Hit a man an’ help a woman, an’ ye can’t be far wrong
—Maxims of Private Mulvaney.
‘Praise be, a danst doesn’t come as often as Ord’ly-Room, or, by this an’ that, Orth’ris, me son, I wud be the dishgrace av the Rig’mint instid av the brightest jool in uts crown.’
‘Hand the Colonel’s pet noosance,’ said Ortheris. ‘But wot makes you curse your rations? This ’ere fizzy stuff’s good enough.’
‘Stuff, ye oncivilised pagin! ’Tis champagne we’re dhrinkin’ now. ’Tisn’t that I am set agin’. ’Tis this quare stuff wid the little bits av black leather in ut. I misdoubt I will be disthressin’ly sick wid ut in the mornin’. Fwhat is ut?’
‘Goose liver,’ I said, climbing on the top of the carriage, for I knew that it was better to sit out with Mulvaney than to dance many dances.
‘Goose liver is ut?’ said Mulvaney. ‘Faith, I’m thinkin’ thim that makes ut wud do betther to cut up the Colonel. He carries a power av liver undher his right arrum whin the days are warm an’ the nights chill. He wud give thim tons an’ tons av liver. ’Tis he sez so. “I’m all liver to-day,” sez he; an’ wid that he ordhers me ten days’ C.B. for as moild a dhrink as iver a good sodger tuk betune his teeth.’
‘That was when ’e wanted for to wash ’isself in the Fort Ditch,’ Ortheris explained. ‘Said there was too much beer in the barrick waterbutts for a God-fearin’ man. You was lucky in gettin’ orf with wot you did, Mulvaney.’
‘Say you so? Now I’m pershuaded I was cruel hard treated, seein’ fwhat I’ve done for the likes av him in the days whin me eyes were wider opin than they are now. Man alive, for the Colonel to whip me on the peg in that way! Me that have saved the repitation av a ten times betther man than him. ’Twas ne-farious—an that manes a power av evil!’
‘Never mind the nefariousness,’ I said. ‘Whose reputation did you save?’
‘ More’s the pity, ’twasn’t my own, but I tuk more throuble wid ut than av ut was. ’Twas just my way, messin’ wid fwhat was no business av mine. Hear now!’ He settled himself at ease on the top of the carriage. ‘I’ll tell you all about ut. Av coorse I will name no names, for there’s wan that’s an orf’cer’s lady now, that was in ut, and no more will I name places, for a man is thracked by a place.’
‘Eyah!’ said Ortheris lazily, ‘but this is a mixed story wot’s comin’.’
‘Wanst upon a time, as the childher-books say, I was a recruity.’
‘Was you though?’ said Ortheris. ‘Now that’s extryordinary!’
‘Orth’ris,’ said Mulvaney, ‘av you opin thim lips av yours agin, I will, savin’ your presince, sorr, take you by the slack av your trousers an’ heave you.’
‘I’m mum,’ said Ortheris. ‘Wot ’appened when you was a recruity?’
‘I was a betther recruity than you iver was or will be, but that’s neither here nor there. Thin I became a man, an’ the divil of a man I was fifteen years ago. They called me Buck Mulvaney in thim days, an’, begad, I tuk a woman’s eye. I did that! Orth’ris, ye scrub, fwhat are ye sniggerin’ at? Do you misdoubt me?’
‘Devil a doubt!’ said Ortheris; ‘but I’ve ‘eard summat like that before!’
Mulvaney dismissed the impertinence with a lofty wave of his hand and continued:—
‘An’ the orf’cers av the Rig’mint I was in in thim days was orf’cers—gran’ men, wid a manner on ’em, an’ a way wid ’em such as is not made these days—all but wan—wan o’ the capt’ns. A bad dhrill, a wake voice, an’ a limp leg—thim three things are the signs av a bad man. You bear that in your mind, Orth’ris, me son. ’
‘An’ the Colonel av the Rig’mint had a daughther—wan av thim lamb-like, bleatin’, pick-me-up-an’-carry-me-or-I’ll-die gurls such as was made for the natural prey av men like the Capt’n, who was iverlastin’ payin’ coort to her, though the Colonel he said time an’ over, “Kape out av the brute’s way, me dear.” But he niver had the heart for to send her away from the throuble, bein’ a widower an’ she their wan child.’
‘Stop a minute, Mulvaney,’ said I; ‘how in the world did you come to know these things?’
