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Ch. 25: Namgay Doola

There came to the beach a poor exile of Erin,
The dew on his wet robe hung heavy and chill;
Ere the steamer that brought him had passed out of hearin',
He was Alderman Mike inthrojuicin' a bill!
AMERICAN SONG.

Once upon a time there was a King who lived on the road to Thibet, very
many miles in the Himalayas. His Kingdom was eleven thousand feet above
the sea and exactly four miles square; but most of the miles stood on
end owing to the nature of the country. His revenues were rather less
than four hundred pounds yearly, and they were expended in the
maintenance of one elephant and a standing army of five men. He was
tributary to the Indian Government, who allowed him certain sums for
keeping a section of the Himalaya-Thibet road in repair. He further
increased his revenues by selling timber to the railway-companies; for
he would cut the great deodar trees in his one forest, and they fell
thundering into the Sutlej river and were swept down to the plains three
hundred miles away and became railway-ties. Now and again this King,
whose name does not matter, would mount a ringstraked horse and ride
scores of miles to Simla-town to confer with the Lieutenant-Governor on
matters of state, or to assure the Viceroy that his sword was at the
service of the Queen-Empress. Then the Viceroy would cause a ruffle of
drums to be sounded, and the ringstraked horse and the cavalry of the
State---two men in tatters--and the herald who bore the silver stick
before the King would trot back to their own place, which lay between
the tail of a heaven-climbing glacier and a dark birch-forest.

Now, from such a King, always remembering that he possessed one
veritable elephant, and could count his descent for twelve hundred
years, I expected, when it was my fate to wander through his dominions,
no more than mere license to live.

The night had closed in rain, and rolling clouds blotted out the lights
of the villages in the valley. Forty miles away, untouched by cloud or
storm, the white shoulder of Donga Pa--the Mountain of the Council of
the Gods--upheld the Evening Star. The monkeys sang sorrowfully to each
other as they hunted for dry roosts in the fern-wreathed trees, and the
last puff of the day-wind brought from the unseen villages the scent of
damp wood-smoke, hot cakes, dripping undergrowth, and rotting pine-
cones. That is the true smell of the Himalayas, and if once it creeps
into the blood of a man, that man will at the last, forgetting all else,
return to the hills to die. The clouds closed and the smell went away,
and there remained nothing in all the world except chilling white mist
and the boom of the Sutlej river racing through the valley below. A fat-
tailed sheep, who did not want to die, bleated piteously at my tent
door. He was scuffling with the Prime Minister and the Director-General
of Public Education, and he was a royal gift to me and my camp servants.
I expressed my thanks suitably, and asked if I might have audience of
the King. The Prime Minister readjusted his turban, which had fallen off
in the struggle, and assured me that the King would be very pleased to
see me. Therefore I despatched two bottles as a foretaste, and when the
sheep had entered upon another incarnation went to the King's Palace
through the wet. He had sent his army to escort me, but the army stayed
to talk with my cook. Soldiers are very much alike all the world over.

The Palace was a four-roomed and whitewashed mud and timber house, the
finest in all the hills for a day's journey. The King was dressed in a
purple velvet jacket, white muslin trousers, and a saffron-yellow turban
of price. He gave me audience in a little carpeted room opening off the
palace courtyard which was occupied by the Elephant of State. The great
beast was sheeted and anchored from trunk to tail, and the curve of his
back stood out grandly against the mist.

The Prime Minister and the Director-General of Public Education were
present to introduce me, but all the court had been dismissed, lest the
two bottles aforesaid should corrupt their morals. The King cast a
wreath of heavy-scented flowers round my neck as I bowed, and inquired
how my honoured presence had the felicity to be. I said that through
seeing his auspicious countenance the mists of the night had turned into
sunshine, and that by reason of his beneficent sheep his good deeds
would be remembered by the Gods. He said that since I had set my
magnificent foot in his Kingdom the crops would probably yield seventy
per cent more than the average. I said that the fame of the King had
reached to the four corners of the earth, and that the nations gnashed
their teeth when they heard daily of the glories of his realm and the
wisdom of his moon-like Prime Minister and lotus-like Director-General
of Public Education.

