Percival Christopher Wren
Part 4 out of 5
He took me for a long ride, kept me to dinner, and manufactured a job
for me--a piece of work that would occupy and tire me.
He assured me that the Burker affair was pure hallucination and staked
his professional reputation that the image of Burker came upon my retina
from within and not from without. "The shock of the deaths of your wife
and your friend on consecutive days has unhinged you, and very naturally
so," he said.
Of course I did not tell him that I had killed Burker, though I
should have liked to do so. I felt I had no right to put him in the
position of having to choose between denouncing me and condoning a
murder--compounding a felony.
Nor did I see any reason for confessing to the Police what I had done
(even though Dolores was dead) and finishing my career on the scaffold.
One owes something to one's ancestors as well as to oneself. Well,
perhaps it was a hallucination. I would wait.
At the next drill Burker was present and rode as Number Three in Section
As there were twenty-three (living) on parade I ordered Number
Twenty-three to ride as Number Four of his section and leave a blank
Burker rode in that blank file and drilled so, throughout--save that he
would not dismount.
Once, as the troop rode in column of sections, I fell to the rear and,
coming up behind, struck with all my might at that slightly nebulous
figure, with its faint vagueness of outline and hint of transparency.
My heavy cutting-whip whistled--and touched nothing. I was as one who
beats the air. Section Six must have thought me mad.... Twice again the
dead man drilled with the living, and each time I described what
happened to Major Jackson.
"It is a persistent hallucination," said he; "you must go on leave."
"I won't run from Burker, nor from a hallucination," I replied.
Then came the end.
At the next drill, twenty-one gentlemen were present and Number
Twenty-one, the Sessions Judge of Duri, a Scot, kept staring with looks
of amazement and alarm at Burker, who rode as Number Four on his flank,
making an odd file into a skeleton section. I was certain that he saw
As the gentlemen "dismissed" after parade, the Judge rode up to me and,
with a white face, demanded:--
"Who the devil was that rode with me as Number Twenty-four? It was--it
"It _was_ Sergeant Burker, Sir," said I.
"I knew it was," he replied, and added: "Man, you and I are fey."
"Will you tell Major Jackson of this, Sir?" I begged. "He knows I have
seen Burker's ghost here before, and tells me it is a hallucination."
"I'll go and see him now." he replied. "He is an old friend of mine,
and--he's a damned good doctor. Man--you and I are fey." He rode to
where his trap, with its spirited cob, was awaiting him, dismounted and
As everybody knows, Mr. Blake of the Indian Civil Service, Sessions
Judge of Duri, was thrown from his trap and killed. It happened five
minutes after he had said to me, with a queer look in his eyes, and a
queer note in his voice, "Man! you and I are fey".... So it is no
hallucination and I am haunted by Burker's ghost. Very good. I will
fight Burker on his own ground.
My ghost shall haunt Burker's ghost--or I shall be at peace.
Though the religion of the Chaplain has failed me, the religion of my
Mother, taught to me at her knee, has implanted in me an ineradicable
belief in the ultimate justice of things, and the unquenchable hope of
I am about to go before my Maker or to obliteration and oblivion. If the
former, I am prepared to say to Him: "You made me a man. I have played
the man. I look to you for justice, and that is--compensation and not
'forgiveness'. Much less is it punishment. You have treated me ill and
given me no help. You have bestowed free-_will_ without free-_dom_.
Compensate me or know Yourself unjust."
To a servant or child who spoke so to me and with equal reason, I would
"Compensation is due to you and not 'forgiveness'--much less
punishment," and I would act accordingly.... Why should I cringe to
God--and why should He love a cringer more than I do?
God help Men and Women--and such Children as are doomed to grow up to be
Men and Women.
As I finish this sentence I shall put my revolver in my mouth and seek
Justice or Peace....
* * * * *
"Bad luck," murmured Mr. Robin Ross-Ellison, "that was the man of all
men for me! A gentleman, wishful to die.... That is the sort that _does_
things when swords are out and bullets fly. Seeks a gory grave and gets
a V.C. instead. He and Mike Malet-Marsac and I would have put a polish
on the new Gungapur Fusiliers.... Rough luck...."
He was greatly disappointed, for his experiences in the bazaars,
market-places, secret-meeting houses, and the bowers of Hearts'
Delights,--the Rialtos of Gungapur (he disguised, now as an Afghan
horse-dealer, now as a sepoy, now as a Pathan money-lender, again as a
gold-braided, velvet waistcoated, swaggering swashbuckler from the
Border)--his experiences were disquieting, were such as to make him push
on preparations, perfect plans, and work feverishly at the "polishing"
of his re-organized Corps.
Also the reports of his familiar, a Somali yclept Moussa Isa, were
disquieting, disturbing to a lover of the Empire who foresaw the Empire
at war in Europe.
Moussa Isa also knew that there was talk among Pathan horse-dealers and
_budmashes_ of the coming of one Ilderim the Weeper, a mullah of great
influence and renown, and talk, moreover, among men of other race, of a
Moussa was bidden to take service as a mill-coolie in one of Colonel
Dearman's mills, and to report on the views and attitude of the
thousands who laboured therein. This he did and there learnt many
Sec. 4. MR. AND MRS. CORNELIUS GOSLING-GREEN.
It was Sunday--and therefore John Bruce, the Engineering College
Professor, was exceptionally busy. On a-week-day he only had to deliver
his carefully prepared lectures, interview students, read and return
essays, take the chair at meetings of college societies, coach one or
two "specialists," superintend the games on the college gymkhana ground,
interview seekers after truth and perverters of the same, write letters
on various matters of college business, visit the hostel, set question
papers and correct answers, attend common-room meetings, write articles
for the college magazine and papers for the Scientific, Philosophical,
Shakespearean, Mathematical, Debating, Literary, Historical, Students',
Old Boys', or some other "union" and, if God willed, get a little
exercise and private study at his beloved "subject" and invention,
before preparing for the morrow.
On Sundays, the thousand and one things crowded out of the programme
were to be cleared up, his home mail was to be written, and then arrears
of work had to be attacked.
At four o'clock he addressed Roy Pittenweem and Mrs. MacDougall, his
dogs, and said:--
"There's a bloomin' bun-snatch somewhere, you fellers, don't it?".
Though a Professor and one of the most keen and earnest workmen in
India, his own college blazers were not quite worn out, and Life, the
great Artist, had not yet done much sketching on the canvas of his
face--in spite of his daily contact with the Science Professor, William
Greatorex Bonnett, B.A., widely known as the Mad Hatter, the greatest
of whose many great achievements is his avoidance of death at the hands
of his colleagues and acquaintance.
Receiving no reply beyond a wink and a waggle, he dropped his blue
pencil, rose, and went to the table sacred to litter; and from a wild
welter of books, pipes, papers, golf-balls, hats, cigar-boxes,
dog-collars, switches, cartridges and other sediment, he extracted a
large gilt-edged card and studied it without enthusiasm or bias.
"Large coat of arms," he murmured--"patience--no--a pay-sheet on a
monument asking for time; item a hand, recently washed; ditto, a dickey
bird--possibly pigeon plucked proper or gull argent; guinea-pig
regardant and expectant; supporters, two bottliwallahs rampant. Crest, a
bum-boat flottant, and motto '_Cinq-cento-percentum_'. All done in gold.
Likewise in gold and deboshed gothic, the legend 'Sir and Lady Fuggilal
Potipharpar, At Home. To meet Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P.
Five p.m. C.T.' ... Now what the devil, Roy Pittenweem, _is_ C.T.? Is it
'Curious Time' or 'Cut for Trumps' or a new decoration for gutter
plutocrats? It _might_ mean 'Calcutta Time,' mightn't it, as the
egregious Phossy and his gang would have it? Well, we'll go and look
upon the Cornmealious Gosling-Green, M.P.'s, and chasten our soul from
sinful pride--ain't it, Mrs. MacDougall?" and the Professor strolled
across to the Sports Club for a cup of tea.
In the midst of cheery converse with a non-moral and unphilosophic
Professor of Moral Philosophy, a fat youth of the name of Augustus
Grobble whose life was one long picturesque pose, he sprang to his feet,
remarking: "I go, Augustus, I am bidden to behold some prize
Gosling-Greens or something, at 5 p.m., D.V. or D.T. or C.T. or L.S.D.
or otherwise. Perhaps it was S.T. which means 'Standard Time,' and as I
said, I go, Augustus."
Augustus Grobble was understood to return thanks piously....
"Taxi, Sahib?" inquired the messenger-boy at the door.
"Go to," said the Professor. "Also go call me a _tikka-gharri_ and
select a _very_ senior horse, blind, angular, withered, wilted, and
answering to the name, most obviously, of Skin-and-Grief--lest I be
taken by the Grizzly-Goslings for a down-trodden plutocrat and a
brother--and not seen for the fierce and 'aughty oppressor that I am."
 Public conveyance.
"_Tikka-gharri lao_, you lazy little 'ound! Don't I speak plain
English?" The Professor made it a practice to "rot" when not
working--hoping thus even in India to retain sanity and the broad and
wholesome outlook, for he was a very short-tempered person, easily
roused to dangerous wrath.
A carriage, upholding a pony who, in return, spasmodically moved the
carriage which gave evidence of having been where moths break through
and steal, lumbered into the Club garden, and the Professor, imploring
the jehu not to let the pony "die on him" in the Hibernian sense of the
expression, gingerly entered.
"Convey me to the gilded Potipharparian 'alls, Arthur," said he.
"Why _don't_ you listen? _Palangur Hill ki pas_ And don't forget
you've to get me there at 5 p.m. C.T. or S.T.--I leave it to you,
On arrival, the Professor concluded that if he had arrived at 5 p.m.
C.T. he ought to have come at 5 p.m. S.T., or vice versa; as what he
termed 'the show' was evidently about over. Fortune favours all sorts of
His hostess, who looked as though she had come straight out of the Bible
_via_ Bond Street, and his host, who looked as though he had never come
out of Petticoat Lane at all, both accused him of being unable to work
out the problem of "Find Calcutta Time given the Standard Time," and he
professed to be proud to be able to acknowledge the truth of the
"Come and be presented to Meester and Meesers Carneelius Garsling-Green,
M.P.," said the lady, waddling before him; and her husband echoed:--
"Oah, yess. Come and be presented to Meester and Meesers
Garsling-Green," waddling after him.
Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., proved to be a tall, drooping,
melancholy creature, with "Dundreary" whiskers, reach-me-down suit of
thick cloth, wrong kind of tie, thickish boots, and no presence. Without
"form" and void.
Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green was a Severe Person, tiny, hard-featured
and even more garrulous than her husband, who watched her anxiously and
nervously as he answered any question put in her presence....
"And, oh, why, _why_ are not you Mohammedans _loyal_?" said Mrs.
Cornelius Gosling-Green, to a magnificent-looking specimen of the
Mussulman of the old school--stately, venerable, courteous and
honourable--who stood near, looking as though he wondered what the devil
he was doing in that galley.
