The wheel of the world swings through the same phases again and again. Summer passed and winter thereafter, and came and passed again. The daily paper continued and I with it, and upon the third summer there fell a hot night, a night-issue, and a strained waiting for something to be telegraphed from the other side of the world, exactly as had happened before. A few great men had died in the past two years, the machines worked with more clatter, and some of the trees in the Office garden were a few feet taller. But that was all the difference.
I passed over to the press-room, and went through just such a scene as I have already described. The nervous tension was stronger than it had been two years before, and I felt the heat more acutely. At three o’clock I cried, “Print off,” and turned to go, when there crept to my chair what was left of a man. He was bent into a circle, his head was sunk between his shoulders, and he moved his feet one over the other like a bear. I could hardly see whether he walked or crawled — this rag-wrapped, whining cripple who addressed me by name, crying that he was come back. “Can you give me a drink?” he whimpered. “For the Lord’s sake, give me a drink!”
I went back to the office, the man following with groans of pain, and I turned up the lamp.
“Don’t you know me?” he gasped, dropping into a chair, and he turned his drawn face, surmounted by a shock of gray hair, to the light.
I looked at him intently. Once before had I seen eyebrows that met over the nose in an inch-broad black band, but for the life of me I could not tell where.
“I don’t know you,” I said, handing him the whiskey. “What can I do for you?”
He took a gulp of the spirit raw, and shivered in spite of the suffocating heat.
“I’ve come back,” he repeated; “and I was the King of Kafiristan — me and Dravot — crowned Kings we was! In this office we settled it — you setting there and giving us the books. I am Peachey — Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan, and you’ve been setting here ever since — O Lord!”
I was more than a little astonished, and expressed my feelings accordingly.
“It’s true,” said Carnehan, with a dry cackle, nursing his feet which were wrapped in rags. “True as gospel. Kings we were, with crowns upon our heads — me and Dravot — poor Dan — oh, poor, poor Dan, that would never take advice, not though I begged of him!”
“Take the whiskey,” I said, “and take your own time. Tell me all you can recollect of everything from beginning to end. You got across the border on your camels, Dravot dressed as a mad priest and you his servant. Do you remember that?”
“I ain’t mad — yet, but I will be that way soon. Of course I remember. Keep looking at me, or maybe my words will go all to pieces. Keep looking at me in my eyes and don’t say anything.”
I leaned forward and looked into his face as steadily as I could. He dropped one hand upon the table and I grasped it by the wrist. It was twisted like a bird’s claw, and upon the back was a ragged, red, diamond-shaped scar.
“No, don’t look there. Look at me,” said Carnehan.
“That comes afterwards, but for the Lord’s sake don’t distrack me. We left with that caravan, me and Dravot, playing all sorts of antics to amuse the people we were with. Dravot used to make us laugh in the evenings when all the people was cooking their dinners — cooking their dinners, and … what did they do then? They lit little fires with sparks that went into Dravot’s beard, and we all laughed — fit to die. Little red fires they was, going into Dravot’s big red beard — so funny.” His eyes left mine and he smiled foolishly.
“You went as far as Jagdallak with that caravan,” I said at a venture, “after you had lit those fires. To Jagdallak, where you turned off to try to get into Kafiristan.”
“No, we didn’t neither. What are you talking about? We turned off before Jagdallak, because we heard the roads was good. But they wasn’t good enough for our two camels — mine and Dravot’s. When we left the caravan, Dravot took off all his clothes and mine too, and said we would be heathen, because the Kafirs didn’t allow Mohammedans to talk to them. So we dressed betwixt and between, and such a sight as Daniel Dravot I never saw yet nor expect to see again. He burned half his beard, and slung a sheep-skin over his shoulder, and shaved his head into patterns. He shaved mine, too, and made me wear outrageous things to look like a heathen. That was in a most mountaineous country, and our camels couldn’t go along any more because of the mountains. They were tall and black, and coming home I saw them fight like wild goats — there are lots of goats in Kafiristan. And these mountains, they never keep still, no more than the goats. Always fighting they are, and don’t let you sleep at night.”
“Take some more whiskey,” I said, very slowly. “What did you and Daniel Dravot do when the camels could go no further because of the rough roads that led into Kafiristan?”
“What did which do? There was a party called Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan that was with Dravot. Shall I tell you about him? He died out there in the cold. Slap from the bridge fell old Peachey, turning and twisting in the air like a penny whirligig that you can sell to the Amir — No; they was two for three ha’pence, those whirligigs, or I am much mistaken and woful sore. And then these camels were no use, and Peachey said to Dravot — ‘For the Lord’s sake, let’s get out of this before our heads are chopped off,’ and with that they killed the camels all among the mountains, not having anything in particular to eat, but first they took off the boxes with the guns and the ammunition, till two men came along driving four mules. Dravot up and dances in front of them, singing, — ‘Sell me four mules.’ Says the first man, — ‘If you are rich enough to buy, you are rich enough to rob;’ but before ever he could put his hand to his knife, Dravot breaks his neck over his knee, and the other party runs away. So Carnehan loaded the mules with the rifles that was taken off the camels, and together we starts forward into those bitter cold mountainous parts, and never a road broader than the back of your hand.”
