OLD ugly FACE
Concluding a fast-moving story of adventure and intrigue in mysterious Tibet
OUR TIBETANS followed me like ghosts. Tom counted them. They passed into the dark where a curve of the wall afforded some protection from the wind. Tom shouted in my ear:
“In hell," I answered. “Where’s Ugly-face?”
"Get St. Malo's rifles!” Tom shouted. "Ugly-face is out of hand. Get’em now!"
"Tom, you’re sobering up. I’ve been praying you would."
"Are you frozen, or am you hit hard?”
"Lead me to it.”
Wind like a thousand waterfalls, and thunder. No sign of St. Malo's men. Presently a light in the tunnel, but the wind blew it out. Tom switched on a flashlight, but directed it outward, toward the ledge, leaving us in darkness. After that we could hear men in the tunnel, fighting their way forward against the wind. Tom shouted in my ear:
“I gave these guys a chance to join us. Told their lookout that St. Malo's a prisoner. Scared ’em. Loads’ll make ’em clumsy. Take’em on one at a time. Call Bompo Tsering.” I began to feel all right -Tom on the move at last and no more pacifism. I crossed the cave, told the men to be quiet, fetched Bom|x> Tsering and gave him my flashlight, while Tom explained the tactics. They were simple enough. Tom counted on the wind. If a man coming out of the tunnel should cry out, those behind couldn’t hear him.
They came one by one, too heavilyloaded to use their rifles and believing they had only Tom to deal with. Bompo Tsering did a swell job. He flashed the light on our men for a second. The first man saw them, shouted and tried to double back. Tom jerked the rifle out of his hands. My fist sent him spinning. Tom passed the rifle to Bompo Tsering. and he gave it to the nearest of our Tibetans.
Then the next man. He was more alert than the first. Tom had to hit him hard. He stumbled into me. I tcxjk his rifle, passed it behind me and sent him spinning. The third was easy; I knocked him cold. And so we alternated. It was almost like a shambles where the steers come one by one along a passage. They hadn’t a chance. Only the last of the eighteen gave us any real trouble. He was suspiciouswent down on his hands and knees and tried to peer into the cave -didn’t move until Bompo Tsering turned the flashlight on him. Then he shot at the flashlightmissed, and I went in after him. He tried to grab my legs. I got beyond and
behind him. He swung with the butt end. Tom was in the tunnel by that time. We hove him out, rifle and all, head first, and Tom jumped on him, or he might have shot both of us. He was out of luck at the moment but full of courage, so we hired him later when he realized St. Malo was a washout not worth a decent bandit’s time.
"We should have done this sooner!” I yelled.
Tom yelled louder:
"Stand by for trouble ! It starts now !”
He was right. Our own men were the danger. Too many rifles. Bompo Tsering had collared three. The others began fighting for what were left. Tom and I waded into that roughhouse, and St. Malo’s men started a come-back. Tough two minutes. Dark. Flashlights are no help in a pitch-black cave when you’re surrounded. We didn’t specially want to kill anyone. Some fool pulled a trigger, but by that time I had pitched more than half the rifles over the ledge, and I’ll bet they’re there still. Then I did use the flashlight, and Tom got a hold on the throat of that last fellow out of the tunnel.
“What’s your name, you?” "My being headman. Ga-padug.” He grinned into Tom’s face, and then shouted:
“Giving back our rifles—making your men obey !”
T RELAYED his offer, and that settled it. No self-respecting Tibetan craves to be bossed by bandits. Within fifteen seconds rifles were being pitched over the ledge as if they weren’t worth even a dollar apiece. They even threw over one rifle too many. Bompo Tsering rose to the
occasion, brokenhearted by the waste of rifles, but jealous already of Ga-pa-dug, who had a genuine bandit’s gift for picking winners and had set to already to bully his men into line. He told them we were kings from a far-off country. We staggered our fellows between them to prevent ganging up, and ordered Bompo Tsering to lead along the ledge before they could recover gang consciousness. The storm gave them plenty to think about; it was worse than ever. Tom and I came last, like drovers. We had a chance to talk now and then, waiting in the lee of dikes and broken rocks while the Tibetans groped their way. I wasn’t worried, now that Tom was doing something. I wanted news. I shouted:
“Who’s party is it? What’s doing?”
“Ugly-face making his bid.”
“Thinks he doesn’t need us.”
“Who’s his new friend?”
Thunder, lightning, hail. No chance to talk for a long time. We were inside a snow cloud. It felt solid. You could hardly breathe. Not so cold as it had been, but more snow; you had to shove it off the ledge before you could make headway. Snow piled up again before the next man reached the cleared space. Our Tibetans kept going; they could have turned and thrown us off the ledge. Mausers couldn’t have stopped them.
It wasn’t long before daybreak when we reached the widening part of the ledge where the hermits’ caves began. Most of our men hurried for shelter into the dead hermit’s cave. Following them I crashed into Bompo Tsering, outside. waiting for us, in a chaos of snow' that was snatched up from the ledge and wind-whipped into our faces. He was cheerful. He shouted, spinning his prayer w-heel:
“This blessed country tempting too many bad devils coming wanting it!”
I ordered him into the cave to keep the men where we’d know where to find them. As he passed, he struck me on the nose with his prayer w-heel; I think he did it on purpose, as a precaution, to prevent the devils from getting me. When I called him back and by way of afterthought ordered him to try to make friends w'ith Ga-pa-dug, he
struck me again. It may have been unintentional; you couldn’t see much, even with the flashlight going. Too much snow.
I followed Tom along the ledge, to where it widened and turned a corner and there was less wind. He stood arguing with old Ugly-face—black phantoms, shouting at each other. I didn’t hear one word of it. I was staring, and not believing what I saw. You’ll have to imagine this. I can’t describe it.