Turning from his friend, Mir Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan,
a fine Pathan, "Loyal, Madam! _Loyal_! Believe me we Mohammedans are
most intensely and devotedly loyal," he replied. "You have indeed been
misled. Though you are only spending a month in India for collecting the
materials for your book or pamphlet, you must really learn _that_ much.
We Mohammedans are as loyal as the English themselves.--More loyal than
some in fact," he added, with intent. The Pathan smiled meaningly.
"Ah, that's just it. I mean 'Why aren't you Mohammedans _loyal to poor
The man turned and left the marquee and the garden without another word.
"Poor _bleeding_ India," corrected the Professor.
"And are _you_ a friend and worker for India?" continued the lady,
turning to him and eyeing him with severity.
"I am. I do my humble possible in my obscure capacity, Mrs.
Grisly-Gosling," he replied. "I _beg_ your pardon, Mrs.
Grossly-Grin----that is--er--Gosling-Green, I _should_ say."
Be sure your sins will find you out. Through wilful perversion of the
pleasing name the Professor had rendered himself incapable of
"And what do _you_ do for India,--write, speak, organize, subscribe or
what?" asked the lady with increasing severity.
"In what capacity?"
"I am a professor at the Government Engineering College, here in
"O-h-h-h-h! You're one of the overpaid idlers who bolster up the
Bureaucracy and batten on the....'"
"Allow me to assure you that I neither bolster, batten, nor bureau, Mrs.
Grizzling--I mean _Gosling_ Green. Nor do I talk through my hat. I----"
the Professor was beginning to get angry and to lose control.
"Perhaps you are one of us in disguise--a Pro-Native?"
"I am intensely Pro-Native."
The tall Pathan stared at the Professor.
"Oh, _good!_ I _beg_ your pardon! Cornelius, this gentleman is a
Government professor and is _with us!_" said this female of the M.P.
"That's right," gushed the Gosling. "We want a few in the enemy's camp
both to spy out their weakness and to embarrass them. Now about this
University business. I am going to take it up. That history affair now!
_Scandalous!_ I _cannot_ tell you what a wave of indignation swept over
England when that syllabus was drawn up. Nothing truly _Liberal_ about
the whole course, much less Radical. I at once said: '_I_ will see this
righted. _I_ will go to India, and _I_ will beard the....'"
"I think it was _I_ who said it, Cornelius," remarked his much better
"Yes, my dear Superiora, yes. Now with your help I think we can do
something, Professor. Good. This _is_ providential. We shall be able to
embarrass them now! Will you write me----"
"You are going a little too fast, I think," said the Professor. "I am a
'Pro-Native' and a servant of the Pro-Native Government of India. As
such, I don't think I can be of any service to twenty-one-day visitors
who wish to 'embarrass' the best friends of my friends the Natives, even
supposing I were the sort of gentle Judas you compliment me by imagining
"You distinctly say you are Pro-Native and then----"
"I repeat I am intensely Pro-Native, and so are the Viceroy, the
Governors, the entire Civil Service, the Educational Service, the Forest
Service, the P.W.D., the Medical Service, the Army, and every other
Service and Department in India as well as every decent man in India. We
are _all_ Pro-Native, and all doing our best in our respective spheres,
in spite of a deal of ignorant and officious interference and attempted
'embarrassment' at the hands of the self-seeking, the foolish, the
busy-body, the idle--not to mention the vicious. What a _charming_ day
it is. I have so enjoyed the honour of meeting you."
* * * * *
"Well, my Scroobious Bird! And have they this day roasted in India such
a Gosling as shall never be put out?" inquired the non-moral and
unphilosophic Professor of Moral Philosophy, a little later.
"No, my Augustus," was the reply. "It's a quacking little gosling, and
won't lead to any great commotion m the farm-yard. Nasty little
bird--like a _sat-bai_ or whatever they call those appalling things
'seven-sister' birds, aren't they, that chatter and squeak all day."
"Have a long drink and tell us all about it," replied Mr. Augustus
Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble.
"Oh, same old game on the same old stage. Same old players. Leading lady
and gent changed only. Huge great hideous bungalow, like a Goanese
wedding-cake, in a vast garden of symmetrically arranged blue and red
glazed 'art' flower-pots. Lofty room decorated with ancestral portraits
done by Mr. Guzzlebhoy Fustomji Paintwallah; green glass chandeliers and
big blue and white tin balls; mauve carpet with purple azure roses;
wall-paper, bright pink with red lilies and yellow cabbages; immense
mouldy mirrors, and a tin alarm clock. Big crowd of all the fly-blown
rich knaves of the place who have got more than they want out of
Government or else haven't got enough. Only novelty was a splendid
Pathan chap, got-up in English except for the conical cap and puggri.
Extraordinarily like Ross-Ellison, except that he had long black Pathan
hair on his shoulders. Been to England; barrister probably, and seemed
the most viciously seditious of the lot. Silly ignorant Goslings in the
middle saying to Brahmins, 'And you are Muscleman, aren't you, or are
you a Dhobi?' and to Parsis, 'I suppose you High Caste gentlemen have to
bathe _every_ day?' shoving their awful ignorance under the noses of
everybody, and inquiring after the healths of the 'chief wives'. Silly
fatuous geese!--and then talking the wildest piffle about the 'burning
question of the hour' and making the seditious rotters groan at their
ineptitude and folly, until they cheer them up sudden-like with a bit
of dam' treason and sedition they ought to be jailed for. _Jailed_. I
nearly threw a fit when the old geezer, in a blaze of diamonds and
glory, brought up old Phossy and presented him to the Gander, and he
"'My _deah_ friend,' as Phossy held on to his paw in transports, 'to
think of their casting _you_ into jail,' and old Mother Potiphar
squeaked: _'Oh, this is not the forger of that name--but the eminent
politeecian'_. But poor Gosly had thought he had been a political
prisoner! Meant no offence. And then some little squirt of an editor
primed him with lies about the University and the new syllabus, and
straightway the Gander tried to get me on the 'embarrass the Government'
lay, and talked as though he knew all about it. 'I'll get some of the
ladies of my committee sent out here as History-lecturers at your
University,' says he. 'They'll teach pure Liberal History and inculcate
true ideas of liberty and self-government.' I wanted to go outside and
be ill. Good old 'Paget M.P.'--takes up a 'Question' and writes a silly
pamphlet on it and thinks he's said the last word.--Written
thousands.--Don't matter so long as he does it in England.--Just the
place for him nowadays.--But when he feels he's shoved out of the
lime-light by a longer-haired Johnny, it's rough luck that he should try
and get back by spending his blooming committee's money coming here and
deludin' the poor seditionist and seducin' your Hatter from his
allegiance to his salt.... Awful old fraud really--no ability whatever.
Came to my college to spout once, in my time. Lord! Still he was a
guest, and we let him go. Run by his missus really, I think. Why can't
she stop at home and hammer windows? They say she went and asked the
Begum of Bhopal to join her in a 'mission and crusade'. Teach the Zenana
Woman and Purdah Lady to Come Forth instead of Bring Forth. Come Forth
and smash windows. Probably true. Silly Goslings. Drop 'em.... What did
you think of our bowling yesterday? With anything like a wicket your
College should be...."
* * * * *
Entering his lonely and sequestered bungalow that evening Mir Ilderim
Dost Mahommed changed his Pathan dress for European dining-kit, removed
his beard and wig, and became Mr. Robin Ross-Ellison. After dinner he
wrote to the eminent Cold weather Visitor to India, Mr. Cornelius
Gosling-Green, as follows--
"As I promised this afternoon, when you graciously condescended to
honour me with your illuminating conversation, I enclose the papers
which I guaranteed would shed some light on certain aspects of Indian
conditions, and which I consider likely to give you food for thought.
"As I was myself educated in India, was brought up to maturity with
Indian students, and have lived among them in many different places, I
may claim to know something about them. As a class they are gentle,
affectionate, industrious, well-meaning and highly intelligent. They are
the most malleable of human metal, the finest material for the sculptor
of humanity, the most impressionable of wax. In the right hands they can
be moulded to anything, by the right leader led to any height. And
conversely, of them a devil can make fiends. By the wrong leader they
can be led down to any depth.
"The crying need of India is noble men to make noble men of these fine
impressionable youths. Read the enclosed and take it that the writer
(who wrote this recently in Gungapur Jail) is typical of a large class
of misled, much-to-be-pitied youths, wrecked and ruined and
destroyed--their undoing begun by an unspeakably false and spurious
educational ideal, and completed by the writings, and the spoken words
of heartless unscrupulous scoundrels who use them to their own vile
"Read, Sir, and realize how truly noble, useful and beautiful is your
great work of endeavouring to embarrass our wicked Government, to weaken
its prestige here and in England, to encourage its enemies, to increase
discontent and unrest, to turn the thoughts of students to matters
political, and, in short, to carry on the good work of the usual
Self-advertising Visitation M.P.
"Humbly thanking your Honour, and wishing your Honour precisely the
successes and rewards that your Honour deserves,
"The dust of your Honour's feet,
"ILDERIM DOST MAHOMMED."
And Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., read as follows:--
... And so I am to be hanged by the neck till I am dead, am I? And for a
murder which I never committed, and in the perpetration of which I had
no hands? Is it, my masters? I trow so. But I can afford to spit--for I
did commit a murder, nevertheless, a beautiful secret murder that no one
could possibly ever bring to my home or cast in my tooth.
"Well, well! Hang me and grin in sleeve--and I will laugh on other side
of face while dancing on nothing--for if you think you are doing me in
eye, I know I have done you in eye!
"Yes. _I_ murdered Mr. Spensonly, the Chief Secretary of the Nuddee
"As the Latin-and-Greeks used to say, '_Solo fesit_'!
"You think Mr. Spensonly died of plague? So he did. And who caused him
to have plague? In short, who _plagued_ him? (Ha! Ha! An infinite jest!)
You shall know all about it and about, as Omar says, for I am going now
to write my autobiography of myself, as all great so-called Criminals
have done, for the admiration of mankind and the benefit of posterity.
And my fellow-brothers and family-members shall proudly publish it with
my photo--that of a great Patriot Hero and second Mazzini, Robespierre,
Kossuth, Garibaldi, Wallace, Charlotte Corday, Kosciusko, and Mr. Robert
Bruce (of spider fame).
"And I shall welcome death and embrace the headsman ere making last
speech and dying confession. Having long desired to know what lies
Beyond, I shall make virtue of necessity and seize opportunity (of
getting to know) to play hero and die gamish.
"Not like the Pathan murderer who walked about in front of condemned
cell with Koran balanced on head, crying to his Prophet to save him, and
defying Englishes to touch him. Of course they cooked his geese, Koran
or not. One warder does more than many Prophets in Gungapur Jail. (He!
He! Quite good epigram and nice cynicality of educated man.) The
degraded and unpolished fellow decoyed two little girls into empty house
to steal their jewellery, and cut off fingers and noses and ears to get
rings and nose-jewels and ear-drops, and left to die. Holy Fakir,
gentleman of course! Pooh! and Bah! for all holy men. I give spurnings
to them all for fools, knaves, or hypocrites. There are no gods any more
for educated gentleman, except himself, and that's very good god to
worship and make offering to (Ha! Ha! What a wit will be lost to the
silly world when it permits itself to lose me.)
