Part 3 out of 9
But Guv'ment built me a fever-trap,
An' Injia give me disease.
Ho! don't you 'eed what a girl says,
An' don't you go for the beer;
But I was an ass when I was at grass,
An' that is why I'm here.
I fired a shot at a Afghan,
The beggar 'e fired again,
An' I lay on my bed with a 'ole in my 'ed,
An' missed the next campaign!
I up with my gun at a Burman
Who carried a bloomin' _dah_,
But the cartridge stuck and the bay'nit bruk,
An' all I got was the scar.
Ho! don't you aim at a Afghan
When you stand on the sky-line clear;
An' don't you go for a Burman
If none o' your friends is near.
I served my time for a corp'ral,
An' wetted my stripes with pop,
For I went on the bend with a intimate friend,
An' finished the night in the "shop."
I served my time for a sergeant;
The colonel 'e sez "No!
The most you'll see is a full C.B." 
An' ... very next night 'twas so.
[Footnote 1: Confined to barracks.]
Ho! don't you go for a corp'ral
Unless your 'ed is clear;
But I was an ass when I was at grass,
An' that is why I'm 'ere.
I've tasted the luck o' the army
In barrack an' camp an' clink,
An' I lost my tip through the bloomin' trip
Along o' the women an' drink.
I'm down at the heel o' my service
An' when I am laid on the shelf,
My very wust friend from beginning to end
By the blood of a mouse was myself!
Ho! don't you 'eed what a girl says,
An' don't you go for the beer:
But I was an ass when I was at grass,
An' that is why I'm 'ere,
"Ay, listen to our little man now, singin' an' shoutin' as tho' trouble
had niver touched him. D' you remember when he went mad with the
homesickness?" said Mulvaney, recalling a never-to-be-forgotten season
when Ortheris waded through the deep waters of affliction and behaved
abominably. "But he's talkin' bitter truth, though. Eyah!
"My very worst frind from beginnin' to ind By the blood av a mouse was
* * * * *
When I woke I saw Mulvaney, the night-dew gemming his moustache, leaning
on his rifle at picket, lonely as Prometheus on his rock, with I know not
what vultures tearing his liver.
THE STORY OF MUHAMMAD DIN
Who is the happy man? He that sees in his own house at home, little
children crowned with dust, leaping and falling and crying.
--_Munichandra_, translated by Professor Peterson.
The polo-ball was an old one, scarred, chipped, and dinted. It stood on
the mantelpiece among the pipe-stems which Imam Din, _khitmatgar_, was
cleaning for me.
"Does the Heaven-born want this ball?" said Imam Din, deferentially.
The Heaven-born set no particular store by it; but of what use was a
polo-ball to a _khitmatgar_?
"By your Honor's favor, I have a little son. He has seen this ball, and
desires it to play with. I do not want it for myself."
No one would for an instant accuse portly old Imam Din of wanting to play
with polo-balls. He carried out the battered thing into the veranda; and
there followed a hurricane of joyful squeaks, a patter of small feet, and
the _thud-thud-thud_ of the ball rolling along the ground. Evidently the
little son had been waiting outside the door to secure his treasure. But
how had he managed to see that polo-ball?
Next day, coming back from office half an hour earlier than usual, I was
aware of a small figure in the dining-room--a tiny, plump figure in a
ridiculously inadequate shirt which came, perhaps, half-way down the tubby
stomach. It wandered round the room, thumb in mouth, crooning to itself as
it took stock of the pictures. Undoubtedly this was the "little son."
He had no business in my room, of course; but was so deeply absorbed in
his discoveries that he never noticed me in the doorway. I stepped into
the room and startled him nearly into a fit. He sat down on the ground
with a gasp. His eyes opened, and his mouth followed suit. I knew what was
coming, and fled, followed by a long, dry howl which reached the servants'
quarters far more quickly than any command of mine had ever done. In ten
seconds Imam Din was in the dining-room. Then despairing sobs arose, and I
returned to find Imam Din admonishing the small sinner who was using most
of his shirt as a handkerchief.
"This boy," said Imam Din, judicially, "is a _budmash_--a big _budmash_.
He will, without doubt, go to the _jail-khana_ for his behavior." Renewed
yells from the penitent, and an elaborate apology to myself from Imam Din.
"Tell the baby," said I, "that the _Sahib_ is not angry, and take him
away." Imam Din conveyed my forgiveness to the offender, who had now
gathered all his shirt round his neck, stringwise, and the yell subsided
into a sob. The two set off for the door. "His name," said Imam Din, as
though the name were part of the crime, "is Muhammad Din, and he is a
_budmash_." Freed from present danger, Muhammad Din turned round in his
father's arms, and said gravely, "It is true that my name is Muhammad Din,
_Tahib_, but I am not a _budmash_. I am a _man!_"
From that day dated my acquaintance with Muhammad Din. Never again did he
come into my dining-room, but on the neutral ground of the garden, we
greeted each other with much state, though our conversation was confined
to "_Talaam, Tahib_" from his side, and "_Salaam, Muhammad Din_" from
mine. Daily on my return from office, the little white shirt, and the fat
little body used to rise from the shade of the creeper-covered trellis
where they had been hid; and daily I checked my horse here, that my
salutation might not be slurred over or given unseemly.
Muhammad Din never had any companions. He used to trot about the compound,
in and out of the castor-oil bushes, on mysterious errands of his own. One
day I stumbled upon some of his handiwork far down the grounds. He had
half buried the polo-ball in dust, and stuck six shriveled old marigold
flowers in a circle round it.
Outside that circle again was a rude square, traced out in bits of red
brick alternating with fragments of broken china; the whole bounded by a
little bank of dust. The water-man from the well-curb put in a plea for
the small architect, saying that it was only the play of a baby and did
not much disfigure my garden.
Heaven knows that I had no intention of touching the child's work then or
later; but, that evening, a stroll through the garden brought me unawares
full on it; so that I trampled, before I knew, marigold-heads, dust-bank,
and fragments of broken soap-dish into confusion past all hope of mending.
Next morning, I came upon Muhammad Din crying softly to himself over the
ruin I had wrought. Some one had cruelly told him that the _Sahib_ was
very angry with him for spoiling the garden, and had scattered his
rubbish, using bad language the while. Muhammad Din labored for an hour at
effacing every trace of the dust-bank and pottery fragments, and it was
with a tearful and apologetic face that he said "_Talaam, Tahib_," when I
came home from office. A hasty inquiry resulted in Imam Din informing
Muhammad Din that, by my singular favor, he was permitted to disport
himself as he pleased. Whereat the child took heart and fell to tracing
the ground-plan of an edifice which was to eclipse the marigold-polo-ball
For some months, the chubby little eccentricity revolved in his humble
orbit among the castor-oil bushes and in the dust; always fashioning
magnificent palaces from stale flowers thrown away by the bearer, smooth
water-worn pebbles, bits of broken glass, and feathers pulled, I fancy,
from my fowls--always alone, and always crooning to himself.
A gaily-spotted sea-shell was dropped one day close to the last of his
little buildings; and I looked that Muhammad Din should build something
more than ordinarily splendid on the strength of it. Nor was I
disappointed. He meditated for the better part of an hour, and his
crooning rose to a jubilant song. Then he began tracing in the dust. It
would certainly be a wondrous palace, this one, for it was two yards long
and a yard broad in ground-plan. But the palace was never completed.
Next day there was no Muhammad Din at the head of the carriage-drive, and
no "_Talaam, Tahib_" to welcome my return. I had grown accustomed to the
greeting, and its omission troubled me. Next day Imam Din told me that the
child was suffering slightly from fever and needed quinine. He got the
medicine, and an English Doctor.
"They have no stamina, these brats," said the Doctor, as he left Imam
A week later, though I would have given much to have avoided it, I met on
the road to the Mussulman burying-ground Imam Din, accompanied by one
other friend, carrying in his arms, wrapped in a white cloth, all that was
left of little Muhammad Din.
IN FLOOD TIME
Tweed said tae Till:
"What gars ye rin sae Still?"
Till said tae Tweed:
"Though ye rin wi' speed
An' I rin slaw--
Yet where ye droon ae man
I droon twa."
There is no getting over the river to-night, Sahib. They say that a
bullock-cart has been washed down already, and the _ekka_ that went over a
half hour before you came, has not yet reached the far side. Is the Sahib
in haste? I will drive the ford-elephant in to show him. _Ohe, mahout_
there in the shed! Bring out Ram Pershad, and if he will face the current,
good. An elephant never lies, Sahib, and Ram Pershad is separated from his
friend Kala Nag. He, too, wishes to cross to the far side. Well done! Well
done! my King! Go half way across, _mahoutji_, and see what the river
says. Well done, Ram Pershad! Pearl among elephants, go into the river!
Hit him on the head, fool! Was the goad made only to scratch thy own fat
back with, bastard? Strike! Strike! What are the boulders to thee, Ram
Pershad, my Rustum, my mountain of strength? Go in! Go in!
No, Sahib! It is useless. You can hear him trumpet. He is telling Kala Nag
that he cannot come over. See! He has swung round and is shaking his head.
He is no fool. He knows what the Barhwi means when it is angry. Aha!
Indeed, thou art no fool, my child! _Salaam_, Ram Pershad, Bahadur! Take
him under the trees, _mahout_, and see that he gets his spices. Well done,
thou chiefest among tuskers. _Salaam_ to the Sirkar and go to sleep.
What is to be done? The Sahib must wait till the river goes down. It will
shrink to-morrow morning, if God pleases, or the day after at the latest.
Now why does the Sahib get so angry? I am his servant. Before God, _I_ did
not create this stream! What can I do? My hut and all that is therein is
at the service of the Sahib, and it is beginning to rain. Come away, my
Lord, How will the river go down for your throwing abuse at it? In the old
days the English people were not thus. The fire-carriage has made them
soft. In the old days, when they drave behind horses by day or by night,
they said naught if a river barred the way, or a carriage sat down in the
mud. It was the will of God--not like a fire-carriage which goes and goes
and goes, and would go though all the devils in the land hung on to its
tail. The fire-carriage hath spoiled the English people. After all, what
is a day lost, or, for that matter, what are two days? Is the Sahib going
to his own wedding, that he is so mad with haste? Ho! Ho! Ho! I am an old
man and see few Sahibs. Forgive me if I have forgotten the respect that is
due to them. The Sahib is not angry?
His own wedding! Ho! Ho! Ho! The mind of an old man is like the
_numah_-tree. Fruit, bud, blossom, and the dead leaves of all the years of
the past flourish together. Old and new and that which is gone out of
remembrance, all three are there! Sit on the bedstead, Sahib, and drink
milk. Or--would the Sahib in truth care to drink my tobacco? It is good.
It is the tobacco of Nuklao. My son, who is in service there sent it to
me. Drink, then, Sahib, if you know how to handle the tube. The Sahib
takes it like a Musalman. Wah! Wah! Where did he learn that? His own
wedding! Ho! Ho! Ho! The Sahib says that there is no wedding in the matter
at all? Now _is_ it likely that the Sahib would speak true talk to me who
am only a black man? Small wonder, then, that he is in haste. Thirty years
have I beaten the gong at this ford, but never have I seen a Sahib in such
haste. Thirty years, Sahib! That is a very long time. Thirty years ago
this ford was on the track of the _bunjaras_, and I have seen two thousand
pack-bullocks cross in one night. Now the rail has come, and the
fire-carriage says _buz-buz-buz_, and a hundred lakhs of maunds slide
across that big bridge. It is very wonderful; but the ford is lonely now
that there are no _bunjaras_ to camp under the trees.
Nay, do not trouble to look at the sky without. It will rain till the
dawn. Listen! The boulders are talking to-night in the bed of the river.
