‘A lamentable tale of things|
Done long ago, and ill done.’
A quiet and well-conducted sergeant had shot down, in broad daylight just after early parade, one of his own corporals, had then returned to barracks and sat on a cot till the guard came for him. He would, therefore, in due time be handed over to the High Court for trial. Further, but this he could hardly have considered in his scheme of revenge, he would horribly upset my work; for the reporting of that trial would fall on me without a relief. What that trial would be like I knew even to weariness. There would be the rifle carefully uncleaned, with the fouling marks about breech and muzzle, to be sworn to by half a dozen superfluous privates; there would be heat, reeking heat, till the wet pencil slipped sideways between the fingers; and the punkah would swish and the pleaders would jabber in the verandahs, and his Commanding Officer would put in certificates to the prisoner’s moral character, while the jury would pant and the summer uniforms of the witnesses would smell of dye and soaps; and some abject barrack-sweeper would lose his head in cross-examination, and the young barrister who always defended soldiers’ cases for the credit that they never brought him, would say and do wonderful things, and would then quarrel with me because I had not reported him correctly. At the last, for he surely would not be hanged, I might meet the prisoner again, ruling blank account-forms in the Central jail, and cheer him with the hope of his being made a warder in the Andamans.
The Indian Penal Code and its interpreters do not treat murder, under any provocation whatever, in a spirit of jest. Sergeant Raines would be very lucky indeed if he got off with seven years, I thought. He had slept the night upon his wrongs, and killed his man at twenty yards before any talk was possible. That much I knew. Unless, therefore, the case was doctored a little, seven years would be his least; and I fancied it was exceedingly well for Sergeant Raines that he had been liked by his Company.
That same evening—no day is so long as the day of a murder—I met Ortheris with the dogs, and he plunged defiantly into the middle of the matter. ‘I’ll be one o’ the witnesses,’ said he. ‘I was in the verandah when Mackie come along. ’E come from Mrs. Raines’s quarters. Quigley, Parsons, an’ Trot, they was in the inside verandah, so they couldn’t ’ave ’eard nothing. Sergeant Raines was in the verandah talkin’ to me, an’ Mackie ’e come along acrost the square an’ ’e sez, “.Well;” sez ’e, “’ave they pushed your ’elmet off yet, Sergeant?” ’e sez. An’ at that Raines ’e catches ’is breath an’ ’e sez, “My Gawd, I can’t stand this!” sez ’e, an’ ’e picks up my rifle an’ shoots Mackie. See?’
‘But what were you doing with your rifle in the outer verandah an hour after parade? ’
‘Cleanin’ ’er,’ said Ortheris, with the sullen brassy stare that always went with his choicer lies.
He might as well have said that he was dancing naked, for at no time did his rifle need hand or rag on her twenty minutes after parade. Still, the High Court would not know his routine.
‘Are you going to stick to that—on the’ Book?’ I asked.
‘Yes. Like a bloomin’ leech.’
‘All right, I don’t want to know any more. Only remember that Quigley, Parsons, and Trot couldn’t have been where you say without hearing something; and there’s nearly certain to be a barrack-sweeper who was knocking about the square at the time. There always is.’
‘’Twasn’t the sweeper. It was the beastie. ’E’s all right.’
Then I knew that there was going to be some spirited doctoring, and I felt sorry for the Government Advocate who would conduct the prosecution.
When the trial came on I pitied him more, for he was always quick to lose his temper and made a personal matter of each lost cause. Raines’s young barrister had for once put aside his unslaked and welling passion for alibis and insanity, had forsworn gymnastics and fireworks, and worked soberly for his client. Mercifully the hot weather was yet young, and there had been no flagrant cases of barrack-shootings up to the time; and the jury was a good one, even for an Indian jury, where nine men out of every twelve are accustomed to weighing evidence. Ortheris stood firm and was not shaken by any cross-examination. The one weak point in his tale—the presence of his rifle in the outer verandah—went unchallenged by civilian wisdom, though some of the witnesses could not help smiling. The Government Advocate called for the rope, contending throughout that the murder had been a deliberate one. Time had passed, he argued, for that reflection which comes so naturally to a man whose honour is lost. There was also the Law, ever ready and anxious to right the wrongs of the common soldier if, indeed, wrong had been done. But he doubted much whether there had been any sufficient wrong. Causeless suspicion over-long brooded upon had led, by his theory, to deliberate crime. But his attempts to minimise the motive failed. The most disconnected witness knew—had known for weeks—the causes of offence; and the prisoner, who naturally was the last of all to know, groaned in the dock while he listened. The one question that the trial circled round was whether Raines had fired under sudden and blinding provocation given that very morning; and in the summing-up it was clear that Ortheris’s evidence told. He had contrived most artistically to suggest that he personally hated the Sergeant, who had come into the verandah to give him a talking to for insubordination. In a weak moment the Government Advocate asked one question too many. ‘Beggin’ your pardon, sir,’ Ortheris replied, ‘’e was callin’ me a dam’ impudent little lawyer.’ The Court shook. The jury brought it in a killing, but with every provocation and extenuation known to God or man, and the Judge put his hand to his brow before giving sentence, and the Adam’s apple in the prisoner’s throat went up and down like mercury pumping before a cyclone.
In consideration of all considerations, from his Commanding Officer’s certificate of good conduct to the sure loss of pension, service, and honour, the prisoner would get two years, to be served in India, and—there need be no demonstration in Court. The Government Advocate scowled and picked up his papers; the guard wheeled with a clash, and the prisoner was relaxed to the Secular Arm, and driven to the jail in a broken-down ticca-gharri.
His guard and some ten or twelve military witnesses, being less important, were ordered to wait till’ what was officially called the cool of the evening before marching back to cantonments. They gathered together in one of the deep red brick verandahs of a disused lock-up and congratulated Ortheris, who bore his honours modestly. I sent my work into the office and joined them. Ortheris watched the Government Advocate driving off to lunch.
‘That’s a nasty little bald-’eaded little butcher, that is,’ he said. ‘’E don’t please me. ’E’s got a colley dog wot do, though. I’m goin’ up to Murree in, a week. That dawg’ll bring fifteen rupees anywheres.’
