Part 5 out of 18
loafers, Dan, until we get out of India,--and do you think that we would sign
a Contrack like that unless we was in earnest? We have kept away from the two
things that make life worth having."
"You won't enjoy your lives much longer if you are going to try this idiotic
adventure. Don't set the office on fire," I said, "and go away before nine
I left them still poring over the maps and making notes on the back of the
"Contrack." "Be sure to come down to the Serai tomorrow," were their parting
The Kumharsen Serai is the great foursquare sink of humanity where the strings
of camels and horses from the North load and unload. All the nationalities of
Central Asia may be found there, and most of the folk of India proper. Balkh
and Bokhara there meet Bengal and Bombay, and try to draw eye-teeth. You can
buy ponies, turquoises, Persian pussy-cats, saddle-bags, fat-tailed sheep, and
musk in the Kumharsen Serai, and get many strange things for nothing. In the
afternoon I went down to see whether my friends intended to keep their word or
were lying there drunk.
A priest attired in fragments of ribbons and rags stalked up to me, gravely
twisting a child's paper whirligig. Behind him was his servant bending under
the load of a crate of mud toys. The two were loading up two camels, and the
inhabitants of the Serai watched them with shrieks of laughter.
"The priest is mad," said a horse-dealer to me. "He is going up to Kabul to
sell toys to the Amir. He will either be raised to honour or have his head cut
off. He came in here this morning and has been behaving madly ever since."
"The witless are under the protection of God," stammered a flat-cheeked Usbeg
in broken Hindi. "They foretell future events."
"Would they could have foretold that my caravan would have been cut up by the
Shinwaris almost within shadow of the Pass!" grunted the Eusufzai agent of a
Rajputana trading-house whose goods had been diverted into the hands of other
robbers just across the Border, and whose misfortunes were the laughing-stock
of the bazaar. "Ohe', priest, whence come you and whither do you go?"
"From Roum have I come," shouted the priest, waving his whirligig; "from Roum,
blown by the breath of a hundred devils across the sea! O thieves, robbers,
liars, the blessing of Pir Khan on pigs, dogs, and perjurers! Who will take
the Protected of God to the North to sell charms that are never still to the
Amir? The camels shall not gall, the sons shall not fall sick, and the wives
shall remain faithful while they are away, of the men who give me place in
their caravan. Who will assist me to slipper the King of the Roos with a
golden slipper with a silver heel? The protection of Pir Khan be upon his
labours!" He spread out the skirts of his gabardine and pirouetted between the
lines of tethered horses.
"There starts a caravan from Peshawar to Kabul in twenty days, Huzrut," said
the Eusufzai trader. "My camels go therewith. Do thou also go and bring us
"I will go even now!" shouted the priest. "I will depart upon my winged
camels, and be at Peshawar in a day! Ho! Hazar Mir Khan," he yelled to his
servant, "drive out the camels, but let me first mount my own."
He leaped on the back of his beast as it knelt, and, turning round to me,
cried, "Come thou also, Sahib, a little along the road, and I will sell thee a
charm--an amulet that shall make thee King of Kafiristan."
Then the light broke upon me, and I followed the two camels out of the Serai
till we reached open road and the priest halted.
"What d' you think o' that?" said he in English. "Carnehan can't talk their
patter, so I've made him my servant. He makes a handsome servant. 'T isn't for
nothing that I've been knocking about the country for fourteen years. Didn't I
do that talk neat? We'll hitch on to a caravan at Peshawar till we get to
Jagdallak, and then we'll see if we can get donkeys for our camels, and strike
into Kafiristan. Whirligigs for the Amir, O Lor'! Put your hand under the
camelbags and tell me what you feel."
I felt the butt of a Martini, and another and another.
"Twenty of 'em," said Dravot, placidly. "Twenty of 'em and ammunition to
correspond, under the whirligigs and the mud dolls."
"Heaven help you if you are caught with those things!" I said. "A Martini is
worth her weight in silver among the Pathans."
"Fifteen hundred rupees of capital--every rupee we could beg, borrow, or
steal--are invested on these two camels," said Dravot.
"We won't get caught. We're going through the Khaiber with a regular caravan.
Who'd touch a poor mad priest?"
"Have you got everything you want?" I asked, overcome with astonishment.
"Not yet, but we shall soon. Give us a memento of your kindness, Brother. You
did me a service yesterday, and that time in Marwar. Half my Kingdom shall you
have, as the saying is." I slipped a small charm compass from my watch-chain
and handed it up to the priest.
"Goodbye," said Dravot, giving me hand cautiously. "It's the last time we'll
shake hands with an Englishman these many days. Shake hands with him,
Carnehan," he cried, as the second camel passed me.
Carnehan leaned down and shook hands. Then the camels passed away along the
dusty road, and I was left alone to wonder. My eye could detect no failure in
the disguises. The scene in the Serai proved that they were complete to the
native mind. There was just the chance, therefore, that Carnehan and Dravot
would be able to wander through Afghanistan without detection. But, beyond,
they would find death--certain and awful death.
Ten days later a native correspondent, giving me the news of the day from
Peshawar, wound up his letter with: "There has been much laughter here on
account of a certain mad priest who is going in his estimation to sell petty
gauds and insignificant trinkets which he ascribes as great charms to H. H.
the Amir of Bokhara. He passed through Peshawar and associated himself to the
Second Summer caravan that goes to Kabul. The merchants are pleased because
through superstition they imagine that such mad fellows bring good fortune."
The two, then, were beyond the Border. I would have prayed for them, but that
night a real King died in Europe, and demanded an obituary notice.
The wheel of the world swings through the same phases again and again. Summer
passed and winter thereafter, and came and passed again. The daily paper
continued and I with it, and upon the third summer there fell a hot night, a
night issue, and a strained waiting for something to be telegraphed from the
other side of the world, exactly as had happened before. A few great men had
died in the past two years, the machines worked with more clatter, and some of
the trees in the office garden were a few feet taller. But that was all the
I passed over to the press-room, and went through just such a scene as I have
already described. The nervous tension was stronger than it had been two years
before, and I felt the heat more acutely. At three o'clock I cried, "Print
off," and turned to go, when there crept to my chair what was left of a man.
He was bent into a circle, his head was sunk between his shoulders, and he
moved his feet one over the other like a bear. I could hardly see whether he
walked or crawled--this rag-wrapped, whining cripple who addressed me by name,
crying that he was come back. "Can you give me a drink?" he whimpered. "For
the Lord's sake, give me a drink!"
I went back to the office, the man following with groans of pain, and I turned
up the lamp.
"Don't you know me?" he gasped, dropping into a chair, and he turned his drawn
face, surmounted by a shock of gray hair, to the light.
I looked at him intently. Once before had I seen eyebrows that met over the
nose in an inch-broad black band, but for the life of me I could not tell
"I don't know you," I said, handing him the whisky. "What can I do for you?"
He took a gulp of the spirit raw, and shivered in spite of the suffocating
"I've come back," he repeated; "and I was the King of Kafiristan--me and
Dravot--crowned Kings we was! In this office we settled it--you setting there
and giving us the books. I am Peachey,--Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan,--and
you've been setting here ever since--O Lord!"
I was more than a little astonished, and expressed my feelings accordingly.
"It's true," said Carnehan, with a dry cackle, nursing his feet, which were
wrapped in rags--"true as gospel. Kings we were, with crowns upon our heads--
me and Dravot--poor Dan--oh, poor, poor Dan, that would never take advice, not
though I begged of him!"
"Take the whisky," I said, "and take your own time. Tell me all you can
recollect of everything from beginning to end. You got across the Border on
your camels, Dravot dressed as a mad priest and you his servant. Do you
"I ain't mad--yet, but I shall be that way soon. Of course I remember. Keep
looking at me, or maybe my words will go all to pieces. Keep looking at me in
my eyes and don't say anything."
I leaned forward and looked into his face as steadily as I could. He dropped
one hand upon the table and I grasped it by the wrist. It was twisted like a
bird's claw, and upon the back was a ragged, red, diamond-shaped scar.
"No, don't look there. Look at me," said Carnehan. "That comes afterward, but
for the Lord's sake don't distrack me. We left with that caravan, me and
Dravot playing all sorts of antics to amuse the people we were with. Dravot
used to make us laugh in the evenings when all the people was cooking their
dinners--cooking their dinners, and . . . what did they do then? They lit
little fires with sparks that went into Dravot's beard, and we all laughed--
fit to die. Little red fires they was, going into Dravot's big red beard--so
funny." His eyes left mine and he smiled foolishly.
"You went as far as Jagdallak with that caravan," I said, at a venture, "after
you had lit those fires. To Jagdallak, where you turned off to try to get into
"No, we didn't, neither. What are you talking about? We turned off before
Jagdallak, because we heard the roads was good. But they wasn't good enough
for our two camels--mine and Dravot's. When we left the caravan, Dravot took
off all his clothes and mine too, and said we would be heathen, because the
Kafirs didn't allow Mohammedans to talk to them. So we dressed betwixt and
between, and such a sight as Daniel Dravot I never saw yet nor expect to see
again. He burned half his beard, and slung a sheepskin over his shoulder, and
shaved his head into patterns. He shaved mine too, and made me wear outrageous
things to look like a heathen. That was in a most mountaineous country, and
our camels couldn't go along any more because of the mountains. They were tall
and black, and coming home I saw them fight like wild goats--there are lots of
goats in Kafiristan. And these mountains, they never keep still, no more than
the goats. Always fighting they are, and don't let you sleep at night."
"Take some more whisky," I said, very slowly. "What did you and Daniel Dravot
do when the camels could go no farther because of the rough roads that led
"What did which do? There was a party called Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan that
was with Dravot. Shall I tell you about him? He died out there in the cold.
Slap from the bridge fell old Peachey, turning and twisting in the air like a
penny whirligig that you can sell to the Amir. No; they was two for three
ha'pence, those whirligigs, or I am much mistaken and woful sore... And then
these camels were no use, and Peachey said to Dravot, 'For the Lord's sake
let's get out of this before our heads are chopped off,' and with that they
killed the camels all among the mountains, not having anything in particular
to eat, but first they took off the boxes with the guns and the ammunition,
till two men came along driving four mules. Dravot up and dances in front of
them, singing, 'Sell me four mules.' Says the first man, 'If you are rich
enough to buy, you are rich enough to rob;' but before ever he could put his
hand to his knife, Dravot breaks his neck over his knee, and the other party
runs away. So Carnehan loaded the mules with the rifles that was taken off the
camels, and together we starts forward into those bitter-cold mountaineous
parts, and never a road broader than the back of your hand."
He paused for a moment, while I asked him if he could remember the nature of
the country through which he had journeyed.
"I am telling you as straight as I can, but my head isn't as good as it might
be. They drove nails through it to make me hear better how Dravot died. The
country was mountaineous and the mules were most contrary, and the inhabitants
was dispersed and solitary. They went up and up, and down and down, and that
other party, Carnehan, was imploring of Dravot not to sing and whistle so
loud, for fear of bringing down the tremenjus avalanches. But Dravot says that
if a King couldn't sing it wasn't worth being King, and whacked the mules over
the rump, and never took no heed for ten cold days. We came to a big level
valley all among the mountains, and the mules were near dead, so we killed
them, not having anything in special for them or us to eat. We sat upon the
boxes, and played odd and even with the cartridges that was jolted out.
