Percival Christopher Wren
Part 2 out of 5
Hindustani.... Miss Brighte pitied the poor wretch but thought he looked
 Native boatswain.
The hearts of the castaways were filled with contentment as their
stomachs were filled with food, and so busily did they devote themselves
to eating, drinking, and sleeping that they forgot all about Moussa Isa
beneath the palm-mats.
When they chanced upon him he was just alive, and his wound was closed.
The attitude in which he had been dumped down upon the cargo (the
ostensible and upper strata thereof, consisting of hides and salt, with
a hint of ostrich-feathers, coffee, frankincense and myrrh) had favoured
his chance of recovery, for, thanks to a friendly bundle, his head was
pressed forward to his chest and the lips of the gaping wound in his
throat were shut.
Moussa Isa was tougher than an Indian chicken.
Near Aden his proprietors were captured by an officious and
unsympathetic police (Moussa was sent to what he dreamed to be Heaven
and later perceived to be a hospital) and while they went to jail, a
number of bristly-haired Teutonic gentlemen at the Freidrichstrasse,
Arab gentlemen at Muscat, and Afghan gentlemen at Cabul, were made to
exercise the virtue of patience. So the would-be murderers of John Robin
Ross-Ellison Ilderim Dost Mahommed unintentionally saved him from jail,
but never received his acknowledgments....
Discharged from the hospital, Moussa became his own master, a gentleman
at large, and, for a time, prospered in the coal-trade.
He steered a coal-lighter that journeyed between the shore and the
One day he received a blow, a curse, and an insult, from the _maccudam_
or foreman of the gang that worked in the boat which he steered. Neither
blows nor curses were of any particular account to Moussa, but this man
Sulemani, a nondescript creature of no particular race, and only a man
in the sense that he was not a woman nor a quadruped, had called him
"_Hubshi_" Woolly One. Had called Moussa Isa of the Somal a _Hubshi_, as
though he had been a common black nigger. And, of course, it was
intentional, for even this eater of dogs and swine and lizards knew the
great noble, civilized and cultured Somal, Galla, Afar and Abyssinian
people from niggers. Even an English hide-and-head-buying tripper and
_soi-disant_ big-game hunter knew a Zulu from a Hottentot, a Masai from
a Wazarambo, and a Somali from a Nigger!
The only question was as to _how_ the scoundrel should be killed, for
he was large and strong, and never far from a shovel, crow-bar,
boat-hook or some weapon. Not much hope of being able to fasten on his
throat like a young leopard on a dibatag, kudu or impala buck.
As Moussa sat behind him at the tiller, he would regard the villain's
neck with interest, his fat neck, just below and behind the big ear.
If he only had a knife--such as the beauty that once cut his throat--or
even a scrap of iron or of really hard pointed wood, honour could be
satisfied and a stain removed from the scutcheon of Moussa Isa of the
Somal race, insulted.
One lucky night he got his next scar, the fine one that ornamented his
cheek-bone, and a really serviceable weapon of offence against the
On this auspicious night, a festive English sailor flung a bottle at
him, in merry sport, as he passed beneath the verandah of the temple of
Venus and Bacchus in which the sailor sprawled. It struck him in the
face, broke against his cheek-bone, and provided him with a new scar and
a serviceable weapon, a dagger, convenient to handle and deadly to slay.
The bottle-neck was a perfect hilt and the long tapering needle-pointed
spire of glass projecting from it was a perfect blade--rightly used, of
course. Only a fool would attempt a heart-stab with such a dagger, as it
would shatter on the ribs, leaving the fool to pay for his folly. But
the neck-stab--for the big blood-vessels--oho! And Moussa Isa licked
his chops just as he had seen the black-maned lion do in his own
fatherland; just as did the lion from whom the fair Sheikh had saved
Toward the sailor, Moussa felt no resentment for the assault that had
laid him bleeding in the gutter. Had he called him "_Hubshi_" it would
have been a different matter--perhaps very different for the sailor.
Moussa Isa regarded curses, cruelties, blows, wounds, attempts at
murder, as mere natural manifestations of the attitude of their
originators, and part of the inevitable scheme of things. Insults to his
personal and racial Pride were in another category altogether.
Yes--the bottle must have been thus usefully broken by the hand of the
Supreme Deity himself, prompted by Moussa's own particular and private
_kismet_, to provide Moussa with the means of doing his duty by himself
and his race, in the matter of the dog who had likened a long-haired,
ringletty-haired aquiline-nosed, thin-lipped son of the Somals to a
Woolly One--a black beast of the jungle!
Our young friend had never heard of the historical glass-bladed daggers
of the _bravos_ of Venice, but he saw at a glance, as he rose to his
feet and stared at the bottle, that he could do his business (and that
of the foreman) with the fortunately--shaped fragment, and eke leave the
point of the weapon in the wound for future complications if the blow
failed of immediate fatal effect.
He bided his time....
One black night Moussa Isa sat on the stern of his barge holding to a
rope beneath the high wall of the side of the P. & O. liner, _Persia_,
in shadow and darkness undispelled by the flickering flare of a brazier
of burning fuel, designed to illuminate the path of panting, sweating,
coal-laden coolies up and down narrow bending planks, laid from the
lighter to the gloomy hole in the ship's side.
The hot, still air was thick with coal-dust and the harmless necessary
howls of the hundreds of sons of Ham, toiling at high pressure.
In the centre of a vast, silent circle of mysterious lamp-spangled sea
and shore, and of star-spangled sky, this spot was Inferno, an offence
to the brooding still immensity.
And suddenly Moussa Isa was dimly conscious of his enemy, of him who had
insulted the great Somal race and Moussa Isa. On the broad edge of the
big barge Sulemani stood, before, and a foot below him, in the darkness,
yelling directions, threats, promises and encouragement to his gang. If
only there had been a moon or light by which he could see to strike!
Suddenly the edge of a beam of yellow light from a port-hole struck upon
Sulemani's neck, illuminating it below and behind his ear. Mrs. "Pat"
Dearman, homeward bound, had just entered her cabin and switched on the
electric light. (When last she passed Aden she had been Miss Cleopatra
Diamond Brighte, bound for Gungapur and the bungalow of her brother.)
It was Mrs. Pat Dearman's habit to read a portion of the Scriptures
nightly, ere retiring to rest, for she was a Good Woman and considered
the practice to be not only a mark of, but essential to, goodness.
Doubtless the Powers of Evil smiled sardonically when they noted that
the light which she evoked for her pious exercise lit the hand of Moussa
Isa to murder, providing opportunity. Moussa Isa weighed chances and
considered. He did not want to bungle it and lose his revenge and his
life too. Would he be seen if he struck now? The light fell on the very
spot for the true infallible death-stroke. Should he strike now, here,
in the midst of the yelling mob?
Rising silently, Moussa drew his dagger of glass from beneath his only
garment, aimed at the patch of light upon the fat neck, and struck.
Sulemani lurched, collapsed, and fell between the lighter and the ship
without an audible sound in that dim pandemonium.
Even as the "dagger" touched flesh, the light was quenched, Mrs. Pat
Dearman having realized that the stuffy, hot cabin was positively
uninhabitable until the port-hole could be opened, after coaling
operations were completed.
Moussa Isa reseated himself, grabbed the rope again, and with clear
conscience, duty done, calmly awaited that which might follow.
Nothing followed. None had seen the deed, consummated in unrelieved
gloom; the light had failed most timely....
The next person who mortally affronted Moussa Isa, committing the
unpardonable sin, was a grievously fat, foolish Indian Mohammedan youth
whose father supported four wives, five sons, six daughters and himself
in idleness and an Aden shop.
It was a remarkably idle and unobtrusive shop and yet money flowed into
it without stint, mysteriously and unostentatiously, the conduits of its
flow being certain modest and retiring Arab visitors in long brown or
white _haiks_, with check cotton head-dresses girt with ropes of
camel-hair, who collogued with the honest tradesman and departed as
silently and unobtrusively as they came....
One of them, strangely enough, ejaculated "_Himmel_" and
"_Donnerwetter_" as often as "_Bismillah_" and "_Inshallah_" when he
The very fat son of this secretive house in an evil hour one
inauspicious evening took it upon him to revile and abuse his father's
servant, one Moussa Isa, an African boy, as he performed divers domestic
duties in the exiguous "compound" of the dwelling-place and refused to
do the fat youth's behest ere completing them.
"Haste thee at once to the bazaar, thou dog," screamed the fat youth.
"Later on," replied Moussa Isa, using the words that express the general
attitude of the East.
"Now, dog. Now, Hubshi, or I will beat thee."
"I will kill _you_," replied Moussa Isa, and again bided his time.
"Hubshi, Hubshi, Hubshi," goaded the misguided fat one.
His Kismet led the youth, some weeks later, to lay him down and sleep in
the shade of the house upon some broad flagstones. Here Moussa found him
and regretted the loss of his glass-dagger,--last seen in the neck of a
foreman of coal-coolies toppling into the dark void between a barge and
a ship,--but remembered a big heavy stone used to facilitate the scaling
of the compound wall.
Staggering with it to the spot where the fat youth lay slumbering
peacefully, Moussa Isa, in the sight of all men (who happened to be
looking), dashed it upon his fez-adorned head, and established the
hitherto disputable fact that the fat youth had brains.
To the Magistrate, Moussa Isa offered neither excuse nor prayer.
Explanation he vouchsafed in the words:--
"He called _me_, Moussa Isa of the Somali, a _Hubshi!_"
Being of tender years and of insignificant stature he was condemned to
flogging and seven years in a Reformatory School. He was too juvenile
for the Aden Jail. The Reformatory School nearest to Aden is at Duri in
India, and thither, in spite of earnest prayers that he might go to hard
labour in Aden Jail like a man and a Somali, was Moussa Isa duly
transported and therein incarcerated.
At the Duri Reformatory School, Moussa Isa was profoundly miserable,
most unhappy, and deeply depressed by a sense of the very cruellest
For here they simply did not know the difference between a Somal and a
woolly-haired dog of a negro. They honestly did not know that there was
a difference. To them, a clicking Bushman was as a Nubian, an
earth-eating Kattia as a Kabyle, a face-cicatrized, tooth-sharpened
cannibal of the Aruwimi as a Danakil,--a _Hubshi_ as a Somal. They
simply did not know. To them all Africans were _Hubshis_ (just as to an
English M.P. all the three or four hundred millions of Indians are
Bengali babus). They meant no insult; they knew no better. All Africans
were black niggers and every soul in the place, from Brahmin to
Untouchable, looked down upon the African, the Black Man, the Nigger,
the Cannibal, the _Hubshi_, sent from Africa to defile their Reformatory
and destroy their caste.
Here, the proud self-respecting Moussa, jealous champion of the honour
of his, to him, high and noble race, found himself a god-send to the
Out-castes, the Untouchables, the Depressed Classes, Mangs, Mahars, and
Sudras,--they whose touch, nay the touch of whose very shadow, is
defilement! For, at last, they, too, had some one to look down upon, to
despise, to insult. After being the recipients-of-contempt as naturally
and ordainedly as they were breathers-of-air, they at last could apply a
salve, and pass on to another the utter contempt and loathing which they
themselves received and accepted from the Brahmins and all those of
Caste. They had found one lower than themselves. _Moussa Isa of the
Somali_ was the out-cast of out-casts, the pariah of pariahs, prohibited
from touching the untouchables, one of a class depressed below the
depressed classes--in short a _Hubshi!_
Even a broad-nosed, foreheadless, blubber--lipped aborigine from the
hill-jungles objected to his presence!