Hear them! They would be husking your bones, Sahib, had you tried to
cross. See, I will shut the door and no rain can enter. _Wahi! Ahi! Ugh!_
Thirty years on the banks of the ford! An old man am I and--where is the
oil for the lamp?
Your pardon, but, because of my years, I sleep no sounder than a dog; and
you moved to the door. Look then, Sahib. Look and listen. A full half
_kos_ from bank to bank is the stream now--you can see it under the
stars--and there are ten feet of water therein. It will not shrink because
of the anger in your eyes, and it will not be quiet on account of your
curses. Which is louder, Sahib--your voice or the voice of the river? Call
to it--perhaps it will be ashamed. Lie down and sleep afresh, Sahib. I
know the anger of the Barhwi when there has fallen rain in the foot-hills.
I swam the flood, once, on a night tenfold worse than this, and by the
Favor of God I was released from Death when I had come to the very gates
May I tell the tale? Very good talk. I will fill the pipe anew.
Thirty years ago it was, when I was a young man and had but newly come to
the ford. I was strong then, and the _bunjaras_ had no doubt when I said
"this ford is clear." I have toiled all night up to my shoulder-blades in
running water amid a hundred bullocks mad with fear, and have brought them
across losing not a hoof. When all was done I fetched the shivering men,
and they gave me for reward the pick of their cattle--the bell-bullock of
the drove. So great was the honor in which I was held! But, to-day when
the rain falls and the river rises, I creep into my hut and whimper like a
dog. My strength is gone from me. I am an old man and the fire-carriage
has made the ford desolate. They were wont to call me the Strong One of
Behold my face, Sahib--it is the face of a monkey. And my arm--it is the
arm of an old woman. I swear to you, Sahib, that a woman has loved this
face and has rested in the hollow of this arm. Twenty years ago, Sahib.
Believe me, this was true talk--twenty years ago.
Come to the door and look across. Can you see a thin fire very far away
down the stream? That is the temple-fire, in the shrine of Hanuman, of the
village of Pateera. North, under the big star, is the village itself, but
it is hidden by a bend of the river. Is that far to swim, Sahib? Would you
take off your clothes and adventure? Yet I swam to Pateera--not once but
many times; and there are _muggers_ in the river too.
Love knows no caste; else why should I, a Musalman and the son of a
Musalman, have sought a Hindu woman--a widow of the Hindus--the sister of
the headman of Pateera? But it was even so. They of the headman's
household came on a pilgrimage to Muttra when She was but newly a bride.
Silver tires were upon the wheels of the bullock-cart, and silken curtains
hid the woman. Sahib, I made no haste in their conveyance, for the wind
parted the curtains and I saw Her. When they returned from pilgrimage the
boy that was Her husband had died, and I saw Her again in the
bullock-cart. By God, these Hindus are fools! What was it to me whether
She was Hindu or Jain--scavenger, leper, or whole? I would have married
Her and made Her a home by the ford. The Seventh of the Nine Bars says
that a man may not marry one of the idolaters? Is that truth? Both Shiahs
and Sunnis say that a Musalman may not marry one of the idolaters? Is the
Sahib a priest, then, that he knows so much? I will tell him something
that he does not know. There is neither Shiah nor Sunni, forbidden nor
idolater, in Love; and the Nine Bars are but nine little fagots that the
flame of Love utterly burns away. In truth, I would have taken Her; but
what could I do? The headman would have sent his men to break my head with
staves. I am not--I was not--afraid of any five men; but against half a
village who can prevail?
Therefore it was my custom, these things having been arranged between us
twain, to go by night to the village of Pateera, and there we met among
the crops; no man knowing aught of the matter. Behold, now! I was wont to
cross here, skirting the jungle to the river bend where the railway bridge
is, and thence across the elbow of land to Pateera. The light of the
shrine was my guide when the nights were dark. That jungle near the river
is very full of snakes--little _karaits_ that sleep on the sand--and
moreover, Her brothers would have slain me had they found me in the crops.
But none knew--none knew save She and I; and the blown sand of the
river-bed covered the track of my feet. In the hot months it was an easy
thing to pass from the ford to Pateera, and in the first Rains, when the
river rose slowly, it was an easy thing also. I set the strength of my
body against the strength of the stream, and nightly I ate in my hut here
and drank at Pateera yonder. She had said that one Hirnam Singh, a thief,
had sought Her, and he was of a village up the river but on the same bank.
All Sikhs are dogs, and they have refused in their folly that good gift of
God--tobacco. I was ready to destroy Hirnam Singh that ever he had come
nigh Her; and the more because he had sworn to Her that She had a lover,
and that he would lie in wait and give the name to the headman unless She
went away with him. What curs are these Sikhs!
After that news, I swam always with a little sharp knife in my belt, and
evil would it have been for a man had he stayed me, I knew not the face of
Hirnam Singh, but I would have killed any who came between me and Her.
Upon a night in the beginning of the Rains, I was minded to go across to
Pateera, albeit the river was angry. Now the nature of the Barhwi is this,
Sahib. In twenty breaths it comes down from the Hills, a wall three feet
high, and I have seen it, between the lighting of a fire and the cooking
of a _chupatty_, grow from a runnel to a sister of the Jumna.
When I left this bank there was a shoal a half mile down, and I made shift
to fetch it and draw breath there ere going forward; for I felt the hands
of the river heavy upon my heels. Yet what will a young man not do for
Love's sake? There was but little light from the stars, and midway to the
shoal a branch of the stinking deodar tree brushed my mouth as I swam.
That was a sign of heavy rain in the foot-hills and beyond, for the deodar
is a strong tree, not easily shaken from the hillsides. I made haste, the
river aiding me, but ere I had touched the shoal, the pulse of the stream
beat, as it were, within me and around, and, behold, the shoal was gone
and I rode high on the crest of a wave that ran from bank to bank. Has the
Sahib ever been cast into much water that fights and will not let a man
use his limbs? To me, my head upon the water, it seemed as though there
were naught but water to the world's end, and the river drave me with its
driftwood. A man is a very little thing in the belly of a flood. And
_this_ flood, though I knew it not, was the Great Flood about which men
talk still. My liver was dissolved and I lay like a log upon my back in
the fear of Death. There were living things in the water, crying and
howling grievously--beasts of the forest and cattle, and once the voice of
a man asking for help. But the rain came and lashed the water white, and I
heard no more save the roar of the boulders below and the roar of the rain
above. Thus I was whirled down-stream, wrestling for the breath in me. It
is very hard to die when one is young. Can the Sahib, standing here, see
the railway bridge? Look, there are the lights of the mail-train going to
Peshawur! The bridge is now twenty feet above the river, but upon that
night the water was roaring against the lattice-work and against the
lattice came I feet first, But much driftwood was piled there and upon the
piers, and I took no great hurt. Only the river pressed me as a strong man
presses a weaker. Scarcely could I take hold of the lattice-work and crawl
to the upper boom. Sahib, the water was foaming across the rails a foot
deep! Judge therefore what manner of flood it must have been. I could not
hear, I could not see. I could but lie on the boom and pant for breath.
After a while the rain ceased and there came out in the sky certain new
washed stars, and by their light I saw that there was no end to the black
water as far as the eye could travel, and the water had risen upon the
rails. There were dead beasts in the driftwood on the piers, and others
caught by the neck in the lattice-work, and others not yet drowned who
strove to find a foothold on the lattice-work--buffaloes and kine, and
wild pig, and deer one or two, and snakes and jackals past all counting.
Their bodies were black upon the left side of the bridge, but the smaller
of them were forced through the lattice-work and whirled down-stream.
Thereafter the stars died and the rain came down afresh and the river rose
yet more, and I felt the bridge begin to stir under me as a man stirs in
his sleep ere he wakes. But I was not afraid, Sahib. I swear to you that I
was not afraid, though I had no power in my limbs. I knew that I should
not die till I had seen Her once more. But I was very cold, and I felt
that the bridge must go.
There was a trembling in the water, such a trembling as goes before the
coming of a great wave, and the bridge lifted its flank to the rush of
that coming so that the right lattice dipped under water and the left rose
clear. On my beard, Sahib, I am speaking God's truth! As a Mirzapore
stone-boat careens to the wind, so the Barhwi Bridge turned. Thus and in
no other manner.
I slid from the boom into deep water, and behind me came the wave of the
wrath of the river. I heard its voice and the scream of the middle part of
the bridge as it moved from the piers and sank, and I knew no more till I
rose in the middle of the great flood. I put forth my hand to swim, and
lo! it fell upon the knotted hair of the head of a man. He was dead, for
no one but I, the Strong One of Barhwi, could have lived in that race. He
had been dead full two days, for he rode high, wallowing, and was an aid
to me, I laughed then, knowing for a surety that I should yet see Her and
take no harm; and I twisted my fingers in the hair of the man, for I was
far spent, and together we went down the stream--he the dead and I the
living. Lacking that help I should have sunk: the cold was in my marrow,
and my flesh was ribbed and sodden on my bones. But _he_ had no fear who
had known the uttermost of the power of the river; and I let him go where
he chose. At last we came into the power of a side-current that set to the
right bank, and I strove with my feet to draw with it. But the dead man
swung heavily in the whirl, and I feared that some branch had struck him
and that he would sink. The tops of the tamarisk brushed my knees, so I
knew we were come into flood-water above the crops, and, after, I let down
my legs and felt bottom--the ridge of a field--and, after, the dead man
stayed upon a knoll under a fig-tree, and I drew my body from the water
Does the Sahib know whither the backwash of the flood had borne me? To the
knoll which is the eastern boundary-mark of the village of Pateera! No
other place. I drew the dead man up on the grass for the service that he
had done me, and also because I knew not whether I should need him again.
Then I went, crying thrice like a jackal, to the appointed place which was
near the byre of the headman's house. But my Love was already there,
weeping. She feared that the flood had swept my hut at the Barhwi Ford.
When I came softly through the ankle-deep water, She thought it was a
ghost and would have fled, but I put my arms round Her, and--I was no
ghost in those days, though I am an old man now. Ho! Ho! Dried corn, in
truth. Maize without juice. Ho! Ho! [Footnote: I grieve to say that the
Warden of Barhwi ford is responsible here for two very bad puns in the
I told Her the story of the breaking of the Barhwi Bridge, and She said
that I was greater than mortal man, for none may cross the Barhwi in full
flood, and I had seen what never man had seen before. Hand in hand we went
to the knoll where the dead lay, and I showed Her by what help I had made
the ford. She looked also upon the body under the stars, for the latter
end of the night was clear, and hid Her face in Her hands, crying: "It is
the body of Hirnam Singh!" I said: "The swine is of more use dead than
living, my Beloved," and She said: "Surely, for he has saved the dearest
life in the world to my love. None the less, he cannot stay here, for that
would bring shame upon me." The body was not a gunshot from her door.
Then said I, rolling the body with my hands: "God hath judged between us,
Hirnam Singh, that thy blood might not be upon my head. Now, whether I
have done thee a wrong in keeping thee from the burning-ghat, do thou and
the crows settle together." So I cast him adrift into the flood-water, and
he was drawn out to the open, ever wagging his thick black beard like a
priest under the pulpit-board. And I saw no more of Hirnam Singh.
Before the breaking of the day we two parted, and I moved toward such of
the jungle as was not flooded. With the full light I saw what I had done
in the darkness, and the bones of my body were loosened in my flesh, for
there ran two _kos_ of raging water between the village of Pateera and the
trees of the far bank, and, in the middle, the piers of the Barhwi Bridge
showed like broken teeth in the jaw of an old man. Nor was there any life
upon the waters--neither birds nor boats, but only an army of drowned
things--bullocks and horses and men--and the river was redder than blood
from the clay of the foot-hills. Never had I seen such a flood--never
since that year have I seen the like--and, O Sahib, no man living had done
what I had done. There was no return for me that day. Not for all the
lands of the headman would I venture a second time without the shield of
darkness that cloaks danger. I went a _kos_ up the river to the house of a
blacksmith, saying that the flood had swept me from my hut, and they gave
me food. Seven days I stayed with the blacksmith, till a boat came and I
returned to my house. There was no trace of wall, or roof, or
floor--naught but a patch of slimy mud. Judge, therefore, Sahib, how far
the river must have risen.
