Chapter IX Slaves of the Lamp Part II - Stalky & Co by Rudyard Kipling
SLAVES OF THE LAMP.
That very Infant who told the story of the capture of Boh Na Ghee
[_A_Conference_ _of_the_Powers_: "Many Inventions"] to Eustace
Cleaver, novelist, inherited an estateful baronetcy, with vast
revenues, resigned the service, and became a landholder, while his
mother stood guard over him to see that he married the right girl.
But, new to his position, he presented the local volunteers with a
full-sized magazine-rifle range, two miles long, across the heart of
his estate, and the surrounding families, who lived in savage
seclusion among woods full of pheasants, regarded him as an erring
maniac. The noise of the firing disturbed their poultry, and Infant
was cast out from the society of J.P.'s and decent men till such time
as a daughter of the county might lure him back to right thinking. He
took his revenge by filling the house with choice selections of old
schoolmates home on leave--affable detrimentals, at whom the
bicycle-riding maidens of the surrounding families were allowed to
look from afar. I knew when a troop-ship was in port by the Infant's
invitations. Sometimes he would produce old friends of equal
seniority; at others, young and blushing giants whom I had left small
fags far down in the Lower Second; and to these Infant and the elders
expounded the whole duty of man in the Army.
"I've had to cut the service," said the Infant; "but that's no reason
why my vast stores of experience should be lost to posterity." He was
just thirty, and in that same summer an imperious wire drew me to his
baronial castle: "Got good haul; ex _Tamar_. Come along."
It was an unusually good haul, arranged with a single eye to my
benefit. There was a baldish, broken-down captain of Native Infantry,
shivering with ague behind an indomitable red nose--and they called
him Captain Dickson. There was another captain, also of Native
Infantry, with a fair mustache; his face was like white glass, and
his hands were fragile, but he answered joyfully to the cry of
Tertius. There was an enormously big and well-kept man, who had
evidently not campaigned for years, clean-shaved, soft-voiced, and
cat-like, but still Abanazar for all that he adorned the Indian
Political Service; and there was a lean Irishman, his face tanned
blue-black with the suns of the Telegraph Department. Luckily the
baize doors of the bachelors' wing fitted tight, for we dressed
promiscuously in the corridor or in each other's rooms, talking,
calling, shouting, and anon waltzing by pairs to songs of Dick Four's
There were sixty years of mixed work to be sifted out between us, and
since we had met one another from time to time in the quick
scene-shifting of India--a dinner, camp, or a race-meeting here; a
dak-bungalow or railway station up country somewhere else--we had
never quite lost touch. Infant sat on the banisters, hungrily and
enviously drinking it in. He enjoyed his baronetcy, but his heart
yearned for the old days.
It was a cheerful babel of matters personal, provincial, and imperial,
pieces of old call-over lists, and new policies, cut short by the
roar of a Burmese gong, and we went down not less than a quarter of a
mile of stairs to meet Infant's mother, who had known us all in our
school-days and greeted us as if those had ended a week ago. But it
was fifteen years since, with tears of laughter, she had lent me a
gray princess-skirt for amateur theatricals.
That was a dinner from the "Arabian Nights," served in an eighty-foot
hall full of ancestors and pots of flowering roses, and, what was
more impressive, heated by steam. When it was ended and the little
mother had gone away--("You boys want to talk, so I shall say
good-night now")--we gathered about an apple-wood fire, in a gigantic
polished steel grate, under a mantelpiece ten feet high, and the
Infant compassed us about with curious liqueurs and that kind of
cigarette which serves best to introduce your own pipe.
"Oh, bliss!" grunted Dick Four from a sofa, where he had been packed
with a rug over him. "First time I've been warm since I came home."
We were all nearly on top of the fire, except Infant, who had been
long enough at home to take exercise when he felt chilled. This is a
grisly diversion, but much affected by the English of the Island.
"If you say a word about cold tubs and brisk walks," drawled McTurk,
"I'll kill you, Infant. I've got a liver, too. 'Member when we used
to think it a treat to turn out of our beds on a Sunday
morning--thermometer fifty-seven degrees if it was summer--and bathe
off the Pebbleridge? Ugh!"
"'Thing I don't understand," said Tertius, "was the way we chaps used
to go down into the lavatories, boil ourselves pink, and then come up
with all our pores open into a young snow-storm or a black frost. Yet
none of our chaps died, that I can remember."
"Talkin' of baths," said McTurk, with a chuckle, "'member our bath in
Number Five, Beetle, the night Rabbits-Eggs rocked King? What
wouldn't I give to see old Stalky now! He is the only one of the two
Studies not here."
