The Phantom 'Rickshaw and Other Ghost Stories
Part 2 out of 3
ear was gone. On the second finger of the left hand was a ring--a
shield-shaped bloodstone set in gold, with a monogram that might
have been either "B.K." or "B.L." On the third finger of the right
hand was a silver ring in the shape of a coiled cobra, much worn
and tarnished. Gunga Dass deposited a handful of trifles he had
picked out of the burrow at my feet, and, covering the face of the
body with my handkerchief, I turned to examine these. I give the
full list in the hope that it may lead to the identification of the
1. Bowl of a briarwood pipe, serrated at the edge; much worn and
blackened; bound with string at the crew.
2. Two patent-lever keys; wards of both broken.
3. Tortoise-shell-handled penknife, silver or nickel, name-plate,
marked with monogram "B.K."
4. Envelope, postmark undecipherable, bearing a Victorian
stamp, addressed to "Miss Mon--" (rest illegible)--"ham"--"nt."
5. Imitation crocodile-skin notebook with pencil. First forty-five
pages blank; four and a half illegible; fifteen others filled with
private memoranda relating chiefly to three persons--a Mrs.L.
Singleton, abbreviated several times to "Lot Single," "Mrs. S.
May," and "Garmison," referred to in places as "Jerry" or "Jack."
6. Handle of small-sized hunting-knife. Blade snapped short.
Buck's horn, diamond cut, with swivel and ring on the butt;
fragment of cotton cord attached.
It must not be supposed that I inventoried all these things on the
spot as fully as I have here written them down. The notebook first
attracted my attention, and I put it in my pocket with a view of
studying it later on.
The rest of the articles I conveyed to my burrow for safety's sake,
and there being a methodical man, I inventoried them. I then
returned to the corpse and ordered Gunga Dass to help me to carry
it out to the river-front. While we were engaged in this, the
exploded shell of an old brown cartridge dropped out of one of the
pockets and rolled at my feet. Gunga Dass had not seen it; and I
fell to thinking that a man does not carry exploded cartridge-cases,
especially "browns," which will not bear loading twice, about with
him when shooting. In other words, that cartridge-case had been
fired inside the crater. Consequently there must be a gun
somewhere. I was on the verge of asking Gunga Dass, but checked
myself, knowing that he would lie. We laid the body down on the
edge of the quicksand by the tussocks. It was my intention to push
it out and let it be swallowed up-the only possible mode of burial
that I could think of. I ordered Gunga Dass to go away.
Then I gingerly put the corpse out on the quicksand. In doing so,
it was lying face downward, I tore the frail and rotten khaki
shooting-coat open, disclosing a hideous cavity in the back. I have
already told you that the dry sand had, as it were, mummified the
body. A moment's glance showed that the gaping hole had been
caused by a gun-shot wound; the gun must have been fired with
the muzzle almost touching the back. The shooting-coat, being
intact, had been drawn over the body after death, which must have
been instantaneous. The secret of the poor wretch's death was
plain to me in a flash. Some one of the crater, presumably Gunga
Dass, must have shot him with his own gun--the gun that fitted the
brown cartridges. He had never attempted to escape in the face of
the rifle-fire from the boat.
I pushed the corpse out hastily, and saw it sink from sight literally
in a few seconds. I shuddered as I watched. In a dazed,
half-conscious way I turned to peruse the notebook. A stained and
discolored slip of paper had been inserted between the binding and
the back, and dropped out as I opened the pages. This is what it
contained: "_Four out from crow-clump: three left; nine out; two
right; three back; two left; fourteen out; two left; seven out; one
left; nine back; two right; six back; four right; seven back._" The
paper had been burned and charred at the edges. What it meant I
could not understand. I sat down on the dried bents turning it over
and over between my fingers, until I was aware of Gunga Dass
standing immediately behind me with glowing eyes and
"Have you got it?" he panted. "Will
you not let me look at it also? I swear that I will return it."
"Got what? Return what?" asked.
"That which you have in your hands. It will help us both." He
stretched out his long, bird-like talons, trembling with eagerness.
"I could never find it," he continued. "He had secreted it about his
person. Therefore I shot him, but nevertheless I was unable to
Gunga Dass had quite forgotten his little fiction about the
rifle-bullet. I received the information perfectly calmly.
Morality is blunted by consorting with the Dead who are alive.
"What on earth are you raving about? What is it you want me to
"The piece of paper in the notebook. It will help us both. Oh, you
fool! You fool! Can you not see what it will do for us? We shall
His voice rose almost to a scream, and he danced with excitement
before me. I own I was moved at the chance of my getting away.
"Don't skip! Explain yourself. Do you mean to say that this slip of
paper will help us? What does it mean?"
"Read it aloud! Read it aloud! I beg and I pray you to read it
I did so. Gunga Dass listened delightedly, and drew an irregular
line in the sand with his fingers.
"See now! It was the length of his gun-barrels without the stock. I
have those barrels. Four gun-barrels out from the place where I
caught crows. Straight out; do you follow me? Then three left. Ah!
how well I remember when that man worked it out night after
night. Then nine out, and so on. Out is always straight before
you across the quicksand. He told me so before I killed him."
"But if you knew all this why didn't you get out before?"
"I did _not_ know it. He told me that he was working it out a year
and a half ago, and how he was working it out night after night
when the boat had gone away, and he could get out near the
quicksand safely. Then he said that we would get away together.
But I was afraid that he would leave me behind one night when he
had worked it all out, and so I shot him. Besides, it is not
advisable that the men who once get in here should escape. Only
I, and _I_ am a Brahmin."
The prospect of escape had brought Gunga Dass's caste back to
him. He stood up, walked about and gesticulated violently.
Eventually I managed to make him talk soberly, and he told me
how this Englishman had spent six months night after night in
exploring, inch by inch, the passage across the quicksand; how he
had declared it to be simplicity itself up to within about twenty
yards of the river bank after turning the flank of the left horn
of the horseshoe. This much he had evidently not completed when
Gunga Dass shot him with his own gun.
In my frenzy of delight at the possibilities of escape I recollect
shaking hands effusively with Gunga Dass, after we had decided
that we were to make an attempt to get away that very night. It was
weary work waiting throughout the afternoon.
About ten o'clock, as far as I could judge, when the Moon had just
risen above the lip of the crater, Gunga Dass made a move for his
burrow to bring out the gun-barrels whereby to measure our path.
All the other wretched inhabitants had retired to their lairs long
ago. The guardian boat drifted downstream some hours before,
and we were utterly alone by the crow-clump. Gunga Dass, while
carrying the gun-barrels, let slip the piece of paper which was to be
our guide. I stooped down hastily to recover it, and, as I did so, I
was aware that the diabolical Brahmin was aiming a violent blow
at the back of my head with the gun-barrels. It was too late to turn
round. I must have received the blow somewhere on the nape of
my neck. A hundred thousand fiery stars danced before my eyes,
and I fell forwards senseless at the edge of, the quicksand.
When I recovered consciousness, the Moon was going down, and I
was sensible of intolerable pain in the back of my head. Gunga
Dass had disappeared and my mouth was full of blood. I lay down
again and prayed that I might die without more ado. Then the
unreasoning fury which I had before mentioned, laid hold upon
me, and I staggered inland toward the walls of the crater. It
seemed that some one was calling to me in a whisper--"Sahib!
Sahib! Sahib!" exactly as my bearer used to call me in the morning
I fancied that I was delirious until a handful of sand fell at my feet.
Then I looked up and saw a head peering down into the
amphitheatre--the head of Dunnoo, my dog-boy, who attended to
my collies. As soon as he had attracted my attention, he held up his
hand and showed a rope. I motioned, staggering to and fro for the
while, that he should throw it down. It was a couple of leather
punkah-ropes knotted together, with a loop at one end. I slipped
the loop over my head and under my arms; heard Dunnoo urge
something forward; was conscious that I was being dragged, face
downward, up the steep sand slope, and the next instant found
myself choked and half fainting on the sand hills overlooking the
crater. Dunnoo, with his face ashy grey in the moonlight, implored
me not to stay but to get back to my tent at once.
It seems that he had tracked Pornic's footprints fourteen miles
across the sands to the crater; had returned and told my servants,
who flatly refused to meddle with any one, white or black, once
fallen into the hideous Village of the Dead; whereupon Dunnoo
had taken one of my ponies and a couple of punkah-ropes, returned
to the crater, and hauled me out as I have described.
To cut a long story short, Dunnoo is now my personal servant on a
gold mohur a month--a sum which I still think far too little for the
services he has rendered. Nothing on earth will induce me to go
near that devilish spot again, or to reveal its whereabouts more
clearly than I have done. Of Gunga Dass I have never found a
trace, nor do I wish to do. My sole motive in giving this to be
published is the hope that some one may possibly identify, from
the details and the inventory which I have given above, the corpse
of the man in the olive-green hunting-suit.
THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
"Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy."
The Law, as quoted, lays down a fair conduct of life, and one not
easy to follow. I have been fellow to a beggar again and again
under circumstances which prevented either of us finding out
whether the other was worthy. I have still to be brother to a Prince,
though I once came near to kinship with what might have been a
veritable King, and was promised the reversion of a Kingdom--army,
law-courts, revenue, and policy all complete. But, to-day, I
greatly fear that my King is dead, and if I want a crown I must go
hunt it for myself.
The beginning of everything was in a railway-train upon the road
to Mhow from Ajmir. There had been a Deficit in the Budget,
which necessitated travelling, not Second-class, which is only half
as dear as First-Class, but by Intermediate, which is very awful
indeed. There are no cushions in the Intermediate class, and the
population are either Intermediate, which is Eurasian, or native,
which for a long night journey is nasty, or Loafer, which is
amusing though intoxicated. Intermediates do not buy from
refreshment-rooms. They carry their food in bundles and pots, and
buy sweets from the native sweetmeat-sellers, and drink the
roadside water. This is why in hot weather Intermediates are taken
out of the carriages dead, and in all weathers are most properly
looked down upon.
My particular Intermediate happened to be empty till I reached
Nasirabad, when the big black-browed gentleman in shirt-sleeves
entered, and, following the custom of Intermediates, passed the
time of day. He was a wanderer and a vagabond like myself, but
with an educated taste for whisky. He told tales of things he had
seen and done, of out-of-the-way corners of the Empire into which
he had penetrated, and of adventures in which he risked his life for
a few days' food.
"If India was filled with men like you and me, not knowing more
than the crows where they'd get their next day's rations, it isn't
seventy millions of revenue the land would be paying--it's seven
hundred millions," said he; and as I looked at his mouth and chin I
was disposed to agree with him.
