Percival Christopher Wren.

Driftwood Spars The Stories of a Man, a Boy, a Woman, and Certain Other People Who Strangely Met Upon the Sea of Life online

. (page 9 of 19)
Online LibraryPercival Christopher WrenDriftwood Spars The Stories of a Man, a Boy, a Woman, and Certain Other People Who Strangely Met Upon the Sea of Life → online text (page 9 of 19)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

betters, when judging."

"You're right, Nutty," agreed Mr. Ross-Ellison. "Look at that horse
'Runaway'. Last year it won the First Prize as a light-weight hunter,
First Prize as a hack, and Highly Commended as a charger - disqualified
from a prize on account of having no mane. It then belonged to a Colonel
of Dragoons. This year, with a mane and in, if possible, better
condition, against practically the same horses, it wins nothing at all.
This year it belongs to a junior in the P.W.D. one notices."

"Just what I say," acquiesced the aggrieved Nut, whose rejected horse
had been beaten by another which it had itself beaten (under different
ownership) the previous year. "Fact is, the judges should be absolutely
ignorant as to who owns the horses. They mean well enough, but to them
it stands to reason that the most exalted Pots own the most exalted
horses. Besides, is it fair to ask a troop sergeant-major to order his
own Colonel's horse out of the ring, or the General's either? They ought
not to get subordinates in at all. Army Veterinary Colonels from other
Divisions are the sort of chaps you want, and some really knowledgeable
unofficial civilians - and, as I say, to be in complete ignorance as to
ownership. No man to ride his own horse - and none of these bally numbers
to prevent the Judges from thinking a General's horse belongs to a
common man, and from getting the notion that a subaltern's horse belongs
to a General."

"Yes" mused Mr. Ross-Ellison, "and another thing. If you want to get a
horse a win or a place in the Ladies' Hack class - get a pretty girl to
ride it. They go by the riders' faces and figures entirely.... Hullo!
Class XIX wanted. That's me and Zuleika. Come and tie the labels on my
arms like a good dog."

"Right O. But you haven't the ghost of a little look in," opined the
Nut. "Old Murger has got a real corking English hunter in. A General
will win as usual - but he'll win with by far the best horse, for once in
the history of horse-shows."

Dismounting and handing their reins to the syces, the two young
gentlemen strolled over to the table where presided he of the pimples
and number-labels.

A burly Sikh was pointing to the name of General Miltiades Murger and
asking for the number printed thereagainst.

The youth handed Rissaldar-Major Shere Singh two labels each bearing the
number 99. These, the gallant Native Officer proceeded to tie upon his
arms - putting them upside down, as is the custom of the native of India
when dealing with anything in any wise reversible.

Mr. Ross-Ellison approached the table, showed his name on the programme
and asked for his number - 66.

"Tie these on," said he returning to his friend. "By Jove - there's old
Murger's horse," he added - "what a magnificent animal!"

Looking up, the Nut saw Rissaldar-Major Shere Singh mounting the
beautiful English hunter - and also saw that he bore the number 66.
Therefore the labels handed to him were obviously 99, and as 99 he tied
on the 66 of Mr. Ross-Ellison - who observed the fact.

"I am afraid I'm all Pathan at this moment," silently remarked he unto
his soul, and smiled an ugly smile.

"Not much good my entering Zuleika against _that_ mare," he said aloud.
"It must have cost just about ten times what I paid for her. Never mind
though! We'll show up - for the credit of civilians," and he rode into
the ring - where a score of horses solemnly walked round and round the
Judges and in front of the Grand Stand....

General Murger brought Mrs. Dearman a cup of tea, and, having placed his
_topi_[49] in his chair, went, for a brandy-and-soda and cheroot, to the
bar behind the rows of seats.

[49] Sun-helmet.

On his return he beheld his superb and expensive hunter behaving
superbly and expensively in the expert hands of Rissaldar-Major Shere

He feasted his eyes upon it.

Suddenly a voice, a voice he disliked intensely, the voice of Mr.
Dearman croaked fiendishly in his ear: "Why, General, they've got your
horse numbered wrongly!"

General Miltiades Murger looked again. Upon the arm of Rissaldar-Major
Shere Singh was the number 66.

Opening his programme with trembling fingers he found his name, his
horse's name, and number 99!

He rose to his feet, stammering and gesticulating. As he did so the
words: -

"Take out number 66," were distinctly borne to the ears of the serried
ranks of the fashionable in the Grand Stand. Certain military-looking
persons at the back abandoned all dignity and fell upon each other's
necks, poured great libations, danced, called upon their gods, or fell
prostrate upon settees.

