We ourselves gave the two responsible headmen twenty lashes apiece; then turned over to them the job of thrashing the rest. Ten per man was the allotment. They expected the punishment; took it gracefully. Some even thanked us when it was over! The babu disappeared in his station.
About an hour later he approached us, very deprecating, and handed us a telegram. It was from the district commissioner at Voi ordering us to report for flogging “porters on the Tsavo Station platform.”
“I am truly sorry, I am truly sorry,” the babu was murmuring at our elbows.
“What does this mean?” we demanded of him.
He produced a thick book.
“It is in here—the law,” he explained. “You must not flog men on the station platform. It was my duty to report.”
“How did we know that? Why didn’t you tell us?”
“If you had gone there”—he pointed ten feet away to a spot exactly like all other spots—“it would have been off the platform. Then I had nothing to say.”
We tried to become angry.
“But why in blazes couldn’t you have told us of that quietly and decently? We’d have moved.”
“It is the law” He tapped his thick book.
“But we cannot be supposed to know by heart every law in that book. Why didn’t you warn us before reporting?” we insisted.
“I am truly sorry,” he repeated. “I hope and trust it will not prove serious. But it is in the book.”
We continued in the same purposeless fashion for a moment or so longer. Then the babu ended the discussion thus,—
“It was my duty. I am truly sorry. Suppose I had not reported and should die to-day, and should go to heaven, and God should ask me, ’Have you done your duty to-day?’ what should I say to Him?”
We gave it up; we were up against Revealed Religion.
So that night we took a freight train southward to Voi, leaving the babu and his prayer-bell, and his green battle-axe and his conscience alone in the wilderness. We had quite a respect for that babu.
The district commissioner listened appreciatively to our tale.
“Of course I shall not carry the matter further,” he told us, “but having known the babu, you must see that once he had reported to me I was compelled to order you down here. I am sorry for the inconvenience.”
And when we reflected on the cataclysmic upheaval that babu would have undergone had we not been summoned after breaking one of The Laws in the Book, we had to admit the district commissioner was right.
OVER THE LIKIPIA ESCARPMENT.
Owing to an outbreak of bubonic plague, and consequent quarantine, we had recruited our men outside Nairobi, and had sent them, in charge of C., to a little station up the line.