He paused for a moment, while I asked him if he could remember the nature of the country through which he had journeyed.
“I am telling you as straight as I can, but my head isn’t as good as it might be. They drove nails through it to make me hear better how Dravot died. The country was mountainous and the mules were most contrary, and the inhabitants was dispersed and solitary. They went up and up, and down and down, and that other party Carnehan, was imploring of Dravot not to sing and whistle so loud, for fear of bringing down the tremenjus avalanches. But Dravot says that if a King couldn’t sing it wasn’t worth being King, and whacked the mules over the rump, and never took no heed for ten cold days. We came to a big level valley all among the mountains, and the mules were near dead, so we killed them, not having anything in special for them or us to eat. We sat upon the boxes, and played odd and even with the cartridges that was jolted out.
“Then ten men with bows and arrows ran down that valley, chasing twenty men with bows and arrows, and the row was tremenjus. They was fair men — fairer than you or me — with yellow hair and remarkable well built. Says Dravot, unpacking the guns — ‘This is the beginning of the business. We’ll fight for the ten men,’ and with that he fires two rifles at the twenty men and drops one of them at two hundred yards from the rock where we was sitting. The other men began to run, but Carnehan and Dravot sits on the boxes picking them off at all ranges, up and down the valley. Then we goes up to the ten men that had run across the snow too, and they fires a footy little arrow at us. Dravot he shoots above their heads and they all falls down flat. Then he walks over them and kicks them, and then he lifts them up and shakes hands all around to make them friendly like. He calls them and gives them the boxes to carry, and waves his hand for all the world as though he was King already. They takes the boxes and him across the valley and up the hill into a pine wood on the top, where there was half a dozen big stone idols. Dravot he goes to the biggest — a fellow they call Imbra — and lays a rifle and a cartridge at his feet, rubbing his nose respectful with his own nose, patting him on the head, and saluting in front of it. He turns round to the men and nods his head, and says, — ‘That’s all right. I’m in the know too, and these old jim-jams are my friends.’ Then he opens his mouth and points down it, and when the first man brings him food, he says — ‘No;’ and when the second man brings him food, he says — ‘No;’ but when one of the old priests and the boss of the village brings him food, he says — ‘Yes;’ very haughty, and eats it slow. That was how we came to our first village, without any trouble, just as though we had tumbled from the skies. But we tumbled from one of those damned rope-bridges, you see, and you couldn’t expect a man to laugh much after that.”
“Take some more whiskey and go on,” I said. “That was the first village you came into. How did you get to be King?”
“I wasn’t King,” said Carnehan. “Dravot he was the King, and a handsome man he looked with the gold crown on his head and all. Him and the other party stayed in that village, and every morning Dravot sat by the side of old Imbra, and the people came and worshipped. That was Dravot’s order. Then a lot of men came into the valley, and Carnehan and Dravot picks them off with the rifles before they knew where they was, and runs down into the valley and up again the other side, and finds another village, same as the first one, and the people all falls down flat on their faces, and Dravot says, — ‘Now what is the trouble between you two villages?’ and the people points to a woman, as fair as you or me, that was carried off, and Dravot takes her back to the first village and counts up the dead — eight there was. For each dead man Dravot pours a little milk on the ground and waves his arms like a whirligig and, ‘That’s all right,’ says he. Then he and Carnehan takes the big boss of each village by the arm and walks them down into the valley, and shows them how to scratch a line with a spear right down the valley, and gives each a sod of turf from both sides o’ the line. Then all the people comes down and shouts like the devil and all, and Dravot says, — ‘Go and dig the land, and be fruitful and multiply,’ which they did, though they didn’t understand. Then we asks the names of things in their lingo — bread and water and fire and idols and such, and Dravot leads the priest of each village up to the idol, and says he must sit there and judge the people, and if anything goes wrong he is to be shot.
“Next week they was all turning up the land in the valley as quiet as bees and much prettier, and the priests heard all the complaints and told Dravot in dumb show what it was about. ‘That’s just the beginning,’ says Dravot. ‘They think we’re gods.’ He and Carnehan picks out twenty good men and shows them how to click off a rifle, and form fours, and advance in line, and they was very pleased to do so, and clever to see the hang of it. Then he takes out his pipe and his baccy-pouch and leaves one at one village, and one at the other, and off we two goes to see what was to be done in the next valley. That was all rock, and there was a little village there, and Carnehan says, — ‘Send ’em to the old valley to plant,’ and takes ’em there and gives ’em some land that wasn’t took before. They were a poor lot, and we blooded ’em with a kid before letting ’em into the new Kingdom. That was to impress the people, and then they settled down quiet, and Carnehan went back to Dravot who had got into another valley, all snow and ice and most mountainous. There was no people there and the Army got afraid, so Dravot shoots one of them, and goes on till he finds some people in a village, and the Army explains that unless the people wants to be killed they had better not shoot their little matchlocks; for they had matchlocks. We makes friends with the priest and I stays there alone with two of the Army, teaching the men how to drill, and a thundering big Chief comes across the snow with kettledrums and horns twanging, because he heard there was a new god kicking about. Carnehan sights for the brown of the men half a mile across the snow and wings one of them. Then he sends a message to the Chief that, unless he wished to be killed, he must come and shake hands with me and leave his arms behind. The Chief comes alone first, and Carnehan shakes hands with him and whirls his arms about, same as Dravot used, and very much surprised that Chief was, and strokes my eyebrows. Then Carnehan goes alone to the Chief, and asks him in dumb show if he had an enemy he hated. ‘I have,’ says the Chief. So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manśuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy. So we took that village too, and I gives the Chief a rag from my coat and says, ‘Occupy till I come’: which was scriptural. By way of a reminder, when me and the Army was eighteen hundred yards away, I drops a bullet near him standing on the snow, and all the people falls flat on their faces. Then I sends a letter to Dravot, wherever he be by land or by sea.”
