Soldiers Three [Stories]
Part 4 out of 4
"About seven feet, isn't there?" said he. "That must be the tail
end of the shoal. There's four fathom in the fairway. Knock that
buoy down with axes. I don't think it's picturesque somehow." The
Kroo men hacked the wooden sides to pieces in three minutes, and
the mooring-chain sank with the lasst splinters of wood. Bai-Jove
Judson laid the flat-iron carefully over the site, while Mr.
Davies watched, biting his nails nervously.
"Can you back her against this current?" said Bai-Jove-Judson. Mr.
Davies could, inch by inch, but only inch by inch, and Bai-Jove-
Judson sat in the bows and gazed at various things on the bank as
they came into line or opened out. The flatiron dropped down over
the tail of the shoal, exactly where the buoy had been, and backed
once before Bai-Jove-Judson was satisfied. Then they went up
stream for half an hour, put into shoal water by the bank and
waited, with a slip-rope on the anchor.
"Seems to me," said Mr. Davies deferentially, "like as if I heard
some one a-firing off at intervals, so to say."
There was beyond doubt a dull mutter in the air. "Seems to me,"
said Bai-Jove-Judson, "as if I heard a screw. Stand by to slip her
Another ten minutes passed and the beat of engines grew plainer.
Then round the bend of the river came a remarkably prettily built
white-painted gunboat with a blue and white flag bearing a red
boss in the centre.
"Unshackle abaft the windlass! Stream both buoys! Easy, astern.
Let go, all!" The slip-rope flew out, the two buoys bobbed in the
water to mark where anchor and cable had been left, and the flat-
iron waddled out into midstream with the white ensign at her one
"Give her all you can. That thing has the legs of us," said
Judson. "And down we go!"
"It's war - bloody war. He's going to fire," said Mr. Davies,
looking up through the engine-room hatch.
The white gunboat without a word of explanation fired three guns
at the flat-iron, cutting the trees on the banks into green chips.
Bai-Jove-Judson was at the wheel, and Mr. Davies and the current
helped the boat to an almost respectable degree of speed.
It was an exciting chase, but it did not last for more than five
minutes. The white gunboat fired again, and Mr. Davies in his
engine-room gave a wild shout.
"What's the matter? Hit?" said Bai-Jove-Judson.
"No, I've just seized of your roos-de-gare. Beg y' pardon, sir."
"Right 0! Just the half a fraction of a point more." The wheel
turned under the steady hand, as Bai-Jove-Judson watched his marks
on the bank coming in line swiftly as troops anxious to aid. The
flat-iron smelt the shoal water under her,
checked for an instant, and went on. "Now we're over. Come along,
you thieves, there!"
The white gunboat, too hurried even to fire, was storming in the
wake of the flat-iron, steering as she steered. This was
unfortunate, because the lighter craft was dead over the missing
"What you do here?" shouted a voice from the bows.
"I'm going on. Hold tight. Now you're arranged for!"
There was a crash and a clatter as the white gunboat's nose took
the shoal, and the brown mud boiled up in oozy circles under her
forefoot. Then the current caught her stem by the starboard side
and drove her broadside on to the shoal, slowly and gracefully.
There she heeled at an undignified angle, and her crew yelled
"Neat! Oh, damn neat!" quoth Mr. Davies, dancing on the engine-
room plates, while the Kroo stokers grinned.
The flat-iron turned up-stream again, and passed under the hove-up
starboard side of the white gunboat, to be received with howls and
imprecations in a strange tongue. The stranded boat, exposed even
to her lower strakes, was as defence-less as a turtle on its back,
without the advantage of the turtle's plating. And the one big
blunt gun in the bows of the flat-iron was unpleasantly near.
But the captain was valiant and swore mightily. Bai-Jove-Judson
took no sort of notice. His business was to go up the river.
"We will come in a flotilla of boats and ecrazer your vile
tricks," said the captain with language that need not be
Then said Bai-Jove-Judson, who was a linguist: "You stay o where
you are o, or I'll leave a hole-o in your bottom o that will make
you much os perforatados."
There was a great deal of mixed language in reply, but Bai-Jove-
Judson was out of hearing in a few minutes, and Mr. Davies,
himself a man of few words, confided to one of his subordinates
that Lieutenant Judson was "a most remarkable prompt officer in a
way of putting it."
For two hours the flat-iron pawed madly through the muddy water,
and that which had been at first a mutter became a distinct
"Was war declared?" said Mr. Davies, and Bai-Jove-Judson laughed.
"Then, damn his eyes, he might have spoilt my pretty little
engines. There's war up there, though."
The next bend brought them full in sight of a small but lively
village, built round a whitewashed mud house of some pretensions.
There were scores and scores of saddle-coloured soldiery on duty,
white uniforms running to and fro and
shouting round a man in a litter, and on a gentle slope that ran
inland for four or five miles something like a brisk battle was
raging round a rude stockade. A smell of unburied carcasses
floated through the air and vexed the sensitive nose of Mr.
Davies, who spat over the side.
"I want to get this gun on that house," said Bai-Jove-Judson,
indicating the superior dwelling over whose flat roof floated the
blue and white flag. The little twin screws kicked up the water
exactly as a hen's legs kick in the dust before she settles down
to a bath. The little boat moved un easily from left to right,
backed, yawed again, went ahead, and at last the gray blunt gun's
was held as straight as a rifle-barrel on the mark indicated. Then
Mr. Davies allowed the whistle to speak as it is not allowed to
speak in Her Majesty's service on account of waste of steam. The
soldiery of the village gathered into knots and groups and
bunches, and the firing up the hill ceased, and every one except
the crew of the flatiron yelled aloud. Something like an English
cheer came down wind.
"Our chaps in mischief for sure, probably," said Mr. Davies. "They
must have declared war weeks ago, in a kind of way, seems to me."
"Hold her steady, you son of a soldier!" shouted Bai-Jove-Judson,
as the muzzle fell off the white house.
Something rang as loudly as a ship's bell on the forward plates of
the flat-iron, something spluttered in the water, and another
thing cut a groove in the deck planking an inch in front of Bai-
Jove-Judson's left foot. The saddle-coloured soldiery were firing
as the mood took them, and the man in the litter waved a shining
sword. The muzzle of the big gun kicked down a fraction as it was
laid on the mud wall at the bottom of the house garden. Ten pounds
of gunpowder shut up in a hundred pounds of metal was its charge.
Three or four yards of the mud wall jumped up a little, as a man
jumps when he is caught in the small of the back with a knee-cap,
and then fell forward, spreading fan-wise in the fall. The
soldiery fired no more that day, and Judson saw an old black woman
climb to the flat roof of the house. She fumbled for a time with
the flag halliards, then finding that they were jammed, took off
her one garment, which happened to be an Isabella-coloured
petticoat, and waved it impatiently. The man in the litter
flourished a white handkerchief, and Bai-Jove-Judson grinned. "Now
we'll give 'em one up the hill. Round with her, Mr. Davies. Curse
the man who invented those floating gun platforms. Where can I
pitch in a notice without slaying one of those little devils?"