We talked politics,--the politics of Loaferdom that sees things
from the under side where the lath and plaster is not smoothed
off,--and we talked postal arrangements because my friend wanted
to send a telegram back from the next station to Ajmir, the turning-off
place from the Bombay to the Mhow line as you travel westward.
My friend had no money beyond eight annas which he wanted for dinner,
and I had no money at all, owing to the hitch in the Budget before
mentioned. Further, I was going into a wilderness where, though I
should resume touch with the Treasury, there were no telegraph
offices. I was, therefore, unable to help him in any way.
"We might threaten a Station-master, and make him send a wire on
tick," said my friend, "but that'd mean inquiries for you and for me,
and _I_'ve got my hands full these days. Did you say you were
travelling back along this line within any days?"
"Within ten," I said.
"Can't you make it eight?" said he. "Mine is rather urgent
"I can send your telegrams within ten days if that will serve you," I
"I couldn't trust the wire to fetch him, now I think of it. It's this
way. He leaves Delhi on the 23rd for Bombay. That means he'll be
running through Ajmir about the night of the 23rd."
"But I'm going into the Indian Desert," I explained.
"Well _and_ good," said he. "You'll be changing at Marwar Junction
to get into Jodhpore territory,--you must do that,--and he'll be
coming through Marwar Junction in the early morning of the 24th
by the Bombay Mail. Can you be at Marwar Junction on that time?
'T won't be inconveniencing you, because I know that there's
precious few pickings to be got out of these Central India
States--even though you pretend to be correspondent of the
"Have you ever tried that trick?" I asked.
"Again and again, but the Residents find you out, and then you get
escorted to the Border before you've time to get your knife into
them. But about my friend here. I _must_ give him a word o' mouth
to tell him what's come to me, or else he won't know where to go. I
would take it more than kind of you if you was to come out of
Central India in time to catch him at Marwar Junction, and say to
him, 'He has gone South for the week.' He'll know what that
means. He's a big man with a red beard, and a great swell he is.
You'll find him sleeping like a gentleman with all his luggage
round him in a Second-class apartment. But don't you be afraid.
Slip down the window and say, 'He has gone South for the week,'
and he'll tumble. It's only cutting your time of stay in those parts by
two days. I ask you as a stranger--going to the West," he said, with
"Where have _you_ come from?" said I.
"From the East," said he, "and I am hoping that you will give him
the message on the Square--for the sake of my Mother as well as
Englishmen are not usually softened by appeals to the memory of
their mothers; but for certain reasons, which will be fully apparent,
I saw fit to agree.
"It's more than a little matter," said he, "and that's why I asked you
to do it--and now I know that I can depend on you doing it. A
Second-class carriage at Marwar Junction, and a red-haired man
asleep in it. You'll be sure to remember. I get out at the next
station, and I must hold on there till he comes or sends me what I
"I'll give the message if I catch him," I said, "and for the sake of
your Mother as well as mine I'll give you a word of advice. Don't
try to run the Central India States just now as the correspondent of
the 'Backwoodsman.' There's a real one knocking about here, and it
might lead to trouble."
"Thank you," said he, simply; "and when will the swine be gone? I
can't starve because he's ruining my work. I wanted to get hold of
the Degumber Rajah down here about his father's widow, and give
him a jump."
"What did he do to his father's widow, then?"
"Filled her up with red pepper and slippered her to death as she
hung from a beam. I found that out myself, and I'm the only man
that would dare going into the State to get hush-money for it.
They'll try to poison me, same as they did in Chortumna when I
went on the loot there. But you'll give the man at Marwar Junction
He got out at a little roadside station, and I reflected. I had heard,
more than once, of men personating correspondents of newspapers
and bleeding small Native States with threats of exposure, but I
had never met any of the caste before. They lead a hard life, and
generally die with great suddenness. The Native States have a
wholesome horror of English newspapers, which may throw light
on their peculiar methods of government, and do their best to
choke correspondents with champagne, or drive them out of their
mind with four-in-hand barouches. They do not understand that
nobody cares a straw for the internal administration of Native
States so long as oppression and crime are kept within decent
limits, and the ruler is not drugged, drunk, or diseased from one
end of the year to the other. They are the dark places of the earth,
full of unimaginable cruelty, touching the Railway and the
Telegraph on one side, and, on the other, the days of Harun-al-Raschid.
When I left the train I did business with divers Kings, and
in eight days passed through many changes of life. Sometimes I
wore dress-clothes and consorted with Princes and Politicals,
drinking from crystal and eating from silver. Sometimes I lay out
upon the ground and devoured what I could get, from a plate made
of leaves, and drank the running water, and slept under the same
rug as my servant. It was all in the day's work.
Then I headed for the Great Indian Desert upon the proper date, as
I had promised, and the night Mail set me down at Marwar
Junction, where a funny little, happy-go-lucky, native-managed
railway runs to Jodhpore. The Bombay Mail from Delhi makes a
short halt at Marwar. She arrived just as I got in, and I had just
time to hurry to her platform and go down the carriages. There was
only one Second-class on the train. I slipped the window and
looked down upon a flaming-red beard, half covered by a railway-rug.
That was my man, fast asleep, and I dug him gently in the ribs.
He woke with a grunt, and I saw his face in the light of the lamps.
It was a great and shining face.
"Tickets again?" said he.
"No," said I. "I am to tell you that he is gone South for the week.
He has gone South for the week!"
The train had begun to move out. The red man rubbed his eyes.
"He has gone South for the week," he repeated. "Now that's just
like his impidence. Did he say that I was to give you anything?
'Cause I won't."
"He didn't," I said, and dropped away, and watched the red lights
die out in the dark. It was horribly cold because the wind was
blowing off the sands. I climbed into my own train--not an
Intermediate carriage this time--and went to sleep.
If the man with the beard had given me a rupee I should have kept
it as a memento of a rather curious affair. But the consciousness of
having done my duty was my only reward.
Later on I reflected that two gentlemen like my friends could not
do any good if they foregathered and personated correspondents of
newspapers, and might, if they blackmailed one of the little rat-trap
States of Central India or Southern Rajputana, get themselves
into serious difficulties. I therefore took some trouble to describe
them as accurately as I could remember to people who would be
interested in deporting them; and succeeded, so I was later
informed, in having them headed back from the Degumber
Then I became respectable, and returned to an office where there
were no Kings and no incidents outside the daily manufacture of a
newspaper. A newspaper office seems to attract every conceivable
sort of person, to the prejudice of discipline. Zenana-mission
ladies arrive, and beg that the Editor will instantly abandon all his
duties to describe a Christian prize-giving in a back slum of a
perfectly inaccessible village; Colonels who have been overpassed
for command sit down and sketch the outline of a series of ten,
twelve, or twenty-four leading articles on Seniority _versus_
Selection; missionaries wish to know why they have not been
permitted to escape from their regular vehicles of abuse, and swear
at a brother missionary under special patronage of the editorial
We; stranded theatrical companies troop up to explain that they
cannot pay for their advertisements, but on their return from New
Zealand or Tahiti will do so with interest; inventors of patent
punka-pulling machines, carriage couplings, and unbreakable
swords and axletrees call with specifications in their pockets and
hours at their disposal; tea companies enter and elaborate their
prospectuses with the office pens; secretaries of ball committees
clamour to have the glories of their last dance more fully
described; strange ladies rustle in and say, "I want a hundred lady's
cards printed _at once_, please," which is manifestly part of an
Editor's duty; and every dissolute ruffian that ever tramped the
Grand Trunk Road makes it his business to ask for employment as
a proof-reader. And, all the time, the telephone-bell is ringing
madly, and Kings are being killed on the Continent, and Empires
are saying, "You're another," and Mister Gladstone is calling down
brimstone upon the British Dominions, and the little black
copyboys are whining, "_kaa-pi chay-ha-yeh_" ("Copy wanted"), like
tired bees, and most of the paper is as blank as Modred's shield.
But that is the amusing part of the year. There are six other months
when none ever come to call, and the thermometer walks inch by
inch up to the top of the glass, and the office is darkened to just
above reading-light, and the press-machines are red-hot to touch,
and nobody writes anything but accounts of amusements in the
Hill-stations or obituary notices. Then the telephone becomes a
tinkling terror, because it tells you of the sudden deaths of men
and women that you knew intimately, and the prickly heat covers
you with a garment, and you sit down and write: "A slight increase
of sickness is reported from the Khuda Janta Khan District. The
outbreak is purely sporadic in its nature, and, thanks to the
energetic efforts of the District authorities, is now almost at an
end. It is, however, with deep regret we record the death," etc.
Then the sickness really breaks out, and the less recording and
reporting the better for the peace of the subscribers. But the
Empires and the Kings continue to divert themselves as selfishly as
before, and the Foreman thinks that a daily paper really ought to
come out once in twenty-four hours, and all the people at the
Hill-stations in the middle of their amusements say, "Good gracious!
why can't the paper be sparkling? I'm sure there's plenty going on
That is the dark half of the moon, and, as the advertisements say,
"must be experienced to be appreciated."
It was in that season, and a remarkably evil season, that the paper
began running the last issue of the week on Saturday night, which
is to say Sunday morning, after the custom of a London paper. This
was a great convenience, for immediately after the paper was put
to bed the dawn would lower the thermometer from 96 degrees to
almost 84 degrees for half an hour, and in that chill--you have no
idea how cold is 84 degrees on the grass until you begin to pray for
it--a very tired man could get off to sleep ere the heat roused him.
One Saturday night it was my pleasant duty to put the paper to bed
alone. A King or courtier or a courtesan or a Community was
going to die or get a new Constitution, or do something that was
important on the other side of the world, and the paper was to be
held open till the latest possible minute in order to catch the
It was a pitchy-black night, as stifling as a June night can be, and
the _loo_, the red-hot wind from the westward, was booming among
the tinder-dry trees and pretending that the rain was on its heels.
Now and again a spot of almost boiling water would fall on the
dust with the flop of a frog, but all our weary world knew that was
only pretence. It was a shade cooler in the press-room than the
office, so I sat there, while the type ticked and clicked, and the
night-jars hooted at the windows, and the all but naked
compositors wiped the sweat from their foreheads and called for
water. The thing that was keeping us back, whatever it was, would
not come off, though the _loo_ dropped and the last type was set, and
the whole round earth stood still in the choking heat, with its
finger on its lip, to wait the event. I drowsed, and wondered
whether the telegraph was a blessing, and whether this dying man,
or struggling people, might be aware of the inconvenience the
delay was causing. There was no special reason beyond the heat
and worry to make tension, but, as the clock-hands crept up to
three o-clock and the machines spun their fly-wheels two and three
times to see that all was in order, before I said the word that would
set them off, I could have shrieked aloud.
