Lesson 3 | English homework help


The Man Who Would Be King Pages 1-13
by Rudyard Kipling

Published by Brentano’s at
31 Union Square New York

“Brother to a Prince and fellow to a beggar if he
be found worthy.”

The Law, as quoted, lays down a fair conduct
of life, and one not easy to follow. I
have been fellow to a beggar again and
again under circumstances which prevented
either of us finding out whether the other
was worthy. I have still to be brother to a
Prince, though I once came near to kinship
with what might have been a veritable King
and was promised the reversion of a Kingdom
—army, law-courts, revenue and policy
all complete. But, to-day, I greatly fear
that my King is dead, and if I want a crown
I must go and hunt it for myself.

The beginning of everything was in a railway
train upon the road to Mhow from
Ajmir. There had been a deficit in the
Budget, which necessitated travelling, not
Second-class, which is only half as dear as
First-class, but by Intermediate, which is
very awful indeed. There are no cushions
in the Intermediate class, and the population
are either Intermediate, which is Eurasian,
or native, which for a long night journey is
nasty; or Loafer, which is amusing though
intoxicated. Intermediates do not patronize
refreshment-rooms. They carry their food
in bundles and pots, and buy sweets from the
native sweetmeat-sellers, and drink the roadside
water. That is why in the hot weather
Intermediates are taken out of the carriages
dead, and in all weathers are most properly
looked down upon.

My particular Intermediate happened to
be empty till I reached Nasirabad, when a
huge gentleman in shirt-sleeves entered,
and, following the custom of Intermediates,
passed the time of day. He was a wanderer
and a vagabond like myself, but with an
educated taste for whiskey. He told tales
of things he had seen and done, of out-of-the-way
corners of the Empire into which he
had penetrated, and of adventures in which
he risked his life for a few days’ food.
“If India was filled with men like you and
me, not knowing more than the crows where
they’d get their next day’s rations, it isn’t
seventy millions of revenue the land would
be paying—it’s seven hundred million,” said
he; and as I looked at his mouth and chin I
was disposed to agree with him. We talked
politics—the politics of Loaferdom that sees
things from the underside where the lath
and plaster is not smoothed off—and we
talked postal arrangements because my
friend wanted to send a telegram back from
the next station to Ajmir, which is the
turning-off place from the Bombay to the
Mhow line as you travel westward. My
friend had no money beyond eight annas
which he wanted for dinner, and I had no
money at all, owing to the hitch in the
Budget before mentioned. Further, I was
going into a wilderness where, though I
should resume touch with the Treasury,
there were no telegraph offices. I was,
therefore, unable to help him in any way.

“We might threaten a Station-master,
and make him send a wire on tick,” said
my friend, “but that’d mean inquiries for
you and for me, and I’ve got my hands full
these days. Did you say you are travelling
back along this line within any days?”

“Within ten,” I said.

“Can’t you make it eight?” said he.
“Mine is rather urgent business.”

“I can send your telegram within ten
days if that will serve you,” I said.

“I couldn’t trust the wire to fetch him
now I think of it. It’s this way. He leaves
Delhi on the 23d for Bombay. That means
he’ll be running through Ajmir about the
night of the 23d.”

“But I’m going into the Indian Desert,”
I explained.

“Well and good,” said he. “You’ll be
changing at Marwar Junction to get into
Jodhpore territory—you must do that—and
he’ll be coming through Marwar Junction
in the early morning of the 24th by the
Bombay Mail. Can you be at Marwar
Junction on that time? ’Twon’t be inconveniencing
you because I know that there’s
precious few pickings to be got out of these
Central India States—even though you pretend
to be correspondent of the Backwoodsman.”

“Have you ever tried that trick?” I

“Again and again, but the Residents find
you out, and then you get escorted to the
Border before you’ve time to get your knife
into them. But about my friend here. I
must give him a word o’ mouth to tell him
what’s come to me or else he won’t know
where to go. I would take it more than
kind of you if you was to come out of Central
India in time to catch him at Marwar
Junction, and say to him:—‘He has gone
South for the week.’ He’ll know what that
means. He’s a big man with a red beard,
and a great swell he is. You’ll find him
sleeping like a gentleman with all his luggage
round him in a second-class compartment.
But don’t you be afraid. Slip down
the window, and say:—‘He has gone South
for the week,’ and he’ll tumble. It’s only
cutting your time of stay in those parts by
two days. I ask you as a stranger—going to
the West,” he said with emphasis.

