could detect no failure in the disguises. The scene in the Serai attested that they were complete to the native mind. There was just the chance, therefore, that Carnehan and Dravot would be able to wander through Afghanistan without detection. But, beyond, they would find death, certain and awful death.
Ten days later a native friend of mine, giving me the news of the day from Peshawar, wound up his letter with:There has been much laughter here on account of a certain mad priest who is going in his estimation to sell petty gauds and insignificant trinkets which he ascribes as great charms to H. H. the Amir of Bokhara. He passed through Peshawar and associated himself to the Second Summer caravan that goes to Kabul. The merchants are pleased because through superstition they imagine that such mad fellows bring good-fortune.
The two then, were beyond the Border. I would have prayed for them, but, that night, a real King died in Europe, and demanded an obituary notice.
* * * * * * * *
The wheel of the world swings through the same phases again and again. Summer passed and winter thereafter, and came and passed again. The daily paper continued and I with it, and upon the third summer there fell a hot night, a night-issue, and a strained waiting for something to be telegraphed from the other side of the world, exactly as had happened before. A few great men had died in the past two years, the machines worked with more clatter, and some of the trees in the Office garden were a few feet taller. But that was all the difference.
I passed over to the press-room, and went through just such a scene as I have already described. The nervous tension was stronger than it had been two years before, and I felt the heat more acutely. At three oclock I cried, Print off, and turned to go, when there crept to my chair what was left of a man. He was bent into a circle, his head was sunk between his shoulders, and he moved his feet one over the other like a bear. I could hardly see whether he walked or crawledthis rag-wrapped, whining cripple who addressed me by name, crying that he was come back. Can you give me a drink? he whimpered. For the Lords sake, give me a drink!
I went back to the office, the man following with groans of pain, and I turned up the lamp.
Dont you know me? he gasped, dropping into a chair, and he turned his drawn face, surmounted by a shock of gray hair, to the light.
I looked at him intently. Once before had I seen eyebrows that met over the nose in an inch-broad black band, but for the life of me I could not tell where.
I dont know you, I said, handing him the whiskey. What can I do for you?
He took a gulp of the spirit raw, and shivered in spite of the suffocating heat.
Ive come back, he repeated; and I was the King of Kafiristanme and Dravot crowned Kings we was! In this office we settled ityou setting there and giving us the books. I am PeacheyPeachey Taliaferro Carnehan, and youve been setting here ever sinceO Lord!
I was more than a little astonished, and expressed my feelings accordingly.
Its true, said Carnehan, with a dry cackle, nursing his feet which were wrapped in rags. True as gospel. Kings we were, with crowns upon our headsme and Dravot poor Danoh, poor, poor Dan, that would never take advice, not though I begged of him!
Take the whiskey, I said, and take your own time. Tell me all you can recollect of everything from beginning to end. You got across the border on your camels, Dravot dressed as a mad priest and you his servant. Do you remember that?
I aint madyet, but I will be that way soon. Of course I remember. Keep looking at me, or maybe my words will go all to pieces. Keep looking at me in my eyes and dont say anything.
I leaned forward and looked into his face as steadily as I could. He dropped one hand upon the table and I grasped it by the wrist. It was twisted like a birds claw, and upon the back was a ragged, red, diamond-shaped scar.
No, dont look there. Look at me, said Carnehan.
That comes afterwards, but for the Lords sake dont distrack me. We left with that caravan, me and Dravot, playing all sorts of antics to amuse the people we were with. Dravot used to make us laugh in the evenings when all the people was cooking their dinnerscooking their dinners, and what did they do then? They lit little fires with sparks that went into Dravots beard, and we all laughedfit to die. Little red fires they was, going into Dravots big red beardso funny. His eyes left mine and he smiled foolishly.
You went as far as Jagdallak with that caravan, I said at a venture, after you had lit those fires. To Jagdallak, where you turned off to try to get into Kafiristan.
No, we didnt neither. What are you talking about? We turned off before Jagdallak, because we heard the roads was good. But they wasnt good enough for our two camelsmine and Dravots. When we left the caravan, Dravot took off all his clothes and mine too, and said we would be heathen, because the Kafirs didnt allow Mohammedans to talk to them. So we dressed betwixt and between, and such a sight as Daniel Dravot I never saw yet nor expect to see again. He burned half his beard, and slung a sheep-skin over his shoulder, and shaved his head into patterns. He shaved mine, too, and made me wear outrageous things to look like a heathen. That was in a most mountaineous country, and our camels couldnt go along any more because of the mountains. They were tall and black, and coming home I saw them fight like wild goatsthere are lots of goats in Kafiristan. And these mountains, they never keep still, no more than the goats. Always fighting they are, and dont let you sleep at night.
Take some more whiskey, I said, very slowly. What did you and Daniel Dravot do when the camels could go no further because of the rough roads that led into Kafiristan?