"Then ten men with bows and arrows ran down that valley, chasing twenty men
with bows and arrows, and the row was tremenjus.
"They was fair men--fairer than you or me--with yellow hair and remarkable
well built. Says Dravot, unpacking the guns, 'This is the beginning of the
business. We'll fight for the ten men,' and with that he fires two rifles at
the twenty men, and drops one of them at two hundred yards from the rock where
he was sitting. The other men began to run, but Carnehan and Dravot sits on
the boxes picking them off at all ranges, up and down the valley. Then we goes
up to the ten men that had run across the snow too, and they fires a footy
little arrow at us. Dravot he shoots above their heads, and they all falls
down flat. Then he walks over them and kicks them, and then he lifts them up
and shakes hands all round to make them friendly like. He calls them and gives
them the boxes to carry, and waves his hand for all the world as though he was
King already. They takes the boxes and him across the valley and up the hill
into a pine wood on the top, where there was half a dozen big stone idols.
Dravot he goes to the biggest--a fellow they call Imbra--and lays a rifle and
a cartridge at his feet, rubbing his nose respectfully with his own nose,
patting him on the head, and nods his head, and says, 'That's all right. I'm
in the know too, and these old jimjams are my friends.' Then he opens his
mouth and points down it, and when the first man brings him food, he says,
'No;' and when the second man brings him food, he says 'no;' but when one of
the old priests and the boss of the village brings him food, he says, 'Yes;'
very haughty, and eats it slow. That was how he came to our first village
without any trouble, just as though we had tumbled from the skies. But we
tumbled from one of those damned rope-bridges, you see, and--you couldn't
expect a man to laugh much after that?"
"Take some more whisky and go on," I said. "That was the first village you
came into. How did you get to be King?"
"I wasn't King," said Carnehan. "Dravot he was the King, and a handsome man he
looked with the gold crown on his head and all. Him and the other party stayed
in that village, and every morning Dravot sat by the side of old Imbra, and
the people came and worshipped. That was Dravot's order. Then a lot of men
came into the valley, and Carnehan Dravot picks them off with the rifles
before they knew where they was, and runs down into the valley and up again
the other side, and finds another village, same as the first one, and the
people all falls down flat on their faces, and Dravot says, 'Now what is the
trouble between you two villages?' and the people points to a woman, as fair
as you or me, that was carried off, and Dravot takes her back to the first
village and counts up the dead--eight there was. For each dead man Dravot
pours a little milk on the ground and waves his arms like a whirligig, and
'That's all right,' says he. Then he and Carnehan takes the big boss of each
village by the arm, and walks them down the valley, and shows them how to
scratch a line with a spear right down the valley, and gives each a sod of
turf from both sides of the line. Then all the people comes down and shouts
like the devil and all, and Dravot says, 'Go and dig the land, and be fruitful
and multiply,' which they did, though they didn't understand. Then we asks the
names of things in their lingo--bread and water and fire and idols and such;
and Dravot leads the priest of each village up to the idol, and says he must
sit there and judge the people, and if anything goes wrong he is to be shot.
"Next week they was all turning up the land in the valley as quiet as bees and
much prettier, and the priests heard all the complaints and told Dravot in
dumb-show what it was about. 'That's just the beginning,' says Dravot. 'They
think we're Gods.' He and Carnehan picks out twenty good men and shows them
how to click off a rifle and form fours and advance in line; and they was very
pleased to do so, and clever to see the hang of it. Then he takes out his pipe
and his baccy-pouch, and leaves one at one village and one at the other, and
off we two goes to see what was to be done in the next valley. That was all
rock, and there was a little village there, and Carnehan says, 'Send 'em to
the old valley to plant,' and takes 'em there and gives 'em some land that
wasn't took before. They were a poor lot, and we blooded 'em with a kid before
letting 'em into the new Kingdom. That was to impress the people, and then
they settled down quiet, and Carnehan went back to Dravot, who had got into
another valley, all snow and ice and most mountaineous.
"There was no people there, and the Army got afraid; so Dravot shoots one of
them, and goes on till he finds some people in a village, and the Army
explains that unless the people wants to be killed they had better not shoot
their little matchlocks, for they had matchlocks. We makes friends with the
priest, and I stays there alone with two of the Army, teaching the men how to
drill; and a thundering big Chief comes across the snow with kettledrums and
horns twanging, because he heard there was a new God kicking about. Carnehan
sights for the brown of the men half a mile across the snow and wings one of
them. Then he sends a message to the Chief that, unless he wished to be
killed, he must come and shake hands with me and leave his arms behind. The
Chief comes alone first, and Carnehan shakes hands with him and whirls his
arms about, same as Dravot used, and very much surprised that Chief was, and
strokes my eyebrows. Then Carnehan goes alone to the Chief, and asks him in
dumb-show if he had an enemy he hated. 'I have,' says the chief. So Carnehan
weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them
drill, and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as
Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a
mountain, and the Chief's men rushes into a village and takes it, we three
Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy. So we took that village too, and
I gives the Chief a rag from my coat, and says, 'Occupy till I come;' which
was scriptural. By way of a reminder, when me and the Army was eighteen
hundred yards away, I drops a bullet near him standing on the snow, and all
the people falls flat on their faces. Then I sends a letter to Dravot wherever
he be by land or by sea."
At the risk of throwing the creature out of train I interrupted: "How could
you write a letter up yonder?"
"The letter?--oh!--the letter! Keep looking at me between the eyes, please. It
was a string-talk letter, that we'd learned the way of it from a blind beggar
in the Punjab."
I remember that there had once come to the office a blind man with a knotted
twig, and a piece of string which he wound round the twig according to some
cipher of his own. He could, after the lapse of days or hours, repeat the
sentence which he had reeled up.
He had reduced the alphabet to eleven primitive sounds, and tried to teach me
his method, but I could not understand.
"I sent that letter to Dravot," said Carnehan, "and told him to come back
because this Kingdom was growing too big for me to handle; and then I struck
for the first valley, to see how the priests were working. They called the
village we took along with the Chief, Bashkai, and the first village we took,
Er-Heb. The priests at Er-Heb was doing all right, but they had a lot of
pending cases about land to show me, and some men from another village had
been firing arrows at night. I went out and looked for that village, and fired
four rounds at it from a thousand yards. That used all the cartridges I cared
to spend, and I waited for Dravot, who had been away two or three months, and
I kept my people quiet.
"One morning I heard the devil's own noise of drums and horns, and Dan Dravot
marches down the hill with his Army and a tail of hundreds of men, and, which
was the most amazing, a great gold crown on his head. 'My Gord, Carnehan,'
says Daniel, 'this is a tremenjus business, and we've got the whole country as
far as it's worth having. I am the son of Alexander by Queen Semiramis, and
you're my younger brother and a God too! It's the biggest thing we've ever
seen. I've been marching and fighting for six weeks with the Army, and every
footy little village for fifty miles has come in rejoiceful; and more than
that, I've got the key of the whole show, as you'll see, and I've got a crown
for you! I told 'em to make two of 'em at a place called Shu, where the gold
lies in the rock like suet in mutton. Gold I've seen, and turquoise I've
kicked out of the cliffs, and there's garnets in the sands of the river, and
here's a chunk of amber that a man brought me. Call up all the priests and,
here, take your crown.'
"One of the men opens a black hair bag, and I slips the crown on. It was too
small and too heavy, but I wore it for the glory. Hammered gold it was--five
pounds weight, like a hoop of a barrel.
"'Peachey,' says Dravot, 'we don't want to fight no more. The Craft's the
trick, so help me!' and he brings forward that same Chief that I left at
Bashkai--Billy Fish we called him afterward, because he was so like Billy Fish
that drove the big tank-engine at Mach on the Bolan in the old days. 'Shake
hands with him,' says Dravot; and I shook hands and nearly dropped, for Billy
Fish gave me the Grip. I said nothing, but tried him with the Fellow-craft
Grip. He answers all right, and I tried the Master's Grip, but that was a
slip. 'A Fellow-craft he is!' I says to Dan. 'Does he know the word?' 'He
does,' says Dan, 'and all the priests know. It's a miracle! The Chiefs and the
priests can work a Fellow-craft Lodge in a way that's very like ours, and
they've cut the marks on the rocks, but they don't know the Third Degree, and
they've come to find out. It's Gord's Truth. I've known these long years that
the Afghans knew up to the Fellow-craft Degree, but this is a miracle. A God
and a Grand Master of the Craft am I, and a Lodge in the Third Degree I will
open, and we'll raise the head priests and the Chiefs of the villages.'
"'It's against all the law,' I says, 'holding a Lodge without warrant from any
one; and you know we never held office in any Lodge.'
"'It's a master stroke o' policy,' says Dravot. 'It means running the country
as easy as a four-wheeled bogie on a down grade. We can't stop to inquire now,
or they'll turn against us. I've forty Chiefs at my heel, and passed and
raised according to their merit they shall be. Billet these men on the
villages, and see that we run up a Lodge of some kind. The temple of Imbra
will do for a Lodge-room. The women must make aprons as you show them. I'll
hold a levee of Chiefs tonight and Lodge tomorrow.'
"I was fair run off my legs, but I wasn't such a fool as not to see what a
pull this Craft business gave us. I showed the priests' families how to make
aprons of the degrees, but for Dravot's apron the blue border and marks was
made of turquoise lumps on white hide, not cloth. We took a great square stone
in the temple for the Master's chair, and little stones for the officer's
chairs, and painted the black pavement with white squares, and did what we
could to make things regular.
"At the levee which was held that night on the hillside with big bonfires,
Dravot gives out that him and me were Gods and sons of Alexander, and Passed
Grand Masters in the Craft, and was come to make Kafiristan a country where
every man should eat in peace and drink in quiet, and specially obey us. Then
the Chiefs come round to shake hands, and they were so hairy and white and
fair it was just shaking hands with old friends. We gave them names according
as they was like men we had known in India--Billy Fish, Holly Dilworth, Pikky
Kergan, that was Bazaar-master when I was at Mhow, and so on, and so on.
"The most amazing miracles was at Lodge next night. One of the old priests
was watching us continuous, and I felt uneasy, for I knew we'd have to fudge
the Ritual, and I didn't know what the men knew. The old priest was a stranger
come in from beyond the village of Bashkai. The minute Dravot puts on the
Master's apron that the girls had made for him, the priest fetches a whoop and
a howl, and tries to overturn the stone that Dravot was sitting on. 'It's all
up now,' I says. 'That comes of meddling with the Craft without warrant!'
Dravot never winked an eye, not when ten priests took and tilted over the
Grand Master's chair--which was to say, the stone of Imbra. The priest begins
rubbing the bottom end of it to clear away the black dirt, and presently he
shows all the other priests the Master's Mark, same as was on Dravot's apron,
cut into the stone. Not even the priests of the temple of Imbra knew it was
there. The old chap falls flat on his face at Dravot's feet and kisses 'em.
'Luck again,' says Dravot, across the Lodge, to me; 'they say it's the missing
Mark that no one could understand the why of.