Swirling night, stabbed by forked lightning. A tremendous cliff, full of caves on the right hand. Tumbled stone and broken masonry along a winding ledge that ribboned into darkness. On the left of the ledge, a ravine in which the lightning flashed on rocks a thousand feet below. And along the ledge, spectres, stark naked, too many to count. Scrawny, bearded, long-haired, and some of them very old. but most of them men in their prime. They squatted along the rim of the ledge, and stared down into the ravine as if it were a hearth they yearned to. They didn’t move. Even when the lightning shattered the darkness and they were as clearly outlined as by a photographer’s magnesium flash, they were motionless. They might have been gargoyles carved along the ledge, except for that incalculable something that assured you they were living human beings.
Naked; mind you, in a storm that ripped leather. Old Ugly-face had broken open the cells and turned them out. They hadn’t clothing, food, weapons. They had nothing.
Some of them looked too old to march half a mile; those were the fanatical ascetics whose only ambition was to starve their bodies slowly into useless clay in order that their souls might grow so knowing that they need not return to the earth after death and be encumbered by new bodies and endure another earth life. But those were a small minority. Most of them were theological students— the everlasting miracle of Tibet—all the stronger for their ordeal. Old Ugly-face had done it in days gone by—lived on his five grains of barley a day, in a cave, in midwinter, in Tibet, stark naked. That’s how Tibetans study the art of living.
Ugly-face, the Reverend Ring-ding Ge-long Lama Lobsang Pun, looked ready to break eggs to make his omelet. He and Tom were quarrelling. Ugly-face stood wrapped in my best blanket. Tom was upright, still, quiet. He was saying no, with that polite smile that means his mind is made up. I went closer to listen. The wind blew words right at me:
“Criticism of duty-doing superior being bad sin.”
No answer from Tom.
“Superior having duty to rebuke inferior that he may profit by it.”
THEN Tom spoke. He used a Tibetan phrase that lacked elegance. It would be omitted from any Tibetan book on etiquette.
Ugly-face turned his back. He cannoned into me without seeing me, shoved past and strode in the direction of the naked hermits. Hooded, wrapped in my blanket, he looked like the devil who owned the lightning. The storm meant nothing to him. I doubt he felt it. He ignored it. If I were superstitious 1 would have said he could manipulate the storm—that it was something less than himself—something that had to get out of the way of his anger. It looked like a deadlock—a fiat, final break-off of relations. But Tom was grinning:
“Wants his own way and mine too! Here’s your glove. That monk we gagged fell hard for Ugly-face. He’s sent him to the monastery to confirm St. Malo’s story. And turn the monks out looking for us.”
We stepped into a cave, where we could talk without bursting our lungs, and could watch old Ugly-face hectoring the hermits in the shimmering lightning.
“Believes he can win off his own bat now.” said Tom. “Tried to make me take St. Malo’s (lag and clear out.” "What’s his idea?”
“We’re a liability now. Doesn’t want to be caught using foreign help.”
“How can he manage without us?”
“He might. If the hermits obey him. they’re irresistible.
St. Malo has had lots of time to tell his story. Ram-pa Yap-shi’s fighting outfit’ll try to sneak up on us through the storm—and catch us in our cavern.”
“What is Ugly-face waiting for?”
“He thinks perhaps we’ll clear out if he waits long enough. And he’s waiting for the last of the lightning — doesn't want to be seen.”
“We’d better feed the men,” I suggested.
We went to the other cave, where Bompo Tsering and Ga-pa-dug seemed to have got on terms with each other. Our men had filled their bokkuses with yak dung for fuel, so the inevitable tea was being passed around. When Tom ordered food and tea for the punishment squad they clamored gratitude, but Bompo Tsering’s logic was more dependable:
“Nobly Born,” he said to me, “my agreeing with Ga-padug, your being only two men. Our being easily able to kill you. But devils liking foreigners are giving you too much good luck. Also, Holy Lobsang Pun being blessed person. So our obeying you. Our pushing off the cliff whoever s disobeying.”
Tom watched them eat and gave them a talking to. I was better out of that conference; I might have distracted part of the attention. When Tom cuts loose, lie talks the way a skilful fighter places punches. So I went out to watch old Ugly-face. As I left the cave I heard Tom’s opening shot :
“Now, you savages, listen. If you obey orders, you shall live to see daylight. Disobey, and you shall learn what hell looks like.”
He had finished talking, and they had finished their meal, when I returned and told him Ugly-face was on the move.
I couldn't see him.
He said: “This may be the last chance to—”
I interrupted. I said: "See here, Tom. If I craved to be kissed on parade I’d join the army.”
UGLY-FACE hadn’t waited for the thunder and lightning to cease. He had seized a moment. In his right fist he shook a huge prayer wheel taken from one of the caves. He was chanting. I couldn’t hear him through the storm, but you could tell by his gestures. Between the peals of thunder that were beginning to roll away and fade toward our left, Torn and I talked.
"How did he turn out this vote?”
“It was like the resurrection,” said Tom. “He’d rousted out the first dozen before I went to meet you and get St. Malo’s men. Pulled down the first wall with his own hands. Rushed the first hermit. Bounced him. Talked to him out in the snow.”
“Did you hear what he said?”
