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The Man Who Would Be King Pages 13-25
by Rudyard Kipling

The Kumharsen Serai is the great four-square

sink of humanity where the strings

of camels and horses from the North load

and unload. All the nationalities of Central

Asia may be found there, and most of the

folk of India proper. Balkh and Bokhara

there meet Bengal and Bombay, and try to

draw eye-teeth. You can buy ponies, turquoises,

Persian pussy-cats, saddle-bags, fat-tailed

sheep and musk in the Kumharsen

Serai, and get many strange things for

nothing. In the afternoon I went down

there to see whether my friends intended to

keep their word or were lying about drunk.
A priest attired in fragments of ribbons

and rags stalked up to me, gravely twisting

a child’s paper whirligig. Behind him was

his servant, bending under the load of a

crate of mud toys. The two were loading

up two camels, and the inhabitants of the

Serai watched them with shrieks of laughter.
“The priest is mad,” said a horse-dealer to

me. “He is going up to Kabul to sell toys

to the Amir. He will either be raised to

honor or have his head cut off. He came

in here this morning and has been behaving

madly ever since.”
“The witless are under the protection of

God,” stammered a flat-cheeked Usbeg in

broken Hindi. “They foretell future events.”
“Would they could have foretold that my

caravan would have been cut up by the

Shinwaris almost within shadow of the

Pass!” grunted the Eusufzai agent of a Rajputana

trading-house whose goods had been

feloniously diverted into the hands of other

robbers just across the Border, and whose

misfortunes were the laughing-stock of the

bazar. “Ohé, priest, whence come you and

whither do you go?”
“From Roum have I come,” shouted the

priest, waving his whirligig; “from Roum,

blown by the breath of a hundred devils

across the sea! O thieves, robbers, liars,

the blessing of Pir Khan on pigs, dogs, and

perjurers! Who will take the Protected of

God to the North to sell charms that are

never still to the Amir? The camels shall

not gall, the sons shall not fall sick, and the

wives shall remain faithful while they are

away, of the men who give me place in

their caravan. Who will assist me to slipper

the King of the Roos with a golden slipper

with a silver heel? The protection of Pir

Kahn be upon his labors!” He spread out

the skirts of his gaberdine and pirouetted between

the lines of tethered horses.
“There starts a caravan from Peshawar to

Kabul in twenty days, Huzrut,” said the

Eusufzai trader. “My camels go therewith.

Do thou also go and bring us good luck.”
“I will go even now!” shouted the priest.

“I will depart upon my winged camels,

and be at Peshawar in a day! Ho! Hazar

Mir Khan,” he yelled to his servant “drive

out the camels, but let me first mount my

He leaped on the back of his beast as it

knelt, and turning round to me, cried:—
“Come thou also, Sahib, a little along the

road, and I will sell thee a charm—an amulet

that shall make thee King of Kafiristan.”
Then the light broke upon me, and I followed

the two camels out of the Serai till we

reached open road and the priest halted.
“What d’ you think o’ that?” said he in

English. “Carnehan can’t talk their patter,

so I’ve made him my servant. He makes a

handsome servant. ’Tisn’t for nothing that

I’ve been knocking about the country for

fourteen years. Didn’t I do that talk neat?

We’ll hitch on to a caravan at Peshawar till

we get to Jagdallak, and then we’ll see if we

can get donkeys for our camels, and strike

into Kafiristan. Whirligigs for the Amir,

O Lor! Put your hand under the camel-bags

and tell me what you feel.”
I felt the butt of a Martini, and another

and another.
“Twenty of ’em,” said Dravot, placidly.
“Twenty of ’em, and ammunition to correspond,

under the whirligigs and the mud

“Heaven help you if you are caught with

those things!” I said. “A Martini is worth

her weight in silver among the Pathans.”
“Fifteen hundred rupees of capital—every

rupee we could beg, borrow, or steal—are

invested on these two camels,” said Dravot.

“We won’t get caught. We’re going through

the Khaiber with a regular caravan. Who’d

touch a poor mad priest?”
“Have you got everything you want?”

I asked, overcome with astonishment.
“Not yet, but we shall soon. Give us a

momento of your kindness, Brother. You

did me a service yesterday, and that time in

Marwar. Half my Kingdom shall you have,

as the saying is.” I slipped a small charm

compass from my watch-chain and handed

it up to the priest.
“Good-by,” said Dravot, giving me his

hand cautiously. “It’s the last time we’ll

shake hands with an Englishman these many

days. Shake hands with him, Carnehan,”

he cried, as the second camel passed me.
Carnehan leaned down and shook hands.

