"The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница

quivering under-lip, saluted, and, once clear of the room, ran to weep

bitterly in his nursery--called by him "my quarters," Coppy came in the

afternoon and attempted to console the culprit.

"I'm under awwest," said Wee Willie Winkie, mournfully, "and I didn't

ought to speak to you."

Very early the next morning he climbed on to the roof of the house--that

was not forbidden--and beheld Miss Allardyce going for a ride.

"Where are you going?" cried Wee Willie Winkie.

"Across the river," she answered, and trotted forward.

Now the cantonment in which the 195th lay was bounded on the "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница north by a

river--dry in the winter. From his earliest years, Wee Willie Winkie had

been forbidden to go across the river, and had noted that even Coppy--the

almost almighty Coppy--had never set foot beyond it. Wee Willie Winkie had

once been read to, out of a big blue book, the history of the Princess and

the Goblins--a most wonderful tale of a land where the Goblins were always

warring with the children of men until they were defeated by one Curdie.

Ever since that date it seemed to him that the bare black and purple hills

across the river were inhabited "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница by Goblins, and, in truth, every one had

said that there lived the Bad Men. Even in his own house the lower halves

of the windows were covered with green paper on account of the Bad Men who

might, if allowed clear view, fire into peaceful drawing-rooms and

comfortable bedrooms. Certainly, beyond the river, which was the end of

all the Earth, lived the Bad Men. And here was Major Allardyce's big girl,

Coppy's property, preparing to venture into their borders! What would

Coppy say if anything happened to her? If the Goblins ran off with her as

they did with Curdie "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница's Princess? She must at all hazards be turned back.

The house was still. Wee Willie Winkie reflected for a moment on the very

terrible wrath of his father; and then--broke his arrest! It was a crime

unspeakable. The low sun threw his shadow, very large and very black, on

the trim garden-paths, as he went down to the stables and ordered his

pony. It seemed to him in the hush of the dawn that all the big world had

been bidden to stand still and look at Wee Willie Winkie guilty of mutiny.

The drowsy groom handed him his mount, and, since the "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница one great sin made

all others insignificant, Wee Willie Winkie said that he was going to ride

over to Coppy Sahib, and went out at a foot-pace, stepping on the soft

mould of the flower-borders.

The devastating track of the pony's feet was the last misdeed that cut him

off from all sympathy of Humanity, He turned into the road, leaned

forward; and rode as fast as the pony could put foot to the ground in the

direction of the river.

But the liveliest of twelve-two ponies can do little against the long

canter of a Waler. Miss Allardyce was far "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница ahead, had passed through the

crops, beyond the Police-post when all the guards were asleep, and her

mount was scattering the pebbles of the river bed as Wee Willie Winkie

left the cantonment and British India behind him. Bowed forward and still

flogging, Wee Willie Winkie shot into Afghan territory, and could just see

Miss Allardyce a black speck, flickering across the stony plain. The

reason of her wandering was simple enough. Coppy, in a tone of

too-hastily-assumed authority, had told her over night, that she must not

ride out by the river. And she had gone to prove her own spirit and "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница teach

Coppy a lesson.

Almost at the foot of the inhospitable hills, Wee Willie Winkie saw the

Waler blunder and come down heavily. Miss Allardyce struggled clear, but

her ankle had been severely twisted, and she could not stand. Having thus

demonstrated her spirit, she wept copiously, and was surprised by the

apparition of a white, wide-eyed child in khaki, on a nearly spent pony.

"Are you badly, badly hurted?" shouted Wee Willie Winkie, as soon as he

was within range. "You didn't ought to be here."

"I don't know," said Miss Allardyce, ruefully, ignoring the reproof. "Good



gracious, child, what are "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница _you_ doing here?"

