Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Ted Garvin and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE STORIES OF A MAN, A BOY, A WOMAN, AND CERTAIN OTHER PEOPLE WHO
STRANGELY MET UPON THE SEA OF LIFE
CAPTAIN PERCIVAL CHRISTOPHER WREN, I.A.R.
AUTHOR OF "DEW AND MILDEW", "FATHER GREGORY", "SNAKE AND SWORD", ETC.
"Like driftwood spars which meet and pass
Upon the boundless ocean-plain,
So on the sea of life, alas!
Man nears man, meets, and leaves again"
TO THE MEMORY OF MY BELOVED WIFE
NOTE.--This book was written in the year 1912
I. THE MAN (Mainly concerning the early life of John, Robin
II. THE BOY (Mainly concerning the life of Moussa Isa Somali.)
III. THE WOMAN (And Augustus Grabble; General Murger; Sergeant-Major
Lawrence-Smith; Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green; Mr. Horace Faggit;
as well as a reformed JOHN ROBIN ROSS-ELLISON.)
IV. "MEET AND LEAVE AGAIN"
(Mainly concerning the early life of John Robin Ross-Ellison.)
Truth is stranger than fiction, and many of the coincidences of real
life are truly stranger than the most daring imaginings of the
Now, I, Major Michael Malet-Marsac, happened at the moment to be
thinking of my dear and deeply lamented friend John Ross-Ellison, and to
be pondering, for the thousandth time, his extraordinary life and more
extraordinary death. Nor had I the very faintest notion that the
Subedar-Major had ever heard of such a person, much less that he was
actually his own brother, or, to be exact, his half-brother. You see I
had known Ross-Ellison intimately as one only can know the man with whom
one has worked, soldiered, suffered, and faced death. Not only had I
known, admired and respected him--I had loved him. There is no other
word for it; I loved him as a brother loves a brother, as a son loves
his father, as the fighting-man loves the born leader of fighting-men: I
loved him as Jonathan loved David. Indeed it was actually a case of
"passing the love of women" for although he killed Cleopatra Dearman,
the only woman for whom I ever cared, I fear I have forgiven him and
almost forgotten her.
But to return to the Subedar-Major. "Peace, fool! Art blind as Ibrahim
Mahmud the Weeper," growled that burly Native Officer as the zealous and
over-anxious young sentry cried out and pointed to where, in the
moonlight, the returning reconnoitring-patrol was to be seen as it
emerged from the lye-bushes of the dry river-bed.
A recumbent comrade of the outpost sentry group sniggered.
My own sympathies were decidedly with the sentry, for I had fever, and
"fever is another man". In any case, hours of peering, watching,
imagining and waiting, for the attack that will surely come--and never
comes--try even experienced nerves.
"And who was Ibrahim the Weeper, Subedar-Major Saheb?" I inquired of the
redoubtable warrior as he joined me.
"He was my brother's enemy, Sahib," replied Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz
Ullah Khan, principal Native Officer of the 99th Baluch Light Infantry
and member of the ruling family of Mekran Kot in far Kubristan.
"And what made him so blind as to be for a proverb unto you?"
"Just some little drops of water, Sahib, nothing more," replied the big
man with a smile that lifted the curling moustache and showed the
dazzling perfect teeth.
It was bitter, bitter cold--cold as it only can be in hot countries (I
have never felt the cold in Russia as I have in India) and the khaki
flannel shirt, khaki tunic, shorts and putties that had seemed so hot
in the cruel heat of the day as we made our painful way across the
valley, seemed miserably inadequate at night, on the windy hill-top.
Moreover I was in the cold stage of a go of fever, and to have escaped
sunstroke in the natural oven of that awful valley at mid-day seemed but
the prelude to being frost-bitten on the mountain at midnight.
Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan appeared wholly
unaffected by the 100 deg. variation in temperature, but then he had a few
odd stone of comfortable fat and was bred to such climatic trifles. He,
moreover, knew not fever, and, unlike me, had not experienced dysentery,
malaria, enteric and pneumonia fairly recently.
"And had the hand of your brother anything to do with the little drops
of water that made Ibrahim the Weeper so blind?" I asked.
"Something, Sahib," replied Mir Daoud Khan with a laugh, "but the hand
of Allah had more than that of my brother. It is a strange story. True
stories are sometimes far stranger than those of the bazaar tale-tellers
whose trade it is to invent or remember wondrous tales and stories,
myths, and legends."
"We have a proverb to that effect, Mir Saheb. Let us sit in the shelter
of this rock and you shall tell me the story. Our eyes can work while
tongue and ear play--or would you sleep?"
"_Nahin_, Sahib! Am I a Sahib that I should regard night as the time
wholly sacred to sleep and day as the time when to sleep is sin? I will
tell the Sahib the tale of the Blindness of Ibrahim Mahmud the Weeper,
well knowing that he, a truth-speaker, will believe the truth spoken by
his servant. To no liar would it seem possible.
"Know then, Sahib, that this brother of mine was not my mother's son,
though the son of my father (Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan Mir Faquir Mahommed
Afzul Khan), who was the youngest son of His Highness the Jam Saheb of
Mekran Kot in Kubristan. And he, my father, was a great traveller, a
restless wanderer, and crossed the Black Water many times. To Englistan
he went, and without crossing water he also went to the capital of the
Amir of Russia to say certain things, quietly, from the King of Islam,
the Amir of Afghanistan. To where the big Waler horses come from he also
went, and to where they take the camels for use in the hot and sandy
"Yes, Australia" I remarked.
"Without doubt, if the Sahib be pleased to say it. And there, having
taken many camels in a ship that he might sell them at a profit, he
wedded a white woman--a woman of the race of the Highland soldiers of
Englistan, such as are in this very Brigade."
"Married a Scotchwoman?"
"Without doubt. Of a low caste--her father being a drunkard and landless
(though grandson of a Lord Sahib), living by horses and camels menially,
out-casted, a jail-bird. Formerly he had carried the mail through the
desert, a fine rider and brave man, but _sharab_ had loosened the
thigh in the saddle and palsied hand and eye. On hearing this news, the
Jam Saheb was exceeding wroth, for he had planned a good marriage for
his son, and he arranged that the woman should die if my father, on
whom be Peace, brought her to Mekran Kot. 'Tis but desert and mountain,
Sahib, with a few big _jagirs_ and some villages, a good fort, a
crumbling tower, and a town on the Caravan Road--but the Jam Saheb's
words are clearly heard and for many miles.
"Our father, however, was not so foolish as to bring the woman to his
home, for he knew that Pathan horse-dealers, camel-men, and traders
would have taken the truth, and more than the truth, concerning the
woman's social position to the gossips of Mekran Kot. And, apart from
the fact that her father was a drunkard, landless, a jail-bird,
out-casted by his caste-fellows, no father loves to see his son marry
with a woman of another community, nor with any woman but her with whose
father he has made his arrangements.
"So my father, bringing the fair woman, his wife, by ship to Karachi,
travelled by the _relwey terain_ to Kot Ghazi and left her there in
India, where she would be safe. There he left her with her _butcha_,
my half-brother, and journeyed toward the setting sun to look upon the
face of his father the Jam Saheb. And the Jam Saheb long turned his face
from him and would not look upon him nor give him his blessing--and only
relented when my father took to himself another wife, my mother, the
lady of noble birth whom the Jam Saheb had desired for him--and
sojourned for a season at Mekran Kot. But after I was born of this union
(I am of pure and noble descent) his heart wearied, being with the fair
woman at Kot Ghazi, for whom he yearned, and with her son, his own son,
yet so white of skin, so blue of eye, the fairest child who ever had a
Pathan father. Yea, my brother was even fairer than I, who, as the
Huzoor knoweth, have grey eyes, and hair and beard that are not darkly
"So my father began to make journeys to Kot Ghazi to visit the woman his
first wife, and the boy his first-born. And she, who loved him much, and
whom he loved, prevailed upon him to name my brother after _her_ father
as well as after himself, the child's father (as is our custom) and so
my brother was rightly called Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan."
"And what part of that is the name of his mother's father?" I asked, for
the Subedar-Major's rapid utterance of the name conveyed nothing of
familiar English or Scottish names to my mind.
"Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan," replied Mir Daoud Khan; "that was her
father's name, Sahib."
"Say it again, slowly."
"Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan."
"I have it! Yes, but _what_?--John Robin Ross-Ellison? Good God! But _I_
knew a John Robin Ross-Ellison when _I_ was a Captain. He was Colonel of
the Corps of which I was Adjutant, in fact--the Gungapur Volunteer
Rifles.... By Jove! That explains a lot. _John Robin Ross-Ellison_!"
I was too incredulous to be astounded. It _could_ not be.
"_Han_ Sahib, _be shak_! Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan was his name. And his mother called him
Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan and his father, Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan, called
him Ilderim Dost Mahommed."
 Without doubt.
"H'm! A Scotch Pathan, brought up by an Australian girl in India, would
be a rare bird--and of rare possibilities naturally," I murmured, while
my mind worked quickly backward.
"My brother was unlike us in some things, Sahib. He was fond of the
_sharab_ called '_Whisky_' and of dogs; he drank smoke from the cheroot
after the fashion of the Sahib-log and not from the hookah nor the
_bidi_; he wore boots; he struck with the clenched fist when angered;
and never did he squat down upon his heels nor sit cross-legged upon the
ground. Yet he was true Pathan in many ways during his life, and he died
as a Pathan should, concerning his honour (and a woman). Yea--and in his
last fight, ere he was hanged, he killed more men with his long Khyber
knife, single-handed against a mob, than ever did lone man before with
cold steel in fair fight."
 Native cigarette.
Then it was so. And the Subedar-Major was John Robin Ross-Ellison's
"He may have been foolishly kind to women, servants and dogs, and of a
foolish type of honour that taketh not every possible advantage of the
foe--but he was very brave, Huzoor, a strong enemy, and when he began he
made an end, and if that same honour were affronted he killed his man.
And yet he did not kill Ibrahim Mahmud the Weeper, who surely earned his
death twice, and who tried to kill him in a manner most terrible to
think of. No, he did not--but it shall be told.... And the white woman
prevailed upon our father to make her man-child a Sahib and to let him
go to the _maktab_ and _madressah-tul-Islam_ at Kot Ghazi, to
learn the clerkly lore that gives no grip to the hand on the sword-hilt
and lance-shaft nor to the thighs in the saddle, no skill to the fingers
on the reins, no length of sight to the eye, no steadiness to the rifle
and the lance, no understanding of the world and men and things. But our
father corrected all this, that the learning might do him no harm, for
oft-times he brought him to Mekran Kot (where my mother tried to poison
him), and he took him across the Black Water and to Kabul and Calcutta
and showed him the world. Also he taught him all he knew of the horse,
the rifle, the sword, and the lance--which was no small matter. Thus,
much of the time wasted at school was harmless, and what the boy lost
through the folly of his mother was redeemed by the wisdom of his
father. Truly are our mothers our best friends and worst enemies. Why,
when I was but a child my mother gave me money and bade me go prove--but
I digress. Well, thus my brother grew up not ignorant of the things a
man should know if he is to be a man and not a _babu_, but the woman,
his mother, wept sore whenever he was taken from her, and gave my father
trouble and annoyance as women ever do. And when, at last, she begged
that the boy might enter the service of the Sirkar as a wielder of the
pen in an office in Kot Ghazi, and strive to become a leading
_munshi_ and then a Deputy-Saheb, a _babu_ in very fact, my father
was wroth, and said the boy would be a warrior--yea, though he had to
die in his first skirmish and ere his beard were grown. Then the woman
wept and wearied my father until it seemed better to him that she should
die and, being at peace, bring peace. No quiet would he have at Mekran
Kot from my mother and his father, the Jam Saheb, while the woman lived,
nor would she herself allow him quiet at Kot Ghazi. And was she not
growing old and skinny moreover? And so he sent my brother to Mekran
Kot--and the woman died, without scandal. So my brother dwelt
thenceforward in Mekran Kot, knowing many things, for he had passed a
great _imtahan_ at Bombay and won a _sertifcut_ thereby, whereof
the Jam Saheb was very pleased, for the son of the Vizier had also gone
to a _madresseh_ and won a _sertifcut_, and it was time the pride of the
Vizier and his son were abated.
