By Rudyard Kipling
“Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he be found worthy.”
The Law, as quoted, lays down a fair conduct of life, and one not easy to follow. I have been fellow to a beggar again and again under circumstances which prevented either of us finding out whether the other was worthy. I have still to be brother to a Prince, though I once came near to kinship with what might have been a veritable King and was promised the reversion of a Kingdom — army, law-courts, revenue and policy all complete. But, to-day, I greatly fear that my King is dead, and if I want a crown I must go and hunt it for myself.
The beginning of everything was in a railway train upon the road to Mhow from Ajmir. There had been a deficit in the Budget, which necessitated travelling, not Second-class, which is only half as dear as First-class, but by Intermediate, which is very awful indeed. There are no cushions in the Intermediate class, and the population are either Intermediate, which is Eurasian, or native, which for a long night journey is nasty; or Loafer, which is amusing though intoxicated. Intermediates do not patronize refreshment-rooms. They carry their food in bundles and pots, and buy sweets from the native sweetmeat-sellers, and drink the roadside water. That is why in the hot weather Intermediates are taken out of the carriages dead, and in all weathers are most properly looked down upon.
My particular Intermediate happened to be empty till I reached Nasirabad, when a huge gentleman in shirt-sleeves entered, and, following the custom of Intermediates, passed the time of day. He was a wanderer and a vagabond like myself, but with an educated taste for whiskey. He told tales of things he had seen and done, of out-of-the-way corners of the Empire into which he had penetrated, and of adventures in which he risked his life for a few days’ food. “If India was filled with men like you and me, not knowing more than the crows where they’d get their next day’s rations, it isn’t seventy millions of revenue the land would be paying — it’s seven hundred million,” said he; and as I looked at his mouth and chin I was disposed to agree with him. We talked politics — the politics of Loaferdom that sees things from the underside where the lath and plaster is not smoothed off — and we talked postal arrangements because my friend wanted to send a telegram back from the next station to Ajmir, which is the turning-off place from the Bombay to the Mhow line as you travel westward. My friend had no money beyond eight annas which he wanted for dinner, and I had no money at all, owing to the hitch in the Budget before mentioned. Further, I was going into a wilderness where, though I should resume touch with the Treasury, there were no telegraph offices. I was, therefore, unable to help him in any way.
“We might threaten a Station-master, and make him send a wire on tick,” said my friend, “but that’d mean inquiries for you and for me, and I’ve got my hands full these days. Did you say you are travelling back along this line within any days?”
“Within ten,” I said.
“Can’t you make it eight?” said he. “Mine is rather urgent business.”
“I can send your telegram within ten days if that will serve you,” I said.
“I couldn’t trust the wire to fetch him now I think of it. It’s this way. He leaves Delhi on the 23d for Bombay. That means he’ll be running through Ajmir about the night of the 23d.”
“But I’m going into the Indian Desert,” I explained.
“Well and good,” said he. “You’ll be changing at Marwar Junction to get into Jodhpore territory — you must do that — and he’ll be coming through Marwar Junction in the early morning of the 24th by the Bombay Mail. Can you be at Marwar Junction on that time? ’Twon’t be inconveniencing you because I know that there’s precious few pickings to be got out of these Central India States — even though you pretend to be correspondent of the Backwoodsman.”
“Have you ever tried that trick?” I asked.
“Again and again, but the Residents find you out, and then you get escorted to the Border before you’ve time to get your knife into them. But about my friend here. I must give him a word o’ mouth to tell him what’s come to me or else he won’t know where to go. I would take it more than kind of you if you was to come out of Central India in time to catch him at Marwar Junction, and say to him:— ‘He has gone South for the week.’ He’ll know what that means. He’s a big man with a red beard, and a great swell he is. You’ll find him sleeping like a gentleman with all his luggage round him in a second-class compartment. But don’t you be afraid. Slip down the window, and say:— ‘He has gone South for the week,’ and he’ll tumble. It’s only cutting your time of stay in those parts by two days. I ask you as a stranger — going to the West,” he said with emphasis.
“Where have you come from?” said I.
“From the East,” said he, “and I am hoping that you will give him the message on the Square — for the sake of my Mother as well as your own.”