“Some of it. Swell talk. Shook that naked hermit by the neck. Pulled his beard. Time to translate merit into action. Sitting in a cave. Guzzling virtue like a pig in a pen. Ten million years in hell not enough to purge his spiritual vanity. Shig-po-ling Monastery a cesspool. Monkswallowing in lust and sloth. Hermits to blame for it - - specially that one. He hit him rousing good clips with a prayer wheel—each blow a million prayers, at least. Then he strutted his stuff. Mind you, real stuff. It had to be right. He was talking to a Tantric Buddhist expert who’d spent maybe three or four years in a cave. He guaranteed to lead him right now to such blessed deeds as should more than compensate for the loss of ten years contemplation. He guaranteed a blessing that should save him from all the hells his vanity had earned. Then he kicked him another time or two. Hustled him. Wouldn’t take no. Inside five minutes that hermit was pulling down the walls. Hermits came out like ghosts. Old Ugly-face probably seemed to them like an incarnation of the Buddha. He’d have the gall to claim he was that. Maybe he did. Anyhow, nearly as fast as they came out they began lending a hand to roust out other hermits. Some had to be dragged out, but out they came.”
“Did Ugly-face tell you his plan?”
“Not he. But I can guess it. There isn't a monk in that monastery, from the Regent down, who’d dare to keep the gate shut in the face of these hermits. I’m betting." “Betting they’ll get in?”
"Sure they'll get in."
“We do things.”
I said: “Tom, you’re crazy. Listen: If Ram-pa Yap-shi isn’t drunk and his army asleep, you and I and Ugly-face are gone goslings inside of an hour.”
“Okay. I bet you. Wait and see,” Tom answered. “Got to ride herd on Ugly-face. Daren’t trust him alone.”
I said: “I’ve one Mauser and six clips. .There’ll be more than my funeral.”
Our men marched in a mystified group, dumb and slow. We kept close to them, ready for trouble. The lightning ceased, but the snow kept on falling. We were invisible. Audacity, as usual, was stealing the breaks. But Ugly-face almost overdid it. He’d have lost out if Tom hadn’t used some extra sense like a ship’s captain’s in thick weather. No accounting for it. He just knew—had a hunch.
You couldn’t have told it was after daybreak. You couldn’t see anything through the whirling snow except the back of the man you were following. I was behind Tom. with my head down, trying to watch the track. Suddenly Tom faced around and shouted :
"Get ’em off the track ! Hide! I’ll get Ugly-face!”
HE WAS gone in one of those almost incredible bursts of reserve strength and speed that win battles. I didn’t know what he had senseddidn’t dare to use the flashlight—looked for Bompo Tsering—couldn’t find him —couldn't wait for him had to hurry-got hold of the new man, Ga-pa-dug, shook him and told him to help me get the men out of sight. He got busy. Being a bandit, he was an expert at quick getaways. I suppose from habit he had watched that trail while the lightning lasted. Perhaps he had been planning to hide and break back and loot our loads in the cavern. He was smart enough to have thought of that. Anyhow, he had spotted a ledge below the trail. He had it in his mind’s eye, showed it to me. In less than five minutes we had all our outfit standing with their heads about three feet below the level of the main track. They had to hang on tight or the wind would have whipped them away and blown them into the ravine. I came last, counting the men over the edge and watching the falling snow obliterate our traces. I had to crouch because where I stood the lower ledge was only about four feet below the main one.
Later, I learned what Tom did. He punched Ugly-face. bulldozed him, forced him to lead the hermits to a ledge that was twenty feet lower than ours. There several of them died in whirling snow—I forget how many. They had learned how to endure Tibetan cold in a cave, but not in the open, stark naked.
Death came lots too close for comfort. A slip, and you'd a thousand feet beneath you. An outcry from one of the men, and there'd be five hundred armed monks to deal with. Monks are professional pacifists.
Give 'em rifles, turn ’em out in a Tibetan storm at daybreak, tell ’em there are foreign devils lurking with designs on their sacred institutions, and you needn’t look in the textbooks for what they’ll do.
They’ll pacify their fear of foreign devils and storms and sin with thrice-blessed bullets, in this instance made in Japan.
The monks knew that ledge, knew it well. They trudged along two by two.
Trudge—trudge—trudge trudge. St.
Malo must have told them where to look for us. Shrewd bargain. Stupid crook, believing that Abbot-gangster Ram-pa Yap-shi would ever keep any bargain after the event. Or perhaps St. Malo had told in fear of torture. Anyhow, those monks were counting on the storm to keep us hiding in our cavern and to mask their approach. Trudge - trudge. They weren’t even alert. Shadows. Sure they would catch us napping.
The right feet of the outside men passed so close to my head that in spite of the wind I could hear the crunch of the snow. I wasn’t in much danger of falling off. but I was afraid that cramp from the strained position might make me useless. I didn’t dare to raise my head to get a glimpse of them; didn’t dare, either, to try to pass the word along to our men to keep silent. One of them—not a rifleman; he was one of St. Malo’s men—slipped and fell into the ravine. I heard him cry out as he fell. But the monks didn t hear him, or if they did, they thought it was the wind. Someone
else did hear him and guessed right, but he wasn’t a monk. He came trudging along by himself at the rear.
Cramp, impatience, excitement, guesswork—more than four hundred and sixty monks before I lost count. I was just about to raise my head above the level of the ledge when someone halted within three feet of me and peered over. I couldn’t spring at him; I was too stiff. If he should jump down on me, nothing could save us from death on the rocks below. I couldn’t shoot—needed both hands to cling to the rock. He might have shot me, but he couldn’t see me. I dare say sixty seconds passed before I knew that he wasn’t a monk. I figured it out. If he were a monk, he would have given the alarm. He couldn't be anyone else than St. Malo. And why didn’t St. Malo give the alarm? Obviously because he believed it might pay him better not to. The man had brains. He could think quickly. He was nothing if not an opportunist. So I shouted at him, and he jumped as if I had shot him. The wind threw my voice into his face. I said:
“Give me a hand up !”