 Mohammedan High School.
"Now the son of the Vizier, Mahmud Shahbaz, was Ibrahim--and a mean
mangy pariah cur this Ibrahim Mahmud was, having been educated, and he
hated my brother bitterly by reason of the _sertifcut_ and on account of
a matter concerning a dancing-girl, one of those beautiful fat Mekranis,
and, by reason of his hatred and envy and jealousy, my mother made
common cause with him, she also desiring my brother's death, in that her
husband loved this child of another woman, an alien, his first love,
better than he loved hers. But _I_ bore him no ill-will, Huzoor. I loved
him and admired his deeds.
"Many attempts they made, but though my mother was clever and Ibrahim
Mahmud and his father the Vizier were unscrupulous, my brother was in
the protection of the Prophet. Moreover he was much away from Mekran
Kot, being, like our father, a great traveller and soon irked by
whatever place he might be in. And, one time, he returned home, having
been to Germany on secret service (a thing he often did before he became
a Sahib) and to France and Africa on a little matter of rifles for
Afghanistan and the Border, and spoke to us of that very Somaliland to
which this very _pultan_, the 99th Baluch Light Infantry, went in 1908
(was it?), and how the English were losing prestige there and would have
to send troops or receive _boondah_ and the blackened face from him
they called the Mad Mullah. And yet another time he returned from India
bringing a Somali boy, a black-faced youth, but a good Mussulman, whom,
some time before, he had known and saved from death in Africa, and now
had most strangely encountered again. And this Somali lad--who was not a
_hubshi_, a Woolly One, not a Sidi slave--saved my brother's life in
his turn. I said he was not a slave--but in a sense he was, for he asked
nothing better than to sit in the shadow of my brother throughout his
life; for he loved my brother as the Huzoors' dogs love their masters,
yea--he would rather have had blows from my brother than gold from
another. He it was who saved Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan from the
terrible death prepared for him by Ibrahim Mahmud. It was during this
visit to Mekran Kot that Mahmud Shahbaz, the Vizier, announced
that he was about to send his learned son, the dog Ibrahim, to
Englistan to become English-made first-class Pleader--what they
called--'_Barishtar-at-Lar_' is it not, Sahib?"
 An insulting and contemptuous gesture.
 A class of negroes, much employed as sailors and boatmen, and
"That's it, Mir Saheb," replied I, sitting alert with chattering teeth
and shivering ague-stricken body. "Barrister-at Law.... Sit as close to
me as you can, for warmth.... Hark! Is that a signal?" as a long high
wavering note rose from the dry river-bed before us and wailed
lugubriously upon the night, rising and falling in mournful cadence.
"'Twas a genuine jackal-cry, Huzoor. One can always tell the imitation
if jackals have sung one's lullaby from birth--though most Pathans can
deceive white ears in the matter.... Well, this made things no
pleasanter, for Ibrahim crowed like the dung-hill cock he was, and
boasted loudly. Also my mother urged him to do a deed ere he left Mekran
Kot for so long a sojourn in Belait. And to her incitements and his
own inclination and desires was added that which made revenge and my
brother's death the chiefest things in all the world to Ibrahim Mahmud,
and it happened thus.... But do I weary the Sahib with my babble?"
"Nay--nay--far from it, Mir Saheb," replied I. "The sentry of talk
challenges the approaching skirmishers of sleep. The thong of narrative
drives off the dogs of tedium. Tell on." And in point of fact I was now
too credulous to be anything but astounded.... _John Robin
"Well, one day, my brother and I went forth to shoot sand-grouse,
tuloor, chikor, chinkara and perchance ibex, leaving behind
this black body-servant Moussa Isa, the Somali boy, because he was
sick. And it was supposed that we should not return for a week at the
least. But on the third day we returned, my brother's eyes being
inflamed and sore and he fearing blindness if he remained out in the
desert glare. This is a common thing, as the Sahib knoweth, when dust
and sun combine against the eyes of those who have read over-many books
and written over-much with the steel pen upon white paper, and my
brother was somewhat prone to this trouble in the desert if he exhausted
himself with excessive _shikar_ and--other matters. And this angered him
greatly. Yet it was all ordained by Allah for the undoing of that
unclean dog Ibrahim Mahmud--for, returning and riding on his white camel
(a far-famed pacer of speed and endurance) under the great gateway of
the Jam's fort--high enough for a camel-rider to pass unstooping and
long enough for a _relwey_-tunnel--he came upon Mahmud Ibrahim and his
friends and followers (for he had many such, who thought he might
succeed his father as Vizier) doing a thing that enraged my brother very
greatly. Swinging at the end of a cord tied to his hands, which were
bound behind his back, was the boy Moussa Isa the Somali, apparently
dead, for his eyes were closed and he gave no sign of pain as Ibrahim's
gang of pimps, panders, bullies and _budmashes_ kept him swinging to
and fro by blows of _lathis_ and by kicks, while Ibrahim and his
friends, at a short distance, strove to hit the moving body with stones.
I suppose the agony of hanging forward from the arms, and the blows of
staff and stone, had stunned the lad--who had offended Ibrahim, it
appeared, by preventing him from entering my brother's house--probably
to poison his water-_lotah_ and _gurrah_--at the door of which
he, Moussa Isa, lay sick. My brother, Mir Jan, sprang from his camel
without waiting for the driver to make it kneel, and going up to
Ibrahim, he struck him with his closed, but empty, hand. Not with the
slap that stings and angers, he struck him, but with the thud that stuns
and injures, upon the mouth, removing certain of his teeth,--such being
his anger and his strength. Rising from the ground and plucking forth
his knife, Ibrahim sprang at my brother who, unarmed, straightway smote
him senseless, and that is talked of in Mekran Kot to this day.
Yea--senseless. Placing the thumb upon the knuckles of the clenched
fingers, he smote at the chin of Ibrahim, and laid him, as one dead,
upon the earth. Straight to the front from the shoulder and not
downwards nor swinging sideways he struck, and it was as though Ibrahim
had been shot. The Sahib being English will believe this, but many
Baluchis and Pathans do not. They cannot believe it, though to me
Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan of the 99th Baluch
Light Infantry of the Army of the King Emperor of India, they pretend
that they do, when I tell of that great deed.... Then my brother loosed
Moussa Isa with his own hand, saying that even as he had served Ibrahim
Mahmud so would he serve any man who injured a hair of the head of his
body-servant. And Moussa Isa clave to my brother yet the more, and when
a great Sidi slave entered the room of my brother by night, doubtless
hired by Ibrahim Mahmud to slay him, Moussa Isa, grappling with him,
tore out his throat with his teeth, though stabbed many times by the
Sidi, ere my brother could light torch or wick to tell friend from foe.
Whether he were thief or hired murderer, none could say--least of all
the Sidi when Moussa Isa, at my brother's bidding, loosed his teeth from
the man's throat. But all men held that it was the work of Ibrahim, for,
on recovering his senses that day of the blow, he had walked up to my
brother Mir Jan and said:--
 A kind of partridge.
 Bad characters.
 Long staves.
 Brass cup or vase.
 Basin or pot.
"'For that blow will I have a great revenge, O Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan
Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan, descendant of Mirs and of
_mlecca_ dogs, this year or next year, or ten years hence, or when thou
art old, or upon thy first-born. By the sacred names of God, by the
Beard of the Prophet, by the hilt and blade of this my knife, and by the
life of my oldest son, I swear to have a vengeance on thee that shall
turn men pale as they whisper it. _And may Allah smite me blind_ if I do
not unto thee a thing of which children yet unborn shall speak with
"Thus spake Ibrahim, son of Mahmud, for though a dog, a mangy pariah
cur, he was still a Pathan.
"But my brother laughed in his face and said but 'It would seem that I
too have tortured a slave' whereat Ibrahim repeated again 'Yea--_may
Allah smite me blind!_'
"And something of this coming to the ears of our father, now heir to the
Jam of Mekran Kot, as his brothers were dead (in the big Border War they
died), he prayed the Jam Saheb to hasten the departure of the Vizier's
cub, and also told the Vizier that he would surely cut out his tongue
if aught befell Mir Jan. So the Vizier sent Ibrahim to Kot Ghazi on
business of investing moneys--wrung by knavery, doubtless, from litigant
suitors, candidates, criminals, and the poor of Mekran Kot. And shortly
after, the Jam Saheb heard of a new kind of gun that fires six of the
fat cartridges such as are used for the shooting of birds, without
reloading; and he bade Mir Jan who understood all things, and the ways
of the European gun-shop at Kot Ghazi, to hasten forthwith and procure
him a couple, and if none were in Kot Ghazi to send a _tar_ to
Bombay for them, or even, if necessary, to Englistan, though at a cost
of two rupees a word. With such a gun the Jam hoped to get better
_shikar_ when sitting on his camel and circling round the foolish
crouching grouse or _tuloor_, and firing at them as they sat. He thought
he might fire twice or thrice at them sitting, and again twice or thrice
at the remnant flying, and perchance hit some on the wing, after the
wonderful manner of the Sahibs. So he sent my brother, knowing him to be
both clever and honest and understanding the speech and ways of the
English most fully.
"Now it is many days' journey, Sahib, across the desert and the
mountains, from Mekran Kot in Kubristan to Kot Ghazi in India, but at
Kot Ghazi is a fine bungalow, the property of the Jam Saheb, and there
all travellers from his house may sojourn and rest after their long and
"Taking me and Mir Abdul Haq and Mir Hussein Ali and many men and
servants, among whom was the body-servant, the boy Moussa Isa Somali, he
set forth, a little depressed that we heard not the cry of the
partridge in the fields of Mekran Kot as we started--not exactly a bad
omen, but lacking a good one. And sure enough, ere we won to Kot Ghazi,
his eyes became red and inflamed, very sore and painful to use. So, he
put the tail of his _puggri_ about his face and rode all day from
sun-rise to sun-set in darkness, his camel being driven by Abdulali
Gulamali Bokhari--the same who later rose to fame and honour as an
outlaw and was hanged at Peshawar after a brave and successful career.
And being arrived, in due course, at Kot Ghazi, before entering the
bungalow belonging to the Jam Saheb, he knelt his camel at the door of
the shop of a European _hakim_--in English a--er--"
"Chemist, Mir Saheb," I suggested.
"Doubtless, since your honour says it--of a _kimmish_, and entering, to
the Eurasian dog therein said in English, of which he knew everything
(and taught me much, as your honour knows), 'Look you. I need lotion for
my eyes, eye medicine, and a bath for them' and the man mixed various
waters and poured them into a blue bottle with red labels, very
beautiful to see, and wrote upon it. Also he gave my brother a small cup
of glass, shaped like the mouth of the _pulla_ fish or the eye-socket of
a man. And my brother, knowing what to do, used the things then and
there, to the wonder of Abdul Haq and Hussein Ali, pouring the liquor
into the glass cup, and holding it to his eyes, and with back-thrown
head washing the eye and soothing it.