‘How did I come?’ said Mulvaney, with a scornful grunt. ‘Bekaze I’m turned durin’ the Quane’s pleasure to a lump av wood, lookin’ out straight forninst me, wid a—a—candelabbrum in me hand, for you to pick your kyards out av, must I not see nor feel? Av coorse I du! Up me back, an’ in me boots, an’ in the short hair av the neck—that’s where I kape me eyes whin I’m on jooty an’ the reg’lar wans are fixed. Know! Take my word for it, sorr, ivrything an’ a great dale more is known in a rig’mint; or fwhat wud be the use av a Mess-Sargint, or a Sargint’s wife doin’ wet-nurse to the Majors baby! To reshume. He was a bad dhrill was this Capt’n—a rotten bad dhrill—an’ whin first I ran, me eye over him, I sez to mesilf: “Me Militia bantam!” I sez. “Me cock av a Gosport dunghill”— ’twas from Portsmouth he came to us—“there’s combs to be cut,” sez I, “an’ by the grace av God, ’tis Terence Mulvaney will cut thim.”
‘So he wint menowdherin’, and minandherin’, an’ blandandherin’ roun’ an’ about the Colonel’s daughther, an’ she, poor innocint, lookin’ at him like a Comm’ssariat bullock looks at the Comp’ny cook. He’d a dhirty little scrub av a black moustache, an’ he twisted an’ turned ivry wurrud he used as av he found ut too sweet for to spit out. Eyah! He was a tricky man an’ a liar by natur’. Some are born so. He was wan. I knew he was over his belt in money borrowed from natives; besides a lot av other matthers which, in regard for your presince, sorr, I will oblitherate. A little av fwhat I knew, the Colonel knew, for he wud have none av him, an’ that, I’m thinkin’, by fwhat happened aftherwards, the Capt’n knew.
‘Wan day, bein’ mortial idle, or they wud niver ha’ thried ut, the Rig’mint gave amshure theatricals—orf’cers an’ orf’cers’ ladies. You’ve seen the likes time an’ agin, sorr, an’ poor fun ’tis for thim that sit in the back row an’ stamp wid their boots for the honour av the Rig’mint. I was told off for to shif’ the scenes, haulin’ up this an’ draggin’ down that. Light work ut was, wid lashin’s av beer and the gurl that dhressed the orf’cers’ ladies—but she died in Aggra twelve years gone, an’ me tongue’s gettin’ the betther av me. They was actin’ a play thing called Sweethearts, which you may ha’ heard av, an’ the Colonel’s daughther she was a lady’s maid. The Capt’n was a bhoy called Broom—Spread Broom was his name in the play. Thin I saw—ut come out in the actin’—fwhat I niver saw before, an’ that was that he was no gentleman. They was too much together, thim two, a-whishperin’ behind the scenes I shifted, an’ some av what they said I heard; for I was death—blue death an’ ivy—on the comb-cuttin’. He was iverlastin’ly oppressin’ her to fall in wid some sneakin’ schame av his, an’ she was thryin’ to stand out agin’ him, but not as though she was set in her will. I wonder now in thim days that me ears did not grow a yard on me head wid list’nin’. But I looked straight forninst me an’ hauled up this an’ dragged down that, such as was me jooty, an’ the orf’cers’ ladies sez one to another, thinkin’ I was out av listen-reach: “Fwhat an obligin’ young man is this Corp’ril Mulvaney!” I was a Corp’ril then. I was rejuced aftherwards, but, no matther, I was a Corp’ril wanst.
‘Well, this Sweethearts business wint on like most amshure theatricals, an’ barrin’ fwhat I suspicioned, ’twasn’t till the dhress-rehearsal that I saw for certain that thim two—he the blayguard, an’ she no wiser than she shud ha’ been—had put up an e-vasion.’
‘A what?’ said I.
‘E-vasion! Fwhat you call an elopemint. E-vasion I calls it, bekaze, exceptin’ whin ’tis right an’ natural an’ proper, ’tis wrong an’ dhirty to steal a man’s wan child, she not knowin’ her own mind. There was a Sargint in the Comm’ssariat who set my face upon e-vasions. I’ll tell you about that——’
‘Stick to your bloomin’ Captains, Mulvaney,’ said Ortheris; ‘Comm’ssariat Sargints is low.’
Mulvaney accepted the amendment and went on:—
‘Now I knew that the Colonel was no fool, any more than me, for I was hild the smartest man in the Rig’mint, an’ the Colonel was the best orf’cer commandin’ in Asia; so fwhat he said an’ I said was mortial truth. We knew that the Capt’n was bad, but, for reasons which I have already oblitherated, I knew more than me Colonel. I wud ha’ rolled out his face wid the butt av me rifle before permittin’ av him to steal the gurl. Saints knew av he wud ha’ married her, and av he didn’t she wud be in great tormint, an’ the divil av a “scandal.” But I niver sthruck, niver raised me hand on me shuperior orf’cer; an’ that was a merricle now I come to considher ut.’
