A Soldier and a Gentleman - Talbot Mundy - E-Book

A Soldier and a Gentleman E-Book

Talbot Mundy

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"A Soldier and a Gentleman" by Talbot Mundy. Published by Good Press. Good Press publishes a wide range of titles that encompasses every genre. From well-known classics & literary fiction and non-fiction to forgotten−or yet undiscovered gems−of world literature, we issue the books that need to be read. Each Good Press edition has been meticulously edited and formatted to boost readability for all e-readers and devices. Our goal is to produce eBooks that are user-friendly and accessible to everyone in a high-quality digital format.

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Talbot Mundy

A Soldier and a Gentleman

Published by Good Press, 2020
EAN 4064066428679

Table of Contents



Table of Contents

"My creed is this: God is a gentleman. And if God made the Universe, and made it well, And since our duty is to be like God, Therefore the things that common mortals do Are better done; the thoughts the others think Are better thought, by gentlemen.

THE steam went up, and the stink and the miasma, over green and gruesome Rajahbatkhowa; and with the frequency and fluency of horsemen to the manner born the Tail-Twisters cursed Bengal and the Bengal Government, all Bengalis, the climate, food, flies, high heaven and any minor matter on which a curse could hang.

The Tail-Twisters are not Bengalis. They—so help them—are a regiment of Bengal Cavalry, paid for by the Bengal Government, but altogether undefiled thereby.

Their officers are Englishmen, mostly younger sons, rightly and righteously possessed of an ambition to prove themselves better than the next man.

Cowardice is the only cardinal sin they recognize, although there are one or two admitted indiscretions that they frown at; not being “fit” for instance, is awfully poor form. They admit, too, that their creed would not fit cads; it is registered and patented and leased only to gentlemen.

And the men—the native officers, and the grim, black-bearded, swaggering rank and file—are the lean-ribbed, lineal descendants of fighting men from another part of India, where it is thought an honor, and not a disgrace, to salute a better fighting man—because respect begets respect.

The horses—and there are no such horses in any other army in the world—could run rings round anything on legs. The defaulter sheets were curiosities—about as necessary as a Christian chaplain; Mohammedan sons of landed gentry who are voluntary soldiers do not get into clink. The Regiment was clean five ways, and ready, and aware of it.

But it stood in tented lines and swore and sweated, and its language was infinitely more abominable than that of the army which once swore in Flanders. The men’s tongue, made for swearing and enriched with military terms, could evolve profanity beyond the ken of even steam shovel drivers or Billingsgate fish porters; and it worked both watches under.

The Mess did its best, and led the blasphemy in clean clipped English—all, that is to say, but Colonel Stapleton. He swore only in action and then seldom.

Nobody swore at the police because they, of course, are beyond the pale or reach of anything the human mouth can compass. The Mess was civil to the District Superintendent, and avoided all reference to his trade—they would not have dreamed of calling it profession—they were sorry for him and, when he looked in on them every third day or so they made him drunk. But they could have done the same thing to the Devil or a Russian, had he turned up.

The Colonel would ask him once and only once, in just so many words, “Situation beyond you yet?”

He would answer: “No. Not yet, sir.”

Then the listening Mess would sigh in unison and talk volubly of other things.

Day after steamy, sweltering day they exercised their horses, ate the awful chicken of the country and the more than awful goat, and wished all the luck there is to the dacoits. The only thing that cheered them was the intermittent news of fresh atrocities—of a village sacked, of some one crucified on an anthill near a crossroads, of a baboo held to ransom, or of a policeman who had been too active in the hunt, captured and cut to pieces and left in baskets at the police camp entrance. Then there would be a thrill of pleasure through the lines. Some trooper would take his saber to the squadron swordsmith to have imaginary dints smoothed out, and the officers would look to revolver mechanisms.

But the upshot was invariably the same; the police (with three European officers to a district of eight hundred square miles) still thought that they could handle the dacoits without the military, and the Tail-Twisters ate their heads off still—hot, scornful and impatient.

Gopi Lall was out and on the rampage. Gopi Lall was a sportsman, according to his lights, and a man of acumen. Gopi Lall could have given the Tail-Twisters a ride and a fight that would have satisfied even them. There was a price on his head; there had been a dozen murders proved against him personally and half a hundred against his followers. He had looted, burned, blackmailed and run away until the District writhed; so he was fair, clean quarry.

The Tail-Twisters would have cheerfully surrendered the blood money to the police, and five times that much in addition, subscribed among themselves, for a two-day chance at him. But the horses pawed along their lines in vain, and Gopi Lall continued to bribe the native police with one hand, terrify them with the other, and feather his undiscoverable nest among the jungle-clad hills with other people’s property.