"'Shahbas!' quoth he. 'It is good,' and anon we proceeded to the
gun-shop and then to the bungalow belonging to the Jam Saheb. And lo
and behold, here we discovered the dog Ibrahim Mahmud, and my brother
twisted the knife of memory in the wound of insult by ordering him to
quit the room he occupied and seek another, since Mir Jan intended the
room for his body-servant, Moussa Isa Somali--the servant of a Mir being
more deserving of the room than the son of a Vizier! This was unwise,
but my brother's heart was too great to fear (or to fathom) the guile of
such a serpent as Ibrahim.
 Bravo! Excellent!
"And when he had bathed and prayed, eaten and drunk and rested, my
brother again anointed his eyes with the liquid--which though only like
water, was strong to soothe and heal. And our servants and people
watched him doing this with wonder and admiration, and the news of it
spread to the servants of Ibrahim Mahmud, who told their master of this
cleverness of Mir Jan,--and Ibrahim, after a while, sent a message and a
present to my brother, humbling himself, and asking that he too might
see this thing.
"And Mir Jan, perhaps a little proud of his English ways, sat upon his
_charpai_, and bathed his eyes in the little bath, until, wearying
of the trouble of pouring back the liquid into the bottle, he would
press the bottle itself to his eye and throw back his head. So his eyes
were quickly eased of pain, and in the evening we all went forth to
 Native cot or bed.
"On his return to the room, Mir Jan flung himself, weary, upon his
_charpai_ and Moussa Isa lay across the doorway.
"In the morning my brother awoke and sitting on the _charpai_, took up
the blue bottle, drew the cork, and raised the bottle towards his eyes.
As he did this, Moussa Isa entered, and knowing not why he did so,
sprang at his master and dashed the bottle from his hand. It fell to the
ground but broke not, the floor being _dhurrie_-covered.
"In greatest amazement Mir Jan glanced from Moussa Isa to the bottle,
clenching his hand to strike the boy--when behold! the very floor
bubbled and smoked beneath the touch of the liquid as it ran from the
bottle. By the Beard of the Prophet, that stone floor bubbled and smoked
like water and the _dhurrie_ was burnt! Snatching up the bottle my
brother dropped drops from it upon the blade of his knife, upon the
leather of his boots, upon paint and brass and clothing--and behold it
was liquid fire, burning and corroding all that it touched! To me he
called, and, being shown these things, I could scarce believe--and then
I cried aloud 'Ibrahim Mahmud! Thine enemy!... Oh, my brother,--thine
eyes!' and I remembered the words of Ibrahim, '_a vengeance that shall
turn men pale as they whisper it--a thing of which children yet unborn
shall speak with awe_' and we rushed to his room,--to find it empty. He
and his best camel and its driver were gone, but all his people and
servants and _oont-wallahs_ were in the _serai_, and said they
knew not where he was, but had received a _hookum_ over-night to set
out that day for Mekran Kot. And, catching up a pariah puppy, I
re-entered the house and dropped one drop from the blue bottle into its
eye. Sahib, even _I_ pitied the creature and slew it quickly with my
knife. And it was this that Ibrahim Mahmud had intended for the blue
eyes of my beautiful brother. This was the vengeance of which men should
speak in whispers. Those who saw and heard that puppy would speak of it
in whispers indeed--or not at all. I felt sick and my fingers itched to
madness for the throat of Ibrahim Mahmud. Had I seen him then, I would
have put out his eyes with my thumbs. Nay--I would have used the burning
liquid upon him as he had designed it should be used by my brother.
 Halting-enclosure, rest-house.
"Hearing Mir Jan's voice, I hurried forth, and found that his white
pacing-camel was already saddled and that he sat in the front seat,
prepared to drive. 'Up, Daoud Khan' he cried to me 'we go
a-hunting'--and I sprang to the rear saddle even as the camel rose.
'Lead on, Moussa Isa, and track as thou hast never tracked before, if
thou wouldst live,' said he to the Somali, a noted _paggi_, even
among the Baluch and Sindhi _paggis_ of the police at Peshawar and Kot
Ghazi. 'I can track the path of yesterday's bird through the air and of
yesterday's fish through the water,' answered the black boy; 'and I
would find this Ibrahim by smell though he had blinded _me_,' and he led
on. Down the Sudder Bazaar he went unfaltering, though hundreds of feet
of camels, horses, bullocks and of men were treading its dust. As we
passed the shop of the European _hakim_, yes, the _kimmish_, my brother
leapt down and entering the shop asked questions. Returning and mounting
he said to me: ''Tis as I thought. Hither he came last night, and,
saying he was science-knowing failed B.Sc., demanded certain acids,
that, being mixed, will eat up even gold--which no other acid can
digest, nor even assail....'"
"_Aqua Regia_, or vitriol, I believe," I murmured, still marvelling ...
"Doubtless, if your honour is pleased to say so. 'He must have poured
these acids into the bottle while we were abroad last night,' continued
my brother. 'Oh, the dog! The treacherous dreadful dog!... 'Twas in a
good hour that I saved Moussa Isa,' and indeed I too blessed that
Somali, so mysteriously moved by Allah to dash the bottle from my
"'Think you that Ibrahim Mahmud bribed Moussa and that he repented as he
saw you about to anoint your eyes with the acid?' I asked of my brother.
"'Nay--Moussa was with me until I returned,' replied he, 'and returning,
I put the bottle beneath my pillow. Besides, Ibrahim had fled ere we
returned to the bungalow. Moreover, Moussa would lose his tongue ere he
would tell me a lie, his eyes ere he would see me suffer, his hand ere
he would take a bribe against me. No--Allah moved his heart--rewarding
me for saving his life at the risk of mine own, when he lay beneath a
lion,--or else it is that the black dog hath the instincts of a dog and
knows when evil threatens what it loves.' And indeed it is a wonderful
thing and true; and Moussa Isa never knew how he knew, but said his arm
moved of itself and that he wondered at himself as he struck the bottle
from his master's hand. And, in time, we left the city and followed the
road and found that Ibrahim was fleeing to Mekran Kot, doubtless to be
far away when the thing happened, and also to get counsel and money from
his father and my mother, should suspicion fall on him and flight be
necessary. And anon even untrained eyes could see where he had left the
Caravan Road and taken the shorter route whereby camels bearing no heavy
load could come by steeper passes and dangerous tracks in shorter time
to Mekran Kot, provided the rider bore water sufficient--for there was
no oasis nor well. 'Enough, Moussa Isa, thou mayest return, I can track
the camel of Ibrahim now that he hath left the road,' quoth my brother,
breaking a long silence; but Moussa Isa, panting as he ran before,
replied: 'I come, Mir Saheb. I shall not fall until mine eyes have
beheld thy vengeance--in which perchance, _I_ may take a part. He called
"'He hath many hours' start, Moussa,' said my brother, 'and his camel is
a good one. He will not halt and sleep for many hours even though he
suppose me dead!'
"'I can run for a day; for a day and a night I can run,' replied the
Somali, 'and I can run until the hour of thy vengeance cometh. He called
_me_ "Hubshi"' ... and he ran on.
"Sahib, for the whole of that day he ran beside the fast camel, my
brother drawing rein for no single minute, and when, at dawn, I awoke
from broken slumber in the saddle, Moussa Isa was running yet! And then
we heard the cry of the partridge and knew that our luck was good.
"'He may have left the track,' quoth my brother soon after dawn, 'but I
think he is making for Mekran Kot, to get money and documents and to
escape again ere news of his deed--or the suspicion of him--reaches the
Jam Saheb. We may have missed him, but I could not halt and wait for
daylight. He cannot be far ahead of us now. This camel shall live on
milk and meal and wheaten bread, finest _bhoosa_ and chosen young
green shoots, and buds, and leaves--and he shall have a collar of gold
with golden bells, and reins of silk, and hanging silken tassels, and he
shall----" and then Moussa Isa gave a hoarse scream and pointed to the
sky-line above which rose a wisp of smoke.
"'It is he,' said my brother, and within the hour we beheld the little
bush-tent of Ibrahim Mahmud (made with cloths thrown over a bent bush)
and his camel, near to which, his _oont-wallah_ Suleiman Abdulla had
kindled a fire and prepared food. (Later this liar swore that he made
the fire smoke with green twigs to guide the pursuit,--a foolish lie,
for he knew not what Ibrahim had done, nor anything but that his master
"Moussa Isa staggered to where Ibrahim Mahmud lay asleep, looked upon
his face, and fell, seeming to be about to die.
"Making a little _chukker_ round, my brother drove the camel between
Suleiman and the tent and made it kneel.
 Circuit, course.
"'_Salaam aleikoum_, Mir Saheb,' said Suleiman, and my brother
 A Mussulman greeting.
"'Salaam. Tend thou my camel and prepare food for me, and my brother,
and my servant. And if thou wouldst not hang in a pig's skin, be wise
and wary, and keep eyes, ears, and mouth closed.' And we drank water.
"Then, treading softly, we went to the tent where Ibrahim Mahmud slept
and sat us down where we could look upon his face. There he slept,
Sahib, peacefully, like a little child!--having left Mir Jan to die the
death 'whereof men should speak with awe,' as he had threatened.
"We sat beside him and watched. Saying nothing, we sat and watched. An
hour passed and an hour again. For another hour without moving or
speaking we sat and Moussa Isa joined us and watched.
"'Twas sweet, and I licked my lips and hoped he might not wake for
hours, although I hungered. The actual revenge is very, very sweet,
Sahib, but does it exceed the joy of watching the enemy as he lies
wholly at your mercy, lies in the hollow of your hand and is your poor
foolish plaything,--knave made fool at last? Like statues we sat, moving
not our eyes from his face, and we were very happy.
"Then, suddenly, he awoke and his eyes fell on my brother--and he
shrieked aloud, as the hare shrieks when hound or jackal seize her; as
the woman shrieks when the door goes down before the raiders and the
thatch goes up in flame.
"Thus he shrieked.
"We moved not.
"'Why cryest thou, dear brother?' asked Mir Jan in a soft, sweet voice.
"'I--I--thought thou wast a spirit, come to--' he faltered, and my
"'And why should _I_ be a spirit, my brother? Am I not young and
"'I dreamed,' quavered Ibrahim.
"'I too have had a dream,' said my brother.
"''Twas but a dream, Mir Jan. I will arise and prepare some--' replied
Ibrahim, affecting ease of manner but poorly, for he had no real nerve.
"'Thou wilt not arise yet, Ibrahim Mahmud,' murmured my brother gently.
"'Because thine eyes are somewhat wearied and I purpose to wash them
with my magic water,' and as he held up the blue bottle with the red
label Ibrahim screamed like a girl and flung himself forward at my
brother's feet, shrieking and praying for mercy:--
"'_No, No!_' he howled; 'not _that!_ Mercy, O kingly son of Kings! I
will give thee--"
"'Nay, my brother,--what is this?' asked Mir Jan softly, with kind
caressing voice. 'What is all this? I do but propose to bathe thine eyes
with this same magic water wherewith I bathed mine own, the day before
yesterday. Thou didst see me do it--thou didst watch me do it.'
"'Mercy--most noble Mir! Have pity, 'twas not I. Mercy!' he screamed.
"'But, Ibrahim, dear brother' expostulated Mir Jan, 'why this objection
to my magic water? It gave me great relief and my eyes were quickly
healed. Thine own need care--for see--water gushes from them even now.'
"The dog howled--like a dog--and offered lakhs of rupees.
"'But surely, my brother, what gave me relief will give thee relief?
Thou knowest how my eyes were soothed and healed, and that it is a
potent charm, and surely _it is not changed_?' Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras
el-Isan was all Pathan then, Sahib, whatever he may have been at other
times. I could not have played more skilfully with the dog myself.