‘Mulvaney, the dawn’s risin’,’ said Ortheris, ‘an’ we’re no nearer ’ome than we was at the beginnin’. Lend me your pouch. Mine’s all dust.’
Mulvaney pitched his pouch over, and Ortheris filled his pipe afresh.
‘So the dhress-rehearsal came to an end, an’, bekaze I was curious, I stayed behind whin the scene-shiftin’ was ended, an’ I shud ha’ been in barricks, lyin’ as flat as a toad under a painted cottage thing. They was talkin’ in whishpers, an’ she was shiverin’ an’ gaspin’ like a fresh-hukked fish. “Are you sure you’ve got the hang av the manewvers?” sez he, or wurruds to that effec’, as the coort-martial sez. “Sure as death,” sez she, “but I misdoubt ’tis crool hard on my father.” “Damn your father!” sez he, or anyways ’twas fwhat he thought. “The arrangemint is as clear as mud. Jungi will drive the carr’ge afther all’s over, an’ you come to the station, cool an’ aisy, in time for the two o’clock thrain, where I’ll be wid your kit.” “Faith,” thinks I to mesilf, “thin there’s a ayah in the business to!”
‘A powerful bad thing is a ayah. Don’t you niver have any thruck wid wan. Thin he began sootherin’ her, an’ all the orf’cers an’ orf’cers’ ladies left, an’ they put out the lights. To explain the theory av the flight, as they say at Musk’thry, you must ondhersthand that afther this Sweethearts nonsinse was ended, there was another little bit av a play called Couples—some kind av couple or another. The gurl was actin’ in this, but not the man. I suspicioned he’d go to the station wid the gurl’s kit at the end av the first piece. ’Twas the kit that flusthered me, for I knew for a Capt’n to go trapesin’ about the Impire wid the Lord knew fwhat av a truso on his arrum was nefarious, an’ wud be worse than easin’ the flag, so far as the talk aftherwards wint.’
‘’Old on, Mulvaney. Wot’s truso?’ said Ortheris.
‘You’re an oncivilised man, me son. Whin a gurl’s married, all her kit an’ ’countrements are truso, which manes weddin’-portion. An’ ’tis the same whin she’s runnin’ away, even wid the biggest blayguard on the Arrmy List.
‘So I made me plan av campaign. The Colonel’s house was a good two miles away. “Dennis,” sez I to my Colour-Sargint, “av you love me lend me your kyart, for me heart is bruk an’ me feet is sore wid trampin’ to and from this foolishness at the Gaff.” An’ Dennis lent ut, wid a rampin’, stampin’ red stallion in the shafts. Whin they was all settled down to their Sweethearts for the first scene, which was a long wan, I slips outside and into the kyart. Mother av Hivin! but I made that horse walk, an’ we came into the Colonel’s compound as the Divil wint through Athlone—in standin’ leps. There was no one there excipt the servints, an’ I wint round to the back an’ found the gurl’s ayah.
‘“Ye black brazen Jezebel,” sez I, “sellin’ your masther’s honour for five rupees—pack up all the Miss Sahib’s kit an’ look slippy! Capt’n Sahib’s order,” sez I. “Going to the station we are,” I sez, an’ wid that I laid me finger to me nose an’ looked the schamin’ sinner I was.
‘“Bote acchy,” sez she; so I knew she was in the business, an’ I piled up all the sweet talk I’d iver learnt in the bazars on to this she-bullock, an’ prayed av her to put all the quick she knew into the thing. While she packed, I stud outside an’ sweated, for I was wanted for to shif’ the second scene. I tell you, a young gurl’s e-vasion manes as much baggage as a rig’mint on the line av march! “Saints help Dennis’s springs,” thinks I, as I bundled the stuff into the thrap, “for I’ll have no mercy!’
‘“I’m comin’ too,” sez the ayah.
‘“No, you don’t,” sez I. “Later—pechy! You baito where you are. I’ll pechy come an’ bring you sart, along with me, you maraudhin’”—niver mind fwhat I called her.