“Where have you come from?” said I.

“From the East,” said he, “and I am
hoping that you will give him the message
on the Square—for the sake of my Mother
as well as your own.”

Englishmen are not usually softened by
appeals to the memory of their mothers, but
for certain reasons, which will be fully apparent, 
I saw fit to agree.

“It’s more than a little matter,” said he,
“and that’s why I ask you to do it—and
now I know that I can depend on you doing
it. A second-class carriage at Marwar Junction,
and a red-haired man asleep in it.
You’ll be sure to remember. I get out at
the next station, and I must hold on there
till he comes or sends me what I want.”

“I’ll give the message if I catch him,” I
said, “and for the sake of your Mother as
well as mine I’ll give you a word of advice.
Don’t try to run the Central India States
just now as the correspondent of the Backwoodsman.
There’s a real one knocking
about here, and it might lead to trouble.”

“Thank you,” said he simply, “and when
will the swine be gone? I can’t starve because
he’s ruining my work. I wanted to
get hold of the Degumber Rajah down here
about his father’s widow, and give him a

“What did he do to his father’s widow,

“Filled her up with red pepper and slippered
her to death as she hung from a beam.
I found that out myself and I’m the only
man that would dare going into the State to
get hush-money for it. They’ll try to poison
me, same as they did in Chortumna
when I went on the loot there. But you’ll
give the man at Marwar Junction my message?”

He got out at a little roadside station, and
I reflected. I had heard, more than once, of
men personating correspondents of newspapers
and bleeding small Native States with
threats of exposure, but I had never met any
of the caste before. They lead a hard life,
and generally die with great suddenness.
The Native States have a wholesome horror
of English newspapers, which may throw
light on their peculiar methods of government,
and do their best to choke correspondents
with champagne, or drive them out of
their mind with four-in-hand barouches.
They do not understand that nobody cares a
straw for the internal administration of Native
States so long as oppression and crime
are kept within decent limits, and the ruler
is not drugged, drunk, or diseased from one
end of the year to the other. Native States
were created by Providence in order to supply
picturesque scenery, tigers and tall-writing.
They are the dark places of the earth,
full of unimaginable cruelty, touching the
Railway and the Telegraph on one side, and,
on the other, the days of Harun-al-Raschid.
When I left the train I did business with
divers Kings, and in eight days passed
through many changes of life. Sometimes I
wore dress-clothes and consorted with Princes
and Politicals, drinking from crystal and
eating from silver. Sometimes I lay out
upon the ground and devoured what I could
get, from a plate made of a flapjack, and
drank the running water, and slept under
the same rug as my servant. It was all in a
day’s work.

Then I headed for the Great Indian Desert
upon the proper date, as I had promised, and
the night Mail set me down at Marwar Junction,
where a funny little, happy-go-lucky,
native managed railway runs to Jodhpore.
The Bombay Mail from Delhi makes a short
halt at Marwar. She arrived as I got in,
and I had just time to hurry to her platform
and go down the carriages. There was only
one second-class on the train. I slipped the
window and looked down upon a flaming
red beard, half covered by a railway rug.
That was my man, fast asleep, and I dug him
gently in the ribs. He woke with a grunt
and I saw his face in the light of the lamps.
It was a great and shining face.

“Tickets again?” said he.

“No,” said I. “I am to tell you that he
is gone South for the week. He is gone
South for the week!”

The train had begun to move out. The
red man rubbed his eyes. “He has gone
South for the week,” he repeated. “Now
that’s just like his impudence. Did he say
that I was to give you anything?—’Cause I

“He didn’t,” I said and dropped away,
and watched the red lights die out in the
dark. It was horribly cold because the wind
was blowing off the sands. I climbed into
my own train—not an Intermediate Carriage
this time—and went to sleep.