It was written that I should not die either in my house, or in the heart
of the Barhwi, or under the wreck of the Barhwi Bridge, for God sent down
Hirnam Singh two days dead, though I know not how the man died, to be my
buoy and support. Hirnam Singh has been in Hell these twenty years, and
the thought of that night must be the flower of his torment.
Listen, Sahib! The river has changed its voice. It is going to sleep
before the dawn, to which there is yet one hour. With the light it will
come down afresh. How do I know? Have I been here thirty years without
knowing the voice of the river as a father knows the voice of his son?
Every moment it is talking less angrily. I swear that there will be no
danger for one hour or, perhaps, two. I cannot answer for the morning. Be
quick, Sahib! I will call Ram Pershad, and he will not turn back this
time. Is the paulin tightly corded upon all the baggage? _Ohe, mahout_
with a mud head, the elephant for the Sahib, and tell them on the far side
that there will be no crossing after daylight.
Money? Nay, Sahib. I am not of that kind. No, not even to give sweetmeats
to the baby-folk. My house, look you, is empty, and I am an old man.
_Dutt_, Ram Pershad! _Dutt! Dutt! Dutt!_ Good luck go with you, Sahib.
MY OWN TRUE GHOST STORY
As I came through the Desert thus it was--
As I came through the Desert.
--_The City of Dreadful Night_.
Somewhere in the Other World, where there are books and pictures and plays
and shop-windows to look at, and thousands of men who spend their lives in
building up all four, lives a gentleman who writes real stories about the
real insides of people; and his name is Mr. Walter Besant. But he will
insist upon treating his ghosts--he has published half a workshopful of
them--with levity. He makes his ghost-seers talk familiarly, and, in some
cases, flirt outrageously, with the phantoms. You may treat anything, from
a Viceroy to a Vernacular Paper, with levity; but you must behave
reverently toward a ghost, and particularly an Indian one.
There are, in this land, ghosts who take the form of fat, cold, pobby
corpses, and hide in trees near the roadside till a traveler passes. Then
they drop upon his neck and remain. There are also terrible ghosts of
women who have died in child-bed. These wander along the pathways at dusk,
or hide in the crops near a village, and call seductively. But to answer
their call is death in this world and the next. Their feet are turned
backward that all sober men may recognize them. There are ghosts of little
children who have been thrown into wells. These haunt well-curbs and the
fringes of jungles, and wail under the stars, or catch women by the wrist
and beg to be taken up and carried. These and the corpse-ghosts, however,
are only vernacular articles and do not attack Sahibs. No native ghost has
yet been authentically reported to have frightened an Englishman; but many
English ghosts have scared the life out of both white and black.
Nearly every other Station owns a ghost. There are said to be two at
Simla, not counting the woman who blows the bellows at Syree dak-bungalow
on the Old Road; Mussoorie has a house haunted of a very lively Thing; a
White Lady is supposed to do night-watchman round a house in Lahore;
Dalhousie says that one of her houses "repeats" on autumn evenings all the
incidents of a horrible horse-and-precipice accident; Murree has a merry
ghost, and, now that she has been swept by cholera, will have room for a
sorrowful one; there are Officers Quarters in Mian Mir whose doors open
without reason, and whose furniture is guaranteed to creak, not with the
heat of June but with the weight of Invisibles who come to lounge in the
chair; Peshawur possesses houses that none will willingly rent; and there
is something--not fever--wrong with a big bungalow in Allahabad. The older
Provinces simply bristle with haunted houses, and march phantom armies
along their main thoroughfares.
Some of the dak-bungalows on the Grand Trunk Road have handy little
cemeteries in their compound--witnesses to the "changes and chances of
this mortal life" in the days when men drove from Calcutta to the
Northwest. These bungalows are objectionable places to put up in. They are
generally very old, always dirty, while the _khansamah_ is as ancient as
the bungalow. He either chatters senilely, or falls into the long trances
of age. In both moods he is useless. If you get angry with him, he refers
to some Sahib dead and buried these thirty years, and says that when he
was in that Sahib's service not a _khansamah_ in the Province could touch
him. Then he jabbers and mows and trembles and fidgets among the dishes,
and you repent of your irritation.
In these dak-bungalows, ghosts are most likely to be found, and when
found, they should be made a note of. Not long ago it was my business to
live in dak-bungalows. I never inhabited the same house for three nights
running, and grew to be learned in the breed. I lived in Government-built
ones with red brick walls and rail ceilings, an inventory of the furniture
posted in every room, and an excited snake at the threshold to give
welcome. I lived in "converted" ones--old houses officiating as
dak-bungalows--where nothing was in its proper place and there wasn't even
a fowl for dinner. I lived in second-hand palaces where the wind blew
through open-work marble tracery just as uncomfortably as through a broken
pane. I lived in dak-bungalows where the last entry in the visitors' book
was fifteen months old, and where they slashed off the curry-kid's head
with a sword. It was my good-luck to meet all sorts of men, from sober
traveling missionaries and deserters flying from British Regiments, to
drunken loafers who threw whiskey bottles at all who passed; and my still
greater good-fortune just to escape a maternity case. Seeing that a fair
proportion of the tragedy of our lives out here acted itself in
dak-bungalows, I wondered that I had met no ghosts. A ghost that would
voluntarily hang about a dak-bungalow would be mad of course; but so many
men have died mad in dak-bungalows that there must be a fair percentage of
In due time I found my ghost, or ghosts rather, for there were two of
them. Up till that hour I had sympathized with Mr. Besant's method of
handling them, as shown in "_The Strange Case of Mr. Lucraft and other
Stories._" I am now in the Opposition.
We will call the bungalow Katmal dak-bungalow. But _that_ was the smallest
part of the horror. A man with a sensitive hide has no right to sleep in
dak-bungalows. He should marry. Katmal dak-bungalow was old and rotten and
unrepaired. The floor was of worn brick, the walls were filthy, and the
windows were nearly black with grime. It stood on a bypath largely used by
native Sub-Deputy Assistants of all kinds, from Finance to Forests; but
real Sahibs were rare. The _khansamah_, who was nearly bent double with
old age, said so.
When I arrived, there was a fitful, undecided rain on the face of the
land, accompanied by a restless wind, and every gust made a noise like the
rattling of dry bones in the stiff toddy-palms outside. The _khansamah_
completely lost his head on my arrival. He had served a Sahib once. Did I
know that Sahib? He gave me the name of a well-known man who has been
buried for more than a quarter of a century, and showed me an ancient
daguerreotype of that man in his prehistoric youth. I had seen a steel
engraving of him at the head of a double volume of Memoirs a month before,
and I felt ancient beyond telling.
The day shut in and the _khansamah_ went to get me food. He did not go
through the pretence of calling it "_khana_"--man's victuals. He said
"_ratub_," and that means, among other things, "grub"--dog's rations.
There was no insult in his choice of the term. He had forgotten the other
word, I suppose.
While he was cutting up the dead bodies of animals, I settled myself down,
after exploring the dak-bungalow. There were three rooms, beside my own,
which was a corner kennel, each giving into the other through dingy white
doors fastened with long iron bars. The bungalow was a very solid one, but
the partition-walls of the rooms were almost jerry-built in their
flimsiness. Every step or bang of a trunk echoed from my room down the
other three, and every footfall came back tremulously from the far walls.
For this reason I shut the door. There were no lamps--only candles in long
glass shades. An oil wick was set in the bath-room.
For bleak, unadulterated misery that dak-bungalow was the worst of the
many that I had ever set foot in. There was no fireplace, and the windows
would not open; so a brazier of charcoal would have been useless. The rain
and the wind splashed and gurgled and moaned round the house, and the
toddy-palms rattled and roared. Half a dozen jackals went through the
compound singing, and a hyena stood afar off and mocked them. A hyena
would convince a Sadducee of the Resurrection of the Dead--the worst sort
of Dead. Then came the _ratub_--a curious meal, half native and half
English in composition--with the old _khansamah_ babbling behind my chair
about dead and gone English people, and the wind-blown candles playing
shadow-bo-peep with the bed and the mosquito-curtains. It was just the
sort of dinner and evening to make a man think of every single one of his
past sins, and of all the others that he intended to commit if he lived.
Sleep, for several hundred reasons, was not easy. The lamp in the
bath-room threw the most absurd shadows into the room, and the wind was
beginning to talk nonsense.
Just when the reasons were drowsy with blood-sucking I heard the
regular--"Let-us-take-and-heave-him-over" grunt of doolie-bearers in the
compound. First one doolie came in, then a second, and then a third. I
heard the doolies dumped on the ground, and the shutter in front of my
door shook. "That's some one trying to come in," I said. But no one spoke,
and I persuaded myself that it was the gusty wind. The shutter of the room
next to mine was attacked, flung back, and the inner door opened, "That's
some Sub-Deputy Assistant," I said, "and he has brought his friends with
him. Now they'll talk and spit and smoke for an hour."
But there were no voices and no footsteps, No one was putting his luggage
into the next room. The door shut, and I thanked Providence that I was to
be left in peace. But I was curious to know where the doolies had gone. I
got out of bed and looked into the darkness. There was never a sign of a
doolie. Just as I was getting into bed again, I heard, in the next room,
the sound that no man in his senses can possibly mistake--the whir of a
billiard ball down the length of the slates when the striker is stringing
for break. No other sound is like it. A minute afterward there was another
whir, and I got into bed. I was not frightened--indeed I was not. I was
very curious to know what had become of the doolies. I jumped into bed for
Next minute I heard the double click of a cannon and my hair sat up. It is
a mistake to say that hair stands up. The skin of the head tightens and
you can feel a faint, prickly bristling all ever the scalp. That is the
hair sitting up.
There was a whir and a click, and both sounds could only have been made by
one thing--a billiard ball. I argued the matter out at great length with
myself; and the more I argued the less probable it seemed that one bed,
one table, and two chairs--all the furniture of the room next to
mine--could so exactly duplicate the sounds of a game of billiards. After
another cannon, a three-cushion one to judge by the whir, I argued no
more. I had found my ghost and would have given worlds to have escaped
from that dak-bungalow. I listened, and with each listen the game grew
clearer. There was whir on whir and click on click. Sometimes there was a
double click and a whir and another click. Beyond any sort of doubt,
people were playing billiards in the next room. And the next room was not
big enough to hold a billiard table!
Between the pauses of the wind I heard the game go forward--stroke after
stroke. I tried to believe that I could not hear voices; but that attempt
was a failure.
Do you know what fear is? Not ordinary fear of insult, injury or death,
but abject, quivering dread of something that you cannot see--fear that
dries the inside of the mouth and half of the throat--fear that makes you
sweat on the palms of the hands, and gulp in order to keep the uvula at
work? This is a fine Fear--a great cowardice, and must be felt to be
appreciated. The very improbability of billiards in a dak-bungalow proved
the reality of the thing. No man--drunk or sober--could imagine a game a
billiards, or invent the spitting crack of a "screw-cannon."
A severe course of dak-bungalows has this disadvantage--it breeds infinite
credulity. If a man said to a confirmed dak-bungalow-haunter:--"There is a
corpse in the next room, and there's a mad girl in the next but one, and
the woman and man on that camel have just eloped from a place sixty miles
away," the hearer would not disbelieve because he would know that nothing
is too wild, grotesque, or horrible to happen in a dak-bungalow.