"Well, to return to the sheep, as the European proverb has it. I was
born here in Gungapur, which will also have honour of being my
death-and-cremation place, of poor but honest parent on thirty rupees a
mensem. He was very clever fellow and sent five sons to Primary School,
Middle School, High School and Gungapur Government College at cost of
over hundred rupees a month, all out of his thirty rupees a mensem. He
always used proverb 'Politeness lubricates wheels of life and palm
also,' and he obliged any man who made it worth his while. But he fell
into bad odours at hands of Mr. Spensonly owing to folly of
bribing-fellow sending cash to office and the letter getting into Mr.
Spensonly's post-bag and opening by mistake.
"But the Sahib took me up into his office to soften blow to progenitor
and that shows he was a bad man or his luck would not have been to take
me in and give chance to murder him.
"My good old paternal parent made me work many hours each night, and
though he knew nothing of the subjects he could read English and would
hear all my lessons and other brothers', and we had to say Skagger Rack,
Cattegat, Scaw Fell and Helvellyn, and such things to him, and he would
abuse us if we mis-arranged the figures and letters in CaH2O2 and
H2SO4 and all those things in bottles. Before the Matriculation
Examination he made a Graduate, whom he had got under his thumb-nail,
teach us all the answers to all the back questions in all subjects till
we knew them all by heart, and also made us learn ten long essays by
heart so as to make up the required essay out of parts of them. He
nearly killed my brother by starvation (saving food as well as punishing
miscreant) for failing--the only one of us who ever failed in any
examination--which he did by writing out all first chapter of Washington
Irving for essay, when the subject was 'Describe a sunrise in the
Australian back-blocks'. As parent said, he could have used 'A moonlight
stroll by the sea-shore' and change the colour from silver to golden.
But the fool was ill--so ill that he tried to kill himself and had not
the strength. He said he would rather go to the missionaries' hell, full
of Englishes, than go on learning _Egbert, Ethelbald, Ethelbert,
Ethelwulf, Ethelred, Alfred, Edward the Elder, Edred, Edwy, Edgar,
Ethelred the Unready_, and _If two triangles have two sides of the one
equal to two angles of the other each to each and the sides so subtended
equal then shall the bases or fourth sides be equal each to each or be
"Well, the progenitor kept our noses in the pie night and day and we all
hated the old papa piously and wished he and we and all teachers and
text-books were burned alive.
"But we were very much loved by everybody as we were so learned and
clever, and whenever the Collector or anybody came to School, the Head
Master used to put one of us in each room and call on us to answer
questions and recite and say capes and bays without the map, and other
clever things; and when my eldest brother left I had to change coat with
another boy and do it twice sometimes, in different rooms.
"Sometimes the Educational Inspector himself would come, but then
nothing could be done, for he would not ask questions that were always
asked and were in the book, like the teachers and Deputy Inspectors did,
but questions that no one knew and had to be thought out then and there.
That is no test of Learning--and any fool who has not troubled to mug
his book by heart might be able to answer such questions, while the man
who had learnt every letter sat dumb.
"I hated the school and the books I knew by heart, but I loved Mr.
Ganeshram Joshibhai. He was a clever cunning man, and could always tweak
the leg of pompous Head Master when he came to the room, and had
beautiful ways of cheating him when he came to examine--better than
those of the other teachers.
"Before we had been with him a month he could tell us things while being
examined, and no one else knew he was doing it. The initial letters of
each word made up the words he wanted to crib to us, and when he
scratched his head with the right hand the answer was 'No,' while with
the left hand it was 'Yes'. And the clever way he taught us sedition
while teaching us History, and appearing to praise the English!
"He would spend hours in praising the good men who rebelled and fought
and got Magnum Charter and disrespected the King and cheeked the
Government and Members of Council. We knew all about Oliver Cromwell,
Hampden, Pim, and those crappies, and many a boy who had never heard of
Wolsey and Alfred the Great knew all about Felton the jolly fine patriot
who stabbed the Member of Council, Buckingham Esquire, in back.
"We learnt whole History book at home and he spent all History lessons
telling us about Plots, all the English History Plots and foreign too,
and we knew about the man who killed Henry of Navarre, as well as about
the killing of French and American Presidents of to-day. He showed
always why successful plots succeeded and the others failed. And he gave
weeks to the American Independence War and the French Revolution.
"And all the Indian History was about the Mutiny and how and why it
failed, when he was not showing us how the Englishes have ruined and
robbed India, and comparing the Golden Age of India (when no cow ever
died and there was never famine, plague, police nor taxes) with the
miserable condition of poor bleeding India to-day.
"He was a fine fellow and so clever that we were almost his worshippers.
But I am not writing his autobiography but my own, so let him lapse
herewith into posterity and well-merited oblivious.
"At the College when we could work no longer, we who had never learnt
crickets and tennis and ping-pongs, would take a nice big lantern with
big windows in four sides of it, and sit publicly in the middle of the
grass at the Gardens (with our books for a blind) and make speech to
each other about Mother India and exhort each other to join together in
a secret society and strike a blow for the Mother, and talk about the
heroes who had died on the scaffolding for her, or who were languishing
in chokey and do _poojah_ to their photos. But the superior members did
no _poojah_ to anything. Then came the Emissary in the guise of a holy
man (and I thought it the most dangerous disguise he could have assumed,
for I wonder the police do not arrest every sannyasi and fakir on
suspicion) and brought us the Message. And he took us to hear the blind
Mussulman they call Ilderim the Weeper.
"All was ready and nothing lacked but the Instrument.
"Would any of us achieve eternal fame and undying glory by being the
"We wouldn't. No jolly fear, and thanks awfully.
"But we agreed to make a strike at the College and to drop a useless
Browning pistol where it would be found, and in various other ways to be
unrestful. And one of us, whom the Principal would not certify to sit
for his F.E. and was very stony hard-up, joined the Emissary and went
away with him to be a Servant and perhaps an Instrument later on (if he
could not get a girl with a good dowry or a service of thirty rupees a
mensem), he was so hungry and having nothing for belly.
"Yes, as Mr. Ganeshram Joshibhai used to say, that is what the British
Government does for you--educates you to be passed B.A. and educated
gent., and then grudges to give you thirty rupees a mensem and expects
you to go searching for employment and food to put in belly! Can B.A.
work with hands like _maistri_?
"Then there came the best of all my friends, a science-knowing gentleman
who gave all his great talents to bomb. And the cream of all the milky
joke was that he had learnt all his science free, from Government, at
school and college, and he not only used his knowledge to be first-class
superior anarchist but he got chemicals from Government own laboratory.
"His brother was in Government Engineering College and between them they
did much--for one could make the bomb and the other could fill it.
"But they are both to be hanged at the same time that I am, and I do not
grudge that I am to be innocently hanged for their plot and the blowing
up of the _bhangi_ by mistake for the Collector, for I have long aspired
to be holy martyr in Freedom's sacred cause and have photo in newspapers
and be talked about.
"Besides, as I have said, I am not being done brown, as I murdered Mr.
Spensonly, the Engineer.
"How I hated him!
"Why should he be big and strong while I am skinny and feeble--owing to
night-and-day burning midnight candle at both ends and unable to make
"Besides did he not bring unmerited dishonour on grey hairs of poor old
progenitor by finding him out in bribe-taking? Did he not bring my
honoured father's aforesaying grey hairs in sorrow to reduced pension?
"Did he not upbraid and rebuke, nay, reproach me when I made grievous
little errors and backslippers?
"A thousand times Yea.
"But I should never have murdered him had I not caught the Plague, so
out of evil cometh good once more.
"The Plague came to Gungapur in its millions and we knew not what to do
but stood like drowning man splitting at a straw.
"Superstitious Natives said it was the revenge of Goddess Kali for not
sacrificing, and superstitious Europeans said it was a microbe created
by their God to punish unhygienic way of living.
"Knowing there are no gods of any sort I am in a position to state that
it was just written on our foreheads.
"To make confusion worse dumbfounded the Government of course had to
seize horns of dilemma and trouble the poor. They had all cases taken to
hospital and made segregation and inspection camps. They disinfected
houses and burnt rags and even purdah women were not allowed to die in
bosom of family. Of course police stole lakhs of rupees worth of clothes
and furniture and said it was infected. And many good men who were
enemies of Government were falsely accused of being plague-stricken and
were dragged to hospital and were never seen again.
"Terrible calamities fell upon our city and at last it nearly lost me
myself. I was seized, dragged from my family-bosom, cast into hospital
and cured. And in hospital I learned from fellow who was
subordinate-medical that rats get plague in sewers and cesspools and
when they die of it their fleas must go elsewhere for food, and so hop
on to other rat and give that poor chap plague too, by biting him with
dirty mouths from dead rat, and then he dies and so _in adfinitum_, as
the poet has it. But suppose no other rat is handy, what is poor hungry
flea to do? When you can't get curry, eat rice! When flea can't get rat
he eats man--turns to nastier food. (He! He!)
"So when flea from plague-stricken rat jumps on to man and bites him,
poor fellow gets plague--_bus_.
 Finale, enough, the end.
"Didn't friends and family-members skeddaddle and bunk when they saw rat
after I told them all that! But I didn't care, I had had plague once,
and one cannot get it twice. Not one man in thousand recovers when he
has got it, but I did. Old uneducated fool maternal parent did lots of
thanks-givings and _poojah_ because gods specially attentive to me--but
I said 'Go to, old woman. It was written on forehead.'
"And when I returned to work, one day I had an idea--an idea of how to
punish Mr. Spensonly for propelling honoured parent head first out of
job, and idea for striking blow at British prestige. We had our office
in private bungalow in those days before new Secretariat was built, and
it was unhealthy bungalow in which no one would live because they died.
"Mr. Spensonly didn't care, and he had office on top floor, but bottom
floor was clerks' office who went away at night also. Now it was my
painful duty to go every morning up to his office-room and see that peon
had put fresh ink and everything ready and that the _hamal_ had dusted
properly. So it was not long before I was aware that all the drawers
were locked except the top right-hand drawer, and that was not used as
there was a biggish hole in the front of it where the edge was broken
away from the above, some miscreant having once forced it open with
"And verily it came to pass that one day, entering my humble abode-room,
I saw a plague-rat lying suffering from _in extremis_ and about to give
up ghost. But having had plague I did not trouble about the fleas that
would leave his body when it grew stiff and cold, in search of food.
Instead I let it lie there while my food was being prepared, and
regretted that it was not beneath the chair of some enemy of mine who
had not had plague, instead of beneath my own ... that of Mr. Spensonly
"It was Saturday night. I returned to the office that evening, knowing
that Mr. Spensonly was out; and I went to his office-room with idle
excuse to the peon sitting in verandah--and in my pocket was poor old
rat kicking bucket fast.
"Who was to say _I_ put deceasing rat in the Sahib's table-drawer just
where he would come and sit all day--being in the habit of doing work on
Sunday the Christian holy day (being a man of no religion or caste)?
What do I know of rats and their properties when at death's front door?
