The Works of Rudyard Kipling One Volume Edition
Part 7 out of 18
improper as I am. Oh, Guy, Guy! I wish I was like some women and had no
scruples about--what is it Keene says?--"Wearing a corpse's hair and being
false to the bread they eat."
HE. I am only a man of limited intelligence, and just now, very bewildered.
When you have quite finished flashing through all your moods tell me, and I'll
try to understand the last one.
SHE. Moods, Guy! I haven't any. I'm sixteen years old and you're just twenty,
and you've been waiting for two hours outside the school in the cold. And now
I've met you, and now we're walking home together. Does that suit you, My
HE. No. We aren't children. Why can't you be rational?
SHE. He asks me that when I'm going to commit suicide for his sake, and, and--
I don't want to be French and rave about my mother, but have I ever told you
that I have a mother, and a brother who was my pet before I married? He's
married now. Can't you imagine the pleasure that the news of the elopement
will give him? Have you any people at Home, Guy, to be pleased with your
HE. One or two. One can't make omelets without breaking eggs.
SHE (slowly). I don't see the necessity--
HE. Hah! What do you mean?
SHE. Shall I speak the truth?
HE. Under the circumstances, perhaps it would be as well.
SHE. Guy, I'm afraid.
HE. I thought we'd settled all that. What of?
SHE. Of you.
HE. Oh, damn it all! The old business! This is too had!
SHE. Of you.
HE. And what now?
SHE. What do you think of me?
HE. Beside the question altogether. What do you intend to do?
SHE. I daren't risk it. I'm afraid. If I could only cheat--
HE. A la Buzgago? No, thanks. That's the one point on which I have any notion
of Honor. I won't eat his salt and steal too. I'll loot openly or not at all.
SHE. I never meant anything else.
HE. Then, why in the world do you pretend not to be willing to come?
SHE. It's not pretence, Guy. I am afraid.
HE. Please explain.
SHE. It can't last, Guy. It can't last. You'll get angry, and then you'll
swear, and then you'll get jealous, and then you'll mistrust me--you do now--
and you yourself will be the best reason for doubting. And I--what shall I do?
I shall be no better than Mrs. Buzgago found out--no better than any one. And
you'll know that. Oh, Guy, can't you see?
HE. I see that you are desperately unreasonable, little woman.
SHE. There! The moment I begin to object, you get angry. What will you do when
I am only your property--stolen property? It can't be, Guy. It can't be! I
thought it could, but it can't. You'll get tired of me.
HE. I tell you I shall not. Won't anything make you understand that?
SHE. There, can't you see? If you speak to me like that now, you'll call me
horrible names later, if I don't do everything as you like. And if you were
cruel to me, Guy, where should I go--where should I go? I can't trust you. Oh!
I can't trust you!
HE. I suppose I ought to say that I can trust you. I've ample reason.
SHE. Please don't, dear. It hurts as much as if you hit me.
HE. It isn't exactly pleasant for me.
SHE. I can't help it. I wish I were dead! I can't trust you, and I don't trust
myself. Oh, Guy, let it die away and be forgotten!
HE. Too late now. I don't understand you--I won't--and I can't trust myself to
talk this evening. May I call tomorrow?
SHE. Yes. No! Oh, give me time! The day after. I get into my 'rickshaw here
and meet Him at Peliti's. You ride.
HE. I'll go on to Peliti's too. I think I want a drink. My world's knocked
about my ears and the stars are falling. Who are those brutes howling in the
SHE. They're rehearsing the singing-quadrilles for the Fancy Ball. Can't you
hear Mrs. Buzgago's voice? She has a solo. It's quite a new idea. Listen.
MRS. BUZGAGO (in the Old Library, con. molt. exp.).
See-saw! Margery Daw!
Sold her bed to lie upon straw.
Wasn't she a silly slut
To sell her bed and lie upon dirt?
Captain Congleton, I'm going to alter that to "flirt." It sound better.
HE. No, I've changed my mind about the drink. Good night, little lady. I shall
see you tomorrow?
SHE. Y~es. Good night, Guy. Don't be angry with me.
HE. Angry! You know I trust you absolutely. Good night and-God bless you!
(Three seconds later. Alone.) Hmm! I'd give something to discover whether
there's another man at the back of all this.
A SECOND-RATE WOMAN
Est fuga, volvitur rota,
On we drift; where looms the dim port?
One Two Three Four Five contribute their quota:
Something is gained if one caught but the import,
Show it us, Hugues of Saxe-Gotha.
--Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha.
"DRESSED! Don't tell me that woman ever dressed in her life. She stood in the
middle of her room while her ayah--no, her husband--it must have been a man--
threw her clothes at her. She then did her hair with her fingers, and rubbed
her bonnet in the flue under the bed. I know she did, as well as if I had
assisted at the orgy. Who is she?" said Mrs. Hauksbee.
"Don't!" said Mrs. Mallowe, feebly. "You make my head ache. I'm miserable
today. Stay me with fondants, comfort me with chocolates, for I am--Did you
bring anything from Peliti's?"
"Questions to begin with. You shall have the sweets when you have answered
them. Who and what is the creature? There were at least half a dozen men round
her, and she appeared to be going to sleep in their midst."
"Delville," said Mrs. Mallowe, "'Shady' Delville, to distinguish her from Mrs.
Jim of that ilk. She dances as untidily as she dresses, I believe, and her
husband is somewhere in Madras. Go and call, if you are so interested."
"What have I to do with Shigramitish women? She merely caught my attention for
a minute, and I wondered at the attraction that a dowd has for a certain type
of man. I expected to see her walk out of her clothes--until I looked at her
"Hooks and eyes, surely," drawled Mrs. Mallowe.
"Don't be clever, Polly. You make my head ache. And round this hayrick stood a
crowd of men--a positive crowd!"
"Perhaps they also expected"--
"Polly, don't be Rabelaisian!"
Mrs. Mallowe curled herself up comfortably on the sofa, and turned her
attention to the sweets. She and Mrs. Hauksbee shared the same house at Simla;
and these things befell two seasons after the matter of Otis Yeere, which has
been already recorded.
Mrs. Hauksbee stepped into the veranda and looked down upon the Mall, her
forehead puckered with thought.
"Hah!" said Mrs. Hauksbee, shortly. "Indeed!"
"What is it?" said Mrs. Mallowe, sleepily.
"That dowd and The Dancing Master--to whom I object."
"Why to The Dancing Master? He is a middle-aged gentleman, of reprobate and
romantic tendencies, and tries to be a friend of mine."
"Then make up your mind to lose him. Dowds cling by nature, and I should
imagine that this animal--how terrible her bonnet looks from above!--is
"She is welcome to The Dancing Master so far as I am concerned. I never could
take an interest in a monotonous liar. The frustrated aim of his life is to
persuade people that he is a bachelor."
"0--oh! I think I've met that sort of man before. And isn't he?"
"No. He confided that to me a few days ago. Ugh! Some men ought to he killed."
"What happened then?"
"He posed as the horror of horrors--a misunderstood man. Heaven knows the
femme incomprise is sad enough and had enough--but the other thing!"
"And so fat too! I should have laughed in his face. Men seldom confide in me.
How is it they come to you?"
"For the sake of impressing me with their careers in the past. Protect me from
men with confidences!"
"And yet you encourage them?"
"What can I do? They talk. I listen, and they vow that I am sympathetic. I
know I always profess astonishment even when the plot is--of the most old
"Yes. Men are so unblushingly explicit if they are once allowed to talk,
whereas women's confidences are full of reservations and fibs, except"--
"When they go mad and babble of the Unutterabilities after a week's
acquaintance. Really, if you come to consider, we know a great deal more of
men than of our own sex."
"And the extraordinary thing is that men will never believe it. They say we
are trying to hide something."
"They are generally doing that on their own account. Alas! These chocolates
pall upon me, and I haven't eaten more than a dozen. I think I shall go to
"Then you'll get fat. dear. If you took more exercise and a more intelligent
interest in your neighbors you would--"
"Be as much loved as Mrs. Hauksbee. You're a darling in many ways and I like
you--you are not a woman's woman--but why do you trouble yourself about mere
"Because in the absence of angels, who I am sure would be horribly dull, men
and women are the most fascinating things in the whole wide world, lazy one. I
am interested in The Dowd--I am interested in The Dancing Master--I am
interested in the Hawley Boy--and I am interested in you."
"Why couple me with the Hawley Boy? He is your property."
"Yes, and in his own guileless speech, I'm making a good thing out of him.
When he is slightly more reformed, and has passed his Higher Standard, or
whatever the authorities think fit to exact from him, I shall select a pretty
little girl, the Holt girl, I think, and"--here she waved her hands airily--"
'whom Mrs. Hauksbee bath joined together let no man put asunder.' That's all."
"And when you have yoked May Holt with the most notorious detrimental in
Simla, and earned the undying hatred of Mamma Holt, what will you do with me,
Dispenser of the Destinies of the Universe?"
Mrs. Hauksbee dropped into a low chair in front of the fire, and, chin in
band, gazed long and steadfastly at Mrs. Mallowe.
"I do not know," she said, shaking her head, "what I shall do with you, dear.
It's obviously impossible to marry you to some one else--your husband would
object and the experiment might not be successful after all. I think I shall
begin by preventing you from--what is it?--'sleeping on ale-house benches and
snoring in the sun.'"
"Don't! I don't like your quotations. They are so rude. Go to the Library and
bring me new books."
"While you sleep? No! If you don't come with me, I shall spread your newest
frock on my 'rickshaw-bow, and when any one asks me what I am doing, I shall
say that I am going to Phelps's to get it let out. I shall take care that Mrs.
MacNamara sees me. Put your things on, there's a good girl."
Mrs. Mallowe groaned and obeyed, and the two went off to the Library, where
they found Mrs. Delville and the man who went by the nickname of The Dancing
Master. By that time Mrs Mallowe was awake and eloquent.
"That is the Creature!" said Mrs Hauksbee, with the air of one pointing out a
slug in the road.
"No," said Mrs. Mallowe. "The man is the Creature. Ugh! Good-evening, Mr.
Bent. I thought you were coming to tea this evening."
"Surely it was for tomorrow, was it not?" answered The Dancing Master. "I
understood...I fancied...I'm so sorry...How very unfortunate!..."
But Mrs. Mallowe had passed on.
"For the practiced equivocator you said he was," murmured Mrs. Hauksbee, "he
strikes me as a failure. Now wherefore should he have preferred a walk with
The Dowd to tea with us? Elective affinities, I suppose--both grubby. Polly,
I'd never forgive that woman as long as the world rolls."
"I forgive every woman everything," said Mrs. Mallowe. "He will be a
sufficient punishment for her. What a common voice she has!"
Mrs. Delville's voice was not pretty, her carriage was even less lovely, and
her raiment was strikingly neglected. All these things Mrs. Mallowe noticed
over the top of a magazine.
"Now what is there in her?" said Mrs. Hauksbee. "Do you see what I meant about
the clothes falling off? If I were a man I would perish sooner than be seen
with that rag-bag. And yet, she has good eyes, but--oh!"