Then the camels passed away along the dusty

road, and I was left alone to wonder. My

eye could detect no failure in the disguises.

The scene in the Serai attested that they

were complete to the native mind. There

was just the chance, therefore, that Carnehan

and Dravot would be able to wander

through Afghanistan without detection.

But, beyond, they would find death, certain

and awful death.
Ten days later a native friend of mine,

giving me the news of the day from Peshawar,

wound up his letter with:—“There has

been much laughter here on account of a

certain mad priest who is going in his estimation

to sell petty gauds and insignificant

trinkets which he ascribes as great charms

to H. H. the Amir of Bokhara. He passed

through Peshawar and associated himself to

the Second Summer caravan that goes to

Kabul. The merchants are pleased because

through superstition they imagine that such

mad fellows bring good-fortune.”
The two then, were beyond the Border.

I would have prayed for them, but, that

night, a real King died in Europe, and demanded

an obituary notice.
     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

The wheel of the world swings through

the same phases again and again. Summer

passed and winter thereafter, and came and

passed again. The daily paper continued

and I with it, and upon the third summer

there fell a hot night, a night-issue, and a

strained waiting for something to be telegraphed

from the other side of the world,

exactly as had happened before. A few great

men had died in the past two years, the machines

worked with more clatter, and some

of the trees in the Office garden were a few

feet taller. But that was all the difference.
I passed over to the press-room, and went

through just such a scene as I have already

described. The nervous tension was stronger

than it had been two years before, and I felt

the heat more acutely. At three o’clock I

cried, “Print off,” and turned to go, when

there crept to my chair what was left of a

man. He was bent into a circle, his head

was sunk between his shoulders, and he

moved his feet one over the other like a bear.

I could hardly see whether he walked or

crawled—this rag-wrapped, whining cripple

who addressed me by name, crying that he

was come back. “Can you give me a

drink?” he whimpered. “For the Lord’s

sake, give me a drink!”
I went back to the office, the man following

with groans of pain, and I turned up the

“Don’t you know me?” he gasped, dropping

into a chair, and he turned his drawn

face, surmounted by a shock of gray hair, to

the light.
I looked at him intently. Once before had

I seen eyebrows that met over the nose in an

inch-broad black band, but for the life of me

I could not tell where.
“I don’t know you,” I said, handing him

the whiskey. “What can I do for you?”
He took a gulp of the spirit raw, and shivered

in spite of the suffocating heat.

“I’ve come back,” he repeated; “and I

was the King of Kafiristan—me and Dravot

—crowned Kings we was! In this office we

settled it—you setting there and giving us

the books. I am Peachey—Peachey Taliaferro

Carnehan, and you’ve been setting here

ever since—O Lord!”
I was more than a little astonished, and

expressed my feelings accordingly.
“It’s true,” said Carnehan, with a dry

cackle, nursing his feet which were wrapped

in rags. “True as gospel. Kings we were,

with crowns upon our heads—me and Dravot

—poor Dan—oh, poor, poor Dan, that would

never take advice, not though I begged of

“Take the whiskey,” I said, “and take

your own time. Tell me all you can recollect

of everything from beginning to end.

You got across the border on your camels,

Dravot dressed as a mad priest and you his

servant. Do you remember that?”
“I ain’t mad—yet, but I will be that way

soon. Of course I remember. Keep looking

at me, or maybe my words will go all to

pieces. Keep looking at me in my eyes and

don’t say anything.”
I leaned forward and looked into his face

as steadily as I could. He dropped one hand

upon the table and I grasped it by the wrist.

It was twisted like a bird’s claw, and upon

the back was a ragged, red, diamond-shaped

“No, don’t look there. Look at me,” said

“That comes afterwards, but for the Lord’s

sake don’t distrack me. We left with that

caravan, me and Dravot, playing all sorts of

antics to amuse the people we were with.

Dravot used to make us laugh in the evenings

when all the people was cooking their

dinners—cooking their dinners, and … what

did they do then? They lit little fires

with sparks that went into Dravot’s beard,

and we all laughed—fit to die. Little red

fires they was, going into Dravot’s big red

beard—so funny.” His eyes left mine and

he smiled foolishly.
“You went as far as Jagdallak with that

caravan,” I said at a venture, “after you

had lit those fires. To Jagdallak, where

you turned off to try to get into Kafiristan.”
“No, we didn’t neither. What are you

talking about? We turned off before Jagdallak,

because we heard the roads was good.