‘You had better spend ut in Masses,’ said Terence, unbuckling his belt; for he had been on the prisoner’s guard, standing helmeted and bolt upright for three long hours.
‘Not me,’ said Ortheris cheerfully. ‘Gawd’ll put it down to B Comp’ny’s barrick-damages one o’ these days. You look strapped, Terence.’
‘Faith, I’m not so young as I was. That guard-mountin’ wears on the sole av the fut, and this’—he sniffed contemptuously at the brick verandah—‘is as hard setting as standin’!’
‘Wait a minute. I’ll get the cushions out of my cart,’ I said.
‘’Strewth—sofies. We’re going it gay,’ said Ortheris, as Terence dropped himself section by section on the leather cushions, saying prettily, ‘May ye niver want a soft place wheriver you go, an’ power to share ut wid a frind. Another for yourself? That’s good. It lets me sit longways. Stanley, pass me a pipe. Augrrh! An’, that’s another man gone all to pieces bekaze av a woman. I must ha’ been on forty or fifty prisoners’ gyards, first an’ last; an’ I hate ut new ivry time.’
‘Let’s see: You were on Losson’s, Lancey’s, Dugard’s, and Stebbins’s, that I can remember,’ I said.
‘Ay, an’ before that an’ before that—scores av thim,’ he answered with a worn smile. ‘’Tis better to die than to live for them, though. Whin Raines comes out—he’ll be changin’ his kit at the jail now—he’ll think that too. He shud, ha’ shot himself an’ the woman by rights an’ made a clean bill av all. Now he’s left the woman—she tuk tay wid Dinah Sunday gone last—an’ he’s left himself. Mackie’s the lucky man.’
‘He’s probably getting it hot where he is,’ I ventured, for I knew something of the dead Corporal’s record.
‘Be sure av that,’ said Terence, spitting over the edge of the verandah. ‘But fwhat he’ll get there is light marchin’ordher to fwhat he’d ha’ got here if he’d lived.’
‘Surely not. He’d have gone on and forgotten—like the others.’
‘Did ye know Mackie well, sorr?’ said Terence.
‘He was on the Pattiala guard of honour last winter, and I went out shooting with him in an ekka for the day, and I found him rather an amusing man.’
‘Well, he’ll ha’ got shut av aniusemints, excipt turnin’ from wan side to the other, these few years to come. I knew Mackie, an’ I’ve seen too many to be mistuk in the muster av wan man. He might ha’ gone on an’ forgot as you say, sorr, but he was a man wid an educashin, an’ he used ut for his schames; an’ the same educashin, an’ talkin’, an’ all that made him able to do fwhat he had a mind to wid a woman, that same wud turn back again in the long-run an’ tear him alive. I can’t say fwhat that I mane to say bekaze I don’t know how, but Mackie was the spit an’ livin’ image av a man that I saw march the same march all but; an’ ’twas worse for him that he did not come by Mackie’s ind. Wait while I remember now,. ’Twas whin I was in the Black Tyrone, an’ he was drafted us from Portsmouth; an’ fwhat was his misbegotten name? Larry—Larry Tighe ut was; an’ wan of the draft said he was a gentleman-ranker, an’ Larry tuk an’ three-parts killed him for saying so. An’ he was a big man, an’ a strong man, an’ a handsome man, an’ that tells heavy in practice wid some women, but, takin’ them by an’ large, not wid all. Yet ’twas wid all that Larry dealt—all—for he cud put the comether on any woman that trod the green earth av God, an’ he knew ut. Like Mackie that’s roastin’ now, he knew ut, an’ niver did he put the comether on any woman save an’ excipt for the black shame. ’Tis not me that shud be talkin’, dear knows, dear knows, but the most av my mis—misallinces was for pure devilry, an’ mighty sorry I have been whin harm came; an’ time an’ again wid a girl, ay, an’ a woman too, for the matter av that, whin I have seen by the eyes av her that I was makin’ more throuble than I talked, I have hild off an’ let be for the sake av the mother that bore me. But Larry, I’m thinkin’, he was suckled by a she-devil, for he never let wan go that came nigh to listen to him. ’Twas his business, as if it might ha’ ben sinthry-go. He was a good soldier too. Now there was the Colonel’s governess—an’ he a privit too!—that was never known in barricks; an’ wan av the Major’s maids, and she was promised to a man; an’ some more outside; an’ fwhat ut was amongst us we’ll never know till Judgment Day. ’Twas the nature av the baste to put the comether on the best av thim—not the prettiest by any manner av manes—but the like av such women as you cud lay your hand on the Book an’ swear there was niver thought av foolishness in. An’ for that very reason, mark you, he was niver caught. He came close to ut wanst or twice, but caught he niver was, an’ that cost him more at the ind than the beginnin’. He talked to me more than most, bekaze he tould me, barrin’ the accident av my educashin, I’d av been the same kind av divil he was. “An’ is ut like,” he wud say, houldin’ his head high—“is ut like that I’d iver be thrapped? For fwhat am I when all’s said an’ done?” he sez. “A damned privit,” sez he. “An’ is ut like, think you, that thim I know wud be connect wid a privit like me? Number tin thousand four hundred an’ sivin,” he sez grinnin’. I knew by the turn av his spache when he was not takin’ care to talk rough-shod that he was a gentleman-ranker.
‘“I do not undherstan’ ut at all,” I sez; “but I know,” sez I, “that the divil looks out av your eyes, an’ I’ll have no share wid you. A little fun by way av amusemint where ’twill do no harm, Larry, is right and fair, but I am mistook if ’tis any amusemint to you;” I sez.
‘“You are much mistook,” he sez. “An’ I counsel you not to judge your betters.”
‘“My betthers!” I sez. “God help you, Larry. There’s no betther in this; ’tis all bad, as ye will find for yoursilf.”
‘“You’re not like me,” he says, tossin’ his head.
‘“Praise the Saints, I am not,” I sez. “Fwhat I have done I have done an’ been crool sorry for. Fwhin your time comes,” sez I, “ye’ll remimber fwhat I say.”
