OLD Ugly FACE
Death stalks the mountain passes, hunting the only man alive who can save Tibet
The story: In the mountains of Tibet, Andrew Gunning of the Secret Intelligence is trying to reach his superior, Tom Grayne, when he and his party of Tibetans meet a group of natives headed by a man who claims to be a high lama.
In this second party is an ugly-faced old man posing as a servant of the “luma,” but when Gunning meets Groyne the latter stales that Ugly-face is the real lama Lobsang Pun, a member of the Council of Regents which recently governed Tibet on behalf of the infant Dalai Lama. Regent Ram-pa Yap-shi poisoned the other regents except Lobsang Pun who escaped; and now the dictclor-regent holds the infant ruler in a near-by monastery.
The man who poses as a high lama is accused by Groyne of being a fraud whose real name is Shag-la and whose secret purpose is to deliver his pseudo servant. Lobsang Pun (Uglyface) to the latter’s enemy, Ram-pa Yap-shi. Shag-la practically admits the truth of the charge.
Groyne accuses a member of Shag-la’s parly called Rig-dzin of being Ambrose St. Malo, a notorious adventurer. The latter admits his identity, says he has eighteen armed men near by, and intends to kidnap the infant Dalai Lama for sale to an Asiatic power. He proposes that Groyne and Lobsang Pun join him in this venture, and the offer is scornfully rejected. Groyne tells Ugly-face that he will help him depose Ram-pa Y ap-shi and become the ruler of Tibet.
Shag-la attacks Gunning and Groyne. To their surprise. St. Malo helps them in the fight that follows, but they still feel that he is a deadly menace to their plans.
I SAIL): "See here, Tom, if you’re feeling mushy, you leave St. Malo to me."
Tom never was a killer; he’s as sentimental as I am. St. Malo heard me. He grinned. He had no more sentiment than a rat. but he knew the smell of the stuff.
"Your move,” he said, grinning at Tom. 'Tve eighteen armed men.”
“Tom.” I interrupted, “we’ve no proof that his men aren’t laying for us and for him too. We can’t afford to take chances.”
"That's just it.” Tom answered.
He said it slowly, as if he couldn’t think what to do. That scared me worse than the thought of eighteen thieves at St. Malo’s beck and call.
I said: “Let me have a crack at this, Tom. I’ll fix him.”
But Tom had a hand on my wrist.
St. Malo stood with his back to the light that streamed through the cavern opening. He knew he had nothing to gain by tossing bouquets at me. Even a fool could have guessed I was hostile. And he wasn’t a fool. He was a
gambler, playing for a big stake, a long way from home. The men we had just knocked out were no use to him. My headman, Bompo Tsering, had trussed up the phony lama, Shag-la. St. Malo hadn't a bet on the board, so far as I could see, nor a leg to stand on, unless Tom had turned pacifist. I thought of another argument. I said:
“That lx>y of yours will need educating. You’ve no right to be careless.”
“No,” he said, “I guess I haven’t.”
Then I sjxitted a change on St. Malo’s face and knew what Tom had been waiting for. I lcxiked behind me.
Old Ugly-face had come to the head of the ramp and was standing with his back to the wall where the light from the upper cavern cast a deep shadow. I said :
“Ugly-face is listening in.”
Tom nodded. Then he sjxike as if he were thinking about something else.
“You may go and find your men. St. Malo. Keep in touch with me. But don't bring more than two men at a time within Mauser range of these caverns.”
It wasn't any use talking to Tom, so I tixik a stride forward and told St. Malo to get out or I'd hoist him. He didn’t even back out of reach. He said:
“I’ll take straight whisky. I know you’ve got some.”
“Nothing doing,” Tom answered. “That stuff’s for emergencies.”
“Allright. How about some soft grub? Jam? Sardines? Salmon?”
Tom nodded to me. I dug out a can of salmon and a can of marmalade from one of the loads. I gave them to St. Malo, and he didn’t say as much as thank you.
“Biscuit?” he suggested.
I gave him a small can of ship’s biscuit and charged that off to information account. He knew his men were on iron rations, evidently. And he favored his belly. In Tibet, at an altitude of 16.1XX) feet, a man can crave strawberry jam and sardines badly enough to drive him to desperation. Something might come ot that.
“I'll send for more when I need it,” he said and walked out.
I followed him, not too fast because there was just a chance that he had a hidden weapon. Where the long.
irregular cleft in the cliff met the ledge that skirted the ravine, he spoke to our lookout man. Then he turned to the right along the ledge and vanished. I asked the lookout man what he had said.
“What did you say?”
I had seen their lijas move. So I went back to warn Tom there'd be more treachery pretty soon. I found him delivering judgment on the men who had attacked us, and I began to feel less sick at the stomach when I realized he wasn’t going to coddle those suckers.
“Hard labor without rations,” said Tom. “No tea until tomorrow. Carry rocks right now and barricade the ledge. Get busy.”
"OOR A Tibetan, no tea is real punishment. Tom went out and showed them how to build a barricade so as to enclose the hole in the rock where we did our cooking with boiling water from the same spring that kept the cavern fairly warm. There wasn’t any fuel problem. We could have held out in that place as long as the food lasted. But you can’t win by merely hanging on. Tom knew I was fretting for details, so he came in while I was tidying up the cavern and gave me the low-down:
“We can’t win this,” he said, “if you, or I, or Ugly-face make one mistake. Ugly-face is the only man alive who can save Tibet. I le’s good. Lie’s a grand old hellion. Guts. Brains. Passion. He’d swap you and me for St. Malo’s toenail if he thought it would help Tibet. Ugly-face is the King Alfred of this setup. He’s liable to burn the cakes any minute. So we nurse him along.”
Well, a Geneva delegate could have guessed that much. The prospect of riding herd on Ugly-face didn’t worry me too much. I said:
“Snap out of that mush stuff, Tom, and let’s have it butt-end first, the way we used to. What’s the main liability?”
“Ugly-face!” he answered. “You and I have got to get him into that monastery, get jxassession of the infant Dalai Lama, turn the infant over to old Ugly-face, leave him in full control, and beat it back to India without getting
Ugly-face into, possibly, a worse trap than he’s in now.” I agreed we were all in a trap. Retreat was impossible. I asked :
“What are we up against?”
I couldn’t make head or tail of Tom’s hesitation. It wasn’t like him a bit.
“The worst thing we’re up against,” he answered, “is the risk of its becoming known that Ugly-face got foreign help. From the Tibetan viewpoint, Ugly-face’s whole case against Ram-pa Yap-shi is that Ram-pa Yap-shi has been dickering with Japs and Russians. Ugly-face has got to win or lose on the Tibet-for-Tibetans ticket.”
“And Ram-pa Yap-shi?” I asked. “How does he measure up?”
“Swine,” Tom answered. “Stinker. No good. Uses bribery and poison. He’s our best bet—never took a licking in his life, so when he does get one he’ll curl up like a swatted balloon.”
“How come he’s the abbot of such a fortress as the Shig-po-ling Monastery? Isn’t it a genuine Buddhist stronghold?”
“Sure is. Or rather it was. Ram-pa Yap-shi stole the show. He bought himself a membership of the Board of Regents in Lhasa. Then he armed five hundred monks with Jap rifles, stole the baby Dalai Lama, killed all the other Regents except Ugly-face, marched on this monastery and—”
“Wasn’t there a fighting abbot —I forget his name—a good stiff-necked old disciplinarian in charge?”