But they wasn’t good enough for our two

camels—mine and Dravot’s. When we left

the caravan, Dravot took off all his clothes

and mine too, and said we would be heathen,

because the Kafirs didn’t allow Mohammedans

to talk to them. So we dressed betwixt

and between, and such a sight as Daniel

Dravot I never saw yet nor expect to see

again. He burned half his beard, and slung

a sheep-skin over his shoulder, and shaved

his head into patterns. He shaved mine,

too, and made me wear outrageous things to

look like a heathen. That was in a most

mountaineous country, and our camels

couldn’t go along any more because of the

mountains. They were tall and black, and

coming home I saw them fight like wild

goats—there are lots of goats in Kafiristan.

And these mountains, they never keep still,

no more than the goats. Always fighting

they are, and don’t let you sleep at night.”
“Take some more whiskey,” I said, very

slowly. “What did you and Daniel Dravot

do when the camels could go no further because

of the rough roads that led into Kafiristan?”
“What did which do? There was a party

called Peachey Taliaferro Carnehan that was

with Dravot. Shall I tell you about him?

He died out there in the cold. Slap from

the bridge fell old Peachey, turning and

twisting in the air like a penny whirligig

that you can sell to the Amir—No; they

was two for three ha’pence, those whirligigs,

or I am much mistaken and woful sore.

And then these camels were no use, and

Peachey said to Dravot—‘For the Lord’s

sake, let’s get out of this before our heads are

chopped off,’ and with that they killed the

camels all among the mountains, not having

anything in particular to eat, but first they

took off the boxes with the guns and the

ammunition, till two men came along driving

four mules. Dravot up and dances in front

of them, singing,—‘Sell me four mules.’

Says the first man,—‘If you are rich enough

to buy, you are rich enough to rob;’ but before

ever he could put his hand to his knife,

Dravot breaks his neck over his knee, and

the other party runs away. So Carnehan

loaded the mules with the rifles that was

taken off the camels, and together we starts

forward into those bitter cold mountainous

parts, and never a road broader than the

back of your hand.”
He paused for a moment, while I asked

him if he could remember the nature of the

country through which he had journeyed.
“I am telling you as straight as I can, but

my head isn’t as good as it might be. They

drove nails through it to make me hear

better how Dravot died. The country was

mountainous and the mules were most contrary,

and the inhabitants was dispersed and

solitary. They went up and up, and down

and down, and that other party Carnehan,

was imploring of Dravot not to sing and

whistle so loud, for fear of bringing down the

tremenjus avalanches. But Dravot says that

if a King couldn’t sing it wasn’t worth being

King, and whacked the mules over the rump,

and never took no heed for ten cold days.

We came to a big level valley all among the

mountains, and the mules were near dead,

so we killed them, not having anything in

special for them or us to eat. We sat upon

the boxes, and played odd and even with

the cartridges that was jolted out.
“Then ten men with bows and arrows

ran down that valley, chasing twenty men

with bows and arrows, and the row was

tremenjus. They was fair men—fairer than

you or me—with yellow hair and remarkable

well built. Says Dravot, unpacking the

guns—‘This is the beginning of the business.

We’ll fight for the ten men,’ and with that he

fires two rifles at the twenty men and drops

one of them at two hundred yards from the

rock where we was sitting. The other men

began to run, but Carnehan and Dravot sits

on the boxes picking them off at all ranges, up

and down the valley. Then we goes up to the

ten men that had run across the snow too,

and they fires a footy little arrow at us.

Dravot he shoots above their heads and they

all falls down flat. Then he walks over

them and kicks them, and then he lifts them

up and shakes hands all around to make

them friendly like. He calls them and gives

them the boxes to carry, and waves his hand

for all the world as though he was King

already. They takes the boxes and him

across the valley and up the hill into a pine

wood on the top, where there was half a

dozen big stone idols. Dravot he goes to the

biggest—a fellow they call Imbra—and lays

a rifle and a cartridge at his feet, rubbing his

nose respectful with his own nose, patting

him on the head, and saluting in front of it.

He turns round to the men and nods his

head, and says,—‘That’s all right. I’m in

the know too, and these old jim-jams are my

friends.’ Then he opens his mouth and

points down it, and when the first man

brings him food, he says—‘No;’ and when

the second man brings him food, he says—

‘No;’ but when one of the old priests and

the boss of the village brings him food, he

says—‘Yes;’ very haughty, and eats it slow.

That was how we came to our first village,

without any trouble, just as though we had

tumbled from the skies. But we tumbled

from one of those damned rope-bridges, you

see, and you couldn’t expect a man to laugh

much after that.”
“Take some more whiskey and go on,” I

said. “That was the first village you came

into. How did you get to be King?”
“I wasn’t King,” said Carnehan. “Dravot

he was the King, and a handsome man

he looked with the gold crown on his head

and all. Him and the other party stayed in

that village, and every morning Dravot sat

by the side of old Imbra, and the people came

and worshipped. That was Dravot’s order.

