Her Majesty’s Servants

servants open

You can work it out by Fractions or by simple Rule of Three, But the way of Tweedle-dum is not the way of Tweedle-dee. You can twist it, you can turn it, you can plait it till you drop, But the way of Pilly Winky’s not the way of Winkie Pop!

It had been raining heavily for one whole month–raining on a camp of thirty thousand men and thousands of camels, elephants, horses, bullocks, and mules all gathered together at a place called Rawal Pindi, to be reviewed by the Viceroy of India. He was receiving a visit from the Amir of Afghanistan–a wild king of a very wild country. The Amir had brought with him for a bodyguard eight hundred men and horses who had never seen a camp or a locomotive before in their lives–savage men and savage horses from somewhere at the back of Central Asia. Every night a mob of these horses would be sure to break their heel ropes and stampede up and down the camp through the mud in the dark, or the camels would break loose and run about and fall over the ropes of the tents, and you can imagine how pleasant that was for men trying to go to sleep. My tent lay far away from the camel lines, and I thought it was safe. But one night a man popped his head in and shouted, “Get out, quick! They’re coming! My tent’s gone!”

I knew who “they” were, so I put on my boots and waterproof and scuttled out into the slush. Little Vixen, my fox terrier, went out through the other side; and then there was a roaring and a grunting and bubbling, and I saw the tent cave in, as the pole snapped, and begin to dance about like a mad ghost. A camel had blundered into it, and wet and angry as I was, I could not help laughing. Then I ran on, because I did not know how many camels might have got loose, and before long I was out of sight of the camp, plowing my way through the mud.

At last I fell over the tail-end of a gun, and by that knew I was somewhere near the artillery lines where the cannon were stacked at night. As I did not want to plowter about any more in the drizzle and the dark, I put my waterproof over the muzzle of one gun, and made a sort of wigwam with two or three rammers that I found, and lay along the tail of another gun, wondering where Vixen had got to, and where I might be.

servants rammers that I found

Just as I was getting ready to go to sleep I heard a jingle of harness and a grunt, and a mule passed me shaking his wet ears. He belonged to a screw-gun battery, for I could hear the rattle of the straps and rings and chains and things on his saddle pad. The screw-guns are tiny little cannon made in two pieces, that are screwed together when the time comes to use them. They are taken up mountains, anywhere that a mule can find a road, and they are very useful for fighting in rocky country.

Behind the mule there was a camel, with his big soft feet squelching and slipping in the mud, and his neck bobbing to and fro like a strayed hen’s. Luckily, I knew enough of beast language–not wild-beast language, but camp-beast language, of course–from the natives to know what he was saying.

He must have been the one that flopped into my tent, for he called to the mule, “What shall I do? Where shall I go? I have fought with a white thing that waved, and it took a stick and hit me on the neck.” (That was my broken tent pole, and I was very glad to know it.) “Shall we run on?”

“Oh, it was you,” said the mule, “you and your friends, that have been disturbing the camp? All right. You’ll be beaten for this in the morning. But I may as well give you something on account now.”

I heard the harness jingle as the mule backed and caught the camel two kicks in the ribs that rang like a drum. “Another time,” he said, “you’ll know better than to run through a mule battery at night, shouting ‘Thieves and fire!’ Sit down, and keep your silly neck quiet.”
The camel doubled up camel-fashion, like a two-foot rule, and sat down whimpering. There was a regular beat of hoofs in the darkness, and a big troop-horse cantered up as steadily as though he were on parade, jumped a gun tail, and landed close to the mule.

servants troop-horse

“It’s disgraceful,” he said, blowing out his nostrils. “Those camels have racketed through our lines again–the third time this week. How’s a horse to keep his condition if he isn’t allowed to sleep. Who’s here?”

“I’m the breech-piece mule of number two gun of the First Screw Battery,” said the mule, “and the other’s one of your friends. He’s waked me up too. Who are you?”

“Number Fifteen, E troop, Ninth Lancers–Dick Cunliffe’s horse. Stand over a little, there.”

“Oh, beg your pardon,” said the mule. “It’s too dark to see much. Aren’t these camels too sickening for anything? I walked out of my lines to get a little peace and quiet here.”

“My lords,” said the camel humbly, “we dreamed bad dreams in the night, and we were very much afraid. I am only a baggage camel of the 39th Native Infantry, and I am not as brave as you are, my lords.”

“Then why didn’t you stay and carry baggage for the 39th Native Infantry, instead of running all round the camp?” said the mule.

“They were such very bad dreams,” said the camel. “I am sorry. Listen! What is that? Shall we run on again?”

“Sit down,” said the mule, “or you’ll snap your long stick-legs between the guns.” He cocked one ear and listened. “Bullocks!” he said. “Gun bullocks. On my word, you and your friends have waked the camp very thoroughly. It takes a good deal of prodding to put up a gun-bullock.”