Others, seated among the ladies, looked into their bats as though in

"Has Ross-Ellison faked it?" ran from mouth to mouth, and, "He'll be
hung for this".

A minute or so later the Secretary approached the Grand Stand and
announced in stentorian tones:

"First Prize - General Murger's _Darling_, Number 99".

While behind him upon Zuleika, chosen of the Judges, sat and smiled Mr.
John Robin Ross-Ellison, who lifted his voice and said:
"Thanks - No! - This horse is _mine_ and is named _Zuleika_." He looked
rather un-English, rather cunning, cruel and unpleasant - quite different
somehow, from his ordinary cheery, bright English self.

* * * * *

"Old" Brigadier General Miltiades Murger was unique among British
Generals in that he sometimes resorted to alcoholic stimulants beyond
reasonable necessity and had a roving and a lifting eye for a pretty
woman. In one sense the General had never taken a wife - and, in another,
he had taken several. Indeed it was said of him by jealous colleagues
that the hottest actions in which he had ever been engaged were actions
for divorce or breach of promise, and that this type of imminent deadly
breach was the kind with which he was best acquainted. Also that he was
better at storming the citadel of a woman's heart than at storming
anything else.

No eminent man is without jealous detractors.

As to the stimulants, make no mistake and jump to no hasty conclusions.
General Murger had never been seen drunk in the whole of his
distinguished and famous (or as the aforesaid colleagues called it,
egregious and notorious) career.

On the other hand, the voice of jealousy said he had never been seen
sober either. In the words of envy, hatred, malice and all
uncharitableness it declared that he had been born fuddled, had lived
fuddled, and would die fuddled. And there were ugly stories.

Also some funny ones - one of which concerns the, Gungapur Fusilier
Volunteer Corps and Colonel Dearman, their beloved but shortly retiring
(and, as some said, their worthy) Commandant.

Mr. Dearman was a very wealthy (and therefore popular), very red haired
and very patriotic mill-owner who tried very hard to be proud of his
Corps, and, without trying, was immensely proud of his wife.

As to the Corps - well, it may at least be said that it would have
followed its beloved Commandant anywhere (that was neither far nor
dangerous), for every one of its Officers, except Captain John Robin
Ross-Ellison, and the bulk of its men, were his employees.

They loved him for his wealth and they trusted him absolutely - trusted
him not to march them far nor work them much. And they were justified of
their faith.

Several of the Officers were almost English - though Greeks and
Goa-Portuguese predominated, and there was undeniably a drop or two of
English blood in the ranks, well diffused of course. Some folk said that
even Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison was not as Scotch as his name.

On guest-nights in the Annual Camp of Exercise (when the Officers' Mess
did itself as well as any Mess in India - and only took a few hundred
rupees of the Government Grant for the purpose) Colonel Dearman would
look upon the wine when it was bubbly, see his Corps through its golden
haze, and wax so optimistic, so enthusiastic, so rash, as roundly to
state that if he had five hundred of the Gungapur Fusiliers, with
magazines charged and bayonets fixed, behind a stout entrenchment or in
a fortified building, he would stake his life on their facing any
unarmed city mob you could bring against them. But these were but
post-prandial vapourings, and Colonel Dearman never talked nor thought
any such folly when the Corps was present to the eye of flesh.

On parade he saw it for what it was - a mob of knock-kneed, sniffling
lads with just enough strength to suck a cigarette; anaemic clerks, fat
cooks, and loafers with just enough wind to last a furlong march; huge
beery old mechanics and ex-"Tommies," forced into this coloured galley
as a condition of their "job at the works "; and the non-native scum of
the city of Gungapur - which joined for the sake of the ammunition-boots
and khaki suit.

There was not one Englishman who was a genuine volunteer and not half a
dozen Parsis. Englishmen prefer to join a corps which consists of
Englishmen or at least has an English Company. When they have no
opportunity of so doing, it is a little unfair to class them with the
lazy, unpatriotic, degenerate young gentlemen who have the opportunity
and do not seize it. Captain Ross-Ellison was doing his utmost to
provide the opportunity - with disheartening results.

However - Colonel Dearman tried very hard to be proud of his Corps and
never forgave anyone who spoke slightingly of it.

As to his wife, there was, as stated, no necessity for any "trying". He
was immensely and justly proud of her as one of the prettiest, most
accomplished, and most attractive women in the Bendras Presidency.

