The Admiral visited her once in Simon's Bay, and she was bad, even for a flat-iron gunboat strictly designed for river and harbour defence. She sweated clammy drops of dew between decks in spite of a preparation of powdered cork that was sprinkled over her inside paint. She rolled in the long Cape swell like a buoy; her foc's'le was a dog-kennel; Judson's cabin was practically under the water- line; not one of her dead-bights could ever be opened; and her compasses, thanks to the influence of the four-inch gun, were a curiosity even among Admiralty compasses. But Bai-Jove-Judson was radiant and enthusiastic. He had even contrived to fill Mr. Davies, the second-class engine-room artificer, who was his chief engineer, with the glow of his passion. The Admiral, who remembered his own first command, when pride forbade him to slacken off a single rope on a dewy night, and he had racked his rigging to pieces in consequence, looked at the flat-iron keenly. Her fenders were done all over with white sennit which was truly white; her big gun was varnished with a better composition than the Admiralty allowed; the spare sights were cased as carefully as the chronometers; the chocks for spare spars, two of them, were made of four-inch Burma teak carved with dragons' heads that was one result of Bai-Jove-Judson's experiences with the Naval Brigade in the Burmese war; the bow-anchor was varnished instead of being painted, and there were charts more than the Admiralty scale supplied. The Admiral was well pleased, for he loved a ship's husband - a man who had a little money of his own and was willing to spend it on his command. Judson looked at him hopefully. He was only a Junior Navigating Lieutenant under eight years' standing. He might be kept in Simon's Bay for six months, and his ship at sea was his delight. The dream of his heart was to enliven her dismal official gray with a line of gold-leaf and perhaps a little scroll-work at her blunt barge-like bows.
"There's nothing like a first command, is there?" said the Admiral, reading his thoughts. "You seem to have rather queer compasses, though. Better get them adjusted."
"It's no use, sir," said Judson. "The gun would throw out the Pole itself. But - but I've got the hang of most of their weaknesses."
"Will you be good enough to lay that gun over thirty degrees, please?" The gun was put over. Round and round and round went the needle merrily, and the Admiral whistled.
"You must have kept close to your convoy?"
"Saw her twice between here and Madeira, sir," said Judson with a flush, for he resented the slur on his seamanship. " It's - it's a little out of hand, now, but she'll settle down after a while."
The Admiral went over the side, according to the rules of the Service, but the Staff-Captain must have told the other men of the squadron in Simon's Bay, for they one and all made light of the flat-iron for many days. "What can you shake out of her, Judson?" said the Lieutenant of the "Mongoose", a real white-painted, ram- bow gunboat with quick-firing guns, as he came into the upper verandah of the little naval Club overlooking the dockyard one hot afternoon. It is in that Club as the captains come and go that you hear all the gossip of all the Seven Seas.
"Ten point four," said Bai-Jove-Judson.
"Ah! That was on her trial trip. She's too deep by the head now. I told you staying that topmast would throw her out of trim."
"You leave my top-hamper alone," said Judson, for the joke was beginning to pall on him.
"Oh, my soul! Listen to him. Juddy's top-hamper! Keate, have you heard of the flat-iron's top-hamper? You're to leave it alone. Commodore Judson's feelings are hurt."
Keate was the Torpedo Lieutenant of the big "Vortigern", and he despised small things. "His top-hamper," said he slowly. "Oh, ah yes, of course. Juddy, there's a shoal of mullet in the bay, and I think they're foul of your screws. Better go down, or they'll carry away something."
"I don't let things carry away as a rule. You see I've no Torpedo Lieutenant on board, thank God!"
Keate within the past week had so managed to bungle the slinging in of a small torpedo-boat on the "Vortigern", that the boat had broken the crutches in which she rested, and was herself being repaired in the dockyard under the Club windows.
"One for you, Keate. Never mind, Juddy; you're hereby appointed dockyard-tender for the next three years, and if you're very good and there's no sea on, you shall take me round the harbour. Waitabeechee, Commodore. What'll you take? Vanderhum for the 'Cook and the captain bold, And the mate o' the Nancy brig, And the bo'sun tight' (Juddy, put that cue down or I'll put you under arrest for insulting the lieutenant of the real ship) 'And the midshipmite, And the crew of the captain's gig."
By this time Judson had pinned him in a corner, and was prodding him with the half-butt. The Admiral's Secretary entered, and saw the scuffle from afar.
"Ouch! Juddy, I apologise. Take that - er topmast of yours away! Here's the man with the bow-string. I wish I were a staff-captain instead of a bloody lootenant. Sperril sleeps below every night. That's what makes Sperril tumble home from the waist uppards. Sperril, I defy you to touch me. I'm under orders for Zanzibar. Probably I shall annex it!"
"Judson, the Admiral wants to see you!" said the Staff-Captain, disregarding the scoffer of the "Mongoose".
"I told you you'd be a dockyard-tender yet, Juddy. A side of fresh beef to-morrow and three dozen snapper on ice. On ice, you understand, Juddy?"
Bai-Jove-Judson and the Staff-Captain went out together.
"Now, what does the Admiral want with Judson?" said Keate from the bar.
"Don't know. Juddy's a damned good fellow, though. I wish to goodness he was on the Mongoose with us."
The Lieutenant of the "Mongoose" dropped into a chair and read the mail papers for an hour. Then he saw Bai-Jove-Judson in the street and shouted to him. Judson's eyes were very bright, and his figure was held very straight, and he moved joyously. Except for the Lieutenant of the "Mongoose", the Club was empty.
"Juddy, there will be a beautiful row," said that young man when he had heard the news delivered in an undertone. "You'll probably have to fight, and yet I can't see what the Admiral's thinking of to -"
"My orders are not to fight under any circumstances," said Judson.
"Go-look-see? That all? When do you go?"
"To-night if I can. I must go down and see about things. I say, I may want a few men for the day."
"Anything on the "Mongoose" is at your service. There's my gig come in now. I know that coast, dead, drunk, or asleep, and you'll need all the knowledge you can get. If it had only been us two together! Come over with me!"
For one whole hour Judson remained closeted in the stern cabin of the "Mongoose", listening, poring over chart upon chart and taking notes, and for an hour the marine at the door heard nothing but things like these: "Now you'll have to put in here if there's any sea on. That current is ridiculously under-estimated, and it sets west at this season of the year, remember. Their boats never come south of this, see? So it's no good looking out for them." And so on and so forth, while Judson lay at length on the locker by the three-pounder, and smoked and absorbed it all.
Next morning there was no flat-iron in Simon's Bay, only a little smudge of smoke off Cape Hangklip to show that Mr. Davies, the second-class engine-room artificer, was giving her all she could carry. At the Admiral's house, the ancient and retired bo'sun, who had seen many Admirals come and go, brought out his paint and brushes and gave a new coat of pure raw pea-green to the two big cannon-balls that stood one on each side of the Admiral's entrance-gate. He felt dimly that great events were stirring.
And the flat-iron, constructed, as has been before said, solely for the defense of rivers, met the great roll off Cape Agulhas and was swept from end to end and sat upon her twin-screws and leaped as gracefully as a cow in a bog from one sea to another, till Mr. Davies began to fear for the safety of his engines, and the Kroo boys that made the majority of the crew were deathly sick. She ran along a very badly-lighted coast, past bays that were no bays, where ugly flat-topped rocks lay almost level with the water, and very many extraordinary things happened that have nothing to do with the story, but they were all duly logged by Bai-Jove-Judson.
At last the coast changed and grew green and low and exceedingly muddy, and there were broad rivers whose bars were little islands standing three or four miles out at sea, and Bai-Jove-Judson hugged the shore more closely than ever, remembering what the Lieutenant of the "Mongoose" had told him. Then he found a river full of the smell of fever and mud, with green stuff growing far into its waters, and a current that made the flatiron gasp and grunt.