The side of the slope was speckled with men returning in a
disorderly fashion to the river front. Behind them marched a small
but very compact body of men who had filed out of the stockade.
These last dragged quick-firing guns with them.
"Bai Jove, it's a regular army. I wonder whose," said Bai-Jove-
Judson, and he waited developments. The descending troops met and
mixed with the troops in the village, and, with the litter in the
centre, crowded down to the river, till the men with the quick-
firing guns came up behind them. Then they divided left and right
and the detachment marched through.
"Heave these damned things over!" said the leader of the party,
and one after another ten little gatlings splashed into the muddy
water. The flatiron lay close to the bank.
"When you're quite done," said Bai-Jove-Judson politely, "would
you mind telling me what's the matter? I'm in charge here."
"We're the Pioneers of the General Development Company," said the
leader. "These little bounders have been hammering us in lager for
twelve hours, and we're getting rid of their gatlings. Had to
climb out and take them; but they've snaffled the lock-actions.
Glad to see you."
"Any one hurt?"
"No one killed exactly, but we're very dry."
"Can you hold your men?"
The man turned round and looked at his command with a grin. There
were seventy of them, all dusty and unkempt.
"We sha'n't sack this ash-bin, if that's what you mean. We're
mostly gentlemen here, though we don't look it."
"All right. Send the head of this post, or fort, or village, or
whatever it is, aboard, and make what arrangements you can for
"We'll find some barrack accommodation somewhere. Hullo! You in
the litter there, go aboard the gunboat." The command wheeled
round, pushed through the dislocated soldiery, and began to search
through the village for spare huts.
The little man in the litter came aboard smiling nervously. He was
in the fullest of full uniform, with many yards of gold lace and
dangling chains. Also he wore very large spurs; the nearest horse
being not more than four hundred miles away. "My children," said
he, facing the silent soldiery, "lay aside your arms."
Most of the men had dropped them already and were sitting down to
smoke. "Let nothing," he added in his own tongue, "tempt you to
kill these who have sought your protection."
"Now," said Bai-Jove-Judson, on whom the last remark was lost,
"will you have the goodness to explain what the deuce you mean by
all this nonsense?"
"It was of a necessitate," said the little man. "The operations of
war are unconformible. I am the Governor and I operate Captain.
Be'old my little sword."
"Confound your little sword, sir. I don't want it. You've fired on
our flag. You've been firing at our people here for a week, and
I've been fired at coming up the river."
"Ah! The 'Guadala'. She have misconstrued you for a slaver
possibly. How are the 'Guadala'?"
"Mistook a ship of Her Majesty's navy for a slaver! You mistake
any craft for a slaver! Bai Jove, sir, I've a good mind to hang
you at the yard-arm!"
There was nothing nearer that terrible spar than the walking-stick
in the rack of Judson's cabin. The Governor looked at the one mast
and smiled a deprecating smile.
"The position is embarrassment," he said. "Captain, do you think
those illustrious traders burn my capital? My people will give
"Never mind the traders, I want an explanation."
"Hum! There are popular uprising in Europe, Captain - in my
country." His eye wandered aimlessly round the horizon.
"What has that to do with -"
"Captain, you are very young. There is still uproariment. But I" -
here he slapped his chest till his epaulets jingled -" I am
loyalist to pits of all my stomachs."
"Go on," said Judson, and his mouth quivered.
"An order arrive to me to establish a custom-houses here, and to
collect of the taximent from the traders when she are come here
necessarily. That was on account of political understandings with
your country and mine. But on that arrangement there was no money
also. Not one damn little cowrie. I desire damnably to extend all
commercial things, and why? I am loyalist and there is rebellion -
yes, I tell you - Republics in my country for to just begin. You
do not believe? See some time how it exist. I cannot make this
custom-houses and pay the so high-paid officials. The people too
in my country they say the king she has no regardance into Honour
of her nation. He throw away everything - Gladstone her all, you
"Yes, that's what we say," said Judson with a grin.
"Therefore they say, let us be Republics on hot cakes. But I - I
am loyalist to all my hands' ends. Captain, once I was attach‚ at
Mexico. I say the Republics are no good. The peoples have her
stomach high. They desire - they desire - a course for the bills."
"What on earth is that?"
"The cock-fight for pay at the gate. You give something, pay for
see bloody row. Do I make its comprehension?"
"A run for their money - is that what you mean? Gad, you're
"So I say. I am loyalist, too." He smiled more easily. "Now how
can anything do herself for the customs-houses; but when the
Company's mens she arrives, then a cock-fight for pay at gate that
is quite correct. My army he says it will Republic and shoot me
off upon walls if I have not give her blood. An army, Captain, are
terrible in her angries - especialment when she are not paid. I
know, too," here he laid his hand on Judson's shoulder, "I know
too we are old friends. Yes! Badajos, Almeida, Fuentes d'Onor -
time ever since; and a little, little cock-fight for pay at gate
that is good for my king. More sit her tight on throne behind, you
see? Now," he waved his hand round the decayed village, "I say to
my armies, Fight! Fight the Company's men when she come, but fight
not so very strong that you are any deads. It is all in the
raporta that I send. But you understand, Captain, we are good
friends all the time. Ah! Ciudad Rodrigo, you remember? No?
Perhaps your father, then? So you see no one are deads, and we
fight a fight, and it is all in the raporta, to please the people
in our country, and my armies they do not put me against the
walls. You see?"
"Yes; but the 'Guadala'. She fired on us. Was that part of your
game, my joker?"
"The 'Guadala'. Ah! No, I think not. Her captain he is too big
fool. But I think she have gone down the coast. Those your
gunboats poke her nose and shove her oar in every place. How is
"On a shoal. Stuck till I take her off."
"There are any deads?"
The Governor drew a breath of deep relief. "There are no deads
here. So you see none are deads anywhere, and nothing is done.
Captain, you talk to the Company's mens. I think they are not
"They have no sense. I thought to go backwards again they would. I
leave her stockade alone all night to let them out, but they stay
and come facewards to me, not backwards. They did not know we must
conquer much in all these battles, or the king, he is kicked off
her throne. Now we have won this battle - this great battle," he
waved his arms abroad, "and I think you will say so that we have
won, Captain. You are loyalist also. You would not disturb to the
peaceful Europe? Captain, I tell you this. Your Queen she know
too. She would not fight her cousins. It is a - a hand-up thing."
"Hand-up thing. Jobe you put. How you say?"
"Yes. Put-up job. Who is hurt? We win. You lose. All righta?"
Bai-Jove-Judson had been exploding at intervals for the last five
minutes. Here he broke down completely and roared aloud.
"But look here, Governor," he said at last, "I've got to think of
other things than your riots in Europe. You've fired on our flag."
"Captain, if you are me, you would have done how? And also, and
also," he drew himself up to his full height, "we are both brave
men of bravest countries. Our honour is the honour of our King,"
here he uncovered, "and of our Queen," here he bowed low. "Now,
Captain, you shall shell my palace and I shall be your prisoner."