In the small, self-contained, self-supporting world of the Reformatory,
it was Moussa Isa against the World. And against the World he stood up.
It had to learn the difference between a Somali and a _Hubshi_ at any
cost--the cost of Moussa's life included.
What added to the sorrow of the situation was the realization of how
charming and desirable a retreat the place was in itself,--apart from
its ignorant and stupid inhabitants.
Expecting a kind of torture-house wherein he would be starved, sweated,
thrashed by brutal _kourbash_-wielding overseers, he found the most
palatial and comfortable of clubs, a place of perfect peace, safety,
and ease, where one was kindly treated by those in authority,
sumptuously fed, luxuriously lodged, and provided with pleasant
occupation, attractive amusements and reasonable leisure.
He had always heard and believed that the English were mad, and now he
As a punishment for murder he had got a birching that merely tickled
him, and a free ticket to seven years' board, lodging, clothing,
lighting, medical care, instruction and diversion!
Were it not for the presence of the insolent, ignorant, untravelled,
inexperienced, soft-living, lily-livered dogs of inhabitants, the place
was the Earthly Paradise. They were the crocodile in the ointment.
A young Brahmin, son of a well-paid Government servant, and incarcerated
for forgery and theft, was his most annoying persecutor. He was at great
pains to expectorate and murmur "_Hubshi_" in accents of abhorrent
contempt, whenever Moussa Isa chanced between the wind and his nobility.
The first time, Moussa replied with pitying magnanimity and all
"I am not a _Hubshi_, but a Somali, which is quite different--even as a
lion is different from a jackal or a man from an ape".
To which the Brahmin replied but:--
"_Hubshi_," and pointed out that there was danger of Moussa Isa's shadow
touching him, if Moussa were not careful.
"I must kill you if you call me _Hubshi_, understanding that I am of the
Somals," said Moussa Isa.
"_Hubshi_," would the Brahmin reply and loudly bewail his evil Luck
which had put him in the power of the accursed Feringhi Government--a
Government that compelled a Brahmin to breathe the same air as a filthy
negro dog, a Woolly One of Africa, barely human and most untouchable, a
living Contamination ... and Moussa cast about for a weapon.
His first opportunity arose when he found the Brahmin, who was in the
book-binding and compositor department, working one day in the same
gardening-gang with himself.
He had but a watering-can by way of offensive weapon, but good play can
be made with a big iron watering-can wielded in the right spirit and the
Master Brahmin was feebly tapping the earth with a kind of single-headed
pick, and watching him, Moussa Isa saw that, in a quarter of an hour or
so, he might plausibly and legitimately pass within a yard or two of
this his enemy, as he went to and fro between the water-tap and the
strip of flower-border that he was sprinkling.... Would they hang him if
he killed the Brahmin, or would they feebly flog him again and give him
a longer sentence (that he be supported, fed, lodged, clothed and cared
for) than the present seven years?
There was no foretelling what the mad English would do. Sometimes they
acquitted a criminal and gave him money and education, and sometimes
they sent him to far distant islands in the South and there housed and
fed him free, for life; and sometimes they killed him at the end of a
Doubtless Allah smote the English mad to prevent them from stealing the
whole world.... If they were not mad they would do so and enslave all
other races--except their conquerors, the Dervishes, of course.... It
was like the lying hypocrites to call the Great Mullah "the Mad Mullah"
knowing themselves to be mad, and being afraid of their victorious enemy
who had driven them out of Somaliland to the coast forts....
Oh, if they would only treat him, Moussa Isa, as an adult, and send him
to the Aden Jail to hard labour. There folk knew a Somali from a
_Hubshi_; a gentleman of Afar and Galla stock, of Arab blood, Moslem
tenets, and Caucasian descent, from a common nigger, a low black
Ethiopian, an eater of men and insects, a worshipper of idols and
In Aden, men knew a Somali from a _Hubshi_ as surely as they knew an
Emir from a mere Englishman.
Here, in benighted, ignorant, savage India, the Dark Continent indeed,
men knew not what a Somali was, likened him to a Negro, ranked him lower
than a Hindu even--called him a _Hubshi_ in insolent ignorance. If only
the beautiful Reformatory were in Berbera, and tenanted by Africans.
Better Aden Jail a thousand times than Duri Reformatory.
What a splendid joke if the dog of a Brahmin who persistently insulted
him--even after he had been shown his error and ignorance--should be the
unwitting means of his return to Aden--where a Somali gentleman is
recognized. There is no harm about a Jail as such. Far from it. A jail
is a wise man's paradise provided by fools. You have excellent and
plentiful food, a roof against the sun, unfailing water supply,
clothing, interesting occupation, and safety--protection from your
enemies. No man harries you, you are not chained, you are not tortured;
you have all that heart can desire. Freedom?... What _is_ Freedom?
Freedom to die of thirst in the desert? Freedom to be disembowelled by
the Great Mullah? Freedom to be sold as a slave into Arabia or Persia?
Freedom to be the unfed, unpaid, well-beaten property of gun-runners in
the Gulf, or of Arab _safari_ ruffians and "black-ivory" men? Freedom to
be left to the hyaena when you broke down on the march? Freedom to die
of starvation when you fell sick and could not carry coal? Thanks.
If the mad English provided beautiful refuges, and made the commission
of certain crimes the requisite qualification for admission, let wise
Take this Reformatory--where else could a little Somali boy get such
safety, peace, food, and sumptuous luxury; everything the heart could
desire, in return for doing a little gardening? Even a house to himself
as though he were the honoured, favourite son of some chief.
To Moussa Isa, the dark and dingy cell with its bare stone walls, mud
floor, grated aperture and iron door was a fine safe house; its iron
bed-frame with cotton-rug-covered laths and stony pillow, a piece of
wanton luxury; its shelf, stool and utensils, prideful wealth. If only
the place were in Africa or Aden! Well, Aden Jail would do, and if the
Brahmin's death led to his being sent there as a serious and respectable
murderer, it would be a real case of two enemies on one spear--an insult
avenged and a most desired re-patriation achieved.
That would be subtilty,--at once washing out the insult in the
Brahmin's blood and getting sent whither his heart turned so constantly
and fondly. They had treated him as a juvenile offender because he was
so small and young, and because the killing of the fat Mussulman was his
first offence, as they supposed. Surely they would recognize that he was
a man when he had killed his second enemy--especially if he told them
about Sulemani. What in the name of Allah did they want, to constitute a
real sound criminal, fit for Aden Jail, if three murders were not
enough? Well, he would go on killing until they did have enough, and
were obliged to send him to Aden Jail. There he would behave beautifully
and kill nobody until they wanted to turn him out to starve. Then, since
murder was the requisite qualification, he would murder to admiration.
He knew they could not send him over the way to the Duri Jail, since he
belonged to Aden, had been convicted there, and only sent to the Duri
Reformatory because Aden boasted no such institution....
Yes. The Brahmin's corpse should be the stepping-stone to higher things
and the place where people knew a Somali from a Negro.
If only he were in the carpentry department with Master Brahmin, where
there were axes, hammers, chisels, knives, saws, and various pointed
instruments. Fancy teaching the young gentleman manners and ethnology
with an axe! However, after one or two more journeys between the tap and
the flower-bed, he would pass within striking-distance of the dog as he
worked his slow way along the tract of earth he was supposed to be
digging up with the silly short-handled pick.
Should he try and seize the pick and give him one on the temple with it?
No, the Brahmin would scream and struggle and the overseer would be on
Moussa Isa in a single bound. He must strike a sudden blow in the act of
A few more journeys to the water-tap....
_Now!_ "_Hubshi_," eh?
Halting beside the crouching Brahmin youth, Moussa Isa swung up the
heavy watering-can by the spout and aimed a blow with all his strength
at the side of his enemy's head. He designed to bring the sharp strong
rim of the base behind the ear with the first blow, on the temple with
the second, and just anywhere thereafter, if time permitted of a
But the aggravating creature tossed his head as Moussa, with a grunt of
energy, brought the vessel down, and the rim merely struck the top of
the shaven skull. Another--harder. Another--with frenzied strength and
the force of long-suppressed rage and sense of wrong.
And then Moussa was knocked head over heels and sat upon by the overseer
in charge of the garden-gang, while the Brahmin twitched convulsively on
the ground. He was by no means dead, however, and the sole immediate
results, to Moussa, were penal diet, solitary confinement in his
palatial cell, a severe sentence of corn-grinding with the heavy quern,
and most joyous recollections of the sound of the water-can on the pate
of the foe.
"I have still to kill you, of course," he whispered to his victim, the
next time they met, and the Brahmin went in terror of his life. He was
a very clever young person and had passed an astounding number of
examinations in the course of his brief career. But he was not
courageous, and his "education" had given him skill in nothing
practical, except in penmanship, which skill he had devoted to forgery.
"Why did you violently commit this dastardish deed, and assault the
harmless peaceful Brahmin?" asked the Superintendent, a worthy and
voluble babu, and then translated the question into debased Hindustani.
"He called me _Hubshi_, and I will kill him," replied Moussa.
"Oho! and you kill everyone who calls you _Hubshi_, do you, Master
"I do. I wish to go to Aden Jail for attempting murder. It will be
murder if I am kept here where none knows a man from a dog."
"Oho! And you would kill even _me_, I suppose, if I called you
"Of course! I will kill you in any case if I am not sent to Aden Jail."
The babu decided that it was high time for some other institution to
shelter this touchy and truculent person, and that he would lay the case
before the next weekly Visitor and ask for it to be submitted to the
Committee at their ensuing monthly meeting.
The Visitor of the week happened to be the Educational Inspector. "Wants
to leave India, does he?" said the Inspector, looking Moussa over as he
heard the statement of the Superintendent. "I admire his taste. India is
a magnificent country to leave."
The Educational Inspector, a very keen, thoughtful and competent
educationist, was a disappointed man, like so many of his Service. He
felt that he had, for quarter of a century, strenuously woven ropes of
sand. When his liver was particularly sluggish he felt that for quarter
of a century he had worked industriously, not at a useless thing, but at
an evil thing--a terrible belief.
Moreover, after quarter of a century of faithful labour and strict
economy, he found himself with a load of debt, broken health, and a
cheaply educated family of boys and girls to whom he was a complete
stranger--merely the man who found the money and sent it Home, visiting
them from time to time at intervals of four or five years. India had
killed his wife, and broken him.
He had had what seemed to him to be bitter experience also. An
individual, notoriously slack and incompetent, ten years his junior, had
been promoted over his head, because he was somebody's cousin and the
kind of fatuous ass that only labours industriously in drawing-rooms and
at functions, recuperating by slacking idly in offices and at duties--a
paltry but paying game much practised by a very small class in India.