There was no doubt then that something had gone badly wrong with St. Malo’s calculations. He obeyed—knelt, stuck his toes in the snow and gave me both hands. I could have got up without his help quite easily, but I would have had to use both hands, which meant I couldn’t have used a pistol. I crushed his fingers to make sure he’d try no sudden funny business, and by the time I stood and faced him op the ledge I had a Mauser ready. I pushed him back against the cliff wall, to have the inside track in case more monks were coming.
“Let up!” he said. “I’ve information. Where are Tom Grayne and Lobsang Pun?”
“Tell your news!”
I let him feel the Mauser muzzle. I had hold of his right wrist. He didn’t kid himself. He answered:
“The young Dalai Lama’s quarters are in the main keep at the rear.”
THAT WAS no ne#s. Tom knew his way to the Dalai lama’s quarters. 5
“You’ve ten seconds!” I began counting.
He spoke in a hurry: “We can cash in on Lobsang Pun, if we hurry before those monks turn back and spoil the game.” *
That wasn’t news. I rapped his teeth with the Mauser. “Talk! One!—T—”
Then he told, in jerks. He was ashamed of having failed. “I’ve been double-crossed. I tried to sell Lobsang Pun. Ram-pa Yap-shi guessed where he was hiding. He ordered
me chased away. But all the fighting monks are on the march. The monastery is unguarded. Rifles! Courage! Where are my men? Bust in and bag the Dalai Lama— make our getaway before the monks tum back and—”
Bompo Tsering and several men had followed me to the ledge by that time. I told them to search St. Malo. He hadn’t a weapon, but he could snarl:
“You two beauties cut me in on this or take the consequences!”
I never did shoot a man in cold blood, but I was sorely tempted that time. Probably what saved him was my sudden memory of Ugly-face’s comment about “Louses having purposes.” I turned him over to Bompo Tsering and went in search of Tom. By that time all the hermits who hadn’t died of cold, and old Ugly-face and Tom, had returned to the upper ledge, where it was a hundred feet wide between two huge dikes on the face of the cliff. It was safe to use flashlights there; a light couldn’t be seen from the trail or from the monastery, either, though we were now within three or four hundred yards of the monastery gate.
Tom was facing the wrath of Righteousness. Old Uglyface stood with his back to the naked hermits, both hands raised in pious horror:
“Tum-Glain, my commanding you your turning back! Now ! You go home !”
I interrupted, flashing my torch on St. Malo’s face. Tom took one look at him and shrugged him out of mind. That was Tom’s only real mistake that night. Ambrose St. Malo might have forgiven a blow. I nudged Bompo Tsering. He knew malice when he saw it—nodded—signalled he was on guard. Ugly-face turned his back. Tom spoke:
“Red traffic light. I’ve told him all we want is to see him with our own eyes in the saddle. He won’t play.”
“What’s his difficulty?”
“Same stuff. Antiforeign ticket. Tibet for the Tibetans. We’re foreigners.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll get his goat while you—”
Tom got busy. I walked up to Ugly-face and called him an ungrateful buzzard, the first insult I could think of. That held him. He blew up. He did his duty. The rebuke that he ladled out to me would have made even a Tibetan bandit blush through the dirt that he wears on his face for nine months of a year. Meanwhile, Tom led our fellows around the right end and toward the monastery gate.
Ugly-face was a statesman. He abandoned his position the very second he saw he couldn’t hold it. He lost no dignity and no more time. He turned his back on me, gathered the hermits around him like a black hen with a lot of naked chickens and led them forward, blasting me with half-a-dozen epithets that stirred Bompo Tsering’s envy.
“Blessed rebuke preserving you from many hells ! Oh, Nobly Born, your being fortunate.”
I told him to keep an eye on St. Malo. He offered to throw him off the ledge, but I forbade that. Maybe I’m soft. The snow came down again with such force that it felt like a grey wall between us and daylight. I didn’t envy the hermits.
IT MUST have been two hours after daybreak, but you could hardly see the great monastery gate until you could touch it with your hand. It loomed beyond a murk of snow. You couldn’t have guessed the sun was on our right hand. The monastery walls were invisible. Tom and I turned our flashlights on old Ugly-face and forced our way through the hermits until we were within three or four paces of him. That was how we lost sight of St. Malo. I was counting on Bompo Tsering to attend to that job. Tom said to me without turning his head:
“On our toes, now. Cover his mistakes. The best men make ’em. Remember: once he’s on top we’re a liability. He’ll have to kick away the ladder.”
Ugly-face was speaking through a hole about four inches square in the narrow postern. I looked up but couldn’t see the top of the gate through the whirling snow. There was a grey bulky something up there that was probably a fortified arch. I saw a flash. An old-fashioned big-bored rifle went off like a cannon. The naked hermit next but one to me fell dead.
That was how we got in. The closed season for shooting naked hermits runs twelve months in the year in Tibet.
“We win,” said Tom. He was laughing. Ugly-face rose to that occasion as if eternity had summoned him to war. His passion exploded into a roar like a lion's. If I believed in magic, I’d say he used it. A great bell boomed behind the monastery
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wall, and that set a hundred bells going— maybe more than a hundred. Ugly-face turned to Tom and me and ordered us to bum down the gate. 1 don’t know how he thought we could do it. The old despot was telling us what, not how. His own wrath could have done it better than any implements we had with us. But the gate opened, to the squeal and clatter of winch and chain. We poured in, old Ugly-face leading.
His Holy Diplomatic Eminence the Ring-ding Ge-long Lama Lobsang Pun was in his element now a humble pilgrim on the path of glory, as grimly iron-willed as the angel of Judgment Day. Followed, mind you, by more than eighty starknaked hermits. That was a novelty, even in Tibet.