What did which do? There was a party called Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan that was with Dravot. Shall I tell you about him? He died out there in the cold. Slap from the bridge fell old Peachey, turning and twisting in the air like a penny whirligig that you can sell to the AmirNo; they was two for three hapence, those whirligigs, or I am much mistaken and woful sore. And then these camels were no use, and Peachey said to DravotFor the Lords sake, lets get out of this before our heads are chopped off, and with that they killed the camels all among the mountains, not having anything in particular to eat, but first they took off the boxes with the guns and the ammunition, till two men came along driving four mules. Dravot up and dances in front of them, singing,Sell me four mules. Says the first man,If you are rich enough to buy, you are rich enough to rob; but before ever he could put his hand to his knife, Dravot breaks his neck over his knee, and the other party runs away. So Carnehan loaded the mules with the rifles that was taken off the camels, and together we starts forward into those bitter cold mountainous parts, and never a road broader than the back of your hand.
He paused for a moment, while I asked him if he could remember the nature of the country through which he had journeyed.
I am telling you as straight as I can, but my head isnt as good as it might be. They drove nails through it to make me hear better how Dravot died. The country was mountainous and the mules were most contrary, and the inhabitants was dispersed and solitary. They went up and up, and down and down, and that other party Carnehan, was imploring of Dravot not to sing and whistle so loud, for fear of bringing down the tremenjus avalanches. But Dravot says that if a King couldnt sing it wasnt worth being King, and whacked the mules over the rump, and never took no heed for ten cold days. We came to a big level valley all among the mountains, and the mules were near dead, so we killed them, not having anything in special for them or us to eat. We sat upon the boxes, and played odd and even with the cartridges that was jolted out.
Then ten men with bows and arrows ran down that valley, chasing twenty men with bows and arrows, and the row was tremenjus. They was fair menfairer than you or mewith yellow hair and remarkable well built. Says Dravot, unpacking the gunsThis is the beginning of the business. Well fight for the ten men, and with that he fires two rifles at the twenty men and drops one of them at two hundred yards from the rock where we was sitting. The other men began to run, but Carnehan and Dravot sits on the boxes picking them off at all ranges, up and down the valley. Then we goes up to the ten men that had run across the snow too, and they fires a footy little arrow at us. Dravot he shoots above their heads and they all falls down flat. Then he walks over them and kicks them, and then he lifts them up and shakes hands all around to make them friendly like. He calls them and gives them the boxes to carry, and waves his hand for all the world as though he was King already. They takes the boxes and him across the valley and up the hill into a pine wood on the top, where there was half a dozen big stone idols. Dravot he goes to the biggesta fellow they call Imbraand lays a rifle and a cartridge at his feet, rubbing his nose respectful with his own nose, patting him on the head, and saluting in front of it. He turns round to the men and nods his head, and says,Thats all right. Im in the know too, and these old jim-jams are my friends. Then he opens his mouth and points down it, and when the first man brings him food, he saysNo; and when the second man brings him food, he says No; but when one of the old priests and the boss of the village brings him food, he saysYes; very haughty, and eats it slow. That was how we came to our first village, without any trouble, just as though we had tumbled from the skies. But we tumbled from one of those damned rope-bridges, you see, and you couldnt expect a man to laugh much after that.
Take some more whiskey and go on, I said. That was the first village you came into. How did you get to be King?
I wasnt King, said Carnehan. Dravot he was the King, and a handsome man he looked with the gold crown on his head and all. Him and the other party stayed in that village, and every morning Dravot sat by the side of old Imbra, and the people came and worshipped. That was Dravots order. Then a lot of men came into the valley, and Carnehan and Dravot picks them off with the rifles before they knew where they was, and runs down into the valley and up again the other side, and finds another village, same as the first one, and the people all falls down flat on their faces, and Dravot says, Now what is the trouble between you two villages? and the people points to a woman, as fair as you or me, that was carried off, and Dravot takes her back to the first village and counts up the deadeight there was. For each dead man Dravot pours a little milk on the ground and waves his arms like a whirligig and, Thats all right, says he. Then he and Carnehan takes the big boss of each village by the arm and walks them down into the valley, and shows them how to scratch a line with a spear right down the valley, and gives each a sod of turf from both sides o the line. Then all the people comes down and shouts like the devil and all, and Dravot says,Go and dig the land, and be fruitful and multiply, which they did, though they didnt understand. Then we asks the names of things in their lingobread and water and fire and idols and such, and Dravot leads the priest of each village up to the idol, and says he must sit there and judge the people, and if anything goes wrong he is to be shot.