Another individual, by reason of his having come to India two boats
earlier than the Inspector, drew Rs. 500 a month more than he did, this
being the Senior Inspector's Allowance. That he was reported on as lazy,
eccentric, and irregular, made no difference to the fact that he was a
fortnight senior to, and therefore worth Rs. 500 a month more than, the
next man. The recipient regarded the extra trifle (L400 a year) as his
bare right and merest due. The Inspector regarded it as an infamous
piece of injustice and folly that for fifteen years the whole of this
sum should go to a lazy fool because he happened to set sail from
England on a certain date, and not a fortnight later. So he loathed and
detested India where he had had bad luck, bad health and what he
considered bad treatment, and sympathized with the desire of Moussa Isa.
"Why do you want to go back to Aden?" he inquired in the _lingua franca_
of the Indian Empire, of Moussa whose heart beat high with hope.
"Because here, where there are no lions, wolves think a lion is a dog;
here where there are no men, asses think a man is a monkey. I am a
Somal, and these ignorant camels think I am a negro--a filthy Hubshi."
"And you tried to kill another boy because he called you 'Hubshi,' eh?"
"I did, Sahib, and I will kill him yet if I be not sent to Aden. If that
fail I will kill myself also."
"Stout fella," commented the Inspector in his own vernacular, and added,
"You'll come to the gallows through possessing pride, self-respect and
determination, my lad. You're behind the times--or rather you maintain a
spirit for which Civilization has no use. You must return to the Wilds
of the Earth or else you must be content to become good, grubby, and
grey, dull and dejected, sober and sorrowful, respectable and
unenterprising--like me; and you must cultivate fat, propriety, smugness
and the Dead Level.... What, you young Devil! You'd have self-respect
and pride, would you; be quick upon the point of honour, eh? revive the
duello, what? Get thee to a--er--less civilized and respectable age or
place ... in other words, Mr. Toshiwalla, bring the case before the
Committee of Visitors. I'll put up a note to the effect that he had
better be sent back to Aden. This is a Reformatory, and there's nothing
very reformatory about keeping him to plan murder and suicide because he
has been (quite unjustifiably) transported as well as flogged and
imprisoned. Yes, we'll consider the case. Meanwhile, keep a sharp eye on
him--and give him all the corn-grinding he can do. Sweat the Original
Sin out of him ... and see he does not secrete any kind of weapon."
Accordingly was Moussa segregated, and to the base women's-work of
corn-grinding in the cook-house, wholly relegated. It was hard,
soul-breaking work, ignoble and degrading, but he drew two crumbs of
comfort from the bread of affliction. He was developing his arm-muscles
and he was literally watering the said bread of affliction with the
sweat of labour. As the heavy drops trickled from chin and nose into the
meal around the grindstone, it pleased Moussa Isa to reflect that his
enemy should eat of it. Since the shadow of Moussa was pollution to
these travesties of men and warriors, let them have a little concrete
pollution also. But in the cook-house, while arm and soul wearied
together, one heavy day of copper sky and brazen earth, first eye and
then foot, fell upon a piece of tin, the lid of some empty milk-tin or
like vessel. The prehensile toes gathered in the trove, the foot gently
rose and the fingers of the pendant left hand secured the disc, while
the body swayed with the strenuous circlings of the right hand chat
revolved the heavy upper millstone.
That night, immediately after being locked in his cell, that there
might be the fullest time for bleeding to death, he slashed and slashed
while strength lasted at wrist and abdomen--but without succeeding in
penetrating the abdominal wall and reaching the viscera.
This effected his transfer to the Reformatory hospital and underlined
the remark of the Inspector in the Visitors' Book to the effect that one
Moussa Isa would commit suicide or murder, if kept at Duri, and would
certainly not be "reformed" in any way. In hospital, Major Jackson of
the Royal Army Medical Corps, a Visitor of the Duri Jail, paying his
periodical visits, grew interested in the sturdy bright boy and soon
came to like him for his directness, cheery courage, and refreshing
views. When the boy was convalescent he took him on the surrounding Duri
golf-links as his caddie in his endless games with his poor friend
Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith, _ex_-gentleman.
Moussa was grateful and, fingering the scar on his throat, likened Major
Jackson to his hero, the fair Sheikh who had saved him from the lion and
had lost his life through intervening on Moussa's behalf in the boat.
But _he_ was not mad like these English. He would not, with infinite
earnestness, seriousness and mingled joy at success and grief at
failure, have pursued a little white ball with a stick, mile after mile,
knocking it with infinite precautions, every now and then, into a little
hole, and taking it out again.
No, _his_ idea of sport across country with an iron-shod stick would
rather have been lion-hunting with an assegai (yet, curiously enough,
one, Robin Ross-Ellison, lived to play more than one game of golf with
Major Jackson on these same Duri Links). To see this adult white man
behaving so, _coram publico_, made Moussa bitterly ashamed for him.
And, as the sun set, Moussa Isa earned a sharp rebuke for inattentive
slacking, as he stood sighing his soul to where it sank in the West over
Aden and Somaliland.... Wait till his chance of escape arrived; he would
journey straight for the sunset, day after day, until he reached a
sea-shore. There he would steal a canoe and paddle and paddle straight
for the sunset, day after day, until he reached a sea-shore again. That
would be Africa or Arabia, and Moussa Isa would be where a Somal is
known from a _Hubshi_.... Should he make a bolt for it now? No, too
weak, and not fair to this kind Sahib who had healed him and sympathized
with him in the matter of the ignorance and impudence of those who
misnamed a son of the Somals.... In due course, the Committee of
Visitors met at the Reformatory one morning, and found on the agenda
paper _inter alia_ the case of Moussa Isa, a murderer from Aden, his
attempt at murder and suicide, and his prayer to be sent to Aden Jail.
On the Committee were the Director of Public Instruction, the Collector,
the Executive Engineer, the Superintendent of Duri Jail, the Educational
Inspector, the Cantonment Magistrate, Major Jackson of the Royal Army
Medical Corps, and a number of Indian gentlemen. To the Chairman's
inquiries Moussa Isa made the usual replies. He had been mortally
affronted and had endeavoured to avenge the insult. He had tried to do
his duty to himself--and to his enemy. He had been put to base
women's-work as a punishment for defending his honour and he had tried
to take his life in despair. Was there _no_ justice in British lands?
What would the Sahib himself do if his honour were assailed? If one rose
up and insulted him and his race? Called him baboon, born of baboons,
for example? Or had the Sahib no honour? Why should he have been
transported when he was not sentenced to transportation? What had he
done but defend his honour and avenge insults? Unless he were now tried
for murder and suicide, and sentenced to hard labour in Aden Jail, he
would go on murdering until they did send him there. If they said,
"Well, you shan't go there, whatever you do," he would kill himself. If
he could get no sort of weapon he would starve himself (he did not in
his ignorance quote the gentle and joyous Pankhurst family) or hold his
breath. So they had better send him, and that was all he had got to say
"Send him for trial before the City Magistrate and recommend that he go
to Aden Jail at once, before he hurts somebody else," said the native
members of the Committee. "Why should we be troubled with the
off-scourings of Aden?"
"Certainly not," opined the Collector of Duri. A pretty state of affairs
if every criminal were to be allowed to select his own place of
punishment, and to terrorize any penitentiary that had the misfortune to
lack favour in his sight. Let the boy be well flogged for the assault
and attempted suicide, and then let him rejoin the ordinary gangs and
classes. It was the Superintendent's duty to watch his charges and keep
discipline in what was, after all, a school.
"Sir, he is one violent and dangerous character and will assault the
peaceful and mild. Yea--he may even attack _me_," objected the babu.
"Are we to understand that you admit your inability to maintain order in
this Reformatory?" inquired the Director of Public Instruction from the
Anything but that. They were to understand, on the contrary, that the
babu was respectfully a most unprecedented disciplinarian.
"You don't expect cock angels in a Reformatory, y' know," said the
engineer, suddenly awaking to light a fat black cheroot. "Got to use
the--ah--strong hand;--on their--ah--_you_ know," and he resumed his
slumbers, puffing mechanically and unconsciously at his cheroot.
So Moussa Isa was flogged and sent back to gardening, lessons and
Yes--the Somali was taught drawing. Not mere utilitarian drawing-to-scale
and making plans and elevations, but "freehand"-drawing, the reproducing
of meaningless twirly curves and twiddly twists from symmetrical
conventional "copies". He copied copies and drew lines--but never copied
things, nor drew things. In time he could, with infinite labour, produce
a copy of a flat "copy" that a really observant eye could identify with
the original, but had you asked him to draw his foot or the door of the
room, his desk, his watering-can or book, he would probably have
replied, "_They_ are not drawing-copies," and would have laughed at your
absurd joke. No, he was not taught to draw _things_, nor to give
expression to impression.
And he had a special warder all to himself, who watched him as a cat
watches a mouse. However, warders cannot prevent looks and smiles, and
whenever Moussa Isa saw the Brahmin youth, he gave a peculiar look and a
meaning smile. It was borne in upon the clever young man that the Hubshi
looked at his neck, below his ear, when he smiled that dreadful smile.
Sometimes a significant gesture accompanied the meaning smile. For
Moussa Isa had decided, upon the rejection of his prayer by the
Committee, to wait until he was a little older and bigger, more like a
proper criminal and less of a wretched little "juvenile offender," and
then to qualify, by murder, for the Aden Jail--with the unoffered help
of the Brahmin boy.
Allah would vouchsafe opportunity, and when he did so, Moussa Isa, his
servant, would seize it. Doubtless it would come as soon as he was big
enough to receive the privileges of an adult and serious criminal.
Anyhow, the insult would be properly punished and the honour of the
Somal race avenged....
Came the day when certain of the sinful inhabitants of the Duri
Reformatory were to be conducted to a neighbouring Government High
School, a centre for the official Drawing Examinations for the district,
there to sit and be examined in the gentle art of Art.
To this end they had been trained in the copying of lines and in the
painting of areas of conventional shape, not that they might be made to
observe natural form, express themselves in reproduction, render the
inner outer, originate, articulate ... but that they might pass an
examination in copying unnatural things in impossible colours. Thus it
came to pass that, in the big hall of this school, divers of the
Reformed found themselves copying, and colouring the copy of, a curious
picture pinned to a blackboard--the picture of a floral wonder unknown
to Botany, possessed of delicate mauve leaves, blue-veined, shaped some
like the oak-leaf and some like the ivy; of long slender blades like
those of the iris, but of tenderest pink; of beautiful and profusely
chromatic blossoms, reminding one now of the orchid, now of the
sunflower and anon of the forget-me-not; and likewise of clustering
And at the back of all these budding artists and blossoming jail-birds,
and in the same small desk sat the Brahmin youth and--Oh Merciful
Allah!--Moussa Isa, Somali.
The native gentleman in charge of the party from the Duri Reformatory
had duly escorted his charges into the hall, handed them over to Mr.
Edward Jones, the Head of the High School, and been requested to wait
outside with similar custodians of parties. (Mr. Edward Jones had known
very strange things to happen in Examination Halls to which the friends
and supporters of candidates had access during the examination.)