"Stalky is the great man of his Century," said Dick Four.
"How d'you know?" I asked.
"How do I know?" said Dick Four, scornfully. "If you've ever been in a
tight place with Stalky you wouldn't ask."
"I haven't seen him since the camp at Pindi in '87," I said. "He was
goin' strong then--about seven feet high and four feet through."
"Adequate chap. Infernally adequate," said Tertius, pulling his
mustache and staring into the fire.
"Got dam' near court-martialed and broke in Egypt in '84," the Infant
volunteered. "I went out in the same trooper with him--as raw as he
was. Only _I_ showed it, and Stalky didn't."
"What was the trouble?" said McTurk, reaching forward absently to
twitch my dress-tie into position.
"Oh, nothing. His colonel trusted him to take twenty Tommies out to
wash, or groom camels, or something at the back of Suakin, and Stalky
got embroiled with Fuzzies five miles in the interior. He conducted a
masterly retreat and wiped up eight of 'em. He knew jolly well he'd
no right to go out so far, so he took the initiative and pitched in a
letter to his colonel, who was frothing at the mouth, complaining of
the 'paucity of support accorded to him in his operations.' Gad, it
might have been one fat brigadier slangin' another! Then he went into
the Staff Corps."
"That--is--entirely--Stalky," said Abanazar from his arm-chair.
"You've come across him, too?" I said.
"Oh, yes," he replied in his softest tones. "I was at the tail of
that--that epic. Don't you chaps know?"
We did not--Infant, McTurk, and I; and we called for information very
"'Twasn't anything," said Tertius. "We got into a mess up in the
Khye-Kheen Hills a couple o' years ago, and Stalky pulled us through.
McTurk gazed at Tertius with all an Irishman's contempt for the
"Heavens!" he said. "And it's you and your likes govern Ireland.
Tertius, aren't you ashamed?"
"Well, I can't tell a yarn. I can chip in when the other fellow starts
_bukhing_. Ask him." He pointed to Dick Four, whose nose gleamed
scornfully over the rug.
"I knew you wouldn't," said Dick Four. "Give me a whiskey and soda.
I've been drinking lemon-squash and ammoniated quinine while you
chaps were bathin' in champagne, and my head's singin' like a top."
He wiped his ragged mustache above the drink; and, his teeth
chattering in his head, began: "You know the Khye-Kheen-Malo't
expedition, when we scared the souls out of 'em with a field force
they daren't fight against? Well, both tribes--there was a coalition
against us--came in without firing a shot; and a lot of hairy
villains, who had no more power over their men than I had, promised
and vowed all sorts of things. On that very slender evidence, Pussy
"I was at Simla," said Abanazar, hastily.
"Never mind, you're tarred with the same brush. On the strength of
those tuppenny-ha'penny treaties, your asses of Politicals reported
the country as pacified, and the Government, being a fool, as usual,
began road-makin'--dependin' on local supply for labor. 'Member
_that_, Pussy? 'Rest of our chaps who'd had no look-in during the
campaign didn't think there'd be any more of it, and were anxious to
get back to India. But I'd been in two of these little rows before,
and I had my suspicions. I engineered myself, _summa_ingenio_, into
command of a road-patrol--no shovellin', only marching up and down
genteelly with a guard. They'd withdrawn all the troops they could,
but I nucleused about forty Pathans, recruits chiefly, of my
regiment, and sat tight at the base-camp while the road-parties went
to work, as per Political survey."
"Had some rippin' sing-songs in camp, too," said Tertius.
"My pup"--thus did Dick Four refer to his subaltern--"was a pious
little beast. He didn't like the sing-songs, and so he went down with
pneumonia. I rootled round the camp, and found Tertius gassing about
as a D.A.Q.M.G., which, God knows, he isn't cut out for. There were
six or eight of the old Coll. at base-camp (we're always in force for
a frontier row), but I'd heard of Tertius as a steady old hack, and I
told him he had to shake off his D.A.Q.M.G. breeches and help _me_.
Tertius volunteered like a shot, and we settled it with the
authorities, and out we went--forty Pathans, Tertius, and me, looking
up the road-parties. Macnamara's--'member old Mac, the Sapper, who
played the fiddle so damnably at Umballa?--Mac's party was the last
but one. The last was Stalky's. He was at the head of the road with
some of his pet Sikhs. Mac said he believed he was all right."
