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TALBOT MUNDY

FROM HELL, HULL, AND HALIFAX

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First published in Everybody's, August 1913
This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2016
Produced by Roy Glashan

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The spelling of several words in this story has been modernised:

  1. "Amir" to "Emir"
  2. "Ghoorka" to "Ghurka"
  3. "Hindoo" to "Hindu"
  4. "Khaibur" to "Khyber"


Cover Image

Everybody's, August 1913, with "From Hell, Hull, and Halifax."



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I.

"From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us."

Illustration
Initial




HE saying still lingers on in England, and it has grown into a proverb nowadays, whose meaning is more generally understood in England's colonies; it dates back to the olden days when Charity had not been specialized, and once it was meant literally. Now, though, Hull and Halifax no longer stand pre-eminent, and one may include in the list Houndsditch and its environs, and the Minories, and many other places, without detracting from hell's reputation. The saying has taken on a broader meaning.

Aga Khan heard the saying, and applied its broader meaning without an effort—Aga Khan, the keen, brown-eyed, suave, and courteous gentleman with the touch of distant pride in his bearing and the guttural, deep-throated undertone that somehow hinted at authority. But he came from a land where men prefer to speak in metaphor, for fear that the cold, crude truth may be misunderstood—or too clearly understood—and lead to quarreling.

His dark skin, which was only slightly darker than the dirt-and-poverty-dyed skins around him, hid any emotion he might feel; it was like a mask. But his eyes were singularly curious, and never still; without being in the very least furtive or afraid, they were restless, and missed nothing. The aproned publican who kept the little ale-house near the Seven Dials, brought him his order of bread and cheese and milk with unusual condescension from a man who got his daily bread by selling beer, and who had all the prejudices that go with his calling; he set him down as an Armenian who knew no better, but he was interested.

"And Hull?" had asked Aga Khan, after an interchange of platitudes. "How does a man reach Hull?"

The publican wiped the small round table for him, and chased a beggar out of the saloon before he answered. "Going to Hull, are you? Well! You know the saying? 'From Hell, Hull, and Halifax, Good Lord deliver us!' You get there by train from King's Cross Station, but if there's anything in that saying it ought to be a good place to keep away from!"

"Is Hull, then, worse than London?" The voice was deep and steady, and the speaker seemed scarcely to expect an answer. He had voiced a question, but he seemed rather to have passed a judgment.

"No, I dare say not! They're all bad places—London, and Birmingham, and Manchester, and Hull—for those that haven't got the price! You can take your choice, and starve in any of 'em! It wasn't millionaires that gave Hull a bad name, you may depend on it; it was folks like those in there!"

He nodded in the direction of a door that led from the saloon to the four-ale bar. Somebody had swung the door open, and Aga Khan saw an unlovely vision that he had grown accustomed to of late. Amid a babel of coarse voices and foul oaths, two beery hags slouched their down-trodden heels across the sanded floor in what was meant to be a dance, screaming with drunken laughter as the crowd applauded them. Along a bench that ran round three sides of the boozing-den men lounged who seemed only men by courtesy; scarecrows would have been less vile, because less capable of villainy.

And in one corner, grouped together, half desperate and wholly ragged, stood a little knot of younger men who listened with mouths agape, or with cynical unbelief, to a recruiting-sergeant. He was buying beer for them. And he was straight-backed, stone-cold-sober, and immaculate.

"Good hunting-ground, this, for the recruiting-sergeants!" said the publican as the door was kicked shut again. "Trade's bad, and they're about the only men who're doing any business! They're roping 'em in fast!"

"Are all the soldiers gotten thus?" asked Aga Khan. He evidently did expect an answer to that question, and he waited for it while the publican removed a broken-down gentleman who was trying to sell boot-laces.

"Go and join the army!" he growled at him, as he pushed him out into the street. Then he turned again to the man who could afford, and did not apparently object, to pay twice the regular price for milk.

"Not all of 'em, but more than half, I guess! They make 'em drunk, and get 'em sworn in before they've time to reconsider it. Once they're sworn in they've got to stop! Any army where you come from?"

"Oh, yes, there's an army," answered Aga Khan. "But tell me, do these men not want to join?"

"Lord bless you—who'd want to be a soldier! When trade's bad, and there's no pickings anywhere, they join in hundreds, so's to have a bed and bellyful!"

"Do they not care to serve their Queen, and to fight for her enormous empire?"

"They? Why should they? Why should I, for that matter? The Empire's all right enough in its way, but what do they or I care about fighting for it! We'll all shout 'Rule Britannia' when the orchestra plays it in the Halls, and most folks I've seen'll wave their hats and cheer when the Queen rides past; but what's all that compared to bread-and-cheese?"

"I had thought," said Aga Khan, speaking slowly like a man who is half convinced and half afraid that he may be wrong, "I had thought that possibly there might be some great spirit emanating from the lower classes that had led to conquest. That you, for instance, and men like you—and like those in there—were the real heart of the Empire."

"You thought wrong, then!" said the publican. "The Empire belongs to the privileged few. I dare bet that you can't find a man in here, for instance, who knows a thing about it, or cares about it, or who ever got a penny's worth of good out of it. I never did, for one!"