Tom and I strung along with the hermits, with our men and St. Malo’s men behind us. Where St. Malo was, just at that moment, I don’t know. Bompo Tsering had lost sight of him while obeying my order to bring along the shot hermit. Corpses cut no ice in Tibet, but the evidence of sacrilege might be awkward, and if we were awkward that morning, we were going to lose out. We had twenty-five hundred monks to deal with, plus the Lord Regent Ram-pa Yap-shi, who had put it over Ugly-face once, and might do it again.
Bells, bolls, bells booming and clanging like fire alarms. Hundreds of voices shouting to and fro from roofs and galleries. Shadowy figures ghosting through the snow across dim courtyards, running in all directions like ants in a broken hill. Lamplight through slits in high stone walls; some were being extinguished as fast as others were lighted. Panic. Never before in Tibet’s history had one hermit, let alone more than eighty of them, marched through a snowstorm behind a Ring-ding Ge-long lama to demand a monastery’s purging of the sin of spiritual sloth ! Old Ugly-face’s enormous prayer wheel was something to watch. No military band conductor’s baton ever whirled and stabbed the air with such meaning. The monks knew what it meant; they knew their ritual; they were schooled in ceremonial and Tantric magic. Their souls sh(X)k within them. You could tell that by the way they picked up their long skirts and ran.
Ga-pa-dug pulled my sleeve. He demanded a rifle.
"Nobly Born, my not knowing what your doing but your needing good-assistant-not-afraid-of-dying my being that.”
Believe it or not, 1 did give him a rifle -Bompo Tsering’s. Bompo Tsering had
St. Malo’s Mauser that 1 had given him, and he couldn’t manage both weapons. It was a big chance to take. I couldn’t consult Tom. But it worked. Ga-pa-dug did a swell job, right then, dragooning St. Malo’s bandits and forcing them to march behind us in something like decent order. That gave me a chance to watch Tom, who was watching Ugly-face. When Tom gave me the high sign without turning his head, we were all ready. We teamed up behind him. Ugly-face and his naked hermits made a feint to the right. It was utterly confusing at the moment. I hadn’t a notion what it all meant. I followed Tom. Ugly-face was Lord Regent of Tibet within fifteen minutes from the word go. Here’s how it happened:
THAT monastery, perched on the side of a mountain, is all up and down hill on different levels-courtyard leading into courtyard through unlighted arches huge barracklike buildings facing inward, and at the rear, with its back to the mountain, a huge building like a keep, with ancient guns that once belonged to the Chinese army peering through gaps in the wall. The sun was beginning to penetrate the storm. We could see everything dimly like a negative that is beginning to develop. Someone fired one of those old cannons. It burst and knocked down a ton of masonry that scared some of the monks
so badly that they fled through a door that we might have missed. The main door was barred against us. Tom was wrenching at it, but I grabbed him and shoved him in the right direction. In a second we were using our fists on monks’ ears to force our way past a stream of them that poured through that other door. You never saw such a panic. Tom knew the way; he had explored that building during the winter. We bucked the monks and followed him up a huge stone stairway to the upper corridor that was lighted by parchment-covered lanterns.
Then we saw St. Malo and the young Dalai Lama and the Lord Regent Ram-pa Yap-shi. You had to hand it to St. Malo. He was no quitter. Even then, caught in the act, he made a bid for the breaks like a rat with no line of retreat. He had the Dalai Lama in his arms—a young child with a face like a doll’s, all wrapped in embroidered red silk. I would have given a year’s pay for a camera. The child was placid, amused, contemplative, curious, silent. Big lucid Mongolian eyes. He seemed to like St. Malo.
The Lord Regent Ram-pa Yap-shi had been hit hard. There was blood on his face. He stood six feet away from St. Malo, with a dozen monks behind him, and it seemed to me those monks weren’t eager to protect him. They were hesitating, telling each other what to do, and doing nothing. Ram-pa Yap-shi looked Chinese. He wasn’t, but he looked it. He was wearing the gorgeous embroidered robes of a High Abbot. He very closely resembled the ancient painted figure on the wall beside him. It represented an ancient notorious king, at the Seat of Judgment of the dead.
St. Malo had his fingers on the child’s throat, threatening to choke him to death if the monks made a move. He shouted to
"Quick! Help me get him out of here. They won’t dare touch us while we have him !”
Tom’s left fist answered him, straight to the jaw a pippin of a punch—like a gun going off. The baby Dalai Lama was in Tom’s arms too quickly for the eye to follow what had happened. Tom passed him to me. Swell kid. He didn’t seem to mind being passed to and fro in the least. He grabbed my whiskers.
Bompo Tsering and Ga^pa-dug stood off Ram-pa Yap-shi and his monks; the greatest stroke of luck that ever happened was the feeling of awe, or some other emotion —probably awe—that kept them from pressing their triggers. Tom got busy with the door to the young Dalai Lama’s apartment, thundering on it with both fists. It opened. Tom jerked his head to me and I handed the infant into the arms of a monk, who slammed the door in our faces. I got a glimpse of three monks behind him, in a corridor hung with bright woollen tapestries—nothing else.
St. Malo scrambled up, rubbing his jaw. He leaned against the wall. He didn’t speak clearly.
"You fools, we’re done for!”
UGLY-FACE was coming. He looked like a big hobgoblin with a hundred ghosts behind him. He had left the hermits somewhere. These were monastery monks; and if ever I saw counter-revolution on the stern, uncompromising faces of a hundred men, there it was. Reaction. Grim, unforgiving, pious zeal. They had come by some other stair. They filled the corridor. They had draped the symbols of their unity on Ugly-face. He was no longer a ragged pilgrim. His Holy Diplomatic Eminence the Ring-ding Ge-long Lama Lobsang Pun no longer wore my best blanket over a peasant’s rags. He stood arrayed in the glorious vestments to which rank entitled him. And he spoke:
"Tum-Glain! Your going home!”
