Percival Christopher Wren
Part 5 out of 5
Before putting his left hand into his mouth he said, a little
"If I'm knocked aht you go on shootin' at flashes and do magazine-fire
fer rushes. If they gets in 'ere, we're tripe in two ticks."
Then he fainted for a while, came to, and felt much better. "Goo' job
it's the left fumb," he observed as he strove to re-charge his magazine.
The dull thud of bullet into flesh became a frequent sound. The last
observation that Horace made to the remnant of his men was:--
"Bli' me! they're all rahnd us now--like flies rahnd a fish-barrer. Dam'
* * * * *
Firing steadily at the advancing mobs the street-end pickets retired on
the Prison and were admitted as the surging crowds amalgamated,
surrounded the walls, and opened a desultory fire at the loopholes and
such of the defenders as fired over the coping from ladders.
One detachment, with some show of military discipline and uniform,
arrayed itself opposite the gate and a couple of hundred yards from it,
lining the ditch of the road, and utilizing the cover and shadow of the
trees. Suddenly a large party, mainly composed of Mahsuds, and headed by
a very big powerful man, made a swift rush to the gate, each man bearing
a bundle of faggots or a load of cut brushwood, save two or three who
bore vessels of kerosene oil. With reckless courage and daring, they ran
the gauntlet of the loopholes and the fire from the wall-top, piled
their combustibles against the wooden gate, poured gallons of kerosene
over the heap, set fire to it, and fled.
The leaping flames spread and shot forth licking tongues and, in a few
minutes, the pile was a roaring crackling furnace.
The mob grew denser and denser toward the gate side of the Prison,
leaving the remaining portions of the perimeter thinly surrounded by
those who possessed firearms and had been instructed to shoot at
loopholes and at all who showed themselves over the wall. It was
noticeable to Captain Malet-Marsac that the ever-increasing mob opposite
the fire left a clear front to the more-or-less uniformed and
disciplined body that had taken up a position commanding the gate.
That was the game was it? Burn down the gate, pour in a tremendous fire
as the gate fell, and then let the mob rush in and do its devilmost....
What was happening on the hill-top? The picket must be holding whatever
force had attacked it, for no shots were entering the Prison compound
and the only casualties were among those at the loopholes and on the
ladders and platforms round the walls. How long would the gate last?
Absolutely useless to attempt to pour water on the fire. Even if it were
not certain death to attempt it, one might as well try to fly, as to
quench that furnace with jugs and _chatties_ of water.
There was nothing to be done. Every man who could use a rifle was at
loophole or embrasure, ammunition was plentiful, all non-combatants were
hidden. Every one understood the standing-orders in case of such an
The gate was on fire. It was smoking on the inner side, warping,
cracking, little flames were beginning to appear tentatively, and
"_Now_ bugler!" said Captain Malet-Marsac, and Moussa Isa's _locum
tenens_ blew his only call--a series of long loud G's.... The gate
blazed, before long it would fall.... A hush fell upon the expectant
multitude without, the men of the more-or-less uniformed and disciplined
party raised their rifles, a big burly man bawled orders....
With a crash and leaping fountain of sparks the gate fell into the dying
fire, a mighty roar burst from the multitude, and a crashing fusillade
from the rifles of the uniformed men....
As their magazine-fire slackened, dwindled to a desultory popping, and
ceased, the mob with a howl of triumph surged forward to the gaping
gateway, trampled and scattered the glowing remnants of the fire,
swarmed yelling through, and--found themselves face to face with a
stout semicircular rampart of stone, earth and sandbags, which,
loopholed, embrasured and strongly manned, spanned the gateway in a
thirty-yard arc. From the centre of it, pointing at the entrance, looked
the maxim gun.
"_Fire_," shouted a voice, and in a minute the place was a shambles.
Before Maxim and Lee-Metford were too hot to touch, before the baffled
foe fell back, those who surged in through the gate climbed, not over a
wall of dead, but up on to a platform of dead, a plateau through which
ran a valley literally blasted out by the ceaseless maxim-fire....
And, as the less fanatical, less courageous, less bloodthirsty withdrew
and gathered without and to one side, where they were safe from that
terrible fire-belching rampart that was itself like the muzzle of some
gigantic thousand-barrelled machine-gun, they were aware, in their rear,
of a steady tramp of running feet and of the orders:--
"From the centre _extend_! At the enemy in front; fixed sights; _fire_,"
and of a withering hail of bullets.
Colonel Ross-Ellison had arrived in the nick of time. It was a "crowning
mercy" indeed, the beginning of the end, and when (a few days later),
over a repaired bridge, came a troop-train, gingerly advancing, the
battalion of British troops that it disgorged at Gungapur Road Station
found disappointingly little to do in a city of women, children, and
eminently respectable innocent, householders.
