The Man Who Would Be King: 9th 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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“I can’t tell all we did for the next six months because Dravot did a lot I couldn’t see the hang of, and he learned their lingo in a way I never could.
My work was to help the people plough, and now and again to go out with some of the Army and see what the other villages were doing, and make ’em throw rope-bridges across the ravines which cut up the country horrid.
Dravot was very kind to me, but when he walked up and down in the pine wood pulling that bloody red beard of his with both fists I knew he was thinking plans I could not advise him about, and I just waited for orders.
Srimad Guru Adi Shankaracharya, മലയാളം: ശ്രീമദ്ഗുരു ആദി ശങ്കരാചാര്യ
“But Dravot never showed me disrespect before the people. They were afraid of me and the Army, but they loved Dan. He was the best of friends with the priests and the Chiefs; but any one could come across the hills with a complaint and Dravot would hear him out fair, and call four priests together and say what was to be done.
He used to call in Billy Fish from Bashkai, and Pikky Kergan from Shu, and an old Chief we called Kafuzelum — it was like enough to his real name — and hold councils with ’em when there was any fighting to be done in small villages.
That was his Council of War, and the four priests of Bashkai, Shu, Khawak, and Madora was his Privy Council.
Between the lot of ’em they sent me, with forty men and twenty rifles, and sixty men carrying turquoises, into the Ghorband country to buy those hand-made Martini rifles, that come out of the Amir’s workshops at Kabul, from one of the Amir’s Herati regiments that would have sold the very teeth out of their mouths for turquoises.
“I stayed in Ghorband a month, and gave the Governor the pick of my baskets for hush-money, and bribed the colonel of the regiment some more, and, between the two and the tribes-people, we got more than a hundred hand-made Martinis, a hundred good Kohat Jezails that’ll throw to six hundred yards, and forty manloads of very bad ammunition for the rifles.
I came back with what I had, and distributed ’em among the men that the Chiefs sent in to me to drill. Dravot was too busy to attend to those things, but the old Army that we first made helped me, and we turned out five hundred men that could drill, and two hundred that knew how to hold arms pretty straight.
Even those cork-screwed, hand-made guns was a miracle to them. Dravot talked big about powder-shops and factories, walking up and down in the pine wood when the winter was coming on.
“‘I won’t make a Nation,’ says he. ‘I’ll make an Empire! These men aren’t niggers; they’re English! Look at their eyes — look at their mouths. Look at the way they stand up. They sit on chairs in their own houses. They’re the Lost Tribes, or something like it, and they’ve grown to be English.
I’ll take a census in the spring if the priests don’t get frightened. There must be a fair two million of ’em in these hills. The villages are full o’ little children.
The East Indian Railway Rifle Volunteers at their camp of exercise, 1870
Two million people — two hundred and fifty thousand fighting men — and all English! They only want the rifles and a little drilling. Two hundred and fifty thousand men, ready to cut in on Russia’s right flank when she tries for India!
Peachey, man,’ he says, chewing his beard in great hunks, ‘we shall be Emperors — Emperors of the Earth! Rajah Brooke will be a suckling to us.
I’ll treat with the Viceroy on equal terms. I’ll ask him to send me twelve picked English — twelve that I know of — to help us govern a bit. There’s Mackray, Sergeant-pensioner at Segowli — many’s the good dinner he’s given me, and his wife a pair of trousers.
There’s Donkin, the Warder of Tounghoo Jail; there’s hundreds that I could lay my hand on if I was in India.
The Viceroy shall do it for me. I’ll send a man through in the spring for those men, and I’ll write for a dispensation from the Grand Lodge for what I’ve done as Grand-Master. That — and all the Sniders that’ll be thrown out when the native troops in India take up the Martini.
They’ll be worn smooth, but they’ll do for fighting in these hills. Twelve English, a hundred thousand Sniders run through the Amir’s country in driblets — I’d be content with twenty thousand in one year — and we’d be an Empire.
When everything was ship-shape, I’d hand over the crown — this crown I’m wearing now — to Queen Victoria on my knees, and she’d say:— “Rise up, Sir Daniel Dravot.” Oh, its big! It’s big, I tell you! But there’s so much to be done in every place — Bashkai, Khawak, Shu, and everywhere else.’
“‘What is it?’ I says. ‘There are no more men coming in to be drilled this autumn. Look at those fat, black clouds. They’re bringing the snow.’
“‘It isn’t that,’ says Daniel, putting his hand very hard on my shoulder; ‘and I don’t wish to say anything that’s against you, for no other living man would have followed me and made me what I am as you have done.
C 1904, author unknown
You’re a first-class Commander-in-Chief, and the people know you; but — it’s a big country, and somehow you can’t help me, Peachey, in the way I want to be helped.’
“‘Go to your blasted priests, then!’ I said, and I was sorry when I made that remark, but it did hurt me sore to find Daniel talking so superior when I’d drilled all the men, and done all he told me.
“‘Don’t let’s quarrel, Peachey,’ says Daniel without cursing. ‘You’re a King too, and the half of this Kingdom is yours; but can’t you see, Peachey, we want cleverer men than us now — three or four of ’em that we can scatter about for our Deputies?
It’s a hugeous great State, and I can’t always tell the right thing to do, and I haven’t time for all I want to do, and here’s the winter coming on and all.’ He put half his beard into his mouth, and it was as red as the gold of his crown.
“‘I’m sorry, Daniel,’ says I. ‘I’ve done all I could. I’ve drilled the men and shown the people how to stack their oats better, and I’ve brought in those tinware rifles from Ghorband — but I know what you’re driving at. I take it Kings always feel oppressed that way.’
“‘There’s another thing too,’ says Dravot, walking up and down. ‘The winter’s coming and these people won’t be giving much trouble, and if they do we can’t move about. I want a wife.’
“‘For Gord’s sake leave the women alone!’ I says. ‘We’ve both got all the work we can, though I am a fool. Remember the Contrack, and keep clear o’ women.’