"Stalky _is_ a Sikh," said Tertius. "He takes his men to pray at the
Durbar Sahib at Amritzar, regularly as clockwork, when he can."
"Don't interrupt, Tertius. It was about forty miles beyond Mac's
before I found him; and my men pointed out gently, but firmly, that
the country was risin'. What kind o' country, Beetle? Well, _I_'m no
word-painter, thank goodness, but _you_ might call it a hellish
country! When we weren't up to our necks in snow, we were rolling
down the khud. The well-disposed inhabitants, who were to supply
labor for the road-making (don't forget that, Pussy dear), sat behind
rocks and took pot-shots at us. 'Old, old story! We all legged it in
search of Stalky. I had a feeling that he'd be in good cover, and
about dusk we found him and his road-party, as snug as a bug in a
rug, in an old Malo't stone fort, with a watch-tower at one corner. It
overhung the road they had blasted out of the cliff fifty feet below;
and under the road things went down pretty sheer, for five or six
hundred feet, into a gorge about half a mile wide and two or three
miles long. There were chaps on the other side of the gorge
scientifically gettin' our range. So I hammered on the gate and nipped
in, and tripped over Stalky in a greasy, bloody old poshteen,
squatting on the ground, eating with his men. I'd only seen him for
half a minute about three months before, but I might have met him
yesterday. He waved his hand all sereno.
"'Hullo, Aladdin! Hullo, Emperor!' he said. 'You're just in time for
"I saw his Sikhs looked a bit battered. 'Where's your command? Where's
your subaltern?' I said.
"'Here--all there is of it,' said Stalky. 'If you want young Everett,
he's dead, and his body's in the watch-tower. They rushed our
road-party last week, and got him and seven men. We've been besieged
for five days. I suppose they let you through to make sure of you.
The whole country's up. 'Strikes me you've walked into a first-class
trap.' He grinned, but neither Tertius nor I could see where the deuce
the fun was. We hadn't any grub for our men, and Stalky had only
four days' whack for his. That came of dependin' upon your asinine
Politicals, Pussy dear, who told us that the inhabitants were
"To make us _quite_ comfy, Stalky took us up to the watch-tower to see
poor Everett's body, lyin' in a foot o' drifted snow. It looked like
a girl of fifteen--not a hair on the little fellow's face. He'd been
shot through the temple, but the Malo'ts had left their mark on him.
Stalky unbuttoned the tunic, and showed it to us--a rummy
sickle-shaped cut on the chest. 'Member the snow all white on his
eyebrows, Tertius? 'Member when Stalky moved the lamp and it looked as
if he was alive?"
"Ye-es," said Tertius, with a shudder. "'Member the beastly look on
Stalky's face, though, with his nostrils all blown out, same as he
used to look when he was bullyin' a fag? That was a lovely evening."
"We held a council of war up there over Everett's body. Stalky said
the Malo'ts and Khye-Kheens were up together; havin' sunk their blood
feuds to settle us. The chaps we'd seen across the gorge were
Khye-Kheens. It was about half a mile from them to us as a bullet
flies, and they'd made a line of sungars under the brow of the hill
to sleep in and starve us out. The Malo'ts, he said, were in front of
us promiscuous. There wasn't good cover behind the fort, or they'd
have been there, too. Stalky didn't mind the Malo'ts half as much as
he did the Khye-Kheens. He said the Malo'ts were treacherous curs.
What I couldn't understand was, why in the world the two gangs didn't
join in and rush us. There must have been at least five hundred of
'em. Stalky said they didn't trust each other very well, because they
were ancestral enemies when they were at home; and the only time
they'd tried a rush he'd hove a couple of blasting-charges among 'em,
and that had sickened 'em a bit.
"It was dark by the time we finished, and Stalky, always serene, said:
'You command now. I don't suppose you mind my taking any action I may
consider necessary to reprovision the fort?' I said, 'Of course not,'
and then the lamp blew out. So Tertius and I had to climb down the
tower steps (we didn't want to stay with Everett) and got back to our
men. Stalky had gone off--to count the stores, I supposed. Anyhow,
Tertius and I sat up in case of a rush (they were plugging at us
pretty generally, you know), relieving each other till the mornln'.
"Mornin' came. No Stalky. Not a sign of him. I took counsel with his
senior native officer--a grand, white-whiskered old chap--Rutton
Singh, from Jullunder-way. He only grinned, and said it was all
right. Stalky had been out of the fort twice before, somewhere or
other, accordin' to him. He said Stalky 'ud come back unchipped, and
gave me to understand that Stalky was an invulnerable _Guru_ of
sorts. All the same, I put the whole command on half rations, and set
'em to pickin' out loopholes.