* * * * *
On the hill-top, at dawn, Colonel Ross-Ellison and Captain Malet-Marsac
found all that was left of the picket and sentry-group,--of the latter,
three mangled corpses, the headless deserter, and a just-living man,
horribly slashed. It was Moussa Isa Somali who improvised a stretcher
and lifted this poor fellow on to it and tended him with the greatest
solicitude and faithful care. Was he not Jones Sahib who at Duri gave
him the knife wherewith he cleansed his honour and avenged his insulted
Of the picket, nine lay dead and one dying. Of the dead, one had his
lower jaw neatly and cleanly removed by a bullet. Two had bled to death.
"'Ullo, Guvner!" whispered Corporal Horace Faggit through parched
cracked lips. "We kep' 'em orf. We 'eld the bleedin' fort," and the last
effect of the departing mind upon the shot-torn, knife-slashed body was
manifested in a gasping, quavering wail of--
"'Owld the Fort fer Hi am comin'"
Jesus whispers still.
"'Owld the Fort fer Hi am comin,'"
--By Thy graice we will.
Each of these corpses Moussa Isa carried reverently down to the Prison
that they might be "buried darkly at dead of night" with the other
heroes, in softer ground without the walls--a curious funeral in which
loaded rifles and belted maxim played their silent part. Apart from the
honoured dead was buried the body of Private Augustus Grabble, shot
against the Prison wall by order of Colonel Ross-Ellison for cowardice
in the face of the enemy and desertion of his post. So was that of
Private Green, deserter also. After the uninterrupted ceremony, Moussa
Isa, in the guise of an ancient beggar, lame, decrepit, and bandaged
with foul rags, sought the city and the news of the bazaar.
Limping down the lane in which stood the tall silent house that his
master often visited, he saw three men emerge from the well-known low
Two approached him while one departed in the opposite direction. One of
these two held the arm of the other.
"I must hear his voice again. I have not heard his voice again," urged
this one insistently to the other.
"Nay--but I have heard thine, thou Dog!" said Moussa Isa to himself, and
In a neighbouring bazaar the man who seemed to lead the other left him
at the entrance to a mosque--a dark and greasy entry with a short flight
of stone steps.
As he set his foot upon the lowest of these, a hand fell upon the neck
of the man who had been led, and a voice hissed:--
"_Salaam! O Ibrahim the Weeper!_ Salaam! A '_Hubshi_' would speak with
thee...." and another hand joined the first, encircling his throat....
"Art thou dead, Dog?" snarled Moussa Isa, five minutes later....
Moussa Isa never boasted (if he realized the fact) that the collapse of
the revolt and mutiny in Gungapur, before the arrival of troops, was due
as much to the death of its chief ringleader and director, the blind
faquir, as to the disastrous repulse of the great assault upon the
It had gone. Nothing remained but to clear up the mess and begin afresh
with more wisdom and sounder policy. It was over, and, among other
things now possible, Colonel John Robin Ross-Ellison might ask the woman
he loved whether she could some day become his wife. He had saved her
life, watched over her, served her with mind and body, lived for her.
And she had smiled upon him, looked at him as a woman looks at the man
she more than likes, had given him the encouragement of her smiles, her
trust, affectionate greeting on return from danger, prayers that he
would be "careful" when he went forth to danger.
He believed that she loved him, and would, after a decent interval, even
perhaps a year hence, marry him.
And then he would abandon the old life and ways, become wholly English
and settle down to make her life a happy walk through an enchanted
valley. He would take her to England and there, far from all sights,
sounds and smells of the East, far from everything wild, turbulent,
violent, crush out all the Pathan instincts so terribly aroused and
developed during the late glorious time of War. He would take himself
cruelly in hand. He would neither hunt nor shoot. He would eat no meat,
drink no alcohol, nor seek excitement. He would school himself until he
was a quiet, domesticated English country-gentleman--respectable and
respected, fit husband for a delicately-bred English gentlewoman. And if
ever his hand itched for the knife-hilt, his finger for the trigger,
his cheek for the rifle-butt, his nostrils for the smell of the
cooking-fires, his soul for the wild mountain passes, the mad gallop,
the stealthy stalk--he would live on cold water until the Old Adam were
He _would_ be worthy of her--and she should never dream what blood was
on his hands, what sights he had looked on, what deeds he had done, what
part he had played in wild undertakings in wild places. English would he
be to the back-bone, to the finger tips, to the marrow; a quiet, clean,
straight-dealing Englishman of normal tastes, habits, and life.
Strange if, with all his love of fighting, he could not fight (and
conquer) himself. Yes--his last great fight should be with himself....
He would call, to-day, at the bungalow to which Mrs. Dearman, prior to
starting for Home, had removed as soon as the carefully-guarded
Cantonment area was pronounced absolutely safe as a place of residence
for the refugees who had been besieged in the old Military Prison.
She would be sufficiently "straight" in her bungalow, by this time, to
permit of a formal mid-day call being a reasonable and normal affair....
"Good-morning, Preserver of Gungapur," said Mrs. Dearman brightly; "have
the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Order materialized
yet--or don't they give them to Volunteers? What a shame if they don't!"
"I want something far more valuable and desirable than those, Mrs.
