A fox came out of his earth on the banks of the Great River Gihon, which waters Ethiopia. He saw a white man riding through the dry dhurra-stalks, and, that his destiny might be fulfilled, barked at him.
The rider drew rein among the villagers round his stirrup.
“What,” said he, “is that?”
“That,” said the Sheikh of the village, “is a fox, O Excellency Our Governor.”
“It is not, then, a jackal?”
“No jackal, but Abu Hussein the father of cunning.”
“Also,” the white man spoke half aloud, “I am Mudir of this Province.”
“It is true,” they cried. “Ya, Saart el Mudir” (O Excellency Our Governor).
The Great River Gihon, well used to the moods of kings, slid between his mile-wide banks toward the sea, while the Governor praised God in a loud and searching cry never before heard by the river.
When he had lowered his right forefinger from behind his right ear, the villagers talked to him of their crops — barley, dhurrah, millet, onions, and the like. The Governor stood in his stirrups. North he looked up a strip of green cultivation a few hundred yards wide that lay like a carpet between the river and the tawny line of the desert. Sixty miles that strip stretched before him, and as many behind. At every half-mile a groaning water-wheel lifted the soft water from the river to the crops by way of a mud-built aqueduct. A foot or so wide was the water-channel; five foot or more high was the bank on which it ran, and its base was broad in proportion. Abu Hussein, misnamed the Father of Cunning, drank from the river below his earth, and his shadow was long in the low sun. He could not understand the loud cry which the Governor had cried.
The Sheikh of the village spoke of the crops from which the rulers of all lands draw revenue; but the Governor’s eyes were fixed, between his horse’s ears, on the nearest water-channel.
“Very like a ditch in Ireland,” he murmured, and smiled, dreaming of a razor-topped bank in distant Kildare.
Encouraged by that smile, the Sheikh continued. “When crops fail it is necessary to remit taxation. Then it is a good thing, O Excellency Our Governor, that you come and see the crops which have failed, and discover that we have not lied.”
“Assuredly.” The Governor shortened his reins. The horse cantered on, rose at the embankment of the water-channel, changed leg cleverly on top, and hopped down in a cloud of golden dust.
Abu Hussein from his earth watched with interest. He had never before seen such things.
“Assuredly,” the Governor repeated, and came back by the way he had gone. “It is always best to see for one’s self.”
An ancient and still bullet-speckled stern-wheel steamer, with a barge lashed to her side, came round the river bend. She whistled to tell the Governor his dinner was ready, and the horse, seeing his fodder piled on the barge, whinnied back.
“Moreover,” the Sheikh added, “in the days of the Oppression the Emirs and their creatures dispossessed many people of their lands. All up and down the river our people are waiting to return to their lawful fields.”
“Judges have been appointed to settle that matter,” said the Governor. “They will presently come in steamers and hear the witnesses.”
“Wherefore? Did the Judges kill the Emirs? We would rather be judged by the men who executed God’s judgment on the Emirs. We would rather abide by your decision, O Excellency Our Governor.”
The Governor nodded. It was a year since he had seen the Emirs stretched close and still round the reddened sheepskin where lay El Mahdi, the Prophet of God. Now there remained no trace of their dominion except the old steamer, once part of a Dervish flotilla, which was his house and office. She sidled into the shore, lowered a plank, and the Governor followed his horse aboard.
Lights burned on her till late, dully reflected in the river that tugged at her mooring-ropes. The Governor read, not for the first time, the administration reports of one John Jorrocks, M.F.H.
“We shall need,” he said suddenly to his Inspector, “about ten couple. I’ll get ’em when I go home. You’ll be Whip, Baker?”
The Inspector, who was not yet twenty-five, signified his assent in the usual manner, while Abu Hussein barked at the vast desert moon.
“Ha!” said the Governor, coming out in his pyjamas, “we’ll be giving you capivi in another three months, my friend.”
It was four, as a matter of fact, ere a steamer with a melodious bargeful of hounds anchored at that landing. The Inspector leaped down among them, and the homesick wanderers received him as a brother.
“Everybody fed ’em everything on board ship, but they’re real dainty hounds at bottom,” the Governor explained. “That’s Royal you’ve got hold of — the pick of the bunch — and the bitch that’s got, hold of you — she’s a little excited — is May Queen. Merriman, out of Cottesmore Maudlin, you know.”
“I know. ‘Grand old betch with the tan eyebrows,”’ the Inspector cooed. “Oh, Ben! I shall take an interest in life now. Hark to ’em! O hark!”
Abu Hussein, under the high bank, went about his night’s work. An eddy carried his scent to the barge, and three villages heard the crash of music that followed. Even then Abu Hussein did not know better than to bark in reply.
“Well, what about my Province?” the Governor asked.
