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Title: Dragon's blood
Author: Rideout, Henry Milner, 1877-1927
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Dragon's blood" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



DRAGON'S BLOOD

by

HENRY MILNER RIDEOUT

with illustrations by HAROLD M. BRETT

1909



To
CHARLES TOWNSEND COPELAND,
  15 Hollis Hall, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Dear Cope,

Mr. Peachey Carnehan, when he returned from Kafiristan, in bad shape but
with a king's head in a bag, exclaimed to the man in the newspaper
office, "And you've been sitting there ever since!" There is only a pig
in the following poke; and yet in giving you the string to cut and the
bag to open, I feel something of Peachey's wonder to think of you,
across all this distance and change, as still sitting in your great
chair by the green lamp, while past a dim background of books moves the
procession of youth. Many of us, growing older in various places,
remember well your friendship, and are glad that you are there, urging
our successors to look backward into good books, and forward into life.

    Yours ever truly,
        H. M. R.
_Sausalito, California_.


CONTENTS

     I. A LADY AND A GRIFFIN
    II. THE PIED PIPER
   III. UNDER FIRE
    IV. THE SWORD-PEN
     V. IN TOWN
    VI. THE PAGODA
   VII. IPHIGENIA
  VIII. THE HOT NIGHT
    IX. PASSAGE AT ARMS
     X. THREE PORTALS
    XI. WHITE LOTUS
   XII. THE WAR BOARD
  XIII. THE SPARE MAN
   XIV. OFF DUTY
    XV. KAÚ FAI
   XVI. THE GUNWALE
  XVII. LAMP OF HEAVEN
 XVIII. SIEGE
   XIX. BROTHER MOLES
    XX. THE HAKKA BOAT
   XXI. THE DRAGON'S SHADOW


ILLUSTRATIONS

_"Good-by! A pleasant voyage"_ ... Frontispiece

_Rudolph was aware of crowded bodies, of yellow faces grinning_

_He let the inverted cup dangle from his hands_

_He went leaping from sight over the crest_



CHAPTER I


A LADY AND A GRIFFIN

It was "about first-drink time," as the captain of the Tsuen-Chau, bound
for Shanghai and Japan ports, observed to his friend Cesare Domenico, a
good British subject born at Malta. They sat on the coolest corner in
Port Said, their table commanding both the cross-way of Chareh Sultan el
Osman, and the short, glaring vista of desert dust and starved young
acacias which led to the black hulks of shipping in the Canal. From the
Bar la Poste came orchestral strains--"Ai nostri monti"--performed by a
piano indoors and two violins on the pavement. The sounds contended with
a thin, scattered strumming of cafe mandolins, the tinkle of glasses,
the steady click of dominoes and backgammon; then were drowned in the
harsh chatter of Arab coolies who, all grimed as black as Nubians, and
shouldering spear-headed shovels, tramped inland, their long tunics
stiff with coal-dust, like a band of chain-mailed Crusaders lately
caught in a hurricane of powdered charcoal. Athwart them, Parisian
gowns floated past on stout Italian forms; hulking third-class
Australians, in shirtsleeves, slouched along toward their mail-boat,
hugging whiskey bottles, baskets of oranges, baskets of dates; British
soldiers, khaki-clad for India, raced galloping donkeys through the
crowded and dusty street. It was mail-day, and gayety flowed among the
tables, under the thin acacias, on a high tide of Amer Picon.

Through the inky files of the coaling-coolies burst an alien and
bewildered figure. He passed unnoticed, except by the filthy little Arab
bootblacks who swarmed about him, trotting, capering, yelping
cheerfully: "Mista Ferguson!--polish, finish!--can-can--see nice Frencha
girl--Mista McKenzie, Scotcha fella from Dublin--smotta picture--polish,
finish!"--undertoned by a squabbling chorus. But presently, studying his
face, they cried in a loud voice, "Nix! Alles!" and left him, as one not
desiring polish.

"German, that chap," drawled the captain of the Tsuen-Chau, lazily,
noticing the uncertain military walk of the young man's clumsy legs, his
uncouth clothes, his pale visage winged by blushing ears of coral pink.

"The Eitel's in, then," replied Cesare. And they let the young Teuton
vanish in the vision of mixed lives.

Down the lane of music and chatter and drink he passed slowly, like a
man just wakened,--assailed by Oriental noise and smells, jostled by the
races of all latitudes and longitudes, surrounded and solitary, unheeded
and self-conscious. With a villager's awkwardness among crowds, he made
his way to a German shipping-office.

"Dispatches for Rudolph Hackh?" he inquired, twisting up his blond
moustache, and trying to look insolent and peremptory, like an
employer of men.