‘“An’ whin that time comes,” sez he, “I’ll come to you for ghostly consolation, Father Terence,” an’ at that he wint off afther some more divil’s business—for to get expayrience, he tould me. He was wicked—rank wicked—wicked as all Hell! I’m not construct by nature to go in fear av any man, but, begad, I was afraid av Larry. He’d come in to barricks wid his cap on three hairs; an’ lie on his cot and stare at the ceilin’, and now an’ again he’d fetch a little laugh, the like av a splash in the bottom av a well, an’ by that I knew he was schamin’ new wickedness, an’ I’d be afraid. All this was long an’ long ago, but ut hild me straight—for a while.
‘I tould you, did I not, sorr, that I was caressed an’ pershuaded to lave the Tyrone on account av a throuble?’
‘Something to do with a belt and a man’s head wasn’t it?’ Terence had never given the tale in full.
‘It was. Faith, ivry time I go on prisoner’s gyard in coort I wondher fwhy I was not where the pris’ner is. But the man I struk tuk it in fair fight, an’ he had the good sinse not to die. Considher now, fwhat wud ha’ come to the Arrmy if he had! I was enthreated to exchange, an’, my Commandin’ Orf’cer pled wid me. I wint, not to be disobligin’, an’ Larry tould me he was powerful sorry to lose me, though fwhat I’d done to make him sorry I do not know. So to the Ould Reg’mint I came, lavin’ Larry to go to the divil his own way, an’ niver expectin’ to see him again excipt as a shootin’-case in barracks . . . . Who’s that quittin’ the compound?’ Terence’s quick eye had caught sight of a white uniform skulking behind the hedge.
‘The Sergeant’s gone visiting,’ said a voice.
‘Thin I command here, an’ I will have no sneakin’ away to the bazar, an’ huntin’ for you wid a pathrol at midnight. Nalson; for I know ut’s you, come back to the verandah.’
Nalson, detected, slunk back to his fellows. There was a grumble that died away in a minute or two, and Terence turning on the other side went on:—
‘That was the last I saw av Larry for a while. Exchange is the same as death for not thinkin’, an’ by token I married Dinah, an’ that kept me from remimberin’ ould times. Thin we went up to the Front, an’ ut tore my heart in tu to lave Dinah at the Depôt in Pindi. Consequint, whin I was at the Front I fought circumspectuous till I warrmed up, an’ thin I fought double tides. You remember fwhat I tould you in the gyard-gate av the fight at Silver’s Theatre?’
‘Wot’s that about Silver’s Theayter?’ said Ortheris quickly, over his shoulder.
‘Nothin’, little man. A tale that ye know. As I was sayin’, afther that fight, us av the Ould Rig’mint an’ the Tyrone was all mixed together taken’ shtock av the dead, an’ av coorse I went about to find if there was any man that remembered me. The second man I came acrost—an’ how I’d missed him in the fight I do not know—was Larry, an’ a fine man he looked, but oulder, by reason that he had fair call to be. “Larry,” sez I, “how is ut wed you?””
‘“Ye’re callin’ the wrong man,” he sez, wed his gentleman’s smile, “Larry has been dead these three years. They call him ‘ Love-o’-Women’ now,” he sez. By that I knew the ould divil was in him yet, but the end av a fight is no time for the beginnin’ av confession, so we sat down an’ talked av times.
‘“They tell me you’re a married man,” he sez, puffin’ slow at his poipe. “Are ye happy?”
‘“I will be whin I get back to Depot,” I sez, “’Tis a reconnaissance-honeymoon now.”
‘“I’m married too,” he sez, puffin’ slow an’ more slow, an’ stopperin’ wed his forefinger.
‘“Send you happiness,” I sez. “That’s the best hearin’ for a long time.”
‘“Are ye av that opinion?” he sez; an’ thin he began talkin’ av the campaign. The sweat av Silver’s Theatre was not dhry upon him an’ he was prayin’ for more work. I was well contint to lie and listen to the cook-pot lids.
Whin he got up off the ground he shtaggered a little, an’ laned over all twisted.
‘“Ye’ve got more than ye bargained for,” I sez. “Take an inventory, Larry. ’Tis like you’re hurt.”
‘He turned round stiff as a ramrod an’ damned the eyes av me up an’ down for an impartinent Irish-faced ape. If that had been in barracks, I’d ha’ stretched him an’ no more said; but ’twas at the Front, an’ afther such a fight as Silver’s Theatre I knew there was no callin’ a man to account for his tempers. He might as well ha’ kissed me. Aftherwards I was well pleased I kept my fists home. Thin our Captain Crook—Cruik-na-bulleen—came up. He’d been talkin’ to the little orf’cer bhoy av the Tyrone. “We’re all cut to windystraws,” he sez, “but the Tyrone are damned short for noncoms. Go you over there, Mulvaney, an’ be Deputy-Sergeant, Corp’ral, Lance, an’ everything else ye can lay hands on till I bid you stop.”
‘I wint over an’ tuk hould. There was wan sergeant left standin’, an’ they’d pay no heed to him. The remnint was me, an’ ’twas full time I came. Some I talked to, an’ some I did not, but before night the bhoys av the Tyrone stud to attention, begad, if I sucked on my poipe above a whishper. Betune you an’ me an’ Bobbs I was commandin’ the Company, an’ that was what Crook had thransferred me for; an’ the little orf’cer bhoy knew ut; and. I knew ut, but the Comp’ny did not. And there, mark you, is the vartue that no money an’ no dhrill can buy—the vartue av the ould soldier that knows his orf’cer’s work an’ does ut for him at the salute!