‘Thin I wint for the Gaff, an’ by the special ordhers av Providence, for I was doin’ a good work, ye will ondersthand, Dennis’s springs hild toight. “Now, whin the Capt’n goes for that kit,” thinks I, “he’ll be throubled.” At the ind av Sweethearts off the Capt’n runs in his kyart to the Colonel’s house, an’ I sits down on the steps an’ laughs. Wanst an’ agin I slipped in to see how the little piece was goin’, an’ whin ut was near endin’ I stepped out all among the carr’ges an’ sings out very softly, “Jungi! “ Wid that a carr’ge began to move, an’ I waved to the dhriver. “Hitherao!” sez I, an’ he hitheraoed till I judged he was at proper distance, an’ thin I tuk him, fair an’ square betune the eyes, all I knew for good or bad, an’ he dhropped wid a guggle like the Canteen beer-engine whin ut’s runnin’ low. Thin I ran to the kyart an’ tuk out all the gurl’s kit an’ piled it into the carr’ge, the sweat runnin’ down me face in dhrops. “Go home,” sez I, to Dennis’s sais. “Ye’ll find a man close here. Very sick he is. Take him away, an’ av you iver say wan wurrud about fwhat you’ve dekkoed, I’ll marrow you till your own wife won’t sumjao who you are!” Thin I heard the stampin’ av feet at the ind av the play, an’ I ran in to let down the curtain. Whin they all came out the gurl thried to hide herself behind wan av the pillars, an’ sez “Jungi” in a voice that wudn’t ha’ scared a hare. I run over to Jungi’s carr’ge an’ tuk up the lousy old horse-blanket on the box, wrapped me head an’ the rest av me in ut, an’ dhruv up to where she was.
“Miss Sahib,” sez I. “Going to the station? Captain Sahib’s order!” an’ widout a sign she jumped in all among her own kit.
‘I laid to an’ dhruv like steam to the Colonel’s house before the Colonel was there, an’ she screamed an’ I thought she was goin’ off. Out comes the ayah, saying all sorts av things about the Capt’n havin’ come for the kit an’ gone to the station.
“Take out the luggage, you divil,” sez I, “or I’ll murther you!”
‘The lights av the thraps wid people comin’ from the Gaff was showin’ across the p’rade-ground, an’, by this an’ that, the way thim two wimmen worked at the bundles an’ thrunks was a caution! I was dyin’ to help, but, seein’ I didn’t want to be known, I sat wid the blanket roun’ me an’ coughed an’ thanked the Saints there was no moon that night.
‘Whin all was in the house again, I niver asked for bukshish but dhruv tremenjus in the opp’site way from the other carr’ges an’ put out my lights. Prisintly I saw a naygur-man wal lowin’ in the road. I slipped down before I got to him, for I suspicioned Providence was wid me all through that night. ’Twas Jungi, his nose smashed in flat, all dumb sick as ye plaze. Dennis’s man must have tilted him out av the thrap. Whin he came to, “Hutt!” sez I, but he began to howl.
‘“You black lump av dhirt,” I sez, “is this the way you dhrive your gharri? That tikka has been owin’ an’ fere-owin’ all over the bloomin’ country this whole bloomin’ night, an’ you as mut-walla as Davey’s Sow. Get up, you hog!” sez I, louder, for I heard the wheels av a thrap in the dhark. “Get up an’ light your lamps, or you’ll be run into!” This was on the road to the railway station.
‘“Fwhat the divil’s this?” sez the Capt’n’s voice in the dhark, an’ I cud judge he was in a latherin’ rage.
‘“Gharri dhriver here, dhrunk, sorr,” sez I. “I’ve found his gharri sthrayin’ about cantonmints, an’ now I’ve found him.”
‘“Oh!” sez the Capt’n; “fwhat’s his name?” I stooped down an’ pretended to listen.
‘“He sez his name’s Jungi, sorr,” sez I.
‘“Hould my harse,” sez the Capt’n to his man, an’ wid that he gets down wid the whip an’ lays into Jungi, just mad wid rage an’ swearin’ like the scutt he was.
‘I thought, afther a while, he wud kill the man, so I sez, “Stop, sorr, or you’ll murther him!” That dhrew all his fire on me, an’ he cursed me into Blazes an’ out again. I stud to attenshin an’ saluted:—“Sorr,” sez I, “av ivry man in this wurruld had his rights, I’m thinkin’ that more than wan wud be beaten to a jelly for this night’s work—that niver came off at all, sorr, as you see!” “Now,” thinks I to mesilf, “Terence Mulvaney, you’ve cut your own throat, for he’ll sthrike, an’ you’ll knock him down for the good av his sowl an’ your own iverlastin’ dishgrace!”
‘But the Capt’n niver said a single wurrud. He choked where he stud, an’ thin he went into his thrap widout sayin’ good-night, an’ I wint back to barricks.’
‘And then?’ said Ortheris and I together.
‘That was all,’ said Mulvaney; ‘niver another wurrud did I hear av the whole thing. All I know was that there was no e-vasion, an’ that was fwhat I wanted. Now, I put ut to you, sorr, is ten days’ C.B. a fit an’ a proper tratemint for a man that has behaved as me?’
‘Well, any’ow,’ said Ortheris, ‘’tweren’t this ’ere Colonel’s daughter, an’ you was blazin’ copped when you tried to wash in the Fort Ditch.’
‘That,’ said Mulvaney, finishing the champagne, ‘is a shuparfluous an’ impart’nint observashin.’