"Cannot rat go into a Sahib's drawer as well as into poor man's? If he
did no work on Sunday very likely the fleas would remain until Monday,
the rat dying slowly and remaining warm and not in _rigour mortuis_.
Anyhow when they began to seek fresh fields and pastures new, being fed
up with old rat--or rather not able to get fed up enough, they would be
jolly well on the look out, and glad enough to take nibble even at an
Englishman! (He! He!) So I argued, and put good old rat in drawer and
did slopes. On Monday, Mr. Spensonly went early from office, feeling
feverish; and when I called, as in duty bound, to make humble inquiries
on Tuesday, he was reported jolly sickish with Plague--and he died
Tuesday night. I never heard of any other Sahib dying of Plague in
Gungapur except one missionary fellow who lived in the native city with
"So they can hang me for share in bomb-outrage and welcome (though I
never threw the bomb nor made it, and only took academic interest in
affair as I told the Judge Sahib)--for I maintain with my dying breath
that it was I who murdered Mr. Spensonly and put tongue in cheeks when
_Gungapur Gazette_ wrote column about the unhealthy bungalow in which he
was so foolish as to have his office. When I reflect that by this time
to-morrow I shall be Holy Martyr I rejoice and hope photo will be good
one, and I send this message to all the world--
* * * * *
Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Gosling-Green, M.P., liked this Pathan gentleman so
well after reading his letter and enclosure. Before long they liked him
very much less--although they did not know it--which sounds cryptic.
Sec. 5. MR. HORACE FAGGIT.
"Fair cautions, ain't they, these bloomin' niggers," observed Mr. Horace
Faggit, as the train rested and refreshed itself at a wayside station on
its weary way to distant Gungapur.
Colonel Wilberforce Wriothesley, of the 99th Baluch Light Infantry,
apparently did not feel called upon to notice the remark of Horace, whom
he regarded as a Person.
"Makes you proud to think you are one of the Ruling Rice to look at the
silly blighters, don't it?" he persisted.
"No authority on rice," murmured the Colonel, without looking up from
Stuffy old beggar he seemed to the friendly and genial Horace, but
Horace was too deeply interested in India and Horace to be affected by
For Mr. Horace Faggit had only set foot in his Imperial Majesty the King
Emperor's Indian Empire that month, and he was dazed with impressions,
drunk with sensations, and uplifted with pride. Was he not one of the
Conquerors, a member of the Superior Society, one of the Ruling Race,
and, in short, a Somebody?
The train started again and Horace sank back upon the long couch of the
unwonted first-class carriage, and sighed with contentment and
How different from Peckham and from the offices of the fine old British
Firm of Schneider, Schnitzel, Schnorrer & Schmidt! A Somebody at
last--after being office-boy, clerk, strap-hanger, gallery-patron,
cheap lodger, and paper-collar wearer. A Somebody, a Sahib, an English
gent., one of the Ruling and Upper Class after being a fourpenny
luncher, a penny-'bus-and-twopenny--tuber, a waverer 'twixt Lockhart and
For him, now, the respectful salaam, precedence, the first-class
carriage, the salutes of police and railway officials, hotels, a servant
(elderly and called a "Boy"), cabs (more elderly and called "gharries"),
first-class refreshment and waiting rooms, a funny but imposing
sun-helmet, silk and cotton suits, evening clothes, deference, regard
and prompt attention everywhere. Better than Peckham and the City, this!
My! What tales he'd have to tell Gwladwys Gwendoline when he had
completed his circuit and returned.
For Mr. Horace Faggit, plausible, observant, indefatigably cunning, and
in business most capable ("No bloomin' flies on 'Orris F." as he would
confidently and truthfully assure you) was the first tentative tentacle
advanced to feel its way by the fine old British Firm of Schneider,
Schnitzel, Schnorrer & Schmidt, in the mazy markets of the gorgeous
Orient, and to introduce to the immemorial East their famous jewellery
and wine of Birmingham and Whitechapel respectively; also to introduce
certain exceeding-private documents to various gentlemen of Teutonic
sympathies and activities in various parts of India--documents of the
nature of which Horace was entirely ignorant.
And the narrow bosom of Horace swelled with pride, as he realized that,
here at least, he was a Gentleman and a Sahib.
Well, he'd let 'em know it too. Those who did him well and pleased him
should get tips, and those who didn't should learn what it was to earn
the displeasure of the Sahib and to evoke his wrath. And he would
endeavour to let all and sundry see the immeasurable distance and
impassable gulf that lay between a Sahib and a nigger--of any degree
This was the country to play the gentleman in and no error! You _could_
fling your copper cash about in a land where a one-and-fourpenny piece
was worth a hundred and ninety-two copper coins, where you could get a
hundred good smokes to stick in your face for about a couple of bob, and
where you could give a black cabby sixpence and done with it. Horace had
been something of a Radical at home (and, indeed, when an office-boy, a
convinced Socialist), especially when an old-age pension took his lazy,
drunken old father off his hands, and handsomely rewarded the aged
gentleman for an unswervingly regular and unbroken career of
post-polishing and pub-pillaring. But now he felt he had been mistaken.
Travel widens the horizon and class-hatred is only sensible and
satisfactory when you are no class yourself. When you have got a
position you must keep it up--and being one of the Ruling Race was a
position undoubtedly. Horace Faggit _would_ keep it up too, and let 'em
see all about it.
The train entered another station and drew in from the heat and glare to
the heat and comparative darkness.
Yes, he would keep up his position as a Sahib haughtily and with
jealousy,--and he stared with terrible frown and supercilious hauteur at
what he mentally termed a big, fat buck-nigger who dared and presumed
to approach the carriage and look in. The man wore an enormous white
turban, a khaki Norfolk jacket, white jodhpore riding-breeches that
fitted the calf like skin, and red shoes with turned-up pointed toes.
His beard was curled, and his hair hung in ringlets from his turban to
his shoulders in a way Horace considered absurd. Could the blighter be
actually looking to see whether there might be room for him, and
meditating entry? If so Horace would show him his mistake. Pretty thing
if niggers were to get into First-Class carriages with Sahibs like
"'Ere! What's the gaime?" he inquired roughly. "Can't yer see this is
Firs-Class, and if you got a Firs-Class ticket, can't yer see there's
two Sahibs 'ere? Sling yer 'ook, _sour_. Go on, _jao!_"
 Go away.
The man gave no evidence of having understood Horace.
"Sahib!" said he softly, addressing Colonel Wilberforce Wriothesley.
The Colonel went on reading.
"_Jao_, I tell yer," repeated Horace, rather proud of his grasp of the
vernacular. "Slope, _barnshoot_."
 An insulting epithet.
"Sahib!" said the man again.
The Colonel looked up and then sprang to his feet with outstretched
"_Bahut salaam_, Subedar Major Saheb," he cried, and wrung the hand
of the "big fat buck-nigger" (who possessed the same medal-ribbons that
he himself did) as he poured forth a torrent of mingled Pushtu, Urdu,
and English while the Native Officer alternately saluted and pressed
the Colonel's hand to his forehead in transports of pure and wholly
 Hearty greeting.
"They told me the Colonel Sahib would be passing through this week," he
said, "and I have met all the trains that I might look upon his face. I
am weary of my furlough and would rejoin but for my law-suit. Praise be
to Allah that I have met my Colonel Sahib," and the man who had five war
decorations was utterly unashamed of the tear that trickled.
"How does my son, Sahib?" he asked in Urdu.
"Well, Subedar Major Saheb, well. Worthily of his father--whose place in
the _pultan_ may he come to occupy."
"Praise be to God, Sahib! Let him no more seek his father's house nor
look upon his father's face again, if he please thee not in all things.
And is there good news of Malet-Marsac Sahib, O Colonel Sahib?" Then,
with a glance at Horace, he asked: "Why does this low-born one dare to
enter the carriage of the Colonel Sahib and sit? Truly the _relwey
terain_ is a great caste-breaker! Clearly he belongs to the class of the
_ghora-log_, the common soldiers." ...
"'Oo was that,--a Rajah?" inquired the astounded Horace, as the train
"One of the people who keep India safe for you bagmen," replied the
Colonel, who was a trifle indignant on behalf of the insulted Subedar
Major Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan of the 99th Baluch Light
"No doubt he thought I was another officer," reflected Horace. "They
think you're a gent, if you chivvy 'em."
At Umbalpur Colonel Wilberforce Wriothesley left the train and Mr.
Faggit had the carriage to himself--for a time.
And it was only through his own firmness and proper pride that he had it
to himself for so long, for at the very next station a beastly little
brute of a black man actually tried to get in--in with _him_, Mr. Horace
Faggit of the fine old British Firm of Schneider, Schnitzel, Schnorrer &
Schmidt, manufacturers of best quality Birmingham jewellery and
"importers" of a fine Whitechapel wine.
But Horace settled _him_ all right and taught him to respect Sahibs. It
happened thus. Horace lay idly gazing at the ever-shifting scene of the
platform in lordly detachment and splendid isolation, when, just as the
train was starting, a little fat man, dressed in a little red turban
like a cotton bowler, a white coat with a white sash over the shoulder,
a white apron tucked up behind, pink silk socks, and patent leather
shoes, told his servant to open the door. Ere the stupefied Horace could
arise from his seat the man was climbing in! The door opened inwards
however, and Horace was in time to give it a sharp thrust with his foot
and send the little man, a mere Judge of the High Court, staggering
backwards on to the platform where he sprawled at full length, while his
turban, which Horace thought most ridiculous for a grown man, rolled in
the dust. Slamming the door the "Sahib" leant out and jeered, while the
insolent presumptuous "nigger" wiped the blood from his nose with a
corner of the _dhoti_ or apron-like garment (which Horace considered
idiotic if not improper)....
But Homer nodded, and--Horace went to sleep.
When he awoke he saw by the dim light of the screened roof-lamp that he
was not alone, and that on the opposite couch a _native_ had actually
made up a bed with sheets, blankets and pillow, undressed himself, put
on pyjamas and gone to bed! Gord streuth, he had! He'd attend to him in
the morning--though it would serve the brute right if Horace threw him
out at the next station--without his kit. But he looked rather large,
and Mercy is notoriously a kingly attribute.
In the morning Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan Mir Ilderim Dost Mahommed of
Mekran Kot, Gungapur, and the world in general, awoke, yawned, stretched
himself and arose.
He arose to some six feet and three inches of stature, and his thin
pyjamasuit was seen to cover a remarkably fine and robustious
figure--provided with large contours where contours are desirable, and
level tracts where such are good. As he lay flat back again, Horace
noted that his chest rose higher than his head and the more southerly
portion of his anatomy, while the action of clasping his hands behind
his neck brought into prominence a pair of biceps that strained their
sleeves almost to bursting. He was nearly as fair as London-bred Horace,
but there were his turbanned conical hat, his curly toed shoes, his long
silk coat, his embroidered velvet waistcoat and other wholly Oriental
articles of attire. Besides, his vest was of patterned muslin and he had
something on a coloured string round his neck.