"About noon there was no end of a snow-storm, and the enemy stopped
firing. We replied gingerly, because we were awfully short of
ammunition. Don't suppose we fired five shots an hour, but we
generally got our man. Well, while I was talking with Rutton Singh I
saw Stalky coming down from the watch-tower, rather puffy about the
eyes, his poshteen coated with claret-colored ice.
"'No trustin' these snow-storms,' he said. 'Nip out quick and snaffle
what you can get. There's a certain amount of friction between the
Khye-Kheens and the Malo'ts just now.'
"I turned Tertius out with twenty Pathans, and they bucked about in
the snow for a bit till they came on to a sort of camp about eight
hundred yards away, with only a few men in charge and half a dozen
sheep by the fire. They finished off the men, and snaffled the sheep
and as much grain as they could carry, and came back. No one fired a
shot at 'em. There didn't seem to be anybody about, but the snow was
falling pretty thick.
"'That's good enough,' said Stalky when we got dinner ready and he was
chewin' mutton-kababs off a cleanin' rod. 'There's no sense riskin'
men. They're holding a pow-wow between the Khye-Kheens and the
Malo'ts at the head of the gorge. I don't think these so-called
coalitions are much good.'
"Do you know what that maniac had done? Tertius and I shook it out of
him by instalments. There was an underground granary cellar-room
below the watch-tower, and in blasting the road Stalky had blown a
hole into one side of it. Being no one else _but_ Stalky, he'd kept
the hole open for his own ends; and laid poor Everett's body slap
over the well of the stairs that led down to it from the watch-tower.
He'd had to move and replace the corpse every time he used the
passage. The Sikhs wouldn't go near the place, of course. Well, he'd
got out of this hole, and dropped on to the road. Then, in the night
_and_ a howling snow-storm, he'd dropped over the edge of the khud,
made his way down to the bottom of the gorge, forded the nullah, which
was half frozen, climbed up on the other side along a track he'd
discovered, and come out on the right flank of the Khye-Kheens. He
had then--listen to this!--crossed over a ridge that paralleled their
rear, walked half a mile behind that, and come out on the left of
their line where the gorge gets shallow and where there was a regular
track between the Malo't and the Khye-Kheen camps. That was about two
in the morning, and, as it turned out, a man spotted him--a
Khye-Kheen. So Stalky abolished him quietly, and left him--_with_ the
Malo't mark on his chest, same as Everett had.
"'I was just as economical as I could be,' Stalky said to us. 'If he'd
shouted I should have been slain. I'd never had to do that kind of
thing but once before, and that was the first time I tried that path.
It's perfectly practicable for infantry, you know.'
"'What about your first man?' I said.
"'Oh, that was the night after they killed Everett, and I went out
lookin' for a line of retreat for my men. A man found me. I abolished
him--_privatim_--scragged him. But on thinkin' it over it occurred to
me that if I could find the body (I'd hove it down some rocks) I
might decorate it with the Malo't mark and leave it to the
Khye-Kheens to draw inferences. So I went out again the next night and
did. The Khye-Kheens are shocked at the Malo'ts perpetratin' these
two dastardly outrages after they'd sworn to sink all bleed feuds. I
lay up behind their sungars early this morning and watched 'em. They
all went to confer about it at the head of the gorge. Awf'ly annoyed
they are. Don't wonder.' You know the way Stalky drops out his words,
one by one."
"My God!" said the Infant, explosively, as the full depth of the
strategy dawned on him.
"Dear-r man!" said McTurk, purring rapturously.
"Stalky stalked," said Tertius. "That's all there is to it."
"No, he didn't," said Dick Four. "Don't you remember how he insisted
that he had only applied his luck? Don't you remember how Rutton
Singh grabbed his boots and grovelled in the snow, and how our men
"None of our Pathans believed that was luck," said Tertius. "They
swore Stalky ought to have been born a Pathan, and--'member we nearly
had a row in the fort when Rutton Singh said Stalky was a Pathan?
Gad, how furious the old chap was with my Jemadar! But Stalky just
waggled his finger and they shut up.
"Old Rutton Singh's sword was half out, though, and he swore he'd
cremate every Khye-Kheen and Malo't he killed. That made the Jemadar
pretty wild, because he didn't mind fighting against his own creed,
but he wasn't going to crab a fellow Mussulman's chances of Paradise.