Then the roar and rattle of the wheels shivered the quiet into little
bits. I rose to go away, but two men in white clothes stood in front
of me. The first one said, "It's him!" The second said, "So it is!"
And they both laughed almost as loudly as the machinery roared,
and mopped their foreheads. "We seed there was a light burning
across the road, and we were sleeping in that ditch there for
coolness, and I said to my friend here, 'The office is open. Let's
come along and speak to him as turned us back from Degumber
State,'" said the smaller of the two. He was the man I had met in
the Mhow train, and his fellow was the red-bearded man of
Marwar Junction. There was no mistaking the eyebrows of the one
or the beard of the other.
I was not pleased, because I wished to go to sleep, not to squabble
with loafers. "What do you want?" I asked.
"Half an hour's talk with you, cool and comfortable, in the office,"
said the red-bearded man. "We'd _like_ some drink,--the Contrack
doesn't begin yet, Peachey, so you needn't look,--but what we
really want is advice. We don't want money. We ask you as a
favour, because we found out you did us a bad turn about
I led from the press-room to the stifling office with the maps on
the walls, and the red-haired man rubbed his hands. "That's
something like," said he. "This was the proper shop to come to.
Now, Sir, let me introduce you to Brother Peachey Carnehan, that's
him, and Brother Daniel Dravot, that is me, and the less said about
our professions the better, for we have been most things in our
time--soldier, sailor, compositor, photographer, proof-reader,
street-preacher, and correspondents of the 'Backwoodsman' when
we thought the paper wanted one. Carnehan is sober, and so am I.
Look at us first, and see that's sure. It will save you cutting into my
talk. We'll take one of your cigars apiece, and you shall see us light
I watched the test. The men were absolutely sober, so I gave them
each a tepid whisky-and-soda.
"Well _and_ good," said Carnehan of the eyebrows, wiping the froth
from his moustache. "Let me talk now, Dan. We have been all over
India, mostly on foot. We have been boiler-fitters, engine-drivers,
petty contractors, and all that, and we have decided that India isn't
big enough for such as us."
They certainly were too big for the office. Dravot's beard seemed
to fill half the room and Carnehan's shoulders the other half, as
they sat on the big table. Carnehan continued: "The country isn't
half worked out because they that governs it won't let you touch it.
They spend all their blessed time in governing it, and you can't lift
a spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil, nor anything like that,
without all the Government saying, 'Leave it alone, and let us
govern.' Therefore, such _as_ it is, we will let it alone, and go away
to some other place where a man isn't crowded and can come to
his own. We are not little men, and there is nothing that we are
afraid of except Drink, and we have signed a Contrack on that.
_Therefore_ we are going away to be Kings."
"Kings in our own right," muttered Dravot.
"Yes, of course," I said. "You've been tramping in the sun, and it's
a very warm night, and hadn't you better sleep over the notion?
"Neither drunk nor sunstruck," said Dravot. "We have slept over
the notion half a year, and require to see Books and Atlases, and
we have decided that there is only one place now in the world that
two strong men can Sar-a-_whack_. They call it Kafiristan. By my
reckoning it's the top right-hand corner of Afghanistan, not more
than three hundred miles from Peshawar. They have two and thirty
heathen idols there, and we'll be the thirty-third and fourth. It's a
mountaineous country, the women of those parts are very
"But that is provided against in the Contrack," said Carnehan.
"Neither Women nor Liqu-or, Daniel."
"And that's all we know, except that no one has gone there, and
they fight, and in any place where they fight a man who knows
how to drill men can always be a King. We shall go to those parts
and say to any King we find, 'D' you want to vanquish your foes?'
and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better
than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize his
Throne and establish a Dy-nasty."
"You'll be cut to pieces before you're fifty miles across the
Border," I said. "You have to travel through Afghanistan to get to
that country. It's one mass of mountains and peaks and glaciers,
and no Englishman has been through it. The people are utter
brutes, and even if you reached them you couldn't do anything."
"That's more like," said Carnehan. "If you could think us a little
more mad we would be more pleased. We have come to you to
know about this country, to read a book about it, and to be shown
maps. We want you to tell us that we are fools and to show us your
books." He turned to the bookcases.
"Are you at all in earnest?" I said.
"A little," said Dravot, sweetly. "As big a map as you have got,
even if it's all blank where Kafiristan is, and any books you've got.
We can read, though we aren't very educated."
I uncased the big thirty-two-miles-to-the-inch map of India and
two smaller Frontier maps, hauled down volume INF-KAN of the
"Encyclopaedia Britannica," and the men consulted them.
"See here!" said Dravot, his thumb on the map. "Up to Jagdallak,
Peachey and me know the road. We was there with Robert's Army.
We'll have to turn off to the right at Jagdallak through Laghmann
territory. Then we get among the hills--fourteen thousand feet--fifteen
thousand--it will be cold work there, but it don't look very
far on the map."
I handed him Wood on the "Sources of the Oxus." Carnehan was
deep in the "Encyclopaedia."
"They're a mixed lot," said Dravot, reflectively; "and it won't help
us to know the names of their tribes. The more tribes the more
they'll fight, and the better for us. From Jagdallak to Ashang.
"But all the information about the country is as sketchy and
inaccurate as can be," I protested. "No one knows anything about it
really. Here's the file of the 'United Services' Institute.' Read what
"Blow Bellew!" said Carnehan. "Dan, they're a stinkin' lot of
heathens, but this book here says they think they're related to us
I smoked while the men poured over Raverty, Wood, the maps,
and the "Encyclopaedia."
"There is no use your waiting," said Dravot, politely. "It's about
four o'clock now. We'll go before six o'clock if you want to sleep,
and we won't steal any of the papers. Don't you sit up. We're two
harmless lunatics, and if you come to-morrow evening down to the
Serai we'll say good-bye to you."
"You _are_ two fools," I answered. "You'll be turned back at the
Frontier or cut up the minute you set foot in Afghanistan. Do you
want any money or a recommendation down-country? I can help
you to the chance of work next week."
"Next week we shall be hard at work ourselves, thank you," said
Dravot. "It isn't so easy being a King as it looks. When we've got
our Kingdom in going order we'll let you know, and you can come
up and help us govern it."
"Would two lunatics make a Contrack like that?" said Carnehan,
with subdued pride, showing me a greasy half-sheet of notepaper
on which was written the following. I copied it, then and there, as
This Contract between me and you persuing witnesseth in
the name of God--Amen and so forth.
(One) That me and you will settle this matter
together; i.e., to be Kings of Kafiristan.
(Two) That you and me will not, while this
matter is being settled, look at any
Liquor, nor any Woman, black, white,
or brown, so as to get mixed up with
one or the other harmful.
(Three) That we conduct ourselves with Dignity
and Discretion, and if one of us gets
into trouble the other will stay by him.
Signed by you and me this day.
Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan.
Both Gentlemen at Large.
"There was no need for the last article," said Carnehan, blushing
modestly; "but it looks regular. Now you know the sort of men that
loafers are,--we _are_ loafers, Dan, until we get out of India,--and _do_
you think that we would sign a Contrack like that unless we was in
earnest? We have kept away from the two things that make life
"You won't enjoy your lives much longer if you are going to try
this idiotic adventure. Don't set the office on fire," I said, "and go
away before nine o'clock."
I left them still poring over the maps and making notes on the back
of the "Contrack." "Be sure to come down to the Serai to-morrow,"
were their parting words.
The Kumharsen Serai is the great foursquare sink of humanity
where the strings of camels and horses from the North load and
unload. All the nationalities of Central Asia may be found there,
and most of the folk of India proper. Balkh and Bokhara there
meet Bengal and Bombay, and try to draw eye-teeth. You can buy
ponies, turquoises, Persian pussy-cats, saddle-bags, fat-tailed
sheep, and musk in the Kumharsen Serai, and get many strange
things for nothing. In the afternoon I went down to see whether my
friends intended to keep their word or were lying there drunk.
A priest attired in fragments of ribbons and rags stalked up to me,
gravely twisting a child's paper whirligig. Behind him was his
servant bending under the load of a crate of mud toys. The two
were loading up two camels, and the inhabitants of the Serai
watched them with shrieks of laughter.
"The priest is mad," said a horse-dealer to me. "He is going up to
Kabul to sell toys to the Amir. He will either be raised to honour or
have his head cut off. He came in here this morning and has been
behaving madly ever since."
"The witless are under the protection of God," stammered a flat-cheeked
Usbeg in broken Hindi. "They foretell future events."
"Would they could have foretold that my caravan would have been
cut up by the Shinwaris almost within shadow of the Pass!"
grunted the Eusufzai agent of a Rajputana trading-house whose
goods had been diverted into the hands of other robbers just across
the Border, and whose misfortunes were the laughing-stock of the
bazaar. "Ohé, priest, whence come you and whither do you go?"
"From Roum have I come," shouted the priest, waving his
whirligig; "from Roum, blown by the breath of a hundred devils
across the sea! O thieves, robbers, liars, the blessing of Pir Khan
on pigs, dogs, and perjurers! Who will take the Protected of God to
the North to sell charms that are never still to the Amir? The
camels shall not gall, the sons shall not fall sick, and the wives
shall remain faithful while they are away, of the men who give me
place in their caravan. Who will assist me to slipper the King of
the Roos with a golden slipper with a silver heel? The protection
of Pir Khan be upon his labours!" He spread out the skirts of his
gabardine and pirouetted between the lines of tethered horses.
"There starts a caravan from Peshawar to Kabul in twenty days,
_Huzrut_," said the Eusufzai trader. "My camels go therewith. Do
thou also go and bring us good luck."
"I will go even now!" shouted the priest. "I will depart upon my
winged camels, and be at Peshawar in a day! Ho! Hazar Mir
Khan," he yelled to his servant, "drive out the camels, but let me
first mount my own."
He leaped on the back of his beast as it knelt, and, turning round to
me, cried, "Come thou also, Sahib, a little along the road, and I
will sell thee a charm--an amulet that shall make thee King of
Then the light broke upon me, and I followed the two camels out
of the Serai till we reached open road and the priest halted.
"What d' you think o' that?" said he in English. "Carnehan can't talk
their patter, so I've made him my servant. He makes a handsome
servant. 'T isn't for nothing that I've been knocking about the
country for fourteen years. Didn't I do that talk neat? We'll hitch on
to a caravan at Peshawar till we get to Jagdallak, and then we'll see
if we can get donkeys for our camels, and strike into Kafiristan.
Whirligigs for the Amir, O Lor'! Put your hand under the
camelbags and tell me what you feel."
I felt the butt of a Martini, and another and another.