If the man with the beard had given me a
rupee I should have kept it as a memento of
a rather curious affair. But the consciousness
of having done my duty was my only

Later on I reflected that two gentlemen
like my friends could not do any good if
they foregathered and personated correspondents
of newspapers, and might, if they
“stuck up” one of the little rat-trap states of
Central India or Southern Rajputana, get
themselves into serious difficulties. I therefore
took some trouble to describe them as
accurately as I could remember to people
who would be interested in deporting them;
and succeeded, so I was later informed, in
having them headed back from the Degumber

Then I became respectable, and returned
to an Office where there were no Kings and
no incidents except the daily manufacture of
a newspaper. A newspaper office seems to
attract every conceivable sort of person, to
the prejudice of discipline. Zenana-mission
ladies arrive, and beg that the Editor will instantly
abandon all his duties to describe a
Christian prize-giving in a back-slum of a
perfectly inaccessible village; Colonels who
have been overpassed for commands sit
down and sketch the outline of a series of
ten, twelve, or twenty-four leading articles
on Seniority versus Selection; missionaries
wish to know why they have not been permitted
to escape from their regular vehicles
of abuse and swear at a brother-missionary
under special patronage of the editorial We;
stranded theatrical companies troop up to explain
that they cannot pay for their advertisements,
but on their return from New
Zealand or Tahiti will do so with interest;
inventors of patent punkah-pulling machines,
carriage couplings and unbreakable
swords and axle-trees call with specifications
in their pockets and hours at their disposal;
tea-companies enter and elaborate their prospectuses
with the office pens; secretaries of
ball-committees clamor to have the glories
of their last dance more fully expounded;
strange ladies rustle in and say:—“I want a
hundred lady’s cards printed at once, please,”
which is manifestly part of an Editor’s duty;
and every dissolute ruffian that ever tramped
the Grand Trunk Road makes it his business
to ask for employment as a proof-reader.
And, all the time, the telephone-bell is ringing
madly, and Kings are being killed on the
Continent, and Empires are saying, “You’re
another,” and Mister Gladstone is calling
down brimstone upon the British Dominions,
and the little black copy-boys are whining,
“kaa-pi chayha-yeh” (copy wanted) like
tired bees, and most of the paper is as blank
as Modred’s shield.

But that is the amusing part of the year.
There are other six months wherein none
ever come to call, and the thermometer
walks inch by inch up to the top of the glass,
and the office is darkened to just above reading
light, and the press machines are red-hot
of touch, and nobody writes anything but
accounts of amusements in the Hill-stations
or obituary notices. Then the telephone becomes
a tinkling terror, because it tells you
of the sudden deaths of men and women
that you knew intimately, and the prickly-heat
covers you as with a garment, and you
sit down and write:—“A slight increase of
sickness is reported from the Khuda Janta
Khan District. The outbreak is purely sporadic
in its nature, and, thanks to the energetic
efforts of the District authorities, is now
almost at an end. It is, however, with deep
regret we record the death, etc.”

Then the sickness really breaks out, and
the less recording and reporting the better
for the peace of the subscribers. But the
Empires and the Kings continue to divert
themselves as selfishly as before, and the
foreman thinks that a daily paper really
ought to come out once in twenty-four hours,
and all the people at the Hill-stations in the
middle of their amusements say:—“Good
gracious! Why can’t the paper be sparkling?
I’m sure there’s plenty going on up here.”

That is the dark half of the moon, and, as
the advertisements say, “must be experienced
to be appreciated.”

It was in that season, and a remarkably
evil season, that the paper began running
the last issue of the week on Saturday night,
which is to say Sunday morning, after the
custom of a London paper. This was a
great convenience, for immediately after the
paper was put to bed, the dawn would lower
the thermometer from 96° to almost 84° for
almost half an hour, and in that chill—you
have no idea how cold is 84° on the grass
until you begin to pray for it—a very tired
man could set off to sleep ere the heat
roused him.

One Saturday night it was my pleasant
duty to put the paper to bed alone. A King
or courtier or a courtesan or a community
was going to die or get a new Constitution,
or do something that was important on the
other side of the world, and the paper was to
be held open till the latest possible minute
in order to catch the telegram. It was a
pitchy black night, as stifling as a June night
can be, and the loo, the red-hot wind from
the westward, was booming among the tinder-dry
trees and pretending that the rain
was on its heels. Now and again a spot of
almost boiling water would fall on the dust
with the flop of a frog, but all our weary
world knew that was only pretence. It was
a shade cooler in the press-room than the
office, so I sat there, while the type ticked
and clicked, and the night-jars hooted at the
windows, and the all but naked compositors
wiped the sweat from their foreheads
and called for water. The thing that was
keeping us back, whatever it was, would not
come off, though the loo dropped and the
last type was set, and the whole round earth
stood still in the choking heat, with its finger
on its lip, to wait the event. I drowsed, and
wondered whether the telegraph was a blessing,
and whether this dying man, or struggling
people, was aware of the inconvenience
the delay was causing. There was no special
reason beyond the heat and worry to make
tension, but, as the clock-hands crept up to
three o’clock and the machines spun their
fly-wheels two and three times to see that all
was in order, before I said the word that
would set them off, I could have shrieked