"We will turn up here," said Bai-Jove-Judson, and they turned up accordingly; Mr. Davies wondering what in the world it all meant, and the Kroo boys grinning. Bai-Jove-Judson went forward to the bows and meditated, staring through the muddy waters. After six hours of rooting through this desolation at an average rate of five miles an hour, his eyes were cheered by the sight of one white buoy in the coffee-hued mid-stream. The flat-iron crept up to it cautiously, and a leadsman took soundings all around it from a dinghy, while Bai-Jove-Judson smoked and thought, with his head on one side.
"About seven feet, isn't there?" said he. "That must be the tail end of the shoal. There's four fathom in the fairway. Knock that buoy down with axes. I don't think it's picturesque somehow." The Kroo men hacked the wooden sides to pieces in three minutes, and the mooring-chain sank with the lasst splinters of wood. Bai-Jove Judson laid the flat-iron carefully over the site, while Mr. Davies watched, biting his nails nervously.
"Can you back her against this current?" said Bai-Jove-Judson. Mr. Davies could, inch by inch, but only inch by inch, and Bai-Jove- Judson sat in the bows and gazed at various things on the bank as they came into line or opened out. The flatiron dropped down over the tail of the shoal, exactly where the buoy had been, and backed once before Bai-Jove-Judson was satisfied. Then they went up stream for half an hour, put into shoal water by the bank and waited, with a slip-rope on the anchor.
"Seems to me," said Mr. Davies deferentially, "like as if I heard some one a-firing off at intervals, so to say."
There was beyond doubt a dull mutter in the air. "Seems to me," said Bai-Jove-Judson, "as if I heard a screw. Stand by to slip her moorings."
Another ten minutes passed and the beat of engines grew plainer. Then round the bend of the river came a remarkably prettily built white-painted gunboat with a blue and white flag bearing a red boss in the centre.
"Unshackle abaft the windlass! Stream both buoys! Easy, astern. Let go, all!" The slip-rope flew out, the two buoys bobbed in the water to mark where anchor and cable had been left, and the flat- iron waddled out into midstream with the white ensign at her one mast-head.
"Give her all you can. That thing has the legs of us," said Judson. "And down we go!"
"It's war - bloody war. He's going to fire," said Mr. Davies, looking up through the engine-room hatch.
The white gunboat without a word of explanation fired three guns at the flat-iron, cutting the trees on the banks into green chips. Bai-Jove-Judson was at the wheel, and Mr. Davies and the current helped the boat to an almost respectable degree of speed.
It was an exciting chase, but it did not last for more than five minutes. The white gunboat fired again, and Mr. Davies in his engine-room gave a wild shout.
"What's the matter? Hit?" said Bai-Jove-Judson.
"No, I've just seized of your roos-de-gare. Beg y' pardon, sir."
"Right 0! Just the half a fraction of a point more." The wheel turned under the steady hand, as Bai-Jove-Judson watched his marks on the bank coming in line swiftly as troops anxious to aid. The flat-iron smelt the shoal water under her, checked for an instant, and went on. "Now we're over. Come along, you thieves, there!"
The white gunboat, too hurried even to fire, was storming in the wake of the flat-iron, steering as she steered. This was unfortunate, because the lighter craft was dead over the missing buoy.
"What you do here?" shouted a voice from the bows.
"I'm going on. Hold tight. Now you're arranged for!"
There was a crash and a clatter as the white gunboat's nose took the shoal, and the brown mud boiled up in oozy circles under her forefoot. Then the current caught her stem by the starboard side and drove her broadside on to the shoal, slowly and gracefully. There she heeled at an undignified angle, and her crew yelled aloud.
"Neat! Oh, damn neat!" quoth Mr. Davies, dancing on the engine- room plates, while the Kroo stokers grinned.
The flat-iron turned up-stream again, and passed under the hove-up starboard side of the white gunboat, to be received with howls and imprecations in a strange tongue. The stranded boat, exposed even to her lower strakes, was as defence-less as a turtle on its back, without the advantage of the turtle's plating. And the one big blunt gun in the bows of the flat-iron was unpleasantly near.
But the captain was valiant and swore mightily. Bai-Jove-Judson took no sort of notice. His business was to go up the river.
"We will come in a flotilla of boats and ecrazer your vile tricks," said the captain with language that need not be published.
Then said Bai-Jove-Judson, who was a linguist: "You stay o where you are o, or I'll leave a hole-o in your bottom o that will make you much os perforatados."
There was a great deal of mixed language in reply, but Bai-Jove- Judson was out of hearing in a few minutes, and Mr. Davies, himself a man of few words, confided to one of his subordinates that Lieutenant Judson was "a most remarkable prompt officer in a way of putting it."
For two hours the flat-iron pawed madly through the muddy water, and that which had been at first a mutter became a distinct rumble.
"Was war declared?" said Mr. Davies, and Bai-Jove-Judson laughed. "Then, damn his eyes, he might have spoilt my pretty little engines. There's war up there, though."
The next bend brought them full in sight of a small but lively village, built round a whitewashed mud house of some pretensions. There were scores and scores of saddle-coloured soldiery on duty, white uniforms running to and fro and shouting round a man in a litter, and on a gentle slope that ran inland for four or five miles something like a brisk battle was raging round a rude stockade. A smell of unburied carcasses floated through the air and vexed the sensitive nose of Mr. Davies, who spat over the side.
"I want to get this gun on that house," said Bai-Jove-Judson, indicating the superior dwelling over whose flat roof floated the blue and white flag. The little twin screws kicked up the water exactly as a hen's legs kick in the dust before she settles down to a bath. The little boat moved un easily from left to right, backed, yawed again, went ahead, and at last the gray blunt gun's nose was held as straight as a rifle-barrel on the mark indicated. Then Mr. Davies allowed the whistle to speak as it is not allowed to speak in Her Majesty's service on account of waste of steam. The soldiery of the village gathered into knots and groups and bunches, and the firing up the hill ceased, and every one except the crew of the flatiron yelled aloud. Something like an English cheer came down wind.
"Our chaps in mischief for sure, probably," said Mr. Davies. "They must have declared war weeks ago, in a kind of way, seems to me."
"Hold her steady, you son of a soldier!" shouted Bai-Jove-Judson, as the muzzle fell off the white house.
Something rang as loudly as a ship's bell on the forward plates of the flat-iron, something spluttered in the water, and another thing cut a groove in the deck planking an inch in front of Bai- Jove-Judson's left foot. The saddle-coloured soldiery were firing as the mood took them, and the man in the litter waved a shining sword. The muzzle of the big gun kicked down a fraction as it was laid on the mud wall at the bottom of the house garden. Ten pounds of gunpowder shut up in a hundred pounds of metal was its charge. Three or four yards of the mud wall jumped up a little, as a man jumps when he is caught in the small of the back with a knee-cap, and then fell forward, spreading fan-wise in the fall. The soldiery fired no more that day, and Judson saw an old black woman climb to the flat roof of the house. She fumbled for a time with the flag halliards, then finding that they were jammed, took off her one garment, which happened to be an Isabella-coloured petticoat, and waved it impatiently. The man in the litter flourished a white handkerchief, and Bai-Jove-Judson grinned. "Now we'll give 'em one up the hill. Round with her, Mr. Davies. Curse the man who invented those floating gun platforms. Where can I pitch in a notice without slaying one of those little devils?"
The side of the slope was speckled with men returning in a disorderly fashion to the river front. Behind them marched a small but very compact body of men who had filed out of the stockade. These last dragged quick-firing guns with them.
"Bai Jove, it's a regular army. I wonder whose," said Bai-Jove- Judson, and he waited developments. The descending troops met and mixed with the troops in the village, and, with the litter in the centre, crowded down to the river, till the men with the quick- firing guns came up behind them. Then they divided left and right and the detachment marched through.