We're more than safe now.' Then he bangs the butt of his gun for a gavel and
says, 'By virtue of the authority vested in me by my own right hand and the
help of Peachey, I declare myself Grand Master of all Freemasonry in
Kafiristan in this the Mother Lodge o' the country, and King of Kafiristan
equally with Peachey!' At that he puts on his crown and I puts on mine,--I was
doing Senior Warden,--and we opens the Lodge in most ample form. It was an
amazing miracle! The priests moved in Lodge through the first two degrees
almost without telling, as if the memory was coming back to them. After that
Peachey and Dravot raised such as was worthy--high priests and Chiefs of far-
off villages. Billy Fish was the first, and I can tell you we scared the soul
out of him. It was not in any way according to Ritual, but it served our turn.
We didn't raise more than ten of the biggest men, because we didn't want to
make the Degree common. And they was clamouring to be raised.
"'In another six months,' says Dravot, 'we'll hold another Communication and
see how you are working.' Then he asks them about their villages, and learns
that they was fighting one against the other, and were sick and tired of it.
And when they wasn't doing that they was fighting with the Mohammedans. 'You
can fight those when they come into our country,' says Dravot. 'Tell off every
tenth man of your tribes for a Frontier guard, and send two hundred at a time
to this valley to be drilled. Nobody is going to be shot or speared any more
so long as he does well, and I know that you won't cheat me, because you're
white people--sons of Alexander--and not like common black Mohammedans. You
are my people, and, by God,' says he, running off into English at the end,
'I'll make a damned fine Nation of you, or I'll die in the making!'
"I can't tell all we did for the next six months, because Dravot did a lot I
couldn't see the hang of, and he learned their lingo in a way I never could.
My work was to help the people plough, and now and again go out with some of
the Army and see what the other villages were doing, and make 'em throw rope
bridges across the ravines which cut up the country horrid. Dravot was very
kind to me, but when he walked up and down in the pine wood pulling that
bloody red beard of his with both fists I knew he was thinking plans I could
not advise about, and I just waited for orders.
"But Dravot never showed me disrespect before the people. They were afraid of
me and the Army, but they loved Dan. He was the best of friends with the
priests and the Chiefs; but any one could come across the hills with a
complaint, and Dravot would hear him out fair, and call four priests together
and say what was to be done.
"He used to call in Billy Fish from Bashkai, and Pikky Kergan from Shu, and an
old Chief we called Kafuzelum,--it was like enough to his real name,--and hold
councils with 'em when there was any fighting to be done in small villages.
That was his Council of War, and the four priests of Bashkai, Shu, Khawak, and
Madora was his Privy Council. Between the lot of 'em they sent me, with forty
men and twenty rifles, and sixty men carrying turquoises, into the Ghorband
country to buy those hand-made Martini rifles, that come out of the Amir's
workshops at Kabul, from one of the Amir's Herati regiments that would have
sold the very teeth out of their mouths for turquoises.
"I stayed in Ghorband a month, and gave the Governor there the pick of my
baskets for hush-money, and bribed the Colonel of the regiment some more, and,
between the two and the tribes-people, we got more than a hundred hand-made
Martinis, a hundred good Kohat Jezails that'll throw to six hundred yards, and
forty man--loads of very bad ammunition for the rifles. I came back with what
I had, and distributed 'em among the men that the Chiefs sent in to me to
drill. Dravot was too busy to attend to those things, but the old Army that we
first made helped me, and we turned out five hundred men that could drill, and
two hundred that knew how to hold arms pretty straight. Even those cork-
screwed, hand-made guns was a miracle to them. Dravot talked big about powder-
shops and factories, walking up and down in the pine wood when the winter was
"'I won't make a Nation,' says he. 'I'll make an Empire! These men aren't
niggers; they're English! Look at their eyes--look at their mouths. Look at
the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their own houses. They're the
Lost Tribes, or something like it, and they've grown to be English. I'll take
a census in the spring if the priests don't get frightened. There must be a
fair two million of 'em in these hills. The villages are full o' little
children. Two million people--two hundred and fifty thousand fighting men--and
all English! They only want the rifles and a little drilling. Two hundred and
fifty thousand men, ready to cut in on Russia's right flank when she tries for
India! Peachey, man,' he says, chewing his beard in great hunks, 'we shall be
Emperors--Emperors of the Earth! Rajah Brooke will be a suckling to us. I'll
treat with the Viceroy on equal terms. I'll ask him to send me twelve picked
English--twelve that I know of--to help us govern a bit. There's Mackray,
Serjeant Pensioner at Segowli--many's the good dinner he's given me, and his
wife a pair of trousers. There's Donkin, the Warder of Tounghoo Jail; there's
hundreds that I could lay my hand on if I was in India. The Viceroy shall do
it for me; I'll send a man through in the spring for those men, and I'll write
for a dispensation from the Grand Lodge for what I've done as Grand Master.
That--and all the Sniders that'll be thrown out when the native troops in
India take up the Martini. They'll be worn smooth, but they'll do for fighting
in these hills. Twelve English, a hundred thousand Sniders run through the
Amir's country in driblets,--I'd be content with twenty thousand in one year,-
-and we'd be an Empire.
"When everything was shipshape I'd hand over the crown--this crown I'm wearing
now--to Queen Victoria on my knees, and she'd say, "Rise up, Sir Daniel
Dravot." Oh, it's big! It's big, I tell you! But there's so much to be done in
every place--Bashkai, Khawak, Shu, and everywhere else.'
"'What is it?' I says. 'There are no more men coming in to be drilled this
autumn. Look at those fat black clouds. They're bringing the snow.'
"'It isn't that,' says Daniel, putting his hand very hard on my shoulder; 'and
I don't wish to say anything that's against you, for no other living man would
have followed me and made me what I am as you have done. You're a first-class
Commander-in-Chief, and the people know you; but--it's a big country, and
somehow you can't help me, Peachey, in the way I want to be helped.'
"'Go to your blasted priests, then!' I said, and I was sorry when I made that
remark, but it did hurt me sore to find Daniel talking so superior, when I'd
drilled all the men and done all he told me.
"'Don't let's quarrel, Peachey,' says Daniel, without cursing. 'You're a King
too, and the half of this Kingdom is yours; but can't you see, Peachey, we
want cleverer men than us now--three or four of 'em, that we can scatter about
for our Deputies. It's a hugeous great State, and I can't always tell the
right thing to do, and I haven't time for all I want to do, and here's the
winter coming on and all.'
"He put half his beard into his mouth, all red like the gold of his crown.
"'I'm sorry, Daniel,' says I. 'I've done all I could. I've drilled the men and
shown the people how to stack their oats better; and I've brought in those
tinware rifles from Ghorband--but I know what you're driving at. I take it
Kings always feel oppressed that way.'
"'There's another thing too,' says Dravot, walking up and down. 'The winter's
coming, and these people won't be giving much trouble, and if they do we can't
move about. I want a wife.'
"'For Gord's sake leave the women alone!' I says. 'We've both got all the work
we can, though I am a fool. Remember the Contrack, and keep clear o' women.'"
"'The Contrack only lasted till such time as we was Kings; and Kings we have
been these months past,' says Dravot, weighing his crown in his hand. 'You go
get a wife too, Peachey--a nice, strappin', plump girl that'll keep you warm
in the winter. They're prettier than English girls, and we can take the pick
of 'em. Boil 'em once or twice in hot water, and they'll come out like chicken
"'Don't tempt me!' I says. 'I will not have any dealings with a woman, not
till we are a dam' side more settled than we are now. I've been doing the work
o' two men, and you've been doing the work of three. Let's lie off a bit, and
see if we can get some better tobacco from Afghan country and run in some good
liquor; and no women.'"
"'Who's talking o' women?' says Dravot. 'I said wife--a Queen to breed a
King's son for the King. A Queen out of the strongest tribe, that'll make them
your blood-brothers, and that'll lie by your side and tell you all the people
thinks about you and their own affairs. That's what I want.'
"'Do you remember that Bengali woman I kept at Mogul Serai when I was a plate-
layer?' says I. 'A fat lot o' good she was to me. She taught me the lingo and
one or two other things; but what happened? She ran away with the Station-
master's servant and half my month's pay. Then she turned up at Dadur Junction
in tow of a half-caste, and had the impidence to say I was her husband--all
among the drivers in the running-shed too!'
"'We've done with that,' says Dravot; 'these women are whiter than you or me,
and a Queen I will have for the winter months.'
"'For the last time o' asking, Dan, do not,' I says. 'It'll only bring us
harm. The Bible says that Kings ain't to waste their strength on women,
'specially when they've got a new raw Kingdom to work over.'
"'For the last time of answering, I will,' said Dravot, and he went away
through the pine trees looking like a big red devil, the sun being on his
crown and beard and all.
"But getting a wife was not as easy as Dan thought. He put it before the
Council, and there was no answer till Billy Fish said that he'd better ask the
girls. Dravot damned them all round.
"'What's wrong with me?' he shouts, standing by the idol Imbra. 'Am I a dog,
or am I not enough of a man for your wenches? Haven't I put the shadow of my
hand over this country? Who stopped the last Afghan raid?' It was me really,
but Dravot was too angry to remember. 'Who bought your guns? Who repaired the
bridges? Who's the Grand Master of the sign cut in the stone?' says he, and he
thumped his hand on the block that he used to sit on in Lodge, and at Council,
which opened like Lodge always. Billy Fish said nothing, and no more did the
others. 'Keep your hair on, Dan,' said I, 'and ask the girls. That's how it's
done at Home, and these people are quite English.'
"'The marriage of the King is a matter of State,' says Dan, in a white-hot
rage, for he could feel, I hope, that he was going against his better mind. He
walked out of the Council-room, and the others sat still, looking at the
"'Billy Fish,' says I to the Chief of Bashkai, 'what's the difficulty here? A
straight answer to a true friend.'
"'You know,' says Billy Fish. 'How should a man tell you who knows everything?
How can daughters of men marry Gods or Devils? It's not proper.'
"I remembered something like that in the Bible; but, if after seeing us as
long as they had, they still believed we were Gods, it wasn't for me to
"'A God can do anything,' says I. 'If the King is fond of a girl he'll not let
her die.' 'She'll have to,' said Billy Fish. 'There are all sorts of Gods and
Devils in these mountains, and now and again a girl marries one of them and
isn't seen any more. Besides, you two know the Mark cut in the stone. Only the
Gods know that. We thought you were men till you showed the sign of the
"I wished then that we had explained about the loss of the genuine secrets of
a Master Mason at the first go-off; but I said nothing. All that night there
was a blowing of horns in a little dark temple half-way down the hill, and I
heard the girl crying fit to die. One of the priests told us that she was
being prepared to marry the King.
"'I'll have no nonsense of that kind,' says Dan. 'I don't want to interfere
with your customs, but I'll take my own wife.' 'The girl's a little bit
afraid,' says the priest. 'She thinks she's going to die, and they are a-
heartening of her up down in the temple.'
"'Hearten her very tender, then,' says Dravot, 'or I'll hearten you with the
butt of a gun so you'll never want to be heartened again.'
"He licked his lips, did Dan, and stayed up walking about more than half the
night, thinking of the wife that he was going to get in the morning. I wasn't
any means comfortable, for I knew that dealings with a woman in foreign parts,
though you was a crowned King twenty times over, could not but be risky. I got
up very early in the morning while Dravot was asleep, and I saw the priests
talking together in whispers, and the Chiefs talking together too, and they
looked at me out of the corners of their eyes.