At the risk of throwing the creature out of train I interrupted, — “How could you write a letter up yonder?”
“The letter? — Oh! — The letter! Keep looking at me between the eyes, please. It was a string-talk letter, that we’d learned the way of it from a blind beggar in the Punjab.”
I remember that there had once come to the office a blind man with a knotted twig and a piece of string which he wound round the twig according to some cypher of his own. He could, after the lapse of days or hours, repeat the sentence which he had reeled up. He had reduced the alphabet to eleven primitive sounds; and tried to teach me his method, but failed.
“I sent that letter to Dravot,” said Carnehan; “and told him to come back because this Kingdom was growing too big for me to handle, and then I struck for the first valley, to see how the priests were working. They called the village we took along with the Chief, Bashkai, and the first village we took, Er-Heb. The priest at Er-Heb was doing all right, but they had a lot of pending cases about land to show me, and some men from another village had been firing arrows at night. I went out and looked for that village and fired four rounds at it from a thousand yards. That used all the cartridges I cared to spend, and I waited for Dravot, who had been away two or three months, and I kept my people quiet.
“One morning I heard the devil’s own noise of drums and horns, and Dan Dravot marches down the hill with his Army and a tail of hundreds of men, and, which was the most amazing — a great gold crown on his head. ‘My Gord, Carnehan,’ says Daniel, ‘this is a tremenjus business, and we’ve got the whole country as far as it’s worth having. I am the son of Alexander by Queen Semiramis, and you’re my younger brother and a god too! It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever seen. I’ve been marching and fighting for six weeks with the Army, and every footy little village for fifty miles has come in rejoiceful; and more than that, I’ve got the key of the whole show, as you’ll see, and I’ve got a crown for you! I told ’em to make two of ’em at a place called Shu, where the gold lies in the rock like suet in mutton. Gold I’ve seen, and turquoise I’ve kicked out of the cliffs, and there’s garnets in the sands of the river, and here’s a chunk of amber that a man brought me. Call up all the priests and, here, take your crown.’
“One of the men opens a black hair bag and I slips the crown on. It was too small and too heavy, but I wore it for the glory. Hammered gold it was — five pound weight, like a hoop of a barrel.
“‘Peachey,’ says Dravot, ‘we don’t want to fight no more. The Craft’s the trick so help me!’ and he brings forward that same Chief that I left at Bashkai — Billy Fish we called him afterwards, because he was so like Billy Fish that drove the big tank-engine at Mach on the Bolan in the old days. ‘Shake hands with him,’ says Dravot, and I shook hands and nearly dropped, for Billy Fish gave me the Grip. I said nothing, but tried him with the Fellow Craft Grip. He answers, all right, and I tried the Master’s Grip, but that was a slip. ‘A Fellow Craft he is!’ I says to Dan. ‘Does he know the word?’ ‘He does,’ says Dan, ‘and all the priests know. It’s a miracle! The Chiefs and the priest can work a Fellow Craft Lodge in a way that’s very like ours, and they’ve cut the marks on the rocks, but they don’t know the Third Degree, and they’ve come to find out. It’s Gord’s Truth. I’ve known these long years that the Afghans knew up to the Fellow Craft Degree, but this is a miracle. A god and a Grand-Master of the Craft am I, and a Lodge in the Third Degree I will open, and we’ll raise the head priests and the Chiefs of the villages.’
“‘It’s against all the law,’ I says, ‘holding a Lodge without warrant from any one; and we never held office in any Lodge.’
“‘It’s a master-stroke of policy,’ says Dravot. ‘It means running the country as easy as a four-wheeled bogy on a down grade. We can’t stop to inquire now, or they’ll turn against us. I’ve forty Chiefs at my heel, and passed and raised according to their merit they shall be. Billet these men on the villages and see that we run up a Lodge of some kind. The temple of Imbra will do for the Lodge-room. The women must make aprons as you show them. I’ll hold a levee of Chiefs tonight and Lodge to-morrow.’
“I was fair rim off my legs, but I wasn’t such a fool as not to see what a pull this Craft business gave us. I showed the priests’ families how to make aprons of the degrees, but for Dravot’s apron the blue border and marks was made of turquoise lumps on white hide, not cloth. We took a great square stone in the temple for the Master’s chair, and little stones for the officers’ chairs, and painted the black pavement with white squares, and did what we could to make things regular.