"I am surprised!" said Aga Khan, paying his little bill and walking out. He went, then, to an inconspicuous address in Bloom-bury, and wrote a long letter in a character that few in London could have read, and in a language that even fewer could have understood.


II.

Illustration

AGA KHAN was not a man of kaleidoscopic changes; he was more like a chameleon, who blends with his surroundings without losing a fragment of his individuality. He was as much at home—and as little at home, for that matter—in Pall Mall as in the Seven Dials, and he carried with him letters of introduction that procured him admission everywhere. Where he went he contrived to excite little curiosity, but to absorb an enormous quantity of information.

He walked from Bloomsbury down Little Queen Street past Drury Lane into the Strand; and at the corner of Wellington Street his boots were blacked for him by an able-bodied man who called him "sir," and touched his cap, and thanked him extravagantly for twopence, which happened to be twice the regulation price.

"Are you English?" he asked him.

"Yes, sir—born in London, sir—thank you, sir—yes, sir, I'm English."

"I suppose you're proud to be an Englishman?"

"Me, sir? Why? I'd as soon be a furriner! Sleep in a doss-'ouse—eat what I can get, an' black boots for a living. Gawd! I'd as soon be a dawg. I'm thinking I'll go and join the army!"

A week later Aga Khan passed that same corner, and noticed that same man in the toils of a glib-tongued recruiting-sergeant; but in the meantime he had noticed many other things. He had stood at a theatre entrance, and had seen a man in uniform refuse admission to a soldier, who wore a cleaner, better uniform. He had stood in the throng of Houndsditch—beside the barrows where the brass-lunged costers bellowed out their prices, and the down-and-out brigade fought fiercely in among them for a chance to live—and had seen a clean-skinned, spick-and-span sergeant of the Line sneered at and pushed into the street.

He had sat in the stranger's gallery of the House of Commons, and had heard a loud-voiced demagogue who thumped his chest declaim about the Estimates, denouncing expenditure on armaments and howling for the dissolution of the Empire. And he had noticed that no man present took the trouble even to seem annoyed. Further, he had heard another demagogue, at Hyde Park Corner, describe the Queen as the dummy-head of a greedy oligarchy, while a crowd and four policemen looked on, and grinned, and listened. And no man threw a stone.

"Is such a speech as that permitted?" he inquired, in his gentlemanly unimpassioned tone.

"Why not?" asked the constable.

"Then is it not your duty to prevent him?"

"No. It's my business to protect him if the crowd gets nasty!"

And wondering—very deeply wondering—the bearded, keen-eyed Aga Khan went back to Bloomsbury, and wrote another letter.

And he had sat, together with a whiskered civilian in spectacles, in the luxuriously appointed smoking-room of a most exclusive club.

"Yes," said the club-member, scrunching in his pocket the unwelcome letter of introduction, and trying to alight on a topic of common interest, "I have a cousin in India—Civil Service, don't you know—younger son, and all that kind of thing—had to earn his living—might as well go to India as any other place. Like it, eh? Couldn't say, I'm sure! A man mustn't quarrel with his bread-and-butter! He always seems very glad to get home on his vacation—looks me up as a rule. He was here about eight months ago—came and had lunch with me—told me a lot of stories about cobras, and tigers, and famines, and plague. Very interestin'. Any tigers where you come from?"

"No," said Aga Khan, leaning back in his chair, and eyeing his surroundings. "This club is very comfortable."

"Yes. Isn't it!"

The club-member was interested now, and went into long details about club-management, and the different degrees of exclusiveness of clubs; and Aga Khan sat still and seemed interested too. But really he was listening to the conversation of two men who had dropped into the chairs behind him, and were sitting with their tall hats forward over their eyes, too bored, apparently, even to order drinks.

"Rotten, isn't it!" said one of them, in a voice that was weary with disgust.

"Don't talk about it!"

"Got to let steam off somehow! How's a fellow goin' to finance it, I'd like to know!"

"Renewin' promissory notes, I suppose; money-lenders are a long-sufferin' breed!"

"At twenty-five per cent., yes, I s'pose they are! But Good Lord! Think of it! India, now, with the 'season' just coming on!"

"Yes, and all the old men time-expired, or pretty nearly all, and nothing but a lot of rotten, raw, pie-faced rookies on the strength!"

"They tell me the price of polo-ponies has gone up to nearly double in the last few years out there."

"I know it has. Come on—don't let's think about it. Let's go and see the Jew—may as well get that part over!"

They went, languidly and discontentedly—two clean-brushed dandies from a bandbox—as indifferent, it seemed, as dummies to anything but self, and tired of that.

"Would you tell me what those men are?" asked Aga Khan, glancing at their backs.

"Their names, you mean?"

"No. What they are."

"Army officers—both in the same regiment. Their regiment has just been ordered out to India."

"They seem displeased."

"Yes? Well, London will get along without them!"

"Must they go, whether they will or not?"

"They could resign, of course."

"They go, then, for the pay?"

The club-member smiled. "No," he answered, "their pay scarcely covers their mess-bills."

"They go, then, at their own expense?"

"Practically. They'll get a very uncomfortable passage on a troop-ship, but they'll have to buy new uniforms and all that kind of thing themselves."

"Then why are they officers—why do they not resign?"

"Couldn't say, I'm sure; each man to his own taste, I suppose! The social position's fair, for one thing."

