Tiglath Pileser

by Rudyard Kipling

[a short tale]

THANK Heaven he is dead! The municipality sent a cart and a man only this morning, and, all the servants aiding with ropes and tackle, the carcase of Tiglath was borne away—a wobbling lump. His head was thrust over the tailboard of the cart. Upon it was stamped an expression of horror and surprise, unutterable and grotesque. I have put away my rifle, I have cheered my heart with wine, and I sit down now to write the story of Tiglath, the Utter Brute. His own kind, alas! will not read it, and thus it will be shorn of instruction; but owners will kindly take notice, and when it pleases Heaven to inflict them with such an animal as Tiglath they will know what to do. To begin with, I bought him, his vices thick as his barsati, for a hundred and seventy rupees, a five-chambered, muzzle-loading revolver, and a Cawnpore saddle.

“Of course, for that price,” said Staveley, you can’t expect everything. He’s not what one would call absolutely sound, y’ know, but there’s no end of work in him, and if you only give him the butt he’ll go like a steam-engine.”

“Staveley,” I answered, “when you admit that he is not perfection I perceive that I am in for a really Good Thing. Don’t hurt your conscience, Staveley. Tell me what is his chief vice—weakness, partiality—anything you choose to call it. I shall get to know the minor defects in the course of nature; but what is Tiglath’s real shouk?”

Staveley reflected a moment. “Well, really, i can’t quite say, old man, straight off the reel, y’ know. He’s a oner to go when his head’s turned to home. He’s a regular feeder, and vaseline will cure that little eruption”—with its malignant barsati—“in no time. Oh, I forgot his shouk: I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but he yaws a good deal,” said Staveley.

“He how muches?” I asked.

“Yaws,” said Staveley; “goes a bit wide upon occasions, but a good coachwan will cure that in one drive. My man let him do what he liked. One fifty and a hundred, ten and ten is twenty—one-seventy. Many thanks, indeed. I’ll send over his bedding and ropes. He’s a powerful upstanding horse, though rather picked up just at present.’’

Staveley departed, and I was left alone with Tiglath. I called him Tiglath because he resembled a lathy pig. Later on I called him Pileser on account of his shouk; but my coachwan, a strong, masterless man, called him “haramzada chor, shaitan ké bap” and “oont ki beta” He certainly was a powerful horse, being full fifteen-two at the withers, with the girth of a waler, and at first the docility of an Arab. There was something wrong with his feet—permanently—but he was a considerate beast, and never had more than one leg in hospital at a time. The other three were still movable, and Tiglath never grudged them in my service. I write this in justice to his memory; the creaking of the wheels of the municipal cart being still in my ears.

For a season—some twelve days—Tiglath was beyond reproach. He had not a cheerful disposition, nor did his pendulous underlip add to his personal beauty; but he made no complaints, and moved swiftly to and from office. The hot weather gave place to the cool breezes of October, and with the turn of the year the slumbering devil in the soul of Tiglath spread its wings and crowed aloud. I fed him well, I had aided his barsati, I had lapped his lame legs in thanda putties, and adorned his sinful body with new harness. He rewarded me upon a day with an exhibition so new and strange that I feared for the moment his reason had been unhinged. Slowly, with a malevolent grin, Tiglath, the pampered, turned at right angles to the carriage—a newly-varnished one—and backed the front wheels up the verandah steps, letting them down with a bump. He then wheeled round and round in the portico, and all but brought the carriage over. The show lasted for ten minutes, at the end of which time he trotted peacefully away.

I was pained and grieved—nothing more, upon my honour. I forbade the sais to kick Tiglath in the stomach, for I was persuaded that the harness galled him, and, in this belief, at the end of the day, undressed him tenderly and fitted sheepskin all over the said harness. Tiglath ate the sheepskin next day, and I did not renew it.

A week later I met the Judge. It was a purely accidental interview. I would have avoided it, as the Judge and I did not love each other, but the shafts of my carriage were through the circular front of his brougham, and Tiglath was rubbing the boss of his headstall tenderly against the newly-varnished panels of the same. The Judge complained that he might have been impaled as he sat. My coachwan declared on oath that the horse deliberately ran into the brougham. Tiglath tendered no evidence, and I began to mistrust him.