“At the levee which was held that night on the hillside with big bonfires, Dravot gives out that him and me were gods and sons of Alexander, and Past Grand-Masters in the Craft, and was come to make Kafiristan a country where every man should eat in peace and drink in quiet, and specially obey us. Then the Chiefs come round to shake hands, and they was so hairy and white and fair it was just shaking hands with old friends. We gave them names according as they was like men we had known in India — Billy Fish, Holly Dilworth, Pikky Kergan that was Bazar-master when I was at Mhow, and so on, and so on.
“The most amazing miracle was at Lodge next night. One of the old priests was watching us continuous, and I felt uneasy, for I knew we’d have to fudge the Ritual, and I didn’t know what the men knew. The old priest was a stranger come in from beyond the village of Bashkai. The minute Dravot puts on the Master’s apron that the girls had made for him, the priest fetches a whoop and a howl, and tries to overturn the stone that Dravot was sitting on. ‘It’s all up now,’ I says. ‘That comes of meddling with the Craft without warrant!’ Dravot never winked an eye, not when ten priests took and tilted over the Grand-Master’s chair — which was to say the stone of Imbra. The priest begins rubbing the bottom end of it to clear away the black dirt, and presently he shows all the other priests the Master’s Mark, same as was on Dravot’s apron, cut into the stone. Not even the priests of the temple of Imbra knew it was there. The old chap falls flat on his face at Dravot’s feet and kisses ’em. ‘Luck again,’ says Dravot, across the Lodge to me, ‘they say it’s the missing Mark that no one could understand the why of. We’re more than safe now.’ Then he bangs the butt of his gun for a gavel and says:— ‘By virtue of the authority vested in me by my own right hand and the help of Peachey, I declare myself Grand-Master of all Freemasonry in Kafiristan in this the Mother Lodge o’ the country, and King of Kafiristan equally with Peachey!’ At that he puts on his crown and I puts on mine — I was doing Senior Warden — and we opens the Lodge in most ample form. It was a amazing miracle! The priests moved in Lodge through the first two degrees almost without telling, as if the memory was coming back to them. After that, Peachey and Dravot raised such as was worthy — high priests and Chiefs of far-off villages. Billy Fish was the first, and I can tell you we scared the soul out of him. It was not in any way according to Ritual, but it served our turn. We didn’t raise more than ten of the biggest men because we didn’t want to make the Degree common. And they was clamoring to be raised.
“‘In another six months,’ says Dravot, ‘we’ll hold another Communication and see how you are working.’ Then he asks them about their villages, and learns that they was fighting one against the other and were fair sick and tired of it. And when they wasn’t doing that they was fighting with the Mohammedans. ‘You can fight those when they come into our country,’ says Dravot. ‘Tell off every tenth man of your tribes for a Frontier guard, and send two hundred at a time to this valley to be drilled. Nobody is going to be shot or speared any more so long as he does well, and I know that you won’t cheat me because you’re white people — sons of Alexander — and not like common, black Mohammedans. You are my people and by God,’ says he, running off into English at the end — ‘I’ll make a damned fine Nation of you, or I’ll die in the making!’
“I can’t tell all we did for the next six months because Dravot did a lot I couldn’t see the hang of, and he learned their lingo in a way I never could. My work was to help the people plough, and now and again to go out with some of the Army and see what the other villages were doing, and make ’em throw rope-bridges across the ravines which cut up the country horrid. Dravot was very kind to me, but when he walked up and down in the pine wood pulling that bloody red beard of his with both fists I knew he was thinking plans I could not advise him about, and I just waited for orders.
“But Dravot never showed me disrespect before the people. They were afraid of me and the Army, but they loved Dan. He was the best of friends with the priests and the Chiefs; but any one could come across the hills with a complaint and Dravot would hear him out fair, and call four priests together and say what was to be done. He used to call in Billy Fish from Bashkai, and Pikky Kergan from Shu, and an old Chief we called Kafuzelum — it was like enough to his real name — and hold councils with ’em when there was any fighting to be done in small villages. That was his Council of War, and the four priests of Bashkai, Shu, Khawak, and Madora was his Privy Council. Between the lot of ’em they sent me, with forty men and twenty rifles, and sixty men carrying turquoises, into the Ghorband country to buy those hand-made Martini rifles, that come out of the Amir’s workshops at Kabul, from one of the Amir’s Herati regiments that would have sold the very teeth out of their mouths for turquoises.
“I stayed in Ghorband a month, and gave the Governor the pick of my baskets for hush-money, and bribed the colonel of the regiment some more, and, between the two and the tribes-people, we got more than a hundred hand-made Martinis, a hundred good Kohat Jezails that’ll throw to six hundred yards, and forty manloads of very bad ammunition for the rifles. I came back with what I had, and distributed ’em among the men that the Chiefs sent in to me to drill. Dravot was too busy to attend to those things, but the old Army that we first made helped me, and we turned out five hundred men that could drill, and two hundred that knew how to hold arms pretty straight. Even those cork-screwed, hand-made guns was a miracle to them. Dravot talked big about powder-shops and factories, walking up and down in the pine wood when the winter was coming on.