“There was,” Tom answered. “He died.”
“Maybe. He died about two weeks after Ram-pa Yapshi and his five hundred riflemen in monks’ hoods got here and demanded hospitality. After that, of course. Ram-pa Yap-shi held all the cards except for the fact that Ugly-face was still alive. He has the baby Dalai Lama under close guard. That makes him virtual dictator of Tibet.”
“Well, then, what else does he want?”
“He wants to cash in—sell out to the highest bidder.” “What’s stopping him?”
“Ugly-face. X. The unknown quantity. Russian and Japanese buyers are cautious as long as Ugly-face is King
Alfred in hiding. So Ram-pa Yap-shi offered a big reward for the capture of Lobsang Pun alive, so that his death can be witnessed. That brought Ambrose St. Malo on the scene. And you know the rest of it.”
My opinion of old Ugly-face ran up like mercury in a thermometer. I said:
“Do you mean to tell me that Ugly-face knew that St. Malo intended to sell him to Ram-pa Yap-shi?”
“Sure he knew it,” said Tom. “I told him. What do you suppose I was doing up here all winter? I'd found out where Ugly-face was hiding. And 1 knew he was the only man who could save Tibet. But the only way to get him here alive was to get him an escort. So 1 sent a spy to tip off Ambrose St. Malo. Then I tipped off Ugly-face that if he played his cards right he might cross your trail.”
“And the old bird took this chance on the strength of a runner’s say-so?”
“Oh, yes. Ugly-face is a statesman. He knows where he belongs, in the middle of things. The only problem was how to get here. And now here he is, and we’ve got to get him into that monastery.”
T LAUGHED. I said:
A “No wonder the old bozo is telling his beads. We’re going to need a miracle all right. Let him pray. But sup|x>se you get practical for half a minute. How do we go about this? We haven’t a chance. We’re beaten before we lx*gin.”
“You can kill a mystic,” Tom answered. “That’s to say, if you can out-think him. But there’s no way of beating him. A genuine mystic is the most practical man in the world. You can beat any man who believes that death is the end of the road. But Ugly-face doesn't believe in belief. He’s a knower. What he doesn’t know, he has no use for. He doesn’t care a whoop whether you or I understand him. To him it’s an absolute fact that he has lived thousands of lives in this world, getting a bit wiser each time. He’s so sure, that it bores him to argue about it, that hell go on incarnating, until at last he doesn’t have to any longer, because he'll have learned all that this world can teach him. After that there'll be lots of other worlds. Death means nothing to him. Riches are nothing. E.ven power
is nothing, except as a duty. Ugly-face's duty is to Tibet. How can anyone beat him?”
“He must have a soft spot somewhere,” I suggested. “All right, you find it," Tom answered. “By the time Lobsang Pun was twenty-five he had spent seven years, naked winter and summer, immured in a cave near here, and fed once a week on raw barley. By the time he was thirty-five, he was diplomatic representative in China and Japan, and he had tasted every luxury the world can offer. Barring liquor, which he never touched, he has sampled everything and watched its effects on other people. He has control of all his appetites. He can take things or leave them. For choice, he leaves 'em.”
“He must have a heart,” I suggest«!.
“You bet he has. For Tibet and the Tibetans. Listen to this: I'm his friend. He knows that. A few years back, when he was in power, he chased me out of Tibet just ahead of the first snowfall. If the snow had caught me, I was done for.”
"Doesn’t it. He put a thousand monks to work, praying I’d get through, just to give me the edge.”
“On the (loodt ide of the monks’ prayers?”
“Yes. He figures that the right prayer can’t help the wrong man. And it can’t help the right man to do the wrong thing. Anyhow. I got through, no worse off for being prayed for. I le'll pray for us now. I le'll bless every thought we think, to make us useful. But the minute he’s through using us, he’ll boot us out of Tibet or I m a bad guesser.” “Bite the hand that helps him. will he?”
“No. Here’s how he’ll figure it. Did you and I come all this distance for the sake of the money? Or for our health? If Ugly-face wins out. that’s a flat tire for the Japanese war machine. We’ll have what we came for. He’ll owe us nothing.”
I asked: "Why did Ugly-face stop me from swinging for St. Malo's jaw, and why did you back up Ugly-face?” “Because the old owl was right,” Tom answered.
“Like fun he was! Either we fix St. Malo or he fixes us.” Tom laughed. “Louses having purposes,” he quoted. “St. Malo isn’t fool enough to force a fight, if there’s any way out of it. until he can see his way clear to grab the loot and run. Meanwhile, we’ll make use of him. You wait and see.”
“You’ve gone polite,” I retorted. “There’s something screwy about this business. I'm here to obey orders. But I’ll say what I think before you start giving ’em. This job’s crazy and so are you crazy. I f we march a mile toward that monastery, we'll lx* shot or else shoved off the cliff. We’ve one chance, and even that's as thin as a postage stamp. Grab Ugly-face,” 1 said, “and march him back to India, where he can pray pretty instead of sicking you and me against a regiment of monks.”
I felt good and sore. Then 1 looked at Tom and he looked at me, and suddenly we both burst out laughing.
I WAS wrong in supposing that Ugly-face had returned to the upper cavern. He was on the ramp. He was big. He had a huge belly. He was old; there was no guessing his age. You wouldn't have believed it possible that he could fade into the shadows and not be seen or heard. But a black cat couldn’t have done it better. Of course, that’s a physical trick. But it’s also mental. No man can learn it who can’t keep his thoughts to himself. He called to me as soon as he saw Tom Grayne leave the cavern:
“Your coming? My coming? Which?”
So 1 climbed the ramp and stood beside him, where I could watch the Tibetans. Ugly-face patted the rock beside him:
“My watching them,” he remarked. “Your sitting.”
I sat down beside him. He didn’t have to tell me that he had overheard every word that Tom and 1 had said to each other. He knew' I knew it. One of the most astonishing things about him was his total disregard of ceremony, in a land where ceremonial is nine tenths of life, and he a high lama of the most ritualistic and ceremonial religion in the world.
“Tum-Glain?” he said suddenly. “Doing what now?” “Search me,” I answered. ‘Tom’s got me scared stiff, first time since I knew him.”
Even if I had known what Tom’s plan was, I wouldn’t have told Ugly-face. Why should I? It might have given Ugly-face a chance to spoil it, and we were in danger enough without that. But it appeared there were no half measures about Lobsang Pun. He knew the truth when he heard it. He tried to scare me some more, although I didn’t figure out his motive at the moment.
“Three thousand monks,” he said suddenly.
“Where? In Shig-po-ling Monastery?”
“Two and half thousand of them being blessed people.” “Meaning friends of Your Eminence?”
"Blessed people,” he repeated. “Prayerful. Obedient. Little, not big sins.”
“And the others?”
“Devils! Five hundred! Slaves of desire! Animals!” “Do you know any magic that can beat that outfit?” I asked. “I hear they are well armed. Japanese rifles.”
He was silent for more than a minute. He wasn’t pondering any plan. He had his plan all set. He w'as considering the minor detail of how to go about managing me. “Tum-Glain being too bold,” he said suddenly.
“Okay," I answered. “You tell him.”
“My telling you. You telling him.”
