Percival Christopher Wren.

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At leatht - I don't think I shot ten. Nor one. I don't think I didn't,
pwaps."

"But hang it all, the thing's an Italian rapier, by Gad. Some one
_must_ have shown you how to make the thing, or you've got a picture.
It's a _pukka_[5] mediaeval rapier."

"No it'th not. It'th my thword. I made it.... Have a jolly
fight" - and the boy struck an extraordinarily correct fencing
attitude - left hand raised in balance, sword poised, legs and feet
well placed, the whole pose easy, natural, graceful.

Curiously enough, the sword was held horizontal instead of pointing
upward, a fact which at once struck the observant and practised eye of
Major John Decies, sometime champion fencer.

"Who's been teaching you fencing?" he asked.

"What ith 'fenthing'? Let'th have a fight," replied the boy.

"Stick me here, Dam," invited the Major, seating himself and
indicating the position of the heart. "Bet you can't."

The boy lunged, straight, true, gracefully, straightening all his
limbs except his right leg, rigidly, strongly, and the "sword" bent
upward from the spot on which the man's finger had just rested.

"Gad! Who _has_ taught you to lunge? I shall have a bruise there, and
perhaps - live. Who's behind all this, young fella? Who taught you to
stand so, and to lunge? Ochterlonie Sahib or Daddy?"

"Nobody. What is 'lunge'? Will you buy me a little baby-camel to play
with and teach tricks? Perhaps it would sit up and beg. Do camelth lay
eggth? Chucko does. Millions and lakhs. You get a thword, too, and
we'll fight every day. Yeth. All day long - - "

"Good morning, Sir," said Nurse Beaton, bustling into the verandah
from the nursery. "He's as mad as ever on swords and fighting, you
see. It's a soldier he'll be, the lamb. He's taken to making that
black orderly pull out his sword when he's in uniform. Makes him wave
and jab it about. Gives me the creeps - with his black face and white
eyes and all. You won't _encourage_ the child at it, will you, Sir?
And his poor Mother the gentlest soul that ever stepped. Swords! Where
he gets his notions _I_ can't think (though I know where he gets his
language, poor lamb!). Look at _that_ thing, Sir! For all the world
like the dressed-up folk have on the stage or in pictures."

"You haven't let him see any books, I suppose, Nurse?" asked the
Major.

"No, Sir. Never a book has the poor lamb seen, except those you've
brought. I've always been in terror of his seeing a picture of a
you-know-what, ever since you told me what the effect _might_ be. Nor
he hasn't so much as heard the name of it, so far as I know."

"Well, he'll see one to-day. I've brought it with me - must see it
sooner or later. Might see a live one anywhere - in spite of all your
care.... But about this sword - where _could_ he have got the idea?
It's unlike any sword he ever set eyes on. Besides if he ever _did_
see an Italian rapier - and there's scarcely such a thing in
India - he'd not get the chance to use it as a copy. Fancy his having
the desire and the power to, anyhow!"

"I give it up, Sir," said Nurse Beaton.

"I give it upper," added the Major, taking the object of their wonder
from the child.

And there was cause for wonder indeed.

A hole had been punched through the centre of the lid of a tobacco tin
and a number of others round the edge. Through the centre hole the
steel rod had been passed so that the tin made a "guard". To the other
holes wires had been fastened by bending, and their ends gathered,
twisted, and bound with string to the top of the handle (of bored
corks) to form an ornamental basket-hilt.

But the most remarkable thing of all was that, before doing this, the
juvenile designer had passed the rod through a piece of bored stick so
that the latter formed a _cross-piece_ (neatly bound) within the tin
guard - the distinctive feature of the ancient and modern Italian
rapiers!

Round this cross-piece the first two fingers of the boy's right hand
were crooked as he held the sword - and this is the one and only
correct way of holding the Italian weapon, as the Major was well
aware!

"I give it most utterly-uppermost," he murmured. "It's positively
uncanny. No _uninitiated_ adult of the utmost intelligence ever held
an Italian-pattern foil correctly yet - nor until he had been pretty
carefully shown. Who the devil put him up to the design in the first
place, and the method of holding, in the second? Explain yourself, you
two-anna[6] marvel," he demanded of the child. "It's _jadu_ - black
magic."

"Ayah lothted a wupee latht night," he replied.

"Lost a rupee, did she? Lucky young thing. Wish I had one to lose. Who
showed you how to hold that sword? Why do you crook your fingers round
the cross-piece like that?"

"Chucko laid me an egg latht night," observed Damocles. "He laid it
with my name on it - so that cook couldn't steal it."