“‘I won’t make a Nation,’ says he. ‘I’ll make an Empire! These men aren’t niggers; they’re English! Look at their eyes — look at their mouths. Look at the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their own houses. They’re the Lost Tribes, or something like it, and they’ve grown to be English. I’ll take a census in the spring if the priests don’t get frightened. There must be a fair two million of ’em in these hills. The villages are full o’ little children. Two million people — two hundred and fifty thousand fighting men — and all English! They only want the rifles and a little drilling. Two hundred and fifty thousand men, ready to cut in on Russia’s right flank when she tries for India! Peachey, man,’ he says, chewing his beard in great hunks, ‘we shall be Emperors — Emperors of the Earth! Rajah Brooke will be a suckling to us. I’ll treat with the Viceroy on equal terms. I’ll ask him to send me twelve picked English — twelve that I know of — to help us govern a bit. There’s Mackray, Sergeant-pensioner at Segowli — many’s the good dinner he’s given me, and his wife a pair of trousers. There’s Donkin, the Warder of Tounghoo Jail; there’s hundreds that I could lay my hand on if I was in India. The Viceroy shall do it for me. I’ll send a man through in the spring for those men, and I’ll write for a dispensation from the Grand Lodge for what I’ve done as Grand-Master. That — and all the Sniders that’ll be thrown out when the native troops in India take up the Martini. They’ll be worn smooth, but they’ll do for fighting in these hills. Twelve English, a hundred thousand Sniders run through the Amir’s country in driblets — I’d be content with twenty thousand in one year — and we’d be an Empire. When everything was ship-shape, I’d hand over the crown — this crown I’m wearing now — to Queen Victoria on my knees, and she’d say:— “Rise up, Sir Daniel Dravot.” Oh, its big! It’s big, I tell you! But there’s so much to be done in every place — Bashkai, Khawak, Shu, and everywhere else.’
“‘What is it?’ I says. ‘There are no more men coming in to be drilled this autumn. Look at those fat, black clouds. They’re bringing the snow.’
“‘It isn’t that,’ says Daniel, putting his hand very hard on my shoulder; ‘and I don’t wish to say anything that’s against you, for no other living man would have followed me and made me what I am as you have done. You’re a first-class Commander-in-Chief, and the people know you; but — it’s a big country, and somehow you can’t help me, Peachey, in the way I want to be helped.’
“‘Go to your blasted priests, then!’ I said, and I was sorry when I made that remark, but it did hurt me sore to find Daniel talking so superior when I’d drilled all the men, and done all he told me.
“‘Don’t let’s quarrel, Peachey,’ says Daniel without cursing. ‘You’re a King too, and the half of this Kingdom is yours; but can’t you see, Peachey, we want cleverer men than us now — three or four of ’em that we can scatter about for our Deputies? It’s a hugeous great State, and I can’t always tell the right thing to do, and I haven’t time for all I want to do, and here’s the winter coming on and all.’ He put half his beard into his mouth, and it was as red as the gold of his crown.
“‘I’m sorry, Daniel,’ says I. ‘I’ve done all I could. I’ve drilled the men and shown the people how to stack their oats better, and I’ve brought in those tinware rifles from Ghorband — but I know what you’re driving at. I take it Kings always feel oppressed that way.’
“‘There’s another thing too,’ says Dravot, walking up and down. ‘The winter’s coming and these people won’t be giving much trouble, and if they do we can’t move about. I want a wife.’
“‘For Gord’s sake leave the women alone!’ I says. ‘We’ve both got all the work we can, though I am a fool. Remember the Contrack, and keep clear o’ women.’
“‘The Contrack only lasted till such time as we was Kings; and Kings we have been these months past,’ says Dravot, weighing his crown in his hand. ‘You go get a wife too, Peachey — a nice, strappin’, plump girl that’ll keep you warm in the winter. They’re prettier than English girls, and we can take the pick of ’em. Boil ’em once or twice in hot water, and they’ll come as fair as chicken and ham.’
“‘Don’t tempt me!’ I says. ‘I will not have any dealings with a woman not till we are a dam’ side more settled than we are now. I’ve been doing the work o’ two men, and you’ve been doing the work o’ three. Let’s lie off a bit, and see if we can get some better tobacco from Afghan country and run in some good liquor; but no women.’
“‘Who’s talking o’ women?’ says Dravot. ‘I said wife — a Queen to breed a King’s son for the King. A Queen out of the strongest tribe, that’ll make them your blood-brothers, and that’ll lie by your side and tell you all the people thinks about you and their own affairs. That’s what I want.’
“‘Do you remember that Bengali woman I kept at Mogul Serai when I was plate-layer?’ says I. ‘A fat lot o’ good she was to me. She taught me the lingo and one or two other things; but what happened? She ran away with the Station Master’s servant and half my month’s pay. Then she turned up at Dadur Junction in tow of a half-caste, and had the impidence to say I was her husband — all among the drivers of the running-shed!’
“‘We’ve done with that,’ says Dravot. ‘These women are whiter than you or me, and a Queen I will have for the winter months.’