“Why not talk to him yourself?” 1 retorted. “I’ll bring him. He’s only watching them build the barricade.”
“No, no! Tum-Glain being too much honest, needing two men talking to him. Our consulting—agreeing—then your talking.”
"That w-ould be the same as your talking to him,” I answered. “All I’d do would be to repeat carefully any message you want me to give him.”
He smiled suddenly all wrinkles. I could just see his face in the gloom. His nose moved like an owl’s beak. I understood him that time. Oriental. Sub-subtle. It had been his way of convincing himself that I really would repeat his message to Tom without adding to it my own opinion. He flick«! a dozen beads of his rosary like lightning, and began:
“When sinful person thinking sinful thoughts, that being simple problem.” he remark«!. “Logical. Can calculate. Can predict. But when sinful person, being ignorant and losing way amid simplicity of blessed thinking, is offering promise— that being unpredictable. That being not good. Promises of unblessed p«:>ple being only good in matters that are no more blessed than themselves.”
“You can trust Tom Grayne’s promises.”
I answered. "He makes darned few. so he can afford to keep ’em or bust.”
Ugly-face exploded: "Bust! Oo-hah-
ha-ha-ha-hah ! Tum-Glain busting people’s noses! Tum-Glain blowing this way. that, way, always all one way at once. Never blowing two ways. My stopping him and you from busting St. Malo. Now TumGlain is blowing too much other way.
Middle way being better.”
TT BEGAN to be a bit clearer what he -*■ was driving at. There must be something he wanted Tom to do about St. Malo, and if the suggestion should come from me perhaps Tom might listen to it. But you can’t make a greater mistake in the East than to jump to the conclusion that you have understood a man’s thought just because it begins to seem clear. Orientals think all around a thing. They like to suggest the main idea. 11 ’s a form of politeness. They let you take to yourself the credit for perceiving the half-hidden point. I let the credit go. because I wasn’t quite sure that I had understood the point. As a matter of fact, I hadn’t, and old Ugly-face knew I hadn’t. So he explained, with the kindly, vaguely patronizing patience with which one talks to a child:
“Your not understanding—busting St. Malo being one thing, not friendly being other thing. St. Malo, being busted, then being also no more useful. If St. Malo bieng trusted, then St. Malo, being un-
blessed person and desiring, same as devils, to be selfesteeming, is attempting honorable deeds—as if a louse should be a leopard. That is not done in one incarnation, louses being louses. Louses’ honorable purposes being same as honor among thieves, not being any. Louses and devils ! Same thing! Being offended, devils being good at being devils, St. Malo will do what he is knowing how to do. That being predictable. Therefore, he is safer being properly offended. Your telling Tum-Glain.”
I still couldn’t see why he had to use me as a messenger. However, I went out and relayed the message to Tom. The barricade was about finished. It was going to be an easy job to guard that ledge, even at night, against all-comers. If the clearer w'eather should hold, there w’ould be a nearly full moon. On the left there was a sheer drop that you couldn’t measure with your eye, into a ravine that made you dizzy to look at. There were eagles flying five hundred feet below where we stood. In the distance, beyond the ravine, perhaps ten miles aw'ay, the Shig-po-ling Monastery was perched between earth and sky like a painting. It looked theatrical. Huge walls. Courtyard within courtyard. A huge central building with a long roof, studded with belfries and fluttering prayer banners. Without artillery, you’d have needed an army of ten thousand men to capture that place. The only means of approach, at any rate in front, was the ledge we stood on; it wound around cliff after cliff and gradually widened until it became a practicable road that looked possible even for carts.
You couldn’t see anyone moving at the monastery. There was no one on the walls; you could hear the bells faintly on the cold wind, but they were being rung by the wind. You could see smoke from the monastery kitchen. On the face of a cliff, about two thirds of the way between us and the monastery, were the masonry fronts of the natural caves in which hermits endured privation, alone in the dark. Through the binoculars I counted eighteen hermit holes, but there were a lot more than that.
Tom sat on the new barricade, staring at the monastery, while I gave him Ugly-face’s message. The punishment squad begged for tea as a reward for having finished the barricade before dark. But Tom was adamant:
“No food, no tea, until tomorrow.”
He wasn’t bearing any malice. If he had yielded, those men would have had to be mastered all over again. When they were out of earshot, and I had made sure that the last one wasn’t lurking around the comer for a chance to smash Tom with a rock, Tom told me what he thought of Uglyface’s message.
“Ugly-face is right,” he answered. “I swung too far— started figuring a plan to make it worth St. Malo’s while to play with us on the level.”
“Dead,” I said, “he’ll double-cross ’em in hell’s kitchen.”
“Money,” said Tom, “might buy him.”
“Where’s the money, Tom? Your pay and mine wouldn’t buy off a ticket for parking next a hydrant. That guy’s a bottomless hole. You couldn’t fill him up with any kind of money.”
“There’s plenty of it in that monastery,” said Tom. “Those monks own gold mines. Two months in the year they dig enough pay dirt, and carry it more than a hundred miles in baskets, to pay for food for all the monastery monks and plenty over. They’re rich. I thought of asking Ugly-face to promise St. Malo some of that gold. But it’s a poor idea. Give him some, and we’d have to kill him. He’d want all of it.”
“What’s wrong with killing him?” I suggested. “He would kill you and me for the strawberry jam.”
“We might as well throw the game right now as kill that swine,” Tom answered. “Ugly-face would walk right out on us. He isn’t a killer. He counts on spiritual force and doesn’t water it down with bullets. He’s consistent. He doesn’t get between cause and effect, either, and try to act like a cushion. He lets consequences happen. Then he walks in on top of the consequences.”
“He seems to have sold you some bolony,” I said, “that’s going to make cold corpses of us all before we’ve time to get religion and use bullets.”
“Ugly-face won’t play it our way. So we’ve got to play it
his way,” Tom answered.
“Has he told you what his game is?” I retorted. I was getting hot under the collar. But Tom grinned.
“If Ugly-face should tell, then we’d know and he’d lose his advantage.”
“You mean his advantage over us?”
“Sure. He’d call it silly, or a deadly sin, which is the same thing, to throw away an advantage that destiny gave him.”
“You think he holds the whip hand?”
“I know he does,” said Tom. “And he’ll use it. We’ll have to fit in or get what’s coming to us.”
“Too bad I didn’t bring your fancy mauve pyjamas to get buried in. Tom,” I said, “if you’ve lost your grip for the time being, how about letting me have a crack at his holiness. I’ll use him rough, until he learns who’s boss.”
'"‘POM TURNED his back to the wind and laughed. A Presently he said:
“You’ll know what rough is before the night’s out. Ugly-face is counting on the hermits.”
“How’ do you know?”
“Because there’s nothing else to count on. They feed those hermits by night, once a week. This is the night. A party of monks comes from the monastery. Thirty men. One lantern. They pass food and water through a hole in the wall of each hermit’s cell. It isn’t too difficult to attach yourself to that party in the dark and get into the monastery.” “How do you know?”