Then we sat down on clean white cushions, and I was at the King's right
hand. Three minutes later he was telling me that the state of the maize
crop was something disgraceful, and that the railway-companies would not
pay him enough for his timber. The talk shifted to and fro with the
bottles, and we discussed very many stately things, and the King became
confidential on the subject of Government generally. Most of all he
dwelt on the shortcomings of one of his subjects, who, from all I could
gather, had been paralyzing the executive.

'In the old days,' said the King, 'I could have ordered the Elephant
yonder to trample him to death. Now I must e'en send him seventy miles
across the hills to be tried, and his keep would be upon the State. The
Elephant eats everything.'

'What be the man's crimes, Rajah Sahib?' said I.

'Firstly, he is an outlander and no man of mine own people. Secondly,
since of my favour I gave him land upon his first coming, he refuses to
pay revenue. Am I not the lord of the earth, above and below, entitled
by right and custom to one-eighth of the crop? Yet this devil,
establishing himself, refuses to pay a single tax; and he brings a
poisonous spawn of babes.'

'Cast him into jail,' I said.

'Sahib,' the King answered, shifting a little on the cushions, 'once and
only once in these forty years sickness came upon me so that I was not
able to go abroad. In that hour I made a vow to my God that I would
never again cut man or woman from the light of the sun and the air of
God; for I perceived the nature of the punishment. How can I break my
vow? Were it only the lopping of a hand or a foot I should not delay.
But even that is impossible now that the English have rule. One or
another of my people'--he looked obliquely at the Director-General of
Public Education--'would at once write a letter to the Viceroy, and
perhaps I should be deprived of my ruffle of drums.'

He unscrewed the mouthpiece of his silver water-pipe, fitted a plain
amber mouthpiece, and passed his pipe to me. 'Not content with refusing
revenue,' he continued,'this outlander refuses also the begar' (this was
the corvee or forced labour on the roads) 'and stirs my people up to the
like treason. Yet he is, when he wills, an expert log-snatcher. There is
none better or bolder among my people to clear a block of the river when
the logs stick fast.'

'But he worships strange Gods,' said the Prime Minister deferentially.

'For that I have no concern,' said the King, who was as tolerant as
Akbar in matters of belief. 'To each man his own God and the fire or
Mother Earth for us all at last. It is the rebellion that offends me.'

'The King has an army,' I suggested. 'Has not the King burned the man's
house and left him naked to the night dews?'

'Nay, a hut is a hut, and it holds the life of a man. But once, I sent
my army against him when his excuses became wearisome: of their heads he
brake three across the top with a stick. The other two men ran away.
Also the guns would not shoot.'

I had seen the equipment of the infantry. One-third of it was an old
muzzle-loading fowling-piece, with a ragged rust-hole where the nipples
should have been, one-third a wire-bound matchlock with a worm-eaten
stock, and one-third a four-bore flint duck-gun without a flint.

'But it is to be remembered,' said the King, reaching out for the
bottle, 'that he is a very expert log-snatcher and a man of a merry
face. What shall I do to him, Sahib?'

This was interesting. The timid hill-folk would as soon have refused
taxes to their king as revenues to their Gods.

'If it be the King's permission,' I said, 'I will not strike my tents
till the third day and I will see this man. The mercy of the King is
God-like, and rebellion is like unto the sin of witchcraft. Moreover,
both the bottles and another be empty.'

'You have my leave to go,' said the King.

Next morning a crier went through the state proclaiming that there was a
log-jam on the river and that it behoved all loyal subjects to remove
it. The people poured down from their villages to the moist warm valley
of poppy-fields; and the King and I went with them. Hundreds of dressed
deodar-logs had caught on a snag of rock, and the river was bringing
down more logs every minute to complete the blockade. The water snarled
and wrenched and worried at the timber, and the population of the state
began prodding the nearest logs with a pole in the hope of starting a
general movement. Then there went up a shout of 'Namgay Doola! Namgay
Doola!' and a large red-haired villager hurried up, stripping off his
clothes as he ran.