"At last, turning to Moussa Isa he said:--
"'Our brother seemeth distraught, and perchance will do himself some
injury if he be not tended with care and watched over. Bind him, to make
sure that he hurt not himself in this strange madness that hath
o'ertaken him, making him fancy harm even in this healing balm. Bind him
tightly.' And at that, the treacherous, murderous dog found his manhood
for a moment and made to spring to his feet and fight, but as he tried
to rise, Moussa Isa kicked him in the face and fell upon him.
"'Shall I serve thee as I served thy _Hubshi_ hireling, thy Sidi slave?'
he grunted and showed his sharp strong teeth.
"'Perchance 'twould cure him of his madness if we bled the poor soul a
little,' cooed my brother, putting his hand to his cummerbund where was
his long Afghan knife, and Ibrahim Mahmud lay still. Picking up his big,
green turban from beside his rug, I bound his arms to his sides and
then, going forth, got baggage-cords from the _oont-wallah_ and likewise
his _puggri_, and Moussa Isa bound his feet and hands and knees.
"Then my brother called Suleiman Abdulla the _oont-wallah_, and bade
Moussa Isa sleep--which he did with his knife in his hand, having bound
his foot to that of Ibrahim.
"'Look, thou dog,' said Mir Jan to Suleiman, 'should this rat-flea
escape, thy soul and thy body shall pay, for I will put out thine eyes
with glowing charcoal and hang thee in the skin of a pig, if I have to
follow thee to Cabul to do it--yea, to Balkh or Bokhara. See to it.' And
Suleiman put his head upon my brother's feet, poured dust upon it and
said 'So be it, Mir Saheb. Do this and more if he escape,' and we slept
"Anon we awoke, ate, drank and smoked, my brother smoking the cheroots
of the Sahib-log and I having to be content with the _bidis_ of Suleiman
as there was no hookah.
"And when we had rested we went and sat before the face of Ibrahim and
gazed upon him long, without words.
"And he wept. Like a woman he wept, and said 'Slay me, Mir Saheb, and
have done. Slay me with thy knife.'
"But my brother replied softly and sweetly:--
"'What wild words are these, Ibrahim? Why should I slay thee? Some
matter of a quarrel there was concerning thy torturing of my
servant--but I am not of them that bear grudges and nurse hatred. In no
anger slay thee with my knife? Why should I injure thee? I do most
solemnly swear, Ibrahim, that I will do thee no wilful hurt. I will but
anoint thine eyes with the contents of this bottle just as I did anoint
my own. Why should I slay thee or do thee hurt?'
"And I chuckled aloud. He was all Pathan then, Sahib, and handling his
enemy right subtly.
"And Ibrahim wept yet more loudly and said again:--
"'Slay me and have done.' Then my brother gave him the name by which he
was known ever after, saying:--
"'Why should I slay thee, _Ibrahim, the Weeper_?' and he produced the
bottle and held it above that villain's face.
"His screams were music to me, and in the joy of his black heart Moussa
Isa burst into some strange chant in his own Somali tongue.
"'Nay, our friends must hear thy eloquence and songs, Ibrahim,' said my
brother, after he had held the bottle tilted above the face of the
Weeper for some minutes. ''Twere greedy to keep this to ourselves.'
"Again and again that day my brother would say: 'Nay--I cannot wait
longer. Poor Ibrahim's weeping eyes must be relieved at once,' and he
would produce the bottle, uncork it, and hold it over Ibrahim's face as
he writhed and screamed and twisted in his bonds.
"'What ails thee, Ibrahim the Weeper?' he would coo. 'Thou knowest it is
a soothing lotion. Didst thou not see me use it on mine own eyes?' Yea,
he was true Pathan then, and I loved him the more.
"A hundred times that day he did thus and enjoyed the music of Ibrahim's
screams, and by night the dog was a little mad. So, lest we defeat
ourselves and lose something of the sport our souls loved, we left him
in peace that night, if 'peace' it is to know that the dreadful death
you have prepared for another now overhangs you. Moussa Isa kept watch
through the night. And in the morning came Abdul Haq and Hussein Ali
and the servants and _oont-wallahs_, save a few who had been sent with
laden camels by the Caravan Road. And, when all had eaten and rested, my
brother held _durbar_, having placed Ibrahim Mahmud in the midst,
bound, and looking like one who has long lain upon a bed of sickness.
"This _durbar_ proceeded with the greatest solemnity and no man smiled
when my brother said: 'And now, touching the matter of my beloved and
respected Ibrahim Mahmud, son of our grandfather's Vizier,--the learned
Ibrahim, who shortly goeth (perhaps) across the black water to Englistan
to become a great and famous pleader,--can any suggest the cause of the
strange and distressing madness that hath come upon him so suddenly?
For, behold, I have to keep him bound lest he do himself an injury, and
constantly he crieth, "Kill me, Mir Saheb, kill me with thy knife and
make an end." And when I go to bathe his poor eyes, so sore and red with
weeping, behold he shrieketh like the _relwey terain_ at Peshawar and
weepeth like a woman.'
"And Abdul Haq spoke and said: 'Is it so indeed, Mir Saheb?' And my
brother said: 'It is so;' and Hussein Ali said: 'Is it so indeed, Mir
Saheb?' And my brother said 'It is so;' and all men said the same thing
gravely and my brother made the same answer.
"Sahib, I shall never forget the joy of that _durbar_ with Ibrahim the
Weeper there, like a trapped rat, in the midst, looking from face to
face for mercy.
"'Yea--it is so. It is indeed so,' again said my brother when all had
asked. 'You shall see--and hear. Behold I will drop but one drop of my
soothing lotion into each of his eyes!' ... and he turned to Ibrahim the
Weeper, with the uncorked bottle in his hand--the bottle from which came
forth smoke, though it was cold. But Ibrahim rolled screaming, and
strove to thrust his face into the ground. 'It is strange indeed,' mused
Abdul Haq, stroking his beard, while none smiled. 'Strange, in every
truth. But thou hast not dropped the drops, Mir Saheb. Perchance he will
arise and thank thee and be cured of this madness when he feels the
healing anointment that so benefited thine own eyes. Oh, the cleverness
of these European _hakims_,' and he raised hands and eyes in wonder as
he sighed piously.
"'Yea--perchance he will,' agreed my brother and bade Moussa Isa hold
him by the ears with his face to the sky while the _oont-wallahs_ kept
him on his back. And Ibrahim's body heaved up those four strong men as
it bent like a bow and bucked like a horse, while my brother removed the
cork once again.
"His shrieks delighted my soul.
"''Tis a marvellous mystery to me,' sighed my brother. 'He knows how
innocent and healing are these waters and yet he refuses them. He saw me
use them on my own eyes--and surely the medicine is unchanged?' And he
balanced the bottle sideways above the face of his enemy and allowed the
devilish acid to well up and impend upon the very edge of the neck of
the bottle, as he murmured: 'But a single drop for each eye! More I
cannot spare--to-day. Perchance a drop for each ear to-morrow, and one
for his tongue on the next day--if his madness spare him to us for so
"Then, as Ibrahim, foaming, shrieked curses and cried aloud to Allah
and Mohammed his Prophet, he said: 'Nay, this is ingratitude. He shall
not have them to-day at all, but shall endure without them till sunrise
to-morrow. Take him yonder, and lay him on that flat rock, bareheaded in
the sun, that his tears may be dried for him.' ...
"Yea! I found no fault with my brother then, Sahib.
"He was a master in his revenge. And the _durbar_ murmured its applause,
and praised and thanked my brother. Not one of them but had suffered at
the hands of Mahmud Shahbaz, his father, the Vizier, or at the insolent
hands of this his own son.... Then Mir Jan called to Moussa Isa, his
body-servant, and said unto him:--
"'Hear, Moussa Isa, and make no tiny error if thou wouldst see
to-morrow's sun and go to Paradise anon. Feed that carrion well and
pretend to be filled with the pity that is the child of avarice. Ask
what he will give thee to help him to escape. Affect to haggle long, and
speak much of the difficulties and dangers of the deed. At length agree
to put him on my fast camel this night at moon-rise, if thou art left as
his guard and we are wrapt in slumber. Play thy part well, and show thy
remorse at cheating thy master--even for a lakh of rupees--yea, and
show fear of what will happen to thee, and pretend distrust of him. At
length succumb again, and as the moon just shows above the mountains
untie his bonds and do thus and thus--' and he whispered instructions
while a light shone in the eyes of Moussa Isa, the Somali, and a smile
played about his mouth.
 One hundred thousand.
"And Mir Jan told the matter that night to all and gave instructions.
"Moussa Isa meanwhile did everything as he was bid and, while we ate, he
carried his own food to the Weeper, as though secretly.
"Long and merrily we feasted, pretending to drink to excess of the
forbidden _sharab_, singing and behaving like toddy-laden coolies, and
in time we staggered to our carpets, put on our _poshteens_, pulled
rugs over our heads and slept--not.
 Warm sheep-skin coats.
"From under his rug my brother kept watch. Shortly after, Moussa Isa
arose from beside Ibrahim the Weeper and crawled like a snake to where
the camels knelt in a ring, and there he saddled the swift white camel
of Mir Jan, and I heard its bubbling snarl as he made it rise, and led
it over near to where Ibrahim lay. There he made it kneel again, and,
throwing the nose-rope over its head, he laid the loop thereof, with his
stick, on the front seat of the saddle. This done, he crept back to
Ibrahim Mahmud and feigned sleep awhile. Anon, none stirring, he began
to untie with his teeth and knife-point the cords that bound the
captive, and when, at length, the man was free, Moussa chafed his
stiffened arms and legs, his hands and feet.
"When, after a time, Ibrahim tried to rise, he fell again and
again, and the moon not yet having risen above the mountains, the
avaricious-seeming Moussa again massaged and chafed the limbs of the
villain Ibrahim, who earnestly prayed Moussa Isa to lay him on the
saddle as he was--and depart ere some sleeper awoke. But Moussa said
'twould be vain to start until Ibrahim could sit in the saddle and hold
on, and he continued to rub his arms and legs.
"But when the edge of the moon shone above the mountain, Moussa placed
the arm of Ibrahim around his neck, put his arm round Ibrahim's body,
and staggered with him to where the racing-camel knelt. After a few
steps the strength of Ibrahim seemed to return, and, by the time they
reached the camel, he could totter on his feet and stand without help.
With some difficulty Moussa hoisted him into the rear saddle. Having
done so, he thrust the stirrups upon his feet and commenced to unwind
"'Mount, mount!' whispered Ibrahim.
"'Nay, I must tie thee on,' replied Moussa Isa and, knotting one end of
the _puggri_ to the back of the saddle, he passed it twice round Ibrahim
and tied the other end near the first. This done, and Ibrahim being in a
frantic fever of haste and fear and hope, Moussa Isa commenced to
bargain, Ibrahim agreeing to every demand and promising even more.
"'Anything! anything!' he shrieked beneath his breath. 'Bargain as we
go. You cannot ask too much. I and my father will strip ourselves for
thee.' ... And having tortured him awhile, Moussa sprang into the saddle
and brought the camel to its feet--as my brother's voice said, softly
"'Wouldst thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my friend?' and my own chimed in:--
"'Could'st thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my brother's friend?' and the voice
of Abdul Haq followed with:--
"'Shouldst thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my cousin's friend?' and Hussein
Ali's voice added:--
"'Do not leave us, O Ibrahim, my friend's friend.' Like the wolf-pack,
every other voice in the camp in turn implored:--
"'Never leave us, O Ibrahim, our master's friend.'