There wasn’t one weapon in sight among the monks who stood behind him like vengeful spectres. Our fellows, even Ga-pa-dug, flung themselves down and laid
their foreheads on the floor. Their rifles made a deuce of a clatter, but there was no other sound while old Ugly-face blessed them with a gesture of his right hand and a movement of his lips. Then he blessed Tom and me, but I didn’t guess the importance of that at the moment; I was watching Ram-pa Yap-shi—gaunt, tall, high-cheeked. Not inscrutable. He had seen the writing on the wall. No Tibetan fears death. But pride fears humiliation. The prouder the rogue, the worse he fears it. The paralysis of fear resembled dignity until you looked at his eyes.
Outside, there was a prodigious clamoring of bells. In the corridor, silence. It was almost like the silence of the painted Bodhisattvas on the wall. At last Uglyface made a gesture, with his left hand. That was very important. Four monks advanced toward Ram-pa Yap-shi. He didn’t move. Neither did his attendant monks move. The four monks disrobed Ram-pa Yap-shi. They offered him no other indignity. They left him standing in a long black cassock, looking wan and surprisingly thin. He bowed his head. The monks behind old Ugly-face opened a lane through their midst. Ram-pa Yap-shi, followed by his own contingent, stepped forward. Old Ugly-face did not get out of their way. He appeared not to notice them; but I detected a very slight gesture with the fingers of his left hand as Ram-pa Yap-shi approached. He obeyed the gesture—passed left to left, instead of right to right. In Tibet, only an excommunicated outcast, stripped of hope in this world and condemned to unimaginable ignominy in the next, will pass to the left of anyone or anything that symbolizes a religious idea. It made me shudder.
Ugly-face sent one of his monks through the door into the young Dalai Lama’s apartment. The monk returned after a minute, passed Ugly-face to the right and whispered as he passed him. Ugly-face turned without a word and led the way down the stairway up which we had come. Ten of his monks stood by to keep an eye on us until Tom made a gesture to me and we followed the procession. St. Malo tried to walk down the steps between us, but we crowded him back. He grumbled:
"You men don’t know luck when you see it! You’ve chucked away a fortune. Now what? They’ll starve Ram-pa Yap-shi in a dungeon. But what about us? We’d better shoot our way out.”
Tom didn’t answer. He said to me: “Now you’ll see statesmanship. Pay-off. It’s up to Lobsang Pun.”
Tom was grinning.
“Pay-off?” I said. “We’re a liability. He’ll liquidate us.”
I slipped three Mauser reloads into Tom’s side pocket.
THE SNOW had ceased falling. The sun was fighting its way through the clouds. You could see everything now, although the wind whirled snow off the roofs and walls and blew deep drifts into archways and cloisters. Stark-naked hermits, lustier lunged than bulls, preceded us, proclaiming Ram-pa Yap-shi’s excommunication on the ground of treason, sacrilege and commerce with foreign devils. Tom and I marched behind Ugly-face—a pair of as obviously foreign devils as ever Tibetan monks had seen.
In the name of religion, law, the prophets, and the higher spiritual beings to whom Tibet yearns for guidance, Ugly-face was exorcising all foreign devils. Bell, book and censer. Booming of gongs. Blare of the big radongs that sound like warnings on a fogbound sea. Part of a tile from a broken coping-stone missed me by six inches. Ugly-face saw that. He snapped a command to the monk nearest him. The monk went jumping through snowdrifts with his skirts tucked into his girdle, to stop that foolishness.
Ram-pa Yap-shi, the dictator-tyrant, was past history. Before we crossed the
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first courtyard I saw more than a dozen monks killed. Thrown off roofs. Working off grudges. Reaction released by apparitions in the morning mist and by old Ugly-face’s sense of drama.
But what next? Five hundred drilled monks armed with modern rifles, streamed back along the ledge from their abortive raid on our cavern. Some of them, riding our ponies, were already approaching the main gate. As our procession descended from level to level, courtyard to courtyard, we had a clear view of them over the top of the outer wall. The rest of the five hundred streamed along the ribboning ledge. That ledge was our only way home. St. Malo grumbled:
“You two fools have done me in, curse you. But it’s cost you your own last chance ! You'll get yours this trip.”
The hermits were putting the fear of the hundred million lives to come, into the heart of every monk they could get to listen. Swell propaganda. They denounced us — foreigners — devils — blasphemers —sacrilegious dogs. Old Ugly-face chanted the ancient ritual. He had a grand voice that stirred the bowels of bigoted zeal. His logical humor drew a clear distinction between killing and permitting silly fools to kill themselves and one another.
St. Malo growled in my ear:
“Shoot Ugly-face ! Then take advantage of the panic and chip in with Ram-pa Yap-shi! Throne him, and he’ll give us anything we demand !”
He tried to grab my Mauser. If I’d punched him it might have started something that even Ugly-face couldn’t have stopped; but my elbow did him no good.
There were more than twenty corpses near the main gate. The blood-red snow was being trodden to slush. Hundreds of monks were milling in the great courtyard. One loud-lunged big fool shouted to our Tibetans to shoot us and save themselves from execution. Ugly-face sent a bigger monk to hit that orator on the mouth with a club. Bompo Tsering murmured in my ear:
“Nobly Born, my being ordered to shoot you, my throwing away rifle, not helping you much, doing my heart good.” The astonishing thing was that ours were the only firearmsin sight. But I spotted the secret of that. Six very holy hermits, stark naked, stood on guard at the bolted door of Ram-pa Yap-shi’s ammunition shed; depending solely on weapons, he hadn’t dared to arm more than the five hundred monks whom he had sent out to capture us. But the five hundred were coming. Their leaders’ riflebutts were thundering on the main gate.