"What are you doing 'ere?" demanded Horace truculently, as this bold
abandoned "native" caught his eye and said "Good-morning".
"At present I am doing nothing," was the reply, "unless passive
reclining may count as being something. I trust I do not intrude or
"You do intrude and likewise you do annoy also. I ain't accustomed to
travel with blacks, and I ain't agoing to have you spitting about 'ere.
You got in when I was asleep."
"You were certainly snoring when I got in, and I was careful not to
awaken you--but not on account of any great sensation of guilt or fear.
I assure you I have no intention of spitting or being in any way rude,
unmannerly, or offensive. And since you object to travelling with
'blacks' I suggest--that you leave the carriage."
Did Horace's ears deceive him? Did he sleep, did he dream, and were
visions about? _Leave the carriage_?
"Look 'ere," he shouted, "you keep a civil tongue in your 'ead. Don't
you know I am a gentleman? What do you mean by getting into a
first-class carriage with a gentleman and insulting 'im? Want me to
throw you out before we reach a station? Do yer?"
"No, to tell you the truth I did not realize that you are a
gentleman--and I have known a great number of English gentlemen in
England and India, and generally found them mirrors of chivalry and the
pink of politeness and courtesy. And I hope you won't try to throw me
out either in a station or elsewhere for I might get annoyed and hurt
What a funny nigger it was! What did he mean by "mirrors of chivalry".
Talked like a bloomin' book. Still, Horace would learn him not to
The presumptuous one retired to the lavatory; washed, shaved, and
reappeared dressed in full Pathan kit. But for this, there was nothing
save his very fine physique and stature to distinguish him from an
inhabitant of Southern Europe.
Producing a red-covered official work on Mounted Infantry Training, he
settled down to read.
Horace regretted that India provided not his favourite _Comic Cuts and
"May I offer you a cigarette and light one myself?" said the "black" man
in his quiet cultured voice.
"I don't want yer fags--and I don't want you smoking while I got a empty
stummick," replied the Englishman.
Anon the train strolled into an accidental-looking station with an air
of one who says, "Let's sit down for a bit--what?" and Horace sprang to
the window and bawled for the guard.
"'Ere--ask this native for 'is ticket," he said, on the arrival of that
functionary. "Wot's 'e doing in 'ere with _me_?"
"Ticket, please?" said the guard--a very black Goanese.
The Pathan produced his ticket.
"Will you kindly see if there is another empty first-class carriage,
Guard?" said he.
"There iss one next a'door," replied the guard.
"Then you can escape from your unpleasant predicament by going in there,
Sir," said the Pathan.
"I shall remine where I ham," was the dignified answer.
"And so shall I," said the Pathan.
"Out yer go," said the bagman, rising threateningly.
"I am afraid I shall have to put you to the trouble of ejecting me,"
said the Pathan, with a smile.
"I wouldn't bemean myself," countered Horace loftily, and didn't.
"One often hears of the dangerous classes in India," said the Pathan, as
the train moved on again. "You belong to the most dangerous of all. You
and your kind are a danger to the Empire and I have a good mind to be a
public benefactor and destroy you. Put you to the edge of the sword--or
rather of the tin-opener," and he pulled his lunch-basket from under the
"Have some chicken, little Worm?" he continued, opening the basket and
preparing to eat.
"Keep your muck," replied Horace.
"No, no, little Cad," corrected the strange and rather terrible person;
"you are going to breakfast with me and you are going to learn a few
things about India--and yourself."
And Horace did....
"Where are you going?" asked the Pathan person later.
"I'm going to work up a bit o' trade in a place called Gungerpore," was
the reply of the cowed Horace.
But in Gungapur Horace adopted the very last trade that he, respectable
man, ever expected to adopt--that of War.
"MEET AND LEAVE AGAIN."
"So on the sea of life, Alas!
Man nears man, meets and leaves again."
It had come. Ross-Ellison had proved a true prophet (and was to prove
himself a true soldier and commander of men).
Possibly the most remarkable thing about it was the quickness and
quietness, the naturalness and easiness with which it had come. A week
or two of newspaper forecast and fear, a week or two of recrimination
and feverish preparation, an ultimatum--England at war. The navy
mobilized, the army mobilizing, auxiliaries warned to be in readiness,
overseas battalions, batteries and squadrons recalled, or
re-distributed, reverses and "regrettable incidents,"--and outlying
parts of India (her native troops massed in the North or doing
garrison-duty overseas) an archipelago of safety-islands in a sea of
danger; Border parts of India for a time dependent upon their various
volunteer battalions for the maintenance, over certain areas, of their
civil governance, their political organization and public services.
In Gungapur, as in a few other Border cities, the lives of the European
women, children and men, the safety of property, and the continuance of
the local civil government depended for a little while upon the local
Gungapur, whose history became an epitome of that of certain other
isolated cities, was for a few short weeks an intermittently besieged
garrison, a mark for wandering predatory bands composed of _budmashes_
outlaws, escaped convicts, deserters, and huge mobs drawn from that
enormous body of men who live on the margin of respectability, peaceful
cultivator today, bloodthirsty dacoit to-morrow, wielders of the spade
and mattock or of the _lathi_ and _tulwar_ according to season,
circumstance, and the power of the Government; recruits for a mighty
army, given the leader and the opportunity--the hour of a Government's
 Quarter-staff and sword.
As had been pointed out, time after time, in the happy and
happy-go-lucky past, the practical civilian seditionist and active
civilian rebel is more fortunately situated in India than is his foreign
brother, in that his army exists ready to hand, all round him, in the
thousands of the desperately poor, devoid of the "respectability" that
accompanies property, thousands with nothing to lose and high hopes of
much to gain, heaven-sent material for the agitator.
Thanks to the energy of Colonel John Robin Ross-Ellison, his unusual
organizing ability, his personality, military genius and fore-knowledge
of what was coming, Gungapur suffered less than might have been expected
in view of its position on the edge of a Border State of
always-doubtful friendliness, its large mill-hand element, and the
poverty and turbulence of its general population.
The sudden departure of the troops was the sign for the commencement of
a state of insecurity and anxiety which quickly merged into one of
danger and fear, soon to be replaced by a state of war.
From the moment that it was known for certain that the garrison would be
withdrawn, Colonel Ross-Ellison commenced to put into practice his
projected plans and arrangements. On the day that Mr. Dearman's coolies
(after impassioned harangues by a blind Mussulman fanatic known as
Ibrahim the Weeper, a faquir who had recently come over the Border to
Gungapur and attained great influence; and by a Hindu professional
agitator who had obtained a post at the mills in the guise of a harmless
clerk) commenced rioting, beat Mr. Dearman to death with crowbars,
picks, and shovels, murdered all the European and Eurasian employees,
looted all that was worth stealing, and, after having set fire to the
mills, invaded the Cantonment quarter, burning, murdering,
destroying,--Colonel Ross-Ellison called out his corps, declared martial
law, and took charge of the situation, the civil authorities being dead
or cut off in the "districts".
The place which he had marked out for his citadel in time of trouble was
the empty Military Prison, surrounded by a lofty wall provided with an
unassailable water-supply, furnished with cook-houses, infirmary,
work-shop, and containing a number of detached bungalows (for officials)
in addition to the long lines of detention barracks.
As soon as his men had assembled at Headquarters he marched to the
place and commenced to put it in a state of defence and preparation for
While Captain Malet-Marsac and Captain John Bruce (of the Gungapur
Engineering College) slaved at carrying out his orders in the Prison,
other officers, with picked parties of European Volunteers, went out to
bring in fugitives, to commandeer the contents of provision and grain
shops, to drive in cattle, to seize cooks, sweepers and other servants,
to shoot rioters and looters in the Cantonment area, to search for
wounded and hidden victims of the riot, to bury corpses, extinguish
fires, penetrate to European bungalows in the city and in outlying
places, to publish abroad that the Military Prison was a safe refuge, to
seize and empty ammunition shops and toddy shops, to mount guards at the
railway-station, telegraph office, the banks, the gate-house of the
great Jail, the Treasury and the Kutcherry, and generally, to use
their common sense and their rifles as the situation demanded.
 Collector's Court and Office.
Day by day external operation became more restricted as the mob grew
larger and bolder, better armed and better organized, daily augmented
and assisted from without. The last outpost which Colonel Ross-Ellison
withdrew was the one from the railway-station, and that was maintained
until it was known that large bridges had been blown up on either side
and the railway rendered useless. In the Jail gate-house he established
a strong guard under the Superintendent, and urged him to use it
ruthlessly, to kill on the barest suspicion of mutiny, and to welcome
the first opportunity of giving the sharpest of lessons.
In this matter he set a personal example and behaved, to actual rioters,
with what some of his followers considered unnecessary severity, and
what others viewed as wise war-ending firmness.
When remonstrated with by Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green (caught, alas!
with his admirable wife in this sudden and terrible maelstrom), for
shooting, against the Prison wall, a squad of armed men caught by night
and under more than suspicious circumstances, within Cantonment limits,
he replied curtly and rudely:--
"My good little Gosling, I'd shoot _you_ with my own hand if you failed
me in the least particular--so stick to your drill and hope to become a
Corporal before the war is over".
The world-famous Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., hoping to become a
Corporal! Meanwhile he was less--a private soldier, doing four hard
drills a day--not to mention sentry-go and fatigues. Like Augustus
Clarence Percy Marmaduke Grobble, he grumbled bitterly--but he obeyed,
having been offered the hard choice of enrolment or exclusion.
"I'll have no useless male mouths here," had said Colonel Ross-Ellison.
"Enroll or clear out and take your chance. I'll look after your wife."
"But, my dear Sir...."
"'Sir' without the 'my dear,' please."
"I was about to say that I could--ah--assist, advise, sit upon your
councils, give you the benefit of my--er--experience, ..." the Publicist
"Experience of war?"
"Enroll or clear out--and when you have enrolled remember that you are
under martial law and in time of war."
A swift, fierce, masterful man, harsh and ruthless making war without
kid gloves--that it might end the sooner and be the longer remembered by
the survivors. The flag was to be kept flying in Gungapur, the women and
children were to be saved, all possible damage was to be inflicted on
the rebels and rioters, more particularly upon those who led and incited
them. The Gosling-Greens and Grobbles who could not materially assist to
this end could go, those who could thwart or hinder this end could die.
Gleams of humour enlivened the situation. Mrs. Gosling-Green (_nee_ a
Pounding-Pobble, Superiora Pounding-Pobble, one of the Pounding-Pobbles
of Putney) was under the orders, very much under the orders, of the wife
of the Sergeant-Major, and early and plainly learnt that good woman's
opinion that she was a poor, feckless body and eke a fushionless, not
worth the salt of her porridge--a lazy slut withal.
Among the "awkward squads" enrolled when rioting broke out and the corps
seized the old Prison, were erstwhile grave and reverend seniors
learning to "stand up like a man an' look prahd o' yourself" at the
orders of the Sergeant-Major. Among them were two who had been Great
Men, Managers signing _per_ and _pro_, Heads of Departments, almost Tin
Gods, and one of them, alas, was at the mercy of a mere boy whom he had
detested and frequently "squashed" in the happy days of yore. The mere
boy (a cool, humorous, and somewhat vindictive person, one of the best
subalterns of the Corps and especially chosen by Colonel Ross-Ellison
when re-organizing the battalion after its disbandment) was giving his
close attention to the improvement of his late manager, a pompous, dull
and silly bureaucrat, even as his late manager had done for him.