"'What is up, Fish?' I say to the Bashkai man, who was wrapped up in his furs
and looking splendid to behold.
"'I can't rightly say,' says he; 'but if you can make the King drop all this
nonsense about marriage, you'll be doing him and me and yourself a great
"'That I do believe,' says I. 'But sure, you know, Billy, as well as me,
having fought against and for us, that the King and me are nothing more than
two of the finest men that God Almighty ever made. Nothing more, I do assure
"'That may be,' says Billy Fish, 'and yet I should be sorry if it was.' He
sinks his head upon his great fur cloak for a minute and thinks. 'King,' says
he, 'be you man or God or Devil, I'll stick by you today. I have twenty of my
men with me, and they will follow me. We'll go to Bashkai until the storm
"A little snow had fallen in the night, and everything was white except the
greasy fat clouds that blew down and down from the north. Dravot came out with
his crown on his head, swinging his arms and stamping his feet, and looking
more pleased than Punch.
"'For the last time, drop it, Dan,' says I, in a whisper; 'Billy Fish here
says that there will be a row.'
"'A row among my people!' says Dravot. 'Not much. Peachey, you're a fool not
to get a wife too. Where's the girl?' says he, with a voice as loud as the
braying of a jackass. 'Call up all the Chiefs and priests, and let the Emperor
see if his wife suits him.'
"There was no need to call any one. They were all there leaning on their guns
and spears round the clearing in the centre of the pine wood. A lot of priests
went down to the little temple to bring up the girl, and the horns blew fit to
wake the dead. Billy Fish saunters round and gets as close to Daniel as he
could, and behind him stood his twenty men with matchlocks--not a man of them
under six feet. I was next to Dravot, and behind me was twenty men of the
regular Army. Up comes the girl, and a strapping wench she was, covered with
silver and turquoises, but white as death, and looking back every minute at
"'She'll do,' said Dan, looking her over. 'What's to be afraid of, lass? Come
and kiss me.' He puts his arm round her. She shuts her eyes, gives a bit of a
squeak, and down goes her face in the side of Dan's flaming-red beard.
"'The slut's bitten me!' says he, clapping his hand to his neck, and, sure
enough, his hand was red with blood. Billy Fish and two of his matchlock men
catches hold of Dan by the shoulders and drags him into the Bashkai lot, while
the priests howls in their lingo, 'Neither God nor Devil, but a man!' I was
all taken aback, for a priest cut at me in front, and the Army behind began
firing into the Bashkai men.
"'God A'mighty!' says Dan, 'what is the meaning o' this?'
"'Come back! Come away!' says Billy Fish. 'Ruin and Mutiny is the matter.
We'll break for Bashkai if we can.'
"I tried to give some sort of orders to my men,--the men o' the regular Army,-
-but it was no use, so I fired into the brown of 'em with an English Martini
and drilled three beggars in a line. The valley was full of shouting, howling
creatures, and every soul was shrieking, 'Not a God nor a Devil, but only a
man!' The Bashkai troops stuck to Billy Fish all they were worth, but their
matchlocks wasn't half as good as the Kabul breech-loaders, and four of them
dropped. Dan was bellowing like a bull, for he was very wrathy; and Billy Fish
had a hard job to prevent him running out at the crowd.
"'We can't stand,' says Billy Fish. 'Make a run for it down the valley! The
whole place is against us.' The matchlock-men ran, and we went down the valley
in spite of Dravot. He was swearing horrible and crying out that he was a
King. The priests rolled great stones on us, and the regular Army fired hard,
and there wasn't more than six men, not counting Dan, Billy Fish, and Me, that
came down to the bottom of the valley alive.
"Then they stopped firing, and the horns in the temple blew again.
"'Come away--for Gord's sake come away!' says Billy Fish. 'They'll send
runners out to all the villages before ever we get to Bashkai. I can protect
you there, but I can't do anything now."
"My own notion is that Dan began to go mad in his head from that hour. He
stared up and down like a stuck pig. Then he was all for walking back alone
and killing the priests with his bare hands; which he could have done. 'An
Emperor am I,' says Daniel, 'and next year I shall be a Knight of the Queen.'
"'All right, Dan,' says I; 'but come along now while there's time.'
"'It's your fault,' says he, 'for not looking after your Army better. There
was mutiny in the midst, and you didn't know--you damned engine-driving,
plate-laying, missionary's-pass-hunting hound!' He sat upon a rock and called
me every foul name he could lay tongue to. I was too heart-sick to care,
though it was all his foolishness that brought the smash.
"'I'm sorry, Dan,' says I, 'but there's no accounting for natives. This
business is our Fifty-seven. Maybe we'll make something out of it yet, when
we've got to Bashkai.'
"'Let's get to Bashkai, then,' says Dan, 'and, by God, when I come back here
again I'll sweep the valley so there isn't a bug in a blanket left!'
"We walked all that day, and all that night Dan was stumping up and down on
the snow, chewing his beard and muttering to himself.
"'There's no hope o' getting clear,' said Billy Fish. 'The priests have sent
runners to the villages to say that you are only men. Why didn't you stick on
as Gods till things was more settled? I'm a dead man,' says Billy Fish, and he
throws himself down on the snow and begins to pray to his Gods.
"Next morning we was in a cruel bad country--all up and down, no level ground
at all, and no food, either. The six Bashkai men looked at Billy Fish hungry-
way as if they wanted to ask something, but they never said a word. At noon we
came to the top of a flat mountain all covered with snow, and when we climbed
up into it, behold, there was an Army in position waiting in the middle!
"'The runners have been very quick,' says Billy Fish, with a little bit of a
laugh. 'They are waiting for us.'
"Three or four men began to fire from the enemy's side, and a chance shot took
Daniel in the calf of the leg. That brought him to his senses. He looks across
the snow at the Army, and sees the rifles that we had brought into the
"'We're done for,' says he. 'They are Englishmen, these people,--and it's my
blasted nonsense that has brought you to this. Get back, Billy Fish, and take
your men away; you've done what you could, and now cut for it. Carnehan,' says
he, 'shake hands with me and go along with Billy, Maybe they won't kill you.
I'll go and meet 'em alone. It's me that did it! Me, the King!'
"'Go!' says I. 'Go to Hell, Dan! I'm with you here. Billy Fish, you clear out,
and we two will meet those folk.'
"'I'm a Chief,' says Billy Fish, quite quiet. 'I stay with you. My men can
"The Bashkai fellows didn't wait for a second word, but ran off, and Dan and
Me and Billy Fish walked across to where the drums were drumming and the horns
were horning. It was cold--awful cold. I've got that cold in the back of my
head now. There's a lump of it there."
The punka-coolies had gone to sleep. Two kerosene lamps were blazing in the
office, and the perspiration poured down my face and splashed on the blotter
as I leaned forward. Carnehan was shivering, and I feared that his mind might
go. I wiped my face, took a fresh grip of the piteously mangled hands, and
said, "What happened after that?"
The momentary shift of my eyes had broken the clear current.
"What was you pleased to say?" whined Carnehan. "They took them without any
sound. Not a little whisper all along the snow, not though the King knocked
down the first man that set hand on him--not though old Peachey fired his last
cartridge into the brown of 'em. Not a single solitary sound did those swines
make. They just closed up tight, and I tell you their furs stunk. There was a
man called Billy Fish, a good friend of us all, and they cut his throat, Sir,
then and there, like a pig; and the King kicks up the bloody snow and says,
'We've had a dashed fine run for our money. What's coming next?' But Peachey,
Peachey Taliaferro, I tell you, Sir, in confidence as betwixt two friends, he
lost his head, Sir. No, he didn't, neither. The King lost his head, so he did,
all along o' one of those cunning rope bridges. Kindly let me have the paper-
cutter, Sir. It tilted this way. They marched him a mile across that snow to a
rope bridge over a ravine with a river at the bottom. You may have seen such.
They prodded him behind like an ox. 'Damn your eyes!' says the King. 'D' you
suppose I can't die like a gentleman?'
"He turns to Peachey--Peachey that was crying like a child. 'I've brought you
to this, Peachey,' says he. 'Brought you out of your happy life to be killed
in Kafiristan, where you was late Commander-in-Chief of the Emperor's forces.
Say you forgive me, Peachey.' 'I do,' says Peachey. 'Fully and freely do I
forgive you, Dan.' 'Shake hands, Peachey,' says he. 'I'm going now.' Out he
goes, looking neither right nor left, and when he was plumb in the middle of
those dizzy dancing ropes, 'Cut you beggars,' he shouts; and they cut, and old
Dan fell, turning round and round and round, twenty thousand miles, for he
took half an hour to fall till he struck the water, and I could see his body
caught on a rock with the gold crown close beside.
"But do you know what they did to Peachey between two pine trees? They
crucified him, Sir, as Peachey's hand will show. They used wooden pegs for his
hands and feet; but he didn't die. He hung there and screamed, and they took
him down next day, and said it was a miracle that he wasn't dead. They took
him down--poor old Peachey that hadn't done them any harm--that hadn't done
He rocked to and fro and wept bitterly, wiping his eyes with the back of his
scarred hands and moaning like a child for some ten minutes.
"They was cruel enough to feed him up in the temple, because they said he was
more of a God than old Daniel that was a man. Then they turned him out on the
snow, and told him to go home, and Peachey came home in about a year, begging
along the roads quite safe; for Daniel Dravot he walked before and said, 'Come
along, Peachey. It's a big thing we're doing.' The mountains they danced at
night, and the mountains they tried to fall on Peachey's head, but Dan he held
up his hand, and Peachey came along bent double. He never let go of Dan's
hand, and he never let go of Dan's head. They gave it to him as a present in
the temple, to remind him not to come again; and though the crown was pure
gold and Peachey was starving, never would Peachey sell the same. You know
Dravot, Sir! You knew Right Worshipful Brother Dravot! Look at him now!"
He fumbled in the mass of rags round his bent waist; brought out a black
horsehair bag embroidered with silver thread; and shook therefrom on to my
table--the dried, withered head of Daniel Dravot! The morning sun, that had
long been paling the lamps, struck the red beard and blind sunken eyes;
struck, too, a heavy circlet of gold studded with raw turquoises, that
Carnehan placed tenderly on the battered temples.
"You be'old now," said Carnehan, "the Emperor in his 'abit as he lived--the
King of Kafiristan with his crown upon his head. Poor old Daniel that was a
I shuddered, for, in spite of defacements manifold, I recognised the head of
the man of Marwar Junction. Carnehan rose to go. I attempted to stop him. He
was not fit to walk abroad. "Let me take away the whisky, and give me a little
money," he gasped. "I was a King once. I'll go to the Deputy Commissioner and
ask to set in the Poorhouse till I get my health. No, thank you, I can't wait
till you get a carriage for me. I've urgent private affairs--in the south--at
He shambled out of the office and departed in the direction of the Deputy
Commissioner's house. That day at noon I had occasion to go down the blinding-
hot Mall, and I saw a crooked man crawling along the white dust of the
roadside, his hat in his hand, quavering dolorously after the fashion of
street-singers at Home. There was not a soul in sight, and he was out of all
possible earshot of the houses. And he sang through his nose, turning his head
from right to left:
"The Son of Man goes forth to war,
A golden crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar--
Who follows in His train?"