Dearman," said Colonel Ross-Ellison as he took the extended hand of his
hostess, who was a picture of coolness and health.
"Oh?--and--what is that?" she asked, seating herself on a big settee
with her back to the light.
"You," was the direct and uncompromising reply of the man who had been
leading a remarkably direct and uncompromising life for several years.
Mrs. Dearman trembled, flushed and paled.
"What _do_ you mean?" she managed to say, with a fine affectation of
coolness, unconcern, and indifference.
"I mean what I say," was the answer. "I want _you_. I cannot live
without you. I want to take care of you. I want to devote my life to
making you happy. I want to make you forget this terrible experience and
tragedy. You are lonely and I worship you. I want you to marry me--when
you can--later--and let me serve you for the rest of my life. Make me
the happiest and proudest man in the world and I will strive to be the
He was very English then--in his fine passion. He took her hand and it
was not withdrawn. He bent to look in her eyes, she smiled, and in a
second was in his embrace, strained to his breast, her lips crushed by
For a minute he could not speak.
"I cannot believe it," he whispered at length. "Is this a dream?"
"You are a very concrete dream--dear," said Mrs. Dearman, re-arranging
crushed and disarranged flowers at her breast, blushing and laughing
The man was filled with awe, reverence and a deep longing for
The woman felt happy in the sense of safety, of power, of pride in the
love of so fine a being.
"And how long have you loved me?" she murmured.
"Loved you, Cleopatra? Dearest--I have loved you from the moment my eyes
first fell on you.... Poor salt-encrusted, weary, bloodshot eyes they
were too," he added, smiling, reminiscent.
"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Dearman, puzzled.
"Ah--I have a secret to tell you--a confession that will open those
beautiful eyes wide with surprise. I first saw you when you _were_
"Good gracious!" ejaculated Mrs. Dearman in great surprise. "When_ever_
"I'll tell you," said the man, smiling fondly. "You have my photograph.
You took it yourself--on board the 'Malaya'."
"I?" said Mrs. Dearman. "What _are_ you talking about?"
"About you, dearest, and the time when I first saw you--and fell in love
with you;--love at first sight, indeed."
"But I never photographed you on board ship. I never saw you on a ship.
I met you first here in Gungapur."
"Do you remember the 'Malaya' stopping to pick up a shipwrecked sailor,
a castaway, in a little dug-out canoe, somewhere in the Indian Ocean,
when you were first coming out to India? But of course you do--you have
the snap-shot in your collection...."
"Why--yes--I remember, of course--but that was a horrid, beastly
_native_. The creature could only speak Hindustani. He was the sole
survivor of the crew of some dhow or bunder-boat, they said.... He lived
and worked with the Lascars till we got to Bombay. Yes...."
"I was that native," said Colonel Ross-Ellison.
"_You_," whispered Mrs. Dearman. "_You_," and scanned his face intently.
"Yes. I. I _am_ half a native. My father was a Pathan. He----"
"_What_?" asked the woman hoarsely, drawing away. "_What_? _What_ are
"I am half Pathan--my father was a Pathan and my mother an Australian
"_Go_," shrieked Mrs. Dearman, springing to her feet. "_Go_. You wretch!
You mean, base liar! To cheat me so! To pretend you were a gentleman.
Leave my house! Go! You horrible--_mongrel_--you----. To take me in your
arms! To make love to me! To kiss me! Ugh! I could die for shame! I
The face of the man grew terrible to see. There was no trace of the West
in it, no sign of English ancestry, the face of a mad, blood-mad Afghan.
"_We will both die_," he gasped, and took her by the throat.
* * * * *
A few minutes later a Pathan in the dirty dress of his race fled from
Colonel Ross-Ellison's bungalow in Cantonments and took the road to the
Threading his way through its tortuous lanes, alleys, slums and bazaars
he reached a low door in the high wall that surrounded an almost
windowless house, knocked in a particular manner, parleyed, and was
The moment he was inside, the custodian of the door slammed, locked and
bolted it, and then raised an outcry.
"Come," he shouted in Pushtoo. "The Spy! The Feringhi! The
Pushtoo-knowing English dog, that Abdulali Habbibullah," and he drew his
Khyber knife and circled round Ross-Ellison.
A clatter of heavy boots, the opening of wooden "windows" that looked
inward on to the high-walled courtyard, and in a minute a throng of
Pathans and other Mussulmans entered the compound from the house--some
obviously aroused from heavy slumber.
"It is he," cried one, a squat, broad-shouldered fellow, as they stood
at gaze, and long knives flashed.
"Oho, Spy! Aha, Dog! For what hast thou come?" asked one burly fellow as
he advanced warily upon the intruder, who backed slowly to the angle of
the high walls.
"To die, Hidayetullah. To die, Nazir Ali Khan. To die slaying! Come on!"
was the reply, and in one moment the speaker's Khyber knife flashed from
his loose sleeve into the throat of the nearest foe.