The police officers still proclaimed their faith in their men’s integrity and skill, the Governor of a Province held his hand, the native press grew daily more volubly indignant, and Gopi Lall laughed at all of them until the clean, sunlit barracks back at Balibhum seemed after all like paradise that had been left behind. The Tail-Twisters had been glad to come away but they were soldiers; they objected to being merely “a measure of precaution,” and they would have been overjoyed now to get their marching orders back again.

“The trouble is, you see,” said Colonel Stapleton, when the cloth in the stuffy Mess tent had been withdrawn from the trestle table and the Madeira was going round the same way as the sun, “that policemen—police officers, I mean—are forced to handle men” who know everything that’s crooked. They deal with crooks—I mean the men do, not the officers—and they become crooked. That reacts on the officers again. It doesn’t make them crooks, for thank God a gentleman remains a gentleman under any circumstances. But it makes them in the end ignore things that they shouldn’t overlook. It blunts their finer feelings.”

He looked round the table, not for approval—for the Colonel of a Regiment says what seems good to him and that again is law—but for attention. He had it. The eight who sat with him were men who, each in turn, was almost worshiped by a native officer and a hundred stiff-chinned soldiers, who wasted no worship or respect on anything else less manly than themselves. But when Colonel Stapleton laid down the law, the eight would listen as shaven friars to their abbot.

“Now God forbid that we soldiers should become policemen! Let us remain soldiers before everything! The proudest boast that England has to her name is the raising of such regiments as this. Is there another nation that could call on native gentlemen, pay them nothing, or practically nothing, ask them to clothe and horse and feed themselves, form them into regiments, swear them in for three years and keep them for thirty, discipline them, let them officer their own troops, but put our own officers over theirs; and in spite of a difference in religion, language, customs and point of view produce such regiments? No, gentlemen! England stands alone in that particular, and long may she stand alone!”

“I wish he wouldn’t preach!” whispered young Boileau—he who won the Guzerat pig sticking cup the season before, and took everything for granted except money. He mostly had to borrow that.

“They should pick native gentlemen to be policemen too,” continued the Colonel. “Failing that, in a case of this kind they ought to make use of us promptly. As for being conversant with the despicable details, why the very fact that we know nothing of them is in our favor! Dirt and the ruts it lies in should be handled at the lance point. The police hunt rats like ferrets; they go in after them and defile themselves. Rats should be smoked out into the open and then killed off. The Government of this country is making a terrible mistake.”

“Wish to the deuce the Government ’ud muzzle him!” whispered Boileau, and Stapleton caught what he said.

“Captain Boileau—stand up, sir!

Boileau flushed and did as he was told. The Madeira had scarcely more than started on its rounds; they had toasted the Queen perhaps ten minutes before, so the glass in front of him was not more than his second. Hence the flush was due to either shame or irritation.

“I overheard your remark, sir. I prefer to believe that it did not refer to me. Let me remind you, though, that there are no circumstances under which a soldier can not remain a gentleman—no conceivable circumstance, sir. A gentleman is deferential to his seniors. A gentleman is courteous and polite. A gentleman does not make irreverent and irrelevant remarks in undertones at a time when his senior is speaking. Sit down, sir; but remember that your calling is the highest, without exception, that there is, and that there is no excuse—not even momentary forgetfulness—for diverging from that rule.”

He suppressed his impatience with an effort.

“As I was saying, gentlemen, I name no names, but the Government is making a mistake. The police serves a certain purpose and is a necessary evil. But when dacoity breaks out it is a serious error of judgment to employ any but gentlemen to extinguish it. To set a thief to catch a thief is wrong. To round up thieves one needs men who are incorruptible and who will stoop to nothing that is beneath a soldier’s dignity. I have said as much in my letter to his Excellency; I put it strongly, and there may be results. The dawn may see the beginning of the end of Gopi Lall.”

He had hardly finished speaking—he had barely more than waved away the decanter that was passed to him—when he and the rest of them sat bolt upright and listened hard.

“Oh, only a policeman,” ventured Boileau.

But policemen do not ride as a general rule as this man rode. They could hear him some distance off but his horse seemed scarcely to touch the ground, and he was coming like an arrow.

“Shod horse!” said Colonel Stapleton. “Ah! There’s the challenge.”

“Yes, and barely a pause. He’s coming on—at a trot now. No, he’s galloping again. Despatches, by the Great Lord Harry!”

“It’s our own man,” swore Colonel Stapleton. “It’s Dost Mohammed.”