I waited to hear no more, but put the poor wretch into my carriage and drove
him off to the nearest missionary for eventual transfer to the Asylum. He
repeated the hymn twice while he was with me, whom he did not in the least
recognise, and I left him singing it to the missionary.
Two days later I inquired after his welfare of the Superintendent of the
"He was admitted suffering from sunstroke. He died early yesterday morning,"
said the Superintendent. "Is it true that he was half an hour bareheaded in
the sun at midday?"
"Yes," said I; "but do you happen to know if he had anything upon him by any
chance when he died?"
"Not to my knowledge," said the Superintendent.
And there the matter rests.
* * * * * * * *
"THE FINEST STORY IN THE WORLD"
"O' ever the knightly years were gone
With the old world to the grave,
I was a king in Babylon
And you were a Christian slave."
--W. E. Henley.
His name was Charlie Mears; he was the only son of his mother who was a widow,
and he lived in the north of London, coming into the City every day to work in
a bank. He was twenty years old and suffered from aspirations. I met him in a
public billiard-saloon where the marker called him by his given name, and he
called the marker "Bulls-eyes." Charley explained, a little nervously, that he
had only come to the place to look on, and since looking on at games of skill
is not a cheap amusement for the young, I suggested that Charlie should go
back to his mother.
That was our first step toward better acquaintance. He would call on me
sometimes in the evenings instead of running about London with his fellow-
clerks; and before long, speaking of himself as a young man must, he told me
of his aspirations, which were all literary. He desired to make himself an
undying name chiefly through verse, though he was not above sending stories of
love and death to the drop-a-penny-in-the-slot journals. It was my fate to sit
still while Charlie read me poems of many hundred lines, and bulky fragments
of plays that would surely shake the world. My reward was his unreserved
confidence, and the self-revelations and troubles of a young man are almost as
holy as those of a maiden.
Charlie had never fallen in love, but was anxious to do so on the first
opportunity; he believed in all things good and all things honorable, but, at
the same time, was curiously careful to let me see that he knew his way about
the world as befitted a bank clerk on twenty-five shillings a week. He rhymed
"dove" with "love" and "moon" with "June," and devoutly believed that they had
never so been rhymed before. The long lame gaps in his plays he filled up with
hasty words of apology and description and swept on, seeing all that he
intended to do so clearly that he esteemed it already done, and turned to me
I fancy that his mother did not encourage his aspirations, and I know that his
writing-table at home was the edge of his washstand. This he told me almost at
the outset of our acquaintance; when he was ravaging my bookshelves, and a
little before I was implored to speak the truth as to his chances of "writing
something really great, you know." Maybe I encouraged him too much, for, one
night, he called on me, his eyes flaming with excitement, and said
"Do you mind--can you let me stay here and write all this evening? I won't
interrupt you, I won't really. There's no place for me to write in at my
"What's the trouble?" I said, knowing well what that trouble was.
"I've a notion in my head that would make the most splendid story that was
ever written. Do let me write it out here. It's such a notion!"
There was no resisting the appeal. I set him a table; he hardly thanked me,
but plunged into the work at once. For half an hour the pen scratched without
stopping. Then Charlie sighed and tugged his hair. The scratching grew slower,
there were more erasures, and at last ceased. The finest story in the world
would not come forth.
"It looks such awful rot now" he said, mournfully. "And yet it seemed so good
when I was thinking about it. What's wrong?"
I could not dishearten him by saying the truth. So I answered: "Perhaps you
don't feel in the mood for writing."
"Yes I do--except when I look at this stuff. Ugh!"
"Read me what you've done," I said. He read, and it was wondrous bad and he
paused at all the specially turgid sentences, expecting a little approval; for
he was proud of those sentences, as I knew he would be.
"It needs compression," I suggested, cautiously.
"I hate cutting my things down. I don't think you could alter a word here
without spoiling the sense. It reads better aloud than when I was writing it."
"Charlie, you're suffering from an alarming disease afflicting a numerous
class. Put the thing by, and tackle it again in a week."
"I want to do it at once. What do you think of it?"
"How can I judge from a half-written tale? Tell me the story as it lies in
Charlie told, and in the telling there was everything that his ignorance had
so carefully prevented from escaping into the written word. I looked at him,
and wondering whether it were possible, that he did not know the originality,
the power of the notion that had come in his way? It was distinctly a Notion
among notions. Men had been puffed up with pride by notions not a tithe as
excellent and practicable. But Charlie babbled on serenely, interrupting the
current of pure fancy with samples of horrible sentences that he purposed to
use. I heard him out to the end. It would be folly to allow his idea to remain
in his own inept hands, when I could do so much with it. Not all that could be
done indeed; but, oh so much!
"What do you think?" he said, at last. "I fancy I shall call it 'The Story of
"I think the idea's pretty good; but you won't he able to handle it for ever
so long. Now I--"
"Would it be of any use to you? Would you care to take it? I should be proud,"
said Charlie, promptly.
There are few things sweeter in this world than the guileless, hot-headed,
intemperate, open admiration of a junior. Even a woman in her blindest
devotion does not fall into the gait of the man she adores, tilt her bonnet to
the angle at which he wears his hat, or interlard her speech with his pet
oaths. And Charlie did all these things. Still it was necessary to salve my
conscience before I possessed myself of Charlie's thoughts.
"Let's make a bargain. I'll give you a fiver for the notion," I said.
Charlie became a bank-clerk at once.
"Oh, that's impossible. Between two pals, you know, if I may call you so, and
speaking as a man of the world, I couldn't. Take the notion if it's any use to
you. I've heaps more."
He had--none knew this better than I--but they were the notions of other men.
"Look at it as a matter of business--between men of the world," I returned.
"Five pounds will buy you any number of poetry-books. Business is business,
and you may be sure I shouldn't give that price unless--"
"Oh, if you put it that way," said Charlie, visibly moved by the thought of
the books. The bargain was clinched with an agreement that he should at
unstated intervals come to me with all the notions that he possessed, should
have a table of his own to write at, and unquestioned right to inflict upon me
all his poems and fragments of poems. Then I said, "Now tell me how you came
by this idea."
"It came by itself." Charlie's eyes opened a little.
"Yes, but you told me a great deal about the hero that you must have read
"I haven't any time for reading, except when you let me sit here, and on
Sundays I'm on my bicycle or down the river all day. There's nothing wrong
about the hero, is there?"
"Tell me again and I shall understand clearly. You say that your hero went
pirating. How did he live?"
"He was on the lower deck of this ship-thing that I was telling you about."
"What sort of ship?"
"It was the kind rowed with oars, and the sea spurts through the oar-holes and
the men row sitting up to their knees in water. Then there's a bench running
down between the two lines of oars and an overseer with a whip walks up and
down the bench to make the men work."
"How do you know that?"
"It's in the table. There's a rope running overhead, looped to the upper deck,
for the overseer to catch hold of when the ship rolls. When the overseer
misses the rope once and falls among the rowers, remember the hero laughs at
him and gets licked for it. He's chained to his oar of course--the hero."
"How is he chained?"
"With an iron band round his waist fixed to the bench he sits on, and a sort
of handcuff on his left wrist chaining him to the oar. He's on the lower deck
where the worst men are sent, and the only light comes from the hatchways and
through the oar-holes. Can't you imagine the sunlight just squeezing through
between the handle and the hole and wobbling about as the ship moves?"
"I can, but I can't imagine your imagining it."
"How could it be any other way? Now you listen to me. The long oars on the
upper deck are managed by four men to each bench, the lower ones by three, and
the lowest of all by two. Remember it's quite dark on the lowest deck and all
the men there go mad. When a man dies at his oar on that deck he isn't thrown
overboard, but cut up in his chains and stuffed through the oar-hole in little
"Why?" I demanded, amazed, not so much at the information as the tone of
command in which it was flung out.
"To save trouble and to frighten the others. It needs two overseers to drag a
man's body up to the top deck; and if the men at the lower deck oars were left
alone, of course they'd stop rowing and try to pull up the benches by all
standing up together in their chains."
"You've a most provident imagination. Where have you been reading about
galleys and galley-slaves?"
"Nowhere that I remember. I row a little when I get the chance. But, perhaps,
if you say so, I may have read something."
He went away shortly afterward to deal with booksellers, and I wondered how a
bank clerk aged twenty could put into my hands with a profligate abundance of
detail, all given with absolute assurance, the story of extravagant and
bloodthirsty adventure, riot, piracy, and death in unnamed seas. He had led
his hero a desperate dance through revolt against the overseas, to command of
a ship of his own, and ultimate establishment of a kingdom on an island
"somewhere in the sea, you know"; and, delighted with my paltry five pounds,
had gone out to buy the notions of other men, that these might teach him how
to write. I had the consolation of knowing that this notion was mine by right
of purchase, and I thought that I could make something of it.
When next he came to me he was drunk--royally drunk on many poets for the
first time revealed to him. His pupils were dilated, his words tumbled over
each other, and he wrapped himself in quotations. Most of all was he drunk
"Isn't it splendid? Isn't it superb?" he cried, after hasty greetings.
"Listen to this--
"'Wouldst thou,' so the helmsman answered,
'Know the secret of the sea?
Only those who brave its dangers
Comprehend its mystery.'
"'Only those who brave its dangers Comprehend its mystery.'" he repeated
twenty times, walking up and down the room and forgetting me. "But I can
understand it too," he said to himself. "I don't know how to thank you for
that fiver. And this; listen--
"'I remember the black wharves and the ships
And the sea-tides tossing free,
And the Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.'
"I haven't braved any dangers, but I feel as if I knew all about it."
"You certainly seem to have a grip of the sea. Have you ever seen it?"
"When I was a little chap I went to Brighton once; we used to live in
Coventry, though, before we came to London. I never saw it,
"'When descends on the Atlantic The gigantic Storm-wind of the Equinox.'"
He shook me by the shoulder to make me understand the passion that was shaking
"When that storm comes," he continued, "I think that all the oars in the ship
that I was talking about get broken, and the rowers have their chests smashed
in by the bucking oar-heads. By the way, have you done anything with that
notion of mine yet?"
"No. I was waiting to hear more of it from you. Tell me how in the world
you're so certain about the fittings of the ship. You know nothing of ships."
"I don't know. It's as real as anything to me until I try to write it down. I
was thinking about it only last night in bed, after you had loaned me
'Treasure Island'; and I made up a whole lot of new things to go into the
"What sort of things?"
"About the food the men ate; rotten figs and black beans and wine in a skin
bag, passed from bench to bench."
"Was the ship built so long ago as that?"
"As what? I don't know whether it was long ago or not. It's only a notion, but
sometimes it seems just as real as if it was true. Do I bother you with
talking about it?"
"Not in the least. Did you make up anything else?"
"Yes, but it's nonsense." Charlie flushed a little.
"Never mind; let's hear about it."
"Well, I was thinking over the story, and after awhile I got out of bed and
wrote down on a piece of paper the sort of stuff the men might be supposed to
scratch on their oars with the edges of their handcuffs. It seemed to make the
thing more lifelike. It is so real to me, y'know."
