A Fallen Idol

by Rudyard Kipling

WILL the public be good enough to look into this business? It has sent Crewe to bed, and Mottleby is applying for home leave, and I’ve lost my faith in man altogether, and the Club gives it up. Trivey is the only man who is unaffected by the catastrophe, and he says “I told you so.” We were all proud of Trivey at the Club, and would have crowned him with wreaths of Bougainvillea had he permitted the liberty. But Trivey was an austere man. The utmost that he permitted himself to say was: “I can stretch a little bit when I’m in the humour.” We called him the Monumental Liar. Nothing that the Club oflFered was too good for Trivey. He had the soft chair opposite the thermantidote in the hot weather, and he made up his own four at whist. When visitors came in—globe-trotters for choice—Trivey used to unmuzzle himself and tell tales that sent the globe-trotter out of the Club on tiptoe looking for snakes in his hat and tigers in the compound. Whenever a man from a strange Club came in Trivey used to call for a whisky and ginger-wine and rout that man on all points—from horses upward. There was a man whose nickname was “Ananias,” who came from the Prince’s Plungers to look at Trivey; and, though Trivey was only a civilian, the Plunger man resigned his title to the nickname before eleven o’clock. He made it over to Trivey on a card, and Trivey himg up the concession in his quarters. We loved Trivey—all of us; and now we don’t love him any more.

A man from the frontier came in and began to tell tales—some very good ones, and some better than good. He was an outsider, but he had a wonderful imagination—for the frontier. He told six stories before Trivey brought up his first line, and three more before Trivey hurled his reserves into the fray.

“When I was at Anungaracharlupillay in Madras,” said Trivey quietly, “there was a rogue elephant cutting about the district. And I came upon him asleep.” All the Club stopped talking here, until Trivey had finished the story. He told us that he, in the company of another man, had found the rogue asleep, but just as they got up to the brute’s head it woke up with a scream. Then Trivey, who was careful to explain that he was a “bit powerful about the arms,” caught hold of its ears as it rose, and hung there, kicking the animal in the eyes, which so bewildered it that it stayed screaming and frightened until Trivey’s ally shot it behind the shoulder, and the villagers ran in and hamstrung it. It evidently died from loss of blood. Trivey was hanging on the ears and kicking hard for nearly fifteen minutes. When the frontier man heard the story he put his hands in front of his face and sobbed audibly. We gave him all the drinks he wanted, and he recovered sufficiently to carry away eighty rupees at whist later on; but his nerve was irretrievably shattered. He will be no use on the frontier any more. The rest of the Club were very pleased with Trivey, because these frontier men, and especially the guides, want a great deal of keeping in order. Trivey was quite modest. He was a truly great soul, and popular applause never turned his head. As I have said, we loved Trivey, till that fatal day when Crewe announced that he had been transferred for a couple of months to Animgaracharlupillay. “Oh!” said Trivey, “I dare say they’ll remember about my rogue elephant down there. You ask ’em, Crewe.” Then we felt sorry for Trivey, because we were sure that he was arriving at that stage of mental decay when a man begins to believe in his own fictions. That spoils a man’s hand. Crewe wrote up once or twice to Mottleby, saying that he would bring back a story that would make our hair curl. Good stories are scarce in Madras, and we rather scoffed at the announcement. When Crewe returned it was easy to see that he was bursting with importance. He gave a big dinner at the Club and invited nearly everybody but Trivey, who went off after dinner to teach a young subaltern to play “snooker.” At coffee and cheroots, Crewe could not restrain himself any longer. “I say, you Johnnies, it’s all true—every single word of it—and you can throw the decanter at my head and I’ll apologise. The whole village was full of it. There was a rogue elephant, and it slept, and Trivey did catch hold of its ears and kick it in the eyes, and hang on for ten minutes, at least, and all the rest of it. I neglected my regular work to sift that story, and on my honour the tale’s an absolute fact. The headsman said so, all the shikaries said so, and all the villages corroborated it. Now would a whole village volunteer a lie that would do them no good?” You might have heard a cigar-ash fall after this statement. Then Mottleby said, with deep disgust: “What can you do with a man like that? His best and brightest lie, too!” “’Tisn’t!” shrieked Crewe. “It’s a fact—a nickel-plated, teak-wood, Tantalusaction, forty-five rupee fact.’’ “That only makes it worse,” said Mottleby; and we all felt that was true. We ran into the billiard-room to talk to Trivey, but he said we had put him off his stroke; and that was all the satisfaction we got out of him. Later on he repeated that he was a “bit powerful about the arms,” and went to bed. We sat up half the night devising vengeance on Trivey. We were very angry, and there was no hope of hushing up the tale. The man had taken us in completely, and now that we’ve lost our champion Ananias, all the frontier will laugh at us, and we shall never be able to trust a word that Trivey says.

I ask with Mottleby: “What can you do with a man like that?”