Percival Christopher Wren
Part 3 out of 5
However--Colonel Dearman tried very hard to be proud of his Corps and
never forgave anyone who spoke slightingly of it.
As to his wife, there was, as stated, no necessity for any "trying". He
was immensely and justly proud of her as one of the prettiest, most
accomplished, and most attractive women in the Bendras Presidency.
Mrs. "Pat" Dearman, _nee_ Cleopatra Diamond Brighte, was, as has been
said, consciously and most obviously a Good Woman. Brought up by a
country rector and his vilely virtuous sister, her girlhood had been a
struggle to combine her two ambitions, that of being a Good Woman with
that of having a Good Time. In the village of Bishop's Overley the
former had been easier; in India the latter. But even in India, where
the Good Time was of the very best, she forgot not the other ambition,
went to church with unfailing regularity, read a portion of the
Scriptures daily; headed subscription lists for the myriad hospitals,
schools, widows'-homes, work-houses, Christian associations, churches,
charitable societies, shelters, orphanages, rescue-homes and other
deserving causes that appeal to the European in India; did her duty by
Colonel Dearman, and showed him daily by a hundred little bright
kindnesses that she had not married him for his great wealth but for
his--er--his--er--not exactly his beauty or cleverness or youthful
gaiety or learning or ability--no, for his Goodness, of course, and
because she loved him--loved him for the said Goodness, no doubt. No,
she never forgot the lessons of the Rectory, that it is the Whole Duty
of Man to Save his or her Soul, but remembered to be a Good Woman while
having the Good Time. Perhaps the most industriously pursued of all her
goodnesses was her unflagging zealous labour in Saving the Souls of
Others as well as her own Soul--the "Others" being the young,
presentable, gay, and well-placed men of Gungapur Society.
Yes, Mrs. Pat Dearman went beyond the Rectory teachings and was not
content with personal salvation. A Good Woman of broad altruistic
charity, there was not a young Civilian, not a Subaltern, not a
handsome, interesting, smart, well-to-do, well-in-society, young
bachelor in whose spiritual welfare she did not take the deepest
personal interest. And, perhaps, of all such eligible souls in Gungapur,
the one whose Salvation she most deeply desired to work out (after she
wearied of the posings and posturings of Augustus Grobble) was that of
Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison of her husband's corps--an exceedingly
handsome, interesting, smart, well-to-do, well-in-society young
bachelor. The owner of this eligible Soul forebore to tell Mrs. Pat
Dearman that it was bespoke for Mohammed the Prophet of Allah--inasmuch
as _almost_ the most entrancing, thrilling and delightful pursuit of his
life was the pursuit of soul-treatment at the hands, the beautiful tiny
white hands, of Mrs. Pat Dearman. Had her large soulful eyes penetrated
this subterfuge, he would have jettisoned Mohammed forthwith, since, to
him, the soul-treatment was of infinitely more interest and value than
the soul, and, moreover, strange as it may seem, this Mussulman English
gentleman had received real and true Christian teaching at his mother's
knee. When Mrs. Pat Dearman took him to Church, as she frequently did,
on Sunday evenings, he was filled with great longings--and with a
conviction of the eternal Truth and Beauty of Christianity and the
essential nobility of its gentle, unselfish, lofty teachings. He would
think of his mother, of some splendid men and women he had known,
especially missionaries, medical and other, at Bannu and Poona and
elsewhere, and feel that he was really a Christian at heart; and then
again in Khost and Mekran Kot, when carrying his life in his hand,
across the border, in equal danger from the bullet of the Border Police,
Guides, or Frontier Force cavalry-outposts and from the bullet of
criminal tribesmen, when a devil in his soul surged up screaming for
blood and fire and slaughter; during the long stealthy crawl as he
stalked the stalker; during the wild, yelling, knife-brandishing rush;
as he pressed the steady trigger or guided the slashing, stabbing Khyber
knife, or as he instinctively _hallaled_ the victim of his _shikar_, he
knew he was a Pathan and a Mussulman as were his fathers.
But whether circumstances brought his English blood to the surface or
his Pathan blood, whether the day were one of his most English days or
one of his most Pathan days, whether it were a day of mingled and
quickly alternating Englishry and Pathanity he now loved and supported
Britain and the British Empire for Mrs. Dearman's sake. Often as he
(like most other non-officials) had occasion to detest and desire to
kick the Imperial Englishman, championship of England and her Empire
was now his creed. And as there was probably not another England-lover
in all India who had his knowledge of under-currents, and forces within
and without, he was perhaps the most anxiously loving of all her lovers,
and the most appalled at the criminal carelessness, blind ignorance,
fatuous conceit, and folly of a proportion of her sons in India.
Knowing what he knew of Teutonic intrigue and influence in India,
Ceylon, Afghanistan, Aden, Persia, Egypt, East Africa, the Straits
Settlements, and China, he was reminded of the men and women of Pompeii
who ate, drank, and were merry, danced and sang, pursued pleasure and
the nimble denarius, while Vesuvius rumbled.
Constantly the comparison entered his mind.
He had sojourned with Indian "students" in India, England, Germany,
Geneva, America and Japan, and had belonged to the most secret of
societies. He had himself been a well-paid agent of Germany in both Asia
and Africa; and he had been instrumental in supplying thousands of
rifles to Border raiders, Persian bandits, and other potential troublers
of the _pax Britannica_. He now lived half his double life in Indian
dress and moved on many planes; and to many places where even he could
not penetrate unsuspected, his staunch and devoted slave, Moussa Isa,
went observant. And all that he learnt and knew, within and without the
confines of Ind, _by itself_ disturbed him, as an England-lover, not at
all. Taken in conjunction with the probabilities of a great European War
it disturbed him mightily. As mightily as unselfishly. To him the
dripping weapon, the blazing roof, the shrieking woman, the mangled
corpse were but incidents, the unavoidable, unobjectionable concomitants
of the Great Game, the game he most loved (and played upon every
While, with one half of his soul, John Robin Ross-Ellison might fear
internal disruption, mutiny, rebellion and civil war for what it might
bring to the woman he loved, with the other half of his soul, Mir
Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan dwelt upon the joys of
battle, of campaigning, the bivouac, the rattle of rifle-fire, the
charge, the circumventing and slaying of the enemy, as he circumvents
that he may slay. Thus, it was with no selfish thought, no personal
dread, that he grew, as said, mightily disturbed at what he knew of
India whenever he saw signs of the extra imminence of the Great European
Armageddon that looms upon the horizon, now near, now nearer still, now
less near, but inevitably there, plain to the eyes of all observant,
informed and thoughtful men.
 Written in 1912.--AUTHOR.
What really astounded and appalled him was the mental attitude, the
mental condition, of British "statesmen," who (while a mighty and
ever-growing neighbour, openly, methodically, implacably prepared for
the war that was to win her place in the sun) laboured to reap votes by
sowing class-hatred and devoted to national "insurance" moneys sorely
needed to insure national _existence_.
To him it was as though hens cackled of introducing
time-and-labour-saving incubators while the fox pressed against the
unfastened door, smiling to think that their cackle smothered all other
sounds ere they reached them or the watch-dog.
Yes--while England was at peace, all was well with India; but let
England find herself at war, fighting for her very existence ... and
India might, in certain parts, be an uncomfortable place for any but the
strong man armed, as soon as the British troops were withdrawn--as they,
sooner or later, most certainly would be. Then, feared Captain John
Robin Ross-Ellison of the Gungapur Fusiliers, the British Flag would,
for a terrible breathless period of stress and horror, fly, assailed but
triumphant, wherever existed a staunch well-handled Volunteer Corps, and
would flutter down into smoke, flames, ruin and blood, where there did
not. He was convinced that, for a period, the lives of English women,
children and men; English prosperity, prestige, law and order; English
rule and supremacy, would in some parts of India depend for a time upon
the Volunteers of India. At times he was persuaded that the very
continuance of the British Empire might depend upon the Volunteers of
India. If, during some Black Week (or Black Month or Year) of England's
death-struggle with her great rival she lost India (defenceless India,
denuded of British troops), she would lose her Empire,--be the result of
her European war what it might. And knowing all that he knew, he feared
for England, he feared for India, he feared for the Empire. Also he
determined that, so far as it lay in the power of one war-trained man,
the flag should be kept flying in Gungapur when the Great European
Armageddon commenced, and should fly over a centre, and a shelter, for
Mrs. Dearman, and for all who were loyal and true.
That would be a work worthy of the English blood of him and of the
Pathan blood too. God! he would show some of these devious,
subterranean, cowardly swine what war _is_, if they brought war to
Gungapur in the hour of India's danger and need, the hour of England and
the Empire's danger and need.
And Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison (and still more Mir Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan), obsessed with the belief that a
different and more terrible 1857 would dawn with the first big reverse
in England's final war with her systematic, slow, sure, and certain
rival, her deliberate, scientific, implacable rival, gave all his
thoughts, abilities and time to the enthralling, engrossing game of
Perfecting his local system of secret information, hearing and seeing
all that he could with his own Pathan ears and eyes, and adding to his
knowledge by means of those of the Somali slave, he also learnt, at
first hand, what certain men were saying in Cabul and on the Border--and
what those men say in those places is worth knowing by the meteorologist
of world-politics. The pulse of the heart of Europe can be felt very far
from that heart, and as is the wrist to the pulse-feeling doctor, is
Afghanistan and the Border to the head of India's Political Department;
as is the doctor's sensitive thumb to the doctor's brain, is the tried,
trusted and approven agent of the Secret Service to the Head of all the
Politicals.... What chiefly troubled Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison of
the Gungapur Fusiliers was the shocking condition of those same
Fusiliers and the blind smug apathy, the fatuous contentment, the short
memories and shorter sight, of the British Pompeians who were perfectly
willing that the condition of the said Fusiliers should remain so.