Mrs. "Pat" Dearman, _née_ Cleopatra Diamond Brighte, was, as has been
said, consciously and most obviously a Good Woman. Brought up by a
country rector and his vilely virtuous sister, her girlhood had been a
struggle to combine her two ambitions, that of being a Good Woman with
that of having a Good Time. In the village of Bishop's Overley the
former had been easier; in India the latter. But even in India, where
the Good Time was of the very best, she forgot not the other ambition,
went to church with unfailing regularity, read a portion of the
Scriptures daily; headed subscription lists for the myriad hospitals,
schools, widows'-homes, work-houses, Christian associations, churches,
charitable societies, shelters, orphanages, rescue-homes and other
deserving causes that appeal to the European in India; did her duty by
Colonel Dearman, and showed him daily by a hundred little bright
kindnesses that she had not married him for his great wealth but for
his - er - his - er - not exactly his beauty or cleverness or youthful
gaiety or learning or ability - no, for his Goodness, of course, and
because she loved him - loved him for the said Goodness, no doubt. No,
she never forgot the lessons of the Rectory, that it is the Whole Duty
of Man to Save his or her Soul, but remembered to be a Good Woman while
having the Good Time. Perhaps the most industriously pursued of all her
goodnesses was her unflagging zealous labour in Saving the Souls of
Others as well as her own Soul - the "Others" being the young,
presentable, gay, and well-placed men of Gungapur Society.

Yes, Mrs. Pat Dearman went beyond the Rectory teachings and was not
content with personal salvation. A Good Woman of broad altruistic
charity, there was not a young Civilian, not a Subaltern, not a
handsome, interesting, smart, well-to-do, well-in-society, young
bachelor in whose spiritual welfare she did not take the deepest
personal interest. And, perhaps, of all such eligible souls in Gungapur,
the one whose Salvation she most deeply desired to work out (after she
wearied of the posings and posturings of Augustus Grobble) was that of
Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison of her husband's corps - an exceedingly
handsome, interesting, smart, well-to-do, well-in-society young
bachelor. The owner of this eligible Soul forebore to tell Mrs. Pat
Dearman that it was bespoke for Mohammed the Prophet of Allah - inasmuch
as _almost_ the most entrancing, thrilling and delightful pursuit of his
life was the pursuit of soul-treatment at the hands, the beautiful tiny
white hands, of Mrs. Pat Dearman. Had her large soulful eyes penetrated
this subterfuge, he would have jettisoned Mohammed forthwith, since, to
him, the soul-treatment was of infinitely more interest and value than
the soul, and, moreover, strange as it may seem, this Mussulman English
gentleman had received real and true Christian teaching at his mother's
knee. When Mrs. Pat Dearman took him to Church, as she frequently did,
on Sunday evenings, he was filled with great longings - and with a
conviction of the eternal Truth and Beauty of Christianity and the
essential nobility of its gentle, unselfish, lofty teachings. He would
think of his mother, of some splendid men and women he had known,
especially missionaries, medical and other, at Bannu and Poona and
elsewhere, and feel that he was really a Christian at heart; and then
again in Khost and Mekran Kot, when carrying his life in his hand,
across the border, in equal danger from the bullet of the Border Police,
Guides, or Frontier Force cavalry-outposts and from the bullet of
criminal tribesmen, when a devil in his soul surged up screaming for
blood and fire and slaughter; during the long stealthy crawl as he
stalked the stalker; during the wild, yelling, knife-brandishing rush;
as he pressed the steady trigger or guided the slashing, stabbing Khyber
knife, or as he instinctively _hallaled_ the victim of his _shikar_, he
knew he was a Pathan and a Mussulman as were his fathers.

But whether circumstances brought his English blood to the surface or
his Pathan blood, whether the day were one of his most English days or
one of his most Pathan days, whether it were a day of mingled and
quickly alternating Englishry and Pathanity he now loved and supported
Britain and the British Empire for Mrs. Dearman's sake. Often as he
(like most other non-officials) had occasion to detest and desire to
kick the Imperial Englishman, championship of England and her Empire
was now his creed. And as there was probably not another England-lover
in all India who had his knowledge of under-currents, and forces within
and without, he was perhaps the most anxiously loving of all her lovers,
and the most appalled at the criminal carelessness, blind ignorance,
fatuous conceit, and folly of a proportion of her sons in India.

Knowing what he knew of Teutonic intrigue and influence in India,
Ceylon, Afghanistan, Aden, Persia, Egypt, East Africa, the Straits
Settlements, and China, he was reminded of the men and women of Pompeii
who ate, drank, and were merry, danced and sang, pursued pleasure and
the nimble denarius, while Vesuvius rumbled.

