What does the Commander-in-Chief command? Armies? No. In India Commanders-in-Chief command no armies. The Commander-in-Chief only commands respect.]
The Commander-in-Chief is himself an army. His transport, medical attendance, and provisioning are cared for departmentally, and watched over by responsible officers. He is a host in himself; and a corps of observation.
All the world observes him. His slightest movement creates a molecular disturbance in type, and vibrates into newspaper paragraphs.
When Commanders-in-Chief are born the world is unconscious of any change. No one knows when a Commander-in-Chief is born. No joyful father, no pale mother has ever experienced such an event as the birth of a Commander-in-Chief in the family. No Mrs. Gamp has ever leant over the banister and declared to the expectant father below that it was “a fine healthy Commander-in-Chief.” Therefore, a Commander-in-Chief is not like a poet. But when a Commander-in-Chief dies, the spirit of a thousand Beethovens sob and wail in the air; dull cannon roar slowly out their heavy grief; silly rifles gibber and chatter demoniacally over his grave; and a cocked hat, emptier than ever, rides with the mockery of despair on his coffin.
On Sunday evening, after tea and catechism, the Supreme Council generally meet for riddles and forfeits in the snug little cloak-room parlour at Peterhoff. “Can an army tailor make a Commander-in-Chief?” was once asked. Eight old heads were scratched and searched, but no answer was found. No sound was heard save the seething whisper of champagne ebbing and flowing in the eight old heads. Outside, the wind moaned through the rhododendron trees; within, the Commander-in-Chief wept peacefully. He felt the awkwardness of the situation. [He thought of Ali Musjid, and he thought of Isandula; he saw himself reflected in the mirror, and he declared that he gave it up.] An aide-de-camp stood at the door hiccupping idly. He was known to have invested all his paper currency in Sackville Street; and he felt in honour bound to say that the riddle was a little hard on the army tailors. So the subject dropped.
A Commander-in-Chief is the most beautiful article of social upholstery in India. He sits in a large chair in the drawing-room. Heads and bodies sway vertically in passing him. He takes the oldest woman in to dinner; he gratifies her with his drowsy cackle. He says “Yes” and “No” to everyone with drowsy civility; everyone is conciliated. His stars dimly twinkle—twinkle; the host and hostess enjoy their light. After dinner he decants claret into his venerable person, and tells an old story; the company smile with innocent joy. He rejoins the ladies and leers kindly on a pretty woman; she forgives herself a month of indiscretions. He touches Lieutenant the Hon. Jupiter Smith on the elbow and inquires after his mother; a noble family is gladdened. He is thus a source of harmless happiness to himself and to those around him.