“Not so bad,” the Inspector answered, with Royal’s head between his knees. “Of course, all the villages want remission of taxes, but, as far as I can see, the whole country’s stinkin’ with foxes. Our trouble will be choppin’ ’em in cover. I’ve got a list of the only villages entitled to any remission. What d’you call this flat-sided, blue-mottled beast with the jowl?”
“Beagle-boy. I have my doubts about him. Do you think we can get two days a week?”
“Easy; and as many byes as you please. The Sheikh of this village here tells me that his barley has failed, and he wants a fifty per cent remission.”
“We’ll begin with him tomorrow, and look at his crops as we go. Nothing like personal supervision,” said the Governor.
They began at sunrise. The pack flew off the barge in every direction, and, after gambols, dug like terriers at Abu Hussein’s many earths. Then they drank themselves pot-bellied on Gihon water while the Governor and the Inspector chastised them with whips. Scorpions were added; for May Queen nosed one, and was removed to the barge lamenting. Mystery (a puppy, alas!) met a snake, and the blue-mottled Beagle-boy (never a dainty hound) ate that which he should have passed by. Only Royal, of the Belvoir tan head and the sad, discerning eyes, made any attempt to uphold the honour of England before the watching village.
“You can’t expect everything,” said the Governor after breakfast.
“We got it, though — everything except foxes. Have you seen May Queen’s nose?” said the Inspector.
“And Mystery’s dead. We’ll keep ’em coupled next time till we get well in among the crops. I say, what a babbling body-snatcher that Beagle-boy is! Ought to be drowned!”
“They bury people so damn casual hereabouts. Give him another chance,” the Inspector pleaded, not knowing that he should live to repent most bitterly.
“Talkin’ of chances,” said the Governor, “this Sheikh lies about his barley bein’ a failure. If it’s high enough to hide a hound at this time of year, it’s all right. And he wants a fifty per cent remission, you said?”
“You didn’t go on past the melon patch where I tried to turn Wanderer. It’s all burned up from there on to the desert. His other water-wheel has broken down, too,” the Inspector replied.
“Very good. We’ll split the difference and allow him twenty-five per cent off. Where’ll we meet tomorrow?”
“There’s some trouble among the villages down the river about their land-titles. It’s good goin’ ground there, too,” the Inspector said.
The next meet, then, was some twenty miles down the river, and the pack were not enlarged till they were fairly among the fields. Abu Hussein was there in force — four of him. Four delirious hunts of four minutes each — four hounds per fox — ended in four earths just above the river. All the village looked on.
“We forgot about the earths. The banks are riddled with ’em. This’ll defeat us,” said the Inspector.
“Wait a moment!” The Governor drew forth a sneezing hound. “I’ve just remembered I’m Governor of these parts.”
“Then turn out a black battalion to stop for us. We’ll need ’em, old man.”
The Governor straightened his back. “Give ear, O people!” he cried. “I make a new Law!”
The villagers closed in. He called:—
“Henceforward I will give one dollar to the man on whose land Abu Hussein is found. And another dollar”— he held up the coin —“to the man on whose land these dogs shall kill him. But to the man on whose land Abu Hussein shall run into a hole such as is this hole, I will give not dollars, but a most unmeasurable beating. Is it understood?”
“Our Excellency,” a man stepped forth, “on my land Abu Hussein was found this morning. Is it not so, brothers?”
None denied. The Governor tossed him over four dollars without a word.
“On my land they all went into their holes,” cried another. “Therefore I must be beaten.”
“Not so. The land is mine, and mine are the beatings.”
This second speaker thrust forward his shoulders already bared, and the villagers shouted.
“Hullo! Two men anxious to be licked? There must be some swindle about the land,” said the Governor. Then in the local vernacular: “What are your rights to the beating?”
As a river-reach changes beneath a slant of the sun, that which had been a scattered mob changed to a court of most ancient justice. The hounds tore and sobbed at Abu Hussein’s hearthstone, all unnoticed among the legs of the witnesses, and Gihon, also accustomed to laws, purred approval.
“You will not wait till the Judges come up the river to settle the dispute?” said the Governor at last.
“No!” shouted all the village save the man who had first asked to be beaten. “We will abide by Our Excellency’s decision. Let Our Excellency turn out the creatures of the Emirs who stole our land in the days of the Oppression.”
“And thou sayest?” the Governor turned to the man who had first asked to be beaten.
“I say 1 will wait till the wise Judges come down in the steamer. Then I will bring my many witnesses,” he replied.
“He is rich. He will bring many witnesses,” the village Sheikh muttered.
“No need. Thy own mouth condemns thee!” the Governor cried. “No man lawfully entitled to his land would wait one hour before entering upon it. Stand aside!” The man, fell back, and the village jeered him.