Clearly the first step towards a decently reliable and efficient corps
in Gungapur was the abolition of the present one, and, with unformulated
intentions towards its abolition, Mr. Ross-Ellison, by the kind
influence of Mrs. Dearman, joined as a Second Lieutenant and speedily
rose to the rank of Captain and the command of a Company. A year's
indefatigable work convinced him that he might as well endeavour to
fashion sword-blades from leaden pipes as to make a fighting unit of his
gang of essentially cowardly, peaceful, unreliable, feeble nondescripts.
That their bodies were contemptible he would have regarded as merely
deplorable, but there was no spirit, no soul, no tradition--nothing upon
which he could work. "Broken-down tapsters and serving-men" indeed, in
Cromwell's bitter words, and to be replaced by "men of a spirit".
They must go--and make way for men--if indeed _men_ could be found, men
who realized that even an Englishman owes something to the community
when he goes abroad, in spite of his having grown up in a land where
honourable and manly National Service is not, and those who keep him
safe are cheap hirelings, cheaply held....
On the arrival of General Miltiades Murger he sat at his feet as soon
as, and whenever, possible; only to discover that he was not only
uninterested in, but obviously contemptuous of, volunteers and
volunteering. When, at the Dearmans' dinner-table, he endeavoured to
talk with the General on the subject he was profoundly discouraged, and
on his asking what was to happen when the white troops went home and
the Indian troops went to the Border, or even to Europe, as soon as
England's inevitable and final war broke out, he was also profoundly
When, after that dinner, General Miltiades Murger made love to Mrs.
Dearman on the verandah, he also made an enemy, a bitter, cruel, and
vindictive enemy of Mr. Ross-Ellison (or rather of Mir Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan).
Nor did his subsequent victory at the Horse Show lessen the enmity,
inasmuch as Mrs. Dearman (whom Ross-Ellison loved with the respectful
platonic devotion of an English gentleman and the fierce intensity of a
Pathan) took General Miltiades Murger at his own valuation, when that
hero described himself and his career to her by the hour. For the
General had succumbed at a glance, and confided to his Brigade-Major
that Mrs. Dearman was a dooced fine woman and the Brigade-Major might
say that he said so, damme.
As the General's infatuation increased he told everybody else
also--everybody except Colonel Dearman--who, of course, knew it already.
He even told Jobler, his soldier-servant, promoted butler, as that
sympathetic and admiring functionary endeavoured to induce him to go to
bed without his uniform.
At last he told Mrs. Dearman herself, as he saw her in the rosy light
that emanated from the fine old Madeira that fittingly capped a noble
luncheon given by him in her honour.
He also told her that he loved her as a father--and she besought him not
to be absurd. Later he loved her as an uncle, later still as a cousin,
later yet as a brother, and then as a man.
She had laughed deprecatingly at the paternal affection, doubtfully at
the avuncular, nervously at the cousinly, angrily at the brotherly,--and
not at all at the manly.
In fact--as the declaration of manly love had been accompanied by an
endeavour to salute what the General had called her damask-cheek--she
had slapped the General's own cheek a resounding blow....
"Called you 'Mrs. Darlingwoman,' did he!" roared Mr. Dearman upon being
informed of the episode. "Wished to salute your damask cheek, did he!
The boozy old villain! Damask cheek! _Damned_ cheek! Where's my
dog-whip?" ... but Mrs. Dearman had soothed and restrained her lord for
the time being, and prevented him from insulting and assaulting the
"aged roue"--who was years younger, in point of fact, than the
clean-living Mr. Dearman himself.
But he had shut his door to the unrepentant and unashamed General, had
cut him in the Club, had returned a rudely curt answer to an invitation
to dinner, and had generally shown the offender that he trod on
dangerous ground when poaching on the preserves of Mr. Dearman. Whereat
the General fumed.
Also the General swore that he would cut the comb of this insolent
Further, he intimated his desire to inspect the Gungapur Fusiliers "on
Not the great and terrible Annual Inspection, of course, but a
preliminary canter in that direction.
Doubtless, the new General desired to arrive at a just estimate of the
value of this unit of his Command, and to allot to it the place for
which it was best fitted in the scheme of local defence and things
military at Gungapur.
Perhaps he desired to teach the presumptuous upstart, Dearman, a little
The Brigade Major's demy-official letter, bearing the intimation of the
impending visitation--fell as a bolt from the blue and smote the Colonel
of the Gungapur Fusiliers a blow that turned his heart to water and
loosened the tendons of his knees.
The very slack Adjutant was at home on leave; the Sergeant-Major was
absolutely new to the Corps; the Sergeant-Instructor was alcoholic and
ill; and there was not a company officer, except the admirable Captain
John Robin Ross-Ellison, competent to drill a company as a separate
unit, much less to command one in a battalion. And Captain John Robin
Ross-Ellison was away on an alleged _shikar_-trip across the distant
Border. Colonel Dearman knew his battalion-drill. He also knew his
Gungapur Fusiliers and what they did when they received the orders of
those feared and detested evolutions. They walked about, each man a law
unto himself, or stood fast until pushed in the desired direction by
Nor could any excuse be found wherewith to evade the General. It was
near the end of the drill-season, the Corps was up to its full strength,
all the Officers were in the station--except Captain Ross-Ellison and
the Adjutant. And the Adjutant's absence could not be made a just cause
and impediment why the visit of the General should not be paid, for
Colonel Dearman had with some difficulty, procured the appointment of
one of his Managers as acting-adjutant.
To do so he had been moved to describe the man as an "exceedingly smart
and keen Officer," and to state that the Corps would in no way suffer by
this temporary change from a military to a civilian adjutant, from a
professional to an amateur.
Perhaps the Colonel was right--it would have taken more than that to
make the Gungapur Fusiliers "suffer".
And all had gone exceeding well up to the moment of the receipt of this
terrible demi-official, for the Acting-Adjutant had signed papers when
and where the Sergeant-Major told him, and had saluted the Colonel
respectfully every Saturday evening at five, as he came on parade, and
suggested that the Corps should form fours and march round and round the
parade ground, prior to attempting one or two simple movements--as
No. It would have to be--unless, of course, the General had a stroke
before Saturday, or was smitten with _delirium tremens_ in time. For it
was an article of faith with Colonel Dearman since the disgraceful
episode--that a "stroke" hung suspended by the thinnest of threads above
the head of the "aged roue" and that, moreover, he trembled on the verge
of a terrible abyss of alcoholic diseases--a belief strengthened by the
blue face, boiled eye, congested veins and shaking hand of the breaker
of hearts. And Colonel Dearman knew that he must not announce the awful
fact until the Corps was actually present--or few men and fewer Officers
would find it possible to be on parade on that occasion.
Saturday evening came, and with it some five hundred men and
Officers--the latter as a body, much whiter-faced than usual, on receipt
of the appalling news.
"Thank God I have nothing to do but sit around on my horse," murmured
"Don't return thanks yet," snapped Colonel Dearman. "You'll very likely
have to drill the battalion"--and the Major went as white as his natural
Bitterly did Captain Trebizondi regret his constant insistence upon the
fact that he was senior Captain--for he was given command of "A"
Company, the post of honour and danger in front of all, and was implored
to "pull it through" and not to stand staring like an owl when the
Colonel said the battalion would advance; or turn to the left when he
shouted "In succession advance in fours from the right of Companies".
And in the orderly-room was much hurried consulting of Captain
Ross-Ellison's well-trained subaltern and of drill-books; and a babel of
such questions as: "I say, what the devil do I do if I'm commanding
Number Two and he says 'Deploy outwards'? Go to the right or left?"
More than one gallant officer was seen scribbling for dear life upon his
shirt-cuff, while others, to the common danger, endeavoured to practise
the complicated sword-brandishment which is consequent upon the order
"Fall out the Officers".
Colonel Dearman appealed to his brothers-in-arms to stand by him nobly
in his travail, but was evidently troubled by the fear that some of them
would stand by him when they ought to march by him. Captain
Petropaulovski, the acting-adjutant, endeavoured to moisten his parched
lips with a dry tongue and sat down whenever opportunity offered.
Captain Euxino Spoophitophiles was seen to tear a page from a red manual
devoted to instruction in the art of drill and to secrete it as one
"palms" a card--if one is given to the palming of cards. Captain
Schloggenboschenheimer was heard to promise a substantial _trink-geld_,
_pour-boire_, or vot-you-call-tip to Sergeant-Instructor Progg in the
event of the latter official remaining mit him and prompting him mit
der-vord-to-say ven it was necessary for him der-ting-to-do.
Too late, Captain Da Costa bethought him of telephoning to his wife (to
telephone back to himself imploring him to return at once as she was
parlous ill and sinking fast), for even as he stepped quietly toward the
telephone-closet the Sergeant-Major bustled in with a salute and the
"'Ere's the General, Sir!"
"For God's sake get on parade and play the man this day," cried Colonel
Dearman, as he hurried out to meet the General, scoring his right boot
with his left spur and tripping over his sword _en route_.
* * * * *
The General greeted the Colonel as a total stranger, addressed him as
"Colonel," and said he anticipated great pleasure from this his first
visit to the well-known Gungapur Fusiliers. He did, and he got it.
Dismounting slowly and heavily from his horse (almost as though "by
numbers") the General, followed by his smart and dapper Brigade-Major
and the perspiring Colonel Dearman, strode with clank of steel and
creak of leather, through the Headquarters building and emerged upon the
parade-ground where steadfast stood seven companies of the Gungapur
Fusilier Volunteers in quarter column--more or less at "attention".
"'Shun!" bawled Colonel Dearman, and those who were "at ease" 'shunned,
and those who were already 'shunning took their ease.
"'_Shun_!" again roared the Colonel, and those who were now in that
military position relinquished it--while those who were not, assumed it
in their own good time.
As the trio drew nigh unto the leading company, Captain Trebizondi,
coyly lurking behind its rear rank, shrilly screamed, "'A' Gompany!
Royal Salutes! Present Arrrrms!" while a volunteer, late a private of
the Loyal Whitechapel Regiment, and now an unwilling member of this
corps of auxiliary troops, audibly ejaculated through one corner of his
"Don't you do nothink o' the sort!" and added a brief orison in
prejudice of his eyesight.