"'Go! go!' shrieked Ibrahim, kicking with his heels at the camel's sides
and striking at Moussa Isa, as that obedient youth, raising his stick,
caused the camel to bound forward, and drove it, swiftly trotting--to
where my brother lay, and there made it kneel again....
"Dost thou sleep, Huzoor?"
"Nay, Mir Saheb," I replied, "nor would I till your tale be done and I
have seen the return of another reconnoitring-patrol. We might then take
turns.... Nay, I will not sleep at all. 'Tis too near dawn--when things
are wont to happen in time of war."
Little did the worthy Subedar-Major guess how, or why, his tale
"I have nearly done, Sahib.... On the morrow my brother said: 'To-day I
will make an end. After the evening prayer let all assemble and behold
the anointing of the eyes of Ibrahim the Weeper with the same balm that
he intended to be applied to mine.' And during the day men drove strong
stakes deep into the ground, the distance between them being equal to
the width of Ibrahim's head, which they measured--telling him why. Also
pegs were driven into the ground convenient for the fastening of his
hands and feet, and stones were collected as large as men could carry.
"And, after evening prayer and prostration we took Ibrahim, and forcing
his head between the stakes so that he could not turn it, we tied his
hands and feet to the pegs and weighted his body with the stones, being
careful to do him no injury and to cause no such pain as might detract
from the real torture, and lessen his punishment.
"And then Mir Jan stood over him with the bottle and said, softly and
"'Ibrahim, my friend, thou didst vow upon me a vengeance, the telling of
which should turn men pale, because I struck thee for torturing my
servant. And now I return good for thine evil, for I take pity on thy
weeping eyes and heal them. These several days thou hast refused this
benefaction with floods of tears, and sobs and screams. Now, behold, and
see how foolish thou hast been,' and he spilt a drop from the bottle, so
that it fell near the face of Ibrahim, but not on it.
"And I was amazed to see that the stone upon which the drop fell did not
bubble and boil. This prolongation and refinement of the torture I could
appreciate and enjoy--but why did not the acid affect the stone? 'Twas
as though mere cold water had fallen upon it. Nor was the bottle smoking
as always hitherto.
"And even as I wondered, my brother quickly stooped and dashed some of
the contents of the bottle in the eyes of Ibrahim the Weeper.
"With a shriek that pierced our ear-drums and must have been heard for
many kos, Ibrahim writhed and jerked so that the stones were thrown
from his body and the pegs that held his feet and hands were torn from
the ground. The stakes holding his head firmly, he flung his body over
until his head was beneath it and then back again, and screamed like a
wounded horse. At last he wrenched his head free, and, holding his hands
to his face--which appeared to be in no way injured--leapt up and ran
round and round in circles, until he was seized, and, by my brother's
orders, his hands were torn from his face.
 Kos = two miles.
"And behold, his eyes and face were unmarked and uninjured, and the
liquid that dripped upon his clothing made no mark and did no hurt.
"'_Blind_,' he shrieked,' I am _blind!_ O Merciful Allah, my eyes!' and
he fell, howling.
"'Now that is very strange,' said my brother, 'for I threw pure, plain,
cold water in his face. See me drink of the remainder!' and he drank
from the bottle, and so did I, in fear and wonder. Cold, pure, fair
water it was, and nothing else!
"But Ibrahim the Weeper was blind. Stone blind to his dying day and
never looked upon the sun again. Little drops of water had struck him
blind. Nay, the Hand of Allah had struck him blind--him who had cried:
'_May Allah strike me blind_ if I do not unto thee a thing of which
children yet unborn shall speak with awe". He had tried to do such a
thing and God had struck him blind--though my brother, who was very
learned, spoke of self-suggestion, and of imagination being sometimes
strong enough to make the imagined come to pass. (He told of a man who
died for no reason, on a certain day at a certain hour, because his
father had done so and he believed that _he_ would also. But more likely
it was witchcraft and he was under a curse.)
"Howbeit, little drops of pure water blinded Ibrahim the Weeper. And
there the foreign blood of my poor brother showed forth. He could not
escape the taint and was weak. At the last moment he had wavered and,
like a fool, had forgiven his enemy."
"Was he a Christian?" I asked (and had often wondered in the past).
"_Nahin_, Sahib! He was a Mussulman, my father having had him taught
with special care by a holy _moulvie_, by reason of the fact that
his mother had had him sprinkled with holy water by her priests and had
taught him the tenets of the Christian faith--doubtless a high and noble
one since your honour is of it."
"He had been taught the Christian doctrines, then?"
"Without doubt, Sahib. Throughout his childhood; in the absence of his
father. And doubtless this aided his foreign blood in making him act
"Doubtless," I agreed, with a smile.
"Yea, at the last moment he had put his vengeance from him and behaved
like a weak fool, throwing away the acid, cleaning the bottle and
filling it with pure water. He had intended to give Ibrahim a fright
(and also the opprobrious title of _the Weeper_), to teach him a lesson
and to let him go--provided he swore on the Q'ran never to return to
Mekran Kot when he left for England.... Such a man was my poor brother.
But the hand of Allah intervened and Ibrahim the Weeper lived and died
stone blind.... A strange man that poor brother of mine, strong save
when his foreign blood and foreign religion arose like poison within him
and made him weak.... There was the case of the English Sergeant
Larnce-Ishmeet whom he spared and sent into the English lines in the
little Border War."
"Lance-Sergeant Smith? What regiment?" I asked.
"I know not, Sahib, save that it was a British Infantry Regiment. (He
was not Lance-Sergeant Ishmeet but Sergeant Larnce-Ishmeet.) We ... I
mean ... they ... slew many of a Company that was doing rear-guard and
their officers being slain and many men also, a Sergeant took them off
with great skill. Section by section, from point to point he retired
them, and our ... their ... triumphant joy at the capture and slaughter
of the Company was changed to gnashing of teeth--for we lost many and
the Company retired safely on the main body. But we got the Sergeant,
badly wounded, and my brother would not have him slain. Rather he showed
him much honour and had him borne to Mekran Kot, and when he was healed
he took him to within sight of the outermost Khyber fort and set him
free.... Yet was he not an enemy, Sahib, taken in war? Strange
weaknesses had my poor brother...."
"I knew a Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith," I remarked, as light dawned on
me after pondering "Larnce-Ishmeet." "He shot himself at Duri some time
"He was a brave man," said Mir Daoud Khan. "Peace be upon him."
"And what became of your brother?" I asked, although I knew only too
"He left Mekran Kot when I did, Sahib, for our father died, the old Jam
Saheb was poisoned, and we had to flee or die. I never saw him again for
he made much money (out of rifles), travelled widely, and became a
Sahib (and I followed the _pultan_). But he died as a Pathan
should--for his honour. In Gungapur jail they hanged him (after the
failure of the foolish attempt by some seditious Sikhs and Punjabis and
Bengalis at a second Great Killing) and I do not care to speak of that
thing even to--"
 Infantry Regiment.
A sputter of musketry broke out in the thick vegetation of the
river-bed, crackled and spread, as Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan (once
against the civilized, brave and distinguished officer) and I sprang to
our feet and hurried to our posts--I, even at that moment, thinking how
small a World is this, and how long is the long arm of Coincidence. Here
was I, while waiting for what then seemed almost certain death, hearing
from the lips of his own brother, the early history of the remarkable,
secretive and mysterious man whom I had loved above all men, and whose
death had been the tragedy of my life.
(Mainly concerning the early life of Moussa Isa Somali.)
Moussa Isa Somali never stole, lied, seduced, cheated, drank, swore,
gambled, betrayed, slandered, blasphemed, nor behaved meanly nor
cowardly--but, alas! he had personal and racial Pride.
It is written that Pride is the sin of Devils and that by it, Lucifer,
Son of the Morning, fell.
If it be remembered that he fell for nine days, be realized that he must
have fallen with an acceleration of velocity of thirty-two feet per
second, each second, and be conceded that he weighed a good average
number of pounds, some idea will be formed of the violence of the
concussion with which he came to earth.
In spite of the terrible warning provided by so great a smash there yet
remain people who will argue that it is better to fall through Pride
than to remain unfallen through lack of it. By Pride, _Pride_ is meant
of course--not Conceit, Snobbishness and Bumptiousness, which are all
very damnable, and signs of a weak, base mind. One gathers that Lucifer,
Son of the Morning, was not conceited, snobbish, nor bumptious. Nor was
Moussa, son of Isa, Somali--but, like Lucifer, Son of the Morning,
Devil, he fell, through Pride, and came to a Bad End.
One has known people who have owned to a sneaking liking and unwilling
admiration for Lucifer, Son of the Morning--people of the same sort as
those who find it difficult wholly to revere the prideless Erect when
comparing them with the prideful Fallen--and, for the life of me, I
cannot help a sneaking liking and unwilling admiration for Moussa Isa
Somali, who fell through Pride.
There was something fine about him, even as there was about Lucifer, Son
of the Morning, and one cannot avoid feeling that if both did not get
more of hard luck and less of justice than some virtuous people one
knows, they certainly cut a better figure. Of course it is a mistake to
adopt any line of action that leads definitely to the position of
Under-Dog, and to fight when you cannot win. It is not Prudent, and
Prudence leads to Favour, Success, Decorations, and the Respect of
Others if not of yourself. It is also to be remembered that whether you
are a Wicked Rebel or a Noble True-Hearted Patriot depends very largely
on whether you succeed or fail.
All of which is mere specious and idle special pleading on behalf of
Moussa Isa, a sinful murderous Somali....
Most of the memories of Moussa Isa centred round scars. When I say
"memories of Moussa Isa" I mean Moussa Isa's own memories, for there are
no memories concerning him. The might, majesty, dominion and power of
the British Empire were arrayed against him, and the Empire's duly
appointed agents hanged him by the neck until he was dead--at an age
when some people are yet at school, albeit he had gathered in his few
years of life a quantity and quality of experience quite remarkable.
'Twas a sordid business, and yet Moussa Isa died, like many very
respectable and highly belauded folk, from the early Christians in Italy
to the late Christians in Armenia, for a principle and an idea.
He was black, he was filthy, he was savage, ignorant and ugly--but he
had his Pride, both personal and racial, for he was a Somali. A Somali,
mark you, not a mere _Hubshi_ or Woolly One, not a common Nigger, not a
low and despicable person--worshipping idols, eating human flesh, grubs,
roots and bark--the "black ivory" of Arabs.
If you called Moussa Isa a Hubshi, he either killed you or marked you
down for death, according to circumstances.
Had Moussa Isa lived a few centuries earlier, been of another colour,
and swanked around in painful iron garments and assorted cutlery, he
would have been highly praised for his fine and proper spirit. Poet,
bard, and troubadour would have noted and published his quickness on the
point of honour. Moussa would have been set to music and have become a
source of income to the gifted. He would have become a Pillar of the
Order of Knighthood and an Ornament of the Age of Chivalry. A wreath of
laurels would have encircled his brow--instead of a rope of hemp
encircling his neck.
For such fine, quick, self-respecting Pride, such resentment of insult,
men have become Splendid Figures of the Glorious Past.
_Autres jours autres moeurs_.
How many people called him _Hubshi_, we know not; but we know, from his
own lips, of the killing of some few. Of the killing of others he had
forgotten, for his memory was poor, save for insult and kindness. And,
having caught and convicted him in one or two cases the appointed
servants of the British Empire first "reformed" and then slew him in
their turn--thus descending to his level without his excuse of private
personal insult and injury....
