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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Light That Failed - Chapter 3
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The Light That Failed - Chapter 3 Post by :Ghostdog Category :Long Stories Author :Rudyard Kipling Date :March 2011 Read :763

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The Light That Failed - Chapter 3


So he thinks he shall take to the sea again

For one more cruise with his buccaneers,

To singe the beard of the King of Spain,

And capture another Dean of Jaen

And sell him in Algiers.--A Dutch Picture. Longfellow

THE SOUDAN campaign and Dick's broken head had been some months
ended and mended, and the Central Southern Syndicate had paid Dick a
certain sum on account for work done, which work they were careful to
assure him was not altogether up to their standard. Dick heaved the
letter into the Nile at Cairo, cashed the draft in the same town, and bade
a warm farewell to Torpenhow at the station.

'I am going to lie up for a while and rest,' said Torpenhow. 'I don't know
where I shall live in London, but if God brings us to meet, we shall meet.

Are you starying here on the off-chance of another row? There will be
none till the Southern Soudan is reoccupied by our troops. Mark that.

Good-bye; bless you; come back when your money's spent; and give me
your address.'

Dick loitered in Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia, and Port Said,--especially
Port Said. There is iniquity in many parts of the world, and vice in all,
but the concentrated essence of all the iniquities and all the vices in all
the continents finds itself at Port Said. And through the heart of that
sand-bordered hell, where the mirage flickers day long above the Bitter
Lake, move, if you will only wait, most of the men and women you have
known in this life. Dick established himself in quarters more riotous than
respectable. He spent his evenings on the quay, and boarded many ships,
and saw very many friends,--gracious Englishwomen with whom he had
talked not too wisely in the veranda of Shepherd's Hotel, hurrying war
correspondents, skippers of the contract troop-ships employed in the
campaign, army officers by the score, and others of less reputable trades.

He had choice of all the races of the East and West for studies, and the
advantage of seeing his subjects under the influence of strong excitement,
at the gaming-tables, saloons, dancing-hells, and elsewhere. For
recreation there was the straight vista of the Canal, the blazing sands,
the procession of shipping, and the white hospitals where the English
soldiers lay. He strove to set down in black and white and colour all that
Providence sent him, and when that supply was ended sought about for
fresh material. It was a fascinating employment, but it ran away with his
money, and he had drawn in advance the hundred and twenty pounds to
which he was entitled yearly. 'Now I shall have to work and starve!'

thought he, and was addressing himself to this new fate when a
mysterious telegram arrived from Torpenhow in England, which said,
'Come back, quick; you have caught on. Come.'

A large smile overspread his face. 'So soon! that's a good hearing,' said
he to himself. 'There will be an orgy to-night. I'll stand or fall by my
luck. Faith, it's time it came!' He deposited half of his funds in the hands
of his well-known friends Monsieur and Madame Binat, and ordered
himself a Zanzibar dance of the finest. Monsieur Binat was shaking with
drink, but Madame smiles sympathetically--
'Monsieur needs a chair, of course, and of course Monsieur will sketch;
Monsieur amuses himself strangely.'

Binat raised a blue-white face from a cot in the inner room. 'I
understand,' he quavered. 'We all know Monsieur. Monsieur is an artist,
as I have been.' Dick nodded. 'In the end,' said Binat, with gravity,
'Monsieur will descend alive into hell, as I have descended.' And he

'You must come to the dance, too,' said Dick; 'I shall want you.'

'For my face? I knew it would be so. For my face? My God! and for my
degradation so tremendous! I will not. Take him away. He is a devil. Or
at least do thou, Celeste, demand of him more.' The excellent Binat began
to kick and scream.

'All things are for sale in Port Said,' said Madame. 'If my husband comes
it will be so much more. Eh, 'how you call--'alf a sovereign.'

