Two hours after my arrival in Calcutta there entered the American
consulate, high up above the Maidan, a white man who should have won the
sympathy even of the hard-hearted manager who had denied him admittance
to the Sailors’ Home for once having deserted that institution for a
trip “up-country.” He was the possessor of a single rupee. His cotton
garments, thanks to dhobies, Ganges mud, and forty-two hundred miles of
third-class travel, were threadbare rags through which the tropical sun
had reddened his once white skin. Under one arm he carried a tattered,
sunburned bundle of the size of a kodak. European residents of a far-off
district might have recognized in him the erstwhile ball-chaser of the
tennis club of Delhi. In short, ’twas I.
“Years before you were born,” said the white-haired sahib who listened
to my story, “I was American consul in Calcutta, the chief of whose
duties since that day has been to listen to the hard-luck tales of
stranded seamen. Times have changed, but the stories haven’t, and won’t,
I suppose, so long as there are women and beer, and land-sharks ashore
to turn sailors into beachcombers.”
As he talked he filled out a form with a few strokes of a pen.
“This chit,” he said, handing it to me, “is good for a week at the
Methodist Seamens’ Institute. You have small chance of finding work in
Calcutta, though you might try Smith Brothers, the American dentists,
down the street; and you certainly won’t sign on. But get out of town,
somewhere, somehow, before the week is over.”
“Yes, sir,” I answered, opening the door. “Oh, say, Mr. Consul, was
there an American fellow by name of Haywood in to see you?”
“Haywood?” mused the old man. “You mean Dick Haywood, that poor seaman
who was robbed and beaten on an Italian sailing vessel, and kicked
ashore here without his wages?”
“Why—er—yes, sir, that’s him,” I replied.
“Yes, I sent him away a week ago, to Rangoon as a consul passenger. But
his was an especially sad case. I can’t spend money on every Tom, Dick,
“Oh! I wasn’t askin’ that, sir,” I protested, closing the door behind
The Seamens’ Institute occupied the second story—and the roof—of a
ramshackle building in Lall Bazaar street, just off Dalhousie square.
Even about the foot of the stairway hovered a scent of squalor and
compulsory piety. On the walls of the main room, huge placards,
illuminated with texts from the tale of the prodigal son and the stains
of tobacco juice, concealed the ravages which time and brawlers had
wrought on the plaster. Magazines and books of the Sunday-school species
littered chairs and shelves. Four sear-faced old Tars, grouped about a
hunch-backed table, played checkers as if it were an imperative duty,
and cursed only in an undertone. For the office door stood open. I
entered and tendered my “chit” to the Irish manager.
“Ye’re welcome,” he asserted, as he inscribed my name in a huge volume;
“but mind ye, this is a Methodist insteetootion and there’s to be no
cuss-words on the primaces. An’ close the door be’ind ye.”
“The cuss-words ye’ve picked up,” growled a grizzled checker-player,
when I had complied with the order, “ye must stow whilst ye’re here. But
if ye want to learn some new wans, listen at yon keyhole when he’s
workin’ his figyurs.”
My “chit” entitled me to three meals of forecastle fare a day, the
privileges of Sunday-school literature and checkerboards, the use of a
crippled cot, and the right to listen each evening to a two-hour sermon
in the mission chapel. In the company that gathered around the
mess-board at noon were few whose mother-tongue was other than my own.
The British Isles were ably represented; there were wanderers from
Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and even two from “the States.”
My compatriots were Chicago youths whose partnership seemed singularly
appropriate—in India. For the one was named William Curry and the other
“D’y ’iver put yer two eyes on a betther combeenation thon thot to be
floatin’ about this land uv sunburn an’ nakedness?” demanded my
companion on the right. “Why, whin they two be on the beach they’d ’ave
only to look wan anither in the face to git a full meal. An’ yit they’re
after tellin’ us they’re goin’ to break it oop.”
“You bet we be!” ejaculated Rice, forcing an extraordinary mouthful into
one cheek to give full play to his tongue. “This bunch don’t go pards no
more in this man’s land!”
“Fer why?” asked a sailor.
“Here’s how,” continued Rice. “In Nagpore the commissioner give us a
swell set-down an’ everything looked good fer tickets to Cally. ‘What’s
yer name?’ sez the guy to Bill, when we come into the office after
puttin’ away the set-down. ‘An’ what’s yours?’ he sez to me, after Bill
had told him. ‘Clarence Rice,’ sez I. ‘Go on,’ hollers the commish.
‘None o’ yer phony names on me! Ye’re a pair o’ grafters. Git out o’
this office an’ out o’ Nagpore in a hour or I’ll have ye run in—wid yer
currie an’ rice!’”
“Yes,” sighed Curry, “that’s what they handed us all the way from
Bombay. We was three weeks gettin’ across.”
The meal over, I descended to the street with the one self-supporting
guest of the mission. He was a clean-cut, stocky young man of
twenty-five, named Gerald James, from Perth, Australia. Until the
outbreak of the Boer war he had been a kangaroo hunter in his native
land. A year’s service in South Africa had aroused his latent Wanderlust
and, once discharged, he had turned northward with two companions.
Arrived in Calcutta, his partners had joined the police force, while
James, weary of bearing arms, had become a salesman in a well-known
I disclosed my accomplishments to his manager that afternoon, but he did
not need to glance more than once at my tattered garb to be certain that
his staff was complete. At their barracks the Australian’s partners
assured me that their knowledge of the city proved that the only choice
left to a white man stranded in Calcutta was to don a police uniform.
Evidently they knew whereof they spoke, for employers to whom I gained
access during the days that followed laughed at the notion of hiring
white laborers; and, though scores of ships lay at anchor in the Hoogly,
their captains refused to listen even to my offer to work my passage. To
join the police force, however, would have meant a long sojourn in
Calcutta, and at any hour of the day one might catch sight of two
coolies hurrying across the Maidan with the corpse of the latest victim
of the plague.
Nothing short of foolhardy would have been an attempt to cross on foot
the marshy, fever-stricken deltas to the eastward. One possible escape
from the city presented itself. Through the Australian officers, whose
beat was the station platform, I made the acquaintance of a Eurasian
collector who promised to “set me right with the guard” as far as
Goalando, on the banks of the Ganges. The signs portended however, that
once arrived there I should be in far worse straits than in the capital.
A chance meeting with a German traveler, who spoke no English, raised my
hoard to seven rupees; but the purchase of a new roll of films reduced
it again to less than half that amount, and at that low level my
fortunes remained for all my efforts. Sartorially, I came off better;
for the manager of the mission, calling me into his office one morning,
asked my assistance in auditing his account-book, and gave me for the
service two duck suits left behind by some former guest. I succeeded,
too, in trading my cast-off garments and my dilapidated slippers for a
pair of shoes in good condition.
At the Institute, life moved smoothly on. Each day began with a stroll
along the docks and two hours of loafing in the courtyard of the
Sailors’ Home, where seamen, paying off, were wont to display their
rolls, and captains had even been known, in earlier days, to seek
recruits. After dinner, those of long experience in Oriental lands
retired to their crippled cots or a shaded corner of the roof, while the
“youngsters” played checkers or pieced together some story from the
magazine leaves that the “boy” had thrown into a hasty jumble before
morning inspection. From four to sunset was the period of individual
initiative, when the inventive set off to try the effect of a new “tale
of woe” on beneficent European residents. The “old hands,” less
ambitious, lighted their pipes and turned out for a promenade around
Dalhousie square. Thus passed the sunlit hours. He who had lived through
one day with the “Lall Bazaar bunch” knew all the rest.
But as the days were alike, so were the nights different. Each evening
of the week was dedicated by long custom to its own special attraction,
and newcomers fell as quickly into the routine as a newly arrived prince
into the social swirl of the capital. On Monday, supper over, the
company rambled off to that section of the Maidan adjoining the
viceroy’s palace to listen to the weekly band concert, during the course
of which the fortunate occasionally picked up a rupee that had fallen
from the pocket of some inebriated Tommy Atkins. On Tuesday the
rendezvous was the Presbyterian church at the corner of the square; for
it was then and there that charitable memsahibs, incorporated into a
“Ladies’ Aid Society,” ended their weekly sewing-bee by distributing
among the needy the evidences of their skill with the needle. Hour after
hour, a long procession of beachcombers filed up the narrow stairway of
the Institute, to dump strange odds and ends of cosmopolitan raiment on
the floor. The night was far spent before the last trade had been
Wednesday, however, was the red-letter date in the Institute calendar.
On that evening came the weekly “social.” In company with an “old
timer,” I set off early for the English church far out beyond Fort
William, in the chapel of which we were served such unfamiliar
delicacies as ice cream—so the donators dared to name it—and cake. The
invitations were issued to “all seamen on shore in the city,” but found
acceptance, of course, only among the penniless, for the arrack-shops of
Calcutta are subject to no early closing law.
In a corner of the chapel sat several young ladies and the junior rector
of the parish, a handsome English youth, announced on the program as the
president of the meeting. We were favored, however, only with a view of
his well-tailored back, for the necessity of furnishing giggle motifs
for the fair maidens and the consumption of innumerable cigarettes left
him no time for sterner duties.
When the last plate had been licked clean, the gathering resolved itself
into a soirée musicale. A snub-nosed English miss fell upon the piano
beside the pulpit, and every ragged adventurer who could be dragged
within pistol-shot of the maltreated instrument inflicted a song on his
indulgent mates. More than once the performer, indifferent to memsahib
blushes, refused either to expurgate or curtail the ballad of his
choice, and it became the duty of a self-appointed committee to drag him
back to his seat.
The suppression of a grog-shop ditty had been followed by several
moments of fidgety silence when a chorus of hoarse whispers near the
back of the chapel relieved the general embarrassment. A tow-headed
beachcomber—a Swede by all seeming—was forced to his feet and advanced
self-consciously up the aisle. He was the sorriest-looking “vag” in the
gathering. His garb was a strange collection of tatters, through which
his sunburned skin peeped out here and there; and his hands, calloused
evidences of self-supporting days, hung heavily at his sides. The noises
thus far produced would have been prohibited by law in a civilized
country, and I settled back in my seat prepared to endure some new
auditory atrocity. The Swede, ignoring the stairs by which more
conventional mortals mounted, stepped from the floor to the rostrum, and
strode to the piano. The audience, grinning nervously, waited for him to
turn and bellow forth some halyard chantie. He squatted instead on the
recently vacated stool and, running his stumpy fingers over the keys,
fell to playing with unusual skill—Mendelssohn’s “Frühlingslied.” Such
surprises befall, now and then, in the vagabond world. Its denizens are
not always the unseeing, unknowing louts that those of a more laundered
“The Swanee River” was suggested as the Swede stalked back to his seat,
and the rafters rang with the response; for there was scarcely one of
these adventurers, from every corner of the globe, who could not sing it
without prompting from beginning to end. During the rendition of “God
Save the King,” the youthful rector tore himself away from the
entrancing maidens, and puffing at his fortieth cigarette, shook us each
by the hand as we passed out into the night. A pleasant evening he had
spent, evidently, in spite of our presence.
“After all,” mused the “old timer,” as he hobbled across the Maidan at
my side, “Holy Joes is a hell of a lot like other people, ain’t they?”
Of the entertainments of other evenings I may not speak with authority,
for on that day I had concluded to take the Eurasian collector at his
word and escape from Calcutta before I had outlived my welcome. As I
stretched out on the roof of the Institute on my return from the chapel,
the man beside me rolled over on his blanket and peered at me through
“That you, Franck?” he whispered.
The voice was that of James, the Australian.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Some of the lads,” came the response, “told me you’re going to hit the
“I’m off to-morrow night.”
“Somewhere to the east.”
The Australian fell silent a moment, and his voice was apologetic when
he spoke again.
“I quit my job to-day. There’s the plague, and the summer coming on, and
they expected me to take orders from a babu manager. Calcutta is no
good. I’d like to get to Hong Kong, but the boys say no beachcomber can
make it in a year. Think you’ll come anywhere near there?”
“Expect to be there inside a couple of months.”
“How if we go pards?” murmured James. “I’ve never been on the road much,
but I’ve bummed around Australia some after kangaroos, and I’ve got
fourteen dibs. I’ll put that up for my part of the stake.”
“Sure,” I answered, for of all the inmates of the Institute there was no
one I should sooner have chosen as a partner for the rough days to come,
“How’ll we make it?” he queried. “It’s a long jump.”
“I’ll set you right to Goalando,” I replied, “and you can fix me up on
the Ganges boat, if the skipper turns us down. If we can make Chittagong
I think we can beat it through the jungle to Mandalay, though the boys
say we can’t. Then we’ll drop down to Rangoon. They say shipping is good
there. But let’s have it understood that when we hit Hong Kong each one
goes where he likes.”
“All right,” said the Australian, lying down once more.
Thursday passed quickly in the overhauling of our gear, and, having
stuffed our possessions into James’ carpetbag, we set off at nightfall
for the station; not two of us, but three, for Rice of Chicago had
invited himself to accompany us.
“What! So many?” cried the guard, when the Eurasian had introduced us,
“That’s a big bunch of deadheads for one trip. Well, pile on. I’ll see
that the collectors slip you.”
My companions returned to the waiting-room for the carpetbag, and I fell
into step with the station policeman, James’ former partner. The
platform was swarming with a cosmopolitan humanity. Afghans, Sihks,
Bengalis, Tamils, and Mohammedans strolled back and forth or took
garrulous leave of their departing friends through the train windows.
Suddenly my attention was drawn to a priest of Buddha pushing his way
through the throng. The yellow robe is rare in northern India, yet it
was something more than the garment that led me to poke the policeman in
the ribs. For the arms and shoulder of its wearer were white and the
face that grinned beneath the shaven poll could have been designed in no
other spot on earth than the Emerald Isle!
“Blow me,” cried the officer, “if it ain’t the Irish Buddhist, the
bishop of Rangoon! I met ’im once in Singapore. Everybody in Burma knows
’im;” and he stepped forward with a greeting.
“Do I rimimber ye?” chuckled the priest, “I do thot. Ye were down in the
Sthraits. Bless me, and ye’re up here on the force now, eh? Oo’s yer
“American,” said the Australian, “off fer Chittagong with a pard o’
“Foine!” cried the Irishman. “I’m bound the same. I’m second-class, but
I’ll see ye on the boat the-morrow.”
He passed on and, as the train started, James and Rice tumbled into an
empty compartment after me. The guard kept his promise and not once
during the night were we disturbed. When daylight awakened us our car
stood alone on a side-track at the end of the line.
Goalando was a village of mud huts, perched on a slimy, sloping bank of
the Ganges like turtles ready to slip into the stream at the first hint
of danger. A shriveled Hindu, frightened speechless by the appearance of
three sahibs before his shop door, sold us a stale and fly-specked
breakfast, and we turned down towards the river. On the sagging
gangplank of a tiny steamer, moored at the foot of the slippery bank,
stood the Irish Buddhist, his yellow robe drawn up about his knees,
scrubbing his legs in the muddy water.
“Good mornin’ te ye!” he called, waving a dripping hand. “Come on board
and we’ll have a chat. She don’t leave till noon.”
“The time’ll pass fast,” I suggested, “if you’ll give us your yarn.”
“Sure and I will,” answered the Irishman, “if ye’ll promise te listen te
a good sthraight talk on religion after.”
What was it in my appearance that led every religious propagandist to
look upon me as a possible convert? Even the missionary from Kansas had
loaded me down with tracts.
The Irishman led the way to a cool spot on the deserted deck, sat down
Turkish fashion, and, gazing out across the sluggish, brown Ganges, told
us the story of an unusual life.
He was born in Dublin in the early fifties. As a young man he had
emigrated to America, and, turning “hobo,” had traveled through every
state in the Union, working here and there. He was not long in
convincing both Rice and me that he knew the secrets of the “blind
baggage” and the ways of railroad “bulls.” More than once he growled out
the name of some junction where we, too, had been ditched, and told of
running the police gauntlet in cities that rank even to-day as “bad
“Two years after landin’ in the States,” he continued, “I hit
Caleefornia and took a job thruckin’ on a blessed fruit-boat in the
Sacreminto river, the Acme—”
“What!” I gasped, “The Acme? I was truckman on her in 1902.”
“Bless me eyes, were ye now?” cried the Irishman. “’Tis a blessed shmall
worrld. Well, ’twas on the Acme thot I picked oop with a blessed ould
sea dog of the name of Blodgett, and we shipped out of Frisco fer Japan.
Blodgett, poor b’y, died on the vi’age, and after payin’ off I wint on
alone, fitchin’ oop at last in Rhangoon. Th’ English were not houldin’
Burma thin, and white min were as rare as Siamese twins. Bless ye, but
the natives were glad to see me, and I lived foine. But bist of all, I
found the thrue religion, as ye wud call it, or philosophy as it shud be
called. Whin I was sure ’twas right I took orders among thim, bein’ the
foirst blessed white man te turn Buddhist priest.”
“Good graft,” grinned Rice.
“The remark shows yer ignerance,” retorted the son of Erin. “Listen. Oop
te the day of me confirmation I was drhawin’ a hunder rupees a month. I
quit me job. I gave ivery blessed thing I owned to a friend of moine,
even te me socks. At the timple, an ould priest made me prisint of a
strip of yellow cloth, but they tore it inte three paces te make it
warthless, and thin sewed the paces togither agin fer a robe, and I’ve
worn it or wan loike it iver since. If I’d put on European clothes agin,
fer even wan day, I’d be expilled. I cut off me hair and as foine a
mustache as iver ye saw. If I’d lit them grow agin I’d be expilled. If
I’d put on a hat or shoes I’d be expilled. So wud I if I owned a
farthin’ of money, if I shud kill so much as a flee, if I’d dhrink a
glass of arrack, if I tuched the ouldest hag in the market place with so
much as me finger.
“Foine graft, say you and yer loikes. Listen te more. Whin I tuk the
robe, and that’s twinty year an’ gone, I become a novice in the faymous
Tavoy monistary. Ivery blessed morning of me loife fer foive year, I
wint out with the ither novices, huggin’ a big rhice bowl aginst me
belly. We stopped at ivery blessed house. If we’d asked fer inything
we’d ’a been expilled. The thrue Buddhists all put something inte the
bowl, rhice generally and curry, sometoimes fish. Whin they were full we
wint back te the monistary, an’ all the priests, ould wans and novices,
had dinner from what we’d brung them. Thin we gave the rist te the
biggars, fer blessed a thing can we ate from the noon te the nixt
“’Twas harrd, the foirst months, atin’ nothin’ but curry and rhice. Now,
bless ye, I’d not ate European fud if ’twas set down before me. Ivery
blessed afternoon I sthudied the history of Buddha and Burmese with the
ould priests. ’Twas a foine thing fer me. Before I found the thrue faith
I was that blessed ignerent I cud hardly rade me ouwn tungue. To-day,
bless ye, I know eight languages and the ins an’ outs of ivery religion
on the futstool. I was a vile curser whin I was hoboin’ in the States,
and ’twas harrd te quit it. But ivery toime I started te say a cuss-ward
I thought of the revired Gautama and sid ‘blessed’ instead, and I’m
master of me ouwn tungue, now.”
“Then you really worship the Buddhist god,” put in James.
“There agin,” cried the Irishman, “is the ignerance of them that follows
that champeen faker, Jaysus, the son of Mary and a dhrunken Roman
soldier. The Buddhists worship no wan. We riveere Buddha, the foinest
man that iver lived, because he showed us the way te attain Nirvana,
which is te say hiven. He was no god, but a man loike the rist of us.
“After foive year I was ordayned and foive more I was tachin’ th’ ither
novices and the childr’, the Tavoy monistary bein’ the big school of
Rhangoon. Thin I was made an ilder, thin the abbot of the monistary,
thin after fifteen year, the bishop, as ye wud call it, of Rhangoon. Th’
abbots and the bishops have no nade te tache, but, bless ye, I’m tachin’
yit, it bein’ me duty te give te ithers of the thrue faith what I’ve
“’Tis the bishop’s place te travel, and in these six years gone I’ve
visited ivery blessed Buddhist kingdom in Asia, from Japan te Caylon;
and I was in Lhassa talkin’ with the delai lama long before Yoonghusband
wud have dared te show his face there. There’s niver a Buddhist king nor
prince thot hasn’t traited me loike wan uv them, though they’d have cut
the throats of iny ither European. I’m comin’ back now from three months
with the prince uv Naypal, taychin’ his priests, him givin’ me the
ticket te Chittagong.”
“But if you can’t touch money?—” I began.
“In haythen lands we can carry enough te buy our currie and rhice. I
hove here three rupees,”—drawing out a knotted handkerchief from the
folds of his robe—“if there’s a anna of it lift whin I land in Burma,
I’ll give it te the foirst biggar te ask me. In Buddhist cuntries the
blessed people give us what we nade, as they’ll give it te inywan ilse
thot’s nadin’ it. They’re no superstitious, selfish bastes loike these
dhirty Hindus. Whin we come te Chittagong ye can stop with me. Thin I’ll
give ye a chit te the Tavoy in Rhangoon and ye can stay there as long as
iver ye loike. If iver ye have no place te put oop in a Buddhist town,
go te the monistary. And if ye till them ye know me, see how foine ye’ll
“Aye, but we’d have to know your name,” I suggested.
“As I was goin’ te tell ye, it’s U (oo) Damalaku.”
“Don’t sound Irish,” I remarked.
“No, indade,” laughed the priest, “that’s me Buddhist name. The ould wan
was Larry O’Rourke.”
“Ye call thot graft, you and yer loikes,” he concluded, turning to Rice,
“givin’ oop yer name and yer hair and a foine mustache, and yer clothes,
an’ ownin niver a anna, and havin’ yer ouwn ignerant rhace laughin’ at
ye, and havin’ yer body burned be the priests whin yer born agin in
anither wan! But it’s the thrue philosophy, bless ye, and the roight way
te live. Why is it the white min thot come out here die in tin year?
D’ye think it’s the climate? Bless ye, no, indade, it’s the sthrong
dhrink and the women. Luk at me. Wud ye think I was fifty-five if I
hadn’t told ye?”
He was, certainly, the picture of health; deeply tanned, but with the
clear eye and youthful poise of a man twenty years younger. Only one
hardship, apparently, had he suffered during two decades of the yellow
robe. His feet were broad and stumpy to the point of deformity, heavily
calloused, and deeply scarred from years of travel over many a rough and
“It’s a strange story,” said James.
“I’m askin’ no wan te take me word in this world of liars,” responded
the Irishman, somewhat testily. “Here ye have the proof.”
