|See the pale martyr with his shirt on fire.—Printer’s Error.|
THEY tell the tale even now among the groves of the Berbulda Hills, and for corroboration point to the roofless and windowless Mission-house. The great God Dungara, the God of Things as They Are, Most Terrible, One-eyed, Bearing the Red Elephant Tusk, did it all; and he who refuses to believe in Dungara will assuredly be smitten by the Madness of Yat—the madness that fell upon the sons and the daughters of the Buria Kol when they turned aside from Dungara and put on clothes. So says Athon Dazé, who is High Priest of the shrine and Warden of the Red Elephant Tusk. But if you ask the Assistant Collector and Agent in Charge of the Buria Kol, he will laugh—not because he bears any malice against missions, but because he himself saw the vengeance of Dungara executed upon the spiritual children of the Reverend Justus Krenk, Pastor of the Tubingen Mission, and upon Lotte, his virtuous wife.Yet if ever a man merited good treatment of the Gods it was the Reverend Justus, one time of Heidelberg, who, on the faith of a call, went into the wilderness and took the blonde, blue-eyed Lotte with him. ‘We will these Heathen now by idolatrous practices so darkened better make,’ said Justus in the early days of his career. ‘Yes,’ he added with conviction, ‘they shall good be and shall with their hands to work learn. For all good Christians must work.’ And upon a stipend more modest even than that of an English lay-reader, Justus Krenk kept house beyond Kamala and the gorge of Malair, beyond the Berbulda River close to the foot of the blue hill of Panth on whose summit stands the Temple of Dungara—in the heart of the country of the Buria Kol—the naked, good-tempered, timid, shameless, lazy Buria Kol.
Do you know what life at a Mission outpost means? Try to imagine a loneliness exceeding that of the smallest station to which Government has ever sent you—isolation that weighs upon the waking eyelids and drives you by force headlong into the labours of the day. There is no post, there is no one of your own colour to speak to, there are no roads: there is, indeed, food to keep you alive, but it is not pleasant to eat; and whatever of good or beauty or interest there is in your life, must come from yourself and the grace that may be planted in you.
In the morning, with a patter of soft feet, the converts, the doubtful, and the open scoffers troop up to the veranda. You must be infinitely kind and patient, and, above all, clear-sighted, for you deal with the simplicity of childhood, the experience of man, and the subtlety of the savage. Your congregation have a hundred material wants to be considered; and it is for you, as you believe in your personal responsibility to your Maker, to pick out of the clamouring crowd any grain of spirituality that may lie therein. If to the cure of souls you add that of bodies, your task will be all the more difficult, for the sick and the maimed will profess any and every creed for the sake of healing, and will laugh at you because you are simple enough to believe them.
As the day wears and the impetus of the morning dies away, there will come upon you an overwhelming sense of the uselessness of your toil. This must be striven against, and the only spur in your side will be the belief that you are playing against the Devil for the living soul. It is a great, a joyous belief. But he who can hold it unwavering for four-and-twenty consecutive hours must be blessed with an abundantly strong physique and equable nerve.
Ask the grey heads of the Bannockburn Medical Crusade what manner of life their preachers lead; speak to the Racine Gospel Agency, those lean Americans whose boast is that they go where no Englishman dare follow; get a Pastor of the
Tubingen Mission to talk of his experiences—if you can. You will be referred to the printed reports, but these contain no mention of the men who have lost youth and health, all that a man may lose except faith, in the wilds; of English maidens who have gone forth and died in the fever stricken jungle of the Panth Hills, knowing from the first that death was almost a certainty. Few Pastors will tell you of these things any more than they will speak of that young David of St. Bees, who, set apart for the Lord’s work, broke down in the utter desolation, and returned half distraught to the Head Mission, crying, ‘There is no God, but I have walked with the Devil!’
The reports are silent here, because heroism, failure, doubt, despair, and self-abnegation on the part of a mere cultured white man are things of no weight as compared to the saving of one half-human soul from a fantastic faith in wood-spirits, goblins of the rock, and river-fiends.
