The Drum - A.E.W. Mason - ebook

The Drum ebook

A.E.W. Mason



Best known for „The Four Feathers” and the Hanaud detective novels, A.E.W. Mason wrote many novels. „The Drum” is an adventure novel by this British writer which was first published in 1937. This story is a rousing, Kipling-like adventure set in contemporary India, dealing with uprising and rebellion and a native prince caught between two worlds and forced into hiding. In it, murder and intrigue in a princely state on the Northwest Frontier of British India. A fairy drum no one must see beaten. A secret mission across the Hindu Kush and friendship between an Indian Prince and an English drummer-boy. All these are elements of „The Drum” which is one of two novels by A.E.W. Mason set in India. A pukka adventure in the days of the Raj.

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Captain Frank Carruthers, lately transferred from the 20th Punjab Infantry to the Political Department, went home upon long leave, where nature in its ordinary course startled him, humbled him and lifted him beyond the stars. In other words, Frank Carruthers, aged thirty-one, met Marjorie Drew, aged twenty-two, for the first time on Lord’s Cricket Ground at the Eton and Harrow match; proposed to her between drives in a butt on a Yorkshire moor towards the end of August; married her at St. George’s in October; and brought her out to Peshawur with pride and exultation at the end of the year.

The Governor of the North-West Province, however, so far from sharing that pride and exultation, was distinctly annoyed. It was his business to keep the rickety wheel of Administration revolving, and to him young officials’ young wives were no better than spanners put ready to be thrown into the works. He sent for Carruthers on the day following his return to Peshawur, and ignoring this ill-timed marriage altogether, began very heartily:

“I am delighted that you are back, Carruthers. For there’s some interesting work for you. Just sit down, will you? The Khan of Tokot has invited the Government to send him a small mission, and the Government has accepted the invitation. As a preliminary,” he added after a pause.

“A preliminary?”

Carruthers repeated the word with his heart sinking just a little.

“Yes,” Sir Arthur Brooke, the Governor, continued easily. “As a preliminary to establishing a permanent British Agency there. There’s always unrest up there, there’s selling the people into slavery, there are raids and blood-feuds–but why should I tell you? Year after year you have had permission to go shooting in those valleys. You have shot red bear and ibex, and you’ve never got into trouble. You speak Pushtu and you’ve learnt some of the dialects. Yes, I have got your reports.”

He turned away to his big table and his fingers flicked the reports, which young Carruthers had been at such pains to compile, of his travels amongst the little, treacherous, and savage kingdoms between the borders of India and the Hindu Khush.

“So the Government has done you the honour of choosing you to be its representative–at all events on this first mission.”

“Me!” Carruthers exclaimed.

A year before he would have uttered his exclamation with shining eyes and an incredulous enthusiasm. Freedom from the routine of his desk, authority following him and not squatting on his shoulders, the opportunity to prove himself alone, to do something real and fresh and valuable, the chance to write a memorable name like Robertson’s or Durand’s or Warburton’s on the records of the Frontier, and tip-top shooting thrown in–a year ago he would by now have been upon his feet, crying “When do I start?” But he had married a young wife since then, and if there was a lower pit into which his heart could sink than that into which it had sunk, Carruthers could not imagine its location.

“Me?” he repeated.

His Excellency failed entirely to notice the consternation in the voice and looks of his subordinate.

“You, yes,” he answered cheerfully. “But of course you must have guessed some while ago that you were being groomed for a job of this kind.”

Carruthers, indeed, had been a little astonished at the official complacency which had permitted his shooting expeditions into those debatable bad lands where the least want of tact, the smallest act of rashness might start a little war which would strain the resources of the Government in India and bring thunder and lightning from the Parliament at home.

“So you will set out for Tokot as soon as the snow has melted on the passes,” His Excellency resumed. “We shall send an Engineer Officer with you and a suitable escort. You will arrange with the Khan for the establishment of the Agency. We have a house there, for we sent a Mission to Tokot a few years ago, although nothing came of it. But the house will want reconditioning. You’ll see to that.”

Sir Arthur Brooke rubbed the back of one hand with the palm of the other.

“The Khan’s invitation–Sher Afzul-ul-Mulk, that’s his name–was urgent–unusually urgent. We know that he has a Chieftain, a Kafiristan on his border, Umra Beg, threatening him. But there’s probably something more behind which we don’t know. But remember we don’t interfere in their internal affairs. Tokot must rule Tokot in its own way. No doubt it won’t be a very good way, but alteration can only come through the peaceful extension of British Influence. Got that?”

“Yes, Sir,” said Carruthers.

“And don’t get into trouble yourself! For if anything happens”–the Governor alluded to murder–“to an agent of ours, such as has happened here and there, we have to march in and take over. That’s to be avoided. You ought to be back within four or five months from the date of setting out. But Captain Morris will discuss the details with you. Good morning.” With a nod of his head he dismissed Captain Carruthers, but when Carruthers was fumbling with the handle of the door like a man who has gone blind, he spoke again.

“By the way, Carruthers.”

Sir Arthur Brooke had a passion for folk-lore, and there is no richer field for the study of folk-lore than the northern borders of India. On some distant day he meant to sit at his ease in a study looking out upon the South Downs and write a book about the folk-lore of the tribes of the Hindu Khush.

“By the way, you might find out the story of the Yudeni drum, and how much truth there is in it.”

Carruthers was perplexed. The legends of the Hindu Khush were innumerable. The dwellers in those deep valleys between dark forests and glistening scarps of snow had other gods besides the Allah of their official creed–gods of the ice and the storm, and in a lower hierarchy the imps and the goblins whom witchcraft could appease. Carruthers had heard many a story about his camp-fire of their malevolence and the devices by which it might be diverted. But the Yudeni drum was new to him.

“The drum and the fairy drummer,” the Governor repeated.

“I’ll make enquiries,” said Carruthers.

“There’s another thing,” and His Excellency switched his thoughts away from his hobby. “The Khan is an oldish man, but he has a young son, a boy about twelve years old, to whom he’s devoted. The old man, in his love of English ways, sent the boy to the school at Ajmere for a year or two. He was his heir, so he had to be brought back. They spoke well of him at Ajmere and he knows some English.”

“I’ll look out for him, Sir,” said Carruthers, and he went home to his wife.

Half-way through luncheon Marjorie asked:

“Something has happened to you this morning, Frank?”

Frank nodded his head.

“I shall have to leave you for a time.”


“No. But early in the spring.”

Marjorie nodded her head, looking down at her plate. “We have till then together at all events. You’ll be long away?”

“Four to five months. You’ll have to go up to Murree, Marjorie, as soon as the hot weather begins.”

Marjorie Carruthers dismissed that consideration as of no importance.

“Dangerous?” she asked.

“My journey?” Carruthers shrugged his shoulders. “In the day’s work.”

Marjorie had now the control of her voice. She reached out her hand and laid it on her husband’s.

“My dear, I didn’t marry you to interfere with it.”

At the luncheon-table of the Residency His Excellency also was talking to his wife of Carruthers’ new appointment.

“I hope he succeeds in getting what I want.”

“The Agency established,” said his wife.

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

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