“Because I did it while you were away. They count ’em going out through the monastery gate, but they don’t count ’em in when they come back. There are so many monks in that monastery that half of ’em don’t know the other half. Plenty of places to hide. I was in there a week. I had to punch one holy Joe who asked what I was doing out of chapel at prayer time. I knocked him so cold that he probably can’t remember who hit him. I found out where they keep the young Dalai Lama, and how often they change the guard, and all that. It was harder getting out than getting in. Too many big dogs outside the wall. Got out at last with a funeral gang who were taking a corpse for the rhagbyas to chop up for the dogs. The dogs were hungry, so they went for the corpse and I got away all right. If I’d had to kill some of those dogs, there’d have been trouble. Cold night. Christmas Eve. Seventy below.”
“And you got away with it? The monastery doesn’t know, even yet, that you’re—”
“No. I ’ve been getting the breaks. Some of the hermits saw me through their peepholes, and they’re the world’s best newsboys. They only speak about once a month, so they say it in headlines. But I whispered that Lobsang Pun’s on the way with fire and brimstone for the sinful Ram-pa Yap-shi. So they’re sitting popeyed waiting for the wrath to come. They’ve heard of Ugly-face!”
“Praying for him, no doubt! Did they tell you nothing? No promises?”
“No. I guess I was an apparition. You don’t tell things to apparitions. You listen-same as you and I must listen for the signals from Ugly-face. He’s called the first one.” Continued on page 43
Continued on page 43
Continued from page 22—Starts on page 20
“Tom, you’re nuts,” I said. “That’s what’s the matter. You’ve been alone too long. See here; did I, or didn’t I, offer to smack St. Malo? Did Ugly-face and you protect him, or am I—”
“Sure. You’re crazy,” said Tom. “That fist of yours would have finished him. Then who’d have collected his eighteen men?” “Loco!” I said. “Tom, you’ve gone bughouse. St. Malo can lay for us now with eighteen men. We know they’re short of soft grub. He’ll promise them ours. If they don’t attack, they’ll lay siege to us.” “Oh, no, we can’t wait for ’em to do that,” Tom objected, grinning. “Soon as the fords are passable there’ll come a regiment from Lhasa. They’ve a couple of regiments there that are loyal to Ram-pa
Yap-shi. They’ve been paid. They’ll obey his orders. We’ve goc to beat ’em to it.”
“I can’t figure it,” I answered. “If I were really dead sure that you’re loco, I’d-”
Tom grinned again.
“Save that for St. Malo—ten minutes after sunset.”
“Good. I get first crack at him. Then what?”
“They feed the hermits.”
“Tom,” I said, “try to make your thoughts connect up. Get a grip on yourself.”
He took no notice of that; went on talking:
“They don’t feed ’em until midnight. That’ll give St. Malo time to let his yeast
rise. If we insult him good and plenty, he’ll betray us. Now do you see what a wise old strategist Ugly-face is?”
I was speechless by that time. All kinds of thoughts. What d’you do when your friend goes nuts? Tom went on talking:
“Prod his vi(>er complex. Tip him off that tonight they feed the hermits. Can you imagine him turning up that chance to get word to the monastery that Lobsang Pun’s for sale? Cash on the head of the barrel. No money, no Lobsang Pun. How will that be for a bombshell in the monastery?”
“It'll bring ’em swarming out to hunt for Ugly-face,” I said. “Why should such a swab as Ram-pa Yap-shi pay for him if he can turn out a couple of thousand monks to catch him?”
“Now you’re talking,” said Tom.
“I haven’t finished.” I said. “The very least that can happen is that we lose the advantage of surprise, and the initiative, and-
“Bunk,” he grinned. “Where did you learn strategy? Out of a lxx>k? Initiative resides in the ability to take advantage of the other man’s mistakes. If Ram-pa Yap-shi doesn’t make some, we ain’t use ’em. 1 íe won’t make ’em, if we don’t tempt him. Until he has made ’em, who knows how g;xxl they’ll be?”
"So you're betting on Ugly-face?”
Tom left off grinning. He nodded. He said:
“I laid a devil of a big bet down on Ugly-face to win on the day I heard he was a fugitive from Lhasa and they were hot on his trail. I heard he’d abandoned everything. That wasfine news. Then I heard that St. Malo was heading toward Lhasa. So I sent a man to track St. Malo, and I think St. Malo shot him after he’d told the story I’d told him to. Anyhow, St. Malo found Ugly-face. And Ugly-face found you. Bet on him? I’ve betted my sweet life on him, and yours too! Well, there’s sunset. Time’s up. Let’s insult St. Malo.”
nriIAT WAS the worst sunset I ever saw. Clouds and cliffs assumed the shapes of elemental monsters. Muddy-red. Slate-grey. Gl;x>m. I went back to the cavern for a couple of flashlights and heard old Ugly-face saying his prayers. All the Tibetans in the lower cavern were down on their knees with their foreheads on the fkx>r. There were a couple of lanterns going. They cast astonishing shadows. You could see the eyes of the stabled animals. Old Ugly-face’s voice coming through the gap from the upper cavern sounded like organ music with something added if I knew what, I would tell. It made you realize how little you really know about the things that you thought you knew all about. It sounded something like a Gregorian chant, and it conjured up a mental picture of old Uglyface. I imagined him in full canonicals that were a sort of symbol of his daimonic dignity. 1 saw him in my mind’s eye pouring forth blessings; an old dynamo, under full load, humming his energy forth. He didn’t make me feel blessed. Í was glad to get out of there. I left Bompo Tsering in charge.
Tom and I climbed over the barricade and started along the ledge. Tom leading. There wasn't nx>m for us side by side, and there’d be a long way to fall if you set a ftx>t wrong or stumbled on a loose stone'. Clear second-quarter moon at intervals, but plenty of signs of another of those springtime storms that do more to keep foreigners out of Tibet than all the laws and treaties in the world. Tom set his back against the cliff and kicked a big rock off the ledge. We listened until it struck bottom and sent echoes pinging along the ravine like breaking ice. Then he turned to me, and by that time the moon was gone, so I couldn’t see him.
“We're getting the breaks too many at a time. The law of averages will check that soon. You can’t keep winning by sheer momentum.”
"Ugly-face is praying,” I said, “so don’t you worry.”
In proof of how worried I was, I’d forgotten to eat. Tom trains his belly, like an animal’s, to make the most of what it gets, if, as and when, and to carry on between times. It’s very difficult for me to do much hoping on an empty stomach.
“Storm coming,” said Tom. “Looks like a rip-snorter.”
He sounder! glad of it.
“Looks like a killer,” I told him. “Coming three ways, at three levels.”
“Lucky!” he said. “We’re getting all the breaks.”
Mind you, he wasn’t talking about mere dirty weather. A Tibetan storm, among the mountains at that elevation, is a howling chaos. The hail blows horizontally along the ledges. Great hunks of rock split from the face of the cliff. "You can’t see or hear or feel, you experience with some other sense that only registers agony, because all the sound is in the wind. The snow smothers the light. It’s worse than any hot hell that Tantric Buddhists ever dreamed of. And Tom looked forward to it. We didn’t argue the point. I said:
“Get a move on and let’s find St. Malo.” It seemed to me we were taking an idiot’s chance. The ledge that we clung to zigzagged in and out on the face of a cliff from one natural ambush to the next. At one moment we were outlined by the light of the moon; then we’d be in shadow where a dozen men might have been lurking. No need for weapons; a sudden shove would have sent both of us off the ledge, through a thousand feet of darkness to the crags below.
I called a halt after a while. I said: “We’re asking for it. We’re going straight into it.”