Englishmen are not usually softened by appeals to the memory of their mothers, but for certain reasons, which will be fully apparent, I saw fit to agree.
“It’s more than a little matter,” said he, “and that’s why I ask you to do it — and now I know that I can depend on you doing it. A second-class carriage at Marwar Junction, and a red-haired man asleep in it. You’ll be sure to remember. I get out at the next station, and I must hold on there till he comes or sends me what I want.”
“I’ll give the message if I catch him,” I said, “and for the sake of your Mother as well as mine I’ll give you a word of advice. Don’t try to run the Central India States just now as the correspondent of the Backwoodsman. There’s a real one knocking about here, and it might lead to trouble.”
“Thank you,” said he simply, “and when will the swine be gone? I can’t starve because he’s ruining my work. I wanted to get hold of the Degumber Rajah down here about his father’s widow, and give him a jump.”
“What did he do to his father’s widow, then?”
“Filled her up with red pepper and slippered her to death as she hung from a beam. I found that out myself and I’m the only man that would dare going into the State to get hush-money for it. They’ll try to poison me, same as they did in Chortumna when I went on the loot there. But you’ll give the man at Marwar Junction my message?”
He got out at a little roadside station, and I reflected. I had heard, more than once, of men personating correspondents of newspapers and bleeding small Native States with threats of exposure, but I had never met any of the caste before. They lead a hard life, and generally die with great suddenness. The Native States have a wholesome horror of English newspapers, which may throw light on their peculiar methods of government, and do their best to choke correspondents with champagne, or drive them out of their mind with four-in-hand barouches. They do not understand that nobody cares a straw for the internal administration of Native States so long as oppression and crime are kept within decent limits, and the ruler is not drugged, drunk, or diseased from one end of the year to the other. Native States were created by Providence in order to supply picturesque scenery, tigers and tall-writing. They are the dark places of the earth, full of unimaginable cruelty, touching the Railway and the Telegraph on one side, and, on the other, the days of Harun-al-Raschid. When I left the train I did business with divers Kings, and in eight days passed through many changes of life. Sometimes I wore dress-clothes and consorted with Princes and Politicals, drinking from crystal and eating from silver. Sometimes I lay out upon the ground and devoured what I could get, from a plate made of a flapjack, and drank the running water, and slept under the same rug as my servant. It was all in a day’s work.
Then I headed for the Great Indian Desert upon the proper date, as I had promised, and the night Mail set me down at Marwar Junction, where a funny little, happy-go-lucky, native managed railway runs to Jodhpore. The Bombay Mail from Delhi makes a short halt at Marwar. She arrived as I got in, and I had just time to hurry to her platform and go down the carriages. There was only one second-class on the train. I slipped the window and looked down upon a flaming red beard, half covered by a railway rug. That was my man, fast asleep, and I dug him gently in the ribs. He woke with a grunt and I saw his face in the light of the lamps. It was a great and shining face.
“Tickets again?” said he.
“No,” said I. “I am to tell you that he is gone South for the week. He is gone South for the week!”
The train had begun to move out. The red man rubbed his eyes. “He has gone South for the week,” he repeated. “Now that’s just like his impudence. Did he say that I was to give you anything? — ’Cause I won’t.”
“He didn’t,” I said and dropped away, and watched the red lights die out in the dark. It was horribly cold because the wind was blowing off the sands. I climbed into my own train — not an Intermediate Carriage this time — and went to sleep.
If the man with the beard had given me a rupee I should have kept it as a memento of a rather curious affair. But the consciousness of having done my duty was my only reward.
Later on I reflected that two gentlemen like my friends could not do any good if they foregathered and personated correspondents of newspapers, and might, if they “stuck up” one of the little rat-trap states of Central India or Southern Rajputana, get themselves into serious difficulties. I therefore took some trouble to describe them as accurately as I could remember to people who would be interested in deporting them; and succeeded, so I was later informed, in having them headed back from the Degumber borders.