The second claimant stooped quickly beneath the lifted hunting-crop. The village rejoiced.
“Oh, Such an one; Son of such an one,” said the Governor, prompted by the Sheikh, “learn, from the day when I send the order, to block up all the holes where Abu Hussein may hide on — thy — land!”
The light flicks ended. The man stood up triumphant. By that accolade had the Supreme Government acknowledged his title before all men.
While the village praised the perspicacity of the Governor, a naked, pock-marked child strode forward to the earth, and stood on one leg, unconcerned as a young stork.
“Hal” he said, hands behind his back. “This should be blocked up with bundles of dhurra stalks — or, better, bundles of thorns.”
“Better thorns,” said the Governor. “Thick ends innermost.”
The child nodded gravely and squatted on the sand.
“An evil day for thee, Abu Hussein,” he shrilled into the mouth of the earth. “A day of obstacles to thy flagitious returns in the morning.”
“Who is it?” the Governor asked the Sheikh. “It thinks.”
“Farag the Fatherless. His people were slain in the days of the Oppression. The man to whom Our Excellency has awarded the land is, as it were, his maternal uncle.”
“Will it come with me and feed the big dogs?” said the Governor.
The other peering children drew back. “Run!” they cried. “Our Excellency will feed Farag to the big dogs.”
“I will come,” said Farag. “And I will never go.” He threw his arm round Royal’s neck, and the wise beast licked his face.
“Binjamin, by Jove!” the Inspector cried.
“No!” said the Governor. “I believe he has the makings of a James Pigg!”
Farag waved his hand to his uncle, and led Royal on to the barge. The rest of the pack followed.
Gihon, that had seen many sports, learned to know the Hunt barge well. He met her rounding his bends on grey December dawns to music wild and lamentable as the almost forgotten throb of Dervish drums, when, high above Royal’s tenor bell, sharper even than lying Beagle-boy’s falsetto break, Farag chanted deathless war against Abu Hussein and all his seed. At sunrise the river would shoulder her carefully into her place, and listen to the rush and scutter of the pack fleeing up the gang-plank, and the tramp of the Governor’s Arab behind them. They would pass over the brow into the dewless crops where Gihon, low and shrunken, could only guess what they were about when Abu Hussein flew down the bank to scratch at a stopped earth, and flew back into the barley again. As Farag had foretold, it was evil days for Abu Hussein ere he learned to take the necessary steps and to get away crisply. Sometimes Gihon saw the whole procession of the Hunt silhouetted against the morning-blue, bearing him company for many merry miles. At every half mile the horses and the donkeys jumped the water-channels — up, on, change your leg, and off again like figures in a zoetrope, till they grew small along the line of waterwheels. Then Gibon waited their rustling return through the crops, and took them to rest on his bosom at ten o’clock. While the horses ate, and Farag slept with his head on Royal’s flank, the Governor and his Inspector worked for the good of the Hunt and his Province.
After a little time there was no need to beat any man for neglecting his earths. The steamer’s destination was telegraphed from waterwheel to waterwheel, and the villagers stopped out and put to according. If an earth were overlooked, it meant some dispute as to the ownership of the land, and then and there the Hunt checked and settled it in this wise: The Governor and the Inspector side by side, but the latter half a horse’s length to the rear; both bare-shouldered claimants well in front; the villagers half-mooned behind them, and Farag with the pack, who quite understood the performance, sitting down on the left. Twenty minutes were enough to settle the most complicated case, for, as the Governor said to a judge on the steamer, “One gets at the truth in a hunting-field a heap quicker than in your lawcourts.”
“But when the evidence is conflicting?” the Judge suggested.
“Watch the field. They’ll throw tongue fast enough if you’re running a wrong scent. You’ve never had an appeal from one of my decisions yet.”
The Sheikhs on horseback — the lesser folk on clever donkeys — the children so despised by Farag soon understood that villages which repaired their waterwheels and channels stood highest in the Governor’s favour. He bought their barley, for his horses.
“Channels,” he said, “are necessary that we may all jump them. They are necessary, moreover, for the crops. Let there be many wheels and sound channels — and much good barley.”
“Without money,” replied an aged Sheikh, “there are no waterwheels.”
“I will lend the money,” said the Governor.
“At what interest, O Our Excellency?”
“Take you two of May Queen’s puppies to bring up in your village in such a manner that they do not eat filth, nor lose their hair, nor catch fever from lying in the sun, but become wise hounds.”
“Like Ray-yal — not like Bigglebai?” (Already it was an insult along the River to compare a man to the shifty anthropophagous blue-mottled harrier.)
“Certainly, like Ray-yal — not in the least like Bigglebai. That shall be the interest on the loan. Let the puppies thrive and the waterwheel be built, and I shall be content,” said the Governor.