And Gallio, the Assistant Collector of the countryside, ‘cared for none of these things.’ He had been long in the District, and the Buria Kol loved him and brought him offerings of speared fish, orchids from the dim moist heart of the forests, and as much game as he could eat. In return, he gave them quinine, and with Athon Dazé, the High Priest, controlled their simple policies.
‘When you have been some years in the country,’ said Gallio at the Krenks’ table, ‘you get to find one creed as good as another. I’ll give you all the assistance in my power, of course, but don’t hurt my Buria Kol. They are a good people and they trust me.’
‘I will them the Word of the Lord teach,’ said Justus, his round face beaming with enthusiasm, ‘and I will assuredly to their prejudices no wrong hastily without thinking make. But, O my friend, this in the mind impartiality-of-creed-judgment-belooking is very bad.’
‘Heigh-ho!’ said Gallio. ‘I have their bodies and the District to see to, but you can try what you can do for their souls. Only don’t behave as your predecessor did, or I’m afraid that I can’t guarantee your life.’
‘And that?’ said Lotte sturdily, handing him a cup of tea.
‘He went up to the Temple of Dungara—to be sure, he was new to the country—and began hammering old Dungara over the head with an umbrella; so the Buria Kol turned out and hammered him rather savagely. I was in the District, and he sent a runner to me with a note saying “Persecuted for the Lord’s sake. Send wing of regiment.” The nearest troops were about two hundred miles off, but I guessed what he had been doing. I rode to Panth and talked to old Athon Dazé like a father, telling him that a man of his wisdom ought to have known that the Sahib had sunstroke and was mad. You never saw a people more sorry in your life. Athon Dazé apologised, sent wood and milk and fowls and all sorts of things; and I gave five rupees to the shrine and told Macnamara that he had been injudicious. He said that I had bowed down in the House of Rimmon; but if he had only just gone over the brow of the hill and insulted Palin Deo, the idol of the Suria Kol, he would have been impaled on a charred bamboo long before I could have done anything, and then I should have had to hang some of the poor brutes. Be gentle with them, Padre—but I don’t think you’ll do much.’
‘Not I,’ said Justus, ‘but my Master. We will with the little children begin. Many of them will be sick—that is so. After the children the mothers; and then the men. But I would greatly prefer that you in internal sympathies with us were.’
Gallio departed to risk his life in mending the rotten bamboo bridges of his people, in killing a too persistent tiger here or there, in sleeping out in the reeking jungle, or in tracking the Suria Kol raiders who had taken a few heads from their brethren of the Buria clan. He was a knockkneed, shambling young man, naturally devoid of creed or reverence, with a longing for absolute power which his undesirable District gratified.
‘No one wants my post,’ he used to say grimly, ’and my Collector only pokes his nose in when he’s quite certain that there is no fever. I’m monarch of all I survey, and Athon Dazé is my viceroy.’
Because Gallio prided himself on his supreme disregard of human life—though he never extended the theory beyond his own—he naturally rode forty miles to the Mission with a tiny brown girl-baby on his saddle-bow.
‘Here is something for you, Padre,’ said he. ‘The Kols leave their surplus children to die. Don’t see why they shouldn’t, but you may rear this one. I picked it up beyond the Berbulda forks. I’ve a notion that the mother has been following me through the woods ever since.’
‘It is the first of the fold,’ said Justus, and Lotte caught up the screaming morsel to her bosom and hushed it craftily; while, as a wolf hangs in the field, Matui who had borne it, and in accordance with the law of her tribe had exposed it to die, panted weary and footsore in the bamboo-brake, watching the house with hungry mother-eyes. What would the omnipotent Assistant Collector do? Would the little man in the black coat eat her daughter alive, as Athon Dazé said was the custom of all men in black coats?