I heard a chain dragging along the ground, and a yoke of the great sulky white bullocks that drag the heavy siege guns when the elephants won’t go any nearer to the firing, came shouldering along together. And almost stepping on the chain was another battery mule, calling wildly for “Billy.”

“That’s one of our recruits,” said the old mule to the troop horse. “He’s calling for me. Here, youngster, stop squealing. The dark never hurt anybody yet.”

The gun-bullocks lay down together and began chewing the cud, but the young mule huddled close to Billy.

“Things!” he said. “Fearful and horrible, Billy! They came into our lines while we were asleep. D’you think they’ll kill us?”

“I’ve a very great mind to give you a number-one kicking,” said Billy. “The idea of a fourteen-hand mule with your training disgracing the battery before this gentleman!”

“Gently, gently!” said the troop-horse. “Remember they are always like this to begin with. The first time I ever saw a man (it was in Australia when I was a three-year-old) I ran for half a day, and if I’d seen a camel, I should have been running still.”

Nearly all our horses for the English cavalry are brought to India from Australia, and are broken in by the troopers themselves.

“True enough,” said Billy. “Stop shaking, youngster. The first time they put the full harness with all its chains on my back I stood on my forelegs and kicked every bit of it off. I hadn’t learned the real science of kicking then, but the battery said they had never seen anything like it.”

“But this wasn’t harness or anything that jingled,” said the young mule. “You know I don’t mind that now, Billy. It was Things like trees, and they fell up and down the lines and bubbled; and my head-rope broke, and I couldn’t find my driver, and I couldn’t find you, Billy, so I ran off with–with these gentlemen.”

“H’m!” said Billy. “As soon as I heard the camels were loose I came away on my own account. When a battery–a screw-gun mule calls gun-bullocks gentlemen, he must be very badly shaken up. Who are you fellows on the ground there?”

The gun bullocks rolled their cuds, and answered both together: “The seventh yoke of the first gun of the Big Gun Battery. We were asleep when the camels came, but when we were trampled on we got up and walked away. It is better to lie quiet in the mud than to be disturbed on good bedding. We told your friend here that there was nothing to be afraid of, but he knew so much that he thought otherwise. Wah!”

They went on chewing.

“That comes of being afraid,” said Billy. “You get laughed at by gun-bullocks. I hope you like it, young un.”

The young mule’s teeth snapped, and I heard him say something about not being afraid of any beefy old bullock in the world. But the bullocks only clicked their horns together and went on chewing.

“Now, don’t be angry after you’ve been afraid. That’s the worst kind of cowardice,” said the troop-horse. “Anybody can be forgiven for being scared in the night, I think, if they see things they don’t understand. We’ve broken out of our pickets, again and again, four hundred and fifty of us, just because a new recruit got to telling tales of whip snakes at home in Australia till we were scared to death of the loose ends of our head-ropes.”

“That’s all very well in camp,” said Billy. “I’m not above stampeding myself, for the fun of the thing, when I haven’t been out for a day or two. But what do you do on active service?”

“Oh, that’s quite another set of new shoes,” said the troop horse. “Dick Cunliffe’s on my back then, and drives his knees into me, and all I have to do is to watch where I am putting my feet, and to keep my hind legs well under me, and be bridle-wise.”

“What’s bridle-wise?” said the young mule.

“By the Blue Gums of the Back Blocks,” snorted the troop-horse, “do you mean to say that you aren’t taught to be bridle-wise in your business? How can you do anything, unless you can spin round at once when the rein is pressed on your neck? It means life or death to your man, and of course that’s life and death to you. Get round with your hind legs under you the instant you feel the rein on your neck. If you haven’t room to swing round, rear up a little and come round on your hind legs. That’s being bridle-wise.”

“We aren’t taught that way,” said Billy the mule stiffly. “We’re taught to obey the man at our head: step off when he says so, and step in when he says so. I suppose it comes to the same thing. Now, with all this fine fancy business and rearing, which must be very bad for your hocks, what do you do?”

“That depends,” said the troop-horse. “Generally I have to go in among a lot of yelling, hairy men with knives–long shiny knives, worse than the farrier’s knives–and I have to take care that Dick’s boot is just touching the next man’s boot without crushing it. I can see Dick’s lance to the right of my right eye, and I know I’m safe. I shouldn’t care to be the man or horse that stood up to Dick and me when we’re in a hurry.”

“Don’t the knives hurt?” said the young mule.

“Well, I got one cut across the chest once, but that wasn’t Dick’s fault–”

“A lot I should have cared whose fault it was, if it hurt!” said the young mule.

“You must,” said the troop horse. “If you don’t trust your man, you may as well run away at once. That’s what some of our horses do, and I don’t blame them. As I was saying, it wasn’t Dick’s fault. The man was lying on the ground, and I stretched myself not to tread on him, and he slashed up at me. Next time I have to go over a man lying down I shall step on him–hard.”