Certain of "A's" stalwarts obeyed their Captain, while others took the
advice of the volunteer--who was known to have been a man of war in the
lurid past, and to understand these matters.
Lieutenant Toddywallah tugged valiantly at his sword for a space, but
finding that weapon coy and unwilling to leave its sheath, he raised his
helmet gracefully and respectfully to the General. His manner was always
"What the devil are they doing?" inquired the General.
"B," "C," "D," "E," "F," and "G" Companies breathed hard and protruded
their stomachs, while Sergeant-Instructor Progg deserved well of Captain
Schloggenboschenheimer by sharply tugging his tunic-tail as he was in
the act of roaring:--
"_Gomm_--!" the first syllable of the word "Company," with a view to
bestowing a royal salute likewise. Instead, the Captain extended the
hand of friendship to the General as he approached. The look of _nil
admirari_ boredom slowly faded from the face of the smart and dapper
Brigade-Major, and for a while it displayed quite human emotions.
Up and down and between the ranks strode the trio, the General making
instructive and interesting comments from time to time, such as:--
"Are your buttons of metal or bone, my man? Polish them and find out."
"What did you cook in that helmet?"
"Take your belt in seven holes, and put it where your waist was."
"Are _you_ fourteen years old yet?"
"Personally I don't care to see brown boots, patent shoes nor carpet
slippers with uniform."
"And when were you ninety, my poor fellow?"
"Get your belly out of my way."
"Put this unclean person under arrest or under a pump, please, Colonel."
"Can you load a rifle unaided?" and so forth.
The last-mentioned query "Can you load a rifle unaided?" addressed to a
weedy youth of seventeen who stood like a living mark-of-interrogation,
elicited the reply:--
"Oh, really! And what _can_ you do?" replied the General sweetly.
"Load a rifle Lee-Metford," was the prompt answer.
The General smiled wintrily, and, at the conclusion of his
peregrination, remarked to Colonel Dearman:--
"Well, Colonel, I can safely say that I have never inspected a
corps quite like yours"--an observation capable of various
interpretations--and intimated a desire to witness some company drill
ere testing the abilities of the regiment in battalion drill.
"Let the rear company march out and go through some movements," said he.
"Why the devil couldn't he have chosen Ross-Ellison's company," thought
Colonel Dearman, as he saluted and lifted up his voice and cried
"Captain Rozario! March 'G' Company out for some company-drill.
Captain Rozario paled beneath the bronze imparted to his well-nourished
face by the suns of Portugal (or Goa), drew his sword, dropped it,
picked it up, saluted with his left hand and backed into Lieutenant
Xenophontis of "F" Company, who asked him vare the devil he was going
To the first cold stroke of fright succeeded the hot flush of rage as
Captain Rozario saw the absurdity of ordering him to march his company
out for company drill. How in the name of all the Holy Saints could he
march his company out with six companies planted in front of him? Let
them be cleared away first. To his men he ejaculated:--
"Compannee----!" and they accepted the remark in silence.
The silence growing tense he further ejaculated "Ahem!" very loudly,
without visible result or consequence. The silence growing tenser,
Colonel Dearman said encouragingly but firmly:--
"_Do_ something, Captain Rozario".
Captain Rozario did something. He drew his whistle. He blew it. He
replaced it in his pocket.
Nothing happening, he took his handkerchief from his sleeve, blew his
nose therewith and dropped it (the handkerchief) upon the ground. Seven
obliging volunteers darted forward to retrieve it.
"May we expect the evolutions this evening, Colonel?" inquired General
"We are waiting for you to move off, Captain Rozario," stated Colonel
"Sir, how can I move off with _oll_ the rest in my front?" inquired
Captain Rozario reasonably.
"Form fours, right, and quick march," prompted the Sergeant-Major, and
Captain Rozario shrilled forth:
"Form right fours and march quick," at the top of his voice.
Many members of "G" Company turned to their right and marched towards
the setting-sun, while some turned to their left and marched in the
direction of China.
These latter, discovering in good time that they had erred, hurried to
rejoin their companions--and "G" Company was soon in full swing if not
There is a limit to all enterprise and the march of "G" Company was
stayed by a high wall.
Then Captain Rozario had an inspiration.
"About turn," he shrieked--and "G" Company about turned as one man, if
not in one direction.
The march of "G" Company was stayed this time by the battalion into
which it comfortably nuzzled.
Again Captain Rozario seized the situation and acted promptly and
"Halt!" he squeaked, and "G" Company halted--in form an oblate spheroid.
Some of its members removed their helmets and the sweat of their brows,
some re-fastened bootlaces and putties or unfastened restraining hooks
and buttons. One gracefully succumbed to his exertions and fainting
fell, with an eye upon the General.
"Interestin' evolution," remarked that Officer. "Demmed interestin'. May
we have some more?"
"Get on, Captain Rozario," implored Colonel Dearman. "Let's see some
"One hundred and twenty-five paces backward march," cried Captain
Rozario after a brief calculation, and "G" Company reluctantly detached
itself from the battalion, backwards.
"Turn round this away and face to me," continued the gallant Captain,
"and then on the left form good companee."
The oblate spheroid assumed an archipelagic formation, melting into
irregularly-placed military islands upon a sea of dust.
"_Oll_ get together and left dress, please," besought Captain Rozario,
and many of the little islands amalgamated with that on their extreme
right while the remainder gravitated to their left--the result being
two continents of unequal dimensions.
As Captain Rozario besought these disunited masses to conjoin, the voice
of the General was heard in the land--
"Kindly order that mob to disperse before it is fired on, will you,
Colonel? They can go home and stay there," said he.
Captain Rozario was a man of sensibility and he openly wept.
No one could call this a good beginning--nor could they have called the
ensuing battalion-drill a good ending.
"Put the remainder of the battalion through some simple movements if
they know any," requested the General.
Determined to retrieve the day yet, Colonel Dearman saluted, cleared his
throat terrifically and shouted: '"Tallish, 'shun!" with such force that
a nervous man in the front rank of "A" Company dropped his rifle and
several "presented" arms.
Only one came to the "slope," two to the "trail" and four to the
Men already at attention again stood at ease, while men already at ease
again stood at attention.
Disregarding these minor _contretemps_, Colonel Dearman clearly and
"The battalion will advance. In succession, advance in fours from the
left of companies--"
"Why not tell off the battalion--just for luck?" suggested General
"Tell off the battalion," said Colonel Dearman in his natural voice and
an unnaturally crestfallen manner.
Captain Trebizondi of "A" Company glared to his front, and instead of
replying "Number One" in a loud voice, held his peace--tight.
But his lips moved constantly, and apparently Captain Trebizondi was
engaged in silent prayer.
"Tell off the battalion," bawled the Colonel again.
Captain Trebizondi's lips moved constantly.
"_Will_ you tell off the dam battalion, Sir?" shouted the Colonel at the
Whether Captain Trebizondi is a Mohammedan I am not certain, but, if so,
he may have remembered words of the Prophet to the effect that it is
essential to trust in Allah absolutely, and expedient to tie up your
camel yourself, none the less. Captain Trebizondi was trusting in Allah
perchance--but he had not tied up his camel; he had not learnt his
And when Colonel Dearman personally and pointedly appealed to him in the
matter of the battalion's telling-off, he turned round and faced it and
"Ah--battalion--er--" in a very friendly and persuasive voice.
Then a drill corporal took it upon him to bawl _Number One_ as Captain
Trebizondi should have done, some one shouted _Number Two_ from "B"
Company, the colour-sergeant of "C" bawled _Number Three_ and then, with
ready wit, the Captains of "D," "E," and "F" caught up the idea, and the
thing was done.
So far so good.
And the Colonel returned to his first venture and again announced to the
battalion that it would advance in succession and in fours from the left
It bore the news with equanimity and Captain Trebizondi visibly
brightened at the idea of leaving the spot on which he had suffered and
sweated--but he took no steps in the matter personally.
He tried to scratch his leg through his gaiter.
"'A' Company going this evening?" inquired the General. "Wouldn't hurry
you, y'know, but--I dine at nine."
Captain Trebizondi remembered his parade-manners and threw a chest
instead of a stomach.
The jerk caused his helmet to tilt forward over his eyes and settle down
slowly and firmly upon his face as a fallen cliff upon the beach
"The Officer commanding the leading company appears to be trying to
hide," commented General Murger.
Captain Trebizondi uncovered his face--a face of great promise but no
"_Will_ you march your company off, sir," shouted Colonel Dearman, "the
battalion is waiting for you."
With a look of reproachful surprise and an air of "Why couldn't you say
so?" the harassed Captain agitated his sword violently as a salute,
turned to his company and boomed finely:--
The Company obeyed its Commander.
Seeing the thing so easy of accomplishment Captains Allessandropoulos,
Schloggenboschenheimer, Da Costa, Euxino, Spoophitophiles and Jose gave
the same order and the battalion was in motion--marching to its front in
quarter-column instead of wheeling off in fours.
Unsteadily shoulder from shoulder,
Unsteadily blade from blade,
Unsteady and wrong, slouching along,
Went the boys of the old brigade.
"Halt," roared Colonel Dearman.
"Oh, don't halt 'em," begged General Murger, "it's the most entertainin'
show I have ever seen."
The smart and dapper Brigade-Major's mouth was open.
Major Pinto and Captain-and-Acting-Adjutant Petropaulovski forgot to
cling to their horses with hand and heel and so endangered their lives.
The non-commissioned officers of the permanent staff commended their
souls to God and marched as men in a dream.
On hearing the Colonel's cry of "Halt" many of the men halted. Not
hearing the Colonel's cry of "Halt" many of the men did not halt.
In two minutes the battalion was without form and void.
In ten minutes the permanent staff had largely re-sorted it and, to a
great extent, re-formed the original companies.