Tom spoke to me through the side of his mouth: “If Ugly-face dares, he can win this game in one move.”
St. Malo heard him, spoke from behind us, crowding so close that I thought he was after my Mauser again:
“Stick your guns into Lobsang Pun. you fools, and make him do what you tell him !” Tom gestured with his thumb. Bompo Tsering and Ga-pa-dug pulled St. Malo away.
“Ugly-face’s best bet,” I remarked, “would be to order us shot.”
“He’s not a rat,” Tom answered. “He’s a statesman.”
Old Ugly-face halted, facing the main gate, chanting. All the monks chanted, j Two hermits, wrapped in blankets, approached the postern, one from each side. It was narrow, almost in the middle of the gate-not room for more than one man to pass through at a time.
“The art of showmanship,” said Tom, “consists in timing it right.”
“The time to boot me out through that postern,” I said, “will be after my ammunition’s used up.”
“Ugly-face’s move,” Tom answered. “Watch him.”
SOMEONE was up on the w'all talking to the armed monks outside. I couldn’t hear what he said. Suddenly, as the crisis occurs in a well-directed play, a door
opened at the end of a lean-to shed that surrounded the courtyard. It was evidently nothing but a covered passage for use in winter. Ram-pa Yap-shi came out of it, all alone. The door slammed shut behind him. His hands were not tied, but he kept them behind him. He walked with dignity toward the gate and presently stcx>d still. Tom spoke:
“Now what? Ugly-face can’t kill him. That ’ud bring him down to Ram-pa Yap-shi’s level. But he’d be a dangerous prisoner. Less than an hour ago he was waiting to watch Ugly-face dragged to the torture !”
The man up on the wall kept shouting to the monks outside.
“This might go wrong,” Tom whispered. “Stand by !”
Suddenly the blanketed hermits opened the postern. One stood aside. One stood in the way. A big monk with a bandoleer over his chest thrust his rifle muzzle at the hermit who stood in the way and strode in. Another followed.
“Quick !” Tom bucked the crowd, and I after him. We slammed the postern shut. It was my fist that socked the third man who tried to get through. It made me feel lots better. We stood with our backs to the postern. Ugly-face appeared to take no notice of us, but he said something to the monk beside him, and within a few seconds St. Malo and all our men were filing one by one toward us.
The two armed monks who had forced their way in stood bewildered. They couldn’t retreat. They saw' our rifles. My Mauser wasn’t making any secret of its existence. They didn’t know what to do. They stood looking from Ram-pa Yap-shi to old Ugly-face, and back again. Uglyface looked straight at Tom and me. He looked more than ever like an owl. But I will take my affidavit, if required, that old Ugly-face w'inked. Tom will swear to it, too.
“Okay,” said Tom. “We get the breaks.”
Ugly-face muttered an order. It w'as relayed, mouth to mouth. The wind cracked dowm on us, clanged the roof bells and raised clouds of snow. A monk came on the run, flourishing his prayer wheel; the blanketed hermits pushed Tom and me aside and let him out through the postern. We slammed it behind him. Then Ram-pa Yap-shi came toward us and the man on the wall shouted louder than ever. W’hen someone thundered on the gate from outside. Tom opened the postern and Ram-pa Yap-shi walked through, alone. Almost instantly an irregular volley of rifle-shots crackled and whined against the wind outside the wall.
“Our turn next!” said St. Malo. He showed his teeth. “You suckers! You—”
Tom made quite a speech:
“You fathead! That was notice to the monastery kitchen to have breakfast ready! Old Ugly-face has given Ram-pa Yap-shi a chance to make the most of. He’ll spring the flag when it’s our turn.”
I had forgotten the flag. Ugly-face produced it suddenly. The monks growled like dogs. They whirled prayer wheels. Tom exclaimed under his breath. Uglyface held the little flag in both hands at nearly arm’s length. Censer-bearers
drenched it with incense. Then Ugly-face preached in a voice like a cathedral organ to at least a thousand monks who filled the courtyard; and there were more of them packed on the lean-to roofs.
TT WAS a sermon about Tom and me and -*■ St. Malo; but it included the wicked Tibetans who had helped us to intrude our sacrilegious persons into holy Tibet. We were sin and the roots of sin. We were blind worms in the belly of corruption. We were the foreign devils for whom Ram-pa Yap-shi nad been waiting. That flag, that little bit of silk that looked so new and nice against the dirty snow' and ageing masonry and snuffy monkish robes, was the symbol —the diabolical, infernal, blasphemous, sacrilegious, foreign symbol of the sin that begat our impudence.
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If the grand old opportunist hadn’t winked, I would have given up hope right then. Our Tibetans knelt and laid their foreheads in the snow. You could hear a thousand monks breathing hard. Tom spoke sideways through his mouth to me: “Careful, now. Watch for the cue. FIe’11 feed it to us.”
For I dare say five minutes—darned uncomfortable minutes, during w'hich Bompo Tsering clutched my foot with his right hand as if he hoped to guide my footsteps through the gates of death—Uglyface told that assembled crowd how and why we had forfeited life in this world and our hope of comfort in the world to come. But there was a notable commotion going on outside the gate. Ugly-face seemed to me to be talking to gain time. Monks kept coming to him from the wall. There was whispering behind him. He didn’t appear to notice it, but I felt confident he did. Suddenly he raised his right hand as if drawing wisdom from other worlds. He mentioned the word “mercy.” He spoke of crawling things and of little louses having purposes. Suddenly, with a gesture like a great archbishop feeding hungry birds, he gave us our forfeited lives, on grounds that not one monk in all that throng could challenge:
“Devils ! Having none the less held holy infant Dalai Lama in their arms! Being therefore ten thousand million times blessed !”