"You said you was going acwoss ve wiver," panted Wee Willie Winkie,

throwing himself off his pony. "And nobody--not even Coppy--must go acwoss

ve wiver, and I came after you ever so hard, but you wouldn't stop, and

now you've hurted yourself, and Coppy will be angwy wiv me, and--I've

bwoken my awwest! I've bwoken my awwest!"

The future Colonel of the 195th sat down and sobbed. In spite of the pain

in her ankle the girl was moved.

"Have you ridden all the way from cantonments, little man? What for?"

"You belonged to "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница Coppy. Coppy told me so!" wailed Wee Willie Winkie,

disconsolately. "I saw him kissing you, and he said he was fonder of you

van Bell or ve Butcha or me. And so I came. You must get up and come back.

You didn't ought to be here. Vis is a bad place, and I've bwoken my

awwest."

"I can't move, Winkie," said Miss Allardyce, with a groan. "I've hurt my

foot. What shall I do?"

She showed a readiness to weep afresh, which steadied Wee Willie Winkie,

who had been brought up to believe that tears were "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница the depth of

unmanliness. Still, when one is as great a sinner as Wee Willie Winkie,

even a man may be permitted to break down,

"Winkie," said Miss Allardyce, "when you've rested a little, ride back and

tell them to send out something to carry me back in. It hurts fearfully."

The child sat still for a little time and Miss Allardyce closed her eyes;

the pain was nearly making her faint. She was roused by Wee Willie Winkie

tying up the reins on his pony's neck and setting it free with a vicious

cut of his whip that made it whicker. The little "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница animal headed toward the

cantonments.

"Oh, Winkie! What are you doing?"

"Hush!" said Wee Willie Winkie. "Vere's a man coming--one of ve Bad Men. I

must stay wiv you. My faver says a man must _always_ look after a girl.

Jack will go home, and ven vey'll come and look for us. Vat's why I let

him go."

Not one man but two or three had appeared from behind the rocks of the

hills, and the heart of Wee Willie Winkie sank within him, for just in

this manner were the Goblins wont to steal out and "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница vex Curdie's soul. Thus

had they played in Curdie's garden, he had seen the picture, and thus had

they frightened the Princess's nurse. He heard them talking to each other,

and recognized with joy the bastard Pushto that he had picked up from one

of his father's grooms lately dismissed. People who spoke that tongue

could not be the Bad Men. They were only natives after all.

They came up to the bowlders on which Miss Allardyce's horse had

blundered.

Then rose from the rock Wee Willie Winkie, child of the Dominant Race,

aged six and three-quarters, and said briefly "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница and emphatically "_Jao!_"

The pony had crossed the river-bed.

The men laughed, and laughter from natives was the one thing Wee Willie

Winkie could not tolerate. He asked them what they wanted and why they did

not depart. Other men with most evil faces and crooked-stocked guns crept

out of the shadows of the hills, till, soon, Wee Willie Winkie was face to

face with an audience some twenty strong, Miss Allardyce screamed.

"Who are you?" said one of the men.

"I am the Colonel Sahib's son, and my order is that you go at once. You

black men are "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница frightening the Miss Sahib. One of you must run into

cantonments and take the news that Miss Sahib has hurt herself, and that

the Colonel's son is here with her."

"Put our feet into the trap?" was the laughing reply. "Hear this boy's

speech!"

"Say that I sent you--I, the Colonel's son. They will give you money."

"What is the use of this talk? Take up the child and the girl, and we can

at least ask for the ransom. Ours are the villages on the heights," said a

voice in the background.

These _were_ the Bad Men--worse "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница than Goblins--and it needed all Wee Willie

Winkie's training to prevent him from bursting into tears. But he felt

that to cry before a native, excepting only his mother's _ayah_, would be

an infamy greater than any mutiny. Moreover, he, as future Colonel of the

195th, had that grim regiment at his back.

"Are you going to carry us away?" said Wee Willie Winkie, very blanched

and uncomfortable.

"Yes, my little _Sahib Bahadur_," said the tallest of the men, "and eat

you afterward."