Captain Jose offered his subaltern, Lieutenant Bylegharicontractor, a
hundred rupees to change places with him.
Offer refused, with genuine and deep regret, but firmly.
"Shall we have another try, Colonel," inquired General Murger silkily.
"Any amount of real initiative and originality about this Corps. But I
am old-fashioned enough to prefer drill-book evolutions on the
barrack-square, I confess. Er--let the Major carry on as it is getting
Colonel Dearman's face flushed a rich dark purple. His eyes protruded
till they resembled those of a crab. His red hair appeared to flame
like very fire. His lips twitched and he gasped for breath. Could he
believe his ears. "_Let the Major carry on as it is getting late_!" Let
him step into the breach "as it is getting late!" Let the more
competent, though junior, officer take over the command "as it is
getting late". Ho!--likewise Ha! This aged roue, this miserable
wine-bibbing co-respondent, with his tremulous hand and boiled eye,
thought that Colonel Dearman did not know his drill, did he? Wanted the
wretched and incompetent Pinto to carry on, did he?--as it was getting
Good! Ha! Likewise Ho! "Let Pinto carry on as it was getting late!"
Very well! _If it cost Colonel Dearman every penny he had in the world
he would have his revenge on the insolent scoundrel_. He might think he
could insult Colonel Dearman's wife with impunity, he might think
himself entitled to cast ridicule on Colonel Dearman's Corps--but "let
the Major carry on as it is getting late!" By God that was too
much!--That was the last straw that breaks the camel's heart--and
Colonel Dearman would have his revenge or lose life, honour, and wealth
in the attempt.
_Ha_! and, moreover, _Ho_!
The Colonel knew his battalion-drill by heart and backwards. Was it
_his_ fault that his officers were fools and his men damn-fools?
Major Pinto swallowed hard, blinked hard, and breathed hard. Like the
Lady of Shallott he felt that the curse had come upon him.
"Battalion will advance. Quick march," he shouted, as a safe beginning.
But the Sergeant-Major had by this time fully explained to the sweating
Captain Trebizondi that he should have given the order "Form fours.
Left. Right wheel. Quick march," when the Colonel had announced that the
battalion would advance "in succession from the left of companies".
Like lightning he now hurled forth the orders. "Form fours. Left. Right
wheel. Quick march.", and the battalion was soon under way with one
company in column of fours and the remaining five companies in line....
Time cures all troubles, and in time "A" Company was pushed and pulled
back into line again.
The incident pleased Major Pinto as it wasted the fleeting minutes and
gave him a chance to give the only other order of which he was sure.
"That was _oll_ wrong," said he. "We will now, however, oll advance as
'A' Company did. The arder will be 'Battalion will advance. In
succession, advance in fours from the right of companees.' Thenn each
officer commanding companees will give the arder 'Form fours. Right.
Left wheel. Quick march' one after _thee_ other."
And the Major gave the order.
To the surprise of every living soul upon the parade-ground the
manoeuvre was correctly executed and the battalion moved off in column
of fours. And it kept on moving. And moving. For Major Pinto had come to
the end of his tether.
"_Do_ something, man," said Colonel Dearman with haughty scorn, after
some five minutes of strenuous tramping had told severely on the
_morale_ of the regiment.
And Major Pinto, hoping for the best and fearing the worst, lifted up
his voice and screamed:--
"On the right _form battalion_!"
Let us draw a veil.
The adjective that General Murger used with the noun he called the
Gungapur Fusiliers is not to be printed.
The address he made to that Corps after it had once more found itself
would have led a French or Japanese regiment to commit suicide by
companies, taking the time from the right. A Colonel of Romance Race
would have fallen on his sword at once (and borrowed something more
lethal had it failed to penetrate).
But the corps, though not particularly British, was neither French nor
Japanese and was very glad of the rest while the General talked. And
Colonel Dearman, instead of falling on his sword, fell on General Murger
(in spirit) and swore to be revenged tenfold.
He would have his own back, cost what it might, or his name was not
Dearman--and he was going Home on leave immediately after the Volunteer
Annual Camp of Exercise, just before General Murger retired....
"I shall inspect your corps in camp," General Murger had said, "and the
question of its disbandment may wait until I have done so."
_Disbandment_! The question of the _disbandment_ of the fine and
far-famed Fusiliers of Gungapur could wait till then, could it? Well
_and_ good! Ha! and likewise Ho!
On Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison's return from leave, Colonel Dearman
told that officer of General Murger's twofold insult--to Colonel
Dearman's wife and to Colonel Dearman's Corps. On hearing of the first,
Captain Ross-Ellison showed his teeth in a wolfish and ugly manner, and,
on hearing of the second, propounded a scheme of vengeance that made
Colonel Dearman grin and then burst into a roar of laughter. He bade
Captain Ross-Ellison dine with him and elaborate details of the scheme.
* * * * *
To rumours of General Murger's failing health and growing alcoholism
Colonel Dearman listened with interest--nay, satisfaction. Stories of
seizures, strokes and "goes" of _delirium tremens_ met with no rebuke
nor contradiction from him--and an air of leisured ease and unanxious
peacefulness pervaded the Gungapur Fusiliers. If any member had thought
that the sad performance of the fatal Saturday night and the winged
words of General Murger were to be the prelude to period of fierce
activity and frantic preparation, he was mistaken. It was almost as
though Colonel Dearman believed that General Murger would not live to
carry out his threat.
The corps paraded week by week, fell in, marched round the ground and
fell out again. There was no change of routine, no increase of work, no
stress, no strain.
All was peace, the corps was happy, and in the fullness of time (and the
absence of the Adjutant) it went to Annual Camp of Exercise a few miles
from Gungapur. And there the activities of Captain John Robin
Ross-Ellison and a large band of chosen men were peculiar. While the
remainder, with whom went Colonel Dearman, the officers, and the
permanent staff, marched about in the usual manner and enjoyed the
picnic, these others appeared to be privately and secretly rehearsing a
more specialized part--to the mystification and wonder of the said
remainder. Even on the great day, the day of the Annual Inspection, this
division was maintained and the "remainder" were marched off to the
other side of the wood adjacent to the Camp, some couple of hours before
the expected arrival of the General, who would come out by train.
The arrangement was that the horses of the General and the Brigade-Major
should await those officers at the camp station, and that, on arrival,
they would be mounted by their owners who would then ride to the camp, a
furlong distant. Near the camp a mounted orderly would meet the General
and escort him to the spot where the battalion, with Colonel Dearman at
its head, would be drawn up for his inspection.
A large bungalow, used as the Officers' Mess, a copse, and a hillock
completely screened the spot used as the battalion parade-ground, from
the view of one approaching the Camp, and the magnificent sight of the
Gungapur Fusiliers under arms would burst upon him only when he rounded
the corner of a wall of palms, cactus, and bamboos, and entered by a
narrow gap between it and a clump of dense jungle.
* * * * *
General Murger was feeling distinctly bad as he sat on the edge of his
bed and viewed with the eye of disfavour the _choti hazri_ set forth
for his delectation.
 "Little presence," early breakfast, _petit dejeuner_.
As he intended to inspect the Volunteers in the early morning and
return to a mid-day breakfast, the _choti hazri_ was substantial, though
served on a tray in his bedroom.
The General yawned, rubbed his eyes and grunted.
"Eggs be demmed," said he.
"Toast be demmed," he said.
"Tea be demmed," he shouted.
"_Pate de fois gras_ be demmed," shouted he.
"Jobler! Bring me a bottle of beer," he roared.
"No, bring me a brandy-cocktail," roared he.
For the brandy-cocktail the General felt better for a time but he
wished, first, that his hand would not shake in such a way that
hair-brushing was difficult and shaving impossible; secondly, that the
prevailing colour of everything was not blue; thirdly, that he did not
feel giddy when he stood up; fourthly, that his head did not ache;
fifthly, that his mouth would provide some other flavour than that of a
glue-coated copper coin; sixthly, that things would keep still and his
boots cease to smile at him from the corner; seventhly, that he had not
gone to the St. Andrew's dinner last night, begun on _punch a la
Romaine_, continued on neat whisky in _quaichs_ and finished on port,
liqueurs, champagne and haphazard brandy-and-sodas, whisky-and-sodas,
and any old thing that was handy; and eighthly, that he had had a quart
of beer instead of the brandy-cocktail for _choti hazri_.
But that could easily be remedied by having the beer now. The General
had the beer and soon wished that he hadn't, for it made him feel very
However, a man must do his dooty, ill or well, and when the
Brigade-Major sent up to remind the General that the train went at
seven, he was answered by the General himself and a hint that he was
officious. During the brief train-journey the General slumbered.
On mounting his horse, the General was compelled to work out a little
If one has four fingers there must be three inter-finger spaces, eh?
Granted. Then how the devil are four reins to go into three places
between four fingers, eh? Absurd idea, an' damsilly. However, till the
matter was referred to the War Office and finally settled, one could put
two reins between two fingers or pass one outside the lill' finger,
what? But the General hated compromises.... The mounted orderly met the
General, saluted and directed him to the entrance to the tree-encircled
camp and parade-ground.
At the entrance, the General, leading, reined in so sharply as to throw
his horse on its haunches--his mouth fell open, his mottled face went
putty-coloured, and each hair that he possessed appeared to bristle.
He uttered a deep groan, rubbed his eyes, emitted a yell, wheeled round
and galloped for dear life, with a cry, nay a scream, of "_I've got 'em
at last_," followed by his utterly bewildered but ever-faithful
Brigade-Major, who had seen nothing but foliage, scrub, and cactus. To
Gungapur the General galloped without drawing rein, took to his bed,
sent for surgeon and priest--and became a teetotaller.
And what had he seen?
The affair is wrapped in mystery.
The Brigade-Major says nothing because he knows nothing, as it happens,
and the Corps declared it was never inspected. Father Ignatius knows
what the General saw, or thinks he saw, and so does the Surgeon-General,
but neither is in the habit of repeating confessions and confidences.
