Driftwood Spars by Percival Christopher Wren

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  • 1915
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Produced by Ted Garvin and PG Distributed Proofreaders






“Like driftwood spars which meet and pass Upon the boundless ocean-plain,
So on the sea of life, alas!
Man nears man, meets, and leaves again”



NOTE.–This book was written in the year 1912


I. THE MAN (Mainly concerning the early life of John, Robin Ross-Ellison.)

II. THE BOY (Mainly concerning the life of Moussa Isa Somali.)

III. THE WOMAN (And Augustus Grabble; General Murger; Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith; Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Gosling-Green; Mr. Horace Faggit; as well as a reformed JOHN ROBIN ROSS-ELLISON.)




(Mainly concerning the early life of John Robin Ross-Ellison.)

Truth is stranger than fiction, and many of the coincidences of real life are truly stranger than the most daring imaginings of the fictionist.

Now, I, Major Michael Malet-Marsac, happened at the moment to be thinking of my dear and deeply lamented friend John Ross-Ellison, and to be pondering, for the thousandth time, his extraordinary life and more extraordinary death. Nor had I the very faintest notion that the Subedar-Major had ever heard of such a person, much less that he was actually his own brother, or, to be exact, his half-brother. You see I had known Ross-Ellison intimately as one only can know the man with whom one has worked, soldiered, suffered, and faced death. Not only had I known, admired and respected him–I had loved him. There is no other word for it; I loved him as a brother loves a brother, as a son loves his father, as the fighting-man loves the born leader of fighting-men: I loved him as Jonathan loved David. Indeed it was actually a case of “passing the love of women” for although he killed Cleopatra Dearman, the only woman for whom I ever cared, I fear I have forgiven him and almost forgotten her.

But to return to the Subedar-Major. “Peace, fool! Art blind as Ibrahim Mahmud the Weeper,” growled that burly Native Officer as the zealous and over-anxious young sentry cried out and pointed to where, in the moonlight, the returning reconnoitring-patrol was to be seen as it emerged from the lye-bushes of the dry river-bed.

A recumbent comrade of the outpost sentry group sniggered.

My own sympathies were decidedly with the sentry, for I had fever, and “fever is another man”. In any case, hours of peering, watching, imagining and waiting, for the attack that will surely come–and never comes–try even experienced nerves.

“And who was Ibrahim the Weeper, Subedar-Major Saheb?” I inquired of the redoubtable warrior as he joined me.

“He was my brother’s enemy, Sahib,” replied Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan, principal Native Officer of the 99th Baluch Light Infantry and member of the ruling family of Mekran Kot in far Kubristan.

“And what made him so blind as to be for a proverb unto you?”

“Just some little drops of water, Sahib, nothing more,” replied the big man with a smile that lifted the curling moustache and showed the dazzling perfect teeth.

It was bitter, bitter cold–cold as it only can be in hot countries (I have never felt the cold in Russia as I have in India) and the khaki flannel shirt, khaki tunic, shorts and putties that had seemed so hot in the cruel heat of the day as we made our painful way across the valley, seemed miserably inadequate at night, on the windy hill-top. Moreover I was in the cold stage of a go of fever, and to have escaped sunstroke in the natural oven of that awful valley at mid-day seemed but the prelude to being frost-bitten on the mountain at midnight. Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan appeared wholly unaffected by the 100 deg. variation in temperature, but then he had a few odd stone of comfortable fat and was bred to such climatic trifles. He, moreover, knew not fever, and, unlike me, had not experienced dysentery, malaria, enteric and pneumonia fairly recently.

“And had the hand of your brother anything to do with the little drops of water that made Ibrahim the Weeper so blind?” I asked.

“Something, Sahib,” replied Mir Daoud Khan with a laugh, “but the hand of Allah had more than that of my brother. It is a strange story. True stories are sometimes far stranger than those of the bazaar tale-tellers whose trade it is to invent or remember wondrous tales and stories, myths, and legends.”

“We have a proverb to that effect, Mir Saheb. Let us sit in the shelter of this rock and you shall tell me the story. Our eyes can work while tongue and ear play–or would you sleep?”

“_Nahin_, Sahib! Am I a Sahib that I should regard night as the time wholly sacred to sleep and day as the time when to sleep is sin? I will tell the Sahib the tale of the Blindness of Ibrahim Mahmud the Weeper, well knowing that he, a truth-speaker, will believe the truth spoken by his servant. To no liar would it seem possible.

“Know then, Sahib, that this brother of mine was not my mother’s son, though the son of my father (Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan Mir Faquir Mahommed Afzul Khan), who was the youngest son of His Highness the Jam Saheb of Mekran Kot in Kubristan. And he, my father, was a great traveller, a restless wanderer, and crossed the Black Water many times. To Englistan he went, and without crossing water he also went to the capital of the Amir of Russia to say certain things, quietly, from the King of Islam, the Amir of Afghanistan. To where the big Waler horses come from he also went, and to where they take the camels for use in the hot and sandy northern parts.”

“Yes, Australia” I remarked.

“Without doubt, if the Sahib be pleased to say it. And there, having taken many camels in a ship that he might sell them at a profit, he wedded a white woman–a woman of the race of the Highland soldiers of Englistan, such as are in this very Brigade.”

“Married a Scotchwoman?”

“Without doubt. Of a low caste–her father being a drunkard and landless (though grandson of a Lord Sahib), living by horses and camels menially, out-casted, a jail-bird. Formerly he had carried the mail through the desert, a fine rider and brave man, but _sharab_[1] had loosened the thigh in the saddle and palsied hand and eye. On hearing this news, the Jam Saheb was exceeding wroth, for he had planned a good marriage for his son, and he arranged that the woman should die if my father, on whom be Peace, brought her to Mekran Kot. ‘Tis but desert and mountain, Sahib, with a few big _jagirs_[2] and some villages, a good fort, a crumbling tower, and a town on the Caravan Road–but the Jam Saheb’s words are clearly heard and for many miles.

[1] Wine.
[2] Estates.

“Our father, however, was not so foolish as to bring the woman to his home, for he knew that Pathan horse-dealers, camel-men, and traders would have taken the truth, and more than the truth, concerning the woman’s social position to the gossips of Mekran Kot. And, apart from the fact that her father was a drunkard, landless, a jail-bird, out-casted by his caste-fellows, no father loves to see his son marry with a woman of another community, nor with any woman but her with whose father he has made his arrangements.

“So my father, bringing the fair woman, his wife, by ship to Karachi, travelled by the _relwey terain_ to Kot Ghazi and left her there in India, where she would be safe. There he left her with her _butcha_,[3] my half-brother, and journeyed toward the setting sun to look upon the face of his father the Jam Saheb. And the Jam Saheb long turned his face from him and would not look upon him nor give him his blessing–and only relented when my father took to himself another wife, my mother, the lady of noble birth whom the Jam Saheb had desired for him–and sojourned for a season at Mekran Kot. But after I was born of this union (I am of pure and noble descent) his heart wearied, being with the fair woman at Kot Ghazi, for whom he yearned, and with her son, his own son, yet so white of skin, so blue of eye, the fairest child who ever had a Pathan father. Yea, my brother was even fairer than I, who, as the Huzoor knoweth, have grey eyes, and hair and beard that are not darkly brown.

[3] Baby.

“So my father began to make journeys to Kot Ghazi to visit the woman his first wife, and the boy his first-born. And she, who loved him much, and whom he loved, prevailed upon him to name my brother after _her_ father as well as after himself, the child’s father (as is our custom) and so my brother was rightly called Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan.”

“And what part of that is the name of his mother’s father?” I asked, for the Subedar-Major’s rapid utterance of the name conveyed nothing of familiar English or Scottish names to my mind.

“Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan,” replied Mir Daoud Khan; “that was her father’s name, Sahib.”

“Say it again, slowly.”

“Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan.”

“I have it! Yes, but _what_?–John Robin Ross-Ellison? Good God! But _I_ knew a John Robin Ross-Ellison when _I_ was a Captain. He was Colonel of the Corps of which I was Adjutant, in fact–the Gungapur Volunteer Rifles…. By Jove! That explains a lot. _John Robin Ross-Ellison_!”

I was too incredulous to be astounded. It _could_ not be.

“_Han_[4] Sahib, _be shak_![5] Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan was his name. And his mother called him Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan and his father, Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan, called him Ilderim Dost Mahommed.”

[4] Yes.
[5] Without doubt.

“H’m! A Scotch Pathan, brought up by an Australian girl in India, would be a rare bird–and of rare possibilities naturally,” I murmured, while my mind worked quickly backward.

“My brother was unlike us in some things, Sahib. He was fond of the _sharab_ called ‘_Whisky_’ and of dogs; he drank smoke from the cheroot after the fashion of the Sahib-log and not from the hookah nor the _bidi_;[6] he wore boots; he struck with the clenched fist when angered; and never did he squat down upon his heels nor sit cross-legged upon the ground. Yet he was true Pathan in many ways during his life, and he died as a Pathan should, concerning his honour (and a woman). Yea–and in his last fight, ere he was hanged, he killed more men with his long Khyber knife, single-handed against a mob, than ever did lone man before with cold steel in fair fight.”

[6] Native cigarette.

Then it was so. And the Subedar-Major was John Robin Ross-Ellison’s brother!

“He may have been foolishly kind to women, servants and dogs, and of a foolish type of honour that taketh not every possible advantage of the foe–but he was very brave, Huzoor, a strong enemy, and when he began he made an end, and if that same honour were affronted he killed his man. And yet he did not kill Ibrahim Mahmud the Weeper, who surely earned his death twice, and who tried to kill him in a manner most terrible to think of. No, he did not–but it shall be told…. And the white woman prevailed upon our father to make her man-child a Sahib and to let him go to the _maktab_[7] and _madressah-tul-Islam_[8] at Kot Ghazi, to learn the clerkly lore that gives no grip to the hand on the sword-hilt and lance-shaft nor to the thighs in the saddle, no skill to the fingers on the reins, no length of sight to the eye, no steadiness to the rifle and the lance, no understanding of the world and men and things. But our father corrected all this, that the learning might do him no harm, for oft-times he brought him to Mekran Kot (where my mother tried to poison him), and he took him across the Black Water and to Kabul and Calcutta and showed him the world. Also he taught him all he knew of the horse, the rifle, the sword, and the lance–which was no small matter. Thus, much of the time wasted at school was harmless, and what the boy lost through the folly of his mother was redeemed by the wisdom of his father. Truly are our mothers our best friends and worst enemies. Why, when I was but a child my mother gave me money and bade me go prove–but I digress. Well, thus my brother grew up not ignorant of the things a man should know if he is to be a man and not a _babu_, but the woman, his mother, wept sore whenever he was taken from her, and gave my father trouble and annoyance as women ever do. And when, at last, she begged that the boy might enter the service of the Sirkar as a wielder of the pen in an office in Kot Ghazi, and strive to become a leading _munshi_[9] and then a Deputy-Saheb, a _babu_ in very fact, my father was wroth, and said the boy would be a warrior–yea, though he had to die in his first skirmish and ere his beard were grown. Then the woman wept and wearied my father until it seemed better to him that she should die and, being at peace, bring peace. No quiet would he have at Mekran Kot from my mother and his father, the Jam Saheb, while the woman lived, nor would she herself allow him quiet at Kot Ghazi. And was she not growing old and skinny moreover? And so he sent my brother to Mekran Kot–and the woman died, without scandal. So my brother dwelt thenceforward in Mekran Kot, knowing many things, for he had passed a great _imtahan_[10] at Bombay and won a _sertifcut_[11] thereby, whereof the Jam Saheb was very pleased, for the son of the Vizier had also gone to a _madresseh_ and won a _sertifcut_, and it was time the pride of the Vizier and his son were abated.