"Heave these damned things over!" said the leader of the party, and one after another ten little gatlings splashed into the muddy water. The flatiron lay close to the bank.
"When you're quite done," said Bai-Jove-Judson politely, "would you mind telling me what's the matter? I'm in charge here."
"We're the Pioneers of the General Development Company," said the leader. "These little bounders have been hammering us in lager for twelve hours, and we're getting rid of their gatlings. Had to climb out and take them; but they've snaffled the lock-actions. Glad to see you."
"Any one hurt?"
"No one killed exactly, but we're very dry."
"Can you hold your men?"
The man turned round and looked at his command with a grin. There were seventy of them, all dusty and unkempt.
"We sha'n't sack this ash-bin, if that's what you mean. We're mostly gentlemen here, though we don't look it."
"All right. Send the head of this post, or fort, or village, or whatever it is, aboard, and make what arrangements you can for your men."
"We'll find some barrack accommodation somewhere. Hullo! You in the litter there, go aboard the gunboat." The command wheeled round, pushed through the dislocated soldiery, and began to search through the village for spare huts.
The little man in the litter came aboard smiling nervously. He was in the fullest of full uniform, with many yards of gold lace and dangling chains. Also he wore very large spurs; the nearest horse being not more than four hundred miles away. "My children," said he, facing the silent soldiery, "lay aside your arms."
Most of the men had dropped them already and were sitting down to smoke. "Let nothing," he added in his own tongue, "tempt you to kill these who have sought your protection."
"Now," said Bai-Jove-Judson, on whom the last remark was lost, "will you have the goodness to explain what the deuce you mean by all this nonsense?"
"It was of a necessitate," said the little man. "The operations of war are unconformible. I am the Governor and I operate Captain. Be'old my little sword."
"Confound your little sword, sir. I don't want it. You've fired on our flag. You've been firing at our people here for a week, and I've been fired at coming up the river."
"Ah! The 'Guadala'. She have misconstrued you for a slaver possibly. How are the 'Guadala'?"
"Mistook a ship of Her Majesty's navy for a slaver! You mistake any craft for a slaver! Bai Jove, sir, I've a good mind to hang you at the yard-arm!"
There was nothing nearer that terrible spar than the walking-stick in the rack of Judson's cabin. The Governor looked at the one mast and smiled a deprecating smile.
"The position is embarrassment," he said. "Captain, do you think those illustrious traders burn my capital? My people will give them beer."
"Never mind the traders, I want an explanation."
"Hum! There are popular uprising in Europe, Captain - in my country." His eye wandered aimlessly round the horizon.
"What has that to do with -"
"Captain, you are very young. There is still uproariment. But I" - here he slapped his chest till his epaulets jingled -" I am loyalist to pits of all my stomachs."
"Go on," said Judson, and his mouth quivered.
"An order arrive to me to establish a custom-houses here, and to collect of the taximent from the traders when she are come here necessarily. That was on account of political understandings with your country and mine. But on that arrangement there was no money also. Not one damn little cowrie. I desire damnably to extend all commercial things, and why? I am loyalist and there is rebellion - yes, I tell you - Republics in my country for to just begin. You do not believe? See some time how it exist. I cannot make this custom-houses and pay the so high-paid officials. The people too in my country they say the king she has no regardance into Honour of her nation. He throw away everything - Gladstone her all, you say, pay?"
"Yes, that's what we say," said Judson with a grin.
"Therefore they say, let us be Republics on hot cakes. But I - I am loyalist to all my hands' ends. Captain, once I was attach at Mexico. I say the Republics are no good. The peoples have her stomach high. They desire - they desire - a course for the bills."
"What on earth is that?"
"The cock-fight for pay at the gate. You give something, pay for see bloody row. Do I make its comprehension?"
"A run for their money - is that what you mean? Gad, you're sporting, Governor."
"So I say. I am loyalist, too." He smiled more easily. "Now how can anything do herself for the customs-houses; but when the Company's mens she arrives, then a cock-fight for pay at gate that is quite correct. My army he says it will Republic and shoot me off upon walls if I have not give her blood. An army, Captain, are terrible in her angries - especialment when she are not paid. I know, too," here he laid his hand on Judson's shoulder, "I know too we are old friends. Yes! Badajos, Almeida, Fuentes d'Onor - time ever since; and a little, little cock-fight for pay at gate that is good for my king. More sit her tight on throne behind, you see? Now," he waved his hand round the decayed village, "I say to my armies, Fight! Fight the Company's men when she come, but fight not so very strong that you are any deads. It is all in the raporta that I send. But you understand, Captain, we are good friends all the time. Ah! Ciudad Rodrigo, you remember? No? Perhaps your father, then? So you see no one are deads, and we fight a fight, and it is all in the raporta, to please the people in our country, and my armies they do not put me against the walls. You see?"
"Yes; but the 'Guadala'. She fired on us. Was that part of your game, my joker?"
"The 'Guadala'. Ah! No, I think not. Her captain he is too big fool. But I think she have gone down the coast. Those your gunboats poke her nose and shove her oar in every place. How is 'Guadala'?"
"On a shoal. Stuck till I take her off." "There are any deads?"
The Governor drew a breath of deep relief. "There are no deads here. So you see none are deads anywhere, and nothing is done. Captain, you talk to the Company's mens. I think they are not pleased."
"They have no sense. I thought to go backwards again they would. I leave her stockade alone all night to let them out, but they stay and come facewards to me, not backwards. They did not know we must conquer much in all these battles, or the king, he is kicked off her throne. Now we have won this battle - this great battle," he waved his arms abroad, "and I think you will say so that we have won, Captain. You are loyalist also. You would not disturb to the peaceful Europe? Captain, I tell you this. Your Queen she know too. She would not fight her cousins. It is a - a hand-up thing."
"Hand-up thing. Jobe you put. How you say?"
"Yes. Put-up job. Who is hurt? We win. You lose. All righta?"
Bai-Jove-Judson had been exploding at intervals for the last five minutes. Here he broke down completely and roared aloud.
"But look here, Governor," he said at last, "I've got to think of other things than your riots in Europe. You've fired on our flag."
"Captain, if you are me, you would have done how? And also, and also," he drew himself up to his full height, "we are both brave men of bravest countries. Our honour is the honour of our King," here he uncovered, "and of our Queen," here he bowed low. "Now, Captain, you shall shell my palace and I shall be your prisoner."
"Skittles!" said Bai-Jove-Judson. "I can't shell that old hencoop."
"Then come to dinner. Madeira, she are still to us, and I have of the best she manufac."
He skipped over the side beaming, and Bai-Jove-Judson went into the cabin to laugh his laugh out. When he had recovered a little he sent Mr. Davies to the head of the Pioneers, the dusty man with the gatlings, and the troops who had abandoned the pursuit of arms watched the disgraceful spectacle of two men reeling with laughter on the quarter-deck of a gunboat.
"I'll put my men to build him a custom-house," said the head of the Pioneers, gasping. "We'll make him one decent road at least. That Governor ought to be knighted. I'm glad now that we didn't fight 'em in the open, or we'd have killed some of them. So he's won great battles, has he? Give him the compliments of the victims, and tell him I'm coming to dinner. You haven't such a thing as a dress-suit, have you? I haven't seen one for six months."
That evening there was a dinner in the village - a general and enthusiastic dinner, whose head was in the Governor's house, and whose tail threshed at large throughout all the streets. The Madeira was everything that the Governor had said, and more, and it was tested against two or three bottles of Bai-Jove-Judson's best Vanderhum, which is Cape brandy ten years in the bottle, flavoured with orange-peel and spices. Before the coffee was removed (by the lady who had made the flag of truce) the Governor had sold the whole of his governorship and its appurtenances, once to Bai-Jove-Judson for services rendered by Judson's grandfather in the Peninsular War, and once to the head of the Pioneers, in consideration of that gentleman's good friendship. After the negotiation he retreated for a while into an inner apartment, and there evolved a true and complete account of the defeat of the British arms, which he read with his cocked hat over one eye to Judson and his companion. It was Judson who suggested the sinking of the flat-iron with all hands, and the head of the Pioneers who supplied the list of killed and wounded (not more than two hundred) in his command.