"That is child's talk," said Wee Willie Winkie. "Men do not eat men."

A yell of laughter interrupted "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница him, but he went on firmly,--"And if you do

carry us away, I tell you that all my regiment will come up in a day and

kill you all without leaving one. Who will take my message to the Colonel

Sahib?"

Speech in any vernacular--and Wee Willie Winkie had a colloquial

acquaintance with three--was easy to the boy who could not yet manage his

"r's" and "th's" aright.

Another man joined the conference, crying:--"O foolish men! What this babe

says is true. He is the heart's heart of those white troops. For the sake

of peace let them go "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница both, for if he be taken, the regiment will break

loose and gut the valley. _Our_ villages are in the valley, and we shall

not escape. That regiment are devils. They broke Khoda Yar's breast-bone

with kicks when he tried to take the rifles; and if we touch this child

they will fire and rape and plunder for a month, till nothing remains.

Better to send a man back to take the message and get a reward. I say that

this child is their God, and that they will spare none of us, nor our

women, if we harm him."

It was Din Mahommed, the dismissed "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница groom of the Colonel, who made the

diversion, and an angry and heated discussion followed. Wee Willie Winkie,

standing over Miss Allardyce, waited the upshot. Surely his "wegiment,"

his own "wegiment," would not desert him if they knew of his extremity.

*

*

*

*

*

The riderless pony brought the news to the 195th, though there had been

consternation in the Colonel's household for an hour before. The little

beast came in through the parade ground in front of the main barracks,

where the men were settling down to play Spoil-five till the afternoon.

Devlin, the Color Sergeant of E Company, glanced at "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница the empty saddle and

tumbled through the barrack-rooms, kicking up each Room Corporal as he

passed. "Up, ye beggars! There's something happened to the Colonel's son,"

he shouted.

"He couldn't fall off! S'elp me, 'e _couldn't_ fall off," blubbered a

drummer-boy, "Go an' hunt acrost the river. He's over there if he's

anywhere, an' maybe those Pathans have got 'im. For the love o' Gawd don't

look for 'im in the nullahs! Let's go over the river."

"There's sense in Mott yet," said Devlin. "E Company, double out to the

river--sharp!"

So "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница E Company, in its shirt-sleeves mainly, doubled for the dear life, and

in the rear toiled the perspiring Sergeant, adjuring it to double yet

faster. The cantonment was alive with the men of the 195th hunting for Wee

Willie Winkie, and the Colonel finally overtook E Company, far too

exhausted to swear, struggling in the pebbles of the river-bed.

Up the hill under which Wee Willie Winkie's Bad Men were discussing the

wisdom of carrying off the child and the girl, a look-out fired two shots.

"What have I said?" shouted Din Mahommed. "There is the warning! The

_pulton_ are "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница out already and are coming across the plain! Get away! Let us

not be seen with the boy!"

The men waited for an instant, and then, as another shot was fired,

withdrew into the hills, silently as they had appeared.

"The wegiment is coming," said Wee Willie Winkie, confidently, to Miss

Allardyce, "and it's all wight. Don't cwy!"

He needed the advice himself, for ten minutes later, when his father came

up, he was weeping bitterly with his head in Miss Allardyce's lap.

And the men of the 195th carried him home with shouts and rejoicings; and

Coppy, who had ridden "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница a horse into a lather, met him, and, to his intense

disgust, kissed him openly in the presence of the men.

But there was balm for his dignity. His father assured him that not only

would the breaking of arrest be condoned, but that the good-conduct badge

would be restored as soon as his mother could sew it on his blouse-sleeve.

Miss Allardyce had told the Colonel a story that made him proud of his

son.

"She belonged to you, Coppy," said Wee Willie Winkie, indicating Miss

Allardyce with a grimy forefinger. "I _knew_ she didn't ought to go acwoss

ve wiver, and "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница I knew ve wegiment would come to me if I sent Jack home."