As he withdrew it, the door-keeper slashed at his abdomen, missed by a
hair's-breadth, raised his arm to save his neck from a slash, and was
stabbed to the heart, the knife held dagger-wise. Another Pathan rushing
forward, with uplifted knife held as a sword, was met by a sudden low
fencing-lunge and fell with a hideous wound, and then, whirling his
weapon like a claymore in an invisibly rapid Maltese cross of flashing
steel, the man who had been Ross-Ellison drove his enemies before him,
whirled about, and established himself in the opposite corner, and spat
pungent Border taunts at the infuriated crowd.
"Come on, you village curs, you landless cripples, you wifeless sons of
burnt fathers! Come on! Strike for the credit of your noseless mothers!
Run not from me as your wives ran from you--to better men! Come on, you
sweepers, you swine-herds, you down-country street-scrapers!" and they
came on to heart's content, steel clashed on steel and thudded on flesh
"Get a rifle," cried one, lying bleeding on the ground, striving to rise
while he held his right shoulder to his neck with his partly severed
left hand. As he fainted the shoulder gaped horribly.
"Get a cannon," mocked Ross-Ellison. "Get a cannon, dogs, against one
man," and again, whirling the great jade-handled knife, long as a short
sword, he rushed forward and the little mob gave ground before the
irresistible claymore-whirl, the unbreakable Maltese cross described by
the razor-edge and needle-point.
"It is a devil," groaned a man, as his knife and his hand fell together
to the ground, and he clapped his turban on the stump as a boy claps his
hat upon some small creature that he would capture.
The madman whirled about in the third corner and, as he ceased the wild
whirl, ducked low and lunged, lessening the number of his enemies by
one. This lunge was a new thing to men who could only slash and stab, a
new thing and a terrible, for it could not be parried save by seizing
the blade and losing half a hand.
"Come on, you growing maidens! Come on, grandmothers! Come on, you
cleaners of pig-skins, you washers of dogs! Come on!" and as he
shouted, the door crashed down and a patrol of British soldiers,
attracted by the noise, and delayed by the stout door, burst into the
"At the henemy in front, fixed sights," shouted the corporal in charge.
And added an order not to be found in the drill-book: "Blow 'em to 'ell
if they budges."
In the hush of surprise his voice arose, addressing the fighters:
"_Bus_ you bleedin' soors," said Corporal Cook. "_Bus_; and you
_dekho_ 'ere. If any of you _jaos_ from where 'e is, I'll
_pukkaro_ 'im and give 'im a punch in the _dekho_."
 Enough, stop.
 Jao = go (imperative).
 Seize (imperative).
And, as bayonets rose breast-high and fingers curled lovingly round
triggers, every knife but that of Ross-Ellison disappeared as by magic,
and the Corporal beheld a little crowd of innocent men endeavouring to
secure a dangerous lunatic at the risk of their lives--terrible risk, as
the bodies of five dead and dying men might testify.
"I give myself up to you as a murderer, Corporal," said he who had been
Colonel John Robin Ross-Ellison. "I am a murderer. If you will take me
before your officer I will confess and give details."
"I'm agoin' to take you bloomin' well all," replied the surprised
Corporal. "Chuck down that there beastly carvin' knife. You seem a too
'andy cove wiv' it."
At the Corporal's order of, "Prod 'em all up agin that wall and shoot
any bloke as moves 'and or 'oof," the party of panting, bleeding and
perspiring ruffians was lined up, relieved of its weapons, and duly
marched to the guard-room.
Here, one of the gang (later identified as the man who had been known
as John Robin Ross-Ellison, and who insisted that he was a Baluchi)
declared that he had just murdered Mrs. Dearman in her drawing-room and
made a full statement--a statement found to be only too true, its
details corroborated by a trembling _hamal_ who had peeped and listened,
as all Indian servants peep and listen.
* * * * *
Duly tried, all members of the gang received terms of imprisonment
(largely a prophylactic measure), save the extraordinary
English-speaking Baluchi, who had long imposed, it was said, upon
Gungapur Society in the days before that Society had disappeared in the
A few days before the date fixed for the execution of this very
remarkable desperado, Captain Michael Malet-Marsac, Adjutant of the
Gungapur Volunteer Corps, received two letters dated from Gungapur Jail,
one covering the other. The covering letter ran:--
"MY DEAR MALET-MARSAC,
"I forward the enclosed. Should you desire to attend the execution you
could accompany the new City Magistrate, Wellson, who will doubtless be
"A. RANALD, Major I.M.S."
The accompaniment was from John Robin Ross-Ellison Mir Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan.
"MY DEAR OLD FRIEND,
"For the credit of the British I am pretending to be a Baluchi. I am not
a Baluchi and I hope to die like a Briton--at any rate like a man. I
have been held responsible for what I did when I was not responsible,
and shall be killed in cold blood by sane people, for what I did in hot
blood when quite as mad as any madman who ever lived. I don't
complain--I _ex_plain. I want you to understand, if you can, that it was
not your friend John Ross-Ellison who did that awful deed. It was a
Pathan named Ilderim Dost Mahommed. And yet it was I." ["Poor chap is
mad!" murmured the bewildered and horrified reader who had lived in a
kind of nightmare since the woman he loved had been murdered by the man
he loved. "The strain of the war has been too much for him. He must have
had sunstroke too." He read on, with misty sight.]