Then Stalky jabbered Pushtu and Punjabi in alternate streaks. Where
the deuce did he pick up his Pushtu from, Beetle?"
"Never mind his language, Dick," said I. "Give us the gist of it."
"I flatter myself I can address the wily Pathan on occasion, but, hang
it all, I can't make puns in Pushtu, or top off my arguments with a
smutty story, as he did. He played on those two old dogs o' war like
a--like a concertina. Stalky said--and the other two backed up his
knowledge of Oriental nature--that the Khye-Kheens and the Malo'ts
between 'em would organize a combined attack on us that night, as a
proof of good faith. They wouldn't drive it home, though, because
neither side would trust the other on account, as Rutton Singh put
it, of the little accidents. Stalky's notion was to crawl out at
dusk with his Sikhs, manoeuvre 'em along this ungodly goat-track that
he'd found, to the back of the Khye-Kheen position, and then lob in a
few long shots at the Malo'ts when the attack was well on. 'That'll
divert their minds and help to agitate 'em,' he said. 'Then you chaps
can come out and sweep up the pieces, and we'll rendezvous at the
head of the gorge. After that, I move we get back to Mac's camp and
have something to eat."
"_You_ were commandin'?" the Infant suggested.
"I was about three months senior to Stalky, and two months Tertius's
senior," Dick Four replied. "_But_ we were all from the same old
Coll. I should say ours was the only little affair on record where
some one wasn't jealous of some one else."
"_We_ weren't," Tertius broke in, "but there was another row between
Gul Sher Khan and Rutton Singh. Our Jemadar said--he was quite
right--that no Sikh living could stalk worth a damn; and that Koran
Sahib had better take out the Pathans, who understood that kind of
mountain work. Rutton Singh said that Koran Sahib jolly well knew
every Pathan was a born deserter, and every Sikh was a gentleman, even
if he couldn't crawl on his belly. Stalky struck in with some woman's
proverb or other, that had the effect of doublin' both men up with a
grin. He said the Sikhs and the Pathans could settle their claims on
the Khye-Kheens and Malo'ts later on, but he was going to take his
Sikhs along for this mountain-climbing job, because Sikhs could
shoot. They can, too. Give 'em a mule-load of ammunition apiece, and
they're perfectly happy."
"And out he gat," said Dick Four. "As soon as it was dark, and he'd
had a bit of a snooze, him and thirty Sikhs went down through the
staircase in the tower, every mother's son of 'em salutin' little
Everett where It stood propped up against the wall. The last I heard
him say was, 'Kubbadar! tumbleinga! [Look out; you'll fall!] and they
tumbleingaed over the black edge of nothing. Close upon 9 p.m. the
combined attack developed; Khye-Kheens across the valley, and Malo'ts
in front of us, pluggin' at long range and yellin' to each other to
come along and cut our infidel throats. Then they skirmished up to
the gate, and began the old game of calling our Pathans renegades,
and invitin' 'em to join the holy war. One of our men, a young fellow
from Dera Ismail, jumped on the wall to slang 'em back, and jumped
down, blubbing like a child. He'd been hit smack in the middle of the
hand. 'Never saw a man yet who could stand a hit in the hand without
weepin' bitterly. It tickles up all the nerves. So Tertius took his
rifle and smote the others on the head to keep them quiet at the
loopholes. The dear children wanted to open the gate and go in at 'em
generally, but that didn't suit our book.
"At last, near midnight, I heard the wop, wop, wop, of Stalky's
Martinis across the valley, and some general cursing among the
Malo'ts, whose main body was hid from us by a fold in the hillside.
Stalky was brownin' 'em at a great rate, and very naturally they
turned half right and began to blaze at their faithless allies, the
Khye-Kheens--regular volley firin'. In less than ten minutes after
Stalky opened the diversion they were going it hammer and tongs, both
sides the valley. When we could see, the valley was rather a mixed-up
affair. The Khye-Kheens had streamed out of their sungars above the
gorge to chastise the Malo'ts, and Stalky--I was watching him through
my glasses--had slipped in behind 'em. Very good. The Khye-Kheens had
to leg it along the hillside up to where the gorge got shallow and
they could cross over to the Malo'ts, who were awfully cheered to see
the Khye-Kheens taken in the rear.
"Then it occurred to me to comfort the Khye-Kheens. So I turned out
the whole command, and we advanced _a'_la_pas_de_charge_, doublin' up
what, for the sake of argument, we'll call the Malo'ts' left flank.
