Quite dead, there returned not only
cultivators, craftsmen, and artisans, but outlandish men of war, scarred
with old wounds and the generous dimples that the Martini-Henry bullet
used to deal - fighting men on the lookout for new employ. They would
hang about, first on one leg, then on the other, proud or uneasily
friendly, till some white officer circulated near by. And at his fourth
or fifth passing, brown and white having approved each other by eye, the
talk - so men say - would run something like this:
OFFICER (with air of sudden discovery). Oh, you by the hut, there,
what is your business?
WARRIOR (at 'attention' complicated by attempt to salute). I am
So-and-So, son of So-and-So, from such and such a place.
OFFICER. I hear. And ...?
WARRIOR (repeating salute). And a fighting man also.
OFFICER (impersonally to horizon). But they all say that nowadays.
WARRIOR (very loudly). But there is a man in one of your battalions
who can testify to it. He is the grandson of my father's uncle.
OFFICER (confidentially to his boots). Hell is quite full of such
grandsons of just such father's uncles; and how do I know if Private
So-and-So speaks the truth about his family? (Makes to go.)
WARRIOR (swiftly removing necessary garments). Perhaps. But these
don't lie. Look! I got this ten, twelve years ago when I was quite a
lad, close to the old Border, Yes, Halfa. It was a true Snider bullet.
Feel it! This little one on the leg I got at the big fight that finished
it all last year. But I am not lame (violent leg-exercise), not in
the least lame. See! I run. I jump. I kick. Praised be Allah!
OFFICER. Praised be Allah! And then?
WARRIOR (coquettishly). Then, I shoot. I am not a common spear-man.
(Lapse into English.) Yeh, dam goo' shot! (pumps lever of imaginary
OFFICER (unmoved). I see. And then?
WARRIOR (indignantly). I am come here - after many days' marching.
(Change to childlike wheedle.) Are all the regiments full?
At this point the relative, in uniform, generally discovered himself,
and if the officer liked the cut of his jib, another 'old Mahdi's man'
would be added to the machine that made itself as it rolled along. They
dealt with situations in those days by the unclouded light of reason and
a certain high and holy audacity.
There is a tale of two Sheikhs shortly after the Reconstruction began.
One of them, Abdullah of the River, prudent and the son of a
slave-woman, professed loyalty to the English very early in the day, and
used that loyalty as a cloak to lift camels from another Sheikh, Farid
of the Desert, still at war with the English, but a perfect gentleman,
which Abdullah was not. Naturally, Farid raided back on Abdullah's kine,
Abdullah complained to the authorities, and the Border fermented. To
Farid in his desert camp with a clutch of Abdullah's cattle round him,
entered, alone and unarmed, the officer responsible for the peace of
those parts. After compliments, for they had had dealings with each
other before: 'You've been driving Abdullah's stock again,' said the
'I should think I had!' was the hot answer. 'He lifts my camels and
scuttles back into your territory, where he knows I can't follow him for
the life; and when I try to get a bit of my own back, he whines to you.
He's a cad - an utter cad.'
'At any rate, he is loyal. If you'd only come in and be loyal too, you'd
both be on the same footing, and then if he stole from you, he'd catch
'He'd never dare to steal except under your protection. Give him what
he'd have got in the Mahdi's time - a first-class flogging. You know he
'I'm afraid that isn't allowed. You have to let me shift all those
bullocks of his back again.'
'And if I don't?'
'Then, I shall have to ride back and collect all my men and begin war
'But what prevents my cutting your throat where you sit?
'For one thing, you aren't Abdullah, and - - '
'There! You confess he's a cad!'
'And for another, the Government would only send another officer who
didn't understand your ways, and then there would be war, and no one
would score except Abdullah. He'd steal your camels and get credit for
'So he would, the scoundrel! This is a hard world for honest men. Now,
you admit Abdullah is a cad. Listen to me, and I'll tell you a few more
things about him. He was, etc., etc. He is, etc., etc.'
'You're perfectly right, Sheikh, but don't you see I can't tell him what
I think of him so long as he's loyal and you're out against us? Now, if
you come in I promise you that I'll give Abdullah a telling-off - yes,
in your presence - that will do you good to listen to.'
'No! I won't come in! But - I tell you what I will do. I'll accompany you
to-morrow as your guest, understand, to your camp. Then you send for
Abdullah, and if I judge that his fat face has been sufficiently
blackened in my presence, I'll think about coming in later.'
So it was arranged, and they slept out the rest of the night, side by
side, and in the morning they gathered up and returned all Abdullah's
cattle, and in the evening, in Farid's presence, Abdullah got the
tongue-lashing of his wicked old life, and Farid of the Desert laughed
and came in; and they all lived happy ever afterwards.
Somewhere or other in the nearer provinces the old heady game must be
going on still, but the Soudan proper has settled to civilisation of the
brick-bungalow and bougainvillea sort, and there is a huge technical
college where the young men are trained to become fitters, surveyors,
draftsmen, and telegraph employees at fabulous wages.