Then I became respectable, and returned to an Office where there were no Kings and no incidents except the daily manufacture of a newspaper. A newspaper office seems to attract every conceivable sort of person, to the prejudice of discipline. Zenana-mission ladies arrive, and beg that the Editor will instantly abandon all his duties to describe a Christian prize-giving in a back-slum of a perfectly inaccessible village; Colonels who have been overpassed for commands sit down and sketch the outline of a series of ten, twelve, or twenty-four leading articles on Seniority versus Selection; missionaries wish to know why they have not been permitted to escape from their regular vehicles of abuse and swear at a brother-missionary under special patronage of the editorial We; stranded theatrical companies troop up to explain that they cannot pay for their advertisements, but on their return from New Zealand or Tahiti will do so with interest; inventors of patent punkah-pulling machines, carriage couplings and unbreakable swords and axle-trees call with specifications in their pockets and hours at their disposal; tea-companies enter and elaborate their prospectuses with the office pens; secretaries of ball-committees clamor to have the glories of their last dance more fully expounded; strange ladies rustle in and say:— “I want a hundred lady’s cards printed at once, please,” which is manifestly part of an Editor’s duty; and every dissolute ruffian that ever tramped the Grand Trunk Road makes it his business to ask for employment as a proof-reader. And, all the time, the telephone-bell is ringing madly, and Kings are being killed on the Continent, and Empires are saying, “You’re another,” and Mister Gladstone is calling down brimstone upon the British Dominions, and the little black copy-boys are whining, “kaa-pi chayha-yeh” (copy wanted) like tired bees, and most of the paper is as blank as Modred’s shield.
But that is the amusing part of the year. There are other six months wherein none ever come to call, and the thermometer walks inch by inch up to the top of the glass, and the office is darkened to just above reading light, and the press machines are red-hot of touch, and nobody writes anything but accounts of amusements in the Hill-stations or obituary notices. Then the telephone becomes a tinkling terror, because it tells you of the sudden deaths of men and women that you knew intimately, and the prickly-heat covers you as with a garment, and you sit down and write:— “A slight increase of sickness is reported from the Khuda Janta Khan District. The outbreak is purely sporadic in its nature, and, thanks to the energetic efforts of the District authorities, is now almost at an end. It is, however, with deep regret we record the death, etc.”
Then the sickness really breaks out, and the less recording and reporting the better for the peace of the subscribers. But the Empires and the Kings continue to divert themselves as selfishly as before, and the foreman thinks that a daily paper really ought to come out once in twenty-four hours, and all the people at the Hill-stations in the middle of their amusements say:— “Good gracious! Why can’t the paper be sparkling? I’m sure there’s plenty going on up here.”
That is the dark half of the moon, and, as the advertisements say, “must be experienced to be appreciated.”
It was in that season, and a remarkably evil season, that the paper began running the last issue of the week on Saturday night, which is to say Sunday morning, after the custom of a London paper. This was a great convenience, for immediately after the paper was put to bed, the dawn would lower the thermometer from 96° to almost 84° for almost half an hour, and in that chill — you have no idea how cold is 84° on the grass until you begin to pray for it — a very tired man could set off to sleep ere the heat roused him.
One Saturday night it was my pleasant duty to put the paper to bed alone. A King or courtier or a courtesan or a community was going to die or get a new Constitution, or do something that was important on the other side of the world, and the paper was to be held open till the latest possible minute in order to catch the telegram. It was a pitchy black night, as stifling as a June night can be, and the loo, the red-hot wind from the westward, was booming among the tinder-dry trees and pretending that the rain was on its heels. Now and again a spot of almost boiling water would fall on the dust with the flop of a frog, but all our weary world knew that was only pretence. It was a shade cooler in the press-room than the office, so I sat there, while the type ticked and clicked, and the night-jars hooted at the windows, and the all but naked compositors wiped the sweat from their foreheads and called for water. The thing that was keeping us back, whatever it was, would not come off, though the loo dropped and the last type was set, and the whole round earth stood still in the choking heat, with its finger on its lip, to wait the event. I drowsed, and wondered whether the telegraph was a blessing, and whether this dying man, or struggling people, was aware of the inconvenience the delay was causing. There was no special reason beyond the heat and worry to make tension, but, as the clock-hands crept up to three o’clock and the machines spun their fly-wheels two and three times to see that all was in order, before I said the word that would set them off, I could have shrieked aloud.