This credulity, unfortunately extends to ghosts. A rational person fresh
from his own house would have turned on his side and slept. I did not. So
surely as I was given up as a bad carcass by the scores of things in the
bed because the bulk of my blood was in my heart, so surely did I hear
every stroke of a long game at billiards played in the echoing room behind
the iron-barred door. My dominant fear was that the players might want a
marker. It was an absurd fear; because creatures who could play in the
dark would be above such superfluities. I only know that that was my
terror; and it was real.
After a long long while, the game stopped, and the door banged, I slept
because I was dead tired. Otherwise I should have preferred to have kept
awake. Not for everything in Asia would I have dropped the door-bar and
peered into the dark of the next room.
When the morning came, I considered that I had done well and wisely, and
inquired for the means of departure.
"By the way, _khansamah_," I said, "what were those three doolies doing in
my compound in the night?"
"There were no doolies," said the _khansamah_.
I went into the next room and the daylight streamed through the open door.
I was immensely brave. I would, at that hour, have played Black Pool with
the owner of the big Black Pool down below.
"Has this place always been a dak-bungalow?" I asked.
"No," said the _khansamah_. "Ten or twenty years ago, I have forgotten how
long, it was a billiard-room."
"A how much?"
"A billiard-room for the Sahibs who built the Railway. I was _khansamah_
then in the big house where all the Railway-Sahibs lived, and I used to
come across with brandy-_shrab_. These three rooms were all one, and they
held a big table on which the Sahibs played every evening. But the Sahibs
are all dead now, and the Railway runs, you say, nearly to Kabul."
"Do you remember anything about the Sahibs?"
"It is long ago, but I remember that one Sahib, a fat man and always
angry, was playing here one night, and he said to me:--'Mangal Khan,
brandy-_pani do_,' and I filled the glass, and he bent over the table to
strike, and his head fell lower and lower till it hit the table, and his
spectacles came off, and when we--the Sahibs and I myself--ran to lift him
he was dead. I helped to carry him out. Aha, he was a strong Sahib! But he
is dead and I, old Mangal Khan, am still living, by your favor."
That was more than enough! I had my ghost--a first-hand, authenticated
article. I would write to the Society for Psychical Research--I would
paralyze the Empire with the news! But I would, first of all, put eighty
miles of assessed crop-land between myself and that dak-bungalow before
nightfall. The Society might send their regular agent to investigate later
I went into my own room and prepared to pack after noting down the facts
of the case. As I smoked I heard the game begin again--with a miss in balk
this time, for the whir was a short one.
The door was open and I could see into the room. _Click-click!_ That was a
cannon. I entered the room without fear, for there was sunlight within and
a fresh breeze without. The unseen game was going on at a tremendous rate.
And well it might, when a restless little rat was running to and fro
inside the dingy ceiling-cloth, and a piece of loose window-sash was
making fifty breaks off the window-bolt as it shook in the breeze!
Impossible to mistake the sound of billiard balls! Impossible to mistake
the whir of a ball over the slate! But I was to be excused. Even when I
shut my enlightened eyes the sound was marvelously like that of a fast
Entered angrily the faithful partner of my sorrows, Kadir Baksh.
"This bungalow is very bad and low-caste! No wonder the Presence was
disturbed and is speckled. Three sets of doolie-bearers came to the
bungalow late last night when I was sleeping outside, and said that it was
their custom to rest in the rooms set apart for the English people! What
honor has the _khansamah_? They tried to enter, but I told them to go. No
wonder, if these _Oorias_ have been here, that the Presence is sorely
spotted. It is shame, and the work of a dirty man!"
Kadir Baksh did not say that he had taken from each gang two annas for
rent in advance, and then, beyond my earshot, had beaten them with the big
green umbrella whose use I could never before divine. But Kadir Baksh has
no notions of morality.
There was an interview with the _khansamah_, but as he promptly lost his
head, wrath gave place to pity, and pity led to a long conversation, in
the course of which he put the fat Engineer-Sahib's tragic death in three
separate stations--two of them fifty miles away. The third shift was to
Calcutta, and there the Sahib died while driving a dog-cart.
If I had encouraged him the _khansamah_ would have wandered all through
Bengal with his corpse.
I did not go away as soon as I intended. I stayed for the night, while the
wind and the rat and the sash and the window-bolt played a ding-dong
"hundred and fifty up." Then the wind ran out and the billiards stopped,
and I felt that I had ruined my one genuine, hall-marked ghost story.
Had I only stopped at the proper time, I could have made _anything_ out of
That was the bitterest thought of all!
THE BIG DRUNK DRAF'
We're goin' 'ome, we're goin' 'ome--
Our ship is _at_ the shore,
An' you mus' pack your 'aversack,
For we won't come back no more.
Ho, don't you grieve for me,
My lovely Mary Ann,
For I'll marry you yet on a fourp'ny bit,
As a time-expired ma-a-an!
_Barrack Room Ballad_.
An awful thing has happened! My friend, Private Mulvaney, who went home in
the _Serapis_, time-expired, not very long ago, has come back to India as
a civilian! It was all Dinah Shadd's fault. She could not stand the poky
little lodgings, and she missed her servant Abdullah more than words could
tell. The fact was that the Mulvaneys had been out here too long, and had
lost touch of England.
Mulvaney knew a contractor on one of the new Central India lines, and
wrote to him for some sort of work. The contractor said that if Mulvaney
could pay the passage he would give him command of a gang of coolies for
old sake's sake. The pay was eighty-five rupees a month, and Dinah Shadd
said that if Terence did not accept she would make his life a "basted
purgathory." Therefore the Mulvaneys came out as "civilians," which was a
great and terrible fall; though Mulvaney tried to disguise it, by saying
that he was "Ker'nel on the railway line, an' a consequinshal man."
He wrote me an invitation, on a tool-indent form, to visit him; and I came
down to the funny little "construction" bungalow at the side of the line.
Dinah Shadd had planted peas about and about, and nature had spread all
manner of green stuff round the place. There was no change in Mulvaney
except the change of clothing, which was deplorable, but could not be
helped. He was standing upon his trolly, haranguing a gang-man, and his
shoulders were as well drilled, and his big, thick chin was as
clean-shaven as ever.
"I'm a civilian now," said Mulvaney. "Cud you tell that I was iver a
martial man? Don't answer, sorr, av you're strainin' betune a complimint
an' a lie. There's no houldin' Dinah Shadd now she's got a house av her
own. Go inside, an' dhrink tay out av chiny in the drrrrawin'-room, an'
thin we'll dhrink like Christians undher the tree here. Scutt, ye
naygur-folk! There's a Sahib come to call on me, an' that's more than
he'll iver do for you onless you run! Get out, an' go on pilin' up the
earth, quick, till sundown."
When we three were comfortably settled under the big _sisham_ in front of
the bungalow, and the first rush of questions and answers about Privates
Ortheris and Learoyd and old times and places had died away, Mulvaney
said, reflectively--"Glory be there's no p'rade to-morrow, an' no
bun-headed Corp'ril-bhoy to give you his lip. An' yit I don't know. Tis
harrd to be something ye niver were an' niver meant to be, an' all the
ould days shut up along wid your papers. Eyah! I'm growin' rusty, an' 'tis
the will av God that a man mustn't serve his Quane for time an' all."
He helped himself to a fresh peg, and sighed furiously.
"Let your beard grow, Mulvaney," said I, "and then you won't be troubled
with those notions. You'll be a real civilian."
Dinah Shadd had told me in the drawing-room of her desire to coax Mulvaney
into letting his beard grow. "Twas so civilian-like," said poor Dinah, who
hated her husband's hankering for his old life.
"Dinah Shadd, you're a dishgrace to an honust, clane-scraped man!" said
Mulvaney, without replying to me. "Grow a beard on your own chin, darlint,
and lave my razors alone. They're all that stand betune me and
dis-ris-pect-ability. Av I didn't shave, I wud be torminted wid an
outrajis thurrst; for there's nothin' so dhryin' to the throat as a big
billy-goat beard waggin' undher the chin. Ye wudn't have me dhrink
_always,_ Dinah Shadd? By the same token, you're kapin' me crool dhry now.
Let me look at that whiskey."
The whiskey was lent and returned, but Dinah Shadd, who had been just as
eager as her husband in asking after old friends, rent me with--
"I take shame for you, sorr, coming down here--though the Saints know
you're as welkim as the daylight whin you _do_ come--an' upsettin'
Terence's head wid your nonsense about--about fwhat's much better
forgotten. He bein' a civilian now, an' you niver was aught else. Can you
not let the Arrmy rest? 'Tis not good for Terence."
I took refuge by Mulvaney, for Dinah Shadd has a temper of her own.
"Let be--let be," said Mulvaney, "'Tis only wanst in a way I can talk
about the ould days." Then to me:--"Ye say Dhrumshticks is well, an' his
lady tu? I niver knew how I liked the grey garron till I was shut av him
an' Asia."--"Dhrumshticks" was the nickname of the Colonel commanding
Mulvaney's old regiment.--"Will you be seein' him again? You will. Thin
tell him"--Mulvaney's eyes began to twinkle--"tell him wid
Privit"--"_Mister_, Terence," interrupted Dinah Shadd.
"Now the Divil an' all his angils an' the Firmament av Hiven fly away wid
the 'Mister,' an' the sin av making me swear be on your confession, Dinah
Shadd! _Privit_, I tell ye. Wid _Privit_ Mulvaney's best obedience, that
but for me the last time-expired wud be still pullin' hair on their way to
He threw himself back in the chair, chuckled, and was silent.
"Mrs. Mulvaney," I said, "please take up the whiskey, and don't let him
have it until he has told the story."
Dinah Shadd dexterously whipped the bottle away, saying at the same time,
"'Tis nothing to be proud av," and thus captured by the enemy, Mulvaney
"'Twas on Chuseday week. I was behaderin' round wid the gangs on the
'bankmint--I've taught the hoppers how to kape step an' stop
screechin'--whin a head-gangman comes up to me, wid about two inches av
shirt-tail hanging round his neck an' a disthressful light in his oi.
'Sahib,' sez he, 'there's a reg'mint an' a half av soldiers up at the
junction, knockin' red cinders out av ivrything an' ivrybody! They thried
to hang me in my cloth,' he sez, 'an' there will be murder an' ruin an'
rape in the place before nightfall! They say they're comin' down here to
wake us up. What will we do wid our womenfolk?'
"'Fetch my throlly!' sez I; 'my heart's sick in my ribs for a wink at
anything wid the Quane's uniform on ut, Fetch my throlly, an' six av the
jildiest men, and run me up in shtyle.'"
"He tuk his best coat," said Dinah Shadd, reproachfully.
"'Twas to do honor to the Widdy. I cud ha' done no less, Dinah Shadd. You
and your digresshins interfere wid the coorse av the narrative. Have you
iver considhered fwhat I wud look like wid me _head_ shaved as well as my
chin? You bear that in your mind, Dinah darlin'.
"I was throllied up six miles, all to get a shquint at that draf'. I
_knew_ 'twas a spring draf' goin' home, for there's no rig'mint
hereabouts, more's the pity."
"Praise the Virgin!" murmured Dinah Shadd. But Mulvaney did not hear.
"Whin I was about three-quarters av a mile off the rest-camp, powtherin'
along fit to burrst, I heard the noise av the men an', on my sowl, sorr, I
cud catch the voice av Peg Barney bellowin' like a bison wid the
belly-ache. You remimber Peg Barney that was in D Comp'ny--a red, hairy
scraun, wid a scar on his jaw? Peg Barney that cleared out the Blue
Lights' jubilee meeting wid the cook-room mop last year?
