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A Sable Spartan
by [?]

Lady Tynemouth was interested; his Excellency was amused. The interest was real, the amusement was not ironical. Blithelygo, seeing that he had at least excited the attention of the luncheon party, said half-apologetically: “Of course my experience is small, but in many parts of the world I have been surprised to see how uniform revolutionises the savage. Put him into Convention, that is clothes, give him Responsibility, that is a chance to exercise vanity and power, and you make him a Britisher–a good citizen to all intents and purposes.”

Blithelygo was a clever fellow in his way. He had a decided instinct for military matters, and for good cigars and pretty women. Yet he would rather give up both than an idea which had got firmly fixed in his mind. He was very deferential in his remarks, but at the same time he was quite willing to go into a minority which might not include pretty Miss Angel who sat beside him, if he was not met by conclusive good arguments.

In the slight pause which followed his rather long speech, his Excellency passed the champagne cup, and Lady Tynemouth said: “But I suppose it depends somewhat on the race, doesn’t it, Mr. Travers? I am afraid mere uniforming would scarcely work successfully–among the Bengalese, for instance.”

“A wretched crew,” said Major Warham; “awful liars, awful scoundrels, need kicking every morning.”

“Of course,” said Blithelygo, “there must be some consideration of race. But look at the Indian Mutiny. Though there was revolt, look at those who ‘fought with us faithful and few’; look at the fidelity of the majority of the native servants. Look at the native mounted police in Australia; at the Sikhs in the Settlements and the Native States; at the Indian scouts of the United States and Canada; and look at these very Indian troops at your door, your Excellency! I think my principle holds good; give uniform, give responsibility–under European surveillance of course–get British civilisation.”

His Excellency’s eyes had been wandering out of the window, over the white wall and into the town where Arabia, India, Africa, the Islands of the South and Palestine were blended in a quivering, radiant panorama. Then they rose until they fell upon Jebel Shamsan, in its intoxicating red and opal far away, and upon the frowning and mighty rampart that makes Aden one of the most impregnable stations of the Empire. The amusement in his eyes had died away; and as he dipped his fingers in the water at his side and motioned for a quickening of the punkahs, he said: “There is force in what you say. It would be an unpleasant look-out for us here and in many parts of the world if we could not place reliance on the effect of uniform; but”–and the amused look came again to his eyes–“we somehow get dulled to the virtues of Indian troops and Somauli policemen. We can’t get perspective, you see.”

Blithelygo good-naturedly joined in the laugh that went round the table; for nearly all there had personal experience of “uniformed savages.” As the ladies rose Miss Angel said naively to Blithelygo: “You ought to spend a month in Aden, Mr. Blithelygo. Don’t go by the next boat, then you can study uniforms here.”

We settled down to our cigars. Major Warham was an officer from Bombay. He had lived in India for twenty years: long enough to be cynical of justice at the Horse Guards or at the India Office: to become in fact bitter against London, S.W., altogether. It was he that proposed a walk through the town.

The city lay sleepy and listless beneath a proud and distant sky of changeless blue. Idly sat the Arabs on the benches outside the low-roofed coffee-houses; lazily worked the makers of ornaments in the bazaars; yawningly pounded the tinkers; greedily ate the children; the city was cloyed with ease. Warham, Blithelygo and myself sat in the evening sun surrounded by gold-and-scarlet bedizened gentry of the desert, and drank strong coffee and smoked until we too were satisfied, if not surfeited; animals like the rest. Silence fell on us. This was a new life to two of us; to Warham it was familiar, therefore comfortable and soporific. I leaned back and languidly scanned the scene; eyes halfshut, senses half-awake. An Arab sheikh passed swiftly with his curtained harem; and then went filing by in orderly and bright array a number of Mahommedans, the first of them bearing on a cushion of red velvet, and covered with a cloth of scarlet and gold, a dead child to burial. Down from the colossal tanks built in the mountain gorges that were old when Mahomet was young, there came donkeys bearing great leathern bottles such as the Israelites carried in their forty years’ sojourning. A long line of swaying camels passed dustily to the desert that burns even into this city of Aden, built on a volcano; groups of Somaulis, lithe and brawny, moved chattering here and there; and a handful of wandering horsemen, with spears and snowy garments, were being swallowed up in the mountain defiles.