“The wheel shall be built, but, O Our Excellency, if by God’s favour the pups grow to be well-smelters, not filth-eaters, not unaccustomed to their names, not lawless, who will do them and me justice at the time of judging the young dogs?”
“Hounds, man, hounds! Ha-wands, O Sheikh, we call them in their manhood.”
“The ha-wands when they are judged at the Sha-ho. I have unfriends down the river to whom Our Excellency has also entrusted ha-wands to bring up.”
“Puppies, man! Pah-peaz we call them, O Sheikh, in their childhood.”
“Pah-peat. My enemies may judge my pah-peaz unjustly at the Sha-ho. This must be thought of.”
“I see the obstacle. Hear now! If the new waterwheel is built in a month without oppression, thou, O Sheikh, shalt be named one of the judges to judge the pah-peaz at the Sha-ho. Is it understood?”
“Understood. We will build the wheel. I and my seed are responsible for the repayment of the loan. Where are my pah-peaz? If they eat fowls, must they on any account eat the feathers?”
“On no account must they eat the feathers. Farag in the barge will tell thee how they are to live.”
There is no instance of any default on the Governor’s personal and unauthorized loans, for which they called him the Father of Waterwheels. But the first puppyshow at the capital needed enormous tact and the presence of a black battalion ostentatiously drilling in the barrack square to prevent trouble after the prize-giving.
But who can chronicle the glories of the Gihon Hunt — or their shames? Who remembers the kill in the market-place, when the Governor bade the assembled sheikhs and warriors observe how the hounds would instantly devour the body of Abu Hussein; but how, when he had scientifically broken it up, the weary pack turned from it in loathing, and Farag wept because he said the world’s face had been blackened? What men who have not yet ridden beyond the sound of any horn recall the midnight run which ended — Beagleboy leading — among tombs; the hasty whip-off, and the oath, taken Abo e bones, to forget the worry? The desert run, when Abu Hussein forsook the cultivation, and made a six-mile point to earth in a desolate khor — when strange armed riders on camels swooped out of a ravine, and instead of giving battle, offered to take the tired hounds home on their beasts. Which they did, and vanished.
Above all, who remembers the death of Royal, when a certain Sheikh wept above the body of the stainless hound as it might have been his son’s — and that day the Hunt rode no more? The badly-kept log-book says little of this, but at the end of their second season (forty-nine brace) appears the dark entry: “New blood badly wanted. They are beginning to listen to beagle-boy.”
The Inspector attended to the matter when his leave fell due.
“Remember,” said the Governor, “you must get us the best blood in England — real, dainty hounds — expense no object, but don’t trust your own judgment. Present my letters of introduction, and take what they give you.”
The Inspector presented his letters in a society where they make much of horses, more of hounds, and are tolerably civil to men who can ride. They passed him from house to house, mounted him according to his merits, and fed him, after five years of goat chop and Worcester sauce, perhaps a thought too richly.
The seat or castle where he made his great coup does not much matter. Four Masters of Foxhounds were at table, and in a mellow hour the Inspector told them stories of the Gihon Hunt. He ended: “Ben said I wasn’t to trust my own judgment about hounds, but I think there ought to be a special tariff for Empire-makers.”
As soon as his hosts could speak, they reassured him on this point.
“And now tell us about your first puppy-show all over again,” said one.
“And about the earth-stoppin’. Was that all Ben’s own invention?” said another.
“Wait a moment,” said a large, clean-shaven man — not an M.F.H. — at the end of the table. “Are your villagers habitually beaten by your Governor when they fail to stop foxes’ holes?”
The tone and the phrase were enough even if, as the Inspector confessed afterwards, the big, blue double-chinned man had not looked so like Beagle-boy. He took him on for the honour of Ethiopia.
“We only hunt twice a week — sometimes three times. I’ve never known a man chastised more than four times a week unless there’s a bye.”
The large loose-lipped man flung his napkin down, came round the table, cast himself into the chair next the Inspector, and leaned forward earnestly, so that he breathed in the Inspector’s face.
“Chastised with what?” he said.
“With the kourbash — on the feet. A kourbash is a strip of old hippo-hide with a sort of keel on it, like the cutting edge of a boar’s tusk. But we use the rounded side for a first offender.”
“And do any consequences follow this sort of thing? For the victim, I mean — not for you?”
“Ve-ry rarely. Let me be fair. I’ve never seen a man die under the lash, but gangrene may set up if the kourbash has been pickled.”
“Pickled in what?” All the table was still and interested.
“In copperas, of course. Didn’t you know that” said the Inspector.
“Thank God I didn’t.” The large man sputtered visibly.
The Inspector wiped his face and grew bolder.
