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by [?]

A lamentable tale of things
Done long ago, and ill done.

The horror, the confusion, and the separation of the murderer from his comrades were all over before I came. There remained only on the barrack-square the blood of man calling from the ground. The hot sun had dried it to a dusky gold-beater- skin film, cracked lozenge-wise by the heat, and as the wind rose each lozenge, rising a little, curled up at the edges as if it were a dumb tongue. Then a heavier gust blew all away down wind in grains of dark-coloured dust. It was too hot to stand in the sunshine before breakfast. The men were all in barracks talking the matter over. A knot of soldiers’ wives stood by one of the entrances to the married quarters, while inside a woman shrieked and raved with wicked filthy words.

A quiet and well-conducted sergeant had shot down in broad daylight just after early parade one of his own corporals, had then returned to barracks and sat on a cot till the guard came for him. He would, therefore, in due time be handed over to the High Court for trial. Further, but this he could hardly have considered in his scheme of revenge, he would horribly upset my work; for the reporting of the trial would fall on me without a relief. What that trial would be like I knew even to weariness. There would be the rifle carefully uncleaned, with the fouling marks about breech and muzzle, to be sworn to by half a dozen superfluous privates; there would be heat, reeking heat, till the wet pencil slipped sideways between the fingers; and the punkah would swish and the pleaders would jabber in the verandahs, and his Commanding Officer would put in certificates of the prisoner’s moral character, while the jury would pant and the summer uniforms of the witnesses would smell of dye and soaps; and some abject barrack-sweeper would lose his head in cross-examination, and the young barrister who always defended soldiers’ cases for the credit that they never brought him, would say and do wonderful things, and would then quarrel with me because I had not reported him correctly. At the last, for he surely would not be hanged, I might meet the prisoner again, ruling blank account-forms in the Central Jail, and cheer him with the hope of a wardership in the Andamans.

The Indian Penal Code and its interpreters do not treat murder, under any provocation whatever, in a spirit of jest. Sergeant Raines would be very lucky indeed if he got off with seven years, I thought. He had slept the night upon his wrongs, and had killed his man at twenty yards before any talk was possible. That much I knew. Unless, therefore, the case was doctored a little, seven years would be his least; and I fancied it was exceedingly well for Sergeant Raines that he had been liked by his Company.

That same evening – no day is so long as the day of a murder – I met Ortheris with the dogs, and he plunged defiantly into the middle of the matter. “I’ll be one o’ the witnesses,” said he. “I was in the verandah when Mackie came along. ‘E come from Mrs. Raines’s quarters. Quigley, Parsons, an’ Trot, they was in the inside verandah, so they couldn’t ‘ave ‘eard nothing. Sergeant Raines was in the verandah talkin’ to me, an’ Mackie ‘e come along acrost the square an’ ‘e sez, ‘Well,’ sez ‘e, ”ave they pushed your ‘elmet off yet, Sergeant?’ ‘e sez. An’ at that Raines ‘e catches ‘is breath an’ ‘e sez, ‘My Gawd, I can’t stand this!’ sez ‘e, an’ ‘e picks up my rifle an’ shoots Mackie. See?”

“But what were you doing with your rifle in the outer verandah an hour after parade?”

“Cleanin’ ‘er,” said Ortheris, with the sullen brassy stare that always went with his choice lies.