What Jobler, at the keyhole, understood him to say he had seen, or
thought he had seen, is not to be believed.
Judge of it.
"I rode into the dem place and what did I behold? A dem pandemonium,
Sir, a pantomime--a lunatic asylum, Sir--all Hell out for a Bank
Holiday, I tell you. There was a battalion of Red Indians, Negroes,
Esquimaux, Ballet Girls, Angels, Sweeps, Romans, Sailors, Pierrots,
Savages, Bogeymen, Ancient Britons, Bishops, Zulus, Pantaloons,
Beef-eaters, Tramps, Life-Guards, Washerwomen, Ghosts, Clowns and
God-knows-what, armed with jezails, umbrellas, brooms, catapults, pikes,
brickbats, _kukeries_, pokers, clubs, axes, horse-pistols, bottles,
dead fowls, polo-sticks, assegais and bombs. They were commanded by a
Highlander in a bum-bee tartan kilt, top-hat and one sock, with a red
nose a foot long, riding on a rocking horse and brandishing a dem great
cucumber and a tea-tray made into a shield. There was a thundering great
drain-pipe mounted on a bullock-cart and a naked man, painted blue, in a
cocked-hat, laying an aim and firing a penny-pistol down the middle of
it and yelling 'Pip!'
 Ghurka knives.
"There was a chauffeur in smart livery on an elephant, twirling a
steering-wheel on its neck for dear life, and tooting a big motor-horn..
There was a fat man in a fireman's helmet and pyjamas, armed with a
peashooter, riding a donkey backwards--and the moke wore two pairs of
trousers!... As I rubbed my poor old eyes, the devil in command howled
'General salaam. Pre_sent_-legs'--and every fiend there fell flat on his
face and raised his right leg up behind--I tell you, Sir, I fled for my
life, and--no more liquor for me." ...
When ex-Colonel Dearman heard any reference to this mystery he roared
with laughter--but it was the Last Muster of the fine and far-famed
Gungapur Fusiliers, as such.
The Corps was disbanded forthwith and re-formed on a different basis (of
quality instead of quantity) with Lieutenant-Colonel John Robin
Ross-Ellison, promoted, in command--he having caught the keen eye of
that splendid soldier and gentleman Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur
Barnet, K.C.V.O., K.C.S.I. (G.O.C., XVIth Division), as being the very
man for the job of re-organizing the Corps, and making it worth its
"If I could get Captain Malet-Marsac as Adjutant and a Sergeant-Major of
whom I know (used to be at Duri--man named Lawrence-Smith) I'd undertake
to show you something, Sir, in a year or two," said Lieutenant-Colonel
"Malet-Marsac you can certainly have," replied Sir Arthur Barnet. "I'll
speak to your new Brigadier. If you can find your Lawrence-Smith we'll
see what can be done." ...
And Lieutenant-Colonel Ross-Ellison wrote to Sergeant-Major
Lawrence-Smith of the Duri Volunteer Rifles to know if he would like a
transfer upon advantageous terms, and got no reply.
As it happened, Lieutenant-Colonel Ross-Ellison, in very different
guise, had seen Sergeant Lawrence-Smith extricate and withdraw his
officerless company from the tightest of tight places (on the Border) in
a manner that moved him to large admiration. It had been a case of "and
even the ranks of Tuscany" on the part of Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan
Ilderim Dost Mahommed.... Later he had encountered him and Captain
Malet-Marsac at Duri.
Sec. 3. SERGEANT-MAJOR LAWRENCE-SMITH.
Mrs. Pat Dearman was sceptical.
"Do you mean to tell me that _you_, a man of science, an eminent medical
man, and a soldier, believe in the supernatural?"
"Well, you see, I'm 'Oirish' and therefore unaccountable," replied
Colonel Jackson (of the Royal Army Medical Corps), fine doctor, fine
scholar, and fine gentleman.
"And you believe in haunted houses and ghosts and things, do you?
The salted-almond dish was empty, and Mrs. Dearman accused her other
neighbour, Mr. John Robin Ross-Ellison. Having already prepared to meet
and rebut the charge of greediness he made passes over the vessel and it
"Supernatural!" said she.
"Most," said he.
She prudently removed the dish to the far side of her plate--and
Colonel Jackson emptied it.
Not having prepared to meet the request to replenish the store a second
time, it was useless for Mr. Ross-Ellison to make more passes when
commanded so to do.
"The usual end of the 'supernatural,'" observed Mrs. Dearman with
"Most usual," said he.
"More than 'most,'" corrected Mrs. Dearman. "It is the invariable end of
it, I believe. Just humbug and rubbish. It is either an invention, pure
and simple, or else it is perfectly explicable. Don't you think so,
"Not always," said her partner. "Now, will you, first, believe my word,
and, secondly, find the explanation--if I tell you a perfectly true
"I'll certainly believe your word, Colonel, if you're serious, and I'll
try and suggest an explanation if you like," replied Mrs. Dearman.
"Same to me, Mrs. Dearman?" asked Mr. Ross-Ellison. "I've had
'experiences' too--and can tell you one of them."
"Same to you, Mr. Ross-Ellison," replied Mrs. Dearman, and added: "But
why only one of them?"
Mr. Ross-Ellison smiled, glanced round the luxuriously appointed table
and the company of fair women and brave men--and thought of a
far-distant and little-known place called Mekran Kot and of a phantom
cavalry corps that haunted a valley in its vicinity.
"Only one worth telling," said he.
"Well,--first case," began Colonel Jackson, "I was once driving past a
cottage on my way home from College (in Ireland), and I saw the old lady
who lived in that cottage come out of the door, cross her bit of garden,
go through a gate, scuttle over the railway-line and enter a fenced
field that had belonged to her husband, and which she (and a good many
other people) believed rightly belonged to her.
"'There goes old Biddy Maloney pottering about in that plot of ground
again,' thinks I. 'She's got it on the brain since her law-suit.' I knew
it was Biddy, of course, not only because of her coming out of Biddy's
house, but because it was Biddy's figure, walk, crutch-stick, and
patched old cloak. When I got home I happened to say to Mother: 'I saw
poor old Biddy Maloney doddering round that wretched field as I came
"'What?' said my mother, 'why, your father was called to her, as she was
dying, hours ago, and she's not been out of her bed for weeks.' When my
father came in, I learned that Biddy was dead an hour before I saw
her--before I left the railway station in fact! What do you make of
that? Is there any 'explanation'?"
"Some other old lady," suggested Mrs. Dearman.
"No. There was nobody else in those parts mistakable for Biddy Maloney,
and no other old woman was in or near the house while my father was
there. We sifted the matter carefully. It was Biddy Maloney and no one
"Auto-suggestion. Visualization on the retina of an idea in the mind.
Optical illusion," hazarded Mrs. Dearman.
"No good. I hadn't realized I was approaching Biddy Maloney's cottage
until I saw her coming out of it and I certainly hadn't thought of Biddy
Maloney until my eye fell upon her. And it's a funny optical illusion
that deceives one into seeing an old lady opening gates, crossing
railways and limping away into fenced fields."
"H'm! What was the other case?" asked Mrs. Dearman, turning to Mr.
"That happened here in India at a station called Duri, away in the
Northern Presidency, where I was then--er--living for a time. On the day
after my arrival I went to call on Malet-Marsac to whom I had letters of
introduction--political business--and, as he was out, but certain to
return in a minute or two from Parade, I sat me down in a comfortable
chair in the verandah----"
"And went to sleep?" interrupted Mrs. Dearman.
'"I _nevah_ sleep,'" quoted Mr. Ross-Ellison, "and I had no time, if any
inclination. Scarcely indeed had I seated myself, and actually while I
was placing my _topi_ on an adjacent stool, a lady emerged from a
distant door at the end of the verandah and walked towards me. I can
tell you I was mighty surprised, for not only was Captain Malet-Marsac a
lone bachelor and a misogynist of blameless life, but the lady looked as
though she had stepped straight out of an Early Victorian
phonograph-album. She had on a crinoline sort of dress, a deep lace
collar, spring-sidey sort of boots, mittens, and a huge cameo brooch.
Also she had long ringlets. Her face is stamped on my memory and I
could pick her out from a hundred women similarly dressed, or her
picture from a hundred others...."
"What did you do?" asked Mrs. Dearman, whose neglected ice-pudding was
fast being submerged in a pink lake of its own creation.
"Do? Nothing. I grabbed my _topi_, stood up, bowed--and looked silly."
"And what did the lady do?"
"Came straight on, taking no notice whatsoever of me, until she reached
the steps leading into the porch and garden.... She passed down these
and out of my sight.... That is the plain statement of an actual fact.
Have you any 'explanation' to offer?"
"Well--what about a lady staying there, unexpectedly and unbeknownst (to
the station), trying on a get-up for a Fancy Dress Ball. Going as 'My
ancestress' or something?" suggested Mrs. Dearman.
"Exactly what I told myself, though I _knew_ it was nothing of the
kind.... Well, five minutes later Malet-Marsac rode up the drive and we
were soon fraternizing over cheroots and cold drinks.... As I was
leaving, an idea struck me, and I saw a way to ask a question--which was
burning my tongue,--without being too rudely inquisitive.
"'By the way,' said I, 'I fear I did not send in the right number of
visiting cards, but they told me there was no lady here, so I only sent
in one--for you.'
"'There _is_ no lady here,' he replied, eyeing me queerly. 'What made
you think you had been misinformed?'
"'Well,' said I bluntly, 'a lady came out of the end room just now,
walked down the verandah, and went out into the garden. You'd better
see if anything is missing as she's not an inhabitant!'
"'No--there won't be anything missing,' he replied. 'Did she wear a
crinoline and a general air of last century?'
"'She did,' said I.
"'Our own private ghost,' was the answer--and it was the sort of
statement I had anticipated. Now I solemnly assure you that at that time
I had never heard, read, nor dreamed that there was a 'ghost' in this
bungalow, nor in Duri--nor in the whole Northern Presidency for that
"'What's the story?' I asked, of course.