“You mustn’t think we’re careless about our earthstoppers. We’ve a Hunt fund for hot tar. Tar’s a splendid dressing if the toe-nails aren’t beaten off. But huntin’ as large a country as we do, we mayn’t be back at that village for a month, and if the dressings ain’t renewed, and gangrene sets in, often as not you find your man pegging about on his stumps. We’ve a well-known local name for ’em down the river. We call ’em the Mudir’s Cranes. You see, I persuaded the Governor only to bastinado on one foot.”
“On one foot? The Mudir’s Cranes!” The large man turned purple to the top of his bald head. “Would you mind giving me the local word for Mudir’s Cranes?”
From a too well-stocked memory the Inspector drew one short adhesive word which surprises by itself even unblushing Ethiopia. He spelt it out, saw the large man write it down on his cuff and withdraw. Then the Inspector translated a few of its significations and implications to the four Masters of Foxhounds. He left three days later with eight couple of the best hounds in England — a free and a friendly and an ample gift from four packs to the Gihon Hunt. He had honestly meant to undeceive the large blue mottled man, but somehow forgot about it.
The new draft marks a new chapter in the Hunt’s history. From an isolated phenomenon in a barge it became a permanent institution with brick-built kennels ashore, and an influence social, political, and administrative, co-terminous with the boundaries of the province. Ben, the Governor, departed to England, where he kept a pack of real dainty hounds, but never ceased to long for the old lawless lot. His successors were ex-officio Masters of the Gihon Hunt, as all Inspectors were Whips. For one reason; Farag, the kennel huntsman, in khaki and puttees, would obey nothing under the rank of an Excellency, and the hounds would obey no one but Farag; for another, the best way of estimating crop returns and revenue was by riding straight to hounds; for a third, though Judges down the river issued signed and sealed land-titles to all lawful owners, yet public opinion along the river never held any such title valid till it had been confirmed, according to precedent, by the Governor’s hunting crop in the hunting field, above the wilfully neglected earth. True, the ceremony had been cut down to three mere taps on the shoulder, but Governors who tried to evade that much found themselves and their office compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses who took up their time with lawsuits and, worse still, neglected the puppies. The older sheikhs, indeed, stood out for the unmeasurable beatings of the old days — the sharper the punishment, they argued, the surer the title; but here the hand of modern progress was against them, and they contented themselves with telling tales of Ben the first Governor, whom they called the Father of Waterwheels, and of that heroic age when men, horses, and hounds were worth following.
This same Modern Progress which brought dog biscuit and brass water-taps to the kennels was at work all over the world. Forces, Activities, and Movements sprang into being, agitated themselves, coalesced, and, in one political avalanche, overwhelmed a bewildered, and not in the least intending it, England. The echoes of the New Era were borne into the Province on the wings of inexplicable cables. The Gihon Hunt read speeches and sentiments, and policies which amazed them, and they thanked God, prematurely, that their Province was too far off, too hot, and too hard worked to be reached by those speakers or their policies. But they, with others, under-estimated the scope and purpose of the New Era.
One by one, the Provinces of the Empire were hauled up and baited, hit and held, lashed under the belly, and forced back on their haunches for the amusement of their new masters in the parish of Westminster. One by one they fell away, sore and angry, to compare stripes with each other at the ends of the uneasy earth. Even so the Gihon Hunt, like Abu Hussein in the old days, did not understand. Then it reached them through the Press that they habitually flogged to death good revenue-paying cultivators who neglected to stop earths; but that the few, the very few who did not die under hippohide whips soaked in copperas, walked about on their gangrenous ankle-bones, and were known in derision as the Mudir’s Cranes. The charges were vouched for in the House of Commons by a Mr. Lethabie Groombride, who had formed a Committee, and was disseminating literature: The Province groaned; the Inspector — now an Inspector of Inspectors — whistled. He had forgotten the gentleman who sputtered in people’s faces.
“He shouldn’t have looked so like Beagle-boy!” was his sole defence when he met the Governor at breakfast on the steamer after a meet.
“You shouldn’t have joked with an animal of that class,” said Peter the Governor. “Look what Farag has brought me!”
It was a pamphlet, signed on behalf of a Committee by a lady secretary, but composed by some person who thoroughly understood the language of the Province. After telling the tale of the beatings, it recommended all the beaten to institute criminal proceedings against their Governor, and, as soon as might be, to rise against English oppression and tyranny. Such documents were new in Ethiopia in those days.
The Inspector read the last half page. “But — but,” he stammered, “this is impossible. White men don’t write this sort of stuff.”
“Don’t they, just?” said the Governor. “They get made Cabinet Ministers for doing it too. I went home last year. I know.”
“It’ll blow over,” said the Inspector weakly.
“Not it. Groombride is coming down here to investigate the matter in a few days.”
