Selected Stories

Selected Stories by Rudyard Kipling Read Free Book Online

Book: Selected Stories by Rudyard Kipling Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rudyard Kipling
would be more to the purpose?’
    That roused the woman. She stood up and sneered at the Senior Subaltern for a cur, and abused the Major and the Colonel and all the rest. Then she wept, and then she pulled a paper from her breast, saying imperially, ‘Take that! And let my husband – my lawfully wedded husband – read it aloud – if he dare!’
    There was a hush, and the men looked into each other’s eyes as the Senior Subaltern came forward in a dazed and dizzy way, and took the paper. We were wondering, as we stared, whether there was anything against anyone of us that might turn up later on. The Senior Subaltern’s throat was dry; but, as he ran his eye over the paper, he broke out into a hoarse cackle of relief, and said to the woman, ‘You young blackguard!’ But the woman had fled through a door, and on the paper was written, ‘This is to certify that I, The Worm, have paid in full my debts to the Senior Subaltern, and, further, that the Senior Subaltern is my debtor, by agreement on the 23d of February, as by the Mess attested, to the extent of one month’s Captain’s pay, in the lawful currency of the Indian Empire.’
    Then a deputation set off for The Worm’s quarters and found him, betwixt and between, unlacing his stays, with the hat, wig, and serge dress, on the bed. He came over as he was, and the ‘Shikarris’ shouted till the Gunners’ Mess sent over to know if they might have a share of the fun. I think we were all, except the Colonel and the Senior Subaltern, a little disappointed that the scandal had come to nothing. But that is human nature. There could be no two words about The Worm’s acting. It leaned as near to a nasty tragedy as anything this side of a joke can. When most of the Subalterns sat upon him with sofacushionsto find out why he had not said that acting was his strong point, he answered very quietly, ‘I don’t think you ever asked me. I used to act at Home with my sisters.’ But no acting with girls could account for The Worm’s display that night. Personally, I think it was in bad taste. Besides being dangerous. There is no sort of use in playing with fire, even for fun.
    The ‘Shikarris’ made him President of the Regimental Dramatic Club; and, when the Senior Subaltern paid up his debt, which he did at once, The Worm sank the money in scenery and dresses. He was a good Worm; and the ‘Shikarris’ are proud of him. The only drawback is that he has been christened ‘Mrs Senior Subaltern’; and, as there are now two Mrs Senior Subalterns in the Station, this is sometimes confusing to strangers.
    Later on, I will tell you of a case something like this, but with all the jest left out and nothing in it but real trouble.

In the Pride of his Youth 1
    â€˜Stopped in the straight when the race was his own!
Look at him cutting it – cur to the bone!’
‘Ask, ere the youngster be rated and chidden,
What did he carry and how was he ridden?
Maybe they used him too much at the start;
Maybe Fate’s weight-cloths 2 are breaking his heart.’
    Life’s Handicap
    When I was telling you of the joke that The Worm played off on the Senior Subaltern, I promised a somewhat similar tale, but with all the jest left out. This is that tale.
    Dicky Hatt was kidnapped in his early, early youth – neither by landlady’s daughter, housemaid, barmaid, nor cook, but by a girl so nearly of his own caste that only a woman could have said she was just the least little bit in the world below it. This happened a month before he came out to India, and five days after his one-and-twentieth birthday. The girl was nineteen – six years older than Dicky in the things of this world, that is to say – and, for the time, twice as foolish as he.
    Excepting, always, falling off a horse there is nothing more fatally easy than marriage before the Registrar. The ceremony costs less than

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