"Skittles!" said Bai-Jove-Judson. "I can't shell that old
"Then come to dinner. Madeira, she are still to us, and I have of
the best she manufac."
He skipped over the side beaming, and Bai-Jove-Judson went into
the cabin to laugh his laugh out. When he had recovered a little
he sent Mr. Davies to the head of the Pioneers, the dusty man with
the gatlings, and the troops who had abandoned the pursuit of arms
watched the disgraceful spectacle of two men reeling with laughter
on the quarter-deck of a gunboat.
"I'll put my men to build him a custom-house," said the head of
the Pioneers, gasping. "We'll make him one decent road at least.
That Governor ought to be knighted. I'm glad now that we didn't
fight 'em in the open, or we'd have killed some of them. So he's
won great battles, has he? Give him the compliments of the
victims, and tell him I'm coming to dinner. You haven't such a
thing as a dress-suit, have you? I haven't seen one for six
That evening there was a dinner in the village - a general and
enthusiastic dinner, whose head was in the Governor's house, and
whose tail threshed at large throughout all the streets. The
Madeira was everything that the Governor had said, and more, and
it was tested against two or three bottles of Bai-Jove-Judson's
best Vanderhum, which is Cape brandy ten years in the bottle,
flavoured with orange-peel and spices. Before the coffee was
removed (by the lady who had made the flag of truce) the Governor
had sold the whole of his governorship and its appurtenances, once
to Bai-Jove-Judson for services rendered by Judson's grandfather
in the Peninsular War, and once to the head of the Pioneers, in
consideration of that gentleman's good friendship. After the
negotiation he retreated for a while into an inner apartment, and
there evolved a true and complete account of the defeat of the
British arms, which he read with his cocked hat over one eye to
Judson and his companion. It was Judson who suggested the sinking
of the flat-iron with all hands, and the head of the Pioneers who
supplied the list of killed and wounded (not more than two
hundred) in his command.
"Gentlemen," said the Governor from under his cocked hat, "the
peace of Europe are saved by this raporta. You shall all be
Knights of the Golden Hide. She shall go by the 'Guadala'."
"Great Heavens!" said Bai-Jove Judson, flushed but composed, "that
reminds me I've left that boat stuck on her broadside down the
river. I must go down and soothe the commandante. He'll be blue
with rage. Governor, let us go a sail on the river to cool our
heads. A picnic, you understand."
"Ya - as, everything I understand. Ho! A picnica! You are all my
prisoner, but I am good gaoler. We shall picnic on the river, and
we shall take all the girls. Come on, my prisoners."
"I do hope," said the head of the Pioneers, staring from the
verandah into the roaring village, "that my chaps won't set the
town alight by accident. Hullo! Hullo! A guard of honour for His
Excellency the most illustrious Governor!"
Some thirty men answered the call, made a swaying line upon a more
swaying course, and bore the Governor most swayingly of all high
in the arms as they staggered down to the river. And the song that
they sang bade them, "Swing, swing together their body between
their knees"; and they obeyed the words of the song faithfully,
except that they were anything but "steady from stroke to bow."
His Excellency the Governor slept on his uneasy litter, and did
not wake when the chorus dropped him on the deck of the flat-iron.
"Good-night and good-bye," said the head of the Pioneers to
Judson; "I'd give you my card if I had it, but I'm so damned drunk
I hardly know my own club. Oh, yes! It's the Travellers. If ever
we meet in Town, remember me. I must stay here and look after my
fellows. We're all right in the open, now. I s'pose you'll return
the Governor some time. This is a political crisis. Good-night."
The flat-iron went down stream through the dark. The Governor
slept on deck, and Judson took the wheel, but how he steered, and
why he did not run into each bank many times, that officer does
not remember. Mr. Davies did not note anything unusual, for there
are two ways of taking too much, and Judson was only ward-room,
not foc's'le drunk. As the night grew colder the Governor woke up,
and expressed a desire for whiskey and soda. When that came they
were nearly abreast of the stranded "Guadala", and His Excellency
saluted the flag that he could not see with loyal and patriotic
"They do not see. They do not hear," he cried. "Ten thousand
saints! They sleep, and I have won battles! Ha!"
He started forward to the gun, which, very naturally, was loaded,
pulled the lanyard, and woke the dead night with the roar of the
full charge behind a common shell. That shell mercifully just
missed the stern of the "Guadala", and burst on the bank. "Now you
shall salute your Governor," said he, as he heard feet running in
all directions within the iron skin. "Why you demand so base a
quarter? I am here with all my prisoners."
In the hurly-burly and the general shriek for mercy his
reassurances were not heard.
"Captain," said a grave voice from the ship, "we have surrendered.
Is it the custom of the English to fire on a helpless ship'?"
Surrendered! Holy Virgin! I go to cut off all their heads. You
shall be ate by wild ants -flogged and drowned. Throw me a
balcony. It is I, the Governor! You shall never surrender. Judson
of my soul, ascend her insides, and send me a bed, for I am
sleepy; but, oh, I will multiple time kill that captain!"
"Oh!" said the voice in the darkness, "I begin to comprehend." And
a rope-ladder was thrown, up which the Governor scrambled, with
Judson at his heels.
"Now we will enjoy executions," said the Governor on the deck.
"All these Republicans shall be shot. Little Judson, if I am not
drunk, why are so sloping the boards which do not support?"
The deck, as I have said, was at a very stiff cant. His Excellency
sat down, slid to leeward, and was asleep again.
The captain of the "Guadala" bit his moustache furiously, and
muttered in his own tongue: "This land is the father of great
villains and the stepfather of honest men. You see our material,
Captain. It is so everywhere with us. You have killed some of the
rats, I hope?"
"Not a rat," said Judson genially.
"That is a pity. If they were dead, our country might send us men;
but our country is dead too, and I am dishonoured on a mud-bank
through your English treachery."
"Well, it seems to me that firing on a little tub of our size
without a word of warning, when you know that the countries were
at peace, is treachery enough in a small way."
"If one of my guns had touched you, you would have gone to the
bottom, all of you. I would have taken the risk with my
Government. By that time it would have been -"
"A Republic? So you really did mean fighting on your own hook?
You're rather a dangerous officer to cut loose in a navy like
yours. Well, what are you going to do now?"
"Stay here. Go away in boats. What does it matter? That drunken
cat" - he pointed to the shadow in which the Governor slept -" is
here. I must take him back to his hole."
"Very good. I'll tow you off at daylight if you get steam ready."
"Captain, I warn you that as soon as she floats again I will fight
"Humbug! You'll have lunch with me, and then you'll take the
Governor up the river."
The captain was silent for some time. Then he said: "Let us drink.
What must be, must be; and after all we have not forgotten the
Peninsula. You will admit, Captain, that it is bad to be run upon
a shoal like a mud-dredger?"
"Oh, we'll pull you off before you can say knife. Take care of His
Excellency. I shall try to get a little sleep now."