"No doubt. Look here, where can I get a sword like yours? Where can I
copy it? Who makes them? Who knows about them?"

"_I_ don't know, Major Thahib. Gunnoo sells 'Fire's' gram to the
_methrani_ for her curry and chuppatties."

"But how do you know swords are like this? _That_ thing isn't a
_pukka_ sword."

"Well, it'th like Thir Theymour Thtukeley's in my dweam."

"What dream?"

"The one I'm alwayth dweaming. They have got long hair like Nurse in
the night, and they fight and fight like anything. Norful good
fighters! And they wear funny kit. And their thwords are like vis.
_Egg_zackly. Gunnoo gave me a ride on 'Fire,' and he'th a dam-liar. He
thaid he forgot to put the warm _jhool_ on him when Daddy was going to
fwash him for being a dam-fool. I thaid I'd tell Daddy how he alwayth
thleepth in it himthelf, unleth he gave me a ride on 'Fire'. 'Fire'
gave a _norful_ buck and bucked me off. At leatht I think he didn't."

Major Decies' face was curiously intent - as of some midnight worker in
research who sees a bright near glimpse of the gold his alchemy has so
long sought to materialize in the alembic of fact.

"Come back to sober truth, young youth. What about the dream? Who are
they, and what do they say and do?"

"Thir Theymour Thtukeley Thahib tellth Thir Matthew Thahib about the
hilt-thwust. (What _is_ 'hilt-thwust'?) And Lubin, the thervant, ith a
_white_ thervant. Why ith he white if he ith a Thahib's 'boy'?"

"Good Gad!" murmured the Major. "I'm favoured of the gods. Tell me all
about it, Sonny. Then I'll undo this parcel for you," he coaxed.

"Oh, I don't wemember. They buck a lot by the tents and then Thir
Theymour Thtukeley goes and fights Thir Matthew and kills him, and
it'th awful lovely, but they dreth up like kids at a party in big
collars and silly kit."

"Yes, I know," murmured the Major. "Tell me what they say when they
buck to each other by the tents, and when they talk about the
'hilt-thrust,' old chap."

"Oh, I don't wemember. I'll listen next time I dweam it, and tell you.
Chucko's egg was all brown - not white like those cook brings from the
bazaar. He's a dam-thief. Open the parcel, Major Thabib. What's in
it?"

"A picture-book for you, Sonny. All sorts of jolly beasts that you'll
_shikar_ some day. You'll tell me some more about the dream to-morrow,
won't you?"

"Yeth. I'll wemember and fink, and tell you what I have finked."

Turning to Nurse Beaton, the Major whispered: -

"Don't worry him about this dream at all. Leave it to me. It's
wonderful. Take him on your lap, Nurse, and - er - be _ready_. It's a
very life-like picture, and I'm going to spring it on him without any
remark - but I'm more than a little anxious, I admit. Still, it's _got_
to come, as I say, and better a picture first, with ourselves present.
If the picture don't affect him I'll show him a real one. May be all
right of course, but I don't know. I came across a somewhat similar
case once before - and it was _not_ all right. Not by any means," and
he disclosed the brilliantly coloured Animal Picture Book and knelt
beside the expectant boy.

On the first page was an incredibly leonine lion, who appeared to have
solved with much satisfaction the problem of aerial flight, so far was
he from the mountain whence he had sprung and above the back of the
antelope towards which he had propelled himself. One could almost hear
him roar. There was menace and fate in eye and tooth and claw, yea, in
the very kink of the prehensile-seeming tail wherewith he apparently
steered his course in mid-air. To gaze upon his impressive and
determined countenance was to sympathize most fully with the
sore-tried Prophet of old (known to Damocles as Dannle-in-the-lines-den)
for ever more.

The boy was wholly charmed, stroked the glowing ferocity and observed
that he was a _pukka Bahadur_.[7]

On the next page, burning bright, was a tiger, if possible one degree
more terrible than the lion. His "fearful cemetery" appeared to be
full, judging by its burgeoned bulge and the shocking state of
depletion exhibited by the buffalo on which he fed with barely
inaudible snarls and grunts of satisfaction. Blood dripped from his
capacious and over-furnished mouth.

"Booful," murmured Damocles. "I shall go shooting tigerth to-mowwow.
Shoot vem in ve mouth, down ve froat, so as not to spoil ve wool."

Turning over the page, the Major disclosed a most grievous grizzly
bear, grizzly and bearish beyond conception, heraldic, regardant,
expectant, not collared, fanged and clawed proper, rampant, erect,
requiring no supporters.