"And it is I who will pay the penalty of Ilderim Dost Mahommed's deed.
As I say, I do not complain, and if the Law did not kill me I would
certainly kill myself--to get rid of Ilderim Dost Mahommed.
"I have thought of doing so and cheating the scaffold, but have decided
that Ilderim will get his deserts better if I hang, and I may perhaps
get rid of him, thus, for ever.
"Will you come? I would not ask it of any living soul but you, and I ask
it because your presence would show me that you blindly believe that it
was not John Robin Ross-Ellison who killed poor Mrs. Dearman, and that
would enable me to die quite happy. Your presence would also be a great
help to me. It would help me to feel that, whatever I have lived, I die
a Briton--that if I could not live without Ilderim Dost Mahommed I can
die without him. But this must seem lunatic wanderings to you.
"I apologize for writing to you and I hesitated long. At length I said,
'I will tell him the truth--that the deed was not done by Ross-Ellison
and perhaps he will understand, and come'. Mike--_John Robin
Ross-Ellison did not murder Mrs. Dearman_.
"Your distracted and broken-hearted ex-friend,
"He _was_ 'queer' at times," said Captain Michael Malet-Marsac. "There
was a kink somewhere. The bravest, coolest, keenest chap I ever met, the
finest fighting-man, the truest comrade and friend,--and from time to
time something queer peeped out, and one was puzzled.... Madness in the
family, I suppose.... Poor devil, poor, poor devil!" and Captain
Malet-Marsac stamped about and swore, for his eyes tingled and his chin
Captain Michael Malet-Marsac alighted from his horse at the great gate
of the Gungapur Jail, loosed girths, slid stirrup irons up the leathers
to the saddle, and handed his reins to the orderly who had ridden behind
"Walk the horses up and down," said he, for both were sweating and the
morning was very cold. Perhaps it was the cold that made Captain Michael
Malet-Marsac's strong face so white, made his teeth chatter and his
hands shake. Perhaps it was the cold that made him feel so sick, and
that weakened the tendons of his knees so that he could scarcely
stand--and would fain have thrown himself upon the ground.
With a curious coughing sound, as though he swallowed and cleared his
throat at the same moment, he commenced to address another order or
remark to the mounted sepoy, choked, and turned his back upon him.
Striding to the gate, he struck upon it loudly with his hunting-crop,
and turning, waved the waiting orderly away.
Not for a king's ransom could he have spoken at that moment. He realized
that something which was rising in his throat must be crushed back and
swallowed before speech would be possible. If he tried to speak before
that was done--he would shame his manhood, he would do that which was
unthinkable in a man and a soldier. What would happen if the little iron
wicket in the great iron door in the greater wooden gates opened before
he had swallowed the lump in his throat, had crushed down the rising
tumult of emotion, and a European official, perhaps Major Ranald
himself, spoke to him? He must either refuse to answer, and show himself
too overcome for speech--or he must--good God forbid it--burst into
tears. He suffered horribly. His skin tingled and he burnt hotly from
head to foot.
And then--he swallowed, his will triumphed--and he was again as
outwardly self-possessed and nonchalant as he strove to appear.
He might tremble, his face might be blanched and drawn, he might feel
physically sick and almost too weak and giddy to stand, but he had
swallowed, he had triumphed over the rising flood that had threatened
to engulf him, and he was, outwardly, himself again. He could go through
with it now, and though his face might be ghastly, his lips white, his
hand uncertain, his gait considered and careful, he would he able to
chat lightly, to meet Ross-Ellison's jest with jest--for that
Ross-Ellison would die jesting he knew....
Why did not the door open? Had his knock gone unheard? Should he knock
again, louder? And then his eye fell upon the great iron bell-pull and
chain, and he stepped towards it. Of course--one entered a place like
this on the sonorous clanging of a deep-throated bell that roused the
echoes of the whole vast congeries of buildings encircled by the hideous
twelve-foot wall, unbroken save by the great gatehouse before which he
stood insignificant. As his shaking hand touched the bell-pull he
suddenly remembered, and withdrew it. He was to meet the City Magistrate
outside the jail and enter with him. He could gain admittance in no
He looked at his watch. Seventeen minutes to seven. Wellson should be
there in a minute--he had said, "At the jail-entrance at 6.45". God send
him soon or the new-found self-control might weaken and a rising tide
creep up and up until it submerged his will-power again.
With an effort he swallowed, and turning, strode up and down on a rapid,
A guard of police-sepoys emerged from a neighbouring guard-room and
"fell in" under the word of command of an Inspector. They were armed
with Martini-Henry rifles and triangular-bladed bayonets, very long.
Their faces looked cruel, the stones of the gate-house and main-guard
looked cruel, the beautiful misty morning looked cruel.