"I heard them speak of promissory notes?"

"Did you? Well, I suppose that they're in debt, or have got to borrow money."

"Against what do they borrow? Against their pay?"

"Oh, Lord, no! Against their expectations! Their fathers happen to be rich, and can't live forever!"

"Then, for the social position, and to go to India, where they do not want to go, they give a mortgage on their patrimony?"

"Not exactly. Those two men would have a good social position in any case."

"Then why?"

"Rather difficult to explain, Mr.—ah—Khan, I'm afraid!"

"Do they so love their Queen?"

"Personally?"

"How else?"

"I don't suppose they either of them know her personally!"

"Then her ministers—is it for them? Are they members possibly of a political party, and very loyal?"

"Good Heavens, no! There's a Radical ministry in power, and they're both of them staunch Tories!"

"What do they stand to gain?"

"Nothing, unless you count fever, and conceivably a wound or two."

"Can they win great promotion?—great favor?—great honor?"

"Hardly. They're captains. Might become majors. Might get a medal or so."

"Ah! The medals would carry great distinction? Men would applaud them?"

"The medals would be about the same as those the rank and file would get; nobody'd even know they had 'em—they don't wear 'em, you know, except on parade. And nobody'd care one way or the other!"

"Are they of the upper classes?"

"Certainly!"

"And they do not want to go to India, for I heard them say so—and they can gain nothing, but will lose much by it, in money and possibly in health—and they very likely do not know their Queen—they hate her ministry—they have to borrow if they will obey—I heard them say that the men whom they must lead are 'rotten'—and yet, they go! Can you solve me this riddle?"

"It's a question of privilege, I think," said the club man.

"Ah! Privilege! Now, what privilege?"

"The privilege of going!"

Aga Khan was infinitely too polite to shake his head, or to give any other sign of incredulity. Only his brown eyes showed skepticism, and something that was more, as he rose and thanked his host, and said good-by. But the letter that he wrote that evening was full of certainties—conclusions drawn by process of cold logic from his mental memoranda. And his conclusions would not have been changed in any way could he have overheard a conversation between that club-man and a crony, which took place ten minutes after his departure.

"Who was your friend?" asked a man who had been watching.

"Man named Aga Khan—brought me a letter of introduction from a man I know in India."

"What part of India does he come from?"

"No part. He's an Afghan, traveling to study social problems, so he says. Wants to know why army officers go all the way to India!"

"Did you enlighten him?"

"Can't say I did. Not sure I know myself! There are two things, though, that beat me. One is, why the Indian Government allows such men to escape from their native hills."

"And the other?"

"Is why anybody bothers about India! We'd be just as well off without it. It's a nuisance, and the Afghans are a nuisance!"


III.

Illustration
Illustration

THE Afghans truly were, and are, a nuisance. Then, though, they possessed an Emir who had eaten with the under-dog and had learned to know men, or at least Afghans, from the bottom upward before he came into his own. And he not only was a nuisance; he had a yearning for lost provinces.

He had, too, sound common sense, blended, after a strangely Eastern manner, with romanticism and a patriarchal sense of duty that was almost Biblical. He believed that the fighting tribes on India's northern frontier who had once sworn fealty to his ancestors were his by right—his children—his to rule with an iron rod that would suit their temperament and his own idea of fitness.

He had read more than a little, and had remembered what his national traditions were. He knew that India had been conquered from the North times without number. He was a statesman, and he guessed that the surest means of knitting together a nation torn by strife was to give it a national idea and start a war of conquest. And he knew that India would make good plundering. Once India were his, his warriors could plunge their arms down elbow-deep into the loot, and he, their Emir, would get the credit for it; the Afghan blood-lust would be sated for a time, and men could rest from the killing and grow prosperous.

He could dream, could that Emir. But underneath his dreams there lay that bedrock of common sense on which he had raised himself to clamber to the throne, and he did not forget that India had been conquered from the South and from the West once, or that her conquerors were still in power. British bayonets had helped him to the throne of Kabul, and he had no false impressions of what the British soldiers had been worth in those days.

But the British, once in Kabul, had set him firmly on the throne, and had gone away again—away down South beyond the Himalayas. They had told him to keep his eye on Russia, and to make Afghanistan a buffer-state between the gray-clad Russian hordes and England's thin red line. And that, to his Oriental mind, showed weakness.

What conquerors relaxed their grip on a country they could hold? What general retreated when his base was safe and there was nothing to oppose him? What king or queen accepted promises in lieu of tribute, and left an alien—unwatched—to guard the border-line, unless his or her hands were full elsewhere? Would he act thus? Allah—God of the faithful and confounder of the infidel—forbid! There must be something rotten in the state of England.

Hence Aga Khan; and hence another man. The Emir was no man to leave his fighting force unwatched while he himself went in search of information; no man, either, to trust his ministers too far, or to let them grow lazy from too little work. They were schemers who might scheme against him unless he kept them busy, and there were things that he needed very much to know. So Aga Khan, the wisest of his graybeards, and the most observant, and the one who knew most English, went to London; and Ullah Khan, who was better versed in Hindustani, and who loved above all things to trade in horses, took the long trail down the Khyber with some four-year-olds.