"What is it?"
"She doesn't know how to use them! On my Honor, she does not. Look! Oh look!
Untidiness I can endure, but ignorance never! The woman's a fool."
"H'sh! She'll hear you."
"All the women in Simla are fools. She'll think I mean some one else. Now
she's going out. What a thoroughly objectionable couple she and The Dancing
Master make! Which reminds me. Do you suppose they'll ever dance together?"
"Wait and see. I don't envy her the conversation of The Dancing Master--
loathly man. His wife ought to be up here before long."
"Do you know anything about him?"
"Only what he told me. It may be a11 a fiction. He married a girl bred in the
country, I think, and, being an honorable, chivalrous soul, told me that he
repented his bargain and sent her to her mother as often as possible--a person
who has lived in the Doon since the memory of man and goes to Mussoorie when
other people go Home. The wife is with her at present. So he says."
"One only, but he talks of his wife in a revolting way. I hated him for it. He
thought he was being epigrammatic and brilliant."
"That is a vice peculiar to men. I dislike him because he is generally in the
wake of some girl, disappointing the Eligibles. He will persecute May Holt no
more, unless I am much mistaken."
"No. I think Mrs. Delville may occupy his attention for a while."
"Do you suppose she knows that he is the head of a family?"
"Not from his lips. He swore me to eternal secrecy. Wherefore I tell you.
Don't you know that type of man?"
"Not intimately, thank goodness! As a general rule, when a man begins to abuse
his wife to me, I find that the Lord gives me wherewith to answer him
according to his folly; and we part with a coolness between us. I laugh."
"I'm different. I've no sense of humor."
"Cultivate it, then. It has been my mainstay for more years than I care to
think about. A well-educated sense of Humor will save a woman when Religion,
Training, and Home influences fail; and we may all need salvation sometimes."
"Do you suppose that the Delville woman has humor?"
"Her dress betrays her. How can a Thing who wears her supple'ment under her
left arm have any notion of the fitness of things--much less their folly? If
she discards The Dancing Master after having once seen him dance, I may
respect her, Otherwise--
"But are we not both assuming a great deal too much, dear? You saw the woman
at Peliti's--half an hour later you saw her walking with The Dancing Master--
an hour later you met her here at the Library."
"Still with The Dancing Master, remember."
"Still with The Dancing Master, I admit, but why on the strength of that
should you imagine"--
"I imagine nothing. I have no imagination. I am only convinced that The
Dancing Master is attracted to The Dowd because he is objectionable in every
way and she in every other. If I know the man as you have described him, he
holds his wife in slavery at present."
"She is twenty years younger than he."
"Poor wretch! And, in the end, after he has posed and swaggered and lied--he
has a mouth under that ragged moustache simply made for lies--he will be
rewarded according to his merits."
"I wonder what those really are," said Mrs. Mallowe.
But Mrs. Hauksbee, her face close to the shelf of the new books, was humming
softly: "What shall he have who killed the Deer!" She was a lady of unfettered
One month later, she announced her intention of calling upon Mrs. Delville.
Both Mrs. Hauksbee and Mrs. Mallowe were in morning wrappers, and there was a
great peace in the land.
"I should go as I was," said Mrs. Mallowe. "It would be a delicate compliment
to her style."
Mrs. Hauksbee studied herself in the glass.
"Assuming for a moment that she ever darkened these doors, I should put on
this robe, after all the others, to show her what a morning wrapper ought to
be. It might enliven her. As it is, I shall go in the dove-colored--sweet
emblem of youth and innocence--and shall put on my new gloves."
"If you really are going, dirty tan would be too good; and you know that dove-
-color spots with the rain."
"I care not. I may make her envious. At least I shall try, though one cannot
expect very much from a woman who puts a lace tucker into her habit."
"Just Heavens! When did she do that?"
"Yesterday--riding with The Dancing Master. I met them at the back of Jakko,
and the rain had made the lace lie down. To complete the effect, she was
wearing an unclean terai with the elastic under her chin. I felt almost too
well content to take the trouble to despise her."
"The Hawley Boy was riding with you. What did he think?"
"Does a boy ever notice these things? Should I like him if he did? He stared
in the rudest way, and just when I thought he had seen the elastic, he said,
'There's something very taking about that face.' I rebuked him on the spot. I
don't approve of boys being taken by faces."
"Other than your own. I shouldn't be in the least surprised if the Hawley Boy
immediately went to call."
"I forbade him. Let her be satisfied with The Dancing Master, and his wife
when she comes up. I'm rather curious to see Mrs. Bent and the Delville woman
Mrs. Hauksbee departed and, at the end of an hour, returned slightly flushed.
"There is no limit to the treachery of youth! I ordered the Hawley Boy, as he
valued my patronage, not to call. The first person I stumble over--literally
stumble over--in her poky, dark, little drawing-room is, of course, the Hawley
Boy. She kept us waiting ten minutes, and then emerged as though he had been
tipped out of the dirty-clothes basket. You know my way, dear, when I am all
put out. I was Superior, crrrushingly Superior! 'Lifted my eyes to Heaven, and
had heard of nothing--'dropped my eyes on the carpet and 'really didn't know'-
-'played with my cardcase and 'supposed so.' The Hawley Boy giggled like a
girl, and I had to freeze him with scowls between the sentences."
"She sat in a heap on the edge of a couch, and managed to convey the
impression that she was suffering from stomach-ache, at the very least. It was
all I could do not to ask after her symptoms. When I rose she grunted just
like a buffalo in the water--too lazy to move."
"Are you certain?"--
"Am I blind, Polly? Laziness, sheer laziness, nothing else--or her garments
were only constructed for sitting down in. I stayed for a quarter of an hour
trying to penetrate the gloom, to guess what her surroundings were like, while
she stuck out her tongue."
"Well--I'll withdraw the tongue, though I'm sure if she didn't do it when I
was in the room, she did the minute I was outside. At any rate, she lay in a
lump and grunted. Ask the Hawley Boy, dear. I believe the grunts were meant
for sentences. but she spoke so indistinctly that I can't swear to it."
"You are incorrigible, simply."
"I am not! Treat me civilly, give me peace with honor, don't put the only
available seat facing the window, and a child may eat jam in my lap before
Church. But I resent being grunted at. Wouldn't you? Do you suppose that she
communicates her views on life and love to The Dancing Master in a set of
"You attach too much importance to The Dancing Master."
"He came as we went, and The Dowd grew almost cordial at the sight of him. He
smiled greasily, and moved about that darkened dog-kennel in a suspiciously
"Don't be uncharitable. Any sin but that I'll forgive."
"Listen to the voice of History. I am only describing what I saw. He entered,
the heap on the sofa revived slightly, and the Hawley Boy and I came away
together. He is disillusioned, hut I felt it my duty to lecture him severely
for going there. And that's all."
"Now for Pity's sake leave the wretched creature and The Dancing Master alone.
They never did you any harm."
"No harm? To dress as an example and a stumbling-block for half Simla, and
then to find this Person who is dressed by the hand of God--not that I wish to
disparage Him for a moment, but you know the tikka-dhurzie way He attires
those lilies of the field--this Person draws the eyes of men--and some of them
nice men? It's almost enough to make one discard clothing. I told the Hawley
"And what did that sweet youth do?"
"Turned shell-pink and looked across the far blue hills like a distressed
cherub. Am I talking wildly, Polly? Let me say my say, and I shall be calm.
Otherwise I may go abroad and disturb Simla with a few original reflections.
Excepting always your own sweet self, there isn't a single woman in the land
who understands me when I am--what's the word?"
"Tete-Fele'e," suggested Mrs. Mallowe.
"Exactly! And now let us have tiffin. The demands of Society are exhausting,
and as Mrs. Delville says"--Here Mrs. Hauksbee, to the horror of the
khitmatgars, lapsed into a series of grunts, while Mrs. Mallowe stared in lazy
"'God gie us a gude conceit of oorselves,'" said Mrs. Hauksbee, piously,
returning to her natural speech. "Now, in any other woman that would have been
vulgar. I am consumed with curiosity to see Mrs. Bent. I expect
"Woman of one idea," said Mrs. Mallowe, shortly; "all complications are as old
as the hills! I have lived through or near all--all--ALL!"
"And yet do not understand that men and women never behave twice alike. I am
old who was young--if ever I put my head in your lap, you dear, big sceptic,
you will learn that my parting is gauze--but never, no never have I lost my
interest in men and women. Polly, I shall see this business Out to the bitter
"I am going to sleep," said Mrs. Mallowe, calmly. "I never interfere with men
or women unless I am compelled," and she retired with dignity to her own room.
Mrs. Hauksbee's curiosity was not long left ungratified, for Mrs. Bent came up
to Simla a few days after the conversation faithfully reported above, and
pervaded the Mall by her husband's side.
"Behold!" said Mrs. Hauksbee, thoughtfully rubbing her nose. "That is the last
link of the chain, if we omit the husband of the Delville, whoever he may be.
Let me consider. The Bents and the Delvilles inhabit the same hotel; and the
Delville is detested by the Waddy--do you know the Waddy?--who is almost as
big a dowd. The Waddy also abominates the male Bent, for which, if her other
sins do not weigh too heavily, she will eventually be caught up to Heaven."
"Don't be irreverent," said Mrs. Mallowe. "I like Mrs. Bent's face."
"I am discussing the Waddy," returned Mrs. Hauksbee, loftily. "The Waddy will
take the female Bent apart, after having borrowed--yes!--everything that she
can, from hairpins to babies' bottles. Such, my dear, is life in a hotel. The
Waddy will tell the female Bent facts and fictions about The Dancing Master
and The Dowd."
"Lucy, I should like you better if you were not always looking into people's
"Anybody can look into their front drawing-rooms; and remember whatever I do,
and whatever I look, I never talk--as the Waddy will. Let us hope that The
Dancing Master's greasy smile and manner of the pedagogue will soften the
heart of that cow, his wife. If mouths speak truth, I should think that little
Mrs. Bent could get very angry on occasion.
"But what reason has she for being angry?"
"What reason! The Dancing Master in himself is a reason. How does it go? 'If
in his life some trivial errors fall, Look in his face and you'll believe them
all.' I am prepared to credit any evil of The Dancing Master, because I hate
him so. And The Dowd is so disgustingly badly dressed"--
"That she, too, is capable of every iniquity? I always prefer to believe the
best of everybody. It saves so much trouble."
"Very good. I prefer to believe the worst. It saves useless expenditure of
sympathy. And you may be quite certain that the Waddy believes with me."
Mrs. Mallowe sighed and made no answer.
The conversation was holden after dinner while Mrs. Hauksbee was dressing for
"I am too tired to go," pleaded Mrs. Mallowe, and Mrs. Hauksbee left her in
peace till two in the morning, when she was aware of emphatic knocking at her
"Don't be very angry, dear," said Mrs. Hauksbee. "My idiot of an ayah has gone
home, and, as I hope to sleep tonight, there isn't a soul in the place to
"Oh, this is too bad!" said Mrs. Mallowe sulkily.