"Twenty of 'em," said Dravot, placidly. "Twenty of 'em and
ammunition to correspond, under the whirligigs and the mud
"Heaven help you if you are caught with those things!" I said. "A
Martini is worth her weight in silver among the Pathans."
"Fifteen hundred rupees of capital--every rupee we could beg,
borrow, or steal--are invested on these two camels," said Dravot.
"We won't get caught. We're going through the Khaiber with a
regular caravan. Who'd touch a poor mad priest?"
"Have you got everything you want?" I asked, overcome with
"Not yet, but we shall soon. Give us a memento of your kindness,
_Brother_. You did me a service yesterday, and that time in Marwar.
Half my Kingdom shall you have, as the saying is." I slipped a
small charm compass from my watch-chain and handed it up to the
"Good-bye," said Dravot, giving me hand cautiously. "It's the last
time we'll shake hands with an Englishman these many days.
Shake hands with him, Carnehan," he cried, as the second camel
Carnehan leaned down and shook hands. Then the camels passed
away along the dusty road, and I was left alone to wonder. My eye
could detect no failure in the disguises. The scene in the Serai
proved that they were complete to the native mind. There was just
the chance, therefore, that Carnehan and Dravot would be able to
wander through Afghanistan without detection. But, beyond, they
would find death--certain and awful death.
Ten days later a native correspondent, giving me the news of the
day from Peshawar, wound up his letter with: "There has been
much laughter here on account of a certain mad priest who is
going in his estimation to sell petty gauds and insignificant trinkets
which he ascribes as great charms to H. H. the Amir of Bokhara.
He passed through Peshawar and associated himself to the Second
Summer caravan that goes to Kabul. The merchants are pleased
because through superstition they imagine that such mad fellows
bring good fortune."
The two, then, were beyond the Border. I would have prayed for
them, but that night a real King died in Europe, and demanded an
The wheel of the world swings through the same phases again and
again. Summer passed and winter thereafter, and came and passed
again. The daily paper continued and I with it, and upon the third
summer there fell a hot night, a night issue, and a strained waiting
for something to be telegraphed from the other side of the world,
exactly as had happened before. A few great men had died in the
past two years, the machines worked with more clatter, and some
of the trees in the office garden were a few feet taller. But that was
all the difference.
I passed over to the press-room, and went through just such a scene
as I have already described. The nervous tension was stronger than
it had been two years before, and I felt the heat more acutely. At
three o'clock I cried, "Print off," and turned to go, when there crept
to my chair what was left of a man. He was bent into a circle, his
head was sunk between his shoulders, and he moved his feet one
over the other like a bear. I could hardly see whether he walked or
crawled--this rag-wrapped, whining cripple who addressed me by
name, crying that he was come back. "Can you give me a drink?"
he whimpered. "For the Lord's sake, give me a drink!"
I went back to the office, the man following with groans of pain,
and I turned up the lamp.
"Don't you know me?" he gasped, dropping into a chair, and he
turned his drawn face, surmounted by a shock of gray hair, to the
I looked at him intently. Once before had I seen eyebrows that met
over the nose in an inch-broad black band, but for the life of me I
could not tell where.
"I don't know you," I said, handing him the whisky. "What can I do
He took a gulp of the spirit raw, and shivered in spite of the
"I've come back," he repeated; "and I was the King of Kafiristan--me
and Dravot--crowned Kings we was! In this office we settled it--you
setting there and giving us the books. I am Peachey,--Peachey
Taliaferro Carnehan,--and you've been setting here ever since--O
I was more than a little astonished, and expressed my feelings
"It's true," said Carnehan, with a dry cackle, nursing his feet, which
were wrapped in rags--"true as gospel. Kings we were, with
crowns upon our heads--me and Dravot--poor Dan--oh, poor, poor
Dan, that would never take advice, not though I begged of him!"
"Take the whisky," I said, "and take your own time. Tell me all you
can recollect of everything from beginning to end. You got across
the Border on your camels, Dravot dressed as a mad priest and you
his servant. Do you remember that?"
"I ain't mad--yet, but I shall be that way soon. Of course I
remember. Keep looking at me, or maybe my words will go all to
pieces. Keep looking at me in my eyes and don't say anything."
I leaned forward and looked into his face as steadily as I could. He
dropped one hand upon the table and I grasped it by the wrist. It
was twisted like a bird's claw, and upon the back was a ragged,
red, diamond-shaped scar.
"No, don't look there. Look at _me_," said Carnehan. "That comes
afterward, but for the Lord's sake don't distrack me. We left with
that caravan, me and Dravot playing all sorts of antics to amuse
the people we were with. Dravot used to make us laugh in the
evenings when all the people was cooking their dinners--cooking
their dinners, and ... what did they do then? They lit little fires
with sparks that went into Dravot's beard, and we all laughed--fit
to die. Little red fires they was, going into Dravot's big red
beard--so funny." His eyes left mine and he smiled foolishly.
"You went as far as Jagdallak with that caravan," I said, at a
venture, "after you had lit those fires. To Jagdallak, where you
turned off to try to get into Kafiristan."
"No, we didn't, neither. What are you talking about? We turned off
before Jagdallak, because we heard the roads was good. But they
wasn't good enough for our two camels--mine and Dravot's. When
we left the caravan, Dravot took off all his clothes and mine too,
and said we would be heathen, because the Kafirs didn't allow
Mohammedans to talk to them. So we dressed betwixt and
between, and such a sight as Daniel Dravot I never saw yet nor
expect to see again. He burned half his beard, and slung a
sheepskin over his shoulder, and shaved his head into patterns. He
shaved mine too, and made me wear outrageous things to look like
a heathen. That was in a most mountaineous country, and our
camels couldn't go along any more because of the mountains. They
were tall and black, and coming home I saw them fight like wild
goats--there are lots of goats in Kafiristan. And these mountains,
they never keep still, no more than the goats. Always fighting they
are, and don't let you sleep at night."
"Take some more whisky," I said, very slowly. "What did you and
Daniel Dravot do when the camels could go no farther because of
the rough roads that led into Kafiristan?"
"What did which do? There was a party called Peachey Taliaferro
Carnehan that was with Dravot. Shall I tell you about him? He
died out there in the cold. Slap from the bridge fell old Peachey,
turning and twisting in the air like a penny whirligig that you can
sell to the Amir. No; they was two for three ha'pence, those
whirligigs, or I am much mistaken and woeful sore.... And then
these camels were no use, and Peachey said to Dravot, 'For the
Lord's sake let's get out of this before our heads are chopped off,'
and with that they killed the camels all among the mountains, not
having anything in particular to eat, but first they took off the
boxes with the guns and the ammunition, till two men came along
driving four mules. Dravot up and dances in front of them, singing,
'Sell me four mules.' Says the first man, 'If you are rich enough to
buy, you are rich enough to rob;' but before ever he could put his
hand to his knife, Dravot breaks his neck over his knee, and the
other party runs away. So Carnehan loaded the mules with the
rifles that was taken off the camels, and together we starts forward
into those bitter-cold mountaineous parts, and never a road broader
than the back of your hand."
He paused for a moment, while I asked him if he could remember
the nature of the country through which he had journeyed.
"I am telling you as straight as I can, but my head isn't as good as it
might be. They drove nails through it to make me hear better how
Dravot died. The country was mountaineous and the mules were
most contrary, and the inhabitants was dispersed and solitary. They
went up and up, and down and down, and that other party,
Carnehan, was imploring of Dravot not to sing and whistle so loud,
for fear of bringing down the tremenjus avalanches. But Dravot
says that if a King couldn't sing it wasn't worth being King, and
whacked the mules over the rump, and never took no heed for ten
cold days. We came to a big level valley all among the mountains,
and the mules were near dead, so we killed them, not having
anything in special for them or us to eat. We sat upon the boxes,
and played odd and even with the cartridges that was jolted out.
"Then ten men with bows and arrows ran down that valley, chasing
twenty men with bows and arrows, and the row was tremenjus.
They was fair men--fairer than you or me--with yellow hair and
remarkable well built. Says Dravot, unpacking the guns, 'This is
the beginning of the business. We'll fight for the ten men,' and with
that he fires two rifles at the twenty men, and drops one of them at
two hundred yards from the rock where he was sitting. The other
men began to run, but Carnehan and Dravot sits on the boxes
picking them off at all ranges, up and down the valley. Then we
goes up to the ten men that had run across the snow too, and they
fires a footy little arrow at us. Dravot he shoots above their heads,
and they all falls down flat. Then he walks over them and kicks
them, and then he lifts them up and shakes hands all round to
make them friendly like. He calls them and gives them the boxes
to carry, and waves his hand for all the world as though he was
King already. They takes the boxes and him across the valley and
up the hill into a pine wood on the top, where there was half a
dozen big stone idols. Dravot he goes to the biggest--a fellow they
call Imbra--and lays a rifle and a cartridge at his feet, rubbing his
nose respectfully with his own nose, patting him on the head, and
nods his head, and says, 'That's all right. I'm in the know too, and
these old jimjams are my friends.' Then he opens his mouth and
points down it, and when the first man brings him food, he says,
'No;' and when the second man brings him food, he says 'no;' but
when one of the old priests and the boss of the village brings him
food, he says, 'Yes;' very haughty, and eats it slow. That was how
we came to our first village without any trouble, just as though we
had tumbled from the skies. But we tumbled from one of those
damned rope-bridges, you see, and--you couldn't expect a man to
laugh much after that?"
"Take some more whisky and go on," I said. "That was the first
village you came into. How did you get to be King?"
"I wasn't King," said Carnehan. "Dravot he was the King, and a
handsome man he looked with the gold crown on his head and all.
Him and the other party stayed in that village, and every morning
Dravot sat by the side of old Imbra, and the people came and
worshipped. That was Dravot's order. Then a lot of men came into
the valley, and Carnehan Dravot picks them off with the rifles
before they knew where they was, and runs down into the valley
and up again the other side, and finds another village, same as the
first one, and the people all falls down flat on their faces, and
Dravot says, 'Now what is the trouble between you two villages?'
and the people points to a woman, as fair as you or me, that was
carried off, and Dravot takes her back to the first village and
counts up the dead--eight there was. For each dead man Dravot
pours a little milk on the ground and waves his arms like a
whirligig, and 'That's all right,' says he. Then he and Carnehan
takes the big boss of each village by the arm, and walks them
down the valley, and shows them how to scratch a line with a
spear right down the valley, and gives each a sod of turf from both
sides of the line. Then all the people comes down and shouts like
the devil and all, and Dravot says, 'Go and dig the land, and be
fruitful and multiply,' which they did, though they didn't
understand. Then we asks the names of things in their lingo--bread
and water and fire and idols and such; and Dravot leads the priest
of each village up to the idol, and says he must sit there and judge
the people, and if anything goes wrong he is to be shot.