The money was paid, and the mad dance was held at night in a walled
courtyard at the back of Madame Binat's house. The lady herself, in
faded mauve silk always about to slide from her yellow shoulders, played
the piano, and to the tin-pot music of a Western waltz the naked
Zanzibari girls danced furiously by the light of kerosene lamps. Binat sat
upon a chair and stared with eyes that saw nothing, till the whirl of the
dance and the clang of the rattling piano stole into the drink that took the
place of blood in his veins, and his face glistened. Dick took him by the
chin brutally and turned that face to the light. Madame Binat looked
over her shoulder and smiled with many teeth. Dick leaned against the
wall and sketched for an hour, till the kerosene lamps began to smell, and
the girls threw themselves panting on the hard-beaten ground. Then he
shut his book with a snap and moved away, Binat plucking feebly at his
elbow. 'Show me,' he whimpered. 'I too was once an artist, even I!' Dick
showed him the rough sketch. 'Am I that?' he screamed. 'Will you take
that away with you and show all the world that it is I,--Binat?' He
moaned and wept.

'Monsieur has paid for all,' said Madame. 'To the pleasure of seeing
Monsieur again.'

The courtyard gate shut, and Dick hurried up the sandy street to the
nearest gambling-hell, where he was well known. 'If the luck holds, it's
an omen; if I lose, I must stay here.' He placed his money picturesquely
about the board, hardly daring to look at what he did. The luck held.

Three turns of the wheel left him richer by twenty pounds, and he went
down to the shipping to make friends with the captain of a decayed
cargo-steamer, who landed him in London with fewer pounds in his
pocket than he cared to think about.

A thin gray fog hung over the city, and the streets were very cold; for
summer was in England.

'It's a cheerful wilderness, and it hasn't the knack of altering much,' Dick
thought, as he tramped from the Docks westward. 'Now, what must I

The packed houses gave no answer. Dick looked down the long lightless
streets and at the appalling rush of traffic. 'Oh, you rabbit-hutches!' said
he, addressing a row of highly respectable semi-detached residences. 'Do
you know what you've got to do later on? You have to supply me with
men-servants and maid-servants,'--here he smacked his lips,--'and the
peculiar treasure of kings. Meantime I'll clothes and boots, and presently
I will return and trample on you.' He stepped forward energetically; he
saw that one of his shoes was burst at the side. As he stooped to make
investigations, a man jostled him into the gutter. 'All right,' he said.

'That's another nick in the score. I'll jostle you later on.'

Good clothes and boots are not cheap, and Dick left his last shop with the
certainty that he would be respectably arrayed for a time, but with only
fifty shillings in his pocket. He returned to streets by the Docks, and
lodged himself in one room, where the sheets on the bed were almost
audibly marked in case of theft, and where nobody seemed to go to bed at
all. When his clothes arrived he sought the Central Southern Syndicate
for Torpenhow's address, and got it, with the intimation that there was
still some money waiting for him.

'How much?' said Dick, as one who habitually dealt in millions.

'Between thirty and forty pounds. If it would be any convenience to you,
of course we could let you have it at once; but we usually settle accounts

'If I show that I want anything now, I'm lost,' he said to himself. 'All I
need I'll take later on.' Then, aloud, 'It's hardly worth while; and I'm
going to the country for a month, too. Wait till I come back, and I'll see
about it.'

'But we trust, Mr. Heldar, that you do not intend to sever your
connection with us?'

Dick's business in life was the study of faces, and he watched the speaker
keenly. 'That man means something,' he said. 'I'll do no business till I've
seen Torpenhow. There's a big deal coming.' So he departed, making no
promises, to his one little room by the Docks. And that day was the
seventh of the month, and that month, he reckoned with awful
distinctness, had thirty-one days in it!?