"Gentlemen," said the Governor from under his cocked hat, "the peace of Europe are saved by this raporta. You shall all be Knights of the Golden Hide. She shall go by the 'Guadala'."
"Great Heavens!" said Bai-Jove Judson, flushed but composed, "that reminds me I've left that boat stuck on her broadside down the river. I must go down and soothe the commandante. He'll be blue with rage. Governor, let us go a sail on the river to cool our heads. A picnic, you understand."
"Ya - as, everything I understand. Ho! A picnica! You are all my prisoner, but I am good gaoler. We shall picnic on the river, and we shall take all the girls. Come on, my prisoners."
"I do hope," said the head of the Pioneers, staring from the verandah into the roaring village, "that my chaps won't set the town alight by accident. Hullo! Hullo! A guard of honour for His Excellency the most illustrious Governor!"
Some thirty men answered the call, made a swaying line upon a more swaying course, and bore the Governor most swayingly of all high in the arms as they staggered down to the river. And the song that they sang bade them, "Swing, swing together their body between their knees"; and they obeyed the words of the song faithfully, except that they were anything but "steady from stroke to bow." His Excellency the Governor slept on his uneasy litter, and did not wake when the chorus dropped him on the deck of the flat-iron.
"Good-night and good-bye," said the head of the Pioneers to Judson; "I'd give you my card if I had it, but I'm so damned drunk I hardly know my own club. Oh, yes! It's the Travellers. If ever we meet in Town, remember me. I must stay here and look after my fellows. We're all right in the open, now. I s'pose you'll return the Governor some time. This is a political crisis. Good-night."
The flat-iron went down stream through the dark. The Governor slept on deck, and Judson took the wheel, but how he steered, and why he did not run into each bank many times, that officer does not remember. Mr. Davies did not note anything unusual, for there are two ways of taking too much, and Judson was only ward-room, not foc's'le drunk. As the night grew colder the Governor woke up, and expressed a desire for whiskey and soda. When that came they were nearly abreast of the stranded "Guadala", and His Excellency saluted the flag that he could not see with loyal and patriotic strains.
"They do not see. They do not hear," he cried. "Ten thousand saints! They sleep, and I have won battles! Ha!"
He started forward to the gun, which, very naturally, was loaded, pulled the lanyard, and woke the dead night with the roar of the full charge behind a common shell. That shell mercifully just missed the stern of the "Guadala", and burst on the bank. "Now you shall salute your Governor," said he, as he heard feet running in all directions within the iron skin. "Why you demand so base a quarter? I am here with all my prisoners."
In the hurly-burly and the general shriek for mercy his reassurances were not heard.
"Captain," said a grave voice from the ship, "we have surrendered. Is it the custom of the English to fire on a helpless ship'?"
Surrendered! Holy Virgin! I go to cut off all their heads. You shall be ate by wild ants -flogged and drowned. Throw me a balcony. It is I, the Governor! You shall never surrender. Judson of my soul, ascend her insides, and send me a bed, for I am sleepy; but, oh, I will multiple time kill that captain!"
"Oh!" said the voice in the darkness, "I begin to comprehend." And a rope-ladder was thrown, up which the Governor scrambled, with Judson at his heels.
"Now we will enjoy executions," said the Governor on the deck. "All these Republicans shall be shot. Little Judson, if I am not drunk, why are so sloping the boards which do not support?"
The deck, as I have said, was at a very stiff cant. His Excellency sat down, slid to leeward, and was asleep again.
The captain of the "Guadala" bit his moustache furiously, and muttered in his own tongue: "This land is the father of great villains and the stepfather of honest men. You see our material, Captain. It is so everywhere with us. You have killed some of the rats, I hope?"
"Not a rat," said Judson genially.
"That is a pity. If they were dead, our country might send us men; but our country is dead too, and I am dishonoured on a mud-bank through your English treachery."
"Well, it seems to me that firing on a little tub of our size without a word of warning, when you know that the countries were at peace, is treachery enough in a small way."
"If one of my guns had touched you, you would have gone to the bottom, all of you. I would have taken the risk with my Government. By that time it would have been -"
"A Republic? So you really did mean fighting on your own hook? You're rather a dangerous officer to cut loose in a navy like yours. Well, what are you going to do now?"
"Stay here. Go away in boats. What does it matter? That drunken cat" - he pointed to the shadow in which the Governor slept -" is here. I must take him back to his hole."
"Very good. I'll tow you off at daylight if you get steam ready."
"Captain, I warn you that as soon as she floats again I will fight you."
"Humbug! You'll have lunch with me, and then you'll take the Governor up the river."
The captain was silent for some time. Then he said: "Let us drink. What must be, must be; and after all we have not forgotten the Peninsula. You will admit, Captain, that it is bad to be run upon a shoal like a mud-dredger?"
"Oh, we'll pull you off before you can say knife. Take care of His Excellency. I shall try to get a little sleep now."
They slept on both ships till the morning, and then the work of towing off the "Guadala" began. With the help of her own engines, and the tugging and puffing of the flat-iron, she slid off the mud-bank sideways into the deep water, the flatiron immediately under her stern, and the big eye of the four-inch gun almost peering through the window of the captain's cabin.
Remorse in the shape of a violent headache had overtaken the Governor. He was uneasily conscious that he might, perhaps, have exceeded his powers; and the captain of the "Guadala", in spite of all his patriotic sentiments, remembered distinctly that no war had been declared between the two countries. He did not need the Governor's repeated reminders that war, serious war, meant a Republic at home, possible supersession in his command, and much shooting of living men against dead walls.
"We have satisfied our honour," said the Governor in confidence. "Our army is appeased, and the raporta that you take home will show that we were loyal and brave. That other captain? Bah! he is a boy. He will call this a - a-. Judson of my soul, how you say this is - all this affairs which have transpirated between us?"
Judson was watching the last hawser slipping through the fairlead. "Call it? Oh, I should call it rather a lark. Now your boat's all right, Captain. When will you come to lunch?"
"I told you," said the Governor, "it would be a larque to him."
"Mother of the Saints! then what is his seriousness?" said the captain. "We shall be happy to come when you please. Indeed, we have no other choice," he added bitterly.
"Not at all," said Judson, and as he looked at the three or four shot-blisters on the bows of his boat a brilliant idea took him. "It is we who are at your mercy. See how His Excellency's guns knocked us about."
"Senior Captain," said the Governor pityingly, "that is very sad. You are most injured, and your deck too, it is all shot over. We shall not be too severe on a beat man, shall we, Captain?"
"You couldn't spare us a little paint, could you? I'd like to patch up a little after the - action," said Judson meditatively, fingering his upper lip to hide a smile.
"Our store-room is at your disposition," said the captain of the "Guadala", and his eye brightened; for a few lead splashes on gray paint make a big show.
"Mr. Davies, go aboard and see what they have to spare - to spare, remember. Their spar-colour with a little working up should be just our freeboard tint."
"Oh, yes. I'll spare them," said Mr. Davies savagely. "I don't understand this how-d'you-do and damn-your-eyes business coming one atop of the other in a manner o' speaking. By all rights, they're our lawful prize."
The Governor and the captain came to lunch in the absence of Mr. Davies. Bai-Jove-Judson had not much to offer, but what he had was given as by a beaten foeman to a generous conqueror. When they were a little warmed - the Governor genial and the captain almost effusive - he explained, quite casually, over the opening of a bottle that it would not be to his interest to report the affair seriously, and it was in the highest degree improbable that the Admiral would treat it in any grave fashion.