Then a lot of men came into the valley, and

Carnehan and Dravot picks them off with

the rifles before they knew where they was,

and runs down into the valley and up again

the other side, and finds another village,

same as the first one, and the people all falls

down flat on their faces, and Dravot says,—

‘Now what is the trouble between you two

villages?’ and the people points to a woman,

as fair as you or me, that was carried off,

and Dravot takes her back to the first village

and counts up the dead—eight there was.

For each dead man Dravot pours a little milk

on the ground and waves his arms like a

whirligig and, ‘That’s all right,’ says he.

Then he and Carnehan takes the big boss of

each village by the arm and walks them

down into the valley, and shows them how

to scratch a line with a spear right down

the valley, and gives each a sod of turf

from both sides o’ the line. Then all the

people comes down and shouts like the devil

and all, and Dravot says,—‘Go and dig the

land, and be fruitful and multiply,’ which

they did, though they didn’t understand.

Then we asks the names of things in their

lingo—bread and water and fire and idols

and such, and Dravot leads the priest of each

village up to the idol, and says he must sit

there and judge the people, and if anything

goes wrong he is to be shot.
“Next week they was all turning up the

land in the valley as quiet as bees and much

prettier, and the priests heard all the complaints

and told Dravot in dumb show what

it was about. ‘That’s just the beginning,’

says Dravot. ‘They think we’re gods.’ He

and Carnehan picks out twenty good men

and shows them how to click off a rifle, and

form fours, and advance in line, and they

was very pleased to do so, and clever to see

the hang of it. Then he takes out his pipe

and his baccy-pouch and leaves one at one

village, and one at the other, and off we two

goes to see what was to be done in the next

valley. That was all rock, and there was a

little village there, and Carnehan says,—

‘Send ’em to the old valley to plant,’ and

takes ’em there and gives ’em some land that

wasn’t took before. They were a poor lot,

and we blooded ’em with a kid before letting

’em into the new Kingdom. That was to

impress the people, and then they settled

down quiet, and Carnehan went back to

Dravot who had got into another valley, all

snow and ice and most mountainous. There

was no people there and the Army got afraid,

so Dravot shoots one of them, and goes on

till he finds some people in a village, and

the Army explains that unless the people

wants to be killed they had better not shoot

their little matchlocks; for they had matchlocks.

We makes friends with the priest

and I stays there alone with two of the

Army, teaching the men how to drill, and a

thundering big Chief comes across the snow

with kettledrums and horns twanging, because

he heard there was a new god kicking

about. Carnehan sights for the brown of

the men half a mile across the snow and

wings one of them. Then he sends a message

to the Chief that, unless he wished to

be killed, he must come and shake hands

with me and leave his arms behind. The

Chief comes alone first, and Carnehan shakes

hands with him and whirls his arms about,

same as Dravot used, and very much surprised

that Chief was, and strokes my eyebrows.

Then Carnehan goes alone to the

Chief, and asks him in dumb show if he

had an enemy he hated. ‘I have,’ says the

Chief. So Carnehan weeds out the pick of

his men, and sets the two of the Army to

show them drill and at the end of two weeks

the men can manœuvre about as well as

Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief

to a great big plain on the top of a mountain,

and the Chiefs men rushes into a village

and takes it; we three Martinis firing into

the brown of the enemy. So we took that

village too, and I gives the Chief a rag from

my coat and says, ‘Occupy till I come’:

which was scriptural. By way of a reminder,

when me and the Army was eighteen hundred

yards away, I drops a bullet near him

standing on the snow, and all the people

falls flat on their faces. Then I sends a letter

to Dravot, wherever he be by land or by

At the risk of throwing the creature out of

train I interrupted,—“How could you write

a letter up yonder?”
“The letter?—Oh! — The letter! Keep

looking at me between the eyes, please. It

was a string-talk letter, that we’d learned

the way of it from a blind beggar in the

I remember that there had once come to

the office a blind man with a knotted twig

and a piece of string which he wound round

the twig according to some cypher of his

own. He could, after the lapse of days or

hours, repeat the sentence which he had

reeled up. He had reduced the alphabet to

eleven primitive sounds; and tried to teach

me his method, but failed.
“I sent that letter to Dravot,” said Carnehan;

“and told him to come back because

this Kingdom was growing too big for me to

handle, and then I struck for the first valley,

to see how the priests were working. They

called the village we took along with the

Chief, Bashkai, and the first village we took,

Er-Heb. The priest at Er-Heb was doing all

right, but they had a lot of pending cases

about land to show me, and some men from

another village had been firing arrows at

night. I went out and looked for that village

and fired four rounds at it from a thousand

yards. That used all the cartridges I

cared to spend, and I waited for Dravot, who

had been away two or three months, and I

kept my people quiet.
“One morning I heard the devil’s own

noise of drums and horns, and Dan Dravot

marches down the hill with his Army and a

tail of hundreds of men, and, which was the

most amazing—a great gold crown on his

head. ‘My Gord, Carnehan,’ says Daniel,

‘this is a tremenjus business, and we’ve got

the whole country as far as it’s worth having.