"Now, Private Bulliton," he would urge, "_do_ learn which is your right
hand and which is your left. And _do_ stand up.... No--don't drop your
rifle when you are told to 'shoulder'. _That's_ better--we shall make
something of you yet. Head up, man, head up! Try and look fierce. Look
at Private Faggit--he'll be a Sergeant yet" ... and indeed Private
Horace Faggit was looking very fierce indeed, for he desired the blood
of these interfering villains who were hindering the development of the
business of the fine old British firm of Messrs. Schneider, Schnitzel,
Schnorrer & Schmidt and the commissions of their representative. Also he
felt that he was assisting at the making of history. 'Orace in a
bloomin' siege--Gorblimey!--and he, who had never killed anything bigger
than an insect in his life, lusted to know how it felt to shove your
bayonet into a feller or shoot 'im dead at short rynge. So Horace
drilled with alacrity and zest, paid close attention to
aiming-instruction and to such visual-training and distance-judging as
his officer, Captain John Bruce, could give him, and developed a
military aptitude surprising to those who had known him only as Horace
Faggit, Esquire, the tried and trusted Representative of the fine old
British Firm of Schneider, Schnitzel, Schnorrer & Schmidt.
To Captain Malet-Marsac, an unusually thoughtful, observant and
studious soldier, it was deeply interesting to see how War affected
different people how values changed, how the Great became exceeding
small, and the insignificant person became important. By the end of the
first month of what was virtually the siege of the Military Prison,
Horace Faggit, late office-boy, clerk, and bagman, was worth
considerably more than Augustus Grobble, late Professor of Moral
Philosophy; Cornelius Gosling-Green, late Publicist; Edward Jones, late
(alleged) Educationist, of Duri formerly; and a late Head of a
Department,--all rolled into one--a keen, dapper, self-reliant soldier,
courageous, prompt, and very bloodthirsty.
As he strolled up and down, supervising drills, went round the
sentry-posts by night, or marched at the head of a patrol, Captain
Malet-Marsac would reflect upon the relativity of things, the false
values of civilization, and the extraordinary devitalising and
deteriorating results of "education". When it came to vital issues,
elementals, stark essential manhood,--then the elect of civilization,
the chosen of education, weighed, was found not only wanting but largely
negligible. Where the highly "educated" was as good as the other he was
so by reason of his games and sports, his _shikar_, or his specialized
training--as in the case of the engineers and other physically-trained
Captain John Bruce, for example, Professor of Engineering, was a soldier
in a few weeks and a fine one. In time of peace, a quiet, humorous, dour
and religious-minded man, he was now a stern disciplinarian and a
cunning foe who fought to kill, rejoicing in the carnage that taught a
lesson and made for earlier peace. The mind that had dreamed of
universal brotherhood and the Oneness of Humanity now dreamed of
ambushes, night-attacks, slaughterous strategy and magazine-fire on a
Surely and steadily the men enclosed behind the walls of the old Prison
rose into the ranks of the utterly reliable, the indefatigable, the
fearless and the fine, or sank into those of the shifty, unhearty,
unreliable, and unworthy--save the few who remained steadily mediocre,
well-meaning, unsoldierly, fairly trustworthy--a useful second line, but
not to be sent on forlorn hopes, dangerous reconnoitring, risky
despatch-carrying, scouting, or ticklish night-work. One siege is very
like another--and Ross-Ellison's garrison knew increasing weariness,
hunger, disease and casualties.
Mrs. Dearman's conduct raised Colonel Ross-Ellison's love to a burning,
yearning devotion, and his defence of Gungapur became his defence of
Mrs. Dearman. For her husband she appeared to mourn but little--there
was little time to mourn--and, for a while, until sights, sounds and
smells became increasingly horrible, she appeared almost to enjoy her
position of Queen of the Garrison, the acknowledged Ladye of the
Officers and men of the Corps. Until she fell sick herself, she played
the part of amateur Florence Nightingale right well, going regularly
with a lamp--the Lady with the Lamp--at night through the hospital ward.
Captain John Bruce was the only one who was not loud in her praises,
though he uttered no dispraises. He, a dour and practical person,
thought the voyage with the Lamp wholly unnecessary and likely to awaken
sleepers to whom sleep was life; that lint-scraping would have been a
more useful employment than graciousness to the poor wounded; that a
woman, as zealous as Mrs. Dearman looked, would have torn up dainty
cotton and linen confections for bandages instead of wearing them; that
the Commandant didn't need all the personal encouragement and
enheartenment that she wished to give him--and many other uncomfortable,
cynical, and crabby thoughts. Captain Malet-Marsac loved her without
Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green, after haranguing all and sundry,
individually and collectively, on the economic unsoundness, the illogic,
and the unsocial influence of War, took to her bed and stayed there
until she found herself totally neglected. Arising and demanding an
interview with the Commandant, she called him to witness that she
entered a formal protest against the whole proceedings and registered
her emphatic----until the Commandant, sending for Cornelius (whose
duties cut him off, unrepining, from his wife's society), ordered him to
remove her, silence her, beat her if necessary--and so save her from the
unpleasant alternative of solitary confinement on bread and water until
she could be, if not useful, innocuous.
Many a poor woman of humble station proved herself (what most women are)
an uncomplaining, unconsidered heroine, and more than one "subordinate"
of mixed ancestry and unpromising exterior, a brave devoted man. As
usual, what kept the flag flying and gave ultimate victory to the
immeasurably weaker side was the spirit, the personality, the force, the
power, of one man.
To Captain Malet-Marsac this was a revelation. Even to him, who knew
John Robin Ross-Ellison well, and had known and studied him for some
time at Duri and elsewhere, it was a wonderful thing to see how the
quiet, curious, secretive man (albeit a fine athlete, horseman and
adventurous traveller) stepped suddenly into the fierce light of supreme
command in time of war, a great, uncompromising, resourceful ruler of
men, skilful strategist and tactician, remarkable both as organizer,
leader, and personal fighter.
Did he _ever_ sleep? Night after night he penetrated into the city
disguised as a Pathan (a disguise he assumed with extraordinary skill
and which he strengthened by a perfect knowledge of many Border dialects
as well as of Pushtoo), or else personally led some night attack, sally,
reconnaissance or foraging expedition. Day after day he rode out on
Zuleika with the few mounted men at his command, scouting,
reconnoitring, gleaning information, attacking and slaughtering small
parties of marauders as occasion offered.
From him the professional soldier, his adjutant, learned much, and
wondered where his Commandant had learned all he had to teach. Captain
Malet-Marsac owned him master, his military as well as his official
superior, and grew to feel towards him as his immediate followers felt
toward Napoleon--to love him with a devoted respect, a respecting
devotion. He recognized in him the born guerrilla leader--and more, the
trained guerrilla leader, and wondered where on earth this strange
civilian had garnered his practical military knowledge and skill.
Wherever he went on foot, especially when he slipped out of the Prison
for dangerous spy-work among the forces of the mutineers, rebels,
rioters and _budmashes_ of the city, he was followed by his servant, an
African, concerning whom Colonel Ross-Ellison had advised the servants
of the Officers' Mess to be careful and also to bear in mind that he was
not a _Hubshi_. Only when the Colonel rode forth on horseback was he
separated from this man who, when the Colonel was in his room,
invariably slept across the door thereof.
On night expeditions, the Somali would be disguised, sometimes as a
leprous beggar, as stable-boy, again as an Arab, sometimes as a renegade
sepoy from a Native Border Levy, sometimes as a poor fisherman, again as
a Sidi boatman, he being, like his master, exceptionally good at
disguises of all kinds, and knowing Hindustani, Arabic, and his native
He was an expert bugler, and in that capacity stuck like a burr to the
Colonel by day, looking very smart and workmanlike in khaki uniform and
being of more than average usefulness with rifle and bayonet. Not until
after the restoration of order did Mr. Edward Jones, formerly of the
Duri High School, long puzzled as to where he had seen him before,
realize who he was.
* * * * *
In a low dark room, dimly lighted that evening by wick-and-saucer
_butties_, squatted, lay, sat, stood and sprawled a curious collection
of scoundrels. The room was large, and round the four sides of it ran a
very broad, very low, and very filthy divan, intended for the rest and
repose of portly _bunnias_, _seths_, brokers, shopkeepers and
others of the commercial fraternity, what time they assembled to chew
pan and exchange lies and truths anent money and the markets. A very
different assembly now occupied its greasy lengths _vice_ the former
habitues of the _salon_, now dispersed, dead, robbed, ruined, held to
ransom, or cruelly blackmailed.
In the seat of honour (an extra cushion), sat the blind faquir who, with
his clerkly colleague, had set the original match to the magazine by
inciting the late Mr. Dearman's coolies. Apparently a relentless,
terrible fanatic and bitter hater of the English, for his councils were
all of blood and fire, rapine and slaughter, he taunted his hearers with
their supine cowardice in that the Military Prison still held out, its
handful of defenders still manned its walls, nay, from time to time,
made sallies and terrible reprisals upon a careless ill-disciplined
"Were I but as other men! Had I but mine eyes!" he screamed, "I would
overwhelm the place in an hour. Hundreds to one you are--and you are
mocked, robbed, slaughtered."
A thin-faced, evil-looking, squint-eyed Hindu whose large, thick,
gold-rimmed goggles accorded ill with the sword that lay athwart his
crossed legs, addressed him in English.
"Easy to talk, Moulvie. Had you your sight you could perhaps drill and
arm the mob into an army, eh? Find them repeating rifles and ammunition,
find them officers, find them courage? Is it not? Yes."
"Hundreds to one, Babu," grunted the blind man, and spat.
"I would urge upon this august assemblee," piped a youthful weedy
person, "that recreemination is not argument, and that many words butter
no parsneeps, so to speak. We are met to decide as to whether the
treasure shall be removed to Pirgunge or still we keep it with us here
in view of sudden sallies of foes. I hereby beg to propose and my
honourable friend Mister----"
"Sit down, crow," said the blind faquir unkindly and there was a
snigger. "The treasure will be removed at once--this night, or I will
remove myself from Gungapur with all my followers--and go where deeds
are being done. I weary of waiting while pi-dogs yelp around the walls
they cannot enter. Cowards! Thousands to one--and ye do not kill two of
them a day. Conquer and slay them? Nay--rather must our own treasure be
removed lest some night the devil, in command there, swoop upon it,
driving ye off like sheep and carrying back with him----"
"Flesh and blood cannot face a machine-gun, Moulvie," said the
squint-eyed Hindu. "Even _your_ holy sanctity would scarcely protect you
from bullets. Come forth and try to-morrow."