‘Thin the Tyrone, wid the Ould Rig’mint in touch, was sint maraudin’ an’ prowlin’ acrost the hills promishcuous an’ onsatisfactory. ’Tis my privit opinion that a gin’ral does not know half his time fwhat to do wid three-quarthers his command. So he shquats on his hunkers an’ bids them run round an’ round forninst him while he considhers on it. Whin by the process av nature they get sejuced into a big fight that was none av their seekin’, he sez: “Obsarve my shuperior janius. I meant ut to come so.” We ran round an’ about, an’ all we got was shootin’ into the camp at night, an’ rushin’ empty sungars wid the long bradawl, an’ bein’ hit from behind rocks till we was wore out—all excipt Love-o’-Women. That puppy-dog business was mate an’ dhrink to him. Begad he cud niver get enough av ut. Me well knowin’ that it is just this desultorial campaignin’ that kills the best men, an’ suspicionin’ that if I was cut, the little orf’cer bhoy wud expind all his men in thryin.’ to get out, I wud lie most powerful doggo whin I heard a shot, an’ curl my long legs behind a bowlder, an’ run like blazes whin the ground was clear. Faith, if I led the Tyrone in rethreat wanst I led thim forty times! Love-o’-Women wud stay pottin’ an’ pottin’ from behind a rock, and wait till the fire was heaviest, an’ thin stand up an’ fire man-height clear. He wud lie out in camp too at night, snipin’ at the shadows, for he never tuk a mouthful av slape. My commandin’ orf’cer—save his little soul!—cud not see the beauty av my strategims, an’ whin the Ould Rig’mint crossed us, an’ that was wanst a week, he’d throt off to Crook, wid his big blue eyes as round as saucers, an’ lay an information against me. I heard thim wanst talkin’ through the tent-wall, an’ I nearly laughed.
‘“He runs—runs like a hare,” sez the little orf’cer bhoy. “’Tis demoralisin’ my men.”
‘“Ye damned little fool,” sez Crook, laughin’, “he’s larnin’ you your business. Have ye been rushed at night yet?”
‘“No,” sez that child; wishful he had been.
‘“Have you any wounded?” sez Crook.
‘“No,” he sez. “There was no chanst for that. They follow Mulvaney too quick,” he sez.
‘“Fwhat more do you want, thin?” sez Crook. “Terence is bloodin’ you neat an’ handy,” he sez. “He knows fwhat you do not, an’ that’s that there’s a time for ivrything. He’ll not lead you wrong,” he sez, “but I’d give a month’s pay to larn fwhat he thinks av you.”
‘That kept the babe quiet, but Love-o’-Women was pokin’ at me for ivrything I did, an’ specially my manoeuvres.
‘“Mr. Mulvaney,” he sez wan evenin’, very contempshus, “you’re growin’ very jeldy on your feet. Among gentlemen,” he sez, “among gentlemen that’s called no pretty name.”
‘“Among privits ’Tis different,” I sez. “Get back to your tent. I’m sergeant here,” I sez.
‘There was just enough in the voice av me to tell him he was playin’ wid his life betune his teeth. He wint off, an’ I noticed that this man that was contempshus set off from the halt wid a shunt as tho’ he was bein’ kicked behind. That same night there was a Paythan picnic in the hills about, an’ firin’ into our tents fit to wake the livin’ dead. “Lie down all,” I sez. “Lie down an’ kape still. They’ll no more than waste ammunition.”
‘I heard a man’s feet on the ground, an’ thin a ’Tini joinin’ in the chorus. I’d been lyin’ warm, thinkin’ av Dinah an’ all, but I crup out wid the bugle for to look round in case there was a rush; an’ the ’Tini was flashin’ at the fore-ind av the camp, an’ the hill near by was fair flickerin’ wid long-range fire. Undher the starlight I behild Love-o’-Women settin’ on a rock wid his belt and helmet off. He shouted wanst or twice, an’ thin I heard him say: “They shud ha’ got the range long ago. Maybe they’ll fire at the flash.” Thin he fired again, an’ that dhrew a fresh volley, and the long slugs that they chew in their teeth came floppin’ among the rocks like tree-toads av a hot night. “That’s better,” sez Love-o’-Women. “Oh Lord, how long, how long!” he sez, an’ at that he lit a match an’ held ut above his head.
‘“Mad,” thinks I, “mad as a coot,” an’ I tuk wan stip forward, an’ the nixt I knew was the sole av my boot flappin’ like a cavalry gydon an’ the funny-bone av my toes tinglin’. ’Twas a clane-cut shot—a slug—that niver touched sock or hide, but set me barefut on the rocks. At that I tuk Love-o’-Women by the scruff an’ threw him under a bowlder, an’ whin I sat down I heard the bullets patterin’ on that same good stone.
‘“Ye may dhraw your own wicked fire,” I sez, shakin’ him, “but I’m not goin’ to be kilt too.”
‘“Ye’ve come too soon,” he sez. “Ye’ve come too soon. In another minute they cudn’t ha’ missed me. Mother av’ God,” he sez, “fwhy did ye not lave me be? Now ’tis all to do again,” an’ he hides his face in his hands.
‘“So that’s it,” I sez, shakin’ him again. “That’s the manin’ av your disobeyin’ ordhers.”
‘“I dare not kill meself,” he sez, rockin’ to and fro. “My own hand wud not let me die, and there’s not a bullet this month past wud touch me. I’m to die slow,” he sez. “I’m to die slow. But I’m in hell now,” he sez, shriekin’ like a woman. “I’m in hell now!”
‘“God be good to us all,” I sez, for I saw his face. “Will ye tell a man the throuble? If ’tis not murder, maybe we’ll mend it yet.”
‘At that he laughed. “D’you remember fwhat I said in the Tyrone barricks about comin’ to you for ghostly consolation. I have not forgot,” he sez. “That came back, and the rest av my time is on me now, Terence. I’ve fought ut off for months an’ months, but the liquor will not bite any more. Terence,” he sez, “I can’t get dhrunk!”
‘Thin I knew he spoke the truth about bein’ in hell, for whin liquor does not take hould the sowl av a man is rotten in him. But me bein’ such as I was, fwhat could I say to him?
‘“Di’monds an’ pearls,” he begins again. “Di’monds an’ peals I have thrown away wid both hands—an’ fwhat have I left? Oh, fwhat have I left?”
‘He was shakin’ an’ tremblin’ up against my shouldher, an’ the slugs were singin’ overhead, an’ I was wonderin’ whether my little bhoy wud have sinse enough to kape his men quiet through all this firin’.