Constantly the comparison entered his mind.

He had sojourned with Indian "students" in India, England, Germany,
Geneva, America and Japan, and had belonged to the most secret of
societies. He had himself been a well-paid agent of Germany in both Asia
and Africa; and he had been instrumental in supplying thousands of
rifles to Border raiders, Persian bandits, and other potential troublers
of the _pax Britannica_. He now lived half his double life in Indian
dress and moved on many planes; and to many places where even he could
not penetrate unsuspected, his staunch and devoted slave, Moussa Isa,
went observant. And all that he learnt and knew, within and without the
confines of Ind, _by itself_ disturbed him, as an England-lover, not at
all. Taken in conjunction with the probabilities of a great European War
it disturbed him mightily. As mightily as unselfishly. To him the
dripping weapon, the blazing roof, the shrieking woman, the mangled
corpse were but incidents, the unavoidable, unobjectionable concomitants
of the Great Game, the game he most loved (and played upon every
possible occasion) - War.

While, with one half of his soul, John Robin Ross-Ellison might fear
internal disruption, mutiny, rebellion and civil war for what it might
bring to the woman he loved, with the other half of his soul, Mir
Ilderim Dost Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan dwelt upon the joys of
battle, of campaigning, the bivouac, the rattle of rifle-fire, the
charge, the circumventing and slaying of the enemy, as he circumvents
that he may slay. Thus, it was with no selfish thought, no personal
dread, that he grew, as said, mightily disturbed at what he knew of
India whenever he saw signs of the extra imminence of the Great European
Armageddon that looms upon the horizon, now near, now nearer still, now
less near, but inevitably there, plain to the eyes of all observant,
informed and thoughtful men.[50]

[50] Written in 1912. - AUTHOR.

What really astounded and appalled him was the mental attitude, the
mental condition, of British "statesmen," who (while a mighty and
ever-growing neighbour, openly, methodically, implacably prepared for
the war that was to win her place in the sun) laboured to reap votes by
sowing class-hatred and devoted to national "insurance" moneys sorely
needed to insure national _existence_.

To him it was as though hens cackled of introducing
time-and-labour-saving incubators while the fox pressed against the
unfastened door, smiling to think that their cackle smothered all other
sounds ere they reached them or the watch-dog.

Yes - while England was at peace, all was well with India; but let
England find herself at war, fighting for her very existence ... and
India might, in certain parts, be an uncomfortable place for any but the
strong man armed, as soon as the British troops were withdrawn - as they,
sooner or later, most certainly would be. Then, feared Captain John
Robin Ross-Ellison of the Gungapur Fusiliers, the British Flag would,
for a terrible breathless period of stress and horror, fly, assailed but
triumphant, wherever existed a staunch well-handled Volunteer Corps, and
would flutter down into smoke, flames, ruin and blood, where there did
not. He was convinced that, for a period, the lives of English women,
children and men; English prosperity, prestige, law and order; English
rule and supremacy, would in some parts of India depend for a time upon
the Volunteers of India. At times he was persuaded that the very
continuance of the British Empire might depend upon the Volunteers of
India. If, during some Black Week (or Black Month or Year) of England's
death-struggle with her great rival she lost India (defenceless India,
denuded of British troops), she would lose her Empire, - be the result of
her European war what it might. And knowing all that he knew, he feared
for England, he feared for India, he feared for the Empire. Also he
determined that, so far as it lay in the power of one war-trained man,
the flag should be kept flying in Gungapur when the Great European
Armageddon commenced, and should fly over a centre, and a shelter, for
Mrs. Dearman, and for all who were loyal and true.

That would be a work worthy of the English blood of him and of the
Pathan blood too. God! he would show some of these devious,
subterranean, cowardly swine what war _is_, if they brought war to
Gungapur in the hour of India's danger and need, the hour of England and
the Empire's danger and need.

And Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison (and still more Mir Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan), obsessed with the belief that a
different and more terrible 1857 would dawn with the first big reverse
in England's final war with her systematic, slow, sure, and certain
rival, her deliberate, scientific, implacable rival, gave all his
thoughts, abilities and time to the enthralling, engrossing game of
Getting Ready.