I am the son of Alexander by Queen Semiramis,

and you’re my younger brother and

a god too! It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever

seen. I’ve been marching and fighting for

six weeks with the Army, and every footy

little village for fifty miles has come in rejoiceful;

and more than that, I’ve got the

key of the whole show, as you’ll see, and

I’ve got a crown for you! I told ’em to

make two of ’em at a place called Shu, where

the gold lies in the rock like suet in mutton.

Gold I’ve seen, and turquoise I’ve kicked out

of the cliffs, and there’s garnets in the sands

of the river, and here’s a chunk of amber

that a man brought me. Call up all the

priests and, here, take your crown.’
“One of the men opens a black hair bag

and I slips the crown on. It was too small

and too heavy, but I wore it for the glory.

Hammered gold it was—five pound weight,

like a hoop of a barrel.
“‘Peachey,’ says Dravot, ‘we don’t want to

fight no more. The Craft’s the trick so help

me!’ and he brings forward that same Chief

that I left at Bashkai—Billy Fish we called

him afterwards, because he was so like Billy

Fish that drove the big tank-engine at Mach

on the Bolan in the old days. ‘Shake hands

with him,’ says Dravot, and I shook hands

and nearly dropped, for Billy Fish gave me

the Grip. I said nothing, but tried him

with the Fellow Craft Grip. He answers,

all right, and I tried the Master’s Grip, but

that was a slip. ‘A Fellow Craft he is!’

I says to Dan. ‘Does he know the word?’

‘He does,’ says Dan, ‘and all the priests

know. It’s a miracle! The Chiefs and

the priest can work a Fellow Craft Lodge

in a way that’s very like ours, and they’ve

cut the marks on the rocks, but they

don’t know the Third Degree, and they’ve

come to find out. It’s Gord’s Truth.

I’ve known these long years that the

Afghans knew up to the Fellow Craft

Degree, but this is a miracle. A god and a

Grand-Master of the Craft am I, and a

Lodge in the Third Degree I will open, and

we’ll raise the head priests and the Chiefs of

the villages.’
“‘It’s against all the law,’ I says, ‘holding

a Lodge without warrant from any one;

and we never held office in any Lodge.’
“‘It’s a master-stroke of policy,’ says

Dravot. ‘It means running the country as

easy as a four-wheeled bogy on a down

grade. We can’t stop to inquire now, or

they’ll turn against us. I’ve forty Chiefs at

my heel, and passed and raised according

to their merit they shall be. Billet these

men on the villages and see that we run up

a Lodge of some kind. The temple of Imbra

will do for the Lodge-room. The women

must make aprons as you show them. I’ll

hold a levee of Chiefs tonight and Lodge to-morrow.’
“I was fair rim off my legs, but I wasn’t

such a fool as not to see what a pull this

Craft business gave us. I showed the

priests’ families how to make aprons of

the degrees, but for Dravot’s apron the blue

border and marks was made of turquoise

lumps on white hide, not cloth. We took a

great square stone in the temple for the

Master’s chair, and little stones for the officers’

chairs, and painted the black pavement

with white squares, and did what we

could to make things regular.
“At the levee which was held that night

on the hillside with big bonfires, Dravot

gives out that him and me were gods and

sons of Alexander, and Past Grand-Masters

in the Craft, and was come to make Kafiristan

a country where every man should eat

in peace and drink in quiet, and specially

obey us. Then the Chiefs come round to

shake hands, and they was so hairy and

white and fair it was just shaking hands

with old friends. We gave them names according

as they was like men we had known

in India—Billy Fish, Holly Dilworth, Pikky

Kergan that was Bazar-master when I was

at Mhow, and so on, and so on.
“The most amazing miracle was at Lodge

next night. One of the old priests was

watching us continuous, and I felt uneasy,

for I knew we’d have to fudge the Ritual,

and I didn’t know what the men knew. The

old priest was a stranger come in from beyond

the village of Bashkai. The minute

Dravot puts on

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