Next week they was all turning up the land in the valley as quiet as bees and much prettier, and the priests heard all the complaints and told Dravot in dumb show what it was about. Thats just the beginning, says Dravot. They think were gods. He and Carnehan picks out twenty good men and shows them how to click off a rifle, and form fours, and advance in line, and they was very pleased to do so, and clever to see the hang of it. Then he takes out his pipe and his baccy-pouch and leaves one at one village, and one at the other, and off we two goes to see what was to be done in the next valley. That was all rock, and there was a little village there, and Carnehan says, Send em to the old valley to plant, and takes em there and gives em some land that wasnt took before. They were a poor lot, and we blooded em with a kid before letting em into the new Kingdom. That was to impress the people, and then they settled down quiet, and Carnehan went back to Dravot who had got into another valley, all snow and ice and most mountainous. There was no people there and the Army got afraid, so Dravot shoots one of them, and goes on till he finds some people in a village, and the Army explains that unless the people wants to be killed they had better not shoot their little matchlocks; for they had matchlocks. We makes friends with the priest and I stays there alone with two of the Army, teaching the men how to drill, and a thundering big Chief comes across the snow with kettledrums and horns twanging, because he heard there was a new god kicking about. Carnehan sights for the brown of the men half a mile across the snow and wings one of them. Then he sends a message to the Chief that, unless he wished to be killed, he must come and shake hands with me and leave his arms behind. The Chief comes alone first, and Carnehan shakes hands with him and whirls his arms about, same as Dravot used, and very much surprised that Chief was, and strokes my eyebrows. Then Carnehan goes alone to the Chief, and asks him in dumb show if he had an enemy he hated. I have, says the Chief. So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy. So we took that village too, and I gives the Chief a rag from my coat and says, Occupy till I come: which was scriptural. By way of a reminder, when me and the Army was eighteen hundred yards away, I drops a bullet near him standing on the snow, and all the people falls flat on their faces. Then I sends a letter to Dravot, wherever he be by land or by sea.
At the risk of throwing the creature out of train I interrupted,How could you write a letter up yonder?
The letter?Oh! The letter! Keep looking at me between the eyes, please. It was a string-talk letter, that wed learned the way of it from a blind beggar in the Punjab.
I remember that there had once come to the office a blind man with a knotted twig and a piece of string which he wound round the twig according to some cypher of his own. He could, after the lapse of days or hours, repeat the sentence which he had reeled up. He had reduced the alphabet to eleven primitive sounds; and tried to teach me his method, but failed.
I sent that letter to Dravot, said Carnehan; and told him to come back because this Kingdom was growing too big for me to handle, and then I struck for the first valley, to see how the priests were working. They called the village we took along with the Chief, Bashkai, and the first village we took, Er-Heb. The priest at Er-Heb was doing all right, but they had a lot of pending cases about land to show me, and some men from another village had been firing arrows at night. I went out and looked for that village and fired four rounds at it from a thousand yards. That used all the cartridges I cared to spend, and I waited for Dravot, who had been away two or three months, and I kept my people quiet.
One morning I heard the devils own noise of drums and horns, and Dan Dravot marches down the hill with his Army and a tail of hundreds of men, and, which was the most amazinga great gold crown on his head. My Gord, Carnehan, says Daniel, this is a tremenjus business, and weve got the whole country as far as its worth having. I am the son of Alexander by Queen Semiramis, and youre my younger brother and a god too! Its the biggest thing weve ever seen. Ive been marching and fighting for six weeks with the Army, and every footy little village for fifty miles has come in rejoiceful; and more than that, Ive got the key of the whole show, as youll see, and Ive got a crown for you! I told em to make two of em at a place called Shu, where the gold lies in the rock like suet in mutton. Gold Ive seen, and turquoise Ive kicked out of the cliffs, and theres garnets in the sands of the river, and heres a chunk of amber that a man brought me. Call up all the priests and, here, take your crown.
One of the men opens a black hair bag and I slips the crown on. It was too small and too heavy, but I wore it for the glory. Hammered gold it wasfive pound weight, like a hoop of a barrel.
Peachey, says Dravot, we dont want to fight no more. The Crafts the trick so help me! and he brings forward that same Chief that I left at BashkaiBilly Fish we called him afterwards, because he was so like Billy Fish that drove the big tank-engine at Mach on the Bolan in the old days. Shake hands with him, says Dravot, and I shook hands and nearly dropped, for Billy Fish gave me the Grip. I said nothing, but tried him with the Fellow Craft Grip. He answers, all right, and I tried the Masters Grip, but that was a slip. A Fellow Craft he is! I says to Dan. Does he know the word? He does, says Dan, and all the priests know. Its a miracle! The Chiefs and the priest can work a Fellow Craft Lodge in a way thats very like ours, and theyve cut the marks on the rocks, but they dont know the Third Degree, and theyve come to find out. Its Gords Truth. Ive known these long years that the Afghans knew up to the Fellow Craft Degree, but this is a miracle. A god and a Grand-Master of the Craft am I, and a Lodge in the Third Degree I will open, and well raise the head priests and the Chiefs of the villages.
Its against all the law, I says, holding a Lodge without warrant from any one; and we never held office in any Lodge.