He thrust a hand inside his robe and, drawing out a small, fat book,
laid it in my lap. It contained more than a hundred newspaper clippings,
bearing witness to the truth of nearly every assertion he had made. The
general trend of all may be gleaned from one article, dated four years
earlier. In it the reader was invited to compare the receptions tendered
Lord Curzon and the Irish Buddhist in Mandalay. The viceroy, in spite of
months of preparation for his visit, had been received coldly by all but
the government officials. Damalaku had been welcomed by the entire
population, and had walked from the landing stage to the monastery,
nearly a half-mile distant, on a roadway carpeted with the hair of the
female inhabitants, who knelt in two rows, foreheads to the ground, on
either side of the route, with their tresses spread out over it.
When he had despatched a Gargantuan bowl of curry and rice in
anticipation of eighteen hours of fasting, the Irishman drew us around
him once more and began a long dissertation on the philosophy of Buddha.
Two morning trains had poured a multicolored rabble into the mud
village, and the deck of the steamer was crowded with natives huddled
together in close-packed groups, each protected from pollution by a
breastwork of bedraggled bundles. Newcomers picked their way gingerly
through the network of alleyways between the isolated tribes, holding
their garments—when such they wore—close round them, and joined the
particular assembly to which their caste assigned them. The Irishman, at
first the butt of Hindu stares, was soon surrounded by an excited throng
of Burmese travelers.
As the afternoon wore on a diminutive Hindu, of meek and childlike
countenance, appeared on board, and, hobbling in and out through the
alleyways on a clumsily-fitted wooden leg, fell to distributing the
pamphlets that he carried under one arm. His dress stamped him as a
native Christian missionary. Suddenly, his eye fell on Damalaku, and he
stumped forward open-mouthed.
“What are you, sahib?” he murmured in a wondering tone of voice.
“As you see,” replied the Irishman, “I am a Buddhist priest.”
“Bu—but what country do you come from?”
“I am from Ireland.”
Over the face of the native spread an expression of suffering, as if the
awful suspicion that the missionaries to whom he owed his conversion had
deceived him, were clutching at his heartstrings.
“Ireland?” he cried, tremulously, “Then you are not a Buddhist! Irishmen
are Christians. _All_ sahibs are Christians,” and he glanced nervously
at the grinning Burmese about us.
“Yah! Thot’s what the Christian fakers tell ye,” snapped the Irishman.
“What’s thot ye’ve got?”
The Hindu turned over several of the tracts. They were separate books of
the Bible, printed in English and Hindustanee.
“Bah!” said Damalaku, “It’s bad enough to see white Christians. But the
man who swallows all the rot the sahib missionaries dish oop fer him,
whin the thrue faith lies not a day’s distance, is disgoostin’. Ye shud
be ashamed of yerself.”
“It’s a nice religion,” murmured the convert.
“Prove it,” snapped the Irishman.
The Hindu accepted the challenge, and for the ensuing half-hour we were
witnesses of the novel spectacle of a sahib stoutly defending the faith
of the East against a native champion of the religion of the West.
Unfortunately, he of the wooden leg was no match for the learned bishop.
He began with a parrot-like repetition of Christian catechisms and,
having spoken his piece, stood helpless before his adversary. A school
boy would have presented the case more convincingly. The Irishman, who
knew the Bible by heart, evidently, from Genesis to Revelations, quoted
liberally from the Scriptures in support of his arguments, and, when the
Hindu questioned a passage, caught up one of the pamphlets and turned
without the slightest hesitation to the page on which it was set forth.
Entangled in a network of texts and his own ignorance, the native soon
became the laughing-stock of the assembled Burmese. He attempted to
withdraw from the controversy by asserting that he spoke no English.
Damalaku addressed him in Hindustanee. He pretended even to have
forgotten his mother tongue, and snatched childishly at the pamphlets in
the hands of the priest. When all other means failed, he fell back on
the final subterfuge of the Hindu—and began to weep. Amid roars of
laughter he clutched the tracts that the Irishman held out to him and,
with tears coursing down his cheeks, hobbled away, looking neither to
the right nor left until he had disappeared in the mud village.
The steamer put off an hour later and, winding in and out among the
tortuous channels of the delta, landed us at sundown in Chandpore, a
replica of Goalando. Our passage—for the captain had refused to “slip”
us—had reduced our combined fortunes to less than one fare to
Chittagong. We scrambled with the native throng up the slimy bank to the
station, resolved to attempt the journey without tickets. It lacked an
hour of train time.
“Will you take this to Chittagong?” I asked, thrusting the carpetbag
into the hands of the Irish bishop. “We’re going to beat it.”
“Sure,” replied the priest, “it shud be easy be night with this crowd.”
It soon became apparent, however, that some tattling Hindu had warned
the railway officials against us. As we strolled along the platform,
peering casually into the empty compartments and striving to assume the
air of men of unlimited means, the station-master emerged from his
office and fell into step with us.
“The evening breeze is very pleasant, is it not, sahibs?” he murmured,
“Damn hot,” growled James.
“The gentlemen are going by the train?”
“There will be many people go to Chittagong. Much nicer if the sahibs
buy their tickets early.”
“We bought tickets in Goalando,” I answered.
“Ah! Just so,” smiled the babu, but the smile suggested that he knew as
well as we the destination of those Goalando tickets.
He dropped gradually behind and was swallowed up in the crowd. Rumor
runs with incredible swiftness among the Hindus, and the natives who
stepped aside to let us pass stared suspiciously at us. We turned back
at the end of the platform to find a police officer strolling along a
few paces in the rear, ostensibly absorbed in the study of the
firmament. Three others flitted in and out among the travelers. The
police of Chandpore could not, of course, arrest us, could not, indeed,
keep us out of any compartment we chose to enter. But well we knew that,
if they reported us on board, the station-master would hold the train
until we dismounted, were it not till morning.
We strolled haughtily past the baggage-car and dodged around to the
other side of the train. Here in the darkness it should be easy to
escape observation. Barely three steps had we taken, however, when we
ran almost into the arms of a native sentry, and his cry was answered by
at least three others out of the night. The coaches were well guarded
“The nerve o’ that damn babu!” exploded Rice, “thinkin’ he can keep
you’n me, what’s got away from half the yard bulls in the States, from
holdin’ down his two-fer-a-nickle train! Bet he never heard of a hobo.
Come on! We’ll put James onto the ropes an’ do it in Amurican style.
It’ll be like takin’ cowries away from a blind nigger baby wid
We returned to the station to glance at the clock. Rice, in his scorn,
could not refrain from making a pair of ass’s ears at the astonished
babu. With a half hour to spare, we struck off through the bazaars and,
munching as we went, picked our way along the track to a box-car a
furlong from the station. In an American railroad yard the detectives
would have been thickest at this vantage-point, but the babu knew naught
of the ways of hoboes.
A triumphant screech from the engine put an end to James’ schooling;
and, as the silhouette of the fireman before the open furnace door sped
by, we darted out of our hiding place. The Australian, urged on by our
bellowing, dived at an open window and dragged himself onto the
running-board. We swung up after him, and making our way forward,
entered an empty compartment.
“Well, we made her,” gasped James, throwing aside his topee and mopping
his face, “but what about the collectors?”
“Yah! There’s the trouble,” scowled Rice.
“The only game,” I answered, “is to refuse to wake up.”
“Fine!” cried the Chicago lad, “that’s the best scheme yet.”
I thought so too—until later.
We had slept two hours, perhaps, possibly three, when our dreams were
disturbed by the thump of a ticket-punch on the window-sill and the
unmistakable dulcet of a Eurasian:—
“Tickets, please, sahibs. Give me your tickets.”
We lay on our backs, imperturbable.
“Tickets, sahibs!” shrieked the Eurasian.
James was snoring lightly and peacefully; Rice, with long-drawn snarls,
like the death-rattle of a war-horse, as if striving not merely to
deceive the collector but to frighten him off.
“Tickets, I say, sahibs, tickets!”
The voice was high-pitched now, and the rapping of the punch echoed back
to us from the station building. Three more collectors joined their
colleague and murderously assaulted the car door.
“Hello there! Tickets! It’s the collector! Wake up! _Tickets!_”
The uproar drowned the mumble in which Rice cursed the unusual length of
the train’s halt. An official thrust an arm through the open window and
shook me savagely. The others, bellowing angrily, followed his example,
and rolled us back and forth on the hard benches. The helmet that had
shaded my eyes rolled to the floor. Rice, who had lain down, as he
afterward expressed it, “wrong end to,” was caught by the ankle and
dragged to the window. Still we slumbered.
Suddenly the uproar subsided.
“What’s this?” cried a sterner voice outside.
I opened my eyes ever so slightly and caught a fleeting glimpse of a
Eurasian in the uniform of a station-master.
“Let them alone,” he ordered, “they’ve had too much arrack. No matter if
their tickets are not punched at every station.”
The train started with a jerk, the station lights faded, and we sat up
“Worked like a charm,” chuckled James.
“Thought it would,” I answered.
“Great!” grinned Rice, “Wouldn’t go in the States, though;” and we lay
Three more times during the night we were assaulted by a force of
collectors, but slumbered peacefully on. When I awoke again it was broad
daylight. The train was speeding along through unpeopled jungle.
Evidently it was behind time, or we should long since have reached
Chittagong. James stirred on his bench, sat up, and took to filling his
pipe. Rice opened his eyes a moment later and fished through his pockets
for the “makings” of a cigarette. I took seat at the window and stared
ahead for signs of the seaport.
Suddenly a white mile-post flashed by, and my shout of astonishment
brought James and Rice to their feet in alarm. My eyes had deceived me,
perhaps, but I fancied the stone had borne three figures. We crowded
together and waited anxiously for the next.
“There it is!” cried my companions, in chorus. “Two hundred and
“Two hundred and seventy-three miles?” shrieked James. “The whole run to
Chitty’s not half that far! Soorah Budjah! Where have we been snaked off
“Let’s see whether we’re going or coming,” I suggested.
“Two hundred and seventy-four!” bellowed Rice, who was riding half out
the window, “An’ they ain’t no dot between ’em! We’re goin’, all right!”
“Oh Lord! And all our swag!” groaned James.
Still it was possible that the posts indicated the distance to some
other city than Chittagong, and we sat down and waited anxiously until
the train drew up at the next station. It was nothing more than a bamboo
hamlet in the wilderness. We sprang out and hurried towards the babu
“How soon do we get to Chittagong?” I demanded.
“Chittagong!” gasped the babu. “Why, you going wrong, sahibs. Chittagong
two hundred and eighty miles down there,” and he pointed along the track
the way we had come.
“Then why the deuce did they let us take this train?” shouted James.
“Where is it going, anyway?”
“This train going in Assam,” replied the native, “Where gentlemen coming
from? Sure you wishing go Chittagong? Let me see tickets.”
“Oh, we know where we want to go, all right,” said James, hastily.
“We’re coming from Chandpore.”
“Ah! Chandpore!” smiled the babu. “I understand. Train from Chandpore
breaking in two thirty miles further. Part going to Chittagong, part
coming here. You sitting in wrong car. Maybe you sleep?” “But,” he
added, as a puzzled frown passed over his face, “many collectors are at
this junction. Why they have not wake you?”
“That’s what I’d like to know,” bellowed Rice. “This is a thunder of a
The shriek of a locomotive sounded, and a moment later a south-bound
train drew up on the switch.
“This train going in Chittagong,” said the babu, “you can go with it.”
“Do you think we’re going to pay our fare for two hundred and eighty
miles,” demanded James, “just because the collectors didn’t tell us to
“Oh, no, sahibs,” breathed the babu, “I will tell it to the guard. Let
me take tickets that I show him.”
“But we’ll have to hurry or we’ll miss her,” said James, starting
towards the side-tracked train.
“Oh, plenty time,” murmured the babu, “Let me take tickets;” and he
stretched out a hand.
Apparently it had come to a “show down.”
“Holy cats!” screamed Rice, suddenly springing into the air. “I remember
now! I had all the bloody tickets in my pocket, and when the collector
hollered fer ’em I give ’em to him. But I went to sleep an’ he never
give ’em back.”
“Very poor collector,” condoled the babu, “but, never mind, I will tell
to the guard how it is.”
The north-bound train pulled out and he stepped across the track to
chatter a moment in excited Hindustanee with a uniformed half-breed.
“Ah! Very nice!” he smiled, coming back, “On this train is riding the
sahib superintendent. You telling him and he tell you what do.”
Our jaws fell. No doubt it seemed “very nice” to the babu, but had we
suspected that there was an Englishman within a hundred miles of where
we stood, Rice certainly would have invented no such tale. It was too
late to retract, however, and the Chicago lad, as the author of the
story and the only one familiar with its details, crossed to the
first-class coach. At his first words, a burly Englishman, dressed in
light khaki, opened the door of a compartment and stepped down to the
“It’s all off,” muttered James.
But the Englishman listened gravely, nodded his head twice or thrice,
and pointed towards a third-class coach.
“Didn’t call me a liar an’ didn’t say he believed me,” explained Rice,
when the compartment door had closed behind us. “Says he’ll look into
the matter when we get back to the junction. I see somethin’ doin’ when
we land there.”
Late in the afternoon the train drew up at the scene of our pummelling
the night before, and the Englishman led the way to the station-master’s
quarters. That official, however, was as certain as we that no tickets
for Chittagong had been taken up.
“Three sahibs have gone through in the night,” asserted his assistant,
“but with much noise we have not made them awake. Certainly our
collectors do not take up Chittagong tickets here.”
“You see how it is, my men?” said the superintendent, “If they had been
taken up he would have them.”
“By thunder,” shouted Rice, “I’ll bet a pack o’ Sweet-Caps the guy that
took ’em was no collector at all. He was some bloomin’ nigger that
wanted to take his family to Chittagong.”
“It is possible,” replied the Englishman, as gravely as though he were
discussing a philosophical problem, “but the company does not guarantee
travelers against theft. As we have found no trace of the tickets you
will have to pay your fare to Chittagong.”
“We can’t!” cried the three of us, in chorus. On that point we could
second Rice without feeling a prick of conscience.
“Yes,” murmured the superintendent, as if he had not heard, “you will
have to pay.”
He took a turn about the platform.
“But we’re busted!” we wailed, when he again stopped before us.
“Get into your compartment,” he said, quietly. “I will wire the agent at
Chittagong to collect three fares.”
“I tell you we haven’t got—”
But he was already out of earshot. No doubt he was convinced that with
time for reflection we should be able to unearth several rupees which we
had forgotten. Certainly he did not believe that white men would venture
into that wilderness without money—no Englishman of his class would.
Dark night had fallen when we alighted at Chittagong. A babu agent
awaited us, telegram in hand. Luckily, his superior, an Englishman, had
retired to his bungalow. The Hindu led the way to a lighted window and
read the message aloud. It was a curt order to collect three fares, with
never a hint of the unimportant detail we had confided to the
The agent, of course, would not be convinced of our indigency. To our
every protest he replied unmoved:—
“But you must pay, sahibs.”
“You bloody fool!” shrieked Rice, “How can we pay when we’re busted?”
“You may not pass through the gates until you have paid,” returned the
“All right,” said James, wearily, “we won’t. Show us where we’re going
to sleep and send up supper.”
The shot told. The babu unfolded the telegram meditatively and backed up
to the window to read it again. He scratched his head in perplexity,
stood now on one leg, now on the other, and stared from us to the paper
in his hand. Then he trudged down the platform to seek advice of the
baggage master, paused to chatter with the telegraph operator, and
returned to the truck on which we were seated.
“Oh, sahibs,” he wailed, “we have not food and to sleep in the station,
and the superintendent has not said what I shall do. But you will give
me your names to write, and to-morrow you will come back and pay the
fares; and if you do not, I will send your names to the superintendent—”
“And he can have ’em framed and hung up in his bungalow,” concluded
James. “Sure! You can have all the names you want.”
We gave them and turned away, pausing at the gate to ask the collector
to direct us to the Buddhist monastery. He chuckled at the fancied joke
and refused for some time to take our question seriously.
“It is very far,” he answered at last. “You are going through the town,
making many turns, and through the forest and over the hill before you
are coming to it by the crossroads.”
In spite of these explicit directions we wandered a full two hours along
soft roadways and over rolling hillocks without locating the object of
our search. Pedestrians listened respectfully to our inquiries, but
though we used every word in our Oriental vocabularies that could in any
way be applied to a religious edifice, they shook their heads in
perplexity. One spot at the intersection of two roads seemed to answer
vaguely to the collector’s description, but it was surrounded on every
side by dense groves in which there was no sound of human occupancy.
We were passing it for the fourth time when a gruff voice sounded from
the edge of the woods and a native policeman, toga-clad and armed with a
musket, stepped towards us. His face was almost invisible in the
darkness; the whites of his eyes, gleaming plainly, gave him the uncanny
appearance of a masked figure.
“Buddha!” cried James, with a sweeping gesture, “Boodha, Buddhaha,
Boodista? Buddha sahib keh bungalow kéhdereh?”
The officer shivered and peered nervously about him, like one convinced
of the white man’s power over hobgoblins. As we turned away, however, he
uttered a triumphant shout and dashed off into the forest. A moment
later the sound of human voices came to us from the depth of the grove;
a light flashed through the trees, swung to and fro as it advanced; and
out of the woods, a lantern high above their heads, strode three
“Bless me!” cried the tallest, in stentorian tones, “It’s the’
Americans! Where in the name uv white min have ye been spindin’ the
blessed day? Lucky y’are te foind our house in th’ woods on a black
noight like this. It’s hungry ye’ll be. Come te the monistary.”
He led the way through the forest to a square, one-story building,
flanked by smaller structures; one of a score of native priests set
before us a cold supper of currie and rice, gathered by the novices
early that morning, and a half-hour later we turned in on three charpoys
in a bamboo cottage behind the main edifice.
As the sun was declining the next afternoon we climbed the highest of
the verdure-clad hills on which Chittagong is built, to seek information
from the district commissioner. For the native residents, priest or
layman, knew naught of the route to Mandalay. The governor, aroused from
a Sunday siesta on his vine-curtained veranda, received us kindly, nay,
delightedly, and, having called a servant to minister to our thirst,
went in person to astonish his wife with the announcement of European
callers. That lady, being duly introduced, consented, upon the
solicitation of her husband, to contribute to our entertainment at the
White men come rarely to Chittagong. Chatting, like social equals, with
a district ruler stretched out in a reclining chair between us, we came
near to forgetting for the nonce that we were mere beachcombers.
“And now, of course,” said our host, when James had concluded an
expurgated account of our journey from Calcutta, “you will wait for the
steamer to Rangoon?”
“Why, no, Mr. Commissioner,” I answered, “we’re going to walk overland
to Mandalay, and we took the liberty of calling on you to—”
“Mandalay!” gasped the Englishman, dropping his slippered feet to the
floor, “_Walk_ to Man—Why, my dear fellow, come here a moment.”
He rose and stepped to a corner of the veranda, and, raising an arm,
pointed away to the eastward.
“That,” he said, almost sadly, “is the way to Mandalay. Does that look
like a country to be traversed on foot?”
It did not, certainly. Beyond the river, dotted here and there with
crazy-quilt sails, lay a primeval wilderness. Range after range of bold
hills and mountain chains commanded the landscape, filling the view with
their stern summits until they were lost in the blue and hazy eastern
horizon. At the very brink of the river began a riotous tropical jungle,
covering hill and valley as far as the eye could see, and broken nowhere
in all its extent by clearing or the suggestion of a pathway.
“There,” went on the commissioner, “is one of the wildest regions under
British rule. Tigers abound, snakes sun themselves on every bush, wild
animals lie in wait in every thicket. The valleys are full of
dacoits—savage outlaws that even the government fears; and the spring
freshets have made the mountain streams raging torrents. There is
absolutely nothing to guide you. If you succeeded in traveling a mile
after crossing the river, you would be hopelessly lost; and if you were
not, what would you eat and drink in that wilderness?”
“Why,” said James, “we’d eat the wild animals and drink the mountain
streams. Of course we’d carry a compass. That’s what we do in the
“We thought you might have a map,” I put in.
The commissioner stepped into the bungalow. The music ceased and the
player followed her husband out onto the veranda.
“This,” he said, spreading out a chart he carried, “is the latest map of
the region. You mustn’t suppose, as many people do, that all India has
been explored and charted. You see for yourselves that there is nothing
between Chittagong and the Irawaddy but a few wavy lines to represent
mountain ranges. That’s all any map shows and all any civilized man
knows of that section. Bah! Your scheme is idiotic. You might as well
try to walk to Lhassa.”
He rolled up the map and dropped again into his chair.
“By the way,” he asked, “where are you putting up in Chittagong?”
“We’re living at the Buddhist monastery,” I answered.
“What!” he shouted, springing up once more. “In the Buddhist monastery?
You! White men and Christians? Disgraceful! Why, as the governor of this
district, I forbid it. Why haven’t you gone to the Sailors’ Home?”
“Never imagined for a moment,” I replied, “that there was a Home in a
little port like this.”
“There is, and a fine one,” answered the commissioner, “and just waiting
for someone to occupy it.”
“No place for us,” retorted James. “We’re busted.”
“Nothing to do with it,” cried the Englishman. “Money or no money,
you’ll stop there while you’re here. I’ll write you a chit to the
manager at once.”
Had we rented by cable some private estate we could not have been more
comfortably domiciled than in the Sailors’ Home of Chittagong. The city
itself was a garden-spot, the Home a picturesque white bungalow, set in
the edge of the forest on the river bank. The broad lawn before it was
several acres in extent, the graveled walk led through patches of
brilliant flowers. Within, the building was furnished almost
extravagantly. The library numbered fully a thousand volumes—by no means
confined to the output of mission publishing houses—in one corner were
ranged the latest English and American magazines, their leaves still
uncut. The parlor was carpeted with mats, the dining-room furnished with
punkahs. In the recreation room, instead of a dozen broken and greasy
checkerboards, stood a pool-table, and—_comble de combles_—a piano!
Three native servants, housed in an adjoining cottage, were at our beck
and call. For, though weeks had passed since the Home had sheltered a
guest, everything was as ready for our accommodation as though the
manager—for once a babu—had been living in daily expectation of our
An hour after our installation, we were reclining in veranda chairs with
our feet on the railing, watching the cook in hot pursuit of one of the
chickens that was doomed to appear before us in the evening currie, when
a white man turned into the grounds and advanced listlessly, swinging
his cane and striking off a head here and there among the tall flowers
that bordered the route. Once in the shade of the bungalow, he sprang up
the steps with outstretched hand, and, having vociferated his joy at the
meeting, sat down beside us. Whatever other vocation he professed, he
was a consummate storyteller, and entertained us with tales of frontier
life until the shades of night fell. Suddenly, he interrupted a story at
its most interesting point to cry out, à propos of nothing at all:—
“The commissioner sent for me this afternoon.”