They slept on both ships till the morning, and then the work of
towing off the "Guadala" began. With the help of her own engines,
and the tugging and puffing of the flat-iron, she slid off the
mud-bank sideways into the deep water, the flatiron immediately
under her stern, and the big eye of the four-inch gun almost
peering through the window of the captain's cabin.
Remorse in the shape of a violent headache had overtaken the
Governor. He was uneasily conscious that he might, perhaps, have
exceeded his powers; and the captain of the "Guadala", in spite of
all his patriotic sentiments, remembered distinctly that no war
had been declared between the two countries. He did not need the
Governor's repeated reminders that war, serious war, meant a
Republic at home, possible supersession in his command, and much
shooting of living men against dead walls.
"We have satisfied our honour," said the Governor in confidence.
"Our army is appeased, and the raporta that you take home will
show that we were loyal and brave. That other captain? Bah! he is
a boy. He will call this a - a-. Judson of my soul, how you say
this is - all this affairs which have transpirated between us?"
Judson was watching the last hawser slipping through the fairlead.
"Call it? Oh, I should call it rather a lark. Now your boat's all
right, Captain. When will you come to lunch?"
"I told you," said the Governor, "it would be a larque to him."
"Mother of the Saints! then what is his seriousness?" said the
captain. "We shall be happy to come when you please. Indeed, we
have no other choice," he added bitterly.
"Not at all," said Judson, and as he looked at the three or four
shot-blisters on the bows of his boat a brilliant idea took him.
"It is we who are at your mercy. See how His Excellency's guns
knocked us about."
"Senior Captain," said the Governor pityingly, "that is very sad.
You are most injured, and your deck too, it is all shot over. We
shall not be too severe on a beat man, shall we, Captain?"
"You couldn't spare us a little paint, could you? I'd like to
patch up a little after the - action," said Judson meditatively,
fingering his upper lip to hide a smile.
"Our store-room is at your disposition," said the captain of the
"Guadala", and his eye brightened; for a few lead splashes on gray
paint make a big show.
"Mr. Davies, go aboard and see what they have to spare - to spare,
remember. Their spar-colour with a little working up should be
just our freeboard tint."
"Oh, yes. I'll spare them," said Mr. Davies savagely. "I don't
understand this how-d'you-do and damn-your-eyes business coming
one atop of the other in a manner o' speaking. By all rights,
they're our lawful prize."
The Governor and the captain came to lunch in the absence of Mr.
Davies. Bai-Jove-Judson had not much to offer, but what he had was
given as by a beaten foeman to a generous conqueror. When they
were a little warmed - the Governor genial and the captain almost
effusive - he explained, quite casually, over the opening of a
bottle that it would not be to his interest to report the affair
seriously, and it was in the highest degree improbable that the
Admiral would treat it in any grave fashion.
"When my decks are cut up" (there was one groove across four
planks), "and my plates buckled" (there were five lead patches on
three plates), "and I meet such a boat as the 'Guadala', and a
mere accident saves me from being blown out of the water -"
"Yes. A mere accident, Captain. The shoal-buoy has been lost,"
said the captain of the 'Guadala'.
"Ah? I do not know this river. That was very sad. But as I was
saying, when an accident saves me from being sunk, what can I do
but go away - if that is possible? But I fear that I have no coal
for the sea voyage. It is very sad." Judson had compromised on
what he knew of the French tongue as a working language.
"It is enough," said the Governor, waving a generous hand. "Judson
of my soul, the coal is yours, and you shall be repaired - yes,
repaired all over of your battle's wounds. You shall go with all
the honours of all the wars. Your flag shall fly. Your drum shall
beat. Your, ah! - jolly boys shall spoke their bayonets. Is it not
"As you say, Excellency. But the traders in the town. What of
The Governor looked puzzled for an instant. He could not quite
remember what had happened to those jovial men who had cheered him
over night. Judson interrupted swiftly: "His Excellency has set
them to forced works on barracks and magazines, and, I think, a
custom-house. When that is done they will be released, I hope,
"Yes, they shall be released for your sake, little Judson of my
heart." Then they drank the health of their respective sovereigns,
while Mr. Davies superintended the removal of the scarred plank
and the shot-marks on the deck and the bow-plates.
"Oh, this is too bad," said Judson when they went on deck. "That
idiot has exceeded his instructions, but - but yow must let me pay
Mr. Davies, his legs in the water as he sat on a staging slung
over the bows, was acutely conscious that he was being blamed in a
foreign tongue. He smiled uneasily, and went on with his work.
"What is it?" said the Governor.
"That thick-head has thought that we needed some gold-leaf, and he
has borrowed that from your storeroom, but I must make it good."
Then in English, "Stand up, Mr. Davies. What the - in - do you
mean by taking their gold-leaf? My -, are we a set of pirates to
scrape the guts out of a Levantine bumboat? Look contrite, you
butt-ended, broad-breeched, bottle-bellied, swivel-eyed son of a
tinker, you! My Soul alive, can't I maintain discipline in my own
ship without a blacksmith of a boiler-riveter putting me to shame
before a yellow-nosed picaroon. Get off the staging, Mr. Davies,
and go to the engine-room. Put down that leaf first, though, and
leave the books where they are. I'll send for you in a minute. Go
Now, only the upper half of Mr. Davies's round face was above the
bulwarks when this torrent of abuse descended upon him; and it
rose inch by inch as the shower continued: blank amazement,
bewilderment, rage, and injured pride chasing each other across it
till he saw his superior officer's left eyelid flutter on the
cheek twice. Then he fled to the engine-room, and wiping his brow
with a handful of cotton-waste, sat down to overtake
"I am desolated," said Judson to his companions, "but you see the
material that you give us. This leaves me more in your debt than
before. The stuff I can replace" (gold-leaf is never carried on
floating gun-platforms), "but for the insolence of that man how
shall I apologise?"
Mr. Davies's mind moved slowly, but after a while he transferred
the cotton-waste from his forehead to his mouth and bit on it to
prevent laughter. He began a second dance on the engine-room
plates. "Neat! Oh, damned neat!" he chuckled. "I've served with a
good few, but there never was one so neat as him. And I thought he
was the new kind that don't know how to put a few words, as it
"Mr. Davies, you can continue your work," said Judson down the
engine-room hatch. "These officers have been good enough to speak
in your favour. Make a thorough job of it while you are about it.
Slap on every man you have. Where did you get hold of it?"
"Their storeroom is a regular theatre, sir. You couldn't miss it.
There's enough for two first-rates, and I've scoffed the best half
"Look sharp, then. We shall be coaling from her this afternoon.
You'll have to cover it all."
"Neat! Oh, damned neat!" said Mr. Davies under his breath, as he
gathered his subordinates together, and set about accomplishing
the long-deferred wish of Judson's heart.