Its a master-stroke of policy, says Dravot. It means running the country as easy as a four-wheeled bogy on a down grade. We cant stop to inquire now, or theyll turn against us. Ive forty Chiefs at my heel, and passed and raised according to their merit they shall be. Billet these men on the villages and see that we run up a Lodge of some kind. The temple of Imbra will do for the Lodge-room. The women must make aprons as you show them. Ill hold a levee of Chiefs tonight and Lodge to-morrow.
I was fair rim off my legs, but I wasnt such a fool as not to see what a pull this Craft business gave us. I showed the priests families how to make aprons of the degrees, but for Dravots apron the blue border and marks was made of turquoise lumps on white hide, not cloth. We took a great square stone in the temple for the Masters chair, and little stones for the officers chairs, and painted the black pavement with white squares, and did what we could to make things regular.
At the levee which was held that night on the hillside with big bonfires, Dravot gives out that him and me were gods and sons of Alexander, and Past Grand-Masters in the Craft, and was come to make Kafiristan a country where every man should eat in peace and drink in quiet, and specially obey us. Then the Chiefs come round to shake hands, and they was so hairy and white and fair it was just shaking hands with old friends. We gave them names according as they was like men we had known in IndiaBilly Fish, Holly Dilworth, Pikky Kergan that was Bazar-master when I was at Mhow, and so on, and so on.
The most amazing miracle was at Lodge next night. One of the old priests was watching us continuous, and I felt uneasy, for I knew wed have to fudge the Ritual, and I didnt know what the men knew. The old priest was a stranger come in from beyond the village of Bashkai. The minute Dravot puts on the Masters apron that the girls had made for him, the priest fetches a whoop and a howl, and tries to overturn the stone that Dravot was sitting on. Its all up now, I says. That comes of meddling with the Craft without warrant! Dravot never winked an eye, not when ten priests took and tilted over the Grand-Masters chair which was to say the stone of Imbra. The priest begins rubbing the bottom end of it to clear away the black dirt, and presently he shows all the other priests the Masters Mark, same as was on Dravots apron, cut into the stone. Not even the priests of the temple of Imbra knew it was there. The old chap falls flat on his face at Dravots feet and kisses em. Luck again, says Dravot, across the Lodge to me, they say its the missing Mark that no one could understand the why of. Were more than safe now. Then he bangs the butt of his gun for a gavel and says:By virtue of the authority vested in me by my own right hand and the help of Peachey, I declare myself Grand-Master of all Freemasonry in Kafiristan in this the Mother Lodge o the country, and King of Kafiristan equally with Peachey! At that he puts on his crown and I puts on mineI was doing Senior Wardenand we opens the Lodge in most ample form. It was a amazing miracle! The priests moved in Lodge through the first two degrees almost without telling, as if the memory was coming back to them. After that, Peachey and Dravot raised such as was worthy high priests and Chiefs of far-off villages. Billy Fish was the first, and I can tell you we scared the soul out of him. It was not in any way according to Ritual, but it served our turn. We didnt raise more than ten of the biggest men because we didnt want to make the Degree common. And they was clamoring to be raised.
In another six months, says Dravot, well hold another Communication and see how you are working. Then he asks them about their villages, and learns that they was fighting one against the other and were fair sick and tired of it. And when they wasnt doing that they was fighting with the Mohammedans. You can fight those when they come into our country, says Dravot. Tell off every tenth man of your tribes for a Frontier guard, and send two hundred at a time to this valley to be drilled. Nobody is going to be shot or speared any more so long as he does well, and I know that you wont cheat me because youre white peoplesons of Alexanderand not like common, black Mohammedans. You are my people and by God, says he, running off into English at the endIll make a damned fine Nation of you, or Ill die in the making!
I cant tell all we did for the next six months because Dravot did a lot I couldnt see the hang of, and he learned their lingo in a way I never could. My work was to help the people plough, and now and again to go out with some of the Army and see what the other villages were doing, and make em throw rope-bridges across the ravines which cut up the country horrid. Dravot was very kind to me, but when he walked up and down in the pine wood pulling that bloody red beard of his with both fists I knew he was thinking plans I could not advise him about, and I just waited for orders.
But Dravot never showed me disrespect before the people. They were afraid of me and the Army, but they loved Dan. He was the best of friends with the priests and the Chiefs; but any one could come across the hills with a complaint and Dravot would hear him out fair, and call four priests together and say what was to be done. He used to call in Billy Fish from Bashkai, and Pikky Kergan from Shu, and an old Chief we called Kafuzelumit was like enough to his real nameand hold councils with em when there was any fighting to be done in small villages. That was his Council of War, and the four priests of Bashkai, Shu, Khawak, and Madora was his Privy Council. Between the lot of em they sent me, with forty men and twenty rifles, and sixty men carrying turquoises, into the Ghorband country to buy those hand-made Martini rifles, that come out of the Amirs workshops at Kabul, from one of the Amirs Herati regiments that would have sold the very teeth out of their mouths for turquoises.