“That so?” queried James.
“Yes, he thinks you fellows are going to start to Mandalay on foot.
Mighty good joke, that,” and he fell to chuckling, glancing askance at
us the while.
“No joke at all,” I protested. “We _are_ going on foot, just as soon as
we can find the road.”
“Don’t try it!” cried the Englishman, raising his cane aloft to
emphasize his warning. “I haven’t introduced myself. I am chief of
police for Chittagong. The commissioner has given orders that you must
not go. The force has been ordered to watch you, the boatmen forbidden
to row you across the river. Don’t try it, or my department will be
called in,” and with that he dropped the subject abruptly and launched
forth into another yarn.
Late that night, when Rice had been prevailed upon to leave off pounding
atrocious discords on the piano, we made a startling discovery. There
was not a bed in the Home! While James hurried off to rout out a
servant, we of “the States” went carefully through each room with the
parlor lamp, peering under tables and opening drawers in the hope of
finding at least a ship’s hammock. We were still engaged in the search
when the Australian returned with a frightened native, who assured us
that we were wasting our efforts. There had never been a bed nor a
charpoy in the Home. Just why, he could not say. Probably because the
manager babu had forgotten to get them. Other sailor sahibs had slept,
he knew not where, but they had made no protest.
It was too late to appeal to the manager babu to correct his oversight.
We turned in side by side on the pool table and took turns in falling
off at regular intervals through the night.
With the first grey of dawn we slipped out the back door of the bungalow
and struck off through the forest towards the uninhabited river bank
beyond. For in spite of the warning of the chief of police and Rice’s
protest that we should “hold down such a swell joint” as long as
possible, we had decided by majority vote to attempt the overland
To elude the police force was easy; to escape the jungle, quite a
different matter. A full two hours we tore our way through the
undergrowth along the river without finding a single break in the sheer
eastern bank that we should have dared to swim for. Rice grew petulant,
our appetites aggressive, and we turned back promising ourselves to
continue the search for a route on the following day.
The servants at the Home, knowing the predeliction of sahibs for morning
strolls, greeted our return with grinning servility and an ample _chotah
hazry_. While we were eating, the chief of police bounded into the room
with a new story and the information that the commissioner wished to see
us at once; and bounded away again, protesting that he was being worked
In his bungalow on the hilltop, the ruler of the district was pacing
back and forth between obsequious rows of secretaries and assistants.
“I have given orders that you are not to start for Mandalay,” he began,
“And how the deuce will we get out any other way?” demanded James.
“If you were killed in the jungle,” went on the governor, as if he had
heard nothing, “your governments would blame me. But, of course, I have
no intention of keeping you in Chittagong. I have arranged, therefore,
with the agents of the weekly steamer to give you deck passages, with
European food, to Rangoon. Apply to them at once and be ready to start
This proposition found favor with James, and with two against me I was
forced to yield or be unfaithful to our partnership. We returned to the
monastery that afternoon to bid the Irish bishop farewell and to get the
note that he had promised us. In a blinding tropical shower we were
rowed out to the steamer _Meanachy_ next morning and for four days
following lolled about the winch, on the drum of which the Chinese
steward served our “European chow.” The steamer drifted slowly down the
eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal, touching at Akyab, and, rounding the
delta of the Irawaddy on the morning of May thirteenth, dropped anchor
three hours later in the harbor of Rangoon.
Somewhat back from the wharves, yet within earshot of the cadenced song
of stevedores and coal-heavers, stand two shaded bungalows, well-known
among the inhabitants of the metropolis of Burma. The larger is the
Sailors’ Home, the less important the Seamen’s Mission. Rangoon, it
transpired, was suffering a double visitation of beachcombers and the
plague. The protest of the managers of both mariners’ institutions, that
they were already “full up with dead ones,” gave us small grief. For
were we not sure of admission to a more interesting residence? But there
was real cause for wailing in the assurance of the cosmopolitan band who
listened to the tale of our “get-away” from Calcutta, that we had fallen
on one of the least auspicious ports in the Orient.
There was work ashore for all hands, white or brown, for the servants of
the plague doctors had daubed on house-walls throughout the city the
enticing offer:—“Dead Rats—Two pice each.” But even the penniless
seamen, who had learned during long enforced residence in the Burmese
capital that their services were useful in no other field, scorned to
It was my bad fortune to reach Rangoon a bit too late to be greeted by
an old acquaintance.
“Up to tree day ago,” cried one of the band at the Home, “dere was one
oder Yank on der beach here, ja. Min he made a pier’ead yump by er tramp
tru der Straits.”
“That so?” I queried.
“Aye,” put in another of the boys, “’e was a slim chap with a bloody lot
of mouth, always looking fer a scrap, but keepin’ ’is weather-eye peeled
fer the Bobbies.”
“Bet a hat,” I shouted, “that I knew him. Wasn’t his name Haywood?”
“Dick ’Aywood, aye,” answered the tar; “leastway that was the ’andle ’e
went by. But ’e’s off now fer good, an’ bloody glad we are to be clear
We struck off through the city, taking leave of Rice before the door of
the first European official whose beneficence he chose to investigate.
The native town, squatting on the flat plain along the river, was
reminiscent of the Western world. Its streets were wide and parallel, as
streets should be, no doubt, yet lacking the picturesqueness of narrow,
meandering passageways, so common elsewhere in the Orient. Sidewalks
were there none, of course. Pedestrians mingled with vehicles and
disputed the way with laden animals and human beasts of burden. Before
and behind, on either side, as far as the eye could see, stretched
unbroken vistas of heterogeneous wares and yawning shopkeepers. For to
the Burman no other vocation compares with that of merchant. A flat city
it was, with small, two-story hovels for the most part, above which
gleamed a few golden pagodas.
In the suburbs the scene was different. Vine-grown bungalows and squat
barracks littered a rolling, lightly-wooded country that sloped away to
a clear-cut horizon. Here and there shimmered a sun-flecked lake; along
umbrageous highways strolled khaki-clad mortals with white faces and a
familiar vocabulary. High above all else, as the Eiffel tower over
Paris, soared the pride of Burma, the Shwe Dagón pagoda.
We climbed the endless vaulted stairway to the sacred hilltop, in
company with hundreds of natives bearing their shoes, when such they
possessed, in their hands, and amid the bedlam of clamoring hawkers. Now
and again a pious pilgrim glanced at our rough-shod feet, but smiled
indulgently and passed us by. The village of shrines at the summit of
the knoll was an animated bazaar, stocked with every devotional
requisite from bottled arrack to pet snakes. Even the tables of the
money-changers and the desks of the scribes were not lacking to complete
Barefooted worshipers, male and female, wandered among the glittering
topes, setting up candles or spreading out lotus blossoms before the
serene-visaged statues; kowtowing now and then, but puffing incessantly,
one and all, at long native cigars. Near the mouth of the
humanity-belching stairway creaked a diminutive clothes-reel
overburdened with such booty as the red-man, returned from a scalping
expedition, hangs over the entrance to his wigwam. While we marveled, a
panting matron with close-cropped head pushed past us and added to the
display a switch of oily, jet-black hair. Her prayer had been granted
and the shorn locks bore witness to her gratitude.
Shrines and topes were but doll-houses compared with the central mass of
masonry, towering upward to neck-craning height and covered with
untarnished gold from tapering apex to swollen base. It was a monument
all too brilliant in the blazing sunlight. Tiny pagodas floated before
our eyes as we glanced for relief into the deep shadows of the
encircling sanctuaries. Burmen from the sea to the sources of the
Irawaddy are inordinately proud of the Shwe Dagón. Its destruction, they
are convinced, would bring national disaster in its train. Their rulers
have turned this superstition to account. Down at the edge of the
cantonment below, John Bull has mounted two heavy cannon that are
trained on the pagoda day and night. A brief word of command from the
officer in charge would reduce the sacred edifice to a tumbled mass of
ruins. Ten regiments of red-coats would be far less effective than those
two pieces of ordnance, in maintaining the sahib sway over Burma.
Rice of Chicago scorned to share the simple life among the wearers of
the yellow robe. As the day waned, he joined us at the Home with the
announcement that he had “dug up a swell graft” among the European
residents and, declining to disclose the details thereof, strutted away
towards the harbor.
We set off alone, therefore, the Australian and I, to the monastery that
had witnessed the metamorphosis of the erstwhile Larry O’Rourke. The
far-famed institution occupied an extensive estate flanking Godwin Road,
a broad, shaded thoroughfare leading to the Shwe Dagón. Its grounds were
surrounded by a crumbling wall and a shallow, weed-choked ditch that
could not be styled moat for lack of water. Three badly-warped planks,
nailed together into a drawbridge that would not draw, led through a
breach in the western wall, the main entrance, evidently, for many a
Inside was a teeming village of light, two-story buildings, with deep
verandas above and below, scattered pell-mell about the inclosure as if
they had been constructed in some gigantic carpenter-shop, shipped to
their destination, and left where the expressman had thrown them off.
The irregular plots and courts between them were trodden bare and hard
or were ankle-deep in loose sand. Here and there swayed a tall,
untrimmed tree, but within the area was neither grass nor flower nor
garden patch. For the priest of Buddha, forbidden to kill even a grub or
an earthworm, may not till the soil about his dwelling.
[Illustration: Bungalows along the way in rural Burma]
[Illustration: Women of the Malay Peninsula wear nothing above the
waist-line and not much below it]
The surrounding town was no more densely populated than the monastery
village. Besides a small army of servants, male and female, in layman
garb, there were yellow-robed figures everywhere. Wrinkled, sear-faced
seekers after Nirvana squatted in groups on the verandas, poring over
texts in the weak light of the dying day. More sprightly priests,
holding a fold of their gowns over an arm, strolled back and forth
across the barren grounds. Scores of novices, small boys and youths,
saffron-clad and hairless like their elders, flitted in and out among
the buildings, shouting gleefully at their games.
We turned to the first bungalow, a servants’ cottage evidently; for
there were both men and women and no shaven polls in the group that
crowded the veranda railing. Twice we addressed them in English, once in
Hindustanee; but the only response was a babel of strange words that
rose to an uproar. The women screamed excitedly, the men shouted
half-angrily, half-beseechingly and motioned to us to be off. As we
mounted the steps the shrieking folk took to their heels and tumbled
through the doors of the cottage, or over the ends of the veranda,
leaving only a few decrepit crones and grandsires to keep us company.
Here was no such welcome as the Irishman had prophesied; but first
impressions count for little in the Orient, and we sat down to await
developments. For a time the driveling ancients stared vacantly upon us,
mumbling childishly to themselves. Then there arose a chorus of excited
whispers; around the corners of the bungalow peered gaping brown faces
that disappeared quickly when we made the least movement. At last a
native whom we had not seen before advanced bravely to the foot of the
“Goo’ evening,” he stammered, “will you not go way? There is not plague
in the monastery.”
“Eh!” cried James, “We’d be more like to go if there was.”
“But are the sahibs not doctors?” queried the Burman.
The suggestion set the Australian choking with laughter.
“Doctors!” I gasped, “We’re sailors, and we were sent by Damalaku.”
The babu uttered a mighty shout and dashed up the steps. The fugitives
swarmed upon the veranda from all sides and crowded around us, laughing
“They all running way when you coming,” explained the spokesman,
“because they thinking you plague doctors and they ’fraid.”
“Of what?” asked James.
“Sahib doctors feel all over,” shuddered the babu, “not nice.”
Our errand explained, the interpreter set off to announce our arrival to
the head priest, and the grinning servants squatted in a semicircle
about us. Suddenly James raised a hand and pointed towards the breach in
“Seems other beachcombers know this graft,” he laughed.
A burly negro, dressed in an old sweater of the White Star line and the
rags and tatters of what had once been overalls and jumper, stepped into
the inclosure. Anxious to make a favorable impression at the outset, he
had halted in the street to remove his shoes, and, carrying them in one
hand, he shuffled through the sand in his bare feet, about the ankles of
which clung the remnants of a bright red pair of socks. In color, he was
many degrees darker than the Burmese; and the apologetic, almost
penitent mien with which he approached struck the assembled natives as
so incongruous in one attired as a European that they greeted him with
roars of laughter. When he addressed them in English they shrieked the
louder, and left him to stand contritely at the foot of the steps until
we, as the honored guests of the evening, had been provided for. There
is needed more than the whiteman’s tongue and garb to be accepted as a
sahib in British-India.
The babu returned, and, bidding us follow, led the way back into the
village and up the out-door stairway of one of the largest bungalows.
Inside, under a sputtering torch, squatted an aged priest of sour and
leathery countenance. He squinted a moment at us in silence, and then
demanded, through the interpreter, an account of our meeting with
Damalaku. We soon convinced him that the note was no forgery. He
dismissed us with a grimace that might have been expressive either of
mirth or annoyance, and the babu set off towards a neighboring bungalow.
“You are sleeping in here,” he said, stopping several paces from the
cottage, “Goo’ night.”
“Thunder!” muttered James, as we started to mount the steps to a
deserted veranda, “He might, at least, have told ’em what we want. If
there’s anything I hate, it’s talking to natives on my fingers and
listening to their jabber all the evening without an interpreter. He—”
“Hello, Jack!” shouted a voice above us, “Where the blazes did you come
We fell back in astonishment and looked up. Framed in the doorway of the
brightly-lighted bungalow stood a white priest.
“Englishmen?” he queried.
“I’m American,” I apologized.
“The thunder you are!” cried the priest, “So’m I. On the beach, eh?”
“Yep,” I answered.
“Well, come up on deck, mates. But first,” he added hastily, in more
solemn tones, “in respect for the revered Buddha and his disciples, take
off your shoes down there.”
“And socks?” I asked, struggling with a knot in one of my laces.
“Naw,” returned the priest, “just the kicks.”
We crossed the veranda and, having deposited our shoes in a sort of
washtub outside the door, followed the renegade inside.
The typical Indian bungalow is a very simple structure. The Oriental
carpenter considers his task finished when he has thrown together—if the
actions of so apathetic a workman may be so described—a frame-work of
light poles, boarded them up on the outside, and tossed a roof of thatch
on top. The interior he leaves to take care of itself, and the result is
a dwelling as rough and ungarnished as an American hay-loft.
The room in which we found ourselves was some twenty feet square and
extremely low of ceiling, its skeleton of unhewn beams all exposed, like
the ribs of a cargo steamer. Two rectangular openings in opposite walls,
innocent of frame or glass, admitted a current of night air that made
the chamber almost habitable. In the center of the floor, which was
polished smooth and shining by the shuffle of bare feet, was a large
grass mat; while beyond, on a low daïs, squatted a gorgeous, life-sized
statue of Buddha.
At the moment of our appearance, a score of native priests were crouched
on as many small mats ranged round the walls. They rose slowly, really
agog with curiosity, yet striving to maintain that phlegmatic air of
indifference that is cultivated among them, and grouped themselves about
us. In the brilliant light cast by several lamps and long rows of
candles before the statue, we had our first clear view of the American
priest. He was tall and thin of figure, yet sinewy, with a suggestion of
hidden strength. His face, gaunt and lantern-jawed, was seared and
weather-beaten and marked with the unmistakable lines of hardships and
dissipation. It was easy to see that he was a recruit from the ranks of
labor. His hands were coarse and disproportionately large. As he moved
they hung half open, his elbows a bit bent, as though he were ready at a
word of command to grasp a rope or a shovel. The rules of the priesthood
had not been framed to enhance his particular style of beauty. A thick
shock of hair would have concealed the displeasing outline of a bullet
head, the yellow robe hung in loose folds about his lank form, his feet
were broad and stub-toed. But it was none of these points in his
physical make-up that caused James to choke with suppressed mirth. A
Buddhist priest, be it remembered, must ever keep aloof from things
feminine. The American had been a sailor, and his bare arms were
tattooed from wrist to shoulder with female figures that would have
outdone those on the raciest posters of a burlesque show!
Our hosts placed mats for us in a corner of the room and brought forth a
huge bowl of rice and a smaller one of blistering currie. While we
scooped up handfuls alternately from the dishes, they squatted on their
haunches close at hand, watching us, it must be admitted, somewhat
hungrily. The American had not yet mastered the native tongue. His
interpreter was a youthful priest who spoke fluent English. With these
two at our elbows, the conversation did not drag. The youth was a human
interrogation point; the convert, for the nonce, a long-stranded mariner
eager for news of the world outside. Were “the boys” still signing on in
Liverpool at three pound ten? Did captains still ship out of Frisco with
shanghaied crews, as of yore? Were the Home in Marseilles and the
Mission in Sydney still closed to beachcombers? Was the Peter Rickmers
still above the waves? His questions fell fast and furious, interspersed
with queries from his companion. Then he grew reminiscent and told us,
in the vocabulary of them that go down to the sea in ships, tales of his
days before the mast and of his uninspiring adventures in distant ports.
For the moment he was plain Jack Tar again, swapping yarns with his
The youth rose at last and laid a hand on the convert’s shoulder. He
started, blinked a moment, and glanced at his brilliant garment. Then he
rose to dignified erectness and stood a moment silent, gazing down upon
us with the half-haughty, half-pitying mien of a true believer
“You will excuse us,” he said, in his sacerdotal voice. “It is time for
our evening devotions.”
He moved with the others to the further side of the room, where each of
the band lighted a candle and came to place it on the altar. Then all
knelt on a large mat, sank down until their hips touched their heels
and, with their eyes fixed steadfastly on the serene countenance of the
statue, rocked their bodies back and forth to the time of a chant set up
by one of the youngest priests. It was a half-monotonous wail, rising
and falling in uneven cadence, lacking something of the solemnity of the
chanted Latin of a Catholic office, yet more musical than the three-tone
song of the Arab. One theme, often repeated, grew familiar even to our
unaccustomed ears, a long-drawn refrain ending in:—
“Vooráy kalma-á-y s-ă-ă-mée,”
which the swaying group, one and all, caught up from time to time and
droned in deep-voiced chorus.
The worship lasted some twenty minutes. When the American returned to
us, every trace of the seaman—save the tattooing—had disappeared. He was
a missionary now, fired with zeal for the “true faith”; though into his
arguments crept occasionally a suggestion that his efforts were less for
conversion than for self-justification. Now and again he called on his
sponsor in Buddhist lore and ritual to expatiate on the doctrines he was
striving to set forth. The youth needed no urging. He drew a book from
the folds of his gown and, for every point brought up by the American,
read us several pages of dissertations or tales of the miracles
performed by the Wandering Prince.
The hour grew late for beachcombers. A dreadful fear assailed us that
the night would be all sermon and no sleep. We sank into an open-eyed
doze, from which we started up now and then half determined to turn
Buddhists that we might be left in peace. Towards midnight the
propagandists tired of their monologues and rose to their feet. The
white man led the way to a back room, littered with kettles and bowls,
bunches of drying rattan, and all the odds and ends of the
establishment, and pointed out two mats that the servants had spread for
us on the billowy, yet yielding floor of split bamboo.
“Take my tip, mate,” said the Australian, as we lay down side by side,
“that bloke don’t swallow any more of this mess about the transmigration
of souls than I do. Loafing in the shade’s his religion.”
We were awakened soon after daylight by a hubbub of shrill laughter and
shouts behind the bungalow. I rose and peered through a window opening.
In the yard below, a score of boys, some in yellow robes, some in
nothing worth mentioning, were engaged in a game that seemed too
energetic to be of Oriental origin. The players were divided into two
teams; but neither band was limited to any particular part of the field,
and all mingled freely together as they raced about in pursuit of what
seemed at first sight to be a small basket. It was rather, as I made out
when the game ceased an instant, a ball about a foot in diameter, made
of open wickerwork. This the opposing contestants kicked alternately,
sending it high in the air, the only rule of the game being, apparently,
that it should not touch the ground nor any part of the player’s body
above the knees. When this was violated, the offending side lost a
The wiry, brown youths were remarkably nimble in following the ball, and
showed great skill in returning it—no simple matter, for they could not
kick it as a punter kicks a pig-skin without driving their bare toes
through the openings. They struck it instead with the sides of their
feet or—when it fell behind them—with their heels; yet they often kept
it constantly in the air for several minutes. It was a typical Burmese
scene, with more mirth and laughter than one could have heard in a whole
city in the land of the morose and apathetic Hindu.
The servants brought us breakfast. Behind them entered the American
priest. He squatted on the floor before us, but refused to partake,
having risen to gorge himself at the first peep of dawn. Whatever its
original purpose, the rule forbidding wearers of the yellow robe to eat
after noonday certainly makes them early risers.
The meal over, we fished our shoes out of the tub and, promising the
American to return in time for supper and “evening devotions,” turned
away. At the wooden bridge connecting the monastery with the world
outside, we met the foraging party of novices returning from their
morning rounds. Far down the street stretched a line of priests,
certainly sixty in all, each holding in his embrace a huge bowl, filled
to the brim with a strange assortment of native foodstuffs.
“Mate,” said James, later in the morning, as we stood before a world map
in the Sailors’ Home, “it looks to me as if we’d bit off more ’n we can
chew. There’s nothing doing in the shipping line here, and not a show to
earn the price of a deck passage to Singapore. And if we could, it’s a
thunder of a jump from there to Hong Kong.”
“Aye,” put in a grizzled seaman, limping forward, “ye’ll be lucky lads
if ye make yer get-away from Rangoon. But once ye get on the beach in
Singapore, ye’ll die of ould age afore iver ye see ’Ong Kong, if that’s
’ow yer ’eaded. Why mates, that bloody ’ole is alive with beachcombers
that’s been ’ung up there so long they’d not know ’ow to eat with a
knife if iver they got back to God’s country. Take my tip, an’ give ’er
a wide berth.”
“It would seem foolish anyway,” I remarked, addressing James, “to go to
Singapore. It’s a good fifteen degrees south of here, a week of loafing
around on some dirty tub to get there, and a longer jump back up
north—even if we don’t get stuck in the Straits.”
“But what else?” objected James.
“Look how narrow the Malay Peninsula is,” I went on, pointing at the
map. “Bangkok is almost due east of here. We’d save a lot of travel by
going overland, and run no risk of being tied up for months in
“But how?” demanded the Australian.
“Walk, of course.”
The sailors grouped about us burst out in a roar of laughter.
“Aye, ye’d walk across the Peninsula like ye’d swim to Madras,” chuckled
one of them. “It’s bats ye have in yer belfry, from a touch o’ the sun.”