The scars on Moussa Isa's face with the hole in his ear were connected
with one of his very earliest memories--or one of his very earliest
memories was connected with the scars on his face and the hole in his
ear--a memory of jolting along on a camel, swinging upside-down, while a
strong hand grasped his foot; of seeing his father rush at his captor
with a long, broad-bladed spear, of being whirled and flung at his
father's head; and of seeing his father's intimate internal economy
seriously and permanently disarranged by the two-handed sword of one of
the camel rider's colleagues (who flung aside a heavy gun which he had
just emptied into Moussa's mamma) as his father fell to the ground under
the impact and weight of the novel missile. Though Moussa was unaware,
in his abysmal ignorance, of the interesting fact, the great two-handed
sword so effectually wielded by the supporter of his captor, was exactly
like that of a Crusader of old. It was like that of a Crusader of old,
because it was a direct lineal descendant of the swords of the Crusaders
who had brought the first specimens to the country, quite a good many
years previously. Indeed some people said that a few of the swords
owned by these Dervishes were real, original, Crusaders' swords, the
very weapons whose hilts were once grasped by Norman hands, and whose
blades had cloven Paynim heads in the name of Christianity and the
interests of the Sepulchre. I do not know--but it is a wonderfully dry
climate, and swords are there kept, cherished, and bequeathed, even more
religiously than were the Stately Homes of England in that once
prosperous land, in the days before park, covert, pleasaunce, forest,
glade, dell, and garden became allotments, and the spoil of the
Picked up after the raid and pursuit with a faceful of gravel, sand,
dirt, and tetanus-germs, Moussa Isa, orphan, was flung on a pile of dead
Somali spearmen and swordsmen, of horses, asses, camels, negroes, (old)
women and other cattle--and, crawling off again, received kicks and
orders to clean and polish certain much ensanguined weapons sullied with
the blood of his near and distant relatives. Thereafter he was
recognized by the above-mentioned swordsman, and accorded the privilege
of removing his own father's blood from the great two-handed sword
before alluded to--a task of a kind that does not fall to many little
boys. So willingly and cheerfully did Moussa perform his arduous duty
(arduous because the blood had had time to dry, and dried blood takes a
lot of removing from steel by one unprovided with hot water) that the
Arab swordsman instead of blowing off the child's head with his long and
beautiful gun, damascened of barrel, gold-mounted of lock, and
pearl-inlaid of stock, allowed him to rim for his life that he might die
a sporting death in hot blood, doing his devilmost. (These were not
slavers but avengers of enmity to the Mad Mullah and punishers of
friendship to the English.)
"How much law will you give me, O Emir?" asked the child.
"Perhaps ten yards, dog, perhaps a hundred, perhaps more.... Run!"
"_You_ could hit me at a thousand yards, O Emir," was the reply. "Let me
die by a shot that men will talk about...."
"Run, yelping dog," growled the Arab with a sardonic smile.
And Moussa ran. He also bounded, shied, dodged, ducked, swerved,
dropped, crawled, zig-zagged and generally gave his best attention to
evading the shot of the common fighting-man whom he had propitiatorily
addressed as "_Emir_," though a mere wearer of a single fillet of
camel-hair cord around his _haik_. Like a naval gunner--the Arab laid
his gun and waited till the sights "came on," fired, and had the
satisfaction of seeing the child fling up his arms, leap into the air
and fall twitching to the ground. Good shot! The twitches and the last
convulsive spasm were highly artistic and creditable to the histrionic
powers of Moussa Isa, shot through the ear, and inwardly congratulating
himself that he had yet a chance. But then he had had wide opportunity
for observation, and plenty of good models, in the matter of
sudden-death spasms and twitches, so the credit is the less. Anyhow, it
deceived experienced Arab eyes at a hundred yards, and the performance
may therefore be classed as good. To the reflective person it will be
manifest that Moussa's reverence for the sanctity of human life
received but little encouragement or development from the very
Returning refugees, a few days later, found Moussa very pleased-with
himself and very displeased with uncooked putrid flesh. Being
exceedingly poor and depressed as a result of the Mad Mullah's vengeful
_razzia_, they sold Moussa Isa, friendless, kinless orphan, and once
again cursed the false English who made them great promises in the
Mahdi's troublous day, and abandoned them to the Mad Mullah and his
Dervishes as soon as the Mahdi was happily dead.
The Mad Mullah they could understand; the English they could not. For
the Mad Mullah they had no blame whatsoever; for the English they had
the bitterest blame, the deepest hatred and the uttermost contempt. Who
blames the lion for seeking and slaying his prey? Who defends the
unspeakable creature that throws its friends and children to the
lion--in payment of its debts and in cancellation of its obligations to
those friends and children? In discussing the raid on their way to
market with Moussa Isa, they mentioned the name of the Mad Mullah with
respect and fear. When they mentioned the English they expectorated and
made a gesture too significant to be particularized. And the tom-toms
once again throbbed through the long nights, sending (by a code that was
before Morse) from village to village, from the sea to the Nile, from
the Nile to the Niger and the Zambesi, from the Mediterranean to the
Cape, the news that once more the Mad Mullah had flouted that failing
and treacherous race, the English, and slaughtered those who lived
within their gates, under the shadow of their flag and the promise of
Ere Moussa Isa got his next prominent scar, the signal-drums throbbed
out the news that the gates were thrown open, the flag hauled down, and
the promises shamefully broken. That the representatives of the failing
treacherous race now stood huddled along the sea-shore in fear and
trembling, while those who had helped them in their trouble and had
believed their word were slaughtered by the thousand; that the country
was the home of fire and sword, the oasis-fields yielding nothing but
corpses, the wells choked with dead ... red slaughter, black pestilence,
starvation, misery and death, where had been green cultivation, fenced
villages, the sound of the quern and the well-wheel, the song of women
and the cry of the ploughman to his oxen. News and comments which did
nothing to lessen the pride and insolence of the Jubaland tribesmen, of
the Wak tribesmen, of the bold Zubhier sons of the desert, nor to strike
terror to the hearts of the murderers of Captain Aylmer and Mr. Jenner,
of slave-traders, game-poachers, raiders, wallowers in slaughter....
Another very noticeable and remarkable scar broke the fine lines and
smooth contours of Moussa's throat and another memory was as indelibly
established in his mind as was the said scar on his flesh.
At any time that he fingered the horrible ridged cicatrice, he could see
the boundless ocean and the boundless blue sky from a wretched cranky
canoe-shaped boat, in which certain Arab, Somali, Negro, and other
gentlemen were proceeding all the way from near Berbera to near Aden
with large trustfulness in Allah and with certain less creditable goods.
It was a long, unwieldy vessel which ten men could row, one could steer
with a broad oar, and a small three-cornered sail could keep before the
But the various-clad crew of this cranky craft were gentlemen all, who,
beyond running up the string-tied sail to the clothes-prop mast, or
taking a trick at the wheel--another clothes-prop with a large disc of
wood at the water-end, were far above work.
Trusting in Allah and Mohammed his Prophet is a lot easier than rowing a
lineless, blunt-nosed, unseaworthy boat beneath a tropical sun. So they
trusted in God, and permitted Moussa Isa, slave-boy, to do all that it
was humanly possible for him to do.
Moussa did all that was expected of him, but not so Allah and Mohammed
The gentle breeze that (sometimes) carries you steadily over a glassy
sea straight up the forty-fifth meridian of east longitude from Berbera
to Aden in the month of October, failed these worthy trustful Argonauts,
and they were becalmed.
But Time is made for slaves, and the only slave upon the Argosy was
Moussa Isa, and so the becalming was neither here nor there. The cargo
would keep (if kept dry) for many a long day--and the greater the delay
in delivery, the greater the impatience of the consignees and their
willingness to pay even more than the stipulated price--its weight in
silver _per_ rifle. But food is made for men as well as slaves, and if
you, in your noble trustfulness, resolutely decline to reduce your daily
rations, there must, with mathematical certitude of date, arrive the
final period to any given and limited supply. Though banking wholly with
Heaven in the matter of their own salvation from hunger, the Argonauts
displayed mere worldly wisdom in the case of Moussa Isa and gave him the
minimum of food that might be calculated to keep within him strength
adequate to his duties of steering, swarming up the mast, baling,
cooking, massaging the liver of the Leading Gentleman, and so forth. And
in due course, the calm continuing, these pious and religious voyagers
came to the bitter end of their water, their rice, their _dhurra_, their
dates--and all (except the salt and coffee which formed part of the
ostensible, bogus cargo) that they had, as they too-slowly drifted into
the track of those vessels that enter and leave the strait of
Bab-el-Mandeb, the Gate of Tears, the tears of the starving, drowning,
ship-wrecked and castaway.
Salt _per se_ is a poor diet, and, for the making of potable coffee,
fresh water is very necessary.
Some of the Argonauts were, as has been said, Negro gentlemen. On the
third day of absolute starvation, one had an Idea and made a suggestion.
The Leading Gentleman entertained it with an open mind and without
The Tanga tout acclaimed it as a divine inspiration.
The one-eyed Moor literally smiled upon it. As his eye was single and
his body therefore full of light, he saw the beauty of the notion at
once. Had it been full of food instead, we may charitably suppose he
would not have remarked:--
"A pity we did not feed him up better".
For the suggestion concerned Moussa Isa and food--Moussa Isa as food,
in point of fact. The venerable gentle-looking Arab, whose face beamed
effulgent with benevolence and virtue, murmured:--
"He will have but little blood, the dog. None of it must
be--er--_wasted_ by the--ah--butcher."
The huge man with the neat geometrical pattern of little scars,
perpendicular on the forehead, horizontal on the cheeks and in
concentric circles on the chest (done with loving care and a knife, in
his infancy, by his papa) said only "_Ptwack_" as he chewed a mouthful
of coffee-beans and hide. It may have been a pious ejaculation or a
whole speech in his own peculiar vernacular. It was a tremendous
smacking of tremendous lips, and the expression which overspread his
speaking countenance was of gusto, appreciative, and such as accords
But a very fair man (very fair beside the Negroes, Somalis, Arabs and
others our little black and brown brothers), a man with grey-blue eyes,
light brown hair and moustache, and olive complexion, said to the
originator of the Idea in faultless English, if not in faultless taste
"You damned swine".
A look of profoundest disgust overspread his handsome young face, a face
which undoubtedly lent itself to very clear expression of such feelings
as contempt, disgust and scorn, an unusual face, with the thin
high-bridged nose of an English aristocrat, the large eyes and pencilled
black brows of an Indian noble, the sallow yet cheek-flushed complexion
of an Italian peasant-girl, and the firm lips, square jaw, and prominent
chin of a fighting-man. It was essentially an English face in
expression, and essentially foreign in detail; a face of extraordinary
contradictions. The eyes were English in colour, Oriental in size and
shape; the mouth and chin English in mould and in repose, Oriental in
mobility and animation; the whole countenance English in shape, Oriental
in complexion and profile--a fine, high-bred, strong face, upon which
played shadows of cruelty, ferocity, diabolical cunning; a face admired
more quickly than liked, inspiring more speculation than trust.
The same duality and contradiction were proclaimed in the hands--strong,
tenacious, virile hands; small, fine, delicate hands; hands with the
powerful and purposeful thumb of the West; hands with the supple
artistic fingers and delicate finger-nails of the East.
And the man's name was in keeping with hands and face, with mind, body,
soul, and character, for, though he would not have done so, he could
have replied to the query "What is your name?" with "My name? Well, in
full, it is John Robin Ross-Ellison Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz
Ullah Khan, and its explanation is my descent from General Ross-Ellison,
Laird of Glencairn, and from Mir Faquir Mahommed Afzul Khan, Jam of
In Piccadilly, wearing the garb of Piccadilly, he looked an Englishman
of the English.