"'Can't help it. I'm a lone, lorn grass-widow, dear, but I will not sleep in
my stays. And such news, too! Oh, do unlace me, there's a darling! The Dowd--
The Dancing Master--I and the Hawley Boy--You know the North veranda?"
"How can I do anything if you spin round like this?" protested Mrs. Mallowe,
fumbling with the knot of the laces.
"Oh, I forget. I must tell my tale without the aid of your eyes. Do you know
you've lovely eyes, dear? Well to begin with, I took the Hawley Boy to a kala
"Did he want much taking?"
"Lots! There was an arrangement of loose-boxes in kanats, and she was in the
next one talking to him."
"Which? How? Explain."
"You know what I mean--The Dowd and The Dancing Master. We could hear every
word and we listened shamelessly--'specially the Hawley Boy. Polly, I quite
love that woman!"
"This is interesting. There! Now turn round. What happened?"
"One moment. Ah-h! Blessed relief. I've been looking forward to taking them
off for the last half-hour--which is ominous at my time of life. But, as I was
saying, we listened and heard The Dowd drawl worse than ever. She drops her
final g's like a barmaid or a blue-blooded Aide-de-Camp. 'Look he-ere, you're
gettin' too fond 0' me,' she said, and The Dancing Master owned it was so in
language that nearly made me ill. The Dowd reflected for a while. Then we
heard her say, 'Look he-ere, Mister Bent, why are you such an awful liar?' I
nearly exploded while The Dancing Master denied the charge. It seems that he
never told her he was a married man."
"I said he wouldn't."
'~And she had taken this to heart, on personal grounds, I suppose. She drawled
along for five minutes, reproaching him with his perfidy and grew quite
motherly. 'Now you've got a nice little wife of your own--you have,' she said.
'She's ten times too good for a fat old man like you, and, look he-ere, you
never told me a word about her, and I've been thinkin' about it a good deal,
and I think you're a liar.' Wasn't that delicious? The Dancing Master
maundered and raved till the Hawley Boy suggested that he should burst in and
beat him. His voice runs up into an impassioned squeak when he is afraid. The
Dowd must be an extraordinary woman. She explained that had he been a bachelor
she might not have objected to his devotion; but since he was a married man
and the father of a very nice baby, she considered him a hypocrite, and this
she repeated twice. She wound up her drawl with: 'An I'm tellin' you this
because your wife is angry with me, an' I hate quarrellin' with any other
woman, an' I like your wife. You know how you have behaved for the last six
weeks. You shouldn't have done it, indeed you shouldn't. You're too old an'
fat.' Can't you imagine how The Dancing Master would wince at that! 'Now go
away,' she said. 'I don't want to tell you what I think of you, because I
think you are not nice. I'll stay he-ere till the next dance begins.' Did you
think that the creature had so much in her?"
"I never studied her as closely as you did. It sounds unnatural. What
"The Dancing Master attempted blandishment, reproof, jocularity, and the style
of the Lord High Warden, and I had almost to pinch the Hawley Boy to make him
keep quiet. She grunted at the end of each sentence and, in the end he went
away swearing to himself, quite like a man in a novel. He looked more
objectionable than ever. I laughed. I love that woman--in spite of her
clothes. And now I'm going to bed. What do you think of it?"
"I sha'n't begin to think till the morning," said Mrs. Mallowe, yawning
"Perhaps she spoke the truth. They do fly into it by accident sometimes."
Mrs. Hauksbee's account of her eavesdropping was an ornate one but truthful in
the main. For reasons best known to herself, Mrs. "Shady" Delville had turned
upon Mr Bent and rent him limb from limb, casting him away limp and
disconcerted ere she withdrew the light of her eyes from him permanently.
Being a man of resource, and anything but pleased in that he had been called
both old and fat, he gave Mrs. Bent to understand that he had, during her
absence in the Doon, been the victim of unceasing persecution at the hands of
Mrs. Delville, and he told the tale so often and with such eloquence that he
ended in believing it, while his wife marvelled at the manners and customs of
"some women." When the situation showed signs of languishing, Mrs. Waddy was
always on hand to wake the smouldering fires of suspicion in Mrs. Bent's bosom
and to contribute generally to the peace and comfort of the hotel. Mr. Bent's
life was not a happy one, for if Mrs. Waddy's story were true, he was, argued
his wife, untrustworthy to the last degree. If his own statement was true, his
charms of manner and conversation were so great that he needed constant
surveillance. And he received it, till he repented genuinely of his marriage
and neglected his personal appearance. Mrs. Delville alone in the hotel was
unchanged. She removed her chair some six paces toward the head of the table,
and occasionally in the twilight ventured on timid overtures of friendship to
Mrs. Bent, which were repulsed.
"She does it for my sake," hinted the Virtuous Bent.
"A dangerous and designing woman," purred Mrs. Waddy.
Worst of all, every other hotel in Simla was full!
* * * * * *
"Polly, are you afraid of diphtheria?"
"Of nothing in the world except smallpox. Diphtheria kills, but it doesn't
disfigure. Why do you ask?"
"Because the Bent baby has got it, and the whole hotel is upside down in
consequence. The Waddy has 'set her five young on the rail' and fled. The
Dancing Master fears for his precious throat, and that miserable little woman,
his wife, has no notion of what ought to be done. She wanted to put it into a
mustard bath--for croup!"
"Where did you learn all this?"
"Just now, on the Mall. Dr. Howlen told me. The Manager of the hotel is
abusing the Bents, and the Bents are abusing the manager. They are a feckless
"Well. What's on your mind?"
"This; and I know it's a grave thing to ask. Would you seriously object to my
bringing the child over here, with its mother?"
"On the most strict understanding that we see nothing of The Dancing Master."
"He will be only too glad to stay away. Polly, you're an angel. The woman
really is at her wits' end."
"And you know nothing about her, careless, and would hold her up to public
scorn if it gave you a minute's amusement. Therefore you risk your life for
the sake of her brat. No, Loo, I'm not the angel. I shall keep to my rooms and
avoid her. But do as you please--only tell me why you do it."
Mrs. Hauksbee's eyes softened; she looked out of the window and back into Mrs.
"I don't know," said Mrs. Hauksbee, simply.
"Polly!--and for aught you knew you might have taken my fringe off. Never do
that again without warning. Now we'll get the rooms ready. I don't suppose I
shall be allowed to circulate in society for a month."
"And I also. Thank goodness I shall at last get all the sleep I want."
Much to Mrs. Bent's surprise she and the baby were brought over to the house
almost before she knew where she was. Bent was devoutly and undisguisedly
thankful, for he was afraid of the infection, and also hoped that a few weeks
in the hotel alone with Mrs. Delville might lead to explanations. Mrs. Bent
had thrown her jealousy to the winds in her fear for her child's life.
"We can give you good milk," said Mrs. Hauksbee to her, "and our house is much
nearer to the Doctor's than the hotel, and you won't feel as though you were
living in a hostile camp Where is the dear Mrs. Waddy? She seemed to be a
particular friend of yours."
"They've all left me," said Mrs. Bent, bitterly. "Mrs. Waddy went first. She
said I ought to be ashamed of myself for introducing diseases there, and I am
sure it wasn't my fault that little Dora"--
"How nice!" cooed Mrs. Hauksbee. "The Waddy is an infectious disease herself--
'more quickly caught than the plague and the taker runs presently mad.' I
lived next door to her at the Elysium, three years ago. Now see, you won't
give us the least trouble, and I've ornamented all the house with sheets
soaked in carbolic. It smells comforting, doesn't it? Remember I'm always in
call, and my ayah's at your service when yours goes to her meals and--and...
if you cry I'll never forgive you."
Dora Bent occupied her mother's unprofitable attention through the day and the
night. The Doctor called thrice in the twenty-four hours, and the house reeked
with the smell of the Condy's Fluid, chlorine-water, and carbolic acid washes.
Mrs. Mallowe kept to her own rooms--she considered that she had made
sufficient concessions in the cause of humanity--and Mrs. Hauksbee was more
esteemed by the Doctor as a help in the sick-room than the half-distraught
"I know nothing of illness," said Mrs. Hauksbee to the Doctor. "Only tell me
what to do, and I'll do it."
"Keep that crazy woman from kissing the child, and let her have as little to
do with the nursing as you possibly can," said the Doctor; "I'd turn her out
of the sick-room, but that I honestly believe she'd die of anxiety. She is
less than no good, and I depend on you and the ayahs, remember."
Mrs. Hauksbee accepted the responsibility, though it painted olive hollows
under her eyes and forced her to her oldest dresses. Mrs. Bent clung to her
with more than childlike faith.
"I know you'll, make Dora well, won't you?" she said at least twenty times a
day; and twenty times a day Mrs. Hauksbee answered valiantly, "Of course I
But Dora did not improve, and the Doctor seemed to be always in the house.
"There's some danger of the thing taking a bad turn," he said; "I'll come over
between three and four in the morning tomorrow."
"Good gracious!" said Mrs. Hauksbee. "He never told me what the turn would be!
My education has been horribly neglected; and I have only this foolish mother-
woman to fall back upon."
The night wore through slowly, and Mrs. Hauksbee dozed in a chair by the fire.
There was a dance at the Viceregal Lodge, and she dreamed of it till she was
aware of Mrs. Bent's anxious eyes staring into her own.
"Wake up! Wake up! Do something!" cried Mrs. Bent, piteously. "Dora's choking
to death! Do you mean to let her die?"
Mrs. Hauksbee jumped to her feet and bent over the bed. The child was fighting
for breath, while the mother wrung her hands despairing.
"Oh, what can I do? What can you do? She won't stay still! I can't hold her.
Why didn't the Doctor say this was coming?" screamed Mrs. Bent. "Won't you
help me? She's dying!"
"I-I've never seen a child die before!" stammered Mrs. Hauksbee, feebly, and
then--let none blame her weakness after the strain of long watching--she broke
down, and covered her face with her hands. The ayahs on the threshold snored
There was a rattle of 'rickshaw wheels below, the clash of an opening door, a
heavy step on the stairs, and Mrs. Delville entered to find Mrs. Bent
screaming for the Doctor as she ran round the room. Mrs. Hauksbee, her hands
to her ears, and her face buried in the chintz of a chair, was quivering with
pain at each cry from the bed, and murmuring, "Thank God, I never bore a
child! Oh! thank God, I never bore a child!"
Mrs. Delville looked at the bed for an instant, took Mrs. Bent by the
shoulders, and said, quietly, "Get me some caustic. Be quick."
The mother obeyed mechanically. Mrs. Delville had thrown herself down by the
side of the child and was opening its mouth.
"Oh, you're killing her!" cried Mrs. Bent. "Where's the Doctor! Leave her
Mrs. Delville made no reply for a minute, but busied herself with the child.
"Now the caustic, and hold a lamp behind my shoulder. Will you do as you are
told? The acid-bottle, if you don't know what I mean," she said.