It was the "Martin Frobisher", the flag-ship, a great war-boat
when she was new, in the days when men built for sail as well as
for steam. She could turn twelve knots under full sail, and it was
under that that she stood up the mouth of the river, a pyramid of
silver beneath the moon. The Admiral, fearing that he had given
Judson a task beyond his strength, was coming to look for him, and
incidentally to do a little diplomatic work along the coast. There
was hardly wind enough to move the "Frobisher" a couple of knots
an hour, and the silence of the land closed about her as she
entered the fairway. Her yards sighed a little from time to time,
and the ripple under her bows answered the sigh. The full moon
rose over the steaming swamps, and the Admiral, gazing upon it,
thought less of Judson and more of the softer emotions. In answer
to the very mood of his mind, there floated across the silver
levels of the water, mellowed by distance to a most poignant
sweetness, the throb of a mandolin, and the voice of one who
called upon a genteel Julia - upon Julia, and upon love. The song
ceased, and the sighing of the yards was all that broke the
silence of the big ship.
Again the mandolin began, and the commander on the lee side of the
quarter-deck grinned a grin that was reflected in the face of the
signal-midshipman. Not a word of the song was lost, and the voice
of the singer was the voice of Judson.
"Last week down our alley came a toff,
Nice old geyser with a nasty cough,
Sees my missus, takes his topper off,
Quite in a gentlemanly way " -
and so on to the end of the verse. The chorus was borne by several
voices, and the signal-midshipman's foot began to tap the deck
"'What cheer!' all the neighbours cried.
''Oo are you going to meet, Bill?
'Ave you bought the street, Bill?'
Laugh? - I thought I should ha' died
When I knocked 'em in the old Kent Road."
It was the Admiral's gig, rowing softly, that came into the midst
of that merry little smoking-concert. It was Judson, the
beribboned mandolin round his neck, who received the Admiral as he
came up the side of the "Guadala", and it may or may not have been
the Admiral who stayed till two in the morning and delighted the
hearts of the Captain and the Governor. He had come as an unbidden
guest, and he departed as an honoured one, but strictly unofficial
throughout. Judson told his tale next day in the Admiral's cabin
as well as he could in the face of the Admiral's gales of
laughter, but the most amazing tale was that told by Mr. Davies to
his friends in the dockyard at Simon's Town from the point of view
of a second-class engine-room artificer, all unversed in
And if there be no truth either in my tale, which is Judson's
tale, or the tale of Mr. Davies, you will not find in harbour at
Simon's Town to-day a flat-bottomed twin-screw gunboat, designed
solely for the defence of rivers, about two hundred and seventy
tons' displacement and five feet draught, wearing in open defiance
of the rules of the Service a gold line on her gray paint. It
follows also that you will be compelled to credit that version of
the fray which, signed by His Excellency the Governor and
despatched in the "Guadala", satisfied the self-love of a great
and glorious people, and saved a monarchy from the ill-considered
despotism which is called a Republic.
A CONFERENCE OF THE POWERS
Life liveth but in life, and doth not roam
To other lands if all be well at home:
"Solid as ocean foam," quoth ocean foam.
The room was blue with the smoke of three pipes and a cigar. The
leave-season had opened in India, and the first-fruits on this
side of the water were "Tick" Boileau, of the 45th Bengal Cavalry,
who called on me, after three years' absence, to discuss old
things which had happened. Fate, who always does her work
handsomely, sent up the same staircase within the same hour The
Infant, fresh from Upper Burma, and he and Boileau looking out of
my window saw walking in the street one Nevin, late in a Goorkha
regiment which had been through the Black Mountain Expedition.
They yelled to him to come up, and the whole Street was aware that
they desired him to come up, and he came up, and there followed
Pandemonium in my room because we had foregathered from the ends
of the earth, and three of us were on a holiday, and none of us
were twenty-five, and all the delights of all London lay waiting
Boileau took the only other chair, The Infant, by right of his
bulk, the sofa; and Nevin, being a little man, sat cross-legged on
the top of the revolving bookcase, and we all said, "Who'd ha'
thought it!" and "What are you doing here?" till speculation was
exhausted and the talk went over to inevitable "shop." Boileau was
full of a great scheme for winning a military attach‚-ship at St.
Petersburg; Nevin had hopes of the Staff College, and The Infant
had been moving heaven and earth and the Horse Guards for a
commission in the Egyptian army.
"What's the use o' that?" said Nevin, twirling round on the
"Oh, heaps! 'Course if you get stuck with a Fellaheen regiment,
you're sold; but if you are appointed to a Soudanese lot, you're
in clover. They are first-class fighting-men - and just think of
the eligible central position of Egypt in the next row!"
This was putting the match to a magazine. We all began to explain
the Central Asian question off-hand, flinging army corps from the
Helmund to Kashmir with more than Russian recklessness. Each of
the boys made for himself a war to his own liking, and when we had
settled all the details of Armageddon, killed all our senior
officers, handled a division apiece, and nearly torn the atlas in
two in attempts to explain our theories, Boileau needs must lift
up his voice above the clamour, and cry, "Anyhow it'll be the hell
of a row!" in tones that carried conviction far down the
Entered, unperceived in the smoke, William the Silent. "Gen'elman
to see you, sir," said he, and disappeared, leaving in his stead
none other than Mr. Eustace Cleever. William would have introduced
the Dragon of Wantley with equal disregard of present company.
"I - I beg your pardon. I didn't know that there was anybody -
with you. -"
But it was not seemly to allow Mr. Cleever to depart; he was a
great man. The boys remained where they were, for any movement
would have choked up the little room. Only when they saw his gray
hairs they stood on their feet, and when The Infant caught the
name, he said:
"Are you - did you write that book called 'As it was in the
Mr. Cleever admitted that he had written the book.
"Then - then I don't know how to thank you, sir," said The Infant,
flushing pink. "I was brought up in the country you wrote about -
all my people live there; and I read the book in camp on the
Hlinedatalone, and I knew every stick and stone, and the dialect
too; and, by Jove! it was just like being at home and hearing the
country people talk. Nevin, you know 'As it was in the Beginning'?
So does Ti - Boileau."
Mr. Cleever has tasted as much praise, public and private, as one
man may safely swallow; but it seemed to me that the outspoken
admiration in The Infant's eyes and the little stir in the little
company came home to him very nearly indeed.
"Won't you take the sofa?" said The Infant. "I'll sit on Boileau's
chair, and -" here he looked at me to spur me to my duties as a
host; but I was watching the novelist's face. Cleever had not the
least intention of going away, but settled himself on the sofa.
Following the first great law of the Army, which says "all
property is common except money, and you've only got to ask the
next man for that," The Infant offered tobacco and drink. It was
the least he could do; but not the most lavish praise in the world
held half as much appreciation and reverence as The Infant's
simple "Say when, sir," above the long glass.