Then the roar and rattle of the wheels
shivered the quiet into little bits. I rose to
go away, but two men in white clothes stood
in front of me. The first one said:—“It’s
him!” The second said —“So it is!” And
they both laughed almost as loudly as the
machinery roared, and mopped their foreheads.
“We see there was a light burning
across the road and we were sleeping in
that ditch there for coolness, and I said to
my friend here, the office is open. Let’s
come along and speak to him as turned us
back from the Degumber State,” said the
smaller of the two. He was the man I had
met in the Mhow train, and his fellow was
the red-bearded man of Marwar Junction.
There was no mistaking the eyebrows of the
one or the beard of the other.

I was not pleased, because I wished to go
to sleep, not to squabble with loafers.
“What do you want?” I asked.

“Half an hour’s talk with you cool and
comfortable, in the office,” said the red-bearded
man. “We’d like some drink—the
Contrack doesn’t begin yet, Peachey, so you
needn’t look—but what we really want is
advice. We don’t want money. We ask
you as a favor, because you did us a bad
turn about Degumber.”

I led from the press-room to the stifling
office with the maps on the walls, and the
red-haired man rubbed his hands. “That’s
something like,” said he. “This was the
proper shop to come to. Now, Sir, let me
introduce to you Brother Peachey Carnehan,
that’s him, and Brother Daniel Dravot, that
is me, and the less said about our professions
the better, for we have been most things in
our time. Soldier, sailor, compositor, photographer,
proof-reader, street-preacher, and
correspondents of the Backwoodsman when
we thought the paper wanted one. Carnehan
is sober, and so am I. Look at us first
and see that’s sure. It will save you cutting
into my talk. We’ll take one of your cigars
apiece, and you shall see us light.”
I watched the test. The men were absolutely
sober, so I gave them each a tepid

“Well and good,” said Carnehan of the
eyebrows, wiping the froth from his mustache.
“Let me talk now, Dan. We have
been all over India, mostly on foot. We
have been boiler-fitters, engine-drivers, petty
contractors, and all that, and we have decided
that India isn’t big enough for such
as us.”

They certainly were too big for the office.
Dravot’s beard seemed to fill half the room
and Carnehan’s shoulders the other half, as
they sat on the big table. Carnehan continued:
—“The country isn’t half worked
out because they that governs it won’t let
you touch it. They spend all their blessed
time in governing it, and you can’t lift a
spade, nor chip a rock, nor look for oil, nor
anything like that without all the Government
saying—‘Leave it alone and let us
govern.’ Therefore, such as it is, we will let
it alone, and go away to some other place
where a man isn’t crowded and can come to
his own. We are not little men, and there
is nothing that we are afraid of except Drink,
and we have signed a Contrack on that.
Therefore, we are going away to be Kings.”

“Kings in our own right,” muttered

“Yes, of course,” I said. “You’ve been
tramping in the sun, and it’s a very warm
night, and hadn’t you better sleep over the
notion? Come to-morrow.”

“Neither drunk nor sunstruck,” said
Dravot. “We have slept over the notion
half a year, and require to see Books and
Atlases, and we have decided that there is
only one place now in the world that two
strong men can Sar-a-whack. They call it
Kafiristan. By my reckoning its the top
right-hand corner of Afghanistan, not more
than three hundred miles from Peshawar.
They have two and thirty heathen idols there,
and we’ll be the thirty-third. It’s a mountainous
country, and the women of those
parts are very beautiful.”

“But that is provided against in the Contrack,”
said Carnehan. “Neither Women
nor Liquor, Daniel.”