"'Mutiny. 1857,' said Malet-Marsac. 'Husband shot on the parade-ground.
She got the news and marched straight to the spot. They cut her in
pieces as she held his body in her arms. Lots of people have seen
her--anywhere between that room and the parade-ground.'
"'Then you have to believe in ghosts--in Duri, or how do you account for
it?' I asked.
"'I don't bother my head,' he replied. 'But I have seen that poor lady a
good many times. And no one told me a word about her until after I had
And then Mrs. Dearman suddenly rose, as her hostess "caught" the
collective female eye of the table.
"Was all that about the 'ghosts' of the old Irishwoman and the Early
Victorian Lady true, you fellows?" asked John Bruce, the Professor of
Engineering, after coffee, cigars and the second glass of port had
reconciled the residue or sediment to the departure of the sterner sex.
"Didn't you hear me say my story was true?" replied Colonel Jackson
brusquely. "It was absolutely and perfectly true."
"Same here," added Mr. Ross-Ellison.
"Then on two separate occasions you two have seen what you can only
believe to be the ghosts of dead people?"
"On one occasion I have, without any possibility of error or doubt, seen
the ghost of a dead person," said Colonel Jackson.
"Have you ever come across any other thoroughly substantiated cases of
ghost-seeing--cases which have really convinced you, Colonel?" queried
Mr. Ross-Ellison--being deeply interested in the subject by reason of
queer powers and experiences of his own.
"Yes. Many in which I fully believe, and one about which I am _certain_.
A very interesting case--and a very cruel tragedy."
"Would you mind telling me about it?" asked Mr. Ross-Ellison.
"Pleasure. More--I'll give you as interesting and convincing a 'human
document' about it as ever you read, if you like."
"I shall be eternally grateful," replied the other.
"It was a sad and sordid business. The man, whose last written words
I'll give you to read, was a Sergeant-Major in the Volunteer Rifles
(also at Duri where I was stationed, as you know) and he was a gentleman
born and bred, poor chap." ["Lawrence-Smith," murmured Mr. John Robin
Ross-Ellison with an involuntary movement of surprise. His eyebrows rose
and his jaw fell.] "Yes, he was that rare bird a gentleman-ranker who
remained a gentleman and a ranker--and became a fine soldier. He called
himself Lawrence-Smith and owned a good old English name that you'd
recognize if I mentioned it--and you'd be able to name some of his
relatives too. He was kicked out of Sandhurst for striking one of the
subordinate staff under extreme provocation. The army was in his blood
and bones, and he enlisted."
"Excuse me," interrupted Mr. Ross-Ellison, "you speak of this
Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith in the past tense. Is he dead then?"
"He is dead," replied Colonel Jackson. "Did you know him?"
"I believe I saw him at Duri," answered Mr. Ross-Ellison with an
excellent assumption of indifference. "What's the story?"
"I'll give you his own tale on paper--let me have it back--and, mind
you, every single word of it is Gospel truth. The man was a _gentleman_,
an educated, thoughtful, sober chap, and as sane as you or I. I got to
know him well--he was in hospital, with blood-poisoning from
panther-bite, for a time--and we became friends. Actual friends, I mean.
Used to play golf with him. (You remember the Duri Links.) In mufti,
you'd never have dreamed for a moment that he was not a Major or a
Colonel. Army life had not coarsened him in the slightest, and he kept
some lounge-suits and mess-kit by Poole. Many a good Snob of my
acquaintance has left my house under the impression that the
Lawrence-Smith he had met there, and with whom he had been
hail-fellow-well-met, was his social equal or superior.
"He simply was a refined and educated gentleman and that's all there is
about it. Well--you'll read his statement--and, as you read, you may
tell yourself that I am as convinced of its truth as I am of anything in
this world.... He was dead when I got to him.
"The stains, on the backs of some of the sheets and on the front of the
last one, are--blood stains...."
And at this point their host suggested the propriety of joining the
Colonel Jackson gave Mr. Ross-Ellison a "lift" in his powerful motor as
far as his bungalow, entered, and a few minutes later emerged with a
long and fat envelope.
"Here you are," said he. "I took it upon myself to annex the papers as I
was his friend. Let's have 'em back. No need for me to regard them as
'private and confidential' so far as I can see, poor chap. Good-night."
Having achieved the haven of loose Pathan trousers and a muslin shirt
(worn over them) in the privacy of his bed-room, Mr. Ross-Ellison,
looking rather un-English, sat on a camp-cot (he never really liked
chairs) and read, as follows, from a sheaf of neatly-written (and
bloodstained) sheets of foolscap.
* * * * *
I have come to the point at which I decide to stop. I have had enough.
But I should like to ask one or two questions.
1. Why has a man no right to quit a world in which he no longer desires
to live? 2. Why should Evil be allowed to triumph? 3. Why should people
who cannot see spirit forms be so certain that such do not exist, when
none but an ignorant fool argues, "I believe in what I can see"?
With regard to the first question I maintain that a man has a perfect
right to "take" the life that was "given" him (without his own consent
or desire), provided it is not an act of cowardice nor an evasion of
just punishment or responsibility. I would add--provided also that he
does not, in so doing, basely desert his duty, those who are in any way
dependent on him, or those who really love him.
I detest that idiotic phrase "while of unsound mind". I am as sound in
mind as any man living, but because I end an unbearable state of
affairs, and take the only step I can think of as likely to give me
peace--I shall be written down mad. Moreover should I fail--in my
attempt to kill myself (which I shall not) I should be prosecuted as a
To me, albeit I have lived long under strict discipline and regard true
discipline as the first essential of moral, physical, mental, and social
training, to me it seems a gross and unwarrantable interference with the
liberty of the individual--to deny him sufficient captaincy of his soul
for him to be free to control it at the dictates of his conscience, and
to keep it Here or to send it There as may seem best. Surely the
implanted love of life and fear of death are sufficient safeguards
without any legislation or insolent arrogant interference between a man
and his own ego? Anyhow, such are my views, and in perfect soundness of
mind and body, after mature reflection and with full confidence in my
right so to do, I am about to end my life here.
As to the second question, "Why should Evil be allowed to triumph?" I
confess that my mind cannot argue in a circle and say, "You are born
full of Original Sin, and if you sin you are Damned"--a vicious circle
drawn for me by the gloomy, haughty, insincere and rather unintelligent
young gentleman whom I respectfully salute as Chaplain, and who regards
me and every other non-commissioned soldier as a Common, if not Low,
He would not even answer my queries by means of the good old loop-hole,
"It is useless to appeal to Reason if you cannot to Faith" and so beg
the question. He said that things _were_ because the Lord said they
were, and that it was impious to doubt it. More impious was it, I
gathered, to doubt him, and to allude to Criticisms he had never read.
His infallible "proof" was "It is in the Bible".
Possibly I shall shortly know why an Omnipotent, Omniscient, Impeccable
Deity allows this world to be the Hell it is, even if there be no actual
Hell for the souls of his errant Creatures (in spite of the statements
of the Chaplain who appears to have exclusive information on the
subject, inaccessible to laymen, and to rest peacefully assured of a
Real Hell for the wicked,--nonconforming, and vulgar).
At present I cannot understand and I do not know--though I am informed
and infused with a burning and reverent desire to understand and to
know--why Evil should be allowed to triumph, as in my own case, as well
as in those of millions of others, it does. And thirdly, why does the
man who would never deny beauty in a poem or picture because he failed
to see it while others did, deny that immaterial forms of the dead
exist, because he has never seen one, though others have?
I know of so many many men who would blush to be called
"I-believe-what-I-see men," who yet laugh to scorn the bare idea of the
materialization and visualization of visitants from the spirit world,
because they have never seen one. I have so often met the argument, "The
ghost of a man I might conceive--but I can _not_ conceive the appearance
of the ghost of a pair of trousers or of a top-hat," offered as though
it were unanswerable. Surely the spirit, aura, shade, ghost, soul,
ego--what you will--can permeate and penetrate and pervade clothing and
other matter as well as flesh?
Well, once again, I do not know,--and yet I have seen, not once
but repeatedly, not by moonlight in a churchyard, but under the
Indian sun on a parade-ground, the ghost of a man _and of all his
accoutrements,--of a rifle, of a horse and all a horse's trappings_.
I have been a teetotaller for years, I have never had sunstroke and I am
as absolutely sane as ever a man was.
And further I am in no sense remorseful, repentant, or "dogged by the
spectre of an evil deed".
I killed Burker intentionally. Were he alive again I would kill him
again. I punished him myself because the law could not punish him as he
deserved, and I in no way regret or deplore my just and judicial action.
There are deeds a gentleman must resent and punish--with the extreme
penalty. No, it is in no sense a case of the self-tormented wretch
driven mad by the awful hallucinations of his guilty, unhinged mind. I
am no haunted murderer pursued by phantoms and illusions, believing
himself always in the presence of his victim's ghost.
All people who have read anything, have read of the irresistible
fascination that the scene of the murder has for the murderer, of the
way in which the victim "haunts" the slayer, and of how the truth that
"murder will out" is really based on the fact that the murderer is his
own most dangerous accuser by reason of his life of terror, remorse, and
My case is in no wise parallel.
I am absolutely without fear, regret, remorse, repentance, dread or
terror in the matter of my killing Sergeant Burker. Exactly how and why
I killed him, and how and why I am about to kill myself, I will now set
forth, without the slightest exaggeration, special pleading or any other
deviation from the truth....
I am to my certain knowledge the eighth consecutive member of my family,
in the direct line, to follow the profession of arms, but am the first
to do so without bearing a commission. My father died young in the rank
of Captain, my grandfather led his own regiment in the Crimea, my
great-grandfather was a Lieutenant-General, and, if I told you my real
name, you could probably state something that he did at Waterloo.