A second time Mrs. Delville bent over the child. Mrs. Hauksbee, her face still
hidden, sobbed and shivered. One of the ayahs staggered sleepily into the
room, yawning: "Doctor Sahib come."
Mrs. Delville turned her head.
"You're only just in time," she said. "It was chokin' her when I came in, an'
I've burned it."
"There was no sign of the membrane getting to the air-passages after the last
steaming. It was the general weakness, I feared," said the Doctor half to
himself, and he whispered as he looked. "You've done what I should have been
afraid to do without consultation."
"She was dyin'," said Mrs. Delville, under her breath. "Can you do anythin'?
What a mercy it was I went to the dance!"
Mrs. Hauksbee raised her head.
"Is it all over?" she gasped. "I'm useless--I'm worse than useless! What are
you doing here?"
She stared at Mrs. Delville, and Mrs. Bent, realizing for the first time who
was the Goddess from the Machine. stared also.
Then Mrs. Delville made explanation, putting on a dirty long glove and
smoothing a crumpled and ill-fitting ball-dress.
"I was at the dance, an' the Doctor was tellin' me about your baby bein' so
ill. So I came away early, an' your door was open, an' I-I lost my boy this
way six months ago, an' I've been tryin' to forget it ever since, an' I-I-I-am
very sorry for intrudin' an' anythin' that has happened."
Mrs. Bent was putting out the Doctor's eye with a lamp as he stooped over
"Take it away," said the Doctor. "I think the child will do, thanks to you,
Mrs. Delville. I should have come too late, but, I assure you"--he was
addressing himself to Mrs. Delville--"I had not the faintest reason to expect
this. The membrane must have grown like a mushroom. Will one of you help me,
He had reason for the last sentence. Mrs. Hauksbee had thrown herself into
Mrs. Delville's arms, where she was weeping bitterly, and Mrs. Bent was
unpicturesquely mixed up with both, while from the tangle came the sound of
many sobs and much promiscuous kissing.
"Good gracious! I've spoilt all your beautiful roses!" said Mrs. Hauksbee,
lifting her head from the lump of crushed gum and calico atrocities on Mrs.
Delville's shoulder and hurrying to the Doctor.
Mrs. Delville picked up her shawl, and slouched out of the room, mopping her
eyes with the glove that she had not put on.
"I always said she was more than a woman," sobbed Mrs. Hauksbee, hysterically,
"and that proves it!"
* * * * * *
Six weeks later, Mrs. Bent and Dora had returned to the hotel. Mrs. Hauksbee
had come out of the Valley of Humiliation, had ceased to reproach herself for
her collapse in an hour of need, and was even beginning to direct the affairs
of the world as before.
"So nobody died, and everything went off as it should, and I kissed The Dowd,
Polly. I feel so old. Does it show in my face?"
"Kisses don't as a rule, do they? Of course you know what the result of The
Dowd's providential arrival has been."
"They ought to build her a statue--only no sculptor dare copy those skirts."
"Ah!" said Mrs. Mallowe, quietly. "She has found another reward. The Dancing
Master has been smirking through Simla giving every one to understand that she
came because of her undying love for him--for him--to save his child, and all
Simla naturally believes this."
"But Mrs. Bent"--
"Mrs. Bent believes it more than any one else. She won't speak to The Dowd
now. Isn't The Dancing Master an angel?"
Mrs. Hauksbee lifted up her voice and raged till bedtime. The doors of the two
rooms stood open.
"Polly," said a voice from the darkness, "what did that American-heiress-
globe-trotter-girl say last season when she was tipped out of her 'rickshaw
turning a corner? Some absurd adjective that made the man who picked her up
"'Paltry,'" said Mrs. Mallowe. "Through her nose--like this--'Ha-ow pahltry!'"
"Exactly," said the voice. "Ha-ow pahltry it all is!"
"Everything. Babies, Diphtheria, Mrs. Bent and The Dancing Master, I whooping
in a chair, and The Dowd dropping in from the clouds. I wonder what the motive
was--all the motives."
"What do you think?"
"Don't ask me. She was a woman. Go to sleep."
* * * * * *
ONLY A SUBALTERN
... Not only to enforce by command but to encourage by example the energetic
discharge of duty and the steady endurance of the difficulties and privations
inseparable from Military Service.
--Bengal Army Regulations.
THEY made Bobby Wick pass an examination at Sandhurst. He was a gentleman
before he was gazetted, so, when the Empress announced that "Gentleman-Cadet
Robert Hanna Wick" was posted as Second Lieutenant to the Tyneside Tail
Twisters at Kram Bokhar, he became an officer and a gentleman, which is an
enviable thing; and there was joy in the house of Wick where Mamma Wick and
all the little Wicks fell upon their knees and offered incense to Bobby by
virtue of his achievements.
Papa Wick had been a Commissioner in his day, holding authority over three
millions of men in the Chota-Buldana Division, building great works for the
good of the land, and doing his best to make two blades of grass grow where
there was but one before. Of course, nobody knew anything about this in the
little English village where he was just 'old Mr. Wick" and had forgotten that
he was a Companion of the Order of the Star of India.
He patted Bobby on the shoulder and said: "Well done, my boy!"
There followed, while the uniform was being prepared, an interval of pure
delight, during which Bobby took brevet-rank as a "man" at the women~swamped
tennis-parties and tea-fights of the village, and, I dare say, had his
joining-time been extended, would have fallen in love with several girls at
once. Little country villages at Home are very full of nice girls, because all
the young men come out to India to make their fortunes.
"India," said Papa Wick, "is the place. I've had thirty years of it and,
begad, I'd like to go back again. When you join the Tail Twisters you'll be
among friends, if every one hasn't forgotten Wick of Chota-Buldana, and a lot
of people will be kind to you for our sakes. The mother will tell you more
about outfit than I can, but remember this. Stick to your Regiment, Bobby--
stick to your Regiment. You'll see men all round you going into the Staff
Corps, and doing every possible sort of duty but regimental, and you may be
tempted to follow suit. Now so long as you keep within your allowance, and I
haven't stinted you there, stick to the Line, the whole Line and nothing but
the Line. Be careful how you back another young fool's bill, and if you fall
in love with a woman twenty years older than yourself, don't tell me about it,
With these counsels, and many others equally valuable, did Papa Wick fortify
Bobby ere that last awful night at Portsmouth when the Officers' Quarters held
more inmates than were provided for by the Regulations, and the liberty-men of
the ships fell foul of the drafts for India, and the battle raged from the
Dockyard Gates even to the slums of Longport, while the drabs of Fratton came
down and scratched the faces of the Queen's Officers.
Bobby Wick, with an ugly bruise on his freckled nose, a sick and shaky
detachment to manoeuvre inship and the comfort of fifty scornful females to
attend to, had no time to feel homesick till the Malabar reached mid-Channel,
when he doubled his emotions with a little guard-visiting and a great many
The Tail Twisters were a most particular Regiment. Those who knew them least
said that they were eaten up with "side." But their reserve and their internal
arrangements generally were merely protective diplomacy. Some five years
before, the Colonel commanding had looked into the fourteen fearless eyes of
seven plump and juicy subalterns who had all applied to enter the Staff Corps,
and had asked them why the three stars should he, a colonel of the Line,
command a dashed nursery for double-dashed bottle-suckers who put on condemned
tin spurs and rode qualified mokes at the hiatused heads of forsaken Black
Regiments. He was a rude man and a terrible. Wherefore the remnant took
measures [with the half-butt as an engine of public opinion] till the rumor
went abroad that young men who used the Tail Twisters as a crutch to the Staff
Corps, had many and varied trials to endure. However. a regiment had just as
much right to its own secrets as a woman.
When Bobby came up from Deolali and took his place among the Tail Twisters, it
was gently hut firmly borne in upon him that the Regiment was his father and
his mother and his indissolubly wedded wife, and that there was no crime under
the canopy of heaven blacker than that of bringing shame on the Regiment,
which was the best-shooting, best-drilled, best-set-up, bravest, most
illustrious, and in all respects most desirable Regiment within the compass of
the Seven Seas. He was taught the legends of the Mess Plate from the great
grinning Golden Gods that had come out of the Summer Palace in Pekin to the
silver-mounted markhor-horn snuff-mull presented by the last C. 0. [he who
spake to the seven subalterns]. And every one of those legends told him of
battles fought at long odds, without fear as without support; of hospitality
catholic as an Arab's; of friendships deep as the sea and steady as the
fighting-line; of honor won by hard roads for honor's sake; and of instant and
unquestioning devotion to the Regiment--the Regiment that claims the lives of
all and lives forever.
More than once, too, he came officially into contact with the Regimental
colors, which looked like the lining of a bricklayer's hat on the end of a
chewed stick. Bobby did not kneel and worship them, because British subalterns
are not constructed in that manner. Indeed, he condemned them for their weight
at the very moment that they were filling with awe and other more noble
But best of all was the occasion when he moved with the Tail Twisters, in
review order at the breaking of a November day. Allowing for duty-men and
sick, the Regiment was one thousand and eighty strong, and Bobby belonged to
them; for was he not a Subaltern of the Line the whole Line and nothing but
the Line--as the tramp of two thousand one hundred and sixty sturdy ammunition
boots attested. He would not have changed places with Deighton of the Horse
Battery, whirling by in a pillar of cloud to a chorus of "Strong right! Strong
left!" or Hogan-Yale of the White Hussars, leading his squadron for all it was
worth, with the price of horseshoes thrown in; or "Tick" Boileau, trying to
live up to his fierce blue and gold turban while the wasps of the Bengal
Cavalry stretched to a gallop in the wake of the long, lollopping Walers of
the White Hussars.
They fought through the clear cool day, and Bobby felt a little thrill run
down his spine when he heard the tinkle-tinkle-tinkle of the empty cartridge-
cases hopping from the breech-blocks after the roar of the volleys; for he
knew that he should live to hear that sound in action. The review ended in a
glorious chase across the plain--batteries thundering after cavalry to the
huge disgust of the White Hussars, and the Tyneside Tail Twisters hunting a
Sikh Regiment, till the lean lathy Singhs panted with exhaustion. Bobby was
dusty and dripping long before noon, but his enthusiasm was merely focused--
He returned to sit at the feet of Revere, his "skipper," that is to say, the
Captain of his Company, and to be instructed in the dark art and mystery of
managing men, which is a very large part of the Profession of Arms.
"If you haven't a taste that way," said Revere, between his puffs of his
cheroot. "you'll never he able to get the hang of it, but remember Bobby,
'tisn't the best drill, though drill is nearly everything, that hauls a
Regiment through Hell and out on the other side. It's the man who knows how to
handle men--goat-men, swine-men, dog-men, and so on."
"Dormer, for instance," said Bobby. "I think he comes under the head of fool-
men. He mopes like a sick owl."
"That's where you make your mistake, my son. Dormer isn't a fool yet, but he's
a dashed dirty soldier, and his room corporal makes fun of his socks before
kit-inspection. Dormer, being two-thirds pure brute, goes into a corner and
"How do you know?" said Bobby, admiringly.