"Next week they was all turning up the land in the valley as quiet
as bees and much prettier, and the priests heard all the complaints
and told Dravot in dumb-show what it was about. 'That's just the
beginning,' says Dravot. 'They think we're Gods.' He and Carnehan
picks out twenty good men and shows them how to click off a rifle
and form fours and advance in line; and they was very pleased to
do so, and clever to see the hang of it. Then he takes out his pipe
and his baccy-pouch, and leaves one at one village and one at the
other, and off we two goes to see what was to be done in the next
valley. That was all rock, and there was a little village there, and
Carnehan says, 'Send 'em to the old valley to plant,' and takes 'em
there and gives 'em some land that wasn't took before. They were a
poor lot, and we blooded 'em with a kid before letting 'em into the
new Kingdom. That was to impress the people, and then they
settled down quiet, and Carnehan went back to Dravot, who had
got into another valley, all snow and ice and most mountaineous.
There was no people there, and the Army got afraid; so Dravot
shoots one of them, and goes on till he finds some people in a
village, and the Army explains that unless the people wants to be
killed they had better not shoot their little matchlocks, for they had
matchlocks. We makes friends with the priest, and I stays there
alone with two of the Army, teaching the men how to drill; and a
thundering big Chief comes across the snow with kettledrums and
horns twanging, because he heard there was a new God kicking
about. Carnehan sights for the brown of the men half a mile across
the snow and wings one of them. Then he sends a message to the
Chief that, unless he wished to be killed, he must come and shake
hands with me and leave his arms behind. The Chief comes alone
first, and Carnehan shakes hands with him and whirls his arms
about, same as Dravot used, and very much surprised that Chief
was, and strokes my eyebrows. Then Carnehan goes alone to the
Chief, and asks him in dumb-show if he had an enemy he hated. 'I
have,' says the chief. So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men,
and sets the two of the Army to show them drill, and at the end of
two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So
he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a
mountain, and the Chief's men rushes into a village and takes it;
we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy. So we took
that village too, and I gives the Chief a rag from my coat, and says,
'Occupy till I come;' which was scriptural. By way of a reminder,
when me and the Army was eighteen hundred yards away, I drops
a bullet near him standing on the snow, and all the people falls flat
on their faces. Then I sends a letter to Dravot wherever he be by
land or by sea."
At the risk of throwing the creature out of train I interrupted: "How
could you write a letter up yonder?"
"The letter?--oh!--the letter! Keep looking at me between the eyes,
please. It was a string-talk letter, that we'd learned the way of it
from a blind beggar in the Punjab."
I remember that there had once come to the office a blind man
with a knotted twig, and a piece of string which he wound round
the twig according to some cipher of his own. He could, after the
lapse of days or hours, repeat the sentence which he had reeled up.
He had reduced the alphabet to eleven primitive sounds, and tried
to teach me his method, but I could not understand.
"I sent that letter to Dravot," said Carnehan, "and told him to come
back because this Kingdom was growing too big for me to handle;
and then I struck for the first valley, to see how the priests were
working. They called the village we took along with the Chief,
Bashkai, and the first village we took, Er-Heb. The priests at Er-Heb
was doing all right, but they had a lot of pending cases about
land to show me, and some men from another village had been
firing arrows at night. I went out and looked for that village, and
fired four rounds at it from a thousand yards. That used all the
cartridges I cared to spend, and I waited for Dravot, who had been
away two or three months, and I kept my people quiet.
"One morning I heard the devil's own noise of drums and horns,
and Dan Dravot marches down the hill with his Army and a tail of
hundreds of men, and, which was the most amazing, a great gold
crown on his head. 'My Gord, Carnehan,' says Daniel, 'this is a
tremenjus business, and we've got the whole country as far as it's
worth having. I am the son of Alexander by Queen Semiramis, and
you're my younger brother and a God too! It's the biggest thing
we've ever seen. I've been marching and fighting for six weeks
with the Army, and every footy little village for fifty miles has
come in rejoiceful; and more than that, I've got the key of the
whole show, as you'll see, and I've got a crown for you! I told 'em
to make two of 'em at a place called Shu, where the gold lies in the
rock like suet in mutton. Gold I've seen, and turquoise I've kicked
out of the cliffs, and there's garnets in the sands of the river, and
here's a chunk of amber that a man brought me. Call up all the
priests and, here, take your crown.'
"One of the men opens a black hair bag, and I slips the crown on.
It was too small and too heavy, but I wore it for the glory.
Hammered gold it was--five pounds weight, like a hoop of a barrel.
"'Peachey,' says Dravot, 'we don't want to fight no more. The
Craft's the trick, so help me!' and he brings forward that same
Chief that I left at Bashkai--Billy Fish we called him afterward,
because he was so like Billy Fish that drove the big tank-engine at
Mach on the Bolan in the old days. 'Shake hands with him,' says
Dravot; and I shook hands and nearly dropped, for Billy Fish gave
me the Grip. I said nothing, but tried him with the Fellow-craft
Grip. He answers all right, and I tried the Master's Grip, but that
was a slip. 'A Fellow-craft he is!' I says to Dan. 'Does he know the
word?' 'He does,' says Dan, 'and all the priests know. It's a miracle!
The Chiefs and the priests can work a Fellow-craft Lodge in a way
that's very like ours, and they've cut the marks on the rocks, but
they don't know the Third Degree, and they've come to find out. It's
Gord's Truth. I've known these long years that the Afghans knew
up to the Fellow-craft Degree, but this is a miracle. A God and a
Grand Master of the Craft am I, and a Lodge in the Third Degree I
will open, and we'll raise the head priests and the Chiefs of the
"'It's against all the law,' I says, 'holding a Lodge without warrant
from any one; and you know we never held office in any Lodge.'
"'It's a master stroke o' policy,' says Dravot. 'It means running the
country as easy as a four-wheeled bogie on a down grade. We can't
stop to inquire now, or they'll turn against us. I've forty Chiefs at
my heel, and passed and raised according to their merit they shall
be. Billet these men on the villages, and see that we run up a
Lodge of some kind. The temple of Imbra will do for a Lodge-room.
The women must make aprons as you show them. I'll hold a
levee of Chiefs to-night and Lodge to-morrow.'
"I was fair run off my legs, but I wasn't such a fool as not to see
what a pull this Craft business gave us. I showed the priests'
families how to make aprons of the degrees, but for Dravot's apron
the blue border and marks was made of turquoise lumps on white
hide, not cloth. We took a great square stone in the temple for the
Master's chair, and little stones for the officer's chairs, and painted
the black pavement with white squares, and did what we could to
make things regular.
"At the levee which was held that night on the hillside with big
bonfires, Dravot gives out that him and me were Gods and sons of
Alexander, and Passed Grand Masters in the Craft, and was come
to make Kafiristan a country where every man should eat in peace
and drink in quiet, and specially obey us. Then the Chiefs come
round to shake hands, and they were so hairy and white and fair it
was just shaking hands with old friends. We gave them names
according as they was like men we had known in India--Billy Fish,
Holly Dilworth, Pikky Kergan, that was Bazaar-master when I was
at Mhow, and so on, and so on.
"_The_ most amazing miracles was at Lodge next night. One of the
old priests was watching us continuous, and I felt uneasy, for I
knew we'd have to fudge the Ritual, and I didn't know what the
men knew. The old priest was a stranger come in from beyond the
village of Bashkai. The minute Dravot puts on the Master's apron
that the girls had made for him, the priest fetches a whoop and a
howl, and tries to overturn the stone that Dravot was sitting on. 'It's
all up now,' I says. 'That comes of meddling with the Craft without
warrant!' Dravot never winked an eye, not when ten priests took
and tilted over the Grand Master's chair--which was to say, the
stone of Imbra. The priest begins rubbing the bottom end of it to
clear away the black dirt, and presently he shows all the other
priests the Master's Mark, same as was on Dravot's apron, cut into
the stone. Not even the priests of the temple of Imbra knew it was
there. The old chap falls flat on his face at Dravot's feet and kisses
'em. 'Luck again,' says Dravot, across the Lodge, to me; 'they say
it's the missing Mark that no one could understand the why of.
We're more than safe now.' Then he bangs the butt of his gun for a
gavel and says, 'By virtue of the authority vested in me by my own
right hand and the help of Peachey, I declare myself Grand Master
of all Freemasonry in Kafiristan in this the Mother Lodge o' the
country, and King of Kafiristan equally with Peachey!' At that he
puts on his crown and I puts on mine,--I was doing Senior
Warden,--and we opens the Lodge in most ample form. It was an
amazing miracle! The priests moved in Lodge through the first two
degrees almost without telling, as if the memory was coming back
to them. After that Peachey and Dravot raised such as was worthy--high
priests and Chiefs of far-off villages. Billy Fish was the first,
and I can tell you we scared the soul out of him. It was not in any
way according to Ritual, but it served our turn. We didn't raise
more than ten of the biggest men, because we didn't want to make
the Degree common. And they was clamouring to be raised.
"'In another six months,' says Dravot, 'we'll hold another
Communication and see how you are working.' Then he asks them
about their villages, and learns that they was fighting one against
the other, and were sick and tired of it. And when they wasn't
doing that they was fighting with the Mohammedans. 'You can
fight those when they come into our country,' says Dravot. 'Tell off
every tenth man of your tribes for a Frontier guard, and send two
hundred at a time to this valley to be drilled. Nobody is going to be
shot or speared any more so long as he does well, and I know that
you won't cheat me, because you're white people--sons of
Alexander--and not like common black Mohammedans. You are
_my_ people, and, by God,' says he, running off into English at the
end, 'I'll make a damned fine Nation of you, or I'll die in the
"I can't tell all we did for the next six months, because Dravot did
a lot I couldn't see the hang of, and he learned their lingo in a way
I never could. My work was to help the people plough, and now
and again go out with some of the Army and see what the other
villages were doing, and make 'em throw rope bridges across the
ravines which cut up the country horrid. Dravot was very kind to
me, but when he walked up and down in the pine wood pulling
that bloody red beard of his with both fists I knew he was thinking
plans I could not advise about, and I just waited for orders.
"But Dravot never showed me disrespect before the people. They
were afraid of me and the Army, but they loved Dan. He was the
best of friends with the priests and the Chiefs; but any one could
come across the hills with a complaint, and Dravot would hear him
out fair, and call four priests together and say what was to be done.