At the end of a month I perceived that my friends and acquaintances avoided me markedly. The appearance of Tiglath at the bandstand was enough to clear a space of ten yards in my immediate neighbourhood. I had to shout to my friends from afar, and they shouted back the details of the little bills which I had to pay their coach-builders. Tiglath was suffering from carriagecidal mania, and the coachwan had asked for leave. “Stay with me, Ibrahim,” I said. “Thou seest how the sahib log do now avoid us. Get a new and a stout chabuq, and instruct Tiglath in the paths of straight walking.”

“He will smash the Heaven-born’s carriage. He is an old and stale devil, but in this matter extreme wise,” answered Ibrahim. “Kitto sahib’s filton hath he smashed, and Burkitt sahib’s brougham gharri, and another tim-tum, and Staveley sahib’s carriage is still being mended. What profit is this horse? He feigns blindness and much fear, and in the guise of innocency works evil. I will stay, sahib, but the blood of this thy new carriage be upon the brute’s head and not upon mine own.”

I have no space to describe the war of the next few weeks. Foiled in his desire to ruin only neighbours’ property, Tiglath fell back literally, upon his own—my carriage. He tried the verandah step trick till he bent the springs, and wheeled round till the turning action grew red-hot; he scraped stealthily by walls; he performed between heavy-laden bullock-trains, but his chief delight was a pas de fantasie on a dark night and a high, level road. Yet what he did he did staidly and without heat, as without remorse. He was vetted thrice, and his eyes were pronounced sound. After this information I laid my bones to the battle, and acquired a desperate facility of leaping from the carriage and kicking Tiglath on the stomach as soon as he wheeled around; leaping back at the risk of my life when he set off at full speed. I pressed the lighted end of a cheroot just behind the collar-buckle; I applied fusees to those flaccid nostrils, and I beat him about the head with a stick continually. It was necessary, but it was also demoralising. A year of Tiglath would have converted me into a cold-blooded vivisectionist, or a native bullock-driver. Each day I took stock of the injuries to my carriage. I had long since given up all hope of keeping it in decent repair; and each day I devised fresh torments for Tiglath.

He never meant to injure himself, I am certain, and no one was more astonished than he when he backed on the Balmnon road, and dropped the carriage into a nullah on the night of the Jamabundi Moguls’ dance. I did not go to the dance. I was bent considerably, and one side of the coachwan’s face was flayed. When he had pieced the wreck together, he only said, “Sahib!” and I said only “Bohat acha.” But we each knew what the other meant. Next mom Tiglath was stiflf and strained. I gave him time to recover and to enjoy life. When I heard him squealing to the grass-cutter’s ponies I knew that the hour had come. I ordered the carriage, and myself superintended the funeral toilet of Tiglath. His harness brasses shone like gold, his coat like a bottle, and he lifted his feet daintily. Had he even then, at the eleventh hour, given promise of amendment, I should have held my hand. But as I entered the carriage I saw the hunching of his quarters that presaged trouble. “Go forward, Tiglath, my love, my pride, my delight,” I murmured. “For a surety it is a matter of life and death this day.” The sais ran to his head with a fragment of chupatti, saved from his all too scanty rations; the man loved him. And Tiglath swung round to the left in the portico; round and round swung he, till the near ear touched the muzzle of the shot-gun that waited its coming. He never flinched; he pressed his fate. The coachwan threw down the reins as, with four ounces of No. 5 shot behind the hollow of the root of the ear, Tiglath fell. In his death he accomplished the desire of his life, for he fell upon the shaft and broke it into three pieces. I looked on him as he lay, and of a sudden the reason of the horror in his eyes was made clear. Tiglath, the breaker of carriages, the strong, the rebellious, had passed into the shadowy spirit land, where there was nought to destroy and no power to destroy it with. The ghastly foreknowledge of the flitting soul was written on the glazing eyeball.

I repented me, then, that I had slain Tiglath, for I had no intention of punishing him in the hereafter.