“‘For the last time o’ asking, Dan, do not,’ I says. ‘It’ll only bring us harm. The Bible says that Kings ain’t to waste their strength on women, ’specially when they’ve got a new raw Kingdom to work over.’
“‘For the last time of answering, I will,’ said Dravot, and he went away through the pine-trees looking like a big red devil. The low sun hit his crown and beard on one side, and the two blazed like hot coals.
“But getting a wife was not as easy as Dan thought. He put it before the Council, and there was no answer till Billy Fish said that he’d better ask the girls. Dravot damned them all round. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ he shouts, standing by the idol Imbra. ‘Am I a dog or am I not enough of a man for your wenches? Haven’t I put the shadow of my hand over this country? Who stopped the last Afghan raid?’ It was me really, but Dravot was too angry to remember. ‘Who bought your guns? Who repaired the bridges? Who’s the Grand-Master of the sign cut in the stone?’ and he thumped his hand on the block that he used to sit on in Lodge, and at Council, which opened like Lodge always. Billy Fish said nothing and no more did the others. ‘Keep your hair on, Dan,’ said I; ‘and ask the girls. That’s how it’s done at home, and these people are quite English.’
“‘The marriage of a King is a matter of State,’ says Dan, in a white-hot rage, for he could feel, I hope, that he was going against his better mind. He walked out of the Council-room, and the others sat still, looking at the ground.
“‘Billy Fish,’ says I to the Chief of Bashkai, ‘what’s the difficulty here? A straight answer to a true friend.’ ‘You know,’ says Billy Fish. ‘How should a man tell you who know everything? How can daughters of men marry gods or devils? It’s not proper.’
“I remembered something like that in the Bible; but if, after seeing us as long as they had, they still believed we were gods it wasn’t for me to undeceive them.
“‘A god can do anything,’ says I. ‘If the King is fond of a girl he’ll not let her die.’ ‘She’ll have to,’ said Billy Fish. ‘There are all sorts of gods and devils in these mountains, and now and again a girl marries one of them and isn’t seen any more. Besides, you two know the Mark cut in the stone. Only the gods know that. We thought you were men till you showed the sign of the Master.’
“‘I wished then that we had explained about the loss of the genuine secrets of a Master-Mason at the first go-off; but I said nothing. All that night there was a blowing of horns in a little dark temple half-way down the hill, and I heard a girl crying fit to die. One of the priests told us that she was being prepared to marry the King.
“‘I’ll have no nonsense of that kind,’ says Dan. ‘I don’t want to interfere with your customs, but I’ll take my own wife. ‘The girl’s a little bit afraid,’ says the priest. ‘She thinks she’s going to die, and they are a-heartening of her up down in the temple.’
“‘Hearten her very tender, then,’ says Dravot, ‘or I’ll hearten you with the butt of a gun so that you’ll never want to be heartened again.’ He licked his lips, did Dan, and stayed up walking about more than half the night, thinking of the wife that he was going to get in the morning. I wasn’t any means comfortable, for I knew that dealings with a woman in foreign parts, though you was a crowned King twenty times over, could not but be risky. I got up very early in the morning while Dravot was asleep, and I saw the priests talking together in whispers, and the Chiefs talking together too, and they looked at me out of the corners of their eyes.
“‘What is up, Fish?’ I says to the Bashkai man, who was wrapped up in his furs and looking splendid to behold.
“‘I can’t rightly say,’ says he; ‘but if you can induce the King to drop all this nonsense about marriage, you’ll be doing him and me and yourself a great service.’
“‘That I do believe,’ says I. ‘But sure, you know, Billy, as well as me, having fought against and for us, that the King and me are nothing more than two of the finest men that God Almighty ever made. Nothing more, I do assure you.’
“‘That may be,’ says Billy Fish, ‘and yet I should be sorry if it was.’ He sinks his head upon his great fur cloak for a minute and thinks. ‘King,’ says he, ‘be you man or god or devil, I’ll stick by you to-day. I have twenty of my men with me, and they will follow me. We’ll go to Bashkai until the storm blows over.’
“A little snow had fallen in the night, and everything was white except the greasy fat clouds that blew down and down from the north. Dravot came out with his crown on his head, swinging his arms and stamping his feet, and looking more pleased than Punch.
“‘For the last time, drop it, Dan,’ says I in a whisper. ‘Billy Fish here says that there will be a row.’
“‘A row among my people!’ says Dravot. ‘Not much. Peachy, you’re a fool not to get a wife too. Where’s the girl?’ says he with a voice as loud as the braying of a jackass. ‘Call up all the Chiefs and priests, and let the Emperor see if his wife suits him.’
“There was no need to call any one. They were all there leaning on their guns and spears round the clearing in the centre of the pine wood. A deputation of priests went down to the little temple to bring up the girl, and the horns blew up fit to wake the dead. Billy Fish saunters round and gets as close to Daniel as he could, and behind him stood his twenty men with matchlocks. Not a man of them under six feet. I was next to Dravot, and behind me was twenty men of the regular Army. Up comes the girl, and a strapping wench she was, covered with silver and turquoises but white as death, and looking back every minute at the priests.