"You're a hero, Winkie," said Coppy--"a _pukka_ hero!"

"I don't know what vat means," said Wee Willie Winkie, "but you mustn't

call me Winkie any no more, I'm Percival Will'am Will'ams."

And in this manner did Wee Willie Winkie enter into his manhood.

THE ROUT OF THE WHITE HUSSARS

It was not in the open fight

We threw away the sword,

But in the lonely watching

In the darkness by the ford.

The waters lapped, the night-wind blew,

Full-armed the Fear "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница was born and grew.

And we were flying ere we knew

From panic in the night.

--_Beoni Bar>/I>.

Some people hold that an English Cavalry regiment cannot run. This is a

mistake. I have seen four hundred and thirty-seven sabres flying over the

face of the country in abject terror--have seen the best Regiment that

ever drew bridle wiped off the Army List for the space of two hours. If

you repeat this tale to the White Hussars they will, in all probability,

treat you severely. They are not proud of the incident.

You may know the White Hussars "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница by their "side," which is greater than that

of all the Cavalry Regiments on the roster. If this is not a sufficient

mark, you may know them by their old brandy. It has been sixty years in

the Mess and is worth going far to taste. Ask for the "McGaire" old

brandy, and see that you get it. If the Mess Sergeant thinks that you are

uneducated, and that the genuine article will be lost on you, he will

treat you accordingly. He is a good man. But, when you are at Mess, you

must never talk to your hosts about forced marches or long-distance "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница rides.

The Mess are very sensitive; and, if they think that you are laughing at

them, will tell you so.

As the White Hussars say, it was all the Colonel's fault. He was a new

man, and he ought never to have taken the Command. He said that the

Regiment was not smart enough. This to the White Hussars, who knew that

they could walk round any Horse and through any Guns, and over any Foot on

the face of the earth! That insult was the first cause of offence.

Then the Colonel cast the Drum-Horse--the Drum-Horse of the "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница White Hussars!

Perhaps you do not see what an unspeakable crime he had committed. I will

try to make it clear. The soul of the Regiment lives in the Drum-Horse who

carries the silver kettle-drums. He is nearly always a big piebald Waler.

That is a point of honor; and a Regiment will spend anything you please on

a piebald. He is beyond the ordinary laws of casting. His work is very

light, and he only manoeuvres at a foot-pace. Wherefore, so long as he can

step out and look handsome, his well-being is assured. He knows more about

the Regiment "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница than the Adjutant, and could not make a mistake if he tried.

The Drum-Horse of the White Hussars was only eighteen years old, and

perfectly equal to his duties. He had at least six years' more work in

him, and carried himself with all the pomp and dignity of a Drum-Major of

the Guards. The Regiment had paid Rs.1200 for him.

But the Colonel said that he must go, and he was cast in due form and

replaced by a washy, bay beast, as ugly as a mule, with a ewe-neck,

rat-tail, and cow-hocks. The Drummer detested that animal "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница, and the best of

the Band-horses put back their ears and showed the whites of their eyes at

the very sight of him. They knew him for an upstart and no gentleman. I

fancy that the Colonel's ideas of smartness extended to the Band, and that

he wanted to make it take part in the regular parade movements. A Cavalry

Band is a sacred thing. It only turns out for Commanding Officers'

parades, and the Band Master is one degree more important than the

Colonel. He is a High Priest and the "Keel Row" is his holy song. The

"Keel Row" is the Cavalry Trot "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница; and the man who has never heard that tune

rising, high and shrill, above the rattle of the Regiment going past the

saluting-base, has something yet to hear and understand.

When the Colonel cast the Drum-Horse of the White Hussars, there was

nearly a mutiny.

