The Man Who Would Be King: 8th 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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Hammered gold it was — five pound weight, like a hoop of a barrel.
“‘Peachey,’ says Dravot, ‘we don’t want to fight no more. The Craft’s the trick so help me!’ and he brings forward that same Chief that I left at Bashkai — Billy Fish we called him afterwards, because he was so like Billy Fish that drove the big tank-engine at Mach on the Bolan in the old days.
‘Shake hands with him,’ says Dravot, and I shook hands and nearly dropped, for Billy Fish gave me the Grip. I said nothing, but tried him with the Fellow Craft Grip. He answers, all right, and I tried the Master’s Grip, but that was a slip.
‘A Fellow Craft he is!’ I says to Dan. ‘Does he know the word?’ ‘He does,’ says Dan, ‘and all the priests know. It’s a miracle! The Chiefs and the priest can work a Fellow Craft Lodge in a way that’s very like ours, and they’ve cut the marks on the rocks, but they don’t know the Third Degree, and they’ve come to find out.
It’s Gord’s Truth. I’ve known these long years that the Afghans knew up to the Fellow Craft Degree, but this is a miracle. A god and a Grand-Master of the Craft am I, and a Lodge in the Third Degree I will open, and we’ll raise the head priests and the Chiefs of the villages.’
“‘It’s against all the law,’ I says, ‘holding a Lodge without warrant from any one; and we never held office in any Lodge.’
“‘It’s a master-stroke of policy,’ says Dravot. ‘It means running the country as easy as a four-wheeled bogy on a down grade. We can’t stop to inquire now, or they’ll turn against us.
I’ve forty Chiefs at my heel, and passed and raised according to their merit they shall be. Billet these men on the villages and see that we run up a Lodge of some kind.
The temple of Imbra will do for the Lodge-room. The women must make aprons as you show them. I’ll hold a levee of Chiefs tonight and Lodge to-morrow.’
“I was fair rim off my legs, but I wasn’t such a fool as not to see what a pull this Craft business gave us. I showed the priests’ families how to make aprons of the degrees, but for Dravot’s apron the blue border and marks was made of turquoise lumps on white hide, not cloth.
We took a great square stone in the temple for the Master’s chair, and little stones for the officers’ chairs, and painted the black pavement with white squares, and did what we could to make things regular.
“At the levee which was held that night on the hillside with big bonfires, Dravot gives out that him and me were gods and sons of Alexander, and Past Grand-Masters in the Craft, and was come to make Kafiristan a country where every man should eat in peace and drink in quiet, and specially obey us.
Then the Chiefs come round to shake hands, and they was so hairy and white and fair it was just shaking hands with old friends. We gave them names according as they was like men we had known in India — Billy Fish, Holly Dilworth, Pikky Kergan that was Bazar-master when I was at Mhow, and so on, and so on.
“The most amazing miracle was at Lodge next night. One of the old priests was watching us continuous, and I felt uneasy, for I knew we’d have to fudge the Ritual, and I didn’t know what the men knew.
The old priest was a stranger come in from beyond the village of Bashkai. The minute Dravot puts on the Master’s apron that the girls had made for him, the priest fetches a whoop and a howl, and tries to overturn the stone that Dravot was sitting on.
‘It’s all up now,’ I says. ‘That comes of meddling with the Craft without warrant!’ Dravot never winked an eye, not when ten priests took and tilted over the Grand-Master’s chair — which was to say the stone of Imbra.
The priest begins rubbing the bottom end of it to clear away the black dirt, and presently he shows all the other priests the Master’s Mark, same as was on Dravot’s apron, cut into the stone. Not even the priests of the temple of Imbra knew it was there.
The old chap falls flat on his face at Dravot’s feet and kisses ’em. ‘Luck again,’ says Dravot, across the Lodge to me, ‘they say it’s the missing Mark that no one could understand the why of. We’re more than safe now.’
Then he bangs the butt of his gun for a gavel and says:— ‘By virtue of the authority vested in me by my own right hand and the help of Peachey, I declare myself Grand-Master of all Freemasonry in Kafiristan in this the Mother Lodge o’ the country, and King of Kafiristan equally with Peachey!’
At that he puts on his crown and I puts on mine — I was doing Senior Warden — and we opens the Lodge in most ample form. It was a amazing miracle!
The priests moved in Lodge through the first two degrees almost without telling, as if the memory was coming back to them. After that, Peachey and Dravot raised such as was worthy — high priests and Chiefs of far-off villages.
Billy Fish was the first, and I can tell you we scared the soul out of him. It was not in any way according to Ritual, but it served our turn. We didn’t raise more than ten of the biggest men because we didn’t want to make the Degree common. And they was clamoring to be raised.
“‘In another six months,’ says Dravot, ‘we’ll hold another Communication and see how you are working.’ Then he asks them about their villages, and learns that they was fighting one against the other and were fair sick and tired of it.
And when they wasn’t doing that they was fighting with the Mohammedans. ‘You can fight those when they come into our country,’ says Dravot.
‘Tell off every tenth man of your tribes for a Frontier guard, and send two hundred at a time to this valley to be drilled. Nobody is going to be shot or speared any more so long as he does well, and I know that you won’t cheat me because you’re white people — sons of Alexander — and not like common, black Mohammedans.
You are my people and by God,’ says he, running off into English at the end — ‘I’ll make a damned fine Nation of you, or I’ll die in the making!’