Even then, if they'd sunk their differences, they could have eaten us
alive; but they'd been firin' at each other half the night, and they
went on firin'. Queerest thing you ever saw in your born days! As
soon as our men doubled up to the Malo'ts, they'd blaze at the
Khye-Kheens more zealously than ever, to show they were on our side,
run up the valley a few hundred yards, and halt to fire again. The
moment Stalky saw our game he duplicated it his side the gorge; and,
by Jove! the Khye-Kheens did just the same thing."
"Yes, but," said Tertius, "you've forgot him playin' 'Arrah, Patsy,
mind the baby' on the bugle to hurry us up."
"Did he?" roared McTurk. Somehow we all began to sing it, and there
was an interruption.
"Rather," said Tertius, when we were quiet. No one of the Aladdin
company could forget that tune. "Yes, he played 'Patsy.' Go on,
"Finally," said Dick Four, "we drove both mobs into each other's arms
on a bit of level ground at the head of the valley, and saw the whole
crew whirl off, fightin' and stabbin' and swearin' in a blindin'
snow-storm. They were a heavy, hairy lot, and we didn't follow 'em.
"Stalky had captured one prisoner--an old pensioned Sepoy of
twenty-five years' service, who produced his discharge--an awf'ly
sportin' old card. He had been tryin' to make his men rush us early
in the day. He was sulky--angry with his own side for their
cowardice, and Rutton Singh wanted to bayonet him--Sikhs don't
understand fightin' against the Government after you've served it
honestly--but Stalky rescued him, and froze on to him tight--with
ulterior motives, I believe. When we got back to the fort, we buried
young Everett--Stalky wouldn't hear of blowin' up the place--and
bunked. We'd only lost ten men, all told."
"Only ten, out of seventy. How did you lose 'em?" I asked.
"Oh, there was a rush on the fort early in the night, and a few
Malo'ts got over the gate. It was rather a tight thing for a minute
or two, but the recruits took it beautifully. Lucky job we hadn't any
badly wounded men to carry, because we had forty miles to Macnamara's
camp. By Jove, how we legged it! Half way in, old Rutton Singh
collapsed, so we slung him across four rifles and Stalky's overcoat;
and Stalky, his prisoner, and a couple of Sikhs were his bearers.
After that I went to sleep. You can, you know, on the march, when
your legs get properly numbed. Mac swears we all marched into his
camp snoring and dropped where we halted. His men lugged us into the
tents like gram-bags. I remember wakin' up and seeing Stalky asleep
with his head on old Rutton Singh's chest. _He_ slept twenty-four
hours. I only slept seventeen, but then I was coming down with
"Coming down? What rot! He had it on him before we joined Stalky in
the fort," said Tertius.
"Well, _you_ needn't talk! You hove your sword at Macnamara and
demanded a drumhead court-martial every time you saw him. The only
thing that soothed you was putting you under arrest every half hour.
You were off your head for three days."
"Don't remember a word of it," said Tertius, placidly. "I remember my
orderly giving me milk, though."
"How did Stalky come out?" McTurk demanded, purling hard over his
"Stalky? Like a serene Brahmini bull. Poor old Mac was at his Royal
Engineers' wits' end to know what to do. You see I was putrid with
dysentery, Tertius was ravin', half the men had frost-bite, and
Macnamara's orders were to break camp and come in before winter. So
Stalky, who hadn't turned a hair, took half his supplies to save him
the bother o' luggin' 'em back to the plains, and all the ammunition
he could get at, and, _consilio_et_auxilio_ Rutton Singhi, tramped
back to his fort with all his Sikhs and his precious prisoners, and a
lot of dissolute hangers-on that he and the prisoner had seduced into
service. He had sixty men of sorts--and his brazen cheek. Mac nearly
wept with joy when he went. You see there weren't any explicit orders
to Stalky to come in before the passes were blocked: Mac is a great
man for orders, and Stalky's a great man for orders--when they suit
"He told me he was goin' to the Engadine," said Tertius. "Sat on my
cot smokin' a cigarette, and makin' me laugh till I cried. Macnamara
bundled the whole lot of us down to the plains next day. We were a
"Stalky told me that Macnamara was a simple godsend to him," said Dick
Four. "I used to see him in Mac's tent listenin' to Mac playin' the
fiddle, and, between the pieces, wheedlin' Mac out of picks and
shovels and dynamite cartridges hand-over-fist. Well, that was the
last we saw of Stalky. A week or so later the passes were shut with
snow, and I don't think Stalky wanted to be found particularly just
"He didn't," said the fair and fat Abanazar. "He didn't. Ho, ho!"