And, like Aga Khan, who was threading in and out amid the slums and clubs of London, Ullah Khan saw wonders. Being a horse-trader, he had three perfectly good reasons for disliking the Bengali babus; but he had his orders, and he did need an interpreter, for in India men speak two hundred dialects. So Boghal Grish, the fat, unspeakable iconoclast, went with him, and had trudged, complaining, in the dust from end to end of almost endless provinces.

He had been a useful person—very. He had translated for Ullah Khan's benefit hundreds of seditious Hindu editorials, taken at random from lithographed native newspapers with two-hundred-copy circulations; and he had interpreted the exaggerated vaporings of "failed B.A.'s" and even lesser lights who had failed to get a "Government poseetion." With quick babu perception he had very soon divined that Ullah Khan was not in search of things to be admired, and he had brought men to him whose point of view was likely to prove acceptable.

In the bewildering bazaars of Lucknow and Delhi and Cawnpore he had shown him the locked-up stores and houses where the plague had ravaged, and had read aloud for him the notices nailed on the doors, and had interpreted for him the bitter revilings of the men whose privacy had been invaded by ruthless, caste-careless sanitary commissioners.

"They care nothing for our native customs," explained Boghal Grish. "Nor yet for our religion! See!" And he led him to a Hindu temple, whose holiness had been denied by Christian disinfectant. "Even our gods are nothing to them! With one hand they break down our privacy; with the other they pacify malcontents by raising them to positions of authority."

And he had interpreted the remarks of the Hindu priests, whose cow-dung-plastered shrines still bore the shameless stain of cleanliness-applied-by-force-majeure.

Ullah Khan had seen for himself the native scowls as Tommy Atkins swaggered, laughing and careless, through the crowded market, and he had needed no interpreter to make the meaning of the murmurs clear to his understanding; there were no love-croonings in among them! And he knew enough English on his own account to understand the conversation of occasional British officers, when chance favored him and he could overhear without appearing too inquisitive.

"Home again next month! Gad, won't it be good!"

"Think of Hurlingham and Ranelagh!"

"The Shires for me, my son! Forty minutes in the open, over real English grass!"

"Oh, think of Cowes in June! Can't you see 'em 'snorting under bonnets?' How long, my son, how long?"

"And where are these places, and what are they?" demanded Ullah Khan.

"At Hurlingham and Cowes, they tell me men play games—games on horseback and in little boats," said Boghal Grish. "In what they call the Shires, they hunt."

"They think, then, of nothing else?"

"Of little else! They love neither us nor India."

And Ullah Khan grunted. And he too wrote a letter that had certainty in every line of it.

And there were other things to see and understand. He saw the fat, green fields, where dust had been, and saw the patient ryot humped over his hoe, hurrying to let the gurgling dark-brown water sluice between the rows. And he heard the ryot grumble at the Takkus, which was greater than it had been once—before the water came.

"So they raise the taxes, do they?" asked Ullah Khan.

"Always, sahib! Always! For that reason, and no other, they start irrigation works! They charge for the water, and with the money so obtained they pay more bureaucrats from England!"

"And all this rice? Does it go to England?"

"Nay. It is eaten here."

"The money, then, for which the rice is sold? That goes to England?"

"Nay."

"These farmers have the spending of it?"

"Of what is left when the tax is paid."

"But they must buy their goods in England?"

"Nay. All goods enter India on an equal tariff."

"Why? Why do the English not discriminate?"

"They are afraid!"

Four months after the dismissal from his service—on the ground of peculation—of Boghal Grish, two months after a furtive but very shrewd inspection of widely scattered regiments of native cavalry, and one month after a visit to Calcutta where he saw what little can be seen on the outside of the workings of the most amazing government on earth, Ullah Khan met Aga Khan, new-landed from a Peninsular and Oriental Steamship.

As they stood together on the Apollo Bunder, which faces the harbor of Bombay, they looked into each other's eyes for a moment, meaningly.

"What found you?" asked Ullah Khan.

"Rot everywhere!"

"And I too!" said Ullah Khan. "The fruit is ripe for the plucking. They have sown themselves, but they are afraid to reap! The country has grown fat and prosperous; there are pickings here for a hundred thousand plunderers, and yet no man moves a finger! They rule like men who are afraid!"

"No wonder!" growled Aga Khan. "Their soldiers come from depths unspeakable. Their officers detest the service, and are put to great personal expense by it; such men are not dependable! And in England the crowd cares nothing, and knows nothing, and thinks of nothing except beer and bread. No wonder that they rule like men who are afraid!"

"We will have good tidings for the Emir, thou and I!" said Ullah Khan.


IV.

Illustration

THE back of the Eastern-province famine had been broken, and the plague was dying in the West. The southwest monsoon had burst with a year-late flood on thirsty India, and favorable crop-reports were coming in. The Viceroy and another man whose eyes were more puckered, and whose hair was grayer, and whose sturdy frame had been dried out by more than thirty years in India, sat back, and lit cigars, and smiled at each other.

"Good times ahead at last, old man?" asked the Commander-in-Chief sympathetically.

"No, not exactly. Couldn't hope for that, in this benighted country! But relief's in sight!"

"Any chance of screwing out a bigger appropriation for the army?"