[7] School.
[8] Mohammedan High School.
[9] Clerk.
[10] Examination.
[11] Certificate.

“Now the son of the Vizier, Mahmud Shahbaz, was Ibrahim–and a mean mangy pariah cur this Ibrahim Mahmud was, having been educated, and he hated my brother bitterly by reason of the _sertifcut_ and on account of a matter concerning a dancing-girl, one of those beautiful fat Mekranis, and, by reason of his hatred and envy and jealousy, my mother made common cause with him, she also desiring my brother’s death, in that her husband loved this child of another woman, an alien, his first love, better than he loved hers. But _I_ bore him no ill-will, Huzoor. I loved him and admired his deeds.

“Many attempts they made, but though my mother was clever and Ibrahim Mahmud and his father the Vizier were unscrupulous, my brother was in the protection of the Prophet. Moreover he was much away from Mekran Kot, being, like our father, a great traveller and soon irked by whatever place he might be in. And, one time, he returned home, having been to Germany on secret service (a thing he often did before he became a Sahib) and to France and Africa on a little matter of rifles for Afghanistan and the Border, and spoke to us of that very Somaliland to which this very _pultan_, the 99th Baluch Light Infantry, went in 1908 (was it?), and how the English were losing prestige there and would have to send troops or receive _boondah_[12] and the blackened face from him they called the Mad Mullah. And yet another time he returned from India bringing a Somali boy, a black-faced youth, but a good Mussulman, whom, some time before, he had known and saved from death in Africa, and now had most strangely encountered again. And this Somali lad–who was not a _hubshi_, a Woolly One, not a Sidi[13] slave–saved my brother’s life in his turn. I said he was not a slave–but in a sense he was, for he asked nothing better than to sit in the shadow of my brother throughout his life; for he loved my brother as the Huzoors’ dogs love their masters, yea–he would rather have had blows from my brother than gold from another. He it was who saved Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan from the terrible death prepared for him by Ibrahim Mahmud. It was during this visit to Mekran Kot that Mahmud Shahbaz, the Vizier, announced that he was about to send his learned son, the dog Ibrahim, to Englistan to become English-made first-class Pleader–what they called–‘_Barishtar-at-Lar_’ is it not, Sahib?”

[12] An insulting and contemptuous gesture. [13] A class of negroes, much employed as sailors and boatmen, and called Seedeeboys.

“That’s it, Mir Saheb,” replied I, sitting alert with chattering teeth and shivering ague-stricken body. “Barrister-at Law…. Sit as close to me as you can, for warmth…. Hark! Is that a signal?” as a long high wavering note rose from the dry river-bed before us and wailed lugubriously upon the night, rising and falling in mournful cadence.

“‘Twas a genuine jackal-cry, Huzoor. One can always tell the imitation if jackals have sung one’s lullaby from birth–though most Pathans can deceive white ears in the matter…. Well, this made things no pleasanter, for Ibrahim crowed like the dung-hill cock he was, and boasted loudly. Also my mother urged him to do a deed ere he left Mekran Kot for so long a sojourn in Belait.[14] And to her incitements and his own inclination and desires was added that which made revenge and my brother’s death the chiefest things in all the world to Ibrahim Mahmud, and it happened thus…. But do I weary the Sahib with my babble?”

[14] Europe.

“Nay–nay–far from it, Mir Saheb,” replied I. “The sentry of talk challenges the approaching skirmishers of sleep. The thong of narrative drives off the dogs of tedium. Tell on.” And in point of fact I was now too credulous to be anything but astounded…. _John Robin Ross-Ellison_!

“Well, one day, my brother and I went forth to shoot sand-grouse, tuloor,[15] chikor,[16] chinkara[17] and perchance ibex, leaving behind this black body-servant Moussa Isa, the Somali boy, because he was sick. And it was supposed that we should not return for a week at the least. But on the third day we returned, my brother’s eyes being inflamed and sore and he fearing blindness if he remained out in the desert glare. This is a common thing, as the Sahib knoweth, when dust and sun combine against the eyes of those who have read over-many books and written over-much with the steel pen upon white paper, and my brother was somewhat prone to this trouble in the desert if he exhausted himself with excessive _shikar_ and–other matters. And this angered him greatly. Yet it was all ordained by Allah for the undoing of that unclean dog Ibrahim Mahmud–for, returning and riding on his white camel (a far-famed pacer of speed and endurance) under the great gateway of the Jam’s fort–high enough for a camel-rider to pass unstooping and long enough for a _relwey_-tunnel–he came upon Mahmud Ibrahim and his friends and followers (for he had many such, who thought he might succeed his father as Vizier) doing a thing that enraged my brother very greatly. Swinging at the end of a cord tied to his hands, which were bound behind his back, was the boy Moussa Isa the Somali, apparently dead, for his eyes were closed and he gave no sign of pain as Ibrahim’s gang of pimps, panders, bullies and _budmashes_[18] kept him swinging to and fro by blows of _lathis_[19] and by kicks, while Ibrahim and his friends, at a short distance, strove to hit the moving body with stones. I suppose the agony of hanging forward from the arms, and the blows of staff and stone, had stunned the lad–who had offended Ibrahim, it appeared, by preventing him from entering my brother’s house–probably to poison his water-_lotah_[20] and _gurrah_[21]–at the door of which he, Moussa Isa, lay sick. My brother, Mir Jan, sprang from his camel without waiting for the driver to make it kneel, and going up to Ibrahim, he struck him with his closed, but empty, hand. Not with the slap that stings and angers, he struck him, but with the thud that stuns and injures, upon the mouth, removing certain of his teeth,–such being his anger and his strength. Rising from the ground and plucking forth his knife, Ibrahim sprang at my brother who, unarmed, straightway smote him senseless, and that is talked of in Mekran Kot to this day. Yea–senseless. Placing the thumb upon the knuckles of the clenched fingers, he smote at the chin of Ibrahim, and laid him, as one dead, upon the earth. Straight to the front from the shoulder and not downwards nor swinging sideways he struck, and it was as though Ibrahim had been shot. The Sahib being English will believe this, but many Baluchis and Pathans do not. They cannot believe it, though to me Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan of the 99th Baluch Light Infantry of the Army of the King Emperor of India, they pretend that they do, when I tell of that great deed…. Then my brother loosed Moussa Isa with his own hand, saying that even as he had served Ibrahim Mahmud so would he serve any man who injured a hair of the head of his body-servant. And Moussa Isa clave to my brother yet the more, and when a great Sidi slave entered the room of my brother by night, doubtless hired by Ibrahim Mahmud to slay him, Moussa Isa, grappling with him, tore out his throat with his teeth, though stabbed many times by the Sidi, ere my brother could light torch or wick to tell friend from foe. Whether he were thief or hired murderer, none could say–least of all the Sidi when Moussa Isa, at my brother’s bidding, loosed his teeth from the man’s throat. But all men held that it was the work of Ibrahim, for, on recovering his senses that day of the blow, he had walked up to my brother Mir Jan and said:–

[15] Bustard.
[16] A kind of partridge.
[17] Gazelle.
[18] Bad characters.
[19] Long staves.
[20] Brass cup or vase.
[21] Basin or pot.

“‘For that blow will I have a great revenge, O Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan, descendant of Mirs and of _mlecca_ dogs, this year or next year, or ten years hence, or when thou art old, or upon thy first-born. By the sacred names of God, by the Beard of the Prophet, by the hilt and blade of this my knife, and by the life of my oldest son, I swear to have a vengeance on thee that shall turn men pale as they whisper it. _And may Allah smite me blind_ if I do not unto thee a thing of which children yet unborn shall speak with awe.’

“Thus spake Ibrahim, son of Mahmud, for though a dog, a mangy pariah cur, he was still a Pathan.

“But my brother laughed in his face and said but ‘It would seem that I too have tortured a slave’ whereat Ibrahim repeated again ‘Yea–_may Allah smite me blind!_’

“And something of this coming to the ears of our father, now heir to the Jam of Mekran Kot, as his brothers were dead (in the big Border War they died), he prayed the Jam Saheb to hasten the departure of the Vizier’s cub, and also told the Vizier that he would surely cut out his tongue if aught befell Mir Jan. So the Vizier sent Ibrahim to Kot Ghazi on business of investing moneys–wrung by knavery, doubtless, from litigant suitors, candidates, criminals, and the poor of Mekran Kot. And shortly after, the Jam Saheb heard of a new kind of gun that fires six of the fat cartridges such as are used for the shooting of birds, without reloading; and he bade Mir Jan who understood all things, and the ways of the European gun-shop at Kot Ghazi, to hasten forthwith and procure him a couple, and if none were in Kot Ghazi to send a _tar_[22] to Bombay for them, or even, if necessary, to Englistan, though at a cost of two rupees a word. With such a gun the Jam hoped to get better _shikar_ when sitting on his camel and circling round the foolish crouching grouse or _tuloor_, and firing at them as they sat. He thought he might fire twice or thrice at them sitting, and again twice or thrice at the remnant flying, and perchance hit some on the wing, after the wonderful manner of the Sahibs. So he sent my brother, knowing him to be both clever and honest and understanding the speech and ways of the English most fully.

[22] Telegram.

“Now it is many days’ journey, Sahib, across the desert and the mountains, from Mekran Kot in Kubristan to Kot Ghazi in India, but at Kot Ghazi is a fine bungalow, the property of the Jam Saheb, and there all travellers from his house may sojourn and rest after their long and perilous travel.

“Taking me and Mir Abdul Haq and Mir Hussein Ali and many men and servants, among whom was the body-servant, the boy Moussa Isa Somali, he set forth, a little depressed that we heard not the cry of the partridge in the fields of Mekran Kot as we started–not exactly a bad omen, but lacking a good one. And sure enough, ere we won to Kot Ghazi, his eyes became red and inflamed, very sore and painful to use. So, he put the tail of his _puggri_[23] about his face and rode all day from sun-rise to sun-set in darkness, his camel being driven by Abdulali Gulamali Bokhari–the same who later rose to fame and honour as an outlaw and was hanged at Peshawar after a brave and successful career. And being arrived, in due course, at Kot Ghazi, before entering the bungalow belonging to the Jam Saheb, he knelt his camel at the door of the shop of a European _hakim_–in English a–er–“

[23] Turban.

“Chemist, Mir Saheb,” I suggested.

“Doubtless, since your honour says it–of a _kimmish_, and entering, to the Eurasian dog therein said in English, of which he knew everything (and taught me much, as your honour knows), ‘Look you. I need lotion for my eyes, eye medicine, and a bath for them’ and the man mixed various waters and poured them into a blue bottle with red labels, very beautiful to see, and wrote upon it. Also he gave my brother a small cup of glass, shaped like the mouth of the _pulla_ fish or the eye-socket of a man. And my brother, knowing what to do, used the things then and there, to the wonder of Abdul Haq and Hussein Ali, pouring the liquor into the glass cup, and holding it to his eyes, and with back-thrown head washing the eye and soothing it.