"Thin I knew ut was a draf' of the ould rig'mint, an' I was conshumed wid
sorrow for the bhoy that was in charge. We was harrd scrapin's at any
time. Did I iver tell you how Horker Kelley went into clink nakid as
Phoebus Apollonius, wid the shirts av the Corp'ril an' file undher his
arrum? An' _he_ was a moild man! But I'm digreshin'. 'Tis a shame both to
the rig'mints and the Arrmy sendin' down little orf'cer bhoys wid a draf'
av strong men mad wid liquor an' the chanst av gettin' shut av India, an'
_niver a punishment that's fit to be given right down an' away from
cantonmints to the dock!_ 'Tis this nonsince. Whin I am servin' my time,
I'm undher the Articles av War, an' can be whipped on the peg for _thim_.
But whin I've _served_ my time, I'm a Reserve man, an' the Articles av War
haven't any hould on me. An orf'cer _can't_ do anythin' to a time-expired
savin' confinin' him to barricks. 'Tis a wise rig'lation bekaze a
time-expired does not have any barricks; bein' on the move all the time.
'Tis a Solomon av a rig'lation, is that. I wud like to be inthroduced to
the man that made ut. 'Tis easier to get colts from a Kibbereen horse-fair
into Galway than to take a bad draf' over ten miles av country.
Consiquintly that rig'lation--for fear that the men wud be hurt by the
little orf'cer bhoy. No matther. The nearer my throlly came to the
rest-camp, the woilder was the shine, an' the louder was the voice av Peg
Barney. ''Tis good I am here,' thinks I to myself, 'for Peg alone is
employment for two or three.' He bein', I well knew, as copped as a
"Faith, that rest-camp was a sight! The tent-ropes was all skew-nosed, an'
the pegs looked as dhrunk as the men--fifty av thim--the scourin's, an'
rinsin's, an' Divil's lavin's av the Ould Rig'mint. I tell you, sorr, they
were dhrunker than any men you've ever seen in your mortial life. _How_
does a draf' get dhrunk? How does a frog get fat? They suk ut in through
"There was Peg Barney sittin' on the groun' in his shirt--wan shoe off an'
wan shoe on--whackin' a tent-peg over the head wid his boot, an' singin'
fit to wake the dead. 'Twas no clane song that he sung, though. 'Twas the
"What's that?" I asked.
"Whin a bad egg is shut av the Army, he sings the Divil's Mass for a good
riddance; an' that manes swearin' at ivrything from the
Commandher-in-Chief down to the Room-Corp'ril, such as you niver in your
days heard. Some men can swear so as to make green turf crack! Have you
iver heard the Curse in an Orange Lodge? The Divil's Mass is ten times
worse, an' Peg Barney was singin' ut, whackin' the tent-peg on the head
wid his boot for each man that he cursed. A powerful big voice had Peg
Barney, an' a hard swearer he was whin sober. I stood forninst him, an'
'twas not me oi alone that cud tell Peg was dhrunk as a coot.
"'Good mornin', Peg,' I sez, whin he dhrew breath afther cursin' the
Adj'tint Gen'ral; 'I've put on my best coat to see you, Peg Barney,' sez
"'Thin take ut off again,' sez Peg Barney, latherin' away wid the boot;
'take ut off an' dance, ye lousy civilian!'
"Wid that he begins cursin' ould Dhrumshticks, being so full he clean
disremimbers the Brigade-Major an' the Judge Advokit Gen'ral.
"'Do you not know me, Peg?' sez I, though me blood was hot in me wid being
called a civilian."
"An' him a decent married man!" wailed Dinah Shadd.
"'I do not,' sez Peg, 'but dhrunk or sober I'll tear the hide off your
back wid a shovel whin I've stopped singin'.'
"'Say you so, Peg Barney?' sez I. 'Tis clear as mud you've forgotten me.
I'll assist your autobiography.' Wid that I stretched Peg Barney, boot an'
all, an' wint into the camp. An awful sight ut was!
"'Where's the orf'cer in charge av the detachment?' sez I to Scrub
Greene--the manest little worm that ever walked.
"'There's no orf'cer, ye ould cook,' sez Scrub; 'we're a bloomin'
"'Are you that?' sez I; 'thin I'm O'Connell the Dictator, an' by this you
will larn to kape a civil tongue in your rag-box.'
"Wid that I stretched Scrub Greene an' wint to the orf'cer's tent. 'Twas a
new little bhoy--not wan I'd iver seen before. He was sittin' in his tent,
purtendin' not to 'ave ear av the racket.
"I saluted--but for the life av me! mint to shake hands whin I went in.
Twas the sword hangin' on the tent-pole changed my will.
"'Can't I help, sorr?' sez I; ''tis a strong man's job they've given you,
an' you'll be wantin' help by sundown.' He was a bhoy wid bowils, that
child, an' a rale gintleman.
"'Sit down,' sez he.
"'Not before my orf'cer,' sez I; an' I tould him fwhat my service was.
"'I've heard av you,' sez he. 'You tuk the town av Lungtungpen nakid.'
"'Faith,' thinks I, 'that's Honor an' Glory, for 'twas Lift'nint Brazenose
did that job. 'I'm wid ye, sorr,' sez I, 'if I'm av use. They shud niver
ha' sent you down wid the draf'. Savin' your presince, sorr,' I sez, 'tis
only Lift'nint Hackerston in the Ould Rig'mint can manage a Home draf'.'
"'I've niver had charge of men like this before,' sez he, playin' wid the
pens on the table; 'an' I see by the Rig'lations'--
"'Shut your oi to the Rig'lations, sorr,' I sez, 'till the throoper's into
blue wather. By the Rig'lations you've got to tuck thim up for the night,
or they'll be runnin' foul av my coolies an' makin' a shiverarium half
through the country. Can you trust your noncoms, sorr?'
"'Yes,' sez he.
"'Good,' sez I; 'there'll be throuble before the night. Are you marchin',
"'To the next station,' sez he.
"'Better still,' sez I; 'there'll be big throuble.'
"'Can't be too hard on a Home draf',' sez he; 'the great thing is to get
"'Faith you've larnt the half av your lesson, sorr,' sez I, 'but av you
shtick to the Rig'lations you'll niver get thim in-ship at all, at all. Or
there won't be a rag av kit betune thim whin you do.'
"'Twas a dear little orf'cer bhoy, an' by way av kapin' his heart up, I
tould him fwhat I saw wanst in a draf' in Egypt."
"What was that, Mulvaney?" said I.
"Sivin an' fifty men sittin' on the bank av a canal, laughin' at a poor
little squidgereen av an orf'cer that they'd made wade into the slush an'
pitch the things out av the boats for their Lord High Mightinesses. That
made me orf'cer bhoy woild wid indignation.
"'Soft an' aisy, sorr,' sez I; 'you've niver had your draf' in hand since
you left cantonmints. Wait till the night, an' your work will be ready to
you. Wid your permission, sorr, I will investigate the camp, an' talk to
my ould friends. Tis no manner av use thryin' to shtop the divilmint
"Wid that I wint out into the camp an' inthrojuced mysilf to ivry man
sober enough to remimber me. I was some wan in the ould days, an' the
bhoys was glad to see me--all excipt Peg Barney wid a eye like a tomata
five days in the bazar, an' a nose to match. They come round me an' shuk
me, an' I tould thim I was in privit employ wid an income av me own, an' a
drrrawin'-room fit to bate the Quane's; an' wid me lies an' me shtories
an' nonsinse gin'rally, I kept 'em quiet in wan way an' another, knockin'
roun' the camp. Twas _bad_ even thin whin I was the Angil av Peace.
"I talked to me ould non-coms--_they_ was sober--an' betune me an' thim we
wore the draf' over into their tents at the proper time. The little
orf'cer bhoy he comes round, decint an' civil-spoken as might be.
"'Rough quarters, men,' sez he, 'but you can't look to be as comfortable
as in barricks. We must make the best av things. I've shut my eyes to a
dale av dog's tricks to-day, an' now there must be no more av ut.'
"'No more we will. Come an' have a dhrink, me son,' sez Peg Barney,
staggerin' where he stud. Me little orf'cer bhoy kep' his timper.
"'You're a sulky swine, you are,' sez Peg Barney, an' at that the men in
the tent began to laugh.
"I tould you me orf'cer bhoy had bowils. He cut Peg Barney as near as
might be on the oi that I'd squshed whin we first met. Peg wint spinnin'
acrost the tent.
"'Peg him out, sorr,' sez I, in a whishper.
"'Peg him out!' sez me orf'cer bhoy, up loud, just as if 'twas
battalion-p'rade an' he pickin' his wurrds from the Sargint.
"The non-coms tuk Peg Barney--a howlin' handful he was--an' in three
minuts he was pegged out--chin down, tight-dhrawn--on his stummick, a
tent-peg to each arm an' leg, swearin' fit to turn a naygur white.
"I tuk a peg an' jammed ut into his ugly jaw.--'Bite on that, Peg Barney,'
I sez; 'the night is settin' frosty, an' you'll be wantin' divarsion
before the mornin'. But for the Rig'lations you'd be bitin' on a bullet
now at the thriangles, Peg Barney,' sez I.
"All the draf' was out av their tents watchin' Barney bein' pegged.
"''Tis agin the Rig'lations! He strook him!' screeches out Scrub Greene,
who was always a lawyer; an' some of the men tuk up the shoutin'.
"'Peg out that man!' sez my orf'cer bhoy, niver losin' his timper; an' the
non-coms wint in and pegged out Scrub Greene by the side av Peg Barney.
"I cud see that the draf' was comin' roun'. The men stud not knowin' fwhat
"'Get to your tents!' sez me orf'cer bhoy. 'Sargint, put a sintry over
these two men.'
"The men wint back into the tents like jackals, an' the rest av the night
there was no noise at all excipt the stip av the sintry over the two, an'
Scrub Greene blubberin' like a child. 'Twas a chilly night, an' faith, ut
sobered Peg Barney.
"Just before Revelly, my orf'cer bhoy comes out an' sez: 'Loose those men
an' send thim to their tents!' Scrub Greene wint away widout a word, but
Peg Barney, stiff wid the cowld, stud like a sheep, thryin' to make his
orf'cer understhand he was sorry for playin' the goat.
"There was no tucker in the draf' whin ut fell in for the march, an' divil
a wurrd about 'illegality' cud I hear.
"I wint to the ould Color Sargint and I sez:--'Let me die in glory,' sez
I. 'I've seen a man this day!'
"'A man he is,' sez ould Hother; 'the draf's as sick as a herrin'. They'll
all go down to the sea like lambs. That bhoy has the bowils av a
cantonmint av Gin'rals.'
"'Amin,' sez I, 'an' good luck go wid him, wheriver he be, by land or by
sea. Let me know how the draf' gets clear.'
"An' do you know how they _did_? That bhoy, so I was tould by letter from
Bombay, bullydamned 'em down to the dock, till they cudn't call their
sowls their own. From the time they left me oi till they was 'tween decks,
not wan av thim was more than dacintly dhrunk. An', by the Holy Articles
av War, whin they wint aboard they cheered him till they cudn't spake, an'
_that_, mark you, has not come about wid a draf' in the mim'ry av livin'
man! You look to that little orf'cer bhoy. He has bowils. 'Tis not ivry
child that wud chuck the Rig'lations to Flanders an' stretch Peg Barney on
a wink from a brokin an' dilapidated ould carkiss like mesilf. I'd be
proud to serve"--
"Terrence, you're a civilian," said Dinah Shadd, warningly.
"So I am--so I am. Is ut likely I wud forget ut? But he was a gran' bhoy
all the same, an' I'm only a mudtipper wid a hod on my shoulthers. The
whiskey's in the heel av your hand, sorr. Wid your good lave we'll dhrink
to the Ould Rig'mint--three fingers--standin' up!"
And we drank.
BY WORD OF MOUTH
Not though you die to-night, O Sweet, and wail,
A spectre at my door,
Shall mortal Fear make Love immortal fail--
I shall but love you more,
Who, from Death's house returning, give me still
One moment's comfort in my matchless ill.