I went to Sandhurst and I was expelled from Sandhurst--very rightly and
justly--for an offence, or rather the culminating offence of a series of
offences, that were everything but mean, dishonest or underhand. I was
wild, hasty, undisciplined and I was lost for want of a father to thrash
me as a boy, and by possession of a most loving and devoted mother who
worshipped, spoiled--and ruined me.
I enlisted under an assumed name in my late father's (and
grandfather's) old Regiment of Foot and quickly rose to the rank of
I might have had a commission in South Africa but I decided that I
preferred ruling in hell to serving in heaven, and declined to be a
grey-haired Lieutenant and a nuisance to the Officers' Mess of the Corps
I would not leave until compelled.
In time I _was_ compelled and I became Sergeant-Major of the Volunteer
Rifle Corps here and husband of a--well--_de mortuis nil nisi bonum_.
Why I married I don't know.
The English girl of the class from which soldiers are drawn never
attracted me in the very least, and I simply could not have married one,
though a paragon of virtue and compendium of housewifely qualities.
Admirable and pretty as Miss Higgs, Miss Bloggs, or Miss Muggins might
be, my youthful training prevented my seeing beyond her fringe,
finger-nails, figure, and aspirates, to her solid excellences;--and from
sergeants'-dances I returned quite heart-whole and still unplighted to
the Colonel's cook. But Dolores De Souza was different.
There was absolutely nothing to offend the most fastidious taste in her
speech, appearance, or manners. She was convent-bred, accomplished,
refined, gentle, worthless and wicked. The good Sisters of the Society
of the Broken Heart had polished the exterior of the Eurasian orphan
very highly--but the polish was a thin veneer on very cheap and
It is a strange fact that, while I could respect the solid virtues of
the aspirateless Misses Higgs, Bloggs or Muggins, I could never have
married one of them; yet, while I knew Dolores to be a heartless flirt,
and more than suspected her to be of most unrigid principle, I was
infatuated with her dark beauty, her grace, her wiles and witchery--and
asked her to become my wife.
The good Sisters of the Society of the Broken Heart had taught Dolores
to sing beautifully, to play upon the piano and the guitar, to
embroider, to paint mauve roses on pink tambourines and many other
useful arts, graces and accomplishments--but they had not taught her
_practical_ morality nor anything of cooking, marketing, plain sewing,
house-cleaning or anything else of house-keeping. However, having been
bred as I had been bred, I could take the form and let the substance go,
accept the shapely husks and shout not for the grain, and prefer a
pretty song, and a rose in black hair over a shell-like ear, to a square
meal. I fear the average Sergeant-Major would have beaten Dolores within
a week of matrimony, but I strove to make loss, discomfort, and
disappointment a discipline,--and music, silk dresses and daintiness an
aesthetic re-training to a barrack-blunted mind.
In justice to Dolores I should make it clear that she was not of the
slatternly, dirty, lazy, half-breed type that pigs in a _peignoir_ from
twelve to twelve and snores again from midnight to midday. She was trim
and dainty, used good perfume or none, rose early and went in the
garden, loathed cheap and showy trash whether in dress, jewellery, or
furniture; and was incapable of wearing fine shoes over holey stockings
or a silk gown over dirty linen. No--there was nothing to offend the
fastidious about Dolores, but there was everything to offend the good
house-keeper and the moralist.
Frequently she would provide no dinner in order that we might be
compelled to dine in public at a restaurant or a hotel, a thing she
loved to do, and she would often send out for costly sweets and pastry,
drink champagne (very moderately, I admit), and generally behave as
though she were the wife of a man of means.
And she was an arrant, incorrigible, shameless flirt.
Well--I do not know that a virtuous vulgar dowd is preferable to a
wicked winsome witch of refined habits and person, and I should probably
have gone quietly on to bankruptcy without any row or rupture, but for
Burker. Having been bred in a "gentle" home I naturally took the
attitude of "as you please, my dear Dolores" and refrained from bullying
when quiet indication of the inevitable end completely failed. Whether
she intended to act in a reasonable manner and show some wifely traits
when my L250 of legacy and savings was quite dissipated I do not know.
Burker came before that consummation.
A number of gentlemen joined the Duri Volunteer Corps and formed a
Mounted Infantry troop, and, though I am a good horseman, I was not
competent to train the troop, as I had never enjoyed any experience of
mounted military work of any kind. So Sergeant Burker, late of the 54th
Lancers, was transferred to Duri as Instructor of the Mounted Infantry
Troop. Naturally I did what I could to make him comfortable and, till
his bungalow was furnished after a fashion, gave him our spare room.
Sergeant Barker was the ideal Cavalryman and the ideal breaker of
hearts,--hearts of the Mary-Ann and Eliza-Jane order.
He was a black-haired, blue-eyed Irishman with a heart as black as his
hair, and language as blue as his eye--a handsome, plausible, selfish,
wicked devil with scarcely a virtue but pride and high courage. I
disliked him at first sight, and Dolores fell in love with him equally
quickly, I am sure.
I don't think he had a solitary gentlemanly instinct.
Being desirous of learning Mounted Infantry work, I attended all his
drills, riding as troop-leader, and, between close attention to him and
close study of the drill-book, did not let the gentlemen in the ranks
know that, in the beginning, I knew as little about it as they did.
And an uncommonly good troop he soon made of it, too.
Of course it was excellent material, all good riders and good shots, and
Burker and I were mounted by the R.H.A. Battery here, and the three
drills we held, weekly, were seasons of delight to a horse-lover like
Now the horse I had was a high-spirited, powerful animal, and he
possessed the trait, very common among horses, of hating to be pressed
behind the saddle. Turning to look behind while "sitting-easy" one day I
rested my right hand on his back behind the saddle and he immediately
lashed out furiously with both hind legs. I did not realize for the
moment what was upsetting him--but quickly discovered that I had only to
press his back to send his hoofs out like stones from a sling. I then
remembered other similar cases and that I had also read of this curious
fact about horses--something to do with pressure on the kidneys I
One day Burker was unexpectedly absent and I took the drill, finding
myself quite competent and _au fait_.
The same evening I went to my wife's wardrobe, she being out, to try and
find the keys of the sideboard. I knew they frequently reposed in the
pocket of her dressing-gown.
In the said pocket they were--and so was a letter in the crude large
handwriting of Sergeant Burker.
I did not read it, but I did not see the necessity of a correspondence
between my wife and such a man as I knew Sergeant Burker to be. They met
often enough, in all conscience, to say what they might have to say to
At dinner I remarked casually: "I shouldn't enter into a correspondence
with Burker if I were you, Dolly. His reputation isn't over savoury
and--" but, before I could say more, my wife was literally screaming
with rage, calling me "Spy," "Liar," "Coward," and demanding to know
what I insinuated and of what I accused her. I replied that I had
accused her of nothing at all, and merely offered advice in the matter
of correspondence with Burker. I explained how I had come to find the
letter and stated that I had not read it.
"Then how do you know that we--" she began, and suddenly stopped.
"That you--what?" I inquired.
"Nothing," she said.
At the next Sergeants' Dance at the Institute I did not like Burker's
manner to my wife at all. It was--well, amorous, and tinged with a shade
of proprietorship. I distinctly heard him call her "Dolly," and equally
distinctly saw an expressively affectionate look in her eyes as he
hugged her in the waltzes--whereof they indulged in no less than five.
My position was awkward and unpleasant. I loathe a row or a scene
unspeakably--though I delight in fighting when that pastime is
legitimate--and I was brought into daily contact with the ruffian and I
disliked him intensely.
I was very averse from the course of forbidding him the house and thus
insulting my wife by implication--since she obviously enjoyed his
society--and descending to pit myself against the greasy cad in a
struggle for a woman's favour, and that woman my own wife. Nor could I
conscientiously take the line of, "If she desires to go to the Devil let
her," for a man has as much responsibility for his wife as for his
children, and it is equally his duty to guide and control her and them.
Women may vote and may legislate for men--but on men they will ever
depend and rely.
No, the position of carping, jealous husband was one that I could not
fill, and I determined to say nothing, do nothing and be
watchful--watchful, that is, to avoid exposing her to temptation. I did
my best, but I was away from home a good deal, visiting the out-station
detachments of the Corps.
Then, one day, the wretched creature I called "butler" came to me with
an air of great mystery and said: "Sahib, Sergeant Burker Sahib sending
Mem Sahib bundle of flowers and _chitti_ inside and diamond ring
yesterday. His boy telling me and I seeing. He often coming here too
when Sahib out. Both wicked peoples."
I raised my hand to knock his lies down his throat--and dropped it. They
were not lies, I knew, and the fellow had been faithful to me for many
years and--the folly of childish human vanity--I felt he knew I was a
"gentleman," and I liked him for it.
I paid him his wages then and there, gave him a present and a good
testimonial and discharged him. He wept real tears and shook with sobs
of grief--easy grief, but very genuine.
When Dolores came home from the Bandstand I said quietly: "Show me the
jewellery Burker sent you, Dolly. I am very much in earnest, so don't
She seemed about to faint and looked very frightened--perhaps my face
was more expressive than a gentleman's should be.
"It was only a little thing for my birthday," she whined. "Can't I keep
it? Don't be a tyrant or a fool."
"Your next birthday or your last?" I asked. "Please get it at once.
We'll settle matters quietly and finally."
I fear the poor girl had visions of the doorstep and a closed door. Two,
perhaps, for I am sure Burker would not have taken her in if I had
turned her out, and she may have thought the same.
It was a diamond ring, and the scoundrel must have given a couple of
months' pay for it--if he had paid for it at all. I thrust aside the
sudden conviction that Burker's own taste could not have been
responsible for its choice and that it was selected by my wife.
"Why should he give you this, Dolores?" I asked. "Will you tell me or
must I go to him?" And then she burst into tears and flung herself at my
feet, begging for mercy.
_Qui s'excuse s'accuse_.
What should I do?
To cast her out was to murder her soul quickly and her body slowly, and
I could foresee her career with prophetic eye and painful clearness.
And what could the Law do for me?
Publish our shame and perhaps brand me that wretched thing--the
willingly deceived and complaisant husband.