He used to call in Billy Fish from Bashkai, and Pikky Kergan from
Shu, and an old Chief we called Kafuzelum,--it was like enough to
his real name,--and hold councils with 'em when there was any
fighting to be done in small villages. That was his Council of War,
and the four priests of Bashkai, Shu, Khawak, and Madora was his
Privy Council. Between the lot of 'em they sent me, with forty men
and twenty rifles, and sixty men carrying turquoises, into the
Ghorband country to buy those hand-made Martini rifles, that
come out of the Amir's workshops at Kabul, from one of the
Amir's Herati regiments that would have sold the very teeth out of
their mouths for turquoises.
"I stayed in Ghorband a month, and gave the Governor there the
pick of my baskets for hush-money, and bribed the Colonel of the
regiment some more, and, between the two and the tribes-people,
we got more than a hundred hand-made Martinis, a hundred good
Kohat Jezails that'll throw to six hundred yards, and forty man-loads
of very bad ammunition for the rifles. I came back with what
I had, and distributed 'em among the men that the Chiefs sent in to
me to drill. Dravot was too busy to attend to those things, but the
old Army that we first made helped me, and we turned out five
hundred men that could drill, and two hundred that knew how to
hold arms pretty straight. Even those cork-screwed, hand-made
guns was a miracle to them. Dravot talked big about powder-shops
and factories, walking up and down in the pine wood when
the winter was coming on.
"'I won't make a Nation,' says he. 'I'll make an Empire! These men
aren't niggers; they're English! Look at their eyes--look at their
mouths. Look at the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their
own houses. They're the Lost Tribes, or something like it, and
they've grown to be English. I'll take a census in the spring if the
priests don't get frightened. There must be a fair two million of 'em
in these hills. The villages are full o' little children. Two million
people--two hundred and fifty thousand fighting men--and all
English! They only want the rifles and a little drilling. Two
hundred and fifty thousand men, ready to cut in on Russia's right
flank when she tries for India! Peachey, man,' he says, chewing his
beard in great hunks, 'we shall be Emperors--Emperors of the
Earth! Rajah Brooke will be a suckling to us. I'll treat with the
Viceroy on equal terms. I'll ask him to send me twelve picked
English--twelve that I know of--to help us govern a bit. There's
Mackray, Serjeant Pensioner at Segowli--many's the good dinner
he's given me, and his wife a pair of trousers. There's Donkin, the
Warder of Tounghoo Jail; there's hundreds that I could lay my
hand on if I was in India. The Viceroy shall do it for me; I'll send a
man through in the spring for those men, and I'll write for a
dispensation from the Grand Lodge for what I've done as Grand
Master. That--and all the Sniders that'll be thrown out when the
native troops in India take up the Martini. They'll be worn smooth,
but they'll do for fighting in these hills. Twelve English, a hundred
thousand Sniders run through the Amir's country in driblets,--I'd be
content with twenty thousand in one year,--and we'd be an Empire.
When everything was shipshape I'd hand over the crown--this
crown I'm wearing now--to Queen Victoria on my knees, and she'd
say, "Rise up, Sir Daniel Dravot." Oh, it's big! It's big, I tell you!
But there's so much to be done in every place--Bashkai, Khawak,
Shu, and everywhere else.'
"'What is it?' I says. 'There are no more men coming in to be
drilled this autumn. Look at those fat black clouds. They're
bringing the snow.'
"'It isn't that,' says Daniel, putting his hand very hard on my
shoulder; 'and I don't wish to say anything that's against you, for no
other living man would have followed me and made me what I am
as you have done. You're a first-class Commander-in-Chief, and
the people know you; but--it's a big country, and somehow you
can't help me, Peachey, in the way I want to be helped.'
"'Go to your blasted priests, then!' I said, and I was sorry when I
made that remark, but it did hurt me sore to find Daniel talking so
superior, when I'd drilled all the men and done all he told me.
"'Don't let's quarrel, Peachey,' says Daniel, without cursing. 'You're
a King too, and the half of this Kingdom is yours; but can't you
see, Peachey, we want cleverer men than us now--three or four of
'em, that we can scatter about for our Deputies. It's a hugeous great
State, and I can't always tell the right thing to do, and I haven't
time for all I want to do, and here's the winter coming on and all.'
He put half his beard into his mouth, all red like the gold of his
"'I'm sorry, Daniel,' says I. 'I've done all I could. I've drilled the
men and shown the people how to stack their oats better; and I've
brought in those tinware rifles from Ghorband--but I know what
you're driving at. I take it Kings always feel oppressed that way.'
"'There's another thing too,' says Dravot, walking up and down.
'The winter's coming, and these people won't be giving much
trouble, and if they do we can't move about. I want a wife.'
"'For Gord's sake leave the women alone!' I says. 'We've both got
all the work we can, though I _am_ a fool. Remember the Contrack,
and keep clear o' women.'"
"'The Contrack only lasted till such time as we was Kings; and
Kings we have been these months past,' says Dravot, weighing his
crown in his hand. 'You go get a wife too, Peachey--a nice,
strappin', plump girl that'll keep you warm in the winter. They're
prettier than English girls, and we can take the pick of 'em. Boil
'em once or twice in hot water, and they'll come out like chicken
"'Don't tempt me!' I says. 'I will not have any dealings with a
woman, not till we are a dam' side more settled than we are now.
I've been doing the work o' two men, and you've been doing the
work of three. Let's lie off a bit, and see if we can get some better
tobacco from Afghan country and run in some good liquor; and no
"'Who's talking o' _women_?' says Dravot. 'I said _wife_--a Queen to
breed a King's son for the King. A Queen out of the strongest tribe,
that'll make them your blood-brothers, and that'll lie by your side
and tell you all the people thinks about you and their own affairs.
That's what I want.'
"'Do you remember that Bengali woman I kept at Mogul Serai
when I was a plate-layer?' says I. 'A fat lot o' good she was to me.
She taught me the lingo and one or two other things; but what
happened? She ran away with the Station-master's servant and half
my month's pay. Then she turned up at Dadur Junction in tow of a
half-caste, and had the impidence to say I was her husband--all
among the drivers in the running-shed too!'
"'We've done with that,' says Dravot; 'these women are whiter than
you or me, and a Queen I will have for the winter months.'
"'For the last time o' asking, Dan, do _not_,' I says. 'It'll only
bring us harm. The Bible says that Kings ain't to waste their
strength on women, 'specially when they've got a new raw Kingdom
to work over.'
"'For the last time of answering, I will,' said Dravot, and he went
away through the pine-trees looking like a big red devil, the sun
being on his crown and beard and all.
"But getting a wife was not as easy as Dan thought. He put it
before the Council, and there was no answer till Billy Fish said
that he'd better ask the girls. Dravot damned them all round.
'What's wrong with me?' he shouts, standing by the idol Imbra. 'Am
I a dog, or am I not enough of a man for your wenches? Haven't I
put the shadow of my hand over this country? Who stopped the last
Afghan raid?' It was me really, but Dravot was too angry to
remember. 'Who bought your guns? Who repaired the bridges?
Who's the Grand Master of the sign cut in the stone?' says he, and
he thumped his hand on the block that he used to sit on in Lodge,
and at Council, which opened like Lodge always. Billy Fish said
nothing, and no more did the others. 'Keep your hair on, Dan,' said
I, 'and ask the girls. That's how it's done at Home, and these people
are quite English.'
"'The marriage of the King is a matter of State,' says Dan, in a
white-hot rage, for he could feel, I hope, that he was going against
his better mind. He walked out of the Council-room, and the others
sat still, looking at the ground.
"'Billy Fish,' says I to the Chief of Bashkai, 'what's the difficulty
here? A straight answer to a true friend.'
"'You know,' says Billy Fish. 'How should a man tell you who
knows everything? How can daughters of men marry Gods or
Devils? It's not proper.'
"I remembered something like that in the Bible; but, if after seeing
us as long as they had, they still believed we were Gods, it wasn't
for me to undeceive them.
"'A God can do anything,' says I. 'If the King is fond of a girl he'll
not let her die.' 'She'll have to,' said Billy Fish. 'There are all sorts
of Gods and Devils in these mountains, and now and again a girl
marries one of them and isn't seen any more. Besides, you two
know the Mark cut in the stone. Only the Gods know that. We
thought you were men till you showed the sign of the Master.'
"I wished then that we had explained about the loss of the genuine
secrets of a Master Mason at the first go-off; but I said nothing. All
that night there was a blowing of horns in a little dark temple half-way
down the hill, and I heard the girl crying fit to die. One of the
priests told us that she was being prepared to marry the King.
"'I'll have no nonsense of that kind,' says Dan. 'I don't want to
interfere with your customs, but I'll take my own wife.' 'The girl's a
little bit afraid,' says the priest. 'She thinks she's going to die, and
they are a-heartening of her up down in the temple.'
"'Hearten her very tender, then,' says Dravot, 'or I'll hearten you
with the butt of a gun so you'll never want to be heartened again.'
He licked his lips, did Dan, and stayed up walking about more than
half the night, thinking of the wife that he was going to get in the
morning. I wasn't any means comfortable, for I knew that dealings
with a woman in foreign parts, though you was a crowned King
twenty times over, could not but be risky. I got up very early in the
morning while Dravot was asleep, and I saw the priests talking
together in whispers, and the Chiefs talking together too, and they
looked at me out of the corners of their eyes.
"'What is up, Fish?' I say to the Bashkai man, who was wrapped up
in his furs and looking splendid to behold.
"'I can't rightly say,' says he; 'but if you can make the King drop all
this nonsense about marriage, you'll be doing him and me and
yourself a great service.'
"'That I do believe,' says I. 'But sure, you know, Billy, as well as
me, having fought against and for us, that the King and me are
nothing more than two of the finest men that God Almighty ever
made. Nothing more, I do assure you.'
"'That may be,' says Billy Fish, 'and yet I should be sorry if it was.'
He sinks his head upon his great fur cloak for a minute and thinks.
'King,' says he, 'be you man or God or Devil, I'll stick by you to-day.
I have twenty of my men with me, and they will follow me.
We'll go to Bashkai until the storm blows over.'
"A little snow had fallen in the night, and everything was white
except the greasy fat clouds that blew down and down from the
north. Dravot came out with his crown on his head, swinging his
arms and stamping his feet, and looking more pleased than Punch.
"'For the last time, drop it, Dan,' says I, in a whisper; 'Billy Fish
here says that there will be a row.'
"'A row among my people!' says Dravot. 'Not much. Peachey, you're
a fool not to get a wife too. Where's the girl?' says he, with a
voice as loud as the braying of a jackass. 'Call up all the Chiefs
and priests, and let the Emperor see if his wife suits him.'