"Have you the paper on you?"
"Ye-es, but what's the use of showing it? It's only a lot of scratches. All
the same, we might have 'em reproduced in the book on the front page."
"I'll attend to those details. Show me what your men wrote."
He pulled out of his pocket a sheet of note-paper, with a single line of
scratches upon it, and I put this carefully away.
"What is it supposed to mean in English?" I said.
"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps it means 'I'm beastly tired.' It's great nonsense,"
he repeated, "but all those men in the ship seem as real people to me. Do do
something to the notion soon; I should like to see it written and printed."
"But all you've told me would make a long book."
"Make it then. You've only to sit down and write it out."
"Give me a little time. Have you any more notions?"
"Not just now. I'm reading all the books I've bought. They're splendid."
When he had left I looked at the sheet of note-paper with the inscription upon
it. Then I took my head tenderly between both hands, to make certain that it
was not coming off or turning round.
Then--but there seemed to be no interval between quitting my rooms and finding
myself arguing with a policeman outside a door marked Private in a corridor of
the British Museum. All I demanded, as politely as possible, was "the Greek
antiquity man." The policeman knew nothing except the rules of the Museum, and
it became necessary to forage through all the houses and offices inside the
gates. An elderly gentleman called away from his lunch put an end to my search
by holding the note-paper between finger and thumb and sniffing at it
"What does this mean? H'mm," said he. "So far as I can ascertain it is an
attempt to write extremely corrupt Greek on the part"--here he glared at me
with intention--"of an extremely illiterate--ah--person." He read slowly from
the paper, "Pollock, Erckman, Tauchnitz, Henniker"--four names familiar to me.
"Can you tell me what the corruption is supposed to mean--the gist of the
thing?" I asked.
"'I have been--many times--overcome with weariness in this particular
employment. That is the meaning.'" He returned me the paper, and I fled
without a word of thanks, explanation, or apology.
I might have been excused for forgetting much. To me of all men had been given
the chance to write the most marvelous tale in the world, nothing less than
the story of a Greek galley-slave, as told by himself. Small wonder that his
dreaming had seemed real to Charlie. The Fates that are so careful to shut the
doors of each successive life behind us had, in this case, been neglectful,
and Charlie was looking, though that he did not know, where never man had been
permitted to look with full knowledge since Time began. Above all he was
absolutely ignorant of the knowledge sold to me for five pounds; and he would
retain that ignorance, for bank-clerks do not understand metempsychosis, and a
sound commercial education does not include Greek. He would supply me--here I
capered among the dumb gods of Egypt and laughed in their battered faces--with
material to make my tale sure--so sure that the world would hail it as an
impudent and vamped fiction. And I--I alone would know that it was absolutely
and literally true. I alone held this jewel to my hand for the cutting and
Therefore I danced again among the gods till a policeman saw me and took steps
in my direction.
It remained now only to encourage Charlie to talk, and here there was no
difficulty. But I had forgotten those accursed books of poetry. He came to me
time after time, as useless as a surcharged phonograph--drunk on Byron,
Shelley, or Keats. Knowing now what the boy had been in his past lives, and
desperately anxious not to lose one word of his babble, I could not hide from
him my respect and interest. He misconstrued both into respect for the present
soul of Charlie Mears, to whom life was as new as it was to Adam, and interest
in his readings; and stretched my patience to breaking point by reciting
poetry--not his own now, but that of others. I wished every English poet
blotted out of the memory of mankind. I blasphemed the mightiest names of song
because they had drawn Charlie from the path of direct narrative, and would,
later, spur him to imitate them; but I choked down my impatience until the
first flood of enthusiasm should have spent itself and the boy returned to his
"What's the use of my telling you what I think, when these chaps wrote things
for the angels to read?" he growled, one evening. "Why don't you write
something like theirs?"
"I don't think you're treating me quite fairly," I said, speaking under strong
"I've given you the story," he said, shortly replunging into "Lara."
"But I want the details."
"The things I make up about that damned ship that you call a galley? They're
quite easy. You can just make 'em up yourself. Turn up the gas a little, I
want to go on reading."
I could have broken the gas globe over his head for his amazing stupidity. I
could indeed make up things for myself did I only know what Charlie did not
know that he knew. But since the doors were shut behind me I could only wait
his youthful pleasure and strive to keep him in good temper. One minute's want
of guard might spoil a priceless revelation: now and again he would toss his
books aside--he kept them in my rooms, for his mother would have been shocked
at the waste of good money had she seen them--and launched into his sea
dreams. Again I cursed all the poets of England. The plastic mind of the bank-
clerk had been overlaid, colored and distorted by that which he had read, and
the result as delivered was a confused tangle of other voices most like the
muttered song through a City telephone in the busiest part of the day.
He talked of the galley--his own galley had he but known it--with
illustrations borrowed from the "Bride of Abydos." He pointed the experiences
of his hero with quotations from "The Corsair," and threw in deep and
desperate moral reflections from "Cain" and "Manfred," expecting me to use
them all. Only when the talk turned on Longfellow were the jarring cross-
currents dumb, and I knew that Charlie was speaking the truth as he remembered
"What do you think of this?" I said one evening, as soon as I understood the
medium in which his memory worked best, and, before he could expostulate read
him the whole of "The Saga of King Olaf!"
He listened open-mouthed, flushed his hands drumming on the back of the sofa
where he lay, till I came to the Songs of Emar Tamberskelver and the verse:
"Emar then, the arrow taking
From the loosened string,
Answered: 'That was Norway breaking
'Neath thy hand, O King.'"
He gasped with pure delight of sound.
"That's better than Byron, a little," I ventured.
"Better? Why it's true! How could he have known?"
I went back and repeated:
"'What was that?' said Olaf, standing
On the quarter-deck,
'Something heard I like the stranding
Of a shattered wreck.'"
"How could he have known how the ships crash and the oars rip out and go z-zzp
all along the line? Why only the other night--But go back please and read 'The
Skerry of Shrieks' again."
"No, I'm tired. Let's talk. What happened the other night?"
"I had an awful nightmare about that galley of ours. I dreamed I was drowned
in a fight. You see we ran alongside another ship in harbor. The water was
dead still except where our oars whipped it up. You know where I always sit in
the galley?" He spoke haltingly at first, under a fine English fear of being
"No. That's news to me," I answered, meekly, my heart beginning to beat.
"On the fourth oar from the bow on the right side on the upper deck. There
were four of us at the oar, all chained. I remember watching the water and
trying to get my handcuffs off before the row began. Then we closed up on the
other ship, and all their fighting men jumped over our bulwarks, and my bench
broke and I was pinned down with the three other fellows on top of me, and the
big oar jammed across our backs."
"Well?" Charlie's eyes were alive and alight. He was looking at the wall
behind my chair.
"I don't know how we fought. The men were trampling all over my back, and I
lay low. Then our rowers on the left side--tied to their oars, you know--began
to yell and back water. I could hear the water sizzle, and we spun round like
a cockchafer and I knew, lying where I was, that there was a galley coming up
bow-on, to ram us on the left side. I could just lift up my head and see her
sail over the bulwarks. We wanted to meet her bow to bow, but it was too late.
We could only turn a little bit because the galley on our right had hooked
herself on to us and stopped our moving. Then, by gum! there was a crash! Our
left oars began to break as the other galley, the moving one y'know, stuck her
nose into them. Then the lower-deck oars shot up through the deck-planking,
butt first, and one of them jumped clean up into the air and came down again
close to my head."
"How was that managed?"
"The moving galley's bow was plunking them back through their own oarholes,
and I could hear the devil of a shindy in the decks below. Then her nose
caught us nearly in the middle, and we tilted sideways, and the fellows in the
right-hand galley unhitched their hooks and ropes, and threw things on to our
upper deck--arrows, and hot pitch or something that stung, and we went up and
up and up on the left side, and the right side dipped, and I twisted my head
round and saw the water stand still as it topped the right bulwarks, and then
it curled over and crashed down on the whole lot of us on the right side, and
I felt it hit my back, and I woke."
"One minute, Charlie. When the sea topped the bulwarks, what did it look
like?" I had my reasons for asking. A man of my acquaintance had once gone
down with a leaking ship in a still sea, and had seen the water-level pause
for an instant ere it fell on the deck.
"It looked just like a banjo-string drawn tight, and it seemed to stay there
for years," said Charlie.
Exactly! The other man had said: "It looked like a silver wire laid down along
the bulwarks, and I thought it was never going to break." He had paid
everything except the bare life for this little valueless piece of knowledge,
and I had traveled ten thousand weary miles to meet him and take his knowledge
at second hand. But Charlie, the bank-clerk, on twenty-five shillings a week,
he who had never been out of sight of a London omnibus, knew it all. It was no
consolation to me that once in his lives he had been forced to die for his
gains. I also must have died scores of times, but behind me, because I could
have used my knowledge, the doors were shut.
"And then?" I said, trying to put away the devil of envy.
"The funny thing was, though, in all the mess I didn't feel a bit astonished
or frightened. It seemed as if I'd been in a good many fights, because I told
my next man so when the row began. But that cad of an overseer on my deck
wouldn't unloose our chains and give us a chance. He always said that we'd all
he set free after a battle, but we never were; We never were." Charlie shook
his head mournfully.
"What a scoundrel!"
"I should say he was. He never gave us enough to eat, and sometimes we were so
thirsty that we used to drink salt-water. I can taste that salt-water still.''
"Now tell me something about the harbor where the fight was fought."
"I didn't dream about that. I know it was a harbor, though; because we were
tied up to a ring on a white wall and all the face of the stone under water
was covered with wood to prevent our ram getting chipped when the tide made us
"That's curious. Our hero commanded the galley? Didn't he?"
"Didn't he just! He stood by the bows and shouted like a good 'un. He was the
man who killed the overseer."
"But you were all drowned together, Charlie, weren't you?"
"I can't make that fit quite," he said with a puzzled look. "The galley must
have gone down with all hands and yet I fancy that the hero went on living
afterward. Perhaps he climbed into the attacking ship. I wouldn't see that, of
course. I was dead, you know."
He shivered slightly and protested that he could remember no more.
I did not press him further, but to satisfy myself that he lay in ignorance of
the workings of his own mind, deliberately introduced him to Mortimer
Collins's "Transmigration," and gave him a sketch of the plot before he opened
"What rot it all is!" he said, frankly, at the end of an hour. "I don't
understand his nonsense about the Red Planet Mars and the King, and the rest
of it. Chuck me the Longfellow again."
I handed him the book and wrote out as much as I could remember of his
description of the sea-fight, appealing to him from time to time for
confirmation of fact or detail. He would answer without raising his eyes from
the book, as assuredly as though all his knowledge lay before flint on the
printed page. I spoke under the normal key of my voice that the current might
not be broken, and I know that he was not aware of what he was saying, for his
thoughts were out on the sea with Longfellow.
"Charlie," I asked, "when the rowers on the galleys mutinied how did they kill
"Tore up the benches and brained 'em. That happened when a heavy sea was
running. An overseer on the lower deck slipped from the centre plank and fell
among the rowers. They choked him to death against the side of the ship with
their chained hands quite quietly, and it was too dark for the other overseer
to see what had happened. When he asked, he was pulled down too and choked,
and the lower deck fought their way up deck by deck, with the pieces of the
broken benches banging behind 'em. How they howled!"