"Nor can flesh and blood--such flesh and blood as Gungapur
provides--surround the machine-gun and rush upon it from flank and rear
of course," replied the blind man. "Do machine guns fire in all
directions at once? When they ran the accursed thing down to the
market-place and fired it into the armed crowd that listened to my
words, could ye not have fled by other streets to surround it? Had all
rushed bravely from all directions how long would it have fired? Even
thus, could more have died than did die? Scores they slew--and retired
but when they could fire no longer.... And ye allowed it to go because a
dozen men stood between it and you----," and again the good man spat.
"I do not say 'Sit down, crow' for thou art already sitting," put in a
huge, powerful-looking man, arrayed in a conical puggri-encircled cap,
long pink shirt over very baggy peg-top trousers, and a green waistcoat,
"but I weary of thy chatter Blind-Man. Keep thy babble for fools in the
market-place, where, I admit, it hath its uses. Remain our valued and
respected talker and interfere not with fighting men, nor criticize. And
say not 'The treasure will be removed this night,' nor anything else
concerning command. _I_ will decide in the matter of the treasure and I
prefer to keep it here under mine hand...."
"Doubtless," sneered the blind man. "Under thy hand--until, in the end,
it be found to consist of boxes of stones and old iron. Look you--the
treasure goes to-night or _I_ go, and certain others go with me. And
suppose I change my tune in the market-place, Havildar Nazir Ali Khan,
and say certain words concerning _thee_ and thy designs, give hints of
treachery--and where is the loud-mouthed Nazir Ali Khan?..." and his
blind eyes glared cold ferocity at the last speaker who handled his
sword and replied nothing.
The secret of the man's power was clear.
"The treasure will be removed to night," he repeated and a discussion of
limes, routes, escort and other details followed. A dispute arose
between the big man addressed as Havildar Nazir Ali Khan and a squat
broad-shouldered Pathan as to the distance and probable time that a
convoy, moving at the rate of laden bullock-carts, would take in
The short thick-set Pathan turned for confirmation of his estimate to
another Pathan, grey-eyed but obviously a Pathan, nevertheless.
"I say it is five _kos_ and the carts should start at moonrise and
arrive before the moon sets."
"You are right, brother," replied the grey-eyed Pathan, who, for his own
reasons, particularly desired that the convoy should move by moonlight.
This individual had not spoken hitherto in the hearing of the blind
faquir, and, as he did so now, the blind man turned sharply in his
direction, a look of startled surprise and wonder on his face.
"Who spoke?" he snapped.
But the grey-eyed man arose, yawned hugely, and, arranging his puggri
and straightening his attire, swaggered towards the door of the room,
passed out into a high-walled courtyard, exchanged a few words with the
guardian of a low gateway, and emerged into a narrow alley where he was
joined by an African-looking camel-man.
The blind man, listening intently, sat motionless for a minute and then
again asked sharply:--
"Who spoke? Who spoke?"
"Many have spoken Pir Saheb," replied the squat Pathan.
"Who said '_You are right, brother_,' but now? Who? Quick!" he cried.
"Who? Why, 'twas one of us," replied the squat Pathan. "Yea, 'twas
Abdulali Habbibullah, the money-lender. I have known him long...."
"Let him speak again," said the blind man.
"Where is he? He has gone out, I think," answered the other.
"Call him back, Hidayetullah. Take others and bring him back. I must
hear his voice again," urged the faquir.
"He will come again, Moulvie Saheb, he is often here," said the short
man soothingly. "I know him well. He will be here to-morrow."
"See, Hidayetullah," said the blind faquir "when next he comes, say then
to me, 'May I bring thee tobacco, Pir Saheb,' if he be sitting near, but
say 'May I bring thee tobacco, Moulvie Saheb,' if he be sitting afar
off. If this, speak to him across the room that I may hear his voice in
answer, and call him by his name, Abdulali Habbibullah. And if I should,
on a sudden, cry out 'Hold the door,' do thou draw knife and leap to the
"A _spy_, Pir Saheb?" asked the interested man.
"That I shall know when next I hear his voice--and, if it be he whom I
think, thou shalt scrape the flesh from the bones of his face with thy
knife and put his eyeballs in his mouth. But he must not die. Nay! Nay!"
The Pathan smiled.
"Thou shalt hear his voice, Pir Saheb," he promised.
* * * * *
An hour later the African-looking camel-man and the Pathan approached
the gates of the Military Prison and at a distance of a couple of
hundred yards the African imitated the cry of a jackal, the barking of a
dog and the call of the "Did-ye-do-it" bird.
Approaching the gate he whispered a countersign and was admitted, the
gate being then held open for the Pathan who followed him at a distance
of a hundred yards. Entering Colonel Ross-Ellison's room the Pathan
quickly metamorphosed himself into Colonel Ross-Ellison, and sent for
his Adjutant, Captain Malet-Marsac.
"Fifty of the best, with fifty rounds each, to parade at the gate in
half an hour," he said. "Bruce to accompany me, you to remain in command
here. All who can, to wear rubber-soled shoes, others to go barefoot or
bandage their boots with putties over cardboard or paper. No man likely
to cough or sneeze is to go. Luminous-paint discs to be served out to
half a dozen. No rations, no water,--just shirts, shorts and bandoliers.
Nothing white or light-coloured to be worn. Put a strong outpost, all
European, under Corporal Faggit on the hill, and double all guards and
sentries. Shove sentry-groups at the top of the Sudder Bazaar, West
Street and Edward Road.--_You_ know all about it.... I've got a good
thing on. There'll be a lot of death about to-night, if all goes well."
Half an hour later Captain Bruce called his company of fifty picked men
to "attention" as Colonel Ross-Ellison approached, the gate was opened
and an advance-guard of four men, with four flankers, marched out and
down the road leading to the open country. Two of these wore each a
large tin disc painted with luminous paint fastened to his back. When
these discs were only just visible from the gate a couple more
disc-adorned men started forth, and before their discs faded into the
darkness the remainder of the party "formed fours" and marched after
them, all save a section of fours which followed a couple of hundred
yards in the rear, as a rear-guard. In silence the small force advanced
for an hour, passed some cross-roads, and then Colonel Ross-Ellison,
who had joined the advance-guard, signalled a halt and moved away by
himself to the right of the road.
In the shadow of the trees, the moon having risen, Captain Bruce ordered
his men to lie down, announcing in a whisper that he would have the life
of anyone who made a sound or struck a match. This was known to be but
half in jest, for the Captain was a good disciplinarian and a man of his
Save for the occasional distant bark of the village-dogs, the night was
very still. Sitting staring out into the moon-lit hazy dusk in the
direction in which his chief had disappeared, Captain John Bruce
wondered if he were really one of a band of armed men who hoped shortly
to pour some two and a half thousand bullets into other men, really a
soldier fighting and working and starving that the Flag might fly,
really a primitive fighting-man with much blood upon his hands and an
earnest desire for more--or whether he were not a respectable Professor
who would shortly wake, beneath mosquito-curtains, from a very dreadful
dream. How thin a veneer was this thing called Civilization, and how
unchanged was human nature after centuries and centuries of----
Colonel Ross-Ellison appeared.
"Bring twenty-five men and follow me. Hurry up," he said quietly, and, a
minute later, led the way from the high-road across country. Five
minutes marching brought the party, advancing in file, to the mouth of a
nullah which ran parallel with the road. Along this, Colonel
Ross-Ellison led them, and, when he gave the signal to halt, it was seen
that they were behind a high sloping bank within fifty yards of the
"Now," said the Colonel to Captain John Bruce, "I'm going to leave you
here. Let your men lie below the top of the bank and if any man looks
over, till your command 'Up and fire,' kick his face in. You will peep
through that bit of bush and no one else will move. Do nothing until I
open fire from the other side. The moment I open fire, up your lot come
and do the same. Magazine, of course. The moon will improve as it rises
more. You'll fix bayonets and charge magazines now. I expect a pretty
big convoy--and before very long. Probably a mob all round a couple of
_bylegharies_ and a crowd following--everybody distrusting every
one, as it is treasure, looted from all round. Don't shoot the bullocks,
but I particularly want to kill a blind bloke who may be with 'em, so if
we charge, barge in too, and look out for a blinder and don't give him
any quarter--give him half instead--half your sword. He's a
ringleader--and I want him for auld lang syne too, as it happens. He
doesn't look blind at all, but he would be led.... Any questions?"
"No, Sir. I'm to hide till you fire. Then fire, magazine, and charge if
you do. A blind man to be captured if possible. The bullocks not to be
shot, if possible."
"Eight O. Carry on," and the Colonel strode back to where the remaining
twenty-five waited, under a Sergeant. These he placed behind an old
stone wall that marked the boundary of a once-cultivated patch of land,
some forty yards from the road, to which the ground sloped sharply
A nice trap if all went well.
All went exceeding well.
Within an hour and a half of the establishment of the ambush, the
creaking of ungreased wheels was heard and the loud nasal singing of
some jovial soul. Down the silent deserted road came three bullock-carts
piled high with boxes and escorted by a ragged regiment of ex-sepoys,
ex-police, mutineers, almost a battalion from the forces of the wild
Border State neighbouring Gungapur. A small crowd of variously armed
uniformless men preceded the escort and carts, while a large one
No advance-guard nor flanking-parties guaranteed the force from ambush
Suddenly, as the carts crossed a long culvert and the escort perforce
massed on to the road, instead of straggling on either side beneath the
trees, a voice said coolly in English "Up and fire," and as scores of
surprised faces turned in the direction of the voice the night was rent
with the crash of fifty rifles pouring in magazine fire at the rate of
fifteen rounds a minute. Magazine fire at less than fifty yards, into a
close-packed body of men. Scarcely a hundred shots were returned and, by
the time a couple of thousand rounds had been fired (less than three
minutes), and Colonel Boss-Ellison had cried "Ch-a-a-a-r-ge" there was
but little to charge and not much for the bayonet to do. Of the six
bullocks four were uninjured.
"Load as many boxes as you can on two carts, and leave half a dozen men
to bring them in. They'll have to take their chance. We must get back
_ek dum_," said Colonel Ross-Ellison.
 At once.
Even as he spoke, the sound of distant firing fell upon the ears of the
party and the unmistakable stammer-hammer racket of the maxim.
"They're attacked, by Jove," he cried. "I thought it likely. There may
have been an idea that we should know something of this convoy and go
for it. All ready? Now a steady double. We'll double and quick-march
alternately. Double _march_."
* * * * *
Near the Military Prison was a low conical hill, bare of vegetation and
buildings, a feature of the situation which was a constant source of
anxiety to Colonel Ross-Ellison, for he realized that life in the
beleaguered fortress would be very much harder, and the casualty rate
very much higher, if the enemy had the sense to occupy it in strength
and fire down into the Prison. Against this contingency he always
maintained a picket there at night and a special sentry to watch it by
day, and he had caused deep trenches to be dug and a covered way made in
the Prison compound, so that the fire-swept area could be crossed, when
necessary, with the minimum of risk. Until the night of the
convoy-sortie, however, the enemy had not had the ordinary common sense
to grasp the fact that the hill was the key of the situation and to
"Bloomin' cold up 'ere, Privit Greens, wot?" observed Corporal Horace
Faggit to the famous Mr. Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., in kindly and
condescending manner, as he placed him back to back with Private
Augustus Grobble on the hill-top. "But you'll keep awake all the better
for that, me lad.... Now you other four men can go to sleep, see?