This tale may be explained by those who know how souls are made, and where
the bounds of the Possible are put down. I have lived long enough in this
India to know that it is best to know nothing, and can only write the
story as it happened.
Dumoise was our Civil Surgeon at Meridki, and we called him "Dormouse,"
because he was a round little, sleepy little man. He was a good Doctor and
never quarreled with any one, not even with our Deputy Commissioner who
had the manners of a bargee and the tact of a horse. He married a girl as
round and as sleepy-looking as himself. She was a Miss Hillardyce,
daughter of "Squash" Hillardyce of the Berars, who married his Chief's
daughter by mistake. But that is another story.
A honeymoon in India is seldom more than a week long; but there is nothing
to hinder a couple from extending it over two or three years. India is a
delightful country for married folk who are wrapped up in one another.
They can live absolutely alone and without interruption--just as the
Dormice did. Those two little people retired from the world after their
marriage, and were very happy. They were forced, of course, to give
occasional dinners, but they made no friends thereby, and the Station went
its own way and forgot them; only saying, occasionally, that Dormouse was
the best of good fellows though dull. A Civil Surgeon who never quarrels
is a rarity, appreciated as such.
Few people can afford to play Robinson Crusoe anywhere--least of all in
India, where we are few in the land and very much dependent on each
other's kind offices. Dumoise was wrong in shutting himself from the world
for a year, and he discovered his mistake when an epidemic of typhoid
broke out in the Station in the heart of the cold weather, and his wife
went down. He was a shy little man, and five days were wasted before he
realized that Mrs. Dumoise was burning with something worse than simple
fever, and three days more passed before he ventured to call on Mrs.
Shute, the Engineer's wife, and timidly speak about his trouble.
Nearly every household in India knows that Doctors are very helpless in
typhoid. The battle must be fought out between Death and the Nurses minute
by minute and degree by degree. Mrs. Shute almost boxed Dumoise's ears for
what she called his "criminal delay," and went off at once to look after
the poor girl. We had seven cases of typhoid in the Station that winter
and, as the average of death is about one in every five cases, we felt
certain that we should have to lose somebody. But all did their best. The
women sat up nursing the women, and the men turned to and tended the
bachelors who were down, and we wrestled with those typhoid cases for
fifty-six days, and brought them through the Valley of the Shadow in
triumph. But, just when we thought all was over, and were going to give a
dance to celebrate the victory, little Mrs. Dumoise got a relapse and died
in a week and the Station went to the funeral. Dumoise broke down utterly
at the brink of the grave, and had to be taken away.
After the death, Dumoise crept into his own house and refused to be
comforted. He did his duties perfectly, but we all felt that he should go
on leave, and the other men of his own Service told him so. Dumoise was
very thankful for the suggestion--he was thankful for anything in those
days--and went to Chini on a walking-tour. Chini is some twenty marches
from Simla, in the heart of the Hills, and the scenery is good if you are
in trouble. You pass through big, still deodar-forests, and under big,
still cliffs, and over big, still grass-downs swelling like a woman's
breasts; and the wind across the grass, and the rain among the deodars
says--"Hush--hush--hush." So little Dumoise was packed off to Chini, to
wear down his grief with a full-plate camera and a rifle. He took also a
useless bearer, because the man had been his wife's favorite servant. He
was idle and a thief, but Dumoise trusted everything to him.
On his way back from Chini, Dumoise turned aside to Bagi, through the
Forest Reserve which is on the spur of Mount Huttoo. Some men who have
traveled more than a little say that the march from Kotegarh to Bagi is
one of the finest in creation. It runs through dark wet forest, and ends
suddenly in bleak, nipped hillside and black rocks. Bagi dak-bungalow is
open to all the winds and is bitterly cold. Few people go to Bagi. Perhaps
that was the reason why Dumoise went there. He halted at seven in the
evening, and his bearer went down the hillside to the village to engage
coolies for the next day's march. The sun had set, and the night-winds
were beginning to croon among the rocks. Dumoise leaned on the railing of
the veranda, waiting for his bearer to return. The man came back almost
immediately after he had disappeared, and at such a rate that Dumoise
fancied he must have crossed a bear. He was running as hard as he could up
the face of the hill.
But there was no bear to account for his terror. He raced to the veranda
and fell down, the blood spurting from his nose and his face iron-grey.
Then he gurgled--"I have seen the _Memsahib_! I have seen the _Memsahib_!"
"Where?" said Dumoise.
"Down there, walking on the road to the village. She was in a blue dress,
and she lifted the veil of her bonnet and said--'Ram Dass, give my
_salaams_ to the _Sahib_, and tell him that I shall meet him next month at
Nuddea.' Then I ran away, because I was afraid."
What Dumoise said or did I do not know. Ram Dass declares that he said
nothing, but walked up and down the veranda all the cold night, waiting
for the _Memsahib_ to come up the hill and stretching out his arms into
the dark like a madman. But no _Memsahib_ came, and, next day, he went on
to Simla cross-questioning the bearer every hour.
Ram Dass could only say that he had met Mrs. Dumoise and that she had
lifted up her veil and given him the message which he had faithfully
repeated to Dumoise. To this statement Ram Dass adhered. He did not know
where Nuddea was, had no friends at Nuddea, and would most certainly never
go to Nuddea; even though his pay were doubled,
Nuddea is in Bengal and has nothing whatever to do with a Doctor serving
in the Punjab. It must be more than twelve hundred miles south of Meridki.
Dumoise went through Simla without halting, and returned to Meridki, there
to take over charge from the man who had been officiating for him during
his tour. There were some Dispensary accounts to be explained, and some
recent orders of the Surgeon-General to be noted, and, altogether, the
taking-over was a full day's work, In the evening, Dumoise told his _locum
tenens_, who was an old friend of his bachelor days, what had happened at
Bagi; and the man said that Ram Dass might as well have chosen Tuticorin
while he was about it.
At that moment, a telegraph-peon came in with a telegram from Simla,
ordering Dumoise not to take over charge at Meridki, but to go at once to
Nuddea on special duty. There was a nasty outbreak of cholera at Nuddea,
and the Bengal Government, being short-handed, as usual, had borrowed a
Surgeon from the Punjab.
Dumoise threw the telegram across the table and said--"Well?"
The other Doctor said nothing. It was all that he could say.
Then he remembered that Dumoise had passed through Simla on his way from
Bagi; and thus might, possibly, have heard first news of the impending
He tried to put the question, and the implied suspicion into words, but
Dumoise stopped him with--"If I had desired _that_, I should never have
come back from Chini. I was shooting there. I wish to live, for I have
things to do ... but I shall not be sorry."
The other man bowed his head, and helped, in the twilight, to pack up
Dumoise's just opened trunks. Ram Dass entered with the lamps.
"Where is the _Sahib_ going?" he asked.
"To Nuddea," said Dumoise, softly.
Ram Dass clawed Dumoise's knees and boots and begged him not to go. Ram
Dass wept and howled till he was turned out of the room. Then he wrapped
up all his belongings and came back to ask for a character. He was not
going to Nuddea to see his _Sahib_ die and, perhaps, to die himself.
So Dumoise gave the man his wages and went down to Nuddea alone; the other
Doctor bidding him good-bye as one under sentence of death.
Eleven days later he had joined his _Memsahib_; and the Bengal Government
had to borrow a fresh Doctor to cope with that epidemic at Nuddea, The
first importation lay dead in Chooadanga Dak Bungalow.
THE DRUMS OF THE FORE AND AFT
"And a little child shall lead them."
In the Army List they still stand as "The Fore and Fit Princess
Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen-Auspach's Merther-Tydfilshire Own Royal Loyal
Light Infantry, Regimental District 329A," but the Army through all its
barracks and canteens knows them now as the "Fore and Aft." They may in
time do something that shall make their new title honorable, but at
present they are bitterly ashamed, and the man who calls them "Fore and
Aft" does so at the risk of the head which is on his shoulders.
Two words breathed into the stables of a certain Cavalry Regiment will
bring the men out into the streets with belts and mops and bad language;
but a whisper of "Fore and Aft" will bring out this regiment with rifles.
Their one excuse is that they came again and did their best to finish the
job in style. But for a time all their world knows that they were openly
beaten, whipped, dumb-cowed, shaking and afraid. The men know it; their
officers know it; the Horse Guards know it, and when the next war comes
the enemy will know it also. There are two or three regiments of the Line
that have a black mark against their names which they will then wipe out,
and it will be excessively inconvenient for the troops upon whom they do
The courage of the British soldier is officially supposed to be above
proof, and, as a general rule, it is so. The exceptions are decently
shoveled out of sight, only to be referred to in the freshet of unguarded
talk that occasionally swamps a Mess-table at midnight. Then one hears
strange and horrible stories of men not following their officers, of
orders being given by those who had no right to give them, and of disgrace
that, but for the standing luck of the British Army, might have ended in
brilliant disaster. These are unpleasant stories to listen to, and the
Messes tell them under their breath, sitting by the big wood fires, and
the young officer bows his head and thinks to himself, please God, his men
shall never behave unhandily,
The British soldier is not altogether to be blamed for occasional lapses;
but this verdict he should not know. A moderately intelligent General will
waste six months in mastering the craft of the particular war that he may
be waging; a Colonel may utterly misunderstand the capacity of his
regiment for three months after it has taken the field; and even a Company
Commander may err and be deceived as to the temper and temperament of his
own handful: wherefore the soldier, and the soldier of to-day more
particularly, should not be blamed for falling back. He should be shot or
hanged afterward--_pour encourager les autres_; but he should not be
vilified in newspapers, for that is want of tact and waste of space.
He has, let us say, been in the service of the Empress for, perhaps, four
years. He will leave in another two years. He has no inherited morals, and
four years are not sufficient to drive toughness into his fibre, or to
teach him how holy a thing is his Regiment. He wants to drink, he wants to
enjoy himself--in India he wants to save money--and he does not in the
least like getting hurt. He has received just sufficient education to make
him understand half the purport of the orders he receives, and to
speculate on the nature of clean, incised, and shattering wounds. Thus, if
he is told to deploy under fire preparatory to an attack, he knows that he
runs a very great risk of being killed while he is deploying, and suspects
that he is being thrown away to gain ten minutes' time. He may either
deploy with desperate swiftness, or he may shuffle, or bunch, or break,
according to the discipline under which he has lain for four years.
Armed with imperfect knowledge, cursed with the rudiments of an
imagination, hampered by the intense selfishness of the lower classes, and
unsupported, by any regimental associations, this young man is suddenly
introduced to an enemy who in eastern lands is always ugly, generally tall
and hairy, and frequently noisy. If he looks to the right and the left and
sees old soldiers--men of twelve years' service, who, he knows, know what
they are about--taking a charge, rush, or demonstration without
embarrassment, he is consoled and applies his shoulder to the butt of his
rifle with a stout heart. His peace is the greater if he hears a senior,
who has taught him his soldiering and broken his head on occasion,
whispering:--"They'll shout and carry on like this for five minutes. Then
they'll rush in, and then we've got 'em by the short hairs!"
But, on the other hand, if he sees only men of his own term of service,
turning white and playing with their triggers and saying:--"What the
Hell's up now?" while the Company Commanders are sweating into their
sword-hilts and shouting:--"Front-rank, fix bayonets. Steady
there--steady! Sight for three hundred--no, for five! Lie down, all!
Steady! Front-rank, kneel!" and so forth, he becomes unhappy; and grows
acutely miserable when he hears a comrade turn over with the rattle of
fire-irons falling into the fender, and the grunt of a pole-axed ox. If he
can be moved about a little and allowed to watch the effect of his own
fire on the enemy he feels merrier, and may be then worked up to the blind
passion of fighting, which is, contrary to general belief, controlled by a
chilly Devil and shakes men like ague. If he is not moved about, and
begins to feel cold at the pit of the stomach, and in that crisis is badly
mauled and hears orders that were never given, he will break, and he will
break badly; and of all things under the sight of the Sun there is nothing
more terrible than a broken British regiment. When the worst comes to the
worst and the panic is really epidemic, the men must be e'en let go, and
the Company Commanders had better escape to the enemy and stay there for
safety's sake. If they can be made to come again they are not pleasant men
to meet, because they will not break twice.