Dick Four threw up his thin, dry hand with the blue veins at the back
of it. "Hold on a minute, Pussy; I'll let you in at the proper time.
I went down to my regiment, and that spring, five mouths later, I got
off with a couple of companies on detachment: nominally to look after
some friends of ours across the border; actually, of course, to
recruit. It was a bit unfortunate, because an ass of a young Naick
carried a frivolous blood-feud he'd inherited from his aunt into those
hills, and the local gentry wouldn't volunteer into my corps. Of
course, the Naick had taken short leave to manage the business; that
was all regular enough; _but_ he'd stalked my pet orderly's uncle. It
was an infernal shame, because I knew Harris of the Ghuznees would be
covering that ground three months later, and he'd snaffle all the
chaps I had my eyes on. Everybody was down on the Naick, because they
felt he ought to have had the decency to postpone his--his disgustful
amours till our companies were full strength.
"Still the beast had a certain amount of professional feeling left. He
sent one of his aunt's clan by night to tell me that, if I'd take
safeguard, he'd put me on to a batch of beauties. I nipped over the
border like a shot, and about ten miles the other side, in a nullah,
my rapparee-in-charge showed me about seventy men variously armed,
but standing up like a Queen's company. Then one of 'em stepped out
and lugged round an old bugle, just like--who's the man?--Bancroft,
ain't it?--feeling for his eye-glass in a farce, and played 'Arrah,
Patsy, mind the baby. Arrah, Patsy, mind'--that was as for as he
That, also, was as far as Dick Four could get, because we had to sing
the old song through twice, again and once more, and subsequently, in
order to repeat it.
"He explained that if I knew the rest of the song he had a note for me
from the man the song belonged to. Whereupon, my children, I finished
that old tune on that bugle, and _this_ is what I got. I knew you'd
like to look at it. Don't grab." (We were all struggling for a sight
of the well-known unformed handwriting.) "I'll read it aloud.
"'Fort Everett, February 19.
"'Dear Dick, or Tertius: The bearer of this is in charge of
seventy-five recruits, all pukka devils, but desirous of
leading new lives. They have been slightly polished, and
after being boiled may shape well. I want you to give thirty
of them to my adjutant, who, though God's own ass, will
need men this spring. The rest you can keep. You will be
interested to learn that I have extended my road to the end
of the Malo't country. All headmen and priests concerned in
last September's affair worked one month each, supplying
road metal from their own houses. Everett's grave is
covered by a forty-foot mound, which should serve well as a
base for future triangulations. Rutton Singh sends his best
salaams. I am making some treaties, and have given my
prisoner--who also sends his salaams--local rank of Khan
"'A. L. Cockran.'
"Well, that was all," said Dick Four, when the roaring, the shouting,
the laughter, and, I think, the tears, had subsided. "I chaperoned
the gang across the border as quick as I could. They were rather
homesick, but they cheered up when they recognized some of my chaps,
who had been in the Khye-Kheen row, and they made a rippin' good lot.
It's rather more than three hundred miles from Fort Everett to where
I picked 'em up. Now, Pussy, tell 'em the latter end o' Stalky as you
Abanazar laughed a little nervous, misleading, official laugh.
"Oh, it wasn't much. I was at Simla in the spring, when our Stalky,
out of his snows, began corresponding direct with the Government."
"After the manner of a king," suggested Dick Four. "My turn now, Dick.
He'd done a whole let of things he shouldn't have done, and
constructively pledged the Government to all sorts of action."
"'Pledged the State's ticker, eh?" said McTurk, with a nod to me.
"About that; but the embarrassin' part was that it was all so
thunderin' convenient, so well reasoned, don't you know? Came in as
pat as if he'd had access to all sorts of information--which he
couldn't, of course."
"Pooh!" said Tertius, "I back Stalky against the Foreign Office any
"He'd done pretty nearly everything he could think of, except strikin'
coins in his own image and superscription, all under cover of
buildin' this infernal road and bein' blocked by the snow. His report
was simply amazin'. Von Lennaert tore his hair over it at first, and
then he gasped, 'Who the dooce is this unknown Warren Hastings? He
must be slain. He must be slain officially! The Viceroy'll never
stand it. It's unheard of. He must be slain by his Excellency in
person. Order him up here and pitch in a stinger.' Well, I sent him
no end of an official stinger, and I pitched in an unofficial
telegram at the same time."
"You!" This with amazement from the Infant, for Abanazar resembled
nothing so much as a fluffy Persian cat.