I stayed in Ghorband a month, and gave the Governor the pick of my baskets for hush-money, and bribed the colonel of the regiment some more, and, between the two and the tribes-people, we got more than a hundred hand-made Martinis, a hundred good Kohat Jezails thatll throw to six hundred yards, and forty manloads of very bad ammunition for the rifles. I came back with what I had, and distributed em among the men that the Chiefs sent in to me to drill. Dravot was too busy to attend to those things, but the old Army that we first made helped me, and we turned out five hundred men that could drill, and two hundred that knew how to hold arms pretty straight. Even those cork-screwed, hand-made guns was a miracle to them. Dravot talked big about powder-shops and factories, walking up and down in the pine wood when the winter was coming on.
I wont make a Nation, says he. Ill make an Empire! These men arent niggers; theyre English! Look at their eyes look at their mouths. Look at the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their own houses. Theyre the Lost Tribes, or something like it, and theyve grown to be English. Ill take a census in the spring if the priests dont get frightened. There must be a fair two million of em in these hills. The villages are full o little children. Two million peopletwo hundred and fifty thousand fighting menand all English! They only want the rifles and a little drilling. Two hundred and fifty thousand men, ready to cut in on Russias right flank when she tries for India! Peachey, man, he says, chewing his beard in great hunks, we shall be Emperors Emperors of the Earth! Rajah Brooke will be a suckling to us. Ill treat with the Viceroy on equal terms. Ill ask him to send me twelve picked English twelve that I know ofto help us govern a bit. Theres Mackray, Sergeant-pensioner at Segowlimanys the good dinner hes given me, and his wife a pair of trousers. Theres Donkin, the Warder of Tounghoo Jail; theres hundreds that I could lay my hand on if I was in India. The Viceroy shall do it for me. Ill send a man through in the spring for those men, and Ill write for a dispensation from the Grand Lodge for what Ive done as Grand-Master. Thatand all the Sniders thatll be thrown out when the native troops in India take up the Martini. Theyll be worn smooth, but theyll do for fighting in these hills. Twelve English, a hundred thousand Sniders run through the Amirs country in dribletsId be content with twenty thousand in one yearand wed be an Empire. When everything was ship-shape, Id hand over the crownthis crown Im wearing nowto Queen Victoria on my knees, and shed say:Rise up, Sir Daniel Dravot. Oh, its big! Its big, I tell you! But theres so much to be done in every placeBashkai, Khawak, Shu, and everywhere else.
What is it? I says. There are no more men coming in to be drilled this autumn. Look at those fat, black clouds. Theyre bringing the snow.
It isnt that, says Daniel, putting his hand very hard on my shoulder; and I dont wish to say anything thats against you, for no other living man would have followed me and made me what I am as you have done. Youre a first-class Commander-in-Chief, and the people know you; butits a big country, and somehow you cant help me, Peachey, in the way I want to be helped.
Go to your blasted priests, then! I said, and I was sorry when I made that remark, but it did hurt me sore to find Daniel talking so superior when Id drilled all the men, and done all he told me.
Dont lets quarrel, Peachey, says Daniel without cursing. Youre a King too, and the half of this Kingdom is yours; but cant you see, Peachey, we want cleverer men than us nowthree or four of em that we can scatter about for our Deputies? Its a hugeous great State, and I cant always tell the right thing to do, and I havent time for all I want to do, and heres the winter coming on and all. He put half his beard into his mouth, and it was as red as the gold of his crown.
Im sorry, Daniel, says I. Ive done all I could. Ive drilled the men and shown the people how to stack their oats better, and Ive brought in those tinware rifles from Ghorbandbut I know what youre driving at. I take it Kings always feel oppressed that way.
Theres another thing too, says Dravot, walking up and down. The winters coming and these people wont be giving much trouble, and if they do we cant move about. I want a wife.
For Gords sake leave the women alone! I says. Weve both got all the work we can, though I am a fool. Remember the Contrack, and keep clear o women.
The Contrack only lasted till such time as we was Kings; and Kings we have been these months past, says Dravot, weighing his crown in his hand. You go get a wife too, Peacheya nice, strappin, plump girl thatll keep you warm in the winter. Theyre prettier than English girls, and we can take the pick of em. Boil em once or twice in hot water, and theyll come as fair as chicken and ham.
Dont tempt me! I says. I will not have any dealings with a woman not till we are a dam side more settled than we are now. Ive been doing the work o two men, and youve been doing the work o three. Lets lie off a bit, and see if we can get some better tobacco from Afghan country and run in some good liquor; but no women.
Whos talking o women? says Dravot. I said wifea Queen to breed a Kings son for the King. A Queen out of the strongest tribe, thatll make them your blood-brothers, and thatll lie by your side and tell you all the people thinks about you and their own affairs. Thats what I want.