To Mr. Edward Jones the thus deserted Brahmin boy made frantic and
"Oh, Sir," prayed he, "let me sit somewhere else and not beside this
"You'll stay where you are," replied Mr. Edward Jones, suspicious of the
appeal and the appellant. If the fat glib youth objected to the African
on principle, Mr. Edward Jones would be glad, metaphorically speaking,
to rub his Brahminical nose in it. If this were not his reason, it was,
doubtless, one even less creditable. Mr. Edward Jones had been in India
long enough to learn to look very carefully for the motive.
Moussa Isa licked his chops once again, and, as Mr. Jones turned away,
the unhappy Brahmin cried in his anguish of soul:--
"Oh, Sir! Watch this African carefully."
"All will be watched carefully," was the suspicious and cold reply.
Moussa smiled broadly upon his erstwhile contemptuous and insulting
enemy, and began to consider the possibilities of a long and
well-pointed lead-pencil as a means of vengeance. Pencils were intended
for marking fair surfaces--might one not be used on this occasion for
the cleaning of a sullied surface, that of a besmirched honour?
One insulter of the Somal race had died by the stab of a piece of broken
bottle. Might not another die by the stab of a lead-pencil?
Doubtful. Very risky. The stabbing and piercing potentialities of a lead
pencil are not yet properly investigated, tabulated, established and
known. It would be a pity to do small damage and incur a heavy
corn-grinding punishment. He might never get another chance of
vengeance either, if he bungled this one.
Well, there were three hours in which to decide ... and Moussa Isa
commenced to draw, pausing, from time to time, to smile meaningly at the
Brahmin, and to lick his chops suggestively. Anon he rested from his
highly uninteresting and valueless labours, laid his pencil on the desk,
and gazed around in search of inspiration in the matter of the best
method of dealing with his enemy.
His eye fell upon a picture of a lion that ornamented the wall of the
hall; he stiffened like a pointer and fingered some scars on his right
arm. He had never seen a picture of a lion before and, for a fraction of
a second, he was shocked and alarmed--and then, while his body sat in an
Indian High School hall, his spirit flew to an East African desert, and
there sojourned awhile.
Moussa Isa was again the slave of an ivory-poaching, hide-poaching,
specimen-poaching, slave-dealing gang of Arabs, Negroes, and Portuguese
half-castes, led by a white man of the Teutonic persuasion. He could
feel the smiting heat, see the scrub, jungle, and sand shimmering and
dancing in the heat haze. He could see the line of porters, bales on
heads, the Arabs on horseback, the white man in a litter swinging from a
long bamboo pole beneath which half a dozen Swahili loped along. He
could see the velvet star-gemmed night and the camp-fires, smell the
smoke and the savoury odours of the cooking, hear the sudden shrieks and
yells that followed the roar of the springing lion, feel the crushing
crunch of its great teeth in his arm as it seized him from beside the
nearest fire and stood over him.... Yes, that was the night when the
fair Sheikh from the North had showed the mettle of his pastures and
bound Moussa Isa to him for ever in the bonds of worshipping gratitude
and love. For, while others shrieked, yelled, fled, flung burning brands
and spears, or fired hasty, unaimed, ineffectual shots, the fair Sheikh
from the North had sprung at the lion as it stood over Moussa Isa and
driven his knife into its eye, and as it smote him to the earth, buried
its fangs in his shoulder and started to drag him away, had stabbed
upward between the ribs, giving it a second death-blow, transfixing its
heart. Thus it was he had earned the name by which he was known from
Zanzibar to Berbera, "He-who-slays-lions-with-the-knife," had earned the
envy and hatred of the fat white man and the Arabs, the boundless
admiration of the Swahili askaris, hunters and porters, and the deep
dog-like affection of Moussa Isa....
And then Moussa's spirit returned to his body and he saw but the picture
of a lion on a High School wall. He commenced to draw again and suddenly
had an inspiration. Deliberately he broke the point of his pencil and,
rising, marched up to the dais, whereon, at a table, sat Mr. Edward
Mr. Edward Jones had been shot with bewildering suddenness from
Cambridge quadrangles into the Indian Educational Service. Of India he
knew nothing, of education he knew less, but boldly took it upon him to
combine the two unknowns for the earning of his living. If wise and
beneficent men offered him a modest wage for becoming a professor and
exponent of that which he did not know, he had no objection to accepting
it; but there were people who wondered why it should be that, out of
forty million English people, Mr. Edward Jones should be the chosen one
to represent England to the youth of Duri, and asked whether there were
no keen, strictly conscientious, sporting, strong Englishmen available;
no enthusiastic educational experts left in all the British Isles, that
Mr. Edward Jones of all people had come to Duri?
"What do you want?" he asked (how he hated these poverty-stricken,
smelly, ignoble creatures. Why was he not a master at Eton, instead of
at Duri High School. Why wouldn't somebody give him a handsome income
for looking handsome and standing around beautifully--like these
aide-de-camp Johnnies and "staff" people. Since there was nothing on
earth he could do well, he ought to have been provided with a job in
which he could look well).
"May I borrow the Sahib's knife?" asked Moussa Isa, "I have broken my
pencil and cannot draw." Mr. Edward Jones picked up the penknife that
lay on his desk, the cheap article of restricted utility supplied to
Government Offices by the Stationery Department, and handed it to Moussa
Isa. Even as he took it with respectful salaam, Moussa Isa summed up its
possibilities. Blade two inches long, sharp-pointed, handle six inches
long, wooden; not a clasp knife, blade immovable in handle. It would
do--and he turned to go to his seat and presumably to sharpen his
Idly watching the boy and thinking of other things, Jones saw him try
the point of the knife on his thumb, walk up behind the other occupant
of his desk, his Brahmin neighbour, seize that neighbour by the hair,
push his head sharp over on to the shoulder, and plunge the knife into
his neck; seat himself, and commence to draw with the unfortunate
Jones sprang to his feet and rushed to the spot, to find that he had not
been dreaming. No--on the back seat drooped a boy bleeding like a stuck
pig and another industriously drawing, his face illuminated by a smile
Jones pressed his thumbs into the neck of the sufferer, as he called to
an assistant-supervisor to run to the hospital for Dr. Almeida, hoping
to be able to close the severed jugular from which welled an appalling
stream of blood.
"It is quite useless, Sahib," observed Moussa, "nor can a doctor help.
When one has got it _there_, he may give his spear to his son and turn
his face to the wall. That dog will never say '_Hubshi_' to a Somal
"Catch hold of that boy," said Mr. Edward Jones to another
assistant-supervisor who clucked around like a perturbed hen.
"Fear not, Sahib, I shall not escape. I go to Aden Jail," said Moussa
cheerfully--but he pondered the advisability of attempting escape from
the Reformatory should he be sentenced to be hanged. It had always
seemed an impossibility, but it would be better to attempt the
impossible than to await the rope. But doubtless they would say he was
too small and light to hang satisfactorily, and would send him to Aden.
Thanks, Master Brahmin, realize as you die that you have greatly obliged
* * * * *
"Now you will most certainly be hanged to death by rope and I shall be
rid of troublesome fellow," said the Superintendent to Moussa Isa when
that murderous villain was temporarily handed over to him by the
police-sepoy to whom he had been committed by Mr. Jones.
"I have avenged my people and myself," replied Moussa Isa, "even as I
said, I go to Aden Jail--where there are _men_, and where a Somal is
known from a Hubshi"
"You go to hang--across the road there at Duri Gaol," replied the babu,
and earnestly hoped to find himself a true prophet. But though the wish
was father to the thought, the expression thereof was but the wicked
uncle, for it led to the undoing of the wish. So convinced and
convincing did the babu appear to Moussa Isa, that the latter decided to
try his luck in the matter of unauthorized departure from the
Reformatory precincts. If they were going to hang him (for defending and
purging his private and racial honour), and not send him to Aden after
all, he might as well endeavour to go there at his own expense and
independently. If he were caught they could not do more than hang him;
if he were not caught he would get out of this dark ignorant land, if he
had to walk for a year....
When he came to devote his mind to the matter of escape, Moussa Isa
found it surprisingly easy. A sudden dash from his cell as the door was
incautiously opened that evening, a bound and scramble into a tree, a
leap to an out-house roof, another scramble, and a drop which would
settle the matter. If something broke he was done, if nothing broke he
was within a few yards of six-foot-high crops which extended to the
confines of the jungle, wherein were neither police, telegraph offices,
railways, roads, nor other apparatus of the enemy. Nothing broke--Duri
Reformatory saw Moussa Isa no more. For a week he travelled only by
night, and thereafter boldly by day, getting lifts in _bylegharies_,
doing odd jobs, living as the crows and jackals live when jobs were
unavailable, receiving many a kindness from other wayfarers, especially
those of the poorer sort, but always faring onward to the West, ever
onward to the setting sun, always to the sea and Africa, until the
wonderful and blessed day when he believed for a moment that he was mad
and that his eyes and brain were playing him tricks.... After months and
months of weary travel, always toward the setting sun, he had arrived
one terrible evening of June at a wide river and a marvellous bridge--a
great bridge hung by mighty chains upon mightier posts which stood up on
either distant bank. It was a _pukka_ road, a Grand Trunk Road suspended
in the air across a river well-nigh great as Father Nile himself.
 Bullock carts.
On the banks of this river stood an ancient walled city of tall houses
separated by narrow streets, a city of smells and filth, wherein there
were no Sahibs, few Hindus and many Mussulmans. In a mud-floored
miserable _mussafarkhana_, without its gates, Moussa Isa slept,
naked, hungry and very sad--for he somehow seemed to have missed the
sea. Surely if one kept on due westward always to the setting sun, one
reached the sea in time? The time was growing long, however, and he was
among a strange people, few of whom understood the Hindustani he had
learnt at Duri. Luckily they were largely Mussulmans. Should he abandon
the setting sun and take to the river, following it until it reached the
sea? He could take ship then for Africa by creeping aboard in the
darkness, and hiding himself until the ship had started.... There might
be no city at the mouth of the river when he got there. It might never
reach the sea. It might just vanish into some desert like the
Webi-Shebeyli in Somaliland. No, he would keep on toward the West,
crossing the great bridge in the morning. He did so, and turned aside
to admire the railway-station of the Cantonment on the other side of the
river, to get a drink, and to see a train come in, if happily such might
 Poor travellers' rest-house.
Ere he had finished rinsing his mouth and bathing his feet at the public
water-standard on the platform, the whistle of a distant train charmed
his ears and he sat him down, delighted, to enjoy the sights and sounds,
the stir and bustle, of its arrival and departure. And so it came about
that certain passengers by this North West Frontier train were not a
little intrigued to notice a small and very black boy suddenly arise
from beside the drinking-fountain and, with a strange hoarse scream,
fling himself at the feet of a young Englishman (who in Norfolk jacket
and white flannel trousers strolled up and down outside the first-class
carriage in which he was travelling to Kot Ghazi from Karachi), and with
every sign of the wildest excitement and joy embrace and kiss his
Moussa Isa was convinced that he had gone mad and that his eyes and
brain were playing him tricks.
Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison (also Mir Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz
Ullah Khan when in other dress and other places) was likewise more than
a little surprised--and certainly a little moved, at the sight of Moussa
Isa and his wild demonstrations of uncontrollable joy.
"Well, I'm damned!" said he in the _role_ of Mr. John Robin
Ross-Ellison. "Rum little devil. Fancy your turning up here." And in the
_role_ of Mir Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan added in
debased Arabic: "Take this money, little dog, and buy thee a _tikkut_
to Kot Ghazi. Get into this train, and at Kot Ghazi follow me to a
To the house Moussa Isa followed him and to the end of his life
likewise, visiting _en route_ Mekran Kot, among other places, and
encountering one, Ilderim the Weeper, among other people (as was told to
Major Michael Malet-Marsac by Ross-Ellison's half-brother, the
(And Augustus Grabble; General Murger; Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith;
Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green; Mr. Horace Faggit; as well as a
reformed JOHN ROBIN ROSS-ELLISON.)
Sec. 1. MR. GROBBLE.
There was something very maidenly about the appearance of Augustus
Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble. One could not imagine him doing
anything unfashionable, perspiry, rough or rude; nor could one possibly
imagine him doing anything ruthless, fine, terrible, strong or
One expected his hose to be of the same tint as his shirt and
handkerchief, his dress-trousers to be braided, his tie to be delicate
and beautiful, his dainty shoes to be laced with black silk ribbon,--but
one would never expect him to go tiger-shooting, to ride a gay and giddy
young horse, to box, or to do his own cooking and washing in the desert
Augustus had been at College during that bright brief period of the
attempted apotheosis of the dirty-minded little Decadent whose stock in
trade was a few Aubrey Beardsley drawings, a widow's-cruse-like bottle
of Green Chartreuse, an Oscar Wilde book, some dubious blue china, some
floppy ties, an assortment of second-hand epigrams, scent and scented
tobacco, a _nil admirari_ attitude and long weird hair.
Augustus had become a Decadent--a silly harmless
conventionally-unconventional Decadent. But, as Carey, a contemporary
Rugger blood, coarsely remarked, he hadn't the innards to go far wrong.
It was part of his cheap and childish ritual as a Decadent to draw the
curtains after breakfast, light candles, place the flask of Green
Chartreuse and a liqueur-glass on the table, drop one drip of the liquid
into the glass, burn a stinking pastille of incense, place a Birmingham
"god" or an opening lily before him, ruffle his hair, and sprawl on the
sofa with a wicked French novel he could not read--hoping for visitors
and an audience.
If any fellow dropped in and, very naturally, exclaimed, "What the devil
_are_ you doing?" he would reply:--
"Wha'? Oh, sunligh'? Very vulgar thing sunligh'. Art is always superior
to Nature. You love the garish day being a gross Philistine, wha'? Now I
only live at night. Glorious wicked nigh'. So I make my own nigh'. Wha'?
Have some Green Chartreuse--only drink fit for a Hedonist. I drink its
colour and I taste its glorious greenness. Ichor and Nectar of Helicon
and the Pierian Spring. I loved a Wooman once, with eyes of just that
glowing glorious green and a soul of ruby red. I called her my
Emerald-eyed, Ruby-souled Devil, and we drank together deep draughts of
the red red Wine of Life----"
Sometimes the visitor would say: "Look here, Grobb, you ought to be in
the Zoo, you know. There's a lot there like you, all in one big cage,"
or similar words of disapproval.
Sometimes a young fresher would be impressed, especially if he had been
brought up by Aunts in a Vicarage, and would also become a Decadent.
During vac. the Decadents would sometimes meet in Town, and See Life--a
singularly uninteresting and unattractive side of Life (much more like
Death), and the better men among them--better because of a little
sincerity and pluck--would achieve a petty and rather sordid "adventure"
Augustus had no head for Mathematics and no gift for Languages, while
his Classics had always been a trifle more than shaky. History bored
him--so he read Moral Philosophy.
There is a somewhat dull market for second-hand and third-class Moral
Philosophy in England, so Augustus took his to India. In the first
college that he adorned his classes rapidly dwindled to nothing, and the
College Board dispensed with the services of Augustus, who passed on to
another College in another Province, leaving behind him an odour of
moral dirtiness, debt, and decadence. Quite genuine decadence this time,
with nothing picturesque about it, involving doctors' bills, alimony,
and other the fine crops of wild-oat sowing.
At Gungapur he determined to "settle down," to "turn over a new leaf,"
and laid a good space of paving-stone upon his road to reward.
He gave up the morning nip, docked the number of cocktails, went to bed
before two, took a little gentle exercise, met Mrs. Pat Dearman--and
(like Mr. Robin Ross-Ellison, General Miltiades Murger and many another)
succumbed at once.
Mrs. Pat Dearman had come to India (as Miss Cleopatra Diamond Brighte)
to see her brother, Dickie Honor Brighte, at Gungapur, and much
interested to see, also, a Mr. Dearman whom, in his letters to her,
Dickie had described as "a jolly old buster, simply full of money, and
fairly spoiling for a wife to help him blew it in." She had not only
seen him but had, as she wrote to acidulous Auntie Priscilla at the
Vicarage, "actually married him after a week's acquaintance--fancy!--the
last thing in the world she had ever supposed ... etc." (Auntie
Priscilla had smiled in her peculiarly unpleasant way as the artless
letter enlarged upon the strangeness of her ingenuous niece's marrying
the rich man about whom her innocent-minded brother had written so
Having thoroughly enjoyed a most expensive and lavish honeymoon, Mrs.
Pat Dearman had settled down to make her good husband happy, to have a
good time and to do any amount of Good to other people--especially to
young men--who have so many temptations, are so thoughtless, and who
easily become the prey of such dreadful people and such dreadful habits.
Now it is to be borne in mind that Mrs. Dearman's Good Time was marred
to some extent by her unreasoning dislike of all Indians, a dislike
which grew into a loathing hatred, born and bred of her ignorance of the
language, customs, beliefs and ideals of the people among whom she
lived, and from whom her husband's great wealth sprang.
To Augustus--fresh from very gilded gold, painted lilies and highly
perfumed violets--she seemed a vision of delight, a blessed damozel, a
_"Incedit dea aperta,"_ he murmured to himself, and wondered whether he
had got the quotation right. Being a weak young gentleman, he
straightway yearned to lead a Beautiful Life so as to be worthy to live
in the same world with her, and did it--for a little while. He became a
teetotaller, he went to bed at ten and rose at five--going forth into
the innocent pure morning and hugging his new Goodness to his soul as he
composed odes and sonnets to Mrs. Pat Dearman. So far so excellent--but
in Augustus was no depth of earth, and speedily he withered away. And
his reformation was a house built upon sand, for, even at its pinnacle,
it was compatible with the practising of sweet and pure expressions
before the glass, the giving of much time to the discovery of the really
most successful location of the parting in his long hair, the
intentional entangling of his fingers with those of the plump and pretty
young lady (very brunette) in Rightaway & Mademore's, what time she
handed him "ties to match his eyes," as he requested.
It was really only a change of pose. The attitude now was: "I, young as
you behold me, am old and weary of sin. I have Passed through the Fires.
Give me beauty and give me peace. I have done with the World and its
Dead Sea Fruit. There is no God but Beauty, and Woman is its Prophet."
And he improved in appearance, grew thinner, shook off a veritable Old
Man of the Sea in the shape of a persistent pimple which went ill with
the Higher Aestheticism, and achieved great things in delicate socks,
sweet shirts, dream ties, a thumb ring and really pretty shoes.
In the presence of Mrs. Pat Dearman he looked sad, smouldering,
despairing and Fighting-against-his-Lower-Self, when not looking
Young-but-Hopelessly-Depraved-though-Yearning-for-Better-Things. And he
flung out quick epigrams, sighed heavily, talked brilliantly and wildly,
and then suppressed a groan. Sometimes the pose of, "Dear Lady, I could
kiss the hem of your garment for taking an interest in me and my
past--but it is too lurid for me to speak of it, or for you to
understand it if I did," would appear for a moment, and sometimes that
of, "Oh, help me--or my soul must drown. Ah, leave me not. If I have
sinned I have suffered, and in your hands lie my Heaven and my Hell."
Such shocking words were never uttered of course--but there are few
things more real than an atmosphere, and Augustus Clarence could always
get his atmosphere all right.
And Mrs. Pat Dearman (who had come almost straight from a vicarage, a
vicar papa and a vicarish aunt, to an elderly, uxorious husband and
untrammelled freedom, and knew as much of the World as a little bunny
rabbit whom its mother has not brought yet out into the warren for its
first season), was mightily intrigued.
She felt motherly to the poor boy at first, being only two years his
junior; then sisterly; and, later, very friendly indeed.
Let it be clearly understood that Mrs. Pat Dearman was a thoroughly
good, pure-minded woman, incapable of deceiving her husband, and both
innocent and ignorant to a remarkable degree. She was the product of an
unnatural, specialized atmosphere of moral supermanity, the secluded
life, and the careful suppression of healthy, natural instincts. In
justice to Augustus Clarence also it must be stated that the impulse to
decency, though transient, was genuine as far as it went, and that he
would as soon have thought of cutting his long beautiful hair as of
thinking evil in connection with Mrs. Pat Dearman.
Yes, Mrs. Pat Dearman was mightily intrigued--and quickly came to the
conclusion that it was her plain and bounden duty to "save" the poor,
dear boy--though from _what_ she was not quite clear. He was evidently
unhappy and obviously striving-to-be-Good--and he had such beautiful
eyes, dressed so tastefully, and looked at one with such a respectful
devotion and regard, that, really--well, it added a tremendous savour to
life. Also he should be protected from the horrid flirting Mrs. Bickker
who simply lived to collect scalps.
And so the friendship grew and ripened--quickly as is possible only in
India. The evil-minded talked evil and saw harm where none existed,
proclaiming themselves for what they were, and injuring none but
themselves. (Sad to say, these were women, with one or two exceptions in
favour of men--like the Hatter--who perhaps might be called "old women
of the male sex," save that the expression is a vile libel upon the sex
that still contains the best of us.) Decent people expressed the belief
that it would do Augustus a lot of good--much-needed good; and the
crystallized male opinion was that the poisonous little beast was
uncommon lucky, but Mrs. Pat Dearman would find him out sooner or later.
As for Mr. (or Colonel) Dearman, that lovable simple soul was grateful
to Augustus for existing--as long as his existence gave Mrs. Dearman any
pleasure. If the redemption of Augustus interested her, let Augustus be
redeemed. He believed that the world neither held, nor had held, his
wife's equal in character and nobility of mind. He worshipped an image
of his own creation in the shape of Cleopatra Dearman, and the image he
had conceived was a credit to the single-minded, simple-hearted
Naturally he did not admire Augustus Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble
(learned in millinery; competent, as modes varied, to discuss harem,
hobble, pannier, directoire, slit, or lamp-shade skirts, berthes,
butterfly-_motif_ embroideries, rucked ninon sleeves, chiffon tunics,
and similar mysteries of the latest fashion-plates, with a lady
Long-haired men put Dearman off, and he could not connect the virile
virtues with large bows, velvet coats, scent, manicure, mannerisms and
But if Augustus gave his wife any pleasure--why Augustus had not lived
wholly in vain. His attitude to Augustus was much that of his attitude
to his wife's chocolates, fondants, and crystallized violets--"Not
absolutely nourishing and beneficial for you, Dearest;--but harmless,
and I'll bring you a ton with pleasure".