About thirty years from this date, when we have succeeded in
half-educating everything that wears trousers, our Army will be a
beautifully unreliable machine. It will know too much and it will do too
little. Later still, when all men are at the mental level of the officer
of to-day it will sweep the earth. Speaking roughly, you must employ
either blackguards or gentlemen, or, best of all, blackguards commanded by
gentlemen, to do butcher's work with efficiency and despatch. The ideal
soldier should, of course, think for himself--the _Pocketbook_ says so.
Unfortunately, to attain this virtue, he has to pass through the phase of
thinking of himself, and that is misdirected genius. A blackguard may be
slow to think for himself, but he is genuinely anxious to kill, and a
little punishment teaches him how to guard his own skin and perforate
another's. A powerfully prayerful Highland Regiment, officered by rank
Presbyterians, is, perhaps, one degree more terrible in action than a
hard-bitten thousand of irresponsible Irish ruffians led by most improper
young unbelievers. But these things prove the rule--which is that the
midway men are not to be trusted alone. They have ideas about the value of
life and an upbringing that has not taught them to go on and take the
chances. They are carefully unprovided with a backing of comrades who have
been shot over, and until that backing is re-introduced, as a great many
Regimental Commanders intend it shall be, they are more liable to disgrace
themselves than the size of the Empire or the dignity of the Army allows.
Their officers are as good as good can be, because their training begins
early, and God has arranged that a clean-run youth of the British middle
classes shall, in the matter of backbone, brains, and bowels, surpass all
other youths. For this reason a child of eighteen will stand up, doing
nothing, with a tin sword in his hand and joy in his heart until he is
dropped. If he dies, he dies like a gentleman. If he lives, he writes Home
that he has been "potted," "sniped," "chipped" or "cut over," and sits
down to besiege Government for a wound-gratuity until the next little war
breaks out, when he perjures himself before a Medical Board, blarneys his
Colonel, burns incense round his Adjutant, and is allowed to go to the
Front once more.
Which homily brings me directly to a brace of the most finished little
fiends that ever banged drum or tootled fife in the Band of a British
Regiment. They ended their sinful career by open and flagrant mutiny and
were shot for it. Their names were Jakin and Lew--Piggy Lew--and they were
bold, bad drummer-boys, both of them frequently birched by the Drum-Major
of the Fore and Aft.
Jakin was a stunted child of fourteen, and Lew was about the same age.
When not looked after, they smoked and drank. They swore habitually after
the manner of the Barrack-room, which is cold-swearing and comes from
between clinched teeth; and they fought religiously once a week. Jakin had
sprung from some London gutter and may or may not have passed through Dr.
Barnado's hands ere he arrived at the dignity of drummer-boy. Lew could
remember nothing except the regiment and the delight of listening to the
Band from his earliest years. He hid somewhere in his grimy little soul a
genuine love for music, and was most mistakenly furnished with the head of
a cherub: insomuch that beautiful ladies who watched the Regiment in
church were wont to speak of him as a "darling." They never heard his
vitriolic comments on their manners and morals, as he walked back to
barracks with the Band and matured fresh causes of offence against Jakin.
The other drummer-boys hated both lads on account of their illogical
conduct. Jakin might be pounding Lew, or Lew might be rubbing Jakin's head
in the dirt, but any attempt at aggression on the part of an outsider was
met by the combined forces of Lew and Jakin; and the consequences were
painful. The boys were the Ishmaels of the corps, but wealthy Ishmaels,
for they sold battles in alternate weeks for the sport of the barracks
when they were not pitted against other boys; and thus amassed money.
On this particular day there was dissension in the camp. They had just
been convicted afresh of smoking, which is bad for little boys who use
plug-tobacco, and Lew's contention was that Jakin had "stunk so 'orrid bad
from keepin' the pipe in pocket," that he and he alone was responsible for
the birching they were both tingling under.
"I tell you I 'id the pipe back o' barricks," said Jakin, pacifically.
"You're a bloomin' liar," said Lew, without heat.
"You're a bloomin' little barstard," said Jakin, strong in the knowledge
that his own ancestry was unknown.
Now there is one word in the extended vocabulary of barrack-room abuse
that cannot pass without comment. You may call a man a thief and risk
nothing. You may even call him a coward without finding more than a boot
whiz past your ear, but you must not call a man a bastard unless you are
prepared to prove it on his front teeth.
"You might ha' kep' that till I wasn't so sore," said Lew, sorrowfully,
dodging round Jakin's guard.
"I'll make you sorer," said Jakin, genially, and got home on Lew's
alabaster forehead. All would have gone well and this story, as the books
say, would never have been written, had not his evil fate prompted the
Bazar-Sergeant's son, a long, employless man of five and twenty, to put in
an appearance after the first round. He was eternally in need of money,
and knew that the boys had silver.
"Fighting again," said he. "I'll report you to my father, and he'll report
you to the Color-Sergeant."
"What's that to you?" said Jakin, with an unpleasant dilation of the
"Oh! nothing to _me_. You'll get into trouble, and you've been up too
often to afford that."
"What the Hell do you know about what we've done?" asked Lew the Seraph.
"_You_ aren't in the Army, you lousy, cadging civilian."
He closed in on the man's left flank.
"Jes' 'cause you find two gentlemen settlin' their differences with their
fistes you stick in your ugly nose where you aren't wanted. Run 'ome to
your 'arf-caste slut of a Ma--or we'll give you what-for," said Jakin.
The man attempted reprisals by knocking the boys' heads together. The
scheme would have succeeded had not Jakin punched him vehemently in the
stomach, or had Lew refrained from kicking his shins. They fought
together, bleeding and breathless, for half an hour, and after heavy
punishment, triumphantly pulled down their opponent as terriers pull down
"Now," gasped Jakin, "I'll give you what-for." He proceeded to pound the
man's features while Lew stamped on the outlying portions of his anatomy.
Chivalry is not a strong point in the composition of the average
drummer-boy. He fights, as do his betters, to make his mark.
Ghastly was the ruin that escaped, and awful was the wrath of the
Bazar-Sergeant. Awful too was the scene in Orderly-room when the two
reprobates appeared to answer the charge of half-murdering a "civilian."
The Bazar-Sergeant thirsted for a criminal action, and his son lied. The
boys stood to attention while the black clouds of evidence accumulated.
"You little devils are more trouble than the rest of the Regiment put
together," said the Colonel, angrily. "One might as well admonish
thistledown, and I can't well put you in cells or under stoppages. You
must be flogged again."
"Beg y' pardon, Sir. Can't we say nothin' in our own defence, Sir?"
"Hey! What? Are you going to argue with me?" said the Colonel.
"No, Sir," said Lew. "But if a man come to you, Sir, and said he was going
to report you, Sir, for 'aving a bit of a turn-up with a friend, Sir, an'
wanted to get money out o' _you_, Sir"--
The Orderly-room exploded in a roar of laughter. "Well?" said the Colonel.
"That was what that measly _jarnwar_ there did, Sir, and 'e'd 'a' _done_
it, Sir, if we 'adn't prevented 'im. We didn't 'it 'im much, Sir. 'E
'adn't no manner o' right to interfere with us, Sir. I don't mind bein'
flogged by the Drum-Major, Sir, nor yet reported by _any_ Corp'ral, but
I'm--but I don't think it's fair, Sir, for a civilian to come an' talk
over a man in the Army."
A second shout of laughter shook the Orderly-room, but the Colonel was
"What sort of characters have these boys?" he asked of the Regimental
"Accordin' to the Bandmaster, Sir," returned that revered official--the
only soul in the regiment whom the boys feared--"they do everything _but_
"Is it like we'd go for that man for fun, Sir?" said Lew, pointing to the
"Oh, admonished,--admonished!" said the Colonel, testily, and when the
boys had gone he read the Bazar-Sergeant's son a lecture on the sin of
unprofitable meddling, and gave orders that the Bandmaster should keep the
Drums in better discipline.
"If either of you come to practice again with so much as a scratch on your
two ugly little faces," thundered the Bandmaster, "I'll tell the
Drum-Major to take the skin off your backs. Understand that, you young
Then he repented of his speech for just the length of time that Lew,
looking like a Seraph in red worsted embellishments, took the place of one
of the trumpets--in hospital--and rendered the echo of a battle-piece. Lew
certainly was a musician, and had often in his more exalted moments
expressed a yearning to master every instrument of the Band.
"There's nothing to prevent your becoming a Bandmaster, Lew," said the
Bandmaster, who had composed waltzes of his own, and worked day and night
in the interests of the Band.
"What did he say?" demanded Jakin, after practice.
"'Said I might be a bloomin' Bandmaster, an' be asked in to 'ave a glass
o' sherry-wine on Mess-nights."
"Ho! 'Said you might be a bloomin' non-combatant, did 'e! That's just
about wot 'e would say. When I've put in my boy's service--it's a bloomin'
shame that doesn't count for pension--I'll take on a privit. Then I'll be
a Lance in a year--knowin' what I know about the ins an' outs o' things.
In three years I'll be a bloomin' Sergeant. I won't marry then, not I!
I'll 'old on and learn the orf'cers' ways an' apply for exchange into a
reg'ment that doesn't know all about me. Then I'll be a bloomin' orf'cer.
Then I'll ask you to 'ave a glass o' sherry-wine, _Mister_ Lew, an' you'll
bloomin' well 'ave to stay in the hanty-room while the Mess-Sergeant
brings it to your dirty 'ands."
"'S'pose _I_'m going to be a Bandmaster? Not I, quite. I'll be a orf'cer
too. There's nothin' like taking to a thing an' stickin' to it, the
Schoolmaster says. The reg'ment don't go 'ome for another seven years.
I'll be a Lance then or near to."
Thus the boys discussed their futures, and conducted themselves with
exemplary piety for a week. That is to say, Lew started a flirtation with
the Color-Sergeant's daughter, aged thirteen,--"not," as he explained to
Jakin, "with any intention o' matrimony, but by way o' keepin' my 'and
in." And the black-haired Cris Delighan enjoyed that flirtation more than
previous ones, and the other drummer-boys raged furiously together, and
Jakin preached sermons on the dangers of "bein' tangled along o'
But neither love nor virtue would have held Lew long in the paths of
propriety had not the rumor gone abroad that the Regiment was to be sent
on active service, to take part in a war which, for the sake of brevity,
we will call "The War of the Lost Tribes."
The barracks had the rumor almost before the Mess-room, and of all the
nine hundred men in barracks not ten had seen a shot fired in anger. The
Colonel had, twenty years ago, assisted at a Frontier expedition; one of
the Majors had seen service at the Cape; a confirmed deserter in E Company
had helped to clear streets in Ireland; but that was all. The Regiment had
been put by for many years. The overwhelming mass of its rank and file had
from three to four years' service; the non-commissioned officers were
under thirty years old; and men and sergeants alike had forgotten to speak
of the stories written in brief upon the Colors--the New Colors that had
been formally blessed by an Archbishop in England ere the Regiment came
They wanted to go to the Front--they were enthusiastically anxious to
go--but they had no knowledge of what war meant, and there was none to
tell them. They were an educated regiment, the percentage of
school-certificates in their ranks was high, and most of the men could do
more than read and write. They had been recruited in loyal observance of
the territorial idea; but they themselves had no notion of that idea. They
were made up of drafts from an over-populated manufacturing district. The
system had put flesh and muscle upon their small bones, but it could not
put heart into the sons of those who for generations had done overmuch
work for overscanty pay, had sweated in drying-rooms, stooped over looms,
coughed among white-lead and shivered on lime-barges. The men had found
food and rest in the Army, and now they were going to fight
"niggers"--people who ran away if you shook a stick at them.