“‘She’ll do,’ said Dan, looking her over. ‘What’s to be afraid of, lass? Come and kiss me.’ He puts his arm round her. She shuts her eyes, gives a bit of a squeak, and down goes her face in the side of Dan’s flaming red beard.
“‘The slut’s bitten me!’ says he, clapping his hand to his neck, and, sure enough, his hand was red with blood. Billy Fish and two of his matchlock-men catches hold of Dan by the shoulders and drags him into the Bashkai lot, while the priests howls in their lingo, — ‘Neither god nor devil but a man!’ I was all taken aback, for a priest cut at me in front, and the Army behind began firing into the Bashkai men.
“‘God A-mighty!’ says Dan. ‘What is the meaning o’ this?’
“‘Come back! Come away!’ says Billy Fish. ‘Ruin and Mutiny is the matter. We’ll break for Bashkai if we can.’
“I tried to give some sort of orders to my men — the men o’ the regular Army — but it was no use, so I fired into the brown of ’em with an English Martini and drilled three beggars in a line. The valley was full of shouting, howling creatures, and every soul was shrieking, ‘Not a god nor a devil but only a man!’ The Bashkai troops stuck to Billy Fish all they were worth, but their matchlocks wasn’t half as good as the Kabul breech-loaders, and four of them dropped. Dan was bellowing like a bull, for he was very wrathy; and Billy Fish had a hard job to prevent him running out at the crowd.
“‘We can’t stand,’ says Billy Fish. ‘Make a run for it down the valley! The whole place is against us.’ The matchlock-men ran, and we went down the valley in spite of Dravot’s protestations. He was swearing horribly and crying out that he was a King. The priests rolled great stones on us, and the regular Army fired hard, and there wasn’t more than six men, not counting Dan, Billy Fish, and Me, that came down to the bottom of the valley alive.
“‘Then they stopped firing and the horns in the temple blew again. ‘Come away — for Gord’s sake come away!’ says Billy Fish. ‘They’ll send runners out to all the villages before ever we get to Bashkai. I can protect you there, but I can’t do anything now.’
“My own notion is that Dan began to go mad in his head from that hour. He stared up and down like a stuck pig. Then he was all for walking back alone and killing the priests with his bare hands; which he could have done. ‘An Emperor am I,’ says Daniel, ‘and next year I shall be a Knight of the Queen.
“‘All right, Dan,’ says I; ‘but come along now while there’s time.’
“‘It’s your fault,’ says he, ‘for not looking after your Army better. There was mutiny in the midst, and you didn’t know — you damned engine-driving, plate-laying, missionary’s-pass-hunting hound!’ He sat upon a rock and called me every foul name he could lay tongue to. I was too heart-sick to care, though it was all his foolishness that brought the smash.
“‘I’m sorry, Dan,’ says I, ‘but there’s no accounting for natives. This business is our Fifty-Seven. Maybe we’ll make something out of it yet, when we’ve got to Bashkai.’
“‘Let’s get to Bashkai, then,’ says Dan, ‘and, by God, when I come back here again I’ll sweep the valley so there isn’t a bug in a blanket left!’
“‘We walked all that day, and all that night Dan was stumping up and down on the snow, chewing his beard and muttering to himself.
“‘There’s no hope o’ getting clear,’ said Billy Fish. ‘The priests will have sent runners to the villages to say that you are only men. Why didn’t you stick on as gods till things was more settled? I’m a dead man,’ says Billy Fish, and he throws himself down on the snow and begins to pray to his gods.
“Next morning we was in a cruel bad country — all up and down, no level ground at all, and no food either. The six Bashkai men looked at Billy Fish hungry-wise as if they wanted to ask something, but they said never a word. At noon we came to the top of a flat mountain all covered with snow, and when we climbed up into it, behold, there was an army in position waiting in the middle!
“‘The runners have been very quick,’ says Billy Fish, with a little bit of a laugh. ‘They are waiting for us.’
“Three or four men began to fire from the enemy’s side, and a chance shot took Daniel in the calf of the leg. That brought him to his senses. He looks across the snow at the Army, and sees the rifles that we had brought into the country.
“‘We’re done for,’ says he. ‘They are Englishmen, these people, — and it’s my blasted nonsense that has brought you to this. Get back, Billy Fish, and take your men away; you’ve done what you could, and now cut for it. Carnehan,’ says he, ‘shake hands with me and go along with Billy. Maybe they won’t kill you. I’ll go and meet ’em alone. It’s me that did it. Me, the King!’
“‘Go!’ says I. ‘Go to Hell, Dan. I’m with you here. Billy Fish, you clear out, and we two will meet those folk.’
“‘I’m a Chief,’ says Billy Fish, quite quiet. ‘I stay with you. My men can go.’
“The Bashkai fellows didn’t wait for a second word but ran off, and Dan and Me and Billy Fish walked across to where the drums were drumming and the horns were horning. It was cold-awful cold. I’ve got that cold in the back of my head now. There’s a lump of it there.”
The punkah-coolies had gone to sleep. Two kerosene lamps were blazing in the office, and the perspiration poured down my face and splashed on the blotter as I leaned forward. Carnehan was shivering, and I feared that his mind might go. I wiped my face, took a fresh grip of the piteously mangled hands, and said:— “What happened after that?”