"And what happened after that?"
"I don't know. The hero went away--red hair and red beard and all. That was
after he had captured our galley, I think"
The sound of my voice irritated him, and he motioned slightly with his left
hand as a man does when interruption jars.
"You never told me he was redheaded before, or that he captured your galley,"
I said, after a discreet interval.
Charlie did not raise his eyes.
"He was as red as a red bear," said he, abstractedly. "He came from the north;
they said so in the galley when he looked for rowers--not slaves, but free
men. Afterward--years and years afterward--news came from another ship, or
else he came back"--His lips moved in silence. He was rapturously retasting
some poem before him.
"Where had he been, then?" I was almost whispering that the sentence might
come gentle to whichever section of Charlie's brain was working on my behalf.
"To the Beaches--the Long and Wonderful Beaches!" was the reply, after a
minute of silence.
"To Furdurstrandi?" I asked, tingling from head to foot.
"Yes, to Furdurstrandi," he pronounced the word in a new fashion "And I too
saw"--The voice failed.
"Do you know what you have said?" I shouted, incautiously.
He lifted his eyes, fully roused now. "No!" he snapped. "I wish you'd let a
chap go on reading. Hark to this:
"'But Othere, the old sea captain,
He neither paused nor stirred
Till the king listened, and then
Once more took up his pen
And wrote down every word.
"'And to the King of the Saxons
In witness of the truth,
Raising his noble head,
He stretched his brown hand and said,
"Behold this walrus tooth."
"By Jove, what chaps those must have been, to go sailing all over the shop
never knowing where they'd fetch the land! Hah!"
"Charlie," I pleaded, "if you'll only be sensible for a minute or two I'll
make our hero in our tale every inch as good as Othere."
"Umph! Longfellow wrote that poem. I don't care about writing things any
more. I want to read." He was thoroughly out of tune now, and raging over my
own ill-luck, I left him.
Conceive yourself at the door of the world's treasure-house guarded by a
child--an idle irresponsible child playing knuckle-bones--on whose favor
depends the gift of the key, and you will imagine one-half my torment. Till
that evening Charlie had spoken nothing that might not lie within the
experiences of a Greek galley-slave. But now, or there was no virtue in books,
he had talked of some desperate adventure of the Vikings, of Thorfin
Karlsefne's sailing to Wineland, which is America, in the ninth or tenth
century. The battle in the harbor he had seen; and his own death he had
described. But this was a much more startling plunge into the past. Was it
possible that he had skipped half a dozen lives and was then dimly remembering
some episode of a thousand years later? It was a maddening jumble, and the
worst of it was that Charlie Mears in his normal condition was the last person
in the world to clear it up. I could only wait and watch, but I went to bed
that night full of the wildest imaginings. There was nothing that was not
possible if Charlie's detestable memory only held good.
I might rewrite the Saga of Thorfin Karlsefne as it had never been written
before, might tell the story of the first discovery of America, myself the
discoverer. But I was entirely at Charlie's mercy, and so long as there was a
three-and-six-penny Bohn volume within his reach Charlie would not tell. I
dared not curse him openly; I hardly dared jog his memory, for I was dealing
with the experiences of a thousand years ago, told through the mouth of a boy
of today; and a boy of today is affected by every change of tone and gust of
opinion, so that he lies even when he desires to speak the truth.
I saw no more of him for nearly a week. When next I met him it was in
Gracechurch Street with a billbook chained to his waist.
Business took him over London Bridge and I accompanied him. He was very full
of the importance of that book and magnified it.
As we passed over the Thames we paused to look at a steamer unloading great
slabs of white and brown marble. A barge drifted under the steamer's stern and
a lonely cow in that barge bellowed.
Charlie's face changed from the face of the bank-clerk to that of an unknown
and--though he would not have believed this--a much shrewder man. He flung out
his arm across the parapet of the bridge, and laughing very loudly, said:
"When they heard our bulls bellow the Skroelings ran away!"
I waited only for an instant, but the barge and the cow had disappeared under
the bows of the steamer before I answered.
"Charlie, what do you suppose are Skroelings?"
"Never heard of 'em before. They sound like a new kind of seagull. What a chap
you are for asking questions!" he replied. "I have to go to the cashier of the
Omnibus Company yonder. Will you wait for me and we can lunch somewhere
together? I've a notion for a poem."
"No, thanks. I'm off. You're sure you know nothing about Skroelings?"
"Not unless he's been entered for the Liverpool Handicap." He nodded and
disappeared in the crowd.
Now it is written in the Saga of Eric the Red or that of Thorfin Karlsefne,
that nine hundred years ago when Karlsefne's galleys came to Leif's booths,
which Leif had erected in the unknown land called Markland, which may or may
not have been Rhode Island, the Skroelings--and the Lord He knows who these
may or may not have been--came to trade with the Vikings, and ran away because
they were frightened at the bellowing of the cattle which Thorfin had brought
with him in the ships. But what in the world could a Greek slave know of that
affair? I wandered up and down among the streets trying to unravel the
mystery, and the more I considered it, the more baffling it grew. One thing
only seemed certain and that certainty took away my breath for the moment. If
I came to full knowledge of anything at all, it would not be one life of the
soul in Charlie Mears's body, but half a dozen--half a dozen several and
separate existences spent on blue water in the morning of the world!
Then I walked round the situation.
Obviously if I used my knowledge I should stand alone and unapproachable until
all men were as wise as myself. That would be something, but manlike I was
ungrateful. It seemed bitterly unfair that Charlie's memory should fail me
when I needed it most.
Great Powers above--I looked up at them through the fog smoke--did the Lords
of Life and Death know what this meant to me? Nothing less than eternal fame
of the best kind; that comes from One, and is shared by one alone. I would be
content--remembering Clive, I stood astounded at my own moderation,--with the
mere right to tell one story, to work out one little contribution to the light
literature of the day. If Charlie were permitted full recollection for one
hour--for sixty short minutes--of existences that had extended over a thousand
years--I would forego all profit and honor from all that I should make of his
speech. I would take no share in the commotion that would follow throughout
the particular corner of the earth that calls itself "the world." The thing
should be put forth anonymously. Nay, I would make other men believe that they
had written it. They would hire bull-hided self-advertising Englishmen to
bellow it abroad. Preachers would found a fresh conduct of life upon it,
swearing that it was new and that they had lifted the fear of death from all
mankind. Every Orientalist in Europe would patronize it discursively with
Sanskrit and Pali texts. Terrible women would invent unclean variants of the
men's belief for the elevation of their sisters. Churches and religions would
war over it. Between the hailing and re-starting of an omnibus I foresaw the
scuffles that would arise among half a dozen denominations all professing "the
doctrine of the True Metempsychosis as applied to the world and the New Era";
and saw, too, the respectable English newspapers shying, like frightened kine,
over the beautiful simplicity of the tale. The mind leaped forward a hundred--
two hundred--a thousand years. I saw with sorrow that men would mutilate and
garble the story; that rival creeds would turn it upside down till, at last,
the western world which clings to the dread of death more closely than the
hope of life, would set it aside as an interesting superstition and stampede
after some faith so long forgotten that it seemed altogether new. Upon this I
changed the terms of the bargain that I would make with the Lords of Life and
Death. Only let me know, let me write, the story with sure knowledge that I
wrote the truth, and I would burn the manuscript as a solemn sacrifice. Five
minutes after the last line was written I would destroy it all. But I must be
allowed to write it with absolute certainty.
There was no answer. The flaming colors of an Aquarium poster caught my eye
and I wondered whether it would be wise or prudent to lure Charlie into the
hands of the professional mesmerist, and whether, if he were under his power,
he would speak of his past lives. If he did, and if people believed him--but
Charlie would be frightened and flustered, or made conceited by the
interviews. In either case he would begin to lie, through fear or vanity. He
was safest in my own hands.
"They are very funny fools, your English," said a voice at my elbow, and
turning round I recognized a casual acquaintance, a young Bengali law student,
called Grish Chunder, whose father had sent him to England to become
civilized. The old man was a retired native official, and on an income of five
pounds a month contrived to allow his son two hundred pounds a year, and the
run of his teeth in a city where he could pretend to be the cadet of a royal
house, and tell stories of the brutal Indian bureaucrats who ground the faces
of the poor.
Grish Chunder was a young, fat, full-bodied Bengali dressed with scrupulous
care in frock coat, tall hat, light trousers and tan gloves. But I had known
him in the days when the brutal Indian Government paid for his university
education, and he contributed cheap sedition to Sachi Durpan, and intrigued
with the wives of his schoolmates.
"That is very funny and very foolish," he said, nodding at the poster. "I am
going down to the Northbrook Club. Will you come too?"
I walked with him for some time. "You are not well," he said. "What is there
in your mind? You do not talk."
"Grish Chunder, you've been too well educated to believe in a God, haven't
"Oah, yes, here! But when I go home I must conciliate popular superstition,
and make ceremonies of purification, and my women will anoint idols."
"And bang up tulsi and feast the purohit, and take you back into caste again
and make a good khuttri of you again, you advanced social Free-thinker. And
you'll eat desi food, and like it all, from the smell in the courtyard to the
mustard oil over you."
"I shall very much like it," said Grish Chunder, unguardedly. "Once a Hindu--
always a Hindu. But I like to know what the English think they know."
"I'll tell you something that one Englishman knows. It's an old tale to you."
I began to tell the story of Charlie in English, but Grish Chunder put a
question in the vernacular, and the history went forward naturally in the
tongue best suited for its telling. After all it could never have been told in
English. Grish Chunder heard me, nodding from time to time, and then came up
to my rooms where I finished the tale.
"Beshak," he said, philosophically. "Lekin darwaza band hai. (Without doubt,
but the door is shut.) I have heard of this remembering of previous existences
among my people. It is of course an old tale with us, but, to happen to an
Englishman--a cow-fed Malechk--an outcast. By Jove, that is most peculiar!"
"Outcast yourself, Grish Chunder! You eat cow-beef every day. Let's think the
thing over. The boy remembers his incarnations."
"Does he know that?" said Grish Chunder, quietly, swinging his legs as he sat
on my table. He was speaking in English now.
"He does not know anything. Would I speak to you if he did? Go on!"
"There is no going on at all. If you tell that to your friends they will say
you are mad and put it in the papers. Suppose, now, you prosecute for libel."
"Let's leave that out of the question entirely. Is there any chance of his
being made to speak?"
"There is a chance. Oah, yess! But if he spoke it would mean that all this
world would end now--instanto--fall down on your head. These things are not
allowed, you know. As I said, the door is shut."
"Not a ghost of a chance?"
"How can there be? You are a Christian, and it is forbidden to eat, in your
books, of the Tree of Life, or else you would never die. How shall you all
fear death if you all know what your friend does not know that he knows? I am
afraid to be kicked, but I am not afraid to die, because I know what I know.
You are not afraid to be kicked, but you are afraid to die. If you were not,
by God! you English would be all over the shop in an hour, upsetting the
balances of power, and making commotions. It would not be good. But no fear.