“Bunk.” Tom retorted.
He walked on. I guess he knew I had the wind up. Arguing wasn’t going to do me any good. It got worse after a minute or two; the m;xm disappeared behind hurrying clouds. The wind began screaming and moaning among the crags. A flashlight would have been an invitation to any rifleman on watch, and St. Malo had eighteen riflemen. I began wondering how you insulted a guy. I couldn’t have said txx) to my own shadow. Hungry. I searched my pocket for dry barley, but there was none.
I didn’t think about Tom having been there all winter and knowing every yard of that ledge. We were probably more than a mile from our cavern when he stopped and grabbed me by the arm. I’d have fallen off the ledge if he hadn’t. It was too dark for us to see each other. He had to shout against the wind, with his hand to his mouth:
“On our right. Two yards. Cave! St. Malo!”
I could hear the wind howling and thundering into a gap of some sort. Tom got his breath and yelled again:
“Tunnel. Leads into a ravine. Back of that’s a cavern.”
T BELIEVED he was going to send me in -*■ there. I'd have gone. But I’d have been no gcxxi. However, he had a plan all figured out. We groped our way into a fifty-foot cave and used our flashlights until we found the opening of the tunnel at the rear. It was short, but you couldn’t see the full length of it because it wasn’t straight. There was someone at the far end. We heard noises that were off-key with the wind.
At last a Tibetan on hands and knees shoved his face out of the end of the tunnel. We could have grabbed him, b.:t Tom caught my arm. We dazzled his eyes for a second or two and then switched off the light. He shouted against the wind. I couldn't hear what he said, but Tom answered him, in Tibetan. Then I got the general drift of Tom’s idea, and I began to feel better. We were so close by that time that you could have covered ail three heads with a man’s coat, but with the flashlights off we couldn’t see each other. “Where is Rig-dzin?”
“Do you wish to speak to him?”
“No! You'll do. Have the monks started coming this way from the monastery?”
“This is the night when they feed the hermits.”
Evidently the Tibetan knew nothing about that routine.
“Are you Tum-Glain?” he demanded. “Why don’t you talk to Rig-dzin?”
“If he comes alone I’ll talk to him,” Tom answered. “But say nothing about the monks and hermits. I’ll tell him that.” The fellow backed into the tunnel, to fetch St. Malo. He couldn’t possibly have guessed whether we had men behind us or not. Tom said to me:
“If St. Malo springs a trap and we get ours, that tips off Ugly-face. He’ll clear out. They’ll never catch him alive.”
That made me gtxxj and sore. I yelled at Tom across the wind:
“He’ll get the tip too late, and a good job! That old buzzard’s saying prayers a mile away.”
“No, he isn’t,” said Tom. “Take a look.”
I darned nearly jumped out of my skin. Ugly-face was standing framed in the mouth of the cave, with his back to the moonlit clouds that made an infernal background for him. He looked like a bat on the brink of hell. You couldn’t see his face; he was a silhouette, shrouded in a couple of my blankets.
Tom spoke: “St. Malo won’t let on, if that Tibetan has told him what I told him not to, about the monks and hermits. If we get his goat he’ll try to keep us guessing while he gets in touch with the feeding gang and arranges to sell us to Ram-pa Yap-shi. So act tactful. Here he comes.” A man came through the tunnel carrying a lantern. He wanted to know how many men we had with us.
“Tell Rig-dzin to come alone and count them,” Tom answered. “No tricks! Let me hear you move out of range !”
The Tibetan obeyed. We heard him shout to someone at the far end. Tom came closer to me.
“St. Malo’ll come this time,” he said. “You talk to him. Tell him I’ve gone to watch the hermit feeding party, to make sure they don’t come spying on us. Make sure he gets that in his head before you start baiting him. Then get his goat, but don’t hurt him. No matter what he says or does, don’t touch him. I want your word on it.”
IVING that promise was like pulling my own back tooth. But I did it. Tom followed old Ugly-face around the corner of the cliff. I waited, in pitch darkness. It was about five minutes before St. Malo came, slowly, carrying a lantern. I guess he hadn’t a flashlight. He had a rifle, but he didn’t seem to expect to use it. I told him to lay it down on the tunnel floor. My voice startled him. I íe obeyed.
“Are you alone,” I asked him, and he said yes.
“If you’re lying,” I said, “no matter what your men start, it’ll be your finish. You’ll get yours first.”
He sneered: “You’re full of brains! Why should I start anything? Where’s Tom Grayne?”
I delivered Tom’s message about the hermit feeding party. I answered his questions. I made absolutely sure that he understood the danger we were in. We were as civil as if we liked each other until he overbid his hand.
“You go and tell Tom Grayne I'll guard this ledge with my riflemen until he and I agree to terms and a plan. Then we’ll work together.”
Well, he learned the answer to that, and he didn’t like it. I said:
“St. Malo, you’re t(K> bad a stinker to be trusted between us and the enemy. I’m here to give you marching orders. You’ve until two hours after daybreak to lead your men past our cavern in single file. The skyline’s yours.”
“So you think you can manage without me, do you? Got a plan of your own, eh?” “You’ll find out,” I answered. “If you’re not on the move toward the skyline pretty soon after sunrise, you’ll take the consequences.” Continued on page 46
Continued on page 46
Continued from page 44
He wasn’t overrating my intelligence, but he had to think up something that wasn’t too raw for even me to swallow. It took him ten seconds, and he was smarter than I’d thought he’d be.
“Okay. The dislike’s mutual. You and Tom Grayne are a pair of rats I’ve no use for. But I’m in on this business. I don’t want to spoil it. I won’t fight. I’ll trade you. Since you don’t trust me, I’ll agree to take my men to the far side of your cavern and keep them there until we come to terms, provided you supply me in the meantime with all the 9oft tack I can eat.” I agreed to that promptly, because I knew he was lying. He may have thought he had fooled me; and yet he could hardly have thought that Tom and I would be such f;x)ls as to let him camp on our line of retreat and feed him soft tack while he imposed his own terms. From the second I served the ultimatum on him he had only one thought in his head and that was how to get the hermit feeding party to carry a message to Ram-pa Yap-shi. I encouraged him. I said:
"St. Malo, you’re a treacherous rat. Your word’s worth less than nothing. So be out of here by daybreak or—”
He didn’t wait to hear the rest of it. He turned his back and walked along the tunnel. He didn’t even pick up his ritle. That was a hot tip. I stepped aside, just about a tenth of a second ahead of a bullet. He had one of his bandits ambushed at the far end of the tunnel. I crawled back to the tunnel and got St. Malo’s rifle. It was a good one; it had a telescopic sight.
TT TOOK about fifteen minutes to grope along that gosh-awful ledge in the dark to where Tom waited for me. I gave him the news. We could hardly hear each other shout, and you could see nothing. He found the cliff on the right and began leading along the ledge. I shouted to him : “We’ll have St. Malo behind us! He'll be coming to talk to the hermit feeding party.”
“Fine!” Tom shouted. “Come on !”