Then the roar and rattle of the wheels shivered the quiet into little bits. I rose to go away, but two men in white clothes stood in front of me. The first one said:— “It’s him!” The second said — “So it is!” And they both laughed almost as loudly as the machinery roared, and mopped their foreheads. “We see there was a light burning across the road and we were sleeping in that ditch there for coolness, and I said to my friend here, the office is open. Let’s come along and speak to him as turned us back from the Degumber State,” said the smaller of the two. He was the man I had met in the Mhow train, and his fellow was the red-bearded man of Marwar Junction. There was no mistaking the eyebrows of the one or the beard of the other.
I was not pleased, because I wished to go to sleep, not to squabble with loafers. “What do you want?” I asked.
“Half an hour’s talk with you cool and comfortable, in the office,” said the red-bearded man. “We’d like some drink — the Contrack doesn’t begin yet, Peachey, so you needn’t look — but what we really want is advice. We don’t want money. We ask you as a favor, because you did us a bad turn about Degumber.”
I led from the press-room to the stifling office with the maps on the walls, and the red-haired man rubbed his hands. “That’s something like,” said he. “This was the proper shop to come to. Now, Sir, let me introduce to you Brother Peachey Carnehan, that’s him, and Brother Daniel Dravot, that is me, and the less said about our professions the better, for we have been most things in our time. Soldier, sailor, compositor, photographer, proof-reader, street-preacher, and correspondents of the Backwoodsman when we thought the paper wanted one. Carnehan is sober, and so am I. Look at us first and see that’s sure. It will save you cutting into my talk. We’ll take one of your cigars apiece, and you shall see us light.” I watched the test. The men were absolutely sober, so I gave them each a tepid peg.
“Well and good,” said Carnehan of the eyebrows, wiping the froth from his mustache. “Let me talk now, Dan. We have been all over India, mostly on foot. We have been boiler-fitters, engine-drivers, petty contractors, and all that, and we have decided that India isn’t big enough for such as us.”
They certainly were too big for the office. Dravot’s beard seemed to fill half the room and Carnehan’s shoulders the other half, as they sat on the big table. Carnehan continued: — “The country isn’t half worked out because they that governs it won’t let you touch it. They spend all their blessed time in governing it, and you can’t lift a spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil, nor anything like that without all the Government saying — ‘Leave it alone and let us govern.’ Therefore, such as it is, we will let it alone, and go away to some other place where a man isn’t crowded and can come to his own. We are not little men, and there is nothing that we are afraid of except Drink, and we have signed a Contrack on that. Therefore, we are going away to be Kings.”
“Kings in our own right,” muttered Dravot.
“Yes, of course,” I said. “You’ve been tramping in the sun, and it’s a very warm night, and hadn’t you better sleep over the notion? Come to-morrow.”
“Neither drunk nor sunstruck,” said Dravot. “We have slept over the notion half a year, and require to see Books and Atlases, and we have decided that there is only one place now in the world that two strong men can Sar-a-whack. They call it Kafiristan. By my reckoning its the top right-hand corner of Afghanistan, not more than three hundred miles from Peshawar. They have two and thirty heathen idols there, and we’ll be the thirty-third. It’s a mountainous country, and the women of those parts are very beautiful.”
“But that is provided against in the Contrack,” said Carnehan. “Neither Women nor Liquor, Daniel.”
“And that’s all we know, except that no one has gone there, and they fight, and in any place where they fight a man who knows how to drill men can always be a King. We shall go to those parts and say to any King we find — ‘D’ you want to vanquish your foes?’ and we will show him how to drill men; for that we know better than anything else. Then we will subvert that King and seize his Throne and establish a Dy-nasty.”
“You’ll be cut to pieces before you’re fifty miles across the Border,” I said. “You have to travel through Afghanistan to get to that country. It’s one mass of mountains and peaks and glaciers, and no Englishman has been through it. The people are utter brutes, and even if you reached them you couldn’t do anything.”
“That’s more like,” said Carnehan. “If you could think us a little more mad we would be more pleased. We have come to you to know about this country, to read a book about it, and to be shown maps. We want you to tell us that we are fools and to show us your books.” He turned to the book-cases.
“Are you at all in earnest?” I said.