It is not easy for a man of catholic tastes and healthy appetites to exist for
twenty-four days on fifty shillings. Nor is it cheering to begin the
experiment alone in all the loneliness of London. Dick paid seven shillings
a week for his lodging, which left him rather less than a shilling a day for
food and drink. Naturally, his first purchase was of the materials of his
craft; he had been without them too long. Half a day's investigations and
comparison brought him to the conclusion that sausages and mashed
potatoes, twopence a plate, were the best food. Now, sausages once or
twice a week for breakfast are not unpleasant. As lunch, even, with
mashed potatoes, they become monotonous. At dinner they are
impertinent. At the end of three days Dick loathed sausages, and, going,
forth, pawned his watch to revel on sheep's head, which is not as cheap
as it looks, owing to the bones and the gravy. Then he returned to
sausages and mashed potatoes. Then he confined himself entirely to
mashed potatoes for a day, and was unhappy because of pain in his
inside. Then he pawned his waistcoat and his tie, and thought regretfully
of money thrown away in times past. There are few things more edifying
unto Art than the actual belly-pinch of hunger, and Dick in his few walks
abroad,--he did not care for exercise; it raised desires that could not be
satisfied--found himself dividing mankind into two classes,--those who
looked as if they might give him something to eat, and those who looked
otherwise. 'I never knew what I had to learn about the human face
before,' he thought; and, as a reward for his humility, Providence caused
a cab-driver at a sausage-shop where Dick fed that night to leave half
eaten a great chunk of bread. Dick took it,--would have fought all the
world for its possession,--and it cheered him.

The month dragged through at last, and, nearly prancing with
impatience, he went to draw his money. Then he hastened to
Torpenhow's address and smelt the smell of cooking meats all along the
corridors of the chambers. Torpenhow was on the top floor, and Dick
burst into his room, to be received with a hug which nearly cracked his
ribs, as Torpenhow dragged him tot he light and spoke of twenty
different things in the same breath.

'But you're looking tucked up,' he concluded.

'Got anything to eat?' said Dick, his eye roaming round the room.

'I shall be having breakfast in a minute. What do you say to sausages?'

'No, anything but sausages! Torp, I've been starving on that accursed
horse-flesh for thirty days and thirty nights.'

'Now, what lunacy has been your latest?'

Dick spoke of the last few weeks with unbridled speech. Then he opened
his coat; there was no waistcoat below. 'I ran it fine, awfully fine, but
I've just scraped through.'

'You haven't much sense, but you've got a backbone, anyhow. Eat, and
talk afterwards.' Dick fell upon eggs and bacon and gorged till he could
gorge no more. Torpenhow handed him a filled pipe, and he smoked as
men smoke who for three weeks have been deprived of good tobacco.

'Ouf!' said he. 'That's heavenly! Well?'

'Why in the world didn't you come to me?'

'Couldn't; I owe you too much already, old man. Besides I had a sort of
superstition that this temporary starvation--that's what it was, and it
hurt--would bring me luck later. It's over and done with now, and none
of the syndicate know how hard up I was. Fire away. What's the exact
state of affairs as regards myself?'

'You had my wire? You've caught on here. People like your work
immensely. I don't know why, but they do. They say you have a fresh
touch and a new way of drawing things. And, because they're chiefly
home-bred English, they say you have insight. You're wanted by half a
dozen papers; you're wanted to illustrate books.'

Dick grunted scornfully.

'You're wanted to work up your smaller sketches and sell them to the
dealers. They seem to think the money sunk in you is a good investment.

Good Lord! who can account for the fathomless folly of the public?'

'They're a remarkably sensible people.'

'They are subject to fits, if that's what you mean; and you happen to be
the object of the latest fit among those who are interested in what they
call Art. Just now you're a fashion, a phenomenon, or whatever you
please. I appeared to be the only person who knew anything about you
here, and I have been showing the most useful men a few of the sketches
you gave me from time to time. Those coming after your work on the
Central Southern Syndicate appear to have done your business. You're
in luck.'

'Huh! call it luck! Do call it luck, when a man has been kicking about the
world like a dog, waiting for it to come! I'll luck 'em later on. I want a
place to work first.'

'Come here,' said Torpenhow, crossing the landing. 'This place is a big
box room really, but it will do for you. There's your skylight, or your
north light, or whatever window you call it, and plenty of room to thrash
about in, and a bedroom beyond. What more do you need?'

'Good enough,' said Dick, looking round the large room that took up a
third of a top story in the rickety chambers overlooking the Thames. A
pale yellow sun shone through the skylight and showed the much dirt of
the place. Three steps led from the door to the landing, and three more to
Torpenhow's room. The well of the staircase disappeared into darkness,
pricked by tiny gas-jets, and there were sounds of men talking and doors
slamming seven flights below, in the warm gloom.