Personally he'd as soon go about with his wife's fat French poodle as
with Augustus, but so long as either amused her--let the queer things
Among the nasty-minded old women who "talked" was the Mad Hatter.
"Shameful thing the way that Dearman woman throws dust in her husband's
eyes!" said he, while sipping his third Elsie May at the club bar. "He
should divorce her. I would, to-morrow, if I were burdened with her."
A knee took him in the small of the back with unnecessary violence and
he spun round to demand instant apology from the clumsy....
He found himself face to face with one John Robin Ross-Ellison newly
come to Gungapur, a gentleman of independent means but supposed to be
connected with the Political Department or the Secret Service or
something, who stared him in the eyes without speaking while he poised a
long drink as though wondering whether it were worth while wasting good
liquor on the face of such a thing as the Hatter.
"You'll come with me and clear the dust from Dearman's eyes at once,"
said he at last. "Made your will all right?"
The Hatter publicly apologised, then and there, and explained that he
had, for once in his life, taken a third drink and didn't know what he
"If your third drink brings out the real man, I should recommend you to
stick to two, Bonnett," said the young man, and went away to cogitate.
Should he speak to Dearman? No. He didn't want to see so good a chap
hanged for a thing like the Bonnett. Should he go and slap Augustus
Grobble hard and make him leave the station somehow? No. Sure to be a
scandal. You can no more stop a scandal than a locust-cloud or a fog.
The best way to increase it is to notice it. What a horrid thing is a
scandal-monger--exhaling poison. It publishes the fact that it is
poisonous, of course--but the gas is not enjoyable.
Well, God help anybody Dearman might happen to hear on the subject!
Happily Mr. (or Colonel) Dearman heard nothing, for he was a quiet,
slow, jolly, red-haired man, and the wrath of a slow, quiet, red-haired
man, once roused, is apt to be a rather dangerous thing. Also Mr.
Dearman was singularly elephantine in the blundering crushing directness
of his methods, and his idea of enough might well seem more than a feast
And Mr. Dearman suffered Augustus gladly, usually finding him present at
tea, frequently at dinner, and invariably in attendance at dances and
Augustus was happy and Good--for Augustus. He dallied, he adored, he
basked. For a time he felt how much better, finer, more enjoyable, more
beautiful, was this life of innocent communion with a pure soul--pure,
if just a little insipid, after the real spankers he had hitherto
He was being saved from himself, reformed, helped, and all the rest of
it. And when privileged to bring her pen, her fan, her book, her
cushion, he always kissed the object with an appearance of wishing to be
unseen in the act. It was a splendid change from the Lurid Life and the
mean adventure. Piquant.
Unstable as water he could not excel nor endure, however, even in
dalliance; nor persevere even when adopted as the _fidus Achates_ of a
good and beautiful woman--the poor little weather-cock. He was
essentially weak, and weakness is worse than wickedness. There is hope
for the strong bad man. He may become a strong good one. Your weak man
can never be that.
There came a lady to the Great Eastern Hotel where Augustus lived. Her
husband's name, curiously enough, was Harris, and wags referred to him
as _the_ Mr. Harris, because he had never been seen--and like Betsey
Prig, they "didn't believe there was no sich person". And beyond doubt
she was a spanker.
Augustus would sit and eye her at meals--and his face would grow a
little less attractive. He would think of her while he took tea with
Mrs. and Mr. Dearman, assuring himself that she was certainly a stepper,
a stunner, and, very probably,--thrilling thought--a wrong 'un.
Without the very slightest difficulty he obtained an introduction and,
shortly afterwards, decided that he was a man of the world, a Decadent,
a wise Hedonist who took the sweets of every day and hoped for more
Who but a fool or a silly greenhorn lets slip the chances of enjoyment,
and loses opportunities of experiences? There was nothing in the world,
they said, to compare with War and Love. Those who wanted it were
welcome to the fighting part, he would be content with the loving role.
He would be a Dog and go on breaking hearts and collecting trophies.
What a milk-and-water young ass he had been, hanging about round good,
silly, little Mrs. Dearman, denying himself champagne at dinner-parties,
earning opprobrium as a teetotaller, going to bed early like a
bread-and-butter flapper, and generally losing all the joys of Life!
Been behaving like a _backfisch_. He read his Swinburne again, and
unearthed from the bottom of a trunk some books that dealt with the
decadent's joys,--poets of the Flesh, and prosers of the Devil, in his
many weary forms.
Also he redoubled his protestations (of undying, hopeless, respectful
devotion and regard) to Mrs. Dearman, until she, being a woman,
therefore suspected something and became uneasy.
One afternoon he failed to put in an appearance at tea-time, though
expected. He wrote that he had had a headache. Perhaps it was true, but,
if so, it had been borne in the boudoir of the fair spanker whose
husband may or may not have been named Harris.
As his absences from the society of Mrs. Dearman increased in frequency,
his protestations of undying gratitude and regard for her increased in
Mrs. Dearman grew more uneasy and a little unhappy.
Could she be losing her influence for Good over the poor weak boy? Could
it be--horrible thought--that he was falling into the hands of some
nasty woman who would flirt with him, let him smoke too many cigarettes,
drink cocktails, and sit up late? Was he going to relapse and slip back
into that state of wickedness of some kind, that she vaguely understood
him to have been guilty of in the unhappy past when he had possessed no
guardian angel to keep his life pure, happy and sweet, as he now
declared it to be?
"Where's your young friend got to lately?" inquired her husband one day.
"I don't know, John," she replied, "he's always missing appointments
nowadays," and there was a pathetic droop about the childish mouth.
"Haven't quarrelled with him, or anything, have you, Pat?"
"No, John dear. It would break his heart if I were unkind to him--or it
would have used to. I mean it used to have would. Oh, you know what I
mean. Once it would have. No, I have not been unkind to him--it's rather
the other way about, I think!"
_Rather the other way about_! The little affected pimp unkind to Mrs.
Dearman! Mr. (or Colonel) Dearman made no remark--aloud.
Augustus came to tea next day and his hostess made much of him. His host
eyed him queerly. Very.
Augustus felt uncomfortable. Good Heavens! Was Dearman jealous? The man
was not going to cut up jealous at this time of day, surely! Not after
giving him the run of the house for months, and allowing him to take his
wife everywhere--nay, encouraging him in every way. Absurd idea!
Beastly disturbing idea though--Dearman jealous, and on your track! A
rather direct and uncompromising person, red-haired too. But the man was
absolutely fair and just, and he'd never do such a thing as to let a
fellow be his wife's great pal, treat him as one of the family for ages,
and then suddenly round on him as though he were up to something. No.
Especially when he was, if anything, cooling off a bit.
"He was always most cordial--such a kind chap,--when I was living in his
wife's pocket almost," reflected Augustus, "and he wouldn't go and turn
jealous just when the thing was slacking off a bit."
But there was no doubt that Dearman was eyeing him queerly....
"Shall we go on the river to-morrow night, Gussie?" said Mrs. Dearman,
"or have a round of golf, or what?"
"Let's see how we feel to-morrow," replied Augustus, who had other
schemes in view. "Sufficient unto the day is the joy thereof," and he
escorted Mrs. Dearman to the Gymkhana, found her some nice, ladies'
pictorials, said, "I'll be back in a minute or two,"--and went in search
of Mrs. "Harris".
"Well," said that lady, "been a good little boy and eaten your bread and
butter nicely? Have a Lyddite cocktail to take the taste away. So will
"Don't forget to book the big punt," said the Siren an hour or so later.
"I'll be ready for you about five."
Augustus wrote one of his charming little notes on his charming little
note-paper that evening.
"KIND AND GRACIOUS LADYE,
"Pity me. Pity and love me. To-morrow the sun will not shine for your
slave, for he will not see it. I am unable to come over in the evening.
I stand 'twixt love and duty, and know you would counsel duty. Would the
College and all its works were beneath the ocean wave! Think of me just
once and I shall survive till the day after. Oh, that I could think your
disappointment were but one thousandth part of mine. I live but for
"Ever your most devoted loving slave,
Mrs. Dearman wept one small tear, for she had doubted his manner when he
had evaded making the appointment, and was suspicious. Mr. Dearman
entered and noted the one small tear ere it trickled off her dainty
She showed him the note.
Mr. (or Colonel) Dearman thought much. What he said was "Hm!"
"I suppose he has got to invigilate at some horrid examination or
something," she said, but she did not really suppose anything of the
kind. Even to her husband she could not admit the growing dreadful fear
that the brand she had plucked from the burning was slipping from her
hand--falling back into the flames.
At a dinner-party that night a woman whom she hated, and wrote down an
evil-minded scandal-monger and inventor and disseminator of lies,
suddenly said to her, "Who _is_ this Mrs. Harris, my dear?"
"How should I know?" replied Mrs. Dearman.
"Oh, I thought your young friend Mr. Grobble might have told you--he
seems to know her very well," answered the woman sweetly.
That night Mr. Dearman heard his wife sobbing in bed. Going to her he
asked what was the matter, and produced eau-de-Cologne, phenacetin,
smelling-salts and sympathy.
She said that nothing at all was the matter and he went away and
pondered. Next day he asked her if he could row her on the river as he
wanted some exercise, and Augustus was not available to take her for a
drive or anything.
"I should love it, John dear," she said. "You row like an ox," and John,
who had been reckoned an uncommon useful stroke, felt that a compliment
was intended if not quite materialized.
Mrs. Pat Dearman enjoyed the upstream trip, and, watching her husband
drive the heavy boat against wind and current with graceful ease,
contrasted him with the puny, if charming, Augustus--to the latter's
detriment. He was so safe, so sound, so strong, reliable and true. But
then he never needed any protection, care and help. It was impossible to
"mother" John. He loved her devotedly and beautifully but one couldn't
pretend he leaned on her for moral help. Now Augustus did need her or he
had done so--and she did so love to be needed. _Had_ done so? No--she
would put the thought away. He needed her as much as ever and loved her
as devotedly and honourably.... The boat was turned back at the weir
and, half an hour later, reached the Club wharf.
"I want to go straight home without changing, Pat; do you mind? I'll
drop you at the Gymkhana if you don't want to get home so early," said
Dearman, as he helped his wife out.
"Won't you change and have a drink first, John?" she replied. "You must
"No. I want to go along now, if you don't mind."
He did want to--badly. For, rowing up, he had seen something which his
wife, facing the other way, could not see.
Under an over-hanging bush was a punt, and in the punt were Augustus and
the lady known as Mrs. Harris.
The bush met the bank at the side toward his wife, but at the other
side, facing Dearman, there was an open space and so he had seen and she
had not. Returning, he had drawn her attention to something on the
opposite bank. This had been unnecessary, however, as Augustus had
effected a change of venue without delay. And now he did not want his
wife to witness the return of the couple and learn of the duplicity of
her snatched Brand.