"Because a Company commander has to know these things--because, if he does not
know, he may have crime--ay, murder--brewing under his very nose and yet not
see that it's there. Dormer is being badgered out of his mind--big as he is--
and he hasn't intellect enough to resent it. He's taken to quiet boozing and,
Bobby, when the butt of a room goes on the drink, or takes to moping by
himself, measures are necessary to pull him out of himself."
"What measures? 'Man can't run round coddling his men forever."
"No. The men would precious soon show him that he was not wanted. You've got
to"--Here the Color-sergeant entered with some papers; Bobby reflected for a
while as Revere looked through the Company forms.
"Does Dormer do anything, Sergeant?" Bobby asked, with the air of one
continuing an interrupted conversation.
"No, sir. Does 'is dooty like a hortomato," said the Sergeant, wbo delighted
in long words. "A dirty soldier, and 'e's under full stoppages for new kit.
It's covered with scales, sir."
"Scales? What scales?"
"Fish-scales, sir. 'E's always pokin' in the mud by the river an' a-cleanin'
them muchly-fish with 'is thumbs." Revere was still absorbed in the Company
papers, and the Sergeant, who was sternly fond of Bobby, continued,--"'E
generally goes down there when 'e's got 'is skinful, beggin' your pardon, sir,
an' they do say that the more lush in-he-briated 'e is, the more fish 'e
catches. They call 'im the Looney Fish-monger in the Comp'ny, sir."
Revere signed the last paper and the Sergeant retreated.
"It's a filthy amusement," sighed Bobby to himself. Then aloud to Revere: "Are
you really worried about Dormer?"
"A little. You see he's never mad enough to send to a hospital, or drunk
enough to run in, but at any minute he may flare up, brooding and sulking as
he does. He resents any interest being shown in him, and the only time I took
him out shooting he all but shot me by accident."
"I fish," said Bobby, with a wry face. "I hire a country-boat and go down the
river from Thursday to Sunday, and the amiable Dormer goes with me--if you can
spare us both."
"You blazing young fool!" said Revere, but his heart was full of much more
Bobby, the Captain of a dhoni, with Private Dormer for mate, dropped down the
river on Thursday morning--the Private at the bow, the Subaltern at the helm.
The Private glared uneasily at the Subaltern, who respected the reserve of the
After six hours, Dormer paced to the stern, saluted, and said--"Beg y'pardon,
sir, but was you ever on the Durh'm Canal?"
"No," said Bobby Wick. "Come and have some tiffin."
They ate in silence. As the evening fell, Private Dormer broke forth, speaking
to himself--"Hi was on the Durh'm Canal, jes' such a night, come next week
twelve month, a-trailin' of my toes in the water." He smoked and said no more
The witchery of the dawn turned the grey river-reaches to purple, gold, and
opal; and it was as though the lumbering dhoni crept across the splendors of a
Private Dormer popped his head out of his blanket and gazed at the glory below
"Well--damn-my-eyes!" said Private Dormer, in an awed whisper. "This 'ere is
like a bloomin' gallantry-show!" For the rest of the day he was dumb, but
achieved an ensanguined filthiness through the cleaning of big fish.
The boat returned on Saturday evening. Dormer had been struggling with speech
since noon. As the lines and luggage were being disembarked, he found tongue.
"Beg y'pardon~ sir," he said, "but would you--would you min' shakin' 'ands
with me, sir?"
"Of course not," said Bobby, and he shook accordingly. Dormer returned to
barracks and Bobby to mess.
"He wanted a little quiet and some fishing, I think," said Bobby. "My aunt,
but he's a filthy sort of animal! Have you ever seen him clean 'them, muchly-
fish with 'is thumbs'?"
"Anyhow," said Revere, three weeks later, "he's doing his best to keep his
When the spring died, Bobby joined in the general scramble for Hill leave, and
to his surprise and delight secured three months.
"As good a boy as I want," said Revere, the admiring skipper.
"The best of the batch," said the Adjutant to the Colonel. "Keep back that
young skrim-shanker Porkiss, sir, and let Revere make him sit up."
So Bobby departed joyously to Simla Pahar with a tin box of gorgeous raiment.
'Son of Wick--old Wick of Chota-Buldana? Ask him to dinner, dear," said the
"What a nice boy!" said the matrons and the maids.
"First-class place, Simla. Oh, ri-ippmg!" said Bobby Wick, and ordered new
white cord breeches on the strength of it.
"We're in a had way," wrote Revere to Bobby at the end of two months. "Since
you left, the Regiment has taken to fever and is fairly rotten with it--two
hundred in hospital, about a hundred in cells--drinking to keep off fever--and
the Companies on parade fifteen file strong at the outside. There's rather
more sickness in the out-villages than I care for, hut then I'm so blistered
with prickly-heat that I'm ready to hang myself. What's the yarn about your
mashing a Miss Haverley up there? Not serious, I hope? You're over-young to
hang millstones round your neck, and the Colonel will turf you out of that in
double-quick time if you attempt it."
It was not the Colonel that brought Bobby out of Simla, but a much more to be
respected Commandant. The sick ness in the out-villages spread, the Bazar was
put out of bounds, and then came the news that the Tail Twisters must go into
camp. The message flashed to the Hill stations.--"Cholera--Leave stopped--
Officers recalled." Alas, for the white gloves in the neatly soldered boxes,
the rides and the dances and picnics that were to he, the loves half spoken,
and the debts unpaid! Without demur and without question, fast as tongue could
fly or pony gallop, hack to their Regiments and their Batteries, as though
they were hastening to their weddings, fled the subalterns.
Bobby received his orders on returning from a dance at Viceregal Lodge where
he had--but only the Haverley girl knows what Bobby had said or how many
waltzes he had claimed for the next ball. Six in the morning saw Bobby at the
Tonga Office in the drenching rain, the whirl of the last waltz still in his
ears, and an intoxication due neither to wine nor waltzing in his brain.
"Good man!" shouted Deighton of the Horse Battery, through the mists. "Whar
you raise dat tonga? I'm coming with you. Ow! But I've had a head and a half.
I didn't sit out all night. They say the Battery's awful bad," and he hummed
Leave the what at the what's-its-name,
Leave the flock without shelter,
Leave the corpse uninterred,
Leave the bride at the altar!
"My faith! It'll be more bally corpse than bride, though, this journey. Jump
in, Bobby. Get on, Coachman!"
On the Umballa platform waited a detachment of officers discussing the latest
news from the stricken cantonment, and it was here that Bobby learned the real
condition of the Tail Twisters.
"They went into camp," said an elderly Major recalled from the whist-tables at
Mussoorie to a sickly Native Regiment, "they went into camp with two hundred
and ten sick in carts. Two hundred and ten fever cases only, and the balance
looking like so many ghosts with sore eyes. A Madras Regiment could have
walked through 'em."
"But they were as fit as be-damned when I left them!" said Bobby.
"Then you'd better make them as fit as be-damned when you rejoin," said the
Bobby pressed his forehead against the rain-splashed windowpane as the train
lumbered across the sodden Doab, and prayed for the health of the Tyneside
Tail Twisters. Naini Tal had sent down her contingent with all speed; the
lathering ponies of the Dalhousie Road staggered into Pathankot, taxed to the
full stretch of their strength; while from cloudy Darjiling the Calcutta Mail
whirled up the last straggler of the little army that was to fight a fight, in
which was neither medal nor honor for the winning, against an enemy none other
than "the sickness that destroyeth in the noonday."
And as each man reported himself, he said: "This is a bad business," and went
about his own forthwith, for every Regiment and Battery in the cantonment was
under canvas, the sickness bearing them company.
Bobby fought his way through the rain to the Tail Twisters' temporary mess,
and Revere could have fallen on the boy's neck for the joy of seeing that
ugly, wholesome phiz once more.
"Keep 'em amused and interested," said Revere. "They went on the drink, poor
fools, after the first two cases, and there was no improvement. Oh, it's good
to have you back, Bobby! Porkiss is a--never mind."
Deighton came over from the Artillery camp to attend a dreary mess dinner, and
contributed to the general gloom by nearly weeping over the condition of his
beloved Battery. Porkiss so far forgot himself as to insinuate that the
presence of the officers could do no earthly good, and that the best thing
would be to send the entire Regiment into hospital and "let the doctors look
after them." Porkiss was demoralized with fear, nor was his peace of mind
restored when Revere said coldly: "Oh! The sooner you go out the better, if
that's your way of thinking. Any public school could send us fifty good men in
your place, but it takes time, time, Porkiss, and money, and a certain amount
of trouble, to make a Regiment. 'S'pose you're the person we go into camp for,
Whereupon Porkiss was overtaken with a great and chilly fear which a drenching
in the rain did not allay, and, two days later, quitted this world for another
where, men do fondly hope, allowances are made for the weaknesses of the
flesh. The Regimental Sergeant-Major looked wearily across the Sergeants' Mess
tent when the news was announced.
"There goes the worst of them," he said. "It'll take the best, and then,
please God, it'll stop." The Sergeants were silent till one said: "It couldn't
be him!" and all knew of whom Travis was thinking.
Bobby Wick stormed through the tents of his Company, rallying, rebuking
mildly, as is consistent with the Regulations, chaffing the faint-hearted:
haling the sound into the watery sunlight when there was a break in the
weather, and bidding them be of good cheer for their trouble was nearly at an
end; scuttling on his dun pony round the outskirts of the camp and heading
back men who, with the innate perversity of British soldier's, were always
wandering into infected villages, or drinking deeply from rain-flooded
marshes; comforting the panic-stricken with rude speech, and more than once
tending the dying who had no friends--the men without "townies"; organizing,
with banjos and burned cork, Sing-songs which should allow the talent of the
Regiment full play; and generally, as he explained, "playing the giddy garden-
goat all round."
"You're worth half a dozen of us, Bobby," said Revere in a moment of
enthusiasm. "How the devil do you keep it up?"
Bobby made no answer, but had Revere looked into the breast-pocket of his coat
he might have seen there a sheaf of badly-written letters which perhaps
accounted for the power that possessed the boy. A letter came to Bobby every
other day. The spelling was not above reproach, but the sentiments must have
been most satisfactory, for on receipt Bobby's eyes softened marvelously, and
he was wont to fall into a tender abstraction for a while ere, shaking his
cropped head, he charged into his work.
By what power he drew after him the hearts of the roughest, and the Tail
Twisters counted in their ranks some rough diamonds indeed, was a mystery to
both skipper and C. O., who learned from the regimental chaplain that Bobby
was considerably more in request in the hospital tents than the Reverend John
"The men seem fond of you. Are you in the hospitals much?" said the Colonel,
who did his daily round and ordered the men to get well with a hardness that
did not cover his bitter grief.
"A little, sir," said Bobby.
"Shouldn't go there too often if I were you. They say it's not contagious, but
there's no use in running unnecessary risks. We can't afford to have you down,
Six days later, it was with the utmost difficulty that the post-runner plashed
his way out to the camp with mailbags, for the rain was falling in torrents.