Matui waited among the bamboos through the long night; and, in the morning, there came forth a fair white woman, the like of whom Matui had never seen, and in her arms was Matui’s daughter clad in spotless raiment. Lotte knew little of the tongue of the Buria Kol, but when mother calls to mother, speech is easy to follow. By the hands stretched timidly to the hem of her gown, by the passionate gutturals and the longing eyes, Lotte understood with whom she had to deal. So Matui took her child again—would be a servant, even a slave, to this wonderful white woman, for her own tribe would recognise her no more. And Lotte wept with her exhaustively, after the German fashion, which includes much blowing of the nose.
‘First the Child, then the Mother, and last the Man, and to the Glory of God all,’ said Justus the Hopeful. And the man came, with a bow and arrows, very angry indeed, for there was no one to cook for him.
But the tale of the Mission is a long one, and I have no space to show how Justus, forgetful of his injudicious predecessor, grievously smote Moto, the husband of Matui, for his brutality; how Moto was startled, but being released from the fear of instant death, took heart and became the faithful ally and first convert of Justus; how the little gathering grew, to the huge disgust of Athon Dazé; how the Priest of the God of Things as They Are argued subtilely with the Priest of the God of Things as They Should Be, and was worsted; how the dues of the Temple of Dungara fell away in fowls and fish and honeycomb; how Lotte lightened the Curse of Eve among the women, and how Justus did his best to introduce the Curse of Adam; how the Buria Kol rebelled at this, saying that their God was an idle God, and how Justus partially overcame their scruples against work, and taught them that the black earth was rich in other produce than pig-nuts only.
All these things belong to the history of many months, and throughout those months the white-haired Athon Dazé meditated revenge for the tribal neglect of Dungara. With savage cunning he feigned friendship towards Justus, even hinting at his own conversion; but to the congregation of Dungara he said darkly: ‘They of the Padre’s flock have put on clothes and worship a busy God. Therefore Dungara will afflict them grievously till they throw themselves, howling, into the waters of the Berbulda.’ At night the Red Elephant Tusk boomed and groaned among the hills, and the faithful waked and said: ‘The God of Things as They Are matures revenge against the backsliders. Be merciful, Dungara, to us Thy children, and give us all their crops!’
Late in the cold weather the Collector and his wife came into the Buria Kol country. ‘Go and look at Krenk’s Mission,’ said Gallio. ‘He is doing good work in his own way, and I think he’d be pleased if you opened the bamboo chapel that he has managed to run up. At any rate you’ll see a civilised Buria Kol.’
Great was the stir in the Mission. ‘Now he and the gracious lady will that we have done good work with their own eyes see, and—yes—we will him our converts in all their by their own hands constructed new clothes exhibit. It will a great day be—for the Lord always,’ said Justus; and Lotte said ‘Amen.’
Justus had, in his quiet way, felt jealous of the Basel Weaving Mission, his own converts being unhandy; but Athon Dazé had latterly induced some of them to hackle the glossy silky fibres of a plant that grew plenteously on the Panth Hills. It yielded a cloth white and smooth almost as the tappa of the South Seas, and that day the converts were to wear for the first time clothes made therefrom. Justus was proud of his work.
‘They shall in white clothes clothed to meet the Collector and his well-born lady come down, singing “Now thank we all our God.” Then he will the Chapel open, and—yes—even Gallio to believe will begin. Stand so, my children, two by two, and—Lotte, why do they thus themselves bescratch? It is not seemly to wriggle, Nala, my child. The Collector will be here and be pained.’
The Collector, his wife, and Gallio climbed the hill to the Mission-station. The converts were drawn up in two lines, a shining band nearly forty strong. ‘Hah!’ said the Collector, whose acquisitive bent of mind led him to believe that he had fostered the institution from the first. ‘Advancing, I see, by leaps and bounds.’
Never was truer word spoken! The Mission was advancing exactly as he had said—at first by little hops and shuffles of shamefaced uneasiness, but soon by the leaps of fly-stung horses and the bounds of maddened kangaroos. From the hill of Panth the Red Elephant Tusk delivered a dry and anguished blare. The ranks of the converts wavered, broke, and scattered with yells and shrieks of pain, while Justus and Lotte stood horror-stricken.