In Abdul Rehman Bazaar, Cabul, wearing the garb of Abdul Rehman Bazaar,
he looked a Pathan of Pathans. In the former case, rather more sunburnt
than the average lounger in Piccadilly; in the latter, rather fairer
than the average Afghan and Pathan loafer in Abdul Rehman Bazaar.
"Walking down Unter den Linden in Berlin, with upturned moustache, he
looked a most Teutonic German.
"You observed, my friend?" queried the Leading Gentleman (whose father
was the son of a Negro-Arab who married, or should have married, a
Jewess captured near Fez, and whose mother was the daughter of a
Tunisian Turk by a half-bred Negress of Timbuctoo).
"I observed," replied the fair young man in the mongrel Arabic-Swahili
_lingua franca_ of the Red Sea and East African littorals "that it is
but natural for dogs to prey upon dogs."
"There are times when the lion is driven to prey upon dogs, my dear
son," interposed the mild-eyed, benevolent-looking Arab--a pensive smile
on his venerable face.
"Yes--when he is old, mangy, toothless and deserving of nothing better,
my dear father," replied the fair young man, and his glances at the
white beard, scanty locks and mumbling mouth of the ancient gentleman
had an unpleasantly personal quality. To the casual on-looker it would
have seemed that an impudent boy deliberately insulted a harmless
benevolent old gentleman. To the fair young man, however, it was well
known that the old gentleman's name was famous across Northern and
Eastern Africa for monstrous villainy and fiendish cruelty--the name of
the worst and wickedest of those traders in "black ivory," one of whose
side-lines is frequently gun-running. Also he knew that the
benevolent-looking old dear was desirous that the Leading Gentleman, his
partner, should join with him in a little scheme (a scheme revealed by
one Moussa Isa, eaves-dropper) to give the fair young man some inches
of steel instead of the pounds of Teutonic gold due for services (and
rifles) rendered, when they should reach the quiet spot on the northern
shore of the Persian Gulf where certain bold caravan-leaders would await
them and their precious cargo--a scheme condemned by the Leading
Gentleman on the grounds of the folly of killing the goose that laid the
golden eggs. But then the wealthy Arab patriarch was retiring from the
risky business (already nearly ruined and destroyed by English
gun-boats) after that trip, and the Leading Gentleman was not. Thus it
was that the attitude of the fair young man toward Sheikh Abou ben
Mustapha Muscati did not display that degree of respect that his grey
hairs and beautiful old face would appear to deserve.
The French-speaking Moslem Berber _ex_-Zouave, from Algiers, suggested
that Moussa Isa, a slave, was certainly not fitting food for gentlemen
who fight, hunt, travel, poach elephants, deal in "black ivory," run
guns, and generally lead a life too picturesque for an over-"educated,"
utilitarian and depressing age--but what would you? "One eats--but yes,
one eats, or one ceases to live, and one does not wish to cease to
live--and therefore one eats" and he cocked a yellow and appraising eye
at Moussa Isa. The sense of the meeting appeared to be that though one
would not have chosen this particular animal, necessity knows no
rule--and if the throat be cut while the animal be alive, one may eat of
the flesh and break the Law by so much the less. Moussa Isa must be
_halalled_. But the fair young man drawing a Khyber knife with two
feet of blade, observed that it was now likely that there would be a
plethora of food, as he would most assuredly cut the throat of any
 To _halal_ is to make lawful, here to cut the throat of a living
animal in order that its flesh may be eatable by good Mussulmans.
Moussa Isa regarded him with the look often seen in the eye of an
The venerable Arab smiled meaningly at the Leading Gentleman, and the
Tanga tout asked if all were to hunger for the silly scruples of one.
"If the fair-faced Sheikh did not wish to eat of Moussa, none would urge
it. Live and let live. The gentlemen were hungry; ..." but the fair
young man unreasonably replied, "Then let them eat _thee_ since they can
stomach carrion," and for the moment the subject dropped--largely
because the fair young man was supposed always to carry a revolver,
which was not a habit of his good colleagues. It was another evidence of
his strange duality that revolver and knife were (rare phenomenon)
equally acceptable to him, though in certain environment the pistol
rather suggested itself to his left hand, while in others his right hand
went quite unconsciously to his long knife.
In the present company no thought of the fire-arm entered his head--this
was a knifing, back-stabbing outfit;--none here who stood up to shoot
and be shot at in fair fight....
The Leading Gentleman looked many times and hard at Moussa Isa during
the second day of his own starvation, which was the third of that of his
companions and the fourth of Moussa's. The Leading Gentleman, who was as
rich as he was ragged and dirty, wore a very beautiful knife, which
(though it reposed in a gaudy sheath of yellow, green and blue beads,
fringed with a dependent filigree, or lace work, of similar beads with
tassels of cowrie-shells) hailed from Damascus and had a handle of ivory
and gold, and an inlaid blade on which were inscribed verses from the
Moussa Isa knew the pattern of it well by the close of day. The Leading
Gentleman took that evening to sharpening the already sharp blade of the
knife. As he sharpened it on his sandal and the side of the boat, and
tried its edge on his thumb, he regarded the thin body of Moussa Isa
His look blended contempt, anticipation, and anxiety.
He broke a long brooding silence with the remark:--
"The little dog will be thinner still, to-morrow "--a remark which
evoked from the fair youth the reply: "And so will you".
Perhaps truth covered and excused a certain indelicacy and callousness
in the statement of the Leading Gentleman, albeit the fair young man
appeared annoyed at it. His British blood and instincts became
predominant when the killing and eating of a fellow-creature were on the
_tapis_--the said fellow-creature being on it at the same time.
A colleague from Dar-es-Salaam, who had an ear and a half, three teeth,
six fingers, innumerable pockmarks and a German accent, said, "He will
have little fat," and there was bitterness in his tone. As a business
man he realized a bad investment of capital. The food in which they had
wallowed should have gone to the fattening of Moussa Isa. Also a fear
"He'll jump overboard in the night--the ungrateful dog. Tie him up," and
he reached for a coil of cord.
"He will not be tied up," observed the fair youth in a quiet, obstinate
"See, my friend," said the Leading Gentleman, "it is a case of one or
many. Better _that_ one," and he pointed to Moussa Isa, "than another,"
and he looked meaningly at the fair young man.
"And yet, I know not," murmured the venerable Arab, "I know not. We are
not in the debt of the slave. We _are_ in the debt of the Sheikh. It
would cancel all obligations if the Sheikh from the North preferred to
offer himself as--"
The young man's long knife flashed from its sheath as he sprang to his
feet. "Let us eat monkey, if eat we must," he cried, pointing to the
Arab--and, even as he spoke, the huge man with the scars, flinging his
great arms around the youth's ankles, partly rose and neatly tipped him
overboard. He had long hated the fair man.
Straightway, unseen by any, as all eyes were on the grey-eyed youth and
his assailant, Moussa Isa cast loose the _toni_ that nestled beneath
the stern of the larger boat. He was about to shout that he had done so
when he realised that this would defeat his purpose, and also that the
fair Sheikh was still under water.
 Small dug-out canoe.
"Good," murmured the old Arab, "now brain him as he comes up--and secure
But the fair youth knew better than to rise in the immediate
neighbourhood of the boat. Swimming with the ease, grace and speed of a
seal, he emerged with bursting lungs a good hundred yards from where he
had disappeared. Having breathed deeply he again sank, to re-appear at
a point still more distant, and be lost in the gathering gloom.
"He is off to Cabul to lay his case before the Amir," observed the
elderly Arab with grim humour.
"Doubtless," agreed the Leading Gentleman, "he will swim the 2000 miles
to India, and then up the Indus to Attock." And added, "But, bear
witness all, if the young devil turn up again some day, that _I_ had no
quarrel with him.... A pity! A pity!... Where shall we find his like, a
Prank among the Franks, an Afghan among Afghans, a Frenchman in Algiers,
a nomad robber in Persia, a Bey in Cairo, a Sahib in Bombay--equally at
home as gentleman or tribesman? Where shall we find his like again as
gatherer of the yellow honey of Berlin and as negotiator in Marseilles
(where the discarded Gras breech-loaders of the army grow) and in
Muscat? Woe! Woe!"
"Or his like for impudence to his elders, harshness in a bargain,
cunning and greed?" added the benevolent-looking Arab, who had gained a
handsome sum by the murder.
"For courage," corrected the Leading Gentleman, and with a heavy sigh,
groaned. "We shall never see him more--and he was worth his weight to me
annually in gold."
"No, you won't see him again," agreed the Arab. "He'll hardly swim to
Aden--apart from the little matter of sharks.... A pity the sharks
should have so fair a body--and we starve!" and he turned a fatherly
benevolent eye on Moussa Isa--whom a tall slender black Arab, from the
hills about Port Sudan, of the true "fuzzy-wuzzy" type, had seized in
his thin but Herculean arms as the boy rose to spring into the _toni_
and paddle to the rescue of his benefactor.
The Dar-es-Salaam merchant threw Fuzzy Wuzzy a coil of cord and Moussa
Isa (who struggled, kicked, bit and finding resistance hopeless,
screamed, "Follow the boat, Master," as he lay on his back), was bound
to a cracked and salt-encrusted beam or seat that supported, or was
supported by, the cracked and salt-encrusted sides of the canoe-shaped
Although very, very hungry, and perhaps as conscienceless and wicked a
gang as ever assembled together on the earth or went down to the sea in
ships, there was yet a certain reluctance on the part of some of the
members to revert to cannibalism, although all agreed that it was
Among the reluctant-to-commence were those who had no negro blood. Among
the ready-to-commence, the full-blooded negroes were the most impatient.
Although very hungry and rather weak they were in different case from
that of European castaway sailors, in that all were inured to long
periods of fasting, all had crossed the Sahara or the Sus, lived for
days on a handful of dates, and had tightened the waist-string by way of
a meal. Few of them ever thought of eating between sunrise and sunset.
The lives of the negroes were alternations of gorging and starving,
incredible repletion and more incredible fasting; devouring vast masses
of hippopotamus-flesh to-day, and starving for a week thereafter; pounds
of prime meat to-day, gnawing hunger and the weakness of semi-starvation
for the next month.
"At sunrise," said the Leading Gentleman finality.
Good! That left the so-desirable element of chance. It left opportunity
for change of programme inasmuch as sunrise might disclose help in the
shape of a passing ship. The matter would rest with Heaven, and pious
men might lay them down to sleep with clear conscience, reflecting that,
should it be the Will of Allah that His servants should not eat of this
flesh, other would be provided; should other not be provided it was
clearly the Will of Allah that His servants should eat of this flesh!
Excellent--there would be a meal soon after sunrise.
And the Argonauts laid them down to sleep, hungry but gratefully
trustful, trustfully grateful. But Moussa Isa watched the wondrous
lustrous stars throughout the age-long, flash-short night and thought of
Had the splendid, noble Sheikh from the North heard his cry and had he
found the _toni_? How far had he swum ere his strength gave out or, with
sudden swirl, he was dragged under by the man-eating shark? Would he
remove his long cotton shirt, velvet waistcoat and baggy cotton
trousers? The latter would present difficulties, for the waist-string
would tangle and the water would swell the knot and prevent the drawing
of string over string.
Moreover, the garments, though very baggy, were tight round the ankles.