The officers were angry, the Regiment were furious, and the Bandsmen

swore--like troopers. The Drum-Horse was going to be put up to

auction--public auction--to be bought, perhaps, by a Parsee and put into a

cart! It was worse than exposing the Inner life of the Regiment to the

whole world, or selling the Mess Plate "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница to a Jew--a Black Jew.

The Colonel was a mean man and a bully. He knew what the Regiment thought

about his action; and, when the troopers offered to buy the Drum-Horse, he

said that their offer was mutinous and forbidden by the Regulations.

But one of the Subalterns--Hogan-Yale, an Irishman--bought the Drum-Horse

for Rs. 160 at the sale, and the Colonel was wroth. Yale professed

repentance--he was unnaturally submissive--and said that, as he had only

made the purchase to save the horse from possible ill-treatment and

starvation, he would now shoot him and end the business. This "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница appeared to

soothe the Colonel, for he wanted the Drum-Horse disposed of. He felt that

he had made a mistake, and could not of course acknowledge it. Meantime,

the presence of the Drum-Horse was an annoyance to him.

Yale took to himself a glass of the old brandy, three cheroots, and his

friend Martyn; and they all left the Mess together. Yale and Martyn

conferred for two hours in Yale's quarters; but only the bull-terrier who

keeps watch over Yale's boot-trees knows what they said. A horse, hooded

and sheeted to his ears, left Yale's stables "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница and was taken, very

unwillingly, into the Civil Lines. Yale's groom went with him. Two men

broke into the Regimental Theatre and took several paint-pots and some

large scenery-brushes. Then night fell over the Cantonments, and there was

a noise as of a horse kicking his loose-box to pieces in Yale's stables.

Yale had a big, old, white Waler trap-horse.

The next day was a Thursday, and the men, hearing that Yale was going to

shoot the Drum-Horse in the evening, determined to give the beast a

regular regimental funeral--a finer one than they would have given the

Colonel "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница had he died just then. They got a bullock-cart and some sacking,

and mounds and mounds of roses, and the body, under sacking, was carried

out to the place where the anthrax cases were cremated; two-thirds of the

Regiment following. There was no Band, but they all sang "The Place where

the old Horse died" as something respectful and appropriate to the

occasion. When the corpse was dumped into the grave and the men began

throwing down armfuls of roses to cover it, the Farrier-Sergeant ripped

out an oath and said aloud, "Why, it ain't the Drum-Horse any more than

it's "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница me!" The Troop Sergeant-Majors asked him whether he had left his head

in the Canteen. The Farrier-Sergeant said that he knew the Drum-Horse's

feet as well as he knew his own; but he was silenced when he saw the

regimental number burned in on the poor stiff, upturned near-fore.

Thus was the Drum-Horse of the White Hussars buried; the Farrier-Sergeant

grumbling. The sacking that covered the corpse was smeared In places with

black paint; and the Farrier-Sergeant drew attention to this fact. But the

Troop Sergeant-Major of E Troop kicked him severely on the shin "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница, and told

him that he was undoubtedly drunk.

On the Monday following the burial, the Colonel sought revenge on the

White Hussars. Unfortunately, being at that time temporarily in Command of

the Station, he ordered a Brigade field-day. He said that he wished to

make the Regiment "sweat for their damned insolence," and he carried out

his notion thoroughly. That Monday was one of the hardest days in the

memory of the White Hussars. They were thrown against a skeleton-enemy,

and pushed forward, and withdrawn, and dismounted, and "scientifically

handled" in every possible fashion over dusty country, till they sweated

profusely. Their only "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница amusement came late in the day when they fell upon

the battery of Horse Artillery and chased it for two miles. This was a

personal question, and most of the troopers had money on the event; the

Gunners saying openly that they had the legs of the White Hussars. They

were wrong. A march-past concluded the campaign, and when the Regiment got

back to their Lines, the men were coated with dirt from spur to

chin-strap.

The White Hussars have one great and peculiar privilege. They won it at

Fontenoy, I think.