‘It is the Judgment of Dungara!’ shouted a voice. ‘I burn! I burn! To the river or we die!’
The mob wheeled and headed for the rocks that overhung the Berbulda, writhing, stamping, twisting, and shedding its garments as it ran, pursued by the thunder of the trumpet of Dungara. Justus and Lotte fled to the Collector almost in tears.
‘I cannot understand! Yesterday,’ panted Justus, ‘they had the Ten Commandments.—What is this? Praise the Lord, all good spirits by land and by sea! Nala! Oh, shame!’
With a bound and a scream there alighted on the rocks above their heads, Nala, once the pride of the Mission, a maiden of fourteen summers, good, docile, and virtuous—now naked as the dawn and spitting like a wild-cat.
‘Was it for this?’ she raved, hurling her petticoat at Justus; ‘was it for this I left my people and Dungara—for the fires of your Bad Place? Blind ape, little earth-worm, dried fish that you are, you said that I should never burn! O Dungara, I burn now! I burn now! Have mercy, God of Things as They Are! ‘
She turned and flung herself into the Berbulda, and the trumpet of Dungara bellowed jubilantly. The last of the converts of the Tubingen Mission had put a quarter of a mile of rapid river between herself and her teachers.
‘Yesterday,’ gulped Justus, ‘she taught in the school A, B, C, D.—Oh! It is the work of Satan!’
But Gallio was curiously regarding the maiden’s petticoat where it had fallen at his feet. He felt its texture, drew back his shirt-sleeve beyond the deep tan of his wrist and pressed a fold of the cloth against the flesh. A blotch of angry red rose on the white skin.
‘Ah!’ said Gallio calmly, ‘I thought so.’
‘What is it?’ said Justus.
‘I should call it the Shirt of Nessus, but—where did you get the fibre of this cloth from?’
‘Athon Dazé,’ said Justus. ‘He showed the boys how it should manufactured be.’
‘The old fox! Do you know that he has given you the Nilgiri Nettle—scorpion—Girardenia heterophylla—to work up. No wonder they squirmed! Why, it stings even when they make bridge-ropes of it unless it’s soaked for six weeks. The cunning brute! It would take about half an hour to burn through their thick hides, and then——!’
Gallio burst into laughter, but Lotte was weeping in the arms of the Collector’s wife, and Justus had covered his face with his hands.
‘Girardenia heterophylla!’ repeated Gallio. ‘Krenk, why didn’t you tell me? I could have saved you this. Woven fire! Anybody but a naked Kol would have known it, and, if I’m a judge of their ways, you’ll never get them back.’
He looked across the river to where the converts were still wallowing and wailing in the shallows, and the laughter died out of his eyes, for he saw that the Tubingen Mission to the Buria Kol was dead.
Never again, though they hung mournfully round the deserted school for three months, could Lotte or Justus coax back even the most promising of their flock. No! The end of conversion was the fire of the Bad Place—fire that ran through the limbs and gnawed into the bones. Who dare a second time tempt the anger of Dungara? Let the little man and his wife go elsewhere. The Buria Kol would have none of them. An unofficial message to Athon Dazé that if a hair of their heads were touched, Athon Dazé and the priests of Dungara would be hanged by Gallio at the temple shrine, protected Justus and Lotte from the stumpy poisoned arrows of the Buria Kol, but neither fish nor fowl, honeycomb, salt, nor young pig were brought to their doors any more. And, alas! man cannot live by grace alone if meat be wanting.
‘Let us go, mine wife,’ said Justus; ‘there is no good here, and the Lord has willed that some other man shall the work take—in good time—in His own good time. We will away go, and I will—yes—some botany bestudy.’
If any one is anxious to convert the Buria Kol afresh, there lies at least the core of a Mission-house under the hill of Panth. But the chapel and school have long since fallen back into jungle.