“H’m!” said Billy. “It sounds very foolish. Knives are dirty things at any time. The proper thing to do is to climb up a mountain with a well-balanced saddle, hang on by all four feet and your ears too, and creep and crawl and wriggle along, till you come out hundreds of feet above anyone else on a ledge where there’s just room enough for your hoofs. Then you stand still and keep quiet–never ask a man to hold your head, young un–keep quiet while the guns are being put together, and then you watch the little poppy shells drop down into the tree-tops ever so far below.”

servants hundreds of feet“Don’t you ever trip?” said the troop-horse.

“They say that when a mule trips you can split a hen’s ear,” said Billy. “Now and again perhaps a badly packed saddle will upset a mule, but it’s very seldom. I wish I could show you our business. It’s beautiful. Why, it took me three years to find out what the men were driving at. The science of the thing is never to show up against the sky line, because, if you do, you may get fired at. Remember that, young un. Always keep hidden as much as possible, even if you have to go a mile out of your way. I lead the battery when it comes to that sort of climbing.”

“Fired at without the chance of running into the people who are firing!” said the troop-horse, thinking hard. “I couldn’t stand that. I should want to charge–with Dick.”

“Oh, no, you wouldn’t. You know that as soon as the guns are in position they’ll do all the charging. That’s scientific and neat. But knives–pah!”

The baggage-camel had been bobbing his head to and fro for some time past, anxious to get a word in edgewise. Then I heard him say, as he cleared his throat, nervously:

“I–I–I have fought a little, but not in that climbing way or that running way.”

“No. Now you mention it,” said Billy, “you don’t look as though you were made for climbing or running–much. Well, how was it, old Hay-bales?”

“The proper way,” said the camel. “We all sat down–”

“Oh, my crupper and breastplate!” said the troop-horse under his breath. “Sat down!”

“We sat down–a hundred of us,” the camel went on, “in a big square, and the men piled our packs and saddles, outside the square, and they fired over our backs, the men did, on all sides of the square.”

“What sort of men? Any men that came along?” said the troop-horse. “They teach us in riding school to lie down and let our masters fire across us, but Dick Cunliffe is the only man I’d trust to do that. It tickles my girths, and, besides, I can’t see with my head on the ground.”

“What does it matter who fires across you?” said the camel. “There are plenty of men and plenty of other camels close by, and a great many clouds of smoke. I am not frightened then. I sit still and wait.”

“And yet,” said Billy, “you dream bad dreams and upset the camp at night. Well, well! Before I’d lie down, not to speak of sitting down, and let a man fire across me, my heels and his head would have something to say to each other. Did you ever hear anything so awful as that?”

There was a long silence, and then one of the gun bullocks lifted up his big head and said, “This is very foolish indeed. There is only one way of fighting.”

“Oh, go on,” said Billy. “Please don’t mind me. I suppose you fellows fight standing on your tails?”

“Only one way,” said the two together. (They must have been twins.) “This is that way. To put all twenty yoke of us to the big gun as soon as Two Tails trumpets.” (“Two Tails” is camp slang for the elephant.)

“What does Two Tails trumpet for?” said the young mule.

“To show that he is not going any nearer to the smoke on the other side. Two Tails is a great coward. Then we tug the big gun all together–Heya–Hullah! Heeyah! Hullah! We do not climb like cats nor run like calves. We go across the level plain, twenty yoke of us, till we are unyoked again, and we graze while the big guns talk across the plain to some town with mud walls, and pieces of the wall fall out, and the dust goes up as though many cattle were coming home.”

“Oh! And you choose that time for grazing?” said the young mule.

“That time or any other. Eating is always good. We eat till we are yoked up again and tug the gun back to where Two Tails is waiting for it. Sometimes there are big guns in the city that speak back, and some of us are killed, and then there is all the more grazing for those that are left. This is Fate. None the less, Two Tails is a great coward. That is the proper way to fight. We are brothers from Hapur. Our father was a sacred bull of Shiva. We have spoken.”

“Well, I’ve certainly learned something tonight,” said the troop-horse. “Do you gentlemen of the screw-gun battery feel inclined to eat when you are being fired at with big guns, and Two Tails is behind you?”

“About as much as we feel inclined to sit down and let men sprawl all over us, or run into people with knives. I never heard such stuff. A mountain ledge, a well-balanced load, a driver you can trust to let you pick your own way, and I’m your mule. But–the other things–no!” said Billy, with a stamp of his foot.

“Of course,” said the troop horse, “everyone is not made in the same way, and I can quite see that your family, on your father’s side, would fail to understand a great many things.”

“Never you mind my family on my father’s side,” said Billy angrily, for every mule hates to be reminded that his father was a donkey. “My father was a Southern gentleman, and he could pull down and bite and kick into rags every horse he came across. Remember that, you big brown Brumby!”

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