“But Hong Kong,” I began—
“If it’s ’Ong Kong, ye’ll go to Singapore,” continued the seaman, “or
back the other way. There’s no man goes round the world in the north
’emisphere without touching Singapore. Put that down in yer log.”
“If we walk across the Peninsula,” I went on, still addressing James,
“Yes,” put in the “Askins” of the party, “it would be a unique and
onconventional way of committin’ suicide, original, interestin’, maybe
slow, but damn sure.”
“Now look ’ere, lads,” said the old seaman, almost tearfully, “d’ ye
know anything about that country? There’s no wilder savages nowhere than
the Siameese. I know ’em. When I was bo’s’n on a windjammer from the
Straits to China, that’s fourt—fifteen year gone, we was blowed into the
bay an’ put ashore fer water. We rowed by thousands o’ dead babies
floatin’ down the river. We ’adn’t no more ’n stepped ashore when down
come a yelpin’ bunch o’ Siameese, with knives as long as yer arm, an’
afore we could shove off they’d killt my mate an’ another ’and—chopped
’em all to pieces. Them’s the Siameese, an’ the dacoits in the mountains
In short, the suggestion raised such an uproar of derision and chatter
among “the boys” that we were forced to retreat to the street to
continue our planning. For all the raillery, I was still convinced that
the overland trip was possible; necessary, in fact, for there was no
other escape from the city. “The boys” might be right, but there was a
promise of new adventures in the undertaking, and, best of all, the
territory was unknown to beachcombers. For the truest satisfaction of
the Wanderlust is to explore the world by virgin routes and pose as a
bold pioneer in the rendezvous of the “profession” ever after.
James asserted that he was “game for anything,” and, though we had no
intention of quitting Rangoon for a week, we turned our attention at
once to gathering information concerning the route. The task proved
fruitless. Our project was branded idiotic in terms far more cutting
than I had heard even in Palestine and Syria. We appealed to the
American consul; we canvassed half the bungalows in the cantonment and
every European office in the city; we tramped far out past the Gymkana
station to the headquarters of the Geographical Society of Burma, and,
surrounded by excited bands of native clerks, pored over great maps and
folios ten feet square. All to no purpose. The original charts showed
only wavy, brown lines through the heart of the Peninsula; and not a
resident of Rangoon, apparently, had the slightest knowledge of the
territory ten miles east of the city.
Our inquiries ended, as we had dreaded, by attracting the attention of
the police. Late in the afternoon, while we were lounging in the Home,
an Englishman in khaki burst in upon us.
“Are you the chaps,” he began, “who are talking of starting for Bangkok
“We’ve been asking the way,” I admitted.
“Well, save yourselves the trouble,” returned the officer. “There is no
way. The trip can’t be made. You’d be killed sure, and your governments
would come back at us for letting you go. I have orders from the chief
of police that you are not to leave Rangoon except by sea, and I have
warned the patrolmen on the eastern side of the city to head you off.
Thought I’d tell you.”
“Thanks,” said James, “but we’ll hold down Rangoon for a while yet
“Yes, I know,” laughed the Englishman. “So the government is going to
give you a guide to show you the sights. Come in, Pearson!”
“Pearson” entered, grinning. He was a sharp-eyed Eurasian in uniform,
gaunt of face and long of limb. The Englishman took his leave and the
half-breed sat down beside us. When we left the Home he followed us to
the monastery. When we slipped on our shoes next morning, he was waiting
for us at the foot of the steps. He was a pleasant companion and his
stories were well told; but we could no more shake him off than we could
find work in Rangoon. For three days he camped relentlessly on our
“Look here, James,” I protested, as we were breakfasting on Monday
morning, “the longer we hang around Rangoon, the closer we’ll be
watched. If ever we get away, it must be now, before they think we’re
“But Pearson—” began James.
“There’s one scheme that always works with Eurasians,” I answered.
The Australian raised his eyebrows.
“Firewater,” I murmured.
“Swell,” grinned James.
We put the plan into execution at once, halting at the first arrack-shop
beyond the monastery to show the detective our appreciation of his
services. By eight bells he was the most jovial man in Rangoon; by noon
he felt in duty bound to slap on the back every European we encountered.
Luckily, good cheer sells cheaply in Burma, or the project would have
made a serious inroad on our fortune of seven rupees.
We halted, well on in the afternoon, at an eating house hard by the
Chinese temple. The Eurasian, alleging lack of appetite, ignored the
plate of food that was set before him.
“See here, Pearson,” I suggested, “you’ve been sticking close to us for
a long time. The government should be proud of you. But I should think,
after three days, you’d like to get a glimpse of your wife and the
“Yesh, yesh,” cried the half-breed, starting up with a whoop, “I’m close
to ’ome ’ere. I’ll run round a minute. Don’t mind, old fel, eh? I’ll be
back fore you’re ’alf through,” and he stumbled off up the street.
Once he was out of sight, we left our dinner unfinished, and hurried
back to the Home. The manager was sleeping. We laid hold on the knapsack
that we had left in his keeping and struck off through the crowded
“This is no good,” protested James. “All the streets leading east are
“The railroad to Mandalay isn’t,” I replied. “We’ll run up the line out
of danger, and strike out from there.”
The Australian halted at a tiny drug store, and, arousing the
bare-legged clerk, purchased twenty grains of quinine. “For jungle
fever,” he muttered as he tucked the package away in his helmet. That
was our “outfit” for a journey that might last one month or six. In the
knapsack were two cotton suits and a few ragged shirts. As for weapons,
we had not even a penknife.
Just beyond the drug store we turned a corner and came face to face with
Rice, sauntering along in the shade of the shops as if life were a
perpetual pastime, a huge native cigar stuck in a corner of his frog’s
“We’re off, Chi!” cried James, hardly lessening his pace. “Want to go
“Eh!” gasped our former partner, “Hit the trail? An’ the rains comin’
on? Not on yer tintype. Ye’re bughouse to quit this burg. The graft is
swell, an’ I see yer finish in the jungle.”
“Well, so long,” we called, over our shoulders.
A mile from the Home we entered a small suburban station. The native
policeman strutting up and down the platform eyed us curiously, but
offered no interference. We purchased tickets to the first important
town, and a few moments later were hurrying northward. James settled
back in a corner of the compartment, and fell to singing in sotto voce:—
“On the road to Mandalay,
“Where the flying fishes play—”
About us lay low, rolling hills, deep green with tropical vegetation.
Behind, scintillated the golden shaft of the Shwe Dagón pagoda, growing
smaller and smaller, until the night, descending swiftly, blotted it
out. We fell asleep, and, awakening as the train pulled into Pegu, took
possession of two wicker chairs in the waiting-room. A babu, sent to
rout us out, murmured an apology when he had noted the color of our
skins, and stole quietly away.
Dawn found us already astir. A fruit-seller in the bazaars, given to
early rising, served us breakfast and we were off; not, however, until
the sun, peering boldly over the horizon, showed us the way, for we had
no other guide to follow.
A sandy highway, placarded the “Toungoo Road,” led forth from the
village, skirting the golden pagoda of Pegu, a rival of the Shwe Dagón;
but soon swung northward, and we struck across an untracked plain. Far
away to the eastward a deep blue range of rugged hills, forerunners of
the wild mountain chains of the peninsula, bounded the horizon; but
about us lay a flat, monotonous stretch of sandy lowlands, embellished
neither by habitation nor inhabitant.
Ten miles of plodding, with never a mud hole in which to quench our
thirst, brought us to a teeming bamboo village hidden away in a tangled
grove. When we had driven off a canine multitude and drunk our fill, we
should have gone on had not a babu pushed his way through the gaping,
beclouted throng and invited us to his bungalow. He was an employé of a
projected railway line from Pegu to Moulmein, even then under
construction, that was to bring him, on the day of its completion, the
coveted title of station-master. In anticipation of that honor he had
already donned a brilliant uniform of his own designing, the sight of
which filled his fellow townsmen with unutterable awe.
We squatted with him on the floor of his open hut and dispatched a
dinner of rice, fruit, and bread-cakes—and red ants; no Burmese lunch
would be complete without the latter. When we offered payment for the
meal, the babu rose up chattering with indignation and would not be
reconciled until we had patted him on the back and hidden our puerile
fortune from view.
Railways are strictly handmade in Burma. Within hail of the village
appeared the first mound of earth, its summit some feet above the
high-water mark of flood time; and a few miles beyond we came upon a
construction gang at work. There were neither steam cranes, “slips,” nor
“wheelers” to scoop up the earth of the paddy-fields. Of the band, full
three hundred strong, a few toiled with shovels in the shallow trenches;
the others swarmed up the embankment in endless file, carrying flat
baskets of earth on their heads. They were Hindus, one and all, of both
sexes; for the Burman scorns coolie labor. The workers toiled steadily,
mechanically, though ever at a snail’s pace, and the basketfuls fell too
rapidly to be counted. But many thousands raised the mound only an inch
higher; and, where the grading had but begun, one day’s labor did not
suffice to cover the short grass.
Beyond, were other gangs and between them deserted trenches and sections
of embankment. The dyke was not continuous. The company sub-let the
grading by the cubic yard to dozens of Hindu contractors, each of whom,
having staked out some ten rods along the right of way, threw up a ridge
of the required height and moved on with his band to the head of the
line. Their trenches were sharp-cornered, flat-bottomed, and contained
little pagoda-shaped mounds of earth with a tuft of grass on top, by
which the depth could be estimated.
Early in the afternoon we came upon a small, sluggish stream, beyond
which stood a two-story bungalow of unusual magnificence for this corner
of the world. A rope was stretched from shore to shore, and the
primitive ferry to which it was attached was tied up at the western
bank. We boarded the raft and had all but pulled ourselves across when a
greeting in our own tongue drew our attention to the bungalow. On the
veranda stood an Englishman, bareheaded and smiling.
James sprang hastily ashore, leaving me to bring up the rear—and the
knapsack; but at the top of the bank he stopped suddenly and grasped me
by the arm.
“Holy dingoes!” he gasped. “Do my eyes deceive me? I’m a Hottentot if it
isn’t a white woman!”
It was, sure enough. Beside the Englishman stood a youthful memsahib, in
snow-white gown. A millinery shop could not have looked more out of
place in these blistered paddy fields of the Irawaddy delta.
“Trouble you for a drink of water?” I panted, halting in the shade of
the bungalow, which, like all dwellings in this region, stood some eight
feet above the ground, on bamboo stilts.
“A drink of water!” cried the lady, smiling down upon us. “Do you think
we see white men so often that we let them go as easily as that? Come up
here at once.”
“We’re just sitting down to lunch,” said the man. “I had covers laid for
you as soon as you hove in sight.”
“Thanks,” I answered, “we had lunch three hours ago.”
“Great Cæsar! Where?” gasped the Englishman.
“In a bamboo vil—”
“What! Native stuff?” he cried, while the lady shuddered, “With red
ants, eh? Well, then, you’ve been famished for an hour and a half.”
We could not deny it, so we mounted to the veranda.
“Put your luggage in the corner,” said the Englishman. “Do you prefer
lemonade or seltzer?”
I dropped the bedraggled knapsack on the top step and followed my
companion inside. In our vagabond garb, covered from crown to toe with
the dust of the route, the perspiration drawing fantastic arabesques in
the grime on our cheeks, we felt strangely out of place in the
daintily-furnished bungalow. But our hosts would not hear our excuses.
When our thirst had been quenched, we followed the Englishman to the
bathroom to plunge our heads and arms into great bowls of cold water
and, greatly refreshed, took our places at the table.
The Burmese cook who slipped noiselessly in and out of the room was a
magician, surely, else how could he have prepared in this outpost of
civilization such a dinner as he served us—even without red ants? If
conversation lagged, it was chiefly the Australian’s fault. His remarks
were ragged and brief; for, as he admitted later in the day: “It’s so
bloody long since I’ve talked to a white man that I was afraid of making
a break every time I opened my mouth.”
The Englishman was superintendent of construction for the western half
of the line. He had been over the route to Moulmein on horseback, and
though he had never known a white man to attempt the journey on foot, he
saw no reason why we could not make it if we could endure native “chow”
and the tropical sun. But he scoffed at the suggestion that any living
mortal could tramp from Moulmein to Bangkok, and advised us to give up
at once so foolhardy a venture, and to return to Rangoon as we had come.
We would not, and he mapped out on the table-cloth the route to the
frontier town, pricking off each village with the point of his fork.
When we declined the invitation to spend the night in his bungalow, even
his wife joined him in vociferous protest. But we pleaded haste, and
took our leave with their best wishes.
“If you can walk fast enough to reach Sittang to-night,” came the
parting word, “you will find a division engineer who will be delighted
to see you. That is, if you can get across the river.”
“It’s Sittang or bust,” said James, as we took up the pace of a forced
Nightfall found us still plodding on in jungled solitude. It was long
afterwards that we were brought to a sudden halt at the bank of the
Sittang river. Under the moon’s rays, the broad expanse of water showed
dark and turbulent, racing by with the swiftness of a mountain stream.
The few lights that twinkled high up above the opposite shore were
nearly a half-mile distant—too far to swim in that rushing flood even
had we had no knapsack to think of. I tore myself free from the
undergrowth and, making a trumpet of my hands, bellowed across the
For a time only the echo answered. Then a faint cry was borne to our
ears, and we caught the Hindustanee words “Quam hai?” (Who is it?). I
took deep breath and shouted into the night:—
“Dö sahib hai! Engineer sampan, key sampan kéyderah?”
A moment of silence and the answer came back, soft yet distinct, like a
“Achá, sahib.” (All right.) Even at that distance we recognized the
deferential tone of the Hindu coolie.
A speck of light descended to the level of the river, and, rising and
falling irregularly, came steadily nearer. We waited eagerly, yet a
half-hour passed before there appeared a flat-bottomed sampan, manned by
three struggling Aryans whose brown skins gleamed in the light of a
flickering lantern. They took for granted that we were railway
officials, and, while two wound their arms around the bushes, the third
sprang ashore with a respectful greeting and, picking up our knapsack,
dropped into the craft behind us.
With a shout the others let go of the bushes and the three grasped their
oars and pulled with a will. The racing current carried us far down the
river, but we swung at last into the more sluggish water under the lee
of a bluff, and, creeping slowly up stream, gained the landing stage. A
boatman stepped out with our bundle, and, zigzagging up the face of the
cliff, dropped the bag on the veranda of a bungalow at the summit,
shouted a “sahib hai,” and fled into the night.
The Englishman who flung open the door with a bellow of delight was a
boisterous, whole-hearted giant of a far different type from our noonday
host; a soldier of fortune who had “mixed” in every activity from
railway building to revolutions in three continents, and whose
geographical information was far more extensive than that to be found in
a Rand-McNally atlas. His bungalow was a palace in the wilderness; he
confided that he drew his salary to spend, and that he paid four rupees
a pound for Danish butter without a pang of regret. The light of his
household, however, was his Eurasian wife, the most entrancing
personification of loveliness that I have been privileged to run across
in my wanderings. The rough life of the jungle seemed only to have made
her more daintily feminine. One would have taken his oath that she had
just budded into womanhood, even in face of the four sons that rolled
about the bungalow; plump-cheeked, robust little tots, with enough
native blood in their veins to thrive in a land where children of white
parents waste away to apathetic invalids.
We slept on the veranda high above the river, and, in spite of the
thirty-two miles in our legs and the fever that fell upon James during
the night, rose with the dawn, eager to be off. As we took our leave,
the engineer held out to us a handful of rupees.
“Just to buy your chow on the way, lads,” he smiled.
“No! no!” protested James, edging away. “We’ve bled you enough already.”
“Tommy rot!” cried the adventurer, “Don’t be an ass. We’ve all been in
the same boat and I’m only paying back a little of what’s fallen to me.”
When we still refused, he called us cranks and no true soldiers of
fortune, and took leave of us at the edge of the veranda.
Sittang was a mere bamboo village with a few grass-grown streets that
faded away in the encircling wilderness. In spite of explicit directions
from the engineer, we lost the path and plunged on for hours almost at
random through a tropical forest. Noonday had passed before we broke out
upon an open plain where the railway embankment began anew, and satiated
our screaming thirst with cocoanut milk in the hut of a babu contractor.
Beyond, walking was less difficult. The rampant jungle had been laid
open for the projected line; and, when the tangle of vegetation pressed
upon us, we had only to climb to the top of the broken dyke and plod on.
The country was not the unpeopled waste of the day before. Where bananas
and cocoanuts and jack-fruits grow, there are human beings to eat them,
and now and then a howling of dogs drew our attention to a cluster of
squalid huts tucked away in a productive grove. Every few miles were
gangs of coolies who fell to chattering excitedly when we came in view,
and, dropping shovels and baskets, squatted on their heels, staring
until we had passed, nor heeding the frenzied screaming of high-caste
“straw-bosses.” Substantial bungalows for advancing engineers were
building on commanding eminences along the way. The carpenters were
Chinamen, slow workmen when judged by Western standards, but evincing
far more energy than native or Hindu.
The migratory Mongul, rare in India, unknown in Asia Minor, has invaded
all the land of Burma. Few indeed are the villages to which at least one
wearer of the pig-tail has not found his way and made himself a force in
the community. His household commonly consists of a Burmese wife and a
troop of half-breed children; and it is whispered that the native women
are by no means loath to mate with these aliens, who often prove more
tolerant and provident husbands than the Burmen.
Those Celestial residents with whom we came in contact were shrewd,
grasping fellows, far different from the gay and prodigal native
merchants. The pair in whose shop we stifled an overgrown hunger, well
on in the afternoon, received us coldly and served us in moody silence.
Their stock in trade was exclusively canned goods among which American
labels were not lacking. Their prices, too, were reminiscent of the
Western world. When we had paid them what we knew was a just amount,
they hung on our heels for a half-mile, screaming angrily and clawing at
our tattered garments.
Where the western section of the embankment ended began a more open
country, with many a sluggish stream to be forded. We were already
knee-deep in the first of these when there sounded close at hand a snort
like the blowing of a whale. I glanced in alarm at the rushes about us.
From the muddy water protruded a dozen ugly, black snouts.
“Crocodiles!” screamed James, turning tail and splashing by me. “Beat
“But hold on!” I cried, before we had regained the bank, “These things
seem to have horns.”
The creatures that had startled us were harmless water buffaloes, which,
being released from their day’s labor, had sought relief in the muddy
stream from flies and the blazing sun.
As the day was dying, we entered a jungle city, named Kaikto, and
jeopardized the honor in which sahibs are held in that metropolis of the
delta by accepting a “shake-down” in the police barracks. From there the
route turned southward, and the blazing sun beat in our faces during all
the third day’s tramp. Villages became more numerous, more thickly
populated, and the jungle was broken here and there by thirsty
When twilight fell, however, we were tramping along the railway dyke
between two dense and apparently unpeopled forests. The signs portended
a night out of doors, and we were already resigned to that fate when we
came upon a path leading from the foot of the embankment across the
narrow ridge between two excavations. Hoping to find some thatch shelter
left by the construction gangs, we turned aside and stumbled down the
bank. The trail wound away through the jungle and brought us, a mile
from the line, to a grassy clearing, in the center of which stood a
capacious _dak bungalow_.
Public rest-houses of this sort are maintained by the government of
British-India, where no other accommodations offer, for the housing of
itinerant sahibs. They are equipped with rough sleeping quarters for a
few guests, rougher bathing facilities, a few reclining chairs, and a
babu keeper to register travelers and entertain them with his wisdom;
for all of which a uniform charge of one rupee a day is made. There is,
besides, a force of native servants at the beck and call of those who
would pay more. A punkah-wallah will keep the velvet fans in motion all
through the night for a few coppers; the _chowkee dar_ or Hindu cook
will prepare a “European” meal on more or less short notice.
But the bungalow that we had chanced upon in this Burmese wilderness was
apparently deserted. We mounted the steps and, settling ourselves in
veranda chairs, lighted our pipes and stretched our weary legs. We might
have fallen asleep where we were, listening to the humming of the
tropical night, had we not been hungry and choking with thirst.
The bungalow stood wide open, like every house in British-India. I rose
and wandered through the building, lighting my way with matches and
peering into every corner for a water bottle or a sleeping servant. In
each of the two bedrooms there were two canvas charpoys; in the main
room a table littered with tattered books and magazine leaves in
English; in the back chamber several pots and kettles. There was water
in abundance, a tubful of it in the lattice-work closet opening off from
one of the bedrooms. But who could say how many travel-stained sahibs
had bathed in it?
I returned to the veranda, and we took to shouting our wants into the
jungle. Only the jungle replied, and we descended the steps for a
circuit of the building, less in the hope of encountering anyone than to
escape the temptation of the bathtub. Behind the bungalow stood three
ragged huts. The first was empty. In the second, we found a snoring
Hindu, stretched on his back on the dirt floor, close to a dying fire of
We awoke him quickly. He sprang to his feet with a frightened “achá,
sahib, pawnee hai,” and ran to fetch a chettie of water, not because we
had asked for it, but because he knew the first requirement of travelers
in the tropics.
“Now we would eat, oh, chowkee dar,” said James, in Hindustanee, “julty
“Achá, sahib,” repeated the cook. He tossed a few fagots on the fire,
set a kettle over them, emptied into it the contents of another chettie,
and, catching up a blazing stick, trotted with a loose-kneed wabble to
the third hut. There sounded one long-drawn squawk, a muffled cackling
of hens, and the Hindu returned, holding a chicken by the head and
swinging it round and round as he ran. Catching up a knife, he slashed
the fowl from throat to tail, snatched off skin and feathers with a few
dexterous jerks, and less than three minutes after his awakening, our
supper was cooking. Truly, the serving of sahibs had imbued him with an
We returned to the veranda, followed by the chokee dar, who lighted a
decrepit lamp on the table within and trotted away into the jungle. He
came back at the heels of a native in multicolored garb of startling
brilliancy, who introduced himself as the custodian, and, squatting on
his haunches in a veranda chair, took up his duties as entertainer of
guests. There was not another that spoke English within a day’s journey,
he assured us, swelling with pride; and for that we were duly thankful.
Long after the cook had carried away the plates and the chicken bones,
the babu chattered on, drawing upon an apparently unlimited fund of
misinformation, and jumping, as each topic was exhausted, to a totally
irrelevant one, without a pause either for breath or ideas. Fortunately,
he had arrived with the notion that we were surveyors of the new line,
and we took good care not to undeceive him; for railway officials were
entitled to the accommodations of dak bungalows without payment of the
government fee. We still had a few coppers left, therefore, when the
cook had been satisfied, and, driving off the inexhaustible keeper, we
rolled our jackets and shoes into two “beachcomber’s pillows” and turned
We slept an hour or two, perhaps, during the night. Of all the hardships
that befall the wayfarer in British-India, none grows more unendurable
than this—to be kept awake when he most needs sleep. Either his resting
place—to call it a bed would be worse than inaccurate—is too hard, or
the heat so sultry that the perspiration trickles along his ribs,
tickling him into wakefulness. If a band of natives is not chattering
under his windows, a fellow roadster snoring beside him, or a flock of
roosters greeting every newborn star, there are a dozen lizards at least
to make the night miserable.
