The Smith Administration

by Rudyard Kipling


A Bazar Dhulip

I AND the Government are roughly in the same condition; but modesty forces me to say that the Smith Administration is a few points better than the Imperial. Corkler’s coachwan, you may remember, was fined a caste-dinner by me for sending his son, Imam Din, to mangle my dun heifer. In my last published administration report, I stated that Corkler’s coachwan bore me a grudge for the fine imposed upon him, but among my servants and Corkler’s, at least, could find no one to support him in schemes of vengeance. I was quite right—right as an administration with prestige to support should always be.

But I own that I had never contemplated the possibility of Corkler’s coachwan going off to take service with Mr. Jehan Concepcion Fernandez de Lisboa Paul—a gentleman semi-orientalised, possessed of several dwelling-houses and an infamous temper. Corkler was an Englishman, and any attempt on his coachwan’s part to annoy me would have been summarily stopped. Mr. J.C.F. de L. Paul, on the other hand . . . but no matter. The business is now settled, and there is no necessity for importing a race-question into the story.

Once established in Mr. Paul’s compound, Corkler’s coachwan sent me an insolent message demanding a refund, with interest, of all the, money spent on the caste-dinner. The Government, in a temperately framed reply, refused point-blank, and pointed out that a Mahometan by his religion could not ask for interest. As I have stated in my last report, Corkler’s coachwan was a renegade chamar, converted to Islam for his wife’s sake. The impassive attitude of the Government had the effect of monstrously irritating Corkler’s coachwan, who sat on the wall of Mr. Paul’s compound and flung highly flavoured vernacular at the servants of the State as they passed. He said that it was his intention to make life a burden to the Government—profanely called Eschmitt Sahib. The Government went to office as usual and made no sign. Then Corkler’s coachwan formulated an indictment to the effect that Eschmitt Sahib had, on the occasion of the caste-dinner, pulled him vehemently by the ears, and robbed him of one rupee nine annas four pie. The charge was shouted from the top of Mr. Paul’s compound wall to the four winds of Heaven. It was disregarded by the Government, and the refugee took more daring measures. He came by night, and wrote upon the whitewashed walls with charcoal disgraceful sentences which made the Smith servants grin.

Now it is bad for any Government that its servants should grin at it. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft; and irreverence is the parent of rebellion. Not content with writing, Corkler’s coachwan began to miscall the State—always from the top of Mr. Paul’s wall. He informed intending mussalchis (scullions) that Eschmitt Sahib invariably administered his pantry with a polo-stock; possible saises (grooms) were told that wages in the Smith establishment were paid yearly; while khitmatgars (butlers) learnt that their family honour was not safe within the gate-posts of the house of ‘Eschmitt.’ No real harm was done, for the character of my rule is known among all first-class servants. Still, the vituperation and all its circumstantial details made men laugh; and I choose that no one shall laugh.

My relations with Mr. Paul had always—for reasons connected with the incursions of hens—been strained. In pursuance of a carefully matured plan of campaign I demanded of Mr. Paul the body of Corkler’s coachwan, to be dealt with after my own ideas. Mr. Paul said that the man was a good coachwan and should not be given up. I then temperately—always temperately—gave him a sketch of the ruffian’s conduct. Mr. Paul announced his entire freedom from any responsibility in this matter, and requested that the correspondence might cease. It was vitally necessary to the well-being of my administration that Corkler’s coachwan should come into my possession. He was daily growing a greater nuisance, and had drawn unto him a disaffected dog-boy, lately in my employ.

Mr. Paul was deaf to my verbal, and blind to my written entreaties. For these reasons I was reluctantly compelled to take the law into my own hands—and break it. A khitmatgar was sent down the length of Mr. Paul’s wall to ‘draw the fire’ of Corkler’s coachwan, and while the latter cursed him by his gods for ever entering Eschmitt Sahib’s service, Eschmitt Sahib crept subtilely behind the wall and thrust the evil-speaker into the moonlit road, where he was pinioned, in strict silence, by the ambushed population of the Smith compound. Once collared, I regret to say, Cockler’s coachwan was seized with an unmanly panic; for the memory of the lewd sentences on the wall, the insults shouted from the top of Mr. Paul’s wall, and the warnings to wayfaring table-servants, came back to his mind. He wept salt tears and demanded the protection of the law and of Mr. Paul. He received neither. He was paraded by the State through the quarters, that all men and women and little children might look at him. He was then formally appointed last and lowest of the carriage-grooms—nauker-ke-nauker (servant of servants)—in perpetuity, on a salary which would never be increased. The entire Smith people—Hindu and Mussulman alike—were made responsible for his safe-keeping under pain of having all the thatch additions to their houses torn down, and the Light of the Favour of the State—the Great Hazur-ki-Mehrbani—darkened for ever.

Legally the State was wrongfully detaining Corkler’s coachwan. Practically, it was avenging itself for a protracted series of insults to its dignity.

Days rolled on, and Corkler’s coachwan became carriage-sais. Instead of driving two horses, it was his duty to let down the steps for the State to tread upon. When the other servants received cold-weather coats, he was compelled to buy one, and all extra lean-to huts round his house were strictly forbidden. That he did not run away, I ascribe solely to the exertions of the domestic police—that is to say, every man, woman, and child of the Smith Kingdom. He was delivered into their hands, for a prey and a laughing stock; and in their hands, unless I am much mistaken, they intend that he shall remain. I learn that my khansamah (head-butler) has informed Mr. Paul that his late servant is in gaol for robbing the Roman Catholic Chapel, of which Mr. Paul is a distinguished member; consequently that gentleman has relaxed his attempts to unearth what he called his ‘so good coachwan.’ That coachwan is now a living example and most lively presentment of the unrelaxing wrath of the State. However well he may work, however earnestly strive to win my favour, there is no human chance of his ever rising from his present position so long as Eschmitt Sahib and he are above the earth together. For reasons which I have hinted at above, he remains cleaning carriage-wheels, and will so remain to the end of the chapter; while the story of his fall and fate spreads through the bazars, and fills the ranks of servantdom with an intense respect for Eschmitt Sahib.

A broad-minded Oriental administration would have allowed me to nail up the head of Corkler’s coachwan over the hall door; a narrow-souled public may consider my present lenient treatment of him harsh and illegal. To this I can only reply that I know how to deal with my own people. I will never, never part with Corkler’s coachwan.