"You could thtab him wiv a thword if you were quick, while he was
doing that," opined Damocles, charmed, enraptured, delighted. One by
one, other savage, fearsome beasts were disclosed to the increasingly
delighted boy until, without warning, the Major suddenly turned a page
and disclosed a brilliant and hungry-looking snake.

With a piercing shriek the boy leapt convulsively from Nurse Beaton's
arms, rushed blindly into the wall and endeavoured to butt and bore
his way through it with his head, screaming like a wounded horse. As
the man and woman sprang to him he shrieked, "It'th under my foot!
It'th moving, moving, moving _out_" and fell to the ground in a fit.

Major John Decies arose from his bachelor dinner-table that evening,
lit his "planter" cheroot, and strolled into the verandah that looked
across a desert to a mountain range.

Dropping into a long low chair, he raised his feet on to the long
leg-rest extensions of its arms, and, as he settled down and waited
for coffee, wondered why no such chairs are known in the West; why the
trunks of the palms looked less flat in the moonlight than in the
daylight (in which, from that spot, they always looked exactly as
though cut out of cardboard); why Providence had not arranged for
perpetual full-moon; why the world looked such a place of peaceful,
glorious beauty by moonlight, the bare cruel mountains like diaphanous
clouds of tenderest soothing mist, the Judge's hideous bungalow like a
fairy palace, his own parched compound like a plot of Paradise, when
all was so abominable by day; and, as ever - why his darling, Lenore
Stukeley, had had to marry de Warrenne and die in the full flower and
promise of her beautiful womanhood.

Having finished his coffee and lighted his pipe (_vice_ the over-dry
friable cheroot, flung into the garden) the Major then turned his mind
to serious and consecutive thought on the subject of her son, his
beloved little pal, Dammy de Warrenne.

Poor little beggar! What an eternity it had seemed before he had got
him to sleep. How the child had suffered. Mad! Absolutely stark,
staring, raving _mad_ with sheer terror.... Had he acted rightly in
showing him the picture? He had meant well, anyhow. Cruel phrase,
that. How cuttingly his friend de Warrenne had observed, "You mean
well, doubtless," on more than one occasion. He could make it the most
stinging of insults.... Surely he had acted rightly.... Poor little
beggar - but he was bound to see a picture or a real live specimen,
sooner or later. Perhaps when there was no help at hand.... Would he
be like it always? _Might_ grow out of it as he grew older and
stronger. What would have happened if he had encountered a live snake?
Lost his reason permanently, perhaps.... What would happen when he
_did_ see one, as sooner or later, he certainly must?

What would be the best plan? To attempt gradually to inure him - or to
guard him absolutely from contact with picture, stuffed specimen,
model, toy, and the real thing, wild or captive, as one would guard
him against a fell disease?

_Could_ he be inured? Could one "break it to him gently" bye and bye,
by first drawing a wiggly line and then giving it a head? One might
sketch a suggestion of a snake, make a sort of dissimilar clay model,
improve it, show him a cast skin, stuff it, make a more life-like
picture, gradually lead up to a well-stuffed one and then a live one.
Might work up to having a good big picture of one on the nursery wall;
one in a glass case; keep a harmless live one and show it him daily.
Teach him by experience that there's nothing supernatural about a
snake - just a nasty reptile that wants exterminating like other
dangerous creatures - something to _shikar_ with a gun. Nothing at all
supernatural....

But this was "super"-natural, abnormal, a terrible devastating agony
of madness, inherited, incurable probably; part of mind and body and
soul. Inherited, and integrally of him as were the colour of his eyes,
his intelligence, his physique.... Heredity ... pre-natal influence
... breed....

Anyhow, nothing must be attempted yet awhile. Let the poor little chap
get older and stronger, in mind and body, first. Brave as a little
bull-dog in other directions! Absolutely devoid of fear otherwise, and
with a natural bent for fighting and adventure. Climb anywhere,
especially up the hind leg of a camel or a horse, fondle any strange
dog, clamour to be put on any strange horse, go into any deep water,
cheek anybody, bear any ordinary pain with a grin, thrill to any story
of desperate deeds - a fine, brave, manly, hardy little chap, and with
art extraordinary physique for strength and endurance.

Whatever was to be attempted later, he must be watched, day and
night, now. No unattended excursions into the compound, no uncensored
picture-books, no juggling snake-charmers.... Yet it _must_ come,
sooner or later.

Would it ruin his life?

Anyhow, he must never return to India when he grew up, or go to any
snake-producing country, unless he could be cured.

Would it make him that awful thing - a coward?