We had to crawl part of the way. In places we leaned against the cliff and waited for a lull in the wind. Ten times I could have sworn I heard a bullet whizz by. Of course, I didn’t. St. Malo couldn’t possibly have heard or seen us. We couldn’t see each other. Each time Tom hesitated on the ledge to feel his way around an outleaning rock, I bumped into him. Twice we almost fell off the ledge. We didn’t overtake Ugly-face. He might have fallen off for all we knew. There was no place where he could have hidden. He couldn’t have scaled the cliff, upward. There was no foothold; it was sheer wall, leaning slightly outward, and in places it was covered with ice; no one could have climbed it.
After a while we saw a light moving, far away where the ledge turned leftward in a wide arc toward the monastery. Tom shouted:
“Feeding party on the way. Number varies. Twenty—twenty-five—thirty. ”
“Yes. And they’re in a blue funk. They’d shoot at a shadow. They hate this job.” “Any place near the hermits where we can hide?”
“Not so easy. Let’s find Ugly-face. Come on.”
There wasn’t a place where a bird could have hidden until the ledge grew wider where the cliff was holed with hermits’ caves. The moon showed a couple of times, so we had a good look. The caves were irregular and at different levels. Some were only reachable by footholds cut in the cliff. The highest ones were open to the weather and appeared unoccupied. All the others, except one, were closed up with mud and stone masonry, leaving a hole, about five feet from the floor, barely large enough for a man to push his head through. No sign of the hermits—no lights - no sounds, except the screaming wind and the cannonading of rocks being blown from the higher ledges.
Suddenly Tom and I both became aware of movement. We couldn’t have heard it, and I swear we couldn’t see. I guess we sensed it. It appeared to me to come from that one cave on the lower level that was only partially blocked up. We turned our flashlights on it. There was a gap in the masonry wall about three feet wide and extending to about tw-o feet from the bottom. We used our lights about a quarter of a second. Both saw the same thing. A big hunk of rock appeared to raise itself and place itself exactly in the middle of the gap.
“Ugly-face!” Tom yelled at me. “You can’t beat that old hellion !”
His Holy Diplomatic Eminence, the Ring-ding Ge-long Lama Lobsang Pun, alias Ugly-face, was immuring himself in a cave, where he could listen in to any conference that might take place between St. Malo and the monastery monks. To make assurance almost absolute, he had pulled out from the cave the w'eathermummied carcass of a hermit who had died since the last visit of the feeding patrol. Bandits had probably broken the wall of the cave in search of sacred objects such as bandits usually need to keep awray the devils who otherwise w'ould accumulate like moths around the flame of their sinful pursuits. The monks would have to pause and say the proper prayers, reciting suit-
able passages from the Bardo Thodol before pitching that hermit’s remains over the cliff. It was a good enough bet for a prelate, wise in the ways of monks, that there, outside the cave, and nowhere else, St. Malo would attempt to double-cross us all for much fine money.
THE MOON vanished. Tom used his flashlight. Ugly-face blinked at it. He made no secret of his disapproval. If he felt friendly, he dissembled. Having to shout against the howling wind increased the suggestion of irritation.
“Cave being place for blessed persons only !”
“We’ll do this job,” Tom answered. Ugly-face looked mad enough to hit him. “Your not knowing!”
He’d have stolen the show right then and there if we’d let him. He was through with us. We had served a purpose. We were now in his way. But Tom had already laid two rocks in place in the gap. I was holding the flashlight. Ugly-face pulled both rocks dowm and replaced them. It looked like sheer bad temper, but perhaps there is an ordained angle at which hunks of diorite should be imposed on one another in the entrance of a hermit’s cave. Tom got in Ugly-face’s way and went on with the work, speaking Tibetan:
Continued on page 47
Continued from page 46
“Blessed personage acceptably praying being more useful than ignorant laboring man.” Then in English to me:
“Give him the torch to hold.”
Ugly-face accepted the torch and I passed the rocks to Tom as fast as he could lay them in place. There wasn’t room for both of us to work in the gap. Ugly-face kept up a continuous growl of objections.
“Being danger in another’s duty done badly,” he grumbled.
“Duty in another’s danger,” Tom retorted.
“Their observing that wall not being properly built.”
“Bless a blindness on them,” Tom suggested.
“Devils using your mouth,” said Uglyface.
He began flicking his beads with his thumb. Tom worked like wildfire. The mud was frozen dry. No means of wetting it. Stones wouldn’t stay in place without a lot of manipulating. The wall across the gap was only breast high by the time we heard the chanting of the monks. We only heard it in snatches because of the wind. Ugly-face turned olT the light.
We couldn’t see anything, but you could guess what was happening. In the masonry front of every one of those hermits’ caves there was a hole about breast high through which the hermit could pass out his water bottle to be filled, and then hold out one hand to receive his week’s supply of barley. After a few months practice those fellows can survive on five grains a day. Having nothing else to do except meditate, they learn how to chew the stuff and get all the good out of it. The feeding patrol, chanting as they came and spinning prayer wheels, were pausing in front of each cave just long enough to chant a mantram and for the hermit to stick out his arm to receive the supplies. The monks were in a hurry to get back to their nice draughty cells in the monastery. They were afraid of bandits, and not notably fond of hermits. The hermits’ disdainful austerity implied more than a sneer at monkish luxury and spiritual sloth. Duty to one another, but no love lost.
So the procession came along pretty fast. It wasn’t more than ten or fifteen minutes before their enormous, parchmentcovered iron lantern rounded the corner of the cliff, and the procession halted while the lantern bearer examined the corpse of the hermit that old Ugly-face had laid in the way.
TT WAS easy to see through the chinks in
the rebuilt wall. The monks crowded one another for a look at the hermit’s body, wondering how it got there. The lantern bearer stood gesticulating in a long yakskin overcoat, giving orders that no one obeyed. I think Ugly-face understood every one of his gestures. His sharp old ears may even have caught the words. After a while he retreated to the back of the cave, probably having heard plenty.
The lantern bearer’s authority prevailed at last. He set one monk to reciting the proper ritual for such occasions. He commanded another monk—a whopping big fellow, armed with a sword—to go and examine the cave from which the hermit’s frozen body had been dragged. The big fellow refused. The lantern bearer struck him. All the other monks upheld the lantern bearer. So the big fellow with the sword came ahead, whirling his prayer wheel, doubting his sword and trusting nothing. We could see him easily, silhouetted against the big lantern. His padded clothing and hood made him look bigger than he really was, but he was a giant at that. He was probably a nomad from the plains of Northern Tibet, where the only possible survivors of the rigors of the climate are the stalwarts with huge lungs, big bones and iron muscles. He would easily out-shout the storm. Twentyfive monks. Three rifles in sight in the glow of the big lantern.
Tom whispered: “Oh, for a baseball
The big monk stuck his head and shoulders through the gap in the masonry. His head was within two feet of mine, but he couldn’t see me. He had a face like a stone devil’s; stupid, and more dangerous for that very reason. You can’t predict what a stupid man will do. If we should hit him too soon, or not hard enough, or in the wrong place, he might be fool enough to do the right thing by mistake.
Suddenly he turned around and shouted to the lantern bearer. He had a voice like a foghorn. The cave was empty, looted by bandits. The lantern bearer shouted, gestured, ordered him into the cave, then turned his back to watch four monks roll the dead hermit’s body off the ledge onto the crags a thousand feet below. Our fellow couldn’t take his eyes off that ceremony. He leaned his back against the rebuilt wall. We were afraid it might give way inward. The four monks seemed afraid to touch the frozen body with their hands. They kicked it, spinning prayer wheels to ward off the devils that hang around corpses; and at each kick our big fellow shuddered his weight against the trembling masonry. At last the corpse went overside and the giant began to climb through the opening. His long overcoat made that difficult, so he pulled down a couple of rocks. Then he leaned through for another good look before climbing in.