The dak bungalow in the wilderness housed a whole army of these pests;
great, green-eyed reptiles from six inches to a foot long. Barely was
the lamp extinguished, when one in the ceiling struck up his refrain,
another on the wall beside me joined in, two more in a corner gave
answering cry, and the night concert was on:—
“She-kak! she-kak! she-kak!”
Don’t fancy for a moment that the cry of the Indian lizard is the
half-audible murmur of the cricket or the tree toad. It sounds much more
like the squawking of an ungreased bullock-cart:—
“She-kak! she-kak! she-kak!”
To attempt to drive them off was worse than useless. The walls and
ceiling, being of thatch, offered more hiding places for creeping things
than a hay stack. When I fired a shoe at the nearest, a shower of
branches and rubbish rattled to the floor; and, after a moment of
silence, the song began again, louder than before. Either the creatures
were clever dodgers or invulnerable, and there was always the danger
that a swiftly-thrown missile might bring down half the thatch
“She-kak! she-kak! she-kak!”
Wherever there are dwellings in British-India, there are croaking
lizards. I have listened to their shriek from Tuticorin to Delhi; I have
seen them darting across the carpeted floor in the bungalows of
commissioner sahibs; I have awakened many a time to find one dragging
his clammy way across my face. But nowhere are they more numerous nor
more brazen-voiced than in the jungles of the Malay Peninsula. There
came a day when we were glad that they had not been exterminated—but of
Early the next morning we fell into a passable roadway that led us every
half-hour through a grinning village, between which were many isolated
huts. We stopped at all of them for water. The natives showed us marked
kindness, often awaiting us, chettie in hand, or running out into the
highway at our shout of “yee sheedela?” This Burmese word for water
(yee) gave James a great deal of innocent amusement. Ever and anon he
paused before a hut, to drawl, in the voice of a court crier:—“Hear ye!
hear ye! hear ye! We’re thirsty as Hottentots!” Householders young and
old understood. At least they fetched us water in abundance.
The fourth day afoot brought two misfortunes. The rainy season, long
delayed, burst upon us in pent-up fury not an hour after we had spent
our last copper for breakfast. Where dinner would come from we could not
surmise, but “on the road” one does not waste his energies in worry.
Something would “turn up.” It is in wandering aimlessly about the
streets of a great city in the midst of plenty that the penniless
outcast feels the inexorable hand of fate at his throat—not on the open
road among the fields and flowers and waving palm trees.
The first shower came almost without warning; one sullen roar of
thunder, the heavens opened, and the water poured. Thereafter they were
frequent. At times some hut gave us shelter; more often we could only
plod on in the blinding torrent that, in the twinkle of an eye, drenched
us to the skin. The storms were rarely of five minutes’ duration. With
the last dull growl of thunder, the sun burst out more calorific than
before, sopping up the pools in the highway as with a gigantic sponge,
and drying our dripping garments before we had time to grumble at the
wetting. Amid the extravagant beauties of the tropical landscape the
vagaries of the season were so quickly forgotten that the next downpour
took us as completely by surprise as though it had been the first of the
During the morning we met a funeral procession en route for the place of
cremation. Wailing and mourning there were none. Why should death bring
grief to the survivors when the deceased has merely lost one of his
innumerable lives? There came first of all dozens of girls dressed as
for a yearly festival. About their necks were garlands of flowers; in
their jet-black hair, red and white blossoms. Each carried a flat
basket, heaped high with offerings that made us envious of him who had
been gathered to his fathers. Here one bore bananas of brightest yellow;
another, golden mangoes; a third, great, plump pineapples. The girls
held the baskets high above their heads, swaying their bodies from side
to side and tripping lightly back and forth across the road as they
advanced, the long cortège executing such a snake-dance as one sees on a
college gridiron after a great contest. The chant that rose and fell in
time with their movements sounded less a dirge than a pean of victory;
now and again a singer broke out in merry laughter. The coffin was a
wooden box, gayly decked with flowers and trinkets, and three of the
eight men who bore it on their shoulders were puffing at long native
cigars. Behind them more men, led by two saffron-clad priests, pattered
through the dust, chattering like school girls, yet adding their
discordant voices now and then to the cadenced chorus of the females.
The sun was blazing directly overhead, leaving our pudgy shadows to be
trampled under foot, when we heard behind us a faint wail of “sahib!
sahib.” Far down the green-framed roadway trotted a beclouted brown man,
waving his arms above his head. We were already fifteen miles distant
from the dak bungalow; small wonder if we were surprised to find our
pursuer none other than that chowkee dar who had skinned our chicken so
deftly the night before. A misgiving fell upon us. No doubt the fellow
had found out that we were no railway officials after all, and had come
to demand the bungalow fee of two rupees. We stepped into the shade and
awaited anxiously the brown-skinned nemesis.
But there was no cause for alarm. Amid his chattering the night before,
the babu custodian had forgotten his first duty—to register us. When his
error came to light, we were gone; and he had sent the cook to get our
names. That was all; and for that the Hindu had run the entire fifteen
miles. When we had scribbled our names on the limp, wet rag of paper he
carried in his hand, he turned aside from the road and threw himself
face down in the edge of the forest.
The beauties of the landscape impressed themselves less and less upon us
with every mile thereafter. Not that our surroundings had lost anything
of their charm, the scenery was rather more striking; but the dinner
hour had passed and our bellies had begun to pinch us. The Burmese, we
had been told, were charitable to a fault. But what use to “batter” back
doors, when we knew barely a dozen words of the native tongue? Here and
there a bunch of bananas hung at the top of its stocky tree, but the
fruit was hopelessly green; cocoanuts there were in abundance, but they
supplied drink rather than food. Still hunger grew apace. The only
alternative to starving left us was to exploit the shopkeepers,—to eat
our fill and run away.
We chose a well-stocked booth in a teeming village, and, advancing with
a millionaire swagger, sat down on the bamboo floor and called for food.
The merchant and his family were enjoying a plenteous repast. The wife
grinned cheerily upon us for the honor we had done her among all her
neighbors, and brought us a bowl of rice and a strange vegetable currie.
While we ate, the unsuspecting victims squatted around us, shrieking in
our ears as though they would force us to understand by endless
repetitions and lusty bellowing. When we addressed them in English, they
cried “nămelay-voo,” and took deeper breath. When we spoke in
Hindustanee, they grinned sympathetically and again bellowed
“nămelay-voo.” How often I had heard those words since our departure
from Rangoon! At first, I had fancied the speaker was attempting to
converse in French. It was easy to imagine that he was trying to say
“what is your name?” But he was not, for when I answered in the language
of Voltaire, the refrain came back louder than before:—“Nămelay-voo?”
We did not eat our fill at the first shop. To have done so would have
been to leave the keeper a pauper. When our hunger had been somewhat
allayed, we rose to our feet.
“I’m sorry to work this phony game on you, old girl,” said James, “but I
know you couldn’t cash a check—”
“Nămelay-voo?” cried the personage thus disrespectfully addressed, and
the family smile broadened and spread to the family ears. We caught up
the knapsack and walked rapidly away; for well we knew the agonized
screams that would greet our perfidy and the menacing mob that would
gather at our heels. Four steps we had taken, and still no outcry. We
hurried on, not daring to look back. Suddenly a roar of laughter sounded
behind us. I glanced over my shoulder. Not a man pursued us. The family
still squatted on the bamboo floor of the booth, doubled up and shaking
We levied on the shopkeepers whenever hunger assailed us thereafter,
though never eating more than two or three cents’ worth at any one
stall. Never a merchant showed anger at our rascality. So excellent a
joke did our ruse seem to the natives that laughter rang out behind us
at every sortie. Nay, many a shopkeeper called us back and forced upon
us handfuls of the best fruit in his meager little stock, guffawing the
while until the tears ran down his cheeks, and calling his neighbors
about him to tell them the jest, that they might laugh with him. And
they did. More than once we left an entire village shaking its sides at
the trick which the two witty sahibs had played upon it.
When night came on we appropriated lodgings in the same high-handed
fashion, stretching out on the veranda of the most pretentious shop in a
long, straggling village. Unfortunately, the wretch who kept it was no
true Burman. A dozen times he came out to growl at us, and to answer our
questions with an angry “nămelay-voo.” Darkness fell swiftly. It was the
hour of closing. The merchant began to drag out boards from under his
shanty and to stand them up endwise across the open front of the shop,
fitting them into grooves at top and bottom. When only a narrow opening
was left, he turned upon us with a snarl and motioned to us to be off.
We paid no heed, for so fierce an evening storm had begun that the shop
lamp lighted up an unbroken sheet of water at the edge of the veranda.
The shopkeeper blustered and howled to make his voice heard above the
rumble of the torrent, waving his arms wildly above his head. We
stretched our aching legs and let him rage on. He fell silent at last
and squatted disconsolately in the opening. He could have put up the
last board and left us outside, but that would have been to disobey the
ancient Buddhist law of hospitality.
A half-hour had passed when he sprang up suddenly with a grunt of
satisfaction and stepped into his dwelling. When he came out he carried
a lantern and wore a black, waterproof sheet that hid all but a narrow
strip of his face and his bare feet. Bellowing in our ears, he began a
pantomime that we understood to be an offer to lead us to some other
“Let’s risk it,” said James. “This is no downy couch, and he’s probably
going to take us to a Buddhist monastery. If he tries any tricks we’ll
stick to him and come back.”
We stepped into the deluge and followed the native along the highway in
the direction we had come. The storm increased. It was not a mere matter
of getting wet. There was not a dry thread on us when we had taken four
steps. But the torrent, falling on our bowed backs, weighed us down like
a mighty burden, a sensation one may experience under an especially
strong shower bath.
Mile after mile the native trotted on; it seemed at least ten, certainly
it was three. The mud, oozing into our dilapidated shoes during the day,
had blistered our feet to the ankles; our legs creaked with every step.
The Australian fell behind. I stumbled over a knoll and sprawled into a
river of mud that spattered even into my eyes. A bellow brought the
Burman to a halt. I splashed forward and grasped him by a wrist.
“Hold him!” howled James from the rear. “The bloody ass will take us
clear back to Pegu. There’s a house down there. Let’s try it.”
We skated down the slippery slope, dragging the shopkeeper after us, and
stumbled across the veranda into a low, rambling hovel of a single room.
At one end squatted a half-dozen low-caste men and as many slatternly,
half-naked females. In a corner was spread an array of food stuffs; in
another, several dirty, brown brats were curled up on a heap of rush
mats and foul rags. James sprang through the squatting group and fell
upon the wares.
“Only grains and vegetables,” he wailed. “Not a damn thing a civilized
man’s dog could eat unless it was cooked. It’s no supper for us, all
right. What say we turn in?”
He dived towards the other corner and tumbled the sleeping children
together. The natives stared stupidly, offering no sign of protest at
this maltreatment of their offspring. The Australian threw himself down
beside the slumberers.
“Holy dingoes!” he gasped, bounding again to his feet, “What a smell!”
We had indeed fallen upon squalor unusual in the land of Burma.
Our guide, waiving the rights of higher caste, squatted with the others.
Then he began to chatter, and, that accomplishment being universal among
his countrymen, he was soon joined by all the group; the old men first,
in rasping undertones, then the younger males, in deeper voice, and
last, the females, in cracked treble.
We sat down dejectedly on two Standard Oil cans. For an hour the natives
jabbered on, gaping at us, chewing their betel-nut cuds like ruminating
animals. Green-eyed lizards in wall and ceiling set up their
nerve-racking “she-kak! she-kak!” The mud dried in thick layers on our
Suddenly James bounded into the midst of the group and grasped the
shopkeeper by the folds of his loose gown.
“We want something to eat!” he bellowed. “If there’s any chow in this
shack show it up. If there isn’t, cut out this tongue rattle, you
missing link, and let us sleep!” and he shook the passive Burman so
savagely that the cigarette hanging from his nether lip flew among the
The shopkeeper, showing neither surprise nor anger, regained his
equilibrium, picked up his lantern, and marched with dignified tread out
into the night. Apparently he had abandoned us in spite of the law of
But he was a true disciple of Gautama, for he sauntered in, a few
moments later, in company with five men in high-caste costumes.
“Any of you chaps speak English?” I cried.
The newcomers gave no sign of having understood. One, more showily
dressed than his companions, sat down on a heap of rattan. The others
grouped themselves about him, and a new conference began. The rain
ceased. The lizards shrieked sardonically. James fell into a doze,
humped together on his oil can.
Suddenly I caught, above the chatter, the word “babu.”
“Look here,” I interrupted, “If there’s a babu here he speaks English.
Who is he?”
The only reply was a sudden silence that did not last long.
“Babu,” cried the shopkeeper, some moments later. This time there could
be no doubt that he had addressed the silent Beau Brummel on the rattan
“You speak English!” I charged, pointing an accusing finger at him.
“Tell them we want something to eat.”
The fellow stared stolidly. If the title belonged to him he was anxious
to conceal his accomplishments.
“It’s some damn sneak,” burst out James, “come here to eavesdrop.”
Four days in the jungle had weakened the Australian’s command over his
temper. Or was his speech a ruse? If so, it succeeded in its object. A
flush mounted to the swarthy cheek of the native; he opened and closed
his mouth several times as if he had received a heavy blow in the ribs,
and spoke, slowly and distinctly:—
“I am not damn snake. I have been listening.”
“Of course!” bellowed James, “I repeat, you are a sneak.”
“Don’t!” shuddered the babu, “Don’t name me damn snake. If they know you
talk me so I fall in my caste.”
“Well, why didn’t you answer when I spoke to you?” I demanded.
“I was listening to find out what you were wishing,” stammered the
“You half-baked Hindu!” shouted James. “You heard us say a dozen times
we wanted something to eat.”
“But,” pleaded the babu, “this is a very jungly place and we have not
proper food for Europeans.”
“Proper be blowed!” shrieked the Australian. “Who’s talking about
European food? If there’s anything to eat around here trot it out. If we
_haven’t_ got money we can pay for it. Here’s a good suit of clothes—”
he caught up the knapsack and tumbled his “swag” out on the floor.
“There’s only native food,” objected the Burman. “White men cannot—”
“What you can eat, so can we,” I cried. “Take the suit and bring us
“Oh! We cannot take payment,” protested the babu.
“Jumping Hottentots!” screamed James. “Take pay or don’t, but stop your
yapping and tell them we want something to _eat_.”
“I shall have prepared some food which Europeans can eat,” murmured the
native in an oily voice. He harangued the group long and deliberately.
An undressed female rose, hobbled to a corner of the room, lighted a
fire of fagots, and squatted beside it. Though it was certainly
midnight, we gave up all hope of expediting matters, and waited with set
teeth. For a half-hour not a word was spoken. Then the female rose and
strolled towards us, holding out—four slices of toast!
“If I’d known there was bread in this shack,” cried James, as we
snatched the slices, “there’d have been damn little toasting.”
“I have worked for Europeans,” said the babu proudly, yet with a touch
of sadness in his voice, “and I know they cannot eat the native bread,
so I have it prepared as sahibs eat it.”
“We’ve been eating native bread for months,” mumbled James, “days
anyway. You’re a bit crazy, I think. Got any rice?”
“There is rice and fish,” said the Burman, “but can you eat that too?”
“Just watch us,” said James.
The female brought a native supper, and we fell to.
“How wonderful!” murmured the babu, “And you are sahibs!”
When we acknowledged ourselves satisfied, two blankets were spread for
us on the floor, the chattering visitors filed out into the night, and
we stretched out side by side to listen a few hours to the croaking of
The following noonday found us miles distant. It was our second day
without a copper; yet the natives received us as kindly as if we had
been men of means. The proximity of Moulmein, where sahib muscular
effort might be turned to account, filled us with new hope and we
splashed doggedly on.
Villages there were without number. Their tapering pagodas dominated the
landscape. On the east stretched the rugged mountain chain, so near now
that we could make out plainly the little shrines far up on the summit
of each conspicuous peak. Tropical showers burst upon us at frequent
intervals, wild deluges of water from which we occasionally found
shelter under long-legged hovels. Even when we scrambled up the bamboo
ladders into the dwellings, the squatting family showed no resentment at
the intrusion; often they gave us fruit, once they forced upon us two
native cigars. It was these that made James forever after a stout
champion of the Burmese; for two days had passed since we had shared our
Queer things are these Burmese cigars! They call them “saybullies,” and
they smoke them in installments; for no man lives with the endurance
necessary to consume a saybully at one sitting. They are a foot long, as
thick as the thumb of a windjammer’s bo’s’n, rather cigarettes than
cigars; for they are wrapped in a thick, leathery paper that almost
defies destruction, even by fire. In the country districts they serve as
almanacs. The peasant buys his cigar on market day, puffs fiercely at it
on the journey home, stows it away about his person when he is
satisfied, and pulls it out from time to time to smoke again. As a
result, one can easily determine the day of the week by noting the
length of the saybullies one encounters along the route.
To determine the ingredients that make up this Burmese concoction is not
so simple a matter. Now and then, in the smoking, one comes across
pebbles and fagots and a variety of foreign substances which even a
manufacturer of “two-fers” would hesitate to use. But the comparison is
unjust, for the saybully _does_ contain tobacco, little wads of it,
tucked away among the rubbish.
Men, women, and children indulge in this form of the soothing weed. As
in Ceylon, the females, and often the males, wear heavy leaden washers
in their ears until the aperture is stretched to the size of a rat hole.
It is a wise custom. For, having no pockets, where could the Burmese
matron find place for her half-smoked saybully were she denied the
privilege of thrusting it through the lobe of her ear?
Dusk was falling when we overtook a fellow pedestrian; a Eurasian youth
provided with an umbrella and attended by a native servant boy. When he
had gasped his astonishment at meeting two bedraggled sahibs in this
strange corner of the world and volunteered a detailed autobiography, I
found time to put a question over which I had been pondering for some
“As your mother is Burmese,” I began, while we splashed on into the
night, “you speak that language, of course?”
“Oh! yes,” answered the Eurasian, “even better than English.”
“Then you can tell us about this phrase we have heard so much. It’s
‘nămelay-voo.’ Sounds like bum French, but I suppose it’s Burmese?”
“Oh! yes, that is Burmese.”
“What the deuce does it mean?”
“I don’t know,” replied the youth.
“Eh! But it’s certainly a common expression. Every Burman we speak to
shouts ‘nămelay-voo.’ What are they trying to say?”
“I don’t know,” repeated the half-breed.
“Mighty funny, if you speak Burmese, that you don’t understand that!”
“But I do understand it!” protested the youth.
“Well, what is it then?”
“I don’t know. I don’t understand.”
“Say, what are you giving us?” cried James. “Don’t you ever say
“Certainly! Very often, every day, every hour!”
“Well, what do you mean when you say it?”
“I don’t understand. I don’t know.”
“Look here!” bellowed the Australian, “Don’t you go springing any stale
jokes on us. We’re not in a mood for ’em.”
“Gentlemen,” gasped the half-breed, with tears in his voice, “I do not
joke and I am not joking. ‘Nămelay-voo’ is a Burmese word which has for
meaning ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand!’”
It was black night when we stumbled down through the village of Martaban
to the brink of the river of the same name, a swollen stream fully two
miles wide where our day’s journey must have ended, had we not fallen in
with the Eurasian. His home was in Moulmein, and, summoning a sampan, he
invited us to embark with him. The native boat was either light of
material or water-logged, and the waves that broke over the craft
threatened more than once to swamp us. Crocodiles, whispered our
companion, swarmed at this point. Now and then an ominous grunt sounded
close at hand, and the boatman peered anxiously about him as he strained
wildly at his single oar against the current that would have carried us
out to sea. Panting with his exertions, he fetched the opposite shore,
beaching the craft on a slimy slope; and we splashed through a sea of
mud to a roughly-paved street flanking the river.
“You see Moulmein is a city,” said the Eurasian, proudly, pointing along
the row of lighted shops, with fronts all doorway, like those of
Damascus. “We have even restaurants and cabs. Will you not take supper?”
We would, and he led the way to a Mohammedan eating-house in which we
were served several savory messes by an unkempt Islamite, who wiped his
hands, after tossing charcoal on his fire or scooping up a plate of
food, on his fez, and chewed betel-nut as he worked, spitting perilously
near to the open pots. The meal over, the Eurasian called a “cab.” It
was a mere box on wheels, about four feet each way, and had no seats.
When we had packed ourselves inside, the driver imprisoned us by
slamming the air-tight door, and we jolted away.
Fearful of calling paternal attention to his extravagance, the youth
dismissed the hansom at the edge of the quarter in which he lived, and
we continued on foot to his bungalow. His father was an emaciated
Englishman of the rougher, half-educated type, employed in the Moulmein
custom service. He greeted us somewhat coldly. When we had been duly
inspected by his Burmese wife and their eighteen children, we threw
ourselves down on the floor of the open veranda and, drenched and
mud-caked as we were, sank into corpse-like slumber.
“Now lads,” said our host, as we were finishing a late breakfast the
next morning, “I’ll ’ave to ask you to move on. If I was fixed right
you’d be welcome to ’ang out ’ere as long as you’re in town, but I don’t
draw no viceroy’s salary an’ I’ve got a fair size family to support. Up
on the ’ill there, lives an American Christer. Go up an’ give ’im your
yarn an’ touch ’im fer a few dibs.”
We did not, of course, take the advice of the Englishman. James and I
were agreed that it would not be consistent with our dignity to turn to
so base a use as the purchase of currie and rice the funds needed for
the distribution of Bibles and tracts among the aborigines. We did call
on the good padre, but for no other purpose than to crave permission to
inspect his cast-off foot wear. The tramp from Pegu had wrought disaster
to our own. My companion wore on his right foot the upper portion of a
shoe, the sole of which he had left somewhere in the Burmese jungle; on
the left, the sole of its mate, to which there still adhered enough of
the upper to keep it in place. He was better shod than I.
But missionaries domiciled in the far corners of the brown man’s land
are not wont to be satisfied with a casual morning call from those of
their own race. The “Christer” espied us as we started up the sloping
pathway through his private park, and gave us American welcome at the
foot of the steps. Our coming, he averred, was the red-letter event of
that season. Before we had time even to broach the object of our visit,
we found ourselves stammering denials to the assertion he was shouting
to his wife within, that we were to stay at least a fortnight.