'Do they give you a free hand here?' said Dick, cautiously. He was
Ishmael enough to know the value of liberty.

'Anything you like; latch-keys and license unlimited. We are permanent
tenants for the most part here. 'Tisn't a place I would recommend for a
Young Men's Christian Association, but it will serve. I took these rooms
for you when I wired.'

'You're a great deal too kind, old man.'

'You didn't suppose you were going away from me, did you?' Torpenhow
put his hand on Dick's shoulder, and the two walked up and down the
room, henceforward to be called the studio, in sweet and silent
communion. They heard rapping at Torpenhow's door. 'That's some
ruffian come up for a drink,' said Torpenhow; and he raised his voice
cheerily. There entered no one more ruffianly than a portly middle-aged
gentleman in a satin-faced frockcoat. His lips were parted and pale, and
there were deep pouches under the eyes.

'Weak heart,' said Dick to himself, and, as he shook hands, 'very weak
heart. His pulse is shaking his fingers.'

The man introduced himself as the head of the Central Southern
Syndicate and 'one of the most ardent admirers of your work, Mr.

Heldar. I assure you, in the name of the syndicate, that we are immensely
indebted to you; and I trust, Mr. Heldar, you won't forget that we were
largely instrumental in bringing you before the public.' He panted
because of the seven flights of stairs.

Dick glanced at Torpenhow, whose left eyelid lay for a moment dead on
his cheek.

'I shan't forget,' said Dick, every instinct of defence roused in him.

'You've paid me so well that I couldn't, you know. By the way, when I
am settled in this place I should like to send and get my sketches. There
must be nearly a hundred and fifty of them with you.'

'That is er--is what I came to speak about. I fear we can't allow it
exactly, Mr. Heldar. In the absence of any specified agreement, the
sketches are our property, of course.'

'Do you mean to say that you are going to keep them?'

'Yes; and we hope to have your help, on your own terms, Mr. Heldar, to
assist us in arranging a little exhibition, which, backed by our name and
the influence we naturally command among the press, should be of
material service to you. Sketches such as yours----'

'Belong to me. You engaged me by wire, you paid me the lowest rates you
dared. You can't mean to keep them! Good God alive, man, they're all
I've got in the world!'

Torpenhow watched Dick's face and whistled.

Dick walked up and down, thinking. He saw the whole of his little stock
in trade, the first weapon of his equipment, annexed at the outset of his
campaign by an elderly gentleman whose name Dick had not caught
aright, who said that he represented a syndicate, which was a thing for
which Dick had not the least reverence. The injustice of the proceedings
did not much move him; he had seen the strong hand prevail too often in
other places to be squeamish over the moral aspects of right and wrong.

But he ardently desired the blood of the gentleman in the frockcoat, and
when he spoke again, and when he spoke again it was with a strained
sweetness that Torpenhow knew well for the beginning of strife.

'Forgive me, sir, but you have no--no younger man who can arrange this
business with me?'

'I speak for the syndicate. I see no reason for a third party to----'

'You will in a minute. Be good enough to give back my sketches.'

The man stared blankly at Dick, and then at Torpenhow, who was
leaning against the wall. He was not used to ex-employees who ordered
him to be good enough to do things.

'Yes, it is rather a cold-blooded steal,' said Torpenhow, critically; 'but
I'm afraid, I am very much afraid, you've struck the wrong man. Be
careful, Dick; remember, this isn't the Soudan.'

'Considering what services the syndicate have done you in putting your
name before the world----'

This was not a fortunate remark; it reminded Dick of certain vagrant
years lived out in loneliness and strife and unsatisfied desires. The
memory did not contrast well with the prosperous gentleman who
proposed to enjoy the fruit of those years.

'I don't know quite what to do with you,' began Dick, meditatively. 'Of
course you're a thief, and you ought to be half killed, but in your case
you'd probably die. I don't want you dead on this floor, and, besides, it's
unlucky just as one's moving in. Don't hit, sir; you'll only excite yourself.'

