The Man Who Would Be King: 10th 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.
NoteStreams are readable online but they’re even better in the free App!
The NoteStream™ app is for learning about things that interest you: from music to history, to classic literature or cocktails. NoteStreams are truly easy to read on your smartphone—so you can learn more about the world around you and start a fresh conversation.
For a list of all authors on NoteStream, click here.
Read the NoteStream below, or download the app and read it on the go!
“‘The Contrack only lasted till such time as we was Kings; and Kings we have been these months past,’ says Dravot, weighing his crown in his hand. ‘
You go get a wife too, Peachey — a nice, strappin’, plump girl that’ll keep you warm in the winter. They’re prettier than English girls, and we can take the pick of ’em. Boil ’em once or twice in hot water, and they’ll come as fair as chicken and ham.’
“‘Don’t tempt me!’ I says. ‘I will not have any dealings with a woman not till we are a dam’ side more settled than we are now.
I’ve been doing the work o’ two men, and you’ve been doing the work o’ three. Let’s lie off a bit, and see if we can get some better tobacco from Afghan country and run in some good liquor; but no women.’
“‘Who’s talking o’ women?’ says Dravot. ‘I said wife — a Queen to breed a King’s son for the King. A Queen out of the strongest tribe, that’ll make them your blood-brothers, and that’ll lie by your side and tell you all the people thinks about you and their own affairs. That’s what I want.’
“‘Do you remember that Bengali woman I kept at Mogul Serai when I was plate-layer?’ says I. ‘A fat lot o’ good she was to me. She taught me the lingo and one or two other things; but what happened?
She ran away with the Station Master’s servant and half my month’s pay. Then she turned up at Dadur Junction in tow of a half-caste, and had the impidence to say I was her husband — all among the drivers of the running-shed!’
“‘We’ve done with that,’ says Dravot. ‘These women are whiter than you or me, and a Queen I will have for the winter months.’
“‘For the last time o’ asking, Dan, do not,’ I says. ‘It’ll only bring us harm. The Bible says that Kings ain’t to waste their strength on women, ’specially when they’ve got a new raw Kingdom to work over.’
“‘For the last time of answering, I will,’ said Dravot, and he went away through the pine-trees looking like a big red devil. The low sun hit his crown and beard on one side, and the two blazed like hot coals.
“But getting a wife was not as easy as Dan thought. He put it before the Council, and there was no answer till Billy Fish said that he’d better ask the girls.
Dravot damned them all round. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ he shouts, standing by the idol Imbra. ‘Am I a dog or am I not enough of a man for your wenches? Haven’t I put the shadow of my hand over this country?
Oil on canvas by Edward Matthew Hale (1852-1924), 1897.
Who stopped the last Afghan raid?’ It was me really, but Dravot was too angry to remember. ‘Who bought your guns? Who repaired the bridges?
Who’s the Grand-Master of the sign cut in the stone?’ and he thumped his hand on the block that he used to sit on in Lodge, and at Council, which opened like Lodge always.
Billy Fish said nothing and no more did the others. ‘Keep your hair on, Dan,’ said I; ‘and ask the girls. That’s how it’s done at home, and these people are quite English.’
“‘The marriage of a King is a matter of State,’ says Dan, in a white-hot rage, for he could feel, I hope, that he was going against his better mind. He walked out of the Council-room, and the others sat still, looking at the ground.
“‘Billy Fish,’ says I to the Chief of Bashkai, ‘what’s the difficulty here? A straight answer to a true friend.’ ‘You know,’ says Billy Fish. ‘How should a man tell you who know everything? How can daughters of men marry gods or devils? It’s not proper.’
“I remembered something like that in the Bible; but if, after seeing us as long as they had, they still believed we were gods it wasn’t for me to undeceive them.
“‘A god can do anything,’ says I. ‘If the King is fond of a girl he’ll not let her die.’ ‘She’ll have to,’ said Billy Fish. ‘There are all sorts of gods and devils in these mountains, and now and again a girl marries one of them and isn’t seen any more.
Besides, you two know the Mark cut in the stone. Only the gods know that. We thought you were men till you showed the sign of the Master.’
“‘I wished then that we had explained about the loss of the genuine secrets of a Master-Mason at the first go-off; but I said nothing.
All that night there was a blowing of horns in a little dark temple half-way down the hill, and I heard a girl crying fit to die. One of the priests told us that she was being prepared to marry the King.
“‘I’ll have no nonsense of that kind,’ says Dan. ‘I don’t want to interfere with your customs, but I’ll take my own wife.
‘The girl’s a little bit afraid,’ says the priest. ‘She thinks she’s going to die, and they are a-heartening of her up down in the temple.’
“‘Hearten her very tender, then,’ says Dravot, ‘or I’ll hearten you with the butt of a gun so that you’ll never want to be heartened again.’
He licked his lips, did Dan, and stayed up walking about more than half the night, thinking of the wife that he was going to get in the morning.
I wasn’t any means comfortable, for I knew that dealings with a woman in foreign parts, though you was a crowned King twenty times over, could not but be risky.