What could I do by challenging Burker?
He was a champion man-at-arms, a fine boxer, and a younger, stronger
man, I should merely experience humiliation and defeat. What _could_ I
If I said, "Go and live with your Burker," I should be committing a
bigger crime than hers, for if he did take her in, it would not be for
I sat the night through, pondered the question carefully, looked at it
from all points of view and--decided that Burker must die. Also that he
must not drag me to jail or the scaffold as he went to his doom. If I
shot him and was punished, Dolores would become a--well, as I have said,
her soul would die quickly and her body slowly. I had married Dolores
and I must do what lay in my power to protect Dolores. But I simply
could not kill the hound in some stealthy secret manner and wait for
the footsteps of warrant-armed police for the rest of my life.
What could I do? Or rather--for the question had narrowed to that--how
could I kill him?
And as the sun struck upon my eyes at dawn, an idea struck upon my mind.
I would leave it to Fate and if Fate willed it so, Burker should die.
_If Burker stood behind my charger, Fate sat with down-turned thumb_.
I would not seek the opportunity--but, by God, I would take it if it
If it did not, I would go to Burker and say to him quietly: "Burker, you
must leave this station at once and never see or communicate with my
wife in any way. Otherwise I have to kill you, Burker--to execute you,
you understand." ...
A native syce from the Artillery lines led my charger into the little
compound of my tiny bungalow.
Having buckled on my belt I went out, patted him, and gave him a lump of
sugar. He nuzzled me for more, and, as he did so, I placed my hand on
his back, behind the saddle, and pressed. He lashed out wildly.
I then trotted across the _maidan_ to the Volunteer Headquarters and
 Plain; level tract of ground.
Several gentlemen of the Mounted Infantry were waiting about, some
standing by their horses, some getting bandoliers, belts, and rifles,
some cantering their horses round the ground.
Sergeant Burker strode out of the Orderly Boom.
"Morning, Smith," said he. "How's the Missus?"
I looked him in the eye and made no reply.
He laughed, as jeering, evil, and caddish a laugh as I have ever heard.
I almost forgot my purpose and had actually turned toward the armoury
for a rifle and cartridge when I remembered and controlled my rage.
If I shot him, then and there, I must go to the scaffold or to jail
forthwith, and Dolores must inevitably go to a worse fate. Had I been
sure that she could have kept straight, Burker would have been shot,
then and there.
"Fall in," he shouted, but did not mount his horse.
The gentlemen assembled with their horses and faced him in line,
dismounted, I in front of the centre of the troop. How clearly I can see
every feature and detail of that morning's scene, and hear every word
"Tell off by sections," commanded Burker.
"One, two, three, four--one, two, three, four...."
There were exactly six sections.
"Flanks of sections, proof."
"Section leaders, proof."
"Centre man, proof."
"Prepare to mount."
The last two words were the last words Burker ever spoke. Passing on
foot along the line of mounted men, to inspect saddlery, accoutrements,
and the adjustment of rifle-buckets and slings, he halted immediately
behind me, where I sat on my charger in front of the centre of the
I could not have placed him more exactly with my own hands. _Fate sat
with down-pointing thumb_.
Turning round, as though to look at the troop, I rested my hand on my
horse's back--just behind the saddle--and pressed hard. He lashed out
with both hoofs and Sergeant Burker dropped--and never moved again.
The base of his skull was smashed like an egg, and his back was broken
like a dry stick....
The terrible accident roused wide sympathy with the unfortunate man, the
local reporter used all his adjectives, and a military funeral was given
to the soldier who had died in the execution of his duty.
On reaching home, after satisfying myself at the Station Hospital that
the man was dead, I said to my poor, pale and red-eyed wife:--
"Dolores, Sergeant Burker met with an accident this morning on parade.
He is dead. Let us never refer to him again."
I spent that night also in meditation, questioning myself and examining
my soul--with every honest endeavour to be not a self-deceiver.
I came to the conclusion that I had acted rightly and in the only way in
which a gentleman could act. I had snatched Dolores from his foul
clutches, I had punished him without depriving Dolores of my protection,
and I had avenged the stain on my honour.
"You have committed a treacherous cowardly murder," whispered the Fiend
in my ear.
"You are a liar," I replied. "I did not fear the man and I took this
course solely on account of Dolores. I was strong enough to accept this
position--and to risk the accusation of murder, from my conscience, from
the Devil, or from man."
Any doubt I might otherwise have had was forestalled and inhibited by
the obvious Fate that placed Burker in the one spot favourable to my
scheme of punishment.
God had willed it?
God had not prevented it.
Surely God was consenting unto it....
And Dolores? I would forgive her and offer her the choice of remaining
with me or leaving me and receiving a half of my income and
possessions--both alternatives being contingent upon good conduct.
At dawn I prepared tea for her, and entered our bedroom. Dolores had
wound a towel round her neck, twisted the ends tightly--and suffocated
She had been dead for hours....
At the police inquiry, held the same day, I duly lied as to the virtues
of the "deceased," and the utter impossibility of assigning any reason
for the rash and deplorable act. The usual smug stereotyped verdict was
pronounced, and, in addition to expressing their belief that the suicide
was committed "while of unsound mind," the officials expressed much
sympathy with the bereaved husband.
Dolores was buried that evening and I returned to an empty house.
I believe opinion had been divided as to whether I was callous or
"stunned"--but the sight of her little shoes caused pains in my throat
and eyes. Had Burker been then alive I would have killed him with my
hands--and teeth. Yes, teeth.
I spent that night in packing every possession and trace of Dolores into
her boxes, and then in trying to persuade myself that I should have
I could not do so. I had acted for the best--so let God who gave me
free-will, intelligence, conscience and opportunity, approve the deed or
take the blame.
And let God remember how that opportunity came so convincingly--so
impellingly--and if He would judge me and ask for my defence I would ask
him who sent Burker here, and who placed him on that fatal spot?
Does God sit only in judgment?
Does God calmly watch His creatures walking blindfold to the
Pit--struggling to tear away the bandage as they walk? Can He only
judge, and can He never help?
Is God a petty-minded "jealous" God to be propitiated like the gods of
Must we continually ask, or, not asking, not receive?
And if we know not to ask aright and to demand the best and highest?
Cannot the well-fed, well-read, well-paid Chaplain give advice?
"_God knoweth best. Ask unceasingly. Pray always_."
_Why_?--if. He knows best, is All Merciful, All Powerful?
Is God a child, a savage, a woman? Shall I offer adulation that would
"_God is our Father which art in heaven_."
Would I have my son praise me to my face continually--or at all. Would I
compel him to pester me with demands for what he desired,--good, bad and
And would I give him what he asked regardless of what was best for
him--or say, "If you ask not, you receive not?" Give me a God finer and
greater and juster and nobler than myself--something higher than the
Chaplain's jealous, capricious, inconsequent and illogical God.
Is there a God at all?
I shall soon know.
Oh Thou, who man of baser earth didst make
And ev'n with Paradise devised the Snake,
For all the Sin the face of wretched man
Is black with--Man's forgiveness give--and take!
At dawn I said aloud:--
"This Chapter is closed. The story of Burker and Dolores is written. I
may now strive to forget."
I was wrong.
Major Jackson of the R.A.M.C. came to see me soon after daylight. He
gave me an opiate and I slept all that day and night. I went on parade
next morning, fresh, calm, and cool--and saw _Burker riding toward the
group of gentlemen who were awaiting the signal to "fall in"_.
I say I was fresh, calm, and cool.
And there was Burker--looking exactly as in life, save for a slight
nebulosity, a very faint vagueness of outline, and a hint of
I had been instructed by the Adjutant to assume the post of Instructor
(as the end of the Mounted Infantry drill season was near)--and I blew
the "rally" on my whistle as many of the gentlemen were riding about,
and shouted the command: "Fall in".
Twenty living men and one dead faced me, twenty dismounted and one
mounted. I called the corporal in charge of the armoury.
"How many on parade?" I asked.
He looked puzzled, counted, and said:--
"Why--twenty, ain't there?"
I numbered the troop.
"Tell off by sections."
Five sections--and Burker.
A column of five sections--and Burker, in the rear.
I called out the section-leader of Number One section.
"Are the sections correctly proved?" I asked, and added: "Put the troop
back in line and tell-off again".
"Five sections, correct," he reported.
I held that drill, with five sections of living men, and a single file
of dead, who manoeuvred to my word.
When I gave the order "With Numbers Three for action dismount," or
"Right-hand men, for action dismount," Burker remained mounted. When I
dismounted the whole troop, Burker remained mounted. Otherwise he
drilled precisely as Number Twenty-one would have drilled in a troop of
Was I frightened? I do not know.
At first my heart certainly pounded as though it would leap from my
body, and I felt dazed, lost, and shocked.
I think I _was_ frightened--not of Burker so much as of the unfamiliar,
the unknown, the impossible.
How would you feel if your piano suddenly began to play of itself? You
would be alarmed and afraid probably, not frightened of the piano, but
of the fact.
A door could not frighten you--but you would surely be alarmed at its
persistently opening, each time you shut, locked, and bolted it, if it
Of Burker I had no fear--but I was perturbed by the _fact_ that the dead
could ride with the living.
When I gave the order "Dismiss" at the end of the parade Burker rode
away, as he had always done, in the direction of his bungalow.
Returning to my lonely house, I sat me down and pondered this appalling
event that had come like a torrent, sweeping away familiar landmarks of
experience, idea, and belief. I was conscious of a dull anger against
Burker and then against God.
Why should He allow Burker to haunt me?...
Why should Evil triumph?...
_Was_ I haunted? Or was it, after all, but a hallucination--due to
grief, trouble, and the drug of the opiate?
I sat and brooded until I thought I could hear the voices of Burker and
Dolores in converse.
This I knew to be hallucination, pure and simple, and I went to see my
friend (if he will let me call him what he is in the truest and highest
sense) Major Jackson of the R.A.M.C.
Back to Full Books