The momentary shift of my eyes had broken the clear current.
“What was you pleased to say?” whined Carnehan. “They took them without any sound. Not a little whisper all along the snow, not though the King knocked down the first man that set hand on him — not though old Peachey fired his last cartridge into the brown of ’em. Not a single solitary sound did those swines make. They just closed up, tight, and I tell you their furs stunk. There was a man called Billy Fish, a good friend of us all, and they cut his throat, Sir, then and there, like a pig; and the King kicks up the bloody snow and says:— ‘We’ve had a dashed fine run for our money. What’s coming next?’ But Peachey, Peachey Taliaferro, I tell you, Sir, in confidence as betwixt two friends, he lost his head, Sir. No, he didn’t neither. The King lost his head, so he did, all along o’ one of those cunning rope-bridges. Kindly let me have the paper-cutter, Sir. It tilted this way. They marched him a mile across that snow to a rope-bridge over a ravine with a river at the bottom. You may have seen such. They prodded him behind like an ox. ‘Damn your eyes!’ says the King. ‘D’you suppose I can’t die like a gentleman?’ He turns to Peachey — Peachey that was crying like a child. ‘I’ve brought you to this, Peachey,’ says he. ‘Brought you out of your happy life to be killed in Kafiristan, where you was late Commander-in-Chief of the Emperor’s forces. Say you forgive me, Peachey.’ ‘I do,’ says Peachey. ‘Fully and freely do I forgive you, Dan.’ ‘Shake hands, Peachey,’ says he. ‘I’m going now.’ Out he goes, looking neither right nor left, and when he was plumb in the middle of those dizzy dancing ropes, ‘Cut, you beggars,’ he shouts; and they cut, and old Dan fell, turning round and round and round, twenty thousand miles, for he took half an hour to fall till he struck the water, and I could see his body caught on a rock with the gold crown close beside.
“But do you know what they did to Peachey between two pine-trees? They crucified him, sir, as Peachey’s hands will show. They used wooden pegs for his hands and his feet; and he didn’t die. He hung there and screamed, and they took him down next day, and said it was a miracle that he wasn’t dead. They took him down — poor old Peachey that hadn’t done them any harm — that hadn’t done them any…”
He rocked to and fro and wept bitterly, wiping his eyes with the back of his scarred hands and moaning like a child for some ten minutes.
“They was cruel enough to feed him up in the temple, because they said he was more of a god than old Daniel that was a man. Then they turned him out on the snow, and told him to go home, and Peachey came home in about a year, begging along the roads quite safe; for Daniel Dravot he walked before and said:— ‘Come along, Peachey. It’s a big thing we’re doing.’ The mountains they danced at night, and the mountains they tried to fall on Peachey’s head, but Dan he held up his hand, and Peachey came along bent double. He never let go of Dan’s hand, and he never let go of Dan’s head. They gave it to him as a present in the temple, to remind him not to come again, and though the crown was pure gold, and Peachey was starving, never would Peachey sell the same. You knew Dravot, sir! You knew Right Worshipful Brother Dravot! Look at him now!”
He fumbled in the mass of rags round his bent waist; brought out a black horsehair bag embroidered with silver thread; and shook therefrom on to my table — the dried, withered head of Daniel Dravot! The morning sun that had long been paling the lamps struck the red beard and blind sunken eyes; struck, too, a heavy circlet of gold studded with raw turquoises, that Carnehan placed tenderly on the battered temples.
“You behold now,” said Carnehan, “the Emperor in his habit as he lived — the King of Kafiristan with his crown upon his head. Poor old Daniel that was a monarch once!”
I shuddered, for, in spite of defacements manifold, I recognized the head of the man of Marwar Junction. Carnehan rose to go. I attempted to stop him. He was not fit to walk abroad. “Let me take away the whiskey, and give me a little money,” he gasped. “I was a King once. I’ll go to the Deputy Commissioner and ask to set in the Poor-house till I get my health. No, thank you, I can’t wait till you get a carriage for me. I’ve urgent private affairs — in the south — at Marwar.”
He shambled out of the office and departed in the direction of the Deputy Commissioner’s house. That day at noon I had occasion to go down the blinding hot Mall, and I saw a crooked man crawling along the white dust of the roadside, his hat in his hand, quavering dolorously after the fashion of street-singers at Home. There was not a soul in sight, and he was out of all possible earshot of the houses. And he sang through his nose, turning his head from right to left:—
“The Son of Man goes forth to war,
A golden crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar—
Who follows in his train?”
I waited to hear no more, but put the poor wretch into my carriage and drove him off to the nearest missionary for eventual transfer to the Asylum. He repeated the hymn twice while he was with me whom he did not in the least recognize, and I left him singing to the missionary.
Two days later I inquired after his welfare of the Superintendent of the Asylum.
“He was admitted suffering from sun-stroke. He died early yesterday morning,” said the Superintendent. “Is it true that he was half an hour bareheaded in the sun at midday?”
“Yes,” said I, “but do you happen to know if he had anything upon him by any chance when he died?”
“Not to my knowledge,” said the Superintendent.
And there the matter rests.