“The Imperial Government’s behind him. Perhaps you’d like to look t my orders.” The Governor laid down an uncoded cable. The whiplash to it ran: “You will afford Mr. Groombride every facility for his inquiry, and will be held responsible that no obstacles are put in his way to the fullest possible examination of any witnesses which he may consider necessary. He will be accompanied by his own interpreter, who must not be tampered with.”
“That’s to me — Governor of the Province!” said Peter the Governor.
“It seems about enough,” the Inspector answered.
Farag, kennel-huntsman, entered the saloon, as was his privilege.
“My uncle, who was beaten by the Father of Waterwheels, would approach, O Excellency,” he said, “and there are others on the bank.”
“Admit,” said the Governor.
There tramped aboard sheikhs and villagers to the number of seventeen. In each man’s hand was a copy of the pamphlet; in each man’s eye terror and uneasiness of the sort that Governors spend and are spent to clear away. Farag’s uncle, now Sheikh of the village, spoke: “It is written in this book, Excellency, that the beatings whereby we hold our lands are all valueless. It is written that every man who received such a beating from the Father of Waterwheels who slow the Emirs, should instantly begin a lawsuit, because the title to his land is not valid.”
“It is so written. We do not wish lawsuits. We wish to hold the land as it was given to us after the days of the Oppression,” they cried.
The Governor glanced at the Inspector. This was serious. To cast doubt on the ownership of land means, in Ethiopia, the letting in of waters, and the getting out of troops.
“Your titles are good,” said the Governor. The Inspector confirmed with a nod.
“Then what is the meaning of these writings which came from down the river where the Judges are?” Farag’s uncle waved his copy. “By whose order are we ordered to slay you, O Excellency Our Governor?”
“It is not written that you are to slay me.”
“Not in those very words, but if we leave an earth unstopped, it is the same as though we wished to save Abu Hussein from the hounds. These writings say: ‘Abolish your rulers.’ How can we abolish except we kill? We hear rumours of one who comes from down the river soon to lead us to kill.”
“Fools!” said the Governor. “Your titles are good. This is madness!”
“It is so written,” they answered like a pack.
“Listen,” said the Inspector smoothly. “I know who caused the writings to be written and sent. He is a man of a blue-mottled jowl, in aspect like Bigglebai who ate unclean matters. He will come up the river and will give tongue about the beatings.”
“Will he impeach our land-titles? An evil day for him!”
“Go slow, Baker,” the Governor whispered. “They’ll kill him if they get scared about their land.”
“I tell a parable.” The Inspector lit a cigarette. “Declare which of you took to walk the children of Milkmaid?”
“Melik-meid First or Second?” said Farag quickly.
“The second — the one which was lamed by the thorn.”
“No — no. Melik-meid the Second strained her shoulder leaping my water-channel,” a sheikh cried. “Melik-meid the First was lamed by the thorns on the day when Our Excellency fell thrice.”
“True — true. The second Melik-meid’s mate was Malvolio, the pied hound,” said the Inspector.
“I had two of the second Melik-meid’s pups,” said Farag’s uncle. “They died of the madness in their ninth month.”
“And how did they do before they died?” said the Inspector.
“They ran about in the sun, and slavered at the mouth till they died.”
“God knows. He sent the madness. It was no fault of mine.”
“Thy own mouth hath answered thee.” The Inspector laughed. “It is with men as it is with dogs. God afflicts some with a madness. It is no fault of ours if such men run about in the sun and froth at the mouth. The man who is coming will emit spray from his mouth in speaking, and will always edge and push in towards his hearers. When ye see and hear him ye will understand that he is afflicted of God: being mad. He is in God’s hands.”
“But our titles — are our titles to our lands good?” the crowd repeated.
“Your titles are in my hands — they are good,” said the Governor.
“And he who wrote the writings is an afflicted of God?” said Farag’s uncle.
“The Inspector hath said it,” cried the Governor. “Ye will see when the man comes. O sheikhs and men, have we ridden together and walked puppies together, and bought and sold barley for the horses that after these years we should run riot on the scent of a madman — an afflicted of God?”
“But the Hunt pays us to kill mad jackals,” said Farag’s uncle. “And he who questions my titles to my land —”
“Aahh! ‘Ware riot!” The Governor’s hunting-crop cracked like a three-pounder. “By Allah,” he thundered, “if the afflicted of God come to any harm at your hands, I myself will shoot every hound and every puppy, and the Hunt shall ride no more. On your heads be it. Go in peace, and tell the others.”
“The Hunt shall ride no more,” said Farag’s uncle. “Then how can the land be governed? No — no, O Excellency Our Governor, we will not harm a hair on the head of the afflicted of God. He shall be to us as is Abu Hussein’s wife in the breeding season.”