“And that’s all we know, except that no
one has gone there, and they fight, and in
any place where they fight a man who
knows how to drill men can always be a
King. We shall go to those parts and say
to any King we find—‘D’ you want to vanquish
your foes?’ and we will show him
how to drill men; for that we know better
than anything else. Then we will subvert
that King and seize his Throne and establish
a Dy-nasty.”

“You’ll be cut to pieces before you’re
fifty miles across the Border,” I said.
“You have to travel through Afghanistan
to get to that country. It’s one mass of
mountains and peaks and glaciers, and no
Englishman has been through it. The people
are utter brutes, and even if you reached
them you couldn’t do anything.”

“That’s more like,” said Carnehan. “If
you could think us a little more mad we
would be more pleased. We have come to
you to know about this country, to read a
book about it, and to be shown maps. We
want you to tell us that we are fools and to
show us your books.” He turned to the

“Are you at all in earnest?” I said.

“A little,” said Dravot, sweetly. “As big
a map as you have got, even if it’s all blank
where Kafiristan is, and any books you’ve
got. We can read, though we aren’t very

I uncased the big thirty-two-miles-to-the-inch
map of India, and two smaller Frontier
maps, hauled down volume INF-KAN of
the Encyclopædia Britannica, and the men
consulted them.

“See here!” said Dravot, his thumb on
the map. “Up to Jagdallak, Peachey and
me know the road. We was there with
Roberts’s Army. We’ll have to turn off to
the right at Jagdallak through Laghmann
territory. Then we get among the hills—
fourteen thousand feet—fifteen thousand—
it will be cold work there, but it don’t look
very far on the map.”

I handed him Wood on the Sources of
the Oxus. Carnehan was deep in the Encyclopædia.

“They’re a mixed lot,” said Dravot, reflectively;
“and it won’t help us to know
the names of their tribes. The more tribes
the more they’ll fight, and the better for us.
From Jagdallak to Ashang. H’mm!”

“But all the information about the country
is as sketchy and inaccurate as can be,”
I protested. “No one knows anything
about it really. Here’s the file of the
United Services’ Institute. Read what Bellew

“Blow Bellew!” said Carnehan. “Dan,
they’re an all-fired lot of heathens, but this
book here says they think they’re related to
us English.”

I smoked while the men pored over
Raverty, Wood, the maps and the Encyclopædia.

“There is no use your waiting,” said
Dravot, politely. “It’s about four o’clock
now. We’ll go before six o’clock if you
want to sleep, and we won’t steal any of
the papers. Don’t you sit up. We’re two
harmless lunatics, and if you come, to-morrow
evening, down to the Serai we’ll say
good-by to you.”

“You are two fools,” I answered. “You’ll
be turned back at the Frontier or cut up the
minute you set foot in Afghanistan. Do
you want any money or a recommendation
down-country? I can help you to the
chance of work next week.”

“Next week we shall be hard at work ourselves,
thank you,” said Dravot. “It isn’t
so easy being a King as it looks. When
we’ve got our Kingdom in going order we’ll
let you know, and you can come up and help
us to govern it.”

“Would two lunatics make a Contrack
like that!” said Carnehan, with subdued
pride, showing me a greasy half-sheet of note-paper
on which was written the following.
I copied it, then and there, as a curiosity:—

This Contract between me and you persuing witnesseth
in the name of God—Amen and so forth.
  (One) That me and you will settle this matter together:
          i.e., to be Kings of Kafiristan.
  (Two) That you and me will not while this matter is
          being settled, look at any Liquor, nor any
          Woman black, white or brown, so as to get
          mixed up with one or the other harmful.
  (Three) That we conduct ourselves with Dignity and
          Discretion, and if one of us gets into trouble
          the other will stay by him.

  Signed by you and me this day.
          Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan.
          Daniel Dravot.
          Both Gentlemen at Large.

“There was no need for the last article,”
said Carnehan, blushing modestly; “but it
looks regular. Now you know the sort of
men that loafers are—we are loafers, Dan,
until we get out of India—and do you think
that we could sign a Contrack like that
unless we was in earnest? We have kept
away from the two things that make life
worth having.”

“You won’t enjoy your lives much longer
if you are going to try this idiotic adventure.
Don’t set the office on fire,” I said, “and go
away before nine o’clock.”

I left them still poring over the maps and
making notes on the back of the “Contrack.”
“Be sure to come down to the Serai to-morrow,”
were their parting words.

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