“‘Shahbas!'[24] quoth he. ‘It is good,’ and anon we proceeded to the gun-shop and then to the bungalow belonging to the Jam Saheb. And lo and behold, here we discovered the dog Ibrahim Mahmud, and my brother twisted the knife of memory in the wound of insult by ordering him to quit the room he occupied and seek another, since Mir Jan intended the room for his body-servant, Moussa Isa Somali–the servant of a Mir being more deserving of the room than the son of a Vizier! This was unwise, but my brother’s heart was too great to fear (or to fathom) the guile of such a serpent as Ibrahim.

[24] Bravo! Excellent!

“And when he had bathed and prayed, eaten and drunk and rested, my brother again anointed his eyes with the liquid–which though only like water, was strong to soothe and heal. And our servants and people watched him doing this with wonder and admiration, and the news of it spread to the servants of Ibrahim Mahmud, who told their master of this cleverness of Mir Jan,–and Ibrahim, after a while, sent a message and a present to my brother, humbling himself, and asking that he too might see this thing.

“And Mir Jan, perhaps a little proud of his English ways, sat upon his _charpai_,[25] and bathed his eyes in the little bath, until, wearying of the trouble of pouring back the liquid into the bottle, he would press the bottle itself to his eye and throw back his head. So his eyes were quickly eased of pain, and in the evening we all went forth to enjoy.

[25] Native cot or bed.

“On his return to the room, Mir Jan flung himself, weary, upon his _charpai_ and Moussa Isa lay across the doorway.

“In the morning my brother awoke and sitting on the _charpai_, took up the blue bottle, drew the cork, and raised the bottle towards his eyes. As he did this, Moussa Isa entered, and knowing not why he did so, sprang at his master and dashed the bottle from his hand. It fell to the ground but broke not, the floor being _dhurrie_[26]-covered.

[26] Carpet.

“In greatest amazement Mir Jan glanced from Moussa Isa to the bottle, clenching his hand to strike the boy–when behold! the very floor bubbled and smoked beneath the touch of the liquid as it ran from the bottle. By the Beard of the Prophet, that stone floor bubbled and smoked like water and the _dhurrie_ was burnt! Snatching up the bottle my brother dropped drops from it upon the blade of his knife, upon the leather of his boots, upon paint and brass and clothing–and behold it was liquid fire, burning and corroding all that it touched! To me he called, and, being shown these things, I could scarce believe–and then I cried aloud ‘Ibrahim Mahmud! Thine enemy!… Oh, my brother,–thine eyes!’ and I remembered the words of Ibrahim, ‘_a vengeance that shall turn men pale as they whisper it–a thing of which children yet unborn shall speak with awe_’ and we rushed to his room,–to find it empty. He and his best camel and its driver were gone, but all his people and servants and _oont-wallahs_[27] were in the _serai_,[28] and said they knew not where he was, but had received a _hookum_[29] over-night to set out that day for Mekran Kot. And, catching up a pariah puppy, I re-entered the house and dropped one drop from the blue bottle into its eye. Sahib, even _I_ pitied the creature and slew it quickly with my knife. And it was this that Ibrahim Mahmud had intended for the blue eyes of my beautiful brother. This was the vengeance of which men should speak in whispers. Those who saw and heard that puppy would speak of it in whispers indeed–or not at all. I felt sick and my fingers itched to madness for the throat of Ibrahim Mahmud. Had I seen him then, I would have put out his eyes with my thumbs. Nay–I would have used the burning liquid upon him as he had designed it should be used by my brother.

[27] Camel-men.
[28] Halting-enclosure, rest-house. [29] Order.

“Hearing Mir Jan’s voice, I hurried forth, and found that his white pacing-camel was already saddled and that he sat in the front seat, prepared to drive. ‘Up, Daoud Khan’ he cried to me ‘we go a-hunting’–and I sprang to the rear saddle even as the camel rose. ‘Lead on, Moussa Isa, and track as thou hast never tracked before, if thou wouldst live,’ said he to the Somali, a noted _paggi_,[30] even among the Baluch and Sindhi _paggis_ of the police at Peshawar and Kot Ghazi. ‘I can track the path of yesterday’s bird through the air and of yesterday’s fish through the water,’ answered the black boy; ‘and I would find this Ibrahim by smell though he had blinded _me_,’ and he led on. Down the Sudder Bazaar he went unfaltering, though hundreds of feet of camels, horses, bullocks and of men were treading its dust. As we passed the shop of the European _hakim_, yes, the _kimmish_, my brother leapt down and entering the shop asked questions. Returning and mounting he said to me: ”Tis as I thought. Hither he came last night, and, saying he was science-knowing failed B.Sc., demanded certain acids, that, being mixed, will eat up even gold–which no other acid can digest, nor even assail….'”

[30] Tracker.

“_Aqua Regia_, or vitriol, I believe,” I murmured, still marvelling … _Ross-Ellison!_

“Doubtless, if your honour is pleased to say so. ‘He must have poured these acids into the bottle while we were abroad last night,’ continued my brother. ‘Oh, the dog! The treacherous dreadful dog!… ‘Twas in a good hour that I saved Moussa Isa,’ and indeed I too blessed that Somali, so mysteriously moved by Allah to dash the bottle from my brother’s hand.

“‘Think you that Ibrahim Mahmud bribed Moussa and that he repented as he saw you about to anoint your eyes with the acid?’ I asked of my brother.

“‘Nay–Moussa was with me until I returned,’ replied he, ‘and returning, I put the bottle beneath my pillow. Besides, Ibrahim had fled ere we returned to the bungalow. Moreover, Moussa would lose his tongue ere he would tell me a lie, his eyes ere he would see me suffer, his hand ere he would take a bribe against me. No–Allah moved his heart–rewarding me for saving his life at the risk of mine own, when he lay beneath a lion,–or else it is that the black dog hath the instincts of a dog and knows when evil threatens what it loves.’ And indeed it is a wonderful thing and true; and Moussa Isa never knew how he knew, but said his arm moved of itself and that he wondered at himself as he struck the bottle from his master’s hand. And, in time, we left the city and followed the road and found that Ibrahim was fleeing to Mekran Kot, doubtless to be far away when the thing happened, and also to get counsel and money from his father and my mother, should suspicion fall on him and flight be necessary. And anon even untrained eyes could see where he had left the Caravan Road and taken the shorter route whereby camels bearing no heavy load could come by steeper passes and dangerous tracks in shorter time to Mekran Kot, provided the rider bore water sufficient–for there was no oasis nor well. ‘Enough, Moussa Isa, thou mayest return, I can track the camel of Ibrahim now that he hath left the road,’ quoth my brother, breaking a long silence; but Moussa Isa, panting as he ran before, replied: ‘I come, Mir Saheb. I shall not fall until mine eyes have beheld thy vengeance–in which perchance, _I_ may take a part. He called me “_Hubshi_”.’

“‘He hath many hours’ start, Moussa,’ said my brother, ‘and his camel is a good one. He will not halt and sleep for many hours even though he suppose me dead!’

“‘I can run for a day; for a day and a night I can run,’ replied the Somali, ‘and I can run until the hour of thy vengeance cometh. He called _me_ “Hubshi”‘ … and he ran on.

“Sahib, for the whole of that day he ran beside the fast camel, my brother drawing rein for no single minute, and when, at dawn, I awoke from broken slumber in the saddle, Moussa Isa was running yet! And then we heard the cry of the partridge and knew that our luck was good.

“‘He may have left the track,’ quoth my brother soon after dawn, ‘but I think he is making for Mekran Kot, to get money and documents and to escape again ere news of his deed–or the suspicion of him–reaches the Jam Saheb. We may have missed him, but I could not halt and wait for daylight. He cannot be far ahead of us now. This camel shall live on milk and meal and wheaten bread, finest _bhoosa_[31] and chosen young green shoots, and buds, and leaves–and he shall have a collar of gold with golden bells, and reins of silk, and hanging silken tassels, and he shall—-” and then Moussa Isa gave a hoarse scream and pointed to the sky-line above which rose a wisp of smoke.

[31] Bran.

“‘It is he,’ said my brother, and within the hour we beheld the little bush-tent of Ibrahim Mahmud (made with cloths thrown over a bent bush) and his camel, near to which, his _oont-wallah_ Suleiman Abdulla had kindled a fire and prepared food. (Later this liar swore that he made the fire smoke with green twigs to guide the pursuit,–a foolish lie, for he knew not what Ibrahim had done, nor anything but that his master hastened.)

“Moussa Isa staggered to where Ibrahim Mahmud lay asleep, looked upon his face, and fell, seeming to be about to die.

“Making a little _chukker_[32] round, my brother drove the camel between Suleiman and the tent and made it kneel.

[32] Circuit, course.

“‘_Salaam aleikoum_,[33] Mir Saheb,’ said Suleiman, and my brother replied:–

[33] A Mussulman greeting.

“‘Salaam. Tend thou my camel and prepare food for me, and my brother, and my servant. And if thou wouldst not hang in a pig’s skin, be wise and wary, and keep eyes, ears, and mouth closed.’ And we drank water.

“Then, treading softly, we went to the tent where Ibrahim Mahmud slept and sat us down where we could look upon his face. There he slept, Sahib, peacefully, like a little child!–having left Mir Jan to die the death ‘whereof men should speak with awe,’ as he had threatened.

“We sat beside him and watched. Saying nothing, we sat and watched. An hour passed and an hour again. For another hour without moving or speaking we sat and Moussa Isa joined us and watched.

“‘Twas sweet, and I licked my lips and hoped he might not wake for hours, although I hungered. The actual revenge is very, very sweet, Sahib, but does it exceed the joy of watching the enemy as he lies wholly at your mercy, lies in the hollow of your hand and is your poor foolish plaything,–knave made fool at last? Like statues we sat, moving not our eyes from his face, and we were very happy.

“Then, suddenly, he awoke and his eyes fell on my brother–and he shrieked aloud, as the hare shrieks when hound or jackal seize her; as the woman shrieks when the door goes down before the raiders and the thatch goes up in flame.

“Thus he shrieked.

“We moved not.

“‘Why cryest thou, dear brother?’ asked Mir Jan in a soft, sweet voice.

“‘I–I–thought thou wast a spirit, come to–‘ he faltered, and my brother answered:–

“‘And why should _I_ be a spirit, my brother? Am I not young and strong?’

“‘I dreamed,’ quavered Ibrahim.

“‘I too have had a dream,’ said my brother.

“”Twas but a dream, Mir Jan. I will arise and prepare some–‘ replied Ibrahim, affecting ease of manner but poorly, for he had no real nerve.

“‘Thou wilt not arise yet, Ibrahim Mahmud,’ murmured my brother gently.


“‘Because thine eyes are somewhat wearied and I purpose to wash them with my magic water,’ and as he held up the blue bottle with the red label Ibrahim screamed like a girl and flung himself forward at my brother’s feet, shrieking and praying for mercy:–

“‘_No, No!_’ he howled; ‘not _that!_ Mercy, O kingly son of Kings! I will give thee–“

“‘Nay, my brother,–what is this?’ asked Mir Jan softly, with kind caressing voice. ‘What is all this? I do but propose to bathe thine eyes with this same magic water wherewith I bathed mine own, the day before yesterday. Thou didst see me do it–thou didst watch me do it.’

“‘Mercy–most noble Mir! Have pity, ’twas not I. Mercy!’ he screamed.

“‘But, Ibrahim, dear brother’ expostulated Mir Jan, ‘why this objection to my magic water? It gave me great relief and my eyes were quickly healed. Thine own need care–for see–water gushes from them even now.’

“The dog howled–like a dog–and offered lakhs of rupees.