'That is he. That is the rebel,' said the King. 'Now will the dam be
cleared.'

'But why has he red hair?' I asked, since red hair among hill-folks is
as common as blue or green.

'He is an outlander,' said the King. 'Well done! Oh well done!'

Namgay Doola had scrambled out on the jam and was clawing out the butt
of a log with a rude sort of boat-hook. It slid forward slowly as an
alligator moves, three or four others followed it, and the green water
spouted through the gaps they had made. Then the villagers howled and
shouted and scrambled across the logs, pulling and pushing the obstinate
timber, and the red head of Namgay Doola was chief among them all. The
logs swayed and chafed and groaned as fresh consignments from upstream
battered the now weakening dam. All gave way at last in a smother of
foam, racing logs, bobbing black heads and confusion indescribable. The
river tossed everything before it. I saw the red head go down with the
last remnants of the jam and disappear between the great grinding tree-
trunks. It rose close to the bank and blowing like a grampus. Namgay
Doola wrung the water out of his eyes and made obeisance to the King. I
had time to observe him closely. The virulent redness of his shock head
and beard was most startling; and in the thicket of hair wrinkled above
high cheek bones shone two very merry blue eyes. He was indeed an
outlander, but yet a Thibetan in language, habit, and attire. He spoke
the Lepcha dialect with an indescribable softening of the gutturals. It
was not so much a lisp as an accent.

'Whence comest thou?' I asked.

'From Thibet.' He pointed across the hills and grinned. That grin went
straight to my heart. Mechanically I held out my hand and Namgay Doola
shook it. No pure Thibetan would have understood the meaning of the
gesture. He went away to look for his clothes, and as he climbed back to
his village, I heard a joyous yell that seemed unaccountably familiar.
It was the whooping of Namgay Doola.

'You see now,' said the King, 'why I would not kill him. He is a bold
man among my logs, but,' and he shook his head like a schoolmaster, 'I
know that before long there will be complaints of him in the court. Let
us return to the Palace and do justice.' It was that King's custom to
judge his subjects every day between eleven and three o'clock. I saw him
decide equitably in weighty matters of trespass, slander, and a little
wife-stealing. Then his brow clouded and he summoned me.

'Again it is Namgay Doola,' he said despairingly. 'Not content with
refusing revenue on his own part, he has bound half his village by an
oath to the like treason. Never before has such a thing befallen me! Nor
are my taxes heavy.'

A rabbit-faced villager, with a blush-rose stuck behind his ear,
advanced trembling. He had been in the conspiracy, but had told
everything and hoped for the King's favour.

'O King,' said I, 'if it be the King's will let this matter stand over
till the morning. Only the Gods can do right swiftly, and it may be that
yonder villager has lied.'

'Nay, for I know the nature of Namgay Doola; but since a guest asks let
the matter remain. Wilt thou speak harshly to this red-headed outlander?
He may listen to thee.'

I made an attempt that very evening, but for the life of me I could not
keep my countenance. Namgay Doola grinned persuasively, and began to
tell me about a big brown bear in a poppy-field by the river. Would I
care to shoot it? I spoke austerely on the sin of conspiracy, and the
certainty of punishment. Namgay Doola's face clouded for a moment.
Shortly afterwards he withdrew from my tent, and I heard him singing to
himself softly among the pines. The words were unintelligible to me, but
the tune, like his liquid insinuating speech, seemed the ghost of
something strangely familiar.