You'll lie right close up agin the feet o' Privits Greens an' Grabbles,
and when they've done their two hours, they'll jes' give two o' you a
kick and them two'll rise up an' take their plaices while they goes to
sleep. Then them two'll waike 'tother two, see? An' if hannyone
approaches, the sentry as is faicin' 'im will 'olleraht 'Alt! 'Oo comes
there?' an' if the bloke or blokes say, 'Friend,' then 'e'll say
'Hadvance one an' give the countersign,' and if he can't give no
countersign, then blow 'is bleedin' 'ead off, see?... Now _I_ shall
visit yer from time to time, an' let me find you spry an' smart with
yer,' _'Alt,' 'Oo comes there?_ see? An' if either sentry sees anythink
suspicious down below there--let 'im send the other sentry across fer me
over in the picket there, see? 'E'll waike up the others meanwhile an'
they'll all watch out till I comes and gives orders, see? An' if you're
attacked afore I come, then retire firing. Retire on the picket, see? We
won't shoot yer. Don't make a bloomin' blackguard-rush for the picket
though. Jest retire one by one firin' steady, see? Now I'm goin' back to
the picket. Ow! an' don' fergit the reconnoitrin' patrol. Don' go an'
shoot at 'em as they comes back. 'Alt 'em for the countersign as they
comes out, and 'alt 'em fer it agin as they comes in, see? Right O. Now
you keep yer eyes skinned, Greens and Grobbles."
Private Cornelius Gosling-Green, M.P., had never looked really
impressive even on the public platform in over-long frock-coat and
turned-down collar. In ill-fitting khaki, ammunition boots, a helmet
many sizes too big, and badly-wound putties, he looked an extremely
absurd object. Private Augustus Grobble looked a little more
convincing, inasmuch as his fattish figure filled his uniform, but the
habit of wearing his helmet on the back of his neck and a general
congenital unmilitariness of habit and bearing, operated against
Two unhappier men rarely stood back to back upon a lonely, windy
hill-top. Both were very hungry, very sleepy and very cold, both were
essentially men of peace, and both had powerful imaginations--especially
of horrors happening to their cherished selves.
Both were dealers in words; neither was conversant with things, facts,
deeds, and all that lay outside their inexpressibly artificial and
specialized little spheres. Each had been "educated" out of physical
manliness, self-reliance, courage, practical usefulness, adaptability,
"grit" and the plain virile virtues.
Cornelius burned with a peevish indignation that he, writer of
innumerable pamphlets, speaker at innumerable meetings, organizer of
innumerable societies, compiler of innumerable statistics, author of
innumerable letters to the press, he, husband of the famous suffragist
worker, speaker, organizer and leader, Superiora Gosling-Green (a
Pounding-Pobble of the Pounding-Pobbles of Putney), that he, Cornelius
Gosling-Green, Esq., M.P., should be stuck there like a common soldier,
with a heavy and dangerous gun and a nasty sharp-pointed bayonet, to
stand and shiver while others slept. To stand, too, in a horribly
dangerous situation ... he had a good mind to resign in protest, to take
his stand upon his inalienable rights as a free Englishman. Who should
dare to coerce a Gosling-Green, Member of Parliament, of the Fabian
Society, and a hundred other "bodies". His Superiora did all the
coercing he wanted and more too. He would enter a formal protest and
tender his resignation. He had always, hitherto, been able to protest
and resign when things did not go as he wished.
He yawned, and again.
"I can see as well sitting or kneeling as I can standing," he remarked
to Private Augustus Grobble.
"It is a great physiological truth," replied Augustus, and they both sat
down, leaning against each other for warmth and support, back to back.
The soul of Augustus was filled with a melancholy sadness and a gentle
woe. To think that he, the loved of many beautiful Wimmin should be
suffering such hardships and running such risks. How his face was
falling in and how the wrinkles were gathering round his eyes. Some of
the beautiful and frail, of whom he thought when he gave his usual toast
after dinner, "To the Wimmin who have loved me," would hardly recognize
the fair boy over whom they had raved, whose poems they had loved, whose
hair, finger-nails, eyes, ties, socks and teeth they had complimented. A
cruel, cruel waste. But how rather romantic--the war-worn soldier! He
who knew his Piccadilly, Night Clubs, the theatres, the haunts of fair
women and brave men, standing, no--sitting, on a lonely hill-top
watching, watching, the lives of the garrison in his hands.... He would
return to those haunts, bronzed, lined, hardened--the man from the edge
of the Empire, from the back of Beyond, the man who had Done Things--and
talk of camp-fires, the trek, the Old Trail, smells of sea and desert
and jungle, and the man-stifled town, ... battle, ... brave deeds ...
unrecognized heroism ... a medal ... perhaps the ... and the nodding
head of Augustus settled upon his chest.
His deep breathing and occasional snores did not attract the attention
of Private Gosling-Green, as Private Gosling-Green was sound asleep. Nor
did they awaken the weary four who made up the sentry group--Edward
Jones, educationist; Henry Grigg, barber; Walter Smith, shopman;
Reginald Ladon Gurr, Head of a Department--and whose right it was to
sleep so long as two of the six watched.
* * * * *
"Let there be no mistake then," said the burly Havildar Nazir Ali Khan
to one Hidayetulla, squat thick-set Pathan, "at the first shot from the
hill your party, ceasing to crawl, will rush upon the picket, and mine
will swoop upon the gate bearing the tins of kerosene oil, the faggots
and the brushwood. All those with guns will fire at the walls save the
Border State company who will reserve their fire till the gate is opened
or burnt down. The dogs within must either open it to extinguish the
fire, or it must burn. On their volley, all others will charge for the
gate with knife and sword. Do thou win the hill-top and keep up a heavy
fire into the Prison. There will be Lee-Metford rifles and ammunition
there ready for thy taking--ha-ha!"
"And if we are seen and fired on as we stalk the picket on the hill?"
"Then their first shot will, as I said, be the signal for your rush and
ours. Understandest thou?"
"I understand. 'Tis a good plan of the blind Moulvie's."
"Aye! He can _plan_,--and talk. We can go and be shot, and be blamed if
his plans miscarry," grumbled the big man, and added, "How many have
"About forty," was the reply, "and all Khost men save seven, of whom
four are Afghans of Cabul, two are Punjabis, and one a Sikh."
"Is it three hours since the treasure started? That was the time the
Moulvie fixed for the attack."
"It must be, perhaps," replied the other. "Let us begin. But what if the
hill be not held, or if we capture it with the knife, none firing a
"Then get into good position, make little sungars where necessary, and,
all being ready, open fire into the Prison compound.... At the first
shot--whatever be thy luck--we shall rush in our thousands down the
Sudder Bazaar, West Street and Edward Street, and do as planned. Are thy
forty beneath the trees beyond the hill?"
"They are. I join them now," and the squat broad-shouldered figure
rolled away with swinging, swaggering gait.
Suddenly Private Augustus Grobble started from deep sleep to acutest
wide-eyed consciousness and was aware of a man's face peering over a
boulder not twenty yards from him--a hideous hairy face, surmounted by a
close-fitting skull-cap that shone greasy in the moonlight. The blood of
Augustus froze in his veins, he held his breath, his heart shook his
body, his tongue withered and dried. He closed his eyes as a wave of
faintness swept over him, and, as he opened them again, he saw that the
man was crawling towards him, and that between his teeth was a huge
knife. The terrible Pathan, the cruel dreadful stalker, the slashing
disemboweller was upon him!--and with a mighty effort he sprang to his
feet and fled for his life down the hill in the direction of the Prison.
His sudden movements awoke Private Green, who, in one scared glance, saw
a number of terrible forms arising from behind boulders and rushing
silently and swiftly towards him and his flying comrade. Leaping up he
fled after Grabble, running as he had never run before, and, even as he
leapt clear of the sleeping group, the wave of Pathans broke upon it and
with slash and stab assured it sound sleep for ever, all save Edward
Jones, who, badly wounded as he was, survived (to the later undoing of
Moussa Isa, murderer of a Brahmin boy).
Of the four Pathans who had surprised the sentry group, one, with a
passing slash that re-arranged the face of Reginald Ladon Gurr, sped on
after the flying sentries. But that the man was short and stout of build
and that the fugitives had a down-hill start, both would have died that
night. As it was, within ten seconds, a tremendous sweep of the heavy
blade of the long Khyber knife caused Private Gosling-Green to lose his
head completely and for the last time. Augustus Grobble, favoured of
fortune for the moment, took flying leaps that would have been
impossible to him under other circumstances, bounded and ran
unstumbling, gained the shadow of the avenue of trees, and with bursting
breast sped down the road, reached the gate, shouted the countersign
with his remaining breath, and was dragged inside by Captain Michael
"Well?" inquired he coldly of the gasping terrified wretch.
When he could do so, Augustus sobbed out his tale.
"Bugler, sound the alarm!" said the officer. "Sergeant of the Guard put
this man in the guard-room and keep him under arrest until he is sent
for," and, night-glasses in hand, he climbed one of the ladders leading
to the platform erected a few feet below the top of the well-loopholed
wall, just as a shot was fired and followed by others in rapid
succession on the hill whence Grobble had fled.
The shot was fired by Corporal Horace Faggit and so were the next four
as he rapidly emptied his magazine at the swiftly charging Pathans who
rose out of the earth on his first shot at the man he had seen wriggling
to the cover of a stone. As he fired and shouted, the picket-sentry did
the same, and, within a minute of Horace's first shot, ten rifles were
levelled at the spot where the rushing silent fiends had disappeared.
Within thirty yards of them were at least half a dozen men--and not a
glimpse of one to be seen.
"I got one, fer keeps, any'ow," said Horace in the silence that followed
the brief racket; "I see 'im drop 'is knife an' fall back'ards...."
Perfect silence--and then ... _bang_ ... and a man standing beside
Horace grunted, coughed, and scuffled on the ground.
"Get down! Get down! You fools," cried Horace, who was himself standing
up. "Wha's the good of a square sungar if you stands up in it? All
magazines charged? It's magazine-fire if there's a rush."....
"Fire at the next flash, all of yer," he said, "an' look out fer a
rush." Adding, "Bli' me--'ark at 'em dahn below," as a burst of fire
and a pandemonium of yells broke out.
A yellow glare lit the scene, flickered on the sky, and even gave
sufficient light to the picket on the hill-top to see a wave of wild,
white-clad, knife-brandishing figures surge over the edge of the hill
and bear down upon them, to be joined, as they passed, by those who had
sunk behind stones at the picket's first fire.
"Stiddy," shrilled Horace. "Aim stiddy at the b----s. _Fire_," and again
the charging line vanished.
"Gone to earf," observed Horace in the silence. "Nah look aht for
flashes an' shoot at 'em...."
_Bang!_ and Horace lost a thumb and a portion of his left cheek, which
was in line with his left thumb as he sighted his rifle.
Back to Full Books