Do you remember that Bengali woman I kept at Mogul Serai when I was plate-layer? says I. A fat lot o good she was to me. She taught me the lingo and one or two other things; but what happened? She ran away with the Station Masters servant and half my months pay. Then she turned up at Dadur Junction in tow of a half-caste, and had the impidence to say I was her husband all among the drivers of the running-shed!
Weve done with that, says Dravot. These women are whiter than you or me, and a Queen I will have for the winter months.
For the last time o asking, Dan, do not, I says. Itll only bring us harm. The Bible says that Kings aint to waste their strength on women, specially when theyve got a new raw Kingdom to work over.
For the last time of answering, I will, said Dravot, and he went away through the pine-trees looking like a big red devil. The low sun hit his crown and beard on one side, and the two blazed like hot coals.
But getting a wife was not as easy as Dan thought. He put it before the Council, and there was no answer till Billy Fish said that hed better ask the girls. Dravot damned them all round. Whats wrong with me? he shouts, standing by the idol Imbra. Am I a dog or am I not enough of a man for your wenches? Havent I put the shadow of my hand over this country? Who stopped the last Afghan raid? It was me really, but Dravot was too angry to remember. Who bought your guns? Who repaired the bridges? Whos the Grand-Master of the sign cut in the stone? and he thumped his hand on the block that he used to sit on in Lodge, and at Council, which opened like Lodge always. Billy Fish said nothing and no more did the others. Keep your hair on, Dan, said I; and ask the girls. Thats how its done at home, and these people are quite English.
The marriage of a King is a matter of State, says Dan, in a white-hot rage, for he could feel, I hope, that he was going against his better mind. He walked out of the Council-room, and the others sat still, looking at the ground.
Billy Fish, says I to the Chief of Bashkai, whats the difficulty here? A straight answer to a true friend. You know, says Billy Fish. How should a man tell you who know everything? How can daughters of men marry gods or devils? Its not proper.
I remembered something like that in the Bible; but if, after seeing us as long as they had, they still believed we were gods it wasnt for me to undeceive them.
A god can do anything, says I. If the King is fond of a girl hell not let her die. Shell have to, said Billy Fish. There are all sorts of gods and devils in these mountains, and now and again a girl marries one of them and isnt seen any more. Besides, you two know the Mark cut in the stone. Only the gods know that. We thought you were men till you showed the sign of the Master.
I wished then that we had explained about the loss of the genuine secrets of a Master-Mason at the first go-off; but I said nothing. All that night there was a blowing of horns in a little dark temple half-way down the hill, and I heard a girl crying fit to die. One of the priests told us that she was being prepared to marry the King.
Ill have no nonsense of that kind, says Dan. I dont want to interfere with your customs, but Ill take my own wife. The girls a little bit afraid, says the priest. She thinks shes going to die, and they are a-heartening of her up down in the temple.
Hearten her very tender, then, says Dravot, or Ill hearten you with the butt of a gun so that youll never want to be heartened again. He licked his lips, did Dan, and stayed up walking about more than half the night, thinking of the wife that he was going to get in the morning. I wasnt any means comfortable, for I knew that dealings with a woman in foreign parts, though you was a crowned King twenty times over, could not but be risky. I got up very early in the morning while Dravot was asleep, and I saw the priests talking together in whispers, and the Chiefs talking together too, and they looked at me out of the corners of their eyes.
What is up, Fish? I says to the Bashkai man, who was wrapped up in his furs and looking splendid to behold.
I cant rightly say, says he; but if you can induce the King to drop all this nonsense about marriage, youll be doing him and me and yourself a great service.
That I do believe, says I. But sure, you know, Billy, as well as me, having fought against and for us, that the King and me are nothing more than two of the finest men that God Almighty ever made. Nothing more, I do assure you.
That may be, says Billy Fish, and yet I should be sorry if it was. He sinks his head upon his great fur cloak for a minute and thinks. King, says he, be you man or god or devil, Ill stick by you to-day. I have twenty of my men with me, and they will follow me. Well go to Bashkai until the storm blows over.
A little snow had fallen in the night, and everything was white except the greasy fat clouds that blew down and down from the north. Dravot came out with his crown on his head, swinging his arms and stamping his feet, and looking more pleased than Punch.
For the last time, drop it, Dan, says I in a whisper. Billy Fish here says that there will be a row.
A row among my people! says Dravot. Not much. Peachy, youre a fool not to get a wife too. Wheres the girl? says he with a voice as loud as the braying of a jackass. Call up all the Chiefs and priests, and let the Emperor see if his wife suits him.
There was no need to call any one. They were all there leaning on their guns and spears round the clearing in the centre of the pine wood. A deputation of priests went down to the little temple to bring up the girl, and the horns blew up fit to wake the dead. Billy Fish saunters round and gets as close to Daniel as he could, and behind him stood his twenty men with matchlocks. Not a man of them under six feet. I was next to Dravot, and behind me was twenty men of the regular Army. Up comes the girl, and a strapping wench she was, covered with silver and turquoises but white as death, and looking back every minute at the priests.