Tom spoke quickly: “Our cue! Step lively!” He seized my arm. We walked straight up to Ugly-face and stood within four feet of him. An acolyte nearly hit me in the jaw with his censer. The incense made me sneeze. We didn’t salute. We didn’t look truculent either, or I think we didn’t. The wind fell. Except for a tumult outside the gate there was almost silence until Ugly-face chanted in Tibetan:
“Blessing being efficacious making sinful people contritely undoing sinful deeds.” That was over my head. Tom caught it on the fly and came back with the right answer before a monk could raise a protest.
“Most Reverend and Gracious Lama, we foreigners beg pardon and repent, respectfully agreeing to remove from Holy Tibet that silken symbol that Your Eminence has condemned.”
Tom paused. Ugly-face waited. Tom had his poker face on; you couldn’t have guessed through that mass of whiskers what was going on in his mind. But it was Tom’s turn. He was getting back at Uglyface. Kept him waiting. Pretended he didn’t know what to say. Then, smiling, slowly dwelling on the words:
“Have I Y’our Holy Eminence’s leave to ask a favor?”
Ugly-face almost betrayed his relief. He converted an instinctive gesture into a right-hand signal of assent. His lips moved. 1 can’t lip-read especially well, but Tom agreed with me afterward that what he said was “Darn-fool!” in good plain English. Anyhow, Tom didn’t keep him waiting any longer.
“May Y’our Reverend and Blessed Excellency grant that, having corrupted the heart and mind of the former Regent and Lord Abbot Ram-pa Y’ap-shi, these repentant foreigners may make amends and acquire merit by escorting the victim of their sinful communications into foreign territory?”
AND I’LL be darned if old Ugly-face hadn’t the nerve to stand flicking his beads while he pretended to think that over. I almost laughed. Tom had filled old Ugly-face’s four-flush with the joker. There wasn’t any other possible solution. Ugly-face had thought of it for himself, but he hadn’t dared to risk refusal. If Tom hadn’t helped him out, his only alternatives would have been to clap Ram-pa Y’ap-shi into a dungeon to plan new mischief, or to leave him outside with those five hundred fighting monks, who would presently get good and hungry and fight their way in.
As it was, the sight of their humiliated
Lord Regent had reduced the men outside to something like consternation. Monks kept running from the wall to whisper the news in the ear of the monk who stood behind Ugly-face.
Ugly-face spoke to the monk behind him. In another moment the two armed monks who had been admitted through the postern were on their way out, to report to their comrades. Ugly-face kept the ball in play by delivering a long rebuke to Tom and me. But it was aimed at the monks. He delivered it in galloping Tibetan phrases, calling down the wrath of the world to come upon all impious fools who should ever dare to trespass in the holy land of Tibet, and upon all conspirators who should lend them countenance. He was interrupted by hammering on the postern gate. A monk opened it. Armed monks pushed in Ram-pa Yap-shi. They pushed him too hard. He fell prone in the snow. Ugly-face spoke to Tom in English: “Tum-Glain, now your telling British Government my being sole custodian of holy infant Dalai Lama, and no foreign influences getting strong in Tibet?”
Tom didn’t say one word to that. There wasn’t anything to say. It was all he had come for. He nodded. I went and helped Ram-pa Y’ap-shi to his feet, and stood him among our own followers. He was numb with humiliation. I don’t think he really knew what was happening. He had fallen too low, too suddenly. He didn’t look like a mascot who could get us past those five hundred monks. They were howling outside the gate. But I could see Tom arguing with Ugly-face. St. Malo was watching them too; he turned to me suddenly.
“Now’s our chance ! Lobsang Pun’s shot his bolt ! He’s scared of those armed monks! Let’em in! Take charge! Up with Ram-pa Yap-shi! Here he is! Can’t get away from us.”
Tom came, grinning: “We win. We’re to disarm those monks. Fresh ponies and supplies, old Ugly-face’s blessing and wre’re off. Let’s get busy !”
“Fools! They’ll shoot you,” said St. Malo.
Tom and I opened the postern and let those monks in one by one. They had got religion. They were hungry. They had heard the news from the top of the wall. They saw Ugly-face, astounding in his gorgeous vestments. They considered their sins and the million lives to come. They didn’t even try to resist when we grabbed their rifles, passed the rifles to our own men and our men gave them to the hermits, who carried them off. One by one, disarmed and scared, they walked into the covered shed that surrounded the courtyard, until only a dozen remained outside. Then we opened the gate wide to admit our miserable ponies and yaks and what was left of our looted stores from the cavern. The monks had eaten all the food. They had torn up the tents and blankets to divide among them. St. Malo swore in my ear:
“Curse them ! They’ve eaten our strawberry jam !”
I was glad of it. I hadn’t brought comforts all the way from India to share with that rat.
Ugly-face waited, keeping faith with us, protecting us while the monastery bursar brought fresh ponies, tents, blankets, loads of barley, tea, meat, ghee, and honey. Then he chanted a Tibetan blessing, to protect us on our journey from devils and dugpas and bandits and sin. As he boomed the last sonorous phrases the vowels merged and roared into his belly-shaking laugh:
“Óo-hah-ha-ha-ha-hah ! Tum-Glain ! Telling your wife Elsa my blessing herchild-little-Tum-Glain ten million blessings! Oo-hah-ha-ha-ha-hah !”
Then he looked owlish at me, suddenly silent. He raised his right hand—gave me a special blessing. Then he added:
“Tum-Glain having shadow. Not bad.”
I enjoyed that even better than his blessing. He’s a grand old guy, is old Ugly-face. He owes me nothing.