Would that damned magistrate never come? Didn't he know that
Malet-Marsac was fighting for his manhood and terribly afraid? Didn't he
know that unless he came quickly Malet-Marsac would either leap on his
horse and ride it till it fell, or else lose control inside the jail and
either burst into tears, faint, or--going mad--put up a fight for his
friend there in the jail itself, snatch weapons, get back to back with
him and die fighting then and there--or, later, on the same scaffold?
His friend--by whose side he had fought, starved, suffered,
triumphed--his poor two-natured friend....
Could not one of these cursed clever physicians, alienists,
psychologists, hypnotists--whatever they were--have cut the strange
savagery and ferocity out of the splendid John Robin Ross-Ellison?...
A buffalo passed, driven by a barely human lout. The lout was free--the
brainless, soulless bovine lout was free in God's beautiful world--and
Ross-Ellison, soldier and gentleman, lay in a stone cell, and in quarter
of an hour would dangle by the neck in a pit below a platform--perhaps
suffering unthinkable agonies--who could tell?... His old friend and
Would Wellson never come? What kept the fellow? It was disgraceful
conduct on the part of a public servant in such circumstances. Think
what an eternity of mental suffering each minute must now be to
Ross-Ellison! What was he doing? What were they doing to him? _Could_
the agony of Ross-Ellison be greater than that of Malet-Marsac? It must
be a thousand times greater. How could that tireless activity, that
restless initiative, that cool courage, that unfathomable ingenuity be
quenched in a second? How could such a wild free nature exist in a cell,
submit to pinioning, be quietly led like a sheep to the slaughter? He
who so loved the mountain, the wild desert, the ocean, the free
wandering life of adventure and exploration.
Would Wellson never come? It must be terribly late. Could they have
hanged Ross-Ellison already? Could he have gone to his death thinking
his friend had failed him; had passed by, like the Levite, on the other
side; had turned up a sanctimonious nose at the letter of the Murderer;
had behaved as some "friends" do behave in time of trouble?
Could he have died thinking this? If so, he must now know the truth, if
the Parsons were right, those unconvincing very-human Parsons of like
passions, and pretence of unlike passions. Could his friend be dead, his
friend whom he had so loved and admired? And yet he was a murderer--and
he had murdered ... _her_....
Captain Michael Malet-Marsac leant against a tree and was violently
Curse the weak frail body that was failing him in his hour of need! It
had never failed him in battle nor in athletic struggle. Why should it
weaken now. He _would_ see his friend, and bear himself as a man, to
help him in his dreadful hour.
Would that scoundrel never come? He was the one who should be hanged.
A clatter of hoofs behind, and Malet-Marsac turned to see the City
Magistrate trot across the road from the open country. He drew out his
watch accusingly and as a torrent of reproach rose to his white parched
lips, he saw that the time was--exactly quarter to seven.
"'Morning, Marsac," said the City Magistrate as he swung down from the
saddle. "You're looking precious blue about the gills."
"'Morning, Wellson," replied the other shortly.
To the City Magistrate a hanging was no more than a hair-cut, a neither
pleasing nor displeasing interlude, hindering the doing of more
strenuous duties; a nuisance, cutting into his early-morning
report--writing and other judicial work. He handed his reins to an
obsequious sepoy, eased his jodhpores at the knee, and rang the bell.
The grille-cover slid back, a dusky face appeared behind the bars and
scrutinized the visitors, the grille was closed again and the tiny door
opened. Malet-Marsac stepped in over the foot-high base of the door-way
and found himself in a kind of big gloomy strong-room in which were
native warders and a jailer with a bunch of huge keys. On either side of
the room was an office. Following Wellson to a large desk, on which
reposed a huge book, he wrote his name, address, and business,
controlling his shaking hand by a powerful effort of will.
This done, and the entrance-door being again locked, bolted, and barred,
the jailer led the way to another pair of huge gates opposite the pair
through which they had entered, and opened a similar small door therein.
Through this Malet-Marsac stepped and found himself, light-dazzled, in
the vast enclosure of Gungapur Jail, a small town of horribly-similar
low buildings, painfully regular streets, soul-stunning uniformity, and
"'Morning, Malet-Marsac," said Major Ranald of the Indian Medical
Service, Superintendent of the jail. "You look a bit blue about the
"'Morning, Ranald," replied Malet-Marsac, "I _am_ a little cold."
Was he really speaking? Was that voice his? He supposed so.
Could he pretend to gaze round with an air of intelligent interest? He
A line of convicts, clad in a kind of striped sacking, stood with their
backs to a wall while a native warder strode up and down in front of
them, watching another convict placing brushes and implements before
them. Suddenly the warder spoke to the end man, an elderly stalwart
fellow, obviously from the North. The reply was evidently
unsatisfactory, perhaps insolent, for the warder suddenly seized the
grey beard of the convict, tugged his head violently from side to side,
shook him, and then smote him hard on either cheek. The elderly convict
gave no sign of having felt either the pain or the indignity, but gazed
straight over the warder's head. Of what was he thinking? Of what might
be the fate of that warder were he suddenly transported to the wilds of
Kathiawar, to lie at the mercy of his late victim and the famous band of
outlaws whom he had once led to fame--a fame as wide as Ind?