Wherefore they cheered lustily when the rumor ran, and the shrewd, clerkly
non-commissioned officers speculated on the chances of batta and of saving
their pay. At Headquarters, men said:--"The Fore and Fit have never been
under fire within the last generation. Let us, therefore, break them in
easily by setting them to guard lines of communication." And this would
have been done but for the fact that British Regiments were wanted--badly
wanted--at the Front, and there were doubtful Native Regiments that could
fill the minor duties, "Brigade 'em with two strong Regiments," said
Headquarters. "They may be knocked about a bit, but they'll learn their
business before they come through. Nothing like a night-alarm and a little
cutting-up of stragglers to make a Regiment smart in the field. Wait till
they've had half a dozen sentries' throats cut."
The Colonel wrote with delight that the temper of his men was excellent,
that the Regiment was all that could be wished and as sound as a bell. The
Majors smiled with a sober joy, and the subalterns waltzed in pairs down
the Mess-room after dinner and nearly shot themselves at revolver
practice. But there was consternation in the hearts of Jakin and Lew. What
was to be done with the drums? Would the Band go to the Front? How many of
the drums would accompany the Regiment?
They took council together, sitting in a tree and smoking.
"It's more than a bloomin' toss-up they'll leave us be'ind at the Depot
with the women. You'll like that," said Jakin, sarcastically.
"'Cause o' Cris, y' mean? Wot's a woman, or a 'ole bloomin' depot o'
women, 'longside o' the chanst of field-service? You know I'm as keen on
goin' as you," said Lew.
"Wish I was a bloomin' bugler," said Jakin, sadly. "They'll take Tom Kidd
along, that I can plaster a wall with, an' like as not they won't take
"Then let's go an' make Tom Kidd so bloomin' sick 'e can't bugle no more.
You 'old 'is 'ands an' I'll kick him," said Lew, wriggling on the branch.
"That ain't no good neither. We ain't the sort o' characters to presoom on
our rep'tations--they're bad. If they have the Band at the Depot we don't
go, and no error _there_. If they take the Band we may get cast for
medical unfitness. Are you medical fit, Piggy?" said Jakin, digging Lew in
the ribs with force.
"Yus," said Lew, with an oath. "The Doctor says your 'eart's weak through
smokin' on an empty stummick. Throw a chest an' I'll try yer."
Jakin threw out his chest, which Lew smote with all his might, Jakin
turned very pale, gasped, crowed, screwed up his eyes and said,--"That's
"You'll do," said Lew. "I've 'eard o' men dyin' when you 'it 'em fair on
"Don't bring us no nearer goin', though," said Jakin. "Do you know where
"Gawd knows, an' 'e won't split on a pal. Somewheres up to the Front to
kill Paythans--hairy big beggars that turn you inside out if they get 'old
o' you. They say their women are good-looking, too."
"Any loot?" asked the abandoned Jakin.
"Not a bloomin' anna, they say, unless you dig up the ground an' see what
the niggers 'ave 'id. They're a poor lot." Jakin stood upright on the
branch and gazed across the plain.
"Lew," said he, "there's the Colonel coming, 'Colonel's a good old beggar.
Let's go an' talk to 'im."
Lew nearly fell out of the tree at the audacity of the suggestion. Like
Jakin he feared not God neither regarded he Man, but there are limits even
to the audacity of drummer-boy, and to speak to a Colonel was ...
But Jakin had slid down the trunk and doubled in the direction of the
Colonel. That officer was walking wrapped in thought and visions of a C.
B.--yes, even a K.C.B., for had he not at command one of the best
Regiments of the Line--the Fore and Fit? And he was aware of two small
boys charging down upon him. Once before it had been solemnly reported to
him that "the Drums were in a state of mutiny"; Jakin and Lew being the
ringleaders. This looked like an organized conspiracy.
The boys halted at twenty yards, walked to the regulation four paces, and
saluted together, each as well set-up as a ramrod and little taller.
The Colonel was in a genial mood; the boys appeared very forlorn and
unprotected on the desolate plain, and one of them was handsome.
"Well!" said the Colonel, recognizing them. "Are you going to pull me down
in the open? I'm sure I never interfere with you, even though"--he sniffed
suspiciously--"you have been smoking."
It was time to strike while the iron was hot. Their hearts beat
"Beg y' pardon, Sir," began Jakin. "The Reg'ment's ordered on active
"So I believe," said the Colonel, courteously.
"Is the Band goin', Sir?" said both together. Then, without pause, "We're
goin', Sir, ain't we?"
"You!" said the Colonel, stepping back the more fully to take in the two
small figures. "You! You'd die in the first march."
"No, we wouldn't, Sir. We can march with the Regiment anywheres--p'rade
an' anywhere else," said Jakin.
"If Tom Kidd goes 'ell shut up like a clasp-knife," said Lew, "Tom 'as
very close veins in both 'is legs, Sir."
"Very how much?"
"Very close veins, Sir. That's why they swells after long p'rade, Sir, If
'e can go, we can go, Sir."
Again the Colonel looked at them long and intently.
"Yes, the Band is going," he said, as gravely as though, he had been
addressing a brother officer. "Have you any parents, either of you two?"
"No, Sir," rejoicingly from Lew and Jakin. "We're both orphans, Sir.
There's no one to be considered of on our account, Sir."
"You poor little sprats, and you want to go up to the Front with the
Regiment, do you? Why?"
"I've wore the Queen's Uniform for two years," said Jakin. "It's very
'ard, Sir, that a man don't get no recompense for doin' 'is dooty, Sir."
"An'--an' if I don't go, Sir," interrupted Lew, "the Bandmaster 'e says
'e'll catch an' make a bloo--a blessed musician o' me, Sir. Before I've
seen any service, Sir."
The Colonel made no answer for a long time. Then he said quietly:--"If
you're passed by the Doctor I dare say you can go. I shouldn't smoke if I
The boys saluted and disappeared. The Colonel walked home and told the
story to his wife, who nearly cried over it. The Colonel was well pleased.
If that was the temper of the children, what would not the men do?
Jakin and Lew entered the boys' barrack-room with great stateliness, and
refused to hold any conversation with their comrades for at least ten
minutes. Then, bursting with pride, Jakin drawled:--"I've bin intervooin'
the Colonel. Good old beggar is the Colonel. Says I to 'im, 'Colonel,'
says I, 'let me go the Front, along o' the Reg'ment.' 'To the Front you
shall go,' says 'e, 'an' I only wish there was more like you among the
dirty little devils that bang the bloomin' drums.' Kidd, if you throw your
'coutrements at me for tellin' you the truth to your own advantage, your
legs 'll swell."
None the less there was a Battle-Royal in the barrack-room, for the boys
were consumed with envy and hate, and neither Jakin nor Lew behaved in
"I'm goin' out to say adoo to my girl," said Lew, to cap the climax.
"Don't none o' you touch my kit because it's wanted for active service, me
bein' specially invited to go by the Colonel"
He strolled forth and whistled in the clump of trees at the back of the
Married Quarters till Cris came to him, and, the preliminary kisses being
given and taken, Lew began to explain the situation.
"I'm goin' to the Front with the Reg'ment," he said, valiantly,
"Piggy, you're a little liar," said Cris, but her heart misgave her, for
Lew was not in the habit of lying.
"Liar yourself, Cris," said Lew. slipping an arm round her. "I'm goin'
When the Reg'ment marches out you'll see me with 'em, all galliant and
gay. Give us another kiss, Cris, on the strength of it."
"If you'd on'y a-stayed at the Depot--where you _ought_ to ha' bin--you
could get as many of 'em as--as you dam please," whimpered Cris, putting
up her mouth.
"It's 'ard, Cris. I grant you it's 'ard. But what's a man to do? If I'd
a-stayed at the Depot, you wouldn't think anything of me,"
"Like as not, but I'd 'ave you with me, Piggy, An' all the thinkin' in the
world isn't like kissin'."
"An' all the kissin' in the world isn't like 'avin' a medal to wear on the
front o' your coat."
"_You_ won't get no medal."
"Oh, yus, I shall though. Me an' Jakin are the only acting-drummers
that'll be took along. All the rest is full men, an' we'll get our medals
"They might ha' taken anybody but you, Piggy. You'll get killed--you're so
venturesome. Stay with me, Piggy, darlin', down at the Depot, an' I'll
love you true forever."
"Ain't you goin' to do that _now_, Cris? You said you was."
"O' course I am, but th' other's more comfortable. Wait till you've growed
a bit, Piggy. You aren't no taller than me now."
"I've bin in the army for two years an' I'm not goin' to get out of a
chanst o' seein' service an' don't you try to make me do so. I'll come
back, Cris, an' when I take on as a man I'll marry you--marry you when I'm
Lew reflected on the future as arranged by Jakin a short time previously,
but Cris's mouth was very near to his own.
"I promise, s'elp me Gawd!" said he.
Cris slid an arm round his neck.
"I won't 'old you back no more, Piggy. Go away an' get your medal, an'
I'll make you a new button-bag as nice as I know how," she whispered.
"Put some o' your 'air into it, Cris, an' I'll keep it in my pocket so
long's I'm alive."
Then Cris wept anew, and the interview ended. Public feeling among the
drummer-boys rose to fever pitch and the lives of Jakin and Lew became
unenviable. Not only had they been permitted to enlist two years before
the regulation boy's age--fourteen--but, by virtue, it seemed, of their
extreme youth, they were allowed to go to the Front--which thing had not
happened to acting-drummers within the knowledge of boy. The Band which
was to accompany the Regiment had been cut down to the regulation twenty
men, the surplus returning to the ranks. Jakin and Lew were attached to
the Band as supernumeraries, though they would much have preferred being
"'Don't matter much," said Jakin, after the medical inspection, "Be
thankful that we're 'lowed to go at all. The Doctor 'e said that if we
could stand what we took from the Bazar-Sergeant's son we'd stand pretty
"Which we will," said Lew, looking tenderly at the ragged and ill-made
house-wife that Cris had given him, with a lock of her hair worked into a
sprawling "L" upon the cover.
"It was the best I could," she sobbed. "I wouldn't let mother nor the
Sergeant's tailor 'elp me. Keep it always, Piggy, an' remember I love you
They marched to the railway station, nine hundred and sixty strong, and
every soul in cantonments turned out to see them go. The drummers gnashed
their teeth at Jakin and Lew marching with the Band, the married women
wept upon the platform, and the Regiment cheered its noble self black in
"A nice level lot," said the Colonel to the Second-in-Command, as they
watched the first four companies entraining.
"Fit to do anything," said the Second-in-Command, enthusiastically. "But
it seems to me they're a thought too young and tender for the work in
hand. It's bitter cold up at the Front now."
"They're sound enough," said the Colonel. "We must take our chance of sick
So they went northward, ever northward, past droves and droves of camels,
armies of camp followers, and legions of laden mules, the throng
thickening day by day, till with a shriek the train pulled up at a
hopelessly congested junction where six lines of temporary track
accommodated six forty-wagon trains; where whistles blew, Babus sweated
and Commissariat officers swore from dawn till far into the night amid the
wind-driven chaff of the fodder-bales and the lowing of a thousand steers.
"Hurry up--you're badly wanted at the Front," was the message that greeted
the Fore and Aft, and the occupants of the Red Cross carriages told the
"Tisn't so much the bloomin' fighting," gasped a headbound trooper of
Hussars to a knot of admiring Fore and Afts. "Tisn't so much the bloomin'
fightin', though there's enough o' that. It's the bloomin' food an' the
bloomin' climate. Frost all night 'cept when it hails, and biling sun all