"There was no need to call any one. They were all there leaning on
their guns and spears round the clearing in the centre of the pine
wood. A lot of priests went down to the little temple to bring up
the girl, and the horns blew fit to wake the dead. Billy Fish
saunters round and gets as close to Daniel as he could, and behind
him stood his twenty men with matchlocks--not a man of them
under six feet. I was next to Dravot, and behind me was twenty
men of the regular Army. Up comes the girl, and a strapping
wench she was, covered with silver and turquoises, but white as
death, and looking back every minute at the priests.
"'She'll do,' said Dan, looking her over. 'What's to be afraid of,
lass? Come and kiss me.' He puts his arm round her. She shuts her
eyes, gives a bit of a squeak, and down goes her face in the side of
Dan's flaming-red beard.
"'The slut's bitten me!' says he, clapping his hand to his neck, and,
sure enough, his hand was red with blood. Billy Fish and two of his
matchlock men catches hold of Dan by the shoulders and drags
him into the Bashkai lot, while the priests howls in their lingo,
'Neither God nor Devil, but a man!' I was all taken aback, for a
priest cut at me in front, and the Army behind began firing into the
"'God A'mighty!' says Dan, 'what is the meaning o' this?'
"'Come back! Come away!' says Billy Fish. 'Ruin and Mutiny is
the matter. We'll break for Bashkai if we can.'
"I tried to give some sort of orders to my men,--the men o' the
regular Army,--but it was no use, so I fired into the brown of 'em
with an English Martini and drilled three beggars in a line. The
valley was full of shouting, howling creatures, and every soul was
shrieking, 'Not a God nor a Devil, but only a man!' The Bashkai
troops stuck to Billy Fish all they were worth, but their matchlocks
wasn't half as good as the Kabul breech-loaders, and four of them
dropped. Dan was bellowing like a bull, for he was very wrathy;
and Billy Fish had a hard job to prevent him running out at the
"'We can't stand,' says Billy Fish. 'Make a run for it down the
valley! The whole place is against us.' The matchlock-men ran, and
we went down the valley in spite of Dravot. He was swearing
horrible and crying out that he was a King. The priests rolled great
stones on us, and the regular Army fired hard, and there wasn't
more than six men, not counting Dan, Billy Fish, and Me, that
came down to the bottom of the valley alive.
"Then they stopped firing, and the horns in the temple blew again.
'Come away--for Gord's sake come away!' says Billy Fish. 'They'll
send runners out to all the villages before ever we get to Bashkai.
I can protect you there, but I can't do anything now."
"My own notion is that Dan began to go mad in his head from that
hour. He stared up and down like a stuck pig. Then he was all for
walking back alone and killing the priests with his bare hands;
which he could have done. 'An Emperor am I,' says Daniel, 'and
next year I shall be a Knight of the Queen.'
"'All right, Dan,' says I; 'but come along now while there's time.'
"'It's your fault,' says he, 'for not looking after your Army better.
There was mutiny in the midst, and you didn't know--you damned
engine-driving, plate-laying, missionary's-pass-hunting hound!' He
sat upon a rock and called me every foul name he could lay tongue
to. I was too heart-sick to care, though it was all his foolishness
that brought the smash.
"'I'm sorry, Dan,' says I, 'but there's no accounting for natives.
This business is our Fifty-seven. Maybe we'll make something out
of it yet, when we've got to Bashkai.'
"'Let's get to Bashkai, then,' says Dan, 'and, by God, when I come
back here again I'll sweep the valley so there isn't a bug in a
"We walked all that day, and all that night Dan was stumping up
and down on the snow, chewing his beard and muttering to
"'There's no hope o' getting clear,' said Billy Fish. 'The priests have
sent runners to the villages to say that you are only men. Why
didn't you stick on as Gods till things was more settled? I'm a dead
man,' says Billy Fish, and he throws himself down on the snow and
begins to pray to his Gods.
"Next morning we was in a cruel bad country--all up and down, no
level ground at all, and no food, either. The six Bashkai men
looked at Billy Fish hungry-way as if they wanted to ask
something, but they never said a word. At noon we came to the top
of a flat mountain all covered with snow, and when we climbed up
into it, behold, there was an Army in position waiting in the
"'The runners have been very quick,' says Billy Fish, with a little
bit of a laugh. 'They are waiting for us.'
"Three or four men began to fire from the enemy's side, and a
chance shot took Daniel in the calf of the leg. That brought him to
his senses. He looks across the snow at the Army, and sees the
rifles that we had brought into the country.
"'We're done for,' says he. 'They are Englishmen, these people,--and
it's my blasted nonsense that has brought you to this. Get back,
Billy Fish, and take your men away; you've done what you could,
and now cut for it. Carnehan,' says he, 'shake hands with me and go
along with Billy. Maybe they won't kill you. I'll go and meet 'em
alone. It's me that did it! Me, the King!'
"'Go!' says I. 'Go to Hell, Dan! I'm with you here. Billy Fish, you
clear out, and we two will meet those folk.'
"'I'm a Chief,' says Billy Fish, quite quiet. 'I stay with you. My men
"The Bashkai fellows didn't wait for a second word, but ran off,
and Dan and Me and Billy Fish walked across to where the drums
were drumming and the horns were horning. It was cold--awful
cold. I've got that cold in the back of my head now. There's a lump
of it there."
The punka-coolies had gone to sleep. Two kerosene lamps were
blazing in the office, and the perspiration poured down my face
and splashed on the blotter as I leaned forward. Carnehan was
shivering, and I feared that his mind might go. I wiped my face,
took a fresh grip of the piteously mangled hands, and said, "What
happened after that?"
The momentary shift of my eyes had broken the clear current.
"What was you pleased to say?" whined Carnehan. "They took
them without any sound. Not a little whisper all along the snow,
not though the King knocked down the first man that set hand on
him--not though old Peachey fired his last cartridge into the brown
of 'em. Not a single solitary sound did those swines make. They
just closed up tight, and I tell you their furs stunk. There was a
man called Billy Fish, a good friend of us all, and they cut his
throat, Sir, then and there, like a pig; and the King kicks up the
bloody snow and says, 'We've had a dashed fine run for our money.
What's coming next?' But Peachey, Peachey Taliaferro, I tell you,
Sir, in confidence as betwixt two friends, he lost his head, Sir. No,
he didn't, neither. The King lost his head, so he did, all along o' one
of those cunning rope bridges. Kindly let me have the paper-cutter,
Sir. It tilted this way. They marched him a mile across that snow to
a rope bridge over a ravine with a river at the bottom. You may
have seen such. They prodded him behind like an ox. 'Damn your
eyes!' says the King. 'D' you suppose I can't die like a gentleman?'
He turns to Peachey--Peachey that was crying like a child. 'I've
brought you to this, Peachey,' says he. 'Brought you out of your
happy life to be killed in Kafiristan, where you was late
Commander-in-Chief of the Emperor's forces. Say you forgive me,
Peachey.' 'I do,' says Peachey. 'Fully and freely do I forgive you,
Dan.' 'Shake hands, Peachey,' says he. 'I'm going now.' Out he goes,
looking neither right nor left, and when he was plumb in the
middle of those dizzy dancing ropes, 'Cut you beggars,' he shouts;
and they cut, and old Dan fell, turning round and round and round,
twenty thousand miles, for he took half an hour to fall till he struck
the water, and I could see his body caught on a rock with the gold
crown close beside.
"But do you know what they did to Peachey between two pine-trees?
They crucified him, Sir, as Peachey's hand will show. They
used wooden pegs for his hands and feet; but he didn't die. He
hung there and screamed, and they took him down next day, and
said it was a miracle that he wasn't dead. They took him down--poor
old Peachey that hadn't done them any harm--that hadn't done
He rocked to and fro and wept bitterly, wiping his eyes with the
back of his scarred hands and moaning like a child for some ten
"They was cruel enough to feed him up in the temple, because they
said he was more of a God than old Daniel that was a man. Then
they turned him out on the snow, and told him to go home, and
Peachey came home in about a year, begging along the roads quite
safe; for Daniel Dravot he walked before and said, 'Come along,
Peachey. It's a big thing we're doing.' The mountains they danced
at night, and the mountains they tried to fall on Peachey's head, but
Dan he held up his hand, and Peachey came along bent double. He
never let go of Dan's hand, and he never let go of Dan's head. They
gave it to him as a present in the temple, to remind him not to
come again; and though the crown was pure gold and Peachey was
starving, never would Peachey sell the same. You know Dravot,
Sir! You knew Right Worshipful Brother Dravot! Look at him
He fumbled in the mass of rags round his bent waist; brought out a
black horsehair bag embroidered with silver thread; and shook
therefrom on to my table--the dried, withered head of Daniel
Dravot! The morning sun, that had long been paling the lamps,
struck the red beard and blind sunken eyes; struck, too, a heavy
circlet of gold studded with raw turquoises, that Carnehan placed
tenderly on the battered temples.
"You be'old now," said Carnehan, "the Emperor in his 'abit as he
lived--the King of Kafiristan with his crown upon his head. Poor
old Daniel that was a monarch once!"
I shuddered, for, in spite of defacements manifold, I recognised the
head of the man of Marwar Junction. Carnehan rose to go. I
attempted to stop him. He was not fit to walk abroad. "Let me take
away the whisky, and give me a little money," he gasped. "I was a
King once. I'll go to the Deputy Commissioner and ask to set in the
Poorhouse till I get my health. No, thank you, I can't wait till you
get a carriage for me. I've urgent private affairs--in the south--at
He shambled out of the office and departed in the direction of the
Deputy Commissioner's house. That day at noon I had occasion to
go down the blinding-hot Mall, and I saw a crooked man crawling
along the white dust of the roadside, his hat in his hand, quavering
dolorously after the fashion of street-singers at Home. There was
not a soul in sight, and he was out of all possible earshot of the
houses. And he sang through his nose, turning his head from right
"The Son of Man goes forth to war,
A golden crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar--
Who follows in His train?"
I waited to hear no more, but put the poor wretch into my carriage
and drove him off to the nearest missionary for eventual transfer to
the Asylum. He repeated the hymn twice while he was with me,
whom he did not in the least recognise, and I left him singing it to
Two days later I inquired after his welfare of the Superintendent of
"He was admitted suffering from sunstroke. He died early
yesterday morning," said the Superintendent. "Is it true that he was
half an hour bareheaded in the sun at midday?"
"Yes," said I; "but do you happen to know if he had anything upon
him by any chance when he died?"
"Not to my knowledge," said the Superintendent.
And there the matter rests.
"THE FINEST STORY IN THE WORLD"
"O' ever the knightly years were gone
With the old world to the grave,
I was a king in Babylon
And you were a Christian slave."