"Not the slightest! The Council wouldn't pass it, for one thing; and for another, we want every anna we can save for irrigation works. Besides, we're even cutting down the Civil Service estimates; babus come cheaper than Europeans, and they're very nearly as dependable in the lower grades. We're going to appoint natives to about five hundred vacancies next financial year, and spend the money that we save in that way on education."

"Aren't you overdoing it, old man? Taking things a little fast, I mean? They're learning, of course, but are they digesting it?"

"They're not digesting it as fast as the home-drafts do, but they're learning, all right. One of these days they'll get hold of the idea, and India will stand on her own feet. Think of it! India self-governed like Australia and Canada, and sending her own representatives to Westminster, perhaps!"

"It sounds all right, but you and I won't live to see it!" said the Commander-in-Chief.

"I know we won't. But still, we've got a long way from the day when a man's job in India was worth what he could make out of it!"

"True. We've got a long way too from making soldiers out of criminals by flogging them!"

"Talking of that—are the home-drafts up to standard?" asked the Viceroy.

"Oh, about the same. Can't expect too much, you know. Half of 'em hell's scrapings, and the other half raw country bumpkins. Good enough material."

"It's a pity that we can't get a better type of man to begin on, isn't it?"

"Oh, I don't know. Besides, you couldn't get 'em at the price. They're awfully decent men, by the time they've scraped the dirt off them in the home-depots, and they get hold of the regimental idea before they come out here; by the time they get here, they're ripe for the real thing. When they realize that they're not the lowest thing there is—not the lowest by streets—that there are three hundred million people here, for instance, who regard them as superior beings in at least one way, they begin to show what's in 'em. Then they see the native cavalry, and get to know about its loyalty. The rest's easy! They're not going to be beaten by what they are pleased to describe as 'niggers'! There's nothing the matter with the army, or the men, sir!"

"Back at home," said the Viceroy, "I've often noticed the tremendous difference between a regiment just home from India and one on the eve of departure."

"You weren't the first man to notice it!" said the Commander-in-Chief. "It'll be a bad day for the British Army when India can stand alone."

"Have you gone into your appropriations yet?" asked the Viceroy.

"Scarcely touched 'em."

"Formed any cut-and-dried plans, or anything?"

"Nothing really definite."

"Would it seem like butting in if I made a suggestion?"

"Go ahead!"

"The Emir is not exactly making trouble, but he's thinking of it. The simplest thing, I suppose, would be to let his thoughts come to a head, and then smash him; but with a famine and the plague just off our hands we can't afford a war. I'd like to teach him a less expensive lesson."

"What's he been doing?"

"Oh, just the usual thing, and he's been just as owl-eyed and childishly subtle as you'd expect. He's sent one of his ministers to London incog., and another one on a spying expedition round this country. Aga Khan went to London, with enough letters of introduction to introduce an army. They were all obtained secretly—secretly, you understand!—from civilians and better-class natives and merchants in this country. Ullah Khan, the other man, disguised himself as a horse-trader and made the tour of India."

"How did you get on to him?"

"Oh, the usual way. He engaged an interpreter—happened to be a Government babu who'd been dismissed for peculation—babu stole again—Ullah Khan sacked him, without any noticeable tenderness—babu out for revenge, of course, and incidentally a little pocket-money—offered information to the Government—a ten-rupee note did the trick!"

The Commander-in-Chief nodded. "I could fling three army-corps into Afghanistan at the drop of a handkerchief!" he said quietly.

"That's good. But the country can't afford it! On the other hand, the Emir, through these two ministers of his, has had a good look at the seamy side of things; it's likely to make him restless, if nothing worse happens."

"Well?"

"I've an idea, that's all."

"I've pulled with you ever since you came out here."

"I know you have. Yes, and that's one reason why I don't want to seem to—"

"Nonsense! What is it?"

For the next two hours the Viceroy—who wields more power than any king of England ever did—and the Commander-in-Chief, who really does command in India, were engaged in a quite informal conference. And the result was that an Emir, who was a patriot and a statesman on his own account, received both entertainment and a lesson.


V.

Illustration

IT was as if ten thousand glow-worms lay in lines, in readiness to dance a legion-formed quadrille. Ten thousand tents—each tent with a trench around it, and each to a hair in line—glowed warmly against the pitch-black Indian night. A black, dense mass behind them were the pickets where the tethered horses neighed; and in the center, like a many-mouthed black monster, lay the parked artillery—a grisly, ugly, hydra-headed thing that made no sound.

On every side were watch-fires, as regularly spaced apart as hours, and, like the minutes of the hours, spaced in between them stood the sentries; once in a while, as someone tossed a log on to a watch-fire or a puff of wind swept down from the hill and fanned it, a flame shot up and lit for a second on a gleaming bayonet that was swallowed promptly by the night again. From a distance it seemed like a fairy-camp, lit up for revelry; but sharp eyes, accustomed to the outer darkness, could have told that it was hedged about with steel.

From the tents, and from the rows between them, there went up a roar like the night-voice of a city. The cooking pots were cleaned, and the kettles stood ready again in the kitchen-trenches; a many-throated army, well-fed, well-found, and well-controlled, was voicing its contentment, and lay at its ease unbelted, telling tales of fifty counties and five hundred far-flung outposts.

Above it, on the hillside opposite, there was a smaller, more silent cluster of less regularly spaced-out lights. That was the camp of an Emir and his escort—a pinnacle-set aerie, where a man who had come to see things for himself stroked at his beard and watched.