Shell do, said Dan, looking her over. Whats to be afraid of, lass? Come and kiss me. He puts his arm round her. She shuts her eyes, gives a bit of a squeak, and down goes her face in the side of Dans flaming red beard.
The sluts bitten me! says he, clapping his hand to his neck, and, sure enough, his hand was red with blood. Billy Fish and two of his matchlock-men catches hold of Dan by the shoulders and drags him into the Bashkai lot, while the priests howls in their lingo,Neither god nor devil but a man! I was all taken aback, for a priest cut at me in front, and the Army behind began firing into the Bashkai men.
God A-mighty! says Dan. What is the meaning o this?
Come back! Come away! says Billy Fish. Ruin and Mutiny is the matter. Well break for Bashkai if we can.
I tried to give some sort of orders to my menthe men o the regular Armybut it was no use, so I fired into the brown of em with an English Martini and drilled three beggars in a line. The valley was full of shouting, howling creatures, and every soul was shrieking, Not a god nor a devil but only a man! The Bashkai troops stuck to Billy Fish all they were worth, but their matchlocks wasnt half as good as the Kabul breech-loaders, and four of them dropped. Dan was bellowing like a bull, for he was very wrathy; and Billy Fish had a hard job to prevent him running out at the crowd.
We cant stand, says Billy Fish. Make a run for it down the valley! The whole place is against us. The matchlock-men ran, and we went down the valley in spite of Dravots protestations. He was swearing horribly and crying out that he was a King. The priests rolled great stones on us, and the regular Army fired hard, and there wasnt more than six men, not counting Dan, Billy Fish, and Me, that came down to the bottom of the valley alive.
Then they stopped firing and the horns in the temple blew again. Come away for Gords sake come away! says Billy Fish. Theyll send runners out to all the villages before ever we get to Bashkai. I can protect you there, but I cant do anything now.
My own notion is that Dan began to go mad in his head from that hour. He stared up and down like a stuck pig. Then he was all for walking back alone and killing the priests with his bare hands; which he could have done. An Emperor am I, says Daniel, and next year I shall be a Knight of the Queen.
All right, Dan, says I; but come along now while theres time.
Its your fault, says he, for not looking after your Army better. There was mutiny in the midst, and you didnt know you damned engine-driving, plate-laying, missionarys-pass-hunting hound! He sat upon a rock and called me every foul name he could lay tongue to. I was too heart-sick to care, though it was all his foolishness that brought the smash.
Im sorry, Dan, says I, but theres no accounting for natives. This business is our Fifty-Seven. Maybe well make something out of it yet, when weve got to Bashkai.
Lets get to Bashkai, then, says Dan, and, by God, when I come back here again Ill sweep the valley so there isnt a bug in a blanket left!
We walked all that day, and all that night Dan was stumping up and down on the snow, chewing his beard and muttering to himself.
Theres no hope o getting clear, said Billy Fish. The priests will have sent runners to the villages to say that you are only men. Why didnt you stick on as gods till things was more settled? Im a dead man, says Billy Fish, and he throws himself down on the snow and begins to pray to his gods.
Next morning we was in a cruel bad countryall up and down, no level ground at all, and no food either. The six Bashkai men looked at Billy Fish hungry-wise as if they wanted to ask something, but they said never a word. At noon we came to the top of a flat mountain all covered with snow, and when we climbed up into it, behold, there was an army in position waiting in the middle!
The runners have been very quick, says Billy Fish, with a little bit of a laugh. They are waiting for us.
Three or four men began to fire from the enemys side, and a chance shot took Daniel in the calf of the leg. That brought him to his senses. He looks across the snow at the Army, and sees the rifles that we had brought into the country.
Were done for, says he. They are Englishmen, these people,and its my blasted nonsense that has brought you to this. Get back, Billy Fish, and take your men away; youve done what you could, and now cut for it. Carnehan, says he, shake hands with me and go along with Billy. Maybe they wont kill you. Ill go and meet em alone. Its me that did it. Me, the King!
Go! says I. Go to Hell, Dan. Im with you here. Billy Fish, you clear out, and we two will meet those folk.
Im a Chief, says Billy Fish, quite quiet. I stay with you. My men can go.
The Bashkai fellows didnt wait for a second word but ran off, and Dan and Me and Billy Fish walked across to where the drums were drumming and the horns were horning. It was cold-awful cold. Ive got that cold in the back of my head now. Theres a lump of it there.
The punkah-coolies had gone to sleep. Two kerosene lamps were blazing in the office, and the perspiration poured down my face and splashed on the blotter as I leaned forward. Carnehan was shivering, and I feared that his mind might go. I wiped my face, took a fresh grip of the piteously mangled hands, and said:What happened after that?