Tom and I can generally time things pretty neatly when we’re working in close cahoots. Tom’s left and my right landed on the monk’s ears simultaneously like a couple of clubs. After that he came through quietly. We laid him on the floor, face downward, because a man recovering consciousness is likely to yell if he lies on his back. However, that fellow didn’t stir for several minutes. There was no sound from Ugly-face at the rear of the cave. I didn’t even hear him come forward, but he was standing beside us within thirty seconds of our having dragged that monk in. I haven’t the slightest notion how he knew that Ambrose St. Malo had arrived on the scene. He did know. He prodded Tom for silence. He groped for my mouth with his right hand and pressed my cut lips so hard that he little guessed how close I came to the sacrilege of punching his important nose.
St. Malo had one man with him, armed with a rifle. St. Malo also had a rifle. He looked exactly like a Tibetan. He stood in front of the owning of our cave and waited for the lantern bearer to accost him.
Ugly-face laid his hands on Tom’s shoulder and mine. The strength of his grip was astonishing. But that was nothing compared to the dynamic vigor of the man’s mind. It stirred something in us that responded. The thrill was commanding. It’s no use trying to explain that kind of thing. There it was - the difference between, say, a Napoleon and cannon fodder. He was observing the enemy’s mistake, that should provide the opening through which he would snatch victory. It was beyond words or guesswork. Personality. The lie direct to the fools who believe in mere numbers.
The lantern bearer took his time about approaching St. Malo. He took care to be covered by the rifles of the monks behind him. Other monks came crow'ding past them and cut off our view. The wind wasn’t quite so gusty at that moment, but the monks were chattering like ravens at a feast, so we heard snatches and had to piece those together.
No ceremony. None of those longwinded phrases that should precede any conversation between strangers in Tibet. St. Malo came straight to the point.
“Your holy abbot the Lord Regent Ram-pa Yap-shi offered a reward in gold for the capture and delivery alive of the deposed and new fugitive lama, the exLord Regent Lobsang Pun. I claim the reward.”
rT'HE LANTERN bearer very nearly fell off the ledge from excitement. All the other monks began to gabble advice. Some of them wanted to seize St. Malo and drag him away to the monastery to tell his story
to the Lord Abbot Ram-pa Yap-shi himself. But St. Malo had courage if nothing else. He took the high hand, in a loud voice. We caught scraps of it.
“One hour after daybreak . . . every armed man from the monastery ... go where I direct . . Bring the reward . . . gold . . . English measure . . . four loads . . . weighed in my presence.”
There was some discussion of that. Then:
“I will show you Lobsang Pun’s hiding place and you shall also capture his accomplices . . . foreigners . . . may be lawfully slain ... no right to be in Tibet . . . But tell Ram-pa Yap-shi ... no tricks . . . no gold, no Lobsang Pun. Go and tell him.”
After that, there was a hot. quarrel and we came so near to being discovered that I gave up hope of seeing daybreak. The monks surrounded St. Malo. Some of them were packed so tight against the wall of our cave that I thought the rebuilt portion would collapse. They were all shouting, which was why they didn’t hear our big prisoner. He had recovered consciousness. We had to jump on him, and tie and gag him. That wasn’t easy in the dark; he was nearly as strong as Tom and me together. We used his girdle, and shoved my glove in his mouth. I had to hammer his jaw with a rock to get his mouth open, and we tied the gag in with a strip tom from his own clothing. Uglyface tossed us one of our blankets and we tied that around his head. Why he didn’t smother I don’t know. He didn’t.
The monks had their way with St. Malo. He and his man stood them off for a minute or two; and they realized that he wouldn’t be any use to them dead, so they weren’t too violent. They let him keep his rifle for the time being, but they forced him to go with them to the monastery to tell his story and make his own terms with Ram-pa Yap-shi. They were so excited— only monks can get as excited as they were-that they forgot all about the fellow we had captured. They didn’t even bother about feeding the other hermits in the caves beyond ours. They marched back toward the monastery, chanting, following the lantern bearer, with St. Malo and his man in their midst. Then the snow began falling—lots of it. We were in for a brute of a night.
Old Ugly-face turned the flashlight on Tom and spoke English:
“Now my blessing you a hundred million blessings—now your going home—my thanking you too much.”
Tom replied: “Too soon, old-timer!”
He spoke to me through the side of his mouth:
“I’ll manage him. Go and bring all our men and one day’s rations. Quicker the better.”
The storm was getting down to business. When I climbed out of that cave I could hardly stand against the wind, could hardly see a foot ahead through driving snow.
THAT night’s storm had one redeeming feature. There was lots of lightning. The wind roared along converging valleys with such force that I had to cling to the cliff for minutes on end, with one hand half frozen—I had used my right glove to gag that giant monk. But the lightning, like a barrage bursting in no-man’s land, did show the ledge.
When I could think at all, I thought of St. Malo’s Tibetans. They’d be watching for him, and on guard too against our men, because our fellows might creep along the ledge to surprise them under cover of the storm.
By the time I had struggled along that infernal ledge as far as the entrance to St. Malo’s cave, I didn’t know much. I was dazed, numb, carrying on from sheer habit, the way the Tibetans say that their dead behave in the homeless chaos between this life and the next. I passed the entrance on hands and knees. The lightning lit it. The wind howled through the short tunnel. Thunder burst like the explosions of a thousand guns. Hail swept against the cliff
like machine-gun bullets—grey ice, sharp enough to rip leather.
I don’t remember how I reached our cavern. Instinct, habit, something did it. It was like the last couple of rounds of a fight in which the bell may save you from a knockout if you can only hang on. But our men were keeping a lookout—scared of the storm and its devils, but on their job. I do remember being dragged into the cavern by Bompo Tsering.
It was warm in there. The barricade that the punishment squad had built across the ledge served as a partial windbreak. Our Tibetans had rigged a tent across the actual entrance; it howled and thundered like a topsail at sea, but it made the place habitable.
I couldn’t speak for a while; just lay and liked feeling warm and safe. When I got a grip at last, the first thing I went for was food -washed down some rotten yakmeat and biscuit with gulps of Tibetan tea. Once you’ve trained yourself to swallow that bilge it’s better than any stimulant in that climate.
All I needed was food. A spot of sleep would have helped, but there was no time for that. I got busy. But at the first mention of what I had come for, Bompo Tsering refused point-blank. He quoted Tibetan sacred scripture:
“Nobly Bom, the lesser of two evils being nearer wisdom. Sin and foolishness are sister harlots. Having commerce with them causing too much evil. My not going.”
I had two Mausers, my own and St. Malo’s. I might have used them. Bompo Tsering knew I wouldn’t. He was smaller than I, but he knew I couldn’t have punched him hard enough to matter; I was too exhausted. He grinned, not insolently but because a Tibetan almost always grins. He addressed me again as Nobly Born. He placed a roll of bedding for me with his own hands, offered more tea, and repeated: “Nay. Into this storm my not going.” But I had had a meal, and I’m a different person when my empty stomach isn’t signalling distress. The phony lama, Shag-la, and the men who had attacked Tom and me at St. Malo’s instigation, were a bad liability. It wouldn’t be safe to leave them behind to plunder our loads. My job looked almost impossible. Almost. But another couple of cups of that beastly tea and I knew I could do it.