When they were gone the Governor mopped his forehead.
“We must put a few soldiers in every village this Groombride visits, Baker. Tell ’em to keep out of sight, and have an eye on the villagers. He’s trying ’em rather high.”
“O Excellency,” said the smooth voice of Farag, laying the Field and Country Life square on the table, “is the afflicted of God who resembles Bigglebai one with the man whom the Inspector met in the great house in England, and to whom he told the tale of the Mudir’s Cranes?”
“The same man, Farag,” said the Inspector.
“I have often heard the Inspector tell the tale to Our Excellency at feeding-time in the kennels; but since I am in the Government service I have never told it to my people. May I loose that tale among the villages?”
The Governor nodded. “No harm,” said he.
The details of Mr. Groombride’s arrival, with his interpreter, whom he proposed should eat with him at the Governor’s table, his allocution to the Governor on the New Movement, and the sins of Imperialism, I purposely omit. At three in the afternoon Mr. Groombride said: “I will go out now and address your victims in this village.”
“Won’t you find it rather hot?” said the Governor. “They generally take ‘a nap till sunset at this time of year.”
Mr. Groombride’s large, loose lips set. “That,” he replied pointedly, “would be enough to decide me. I fear you have not quite mastered your instructions. May I ask you to send for my interpreter? I hope he has not been tampered with by your subordinates.”
He was a yellowish boy called Abdul, who had well eaten and drunk with Farag. The Inspector, by the way, was not present at the meal.
“At whatever risk, I shall go unattended,” said Mr. Groombride. “Your presence would cow them — from giving evidence. Abdul, my good friend, would you very kindly open the umbrella?”
He passed up the gang-plank to the village, and with no more prelude than a Salvation Army picket in a Portsmouth slum, cried: “Oh, my brothers!”
He did not guess how his path had been prepared. The village was widely awake. Farag, in loose, flowing garments, quite unlike a kennel huntsman’s khaki and puttees, leaned against the wall of his uncle’s house. “Come and see the afflicted of God,” he cried musically, “whose face, indeed, resembles that of Bigglebai.”
The village came, and decided that on the whole Farag was right.
“I can’t quite catch what they are saying,” said Mr. Groombride.
“They saying they very much pleased to see you, Sar,” Adbul interpreted.
“Then I do think they might have sent a deputation to the steamer; but I suppose they were frightened of the officials. Tell them not to be frightened, Abdul.”
“He says you are not to be frightened,” Abdul explained. A child here sputtered with laughter. “Refrain from mirth,” Farag cried. “The afflicted of God is the guest of The Excellency Our Governor. We are responsible for every hair of his head.”
“He has none,” a voice spoke. “He has the white and the shining mange.”
“Now tell them what I have come for, Abdul, and please keep the umbrella well up. I think I shall reserve myself for my little vernacular speech at the end.”
“Approach! Look! Listen!” Abdul chanted. “The afflicted of God will now make sport. Presently he will speak in your tongue, and will consume you with mirth. I have been his servant for three weeks. I will tell you about his undergarments and his perfumes for his head.”
He told them at length.
“And didst thou take any of his perfume bottles?” said Farag at the end.
“I am his servant. I took two,” Abdul replied.
“Ask him,” said Farag’s uncle, “what he knows about our land-titles. Ye young men are all alike.” He waved a pamphlet. Mr. Groombride smiled to see how the seed sown in London had borne fruit by Gihon. Lo! All the seniors held copies of the pamphlet.
“He knows less than a buffalo. He told me on the steamer that he was driven out of his own land by Demah–Kerazi which is a devil inhabiting crowds and assemblies,” said Abdul.
“Allah between us and evil!” a woman cackled from the darkness of a hut. “Come in, children, he may have the Evil Eye.”
“No, my aunt,” said Farag. “No afflicted of God has an evil eye. Wait till ye hear his mirth-provoking speech which he will deliver. I have heard it twice from Abdul.”
“They seem very quick to grasp the point. How far have you got, Abdul?”
“All about the beatings, sar. They are highly interested.”
“Don’t forget about the local self-government, and please hold the umbrella over me. It is hopeless to destroy unless one first builds up.”
“He may not have the Evil Eye,” Farag’s uncle grunted, “but his devil led him too certainly to question my land-title. Ask him whether he still doubts my land-title?”
“Or mine, or mine?” cried the elders.
“What odds? He is an afflicted of God,” Farag called. “Remember the tale I told you.”
“Yes, but he is an Englishman, and doubtless of influence, or Our Excellency would not entertain him. Bid the down-country jackass ask him.”
“Sar,” said Abdul, “these people, much fearing they may be turned out of their land in consequence of your remarks. Therefore they ask you to make promise no bad consequences following your visit.”
Mr. Groombride held his breath and turned purple. Then he stamped his foot.