"When my decks are cut up" (there was one groove across four planks), "and my plates buckled" (there were five lead patches on three plates), "and I meet such a boat as the 'Guadala', and a mere accident saves me from being blown out of the water -"
"Yes. A mere accident, Captain. The shoal-buoy has been lost," said the captain of the 'Guadala'.
"Ah? I do not know this river. That was very sad. But as I was saying, when an accident saves me from being sunk, what can I do but go away - if that is possible? But I fear that I have no coal for the sea voyage. It is very sad." Judson had compromised on what he knew of the French tongue as a working language.
"It is enough," said the Governor, waving a generous hand. "Judson of my soul, the coal is yours, and you shall be repaired - yes, repaired all over of your battle's wounds. You shall go with all the honours of all the wars. Your flag shall fly. Your drum shall beat. Your, ah! - jolly boys shall spoke their bayonets. Is it not so, Captain?"
"As you say, Excellency. But the traders in the town. What of them?"
The Governor looked puzzled for an instant. He could not quite remember what had happened to those jovial men who had cheered him over night. Judson interrupted swiftly: "His Excellency has set them to forced works on barracks and magazines, and, I think, a custom-house. When that is done they will be released, I hope, Excellency."
"Yes, they shall be released for your sake, little Judson of my heart." Then they drank the health of their respective sovereigns, while Mr. Davies superintended the removal of the scarred plank and the shot-marks on the deck and the bow-plates.
"Oh, this is too bad," said Judson when they went on deck. "That idiot has exceeded his instructions, but - but yow must let me pay for this!"
Mr. Davies, his legs in the water as he sat on a staging slung over the bows, was acutely conscious that he was being blamed in a foreign tongue. He smiled uneasily, and went on with his work.
"What is it?" said the Governor.
"That thick-head has thought that we needed some gold-leaf, and he has borrowed that from your storeroom, but I must make it good." Then in English, "Stand up, Mr. Davies. What the - in - do you mean by taking their gold-leaf? My -, are we a set of pirates to scrape the guts out of a Levantine bumboat? Look contrite, you butt-ended, broad-breeched, bottle-bellied, swivel-eyed son of a tinker, you! My Soul alive, can't I maintain discipline in my own ship without a blacksmith of a boiler-riveter putting me to shame before a yellow-nosed picaroon. Get off the staging, Mr. Davies, and go to the engine-room. Put down that leaf first, though, and leave the books where they are. I'll send for you in a minute. Go aft!"
Now, only the upper half of Mr. Davies's round face was above the bulwarks when this torrent of abuse descended upon him; and it rose inch by inch as the shower continued: blank amazement, bewilderment, rage, and injured pride chasing each other across it till he saw his superior officer's left eyelid flutter on the cheek twice. Then he fled to the engine-room, and wiping his brow with a handful of cotton-waste, sat down to overtake circumstances.
"I am desolated," said Judson to his companions, "but you see the material that you give us. This leaves me more in your debt than before. The stuff I can replace" (gold-leaf is never carried on floating gun-platforms), "but for the insolence of that man how shall I apologise?"
Mr. Davies's mind moved slowly, but after a while he transferred the cotton-waste from his forehead to his mouth and bit on it to prevent laughter. He began a second dance on the engine-room plates. "Neat! Oh, damned neat!" he chuckled. "I've served with a good few, but there never was one so neat as him. And I thought he was the new kind that don't know how to put a few words, as it were!"
"Mr. Davies, you can continue your work," said Judson down the engine-room hatch. "These officers have been good enough to speak in your favour. Make a thorough job of it while you are about it. Slap on every man you have. Where did you get hold of it?"
"Their storeroom is a regular theatre, sir. You couldn't miss it. There's enough for two first-rates, and I've scoffed the best half of it."
"Look sharp, then. We shall be coaling from her this afternoon. You'll have to cover it all."
"Neat! Oh, damned neat!" said Mr. Davies under his breath, as he gathered his subordinates together, and set about accomplishing the long-deferred wish of Judson's heart.
It was the "Martin Frobisher", the flag-ship, a great war-boat when she was new, in the days when men built for sail as well as for steam. She could turn twelve knots under full sail, and it was under that that she stood up the mouth of the river, a pyramid of silver beneath the moon. The Admiral, fearing that he had given Judson a task beyond his strength, was coming to look for him, and incidentally to do a little diplomatic work along the coast. There was hardly wind enough to move the "Frobisher" a couple of knots an hour, and the silence of the land closed about her as she entered the fairway. Her yards sighed a little from time to time, and the ripple under her bows answered the sigh. The full moon rose over the steaming swamps, and the Admiral, gazing upon it, thought less of Judson and more of the softer emotions. In answer to the very mood of his mind, there floated across the silver levels of the water, mellowed by distance to a most poignant sweetness, the throb of a mandolin, and the voice of one who called upon a genteel Julia - upon Julia, and upon love. The song ceased, and the sighing of the yards was all that broke the silence of the big ship.
Again the mandolin began, and the commander on the lee side of the quarter-deck grinned a grin that was reflected in the face of the signal-midshipman. Not a word of the song was lost, and the voice of the singer was the voice of Judson.
"Last week down our alley came a toff, Nice old geyser with a nasty cough, Sees my missus, takes his topper off, Quite in a gentlemanly way " -
and so on to the end of the verse. The chorus was borne by several voices, and the signal-midshipman's foot began to tap the deck furtively.
"'What cheer!' all the neighbours cried. ''Oo are you going to meet, Bill? 'Ave you bought the street, Bill?' Laugh? - I thought I should ha' died When I knocked 'em in the old Kent Road."
It was the Admiral's gig, rowing softly, that came into the midst of that merry little smoking-concert. It was Judson, the beribboned mandolin round his neck, who received the Admiral as he came up the side of the "Guadala", and it may or may not have been the Admiral who stayed till two in the morning and delighted the hearts of the Captain and the Governor. He had come as an unbidden guest, and he departed as an honoured one, but strictly unofficial throughout. Judson told his tale next day in the Admiral's cabin as well as he could in the face of the Admiral's gales of laughter, but the most amazing tale was that told by Mr. Davies to his friends in the dockyard at Simon's Town from the point of view of a second-class engine-room artificer, all unversed in diplomacy.
And if there be no truth either in my tale, which is Judson's tale, or the tale of Mr. Davies, you will not find in harbour at Simon's Town to-day a flat-bottomed twin-screw gunboat, designed solely for the defence of rivers, about two hundred and seventy tons' displacement and five feet draught, wearing in open defiance of the rules of the Service a gold line on her gray paint. It follows also that you will be compelled to credit that version of the fray which, signed by His Excellency the Governor and despatched in the "Guadala", satisfied the self-love of a great and glorious people, and saved a monarchy from the ill-considered despotism which is called a Republic.
A CONFERENCE OF THE POWERS Life liveth but in life, and doth not roam To other lands if all be well at home: "Solid as ocean foam," quoth ocean foam.
The room was blue with the smoke of three pipes and a cigar. The leave-season had opened in India, and the first-fruits on this side of the water were "Tick" Boileau, of the 45th Bengal Cavalry, who called on me, after three years' absence, to discuss old things which had happened. Fate, who always does her work handsomely, sent up the same staircase within the same hour The Infant, fresh from Upper Burma, and he and Boileau looking out of my window saw walking in the street one Nevin, late in a Goorkha regiment which had been through the Black Mountain Expedition. They yelled to him to come up, and the whole Street was aware that they desired him to come up, and he came up, and there followed Pandemonium in my room because we had foregathered from the ends of the earth, and three of us were on a holiday, and none of us were twenty-five, and all the delights of all London lay waiting our pleasure.