--W. E. Henley.
His name was Charlie Mears; he was the only son of his mother
who was a widow, and he lived in the north of London, coming
into the City every day to work in a bank. He was twenty years old
and suffered from aspirations. I met him in a public
billiard-saloon where the marker called him by his given name,
and he called the marker "Bulls-eyes." Charley explained, a little
nervously, that he had only come to the place to look on, and since
looking on at games of skill is not a cheap amusement for the
young, I suggested that Charlie should go back to his mother.
That was our first step toward better acquaintance. He would call
on me sometimes in the evenings instead of running about London
with his fellow-clerks; and before long, speaking of himself as a
young man must, he told me of his aspirations, which were all
literary. He desired to make himself an undying name chiefly
through verse, though he was not above sending stories of love and
death to the drop-a-penny-in-the-slot journals. It was my fate to sit
still while Charlie read me poems of many hundred lines, and
bulky fragments of plays that would surely shake the world. My
reward was his unreserved confidence, and the self-revelations and
troubles of a young man are almost as holy as those of a maiden.
Charlie had never fallen in love, but was anxious to do so on the
first opportunity; he believed in all things good and all things
honorable, but, at the same time, was curiously careful to let me
see that he knew his way about the world as befitted a bank clerk
on twenty-five shillings a week. He rhymed "dove" with "love"
and "moon" with "June," and devoutly believed that they had never
so been rhymed before. The long lame gaps in his plays he filled
up with hasty words of apology and description and swept on,
seeing all that he intended to do so clearly that he esteemed it
already done, and turned to me for applause.
I fancy that his mother did not encourage his aspirations, and I
know that his writing-table at home was the edge of his washstand.
This he told me almost at the outset of our acquaintance; when he
was ravaging my bookshelves, and a little before I was implored to
speak the truth as to his chances of "writing something really great,
you know." Maybe I encouraged him too much, for, one night, he
called on me, his eyes flaming with excitement, and said
"Do you mind--can you let me stay here and write all this evening?
I won't interrupt you, I won't really. There's no place for me to
write in at my mother's."
"What's the trouble?" I said, knowing well what that trouble was.
"I've a notion in my head that would make the most splendid story
that was ever written. Do let me write it out here. It's _such_ a
There was no resisting the appeal. I set him a table; he hardly
thanked me, but plunged into the work at once. For half an hour
the pen scratched without stopping. Then Charlie sighed and
tugged his hair. The scratching grew slower, there were more
erasures, and at last ceased. The finest story in the world would
not come forth.
"It looks such awful rot now" he said, mournfully. "And yet it
seemed so good when I was thinking about it. What's wrong?"
I could not dishearten him by saying the truth. So I answered:
"Perhaps you don't feel in the mood for writing."
"Yes I do--except when I look at this stuff. Ugh!"
"Read me what you've done," I said. He read, and it was wondrous
bad and he paused at all the specially turgid sentences, expecting a
little approval; for he was proud of those sentences, as I knew he
"It needs compression," I suggested, cautiously.
"I hate cutting my things down. I don't think you could alter a
word here without spoiling the sense. It reads better aloud than
when I was writing it."
"Charlie, you're suffering from an alarming disease afflicting a
numerous class. Put the thing by, and tackle it again in a week."
"I want to do it at once. What do you think of it?"
"How can I judge from a half-written tale? Tell me the story as it
lies in your head."
Charlie told, and in the telling there was everything that his
ignorance had so carefully prevented from escaping into the
written word. I looked at him, and wondering whether it were
possible, that he did not know the originality, the power of the
notion that had come in his way? It was distinctly a Notion among
notions. Men had been puffed up with pride by notions not a tithe
as excellent and practicable. But Charlie babbled on serenely,
interrupting the current of pure fancy with samples of horrible
sentences that he purposed to use. I heard him out to the end. It
would be folly to allow his idea to remain in his own inept hands,
when I could do so much with it. Not all that could be done
indeed; but, oh so much!
"What do you think?" he said, at last. "I fancy I shall call it 'The
Story of a Ship.'"
"I think the idea's pretty good; but you won't he able to handle it
for ever so long. Now I----"
"Would it be of any use to you? Would you care to take it?
I should be proud," said Charlie, promptly.
There are few things sweeter in this world than the guileless,
hot-headed, intemperate, open admiration of a junior. Even a
woman in her blindest devotion does not fall into the gait of the
man she adores, tilt her bonnet to the angle at which he wears his
hat, or interlard her speech with his pet oaths. And Charlie did all
these things. Still it was necessary to salve my conscience before I
possessed myself of Charlie's thoughts.
"Let's make a bargain. I'll give you a fiver for the notion," I said.
Charlie became a bank-clerk at once.
"Oh, that's impossible. Between two pals, you know, if I may call
you so, and speaking as a man of the world, I couldn't. Take the
notion if it's any use to you. I've heaps more."
He had--none knew this better than I--but they were the notions of
"Look at it as a matter of business-between men of the world," I
returned. "Five pounds will buy you any number of poetry-books.
Business is business, and you may be sure I shouldn't give that
"Oh, if you put it _that_ way," said Charlie, visibly
moved by the thought of the books. The bargain was clinched
with an agreement that he should at unstated intervals come to
me with all the notions that he possessed, should have a table of
his own to write at, and unquestioned right to inflict upon me all
his poems and fragments of poems. Then I said, "Now tell me how
you came by this idea."
"It came by itself." Charlie's eyes opened a little.
"Yes, but you told me a great deal about the hero that you must
have read before somewhere."
"I haven't any time for reading, except when you let me sit here,
and on Sundays I'm on my bicycle or down the river all day.
There's nothing wrong about the hero, is there?"
"Tell me again and I shall understand clearly. You say that your
hero went pirating. How did he live?"
"He was on the lower deck of this ship-thing that I was telling you
"What sort of ship?"
"It was the kind rowed with oars, and the sea spurts through the
oar-holes and the men row sitting up to their knees in water. Then
there's a bench running down between the two lines of oars and an
overseer with a whip walks up and down the bench to make the
"How do you know that?"
"It's in the tale. There's a rope running overhead, looped to the
upper deck, for the overseer to catch hold of when the ship rolls.
When the overseer misses the rope once and falls among the
rowers, remember the hero laughs at him and gets licked for it.
He's chained to his oar of course--the hero."
"How is he chained?"
"With an iron band round his waist fixed to the bench he sits on,
and a sort of handcuff on his left wrist chaining him to the oar.
He's on the lower deck where the worst men are sent, and the only
light comes from the hatchways and through the oar-holes. Can't
you imagine the sunlight just squeezing through between the
handle and the hole and wobbling about as the ship moves?"
"I can, but I can't imagine your imagining it."
"How could it be any other way? Now you listen to me. The long
oars on the upper deck are managed by four men to each bench,
the lower ones by three, and the lowest of all by two. Remember
it's quite dark on the lowest deck and all the men there go mad.
When a man dies at his oar on that deck he isn't thrown overboard,
but cut up in his chains and stuffed through the oar-hole in little
"Why?" I demanded, amazed, not so much at the information as
the tone of command in which it was flung out.
"To save trouble and to frighten the others. It needs two overseers
to drag a man's body up to the top deck; and if the men at the
lower deck oars were left alone, of course they'd stop rowing and
try to pull up the benches by all standing up together in their
"You've a most provident imagination. Where have you been
reading about galleys and galley-slaves?"
"Nowhere that I remember. I row a little when I get the chance.
But, perhaps, if you say so, I may have read something."
He went away shortly afterward to deal with booksellers, and I
wondered how a bank clerk aged twenty could put into my hands
with a profligate abundance of detail, all given with absolute
assurance, the story of extravagant and bloodthirsty adventure,
riot, piracy, and death in unnamed seas. He had led his hero a
desperate dance through revolt against the overseas, to command
of a ship of his own, and ultimate establishment of a kingdom on
an island "somewhere in the sea, you know"; and, delighted with
my paltry five pounds, had gone out to buy the notions of other
men, that these might teach him how to write. I had the
consolation of knowing that this notion was mine by right of
purchase, and I thought that I could make something of it.
When next he came to me he was drunk--royally drunk on many
poets for the first time revealed to him. His pupils were dilated,
his words tumbled over each other, and he wrapped himself in
quotations. Most of all was he drunk with Longfellow.
"Isn't it splendid? Isn't it superb?" he cried, after hasty greetings.
"Listen to this--
"'Wouldst thou,' so the helmsman answered,
'Know the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery.'
"'Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery.'"
be repeated twenty times, walking up and down the room and
forgetting me. "But I can understand it too," he said to himself. "I
don't know how to thank you for that fiver. And this; listen--
"'I remember the black wharves and the ships
And the sea-tides tossing free,
And the Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.'
I haven't braved any dangers, but I feel as if I knew all about it."
"You certainly seem to have a grip of the sea. Have you ever seen
"When I was a little chap I went to Brighton once; we used to live
in Coventry, though, before we came to London. I never saw it,
'When descends on the Atlantic
Storm-wind of the Equinox.'"
He shook me by the shoulder to make me understand the passion
that was shaking himself.
"When that storm comes," he continued, "I think that all the oars in
the ship that I was talking about get broken, and the rowers have
their chests smashed in by the bucking oar-heads. By the way,
have you done anything with that notion of mine yet?"
"No. I was waiting to hear more of it from you. Tell me how in the
world you re so certain about the fittings of the ship. You know
nothing of ships."
"I don't know. It's as real as anything to me until I try to write it
down. I was thinking about it only last night in bed, after you had
loaned me 'Treasure Island'; and I made up a a whole lot of new
things to go into the story."
"What sort of things?"
"About the food the men ate; rotten figs and black beans and wine
in a skin bag, passed from bench to bench."
"Was the ship built so long ago as _that_?"
"As what? I don't know whether it was long ago or not. It's only a
notion, but sometimes it seems just as real as if it was true. Do I
bother you with talking about it?"
"Not in the least. Did you make up anything else?"
"Yes, but it's nonsense." Charlie flushed a little.
"Never mind; let's hear about it."
"Well, I was thinking over the story, and after awhile I got out of
bed and wrote down on a piece of paper the sort of stuff the men
might be supposed to scratch on their oars with the edges of their
handcuffs. It seemed to make the thing more lifelike. It is so real
to me, y'know."
"Have you the paper on you?"
"Ye--es, but what's the use of showing it? It's only a lot of
scratches. All the same, we might have 'em reproduced in the
book on the front page."
"I'll attend to those details. Show me what your men wrote."
He pulled out of his pocket a sheet of note-paper, with a single
line of scratches upon it, and I put this carefully away.
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