“Tell them,” he cried, “that if a hair of any one of their heads is touched by any official on any account whatever, all England shall ring with it. Good God! What callous oppression! The dark places of the earth are full of cruelty.” He wiped his face, and throwing out his arms cried: “Tell them, oh! tell the poor, serfs not to be afraid of me. Tell them I come to redress their wrongs — not, heaven knows, to add to their burden.”
The long-drawn gurgle of the practised public speaker pleased them much.
“That is how the new water-tap runs out in the kennel,” said Farag. “The Excellency Our Governor entertains him that he may make sport. Make him say the mirth-moving speech.”
“What did he say about my land-titles?” Farag’s uncle was not to be turned.
“He says,” Farag interpreted, “that he desires, nothing better than that you should live on your lands in peace. He talks as though he believed himself to be Governor.”
“Well. We here are all witnesses to what he has said. Now go forward with the sport.” Farag’s uncle smoothed his garments. “How diversely hath Allah made His creatures! On one He bestows strength to slay Emirs; another He causes to go mad and wander in the sun, like the afflicted sons of Melik-meid.”
“Yes, and to emit spray from the mouth, as the Inspector told us. All will happen as the Inspector foretold,” said Farag. “I have never yet seen the Inspector thrown out during any run.”
“I think,” Abdul plucked at Mr. Groombride’s sleeves, “I think perhaps it is better now, Sar, if you give your fine little native speech. They not understanding English, but much pleased at your condescensions.”
“Condescensions?” Mr. Groombride spun round. “If they only knew how I felt towards them in my heart! If I could express a tithe of my feelings! I must stay here and learn the language. Hold up the umbrella, Abdull I think my little speech will show them I know something of their vie intime.”
It was a short, simple; carefully learned address, and the accent, supervised by Abdul on the steamer, allowed the hearers to guess its meaning, which was a request to see one of the Mudir’s Cranes; since the desire of the speaker’s life, the object to which he would consecrate his days, was to improve the condition of the Mudir’s Cranes. But first he must behold them with his own eyes. Would, then, his brethren, whom he loved, show him a Mudir’s Crane whom he desired to love?
Once, twice, and again in his peroration he repeated his demand, using always — that they might see he was acquainted with their local argot — using always, I say, the word which the Inspector had given him in England long ago — the short, adhesive word which, by itself, surprises even unblushing Ethiopia.
There are limits to the sublime politeness of an ancient people. A bulky, blue-chinned man in white clothes, his name red-lettered across his lower shirtfront, spluttering from under a green-lined umbrella almost tearful appeals to be introduced to the Unintroducible; naming loudly the Unnameable; dancing, as it seemed, in perverse joy at mere mention of the Unmentionable — found those limits. There was a moment’s hush, and then such mirth as Gihon through his centuries had never heard — a roar like to the roar of his own cataracts in flood. Children cast themselves on the ground, and rolled back and forth cheering and whooping; strong men, their faces hidden in their clothes, swayed in silence, till the agony became insupportable, and they threw up their heads and bayed at the sun; women, mothers and virgins, shrilled shriek upon mounting shriek, and slapped their thighs as it might have been the roll of musketry. When they tried to draw breath, some half-strangled voice would quack out the word, and the riot began afresh. Last to fall was the city-trained Abdul. He held on to the edge of apoplexy, then collapsed, throwing the umbrella from him.
Mr. Groombride should not be judged too harshly. Exercise and strong emotion under a hot sun, the shock of public ingratitude, for the moment rued his spirit. He furled the umbrella, and with t beat the prostrate Abdul, crying that he had been betrayed. In which posture the Inspector, on horseback, followed by the Governor, suddenly found him.
“That’s all very well,” said the Inspector, when he had taken Abdul’s dramatically dying depositions on the steamer, “but you can’t hammer a native merely because he laughs at you. I see nothing for it but the law to take its course.”
“You might reduce the charge to — er — tampering with an interpreter,” said the Governor. Mr. Groombride was too far gone to be comforted.
“It’s the publicity that I fear,” he wailed. “Is there no possible means of hushing up the affair? You don’t know what a question — a single question in the House means to a man of my position — the ruin of my political career, I assure you.”
“I shouldn’t have imagined it,” said the Governor thoughtfully.
“And, though perhaps I ought not to say it, I am not without honour in my own country — or influence. A word in season, as you know, Your Excellency. It might carry an official far.”
The Governor shuddered.
“Yes, that had to come too,” he said to himself. “Well, look here. If I tell this man of yours to withdraw the charge against you, you can go to Gehenna for aught I care. The only condition I make is that if you write — I suppose that’s part of your business about your travels, you don’t praise me!”
So far Mr. Groombride has loyally adhered to this understanding.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:56