Boileau took the only other chair, The Infant, by right of his bulk, the sofa; and Nevin, being a little man, sat cross-legged on the top of the revolving bookcase, and we all said, "Who'd ha' thought it!" and "What are you doing here?" till speculation was exhausted and the talk went over to inevitable "shop." Boileau was full of a great scheme for winning a military attach-ship at St. Petersburg; Nevin had hopes of the Staff College, and The Infant had been moving heaven and earth and the Horse Guards for a commission in the Egyptian army.
"What's the use o' that?" said Nevin, twirling round on the bookcase.
"Oh, heaps! 'Course if you get stuck with a Fellaheen regiment, you're sold; but if you are appointed to a Soudanese lot, you're in clover. They are first-class fighting-men - and just think of the eligible central position of Egypt in the next row!"
This was putting the match to a magazine. We all began to explain the Central Asian question off-hand, flinging army corps from the Helmund to Kashmir with more than Russian recklessness. Each of the boys made for himself a war to his own liking, and when we had settled all the details of Armageddon, killed all our senior officers, handled a division apiece, and nearly torn the atlas in two in attempts to explain our theories, Boileau needs must lift up his voice above the clamour, and cry, "Anyhow it'll be the hell of a row!" in tones that carried conviction far down the staircase.
Entered, unperceived in the smoke, William the Silent. "Gen'elman to see you, sir," said he, and disappeared, leaving in his stead none other than Mr. Eustace Cleever. William would have introduced the Dragon of Wantley with equal disregard of present company.
"I - I beg your pardon. I didn't know that there was anybody - with you. -"
But it was not seemly to allow Mr. Cleever to depart; he was a great man. The boys remained where they were, for any movement would have choked up the little room. Only when they saw his gray hairs they stood on their feet, and when The Infant caught the name, he said:
"Are you - did you write that book called 'As it was in the Beginning'?"
Mr. Cleever admitted that he had written the book.
"Then - then I don't know how to thank you, sir," said The Infant, flushing pink. "I was brought up in the country you wrote about - all my people live there; and I read the book in camp on the Hlinedatalone, and I knew every stick and stone, and the dialect too; and, by Jove! it was just like being at home and hearing the country people talk. Nevin, you know 'As it was in the Beginning'? So does Ti - Boileau."
Mr. Cleever has tasted as much praise, public and private, as one man may safely swallow; but it seemed to me that the outspoken admiration in The Infant's eyes and the little stir in the little company came home to him very nearly indeed.
"Won't you take the sofa?" said The Infant. "I'll sit on Boileau's chair, and -" here he looked at me to spur me to my duties as a host; but I was watching the novelist's face. Cleever had not the least intention of going away, but settled himself on the sofa.
Following the first great law of the Army, which says "all property is common except money, and you've only got to ask the next man for that," The Infant offered tobacco and drink. It was the least he could do; but not the most lavish praise in the world held half as much appreciation and reverence as The Infant's simple "Say when, sir," above the long glass.
Cleever said "when," and more thereto, for he was a golden talker, and he sat in the midst of hero-worship devoid of all taint of self-interest. The boys asked him of the birth of his book, and whether it was hard to write, and how his notions came to him; and he answered with the same absolute simplicity as he was questioned. His big eyes twinkled, he dug his long thin hands into his gray beard and tugged it as he grew animated. He dropped little by little from the peculiar pinching of the broader vowels - the indefinable "euh," that runs through the speech of the pundit caste - and the elaborate choice of words, to freely- mouthed "ows" and "ois," and, for him at least, unfettered colloquialisms. He could not altogether understand the boys, who hung upon his words so reverently. The line of the chin-strap, that still showed white and untanned on cheekbone and jaw, the steadfast young eyes puckered at the corners of the lids with much staring through red- hot sunshine, the slow, untroubled breathing, and the curious, crisp, curt speech seemed to puzzle him equally. He could create men and women, and send them to the uttermost ends of the earth, to help, delight, and comfort; he knew every mood of the fields, and could interpret them to the cities, and he knew the hearts of many in city and country, but he had hardly, in forty years, come into contact with the thing which is called a Subaltern of the Line. He told the boys this in his own way.
"Well, how should you?" said The Infant. "You - you're quite different, y' see, sir."
The Infant expressed his ideas in his tone rather than his words, but Cleever understood the compliment.
"We're only Subs," said Nevin, "and we aren't exactly the sort of men you'd meet much in your life, I s'pose."
"That's true," said Cleever. "I live chiefly among men who write, and paint, and sculp, and so forth. We have our own talk and our own interests, and the outer world doesn't trouble us much."
"That must be awfully jolly," said Boileau, at a venture. "We have our own shop, too, but 'tisn't half as interesting as yours, of course. You know all the men who've ever done anything; and we only knock about from place to place, and we do nothing."
"The Army's a very lazy profession if you choose to make it so," said Nevin. "When there's nothing going on, there is nothing going on, and you lie up."
"Or try to get a billet somewhere, to be ready for the next show," said The Infant with a chuckle.
"To me," said Cleever softly, "the whole idea of warfare seems so foreign and unnatural, so essentially vulgar, if I may say so, that I can hardly appreciate your sensations. Of course, though, any change from idling in garrison towns must be a godsend to you."
Like many home-staying Englishmen, Cleever believed that the newspaper phrase he quoted covered the whole duty of the Army whose toils enabled him to enjoy his many-sided life in peace. The remark was not a happy one, for Boileau had just come off the Frontier, The Infant had been on the warpath for nearly eighteen months, and the little red man Nevin two months before had been sleeping under the stars at the peril of his life. But none of them tried to explain, till I ventured to point out that they had all seen service and were not used to idling. Cleever took in the idea slowly.
"Seen service?" said he. Then, as a child might ask, "Tell me. Tell me everything about everything."
"How do you mean?" said The Infant, delighted at being directly appealed to by the great man.
"Good Heavens! How am I to make you understand, if you can't see. In the first place, what is your age?"
"Twenty-three next July," said The Infant promptly.
Cleever questioned the others with his eyes.
"I'm twenty-four," said Nevin.
"And I'm twenty-two," said Boileau.
"And you've all seen service?"
"We've all knocked about a little bit, sir, but The Infant's the war-worn veteran. He's had two years' work in Upper Burma," said Nevin.
"When you say work, what do you mean, you extraordinary creatures?"
"Explain it, Infant," said Nevin.
"Oh, keeping things in order generally, and running about after little dakus - that's dacoits -and so on. There's nothing to explain."
"Make that young Leviathan speak," said Cleever impatiently, above his glass.
"How can he speak?" said I. "He's done the work. The two don't go together. But, Infant, you're ordered to bukb."
"What about? I'll try."
"Bukb about a daur. You've been on heaps of 'em," said Nevin.
"What in the world does that mean? Has the Army a language of its own?"
The Infant turned very red. He was afraid he was being laughed at, and he detested talking before outsiders; but it was the author of "As it was in the Beginning" who waited.
"It's all so new to me," pleaded Cleever; "and - and you said you liked my book." - This was a direct appeal that The Infant could understand, and he began rather flurriedly, with much slang bred of nervousness -
"Pull me up, sir, if I say anything you don't follow. About six months before I took my leave out of Burma, I was on the Hlinedatalone, up near the Shan States, with sixty Tommies - private soldiers, that is - and another subaltern, a year senior to me. The Burmese business was a subaltern's war, and our forces were split up into little detachments, all running about the country and trying to keep the dacoits quiet. The dacoits were having a first-class time, y' know -filling women up with kerosene and setting 'em alight, and burning villages, and crucifying people."
The wonder in Eustace Cleever's eyes deepened. He could not quite realise that the cross still existed in any form.
"Have you ever seen a crucifixion?" said he.
"Of course not. 'Shouldn't have allowed it if I had; but I've seen the corpses. The dacoits had a trick of sending a crucified corpse down the river on a raft, just to show they were keeping their tail up and enjoying themselves. Well, that was the kind of people I had to deal with."