The momentary shift of my eyes had broken the clear current.
What was you pleased to say? whined Carnehan. They took them without any sound. Not a little whisper all along the snow, not though the King knocked down the first man that set hand on himnot though old Peachey fired his last cartridge into the brown of em. Not a single solitary sound did those swines make. They just closed up, tight, and I tell you their furs stunk. There was a man called Billy Fish, a good friend of us all, and they cut his throat, Sir, then and there, like a pig; and the King kicks up the bloody snow and says:Weve had a dashed fine run for our money. Whats coming next? But Peachey, Peachey Taliaferro, I tell you, Sir, in confidence as betwixt two friends, he lost his head, Sir. No, he didnt neither. The King lost his head, so he did, all along o one of those cunning rope-bridges. Kindly let me have the paper-cutter, Sir. It tilted this way. They marched him a mile across that snow to a rope-bridge over a ravine with a river at the bottom. You may have seen such. They prodded him behind like an ox. Damn your eyes! says the King. Dyou suppose I cant die like a gentleman? He turns to PeacheyPeachey that was crying like a child. Ive brought you to this, Peachey, says he. Brought you out of your happy life to be killed in Kafiristan, where you was late Commander-in-Chief of the Emperors forces. Say you forgive me, Peachey. I do, says Peachey. Fully and freely do I forgive you, Dan. Shake hands, Peachey, says he. Im going now. Out he goes, looking neither right nor left, and when he was plumb in the middle of those dizzy dancing ropes, Cut, you beggars, he shouts; and they cut, and old Dan fell, turning round and round and round, twenty thousand miles, for he took half an hour to fall till he struck the water, and I could see his body caught on a rock with the gold crown close beside.
But do you know what they did to Peachey between two pine-trees? They crucified him, sir, as Peacheys hands will show. They used wooden pegs for his hands and his feet; and he didnt die. He hung there and screamed, and they took him down next day, and said it was a miracle that he wasnt dead. They took him down poor old Peachey that hadnt done them any harmthat hadnt done them any
He rocked to and fro and wept bitterly, wiping his eyes with the back of his scarred hands and moaning like a child for some ten minutes.
They was cruel enough to feed him up in the temple, because they said he was more of a god than old Daniel that was a man. Then they turned him out on the snow, and told him to go home, and Peachey came home in about a year, begging along the roads quite safe; for Daniel Dravot he walked before and said:Come along, Peachey. Its a big thing were doing. The mountains they danced at night, and the mountains they tried to fall on Peacheys head, but Dan he held up his hand, and Peachey came along bent double. He never let go of Dans hand, and he never let go of Dans head. They gave it to him as a present in the temple, to remind him not to come again, and though the crown was pure gold, and Peachey was starving, never would Peachey sell the same. You knew Dravot, sir! You knew Right Worshipful Brother Dravot! Look at him now!
He fumbled in the mass of rags round his bent waist; brought out a black horsehair bag embroidered with silver thread; and shook therefrom on to my tablethe dried, withered head of Daniel Dravot! The morning sun that had long been paling the lamps struck the red beard and blind sunken eyes; struck, too, a heavy circlet of gold studded with raw turquoises, that Carnehan placed tenderly on the battered temples.
You behold now, said Carnehan, the Emperor in his habit as he livedthe King of Kafiristan with his crown upon his head. Poor old Daniel that was a monarch once!
I shuddered, for, in spite of defacements manifold, I recognized the head of the man of Marwar Junction. Carnehan rose to go. I attempted to stop him. He was not fit to walk abroad. Let me take away the whiskey, and give me a little money, he gasped. I was a King once. Ill go to the Deputy Commissioner and ask to set in the Poor-house till I get my health. No, thank you, I cant wait till you get a carriage for me. Ive urgent private affairsin the southat Marwar.
He shambled out of the office and departed in the direction of the Deputy Commissioners house. That day at noon I had occasion to go down the blinding hot Mall, and I saw a crooked man crawling along the white dust of the roadside, his hat in his hand, quavering dolorously after the fashion of street-singers at Home. There was not a soul in sight, and he was out of all possible earshot of the houses. And he sang through his nose, turning his head from right to left:
The Son of Man goes forth to war, A golden crown to gain; His blood-red banner streams afar Who follows in his train?
I waited to hear no more, but put the poor wretch into my carriage and drove him off to the nearest missionary for eventual transfer to the Asylum. He repeated the hymn twice while he was with me whom he did not in the least recognize, and I left him singing to the missionary.
Two days later I inquired after his welfare of the Superintendent of the Asylum.
He was admitted suffering from sun-stroke. He died early yesterday morning, said the Superintendent. Is it true that he was half an hour bareheaded in the sun at midday?
Yes, said I, but do you happen to know if he had anything upon him by any chance when he died?
Not to my knowledge, said the Superintendent.
And there the matter rests.