No calls had been interchanged as yet, for the Emir had arranged his coming carefully, arriving late on the day before the big review. Allah in his wisdom had seen fit to strike the British Indian Government with madness, to the end that they might show him all their weakness; and who was he that he should decline their invitation and thus let slip a God-sent opportunity?

His design was to see the review first, and to learn what he might from it before accepting too much hospitality or being trapped into too many expressions of good will. Even kings and emperors and potentates are careful of their spoken word, and like to know before they promise. He had sent an unofficial note, though, by the hand of a mountain chieftain with an escort; and the chieftain had his unofficial orders. He might not ask, and he might not ride from off the beaten path. But he had eyes that were accustomed to keen observation, and he might look and bring report.

So, while the Emir waited, seated on a pile of rugs before a yak-hair tent, a long, lean, fierce-eyed Afghan came cantering up the hill-track, with an escort of a dozen at his back. He dismounted and bowed profoundly, and held out a sealed envelope.

"You were long in coming!" said the Emir, opening the letter. It was nothing but a quite informal answer to his note.

"He slept!" said the princeling messenger.

"Slept?"

"Slept! I had to wait while they awakened him! While I waited, I saw many things."

"His Excellency slept? The Viceroy? He who rules that host?"

"Aye! And he sleeps now! When he had read the letter, and had caused his man to write an answer, and had signed it, he went back to bed again. He sleeps!"

"Sleeps—with that host to watch! A hundred thousand men, and their thousand captains—and he sleeps?"

"Aye! He sleeps, and so does their commander, for I saw him. I was minded to have a word with him, having spoken with him when he came with the troops to Kabul in the old days, and I rode up to his tent. There was but one sentry posted, and he a common soldier. The flap of the tent was drawn back, and I saw him lying there asleep; and since I would not rob him of that which is sweeter than meat or drink, I rode away again. I saw many other things."

"What saw you?"

"Their guns are as many as their camp-fires!"

"That I knew. Money, however gotten, will buy guns!"

"Their horses seem better than our best!"

"Fool! Go not our best horses in droves, yearly, down the Khyber to be sold to them? How seemed the men? Did they scowl? Were they discontented?"

"Nay! They smiled at me! When I passed a sentry—and that was often—he saluted. Others, sprawling in the tent-doors, rose and stood upright with their hands beside them while I passed. Everywhere men laughed, smoking those strange, short pipes of theirs, and told each other tales; all seemed contented, and all who saw me regarded me with curiosity."

"With naught else?"

"Unless the saluting and the standing at attention meant respect."

"Why should they respect thee?" growled the Emir.

"Of a truth, I know not! I thought, though, that they did, and I felt no harm from it!"

"Thy head was turned by their obeisance!" said the Emir with conviction. "The next time I will send an older man!"

The chieftain bowed, more to hide his thin-lipped grin than out of deference, and retired with his escort to where a camp-fire burned before a tent that humped up irregularly from the blackness. He and a dozen others sat there before their fire, and talked until sleep came over them; then they rolled themselves into their blankets. But the Emir sat on where he was, with his chin resting on his doubled fists, and his eyes staring in deep contemplation at the wondrous sight in front of him.

He heard a hundred bugles blow, and saw—wonder of wonders!—ten thousand lights go out as if Allah himself had whelmed them all at once. There was silence then, and no light showed at alt except the watch-fires, which flickered, and rose, and fell, and gleamed every now and then on bayonets. Sometimes a sharp challenge broke the stillness of the night, and proved that armed men were watching while the army slept; and every two hours he heard a string of challenges, as officers marched out from the guard-tents and posted the reliefs; but there was no movement beyond that—no other sound.

And the Emir sat on in silence where he was, and wondered. His camp behind him slept, and his sentries, too, were posted; but there was a difference, and he was wondering wherein the difference lay.

"Their men are recruited among disaffected Indian tribes," he muttered; "or else in the slums of London. Their officers dream all of them of home, and the men must dread the thought of it; whence has cohesion come? And yet...

"'Dark skins mingle no more with white than oil with water,' wrote Aga Khan, and Ullah Khan, and both wrote truly. They are conquerors—sons at the least of conquerors—retaining their hold on India by means of what is left of former strength; and they know it, for they govern India like men who are afraid. And yet...

"Those men there joined the army for their bellies' sake. Their leaders know it. Those native soldiers read seditious writings daily in the native press, since their leaders fear to muzzle the discontented men who write.

"His Excellency represents the Queen. In England, where those soldiers come from, men stand at the street corners and declaim against the Queen, and against her Empire. His Excellency knows it, and those men know it. Those men gain nothing from the Empire, for their leaders are afraid to let them loot. They are many, though; they come from the slums that I have read about, where no ideals or decency exist, or can exist. Wealth lies around them, and their officers are comparatively few; none could prevent them if they chose to loot. And yet...

"My fighting men are picked from among the best. There is not a man of all my men but held his chin high from his birth. My men can rise to any heights; those men down yonder have no prospect of either wealth or great promotion. Those there are punished when they disobey, by little fines, and light imprisonment—mine with a scimitar. Conquest for those men means risk of life, and afterward oblivion and poverty again; conquest for my men would spell riches.