(He'd "brand" him anon!)
* * * * *
Augustus Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble sat in the long cane chair in
his sitting-room, a glass beside him, a cigarette between his lips, a
fleshly poet in his hand, and a reminiscent smile upon his flushed face.
She undoubtedly was a spanker. Knew precisely how many beans make five.
A woman of the world, that. Been about. Knew things. Sort of woman one
could tell a good story to--and get one back. Life! Life! Knew it up and
down, in and out. Damn reformation, teetotality, the earnest, and the
strenuous. Good women were unmitigated bores, and he.... A sharp knock
at the door.
"_Kon hai_?" he called. "_Under ao_."
 Who's there.
 Come in.
The door opened and large Mr. Dearman walked in. He bore a nasty-looking
malacca cane in his hand--somewhat ostentatiously.
"Hullo, Dearman!" said Augustus after a decidedly startled and anxious
look. "What is it? Sit down. I'm just back from College. Have a drink?"
Large Mr. Dearman considered these things _seriatim_.
"I will sit down as I want a talk with you. You are a liar in the matter
of just being back from College. I will not have a drink." He then
lapsed into silence and looked at Augustus very straight and very
queerly, while bending the nasty malacca suggestively. The knees of
Augustus smote together.
Good God! It had come at last! The thrashing he had so often earned was
at hand. What should he do? What _should_ he do!
Dearman thought the young man was about to faint.
"Fine malacca that, isn't it?" he asked.
"Swishy, supple, tough."
"Ye-yes!" (How could the brute be such a fool as to be jealous now--now
when it was all cooling off and coming to an end?)
"Grand stick to thrash a naughty boy with, what?"
"Ye-yes!--Dearman, I swear before God that there is nothing between me
"Shut up, you infernal God-forsaken cub, or I shall have to whip you.
"Dearman, if you are jealous of me----"
"Better be quiet and listen, or _I_ shall get cross, and _you'll_ get
hurt.... You have given us the pleasure of a great deal of your company
this year, and I have come to ask you----"
"Dearman, I have not been so much lately, and I--"
"That's what I complain of, my young friend."
"That's what I complain of! I have come to protest against your making
yourself almost necessary to me, in a sense, and then--er--deserting me,
in a sense."
"You are mocking me, Dearman. If you wish to take advantage of my being
half your size and strength to assault me, you----"
"Not a bit of it, my dear Augustus. I am in most deadly earnest, as
you'll find if you are contumacious when I make my little proposition.
What I say is this. _I_ have grown to take an interest in you, Augustus.
_I_ have been very kind to you and tried to make a better man of you.
_I_ have been a sort of mother to you, and you have sworn devotion and
gratitude to me. _I_ have reformed you somewhat, and you have admitted
to me that I have made another man of you, Augustus, and that you love
me for it, you love _me_ with a deep Platonic love, my Augustus,
and--don't you forget it."
"I admit that your wife----"
"Don't you mention my wife, Augustus, or you and I and that malacca will
have a period of great activity. I was saying that _I_ am disappointed
in you, Augustus, and truly grieved to find you so shallow and false. I
asked you to take me on the river to-night and you lied to me and took a
very different type of--er--person. Such meanness and ingratitude fairly
get me, Augustus. Now I never _asked_ you to run after me and come and
swear I had saved your dirty little soul alive, but since you did it,
Augustus, and _I_ have come to take a deep interest in saving the
thing--why, you've got to stick it, Augustus--and if you don't--why,
then I'll make you, my dear."
"Dearman, your wife has been the noblest friend----"
"_Will_ you come off it, Augustus? I don't want to be cruel. Now look
here. _I_ have got accustomed to having you about the house and
employing you in those funny little ways in which you are a useful
little animal. I am under no delusion as to the value of that Soul of
yours--but, such as it is, _I_ am determined to save it. So just you
bring it round to tea to-morrow, as usual; and don't you ever be absent
again without my permission. You began the game and I'll end it--when I
think fit. Grand malacca that."
"Dearman, I will always----"
"'Course you will. See you at tea to-morrow, Gussie. If ever my wife
hears of this I'll kill you painfully. Bye-Bye."
Augustus was present at tea next day, and, thenceforth, so regular was
he that Mrs. Dearman found, first, that she had been very foolish in
thinking that her Brand was slipping back into the fire and, later, that
Gussie was a bore and a nuisance.
One day he said in the presence of John:--
"I can't keep that golf engagement on Saturday, dear lady, I have to
attend a meeting of the Professors, Principal and College Board".
"Have you seen my malacca cane, Pat," said Dearman. "I want it."
"But I really have!" said Augustus, springing up.
"Of course you have," replied Dearman. "What _do_ you mean?"
* * * * *
"John dear," remarked Mrs. Dearman one day, "I wish you could give
Gussie a hint not to come quite so often. I have given him some very
broad ones during the last few months, but he won't take them. He would
from you, I expect."
"Tired of the little bounder, Pat?"
"Oh, sick and tired. He bores me to tears. I wish he were in Government
Service and could be transferred. A Government man's always transferred
as soon as he has settled to his job. I can't forbid him the house, very
well, but I _wish_ he'd realize how weary I am of his poses and new
* * * * *
Augustus Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble sat in the long cane chair in
his sitting-room, a look of rebellious discontent upon his face. What
could he do? Better chuck his job and clear out! The strain was getting
awful. What a relentless, watchful brute Dearman was! To him entered
that gentleman after gently tapping at the chamber door.
"Gussie," said he, "I have come to say that I think you weary me. I
don't want you to come and play with me any more. _But_ be a nice good
boy and do me credit. I have brought you this malacca as a present and a
memento. I have another, Gussie, and am going to watch you, so be a real
credit to me."
And Gussie was.
So once again a good woman redeemed a bad man--but a trifle indirectly
Then came General Miltiades Murger and Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison to be
During intervals in the salvation process, Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison
vainly endeavoured to induce Mr. Augustus Clarence Percy Marmaduke
Grobble to lend his countenance, as well as the rest of his person, to
the European Company of the Gungapur Fusilier Volunteer Corps which it
was the earnest ambition of Ross-Ellison to raise and train and
consolidate into a real and genuine defence organization, with a
maxim-gun, a motor-cycle and car section, and a mounted troop, and with,
above all, a living and sturdy _esprit-de-corps_. Such a Company
appeared to him to be the one and only hope of regeneration for the
ludicrous corps which Colonel Dearman commanded, and to change the
metaphor, the sole possible means of leavening the lump by its example
of high standards and high achievement.
To Augustus, however, as to many other Englishmen, the idea was merely
ridiculous and its parent simply absurd.
The day dawned when Augustus, like the said many other Englishmen,
changed his mind. In his, and their defence, it may be urged that they
knew nothing of the activities of a very retiring but persevering
gentleman, known to his familiars as Ilderim the Weeper, and that they
had grown up in the belief that all England's fighting and defence can
be done by a few underpaid, unconsidered, and very vulgar hirelings.
Perish the thought that Augustus and his like should ever be expected to
do the dirty work of defending themselves, their wives, children, homes
Sec. 2. GENERAL MURGER.
In a temporary Grand Stand of matchboarding and canvas _tout Gungapur_
greeted Mrs. Pat Dearman, who was quite At Home, ranged itself, and
critically inspected the horses, or the frocks, of its friends,
according to its sex.
Around the great ring on to which the Grand Stand looked, Arab, Pathan,
and other heathen raged furiously together and imagined many vain
things. Among them unobtrusively moved a Somali who listened carefully
to conversations, noted speakers, and appeared to be collecting
impressions as to the state of public opinion--and of private opinion.
Particularly he sought opportunities of hearing reference to the
whereabouts and doings of one Ilderim the Weeper. In the ring were a
course of stiff jumps, lesser rings, the judges' office, a kind of
watch-tower from which a strenuous fiend with a megaphone bawled things
that no living soul could understand, and a number of most
horsily-arrayed gentlemen, whose individual status varied from General
and cavalry-colonel to rough rider, troop sergeant-major and stud groom.
I regret to add that there was also a Lady, that she was garbed for
riding in the style affected by mere man, and that she swaggered
loud-voiced, horsey, slapping a boot.
Let men thank the good God for womanly women while such be--and
Behind the Grand Stand were massed the motor-cars and carriages of
Society, as well as the Steward of the Gungapur Club, who there spent a
busy afternoon in eating ices and drinking Cup while his myrmidons
hurried around, washed glasses, squeezed lemons, boiled water and
dropped things. Anon he drank ices and ate Cup (with a spoon) and was
taken deviously back to his little bungalow behind the Club by the Head
Bootlaire Saheb (or butler) who loved and admired him.
Beyond the big ring ran the river, full with the summer rains, giving a
false appearance of doing much to cool the air and render the afternoon
suitable to the stiff collars and "Europe" garments of the once sterner
A glorious sea-breeze did what the river pretended to do. Beneath the
shade of a clump of palms, scores of more and less valuable horses
stamped, tossed heads, whisked tails and possibly wondered why God made
flies, while an equal number of _syces_ squatted, smoked pungent
_bidis_, and told lies.
Outside a tent, near by, sat a pimply youth at a table bearing boxes of
be-ribboned labels, number-inscribed, official, levelling.
These numbers corresponded with those attached to the names of the
horses in the programme of events, and riders must tie one round each
arm ere bringing a horse up for judgment when called on.
Certain wretched carping critics alleged that this arrangement was to
prevent the possibility of error on the part of the Judges, who,
otherwise, would never know whether a horse belonged to a General or a
Subaltern, to a Member of Council or an Assistant Collector, to a Head
of a Department or a wretched underling--in short to a personage or a
You find this type of doubter everywhere--and especially in India where
official rank is but the guinea stamp and gold is brass without it.
Great, in the Grand Stand, was General Miltiades Murger. Beside Mrs.
Dearman, most charming of hostesses, he sate, in the stage of avuncular
affection, and told her that if the Judges knew their business his
hunter would win the Hunter-Class first prize and be "Best Horse in the
As to his charger, his hack, his trapper, his suitable-for-polo ponies,
his carriage-horses he did not worry; they might or might not "do
something," but his big and beautiful hunter--well, he hoped the Judges
knew their business, that was all.
"Are you going to show him in the ring yourself, General?" asked Mrs.
"And leave your side?" replied the great man in manner most avuncular
and with little reassuring pats upon the lady's hand. "No, indeed. I am
going to remain with you and watch Rissaldar-Major Shere Singh ride him
for me. Finest horseman in India. Good as myself. Yes, I _hope_ the
Judges for Class XIX know their business. I imported that horse from
Home and he cost me over six thousand rupees."
Meanwhile, it may be mentioned, evil passions surged in the soul of Mr.
John Robin Ross-Ellison as he watched the General, and witnessed his
avuncular pattings and confidential whisperings. Mr. Ross-Ellison had
lunched with the Dearmans, had brought Mrs. Dearman to the Horse Show,
and was settling down, after she had welcomed her guests, to a
delightful, entrancing, and thrillful afternoon with her--to be broken
but while he showed his horse--when he had been early and utterly routed
by the General. The heart of Mr. Ross-Ellison was sore within him, for
he loved Mrs. Dearman very devotedly and respectfully.