Our new host was a native of Indiana, a missionary among the Talaings,
as the inhabitants of this region are known. His dwelling, the Talaing
Mission, was a palatial bungalow set in a wooded estate on the outer rim
of the city. Its windows commanded a far-reaching view over a gorgeous
tropical landscape. Within, it was not merely spacious, airy, and
lighted with soft tints of filtered sunshine—blessings easily attained
in British-Burma, it was hung with rich tapestries, carpeted with downy
rugs, decorated with Oriental works of art. The room to which we were
assigned was all but sumptuously furnished; and it was by no means the
“bridal chamber.” At table we were served formal dinners of many
courses; a white-liveried chowkee dar slipped in and out of the room,
salaaming reverentially each time he offered a new dish; a punkah-wallah
on the back veranda toiled ceaselessly; a gardener clipped away at the
shrubbery in the mission grounds; a native _aya_ followed the two tiny
memsahibs who drove about the house a team of lizards, harnessed in
tandem with the reins tied to their hind legs. In short, the reverend
gentleman lived in a style rarely dreamed of by men of the cloth at
home, or by the sympathetic spinsters to whose charity the adjacent
heathen owed their threatened evangelization.
For all his profession, however, the man from Indiana was one whose
acquaintanceship was well worth the making. To us especially, for when
he was once convinced that our plea for employment was genuine, he
quickly found something to put us at. One would have fancied that a
“handy man” had never before entered the mission grounds. There was
barely a trade of which we knew the rudiments that we did not take a
turn at during our stay. Having served apprenticeship in earlier days as
carpenter, blacksmith, shoemaker, and “carriage trimmer,” I repaired the
floor and several doors and windows, constructed two kitchen benches,
forged wardrobe hooks, half-soled the family shoes, and upholstered two
chairs used on “state occasions.” James, meanwhile, recovered the
padre’s pack-saddle, overhauled and oiled his fire-arms, put new roosts
in his henhouse, and set his lumber room in order. It was not that
native workmen were scarce; a small army of servants flitted about the
bungalow, leering at our loss of caste. But saddening experience had
taught the missionary that Hindu or Burmese workmen not only made a
botch of any task outside their narrow fields, but ruined with
surprising rapidity the tools of which he had brought a well-stocked
chest from his native land.
Our first day’s labor was enlivened with tales of the horrors that would
befall us if we persisted in continuing our journey; the second, with
pleas for a longer sojourn; the third, with preparations for our
departure. As to the route, we could learn no more than the names of
three villages through which the “wild men” of the interior passed on
their way to Siam. To what section of Siam their trail might bring us no
A few hours over washtub and needle made our rags presentable, and we
still had two extra cotton suits. That these and our other possessions
might be protected from the tropical deluges, we bought two squares of
oilcloth in which to roll our “swag.” My bundle contained one of the two
pairs of half-worn shoes that I had come across in the lumber-room.
Unfortunately, there was a marked pedal disparity between the Australian
and the missionary, and my companion might have departed as poorly shod
as he had arrived, had not the good sky pilot insisted on fitting him
out in the bazaars. There, the stoutest shoes in stock proved to be a
pair of football buskins, imported for some Moulmein exponent of Rugby.
These the purchaser chose, in the face of the protest of the prospective
wearer, arguing that the cleats made them just the thing for climbing
steep mountain paths. In my pack, too, were our earnings at the mission,
some four dollars in silver and copper; James having pleaded that he was
too careless to be intrusted with such a fortune. Nor should the parting
gifts of our hosts be forgotten,—a little pocket compass from the padre,
and a bottle of “Superior Curry Dressing” from his solicitous spouse.
We left the Talaing Mission, then, on the morning of May twenty-third,
and, boarding a tiny steamer plying on the Gyang river, disembarked as
the sun was touching the western tree-tops, in the village of Choung
Doa. It comprised two rows of spindle-shanked hutches facing a narrow
clearing ankle-deep in mud. In one of the booths, boiled rice, tea, and
a few stale biscuits from far-off England were for sale. The population,
irrespective of age, sex, or dishabille, formed a gaping circle around
us and flocked behind us as we set out, like country boys in the wake of
the annual circus parade.
A jungle trail that was almost a highway led eastward through densest
virgin forest. We set a sharp pace, for the hour was late and the next
hamlet full fifteen miles distant. Not a hut nor a human being did we
pass on the journey; only the trail, winding over thick-clothed
foothills, gave evidence that man had been here before us.
Black night had fallen when we reached Kawkeriek. As the capital of the
most eastern district of the Indian Empire, it posed as a city of
importance; yet it was only a larger collection of those same one-story,
bamboo huts, ranged in unsteady rows like the soldiers of an inebriated
army, in the square clearing which its inhabitants had won by force of
arms from the militant jungle. A sub-commissioner dwelt there. That much
information had reached Moulmein. Perhaps he spoke a smattering of
English. We fell to shouting an inquiry for his bungalow as we wandered
in and out among the huts. Here and there, where a light cast a
flickering gleam into the night, we startled the peace of a quiet family
by intruding upon them—and seldom found them in a garb to receive
callers. The few belated stragglers whom we came upon in the darkness
listened with trembling limbs to our query, grunted unintelligibly, and
sped noiselessly away.
It was surely nine and time all well-behaved residents of the capital
should have been abed, when we captured a night-hawk on his way home
after a little supper with the boys, or a round of the dance-halls. He
was of bolder stuff, naturally, and better informed on who’s who in
Kawkeriek than his hen-pecked neighbors, and consented like a man ready
for any adventure to give us guidance.
Beyond the last row of dwellings, he plunged into a sub-sylvan pathway,
and, mounting a gentle slope, paused before a forest-girdled bungalow.
We turned to thank him, but he had slipped silently away, anxious, no
doubt, to reach his apartment before the elevator stopped running.
The commissioner was reading in his study. He was a Burman from “over
Mandalay way,” as much a foreigner in Kawkeriek as we, and so much a
sahib in his habits that he had not yet dined. For that we were
grateful. To have missed the formal repast to which he invited us would
have been a misfortune indeed.
So rarely does England appoint any but a white man to rule over a
district, that this native, who had risen so high in her esteem,
awakened our keenest curiosity. In appearance he was like any other
Burman of the prosperous class. His garb was the usual flowing robe,
though his legs were dressed and his feet shod. His long, black hair, a
bit wavy and of a thickness the other sex might have envied, was caught
up at the back of his head in a “Psyche knot.” Like the police captain
of Bankipore, however, he was in all but nationality and dress a
European. Without the trace of a foreign accent, he couched even his
casual remarks in an English that sounded like a reading from a master
of style. His energy, his accomplishments, his very point of view were
those of the Occident. Had we entered the bungalow blindfolded, we
should never have suspected that his skin was brown. So little of the
native was there left in his make-up that, though middle-aged, he was
still a bachelor.
“I have been too busy in my short life,” he confided, “to give attention
to such matters.”
There was a dak bungalow in Kawkeriek. The commissioner’s servant
escorted us thither, prepared our bath, and arranged the
sleeping-quarters for the reception of such distinguished guests. In the
morning we took breakfast with the governor. No more important problem,
apparently, than the planning of our itinerary had occupied his
attention in many a day. He had summoned his entire council, six men of
standing in the community, who approached the business in hand with the
solemnity of delegates to a Hague conference.
The morning was half spent before the result of their deliberations was
laid before us. It was tabulated under three heads. First: the country
east of the capital was a trackless jungle overrun with savage dacoits,
poisonous reptiles, and man-eating tigers, into which even the people of
Kawkeriek dared not venture. Secondly: if we persisted in our suicidal
project, would we not spend a few days of our closing existence with the
commissioner, who was pining away for lack of congenial companions.
Thirdly: if we denied him even this favor, there was outside his door a
“wild man,” chief of a jungle village, whose route coincided with our
own for one day’s journey.
We suggested an immediate departure. A servant stepped out on the
veranda and summoned the _boh_ into the council chamber. He was a “wild
man” indeed. In physique, he was thin and angular, a tall man for his
race, though small when judged by our standard. His skin was a leathery
brown, his hair short and bristling, his eyes small and shifty, with a
suggestion of the leopard in them. The chewing of betel-nut had left his
teeth jet-black, and the prominence of his cheek bones under a sloping
forehead made his face ugly to look upon. All in all, he was a creature
who would have seemed in his proper element chattering in the tree-tops
of the jungle.
His dress, nevertheless, was brilliant. Around his brow was wound a
strip of pink silk; an embroidered jacket, innocent of buttons, left his
chest bare to the waist-line; his loins and thighs were clothed in many
yards of bright red stuff arranged in the fashion of bloomers. Below the
knees he wore nothing. At his waist was fastened a betel-nut pouch. He
carried a leather sack of the shape of a saddlebag, and—having fallen
under the civilizing influence of Kawkeriek—an umbrella.
His dialect being a foreign language to the commissioner, the importance
of his mission was impressed upon the boh through an interpreter. He
replied only in monosyllables, salaaming, each time he grunted, so low
that his head all but touched his knees. From time to time he sat down
on his heels as a signal mark of respect. When he retired, he backed
towards the door, kowtowing with every step, and forgetting, in his awe,
his leather sack, until he was called back by the commissioner’s major
The brilliant garb which the village chieftan had donned for his
audience with the governor was not, of course, his traveling costume. On
the outskirts of the capital he signed to us to halt and stepped inside
a hut. But for his ape’s countenance we should not have recognized him
when he reappeared. His regal garments had been packed away in his
haversack, the broad strap of which was his only covering, save a strip
of dirty, white cotton about his loins.
He plunged at once into the jungle, moving with little, mincing steps
beside which our strides seemed awkward. The path was so narrow that the
outstretching branches whipped us in the faces. It showed few signs of
travel and was overgrown with virile creepers that entangled our feet.
None but a jungle-bred human could have followed the erratic,
oft-obliterated route through that labyrinth of vegetation. Flocks of
birds of brilliant plumage flew away before us, uttering strident
screams; now and then a crashing of underbrush marked the flight of some
unknown animal. The overbearing sunshine, falling sheer upon us, seemed
to double the weight of the “swag” on our shoulders; and the bundles
themselves were not light.
Our guide was the most taciturn of Orientals. Not once during the day,
to our knowledge, did a sound escape his lips. Where the path widened a
bit, he raised his umbrella and cantered steadily forward. Even swollen
streams were no obstacle to him. Had he been alone it is doubtful
whether he would have noticed them at all. With never a pause he
splashed through the first and loped unconcernedly on along the
branch-choked path. We hallooed to him as we sat down to pull off our
shoes; and he halted a moment, but set off again before we had waded
ashore. When we shouted once more he turned to stare open-mouthed until
we were re-shod. Why these strange creatures should wear garments on
their feet under any circumstances was an enigma to him; that we should
stop to put on our shoes again when we must know there were other
streams to wade seemed the height of asininity. When we had overtaken
him he hinted in awkward pantomime that we should do better to toss
aside the foolish leather contrivances that hindered our progress. He
could not realize that a mile over sharp stones and jagged roots would
have left us crippled.
As we neared the mountains the streams increased in number and
swiftness. In the beginning we took it upon ourselves, as a duty to
beachcombers who might some day appeal to us for statistical
information, to count them. When we had forded thirty-six before the sun
began its decline, we gave up the attempt in despair. By that time, too,
we had grown weary of halting every hundred yards to pull off our shoes
and bellow after the boh, who must be reminded at every rivulet of our
peculiar custom. James essayed to cross one on a few stepping-stones,
lost his balance, and sprawled headlong into it. I was more fortunate,
but reached the further bank by no means dry shod. Thereafter we waded
through the streams, which for the most part were something over
knee-deep, and marched on with the water gushing from our shoe-tops. It
mattered little in the end, for a pent-up deluge burst upon us.
He who has never bowed his back to a tropical shower at the height of
the rainy season cannot know their violence; and nowhere do they rage
with more fury than in the mountains of the Malay Peninsula. With a roar
like the explosion of a powder-mill an infuriated clap of thunder broke
above us. Then another and another, in quick, spasmodic blasts. It was
no such tamed and domesticated thunder as that of the north. Flaming
flashes of lightning followed each other in quick succession, half
blinding us with their sudden glare. We looked instinctively to see the
riotous vegetation burst into flame. In the falling masses of water—to
call it rain seems absurd—we plunged on; the densest thicket could not
have offered the least shelter. The boh had raised his umbrella. It
broke the force of the downpour, but could not save him a drenching.
What cared he, dressed only in a loin-cloth? The water ran in rivulets
down his naked shoulders and along his prominent ribs, yet on his
macilent face hovered the beginning of a haggard smile. Between the
crashes of thunder the devil’s-tattoo of the storm drowned out all other
sounds. Only by speaking into my companion’s ear as into a telephone
receiver, and bellowing at the top of my lungs, could I make myself
Then the storm abated—gradually at first, then suddenly, and with its
ceasing our tones were still shrill and strident. Quickly the sun burst
forth again, to blaze fiercely upon us; though not for long. All that
day the deluges broke in succession so rapid that we had no notion of
their number. More often than not they caught us climbing a sheer
mountainside by a narrow, clay-bottomed path down which an
ever-increasing brook poured, washing us off our feet while we clutched
at the overhanging bushes.
The boh led us, by zigzag routes, over two mountain ranges before the
day was done. At sunset, we were descending into a third valley when we
came suddenly upon a tiny clearing and a tinier village. “Thenganyenam”
the natives called it. There were four bamboo huts and a dak bungalow,
housing a population of thirty-one “wild men” and one tame one. To take
the census was no difficult matter, for the inhabitants poured forth
from their hovels before we had crossed five yards of the clearing.
At their head trotted the domesticated human. In all the shrieking,
gaping band of men, women, and children there was no other that wore
more than a loin-cloth or an abbreviated shirt. He was a babu, the
“manager” of the public rest-house. With a majestic bow of deepest
reverence he offered us welcome, turned to wave back the awe-stricken
populace with the gesture of a man born to command, and led the way with
martial stride to the government bungalow.
“Look here, babu,” I began, as we sank down into wicker chairs on the
veranda, “this is a splendid little surprise to find a dak bungalow and
a man who speaks English, here in the jungle. But we’re no millionaires;
and the government fee is two rupees, eh? Too strong for us. Can’t you
get us a cheaper lodging in one of the huts?”
“The government,” returned the babu, with careful enunciation, “the
government have make the dak bungalow for Europeans. Why; you may not
ask me. In two years and nine days that I am living in Thenganyenam
there are come two white men, and one have only rested and not sleep.
But because the dak bungalow is make, all sahibs coming in Thenganyenam
must stop in it. When I have see you coming by the foot and not by the
horses I must know that you have not plenty money. Every day we are not
everybody rich. How strong you have the legs to come from Kawkeriek by
the foot! The two rupees you must not pay. If you can give some little
to the cook, that he make you a supper—”
“That’s the word,” burst out James. “Sure, we pay for our chow. Where’s
the chowkee? Tell him to get busy.”
“But,” apologized the babu, “this is a very jungly place and we have not
proper food for Europeans.”
“Holy dingoes!” shrieked the Australian. “Do I hear that old, stale joke
again? Bring a pan of rice, or a raw turnip, or a fried snake, anything,
only julty karow. That wobbly-legged boh scoffed all his sandwiches
without saying ‘How d’ye do,’ and that breakfast in Kawky didn’t last an
hour. Ring up the chowkee.”
“The other day,” observed the babu, reminiscently, “there was a chicken
in Thenganyenam. I shall send the cook to hunt him.”
Through the united efforts of the Thenganyenamians, the solitary fowl
was run to earth, with more hubbub than dispatch, and sacrificed in
sight of the assembled multitude. A delay that was both painful and
unaccountable ensued before it appeared before us as tongue-scorching
currie, in an ample setting of hard-boiled rice.
Meanwhile we had pulled off our water-soaked rags, rubbed down with a
strip of canvas, and donned our extra garments. The change was most
gratifying. It was not until then that we realized the full value of the
squares of oilcloth that had kept our “swag” dry. Supper over, we drove
the babu forth into the night and turned in on the canvas charpoys.
The swamps and streams through which we had plunged during the day had
swarmed with leeches. One of these, having imbedded itself in a vein of
my right ankle, refused to be dislodged. At supper a tiny stream of
blood had trickled along my toes; but, fancying the flow would cease of
itself, I made no efforts to staunch it. I awoke in the morning with the
sensation of being held captive. The blood, oozing out during the night,
had congealed, gluing my right leg to the canvas of the charpoy.
Before I had dressed, the Hindu cook and care-taker wandered into the
room; and, catching sight of the long, red stain, gave one lusty shriek,
and tumbled out on the veranda. James, who had slept in an adjoining
chamber, was awakened by the bellow, and, hearing the Hindustanee word
for “blood,” sprang to his feet with the conviction that I had been
assassinated as he slept. I was explaining the matter to him when the
cook returned, wild of eye, and bearing the register in which we had
inscribed our names the evening before. Waving his free arm now at the
book, now at the charpoy, he danced about us screaming excitedly.
Comprehending little of his voluble chatter, we waved him off and
stepped out upon the veranda. The “manager” was just mounting the steps.
“Here, babu,” demanded James, “what’s biting our friend from the
The Hindu turned to his superior, all but choking himself over his
convulsive utterance. Tears were streaming down his tawny cheeks.
“He says,” cried the babu, when the cook fell silent at last, “in the
charpoy is much blood. Have you become wounded?”
“It was only a blood-sucker,” I explained, “but where does the register
“The cook asks that you will write all the story of the blood in it,
“What nonsense,” I answered, when James’ mirth had subsided. “I’ll pay
for the damage to the charpoy.”
“Oh! It is no dam-máge,” protested the babu, “no dam-máge at all. He is
not ask for pay. But when the inspector is coming and seeing the much
blood in the charpoy, he is thinking the cook have kill a man who have
sleep here, and he is taking him to Kawkeriek and making him shot. Very
bad. So cook cry. Please, sir, write you the story in the register
I sat down at the veranda table and inscribed a dramatic tale for the
visiting inspector. Only when I had filled the page below our names and
half the next one, did the Hindu acknowledge himself contented, and
carry away the book for safe keeping.
We stowed away our dry garments and donned the rags and tatters we had
stretched along the ceiling the evening before. They were still clammy
wet. As for our footwear, we despaired for a time of getting into it, or
of being able to walk if once we did. Our feet were blistered and
swollen to the ankles, the shoes shrunken and wrinkled until the leather
was as inflexible as sheet-iron. We got them on at last, however, and
hobbled down the veranda steps and away. For the first hour we advanced
by spasmodic bursts, picking our way as across a field of burning coals.
James was in even more uncomfortable straits than I. The football
buskins, theoretically just the thing for jungle tramping, had, in
actual use, proved quite the opposite. The day before, the Australian
had slipped and stumbled over the rubble like a man learning to skate.
In drying, the shoes had wrinkled and twisted into a shape that gave
anything but a firm foothold, and the heavy leather chafed like emery
paper. Wherever he came upon a sharp stone, the sufferer halted to chop
viciously at one of the cleats, cursing the missionary’s judgment and
snarling like one wreaking his pent-up vengeance on a mortal enemy.
Before noonday came, he had pounded off the last cleat, not without
inflicting serious injury to the soles; and at the first opportunity he
borrowed a knife and transformed the shoes into a decidedly low pair of
oxfords. But even after these radical alterations he was uncomfortably
shod. I much doubt whether the white man has yet devised the proper
footwear for jungle tramping. To be foot-sore seems to be one of the
inevitable hardships of those who walk in the tropics. We, at least,
suffered more or less pain at every step from Kawkeriek to the end of
Thenganyenam was no great distance from the frontier village. Our guide
of the day before had turned westward, but the pathway between the
adjacent hamlets was distinctly enough marked to be followed. It was not
yet noon when we reached Myáwadi. A few showers had visited their fury
upon us; but the brilliant sunshine was again flooding the world about
us. Myáwadi was a more populous thorp than that we had left in the
morning, pitched along the bank of the stream that marks the limit of
old England’s sway. An air of lazy, soul-filling contentment hovered
over the tiny jungle oasis. With every puff of the soft summer breeze
the tinkling of the little silver bells at the top of the pagoda came
musically clear to our ears. Here and there a villager was stretched out
on his back in the grass. It seemed ill-mannered to break the peaceful
repose of the inhabitants.
Besides the stone and mud sanctuary soaring above the brilliant
vegetation, the most imposing edifice was a bamboo barracks, housing a
little garrison of native soldiers. Here we stopped, as was our duty
before crossing the frontier. The sepoys were childish, good-hearted
fellows who made known their astonishment and offered their condolences
in expressive pantomime, and did their best to make as appetizing as
possible the dinner of rice and jungle vegetables they offered. It was
fortunate that they were so open-handed, for we could not have purchased
food in the village. This jungle land has not yet reached the commercial
The native lieutenant evinced a strong curiosity to know what errand had
brought us thus far from the beaten track of sahibs, and our pantomimic
explanation seemed only to increase his suspicions. When he grew
querulous we mentioned the name of Damalaku. He sprang to his feet
shrieking with delight, and, having danced about us for some time,
detailed a sepoy to accompany us to the first Siamese village, with a
note of explanation to the head man.
When the sun had begun its decline and the latest storm had abated, we
left the barracks and Burma behind. The international stream was little
wider than many we had already encountered, and barely waist deep. We
forded it easily, and the tinkling of the pagoda bells still came
faintly to our ears when we climbed the sandy eastern bank,—in Siam at
The first village, we had gathered, was no great distance off, so we
strolled leisurely on through the jungle, pausing to rest in shady
thickets so often that the sepoy left us in disgust and went on alone.
Two hours later he paused on his homeward journey to tell us in gestures
that he had delivered his international note and that the village was
waiting to receive us.
The day was not yet done when we reached the outpost of Siam, to be
picked up at the edge of the jungle by a Siamese of ape-like mien, who
conducted us to the hut of the village head man.