‘“So long as I did not think,” sez Love-o’-Women, “so long I did not see—I wud not see, but I can now, what I’ve lost. The time an’ the place,” he sez, “an’ the very words I said whin ut pleased me to go off alone to hell. But thin, even thin,” he, sez, wrigglin’ tremenjous, “I wud not ha’ been happy. There was too much behind av one. How cud I ha’ believed her sworn oath—me that have bruk mine again an’ again for the sport av seein’ thim cry? An’ there are the others,” he sez. “Oh, what will I do—what will I do?” He rocked back an’ forward again, an’ I think he was cryin’ like wan av the women he talked av.
‘The full half of fwhat he said was Brigade Ordhers to me, but from the rest an’ the remnint I suspicioned somethin’ av his throuble. ’Twas, the judgmint av God had grup the heel av him; as I tould him ’twould in the Tyrone barricks. The slugs was singin’ over our rock more an’ more, an’ I sez for to divart him: “Let bad alone,” I sez. “They’ll be tryin’ to rush the camp in a minut’.”
‘I had no more than said that whin a Paythan man crep’ up on his belly wid his knife betune his teeth, not twinty yards from us. Love-o’-Womenjumped up an’ fetched a yell, an’ the man saw him an’ ran at him (he’d left his rifle under the rock) wid the knife. Love-o’-Women niver turned a hair, but by the Living Power, for I saw ut, a stone twisted under the Paythan man’s feet an’ he came down full sprawl, an’ his knife wint tinkling acrost the rocks! “I tould you I was Cain,” sez Love-o’-Women. “Fwhat’s the use av killin’ him? He’s an honust man—by compare.”
‘I was not dishputin’ about the morils av Paythans that tide, so I dhropped Love-o’-Women’s butt acrost the man’s face, an’ “Hurry into camp,” I sez, “for this may be the first av a rush.”
‘There was no rush after all, though we waited undher arms to give them a chanst. The Paythan man must ha’ come alone for the mischief, an’ afther a while Love-o’-Women wint back to his tint wid that quare lurchin’ sind-off in his walk that I cud niver understand. Begad, I pitied him, an’ the more bekaze he made me think for the rest av the night av the day whin I was confirmed Corp’ril, not actin’ Lef’tinant, an’ my thoughts was not good to me.’
‘Ye can ondersthand that afther that night we came to talkin’ a dale together, an’ bit by bit ut came out fwhat I’d suspicioned. The whole av his carr’in’s on an’ divilments had come back on him hard, as liquor comes back whin you’ve been on the dhrink for a wake. All he’d said an’ all he’d done, an’ only he cud tell how much that was, come back, and there was niver a minut’s peace in his sowl. ’Twas the Horrors widout any cause to see, an’ yet, an’ yet—fwhat am I talkin’ av? He’d ha’ taken the Horrors wid thankfulness. Beyon’ the repentince av the man, an’ that was beyon’ the nature av man—awful, awful, to behould!—there was more that was worst than any repentince. Av the scores an’ scores that he called over in his mind (an’ they were drivin’ him mad), there was, mark you, wan woman av all, an’ she was not his wife, that cut him to the quick av his marrow. ’Twas there he said that he’d thrown away di’monds an’ pearls past count, an’ thin he’d begin again like a blind byle in an oil-mill, walkin’ round and round, to considher (him that was beyond all touch av bein’ happy this side hell!) how happy he wud ha’ been wid her. The more he considhered, the more he’d consate himself that he’d lost mighty happiness, an’ thin he wud work ut all backwards, an’ cry that he niver cud ha’ been happy anyway.
‘Time an’ time an’ again in camp, on p’rade, ay, an’ in action, I’ve seen that man shut his eyes an’ duck his head as ye wud duck to the flicker av a bay’nit. For ’twas thin, he tould me, that the thought av all he’d missed came an’ stud forninst him like red-hot irons. For what he’d done wid the others he was sorry, but he did not care; but this wan woman that I’ve tould of, by the Hilts av God, she made him pay for all the others twice over! Niver did I know that a man cud enjure such tormint widout his heart crackin’ in his ribs, an’ I have been ‘-Terence turned the pipe-stem slowly between his teeth-, I have been in some black cells. All I iver suffered tho’ was not to be talked of alongside av him . . . an’ what could I do? Paternosters was no more than peas on plates for his sorrows.
‘Evenshually we finished our prom’nade acrost the hills, and, thanks to me for the same, there was no casualties an’ no glory. The campaign was comin’ to an ind, an’ all the rig’mints was being drawn together for to be sint back home. Love-o’-Women was mighty sorry bekaze he had no work to do, an’ all his time to think in. I’ve heard that man talkin’ to his belt-plate an’ his sidearms while he was soldierin’ thim, all to prevent himself from thinkin’, an’ ivry time he got up afther he had been settin’ down or wint on from the halt, he’d start wid that kick an’ traverse that I tould you of—his legs sprawlin’ all ways to wanst. He wud niver go see the docthor, tho’ I tould him to be wise. He’d curse me up an’ down for my advice; but I knew he was no more a man to be reckoned wid than the little bhoy was a commandin’ orf’cer, so I let his tongue run if it aised him.
‘Wan day—’twas on the way back—I was walkin’ round camp wid him, an’ he stopped an’ struck ground wid his right fut three or four times doubtful. “Fwhat is ut?” I sez. “Is that ground?” sez he; an’ while I was thinkin’ his mind was goin’, up comes the docthor, who’d been anatomisin’ a dead bullock. Love-o’-Women starts to go on quick, an’ lands me a kick on the knee while his legs was gettin’ into marchin’ ordher.
‘“Hould on there,” sez the docthor; an’ Love-o’-Women’s face, that was lined like a gridiron, turns red as brick.
‘“Tention,” says the docthor; an’ Love-o’-Women stud so. “Now shut your eyes,” sez the docthor. “No, ye must not hould by your comrade.”
‘“’Tis all up,” sez Love-o’-Women, thrying to smile. “I’d fall, docthor, an’ you know ut:”
‘“Fall?’ I sez. “Fall at attention wid your eyes shut! Fwhat do you mane?”