He will remember a little and a little less, and he will call it dreams. Then
he will forget altogether. When I passed my First Arts Examination in Calcutta
that was all in the cram-book on Wordsworth. Trailing clouds of glory, you
"This seems to be an exception to the rule."
"There are no exceptions to rules. Some are not so hard-looking as others, but
they are all the same when you touch. If this friend of yours said so-and-so
and so-and-so, indicating that he remembered all his lost lives, or one piece
of a lost life, he would not be in the bank another hour. He would be what you
called sack because he was mad, and they would send him to an asylum for
lunatics. You can see that, my friend."
"Of course I can, but I wasn't thinking of him. His name need never appear in
"Ah! I see. That story will never be written. You can try."
"I am going to."
"For your own credit and for the sake of money, of course?"
"No. For the sake of writing the story. On my honor that will be all."
"Even then there is no chance. You cannot play with the Gods. It is a very
pretty story now. As they say, Let it go on that--I mean at that. Be quick;
he will not last long."
"How do you mean?"
"What I say. He has never, so far, thought about a woman."
"Hasn't he though!" I remembered some of Charlie's confidences.
"I mean no woman has thought about him. When that comes; bushogya--all up' I
know. There are millions of women here. Housemaids, for instance."
I winced at the thought of my story being ruined by a housemaid.
And yet nothing was more probable.
Grish Chunder grinned.
"Yes--also pretty girls--cousins of his house, and perhaps not of his house.
One kiss that he gives back again and remembers will cure all this nonsense.
"Or else what? Remember he does not know that he knows."
"I know that. Or else, if nothing happens he will become immersed in the trade
and the financial speculations like the rest. It must be so. You can see that
it must be so. But the woman will come first, I think."
There was a rap at the door, and Charlie charged in impetuously. He had been
released from office, and by the look in his eyes I could see that he had come
over for a long talk; most probably with poems in his pockets. Charlie's poems
were very wearying, but sometimes they led him to talk about the galley.
Grish Chunder looked at him keenly for a minute.
"I beg your pardon," Charlie said, uneasily; "I didn't know you had any one
"I am going," said Grish Chunder.
He drew me into the lobby as he departed.
"That is your man," he said, quickly. "I tell you he will never speak all you
wish. That is rot--bosh. But he would be most good to make to see things.
Suppose now we pretend that it was only play"--I had never seen Grish Chunder
so excited--"and pour the ink-pool into his hand. Eh, what do you think? I
tell you that he could see anything that a man could see. Let me get the ink
and the camphor. He is a seer and he will tell us very many things."
"He may be all you say, but I'm not going to trust him to your Gods and
"It will not hurt him. He will only feel a little stupid and dull when he
wakes up. You have seen boys look into the ink-pool before."
"That is the reason why I am not going to see it any more. You'd better go,
He went, declaring far down the staircase that it was throwing away my only
chance of looking into the future.
This left me unmoved, for I was concerned for the past, and no peering of
hypnotized boys into mirrors and ink-pools would help me do that. But I
recognized Grish Chunder's point of view and sympathized with it.
"What a big black brute that was!" said Charlie, when I returned to him.
"Well, look here, I've just done a poem; dil it instead of playing dominoes
after lunch. May I read it?"
"Let me read it to myself."
"Then you miss the proper expression. Besides, you always make my things sound
as if the rhymes were all wrong."
"Read it aloud, then. You're like the rest of 'em."
Charlie mouthed me his poem, and it was not much worse than the average of his
verses. He had been reading his book faithfully, but he was not pleased when I
told him that I preferred my Longfellow undiluted with Charlie.
Then we began to go through the MS. line by line; Charlie parrying every
objection and correction with: "Yes, that may be better, but you don't catch
what I'm driving at."
Charlie was, in one way at least, very like one kind of poet.
There was a pencil scrawl at the back of the paper and "What's that?" I said.
"Oh that's not poetry 't all. It's some rot I wrote last night before I went
to bed and it was too much bother to hunt for rhymes; so I made it a sort of a
blank verse instead."
Here is Charlie's "blank verse":
"We pulled for you when the wind was against us and the sails were low.
"Will you never let us go?
"We ate bread and onions when you took towns or ran aboard quickly when you
were beaten back by the foe,
"The captains walked up and down the deck in fair weather singing songs, but
we were below,
"We fainted with our chins on the oars and you did not see that we were idle
for we still swung to and fro.
"Will you never let us go?
"The salt made the oar handles like sharkskin; our knees were cut to the bone
with salt cracks; our hair was stuck to our foreheads; and our lips were cut
to our gums and you whipped us because we could not row.
"Will you never let us go?
"But in a little time we shall run out of the portholes as the water runs
along the oarblade, and though you tell the others to row after us you will
never catch us till you catch the oar-thresh and tie up the winds in the belly
of the sail. Aho!
"Will you never let us go?"
"H'm. What's oar-thresh, Charlie?"
"The water washed up by the oars. That's the sort of song they might sing in
the galley, y'know. Aren't you ever going to finish that story and give me
some of the profits?"
"It depends on yourself. If you had only told me more about your hero in the
first instance it might have been finished by now. You're so hazy in your
"I only want to give you the general notion of it--the knocking about from
place to place and the fighting and all that. Can't you fill in the rest
yourself? Make the hero save a girl on a pirate-galley and marry her or do
"You're a really helpful collaborator. I suppose the hero went through some
few adventures before he married."
"Well then, make him a very artful card--a low sort of man--a sort of
political man who went about making treaties and breaking them--a black-haired
chap who hid behind the mast when the fighting began."
"But you said the other day that he was red-haired."
"I couldn't have. Make him black-haired of course. You've no imagination."
Seeing that I had just discovered the entire principles upon which the half-
memory falsely called imagination is based, I felt entitled to laugh, but
forbore, for the sake of the tale.
"You're right. You're the man with imagination. A black-haired chap in a
decked ship," I said.
"No, an open ship--like a big boat."
This was maddening.
"Your ship has been built and designed, closed and decked in; you said so
yourself," I protested.
"No, no, not that ship. That was open, or half decked because--By Jove you're
right. You made me think of the hero as a red-haired chap. Of course if he
were red, the ship would be an open one with painted sails."
Surely, I thought he would remember now that he had served in two galleys at
least--in a three-decked Greek one under the black-haired "political man," and
again in a Viking's open sea-serpent under the man "red as a red bear" who
went to Markland. The devil prompted me to speak.
"Why, 'of course,' Charlie?" said I. "I don't know. Are you making fun of me?"
The current was broken for the time being. I took up a notebook and pretended
to make many entries in it.
"It's a pleasure to work with an imaginative chap like yourself," I said after
a pause. "The way that you've brought out the character of the hero is simply
"Do you think so?" he answered, with a pleased flush. "I often tell myself
that there's more in me than my--than people think."
"There's an enormous amount in you."
"Then, won't you let me send an essay on The Ways of Bank Clerks to Tit-Bits,
and get the guinea prize?"
"That wasn't exactly what I meant, old fellow: perhaps it would be better to
wait a little and go ahead with the galley-story."
"Ah, but I sha'n't get the credit of that. Tit-Bits would publish my name and
address if I win. What are you grinning at? They would."
"I know it. Suppose you go for a walk. I want to look through my notes about
Now this reprehensible youth who left me, a little hurt and put back, might
for aught he or I knew have been one of the crew of the Argo--had been
certainly slave or comrade to Thorfin Karlsefne. Therefore he was deeply
interested in guinea competitions. Remembering what Grish Chunder had said I
laughed aloud. The Lords of Life and Death would never allow Charlie Mears to
speak with full knowledge of his pasts, and I must even piece out what he had
told me with my own poor inventions while Charlie wrote of the ways of bank-
I got together and placed on one file all my notes; and the net result was not
cheering. I read them a second time. There was nothing that might not have
been compiled at second-hand from other people's books--except, perhaps, the
story of the fight in the harbor. The adventures of a Viking bad been written
many times before; the history of a Greek galley-slave was no new thing, and
though I wrote both, who could challenge or confirm the accuracy of my
details? I might as well tell a tale of two thousand years hence. The Lords of
Life and Death were as cunning as Grish Chunder had hinted. They would allow
nothing to escape that might trouble or make easy the minds of men. Though I
was convinced of this, yet I could not leave the tale alone. Exaltation
followed reaction, not once, but twenty times in the next few weeks. My moods
varied with the March sunlight and flying clouds. By night or in the beauty of
a spring morning I perceived that I could write that tale and shift continents
thereby. In the wet, windy afternoons, I saw that the tale might indeed be
written, but would be nothing more than a faked, false-varnished, sham-rusted
piece of Wardour Street work at the end. Then I blessed Charlie in many ways--
though it was no fault of his. He seemed to be busy with prize competitions,
and I saw less and less of him as the weeks went by and the earth cracked and
grew ripe to spring, and the buds swelled in their sheaths. He did not care to
read or talk of what he had read, and there was a new ring of self-assertion
in his voice. I hardly cared to remind him of the galley when we met; but
Charlie alluded to it on every occasion, always as a story from which money
was to be made.
"I think I deserve twenty-five per cent., don't I, at least," be said, with
beautiful frankness. "I supplied all the ideas, didn't I?"
This greediness for silver was a new side in his nature. I assumed that it had
been developed in the City, where Charlie was picking up the curious nasal
drawl of the underbred City man.
"When the thing's done we'll talk about it. I can't make anything of it at
present. Red-haired or black-haired hero are equally difficult."
He was sitting by the fire staring at the red coals. "I can't understand what
you find so difficult. It's all as clean as mud to me," he replied. A jet of
gas puffed out between the bars, took light and whistled softly. "Suppose we
take the red-haired hero's adventures first, from the time that he came south
to my galley and captured it and sailed to the Beaches."
I knew better now than to interrupt Charlie. I was out of reach of pen and
paper, and dared not move to get them lest I should break the current. The
gas-jet puffed and whinnied, Charlie's voice dropped almost to a whisper, and
he told a tale of the sailing of an open galley to Furdurstrandi, of sunsets
on the open sea, seen under the curve of the one sail evening after evening
when the galley's beak was notched into the centre of the sinking disc, and
"we sailed by that for we had no other guide," quoth Charlie. He spoke of a
landing on an island and explorations in its woods, where the crew killed
three men whom they found asleep under the pines. Their ghosts, Charlie said,
followed the galley, swimming and choking in the water, and the crew cast lots
and threw one of their number overboard as a sacrifice to the strange gods
whom they had offended. Then they ate sea-weed when their provisions failed,
and their legs swelled, and their leader, the red-haired man, killed two
rowers who mutinied, and after a year spent among the woods they set sail for
their own country, and a wind that never failed carried them back so safely
that they all slept at night. This and much more Charlie told. Sometimes the
voice fell so low that I could not catch the words, though every nerve was on
the strain. He spoke of their leader, the red-haired man, as a pagan speaks of
his God; for it was he who cheered them and slew them impartially as he
thought best for their needs; and it was he who steered them for three days
among floating ice, each floe crowded with strange beasts that "tried to sail
with us," said Charlie, "and we beat them back with the handles of the oars."
The gas-jet went out, a burned coal gave way, and the fire settled down with a
tiny crash to the bottom of the grate. Charlie ceased speaking, and I said no