Would it grow and wax till it dominated his mind - drive him mad?

Would succeeding attacks, following encounters with picture or
reality, progressively increase in severity?

_Her_ boy in an asylum?

No. He was exaggerating an almost expected consequence that might
never be repeated - especially if the child were most carefully and
gradually reintroduced to the present terror. Later though - much later
on.

Meanwhile, wait and hope: hope and wait....




CHAPTER III.

THE SNAKE APPEARS.


The European child who grows up in India, if only to the age of six or
seven years, grows under a severe moral, physical, and mental
handicap.

However wise, devoted, and conscientious its parents may be, the evil
is great, and remains one of the many heavy costs (or punishments) of
Empire.

When the child has no mother and an indifferent father, life's
handicap is even more severe.

By his sixth birthday (the regiment being still in Bimariabad owing to
the prevalence of drought, famine, and cholera elsewhere) Damocles de
Warrenne, knowing the Urdu language and _argot_ perfectly, knew, in
theory also, more of evil, in some directions, than did his own
father.

If the child who grows up absolutely straight-forward, honest,
above-board and pure in thought, word, and deed, in England, deserves
commendation, what does the child deserve who does so in India?

Understanding every word they spoke to one another, the training he
got from native servants was one of undiluted evil and a series of
object-lessons in deceit, petty villainy, chicanery, oppression,
lying, dishonesty, and all immorality. And yet - thanks to his equal
understanding of the words and deeds of Nurse Beaton, Major Decies,
Lieutenant Ochterlonie, his father, the Officers of the Regiment, and
the Europeans of the station - he had a clear, if unconscious,
understanding that what was customary for native servants was neither
customary nor possible for Sahibs....

But he knew too much....

He knew what percentage of his or her pay each servant had to hand to
the "butler-sahib" monthly - or lose his or her place through false
accusation.

He knew why the ayah was graciously exempted from financial toll by
this autocrat. He knew roughly what proportion of the cook's daily
bill represented the actual cost of his daily purchases. He knew what
the door-peon got for consenting to take in the card of the Indian
aspirant for an interview with Colonel de Warrenne.

He knew the terms of the arrangements between the head-syce and the
grain-dealer, the lucerne-grass seller, the _ghas-wallah_[8] who
brought the hay (whereby reduced quantities were accepted in return
for illegal gratifications). He knew of retail re-sales of these
reduced supplies.

He knew of the purchase of oil, rice, condiments, fire-wood and other
commodities from the cook, of the theft (by arrangement) of the
poultry and eggs, of the surreptitious milking of the cow, and of the
simple plan of milking her - under Nurse Beaton's eye - into a
narrow-necked vessel already half full of water.

He knew that the ayah's husband sold the Colonel's soda-water,
paraffin, matches, candles, tobacco, cheroots, fruit, sugar, etc., at
a little portable shop round the corner of the road, and of the terms
on which the _hamal_ and the butler supplied these commodities to the
ayah for transfer to her good man.

He knew too much of the philosophy, manners, habits, and morals of the
dog-boy, of concealed cases of the most infectious diseases in the
compound, of the sub-letting and over-crowding of the servants'
quarters, of incredible quarrels, intrigues, jealousies, revenges,
base villainies and wrongs, superstitions and beliefs.

He would hear the hatching of a plot - an hour's arrangement and
wrangle - whereby, through far-sighted activity, perjury, malpractice
and infinite ingenuity, the ringleader would gain a _pice_ and the
follower a _pie_ (a farthing and a third of a farthing respectively).

Daily he saw the butler steal milk, sugar, and tea, for his own use;
the _hamal_ steal oil when he filled the lamps, for sale; the _malli_
steal flowers, for sale; the coachman steal carriage-candles; the cook
steal a moiety of everything that passed through his hands - every one
in that black underworld stealing, lying, back-biting, cheating,
intriguing (and all meanwhile strictly and stoutly religious, even
the sweeper-descended Goanese cook, the biggest thief of all, purging
his Christian soul on Sunday mornings by Confession, and fortifying
himself against the temptations of the Evil One at early Mass).

Between these _nowker log_, the servant-people, and his own _jat_ or
class, the _Sahib-log_, the master-people, were the troopers, splendid
Sikhs, Rajputs, Pathans and Punjabis, men of honour, courage,
physique, tradition. Grand fighters, loyal as steel while properly
understood and properly treated - in other words, while properly
officered. (Men, albeit, with deplorably little understanding of, or
regard for, Pagett, M.P., and his kind, who yearn to do so much for
them.)