Picture to yourself a trust magnate of the most pompous and
self-worshiping type, with the face of an Alaskan totem pole, the
general appearance of a side-show “wild man,” a skin the color of a door
mat that has done service for many years, dressed in a cast-off dish
cloth, and you have an exact visualization of the man who ruled over
Mäsawt. He received us in the “city hall,” sitting with folded legs on a
grass mat in the middle of the floor. Around the walls of the misshapen
bamboo shack squatted several briefly-attired courtiers. Through the
network partition that separated the hall of ceremonies from the family
sanctum, peered a parchment-skinned female, and a troop of dusky
children not yet arrived at the dignity of clothing. If we had waited
for an invitation to be seated we might have remained standing all
night. The attitude of the Siamese towards the European is quite
different from that of the Burman. Their very poise seems to say:—“We
are a free people, not the slaves of white men like our neighbors over
We made ourselves comfortable on the pliant floor, with our backs to the
wall, and lighted the saybullies that had done service for three days
past. For more than an hour the head man and his satellites sat
motionless, staring fixedly at us, and mumbling in an undertone without
once turning their heads towards those they were addressing. The sun
sank into the jungle and swift darkness fell. The parchment-skinned
female drifted into the room and set on the floor an oil torch that gave
a poor imitation of a light. At the dictation of the babu of
Thenganyenam, I had jotted down a few vital words of Siamese. When
conversation lagged, I put this newly-acquired vocabulary to the test by
calling for food. The head man growled, the female floated in once more
and placed at our feet a small washtub of boiled rice.
Now this Oriental staff of life is not without its virtues; but to eat
one’s fill of the tasteless stuff without any “trimmings” whatever is
rather a pleasureless task. I dragged out my notebook and again ran my
eyes down the list of Siamese words. Neither currie nor chicken was
represented. The only word that appeared to be of any value under the
circumstances was that for “sugar.” I bellowed it at the head man. He
stared open-mouthed until I had repeated it several times.
“Sugar?” he echoed, with an inflection of interrogation and
“Yes, sugar,” I cried, sprinkling an imaginary handful over the rice.
The councillors gazed at each other with wondering eyes, and the word
passed from mouth to mouth—“sugar?”
“Sure, sugar!” cried James, taking up the refrain.
A man rose slowly to his feet, marched across to us, and, squatting
before the dish, began to run his bony fingers through the rice.
“Sugar?” he queried, peering into our faces. “No! no!” He took a pinch
of the food between his fingers, put it into his mouth, and munched it
slowly and quizzically. Then he shook his head vigorously and spat the
mouthful out on the floor.
“No, no; sugar, no!” he cried.
“Of course there’s no sugar!” shouted James. “That’s why we’re making a
bloody holler. Sugar, you thick-headed mummy!”
The official taster retired to his place; a silence fell over the
company. We continued to shout. Suddenly a ray of intelligence lighted
up the face of the head man. Could it be because we _wanted_ sugar that
we were raising such a hubbub, rather than because we fancied that
foreign substance had been inadvertently spilled on our supper? He
called to the female. When she appeared with a joint of bamboo filled
with muddy brown sugar, the councillors rose gravely and grouped
themselves about us. I sprinkled half the contents of the bamboo on the
rice, stirred up the mess, and began to eat.
At the first mouthful such a roar of laughter went up from the assembly
that I choked in my astonishment. Whoever would have guessed that these
gloomy-faced dignitaries could laugh? The chieftan fell to shaking as
with a fit, his advisers doubled up with mirth, and aroused the entire
community with their shrieks. Wild-eyed Siamese tumbled out of the
neighboring huts. Within two minutes half the village had flocked into
the room, and the other half was howling for admittance and a glimpse of
those strange beings who ate their rice with sugar!
The surging mob must surely have burst the walls of the frail hut
asunder, had not the head man risen to the dignity of his position, and
driven all but the high and mighty among his subjects forth into the
night. Among those who remained after the general exodus was a babu. He
was a Siamese youth who had spent some years in Rangoon, and his
extraordinary erudition, like the garments he wore in excess of the
diaphanous native costume, weighed heavily upon him. At the instigation
of the head man, he subjected us to a searching cross-examination, and
later communicated to us the result of a debate of some two hours’
duration. The jungle to the eastward was next to impassable to natives;
obviously such notoriously weak and helpless beings as white men could
not endure its hardships. There was in Mäsawt a squad of soldiers with
whom we could travel to Rehang when their relief arrived—in a week or
ten days. Meanwhile we must remain in the village as government guests.
James and I raised a vigorous protest against this proposition. The only
reply to our outburst was the assertion of the head man that we should
stay whether we liked it or not. As the night was well advanced, we
feigned capitulation and made ready to retire. The village chief lighted
us into one of the small rooms of his dwelling and left us to turn in on
the bamboo floor.
Had we anticipated any great difficulty in escaping in the morning it
would have been a simple matter to have taken French leave during the
night. Bolts and bars were unknown in Mäsawt, and even had our door been
fastened, it would have needed only a few kicks at the flimsy walls of
our chamber to make an exit where we chose. We had no desire to lose a
night’s rest, however, and fell asleep with the conviction that the head
man would not be as energetic in executing his order as in giving it.
Nor was he. While the mists still hovered over Mäsawt, we packed our
“swag” and entered the council chamber in marching array. The chief was
already astir, but the only effort he made to thwart us was to shout
somewhat meekly when we stepped out into the dripping dawn.
At the eastern end of the town began a faint suggestion of a path, but
it soon faded away and we pushed and tore our way through the jungle,
guided only by the pocket compass. The militant vegetation wrought havoc
to our rags and cut and gashed us from brow to ankles; the perspiration
ran in stinging streams along our lacerated skins and dripped from our
faces. Though we fought the undergrowth tooth and nail it is doubtful if
we advanced two miles an hour.
The sun was high when we came upon the first evidence that man had
passed that way before—a clearing not over six feet square, in the
center of which was a slimy pool and a few recently-cut joints of
bamboo. With these we drank our fill of the tepid water and had thrown
ourselves down in the shade when we were startled to our feet by the
sound of human voices. The anticipation of an attack by murderous
dacoits turned quickly to that of a forcible return to Mäsawt, as there
burst into the clearing a squad of soldiers.
There were seven in the party, a sergeant and four privates, armed with
muskets, and two coolie carriers, each bowed under the weight of two
baskets slung on a bamboo pole. After the first gasp of astonishment the
soldiers sprang for the bamboo cups beside the waterhole, while the
servants knelt down to set their burdens on the grass. The fear that the
troopers had been sent to apprehend us was quickly dispelled by their
acquiescence in permitting us to handle their weapons. They were bound
for Rehang, but why they had been released from garrison duty at the
frontier village so long before the time set, we could not learn.
A formidable force was this indeed. There was far less suggestion of the
soldier about the fellows than of half-grown youths playing at a
military game. The sergeant, larger than the others, came barely to
James’ chin; and the Australian was not tall. The privates were
undeveloped little runts, any one of whom the average American school
boy could have tied in a knot and tossed aside into the jungle. There
was little of the martial air either in their demeanor or in their
childlike countenances. They were dressed in regulation khaki, except
that their trousers came only to their knees, leaving their scrawny legs
bare. On their heads were flat forage caps of the German type; from
their belts hung bayonets; and around the waist of each was tied a
stocking-like sack of rice.
We conversed with them at some length, so adept had we become in the
language of signs. Long after I had forgotten the exact means employed
in communicating our thoughts, the ideas that we exchanged remained.
Among other things I attempted to impress upon the sergeant the fact
that my own country held possessions not far from his own. He caught the
idea well enough, except that, where I had said Philippines, he
understood Siam. His sneers were most scathing. The bare suggestion that
the white man held any sway over _Muang Thai_—the free country—was
ludicrous. Even the carriers grinned sarcastically. A strange thing is
patriotism. Here were these citizens of a poor little state, stranded
between the possessions of two great powers, boasting of their
unalienable independence, utterly oblivious of the fact that their
national existence could not last a week if one of those powers ceased
to glare jealously at her rival. When they had eaten a jungle lunch, the
soldiers stretched out for their siesta, and we went on alone.
It was long hours afterward that we made out through a break in the
undergrowth two miserable huts. Not having tasted food since the night
before, we dashed eagerly forward. Two emaciated hags, dressed in short
skirts and ugly, broad-brimmed hats of attap leaves, were clawing the
mud of a tiny garden patch before the first hovel. I called for food and
shook a handful of coppers in their faces, but, though they certainly
understood, they made no reply. We danced excitedly about them,
shrieking our Siamese vocabulary in their ears. Still they stared, with
half-open mouths, displaying uneven rows of repellant black teeth. We
had anticipated such a reception. Even the missionary of Moulmein had
warned us that the jungle folk of Siam would not sell food to travelers.
The age of barter has not yet penetrated these mountain fastnesses. What
value, after all, were copper coins in any quantity to the inhabitants
of this howling wilderness?
We waded through the mire to the next hutch. Under it were squatted two
men and a woman, and a half-dozen mud-bespattered brats sprawled about a
crude veranda overhead. This family, too, received us coldly, answering
neither yes nor no to our request for food. We climbed the rickety
bamboo ladder into the hut and began to forage for ourselves. The men
scrambled up after us. When I picked up a basket of rice, the bolder of
the pair grasped it with both hands. I pushed him aside and he retreated
meekly to a far corner. In other baskets we found dried fish, a few
bananas, and a goodly supply of eggs. Beside the flat mud fire-place
were two large kettles and a bundle of fagots. While James broke up
branches and started a blaze, I brought rain water from a bamboo bucket,
in cocoanut shells, and filled the kettles.
Chimney was there none, nor hole in the roof; and the smoke all but
choked and blinded us before the task was done. The rice and fish we
boiled in one conglomerate mess, pouring it out on a flat leaf basket
when it approached an edible condition, and dashing out on the veranda
for a breath of fresh air. The householder remained motionless in his
corner. Having found, after long search, a bamboo joint filled with
coarse salt, we seasoned the steaming repast and fell upon it. James had
the bad fortune to choke on a fish bone, but recovered in time to swear
volubly when he discovered in the concoction what looked suspiciously
like a strip of loin-cloth. By the time we had despatched the rice, a
dozen eggs, and as many bananas, we were ready to push on. I handed the
downcast native a tecal—the rupee of Siam—which he clutched with a
satisfied grunt, as well he might, for a shopkeeper would not have
demanded a fourth as much for what we had confiscated.
Just at sunset we burst into the straggling village of Banpáwa. Some
forty howling storms had added to our entertainment during the day and
we had forded an even greater number of streams. My jacket was torn to
ribbons; my back and shoulders were sadly sunburned; in a struggle with
a tenacious thicket I had been bereft of a leg of my trousers; and the
Australian was as pitiable an object to look upon.
Near the center of the village was an unpretentious Buddhist monastery
beside which the priests had erected a shelter for travelers, a large
thatch roof supported by slender bamboo pillars. Under it were huddled
nearly a score of Laos carriers, surrounded by bales and bundles;
Banpáwa being an important station of the route followed by these human
freight trains of the Siamese jungle. They were surly, taciturn fellows,
who, though they stared open-mouthed when we appeared, treated us like
men under a ban of excommunication.
Physically they were sights to feast one’s eyes upon; splendidly
developed, though short of stature, with great knots of muscles standing
out on their glistening brown bodies. A small loin-cloth was their only
attire. Above it their skins were thickly tattooed to their necks with
fantastic figures, all in red, representations of strange and repulsive
beasts, among which that of a swollen fat pig was most often duplicated.
Below the indispensable garment the figures were blue, even more closely
crowded together, but stopping short at the knees.
It is said that this custom of making pictorial supplements of
themselves was first forced upon the Laos by a wrathful king. A youthful
servant, received as an attendant in the royal harem, was rapidly
becoming a great favorite among the secluded ladies, when one sad day
the appalling information leaked out that the supposed country maid was
really a man. When the culprit had been duly drawn and quartered, an
imperative edict went forth from the palace of his raging majesty,
commanding every male in the kingdom to submit forthwith to the
tattooers’ needles. Even to-day, this custom, mentioned by Marco Polo,
is still universal among the males.
We sought to buy food from our sullen companions. They growled for
answer. Like the soldiers, each wore round his waist a bag of rice; a
few were preparing their evening meals over fagot fires at the edge of
the shelter; but not a grain would they sell. A raging storm broke while
we were wandering from one to another, shaking money in their faces.
When it had abated somewhat, we hobbled out into the night to appeal to
the villagers. There were some twenty huts in the clearing, into each of
which we climbed, in spite of our aching legs. Every householder
returned us the same pantomimic answer—he never sold food, but he was
sure his next door neighbor did, and the neighbor was as sure that it
was in the next hovel that our money would make us welcome.
We played this game of puss-wants-a-corner for an hour, and we were
still “it” when we reached the last dwelling. The village was really too
populous a community in which to repeat the tactics that had won us
dinner; but hunger made us somewhat indifferent to consequences. We
climbed boldly into the hut and caught up a kettle. The householder
shrieked like a man on the rack; and, before we had kindled a fire, a
mob of his fellow townsmen swarmed into the shack and fell upon us. They
were not particularly fierce fighters. We shook and kicked them off like
puppies, but when the last one had tumbled down the ladder we awoke to
the sad intelligence that they had carried off in their retreat every
pot, pan, and comestible on the premises. Besides the bare walls there
remained only a naked brown baby that rolled about the middle of the
floor, howling lustily.
The village population was screaming around the shanty in a way that
made us glad we had a hostage. James sat down, gazed sadly at the
wailing brat and shook his head.
“No good,” he announced. “Not fat enough. Anyway there’s no kettle to
cook it in. Let’s vamoose.”
We turned towards the door. A man was peering over the edge of the
veranda. By the silken band around his brow we knew him for a Burman;
and he spoke Hindustanee. We gathered from his excited chatter in that
language that he had come to lead us to a place where food was sold. As
we reached the ground the throng parted to let us pass, but the frenzied
natives danced screaming about us, shaking sticks and cudgels in our
faces. A few steps from the hovel some bold spirit struck me a
resounding whack on the back of the head. It was no light blow, but the
weapon was a hollow bamboo and no damage resulted. When I turned to fall
upon my assailant the whole crew took to their heels and fled into the
“All I’ve got to say,” panted James, as we hurried on after our guide,
“is, I’m bloody glad that’s not a bunch of Irishmen. Where would the
pioneer beachcombers of the Malay Peninsula be now if that collection of
dish-rags knew how to scrap?”
The Burman led us through a half-mile of mire and brush, and a stream
that was almost waist-deep, to a suburb of Banpáwa. Four huts housed the
commuters. After long parley our guide gained us admittance to one of
the dwellings and sat down to keep us company until our rice and fish
had been boiled. He was something of a cosmopolite, fairly clever in
piecing together a language of gestures and the few words we had in
common. The conversation turned naturally—in view of the fact that we
were two as ragged sahibs as one would run across in a lifetime of
wandering—to the question of personal attire. Our sponsor was well
dressed for the time and place, and the whim suddenly came upon him to
substitute a tropical helmet for the silk band about his brow. He
offered James a rupee for his topee, and pondered long over the refusal
of the offer. Then he rose to depart, but halted on the edge of the
night to hold up two fingers.
“Dō rúpika! Achá, sahib?” he pleaded.
“You’re crazy!” retorted the Australian, “Think I want to get a
The Burman shrugged his shoulders with a disgruntled air and splashed
Our host was a sulky “wild man” in the prime of life, his mate a buxom
matron who had not yet lost the comeliness inherent in any healthy,
well-developed female of the human species. The pair, evidently, had
been long married, for they had but seven children.
A section of the bamboo floor of the tiny hut was raised a few feet
above the level of the rest, forming a sort of divan. On this we
squatted with the family, chatting over our after-supper saybullies. The
wife, for all her race, was a true sister of Pandora. What especially
awakened her curiosity was the color of our skins; though they were not,
at that moment, particularly white. She was seated next to James,
suckling two lusty infants, and gazing with monkeylike fascination at
the hand of the Australian that rested on the divan beside her. Hugging
the babes to her breast with one arm, she edged nearer and ran her
fingers across the back of the Australian’s sunburned paw. To her
astonishment the color would not rub off. She pushed up a sleeve of his
jacket and began to examine the forearm; when my companion, till then
absorbed in conversation, snatched his hand away with an exclamation of
annoyance. No sooner had he let it fall again, than she resumed the
“Quit it!” cried James, turning upon her, “Or I’ll pay you back in your
own coin.” The husband snarled fiercely, sprang to his feet, and,
crowding in between his wife and the Australian, glared savagely at him
as long as the evening lasted.
We turned in soon afterward, eleven of us, on the divan. Though the
front wall of the shack was lacking, we needed no covering; even when
the rain poured we sweated as in the glare of sunlight. The sucklings
took turns in maintaining a continual wailing through the night; the
other brats amused themselves in walking and tumbling over our prostrate
forms; a lizard chorus sang their monotonous selections with unusual vim
and vigor. If we slept at all it was in brief, semi-conscious snatches.
With daylight, came the Burman to repeat his attempt to purchase my
companion’s helmet. James spurned the offer as before.
“Then yours, sahib,” pleaded the fellow, in Hindustanee. “One rupee!”
“One?” I cried. “My dear fellow, do you know that the Swedish consul of
Ceylon once wore that topee?”
“One rupee,” repeated the Burman, not having understood.
“Tell him to chase himself,” said James.
“Still,” I mused, “if he’d give two dibs it’d almost double our stake.”
“Are you crazy?” shouted the Australian. “The sun would knock you out in
“But two more chips might just carry us through,” I retorted, “and
starving’s worse than the sun. I’ll risk it.”
“Will you sell?” demanded the Burman.
“One!” shrieked the Oriental, “Two for the sahib’s which is new, One for
There ensued a half-hour of bargaining, but the Burman gave in at last,
and, dropping two tecals in my hand, marched proudly away with that
illustrious old topee, that I had won in fair barter with the Norseman,
set down on his ears.
I handed one of the tecals to our scowling host and we hit the trail
again. Out of sight of the hamlet we halted to don the extra suits in
our bundles. The Australian gazed sorrowfully at his buskins while I
slipped on my second pair of shoes. From the rags and tatters I was
discarding I made a band to wind around my brow, after the fashion of
Burma. Even with the top of my head exposed to sun and rain, as it was
for days, I suffered no evil effects.
The territory beyond Banpáwa was more savage than any we had yet
encountered; everywhere a rank vegetation so thick that our feet rarely
reached the ground. Now and again we plunged into a thicket only to be
caught as in a net, and, powerless to advance, retreated with rent
garments and bleeding hands and faces to fight our way around the
impenetrable spot. We were now in the very heart of the mountains. Range
after range of unbroken jungle succeeded each other. From every summit
there spread out a boundless forest of teak and bamboo, turgid with
riotous undergrowth. Mountains that were just blue wreaths in the
morning climbed higher and higher into the sky—rolling ranges without a
yard of clearing to break the monotony of waving tree tops—and beyond
them more mountains, identical in formation. Level spaces were there
none. Descents so steep that the force of gravity sent us plunging
headlong through thorn-bristling thickets, ended in the uncanny depths
of V-shaped valleys at the very base of steeper ascents which we mounted
hand over hand as a sailor climbs a rope. In our ears sounded the
incessant humming of insects; now and then a snake squirmed off through
the bushes; more than once there came faintly to us the roar of some
distant brute. Of animate nature, most numerous were the apes that
swarmed in the dense network of branches overhead, and scampered
screaming away, at our intrusion, into the oppressive depths of the
Though the rains continued unabated, there were fewer streams in these
higher altitudes, and those were mere rivulets of silt fighting their
way down the slopes. At every mudhole we halted to drink; for within us
burned a thirst such as no man knows who has not suffered it in the
jungle-girdled waist line of Mother Earth. Chocolate-colored water we
drank, water alive with squirming animal life, in pools out of which
wriggled brilliant green snakes. Often I rose to my feet to find a leech
clinging to my nether lip.
As the day grew, a raging hunger fell upon us. In a sharp valley we came
upon a tree on the trunk of which hung a dozen or more jack-fruits
within easy reach. We grasped one and attempted to pull it down. The
short, fibrous stem was as stout as a manila rope, and knife had we
none. We wrapped our arms around the fruit and tugged with the strength
of despair; as well have tried to pull up a ship’s anchor by hand. We
chopped at the stem with sharp stones; we hunted up great rocks and
attempted to split the fruit open on the tree, screaming with rage and
bruising our fingers. Streams of perspiration coursed down our
sun-scorched skins, hunger and thirst redoubled, and still our efforts
availed us nothing. When we gave up and plunged on, our assault on the
fruit had barely scratched the adamantine rind.
Weary and famished, matted with mud from crown to toe, and bleeding from
innumerable superficial lacerations, we were still grappling with the
throttling vegetation well on in the afternoon when James, a bit in
advance, uttered a triumphant shriek.
“A path! A path!” he cried, “and a telegraph wire!”
Certain that hunger and the sun had turned his brain, I tore my way
through the thicket that separated us. His cry had been awakened by no
mirage of delirium. A path there was, narrow and steep, but showing
evidences of recent travel, and, overhead, a sagging telegraph wire
running from tree to tree. The compass had brought us again to that
elusive route followed by the native porters.
A half-hour along it and we came to a little plain, intersected by a
swift stream, in the backwater of which swam a covey of snow-white
ducks. On the western bank stood a weather-beaten bungalow, over the
door of which was a faded shield bearing the white elephant of Siam.
Above it disappeared the telegraph wire. Our thirst quenched, we mounted
the narrow steps and shouted to attract attention. There was no
response. We pushed open the door and entered. The room was some eight
feet square and entirely unfurnished, but in one corner hung an
unpainted telephone instrument of crude and ancient construction. A
spider had spun his web across the mouth of the receiver and there were
no signs that the hut had been occupied within modern times.
“Nothing doing here,” said James. “Let’s swim the creek.”
On the opposite bank was a bamboo rest-house, smaller than that of
Banpáwa, but with a floor raised some feet above the fever-breeding
ground. Back of it, among the trees, stood a cluster of seven huts. We
made the round of them, seeking food; but returned to the rest-house
with nothing but the information that the village was called Kathái Ywá.
Nine Laos carriers had arrived, among whom were several we had seen the
evening before. They had, perhaps, some secret grudge against white men,
for they not only refused to sell us rice, but scowled and snarled when
we drew near them. The day was not yet done. We should have pushed on
had not James fallen victim to a burning jungle fever.
With plenty of water at hand, hunger grew apace. For a time the forlorn
hope that some more tractable human might wander into Kathái Ywá buoyed
us up. But each new arrival was more stupid and surly than his
forerunner. The sun touched the western tree-tops. James lay on his
back, red-eyed with fever. Eat we must, if we were to have strength to
continue in the morning. I made a second circuit of the village, hoping
to win by bluster what we had not with cajolery. The community rose en
masse and swarmed upon me. The males carried long, overgrown knives; the
females, cudgels. I returned hastily to the rest-house.
The sight of the telephone wire awakened within me the senseless notion
that I might summon assistance from some neighboring village. I left my
shoes and trousers in charge of the Australian and dashed through the
stream and into the government bungalow. At the first call I “got”
someone. Who or where he was I could not guess. I bawled into the
receiver English, French, German, and all the Hindustanee I could
muster. When I paused for breath the unknown subscriber had “rung off.”