“‘But surely, my brother, what gave me relief will give thee relief? Thou knowest how my eyes were soothed and healed, and that it is a potent charm, and surely _it is not changed_?’ Mir Jan Rah-bin-Ras el-Isan was all Pathan then, Sahib, whatever he may have been at other times. I could not have played more skilfully with the dog myself.

“At last, turning to Moussa Isa he said:–

“‘Our brother seemeth distraught, and perchance will do himself some injury if he be not tended with care and watched over. Bind him, to make sure that he hurt not himself in this strange madness that hath o’ertaken him, making him fancy harm even in this healing balm. Bind him tightly.’ And at that, the treacherous, murderous dog found his manhood for a moment and made to spring to his feet and fight, but as he tried to rise, Moussa Isa kicked him in the face and fell upon him.

“‘Shall I serve thee as I served thy _Hubshi_ hireling, thy Sidi slave?’ he grunted and showed his sharp strong teeth.

“‘Perchance ‘twould cure him of his madness if we bled the poor soul a little,’ cooed my brother, putting his hand to his cummerbund where was his long Afghan knife, and Ibrahim Mahmud lay still. Picking up his big, green turban from beside his rug, I bound his arms to his sides and then, going forth, got baggage-cords from the _oont-wallah_ and likewise his _puggri_, and Moussa Isa bound his feet and hands and knees.

“Then my brother called Suleiman Abdulla the _oont-wallah_, and bade Moussa Isa sleep–which he did with his knife in his hand, having bound his foot to that of Ibrahim.

“‘Look, thou dog,’ said Mir Jan to Suleiman, ‘should this rat-flea escape, thy soul and thy body shall pay, for I will put out thine eyes with glowing charcoal and hang thee in the skin of a pig, if I have to follow thee to Cabul to do it–yea, to Balkh or Bokhara. See to it.’ And Suleiman put his head upon my brother’s feet, poured dust upon it and said ‘So be it, Mir Saheb. Do this and more if he escape,’ and we slept awhile.

“Anon we awoke, ate, drank and smoked, my brother smoking the cheroots of the Sahib-log and I having to be content with the _bidis_ of Suleiman as there was no hookah.

“And when we had rested we went and sat before the face of Ibrahim and gazed upon him long, without words.

“And he wept. Like a woman he wept, and said ‘Slay me, Mir Saheb, and have done. Slay me with thy knife.’

“But my brother replied softly and sweetly:–

“‘What wild words are these, Ibrahim? Why should I slay thee? Some matter of a quarrel there was concerning thy torturing of my servant–but I am not of them that bear grudges and nurse hatred. In no anger slay thee with my knife? Why should I injure thee? I do most solemnly swear, Ibrahim, that I will do thee no wilful hurt. I will but anoint thine eyes with the contents of this bottle just as I did anoint my own. Why should I slay thee or do thee hurt?’

“And I chuckled aloud. He was all Pathan then, Sahib, and handling his enemy right subtly.

“And Ibrahim wept yet more loudly and said again:–

“‘Slay me and have done.’ Then my brother gave him the name by which he was known ever after, saying:–

“‘Why should I slay thee, _Ibrahim, the Weeper_?’ and he produced the bottle and held it above that villain’s face.

“His screams were music to me, and in the joy of his black heart Moussa Isa burst into some strange chant in his own Somali tongue.

“‘Nay, our friends must hear thy eloquence and songs, Ibrahim,’ said my brother, after he had held the bottle tilted above the face of the Weeper for some minutes. ”Twere greedy to keep this to ourselves.’

“Again and again that day my brother would say: ‘Nay–I cannot wait longer. Poor Ibrahim’s weeping eyes must be relieved at once,’ and he would produce the bottle, uncork it, and hold it over Ibrahim’s face as he writhed and screamed and twisted in his bonds.

“‘What ails thee, Ibrahim the Weeper?’ he would coo. ‘Thou knowest it is a soothing lotion. Didst thou not see me use it on mine own eyes?’ Yea, he was true Pathan then, and I loved him the more.

“A hundred times that day he did thus and enjoyed the music of Ibrahim’s screams, and by night the dog was a little mad. So, lest we defeat ourselves and lose something of the sport our souls loved, we left him in peace that night, if ‘peace’ it is to know that the dreadful death you have prepared for another now overhangs you. Moussa Isa kept watch through the night. And in the morning came Abdul Haq and Hussein Ali and the servants and _oont-wallahs_, save a few who had been sent with laden camels by the Caravan Road. And, when all had eaten and rested, my brother held _durbar_,[34] having placed Ibrahim Mahmud in the midst, bound, and looking like one who has long lain upon a bed of sickness.

[34] Meeting.

“This _durbar_ proceeded with the greatest solemnity and no man smiled when my brother said: ‘And now, touching the matter of my beloved and respected Ibrahim Mahmud, son of our grandfather’s Vizier,–the learned Ibrahim, who shortly goeth (perhaps) across the black water to Englistan to become a great and famous pleader,–can any suggest the cause of the strange and distressing madness that hath come upon him so suddenly? For, behold, I have to keep him bound lest he do himself an injury, and constantly he crieth, “Kill me, Mir Saheb, kill me with thy knife and make an end.” And when I go to bathe his poor eyes, so sore and red with weeping, behold he shrieketh like the _relwey terain_ at Peshawar and weepeth like a woman.’

“And Abdul Haq spoke and said: ‘Is it so indeed, Mir Saheb?’ And my brother said: ‘It is so;’ and Hussein Ali said: ‘Is it so indeed, Mir Saheb?’ And my brother said ‘It is so;’ and all men said the same thing gravely and my brother made the same answer.

“Sahib, I shall never forget the joy of that _durbar_ with Ibrahim the Weeper there, like a trapped rat, in the midst, looking from face to face for mercy.

“‘Yea–it is so. It is indeed so,’ again said my brother when all had asked. ‘You shall see–and hear. Behold I will drop but one drop of my soothing lotion into each of his eyes!’ … and he turned to Ibrahim the Weeper, with the uncorked bottle in his hand–the bottle from which came forth smoke, though it was cold. But Ibrahim rolled screaming, and strove to thrust his face into the ground. ‘It is strange indeed,’ mused Abdul Haq, stroking his beard, while none smiled. ‘Strange, in every truth. But thou hast not dropped the drops, Mir Saheb. Perchance he will arise and thank thee and be cured of this madness when he feels the healing anointment that so benefited thine own eyes. Oh, the cleverness of these European _hakims_,’ and he raised hands and eyes in wonder as he sighed piously.

“‘Yea–perchance he will,’ agreed my brother and bade Moussa Isa hold him by the ears with his face to the sky while the _oont-wallahs_ kept him on his back. And Ibrahim’s body heaved up those four strong men as it bent like a bow and bucked like a horse, while my brother removed the cork once again.

“His shrieks delighted my soul.

“”Tis a marvellous mystery to me,’ sighed my brother. ‘He knows how innocent and healing are these waters and yet he refuses them. He saw me use them on my own eyes–and surely the medicine is unchanged?’ And he balanced the bottle sideways above the face of his enemy and allowed the devilish acid to well up and impend upon the very edge of the neck of the bottle, as he murmured: ‘But a single drop for each eye! More I cannot spare–to-day. Perchance a drop for each ear to-morrow, and one for his tongue on the next day–if his madness spare him to us for so long.’

“Then, as Ibrahim, foaming, shrieked curses and cried aloud to Allah and Mohammed his Prophet, he said: ‘Nay, this is ingratitude. He shall not have them to-day at all, but shall endure without them till sunrise to-morrow. Take him yonder, and lay him on that flat rock, bareheaded in the sun, that his tears may be dried for him.’ …

“Yea! I found no fault with my brother then, Sahib.

“He was a master in his revenge. And the _durbar_ murmured its applause, and praised and thanked my brother. Not one of them but had suffered at the hands of Mahmud Shahbaz, his father, the Vizier, or at the insolent hands of this his own son…. Then Mir Jan called to Moussa Isa, his body-servant, and said unto him:–

“‘Hear, Moussa Isa, and make no tiny error if thou wouldst see to-morrow’s sun and go to Paradise anon. Feed that carrion well and pretend to be filled with the pity that is the child of avarice. Ask what he will give thee to help him to escape. Affect to haggle long, and speak much of the difficulties and dangers of the deed. At length agree to put him on my fast camel this night at moon-rise, if thou art left as his guard and we are wrapt in slumber. Play thy part well, and show thy remorse at cheating thy master–even for a lakh[35] of rupees–yea, and show fear of what will happen to thee, and pretend distrust of him. At length succumb again, and as the moon just shows above the mountains untie his bonds and do thus and thus–‘ and he whispered instructions while a light shone in the eyes of Moussa Isa, the Somali, and a smile played about his mouth.

[35] One hundred thousand.

“And Mir Jan told the matter that night to all and gave instructions.

“Moussa Isa meanwhile did everything as he was bid and, while we ate, he carried his own food to the Weeper, as though secretly.

“Long and merrily we feasted, pretending to drink to excess of the forbidden _sharab_, singing and behaving like toddy-laden coolies, and in time we staggered to our carpets, put on our _poshteens_,[36] pulled rugs over our heads and slept–not.

[36] Warm sheep-skin coats.

“From under his rug my brother kept watch. Shortly after, Moussa Isa arose from beside Ibrahim the Weeper and crawled like a snake to where the camels knelt in a ring, and there he saddled the swift white camel of Mir Jan, and I heard its bubbling snarl as he made it rise, and led it over near to where Ibrahim lay. There he made it kneel again, and, throwing the nose-rope over its head, he laid the loop thereof, with his stick, on the front seat of the saddle. This done, he crept back to Ibrahim Mahmud and feigned sleep awhile. Anon, none stirring, he began to untie with his teeth and knife-point the cords that bound the captive, and when, at length, the man was free, Moussa chafed his stiffened arms and legs, his hands and feet.

“When, after a time, Ibrahim tried to rise, he fell again and again, and the moon not yet having risen above the mountains, the avaricious-seeming Moussa again massaged and chafed the limbs of the villain Ibrahim, who earnestly prayed Moussa Isa to lay him on the saddle as he was–and depart ere some sleeper awoke. But Moussa said ‘twould be vain to start until Ibrahim could sit in the saddle and hold on, and he continued to rub his arms and legs.

“But when the edge of the moon shone above the mountain, Moussa placed the arm of Ibrahim around his neck, put his arm round Ibrahim’s body, and staggered with him to where the racing-camel knelt. After a few steps the strength of Ibrahim seemed to return, and, by the time they reached the camel, he could totter on his feet and stand without help. With some difficulty Moussa hoisted him into the rear saddle. Having done so, he thrust the stirrups upon his feet and commenced to unwind his puggri.

“‘Mount, mount!’ whispered Ibrahim.

“‘Nay, I must tie thee on,’ replied Moussa Isa and, knotting one end of the _puggri_ to the back of the saddle, he passed it twice round Ibrahim and tied the other end near the first. This done, and Ibrahim being in a frantic fever of haste and fear and hope, Moussa Isa commenced to bargain, Ibrahim agreeing to every demand and promising even more.

“‘Anything! anything!’ he shrieked beneath his breath. ‘Bargain as we go. You cannot ask too much. I and my father will strip ourselves for thee.’ … And having tortured him awhile, Moussa sprang into the saddle and brought the camel to its feet–as my brother’s voice said, softly and sweetly:–

“‘Wouldst thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my friend?’ and my own chimed in:–

“‘Could’st thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my brother’s friend?’ and the voice of Abdul Haq followed with:–

“‘Shouldst thou leave us, O Ibrahim, my cousin’s friend?’ and Hussein Ali’s voice added:–

“‘Do not leave us, O Ibrahim, my friend’s friend.’ Like the wolf-pack, every other voice in the camp in turn implored:–

“‘Never leave us, O Ibrahim, our master’s friend.’