‘“The docthor knows,” he sez. “I’ve hild up as long as I can, but begad I’m glad ’tis all done. But I will die slow,” he sez, “I will die very slow.”
’I cud see by the docthor’s face that he was mortial sorry for the man, an’ he ordered him to hospital. We wint back together, an’ I was dumb-struck. Love-o’-Women was cripplin’ and crumblin’ at ivry step. He walked wid a hand on my shoulder all slued sideways, an’ his right leg swingin’ like a lame camel. Me not knowin’ more than the dead fwhat ailed him, ’twas just as though the docthor’s word had done ut all—as if Love-o’-Women had but been waitin’ for the word to let go.
‘In hospital he sez somethin’ to the docthor that I could not catch.
‘“Holy Shmoke!” sez the docthor, “an’ who are you to be givin’ names to your diseases? ’Tis agin all the reg’lations.”
‘“I’ll not be a privit much longer,” sez Love-o’-Women in his gentleman’s voice, an’ the docthor jumped.
‘“Thrate me as a study, Doctor Lowndes,” he sez; an’ that was the first time I’d iver heard a docthor called his name.
‘“Good-bye, Terence,” sez Love-o’-Women. “Tis a dead man I am widout the pleasure av dyin’. You’ll come an’ set wid me sometimes for the peace av my sowl.”
‘Now I had been minded for to ask Crook to take me back to the Ould Rig’mint; the fightin’ was over, an’ I was wore out wid the ways av the bhoys in the Tyrone; but I shifted my will, an’ hild on, and wint to set wid Love-o’-Women in the hospital. As I have said, sorr, the man bruk all to little pieces under my hand. How long he had hild up an’ forced himself fit to march I cannot tell, but in hospital but two days later he was such as I hardly knew. I shuk hands wid him, an’ his grip was fair strong, but his hands wint all ways to wanst, an’ he cud not button his tunic.
‘“I’ll take long an’ long to die yet,” he sez, “for the wages av sin they’re like interest in the rig’mintal savin’s-banks—sure, but a damned long time bein’ paid.”
‘The docthor sez to me, quiet one day, “Has Tighe there anythin’ on his mind?” he sez. “He’s burnin’ himself out.”
‘“How shud I know, sorr?” I sez, as innocint as putty.
‘“They call him Love-o’-Women in the Tyrone, do they not?” he sez. “I was a fool to ask. Be wid him all you can. He’s houldin’ on to your strength.”
‘“But fwhat ails him, docthor?” I sez.
‘“They call ut Locomotus attacks us,” he sez, “bekaze,” sez he, “ut attacks us like a locomotive, if ye know fwhat that manes. An’ ut comes,” sez he, lookin’ at me, “ ut comes from bein’ called Love-o’-Women.”
‘“You’re jokin’, docthor,” I sez.
‘“Jokin’!” sez he. “If iver you feel that you’ve got a felt sole in your boot instid av a Government bull’s-wool, come to me,” he sez, “an’ I’ll show you whether ’tis a joke.”
‘You would not belave ut, sorr, but that, an’ seein’ Love-o’-Women overtuk widout warnin’, put the cowld fear av Attacks us on me so strong that for a week an’ more I was kickin’ my toes against stones an’ stumps for the pleasure av feelin’ thim hurt.
‘An’ Love-o’-Women lay in the cot (he might have gone down wid the wounded before an’ before, but he asked to stay wid me), and fwhat there was in his mind had full swing at him night an’ day an’ ivry hour ay the day an’ the night, and he shrivelled like beef-rations in a hot sun, an’ his eyes was like owls’ eyes, an’ his hands was mut’nous.
‘They was gettin’ the rig’mints away wan by wan, the campaign bein’ inded, but as ushuil they was behavin’ as if niver a rig’mint had been moved before in the mem’ry av man. Now, fwhy is that, sorr? There’s fightin’, in an’ out, nine months av the twelve somewhere in the army. There has been—for years an’ years an’ years; an’ I wud ha’ thought they’d begin to get the hang av providin’ for throops. But no! Ivry time ’Tis like a girls’ school meetin’ a big red bull whin they’re goin’ to church; an’ “Mother av God,” sez the Commissariat an’ the Railways an’ the Barrick-masters, “fwhat will we do now?” The ordhers came to us av the Tyrone an’ the Ould Rig’mint an’ half a dozen more to go down, an’ there the ordhers stopped dumb. We wint down, by the special grace av God—down the Khaiber anyways. There was sick wid us, an’ I’m thinkin’ that some av thim was jolted to death in the doolies, but they was anxious to be kilt so if they cud get to Peshawur alive the sooner. I walked by Love-o’-Women—there was no marchin’, an’ Love-o’-Women was not in a stew to get on. “If I’d only ha’ died up there,” sez he through the dooli-curtains, an’ thin he’d twist up his eyes an’ duck his head for the thoughts that come an’ raked him.
‘Dinah was in Depôt at Pindi, but I wint circumspectuous, for well I knew ’tis just at the rump-ind av all things that his luck turns on a man. By token I had seen a dhriver of a batthery goin’ by at a trot singin’ “Home, swate home” at the top av his shout, and takin’ no heed to his bridle-hand—I had seen that man dhrop under the gun in the middle of a word, and come out by the limber like—like a frog on a pavestone. No. I wud not hurry, though, God knows, my heart was all in Pindi. Love-o’-Women saw fwhat was in my mind, an’ “Go on, Terence,” he sez, “I know fwhat’s waitin’ for you.” “I will not,” I sez. “’Twill kape a little yet.”
