A Soldier and a Gentleman - Talbot Mundy - ebook

A Soldier and a Gentleman ebook

Talbot Mundy



William Hulbert Footner was a Canadian writer of non-fiction and detective fiction. His most successful creation was the beautiful and brilliant Madame Rosika Storey and her plain assistant who explains the evolving solutions to her boss’ cases. His Madame Storey mysteries fit the flapping 1920s like the long lizard gloves that graced her arms and did well supporting his traveling family’s lifestyle. „Easy To Kill” is another mystery for the famous Mme. Storey to solve. Do you like the lifestyle in Newport? Mme. Storey prefers New York, for sure. Follow her in this investigation that is both dangerous and difficult. There are many twists and turns that keep it interesting.

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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.”

“Can’t be, sir. He only left us the day before yesterday at noon.”

“It’s Dost Mohammed. A trooper would draw rein. It’s Dost Mohammed with good news; else why in a hurry?”

“You’re right, sir, it is.”

There was a sound outside as of a cataclysm–brought to sudden sparking halt. A saber clattered, a pair of loose-roweled spurs jangled, and a deep voice growled. Then suddenly, framed against the outer darkness, Dost Mohammed stood in the tent door and saluted.

“Rung Ho, Bahadur!”

They made room for him, to let him sit beside the Colonel. British and native officers neither eat together nor discuss their women; but in all save creed and caste they are blood brothers, whose Regiment is father, mother, honor and religion to them all. Dost Mohammed was a man of men–a born soldier, proved out, and more than welcome. But he stood first before the Colonel, holding out a letter.

“I bring good news, Huzoor!”

The Colonel seized what he brought and tore it open.

“Gentlemen!” he said. “It is as I told you. His Excellency has seen reason. He has ordered us to move at once to put an end to the dacoity. We will start after Gopi Lall at dawn.”


Find ye the woman! Trail her down By matched intrigue–by counter plan By hound–through spies–in field or town Find her! Then find the man!

CRIME, of course, is geographical. So is virtue. And Yasmini was a heroine. Heaven–who gave her eyes unfathomable–knows too the unfathomable secret of her name and origin; for she was not of Bengal near of Madras. She was of India, and all India knew of her, though none knew whence she came.

Some said she was a high caste woman; others that a Maharaja once had brought her from the Hills, to be a plaything in the death-watched depths of his zenana. That story added that the Maharaja died. And all who knew her, or knew of her, said that her little slender wrists could force a dagger home as artfully as her little jeweled ankles danced, or as her eyes could lure; and they sang songs about her eyes from Peshawur to Cape Cormorin. She herself sang some of them, and they were not at all moral songs, as morals are expounded in the West.

Art was the essence of her. She was suppleness and subtlety and studied grace in every attitude and word. And she was not married; for marriage, in the East at all events, would have been the sepulcher of artistry like hers. None knew whence her money or her jewels came, and none dared ask–just as none dared question her prerogative of dwelling in the Panch Mahal or her right to call it by that name. She could even change a language. She did exactly as she chose, and what she chose was mostly unexpected.

India, which of all the countries of the world alone could produce a Yasmini, alone has other wonders to unfold–old cities, undismantled, uncrumbled, uninhabited, and unexplained; cities in whose streets the jungle fights for room between the ton piece granite curbstones and the lords of the jungle make their lairs in latticed palaces.

There had been such a city once, close to Rajah-batkbowa, and a hundred thousand men all armed with axes might have cleared it still to shine in the jungle coaxing sun. But only one piece of it stood in the open–carved and painted, cupolaed and domed; a wonder building round a courtyard where fountains used to play in long forgotten ages; and there lived Yasmini. She called the place the Panch Mahal; and that, in a language of the cleaner, braver North, means “the playground of the ladies.”

The North-born troopers under Colonel Stapleton’s command knew well the meaning of the words; and they knew to a big, thigh-booted gentleman the road that led through twisted jungle to the building she had named. Through the long hot afternoons there were often ten or twenty of them chatting in the latticed windows on the upper floor, or testing their soldier wits against the readier, trained repartee of Yasmini’s handmaidens. She herself paid little heed to them, and less respect; she condescended only to sufficient courtesy to keep them coming there, and made her women keep them well supplied with cigarettes and strange, wonder-scented brands of sherbet.

But every now and then a native officer would swagger, spur jingling and saber clanking, underneath the arch to call on her; and then there would be a fluttering in the nest above, and Yasmini herself would come almost but not quite as Cleopatra came to Antony. She would stand at the stair head auraed in some pale blue muslin stuff, and she would greet him as the dawn greets night. Like night, his strength and resolution and conceit would vanish. But Cleopatra was in love with Antony.

Yasmini would dance for him, talk to him, bring him sherbet with her own amazing hands and sing a song or two that punned and played subtly round his warriorhood, her womanhood, and paradise where both might sit enthroned. Then while the troopers drew away into the corners in envious obedience, the officer would whisper to her things he should not have whispered, in return for promises that she did not intend to keep.

When evening came–for those were evenings of the eve of martial law, and darkness had to find the Regiment prepared–she would send him off, flattered and fooled; fierce-bearded, as empty of secrets as an egg the crows have found, to chew the bitter cud of recollection until memory of her overcame remorse, and his servant polished up his spurs for him and he threw discretion to the winds and came again.

Always the troopers came and were entertained and given sherbet. Now and then the native officers would jingle in, and be shown a glimpse of what Allah has provided for the truly brave and good in paradise. And daily, sometimes hourly, Gopi Lall, up in his fastness in the hills, received news of the Regiment’s intentions, and was told how long yet he might dare to loose his following, red- handed, on the countryside.

The tastes and the inclinations of Yasmini would be as difficult to follow as the movements of her twinkling feet. Her eyes were laughing pools of mystery; her tongue an instrument of subtly woven, smothered, underhand intrigue; and her beauty could, and did, procure for her the abject slavery of any man on whom she had designs. She could pick the wearer of her favors from among the best spurred and booted bloods of India. Yet–

Gopi Lall was a Bengali, while she was from the North, where they despise his nationality and creed and speech and habits as a hadji hates a giaour. And at that, he was a Bengal outcast. His one sound eye was baleful, lit by greed and overhung by a lid devoid of lashes. His lips were slit and scarred where once a knife that he carried in his mouth had been hammered inward by an intended victim’s fist. His hair–for he did not shave his head–was a shock of black, bewildering beastliness, uncombed, unoiled, unwashed. And his creed was the worst of him:

“I am the enemy of all the gods–of virtue, pity, charity, faith, mercy, love. I am the friend of fear and hate and hell. I have no human friends; who are not my servants are my enemies.”

She had drifted with her entourage of waiting women from a hatchery of treason on the outer wall of Delhi to her present strange abiding place, and Gopi Lall had sent her soon afterward one love missive–through the window. It was gory, and the blood was barely dried. Its eyes, wide opened, had been forced into a squint when dead, or during death from torture; and the lips had been attended to as only a dacoit’s imagination could direct. It was not easy to recognize the once alluring face of Yasmini’s particular pet handmaiden; but then Yasmini, too, had imagination beyond the ordinary. She buried the mistreated head and sent no word of it to the police.

Her answer had been unexpected, as nearly all that she directed was. She sent another maid, an innocent, sweet featured girl who had not seen the horror tossed in through the window; she sent her with a note to wait where Gopi Lall’s men were known to pass occasionally. The note read:

Here is another. And if my lord would deign to visit me there are more than a dozen who are at his service.

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