'Dir hane mard-i-yemen dir
To weeree ala gee.'

sang Namgay Doola again and again, and I racked my brain for that lost
tune. It was not till after dinner that I discovered some one had cut a
square foot of velvet from the centre of my best camera-cloth. This made
me so angry that I wandered down the valley in the hope of meeting the
big brown bear. I could hear him grunting like a discontented pig in the
poppy-field, and I waited shoulder deep in the dew-dripping Indian corn
to catch him after his meal. The moon was at full and drew out the rich
scent of the tasselled crop. Then I heard the anguished bellow of a
Himalayan cow, one of the little black crummies no bigger than
Newfoundland dogs. Two shadows that looked like a bear and her cub
hurried past me. I was in act to fire when I saw that they had each a
brilliant red head. The lesser animal was trailing some rope behind it
that left a dark track on the path. They passed within six feet of me,
and the shadow of the moonlight lay velvet-black on their faces. Velvet-
black was exactly the word, for by all the powers of moonlight they were
masked in the velvet of my camera-cloth! I marvelled and went to bed.

Next morning the Kingdom was in uproar. Namgay Doola, men said, had gone
forth in the night and with a sharp knife had cut off the tail of a cow
belonging to the rabbit-faced villager who had betrayed him. It was
sacrilege unspeakable against the Holy Cow. The State desired his blood,
but he had retreated into his hut, barricaded the doors and windows with
big stones, and defied the world.

The King and I and the populace approached the hut cautiously. There was
no hope of capturing the man without loss of life, for from a hole in
the wall projected the muzzle of an extremely well-cared-for gun--the
only gun in the State that could shoot. Namgay Doola had narrowly missed
a villager just before we came up. The Standing Army stood. It could do
no more, for when it advanced pieces of sharp shale flew from the
windows. To these were added from time to time showers of scalding
water. We saw red heads bobbing up and down in the hut. The family of
Namgay Doola were aiding their sire, and blood-curdling yells of
defiance were the only answers to our prayers.

'Never,' said the King, puffing, 'has such a thing befallen my State.
Next year I will certainly buy a little cannon.' He looked at me
imploringly.

'Is there any priest in the Kingdom to whom he will listen?' said I, for
a light was beginning to break upon me.

'He worships his own God,' said the Prime Minister. 'We can starve him
out.'

'Let the white man approach,' said Namgay Doola from within. 'All others
I will kill. Send me the white man.'

The door was thrown open and I entered the smoky interior of a Thibetan
hut crammed with children. And every child had flaming red hair. A raw
cow's-tail lay on the floor, and by its side two pieces of black velvet--
my black velvet--rudely hacked into the semblance of masks.

'And what is this shame, Namgay Doola?' said I.

He grinned more winningly than ever. 'There is no shame,' said he. 'I
did but cut off the tail of that man's cow. He betrayed me. I was minded
to shoot him, Sahib. But not to death. Indeed not to death. Only in the
legs.'

'And why at all, since it is the custom to pay revenue to the King? Why
at all?'

'By the God of my father I cannot tell,' said Namgay Doola.

'And who was thy father?'

'The same that had this gun.' He showed me his weapon--a Tower musket
bearing date 1832 and the stamp of the Honourable East India Company.

'And thy father's name?' said I.

'Timlay Doola,' said he. 'At the first, I being then a little child, it
is in my mind that he wore a red coat.'

'Of that I have no doubt. But repeat the name of thy father thrice or
four times.'

He obeyed, and I understood whence the puzzling accent in his speech
came. 'Thimla Dhula,' said he excitedly. 'To this hour I worship his
God.'

'May I see that God?'

'In a little while--at twilight time.'

'Rememberest thou aught of thy father's speech?'

'It is long ago. But there is one word which he said often. Thus "Shun."
Then I and my brethren stood upon our feet, our hands to our sides.
Thus.'

'Even so. And what was thy mother?'

'A woman of the hills. We be Lepchas of Darjeeling, but me they call an
outlander because my hair is as thou seest.'

The Thibetan woman, his wife, touched him on the arm gently. The long
parley outside the fort had lasted far into the day. It was now close
upon twilight--the hour of the Angelus. Very solemnly, the red-headed
brats rose from the floor and formed a semicircle. Namgay Doola laid his
gun against the wall, lighted a little oil lamp, and set it before a
recess in the wall. Pulling aside a curtain of dirty cloth, he revealed
a worn brass crucifix leaning against the helmet-badge of a long
forgotten East India regiment. 'Thus did my father,' he said, crossing
himself clumsily. The wife and children followed suit. Then all together
they struck up the wailing chant that I heard on the hillside--

Dir bane mard-i-yemen dir
To weeree ala gee.