‘Ye know the turn of the pass forninst Jumrood and the nine-mile road on the flat to Peshawur? All Peshawur was along that road day and night waitin’ for frinds—men, women, childer, and bands. Some av the throops was camped round Jumrood, an’ some wint on to Peshawur to get away down to their cantonmints. We came through in the early mornin’ havin’ been awake the night through, and we dhruv sheer into the middle av the mess. Mother av Glory, will I iver forget that comin’ back? The light was not fair lifted, and the, first we heard was “For ’tis my delight av a shiny night,” frum a band that thought we was the second four comp’nies av the Lincolnshire. At that we was forced to sind them a yell to say who we was, an’ thin up wint “The wearin’ av the Green.” It made me crawl all up my backbone, not havin’ taken my brequist. Then right smash into our rear came fwhat was left av the Jock Elliott’s—wid four pipers an’ not half a kilt among thim, playin’ for the dear life, an’ swingin’ their rumps like buck-rabbits, an’ a native rig’mint shriekin’ blue murther. Ye niver heard the like! There was men cryin’ like women that did—an’ faith I do not blame them! Fwhat bruk me down was the Lancers’ Band—shinin’ an’ spick like angils, wid the ould dhrum-horse at the head an’ the silver kettle-dhrums an’ all an’ all, waitin’ for their men that was behind us. They shtruck up the Cavalry Canter; an’ begad those poor ghosts that had not a sound fut in a throop they answered to ut; the men rockin’ in their saddles. We thried to cheer them as they wint by, but ut came out like a big gruntin’ cough, so there must have been many that was feelin’ like me. Oh, but I’m forgettin’! The Fly-by-Nights was waitin’ for their second battalion, an’ whin ut came out, there was the Colonel’s horse led at the head—saddle-empty. The, men fair worshipped him, an’ he’d died at Ali Musjid on the road down. They waited till the remnint av the battalion was up, and thin—clane against ordhers, for who wanted that chune that day?—they wint back to Peshawur slowtime an’ tearin’ the bowils out av ivry man that heard, wid “The Dead March.” Right acrost our line they wint, an’ ye know their uniforms are as black as the Sweeps, crawlin’ past like the dead, an’ the other bands damnin’ them to let be.
‘Little they cared. The carpse was wid them, an’ they’d ha taken ut so through a Coronation. Our ordhers was to go into Peshawur, an’ we wint hot-fut past The Fly-by-Nights, not singin’, to lave that chune behind us. That was how we tuk the road of the other corps.
‘’Twas ringin’ in my ears still whin I felt in the bones of me that Dinah was comin’, an’ I heard a shout, an’ thin I saw a horse an’ a tattoo latherin’ down the road, hell-to-shplit, under women. I knew—I knew! Wan was the Tyrone Colonel’s wife—ould Beeker’s lady—her gray hair flyin’ an’ her fat round carkiss rowlin’ in the saddle, an’ the other was Dinah, that shud ha’ been at Pindi. The Colonel’s lady she charged the head av our column like a stone wall, an’ she’ all but knocked Beeker off his horse, throwin’ her arms round his neck an’ blubberin’, “Me bhoy! me bhoy!” an’ Dinah wheeled left an’ came down our flank, an’ I let a yell that had suffered inside av me for months and—Dinah came! Will I iver forget that while I live! She’d come on pass from Pindi, an’ the Colonel’s lady had lint her the tattoo. They’d been huggin’ an’ cryin’ in each other’s arms all the long night.
‘So she walked along wid her hand in mine, asking forty questions to wanst, an’ beggin’ me on the Virgin to make oath that there was not a bullet consaled in me, unbeknownst somewhere, an’ thin I remembered Love-o’-Women. He was watchin’ us, an’ his face was like the face av a divil that has been cooked too long. I did not wish Dinah to see ut, for whin a woman’s runnin’ over with happiness she’s like to be touched, for harm afterwards, by the laste little thing in life. So I dhrew the curtain, an’ Love-o’-Women lay back and groaned.
‘Whin we marched into Peshawur Dinah wint to barracks to wait for me, an’, me feelin’ so rich that tide, I wint on to take Love-o’-Women to hospital. It was the last I cud do, an’ to save him the dust an’ the smother I turned the doolimen down a road well clear av the rest av the throops, an’ we wint along, me talkin’ through the curtains. Av a sudden I heard him say:
‘“Let me look. For the mercy av Hiven, let me look.” I had been so tuk up wid gettin’ him out av the dust an’ thinkin’ av Dinah that I had not kept my eyes about me. There was a woman ridin’ a little behind av us; an’, talkin’ ut over wid Dinah afterwards, that same woman must ha’ rid out far on the jumrood road. Dinah said that she had been hoverin’ like a kite on the left flank av the columns.
‘I halted the dooli to set the curtains, an’ she rode by, walkin’ pace, an’ Love-o’-Women’s eyes wint afther her as if he wud fair haul her down from the saddle.
‘“Follow there,” was all he sez, but I niver heard a man speak in that voice before or since; an’ I knew by those two wan words an’ the look in his face that she was Di’monds-an’-Pearls that he’d talked av in his disthresses.
‘We followed till she turned into the gate av a little house that stud near the Edwardes’ Gate. There was two girls in the verandah, an’ they ran in whin they saw us. Faith, at long eye-range it did not take me a wink to see fwhat kind av house ut was. The throops bein’ there an’ all, there was three or four such; but aftherwards the polis bade thim go. At the verandah Love-o’-Women sez, catchin’ his breath, “Stop here,” an’ thin, an’ thin, wid a grunt that must ha’ tore the heart up from his stomick, he swung himself out av the dooli, an’ my troth he stud up on his feet wid the sweat pourin’ down his face! If Mackie was to walk in here now I’d be less tuk back than I was thin. Where he’d dhrawn his power from, God knows—or the Divil—but ’twas a dead man walkin’ in the sun, wid the face av a dead man and the breath av a dead man, hild up by the Power, an’ the legs an’ the arms av the carpse obeyin’ ordhers.
‘The woman stud in the verandah. She’d been a beauty too, though her eyes was sunk in her head, an’ she looked Love-o’-Women up an’ down terrible. “An’,” she sez, kicking back the tail av her habit,—“An’,” she sez, “fwhat are you doin’ here, married man?”
‘Love-o’-Women said nothin’, but a little froth came to his lips, an’ he wiped ut off wid his hand an’ looked at her an’ the paint on her, an’ looked, an’ looked, an’ looked.