“‘Go! go!’ shrieked Ibrahim, kicking with his heels at the camel’s sides and striking at Moussa Isa, as that obedient youth, raising his stick, caused the camel to bound forward, and drove it, swiftly trotting–to where my brother lay, and there made it kneel again….

“Dost thou sleep, Huzoor?”

“Nay, Mir Saheb,” I replied, “nor would I till your tale be done and I have seen the return of another reconnoitring-patrol. We might then take turns…. Nay, I will not sleep at all. ‘Tis too near dawn–when things are wont to happen in time of war.”

Little did the worthy Subedar-Major guess how, or why, his tale enthralled me.

“I have nearly done, Sahib…. On the morrow my brother said: ‘To-day I will make an end. After the evening prayer let all assemble and behold the anointing of the eyes of Ibrahim the Weeper with the same balm that he intended to be applied to mine.’ And during the day men drove strong stakes deep into the ground, the distance between them being equal to the width of Ibrahim’s head, which they measured–telling him why. Also pegs were driven into the ground convenient for the fastening of his hands and feet, and stones were collected as large as men could carry.

“And, after evening prayer and prostration we took Ibrahim, and forcing his head between the stakes so that he could not turn it, we tied his hands and feet to the pegs and weighted his body with the stones, being careful to do him no injury and to cause no such pain as might detract from the real torture, and lessen his punishment.

“And then Mir Jan stood over him with the bottle and said, softly and sweetly:–

“‘Ibrahim, my friend, thou didst vow upon me a vengeance, the telling of which should turn men pale, because I struck thee for torturing my servant. And now I return good for thine evil, for I take pity on thy weeping eyes and heal them. These several days thou hast refused this benefaction with floods of tears, and sobs and screams. Now, behold, and see how foolish thou hast been,’ and he spilt a drop from the bottle, so that it fell near the face of Ibrahim, but not on it.

“And I was amazed to see that the stone upon which the drop fell did not bubble and boil. This prolongation and refinement of the torture I could appreciate and enjoy–but why did not the acid affect the stone? ‘Twas as though mere cold water had fallen upon it. Nor was the bottle smoking as always hitherto.

“And even as I wondered, my brother quickly stooped and dashed some of the contents of the bottle in the eyes of Ibrahim the Weeper.

“With a shriek that pierced our ear-drums and must have been heard for many kos,[37] Ibrahim writhed and jerked so that the stones were thrown from his body and the pegs that held his feet and hands were torn from the ground. The stakes holding his head firmly, he flung his body over until his head was beneath it and then back again, and screamed like a wounded horse. At last he wrenched his head free, and, holding his hands to his face–which appeared to be in no way injured–leapt up and ran round and round in circles, until he was seized, and, by my brother’s orders, his hands were torn from his face.

[37] Kos = two miles.

“And behold, his eyes and face were unmarked and uninjured, and the liquid that dripped upon his clothing made no mark and did no hurt.

“‘_Blind_,’ he shrieked,’ I am _blind!_ O Merciful Allah, my eyes!’ and he fell, howling.

“‘Now that is very strange,’ said my brother, ‘for I threw pure, plain, cold water in his face. See me drink of the remainder!’ and he drank from the bottle, and so did I, in fear and wonder. Cold, pure, fair water it was, and nothing else!

“But Ibrahim the Weeper was blind. Stone blind to his dying day and never looked upon the sun again. Little drops of water had struck him blind. Nay, the Hand of Allah had struck him blind–him who had cried: ‘_May Allah strike me blind_ if I do not unto thee a thing of which children yet unborn shall speak with awe”. He had tried to do such a thing and God had struck him blind–though my brother, who was very learned, spoke of self-suggestion, and of imagination being sometimes strong enough to make the imagined come to pass. (He told of a man who died for no reason, on a certain day at a certain hour, because his father had done so and he believed that _he_ would also. But more likely it was witchcraft and he was under a curse.)

“Howbeit, little drops of pure water blinded Ibrahim the Weeper. And there the foreign blood of my poor brother showed forth. He could not escape the taint and was weak. At the last moment he had wavered and, like a fool, had forgiven his enemy.”

“Was he a Christian?” I asked (and had often wondered in the past).

“_Nahin_, Sahib! He was a Mussulman, my father having had him taught with special care by a holy _moulvie_,[38] by reason of the fact that his mother had had him sprinkled with holy water by her priests and had taught him the tenets of the Christian faith–doubtless a high and noble one since your honour is of it.”

[38] Priest.

“He had been taught the Christian doctrines, then?”

“Without doubt, Sahib. Throughout his childhood; in the absence of his father. And doubtless this aided his foreign blood in making him act thus foolishly.”

“Doubtless,” I agreed, with a smile.

“Yea, at the last moment he had put his vengeance from him and behaved like a weak fool, throwing away the acid, cleaning the bottle and filling it with pure water. He had intended to give Ibrahim a fright (and also the opprobrious title of _the Weeper_), to teach him a lesson and to let him go–provided he swore on the Q’ran never to return to Mekran Kot when he left for England…. Such a man was my poor brother. But the hand of Allah intervened and Ibrahim the Weeper lived and died stone blind…. A strange man that poor brother of mine, strong save when his foreign blood and foreign religion arose like poison within him and made him weak…. There was the case of the English Sergeant Larnce-Ishmeet whom he spared and sent into the English lines in the little Border War.”

“Lance-Sergeant Smith? What regiment?” I asked.

“I know not, Sahib, save that it was a British Infantry Regiment. (He was not Lance-Sergeant Ishmeet but Sergeant Larnce-Ishmeet.) We … I mean … they … slew many of a Company that was doing rear-guard and their officers being slain and many men also, a Sergeant took them off with great skill. Section by section, from point to point he retired them, and our … their … triumphant joy at the capture and slaughter of the Company was changed to gnashing of teeth–for we lost many and the Company retired safely on the main body. But we got the Sergeant, badly wounded, and my brother would not have him slain. Rather he showed him much honour and had him borne to Mekran Kot, and when he was healed he took him to within sight of the outermost Khyber fort and set him free…. Yet was he not an enemy, Sahib, taken in war? Strange weaknesses had my poor brother….”

“I knew a Sergeant-Major Lawrence-Smith,” I remarked, as light dawned on me after pondering “Larnce-Ishmeet.” “He shot himself at Duri some time ago.”

“He was a brave man,” said Mir Daoud Khan. “Peace be upon him.”

“And what became of your brother?” I asked, although I knew only too well–alas!

“He left Mekran Kot when I did, Sahib, for our father died, the old Jam Saheb was poisoned, and we had to flee or die. I never saw him again for he made much money (out of rifles), travelled widely, and became a Sahib (and I followed the _pultan_[39]). But he died as a Pathan should–for his honour. In Gungapur jail they hanged him (after the failure of the foolish attempt by some seditious Sikhs and Punjabis and Bengalis at a second Great Killing) and I do not care to speak of that thing even to–“

[39] Infantry Regiment.

A sputter of musketry broke out in the thick vegetation of the river-bed, crackled and spread, as Subedar-Major Mir Daoud Khan (once against the civilized, brave and distinguished officer) and I sprang to our feet and hurried to our posts–I, even at that moment, thinking how small a World is this, and how long is the long arm of Coincidence. Here was I, while waiting for what then seemed almost certain death, hearing from the lips of his own brother, the early history of the remarkable, secretive and mysterious man whom I had loved above all men, and whose death had been the tragedy of my life.



(Mainly concerning the early life of Moussa Isa Somali.)

Moussa Isa Somali never stole, lied, seduced, cheated, drank, swore, gambled, betrayed, slandered, blasphemed, nor behaved meanly nor cowardly–but, alas! he had personal and racial Pride.

It is written that Pride is the sin of Devils and that by it, Lucifer, Son of the Morning, fell.

If it be remembered that he fell for nine days, be realized that he must have fallen with an acceleration of velocity of thirty-two feet per second, each second, and be conceded that he weighed a good average number of pounds, some idea will be formed of the violence of the concussion with which he came to earth.

In spite of the terrible warning provided by so great a smash there yet remain people who will argue that it is better to fall through Pride than to remain unfallen through lack of it. By Pride, _Pride_ is meant of course–not Conceit, Snobbishness and Bumptiousness, which are all very damnable, and signs of a weak, base mind. One gathers that Lucifer, Son of the Morning, was not conceited, snobbish, nor bumptious. Nor was Moussa, son of Isa, Somali–but, like Lucifer, Son of the Morning, Devil, he fell, through Pride, and came to a Bad End.

One has known people who have owned to a sneaking liking and unwilling admiration for Lucifer, Son of the Morning–people of the same sort as those who find it difficult wholly to revere the prideless Erect when comparing them with the prideful Fallen–and, for the life of me, I cannot help a sneaking liking and unwilling admiration for Moussa Isa Somali, who fell through Pride.

There was something fine about him, even as there was about Lucifer, Son of the Morning, and one cannot avoid feeling that if both did not get more of hard luck and less of justice than some virtuous people one knows, they certainly cut a better figure. Of course it is a mistake to adopt any line of action that leads definitely to the position of Under-Dog, and to fight when you cannot win. It is not Prudent, and Prudence leads to Favour, Success, Decorations, and the Respect of Others if not of yourself. It is also to be remembered that whether you are a Wicked Rebel or a Noble True-Hearted Patriot depends very largely on whether you succeed or fail.

All of which is mere specious and idle special pleading on behalf of Moussa Isa, a sinful murderous Somali….

Most of the memories of Moussa Isa centred round scars. When I say “memories of Moussa Isa” I mean Moussa Isa’s own memories, for there are no memories concerning him. The might, majesty, dominion and power of the British Empire were arrayed against him, and the Empire’s duly appointed agents hanged him by the neck until he was dead–at an age when some people are yet at school, albeit he had gathered in his few years of life a quantity and quality of experience quite remarkable.

‘Twas a sordid business, and yet Moussa Isa died, like many very respectable and highly belauded folk, from the early Christians in Italy to the late Christians in Armenia, for a principle and an idea.

He was black, he was filthy, he was savage, ignorant and ugly–but he had his Pride, both personal and racial, for he was a Somali. A Somali, mark you, not a mere _Hubshi_ or Woolly One, not a common Nigger, not a low and despicable person–worshipping idols, eating human flesh, grubs, roots and bark–the “black ivory” of Arabs.

If you called Moussa Isa a Hubshi, he either killed you or marked you down for death, according to circumstances.

Had Moussa Isa lived a few centuries earlier, been of another colour, and swanked around in painful iron garments and assorted cutlery, he would have been highly praised for his fine and proper spirit. Poet, bard, and troubadour would have noted and published his quickness on the point of honour. Moussa would have been set to music and have become a source of income to the gifted. He would have become a Pillar of the Order of Knighthood and an Ornament of the Age of Chivalry. A wreath of laurels would have encircled his brow–instead of a rope of hemp encircling his neck.

For such fine, quick, self-respecting Pride, such resentment of insult, men have become Splendid Figures of the Glorious Past.

_Autres jours autres moeurs_.