Many Regiments possess special rights such as wearing collars with undress

uniform, or a bow "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница of riband between the shoulders, or red and white roses

in their helmets on certain days of the year. Some rights are connected

with regimental saints, and some with regimental successes. All are valued

highly; but none so highly as the right of the White Hussars to have the

Band playing when their horses are being watered in the Lines. Only one

tune is played, and that tune never varies. I don't know its real name,

but the White Hussars call it, "Take me to London again." It sounds very

pretty. The Regiment would sooner be struck off the roster than forego

their distinction.

After "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница the "dismiss" was sounded, the officers rode off home to prepare for

stables; and the men filed into the lines riding easy. That is to say,

they opened their tight buttons, shifted their helmets, and began to joke

or to swear as the humor took them; the more careful slipping off and

easing girths and curbs. A good trooper values his mount exactly as much

as he values himself, and believes, or should believe, that the two

together are irresistible where women or men, girls or guns, are

concerned.

Then the Orderly-Officer gave the order, "Water horses," and the Regiment

loafed off to the squadron "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница-troughs which were in rear of the stables and

between these and the barracks. There were four huge troughs, one for each

squadron, arranged _en йchelon_, so that the whole Regiment could water in

ten minutes if it liked. But it lingered for seventeen, as a rule, while

the Band played.

The Band struck up as the squadrons filed off to the troughs, and the men

slipped their feet out of the stirrups and chaffed each other. The sun was

just setting in a big, hot bed of red cloud, and the road to the Civil

Lines seemed to run straight into the sun's "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница eye. There was a little dot on

the road. It grew and grew till it showed as a horse, with a sort of

gridiron-thing on his back. The red cloud glared through the bars of the

gridiron. Some of the troopers shaded their eyes with their hands and

said--"What the mischief 'as that there 'orse got on 'im?"

In another minute they heard a neigh that every soul--horse and man--in

the Regiment knew, and saw, heading straight toward the Band, the dead

Drum-Horse of the White Hussars!

On his withers banged and bumped the kettledrums draped in crape, and on

his "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница back, very stiff and soldierly, sat a bareheaded skeleton.

The Band stopped playing, and, for a moment, there was a hush.

Then some one in E Troop--men said it was the Troop-Sergeant-Major--swung

his horse round and yelled. No one can account exactly for what happened

afterward; but it seems that, at least, one man in each troop set an

example of panic, and the rest followed like sheep. The horses that had

barely put their muzzles into the troughs reared and capered; but as soon

as the Band broke, which it did when the ghost of the Drum-Horse was "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница about

a furlong distant, all hooves followed suit, and the clatter of the

stampede--quite different from the orderly throb and roar of a movement on

parade, or the rough horse-play of watering in camp--made them only more

terrified. They felt that the men on their backs were afraid of something.

When horses once know that, all is over except the butchery.

Troop after troop turned from the troughs and ran--anywhere and

everywhere--like spilled quicksilver. It was a most extraordinary

spectacle, for men and horses were in all stages of easiness, and the

carbine-buckets flopping against their sides urged the horses "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница on. Men were

shouting and cursing, and trying to pull clear of the Band which was being

chased by the Drum-Horse whose rider had fallen forward and seemed to be

spurring for a wager.

The Colonel had gone over to the Mess for a drink. Most of the officers

were with him, and the Subaltern of the Day was preparing to go down to

the lines, and receive the watering reports from the Troop-Sergeant-

Majors. When "Take me to London again" stopped, after twenty bars, every

one in the Mess said, "What on earth has happened?" A minute later, they

heard unmilitary noises "The Finest Story in the World" 5 страница, and saw, far across the plain, the White Hussars

scattered, and broken, and flying.

The Colonel was speechless with rage, for he thought that the Regiment had

risen against him or was unanimously drunk. The Band, a disorganized mob,

tore past, and at its heels labored the Drum-Horse--the dead and buried

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