Cleever said "when," and more thereto, for he was a golden talker,
and he sat in the midst of hero-worship devoid of all taint of
self-interest. The boys asked him of the birth of his book, and
whether it was hard to write, and how his notions came to him; and
he answered with the same absolute simplicity as he was
questioned. His big eyes twinkled, he dug his long thin hands into
his gray beard and tugged it as he grew animated. He dropped
little by little from the peculiar pinching of the broader vowels
- the indefinable "euh," that runs through the speech of the
pundit caste - and the elaborate choice of words, to freely-
mouthed "ows" and "ois," and, for him at least, unfettered
colloquialisms. He could not altogether understand the boys, who
hung upon his
words so reverently. The line of the chin-strap, that still showed
white and untanned on cheekbone and jaw, the steadfast young eyes
puckered at the corners of the lids with much staring through red-
hot sunshine, the slow, untroubled breathing, and the curious,
crisp, curt speech seemed to puzzle him equally. He could create
men and women, and send them to the uttermost ends of the earth,
to help, delight, and comfort; he knew every mood of the fields,
and could interpret them to the cities, and he knew the hearts of
many in city and country, but he had hardly, in forty years, come
into contact with the thing which is called a Subaltern of the
Line. He told the boys this in his own way.
"Well, how should you?" said The Infant. "You - you're quite
different, y' see, sir."
The Infant expressed his ideas in his tone rather than his words,
but Cleever understood the compliment.
"We're only Subs," said Nevin, "and we aren't exactly the sort of
men you'd meet much in your life, I s'pose."
"That's true," said Cleever. "I live chiefly among men who write,
and paint, and sculp, and so forth. We have our own talk and our
own interests, and the outer world doesn't trouble us much."
"That must be awfully jolly," said Boileau, at a venture. "We have
our own shop, too, but 'tisn't half as interesting as yours, of
course. You know all the men who've ever done anything; and we
only knock about from place to place, and we do nothing."
"The Army's a very lazy profession if you choose to make it so,"
said Nevin. "When there's nothing going on, there is nothing going
on, and you lie up."
"Or try to get a billet somewhere, to be ready for the next show,"
said The Infant with a chuckle.
"To me," said Cleever softly, "the whole idea of warfare seems so
foreign and unnatural, so essentially vulgar, if I may say so,
that I can hardly appreciate your sensations. Of course, though,
any change from idling in garrison towns must be a godsend to
Like many home-staying Englishmen, Cleever believed that the
newspaper phrase he quoted covered the whole duty of the Army
whose toils enabled him to enjoy his many-sided life in peace. The
remark was not a happy one, for Boileau had just come off the
Frontier, The Infant had been on the warpath for nearly eighteen
months, and the little red man Nevin two months before had been
sleeping under the stars at the peril of his life. But none of
them tried to explain, till I ventured to point out that they had
all seen service and were not used to idling. Cleever took in the
"Seen service?" said he. Then, as a child might ask, "Tell me.
Tell me everything about everything."
"How do you mean?" said The Infant, delighted at being directly
appealed to by the great man.
"Good Heavens! How am I to make you understand, if you can't see.
In the first place, what is your age?"
"Twenty-three next July," said The Infant promptly.
Cleever questioned the others with his eyes.
"I'm twenty-four," said Nevin.
"And I'm twenty-two," said Boileau.
"And you've all seen service?"
"We've all knocked about a little bit, sir, but The Infant's the
war-worn veteran. He's had two years' work in Upper Burma," said
"When you say work, what do you mean, you extraordinary
"Explain it, Infant," said Nevin.
"Oh, keeping things in order generally, and running about after
little dakus - that's dacoits -and so on. There's nothing to
"Make that young Leviathan speak," said Cleever impatiently, above
"How can he speak?" said I. "He's done the work. The two don't go
together. But, Infant, you're ordered to bukb."
"What about? I'll try."
"Bukb about a daur. You've been on heaps of 'em," said Nevin.
"What in the world does that mean? Has the Army a language of its
The Infant turned very red. He was afraid he was being laughed at,
and he detested talking before outsiders; but it was the author of
"As it was in the Beginning" who waited.
"It's all so new to me," pleaded Cleever; "and - and you said you
liked my book."
This was a direct appeal that The Infant could understand, and he
began rather flurriedly, with much slang bred of nervousness -
"Pull me up, sir, if I say anything you don't follow. About six
months before I took my leave out of Burma, I was on the
Hlinedatalone, up near the Shan States, with sixty Tommies -
private soldiers, that is - and another subaltern, a year senior
to me. The Burmese business was a subaltern's war, and our forces
were split up into little detachments, all running about the
country and trying to keep the dacoits quiet. The dacoits were
having a first-class time, y' know -filling women up with kerosene
and setting 'em alight, and burning villages, and crucifying
The wonder in Eustace Cleever's eyes deepened. He could not quite
realise that the cross still existed in any form.
"Have you ever seen a crucifixion?" said he.
"Of course not. 'Shouldn't have allowed it if I had; but I've seen
the corpses. The dacoits had a trick of sending a crucified corpse
down the river on a raft, just to show they were keeping their
tail up and enjoying themselves. Well, that was the kind of people
I had to deal with."
"Alone?" said Cleever. Solitude of the soul he could understand -
none better - but he had never in the body moved ten miles from
"I had my men, but the rest of it was pretty much alone. The
nearest post that could give me orders was fifteen miles away, and
we used to heliograph to them, and they used to give us orders
same way - too many orders."
"Who was your C. 0.?" said Boileau.
"Bounderby - Major. Pukka Bounderby; more Bounder than pukka. He
went out up Bhamo way. Shot, or cut down, last year," said The
"What are these interludes in a strange tongue?" said Cleever to
"Professional information - like the Mississippi pilots' talk,"
said I. "He did not approve of his major, who died a violent
death. Go on, Infant."
"Far too many orders. You couldn't take the Tommies out for a two
days' daur -that's expedition - without being blown up for not
asking leave. And the whole country was humming with dacoits. I
used to send out spies, and act on their information. As soon as a
man came in and told me of a gang in hiding, I'd take thirty men
with some grub, and go out and look for them, while the other
subaltern lay doggo in camp."
"Lay! Pardon me, but how did he lie?" said Cleever.
"Lay doggo - lay quiet, with the other thirty men. When I came
back, he'd take out his half of the men, and have a good time of
"Who was he?" said Boileau.
"Carter-Deecey, of the Aurungabadis. Good chap, but too
zubberdusty, and went bokhar four days out of seven. He's gone out
too. Don't interrupt a man."
Cleever looked helplessly at me.
"The other subaltern," I translated swiftly, "came from a native
regiment, and was overbearing in his demeanour. He suffered much
from the fever of the country, and is now dead. Go on, Infant."
"After a bit, we got into trouble for using the men on frivolous
occasions, and so I used to put my signaller under arrest to
prevent him reading the helio-orders. Then I'd go out and leave a
message to be sent an hour after I got clear of the camp,
something like this: 'Received important information; start in an
hour, unless countermanded.' If I was ordered back, it didn't much
matter. I swore the C. 0.'s watch was wrong, or something, when I
came back. The Tommies enjoyed the fun, and - Oh, yes, there was
one Tommy who was the bard of the detachment. He used to make up
verses on everything that happened."
