We stretched ourselves stiffly in the first gray of dawn, wondering where we could get a mouthful of breakfast. On emerging from the station a strange and gladsome sight met our eyes--namely, chop boxes and gun cases belonging to some sportsman not yet arrived. Necessity knows no law; so we promptly helped ourselves to food and gun-cleaning implements. Much refreshed, we lit our pipes and settled ourselves to wait for our delinquents.
Shortly after sunrise an Indian track inspector trundled in on a handcar propelled by two natives. He was a suave and corpulent person with a very large umbrella and beautiful silken garments. The natives upset the handcar off the track, and the newcomer settled himself for an enjoyable morning. He and the babu discussed ethics and metaphysical philosophy for three solid hours. Evidently they came from different parts of India, and their only common language was English. Through the thin partition in the station building we could hear plainly every word. It was very interesting. Especially did we chortle with delight when the inspector began one of his arguments somewhat as follows:--
"Now the two English who are here. They possess great sums of wealth"--F. nudged me delightedly--"and they have weapons to kill, and much with which to do things, yet their savage minds--"
It was plain, rank, eavesdropping, but most illuminating, thus to get at first hand the Eastern point of view as to ourselves; to hear the bloodless, gentle shell of Indian philosophy described by believers. They discussed the most minute and impractical points, and involved themselves in the most uncompromising dilemmas.
Thus the gist of one argument was as follows: "All sexual intercourse is sin, but the race must go forward by means of sexual intercourse; therefore the race is conceived in sin and is sinful; but it is a great sin for me, as an individual, not to carry forward the race, since the Divine Will decrees that in some way the race is necessary to it. Therefore it would seem that man is in sin whichever way you look at it--"
"But," interposes the inspector firmly but politely, "is it not possible that sexual sin and the sin of opposing Divine Will may be of balance in the spirit, so that in resisting one sort a man acquires virtue to commit the other without harm--" And so on for hours.
At twelve-thirty the safari drifted in. Consider that fact and what it meant. The plain duty of the headman was, of course, to have seen that the men followed us in the day before. But allowing, for the sake of argument, that this was impossible, and that the men had been forced by the exhaustion of some of their number to stop and camp, if they had arisen betimes they should have completed the journey in two hours at most. That should have brought them in by half-past seven or eight o'clock. But a noon arrival condemned them without the necessity of argument. They had camped early, had risen very, very late, and had dawdled on the road.
We ourselves gave the two responsible headmen twenty lashes apiece; then turned over to them the job of thrashing the rest. Ten per man was the allotment. They expected the punishment; took it gracefully. Some even thanked us when it was over! The babu disappeared in his station.
About an hour later he approached us, very deprecating, and handed us a telegram. It was from the district commissioner at Voi ordering us to report for flogging "porters on the Tsavo Station platform."
"I am truly sorry, I am truly sorry," the babu was murmuring at our elbows.
"What does this mean?" we demanded of him.
He produced a thick book.
"It is in here--the law," he explained. "You must not flog men on the station platform. It was my duty to report."
"How did we know that? Why didn't you tell us?"
"If you had gone there"--he pointed ten feet away to a spot exactly like all other spots--"it would have been off the platform. Then I had nothing to say."
We tried to become angry.
"But why in blazes couldn't you have told us of that quietly and decently? We'd have moved."
"It is the law" He tapped his thick book.
"But we cannot be supposed to know by heart every law in that book. Why didn't you warn us before reporting?" we insisted.
"I am truly sorry," he repeated. "I hope and trust it will not prove serious. But it is in the book."
We continued in the same purposeless fashion for a moment or so longer. Then the babu ended the discussion thus,--
"It was my duty. I am truly sorry. Suppose I had not reported and should die to-day, and should go to heaven, and God should ask me, 'Have you done your duty to-day?' what should I say to Him?"
We gave it up; we were up against Revealed Religion.
So that night we took a freight train southward to Voi, leaving the babu and his prayer-bell, and his green battle-axe and his conscience alone in the wilderness. We had quite a respect for that babu.
The district commissioner listened appreciatively to our tale.
"Of course I shall not carry the matter further," he told us, "but having known the babu, you must see that once he had reported to me I was compelled to order you down here. I am sorry for the inconvenience."
And when we reflected on the cataclysmic upheaval that babu would have undergone had we not been summoned after breaking one of The Laws in the Book, we had to admit the district commissioner was right.
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