"I know each of my men, and each of my men knows me. His Excellency there knows almost none of his, excepting here and there an officer; he has not been in India long enough to know the hundredth part of all his men by sight, and I have lived among my men always. And yet...

"His Excellency sleeps, and the commander sleeps, and the army sleeps—and I dare not sleep!"

He had not solved the riddle when a hundred bugles and a hundred trumpets down below him blared out in chorus, to salute the morning, and he looked—from his own men, squabbling sleepy and breakfast-less around the dying embers—to the beehive on the plain, where each of a hundred thousand men was wide awake, and each performing his prearranged, predestined, preconcerted task with easy, almost casual, unhurrying precision. The hundred thousand, and their horses, had all breakfasted before his own men had more than decided what to eat.

"And they come from the slums?" he wondered.


VI.

Illustration
Illustration

FOR an hour, as if an unseen finger moved them like pieces on a checker-board, the regiments shifted and marched and shifted—pipe-clay white, and gold, and crimson, tipped with burnished steel—an ever-changing mass of individual units each with the same end in view. Without an accident, without a counter-march, to the intermittent sound of bugles and a quite occasional command, order was evolved—brigade order, out of unbrigaded companies.

Line after line after crimson-coated line—color-tipped khaki where the turbaned native cavalry sat knee-to-knee with British—blue and gold where the jingling gun-teams pawed the ground—and dark gray where Ghurkas and British riflemen stood alternating with the kilted Highlanders—one hundred thousand men waited in obedient silence, facing the saluting-point.

"And now, your Highness," said the Viceroy, "I think we might take their salute. What do you say?"

They rose—lean, clean-limbed Anglo-Saxon and swart, sturdy Afghan side by side—silk-hatted, frock-coated representative of new ideals and turbaned and bejeweled despot; and they drove to the saluting-point in an English carriage, which was drawn by English horses ridden by Indian postilions, and was followed by a bearded, six-foot, crimson-coated escort of Maharajahs' sons.

One sword shot upward, and scintillated for a second in the sun. A hundred bugles answered instantly. In instant answer to a hundred barked commands there came a flash of brilliant steel—one movement, as a flash of lightning moves—sudden, swift, unexpected motion—then a thud—then silence.

Seated on his war-horse—a small, straight-backed, gray-haired figure in front of the middle of the line—the Commander-in-Chief had given one silent order—and one hundred thousand men behind him had come to the salute.

A massed band, five hundred strong, struck up the national anthem. The Viceroy raised his hat. The Emir sat rigid beside him, controlling his expression carefully; but his eyes wandered sideways, in the direction of his own rather ragged-looking warriors, who had followed the crimson-coated Rajputs and now sat their horses in a line beside them.

One hundred and one guns boomed out a Viceroy's salute. The Viceroy raised his hat again. There was a pause, and one-and-twenty guns boomed out. The Viceroy whispered something, and the Emir bowed. The Commander-in-Chief turned his head, and gave an order to a man who rode behind him; and as he spurred his horse to where the Viceroy sat, and took his place beside the carriage, one bugle spoke—and then a trumpet. And, like a storm-cloud with the glint of lightning in it, a brigade of Horse Artillery detached itself from the far end of the line—wheeled at the flag—and came thundering down past the saluting-point.

A man who has seen massed Horse Artillery wheel at the gallop, gun-wheel to gun-wheel, hoof to hoof, and thunder past in line of batteries, with the mounted men like a close-packed, wind-splitting hornet-horde in front and the great, black, death-familiar monsters dancing along behind in a whirlwind of noise and dust—has seen the first wonder of the world.

"From the slums?" thought the Emir, gripping rather tightly on the jeweled hilt of his scimitar. "And from the clubs? Nay! These are their picked men. This is meant to blind me to the poorness of the others. We shall see!"

And what he did see followed on in such premeasured sequence and with such amazing speed that neither he nor the hill-bred warriors who were near him could do more than marvel. It was wonder following on wonder, to a changing tune.

Before the gun-dust had been scattered by the wind, another trumpet blared out in rising cadence, and a cavalry brigade revolved within itself, as drilled dust-devils might, and—squadron after squadron, in dense-packed, glittering line of squadrons—ten thousand horsemen swooped to where the guns had wheeled. The drums of the massed band thundered out six double beats, and then—lively as a sunbeam on a frosty morning—the strains of the cavalry canter started with a crash.

Ten thousand horsemen, bright-eyed and dean and glittering, rode past the Emir, each horse cantering in time to the music of "Bonnie Dundee," and nose to nose and tail to tail in line. As line after line of them danced past the saluting-point, commands barked out, and at the word each pair of eyes turned sharply to the right. It seemed to the Emir as they passed him that they were the eyes, and faces, of men who were neither unwilling, nor unhappy, nor afraid.

"Their European cavalry is good!" muttered the Emir to himself. "Those men must be chosen from the colonies that I have read about. Those are men indeed, and their officers ride like men who are indeed proud of them. There remains, though, the native cavalry!"

But the tune played on, and other trumpets sounded. Before the last line of cantering horsemen had swept past the saluting-point, a four-square khaki cloud, steel-tipped—a set-square sea of turbans and fluttering lance-pennants—had wheeled, and had launched itself in the wake of the British regiments. The Emir could see now for himself how the disaffected natives looked!