Bobby received a letter, bore it off to his tent, and, the programme for the
next week's Sing-song being satisfactorily disposed of, sat down to answer it.
For an hour the unhandy pen toiled over the paper, and where sentiment rose to
more than normal tide-level Bobby Wick stuck out his tongue and breathed
heavily. He was not used to letter-writing.
"Beg y'pardon, sir," said a voice at the tent door; "but Dormer's 'orrid bad,
sir, an' they've taken him orf, sir.
"Damn Private Dormer and you too!" said Bobby Wick running the blotter over
the half-finished letter. "Tell him I'll come in the morning."
"'E's awful bad, sir," said the voice, hesitatingly. There was an undecided
squelching of heavy boots.
"Well?" said Bobby, impatiently.
"Excusin' 'imself before an' for takin' the liberty, 'e says it would be a
comfort for to assist 'im, sir, if"--
"Tattoo lao! Get my pony! Here, come in out of the rain till I'm ready. What
blasted nuisances you are! That's brandy. Drink some; you want it. Hang on to
my stirrup and tell me if I go mo fast."
Strengthened by a four-finger "nip" which he swallowed without a wink, the
Hospital Orderly kept up with the slipping, mud-stained, and very disgusted
pony as it shambled to the hospital tent.
Private Dormer was certainly " 'orrid bad." He had all but reached the stage
of collapse and was not pleasant to look upon.
"What's this, Dormer?" said Bobby, bending over the man. "You're not going out
this time. You've got to come fishin' with me once or twice more yet."
The blue lips parted and in the ghost of a whisper said,--"Beg y'pardon, sir,
disturbin' of you now, but would you min' 'oldin' my 'and, sir?"
Bobby sat on the side of the bed, and the icy cold hand closed on his own like
a vice, forcing a lady's ring which was on the little finger deep into the
flesh. Bobby set his lips and waited, the water dripping from the hem of his
trousers. An hour passed and the grasp of the hand did not relax, nor did the
expression on the drawn face change. Bobby with infinite craft lit himself a
cheroot with the left hand--his right arm was numbed to the elbow--and
resigned himself to a night of pain.
Dawn showed a very white-faced Subaltern sitting on the side of a sick man's
cot, and a Doctor in the doorway using language unfit for publication.
"Have you been here all night, you young ass?" said the Doctor.
"There or thereabouts," said Bobby, ruefully. "He's frozen on to me."
Dormer's mouth shut with a click. He turned his head and sighed. The clinging
band opened, and Bobby's arm fell useless at his side.
"He'll do," said the Doctor, quietly. "It must have been a toss-up all through
the night. 'Think you're to be congratulated on this case."
"Oh, bosh!" said Bobby. "I thought the man had gone out long ago--only--only I
didn't care to take my hand away. Rub my arm down, there's a good chap. What a
grip the brute has! I'm chilled to the marrow!" He passed out of the tent
Private Dormer was allowed to celebrate his repulse of Death by strong waters.
Four days later, he sat on the side of his cot and said to the patients
mildly: "I'd 'a' liken to 'a' spoken to 'im--so I should."
But at that time Bobby was reading yet another letter--he had the most
persistent correspondent of any man in camp--and was even then about to write
that the sickness had abated, and in another week at the outside would be
gone. He did not intend to say that the chill of a sick man's hand seemed to
have struck into the heart whose capacities for affection he dwelt on at such
length. He did intend to enclose the illustrated programme of the forthcoming
Sing-song whereof he was not a little proud. He also intended to write on many
other matters which do not concern us, and doubtless would have done so but
for the slight feverish headache which made him dull and unresponsive at mess.
"You are overdoing it, Bobby," said his skipper. "'Might give the rest of us
credit of doing a little work. You go on as if you were the whole Mess rolled
into one. Take it easy."
"I will," said Bobby. "I'm feeling done up, somehow." Revere looked at him
anxiously and said nothing.
There was a flickering of lanterns ab3ut the camp that night, and a rumor that
brought men out of their cots to the tent doors, a paddling of the naked feet
of doolie-bearers and the rush of a galloping horse.
"Wot's up?" asked twenty tents; and through twenty tents ran the answer--
"Wick, 'e's down."
They brought the news to Revere and he groaned. "Any one but Bobby and I
shouldn't have cared! The Sergeant-Major was right."
"Not going out this journey," gasped Bobby, as he was lifted from the doolie.
"Not going out this journey." Then with an air of supreme conviction--"I
can't, you see."
"Not if I can do anything!" said the Surgeon-Major, who had hastened over from
the mess where he had been dining.
He and the Regimental Surgeon fought together with Death for the life of Bobby
Wick. Their work was interrupted by a hairy apparition in a blue-grey
dressing-gown who stared in horror at the bed and cried--"Oh, my Gawd. It
can't be 'im!" until an indignant Hospital Orderly whisked him away.
If care of man and desire to live could have done aught, Bobby would have been
saved. As it was, he made a fight of three days, and the Surgeon-Major's brow
uncreased. "We'll save him yet," he said; and the Surgeon, who, though he
ranked with the Captain, had a very youthful heart, went out upon the word and
pranced joyously in the mud.
"Not going out this journey," whispered Bobby Wick, gallantly, at the end of
the third day.
"Bravo!" said the Surgeon-Major. "That's the way to look at it, Bobby."
As evening fell a grey shade gathered round Bobby's mouth, and he turned his
face to the tent wall wearily. The Surgeon-Major frowned.
"I'm awfully tired," said Bobby, very faintly. "What's the use of bothering me
with medicine? I-don't-want-it. Let me alone."
The desire for life had departed, and Bobby was content to drift away on the
easy tide of Death.
"It's no good," said the Surgeon-Major. "He doesn't want to live. He's meeting
it, poor child." And he blew his nose.
Half a mile away, the regimental band was playing the overture to the Sing-
song, for the men had been told that Bobby was out of danger. The clash of the
brass and the wail of the horns reached Bobby's ears.
Is there a single joy or pain,
That I should never kno-ow?
You do not love me, 'tis in vain,
Bid me goodbye and go!
An expression of hopeless irritation crossed the boy's face, and he tried to
shake his head.
The Surgeon-Major bent down--"What is it? Bobby?"--
"Not that waltz," muttered Bobby. "That's our own--our very ownest own. Mummy
With this he sank into the stupor that gave place to death early next morning.
Revere, his eyes red at the rims and his nose very white, went into Bobby's
tent to write a letter to Papa Wick which should bow the white head of the ex-
Commissioner of Chota-Buldana in the keenest sorrow of his life. Bobby's
little store of papers lay in confusion on the table, and among them a half-
finished letter. The last sentence ran: "So you see, darling, there is really
no fear, because as long as I know you care for me and I care for you, nothing
can touch me."
Revere stayed in the tent for an hour. When he came out, his eyes were redder
* * * * * *
Private Conklin sat on a turned-down bucket, and listened to a not unfamiliar
tune. Private Conklin was a convalescent and should have been tenderly
"Ho!" said Private Conklin. "There's another bloomin' orf'cer dead."
The bucket shot from under him, and his eyes filled with a smithyful of
sparks. A tall man in a blue-grey bedgown was regarding him with deep
"You ought to take shame for yourself, Conky! Orf'cer?--bloomin' orf'cer? I'll
learn you to misname the likes of 'im. Hangel! Bloomin' Hangel! That's wot 'e
And the Hospital Orderly was so satisfied with the justice of the punishment
that he did not even order Private Dormer back to his cot.
* * * * *
IN THE MATTER OF A PRIVATE
Hurrah! hurrah! a soldier's life for me!
Shout, boys, shout! for it makes you jolly and free.
--The Ramrod Corps.
People who have seen, say that one of the quaintest spectacles of human
frailty is an outbreak of hysterics in a girls' school. It starts without
warning, generally on a hot afternoon among the elder pupils. A girl giggles
till the giggle gets beyond control. Then she throws up her head, and cries,
"Honk, honk, honk," like a wild goose, and tears mix with the laughter. If the
mistress be wise she will rap out something severe at this point to check
matters. If she be tender-hearted, and send for a drink of water, the chances
are largely in favor of another girl laughing at the afflicted one and herself
collapsing. Thus the trouble spreads, and may end in half of what answers to
the Lower Sixth of a boys' school rocking and whooping together. Given a week
of warm weather, two stately promenades per diem, a heavy mutton and rice meal
in the middle of the day, a certain amount of nagging from the teachers, and a
few other things, some amazing effects develop. At least this is what folk say
who have had experience.
Now, the Mother Superior of a Convent and the Colonel of a British Infantry
Regiment would be justly shocked at any comparison being made between their
respective charges. But it is a fact that, under certain circumstances, Thomas
in bulk can be worked up into dithering, rippling hysteria. He does not weep,
but he shows his trouble unmistakably, and the consequences get into the
newspapers, and all the good people who hardly know a Martini from a Snider
say: "Take away the brute's ammunition!"
Thomas isn't a brute, and his business, which is to look after the virtuous
people, demands that he shall have his ammunition to his hand. He doesn't wear
silk stockings, and he really ought to be supplied with a new Adjective to
help him to express his opinions; but, for all that, he is a great man. If you
call him "the heroic defender of the national honor" one day, and "a brutal
and licentious soldiery" the next, you naturally bewilder him, and he looks
upon you with suspicion. There is nobody to speak for Thomas except people who
have theories to work off on him; and nobody understands Thomas except Thomas,
and he does not always know what is the matter with himself.
That is the prologue. This is the story:
Corporal Slane was engaged to be married to Miss Jhansi M'Kenna, whose history
is well known in the regiment and elsewhere. He had his Colonel's permission,
and, being popular with the men, every arrangement had been made to give the
wedding what Private Ortheris called "eeklar." It fell in the heart of the hot
weather, and, after the wedding, Slane was going up to the Hills with the
Bride. None the less, Slane's grievance was that the affair would he only a
hired-carriage wedding, and he felt that the "eeklar" of that was meagre. Miss
M'Kenna did not care so much. The Sergeant's wife was helping her to make her
wedding-dress, and she was very busy. Slane was, just then, the only
moderately contented man in barracks. All the rest were more or less
And they had so much to make them happy, too. All their work was over at eight
in the morning, and for the rest of the day they could lie on their backs and
smoke Canteen-plug and swear at the punkah-coolies. They enjoyed a fine, full
flesh meal in the middle of the day, and then threw themselves down on their
cots and sweated and slept till it was cool enough to go out with their
"towny," whose vocabulary contained less than six hundred words, and the
Adjective, and whose views on every conceivable question they had heard many
There was the Canteen, of course, and there was the Temperance Room with the
second-hand papers in it; but a man of any profession cannot read for eight
hours a day in a temperature of 96 degrees or 98 degrees in the shade, running
up sometimes to 103 degrees at midnight. Very few men, even though they get a
pannikin of flat, stale, muddy beer and hide it under their cots, can continue
drinking for six hours a day. One man tried, but he died, and nearly the whole
regiment went to his funeral because it gave them something to do. It was too
early for the excitement of fever or cholera. The men could only wait and wait
and wait, and watch the shadow of the barrack creeping across the blinding
white dust. That was a gay life.