Would he cast off his beautiful yard-long Khyber knife? It would go to
his heart to do that, both for the sake of the weapon itself and because
he would have to go to his death unavenged, seized by a shark without
giving it its death-wound. Had he heard and would he follow the boat in
the moonlight, find the _toni_ and escape? Could he swim to Aden? They
had said not--even leaving sharks out of consideration, and indeed it
must be forty or fifty miles away. Judging by their progress they must
have done about one hundred and fifty miles since they embarked at the
lonely spot on the Berbera coast for the other lonely spot on the Aden
coast, where certain whisperings with certain mysterious camel-riders
would preface their provisioning for the voyage along the weary
Hadramant coast to the Ras el Had and Muscat--just a humble boat-load of
poor but honest toilers and tradesmen, interested in dried fish, dates,
the pearl-fishery and the pettiest trading. No, he would never reach
land, wonderful swimmer as he was. He would be lost in the sea as is the
Webi Shebeyli River in the sands of the South, unless he followed the
drifting boat and found the _toni_. Otherwise, he might be picked up,
but he would have to keep afloat all night to do that, unless he had the
extraordinary luck to be seen by dhow or ship before dark. That could
hardly be, unless the same ship or dhow were visible from their own
boat, and none had been seen.
No, he must be dead--and Moussa Isa would shortly follow him. How he
wished he could have given his life to save him. Had he known, he would
have cried out, "Let them eat me, O Master," and prevented him from
risking his life. If he should get the chance of striking one blow for
his life in the morning he would bestow it upon the scar-faced beast who
had tripped the fair Sheik overboard. If he could strike two he would
give the second to the old Arab who flogged women and children to death
with the _kourbash_, as an amusement, and whose cruelties were
famous in a cruel land; the old Evil who hated, and plotted the death
of, the fair Sheikh, with the leader of the expedition in order that
they might divide his large share of the gun-running proceeds and German
subsidy. If he could strike a third blow it should be at the filthy
Hubshi of the Aruwimi, the low degraded Woolly One from the dark
Interior (of human sacrifice, cannibalism and ju-ju) who had proposed
eating him. Yes--if he could grab the leader's knife and deal three such
stabs as the Sheikh dealt the lion, at these three, he could die
content. But this was absurd! They would _halal_ him first, of course,
and unbind him afterwards.... They might unbind him first though, so as
to place him favourably with regard to--economy. They would use the
empty army-ration tin, shining there like silver in the moonlight, the
tin with which he had done so much weary baling. Doubtless the leader
and the Arab would share its contents. He grudged it them, and hoped a
quarrel and struggle might arise and cause it to be spilt.
 Rhinoceros-hide whip.
An unpleasant death! Without cowardice one might dislike the thought of
having one's throat cut while one's hands were bound and one watched the
blood gushing into an old army-ration tin. Perhaps there would be none
to gush--and a good job too. Serve them right. Could he cut his wrists
on a nail or a splinter or with the cords, and cheat them, if there were
any blood in him now. He would try. Yes, an unpleasant death. No one,
no true Somali, that is, objected to a prod in the heart with a
shovel-headed spear, a thwack in the head with a hammered slug, a sweep
at the neck with a big sword--but to have a person sawing at your throat
with weak and shaking hands is rotten....
One quite appreciated that masters must eat and slaves must die, and the
religious necessity for cutting the throat while the animal is alive,
according to the Law--and there was great comfort in the fact that the
leader's knife was inscribed with verses of the Q'ran and would probably
be used for the job. (The leader liked jobs of that sort.) Countless it
would confer distinction in Paradise upon one already distinguished as
having died to provide food for a band of right-thinking,
religious-minded gentlemen, who, even in such terrible straits, forgot
not the Law nor omitted the ceremonies....
Where now was the fair-faced master who so resembled the English but was
so much braver, fiercer, so much more staunch? Though fair as they, and
knowing their speech, he could not be of a race that led whole tribes to
trust in them, called them "Friendlies" and then forsook them; came to
them in the day of trouble asking help, and then scuttled away and
deserted their allies, leaving them to face alone the Power whose wrath
and vengeance their help-giving had provoked. Yet there were good men
among them--there was Kafil Bey for example. Kafil Bey whose last
noble fight he had witnessed. If the fair-faced Sheikh had any of the
weak English blood in his veins it must be of such a man as Kafil Bey.
Was he still swimming? Had he been picked up? Was he shark's food? To
think that _he_ should have come to his death over such a thing as a
slave boy (albeit a Somali and no Hubshi).
This was an Emir indeed.
An idea!... He called aloud: "Are you there, Master? The _toni_ is loose
and must be near," again and again, louder and louder. Perhaps he was
following and would hear. Again, louder still.
The one-eyed man, disturbed by the cry, stirred, threw his arms abroad,
stretched, and put his foot on the mouth of a neighbour lying
head-to-foot beside him. The neighbour snored loudly and turned his face
sideways under the foot. He had slept standing jammed against the wall
in the Idris of Omdurman, one of the most terrible jails of all time,
and a huge foot on his face was a matter of no moment.
The Tanga tout suddenly emitted a scream, a blood-curdling scream, and
immediately scratched his ribs like a monkey.... Moussa Isa held his
Anon the scar-faced man turned over, moving others.
Could it be near dawn already, and were his proprietors waking up? He
could see no change in the East, no paling of the lustrous stars. Was it
an hour ago or eight hours ago that the night had fallen? Had he an hour
to live or a night? Would he ever see Berbera again, steer a boat down
its deep inlet, gaze upon its two lighthouses, its fort, hospital,
barracks, piers, warehouses, bazaars; drive a camel along by its seven
miles of aqueduct, look down from the hills upon this wonderful and
mighty metropolis, greater and grander than Jibuti, Zeyla, Bulhar and
Karam, surely the greatest and most marvellous port and city of the
world, ere driving on through the thorn-bush and acacia-jungle into the
vast waterless Haud? Would he ever again see the sun rise in the desert,
smell the smoke of the camel-dung cooking-fires.... What was that? The
sky was paling in the East, growing grey, a rose-pink flush on the
horizon--dawn and death were at hand.
Before the heralds of the sun, the moon slowly veiled her face with
lightest gossamer while the weaker stars fled. The daily miracle and
common marvel proceeded before the tired eyes of the bound slave; the
rim of the sun appeared above the rim of the sea; the moon more deeply
veiled her face from the fierce red eye, and gracefully and gradually
retired before the advance of the usurping conqueror--and the slave
seemed to hear the fat croaking voice of the leader saying, "At
Broad day and all but he asleep. Well--it had come at last. When would
they awake? Was the toni anywhere near?
The man with the geometrical pattern of scars on his face and chest
suddenly sat bolt upright like a released spring, yawned, looked at the
sky and the limp sail, and then at Moussa Isa. As his eye fell upon the
boy he smiled copiously, protruded a very red tongue between very white
teeth, and licked huge blue-black lips. He leaned over and awakened the
Leading Gentleman. Then he pointed to the Victim. Both watched the
horizon where, beyond distant Bombay and China, the sun was appearing,
rising with the rapidity of the minute hand of a big clock. Neither
looked to the West.
The child knew that when the sun had risen clear of the sea, he might
look upon it for a minute or two--and no more. A puff of wind fanned his
cheek; the sail filled and drew. The boat moved through the water and
the one-eyed gentleman, arising and treading upon the out-lying tracts
of the sleepers, stumbled to the rudder, which was tied with
coconut-fibre to an upright stake. The breeze strengthened and there was
a ripple of water at the bows. Was he saved?
The one-eyed person looked more disappointed than pleased, and observed
to the Leading Gentleman: "We cannot live to Aden, though the wind hold.
We must eat," and he regarded the figure of Moussa Isa critically,
appraisingly, with mingled favour and disfavour. His expressive
countenance seemed to say, "He is food--but he is poor food".
Nevertheless an unmistakable look of relief overspread his face as the
Leading Gentleman replied with conviction, "We must eat...." and added,
"This is but a dawn-breeze and will not take us half a mile".
"Then let us eat forthwith," said the one-eyed man, and he fairly beamed
upon Moussa Isa, doubtless with the said light of which his body was
full, in consequence of his singleness of vision. The whole party was by
this time awake and Moussa Isa the cynosure of neighbouring eyes. The
Leading Gentleman drew his beautiful knife from its tawdry sheath and
gave it a last loving strop on his horny palm.
Willing hands dragged the head of Moussa Isa across the beam and willing
bodies sat upon him, that he might not waste time, and something more
precious, by thoughtless wriggling, delaying breakfast. The Leading
Gentleman crawled to an advantageous position, and having bowed in
prayer, sawed away industriously.
Moussa Isa wished to shriek to him that he was a fool and a bungler;
that throats were not to be cut in that fashion, with hackings and
sawing at the gullet. Knew the clumsy fumbler nothing of big
blood-vessels?... but he could not speak.
"_That_ is not the way," said the benevolent-looking old Arab. "Stab,
man, stab under the ear--don't cut ... not there, anyhow."
The Leading Gentleman tried the other side of the double-edged blade,
continuing obstinately, and Moussa Isa contrived a strange sound which
died away on a curious bubbling note and he grew faint.
Suddenly the one-eyed individual at the rudder screamed aloud, and
disturbed the Leading Gentleman's earnest endeavour to prevent waste.
Not from sensibility did the one-eyed scream, nor on account of his
growing conviction that the Leading Gentleman was getting more than his
share, but because, as all realized upon looking up, a great ship was
bearing down upon them from the West.
So intent had all been upon the preparation of breakfast that the
steamer was almost audible when seen.
Good! Here came water, rice, bread, sugar, flour, and perhaps meat, for
poor castaways, and probably money--from kindly lady-passengers, this
last, for the ship was obviously a liner. The wretched Moussa Isa's
carcase was now superfluous--nay dangerous, and must be disposed of at
once, for Europeans are most kittle cattle. They will exterminate your
tribe with machine-guns, gin, small-pox, and still nastier things, but
they are fearfully shocked at a bit of killing on the part of others.
They call it murder. And though they will well-nigh depopulate a country
themselves, they will wax highly indignant if any of the survivors do a
little slaying, even if they kill but a miserable slave, like this
Heave him overboard.
No. Ships carry the "far-eye," the magic instrument that makes the
distant near, that brings things from miles away to within a few yards.
Doubtless telescopes were on them already. Keep in a close group round
the body, smuggle it under the palm-mats and make believe to have been
trying to kindle a fire in an old kerosine-oil tin.... Signals of
distress appeared and Moussa Isa disappeared. The great steamer
approached, slowed down, and came to a standstill beside the boat of the
starving castaways. From her cliff-like side the passengers, crowding
the rails of her many decks, looked down with interest upon a
prehistoric craft in which lay a number of poor emaciated blacks and
Arabs, clad for the most part in scanty cotton rags. These poor
creatures feebly extended skinny hands and feebly raised quavering
voices, as they begged for water and a little rice, only water and a
little rice in the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate. Their
tins, lotahs and goat-skins were filled, bags of rice, bread and flour
were lowered to them; a box of sugar and a packet of biscuit were added;
and a gentle little rain of coins fell as though from Heaven.
Kodaks clicked, clergymen beamed, ladies said, "How sweetly
picturesque--poor dears"; the Captain murmured, "Damnedest scoundrels
unhung--but can't leave 'em to starve"; the "poor dears" smiled largely
and ate wolfishly; Moussa Isa bled, and the great steamer resumed her
"Pat" Brighte (she was Cleopatra Diamond Brighte who married Colonel
Dearman of the Gungapur Volunteer Bines) found she had got a splendid
snap-shot when her films were developed at Gungapur. A little later she
got another when the look-out saw, and a boat picked up, a man who was
lying in a little dug-out or _toni_. When able to speak, he told the
_serang_ of the lascars that he was the sole survivor of a
bunder-boat which had turned turtle and sunk. He understood nothing but