"What sort of verses?" said Cleever.
"Lovely verses; and the Tommies used to sing 'em. There was one
song with a chorus, and it said something like this." The Infant
dropped into the true barrack-room twang:
"Theebaw, the Burma king, did a very foolish thing,
When 'e mustered 'ostile forces in ar-rai,
'E little thought that we, from far across the sea,
Would send our armies up to Mandalai!"
"0 gorgeous !" said Cleever. "And how magnificently direct! The
notion of a regimental bard is new to me, but of course it must be
"He was awfly popular with the men," said The Infant. "He had them
all down in rhyme as soon as ever they had done anything. He was a
great bard. He was always ready with an elegy when we picked up a
Boh - that's a leader of dacoits."
"How did you pick him up?" said Cleever.
"Oh! shot him if he wouldn't surrender."
"You! Have you shot a man?"
There was a subdued chuckle from all three boys, and it dawned on
the questioner that one experience in life which was denied to
himself, and he weighed the souls of men in a balance, had been
shared by three very young gentlemen of engaging appearance. He
turned round on Nevin, who had climbed to the top of the bookcase
and was sitting cross-legged as before.
"And have you, too?"
"Think so," said Nevin, sweetly. "In the Black Mountain. He was
rolling cliffs on to my half-company, and spoiling our formation.
I took a rifle from a man, and brought him down at the second
"Good Heavens! And how did you feel afterwards?"
"Thirsty. I wanted a smoke, too."
Cleever looked at Boileau - the youngest. Surely his hands were
guiltless of blood.
Boileau shook his head and laughed. "Go on, Infant," said he.
"And you too?" said Cleever.
"Fancy so. It was a case of cut, cut or be cut, with me; so I cut
- one. I couldn't do any more, sir."
Cleever looked as though he would like to ask many questions, but
The Infant swept on in the full tide of his tale.
"Well, we were called insubordinate young whelps at last, and
strictly forbidden to take the Tommies out any more without
orders. I wasn't sorry, because Tommy is such an exacting sort of
creature. He wants to live as though he were in barracks all the
time. I was grubbing on fowls and boiled corn, but the Tommies
wanted their pound of fresh meat, and their half ounce of this,
and their two ounces of t'other thing, and they used to come to me
and badger me for plug tobacco when we were four days in jungle. I
said: 'I can get you Burma tobacco, but I don't keep a canteen up
my sleeve.' They couldn't see it. They wanted all the luxuries of
the season, confound 'em!"
"You were alone when you were dealing with these men?" said
Cleever, watching The Infant's face under the palm of his hand. He
was receiving new ideas, and they seemed to trouble him.
"Of course, unless you count the mosquitoes. They were nearly as
big as the men. After I had to lie doggo I began to look for
something to do, and I was great pals with a man called Hicksey in
the Police, the best man that ever stepped on earth; a first-class
Cleever nodded applause. He knew how to appreciate enthusiasm.
"Hicksey and I were as thick as thieves. He had some Burma mounted
police - rummy chaps, armed with sword and Snider carbine. They
rode punchy Burma ponies, with string stirrups, red cloth saddles,
and red bell-rope headstalls. Hicksey used to lend me six or eight
of them when I asked him - nippy little devils, keen as mustard.
But they told their wives too much, and all my plans got known,
till I learned to give false marching orders overnight, and take
the men to quite a different village in the morning. Then we used
to catch the simple daku before breakfast, and made him very sick.
It's a ghastly country on the Hlinedatalone; all bamboo jungle,
with paths about four feet wide winding through it. The daku knew
all the paths, and potted at us as we came round a corner; but the
mounted police knew the paths as well as the daku, and we used to
go stalking 'em in and out. Once we flushed 'em, the men on the
ponies had the advantage of the men on foot. We held all the
country absolutely quiet for ten miles round, in about a month.
Then we took Boh Na-ghee, Hicksey and I and the civil officer.
That was a lark!"
"I think I am beginning to understand a little," said Cleever. "It
was a pleasure to you to administer and fight?"
"Rather! There's nothing nicer than a satisfactory little
expedition, when you find your plans fit together, and your
information's teek - correct, you know, and the whole sub-chiz - I
mean, when everything works out like formulae on a blackboard.
Hicksey had all the information about the Boh. He had been burning
villages and murdering people right and left, and cutting up
Government convoys, and all that. He was lying doggo in a village
about fifteen miles off, waiting to get a fresh gang together. So
we arranged to take thirty mounted police, and turn him out before
he could plunder into our newly-settled villages. At the last
minute, the civil officer in our part of the world thought he'd
assist at the performance."
"Who was he?" said Nevin.
"His name was Dennis," said The Infant slowly. "And we'll let it
stay so. He's a better man now than he was then."
"But how old was the civil power?" said Cleever. "The situation is
"He was about six-and-twenty, and he was awf'ly clever. He knew a
lot of things, but I don't think he was quite steady enough for
dacoit-hunting. We started overnight for Boh Na-ghee's village,
and we got there just before morning, without raising an alarm.
Dennis had turned out armed to his teeth - two revolvers, a
carbine, and all sorts of things. I was talking to Hicksey about
posting the men, and Dennis edged his pony in between us, and
said, 'What shall I do? What shall I do? Tell me what to do, you
fellows.' We didn't take much notice; but his pony tried to bite
me in the leg, and I said, 'Pull out a bit, old man, till we've
settled the attack.' He kept edging in, and fiddling with his
reins and his revolvers, and saying, 'Dear me! Dear me! Oh, dear
me! What do you think I'd better do?' The man was in a deadly
funk, and his teeth were chattering."
"I sympathise with the civil power," said Cleever. "Continue,
"The fun of it was, that he was supposed to be our superior
officer. Hicksey took a good look at him, and told him to attach
himself to my party. Beastly mean of Hicksey, that. The chap kept
on edging in and bothering, instead of asking for some men and
taking up his own position, till I got angry, and the carbines
began popping on the other side of the village. Then I said, 'For
God's sake be quiet, and sit down where you are! If you see
anybody come out of the village, shoot at him.' I knew he couldn't
hit a hayrick at a yard. Then I took my men over the garden wall -
over the palisades, y' know - somehow or other, and the fun began.
Hicksey had found the Boh in bed under a mosquito-curtain, and he
had taken a flying jump on to him."
"A flying jump!" said Cleever. "Is that also war?"
"Yes," said The Infant, now thoroughly warmed. "Don't you know how
you take a flying jump on to a fellow's head at school, when he
snores in the dormitory? The Boh was sleeping in a bedful of
swords and pistols, and Hicksey came down like Zazel through the
netting, and the net got mixed up with the pistols and the Boh and
Hicksey, and they all rolled on the floor together. I laughed till
I couldn't stand, and Hicksey was cursing me for not helping him;
so I left him to fight it out and went into the village. Our men
were slashing about and firing, and so were the dacoits, and in
the thick of the mess some ass set fire to a house, and we all had
to clear out. I froze on to the nearest daku and ran to the
palisade, shoving him in front of me. He wriggled loose and
bounded over the other side. I came after him; but when I had one
leg one side and one leg the other of the palisade, I saw that the
daku had fallen flat on Dennis's head. That man had never moved
from where I left him. They rolled on the ground together, and
Dennis's carbine went off and nearly shot me. The daku picked
himself up and ran, and Dennis buzzed his carbine after him, and
it caught him on the back of his head and knocked him silly. You
never saw anything so funny in your life. I doubled up on the top
of the palisade and hung there, yelling with laughter. But Dennis
began to weep like anything. 'Oh, I've killed a man,' he said.
