To-day I have caught him in the act of theft, and in the third fork of my white Doon sirris, twenty feet above ground. I have taken a chair and established myself at the foot of the tree, preparatory to making up my mind.
The situation is a serious one, for if Peroo be led to think that he can break down my trees unharmed, the garden will be a wilderness in a week. Furthermore, Peroo has insulted the Majesty of the Government. Which is Me. Also he has insulted my sirris in saying that it is dry. He deserves a double punishment.
On the other hand, Peroo is very young, very small, and very, very naked. At present he is penitent, for he is howling in a dry and husky fashion, and the squirrels are frightened.
The question is—how shall I capture Peroo? There are three courses open to me. I can shin up the tree and fight him on his own ground. I can shell him with clods of earth till he makes submission and comes down; or, and this seems the better plan, I can remain where I am, and cut him off from his supplies until the rifles—sticks I mean—are returned.
Peroo, for all practical purposes, is a marauding tribe from the Hills—head-man, fighting-tail and all. I, once more, am the State, cool, collected, and impassive. In half an hour or so Peroo will be forced to descend. He will then be smacked that is, if I can lay hold of his wriggling body. In the meantime, I will demonstrate.
‘Bearer, bring me the turn-tum ki chabuq (carriage-whip).’
It is brought and laid on the ground, while Peroo howls afresh. I will overawe this child. He has an armful of stolen sticks pressed to his stomach.
‘Bearer, bring also the chota mota chabuq (the little whip)—the one kept for the punnia kutta (spaniel).’
Peroo has stopped howling. He peers through the branches and breathes through his nose very hard. Decidedly, I am impressing him with a show of armed strength. The idea of that cruel whip-thong curling round Peroo’s fat little brown stomach is not a pleasant one. But I must be firm.
‘Peroo, come down and be hit for stealing the Sahib’s wood.’
Peroo scuttles up to the fourth fork, and waits developments.
‘Peroo, will you come down?’
‘No. The Sahib will hit me.’
Here the goalla appears, and learns that his son is in disgrace. ‘Beat him well, Sahib,’ says the goalla. ‘He is a budmash. I never told him to steal your wood. Peroo, descend and be very much beaten.’
There is silence for a moment. Then, crisp and clear from the very top of the sirris, floats down the answer of the treed dacoit.
‘Kubbi, kubbi nahin (Never—never—No!).’
The goalla hides a smile with his hand and departs, saying: ‘Very well. This night I will beat you dead.’
There is a rustle in the leaves as Peroo wriggles himself into a more comfortable seat.
‘Shall I send a punkha-coolie after him?’ suggests the bearer.
This is not good. Peroo might fall and hurt himself. Besides I have no desire to employ native troops. They demand too much batta. The punkha-coolie would expect four annas for capturing Peroo. I will deal with the robber myself. He shall be treated judicially, when the excitement of wrong-doing shall have died away, as befits his tender years, with an old bedroom slipper, and the bearer shall hold him. Yes, he shall be smacked three times,—once gently, once moderately, and once severely. After the punishment shall come the fine. He shall help the malli (gardener) to keep the flower-beds in order for a week, and then—
‘Sahib! Sahib! Can I come down?’
The rebel treats for terms.
‘Peroo, you are a nut-cut (a young imp).’
‘It was my father’s order. He told me to get sticks.’
‘From this tree?’
‘Yes; Protector of the Poor. He said the Sahib would not come back from office till I had gathered many sticks.’
‘Your father didn’t tell me that.’
‘My father is a liar. Sahib! Sahib! Are you going to hit me?’
‘Come down and I’ll think about it.’
Peroo drops as far as the third fork, sees the whip, and hesitates.
‘If you will take away the whips I will come down.’
There is a frankness in this negotiation that I respect. I stoop, pick up the whips, and turn to throw them into the verandah.
Follows a rustle, a sound of scraped bark, and a thud. When I turn, Peroo is down, off and over the compound wall. He has not dropped the stolen firewood, and I feel distinctly foolish.
My prestige, so far as Peroo is concerned, is gone.
This Administration will now go indoors for a drink.