“A little,” said Dravot, sweetly. “As big a map as you have got, even if it’s all blank where Kafiristan is, and any books you’ve got. We can read, though we aren’t very educated.”
I uncased the big thirty-two-miles-to-the-inch map of India, and two smaller Frontier maps, hauled down volume INF-KAN of the Encyclopædia Britannica, and the men consulted them.
“See here!” said Dravot, his thumb on the map. “Up to Jagdallak, Peachey and me know the road. We was there with Roberts’s Army. We’ll have to turn off to the right at Jagdallak through Laghmann territory. Then we get among the hills — fourteen thousand feet — fifteen thousand — it will be cold work there, but it don’t look very far on the map.”
I handed him Wood on the Sources of the Oxus. Carnehan was deep in the Encyclopædia.
“They’re a mixed lot,” said Dravot, reflectively; “and it won’t help us to know the names of their tribes. The more tribes the more they’ll fight, and the better for us. From Jagdallak to Ashang. H’mm!”
“But all the information about the country is as sketchy and inaccurate as can be,” I protested. “No one knows anything about it really. Here’s the file of the United Services’ Institute. Read what Bellew says.”
“Blow Bellew!” said Carnehan. “Dan, they’re an all-fired lot of heathens, but this book here says they think they’re related to us English.”
I smoked while the men pored over Raverty, Wood, the maps and the Encyclopædia.
“There is no use your waiting,” said Dravot, politely. “It’s about four o’clock now. We’ll go before six o’clock if you want to sleep, and we won’t steal any of the papers. Don’t you sit up. We’re two harmless lunatics, and if you come, to-morrow evening, down to the Serai we’ll say good-by to you.”
“You are two fools,” I answered. “You’ll be turned back at the Frontier or cut up the minute you set foot in Afghanistan. Do you want any money or a recommendation down-country? I can help you to the chance of work next week.”
“Next week we shall be hard at work ourselves, thank you,” said Dravot. “It isn’t so easy being a King as it looks. When we’ve got our Kingdom in going order we’ll let you know, and you can come up and help us to govern it.”
“Would two lunatics make a Contrack like that!” said Carnehan, with subdued pride, showing me a greasy half-sheet of note-paper on which was written the following. I copied it, then and there, as a curiosity:—
This Contract between me and you persuing witnesseth in the name of God — Amen and so forth.
(One) That me and you will settle this matter together: i.e., to be Kings of Kafiristan.
(Two) That you and me will not while this matter is being settled, look at any Liquor, nor any Woman black, white or brown, so as to get mixed up with one or the other harmful.
(Three) That we conduct ourselves with Dignity and Discretion, and if one of us gets into trouble the other will stay by him.
Signed by you and me this day.
Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan.
Both Gentlemen at Large.
“There was no need for the last article,” said Carnehan, blushing modestly; “but it looks regular. Now you know the sort of men that loafers are — we are loafers, Dan, until we get out of India — and do you think that we could sign a Contrack like that unless we was in earnest? We have kept away from the two things that make life worth having.”
“You won’t enjoy your lives much longer if you are going to try this idiotic adventure. Don’t set the office on fire,” I said, “and go away before nine o’clock.”
I left them still poring over the maps and making notes on the back of the “Contrack.” “Be sure to come down to the Serai to-morrow,” were their parting words.
The Kumharsen Serai is the great four-square sink of humanity where the strings of camels and horses from the North load and unload. All the nationalities of Central Asia may be found there, and most of the folk of India proper. Balkh and Bokhara there meet Bengal and Bombay, and try to draw eye-teeth. You can buy ponies, turquoises, Persian pussy-cats, saddle-bags, fat-tailed sheep and musk in the Kumharsen Serai, and get many strange things for nothing. In the afternoon I went down there to see whether my friends intended to keep their word or were lying about drunk.
A priest attired in fragments of ribbons and rags stalked up to me, gravely twisting a child’s paper whirligig. Behind him was his servant, bending under the load of a crate of mud toys. The two were loading up two camels, and the inhabitants of the Serai watched them with shrieks of laughter.
“The priest is mad,” said a horse-dealer to me. “He is going up to Kabul to sell toys to the Amir. He will either be raised to honor or have his head cut off. He came in here this morning and has been behaving madly ever since.”