"Yes--me," said Abanazar. "'Twasn't much, but after what you've said,
Dicky, it was rather a coincidence, because I wired:
"'Aladdin now has got his wife,
Your Emperor is appeased.
I think you'd better come to life:
We hope you've all been pleased.'
"Funny how that old song came up in my head. That was fairly
non-committal and encouragin'. The only flaw was that his Emperor
wasn't appeased by very long chalks. Stalky extricated himself from
his mountain fastnesses and leafed up to Simla at his leisure, to be
offered up on the horns of the altar."
"But," I began, "surely the Commander-in-Chief is the proper--"
"His Excellency had an idea that if he blew up one single junior
captain--same as King used to blow us up--he was holdin' the reins of
empire, and, of course, as long as he had that idea, Von Lennaert
encouraged him. I'm not sure Von Lennaert didn't put that notion into
"They've changed the breed, then, since my time," I said.
"P'r'aps. Stalky was sent up for his wiggin' like a bad little boy.
I've reason to believe that His Excellency's hair stood on end. He
walked into Stalky for one hour--Stalky at attention in the middle of
the floor, and (so he vowed) Von Lennaert pretending to soothe down
His Excellency's topknot in dumb show in the background. Stalky
didn't dare to look up, or he'd have laughed."
"Now, wherefore was Stalky not broken publicly?" said the Infant, with
a large and luminous leer.
"Ah, wherefore?" said Abanazar. "To give him a chance to retrieve his
blasted career, and not to break his father's heart. Stalky hadn't a
father, but that didn't matter. He behaved like a--like the Sanawar
Orphan Asylum, and His Excellency graciously spared him. Then he came
round to my office and sat opposite me for ten minutes, puffing out
his nostrils. Then he said, 'Pussy, if I thought that
"Hah! He remembered that," said McTurk.
"'That two-anna basket-hanger governed India, I swear I'd become a
naturalized Muscovite to-morrow. I'm a _femme_incomprise_. This
thing's broken my heart. It'll take six months' shootin'-leave in
India to mend it. Do you think I can get it, Pussy?'
"He got it in about three minutes and a half, and seventeen days later
he was back in the arms of Rutton Singh--horrid disgraced--with
orders to hand over his command, etc., to Cathcart MacMonnie."
"Observe!" said Dick Four. "One colonel of the Political Department in
charge of thirty Sikhs, on a hilltop. Observe, my children!"
"Naturally, Cathcart not being a fool, even if he _is_ a Political,
let Stalky do his shooting within fifteen miles of Fort Everett for
the next six months, and I always understood they and Rutton Singh
and the prisoner were as thick as thieves. Then Stalky loafed back
to his regiment, I believe. I've never seen him since."
"I have, though," said McTurk, swelling with pride.
We all turned as one man. "It was at the beginning of this hot
weather. I was in camp in the Jullunder doab and stumbled slap on
Stalky in a Sikh village; sitting on the one chair of state, with
half the population grovellin' before him, a dozen Sikh babies on his
knees, an old harridan clappin' him on the shoulder, and a garland o'
flowers round his neck. Told me he was recruitin'. We dined together
that night, but he never said a word of the business at the Fort.
Told me, though, that if I wanted any supplies I'd better say I was
Koran Sahib's _bhai_; and I did, and the Sikhs wouldn't take my
"Ah! That must have been one of Rutton Singh's villages," said Dick
Four; and we smoked for some time in silence.
"I say," said McTurk, casting back through the years, "did Stalky ever
tell you _how_ Rabbits-Eggs came to rock King that night?"
"No," said Dick Four. Then McTurk told. "I see," said Dick Four,
nodding. "Practically he duplicated that trick over again. There's
nobody like Stalky."
"That's just where you make the mistake," I said. "India's full of
Stalkies--Cheltenham and Haileybury and Marlborough chaps--that we
don't know anything about, and the surprises will begin when there is
really a big row on."
"Who will be surprised?" said Dick Four.
"The other side. The gentlemen who go to the front in first-class
carriages. Just imagine Stalky let loose on the south side of Europe
with a sufficiency of Sikhs and a reasonable prospect of loot.
Consider it quietly."
"There's something in that, but you're too much of an optimist,
Beetle," said the Infant.
"Well, I've a right to be. Ain't I responsible for the whole thing?
You needn't laugh. Who wrote 'Aladdin now has got his wife'--eh?"
"What's that got to do with it?" said Tertius.
"Everything," said I.
"Prove it," said the Infant.
And I have.
End of Stalky & Co. by Rudyard Kipling
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