How many people called him _Hubshi_, we know not; but we know, from his own lips, of the killing of some few. Of the killing of others he had forgotten, for his memory was poor, save for insult and kindness. And, having caught and convicted him in one or two cases the appointed servants of the British Empire first “reformed” and then slew him in their turn–thus descending to his level without his excuse of private personal insult and injury….

The scars on Moussa Isa’s face with the hole in his ear were connected with one of his very earliest memories–or one of his very earliest memories was connected with the scars on his face and the hole in his ear–a memory of jolting along on a camel, swinging upside-down, while a strong hand grasped his foot; of seeing his father rush at his captor with a long, broad-bladed spear, of being whirled and flung at his father’s head; and of seeing his father’s intimate internal economy seriously and permanently disarranged by the two-handed sword of one of the camel rider’s colleagues (who flung aside a heavy gun which he had just emptied into Moussa’s mamma) as his father fell to the ground under the impact and weight of the novel missile. Though Moussa was unaware, in his abysmal ignorance, of the interesting fact, the great two-handed sword so effectually wielded by the supporter of his captor, was exactly like that of a Crusader of old. It was like that of a Crusader of old, because it was a direct lineal descendant of the swords of the Crusaders who had brought the first specimens to the country, quite a good many years previously. Indeed some people said that a few of the swords owned by these Dervishes were real, original, Crusaders’ swords, the very weapons whose hilts were once grasped by Norman hands, and whose blades had cloven Paynim heads in the name of Christianity and the interests of the Sepulchre. I do not know–but it is a wonderfully dry climate, and swords are there kept, cherished, and bequeathed, even more religiously than were the Stately Homes of England in that once prosperous land, in the days before park, covert, pleasaunce, forest, glade, dell, and garden became allotments, and the spoil of the “Working”-man.

Picked up after the raid and pursuit with a faceful of gravel, sand, dirt, and tetanus-germs, Moussa Isa, orphan, was flung on a pile of dead Somali spearmen and swordsmen, of horses, asses, camels, negroes, (old) women and other cattle–and, crawling off again, received kicks and orders to clean and polish certain much ensanguined weapons sullied with the blood of his near and distant relatives. Thereafter he was recognized by the above-mentioned swordsman, and accorded the privilege of removing his own father’s blood from the great two-handed sword before alluded to–a task of a kind that does not fall to many little boys. So willingly and cheerfully did Moussa perform his arduous duty (arduous because the blood had had time to dry, and dried blood takes a lot of removing from steel by one unprovided with hot water) that the Arab swordsman instead of blowing off the child’s head with his long and beautiful gun, damascened of barrel, gold-mounted of lock, and pearl-inlaid of stock, allowed him to rim for his life that he might die a sporting death in hot blood, doing his devilmost. (These were not slavers but avengers of enmity to the Mad Mullah and punishers of friendship to the English.)

“How much law will you give me, O Emir?” asked the child.

“Perhaps ten yards, dog, perhaps a hundred, perhaps more…. Run!”

“_You_ could hit me at a thousand yards, O Emir,” was the reply. “Let me die by a shot that men will talk about….”

“Run, yelping dog,” growled the Arab with a sardonic smile.

And Moussa ran. He also bounded, shied, dodged, ducked, swerved, dropped, crawled, zig-zagged and generally gave his best attention to evading the shot of the common fighting-man whom he had propitiatorily addressed as “_Emir_,” though a mere wearer of a single fillet of camel-hair cord around his _haik_. Like a naval gunner–the Arab laid his gun and waited till the sights “came on,” fired, and had the satisfaction of seeing the child fling up his arms, leap into the air and fall twitching to the ground. Good shot! The twitches and the last convulsive spasm were highly artistic and creditable to the histrionic powers of Moussa Isa, shot through the ear, and inwardly congratulating himself that he had yet a chance. But then he had had wide opportunity for observation, and plenty of good models, in the matter of sudden-death spasms and twitches, so the credit is the less. Anyhow, it deceived experienced Arab eyes at a hundred yards, and the performance may therefore be classed as good. To the reflective person it will be manifest that Moussa’s reverence for the sanctity of human life received but little encouragement or development from the very beginning….

Returning refugees, a few days later, found Moussa very pleased-with himself and very displeased with uncooked putrid flesh. Being exceedingly poor and depressed as a result of the Mad Mullah’s vengeful _razzia_, they sold Moussa Isa, friendless, kinless orphan, and once again cursed the false English who made them great promises in the Mahdi’s troublous day, and abandoned them to the Mad Mullah and his Dervishes as soon as the Mahdi was happily dead.

The Mad Mullah they could understand; the English they could not. For the Mad Mullah they had no blame whatsoever; for the English they had the bitterest blame, the deepest hatred and the uttermost contempt. Who blames the lion for seeking and slaying his prey? Who defends the unspeakable creature that throws its friends and children to the lion–in payment of its debts and in cancellation of its obligations to those friends and children? In discussing the raid on their way to market with Moussa Isa, they mentioned the name of the Mad Mullah with respect and fear. When they mentioned the English they expectorated and made a gesture too significant to be particularized. And the tom-toms once again throbbed through the long nights, sending (by a code that was before Morse) from village to village, from the sea to the Nile, from the Nile to the Niger and the Zambesi, from the Mediterranean to the Cape, the news that once more the Mad Mullah had flouted that failing and treacherous race, the English, and slaughtered those who lived within their gates, under the shadow of their flag and the promise of their protection.

Ere Moussa Isa got his next prominent scar, the signal-drums throbbed out the news that the gates were thrown open, the flag hauled down, and the promises shamefully broken. That the representatives of the failing treacherous race now stood huddled along the sea-shore in fear and trembling, while those who had helped them in their trouble and had believed their word were slaughtered by the thousand; that the country was the home of fire and sword, the oasis-fields yielding nothing but corpses, the wells choked with dead … red slaughter, black pestilence, starvation, misery and death, where had been green cultivation, fenced villages, the sound of the quern and the well-wheel, the song of women and the cry of the ploughman to his oxen. News and comments which did nothing to lessen the pride and insolence of the Jubaland tribesmen, of the Wak tribesmen, of the bold Zubhier sons of the desert, nor to strike terror to the hearts of the murderers of Captain Aylmer and Mr. Jenner, of slave-traders, game-poachers, raiders, wallowers in slaughter….

Another very noticeable and remarkable scar broke the fine lines and smooth contours of Moussa’s throat and another memory was as indelibly established in his mind as was the said scar on his flesh.

At any time that he fingered the horrible ridged cicatrice, he could see the boundless ocean and the boundless blue sky from a wretched cranky canoe-shaped boat, in which certain Arab, Somali, Negro, and other gentlemen were proceeding all the way from near Berbera to near Aden with large trustfulness in Allah and with certain less creditable goods. It was a long, unwieldy vessel which ten men could row, one could steer with a broad oar, and a small three-cornered sail could keep before the wind.

But the various-clad crew of this cranky craft were gentlemen all, who, beyond running up the string-tied sail to the clothes-prop mast, or taking a trick at the wheel–another clothes-prop with a large disc of wood at the water-end, were far above work.

Trusting in Allah and Mohammed his Prophet is a lot easier than rowing a lineless, blunt-nosed, unseaworthy boat beneath a tropical sun. So they trusted in God, and permitted Moussa Isa, slave-boy, to do all that it was humanly possible for him to do.

Moussa did all that was expected of him, but not so Allah and Mohammed his Prophet.

The gentle breeze that (sometimes) carries you steadily over a glassy sea straight up the forty-fifth meridian of east longitude from Berbera to Aden in the month of October, failed these worthy trustful Argonauts, and they were becalmed.

But Time is made for slaves, and the only slave upon the Argosy was Moussa Isa, and so the becalming was neither here nor there. The cargo would keep (if kept dry) for many a long day–and the greater the delay in delivery, the greater the impatience of the consignees and their willingness to pay even more than the stipulated price–its weight in silver _per_ rifle. But food is made for men as well as slaves, and if you, in your noble trustfulness, resolutely decline to reduce your daily rations, there must, with mathematical certitude of date, arrive the final period to any given and limited supply. Though banking wholly with Heaven in the matter of their own salvation from hunger, the Argonauts displayed mere worldly wisdom in the case of Moussa Isa and gave him the minimum of food that might be calculated to keep within him strength adequate to his duties of steering, swarming up the mast, baling, cooking, massaging the liver of the Leading Gentleman, and so forth. And in due course, the calm continuing, these pious and religious voyagers came to the bitter end of their water, their rice, their _dhurra_, their dates–and all (except the salt and coffee which formed part of the ostensible, bogus cargo) that they had, as they too-slowly drifted into the track of those vessels that enter and leave the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, the Gate of Tears, the tears of the starving, drowning, ship-wrecked and castaway.

Salt _per se_ is a poor diet, and, for the making of potable coffee, fresh water is very necessary.

Some of the Argonauts were, as has been said, Negro gentlemen. On the third day of absolute starvation, one had an Idea and made a suggestion.

The Leading Gentleman entertained it with an open mind and without enthusiasm.

The Tanga tout acclaimed it as a divine inspiration.

The one-eyed Moor literally smiled upon it. As his eye was single and his body therefore full of light, he saw the beauty of the notion at once. Had it been full of food instead, we may charitably suppose he would not have remarked:–

“A pity we did not feed him up better”.

For the suggestion concerned Moussa Isa and food–Moussa Isa as food, in point of fact. The venerable gentle-looking Arab, whose face beamed effulgent with benevolence and virtue, murmured:–

“He will have but little blood, the dog. None of it must be–er–_wasted_ by the–ah–butcher.”

The huge man with the neat geometrical pattern of little scars, perpendicular on the forehead, horizontal on the cheeks and in concentric circles on the chest (done with loving care and a knife, in his infancy, by his papa) said only “_Ptwack_” as he chewed a mouthful of coffee-beans and hide. It may have been a pious ejaculation or a whole speech in his own peculiar vernacular. It was a tremendous smacking of tremendous lips, and the expression which overspread his speaking countenance was of gusto, appreciative, and such as accords with lip-smacking.

But a very fair man (very fair beside the Negroes, Somalis, Arabs and others our little black and brown brothers), a man with grey-blue eyes, light brown hair and moustache, and olive complexion, said to the originator of the Idea in faultless English, if not in faultless taste “You damned swine”.

A look of profoundest disgust overspread his handsome young face, a face which undoubtedly lent itself to very clear expression of such feelings as contempt, disgust and scorn, an unusual face, with the thin high-bridged nose of an English aristocrat, the large eyes and pencilled black brows of an Indian noble, the sallow yet cheek-flushed complexion of an Italian peasant-girl, and the firm lips, square jaw, and prominent chin of a fighting-man. It was essentially an English face in expression, and essentially foreign in detail; a face of extraordinary contradictions. The eyes were English in colour, Oriental in size and shape; the mouth and chin English in mould and in repose, Oriental in mobility and animation; the whole countenance English in shape, Oriental in complexion and profile–a fine, high-bred, strong face, upon which played shadows of cruelty, ferocity, diabolical cunning; a face admired more quickly than liked, inspiring more speculation than trust.

The same duality and contradiction were proclaimed in the hands–strong, tenacious, virile hands; small, fine, delicate hands; hands with the powerful and purposeful thumb of the West; hands with the supple artistic fingers and delicate finger-nails of the East.

And the man’s name was in keeping with hands and face, with mind, body, soul, and character, for, though he would not have done so, he could have replied to the query “What is your name?” with “My name? Well, in full, it is John Robin Ross-Ellison Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan, and its explanation is my descent from General Ross-Ellison, Laird of Glencairn, and from Mir Faquir Mahommed Afzul Khan, Jam of Mekran Kot”.

