The Man Who Would Be King: 6th Installment
This is a serialized presentation of The Man Who Would Be King, with period images, released in daily installments.
Find the first installment here.
Rudyard Kipling’s story of two chancers who targeted long ago Kafiristan in the mountains of Afghanistan to make themselves kings was seen as a morality tale to illustrate the perils of the British Raj.
Daniel Dravot and Peachey Carnehan didn’t concern themselves with their mission much beyond taking power; as it turns out, the twenty Martini-Henry rifles (then the best firepower in the world) proved ample to show they meant business.
Whatever came next would take care of itself, or so they thought.
But in life, as in politics, timing is everything. The ruffians talk their way to the top, persuading the locals that they are not mere kings, but gods, as well. They build an army and dream of nation building.
All seems to be going so well.
But this is a morality take, after all, and Kipling has a point to prove.
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“What did you and Daniel Dravot do when the camels could go no further because of the rough roads that led into Kafiristan?”
“What did which do? There was a party called Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan that was with Dravot. Shall I tell you about him? He died out there in the cold.
Slap from the bridge fell old Peachey, turning and twisting in the air like a penny whirligig that you can sell to the Amir — No; they was two for three ha’pence, those whirligigs, or I am much mistaken and woful sore.
Image by Elegua / Shutterstock
And then these camels were no use, and Peachey said to Dravot — ‘For the Lord’s sake, let’s get out of this before our heads are chopped off,’ and with that they killed the camels all among the mountains, not having anything in particular to eat, but first they took off the boxes with the guns and the ammunition, till two men came along driving four mules.
Dravot up and dances in front of them, singing, — ‘Sell me four mules.’ Says the first man, — ‘If you are rich enough to buy, you are rich enough to rob;’ but before ever he could put his hand to his knife, Dravot breaks his neck over his knee, and the other party runs away.
So Carnehan loaded the mules with the rifles that was taken off the camels, and together we starts forward into those bitter cold mountainous parts, and never a road broader than the back of your hand.”
He paused for a moment, while I asked him if he could remember the nature of the country through which he had journeyed.
“I am telling you as straight as I can, but my head isn’t as good as it might be. They drove nails through it to make me hear better how Dravot died.
The country was mountainous and the mules were most contrary, and the inhabitants was dispersed and solitary. They went up and up, and down and down, and that other party Carnehan, was imploring of Dravot not to sing and whistle so loud, for fear of bringing down the tremenjus avalanches.
But Dravot says that if a King couldn’t sing it wasn’t worth being King, and whacked the mules over the rump, and never took no heed for ten cold days.
We came to a big level valley all among the mountains, and the mules were near dead, so we killed them, not having anything in special for them or us to eat.
We sat upon the boxes, and played odd and even with the cartridges that was jolted out.
“Then ten men with bows and arrows ran down that valley, chasing twenty men with bows and arrows, and the row was tremenjus. They was fair men — fairer than you or me — with yellow hair and remarkable well built.
Army life in the "90s, P. Warner
Says Dravot, unpacking the guns — ‘This is the beginning of the business. We’ll fight for the ten men,’ and with that he fires two rifles at the twenty men and drops one of them at two hundred yards from the rock where we was sitting.
The other men began to run, but Carnehan and Dravot sits on the boxes picking them off at all ranges, up and down the valley. Then we goes up to the ten men that had run across the snow too, and they fires a footy little arrow at us.
Dravot he shoots above their heads and they all falls down flat. Then he walks over them and kicks them, and then he lifts them up and shakes hands all around to make them friendly like.
He calls them and gives them the boxes to carry, and waves his hand for all the world as though he was King already. They takes the boxes and him across the valley and up the hill into a pine wood on the top, where there was half a dozen big stone idols.
Dravot he goes to the biggest — a fellow they call Imbra — and lays a rifle and a cartridge at his feet, rubbing his nose respectful with his own nose, patting him on the head, and saluting in front of it.
He turns round to the men and nods his head, and says, — ‘That’s all right. I’m in the know too, and these old jim-jams are my friends.’
Then he opens his mouth and points down it, and when the first man brings him food, he says — ‘No;’ and when the second man brings him food, he says — ‘No;’ but when one of the old priests and the boss of the village brings him food, he says — ‘Yes;’ very haughty, and eats it slow.
That was how we came to our first village, without any trouble, just as though we had tumbled from the skies. But we tumbled from one of those damned rope-bridges, you see, and you couldn’t expect a man to laugh much after that.”
“Take some more whiskey and go on,” I said. “That was the first village you came into. How did you get to be King?”
“I wasn’t King,” said Carnehan. “Dravot he was the King, and a handsome man he looked with the gold crown on his head and all.
Him and the other party stayed in that village, and every morning Dravot sat by the side of old Imbra, and the people came and worshipped. That was Dravot’s order.
Then a lot of men came into the valley, and Carnehan and Dravot picks them off with the rifles before they knew where they was, and runs down into the valley and up again the other side, and finds another village, same as the first one, and the people all falls down flat on their faces, and Dravot says, — ‘Now what is the trouble between you two villages?’ and the people points to a woman, as fair as you or me, that was carried off, and Dravot takes her back to the first village and counts up the dead — eight there was.
For each dead man Dravot pours a little milk on the ground and waves his arms like a whirligig and, ‘That’s all right,’ says he.
Then he and Carnehan takes the big boss of each village by the arm and walks them down into the valley, and shows them how to scratch a line with a spear right down the valley, and gives each a sod of turf from both sides o’ the line.
Then all the people comes down and shouts like the devil and all, and Dravot says, — ‘Go and dig the land, and be fruitful and multiply,’ which they did, though they didn’t understand.
Then we asks the names of things in their lingo — bread and water and fire and idols and such, and Dravot leads the priest of each village up to the idol, and says he must sit there and judge the people, and if anything goes wrong he is to be shot.