"Alone?" said Cleever. Solitude of the soul he could understand - none better - but he had never in the body moved ten miles from his fellows.
"I had my men, but the rest of it was pretty much alone. The nearest post that could give me orders was fifteen miles away, and we used to heliograph to them, and they used to give us orders same way - too many orders."
"Who was your C. 0.?" said Boileau.
"Bounderby - Major. Pukka Bounderby; more Bounder than pukka. He went out up Bhamo way. Shot, or cut down, last year," said The Infant.
"What are these interludes in a strange tongue?" said Cleever to me.
"Professional information - like the Mississippi pilots' talk," said I. "He did not approve of his major, who died a violent death. Go on, Infant."
"Far too many orders. You couldn't take the Tommies out for a two days' daur -that's expedition - without being blown up for not asking leave. And the whole country was humming with dacoits. I used to send out spies, and act on their information. As soon as a man came in and told me of a gang in hiding, I'd take thirty men with some grub, and go out and look for them, while the other subaltern lay doggo in camp."
"Lay! Pardon me, but how did he lie?" said Cleever.
"Lay doggo - lay quiet, with the other thirty men. When I came back, he'd take out his half of the men, and have a good time of his own."
"Who was he?" said Boileau.
"Carter-Deecey, of the Aurungabadis. Good chap, but too zubberdusty, and went bokhar four days out of seven. He's gone out too. Don't interrupt a man."
Cleever looked helplessly at me.
"The other subaltern," I translated swiftly, "came from a native regiment, and was overbearing in his demeanour. He suffered much from the fever of the country, and is now dead. Go on, Infant."
"After a bit, we got into trouble for using the men on frivolous occasions, and so I used to put my signaller under arrest to prevent him reading the helio-orders. Then I'd go out and leave a message to be sent an hour after I got clear of the camp, something like this: 'Received important information; start in an hour, unless countermanded.' If I was ordered back, it didn't much matter. I swore the C. 0.'s watch was wrong, or something, when I came back. The Tommies enjoyed the fun, and - Oh, yes, there was one Tommy who was the bard of the detachment. He used to make up verses on everything that happened."
"What sort of verses?" said Cleever.
"Lovely verses; and the Tommies used to sing 'em. There was one song with a chorus, and it said something like this." The Infant dropped into the true barrack-room twang:
"Theebaw, the Burma king, did a very foolish thing, When 'e mustered 'ostile forces in ar-rai, 'E little thought that we, from far across the sea, Would send our armies up to Mandalai!"
"0 gorgeous !" said Cleever. "And how magnificently direct! The notion of a regimental bard is new to me, but of course it must be so."
"He was awfly popular with the men," said The Infant. "He had them all down in rhyme as soon as ever they had done anything. He was a great bard. He was always ready with an elegy when we picked up a Boh - that's a leader of dacoits."
"How did you pick him up?" said Cleever.
"Oh! shot him if he wouldn't surrender."
"You! Have you shot a man?"
There was a subdued chuckle from all three boys, and it dawned on the questioner that one experience in life which was denied to himself, and he weighed the souls of men in a balance, had been shared by three very young gentlemen of engaging appearance. He turned round on Nevin, who had climbed to the top of the bookcase and was sitting cross-legged as before.
"And have you, too?"
"Think so," said Nevin, sweetly. "In the Black Mountain. He was rolling cliffs on to my half-company, and spoiling our formation. I took a rifle from a man, and brought him down at the second shot."
"Good Heavens! And how did you feel afterwards?"
"Thirsty. I wanted a smoke, too."
Cleever looked at Boileau - the youngest. Surely his hands were guiltless of blood.
Boileau shook his head and laughed. "Go on, Infant," said he.
"And you too?" said Cleever.
"Fancy so. It was a case of cut, cut or be cut, with me; so I cut - one. I couldn't do any more, sir."
Cleever looked as though he would like to ask many questions, but The Infant swept on in the full tide of his tale.
"Well, we were called insubordinate young whelps at last, and strictly forbidden to take the Tommies out any more without orders. I wasn't sorry, because Tommy is such an exacting sort of creature. He wants to live as though he were in barracks all the time. I was grubbing on fowls and boiled corn, but the Tommies wanted their pound of fresh meat, and their half ounce of this, and their two ounces of t'other thing, and they used to come to me and badger me for plug tobacco when we were four days in jungle. I said: 'I can get you Burma tobacco, but I don't keep a canteen up my sleeve.' They couldn't see it. They wanted all the luxuries of the season, confound 'em!"
"You were alone when you were dealing with these men?" said Cleever, watching The Infant's face under the palm of his hand. He was receiving new ideas, and they seemed to trouble him.
"Of course, unless you count the mosquitoes. They were nearly as big as the men. After I had to lie doggo I began to look for something to do, and I was great pals with a man called Hicksey in the Police, the best man that ever stepped on earth; a first-class man."
Cleever nodded applause. He knew how to appreciate enthusiasm.
"Hicksey and I were as thick as thieves. He had some Burma mounted police - rummy chaps, armed with sword and Snider carbine. They rode punchy Burma ponies, with string stirrups, red cloth saddles, and red bell-rope headstalls. Hicksey used to lend me six or eight of them when I asked him - nippy little devils, keen as mustard. But they told their wives too much, and all my plans got known, till I learned to give false marching orders overnight, and take the men to quite a different village in the morning. Then we used to catch the simple daku before breakfast, and made him very sick. It's a ghastly country on the Hlinedatalone; all bamboo jungle, with paths about four feet wide winding through it. The daku knew all the paths, and potted at us as we came round a corner; but the mounted police knew the paths as well as the daku, and we used to go stalking 'em in and out. Once we flushed 'em, the men on the ponies had the advantage of the men on foot. We held all the country absolutely quiet for ten miles round, in about a month. Then we took Boh Na-ghee, Hicksey and I and the civil officer. That was a lark!"
"I think I am beginning to understand a little," said Cleever. "It was a pleasure to you to administer and fight?"
"Rather! There's nothing nicer than a satisfactory little expedition, when you find your plans fit together, and your information's teek - correct, you know, and the whole sub-chiz - I mean, when everything works out like formulae on a blackboard. Hicksey had all the information about the Boh. He had been burning villages and murdering people right and left, and cutting up Government convoys, and all that. He was lying doggo in a village about fifteen miles off, waiting to get a fresh gang together. So we arranged to take thirty mounted police, and turn him out before he could plunder into our newly-settled villages. At the last minute, the civil officer in our part of the world thought he'd assist at the performance."
"Who was he?" said Nevin.
"His name was Dennis," said The Infant slowly. "And we'll let it stay so. He's a better man now than he was then."
"But how old was the civil power?" said Cleever. "The situation is developing itself."
"He was about six-and-twenty, and he was awf'ly clever. He knew a lot of things, but I don't think he was quite steady enough for dacoit-hunting. We started overnight for Boh Na-ghee's village, and we got there just before morning, without raising an alarm. Dennis had turned out armed to his teeth - two revolvers, a carbine, and all sorts of things. I was talking to Hicksey about posting the men, and Dennis edged his pony in between us, and said, 'What shall I do? What shall I do? Tell me what to do, you fellows.' We didn't take much notice; but his pony tried to bite me in the leg, and I said, 'Pull out a bit, old man, till we've settled the attack.' He kept edging in, and fiddling with his reins and his revolvers, and saying, 'Dear me! Dear me! Oh, dear me! What do you think I'd better do?' The man was in a deadly funk, and his teeth were chattering."
"I sympathise with the civil power," said Cleever. "Continue, young Clive."