Tibetans aren’t murderous people. Their religion forbids. They’ll fight for their religion, or about a woman, or for loot, or any of the things that decent people argue about. They’ll kill in self-defense, to keep foreigners out of the country, and for lots of other reasons that are rather inscrutable. When they get hysterical they’re just like any other mob, with fifty thousand superstitions added. But on the whole they’re fine people, and they can laugh at themselves. I pitched on that idea. I said to Bompo Tsering:
“I always knew you were a fool, but not how big a fool you are.”
His answering smile buttered obstinacy without making it weak.
“My not going out in storm,” he repeated.
I said: “Sure. Why should you? You’ve come three months march with me, in winter. We were hunted by bandits and soldiers. We worked like the devil. We did have enough to eat, but we nearly died of cold. You and I were almost drowned— let’s see—how many times? Once when a ferry upset; twice when the ice broke. We escaped from the Lhasa soldiers; we rescued His Holy Eminence the Ring-ding Ge-long Lama Lobsang Pun, and—”
“Thus acquiring too much merit,” he retorted. “Nobly Bom, -such merit perhaps saving you from many hells that your otherwise enduring after death.”
“You’ve come all this way,” I said, “and endured all that hardship and acquired all that merit, only to chuck it away tonight— merit and money and ...”
BOMPO TSERING glanced around the cavern. Trade goods. Provisions. Clothing. Blankets. Yaks. Ponies. Sheep.
And no doubt money in one of the loads. His thought was quite clear. I didn't wait for him to voice it.
“Unless you obey me,” I said, “I’m going to shoot those pack animals. You and the men might steal the loads, but you can’t carry them far. You’ll soon be overtaken by the monastery monks. They’ll turn you loose, naked, to cherish your sins in the snow. That’s all you’ll get for three months hardship. Don’t you think you’re a fool?”
“We blessed Tibetans obeying higher law,” he retorted,“ not being governed by avarice.”
But his grin, in the quivering lantern light, looked less obstinate. He spun his prayer wheel.
“I’m going now,” I said, “to help His Reverend Eminence Lobsang Pun. First, I will shoot the pack animals and take the money. As for you, your wife won’t miss you; she has six other husbands. And as for those hells you speak of, I shall mention your conduct to Lobsang Pun. He can bless—”
Bompo Tsering interrupted: “His
Holiness having blessed us all, especially me!”
“And he can curse,” said I. “How many of the curses of Lobsang Pun are needed to obliterate his blessings, that a fool sees fit to throw away?”
He stared. He wasn’t smiling any longer. “Nobly Born, this is terrible talk !” “I have been told,” said I, “that there are seven hells, and that the worst of them all is reserved for fools who sold their store of merit for the sake of comfort.”
I made that up that moment on the spur of necessity. There are volumes of books about Tibetan hells, written by men who believe they remember them. I have never read those books, but Bompo Tsering hadn’t either, so the breaks were even.
“Maybe there being something in what your saying,” he admitted. “Life short time. Hell long time. Yes.” He began to temporize and to justify refusal, so I knew I had won. “Those men”—he pointed to Shag-la and the other culprits—“being hungry, Tum-Glain for punishment, saying no tea, no food.”
“Feed ’em,” I retorted.
But that gave him another excuse. He pounced on it.
“Tum-Glain saying no, not feeding them. Hungry. Unable to face the storm.” “Shall we leave them to follow and push us off the ledge? Or shall we leave them in the cavern, to take their pick of the plunder?”
“That being too sinful,” said Bompo Tsering.
“And the sin,” I observed profoundly, “would be on your head, you having been the fool who let them do it. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
He laughed. There was no shame in him; only lots of courage and superstition and good humor and natural human dislike of danger.
“Nobly Born, your knowing too much,” he answered. “My choosing lesser of two evils. My obeying you, then what happening being your fault.” He added: “But let us take the animals. Being better letting beasts struggle against storm, leaving us strong at end of journey.”
ONLY A Tibetan could have suggested that. He knew what the ledge was like. The ponies were utterly out of the question. The poor scarecrow brutes couldn’t have kept their foothold for a minute. In a bad storm, sheep lie down and quit. A Tibetan will carry a tired sheep until he has to lie down and die beside it. But we had no use that night for dead sheep or dead Tibetans.
The yaks could have carried us perhaps. But you have to blindfold a yak and mount him by vaulting on over his rump. After that, he goes where he pleases. If we could have got the yaks to face the wind they might have kept their foothold on the ledge. But a yak, especially when in single file, has a neat little trick of going crazy in a storm. The ledge was going to be bad enough without that. But it broke
Bompo Tsering’s honest heart to leave those animals in comfort in the cavern with plenty of food and water. Bandits or St. Malo’s men might come and steal them. Every Tibetan is almost as superstitious about bandits as he is about dugpas and devils.
I won that argument by telling Bompo Tsering to choose his yak and drive it outside into the storm. The yak chased him all over the cavern. That put everyone into a good temper, and after that there was no more trouble. We loaded ourselves with a liberal day’s ration of canned food, with a bag of dry barley for each of us, and the inevitable tea um. Our own men wTere full of virtue and very eager indeed to acquire merit, now that Bompo Tsering had made up their minds for them. They roughhoused Shag-la and his fellow culprits out into the open. Bompo Tsering flatly refused to disobey Tom’s order not to feed them ; he said they ought to have been shot or thrown over the cliff. But he compromised by bringing along some extra barley, so that if Tom should choose to let them off part of their punishment we could feed them without depriving ourselves. Then the battle began.
Bompo Tsering warned me I should bring up the rear because it wasn’t safe to trust Shag-la or any of Shag-la’s men behind me. But I think he doubted my ability to lead. It never pays to let yourself be babied by a foreman, so I gave him one of my Mausers and told him to come last and shoot stragglers. He couldn’t have hit ’em, not in that storm, but no matter; the Mauser made him feel important. Then I led, and the battle began against storm and time and terror.
The wind had doubled and redoubled. It was darker than the inside of a black hole — but with no hole to hide in. Chaos. The ledge had iced up. It sloped outward in places. One man fell into the ravine, but I didn’t know about that until later.
I couldn’t remember one landmark; couldn’t judge time by distance, or distance by time, because we had to slow down and crawl where the ice was bad, and it was most of it bad. But I’ve lived long enough in Tibet to believe in faculties that we all possess but don’t know how to control—until, in dire extremities, we sometimes become conscious of them. Intuition, if you like the word, comes to the surface when no other sense is any use to you. Intuition warned me we were getting near the mouth of St. Malo’s cave. It may have been the wind howling and shrieking into the cave and through the tunnel.
If there was one thing on earth I didn’t crave at that moment, it was a fight with St. Malo’s men. Judging by the change in the sound. I had just reached the opening in the cliff where the ledge was a little wider when a hand reached out from total darkness, seized me by the shoulder, and dragged me into the mouth of the pitchblack cave. I struck out with all the strength I had left—hit nothing. A hand seized my wrist. I heard a voice close to my ear:
“Fathead! Keep cool!”
Well, it was a nice cool evening.
To be Concluded