He put one hand on the man's forearm and ran the other down the plump
body beneath the coat. 'My goodness!' said he to Torpenhow, 'and this
gray oaf dares to be a thief! I have seen an Esneh camel-driver have the
black hide taken off his body in strips for stealing half a pound of wet
dates, and he was as tough as whipcord. This things' soft all over--like a

There are few things more poignantly humiliating than being handled by
a man who does not intend to strike. The head of the syndicate began to
breathe heavily. Dick walked round him, pawing him, as a cat paws a soft
hearth-rug. Then he traced with his forefinger the leaden pouches
underneath the eyes, and shook his head. 'You were going to steal my
things,--mine, mine, mine!--you, who don't know when you may die.

Write a note to your office,--you say you're the head of it,--and order
them to give Torpenhow my sketches,--every one of them. Wait a minute:
your hand's shaking. Now!' He thrust a pocket-book before him. The note
was written. Torpenhow took it and departed without a word, while Dick
walked round and round the spellbound captive, giving him such advice
as he conceived best for the welfare of his soul. When Torpenhow
returned with a gigantic portfolio, he heard Dick say, almost soothingly,
'Now, I hope this will be a lesson to you; and if you worry me when I
have settled down to work with any nonsense about actions for assault,
believe me, I'll catch you and manhandle you, and you'll die. You haven't
very long to live, anyhow. Go! Imshi, Vootsak,--get out!' The man
departed, staggering and dazed. Dick drew a long breath: 'Phew! what a
lawless lot these people are! The first thing a poor orphan meets is gang
robbery, organised burglary! Think of the hideous blackness of that
man's mind! Are my sketches all right, Torp?'

'Yes; one hundred and forty-seven of them. Well, I must say, Dick, you've
begun well.'

'He was interfering with me. It only meant a few pounds to him, but it
was everything to me. I don't think he'll bring an action. I gave him some
medical advice gratis about the state of his body. It was cheap at the little
flurry it cost him. Now, let's look at my things.'

Two minutes later Dick had thrown himself down on the floor and was
deep in the portfolio, chuckling lovingly as he turned the drawings over
and thought of the price at which they had been bought.

The afternoon was well advanced when Torpenhow came to the door and
saw Dick dancing a wild saraband under the skylight.

'I builded better than I knew, Torp,' he said, without stopping the dance.

'They're good! They're damned good! They'll go like flame! I shall have
an exhibition of them on my own brazen hook. And that man would have
cheated me out of it! Do you know that I'm sorry now that I didn't
actually hit him?'

'Go out,' said Torpenhow,--'go out and pray to be delivered from the sin
of arrogance, which you never will be. Bring your things up from
whatever place you're staying in, and we'll try to make this barn a little
more shipshape.'

'And then--oh, then,' said Dick, still capering, 'we will spoil the

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The Light That Failed - Chapter 4 The Light That Failed - Chapter 4

The Light That Failed - Chapter 4
CHAPTER 4 The wolf-cub at even lay hid in the corn,When the smoke of the cooking hung gray:He knew where the doe made a couch for her fawn,And he looked to his strength for his prey.But the moon swept the smoke-wreaths away.And he turned from his meal in the villager's close,And he bayed to the moon as she rose.--In Seonee.?'WELL, and how does success taste?' said Torpenhow, some threemonths later. He had just returned to chambers after a holiday in thecountry.'Good,' said Dick, as he sat licking his lips before the easel in the studio.'I want more,--heaps more. The lean years

The Light That Failed - Chapter 2 The Light That Failed - Chapter 2

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CHAPTER 2Then we brought the lances down, then the bugles blew,When we went to Kandahar, ridin' two an' two,Ridin', ridin', ridin', two an' two,Ta-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra-ra,All the way to Kandahar, ridin' two an' two.--Barrack-Room Ballad.'I'M NOT angry with the British public, but I wish we had a fewthousand of them scattered among these rooks. They wouldn't be in sucha hurry to get at their morning papers then. Can't you imagine theregulation householder--Lover of Justice, Constant Reader,Paterfamilias, and all that lot--frizzling on hot gravel?''With a blue veil over his head, and his clothes in strips. Has any manhere a needle? I've got a piece