There was something fine about the old villain, once a real Robin Hood,
something mean about the little tyrant.
Had Ranald seen the incident? No, he stood with his back to a buttress
looking in the opposite direction. Did he always stand with a wall
behind him in this terrible place? How could he live in it? A minute of
it made one sick if one were cursed with imagination. Oh, the horror of
the prison system--especially for brave men, men with a code of honour
of their own--possibly sometimes a higher code than that of the average
British politician, not to mention the be-knighted cosmopolitan
financier, friend of princes and honoured of kings.
Could not men be segregated in a place of peace and beauty and improved,
instead of being segregated in a dull hell and crushed? What a home of
soulless, hopeless horror!... And his friend was here.... Could he
contain himself?... He must say something.
"Do you always keep your back to a wall when standing still, in here?"
he asked of Major Ranald.
"I do," was the reply, "and I walk with a trustworthy man close behind
me." "Would you like to go round, sometime?" he added.
"No, thank you," said Malet-Marsac. "I would like to get as far away as
possible and stay there."
Major Ranald laughed.
"Wouldn't like to visit the mortuary and see a post-mortem?"
"No, thank you."
"What about the Holy One?" put in the City Magistrate. "Did you
'autopsy' him? A pleasure to hang a chap like him."
"Yes, the brute. I'll show you his neck vertebrae presently if you like.
Kept 'em as a curiosity. An absolute break of the bone itself. People
talk about pain, strangulation, suffocation and all that. Nothing of
the sort. Literally breaks the neck. Not mere separation of the
vertebrae you know. I'll show you the vertebra itself--clean broken...."
Captain Malet-Marsac swayed on his feet. What should he do? A blue mist
floated before his eyes and a sound of rushing waters filled his ears.
Was he fainting? He must _not_ faint, and fail his friend. And then, the
roar of the waters was pierced and dominated by the voice of that friend
"Hul_lo_! old bird. Awf'ly good of you to turn out, such a beastly cold
John Robin Ross-Ellison had come round an adjacent corner, a European
warder on either side of him and another behind him, all three, to their
credit, as white as their white uniforms and helmets. On his head was a
curious bag-like cap.
Ross-Ellison appeared perfectly cheerful, absolutely natural, and
without the slightest outward and visible sign of any form of
"'Morning, Ranald," he continued. "Sorry to be the cause of turning you
out in the cold. Gad! _isn't_ it parky. Hope you aren't going to keep me
standing. If I might be allowed I'd quote unto you the words which a
pretty American girl once used when I asked if I might kiss her--'_Wade
right in, Bub!_'"
"'Fraid I can't 'wade in' till seven o'clock--er--Ross-Ellison,"
answered the horribly embarrassed Major Ranald. "It won't be long."
"Right O, I was only thinking of your convenience. _I'm_ all right,"
said the remarkable criminal, about to suffer by the Mosaic law at the
hands of Christians, to receive Old Testament mercy from the disciples
of the New, to be done-by as he had done.
An Indian clerk, salaaming, joined the group, and prepared to read from
an official-looking document.
"Read," said Major Ranald, and the clerk in a high sing-song voice,
regardless of punctuation, read out the charge, conviction and
death-warrant of the man formerly calling himself John Robin
Ross-Ellison, and now professing and confessing himself to be a Baluchi.
Having finished, the clerk smiled as one well pleased with a duty well
performed, salaamed and clacked away in his heelless slippers.
"It is my duty to inquire whether you have anything to say or any last
request to make," said Major Ranald to the prisoner.
"Well, I've only to say that I'm sorry to cause all this fuss, y'
know--and, well, yes, I _would_ like a smoke," replied the condemned
man, and added hastily: "Don't think I want to delay things for a moment
though--but if there is time...."
"It is four minutes to seven," said Major Ranald, "and tobacco and
matches are not supposed to be found in a Government Jail."
Ross-Ellison winked at the Major and glanced at a bulge on the right
side of the breast of the Major's coat.
At this moment the warder standing behind the condemned man seized both
his wrists, drew them behind him and fastened them with a broad, strong
"H'm! That's done it, I suppose," said the murderer. "Can't smoke
without my hands. Queer idea too--never thought of it before. Can't
smoke without hands.... Rather late in life to realize it, what?"
"Oh, yes, you can," said the Major, drawing his big silver cheroot-case
from his pocket and selecting a cheroot. Placing it between the
prisoner's lips he struck a match and held it to the end of the cigar.
Ross-Ellison drew hard and the cigar was lit. He puffed luxuriously and
"Gad! That's good," he said, "May some one do as much for you, old chap,
when _you_ come to be--er--no, I don't mean that, of course.... Haven't
had a smoke for weeks. Yes--you can smoke without hands after all--but
not for long without feeling the inconvenience. I used to know an
American (wicked old gun-running millionaire he was, Cuba way, and down
South too) who could change his cigar from one corner of his mouth right
across to the other with his tongue. Fascinatin' sight to watch...."