These men Damocles admired and loved, though even _they_ were apt to
be very naughty in the bazaar, to gamble and to toy with opium, bhang,
and (alleged) brandy, to dally with houris and hearts'-delights, to
use unkind measures towards the good _bunnia_ and _sowkar_ who had
lent them monies, and to do things outside the Lines that were not
known in the Officers' Mess.

The boy preferred the Rissaldar-Major even to some Sahibs of his
acquaintance - that wonderful old man-at-arms, horseman, _shikarri_,
athlete, gentleman. (Yet how strange and sad to see him out of his
splendid uniform, in sandals, _dhotie_, untrammelled shirt-tails,
dingy old cotton coat and loose _puggri_, undistinguishable from a
school-master, clerk, or post-man; so _un_-sahib-like.)

And what a fine riding-master he made for an ambitious, fearless
boy - though Ochterlonie Sahib said he was too cruel to be a good
_horse_-master.

How _could_ people be civilians and live away from regiments? Live
without ever touching swords, lances, carbines, saddles?

What a queer feeling it gave one to see the regiment go past the
saluting base on review-days, at the gallop, with lances down. One
wanted to shout, to laugh - to _cry_. (It made one's mouth twitch and
chin work.)

Oh, to _lead_ the regiment as Father did - horse and man one welded
piece of living mechanism.

Father said you couldn't ride till you had taken a hundred tosses,
been pipped a hundred times. A hundred falls! Surely Father had
_never_ been thrown - it must be impossible for such a rider to come
off. See him at polo.

By his sixth birthday Damocles de Warrenne, stout and sturdy, was an
accomplished rider and never so happy (save when fencing) as when
flogging his active and spirited little pony along the "rides" or over
the dusty _maidans_ and open country of Bimariabad. To receive a
quarter-mile start on the race-course and ride a mile race against
Khodadad Khan on his troop-horse, or with one of the syces on one of
the Colonel's polo-ponies, or with some obliging male or female early
morning rider, was the joy of his life. Should he suspect the
competitor of "pulling" as he came alongside, that the tiny pony might
win, the boy would lash at both horses impartially.

People who pitied him (and they were many) wondered as to how soon he
would break his neck, and remonstrated with his father for allowing
him to ride alone, or in charge of an attendant unable to control him.

In the matter of his curious love of fencing Major John Decies was
deeply concerned, obtained more and more details of his "dweam,"
taught him systematically and scientifically to fence, bought him
foils and got them shortened. He also interested him in a series of
muscle-developing exercises which the boy called his "dismounted
squad-dwill wiv'out arms," and performed frequently daily, and with
gusto.

Lieutenant Lord Ochterlonie (Officers' Light-Weight Champion at
Aldershot) rigged him up a small swinging sand-bag and taught him to
punch with either hand, and drilled him in foot-work for boxing.

Later he brought the very capable ten-year-old son of a boxing
Troop-Sergeant and set him to make it worth Dam's while to guard
smartly, to learn to keep his temper, and to receive a blow with a
grin.

(Possibly a better education than learning declensions, conjugations,
and tables from a Eurasian "governess".)

He learnt to read unconsciously and automatically by repeating, after
Nurse Beaton, the jingles and other letter-press beneath the pictures
in the books obtained for him under Major Decies' censorship.

On his sixth birthday, Major John Decies had Damocles over to his
bungalow for the day, gave him a box of lead soldiers and a
schooner-rigged ship, helped him to embark them and sail them in the
bath to foreign parts, trapped a squirrel and let it go again, allowed
him to make havoc of his possessions, fired at bottles with his
revolver for the boy's delectation, shot a crow or two with a
rook-rifle, played an improvised game of fives with a tennis-ball,
told him tales, and generally gave up the day to his amusement. What
he did _not_ do was to repeat the experiment of a year ago, or make
any kind of reference to snakes....

A few days later, on the morning of the New-Year's-Day Review, Colonel
Matthew de Warrenne once again strode up and down his verandah,
arrayed in full review-order, until it should be time to ride to the
regimental parade-ground.

He had coarsened perceptibly in the six years since he had lost his
wife, and the lines that had grown deepest on his hard, handsome face
were those between his eyebrows and beside his mouth - the mouth of an
unhappy, dissipated, cynical man....

He removed his right-hand gauntlet and consulted his watch.... Quarter
of an hour yet.

He continued the tramp that always reminded Damocles of the restless,
angry to-and-fro pacing of the big bear in the gardens. Both father
and the bear seemed to fret against fate, to suffer under a sense of
injury; both seemed dangerous, fierce, admirable. Hearing the clink


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