"The fun of it was, that he was supposed to be our superior officer. Hicksey took a good look at him, and told him to attach himself to my party. Beastly mean of Hicksey, that. The chap kept on edging in and bothering, instead of asking for some men and taking up his own position, till I got angry, and the carbines began popping on the other side of the village. Then I said, 'For God's sake be quiet, and sit down where you are! If you see anybody come out of the village, shoot at him.' I knew he couldn't hit a hayrick at a yard. Then I took my men over the garden wall - over the palisades, y' know - somehow or other, and the fun began. Hicksey had found the Boh in bed under a mosquito-curtain, and he had taken a flying jump on to him."
"A flying jump!" said Cleever. "Is that also war?"
"Yes," said The Infant, now thoroughly warmed. "Don't you know how you take a flying jump on to a fellow's head at school, when he snores in the dormitory? The Boh was sleeping in a bedful of swords and pistols, and Hicksey came down like Zazel through the netting, and the net got mixed up with the pistols and the Boh and Hicksey, and they all rolled on the floor together. I laughed till I couldn't stand, and Hicksey was cursing me for not helping him; so I left him to fight it out and went into the village. Our men were slashing about and firing, and so were the dacoits, and in the thick of the mess some ass set fire to a house, and we all had to clear out. I froze on to the nearest daku and ran to the palisade, shoving him in front of me. He wriggled loose and bounded over the other side. I came after him; but when I had one leg one side and one leg the other of the palisade, I saw that the daku had fallen flat on Dennis's head. That man had never moved from where I left him. They rolled on the ground together, and Dennis's carbine went off and nearly shot me. The daku picked himself up and ran, and Dennis buzzed his carbine after him, and it caught him on the back of his head and knocked him silly. You never saw anything so funny in your life. I doubled up on the top of the palisade and hung there, yelling with laughter. But Dennis began to weep like anything. 'Oh, I've killed a man,' he said. 'I've killed a man, and I shall never know another peaceful hour in my life. Is he dead? Oh, is he dead? Good Lord, I've killed a man!' I came down and said, 'Don't be a fool;' but he kept on shouting, 'Is he dead?' till I could have kicked him. The daku was only knocked out of time with the carbine. He came to after a bit, and I said, 'Are you hurt much?' He groaned and said, 'No.' His chest was all cut with scrambling over the palisade. 'The white man's gun didn't do that,' he said; 'I did that, and I knocked the white man over.' Just like a Burman, wasn't it? But Dennis wouldn't be happy at any price. He said: 'Tie up his wounds. He'll bleed to death. Oh, he'll bleed to death!' 'Tie 'em up yourself,' I said, 'if you're so anxious.' 'I can't touch him,' said Dennis, 'but here's my shirt.' He took off his shirt, and fixed the braces again over his bare shoulders. I ripped the shirt up, and bandaged the dacoit quite professionally. He was grinning at Dennis all the time; and Dennis's haversack was lying on the ground, bursting full of sandwiches. Greedy hog! I took some, and offered some to Dennis. 'How can I eat?' he said. 'How can you ask me to eat? His very blood is on your hands now, and you're eating my sandwiches!' 'All right,' I said; 'I'll give 'em to the daku.' So I did, and the little chap was quite pleased, and wolfed 'em down like one o'clock."
Cleever brought his hand down on the table with a thump that made the empty glasses dance. "That's Art!" he said. "Flat, flagrant mechanism! Don't tell me that happened on the spot!"
The pupils of The Infant's eyes contracted to two pin-points. "I beg your pardon," he said slowly and stiffly, "but I am telling this thing as it happened."
Cleever looked at him a moment. "My fault entirely," said he; "I should have known. Please go on."
"Hicksey came out of what was left of the village with his prisoners and captives, all neatly tied up. Boh Na-ghee was first, and one of the villagers, as soon as he found the old ruffian helpless, began kicking him quietly. The Boh stood it as long as he could, and then groaned, and we saw what was going on. Hicksey tied the villager up and gave him a half a dozen, good, with a bamboo, to remind him to leave a prisoner alone. You should have seen the old Boh grin. Oh! but Hicksey was in a furious rage with everybody. He'd got a wipe over the elbow that had tickled up his funny-bone, and he was rabid with me for not having helped him with the Boh and the mosquito-net. I had to explain that I couldn't do anything. If you'd seen 'em both tangled up together on the floor in one kicking cocoon, you'd have laughed for a week. Hicksey swore that the only decent man of his acquaintance was the Boh, and all the way to camp Hicksey was talking to the Boh, and the Boh was complaining about the soreness of his bones. When we got back, and had had a bath, the Boh wanted to know when he was going to be hanged. Hicksey said he couldn't oblige him on the spot, but had to send him to Rangoon. The Boh went down on his knees, and reeled off a catalogue of his crimes - he ought to have been hanged seventeen times over, by his own confession - and implored Hicksey to settle the business out of hand. 'If I'm sent to Rangoon,' said he, 'they'll keep me in jail all my life, and that is a death every time the sun gets up or the wind blows.' But we had to send him to Rangoon, and, of course, he was let off down there, and given penal servitude for life. When I came to Rangoon I went over the jail - I had helped to fill it, y' know - and the old Boh was there, and he spotted me at once. He begged for some opium first, and I tried to get him some, but that was against the rules. Then he asked me to have his Sentence changed to death, because he was afraid of being sent to the Andamans. I couldn't do that either, but I tried to cheer him, and told him how things were going up-country, and the last thing he said was - 'Give my compliments to the fat white man who jumped on me. If I'd been awake I'd have killed him.' I wrote that to Hicksey next mail, and - and that's all. I'm 'fraid I've been gassing awf'ly, sir."
Cleever said nothing for a long time. The Infant looked uncomfortable. He feared that, misled by enthusiasm, he had filled up the novelist's time with unprofitable recital of trivial anecdotes.
Then said Cleever, "I can't understand. Why should you have seen and done all these things before you have cut your wisdom-teeth?"
"Don't know," said The Infant apologetically. "I haven't seen much - only Burmese jungle."
"And dead men, and war, and power, and responsibility," said Cleever, under his breath. "You won't have any sensations left at thirty, if you go on as you have done. But I want to hear more tales - more tales!" He seemed to forget that even subalterns might have engagements of their own.
"We're thinking of dining out somewhere - the lot of us - and going on to the Empire afterwards," said Nevin, with hesitation. He did not like to ask Cleever to come too. The invitation might be regarded as perilously near to "cheek." And Cleever, anxious not to wag a gray beard unbidden among boys at large, said nothing on his side.
Boileau solved the little difficulty by blurting out: "Won't you come too, sir?"
Cleever almost shouted "Yes," and while he was being helped into his coat continued to murmur "Good Heavens!" at intervals in a way that the boys could not understand.
"I don't think I've been to the Empire in my life," said he; "but - what is my life after all? Let us go."
They went out with Eustace Cleever, and I sulked at home because they had come to see me, but had gone over to the better man; which was humiliating. They packed him into a cab with utmost reverence, for was he not the author of "As it was in the Beginning," and a person in whose company it was an honour to go abroad? From all I gathered later, he had taken less interest in the performance before him than in their conversations, and they protested with emphasis that he was "as good a man as they make; knew what a man was driving at almost before he said it; and yet he's so damned simple about things any man knows." That was one of many comments.
At midnight they returned, announcing that they were "highly respectable gondoliers," and that oysters and stout were what they chiefly needed. The eminent novelist was still with them, and I think he was calling them by their shorter names. I am certain that he said he had been moving in worlds not realised, and that they had shown him the Empire in a new light.
Still sore at recent neglect, I answered shortly, "Thank Heaven we have within the land ten thousand as good as they," and when he departed, asked him what he thought of things generally.
He replied with another quotation, to the effect that though singing was a remarkably fine performance, I was to be quite sure that few lips would be moved to song if they could find a sufficiency of kissing.
Whereby I understood that Eustace Cleever, decorator and colourman in words, was blaspheming his own Art, and would be sorry for this in the morning.