In Piccadilly, wearing the garb of Piccadilly, he looked an Englishman of the English.

In Abdul Rehman Bazaar, Cabul, wearing the garb of Abdul Rehman Bazaar, he looked a Pathan of Pathans. In the former case, rather more sunburnt than the average lounger in Piccadilly; in the latter, rather fairer than the average Afghan and Pathan loafer in Abdul Rehman Bazaar.

“Walking down Unter den Linden in Berlin, with upturned moustache, he looked a most Teutonic German.

“You observed, my friend?” queried the Leading Gentleman (whose father was the son of a Negro-Arab who married, or should have married, a Jewess captured near Fez, and whose mother was the daughter of a Tunisian Turk by a half-bred Negress of Timbuctoo).

“I observed,” replied the fair young man in the mongrel Arabic-Swahili _lingua franca_ of the Red Sea and East African littorals “that it is but natural for dogs to prey upon dogs.”

“There are times when the lion is driven to prey upon dogs, my dear son,” interposed the mild-eyed, benevolent-looking Arab–a pensive smile on his venerable face.

“Yes–when he is old, mangy, toothless and deserving of nothing better, my dear father,” replied the fair young man, and his glances at the white beard, scanty locks and mumbling mouth of the ancient gentleman had an unpleasantly personal quality. To the casual on-looker it would have seemed that an impudent boy deliberately insulted a harmless benevolent old gentleman. To the fair young man, however, it was well known that the old gentleman’s name was famous across Northern and Eastern Africa for monstrous villainy and fiendish cruelty–the name of the worst and wickedest of those traders in “black ivory,” one of whose side-lines is frequently gun-running. Also he knew that the benevolent-looking old dear was desirous that the Leading Gentleman, his partner, should join with him in a little scheme (a scheme revealed by one Moussa Isa, eaves-dropper) to give the fair young man some inches of steel instead of the pounds of Teutonic gold due for services (and rifles) rendered, when they should reach the quiet spot on the northern shore of the Persian Gulf where certain bold caravan-leaders would await them and their precious cargo–a scheme condemned by the Leading Gentleman on the grounds of the folly of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. But then the wealthy Arab patriarch was retiring from the risky business (already nearly ruined and destroyed by English gun-boats) after that trip, and the Leading Gentleman was not. Thus it was that the attitude of the fair young man toward Sheikh Abou ben Mustapha Muscati did not display that degree of respect that his grey hairs and beautiful old face would appear to deserve.

The French-speaking Moslem Berber _ex_-Zouave, from Algiers, suggested that Moussa Isa, a slave, was certainly not fitting food for gentlemen who fight, hunt, travel, poach elephants, deal in “black ivory,” run guns, and generally lead a life too picturesque for an over-“educated,” utilitarian and depressing age–but what would you? “One eats–but yes, one eats, or one ceases to live, and one does not wish to cease to live–and therefore one eats” and he cocked a yellow and appraising eye at Moussa Isa. The sense of the meeting appeared to be that though one would not have chosen this particular animal, necessity knows no rule–and if the throat be cut while the animal be alive, one may eat of the flesh and break the Law by so much the less. Moussa Isa must be _halalled_.[40] But the fair young man drawing a Khyber knife with two feet of blade, observed that it was now likely that there would be a plethora of food, as he would most assuredly cut the throat of any throat-cutter.

[40] To _halal_ is to make lawful, here to cut the throat of a living animal in order that its flesh may be eatable by good Mussulmans.

Moussa Isa regarded him with the look often seen in the eye of an intelligent dog.

The venerable Arab smiled meaningly at the Leading Gentleman, and the Tanga tout asked if all were to hunger for the silly scruples of one. “If the fair-faced Sheikh did not wish to eat of Moussa, none would urge it. Live and let live. The gentlemen were hungry; …” but the fair young man unreasonably replied, “Then let them eat _thee_ since they can stomach carrion,” and for the moment the subject dropped–largely because the fair young man was supposed always to carry a revolver, which was not a habit of his good colleagues. It was another evidence of his strange duality that revolver and knife were (rare phenomenon) equally acceptable to him, though in certain environment the pistol rather suggested itself to his left hand, while in others his right hand went quite unconsciously to his long knife.

In the present company no thought of the fire-arm entered his head–this was a knifing, back-stabbing outfit;–none here who stood up to shoot and be shot at in fair fight….

The Leading Gentleman looked many times and hard at Moussa Isa during the second day of his own starvation, which was the third of that of his companions and the fourth of Moussa’s. The Leading Gentleman, who was as rich as he was ragged and dirty, wore a very beautiful knife, which (though it reposed in a gaudy sheath of yellow, green and blue beads, fringed with a dependent filigree, or lace work, of similar beads with tassels of cowrie-shells) hailed from Damascus and had a handle of ivory and gold, and an inlaid blade on which were inscribed verses from the Q’ran.

Moussa Isa knew the pattern of it well by the close of day. The Leading Gentleman took that evening to sharpening the already sharp blade of the knife. As he sharpened it on his sandal and the side of the boat, and tried its edge on his thumb, he regarded the thin body of Moussa Isa very critically.

His look blended contempt, anticipation, and anxiety.

He broke a long brooding silence with the remark:–

“The little dog will be thinner still, to-morrow “–a remark which evoked from the fair youth the reply: “And so will you”.

Perhaps truth covered and excused a certain indelicacy and callousness in the statement of the Leading Gentleman, albeit the fair young man appeared annoyed at it. His British blood and instincts became predominant when the killing and eating of a fellow-creature were on the _tapis_–the said fellow-creature being on it at the same time.

A colleague from Dar-es-Salaam, who had an ear and a half, three teeth, six fingers, innumerable pockmarks and a German accent, said, “He will have little fat,” and there was bitterness in his tone. As a business man he realized a bad investment of capital. The food in which they had wallowed should have gone to the fattening of Moussa Isa. Also a fear struck him.

“He’ll jump overboard in the night–the ungrateful dog. Tie him up,” and he reached for a coil of cord.

“He will not be tied up,” observed the fair youth in a quiet, obstinate voice.

“See, my friend,” said the Leading Gentleman, “it is a case of one or many. Better _that_ one,” and he pointed to Moussa Isa, “than another,” and he looked meaningly at the fair young man.

“And yet, I know not,” murmured the venerable Arab, “I know not. We are not in the debt of the slave. We _are_ in the debt of the Sheikh. It would cancel all obligations if the Sheikh from the North preferred to offer himself as–“

The young man’s long knife flashed from its sheath as he sprang to his feet. “Let us eat monkey, if eat we must,” he cried, pointing to the Arab–and, even as he spoke, the huge man with the scars, flinging his great arms around the youth’s ankles, partly rose and neatly tipped him overboard. He had long hated the fair man.

Straightway, unseen by any, as all eyes were on the grey-eyed youth and his assailant, Moussa Isa cast loose the _toni_[41] that nestled beneath the stern of the larger boat. He was about to shout that he had done so when he realised that this would defeat his purpose, and also that the fair Sheikh was still under water.

[41] Small dug-out canoe.

“Good,” murmured the old Arab, “now brain him as he comes up–and secure his body.”

But the fair youth knew better than to rise in the immediate neighbourhood of the boat. Swimming with the ease, grace and speed of a seal, he emerged with bursting lungs a good hundred yards from where he had disappeared. Having breathed deeply he again sank, to re-appear at a point still more distant, and be lost in the gathering gloom.

“He is off to Cabul to lay his case before the Amir,” observed the elderly Arab with grim humour.

“Doubtless,” agreed the Leading Gentleman, “he will swim the 2000 miles to India, and then up the Indus to Attock.” And added, “But, bear witness all, if the young devil turn up again some day, that _I_ had no quarrel with him…. A pity! A pity!… Where shall we find his like, a Prank among the Franks, an Afghan among Afghans, a Frenchman in Algiers, a nomad robber in Persia, a Bey in Cairo, a Sahib in Bombay–equally at home as gentleman or tribesman? Where shall we find his like again as gatherer of the yellow honey of Berlin and as negotiator in Marseilles (where the discarded Gras breech-loaders of the army grow) and in Muscat? Woe! Woe!”

“Or his like for impudence to his elders, harshness in a bargain, cunning and greed?” added the benevolent-looking Arab, who had gained a handsome sum by the murder.

“For courage,” corrected the Leading Gentleman, and with a heavy sigh, groaned. “We shall never see him more–and he was worth his weight to me annually in gold.”

“No, you won’t see him again,” agreed the Arab. “He’ll hardly swim to Aden–apart from the little matter of sharks…. A pity the sharks should have so fair a body–and we starve!” and he turned a fatherly benevolent eye on Moussa Isa–whom a tall slender black Arab, from the hills about Port Sudan, of the true “fuzzy-wuzzy” type, had seized in his thin but Herculean arms as the boy rose to spring into the _toni_ and paddle to the rescue of his benefactor.

The Dar-es-Salaam merchant threw Fuzzy Wuzzy a coil of cord and Moussa Isa (who struggled, kicked, bit and finding resistance hopeless, screamed, “Follow the boat, Master,” as he lay on his back), was bound to a cracked and salt-encrusted beam or seat that supported, or was supported by, the cracked and salt-encrusted sides of the canoe-shaped vessel.

Although very, very hungry, and perhaps as conscienceless and wicked a gang as ever assembled together on the earth or went down to the sea in ships, there was yet a certain reluctance on the part of some of the members to revert to cannibalism, although all agreed that it was necessary.

Among the reluctant-to-commence were those who had no negro blood. Among the ready-to-commence, the full-blooded negroes were the most impatient.

Although very hungry and rather weak they were in different case from that of European castaway sailors, in that all were inured to long periods of fasting, all had crossed the Sahara or the Sus, lived for days on a handful of dates, and had tightened the waist-string by way of a meal. Few of them ever thought of eating between sunrise and sunset. The lives of the negroes were alternations of gorging and starving, incredible repletion and more incredible fasting; devouring vast masses of hippopotamus-flesh to-day, and starving for a week thereafter; pounds of prime meat to-day, gnawing hunger and the weakness of semi-starvation for the next month.

“At sunrise,” said the Leading Gentleman finality.

Good! That left the so-desirable element of chance. It left opportunity for change of programme inasmuch as sunrise might disclose help in the shape of a passing ship. The matter would rest with Heaven, and pious men might lay them down to sleep with clear conscience, reflecting that, should it be the Will of Allah that His servants should not eat of this flesh, other would be provided; should other not be provided it was clearly the Will of Allah that His servants should eat of this flesh! Excellent–there would be a meal soon after sunrise.

And the Argonauts laid them down to sleep, hungry but gratefully trustful, trustfully grateful. But Moussa Isa watched the wondrous lustrous stars throughout the age-long, flash-short night and thought of many things.

Had the splendid, noble Sheikh from the North heard his cry and had he found the _toni_? How far had he swum ere his strength gave out or, with sudden swirl, he was dragged under by the man-eating shark? Would he remove his long cotton shirt, velvet waistcoat and baggy cotton trousers? The latter would present difficulties, for the waist-string would tangle and the water would swell the knot and prevent the drawing of string over string.