"Rajputs!" said the Viceroy, raising his hat in acknowledgment of their sudden, swift "Eyes Right!"

"Guides!"

"Bengal Horse!"

"Punjabis!"

"Sikhs!"

They swept past behind British officers, cantering to a British tune, saluting a British Viceroy, and riding with the easy, perfect, centaur-seat of men who are born to the task, and like it.

"Such horses!" said the Emir, forced against his will to a grudging exclamation, and too cautious still to praise the men who rode.

"Each man brings his own horse when he joins," explained the Viceroy.

"But why?"

"Because they want to join! There is competition! They know a good thing when they see it, so they bring their best, and ask to join!"

But the tune had changed, and the wonders that had only just begun changed with the tune to other wonders. The Emir looked to where the crimson brigades of infantry had stood—and clutched his hilt again, and held his breath. The whole line was in movement. The sun shone on a sea of glittering bayonets and helmet-spikes, and the earth reverberated to the tramp of densely packed regiments that followed, one behind the other, with a space between.

And as he watched, the massed band struck up yet another tune, and a regiment of Highlanders wheeled by companies and came swinging down toward him, their pipers to the front. None march like Highlanders—none anywhere.

Illustration
Illustration
Illustration

Their kilts and sporrans swinging, and their rifles at the slope, they came on like the lords of all creation—stately, dignified, alert—as men march who have earned the right to other men's respect. They went by to their own tune—"The Campbells Are Comin'"—the tune that the holders of Lucknow had heard, and many another beleaguered garrison—and there was that in their salute as they passed him, an indefinable, exhilarating something, which thrilled the reluctant Emir and reminded the Viceroy—who needed no reminder—what manner of men they were who held him there as Empress's Deputy.

"Are these your best?" asked the Emir, in a voice that had something approaching awe in it.

"Not a bit of it, your Highness! You'll find it very hard to choose! Listen! Here come the Lincolns!"

"Oh, 'tis my delight of a shiny night...."

The poacher-tune that half the world has listened to, from the Lincoln Fens to the Hlinadetalone* and back again by way of Abyssinia, crashed out as the last of the Highlanders swaggered out of view, and the Emir was treated to another style of marching. It was different, but it was just as good. No men could march like that whose hearts were anywhere but in their uniforms, and no men who marched like that could be otherwise than men. They went by like one welded, tempered, keen-edged unit, and saluted like men who confer an honor by saluting.

[* "Hlinadetalone" (sic). Presumably a typographical error for "Hindustan."]

"Fenmen, those!" said the Viceroy. "Sons of farm-hands mostly. Listen! Here come the Warwicks!"

"Oh, d'ye ken John Peel, with his coat so gray?"

Like a following wave, amid a thundering sea of men, the Warwicks advanced and passed, and vanished.

"East Surrey!" said the Viceroy, as once again the tune changed.

"East Kent—the Old Half Hundred!"

"Devon and Somerset!"

"The Black Watch!"

"Here come the Ghurkas! You know those!"

The Ghurkas marched like white men, with almost the swing and swagger of the Highlanders, and grinning to a man. There was no doubt about them either; they were there because they liked it.

"Northumberland Fusileers!"

"Scottish Borderers!"

"Welsh Fusileers!"

The tune changed, and the regiments changed—wheeling regiment after regiment into line, and tramping past in quarter-column. The Emir, try as he would, could make no choice among them. He knew men. He could tell by their very atmosphere what spirit might be in them, and he sat by the Viceroy and marveled.

"Bedfords!" said the Viceroy.

"Yes," said the Emir, seeing light suddenly. "These that you tell me are the names of the regiments. But whence come the men themselves? From the colonies, perhaps?"

"No, your Highness!" said the Viceroy. "From London, and English cities mostly. From 'Hell, Hull, and Halifax'—just anywhere."

The Emir stroked his beard. "I have two men," he said reflectively, "two ministers—whose heads shall shortly decorate the Gate of Kabul!"

"Why? Been making trouble?"

"No! They are fools! A wise man sees, and a bad man may be made to see, but a fool, never! I will breed no more from that breed!"

"You mean that your Highness is wise, and has seen? What have you seen?"

"I have seen an army that all Asia could not beat, and made up of men who were—"

"Under-dogs?"

"Aye! Under-dogs!"

"Your Highness has some fine material in the North! You have seen how the native regiments shape; your stuff is as good as ours, or better!"

"Yet look at mine!" The Emir's eyes turned in the direction of his own warriors again.

"This is the answer, your Highness," said the Viceroy, looking where he looked, and looking away again. "You rule Afghanistan with justice, and with a rod of iron. Why?"

"For mine own honor's sake!"

"Good—and true! Do you consider yourself, or your own comfort?"

"Not one iota!"

"Likewise good—and true! And your men?"

"They think only of themselves!"

"There is your answer! These men that you have seen to-day—these men from Hell, Hull, and Halifax—thought only of themselves until they were taught otherwise. Now, each man is for his company—each company is for its regiment—each regiment is for the army—and the army is for the collective honor of them all."

"And your Excellency?"

"I—I am but a deputy for Her Majesty the Queen!"

"And she?"

"She represents that honor!"

The Emir sunk his head on to his breast, and lapsed into deep thought.



THE END


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