Perfecting his local system of secret information, hearing and seeing
all that he could with his own Pathan ears and eyes, and adding to his
knowledge by means of those of the Somali slave, he also learnt, at
first hand, what certain men were saying in Cabul and on the Border - and
what those men say in those places is worth knowing by the meteorologist
of world-politics. The pulse of the heart of Europe can be felt very far
from that heart, and as is the wrist to the pulse-feeling doctor, is
Afghanistan and the Border to the head of India's Political Department;
as is the doctor's sensitive thumb to the doctor's brain, is the tried,
trusted and approven agent of the Secret Service to the Head of all the
Politicals.... What chiefly troubled Captain John Robin Ross-Ellison of
the Gungapur Fusiliers was the shocking condition of those same
Fusiliers and the blind smug apathy, the fatuous contentment, the short
memories and shorter sight, of the British Pompeians who were perfectly
willing that the condition of the said Fusiliers should remain so.

Clearly the first step towards a decently reliable and efficient corps
in Gungapur was the abolition of the present one, and, with unformulated
intentions towards its abolition, Mr. Ross-Ellison, by the kind
influence of Mrs. Dearman, joined as a Second Lieutenant and speedily
rose to the rank of Captain and the command of a Company. A year's
indefatigable work convinced him that he might as well endeavour to
fashion sword-blades from leaden pipes as to make a fighting unit of his
gang of essentially cowardly, peaceful, unreliable, feeble nondescripts.
That their bodies were contemptible he would have regarded as merely
deplorable, but there was no spirit, no soul, no tradition - nothing upon
which he could work. "Broken-down tapsters and serving-men" indeed, in
Cromwell's bitter words, and to be replaced by "men of a spirit".

They must go - and make way for men - if indeed _men_ could be found, men
who realized that even an Englishman owes something to the community
when he goes abroad, in spite of his having grown up in a land where
honourable and manly National Service is not, and those who keep him
safe are cheap hirelings, cheaply held....

On the arrival of General Miltiades Murger he sat at his feet as soon
as, and whenever, possible; only to discover that he was not only
uninterested in, but obviously contemptuous of, volunteers and
volunteering. When, at the Dearmans' dinner-table, he endeavoured to
talk with the General on the subject he was profoundly discouraged, and
on his asking what was to happen when the white troops went home and
the Indian troops went to the Border, or even to Europe, as soon as
England's inevitable and final war broke out, he was also profoundly

When, after that dinner, General Miltiades Murger made love to Mrs.
Dearman on the verandah, he also made an enemy, a bitter, cruel, and
vindictive enemy of Mr. Ross-Ellison (or rather of Mir Ilderim Dost
Mahommed Mir Hafiz Ullah Khan).

Nor did his subsequent victory at the Horse Show lessen the enmity,
inasmuch as Mrs. Dearman (whom Ross-Ellison loved with the respectful
platonic devotion of an English gentleman and the fierce intensity of a
Pathan) took General Miltiades Murger at his own valuation, when that
hero described himself and his career to her by the hour. For the
General had succumbed at a glance, and confided to his Brigade-Major
that Mrs. Dearman was a dooced fine woman and the Brigade-Major might
say that he said so, damme.

As the General's infatuation increased he told everybody else
also - everybody except Colonel Dearman - who, of course, knew it already.

He even told Jobler, his soldier-servant, promoted butler, as that
sympathetic and admiring functionary endeavoured to induce him to go to
bed without his uniform.

At last he told Mrs. Dearman herself, as he saw her in the rosy light
that emanated from the fine old Madeira that fittingly capped a noble
luncheon given by him in her honour.

He also told her that he loved her as a father - and she besought him not
to be absurd. Later he loved her as an uncle, later still as a cousin,
later yet as a brother, and then as a man.

She had laughed deprecatingly at the paternal affection, doubtfully at
the avuncular, nervously at the cousinly, angrily at the brotherly, - and
not at all at the manly.

In fact - as the declaration of manly love had been accompanied by an
endeavour to salute what the General had called her damask-cheek - she
had slapped the General's own cheek a resounding blow....

"Called you 'Mrs. Darlingwoman,' did he!" roared Mr. Dearman upon being
informed of the episode. "Wished to salute your damask cheek, did he!
The boozy old villain! Damask cheek! _Damned_ cheek! Where's my
dog-whip?" ... but Mrs. Dearman had soothed and restrained her lord for
the time being, and prevented him from insulting and assaulting the
"aged roué" - who was years younger, in point of fact, than the
clean-living Mr. Dearman himself.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Online LibraryPercival Christopher WrenDriftwood Spars The Stories of a Man, a Boy, a Woman, and Certain Other People Who Strangely Met Upon the Sea of Life → online text (page 9 of 19)