Griffiths the Safe Man

by Rudyard Kipling

[a short tale]

AS the title indicates, this story deals with the safeness of Griffiths the safe man, the secure person, the reliable individual, the sort of man you would bank with. I am proud to write about Griffiths, for I owe him a pleasant day. This story is dedicated to my friend Griffiths, the remarkably trustworthy mortal.

In the beginning there were points about Griffiths. He quoted proverbs. A man who quotes proverbs is confounded by proverbs. He is also confounded by his friends. But I never confounded Griffths—not even in that supreme moment when the sweat stood on his brow in agony and his teeth were fixed like bayonets and he swore horribly. Even then, I say, I sat on my own trunk, the trunk that opened, and told Griffiths that I had always respected him, but never more than at the present moment. He was so safe, y’ know.

Safeness is a matter of no importance to me. If my trunk won’t lock when I jump on it thrice, I strap it up and go on to something else. If my carpet-bag is too full, I let the tails of shirts and the ends of ties bubble over and go down the street with the affair. It all comes right in the end, and if it does not, what is a man that he should fight against Fate?

But Griffiths is not constructed in that manner. He says: “Safe bind is safe find.” That, rather, is what he used to say. He has seen reason to alter his views. Everything about Griffiths is safe—entirely safe. His trunk is locked by two hermetical gun-metal double-end Chubbs; his bedding-roll opens to a letter padlock capable of two million combinations; his hat-box has a lever patent safety on it; and the grief of his life is that he cannot lock up the ribs of his umbrella safely. If you could get at his soul you would find it ready strapped up and labelled for heaven. That is Griffiths.

When we went to Japan together, Griffiths kept all his money under lock and key. I carried mine in my coat-tail pocket. But all Griffiths’ contraptions did not prevent him from spending exactly as much as I did. You see, when he had worried his way through the big strap, and the little strap, and the slidevalve, and the spring lock, and the key that turned twice and a quarter, he felt as though he had earned any money he found, whereas I could get masses of sinful wealth by merely pulling out my handkerchief—dollars and five dollars and ten dollars, all mixed up with the tobacco or flying down the road. They looked much too pretty to spend.

“Safe bind, safe find,” said Griffiths in the treaty port.

He never really began to lock things up severely till we got our passports to travel upcountry. He took charge of mine for me, on the ground that I was an imbecile. As you are asked for your passport at every other shop, all the hotels, most of the places of amusement, and on the top of each hill, I got to appreciate Griffiths’ self-sacrifice. He would be biting a strap with his teeth or calculating the combinations of his padlocks among a ring of admiring Japanese while I went for a walk into the interior.

“Safe bind, safe find,” said Griffiths. That was true, because I was bound to find Griffiths somewhere near his beloved keys and straps. He never seemed to see that half the pleasure of his trip was being strapped and keyed out of him.

We never had any serious difficulty about the passports in the whole course of our wanderings. What I purpose to describe now is merely an incident of travel. It had no effect on myself, but it nearly broke Griffiths’ heart.

We were travelling from Kyoto to Otsu along a very dusty road full of pretty girls. Every time I stopped to play with one of them Griffiths grew impatient. He had telegraphed for rooms at the only hotel in Otsu, and was afraid that there would be no accommodation. There were only three rooms in the hotel, and “Safe bind, safe find,” said Griffiths. He was telegraphing ahead for something.

Our hotel was three-quarters Japanese and one-quarter European. If you walked across it it shook, and if you laughed the roof fell off. Strange Japanese came in and dined with you, and Jap maidens looked through the windows of the bathroom while you were bathing.

We had hardly put the luggage down before the proprietor asked for our passports. He asked me of all people in the world. “I have the passports,” said Griffiths with pride. “They are in the yellow-hide bag. Turn it very carefully on to the right side, my good man. You have no such locks in Japan, I’m quite certain.” Then he knelt down and brought out a bunch of keys as big as his fist. You must know that every Japanese carries a little belaiti-made handbag with nickel fastenings. They take an interest in handbags.

“Safe bind, safe—— D—n the key! What’s wrong with it?” said Griffiths.