He was always devotedly in love with some one, and she was always a nice
When she, or he, left the station, his heart died within him, life was
hollow, and his mouth filled with Dead Sea fruit. The world he loved so
much would turn to dust and ashes at his touch. After a week or so his
heart would resurrect, life would become solid, and his mouth filled
with merry song. He would fall in love afresh and the world went very
At present he loved Mrs. Dearman--and hated General Miltiades Murger,
who had sent him for a programme and taken his seat beside Mrs. Dearman.
There was none on the other side of her--Mr. Ross-Ellison had seen to
that--and his prudent foresight had turned and rent him, for he could
not plant a chair in the narrow gangway.
He wandered disconsolately away and instinctively sought the object of
the one permanent and unwavering love of his life--his mare "Zuleika,"
late of Balkh.
Zuleika was more remarkable for excellences of physique than for those
of mind and character. To one who knew her not, she was a wild beast,
fitter for a cage in a Zoo than for human use, a wild-eyed, screaming
man-eating she-devil; and none knew her save Mr. John Robin
Ross-Ellison, who had bought her unborn. (He knew her parents.)
"If you see an ugly old cove with no hair and a blue nose come over here
for his number, just kick his foremost button, _hard_," said Mr.
Ross-Ellison to her as he gathered up the reins and, dodging a kick,
prepared to mount. This was wrong of him, for Zuleika had never suffered
any harm at the hands of General Miltiades Murger, "'eavy-sterned
amateur old men" he quoted in a vicious grumble.
A wild gallop round the race-course did something to soothe the ruffled
spirit of Mr. Ross-Ellison and nothing to improve Zuleika's
appearance--just before she entered the show-ring.
On returning, Mr. Ross-Ellison met the Notable Nut (Lieutenant Nottinger
Nutt, an ornament of the Royal Horse Artillery), and they talked evil of
Dignitaries and Institutions amounting to high treason if not blasphemy,
while watching the class in progress, with young but gloomy eyes.
"I don't care what _any_body says," observed the Notable Nut. "You read
the lists of prize-winners of all the bally horse-shows ever held here
and you'll find 'em all in strict and decorous order of owner's rank.
'Chargers. First Prize--_Lieutenant-General_ White's "Pink Eye". Second
Prize--_Brigadier-General_ Black's "Red Neck". Third Prize--_Colonel_
Brown's "Ham Bone". Highly commended--_Major_ Green's "Prairie Oyster".
Nowhere at all--_Second-Lieutenant_ Blue's "Cocktail,"'--and worth all
the rest put together. I tell you I've seen horse after horse change
hands after winning a First Prize as a General's property and then win
nothing at all as a common Officer's or junior civilian's, until bought
again by a Big Pot. Then it sweeps the board. I don't for one second
dream of accusing Judges of favouritism or impropriety any kind, but I'm
convinced that the glory of a brass-bound owner casts a halo about his
horse that dazzles and blinds the average rough-rider, stud-groom and
cavalry-sergeant, and don't improve the eyesight of some of their
betters, when judging."
"You're right, Nutty," agreed Mr. Ross-Ellison. "Look at that horse
'Runaway'. Last year it won the First Prize as a light-weight hunter,
First Prize as a hack, and Highly Commended as a charger--disqualified
from a prize on account of having no mane. It then belonged to a Colonel
of Dragoons. This year, with a mane and in, if possible, better
condition, against practically the same horses, it wins nothing at all.
This year it belongs to a junior in the P.W.D. one notices."
"Just what I say," acquiesced the aggrieved Nut, whose rejected horse
had been beaten by another which it had itself beaten (under different
ownership) the previous year. "Fact is, the judges should be absolutely
ignorant as to who owns the horses. They mean well enough, but to them
it stands to reason that the most exalted Pots own the most exalted
horses. Besides, is it fair to ask a troop sergeant-major to order his
own Colonel's horse out of the ring, or the General's either? They ought
not to get subordinates in at all. Army Veterinary Colonels from other
Divisions are the sort of chaps you want, and some really knowledgeable
unofficial civilians--and, as I say, to be in complete ignorance as to
ownership. No man to ride his own horse--and none of these bally numbers
to prevent the Judges from thinking a General's horse belongs to a
common man, and from getting the notion that a subaltern's horse belongs
to a General."
"Yes" mused Mr. Ross-Ellison, "and another thing. If you want to get a
horse a win or a place in the Ladies' Hack class--get a pretty girl to
ride it. They go by the riders' faces and figures entirely.... Hullo!
Class XIX wanted. That's me and Zuleika. Come and tie the labels on my
arms like a good dog."
"Right O. But you haven't the ghost of a little look in," opined the
Nut. "Old Murger has got a real corking English hunter in. A General
will win as usual--but he'll win with by far the best horse, for once in
the history of horse-shows."
Dismounting and handing their reins to the syces, the two young
gentlemen strolled over to the table where presided he of the pimples
A burly Sikh was pointing to the name of General Miltiades Murger and
asking for the number printed thereagainst.
The youth handed Rissaldar-Major Shere Singh two labels each bearing the
number 99. These, the gallant Native Officer proceeded to tie upon his
arms--putting them upside down, as is the custom of the native of India
when dealing with anything in any wise reversible.
Mr. Ross-Ellison approached the table, showed his name on the programme
and asked for his number--66.
"Tie these on," said he returning to his friend. "By Jove--there's old
Murger's horse," he added--"what a magnificent animal!"
Looking up, the Nut saw Rissaldar-Major Shere Singh mounting the
beautiful English hunter--and also saw that he bore the number 66.
Therefore the labels handed to him were obviously 99, and as 99 he tied
on the 66 of Mr. Ross-Ellison--who observed the fact.
"I am afraid I'm all Pathan at this moment," silently remarked he unto
his soul, and smiled an ugly smile.
"Not much good my entering Zuleika against _that_ mare," he said aloud.
"It must have cost just about ten times what I paid for her. Never mind
though! We'll show up--for the credit of civilians," and he rode into
the ring--where a score of horses solemnly walked round and round the
Judges and in front of the Grand Stand....
General Murger brought Mrs. Dearman a cup of tea, and, having placed his
_topi_ in his chair, went, for a brandy-and-soda and cheroot, to the
bar behind the rows of seats.
On his return he beheld his superb and expensive hunter behaving
superbly and expensively in the expert hands of Rissaldar-Major Shere
He feasted his eyes upon it.
Suddenly a voice, a voice he disliked intensely, the voice of Mr.
Dearman croaked fiendishly in his ear: "Why, General, they've got your
horse numbered wrongly!"
General Miltiades Murger looked again. Upon the arm of Rissaldar-Major
Shere Singh was the number 66.
Opening his programme with trembling fingers he found his name, his
horse's name, and number 99!
He rose to his feet, stammering and gesticulating. As he did so the
"Take out number 66," were distinctly borne to the ears of the serried
ranks of the fashionable in the Grand Stand. Certain military-looking
persons at the back abandoned all dignity and fell upon each other's
necks, poured great libations, danced, called upon their gods, or fell
prostrate upon settees.
Others, seated among the ladies, looked into their bats as though in
"Has Ross-Ellison faked it?" ran from mouth to mouth, and, "He'll be
hung for this".
A minute or so later the Secretary approached the Grand Stand and
announced in stentorian tones:
"First Prize--General Murger's _Darling_, Number 99".
While behind him upon Zuleika, chosen of the Judges, sat and smiled Mr.
John Robin Ross-Ellison, who lifted his voice and said:
"Thanks--No!--This horse is _mine_ and is named _Zuleika_." He looked
rather un-English, rather cunning, cruel and unpleasant--quite different
somehow, from his ordinary cheery, bright English self.
* * * * *
"Old" Brigadier General Miltiades Murger was unique among British
Generals in that he sometimes resorted to alcoholic stimulants beyond
reasonable necessity and had a roving and a lifting eye for a pretty
woman. In one sense the General had never taken a wife--and, in another,
he had taken several. Indeed it was said of him by jealous colleagues
that the hottest actions in which he had ever been engaged were actions
for divorce or breach of promise, and that this type of imminent deadly
breach was the kind with which he was best acquainted. Also that he was
better at storming the citadel of a woman's heart than at storming
No eminent man is without jealous detractors.
As to the stimulants, make no mistake and jump to no hasty conclusions.
General Murger had never been seen drunk in the whole of his
distinguished and famous (or as the aforesaid colleagues called it,
egregious and notorious) career.
On the other hand, the voice of jealousy said he had never been seen
sober either. In the words of envy, hatred, malice and all
uncharitableness it declared that he had been born fuddled, had lived
fuddled, and would die fuddled. And there were ugly stories.
Also some funny ones--one of which concerns the, Gungapur Fusilier
Volunteer Corps and Colonel Dearman, their beloved but shortly retiring
(and, as some said, their worthy) Commandant.
Mr. Dearman was a very wealthy (and therefore popular), very red haired
and very patriotic mill-owner who tried very hard to be proud of his
Corps, and, without trying, was immensely proud of his wife.
As to the Corps--well, it may at least be said that it would have
followed its beloved Commandant anywhere (that was neither far nor
dangerous), for every one of its Officers, except Captain John Robin
Ross-Ellison, and the bulk of its men, were his employees.
They loved him for his wealth and they trusted him absolutely--trusted
him not to march them far nor work them much. And they were justified of
Several of the Officers were almost English--though Greeks and
Goa-Portuguese predominated, and there was undeniably a drop or two of
English blood in the ranks, well diffused of course. Some folk said that
even Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison was not as Scotch as his name.
On guest-nights in the Annual Camp of Exercise (when the Officers' Mess
did itself as well as any Mess in India--and only took a few hundred
rupees of the Government Grant for the purpose) Colonel Dearman would
look upon the wine when it was bubbly, see his Corps through its golden
haze, and wax so optimistic, so enthusiastic, so rash, as roundly to
state that if he had five hundred of the Gungapur Fusiliers, with
magazines charged and bayonets fixed, behind a stout entrenchment or in
a fortified building, he would stake his life on their facing any
unarmed city mob you could bring against them. But these were but
post-prandial vapourings, and Colonel Dearman never talked nor thought
any such folly when the Corps was present to the eye of flesh.
On parade he saw it for what it was--a mob of knock-kneed, sniffling
lads with just enough strength to suck a cigarette; anaemic clerks, fat
cooks, and loafers with just enough wind to last a furlong march; huge
beery old mechanics and ex-"Tommies," forced into this coloured galley
as a condition of their "job at the works "; and the non-native scum of
the city of Gungapur--which joined for the sake of the ammunition-boots
and khaki suit.
There was not one Englishman who was a genuine volunteer and not half a
dozen Parsis. Englishmen prefer to join a corps which consists of
Englishmen or at least has an English Company. When they have no
opportunity of so doing, it is a little unfair to class them with the
lazy, unpatriotic, degenerate young gentlemen who have the opportunity
and do not seize it. Captain Ross-Ellison was doing his utmost to
provide the opportunity--with disheartening results.
Back to Full Books