“The witless are under the protection of God,” stammered a flat-cheeked Usbeg in broken Hindi. “They foretell future events.”
“Would they could have foretold that my caravan would have been cut up by the Shinwaris almost within shadow of the Pass!” grunted the Eusufzai agent of a Rajputana trading-house whose goods had been feloniously diverted into the hands of other robbers just across the Border, and whose misfortunes were the laughing-stock of the bazar. “Ohé, priest, whence come you and whither do you go?”
“From Roum have I come,” shouted the priest, waving his whirligig; “from Roum, blown by the breath of a hundred devils across the sea! O thieves, robbers, liars, the blessing of Pir Khan on pigs, dogs, and perjurers! Who will take the Protected of God to the North to sell charms that are never still to the Amir? The camels shall not gall, the sons shall not fall sick, and the wives shall remain faithful while they are away, of the men who give me place in their caravan. Who will assist me to slipper the King of the Roos with a golden slipper with a silver heel? The protection of Pir Kahn be upon his labors!” He spread out the skirts of his gaberdine and pirouetted between the lines of tethered horses.
“There starts a caravan from Peshawar to Kabul in twenty days, Huzrut,” said the Eusufzai trader. “My camels go therewith. Do thou also go and bring us good luck.”
“I will go even now!” shouted the priest. “I will depart upon my winged camels, and be at Peshawar in a day! Ho! Hazar Mir Khan,” he yelled to his servant “drive out the camels, but let me first mount my own.”
He leaped on the back of his beast as it knelt, and turning round to me, cried:—
“Come thou also, Sahib, a little along the road, and I will sell thee a charm — an amulet that shall make thee King of Kafiristan.”
Then the light broke upon me, and I followed the two camels out of the Serai till we reached open road and the priest halted.
“What d’ you think o’ that?” said he in English. “Carnehan can’t talk their patter, so I’ve made him my servant. He makes a handsome servant. ’Tisn’t for nothing that I’ve been knocking about the country for fourteen years. Didn’t I do that talk neat? We’ll hitch on to a caravan at Peshawar till we get to Jagdallak, and then we’ll see if we can get donkeys for our camels, and strike into Kafiristan. Whirligigs for the Amir, O Lor! Put your hand under the camel-bags and tell me what you feel.”
I felt the butt of a Martini, and another and another.
“Twenty of ’em,” said Dravot, placidly.
“Twenty of ’em, and ammunition to correspond, under the whirligigs and the mud dolls.”
“Heaven help you if you are caught with those things!” I said. “A Martini is worth her weight in silver among the Pathans.”
“Fifteen hundred rupees of capital — every rupee we could beg, borrow, or steal — are invested on these two camels,” said Dravot. “We won’t get caught. We’re going through the Khaiber with a regular caravan. Who’d touch a poor mad priest?”
“Have you got everything you want?” I asked, overcome with astonishment.
“Not yet, but we shall soon. Give us a momento of your kindness, Brother. You did me a service yesterday, and that time in Marwar. Half my Kingdom shall you have, as the saying is.” I slipped a small charm compass from my watch-chain and handed it up to the priest.
“Good-by,” said Dravot, giving me his hand cautiously. “It’s the last time we’ll shake hands with an Englishman these many days. Shake hands with him, Carnehan,” he cried, as the second camel passed me.
Carnehan leaned down and shook hands. Then the camels passed away along the dusty road, and I was left alone to wonder. My eye could detect no failure in the disguises. The scene in the Serai attested that they were complete to the native mind. There was just the chance, therefore, that Carnehan and Dravot would be able to wander through Afghanistan without detection. But, beyond, they would find death, certain and awful death.
Ten days later a native friend of mine, giving me the news of the day from Peshawar, wound up his letter with:— “There has been much laughter here on account of a certain mad priest who is going in his estimation to sell petty gauds and insignificant trinkets which he ascribes as great charms to H. H. the Amir of Bokhara. He passed through Peshawar and associated himself to the Second Summer caravan that goes to Kabul. The merchants are pleased because through superstition they imagine that such mad fellows bring good-fortune.”
The two then, were beyond the Border. I would have prayed for them, but, that night, a real King died in Europe, and demanded an obituary notice.