They lounged about cantonments--it was too hot for any sort of game, and
almost too hot for vice--and fuddled themselves in the evening, and filled
themselves to distension with the healthy nitrogenous food provided for them,
and the more they stoked the less exercise they took and more explosive they
grew. Then tempers began to wear away, and men fell a-brooding over insults
real or imaginary, for they had nothing else to think of. The tone of the
repartees changed, and instead of saying light-heartedly: "I'll knock your
silly face in," men grew laboriously polite and hinted that the cantonments
were not big enough for themselves and their enemy, and that there would he
more space for one of the two in another place.
It may have been the Devil who arranged the thing, but the fact of the case is
that Losson had for a long time been worrying Simmons in an aimless way. It
gave him occupation. The two had their cots side by side, and would sometimes
spend a long afternoon swearing at each other; but Simmons was afraid of
Losson and dared not challenge him to a fight. He thought over the words in
the hot still nights, and half the hate he felt toward Losson be vented on the
Losson bought a parrot in the bazar, and put it into a little cage, and
lowered the cage into the cool darkness of a well, and sat on the well-curb,
shouting bad language down to the parrot. He taught it to say: "Simmons, ye
so-oor," which means swine, and several other things entirely unfit for
publication. He was a big gross man, and he shook like a jelly when the parrot
had the sentence correctly. Simmons, however, shook with rage, for all the
room were laughing at him--the parrot was such a disreputable puff of green
feathers and it looked so human when it chattered. Losson used to sit,
swinging his fat legs, on the side of the cot, and ask the parrot what it
thought of Simmons. The parrot would answer: "Simmons, ye so-oor." "Good boy,"
Losson used to say, scratching the parrot's head; "ye 'ear that, Sim?"
And Simmons used to turn over on his stomach and make answer: "I 'ear. Take
'eed you don't 'ear something one of these days."
In the restless nights, after he had been asleep all day, fits of blind rage
came upon Simmons and held him till he trembled all over, while he thought in
how many different ways he would slay Losson. Sometimes he would picture
himself trampling the life out of the man, with heavy ammunition-boots, and at
others smashing in his face with the butt, and at others jumping on his
shoulders and dragging the head back till the neckbone cracked. Then his mouth
would feel hot and fevered, and he would reach out for another sup of the beer
in the pannikin.
But the fancy that came to him most frequently and stayed with him longest was
one connected with the great roll of fat under Losson's right ear. He noticed
it first on a moonlight night, and thereafter it was always before his eyes.
It was a fascinating roll of fat. A man could get his hand upon it and tear
away one side of the neck; or he could place the muzzle of a rifle on it and
blow away all the head in a flash. Losson had no right to be sleek and
contented and well-to-do, when he, Simmons, was the butt of the room, Some
day, perhaps, he would show those who laughed at the "Simmons, ye so-oor"
joke, that he was as good as the rest, and held a man's life in the crook of
his forefinger. When Losson snored, Simmons hated him more bitterly than ever.
Why should Losson be able to sleep when Simmons had to stay awake hour after
hour, tossing and turning on the tapes, with the dull liver pain gnawing into
his right side and his head throbbing and aching after Canteen? He thought
over this for many nights, and the world became unprofitable to him. He even
blunted his naturally fine appetite with beer and tobacco; and all the while
the parrot talked at and made a mock of him.
The heat continued and the tempers wore away more quickly than before. A
Sergeant's wife died of heat-apoplexy in the night, and the rumor ran abroad
that it was cholera. Men rejoiced openly, hoping that it would spread and send
them into camp. But that was a false alarm.
It was late on a Tuesday evening, and the men were waiting in the deep double
verandas for "Last Posts," when Simmons went to the box at the foot of his
bed, took out his pipe, and slammed the lid down with a bang that echoed
through the deserted barrack like the crack of a rifle. Ordinarily speaking,
the men would have taken no notice; but their nerves were fretted to fiddle-
strings. They jumped up, and three or four clattered into the barrack-room
only to find Simmons kneeling by his box.
"Owl It's you, is it?" they said and laughed foolishly. "We t h o u g h t
'twas"--Simmons rose slowly. If the accident had so shaken his fellows, what
would not the reality do?
"You thought it was--did you? And what makes you think?" he said, lashing
himself into madness as he went on; "to Hell with your thinking, ye dirty
"Simmons, ye so-oor," chuckled the parrot in the veranda, sleepily,
recognizing a well-known voice. Now that was absolutely all.
The tension snapped. Simmons fell back on the arm-rack deliberately,--the men
were at the far end of the room,--and took out his rifle and packet of
ammunition. "Don't go playing the goat, Sim!" said Losson. "Put it down," but
there was a quaver in his voice. Another man stooped, slipped his boot and
hurled it at Simmons's head. The prompt answer was a shot which, fired at
random, found its billet in Losson's throat. Losson fell forward without a
word, and the others scattered.
"You thought it was!" yelled Simmons. "You're drivin' me to it! I tell you
you're drivin' me to it! Get up, Losson, an' don't lie shammin' there--you an'
your blasted parrit that druv me to it!"
But there was an unaffected reality about Losson's pose that showed Simmons
what he had done. The men were still clamoring n the veranda. Simmons
appropriated two more packets of ammunition and ran into the moonlight,
muttering: "I'll make a night of it. Thirty roun's, an' the last for myself.
Take you that, you dogs!"
He dropped on one knee and fired into the brown of the men on the veranda, but
the bullet flew high, and landed in the brickwork with a vicious phat that
made some of the younger ones turn pale. It is, as musketry theorists observe,
one thing to fire and another to be fired at.
Then the instinct of the chase flared up. The news spread from barrack to
barrack, and the men doubled out intent on the capture of Simmons, the wild
beast, who was heading for the Cavalry parade-ground, stopping now and again
to send back a shot and a curse in the direction of his pursuers.
"I'll learn you to spy on me!" he shouted; "I'll learn you to give me dorg's
names! Come on the 'ole lot o' you! Colonel John Anthony Deever, C.B.!"--he
turned toward the Infantry Mess and shook his rifle--"you think yourself the
devil of a man--but I tell you that if you put your ugly old carcass outside
o' that door, I'll make you the poorest-lookin' man in the army. Come out,
Colonel John Anthony Deever, C.B.! Come out and see me practiss on the rainge.
I'm the crack shot of the 'ole bloomin' battalion." In proof of which
statement Simmons fired at the lighted windows of the mess-house.
"Private Simmons, E Comp'ny, on the Cavalry p'rade-ground, Sir, with thirty
rounds," said a Sergeant breathlessly to the Colonel. "Shootin' right and
lef', Sir. Shot Private Losson. What's to be done, Sir?"
Colonel John Anthony Deever, C.B., sallied out, only to be saluted by s spurt
of dust at his feet.
"Pull up!" said the Second in Command; "I don't want my step in that way,
Colonel. He's as dangerous as a mad dog."
"Shoot him like one, then," said the Colonel, bitterly, "if he won't take his
chance, My regiment, too! If it had been the Towheads I could have under
Private Simmons had occupied a strong position near a well on the edge of the
parade-ground, and was defying the regiment to come on. The regiment was not
anxious to comply, for there is small honor in being shot by a fellow-private.
Only Corporal Slane, rifle in band, threw himself down on the ground, and
wormed his way toward the well.
"Don't shoot," said he to the men round him; "like as not you'll hit me. I'll
catch the beggar, livin'."
Simmons ceased shouting for a while, and the noise of trap-wheels could be
heard across the plain. Major Oldyn, commanding the Horse Battery, was coming
back from a dinner in the Civil Lines; was driving after his usual custom--
that is to say, as fast as the horse could go.
"A orf'cer! A blooming spangled orf'cer," shrieked Simmons; "I'll make a
scarecrow of that orf'cer!" The trap stopped.
"What's this?" demanded the Major of Gunners. "You there, drop your rifle."
"Why, it's Jerry Blazes! I ain't got no quarrel with you, Jerry Blazes. Pass
frien', an' all's well!"
But Jerry Blazes had not the faintest intention of passing a dangerous
murderer. He was, as his adoring Battery swore long and fervently, without
knowledge of fear, and they were surely the best judges, for Jerry Blazes, it
was notorious, had done his possible to kill a man each time the Battery went
He walked toward Simmons, with the intention of rushing him, and knocking him
"Don't make me do it, Sir," said Simmons; "I ain't got nothing agin you. Ah!
you would?"--the Major broke into a run--"Take that then!"
The Major dropped with a bullet through his shoulder, and Simmons stood over
him. He had lost the satisfaction of killing Losson in the desired way: hut
here was a helpless body to his hand. Should be slip in another cartridge, and
blow off the head, or with the butt smash in the white face? He stopped to
consider, and a cry went up from the far side of the parade-ground: "He's
killed Jerry Blazes!" But in the shelter of the well-pillars Simmons was safe
except when he stepped out to fire. "I'll blow yer 'andsome 'ead off, Jerry
Blazes," said Simmons, reflectively. "Six an' three is nine an one is ten, an'
that leaves me another nineteen, an' one for myself." He tugged at the string
of the second packet of ammunition. Corporal Slane crawled out of the shadow
of a bank into the moonlight.
"I see you!" said Simmons. "Come a bit furder on an' I'll do for you."
"I'm comm'," said Corporal Slane, briefly; "you've done a bad day's work, Sim.
Come out 'ere an' come back with me."
"Come to,"--laughed Simmons, sending a cartridge home with his thumb. "Not
before I've settled you an' Jerry Blazes."
The Corporal was lying at full length in the dust of the parade-ground, a
rifle under him. Some of the less-cautious men in the distance shouted: "Shoot
'im! Shoot 'im, Slane !"
"You move 'and or foot, Slane," said Simmons, "an' I'll kick Jerry Blazes'
'ead in, and shoot you after."
"I ain't movin'," said the Corporal, raising his head; "you daren't 'it a man
on 'is legs. Let go o' Jerry Blazes an' come out o' that with your fistes.
Come an' 'it me. You daren't, you bloomin' dog-shooter!"
"You lie, you man-sticker. You sneakin', Sheeny butcher, you lie. See there!"
Slane kicked the rifle away, and stood up in the peril of his life. "Come on,
The temptation was more than Simmons could resist, for the Corporal in his
white clothes offered a perfect mark.
"Don't misname me," shouted Simmons, firing as he spoke. The shot missed, and
the shooter, blind with rage, threw his rifle down and rushed at Slane from
the protection of the well. Within striking distance, he kicked savagely at
Slane's stomach, but the weedy Corporal knew something of Simmons's weakness,
and knew, too, the deadly guard for that kick. Bowing forward and drawing up
his right leg till the heel of the right foot was set some three inches above
the inside of the left knee-cap, he met the blow standing on one leg--exactly
as Gonds stand when they meditate--and ready for the fall that would follow.