I was puzzled no longer. Again and again they crooned, as if their
hearts would break, their version of the chorus of the Wearing of the
Green--

They're hanging men and women too, For the wearing of the green.

A diabolical inspiration came to me. One of the brats, a boy about eight
years old, was watching me as he sang. I pulled out a rupee, held the
coin between finger and thumb and looked--only looked--at the gun
against the wall. A grin of brilliant and perfect comprehension
overspread the face of the child. Never for an instant stopping the
song, he held out his hand for the money, and then slid the gun to my
hand. I might have shot Namgay Doola as he chanted. But I was satisfied.
The blood-instinct of the race held true. Namgay Doola drew the curtain
across the recess. Angelus was over.

'Thus my father sang. There was much more, but I have forgotten, and I
do not know the purport of these words, but it may be that the God will
understand. I am not of this people, and I will not pay revenue.'

'And why?'

Again that soul-compelling grin. 'What occupation would be to me between
crop and crop? It is better than scaring bears. But these people do not
understand.' He picked the masks from the floor, and looked in my face
as simply as a child.

'By what road didst thou attain knowledge to make these devilries?' I
said, pointing.

'I cannot tell. I am but a Lepcha of Darjeeling, and yet the stuff--'

'Which thou hast stolen.'

'Nay, surely. Did I steal? I desired it so. The stuff--the stuff--what
else should I have done with the stuff?' He twisted the velvet between
his fingers.

'But the sin of maiming the cow--consider that.'

'That is true; but oh, Sahib, that man betrayed me and I had no thought--
but the heifer's tail waved in the moonlight and I had my knife. What
else should I have done? The tail came off ere I was aware. Sahib, thou
knowest more than I.'

'That is true,' said I. 'Stay within the door. I go to speak to the
King.'

The population of the State were ranged on the hillsides. I went forth
and spoke to the King.

'O King,' said I. 'Touching this man there be two courses open to thy
wisdom. Thou canst either hang him from a tree, he and his brood, till
there remains no hair that is red within the land.'

'Nay' said the King. 'Why should I hurt the little children?'

They had poured out of the hut door and were making plump obeisance to
everybody. Namgay Doola waited with his gun across his arm.

'Or thou canst, discarding the impiety of the cow-maiming, raise him to
honour in thy Army. He comes of a race that will not pay revenue. A red
flame is in his blood which comes out at the top of his head in that
glowing hair. Make him chief of the Army. Give him honour as may befall,
and full allowance of work, but look to it, O King, that neither he nor
his hold a foot of earth from thee henceforward. Feed him with words and
favour, and also liquor from certain bottles that thou knowest of, and
he will be a bulwark of defence. But deny him even a tuft of grass for
his own. This is the nature that God has given him. Moreover he has
brethren--'

The State groaned unanimously.

'But if his brethren come, they will surely fight with each other till
they die; or else the one will always give information concerning the
other. Shall he be of thy Army, O King? Choose.'

The King bowed his head, and I said, 'Come forth, Namgay Doola, and
command the King's Army. Thy name shall no more be Namgay in the mouths
of men, but Patsay Doola, for as thou hast said, I know.'

Then Namgay Doola, new christened Patsay Doola, son of Timlay Doola,
which is Tim Doolan gone very wrong indeed, clasped the King's feet,
cuffed the Standing Army, and hurried in an agony of contrition from
temple to temple, making offerings for the sin of cattle-maiming.

And the King was so pleased with my perspicacity, that he offered to
sell me a village for twenty pounds sterling. But I buy no villages in
the Himalayas so long as one red head flares between the tail of the
heaven-climbing glacier and the dark birch-forest.

I know that breed.

Rudyard Kipling