Moreover, the garments, though very baggy, were tight round the ankles. Would he cast off his beautiful yard-long Khyber knife? It would go to his heart to do that, both for the sake of the weapon itself and because he would have to go to his death unavenged, seized by a shark without giving it its death-wound. Had he heard and would he follow the boat in the moonlight, find the _toni_ and escape? Could he swim to Aden? They had said not–even leaving sharks out of consideration, and indeed it must be forty or fifty miles away. Judging by their progress they must have done about one hundred and fifty miles since they embarked at the lonely spot on the Berbera coast for the other lonely spot on the Aden coast, where certain whisperings with certain mysterious camel-riders would preface their provisioning for the voyage along the weary Hadramant coast to the Ras el Had and Muscat–just a humble boat-load of poor but honest toilers and tradesmen, interested in dried fish, dates, the pearl-fishery and the pettiest trading. No, he would never reach land, wonderful swimmer as he was. He would be lost in the sea as is the Webi Shebeyli River in the sands of the South, unless he followed the drifting boat and found the _toni_. Otherwise, he might be picked up, but he would have to keep afloat all night to do that, unless he had the extraordinary luck to be seen by dhow or ship before dark. That could hardly be, unless the same ship or dhow were visible from their own boat, and none had been seen.

No, he must be dead–and Moussa Isa would shortly follow him. How he wished he could have given his life to save him. Had he known, he would have cried out, “Let them eat me, O Master,” and prevented him from risking his life. If he should get the chance of striking one blow for his life in the morning he would bestow it upon the scar-faced beast who had tripped the fair Sheik overboard. If he could strike two he would give the second to the old Arab who flogged women and children to death with the _kourbash_,[42] as an amusement, and whose cruelties were famous in a cruel land; the old Evil who hated, and plotted the death of, the fair Sheikh, with the leader of the expedition in order that they might divide his large share of the gun-running proceeds and German subsidy. If he could strike a third blow it should be at the filthy Hubshi of the Aruwimi, the low degraded Woolly One from the dark Interior (of human sacrifice, cannibalism and ju-ju) who had proposed eating him. Yes–if he could grab the leader’s knife and deal three such stabs as the Sheikh dealt the lion, at these three, he could die content. But this was absurd! They would _halal_ him first, of course, and unbind him afterwards…. They might unbind him first though, so as to place him favourably with regard to–economy. They would use the empty army-ration tin, shining there like silver in the moonlight, the tin with which he had done so much weary baling. Doubtless the leader and the Arab would share its contents. He grudged it them, and hoped a quarrel and struggle might arise and cause it to be spilt.

[42] Rhinoceros-hide whip.

An unpleasant death! Without cowardice one might dislike the thought of having one’s throat cut while one’s hands were bound and one watched the blood gushing into an old army-ration tin. Perhaps there would be none to gush–and a good job too. Serve them right. Could he cut his wrists on a nail or a splinter or with the cords, and cheat them, if there were any blood in him now. He would try. Yes, an unpleasant death. No one, no true Somali, that is, objected to a prod in the heart with a shovel-headed spear, a thwack in the head with a hammered slug, a sweep at the neck with a big sword–but to have a person sawing at your throat with weak and shaking hands is rotten….

One quite appreciated that masters must eat and slaves must die, and the religious necessity for cutting the throat while the animal is alive, according to the Law–and there was great comfort in the fact that the leader’s knife was inscribed with verses of the Q’ran and would probably be used for the job. (The leader liked jobs of that sort.) Countless it would confer distinction in Paradise upon one already distinguished as having died to provide food for a band of right-thinking, religious-minded gentlemen, who, even in such terrible straits, forgot not the Law nor omitted the ceremonies….

Where now was the fair-faced master who so resembled the English but was so much braver, fiercer, so much more staunch? Though fair as they, and knowing their speech, he could not be of a race that led whole tribes to trust in them, called them “Friendlies” and then forsook them; came to them in the day of trouble asking help, and then scuttled away and deserted their allies, leaving them to face alone the Power whose wrath and vengeance their help-giving had provoked. Yet there were good men among them–there was Kafil[43] Bey for example. Kafil Bey whose last noble fight he had witnessed. If the fair-faced Sheikh had any of the weak English blood in his veins it must be of such a man as Kafil Bey.

[43] Corfield?

Was he still swimming? Had he been picked up? Was he shark’s food? To think that _he_ should have come to his death over such a thing as a slave boy (albeit a Somali and no Hubshi).

This was an Emir indeed.

An idea!… He called aloud: “Are you there, Master? The _toni_ is loose and must be near,” again and again, louder and louder. Perhaps he was following and would hear. Again, louder still.

The one-eyed man, disturbed by the cry, stirred, threw his arms abroad, stretched, and put his foot on the mouth of a neighbour lying head-to-foot beside him. The neighbour snored loudly and turned his face sideways under the foot. He had slept standing jammed against the wall in the Idris of Omdurman, one of the most terrible jails of all time, and a huge foot on his face was a matter of no moment.

The Tanga tout suddenly emitted a scream, a blood-curdling scream, and immediately scratched his ribs like a monkey…. Moussa Isa held his peace.

Anon the scar-faced man turned over, moving others.

Could it be near dawn already, and were his proprietors waking up? He could see no change in the East, no paling of the lustrous stars. Was it an hour ago or eight hours ago that the night had fallen? Had he an hour to live or a night? Would he ever see Berbera again, steer a boat down its deep inlet, gaze upon its two lighthouses, its fort, hospital, barracks, piers, warehouses, bazaars; drive a camel along by its seven miles of aqueduct, look down from the hills upon this wonderful and mighty metropolis, greater and grander than Jibuti, Zeyla, Bulhar and Karam, surely the greatest and most marvellous port and city of the world, ere driving on through the thorn-bush and acacia-jungle into the vast waterless Haud? Would he ever again see the sun rise in the desert, smell the smoke of the camel-dung cooking-fires…. What was that? The sky was paling in the East, growing grey, a rose-pink flush on the horizon–dawn and death were at hand.

Before the heralds of the sun, the moon slowly veiled her face with lightest gossamer while the weaker stars fled. The daily miracle and common marvel proceeded before the tired eyes of the bound slave; the rim of the sun appeared above the rim of the sea; the moon more deeply veiled her face from the fierce red eye, and gracefully and gradually retired before the advance of the usurping conqueror–and the slave seemed to hear the fat croaking voice of the leader saying, “At sunrise”.

Broad day and all but he asleep. Well–it had come at last. When would they awake? Was the toni anywhere near?

The man with the geometrical pattern of scars on his face and chest suddenly sat bolt upright like a released spring, yawned, looked at the sky and the limp sail, and then at Moussa Isa. As his eye fell upon the boy he smiled copiously, protruded a very red tongue between very white teeth, and licked huge blue-black lips. He leaned over and awakened the Leading Gentleman. Then he pointed to the Victim. Both watched the horizon where, beyond distant Bombay and China, the sun was appearing, rising with the rapidity of the minute hand of a big clock. Neither looked to the West.

The child knew that when the sun had risen clear of the sea, he might look upon it for a minute or two–and no more. A puff of wind fanned his cheek; the sail filled and drew. The boat moved through the water and the one-eyed gentleman, arising and treading upon the out-lying tracts of the sleepers, stumbled to the rudder, which was tied with coconut-fibre to an upright stake. The breeze strengthened and there was a ripple of water at the bows. Was he saved?

The one-eyed person looked more disappointed than pleased, and observed to the Leading Gentleman: “We cannot live to Aden, though the wind hold. We must eat,” and he regarded the figure of Moussa Isa critically, appraisingly, with mingled favour and disfavour. His expressive countenance seemed to say, “He is food–but he is poor food”.

Nevertheless an unmistakable look of relief overspread his face as the Leading Gentleman replied with conviction, “We must eat….” and added, “This is but a dawn-breeze and will not take us half a mile”.

“Then let us eat forthwith,” said the one-eyed man, and he fairly beamed upon Moussa Isa, doubtless with the said light of which his body was full, in consequence of his singleness of vision. The whole party was by this time awake and Moussa Isa the cynosure of neighbouring eyes. The Leading Gentleman drew his beautiful knife from its tawdry sheath and gave it a last loving strop on his horny palm.

Willing hands dragged the head of Moussa Isa across the beam and willing bodies sat upon him, that he might not waste time, and something more precious, by thoughtless wriggling, delaying breakfast. The Leading Gentleman crawled to an advantageous position, and having bowed in prayer, sawed away industriously.

Moussa Isa wished to shriek to him that he was a fool and a bungler; that throats were not to be cut in that fashion, with hackings and sawing at the gullet. Knew the clumsy fumbler nothing of big blood-vessels?… but he could not speak.

“_That_ is not the way,” said the benevolent-looking old Arab. “Stab, man, stab under the ear–don’t cut … not there, anyhow.”

The Leading Gentleman tried the other side of the double-edged blade, continuing obstinately, and Moussa Isa contrived a strange sound which died away on a curious bubbling note and he grew faint.

Suddenly the one-eyed individual at the rudder screamed aloud, and disturbed the Leading Gentleman’s earnest endeavour to prevent waste. Not from sensibility did the one-eyed scream, nor on account of his growing conviction that the Leading Gentleman was getting more than his share, but because, as all realized upon looking up, a great ship was bearing down upon them from the West.

So intent had all been upon the preparation of breakfast that the steamer was almost audible when seen.

Good! Here came water, rice, bread, sugar, flour, and perhaps meat, for poor castaways, and probably money–from kindly lady-passengers, this last, for the ship was obviously a liner. The wretched Moussa Isa’s carcase was now superfluous–nay dangerous, and must be disposed of at once, for Europeans are most kittle cattle. They will exterminate your tribe with machine-guns, gin, small-pox, and still nastier things, but they are fearfully shocked at a bit of killing on the part of others. They call it murder. And though they will well-nigh depopulate a country themselves, they will wax highly indignant if any of the survivors do a little slaying, even if they kill but a miserable slave, like this Somali dog.

Heave him overboard.

No. Ships carry the “far-eye,” the magic instrument that makes the distant near, that brings things from miles away to within a few yards. Doubtless telescopes were on them already. Keep in a close group round the body, smuggle it under the palm-mats and make believe to have been trying to kindle a fire in an old kerosine-oil tin…. Signals of distress appeared and Moussa Isa disappeared. The great steamer approached, slowed down, and came to a standstill beside the boat of the starving castaways. From her cliff-like side the passengers, crowding the rails of her many decks, looked down with interest upon a prehistoric craft in which lay a number of poor emaciated blacks and Arabs, clad for the most part in scanty cotton rags. These poor creatures feebly extended skinny hands and feebly raised quavering voices, as they begged for water and a little rice, only water and a little rice in the name of Allah the Merciful, the Compassionate. Their tins, lotahs and goat-skins were filled, bags of rice, bread and flour were lowered to them; a box of sugar and a packet of biscuit were added; and a gentle little rain of coins fell as though from Heaven.

Kodaks clicked, clergymen beamed, ladies said, “How sweetly picturesque–poor dears”; the Captain murmured, “Damnedest scoundrels unhung–but can’t leave ’em to starve”; the “poor dears” smiled largely and ate wolfishly; Moussa Isa bled, and the great steamer resumed her way.

“Pat” Brighte (she was Cleopatra Diamond Brighte who married Colonel Dearman of the Gungapur Volunteer Bines) found she had got a splendid snap-shot when her films were developed at Gungapur. A little later she got another when the look-out saw, and a boat picked up, a man who was lying in a little dug-out or _toni_. When able to speak, he told the _serang_[44] of the lascars that he was the sole survivor of a bunder-boat which had turned turtle and sunk. He understood nothing but