'I've killed a man, and I shall never know another peaceful hour
in my life. Is he dead? Oh, is he dead? Good Lord, I've killed a
man!' I came down and said, 'Don't be a fool;' but he kept on
shouting, 'Is he dead?' till I could have kicked him. The daku was
only knocked out of time with the carbine. He came to after a bit,
and I said, 'Are you hurt much?' He groaned and said, 'No.' His
chest was all cut with scrambling over the palisade. 'The white
man's gun didn't do that,' he said; 'I did that, and I knocked the
white man over.' Just like a Burman, wasn't it? But Dennis
wouldn't be happy at any price. He said:
'Tie up his wounds. He'll bleed to death. Oh, he'll bleed to
death!' 'Tie 'em up yourself,' I said, 'if you're so anxious.' 'I
can't touch him,' said Dennis, 'but here's my shirt.' He took off
his shirt, and fixed the braces again over his bare shoulders. I
ripped the shirt up, and bandaged the dacoit quite professionally.
He was grinning at Dennis all the time; and Dennis's haversack was
lying on the ground, bursting full of sandwiches. Greedy hog! I
took some, and offered some to Dennis. 'How can I eat?' he said.
'How can you ask me to eat? His very blood is on your hands now,
and you're eating my sandwiches!' 'All right,' I said; 'I'll give
'em to the daku.' So I did, and the little chap was quite pleased,
and wolfed 'em down like one o'clock."
Cleever brought his hand down on the table with a thump that made
the empty glasses dance. "That's Art!" he said. "Flat, flagrant
mechanism! Don't tell me that happened on the spot!"
The pupils of The Infant's eyes contracted to two pin-points. "I
beg your pardon," he said slowly and stiffly, "but I am telling
this thing as it happened."
Cleever looked at him a moment. "My fault entirely," said he; "I
should have known. Please go on."
"Hicksey came out of what was left of the village with his
prisoners and captives, all neatly tied up. Boh Na-ghee was first,
and one of the villagers, as soon as he found the old ruffian
helpless, began kicking him quietly. The Boh stood it as long as
he could, and then groaned, and we saw what was going on. Hicksey
tied the villager up and gave him a half a dozen, good, with a
bamboo, to remind him to leave a prisoner alone. You should have
seen the old Boh grin. Oh! but Hicksey was in a furious rage with
everybody. He'd got a wipe over the elbow that had tickled up his
funny-bone, and he was rabid with me for not having helped him
with the Boh and the mosquito-net. I had to explain that I
couldn't do anything. If you'd seen 'em both tangled up together
on the floor in one kicking cocoon, you'd have laughed for a week.
Hicksey swore that the only decent man of his acquaintance was the
Boh, and all the way to camp Hicksey was talking to the Boh, and
the Boh was complaining about the soreness of his bones. When we
got back, and had had a bath, the Boh wanted to know when he was
going to be hanged. Hicksey said he couldn't oblige him on the
spot, but had to send him to Rangoon. The Boh went down on his
knees, and reeled off a catalogue of his crimes - he ought to have
been hanged seventeen times over, by his own confession - and
implored Hicksey to settle the business out of hand. 'If I'm sent
to Rangoon,' said he, 'they'll keep me in jail all my life, and
that is a death every time the sun gets up or the wind blows.' But
we had to send him to Rangoon, and, of course, he was let off down
there, and given penal servitude for life. When I came to Rangoon
I went over the jail - I had helped to fill it,
y' know - and the old Boh was there, and he spotted me at once. He
begged for some opium first, and I tried to get him some, but that
was against the rules. Then he asked me to have his Sentence
changed to death, because he was afraid of being sent to the
Andamans. I couldn't do that either, but I tried to cheer him, and
told him how things were going up-country, and the last thing he
said was - 'Give my compliments to the fat white man who jumped on
me. If I'd been awake I'd have killed him.' I wrote that to
Hicksey next mail, and - and that's all. I'm 'fraid I've been
gassing awf'ly, sir."
Cleever said nothing for a long time. The Infant looked
uncomfortable. He feared that, misled by enthusiasm, he had filled
up the novelist's time with unprofitable recital of trivial
Then said Cleever, "I can't understand. Why should you have seen
and done all these things before you have cut your wisdom-teeth?"
"Don't know," said The Infant apologetically. "I haven't seen much
- only Burmese jungle."
"And dead men, and war, and power, and responsibility," said
Cleever, under his breath. "You won't have any sensations left at
thirty, if you go on as you have done. But I want to hear more
tales - more tales!" He seemed to forget that even subalterns
might have engagements of their own.
"We're thinking of dining out somewhere - the lot of us - and
going on to the Empire afterwards," said Nevin, with hesitation.
He did not like to ask Cleever to come too. The invitation might
be regarded as perilously near to "cheek."
And Cleever, anxious not to wag a gray beard unbidden among boys
at large, said nothing on his side.
Boileau solved the little difficulty by blurting out: "Won't you
come too, sir?"
Cleever almost shouted "Yes," and while he was being helped into
his coat continued to murmur "Good Heavens!" at intervals in a way
that the boys could not understand.
"I don't think I've been to the Empire in my life," said he; "but
- what is my life after all? Let us go."
They went out with Eustace Cleever, and I sulked at home because
they had come to see me, but had gone over to the better man;
which was humiliating. They packed him into a cab with utmost
reverence, for was he not the author of "As it was in the
Beginning," and a person in whose company it was an honour to go
abroad? From all I gathered later, he had taken less interest in
the performance before him than in their conversations, and they
protested with emphasis that he was "as good a man as they make;
knew what a man was driving at almost before he said it; and yet
he's so damned simple about things any man knows." That was one of
At midnight they returned, announcing that they were "highly
respectable gondoliers," and that oysters and stout were what they
chiefly needed. The eminent novelist was still with them, and I
think he was calling them by their shorter names. I am certain
that he said he had been moving in worlds not realised, and that
they had shown him the Empire in a new light.
Still sore at recent neglect, I answered shortly, "Thank Heaven we
have within the land ten thousand as good as they," and when he
departed, asked him what he thought of things generally.
He replied with another quotation, to the effect that though
singing was a remarkably fine performance, I was to be quite sure
that few lips would be moved to song if they could find a
sufficiency of kissing.
Whereby I understood that Eustace Cleever, decorator and colourman
in words, was blaspheming his own Art, and would be sorry for this
in the morning.
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