Captain Malet-Marsac swallowed continuously, lest he lose the faculty of
swallowing--and be choked.
Major Ranald looked at his watch.
"Two minutes to seven. Come on," he said, and took the cheroot from the
"Good-bye, Mike," said that person to the swallowing fainting wretch.
"Don't try and say anything. I know exactly what you feel. Sorry we
can't shake hands," and he stepped off in the wake of Major Ranald,
closely guarded by three warders.
The City Magistrate and Captain Malet-Marsac followed. At Major Ranald's
knock, the small inner door of the gate-house was opened and the
procession filed through it into the strong room where the warders
stood to attention. Having re-fastened the door, the jailer opened the
outer one and the procession passed out of the jail into the blessed
free world, the world that might be such a place of wonder, beauty,
delight, health and joy, were man not educated to materialism, false
ideals, false standards, and blind strife for nothing worth.
The sepoy-guard stood in a semicircle from the gate-house to the
entrance to a door-way in the jail-wall. Ross-Ellison took his last look
at the sky, the distant hills, the trees, God's good world, and then
turned into the doorless door-way with his jailers, and faced the
scaffold in a square, roofless cell. The warder behind him drew the cap
down over his face, and he was led up a flight of shallow stairs on to a
platform on which was a roughly-chalked square where two hinged flaps
met. As he stood on this spot the noose of the greased rope was placed
round his neck by a warder who then looked to Major Ranald for a sign,
received it, and pulled over a lever which withdrew the bolts supporting
the hinged flaps. These fell apart, Ross-Ellison dropped through the
platform, and Christian Society was avenged.
Without a word, Captain Malet-Marsac strode, as in a dream, to his
horse, rode home, and, as in a dream, entered his sanctum, took his
revolver from its holster and loaded it.
Laying it on the table beside him, he sat down to write a few words to
the Colonel of his regiment, Colonel Wilberforce Wriothesley of the 99th
Baluch Light Infantry, and to send his will to a brother-officer whom he
wished to be his executor.
This done, he took up the revolver, placed the muzzle in his mouth, the
barrel pointing upward, and--pulled the trigger.
And nothing more.
A tiny, nerve-shattering, world-shaking, little universe-rocking
_click_--and nothing more.
A bad cartridge. He remembered complaints about the revolver ammunition
from the Duri Small Arms Ammunition Factory. Too long in stock.
Should he try the same one again, or go on to the next? Probably get
better results from the first, as the cap would be already dented by the
concussion. He took the muzzle of the big revolver from his aching mouth
and, releasing the chamber, spun it round.... He would place it to his
temple this time. Holding one's mouth open was undignified. He raised
the revolver--and John Bruce burst into the room. He had seen
Malet-Marsac ride by, and knew where he had been.
"Half a second!" he shouted. "News! Do that afterwards."
"What is it?" asked Malet-Marsac, taken by surprise.
"Put that beastly thing in the drawer while I tell you, then. It might
go off. I hate pistols," said Bruce.
Malet-Marsac obeyed. Bruce was a man to be listened to, and what had to
be done could be done when he had gone. If it were some last piece of
duty or service, it should be seen to.
"It is this," said Bruce. "You are a liar, a forger, a thief, a dirty
pickpocket, a coward, a seller of secrets to Foreign Powers," and, ere
the astounded soldier could speak, John Bruce sprang at him and tried to
knock him out. "Take that you greasy cad--and fight me if you dare," he
shouted as the other dodged his punch.
Malet-Marsac sprang to his feet, furious, and returned the blow. In a
second the men were fighting fiercely, coolly, murderously.
Bruce was the bigger, stronger, more scientific, and there could be but
one result, given ordinary luck. It was a long, severe, and punishing
"Time," gasped Malet-Marsac at length, and dropped his hands.
"Get--breath--fight--decently--time--'nother round--after," and as he
spoke Bruce knocked him down and out, proceeding instantly to tie his
feet with the punkah-cord and his hands with two handkerchiefs and a
pair of braces. This done, he carried him into his bedroom, and laid him
on the bed, and sprinkled his face with water.
Malet-Marsac blinked and stirred.
"Awful sorry, old chap," said Bruce at length. "I thought it the best
plan. Will you give me your word to chuck the suicide idea, or do you
want some more?"
"You damned fool! I...." began the trussed one.
"Yes, I know--but I solemnly swear I won't untie you, nor let anybody
else, until you've promised."
Malet-Marsac swore violently, struggled valiantly and, anon, slept.
When he awoke, ten hours later, he informed Bruce, sitting by the bed,
that he had no intention of committing suicide....
Years later, as a grey-haired Major, he learnt, from the man's own
brother, the story of the strange hero who had fascinated him, and of
whose past he had known nothing--save that it had been that of a _man_.
Back to Full Books