There was an oath, the Corporal fell over his own left as shinbone met
shinbone, and the Private collapsed, his right leg broken an inch above the
"'Pity you don't know that guard, Sim," said Slane, spitting out the dust as
he rose. Then raising his voice, "Come an' take him orf. I've bruk 'is leg."
This was not strictly true, for the Private had accomplished his own downfall,
since it is the special merit of that leg-guard that the harder the kick the
greater the kicker's discomfiture.
Slane walked to Jerry Blazes and hung over him with ostentatious anxiety,
while Simmons, weeping with pain, was carried away. " 'Ope you ain't 'urt
badly, Sir," said Slane. The Major had fainted, and there was an ugly, ragged
hole through the top of his arm. Slane knelt down and murmured. "S'elp me, I
believe 'e's dead. Well, if that ain't my blooming luck all over!"
But the Major was destined to lead his Battery afield for many a long day with
unshaken nerve. He was removed, and nursed and petted into convalescence,
while the Battery discussed the wisdom of capturing Simmons, and blowing him
from a gun. They idolized their Major, and his reappearance on parade brought
about a scene nowhere provided for in the Army Regulations.
Great, too, was the glory that fell to Slane's share. The Gunners would have
made him drunk thrice a day for at least a fortnight. Even the Colonel of his
own regiment complimented him upon his coolness, and the local paper called
him a hero. These things did not puff him up. When the Major offered him money
and thanks, the virtuous Corporal took the one and put aside the other. But he
had a request to make and prefaced it with many a "Beg y'pardon, Sir." Could
the Major see his way to letting the Slane-M'Kenna wedding be adorned by the
presence of four Battery horses to pull a hired barouche? The Major could, and
so could the Battery. Excessively so. It was a gorgeous wedding.
* * * * * *
"Wot did I do it for?" said Corporal Slane. "For the 'orses 0' course. Jhansi
ain't a beauty to look at, but I wasn't goin' to 'ave a hired turn-out. Jerry
Blazes? If I 'adn't 'a' wanted something, Sim might ha' blowed Jerry Blazes'
blooming 'ead into Hirish stew for aught I'd 'a' cared."
And they hanged Private Simmons--hanged him as high as Haman in hollow square
of the regiment; and the Colonel said it was Drink; and the Chaplain was sure
it was the Devil; and Simmons fancied it was both, but he didn't know, and
only hoped his fate would be a warning to his companions; and half a dozen
"intelligent publicists" wrote six beautiful leading articles on "'The
Prevalence of Crime in the Army."
But not a soul thought of comparing the "bloody-minded Simmons" to the
squawking, gaping schoolgirl with which this story opens.
THE ENLIGHTENMENTS OF PAGETT, M.P.
"Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their
importunate chink while thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow
of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that
those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field--that, of
course, they are many in number or that, after all, they are other than the
little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of
--Burke: "Reflections on the Revolution in France."
They were sitting in the veranda of "the splendid palace of an Indian Pro-
Consul"; surrounded by all the glory and mystery of the immemorial East. In
plain English it was a one-storied, ten-roomed, whitewashed, mud-roofed
bungalow, set in a dry garden of dusty tamarisk trees and divided from the
road by a low mud wall. The green parrots screamed overhead as they flew in
battalions to the river for their morning drink. Beyond the wall, clouds of
fine dust showed where the cattle and goats of the city were passing afield to
graze. The remorseless white light of the winter sunshine of Northern India
lay upon everything and improved nothing, from the whining Persian-wheel by
the lawn-tennis court to the long perspective of level road and the blue,
domed tombs of Mohammedan saints just visible above the trees.
"A Happy New Year," said Orde to his guest. "It's the first you've ever spent
out of England, isn't it?"
"Yes. 'Happy New Year," said Pagett, smiling at the sunshine. "What a divine
climate you have here! Just think of the brown cold fog hanging over London
now!" And he rubbed his hands.
It was more than twenty years since he had last seen Orde, his schoolmate, and
their paths in the world had divided early. The one had quitted college to
become a cog-wheel in the machinery of the great Indian Government; the other
more blessed with goods, had been whirled into a similar position in the
English scheme. Three successive elections had not affected Pagett's position
with a loyal constituency, and he had grown insensibly to regard himself in
some sort as a pillar of the Empire, whose real worth would be known later on.
After a few years of conscientious attendance at many divisions, after
newspaper battles innumerable and the publication of interminable
correspondence, and more hasty oratory than in his calmer moments he cared to
think upon, it occurred to him, as it had occurred to many of his fellows in
Parliament, that a tour to India would enable him to sweep a larger lyre and
address himself to the problems of Imperial administration with a firmer hand.
Accepting, therefore, a general invitation extended to him by Orde some years
before, Pagett bad taken ship to Karachi, and only overnight had been received
with joy by the Deputy-Commissioner of Amara. They had sat late, discussing
the changes and chances of twenty years, recalling the names of the dead, and
weighing the futures of the living, as is the custom of men meeting after
intervals of action.
Next morning they smoked the after-breakfast pipe in the veranda, still
regarding each other curiously, Pagett, in a light grey frock-coat and
garments much too thin for the time of the year, and a puggried sun-hat
carefully and wonderfully made, Orde in a shooting coat, riding breeches,
brown cowhide boots with spurs, and a battered flax helmet. He had ridden some
miles in the early morning to inspect a doubtful river dam. The men's faces
differed as much as their attire. Orde's worn and wrinkled around the eyes,
and grizzled at the temples, was the harder and more square of the two, and it
was with something like envy that the owner looked at the comfortable outlines
of Pagett's blandly receptive countenance, the clear skin, the untroubled eye,
and the mobile, clean-shaved lips.
"And this is India!" said Pagett for the twentieth time staring long and
intently at the grey feathering of the tamarisks.
"One portion of India only. It's very much like this for 300 miles in every
direction. By the way, now that you have rested a little--I wouldn't ask the
old question before--what d'you think of the country?"
"'Tis the most pervasive country that ever yet was seen. I acquired several
pounds of your country coming up from Karachi. The air is heavy with it, and
for miles and miles along that distressful eternity of rail there's no horizon
to show where air and earth separate."
"Yes. It isn't easy to see truly or far in India. But you had a decent passage
out, hadn't you?"
"Very good on the whole. Your Anglo-Indian may be unsympathetic about one's
political views; but he has reduced ship life to a science."
"The Anglo-Indian is a political orphan, and if he's wise he won't be in a
hurry to be adopted by your party grandmothers. But how were your companions,
"Well, there was a man called Dawlishe, a judge somewhere in this country it
seems, and a capital partner at whist by the way, and when I wanted to talk to
him about the progress of India in a political sense (Orde hid a grin, which
might or might not have been sympathetic), the National Congress movement, and
other things in which, as a Member of Parliament, I'm of course interested, he
shifted the subject, and when I once cornered him, he looked me calmly in the
eye, and said: 'That's all Tommy rot. Come and have a game at Bull.' You may
laugh; but that isn't the way to treat a great and important question; and,
knowing who I was, well, I thought it rather rude, don't you know; and yet
Dawlishe is a thoroughly good fellow."
"Yes; he's a friend of mine, and one of the straightest men I know. I suppose,
like many Anglo-Indians, he felt it was hopeless to give you any just idea of
any Indian question without the documents before you, and in this case the
documents you want are the country and the people."
"Precisely. That was why I came straight to you, bringing an open mind to bear
on things. I'm anxious to know what popular feeling in India is really like
y'know, now that it has wakened into political life. The National Congress, in
spite of Dawlishe, must have caused great excitement among the masses?"
"On the contrary, nothing could be more tranquil than the state of popular
feeling; and as to excitement, the people would as soon be excited over the
'Rule of Three' as over the Congress."
"Excuse me, Orde, but do you think you are a fair judge? Isn't the official
Anglo-Indian naturally jealous of any external influences that might move the
masses, and so much opposed to liberal ideas, truly liberal ideas, that he can
scarcely be expected to regard a popular movement with fairness?"
"What did Dawlishe say about Tommy Rot? Think a moment, old man. You and I
were brought up together; taught by the same tutors, read the same books,
lived the same life, and new languages, and work among new races; while you,
more fortunate, remain at home. Why should I change my mind--our mind--because
I change my sky? Why should I and the few hundred Englishmen in my service
become unreasonable, prejudiced fossils, while you and your newer friends
alone remain bright and open-minded? You surely don't fancy civilians are
members of a Primrose League?"
"Of course not, but the mere position of an English official gives him a point
of view which cannot but bias his mind on this question." Pagett moved his
knee up and down a little uneasily as he spoke.
"That sounds plausible enough, but, like more plausible notions on Indian
matters, I believe it's a mistake. You'll find when you come to consult the
unofficial Briton that our fault, as a class--I speak of the civilian now--is
rather to magnify the progress that has been made toward liberal institutions.
It is of English origin, such as it is, and the stress of our work since the
Mutiny--only thirty years ago--has been in that direction. No, I think you
will get no fairer or more dispassionate view of the Congress business than
such men as I can give you. But I may as well say at once that those who know
most of India, from the inside, are inclined to wonder at the noise our
scarcely begun experiment makes in England."
"But surely the gathering together of Congress delegates is of itself a new
"There's nothing new under the sun When Europe was a jungle half Asia flocked
to the canonical conferences of Buddhism; and for centuries the people have
gathered at Pun, Hurdwar, Trimbak, and Benares in immense numbers. A great
meeting, what you call a mass meeting, is really one of the oldest and most
popular of Indian institutions in this topsy-turvy land, and though they have
been employed in clerical work for generations they have no practical
knowledge of affairs. A ship's clerk is a useful person, but he is scarcely
the captain; and an orderly room writer, however smart he may be, is not the
colonel. You see, the writer class in India has never till now aspired to
anything like command. It wasn't allowed to. The Indian gentleman, for
thousands of years past, has resembled Victor Hugo's noble:
"'Un vrai sire Chatelain Laisse ecrire Le vilain. Sa main digne Quand il signe
Egratigne Le velin.'
"And the little egratignures he most likes to make have been scored pretty
deeply by the sword."
"But this is childish and mediaeval nonsense!"
"Precisely; and from your, or rather our, point of view the pen is mightier
than the sword. In this country it's otherwise. The fault lies in our Indian
balances, not yet adjusted to civilized weights and measures."
"Well, at all events, this literary class represent the natural aspirations
and wishes of the people at large, though it may not exactly lead them, and,
in spite of all you say, Orde, I defy you to find a really sound English
Radical who would not sympathize with those aspirations."
Pagett spoke with some warmth, and he had scarcely ceased when a well-
appointed dog-cart turned into the compound gates, and Orde rose saying: "Here
is Edwards, the Master of the Lodge I neglect so diligently, come to talk
about accounts, I suppose."
As the vehicle drove up under the porch Pagett also rose, saying with the
trained effusion born of much practice: "But this is also my friend, my old
and valued friend Edwards. I'm delighted to see you. I knew you were in India,
but not exactly where."
"Then it isn't accounts, Mr. Edwards," said Orde, cheerily.
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