The hotel proprietor bowed and smiled very politely for at least five minutes, Griffiths crawling over and mider and romid and about his bag the while, “It’s a percussating compensator,” said he, half to himself. “I’ve never known a percussatmg compensator do this before.” He was getting heated and red in the face.

“Key stuck, eh? I told you those fooling little spring locks are sure to go wrong sooner or later.”

“Fooling little devils. It’s a percussating comp—— There goes the key. Now it won’t move either way. I’ll give you the passport to-morrow. Passport kul demang manana—catchee in a little time. Won’t that do for you?”

Griffiths was getting really angry. The proprietor was more polite than ever. He bowed and left the room. “That’s a good little chap,” said Griffiths. “Now we’ll settle down and see what the mischief’s wrong with this bag. You catch one end.”

“Not in the least,” I said. “‘Safe bind, safe find,’ You did the binding. How can you expect me to do the finding? I’m an imbecile unfit to be trusted with a passport, and now I’m going for a walk.” The Japanese are really the politest nation in the world. When the hotel proprietor returned with a policeman he did ppt at once thrust the man on Griffiths’ notice. He put him in the verandah and let him clank his sword gently once or twice.

“Little chap’s brought a blacksmith,” said Griffiths, but when he saw the policeman his face became ugly. The policeman came into the room and tried to assist. Have you ever seen a four-foot policeman in white cotton gloves and a stand-up collar lunging percussating compensator look with a five-foot sword? I enjoyed the sight for a few minutes before I went out to look at Otsu, which is a nice town. No one hindered me. Griffiths was so completely the head of the firm that had I set the town on fire he would have been held responsible.

I went to a temple, and a policeman said “passport.” I said, “The other gentleman has got. “Where is other gentleman?” said the policeman, syllable by syllable, in the Ollendorfian style. “In the ho-tel,” said I; and he waddled off to catch him. It seemed to me that I could do a great deal towards cheering Griffiths all alone in his bedroom with that wicked bad lock, the hotel proprietor, the policeman, the room-boy, and the girl who helped one to bathe. With this idea I stood in front of four policemen, and they all asked for my passport and were all sent to the hotel, syllable by syllable—I mean one by one.

Some soldiers of the 9th N, I. were strolling about the streets, and they were idle. It is unwise to let a soldier be idle. He may get drunk. When the fourth policeman said: “Where is other gentleman?” I said: “In the hotel, and take soldiers—those soldiers.”

“How many soldiers?” said the policeman firmly.

“Take all soldiers,” I said. There were four files in the street just then. The policeman spoke to them, and they caught up their big sword-bayonets, nearly as long as themselves, and waddled after him.

I followed them, but first I bought some sweets and gave one to a child. That was enough. Long before I had reached the hotel I had a tail of fifty babies. These I seduced into the long passage that ran through the house, and then I slid the grating that answers to the big hall-door. That house was full— pit, boxes and galleries—for Griffiths had created an audience of his own, and I also had not been idle.

The four files of soldiers and the five policemen were marking time on the boards of Griffith’s room, while the landlord and the landlord’s wife, and the two scullions, and the bath-girl, and the cook-boy, and the boy who spoke English, and the boy who didn’t, and the boy who tried to, and the cook, filled all the space that wasn’t devoted to babies asking the foreigner for more sweets.

Somewhere in the centre of the mess was Griffiths and a yellow-hide bag. I don’t think he had looked up once since I left, for as he raised his eyes at my voice I heard him cry: “Good heavens! are they going to train the guns of the city on me? What’s the meaning of the regiment? I’m a British subject.”

“What are you looking for?” I asked.

“The passports—your passports—the double-dyed passports! Oh, give a man room to use his arms. Get me a hatchet.”

“The passports, the passports!” I said. “Have you looked in your great-coat? It’s on the bed, and there’s a blue envelope in it that looks like a passport. You put it there before you left Kyoto.”

Griffiths looked. The landlord looked. The landlord took the passport and bowed. The five policemen bowed and went out one by one; the 9th N. I. formed fours and went out; the household bowed, and there was a long silence. Then the bath-girl began to giggle.

When Griffiths wanted to speak to me I was on the other side of the regiment of children in the passage, and he had time to reflect before he could work his way through them.

They formed his guard-of -honour when he took the bag to the locksmith.

I abode on the mountains of Otsu till dinnertime.