I jangled the bell and shook and pounded the apparatus for five minutes.
A glass-eyed lizard ran out along the wire and stared down upon me. His
mate in the thatch above screeched mockingly. Then another voice sounded
faintly in my ear.
“Hello!” I shouted, “Who’s this? We want to eat. D’ you speak English?
Dō sahib hai, Kathái Ywá. Send us some—”
A flood of meaningless jabber interrupted me. Two words I caught,—that
old, threadbare phrase “nămelay-voo.” I had rung up a Burman; but he was
“English!” I shrieked. “Anyone there that speaks English? We’re sahibs!
Hello! Hello, I say! Hello—”
[Illustration: A Laos carrier crossing the stream that separates Burma
No answer. Central had cut me off again. I rang the bell until my arm
was lame and listened breathlessly. All was still. I dropped the
receiver and tumbled out of the hut determined to throttle one of the
Laos carriers. In the middle of the stream I slipped on a stone and fell
on my knees, the water to my armpits. The startled ducks ran away before
me. I snatched up a club and pursued them through the village and back
to the creek again, the inhabitants screaming in my wake. I threw the
weapon at the nearest fowl. It was only a joint of bamboo and fell
short. The ducks took to the water. I plunged in after them and once
more fell sprawling.
Before I could scramble to my feet a shout sounded near at hand, and I
looked up to see the squad of soldiers breaking out of the jungle. They
halted before the government bungalow and watched my approach with
deep-set grins. The sergeant, understanding my gestures, offered us
places around the common rice heap. I returned to the rest-house for my
nether garments. The villagers were driving their panting ducks
homeward. The Australian struggled to his feet and we waded the stream
once more, joining the soldiers on the veranda of the government
bungalow. Their porters brought huge wet leaves to protect the floor,
and built a fire within. A half-hour later the troopers rose to their
feet shouting, “Kin-kow! Kin-kow!” easily understood from its similarity
to the familiar Chinese word “chow,” and we followed them into the
smoke-choked building. In a civilized land I would not have tasted such
a mess as was spread out on a banana leaf in the center of the floor, to
win a wager. At that moment it seemed a repast fit for an epicure.
We slept with the soldiers in the telephone bungalow. James’ fever
burned itself out and he awoke with the dawn ready to push on. For the
first few miles we followed a path below the telephone wire. In
stumbling over the uneven ground my shoe-laces broke at frequent
intervals. Well on in the morning I halted to replace them with stout
vines. The Australian drew on ahead. Before I had overtaken him the path
forked and the wire disappeared in the forest between the diverging
routes. I hallooed to my companion, but the rain was coming down in
torrents, and the voice does not carry far in the jungle. I struck into
one of the paths; but in a very few minutes it faded and was lost. I
found myself alone in the trackless wilderness.
Here was a serious mishap indeed. The Australian had carried off the
compass; our money was in my bundle. Separated we were equally helpless,
and what chance was there of finding each other again in hundreds of
miles of unblazed wilds?
I set a course by the sun and for three hours fought my way up the
precipitous face of a mountain. To crash and roll down the opposite
slope required less than a third of that time. In the valley, tucked
away under soaring teak trees, was a lonely little hut. A black-toothed
female in scanty skirt squatted in the square of shade under the cabin,
pounding rice in a hollowed log. The jungle was humming its un-cadenced
tune. I climbed to the veranda and lay down, certain that I had seen the
last of James, the Australian.
Under the hut sounded the thump, thump, thump of the pestle. What
exponents of the “simple life,” of which we hear so much where it does
not exist, are these jungle dwellers of Siam! They are as independent of
the outside world as their neighbors, the apes, in the tree-tops. The
youthful “wild man” takes his mate and a _dah_ and wanders off into the
wilderness. He needs nothing else to win a livelihood and rear a family.
The dah is a long, heavy knife, a cross between a butcher’s cleaver and
a Cuban machete. It is the one and universal tool and weapon of the
indigène of the Malay ranges. With it he builds his house, gathers his
food, and defends himself against his enemies. His dwelling is a mere
human nest, as truly a nest as the home of the swallow or the squirrel.
The walls are of bamboo, tied together with vines and creepers; the
floor, of split bamboo; the eight-foot pillars that support his hut, the
ladder at the doorway, the rafters, are all of the same material. Attap
leaves for the roof grow everywhere. Cocoanut shells do duty as plates
and cups; a joint of the omnipresent bamboo makes a light and handy
pitcher or pot. To lay up a stock of bananas for flood time is the work
of a few hours; a few yards of clearing supplies the householder rice in
abundance. If he has a taste for “fire-water,” an intoxicating drink can
be made from the sap of the palm tree. Two loin-cloths a year may be
fashioned from the skin of an animal or from a thick, woolly leaf that
grows in swampy places. Take away the dah and there is nothing that is
not of the jungle, save one import from the outside world—tobacco. The
“wild man” and his mate are inveterate smokers.
But it was not by loafing in the shade that I should beat my way through
to civilization. I rose to my feet and rearranged my “swag.” If only I
could hire a guide. Hark! The sound of a human voice came faintly to my
ear. No doubt the owner of the hut, and of the slightly-clad female, was
returning from a morning expedition. I listened attentively. Then off to
the right in the jungle rang out a familiar song:—
“Oh, I long to see my dear old home again,
And the cottage in the little winding lane.
You can hear the birds a-singing,
And pluck the roses blooming;
Oh, I long to see my old home again.”
It was the Australian’s favorite ballad. I shouted at the top of my
lungs, and, springing to the ground with one leap, crashed into the
jungle. A thicket caught me in its sinewy grasp. I tore savagely at the
entangling branches. The voice of the Australian rang out once more:—
“Oh, why did I leave my little back room, out in Bloomsburee?
Where I could live on a quid a week, in such luxuree….”
He was further away now. I snatched myself loose and plunged on after
him, leaving a sleeve of my jacket in the thicket.
“Hello, James! Hello!” I bellowed. He was singing with a volume that
filled his ears. I opened my mouth to shout again, and fell through a
bush into a clearly-marked path. Above it sagged the telephone wire and
just in sight through the overhanging branches plodded the Australian.
“Gee, but you’re slow,” he laughed, when I had overtaken him.
“When d’you find the path?” I demanded.
“Haven’t lost it,” he answered. “Why? Did you?”
“Haven’t seen it for five hours,” I replied.
“Holy dingoes!” he gasped, “Thought you were close behind, or I’d have
felt mighty little like singing.”
We had no difficulty in keeping to the route for the rest of the day,
and passed several carriers westward bound. With never a hut to raid, we
fasted. Yet had we but known it there was food all about us. What a
helpless being is civilized man without the accessories of civilization!
It fell to uncouth jungle dwellers to bring home to us our own
Weak from hunger, we had halted at the edge of a mountain stream well on
in the afternoon, when we were overtaken by the soldiers. They had
packed away their uniforms and wore only loin-cloths and caps.
“Kin-kow? Kin-kow?” cried the sergeant, with an interrogatory gesture.
We nodded sadly. He chuckled to himself and waved his arms about him, as
if to say that there was food everywhere. We shrugged our shoulders
skeptically. He laughed like a man prepared to prove his point and
addressed himself to the squad. Two of the soldiers picked up cudgels,
and, returning along the path to a half-rotten log, began to move back
and forth on opposite sides of it, striking it sharp blows here and
there. They came back with a half-dozen lizards, those great, green
reptiles that sing their “she-kak!” all night long in the thatch of
Indian bungalows. Meanwhile two others of the squad were kneeling at the
edge of a mudhole. From time to time they plunged their bare arms into
it, drawing out frogs and dropping them, still alive, into a joint of
bamboo. The sergeant took a dah and cut down a small tree at the edge of
the jungle. A servant dug some reddish-brown roots on the opposite bank
of the stream, while his mate started a fire by rubbing two sticks
In a few minutes all were reassembled beside us. The lizards were
skinned, cut up with lumps of red currie in an iron pot, and set to
boiling. A servant drew out the frogs one by one, struck them on the
head with a stick, and tossed them to his companion. The latter rolled
them up inside mud balls and threw them into the fire. The sergeant
split open his tree, extracted a pith some four inches in diameter, cut
it into slices, toasted them on the point of his dah, and tossed them
onto a large leaf spread out at our feet. The reddish roots were beaten
to a pulp on the face of the rock and sprinkled over the toasted slices.
Rice was boiled, the soldiers, grinning knowingly, took up their refrain
of “kin-kow! kin-kow!” and the meal began. Before it was finished, both
the jungle and its inhabitants had risen several degrees in our
estimation. Extracted from their shell of mud, the frogs were found to
be baked into brown balls, and tasted not unlike fried fish. The toasted
pith resembled pickled beets. But best of all was the lizard currie.
James and I ate more than our share, and offered mutual condolence that
the pair sent to pound the old tree trunk had not remained longer at
We went on with the soldiers, halting soon after dark at the bank of the
largest stream we had yet encountered. There was no village in the
vicinity, but the government had erected a military rest-house on the
bank. In this we spent the night with the troopers, after partaking of a
frog and lizard supper.
Beyond, the territory was less mountainous and the path well-marked; but
whatever advantage we gained thereby was offset by another difficulty.
The river beside which we had left the soldiers was deep and swift, and
wound back and forth across our course with a regularity that was
disheartening. In the first few morning hours we swam it no less than
fourteen times. It was the ninth crossing that we had cause longest to
remember. Reaching the narrow, sandy bank a bit before my companion, I
stripped, and, rolling my clothing up in the oilcloth, tied the bundle
to my head, and plunged in. James began to disrobe as I reached the
opposite shore. Without removing his ragged shirt, or his helmet, he
fastened on his “swag” as I had done, and struck out. Being an excellent
swimmer he advanced with long, clean strokes. Unfortunately he did not
take care to keep his head pointed up-stream. The powerful current
caught him suddenly broadside, dragged him under, and dashed him against
a submerged snag. He righted himself quickly, but in that brief struggle
lost both his bundle and his helmet, and in an effort to save both
caught only the topee. The “swag” raced down stream. I sprang to my feet
and dashed along the sandy shore in hot pursuit. The stream was far
swifter than I. The tangled undergrowth brought me to a sudden halt, and
the Australian’s worldly possessions were swallowed up in the jungle.
I returned to find him sitting disconsolately on the bank. Luckily there
was but one tecal in his bundle, but with it had gone his shoes,
trousers, jacket, the odds and ends he had picked up on his travels, his
military and citizenship papers, the pocket compass, and even that
bottle of “Superior Currie Dressing”; in short, everything he possessed
except a helmet and a tattered shirt.
But James was not a man to be long cast down by minor misfortunes. He
tied the shirt about his loins and we proceeded. Relieved of his burden,
he marched more easily and crossed the streams with far less difficulty
than I. But in less than an hour his shoulders, back, and legs were
painted a fiery red by the implacable sun; and the stones and jagged
brambles tore and bruised his feet until he left a blood stain at every
We were again overtaken by the soldiers about noonday and halted for
another jungle meal. Off once more, we forged ahead for a time, but
found it prudent to wait for the troopers to lead the way; for the route
was beset with unexpected pitfalls. As once, in fighting our way along
the bank of the river, we crashed headlong through the bushes into the
dry, stony bed of a tributary—fifteen feet below. This mishap left
little of my clothing, and gave the Australian the appearance of a
modern Saint Sebastian.
A wider path began where we rejoined the soldiers. The higher mountain
ranges fell away; but if the foothills were less lofty they were as
steep, and the slopes were often clear of vegetation and reeking in mud.
At the top of such a ridge we overtook an equine caravan returning from
some village off to the southwest. Burdened with huge pack saddles, the
horses began the perilous descent reluctantly. Suddenly three of them
lost their footing, sat down on their haunches, and rolled over and
over, their packs flying in every direction. James laughed loudly and
slapped me on the back. The blow disturbed my equilibrium. My feet shot
from under me, and, slipping, sliding, rolling, clutching in vain for
support, I pitched down the five-hundred yard slope and splashed
headfirst into a muddy stream at the bottom several seconds in advance
of the horses.
Another mile left me barefooted and nearly as naked as my companion. Now
and again we overtook a band of Laos carriers, once a young Buddhist
priest in tattered yellow, attended by two servants. We had seen him
somewhere a day or two before and remembered him not only by his garb
but on account of the licentious cast of his coarse features. He joined
our party uninvited and tramped along with us, puffing at a long
saybully and chattering volubly. The soldiers greeted his sallies with
roars of laughter and winked at us in a way to suggest that the tales he
told would have made the efforts of Boccaccio seem Sunday-school
stories. We deplored more than ever our ignorance of the Siamese tongue.
James was protesting that he could not continue another yard when we
came most unexpectedly to the edge of the jungle. Before us stretched a
vast paddy field, deeply inundated. The soldiers led the way along the
tops of the ridges toward a dense grove two miles distant. The howling
of a hundred curs heralded our approach, and as many chattering humans
swarmed about us when we paused in a large, deep-shaded village at the
edge of a river fully a mile wide. It could be no other than the _Menam
Chow Pya_—the “great river” of Siam. Along the low eastern bank
stretched a veritable city with white, two-story buildings, before which
were anchored large native junks. It was Rehang. The soldiers told us so
with shouts of joy and ran away to don their uniforms.
We threw off what was left of our garments and plunged into the stream
to wash off the blood and grime of the jungle. When we had prepared
ourselves for entrance into civilization the soldiers were gone. We
appealed to the villagers to set us across the river. They refused. We
took possession of one of a dozen dug-out logs drawn up along the shore,
and the village swarmed down upon us in a great avalanche of men, women,
children, and yellow curs. We caught up two paddles and laid about us.
In two minutes we were alone.
We pushed the dug-out into the stream and were climbing in when two
ugly, wrinkled females ran down the bank and offered to ferry us across.
They pointed the craft up-stream and fell to paddling, their flabby
breasts beating against their paunches with every stroke, their bony
knees rising and falling regularly. They were expert water dogs,
however, and crossed the swift stream without mishap, landing us at a
crazy wooden wharf in the center of the town.
In every published map of Siam you will find Rehang noted—somewhere
within a hundred miles of its actual situation. Not that the city
deserves such distinction. The geographer must have some name to fill in
this vast space on his chart or he lays himself open to a charge of
ignorance. On nearer sight the white, two-story buildings were rather
pathetic, dilapidated structures. The avenue between them was not much
better paved than the jungle paths, and deeper in mud. The sanitary
squad, evidently, had not yet returned from an extended vacation. Here
and there a dead cat or dog had been tossed out to be trampled under
foot. There was no dearth of inhabitants; one could not but wonder how
the town could house such a population. But the passing throng was
merely a larger gathering of those same uncouth “wild men” of the jungle
villages. The fear of being arrested for unseemly exposure soon left us.
James, in national costume, attracted much less attention than I, in the
remnants of jacket and trousers.
Just one advance agent of modern civilization had reached Rehang. Bill
posters had decorated several blank walls with huge lithographs
announcing, in Siamese letters a foot high, the merits of a well-known
sewing machine. That we had expected, of course. In the back waters of
modern progress are a few hamlets where Milwaukee beer is unknown, but
the traveler who extends his explorations so far into the wilds as to
discover a community ignorant of the existence of the American sewing
machine merits decoration by the Royal Geographical Society.
It was easy, however, to overlook the backwardness of this tumble-down
thorp on the banks of the Menam; at least it was a market town. James
dashed into the first booth with a whoop of delight and startled the
keeper out of his wits by demanding a whole three cents’ worth of
cigarettes. Saybullies might do well enough as a last resort, but the
Australian did not propose to be reduced to such extremities again. He
splashed on through the reeking streets blowing great clouds of smoke
from his nostrils and forgetting for the time even the smarting of his
torn and sun-scorched skin.
Half the merchants of the town were Chinamen. We stopped at a shop kept
by three wearers of the pig-tail and, dragging a bench into the center
of the room, called for food. One of the keepers, moving as if he deeply
resented our intrusion, set canned meat before us, and brought us as a
can-opener, after long delay, a hatchet with a blade considerably wider
than the largest tin.
When we rose to depart, the Celestials quickly lost their apathy. They
demanded ten tecals. I gave them two. The market price of the stuff was
certainly not over a half of that sum. A triple scream rent the air and
a half-dozen Monguls bounded into the shop and danced like ogres about
us. One caught up the hatchet and swung it high above his head. James
snatched it from him, kicked him across the room, and threw the weapon
among the heaped-up wares. We fought our way to the street. The keeper
nearest us gave one stentorian bellow that was answered from every side.
Chinamen tumbled out through every open doorway, out of every hole in
the surrounding shop walls; they sprang up from under the buildings,
dropped from the low roofs, swarmed out of the alleyways, for all the
world like rats; screaming, yelping, snarling, clawing the air as they
ran, their cues streaming behind them. In the twinkling of an eye the
mob at our heels had increased to a hundred. We refused to sacrifice our
dignity by running. The frenzied Celestials scratched us savagely with
their overgrown finger nails, caught at our legs, spattered us with mud.
Not one of them used his fists. When we turned upon them they recoiled
as from a squad of cavalry and we could retaliate only by catching a
flying pig-tail in either hand to send a pair of yellow-skinned rascals
sprawling in the mud. They came back at us after every stand before we
had taken a dozen steps. Our backs were a network of finger-nail
scratches. We cast our eyes about us for some weapon and found two
bemired sticks. Before we could use them our assailants turned and fled,
still screaming at the top of their lungs.
[Illustration: The sort of jungle through which we cut our way for three
weeks. Gerald James, my Australian companion, in the foreground]
Not far beyond, we turned in at the largest edifice in the town—the
Rehang barracks. Among the half-hundred little brown soldiers lounging
about the entrance were our intermittent comrades of the few days past.
It was plain that they had told our story. The recruits gathered about
us, laughing and plying pantomimic questions. How had we liked lizard
currie? What had turned our dainty skins so blood red? What ignorant and
helpless beings were white men, were they not?
Suddenly, amid the general chatter, I caught a hint that there was a
European on the floor above. We sprang towards the stairway at the end
of the veranda. The soldiers shrieked in dismay and snatched at our
rags. We must not go up; it was contrary to stringent barrack rules. A
guardsman on duty at the foot of the stairs held his musket out
horizontally and shouted a tremulous command. James caught him by the
shoulder and sent him spinning along the veranda. We dashed up the
steps. Two doors stood ajar. James sprang to one while I pushed open the
“Hello!” I shouted, “Where’s the white—”
A triumphant roar from my companion sent me hurrying after him. He was
dancing gleefully just inside the second door, and shaking a white man
ferociously by the hand, an astonished white man in khaki uniform with
officer’s stripes. I reminded the Australian of his costume and he
subsided. The European invited us inside and sent a servant for tea,
biscuits and cigars. Our host was commander of the Rehang garrison—a
Dane, but with a fluent command of English. That we had been wandering
through the jungle was all too evident; but that we had come overland
from Burma was a tale he would not credit until the sergeant had been
called in to confirm our assertions. Forgetting his military duties, the
commander plied us with wondering questions until dusk fell, and then
ordered three of the newly-arrived squad to arrange for our
The sergeant, plainly overawed at finding us on such intimate terms with
his dreaded chief, led the way through the barracks. The garrison
grounds were extensive. Within the inclosure was a Buddhist monastery,
resembling, if less pretentious than, the Tavoy of Rangoon. Here were
the same irregular patches of untilled ground, where priests wandered
and chattered in the twilight; the same disorderly array of gaudy
temples, gay little pagodas with tinkling silver bells, and frail
On the veranda of one of the latter the soldiers spread a pair of army
blankets. We were for turning in at once. Our seneschals would not hear
of it. For a half-hour they trotted back and forth between our bungalow
and that of the commander, bearing steaming dishes. The little table
they had set up was groaning under its burden before the sergeant signed
to us to begin. There was broiled fish, a mutton roast, a great steak, a
spitted fowl, fruits and vegetables of astounding variety and quantity.
The sergeant laughed aloud at our astonishment when he drew out a pair
of knives and forks from his pocket. Then he tapped his head
meditatively with a skinny finger and ran off again into the night. He
came back with a box of cigars and a quart bottle of whiskey!
Neither of us being particularly addicted to the use of fire-water, we
wet our whistles and fell upon the fish. When I looked up again, the
sergeant was watching me with the fixed stare of a half-starved cat.
“Kin-kow?” I asked, pointing at the steak.
The trooper shook his head almost fiercely.
“Try him on the gasoline,” suggested James.
I poured out a glass of whiskey and held it out to him. In accordance
with Oriental etiquette, he refused it seven times with a pained
expression. At the eighth offer he smiled nervously. At the ninth he
raised his hand hesitatingly and dropped it again. At the tenth he took
the glass gingerly between his slim fingers, eyed it askance, tasted the
liquor half fearfully, smacked his lips, gulped down a liberal half of
the potion, and handed the glass to the privates behind him.
The mutton roast engrossed our attention. When it was finished, I found
the officer grinning down upon me. I filled the glass again. He cocked
his head on one side in the beginning of a shake and kept it there. His
refusals had lost force. With the third glass there was no refusal. The
fourth he poured out for himself. By the time we were picking the
chicken bones, the three warriors were dancing gleefully about us. We
sat down on the blanket for a smoke. The sergeant, shrieking his undying
affection, threw himself down between us and began to embrace us in
turn. When we kicked him off the veranda he locked arms with the
privates and waltzed away across the parade-ground, screaming a
high-pitched native song at the top of his lungs. The quart bottle stood
on the table—empty.
We spent the night on the veranda. We did not sleep there. Our
sun-scorched skins would not permit it; even had they burned less
fiercely, we could not have slept. One would have fancied the monastery
a gigantic hen yard, with the priests transformed into chanticleers
during the hours of darkness. After every shower the unveiled moon was
greeted with a din of crowing that was nothing short of infernal. In the
brief respite each gathering storm brought us, we tossed about
wide-awake on our asperous couch, listening to the symphonic tinkling of
the pagoda bells.
With dawn came a summons from the Dane. We hurried to his bungalow and
joined him at breakfast. He had gathered together two pairs of shoes and
four khaki uniforms. They were from his own tailor in Bangkok, still
very serviceable, though fitting us a bit too snugly, and chafing our
blistered skins. Rolling up the extra garments and swinging them over
our shoulders, we bade our host farewell. As we left the garrison
inclosure we came upon the sergeant, sitting on the ground, his knees
drawn up to his chin, his face buried in his hands—a very
personification of the baneful morning after.