‘“An’ yet,” she sez, wid a laugh. (Did you hear Raines’s wife laugh whin Mackie died? Ye did not? Well for you.) “An’ yet,” she sez, “who but you have betther right,” sez she. “You taught me the road. You showed me the way,” she sez. “Ay, look,” she sez, “for ’tis your work; you that tould me—d’you remimber it?—that a woman who was false to wan man cud be false to two. I have been that,” she sez, “that an’ more, for you always said I was a quick learner, Ellis. Look well,” she sez, “for it is me that you called your wife in the sight av God long since.” An’ she laughed.
‘Love-o’-Women stud still in the sun widout answerin’. Thin he groaned an coughed to wanst, an’ I thought ’twas the death-rattle, but he niver tuk his eyes off her face, not for a blink. Ye cud ha’ put her eyelashes through the flies av an E.P. tent, they were so long.
‘“Fwhat do you do, here?” she sez, word by word, “that have taken away my joy in my man this, five years gone—that have broken my rest an’ killed my body an’ damned my soul for the sake av seein’ how ’twas done. Did your expayrience aftherwards bring you acrost any woman that give you more than I did? Wud I not ha’ died for you, an’ wid you, Ellis? Ye know that, man! If iver your, lyin’ sowl saw truth in uts life ye know that.”
‘An’ Love-o’-Women lifted up his head and said, “I knew,” an’ that was all. While she was spakin’ the Power hild him up parade-set in the sun, an’ the sweat dhripped undher his helmet. ’Twas more an’ more throuble for him to talk, an’ his mouth was running twistways.
‘“Fwhat do you do here?” she sez, an’ her voice wint up. ’Twas like bells tollin’ before. “Time was when you were quick enough wid your words,—you that talked me down to hell. Are ye dumb now?” An’ Love-o’-Women got his tongue, an’ sez simple, like a little child, “May I come in?” he sez.
‘“The house is open day an’ night,” she sez, wid a laugh; an’ Love-o’-Women ducked his head an’ hild up his hand as tho’ he was gyardin’. The Power was on him still—it hild him up still, for, by my sowl, as I’ll never save ut, he walked up the verandah steps that had been a livin’ carpse in hospital for a month!
‘“An’ now?” she sez, lookin’ at him; an’ the red paint stud lone on the white av her face like a bull’s-eye on a target.
‘He lifted up his eyes, slow an’ very slow, an’ he looked at her long an’ very long, an’ he tuk his spache betune his teeth wid a wrench that shuk him.
‘“I’m dyin’, Aigypt—dyin’,” he sez. Ay, those were his words, for I remimber the name he called her. He was turnin’ the death-colour, but his eyes niver rowled. They were set—set on her. Widout word or warnin’ she opened her arms full stretch, an’ “Here!” she sez. (Oh, fwhat a golden mericle av a voice ut was!) “Die here!” she sez an’ Love-o’-Women dhropped forward, an’ she hild him up, for she was a fine big woman.
‘I had no time to turn, bekaze that minut I heard the sowl quit him—tore out in the death-rattle—an’ she laid him back in a long chair, an she sez to me, “Misther soldier,” she sez, “will ye not wait an’ talk to wan av the girls? This sun’s too much for him.”
‘Well I knew there was no sun he’d iver see, but I cud not spake, so I wint away wid the empty dooli to find the docthor. He’d been breakfastin’ an’ lunchin’ iver since we’d come in, an’ he was full as a tick.
‘“Faith, ye’ve got dhrunk mighty soon,” he sez, whin I’d tould him, “to see that man walk. Barrin’ a puff or two av life, he was a carpse before we left Jumrood. I’ve a great mind,” he sez, “to confine you.”
‘“There’s a dale av liquor runnin’ about, docthor,” I sez, solemn as a hard-boiled egg. “Maybe ’tis so; but will ye not come an’ see the carpse at the house?”
‘“’Tis dishgraceful,” he sez, “that I would be expected to go to a place like that. Was she a pretty woman?” he sez, an’ at that he set off double-quick.
‘I cud see that the two was in the verandah where I’d left them, an’ I knew by the hang av her head an’ the noise av the crows fwhat had happened. ’Twas the first and the last time that I’d iver known woman to use the pistol. They fear the shot as a rule, but Di’monds-an’-Pearls she did not—she did not.
‘The docthor touched the long black hair av her head (’twas all loose upon Love-o’-Women’s tunic), an’ that cleared the liquor out av him. He stud considherin’ a long time, his hands in his pockets, an’ at last he sez to me, “Here’s a double death from naturil causes, most naturil causes; an’ in the present state av affairs the rig’mint will be thankful for wan grave the less to dig. Issiwasti,” he sez. “Issiwasti, Privit Mulvaney, these two will be buried together in the Civil Cemet’ry at my expinse; an’ may the good God,” he sez, “make it so much for me whin my time comes. Go you to your wife,” he sez. “Go an’ be happy. I’ll see to this all.”
‘I left him still considherin’. They was buried in the Civil Cemet’ry together, wid a Church av England service. There was too many buryin’s thin to ask questions, an’ the docthor—he ran away wid Major—Major Van Dyce’s lady that year—he saw to ut all. Fwhat the right an’ the wrong av Love-o’-Women an’ Di’monds-an’-Pearls was I niver knew, an’ I will niver know; but I’ve tould ut as I came acrost ut—here an’ there in little pieces. So, being fwhat I am, an’ knowin’ fwhat I knew, that’s fwhy I say in this shootin’case here, Mackie that’s dead an’ in hell is the lucky man. There are times, sorr, whin ’tis better for the man to die than to live, an’ by consequince forty million times betther for the woman.’
The witnesses and guard formed up in the thick white dust of the parched twilight and swung off, marching easy and whistling. Down the road to the green by the church I could hear Ortheris, the black Book-lie still uncleansed on his lips, setting, with a fine sense of the fitness of things, the shrill quickstep that runs—
‘Oh, do not despise the advice of the wise,|
Learn wisdom from those that are older,
And don’t try for things that are out of your reach—
An’ that’s what the Girl told the Soldier!
Oh, that’s what the Girl told the Soldier!’