"There are none, sir," answered an amiable clerk, not at all impressed.

Abashed once more in the polyglot street, still daunted by his first
plunge into the foreign and the strange, he retraced his path, threading
shyly toward the Quai François Joseph. He slipped through the barrier
gate, signaled clumsily to a boatman, crawled under the drunken little
awning of the dinghy, and steered a landsman's course along the shining
Canal toward the black wall of a German mail-boat. Cramping the Arab's
oar along the iron side, he bumped the landing-stage. Safe on deck, he
became in a moment stiff and haughty, greeting a fellow passenger here
and there with a half-military salute. All afternoon he sat or walked
alone, unapproachable, eyeing with a fierce and gloomy stare the
squalid front of wooden houses on the African side, the gray desert
glare of Asia, the pale blue ribbon of the great Canal stretching
southward into the unknown.

He composed melancholy German verses in a note-book. He recalled famous
exiles--Camoens, Napoleon, Byron--and essayed to copy something of all
three in his attitude. He cherished the thought that he, clerk at
twenty-one, was now agent at twenty-two, and traveling toward a house
with servants, off there beyond the turn of the Canal, beyond the curve
of the globe. But for all this, Rudolph Hackh felt young, homesick,
timid of the future, and already oppressed with the distance, the age,
the manifold, placid mystery of China.

Toward that mystery, meanwhile, the ship began to creep. Behind her,
houses, multi-colored funnels, scrubby trees, slowly swung to blot out
the glowing Mediterranean and the western hemisphere. Gray desert banks
closed in upon her strictly, slid gently astern, drawing with them to
the vanishing-point the bright lane of traversed water. She gained the
Bitter Lakes; and the red conical buoys, like beads a-stringing, slipped
on and added to the two converging dotted lines.

"Good-by to the West!" thought Rudolph. As he mourned sentimentally at
this lengthening tally of their departure, and tried to quote
appropriate farewells, he was deeply touched and pleased by the sadness
of his emotions. "Now what does Byron say?"

The sombre glow of romantic sentiment faded, however, with the sunset.
That evening, as the ship glided from ruby coal to ruby coal of the
gares, following at a steady six knots the theatric glare of her
search-light along arsenically green cardboard banks, Rudolph paced the
deck in a mood much simpler and more honest. In vain he tried the
half-baked philosophy of youth. It gave no comfort; and watching the
clear desert stars of two mysterious continents, he fell prey to the
unbounded and unintelligible complexity of man's world. His own career
seemed no more dubious than trivial.

Succeeding days only strengthened this mood. The Red Sea passed in a
dream of homesickness, intolerable heat, of a pale blue surface
stretched before aching eyes, and paler strips of pink and gray coast,
faint and distant. Like dreams, too, passed Aden and Colombo; and then,
suddenly, he woke to the most acute interest.

He had ignored his mess-mates at their second-class table; but when the
new passengers from Colombo came to dinner, he heard behind him the
swish of stiff skirts, felt some one brush his shoulder, and saw,
sliding into the next revolving chair, the vision of a lady in white.

"_Mahlzeit_" she murmured dutifully. But the voice was not German.
Rudolph heard her subside with little flouncings, and felt his ears grow
warm and red. Delighted, embarrassed, he at last took sufficient courage
to steal side-glances.

The first showed her to be young, fair-haired, and smartly attired in
the plainest and coolest of white; the second, not so young, but very
charming, with a demure downcast look, and a deft control of her spoon
that, to Rudolph's eyes, was splendidly fastidious; at the third, he was
shocked to encounter the last flitting light of a counter-glance, from
large, dark-blue eyes, not devoid of amusement.

"She laughs at me!" fumed the young man, inwardly. He was angry,
conscious of those unlucky wing-and-wing ears, vexed at his own
boldness. "I have been offensive. She laughs at me." He generalized from
long inexperience of a subject to which he had given acutely interested
thought: "They always do."

Anger did not prevent him, however, from noting that his neighbor
traveled alone, that she must be an Englishwoman, and yet that she
diffused, somehow, an aura of the Far East and of romance. He shot many
a look toward her deck-chair that evening, and when she had gone below,
strategically bought a cigar, sat down in the chair to light it, and by
a carefully shielded match contrived to read the tag that fluttered on
the arm: "B. Forrester, Hongkong."

Afterward he remembered that by early daylight he might have read it for
nothing; and so, for economic penance, smoked to the bitter end, finding
the cigar disagreeable but manly. At all events, homesickness had
vanished in a curious impatience for the morrow. Miss Forrester: he
would sit beside Miss Forrester at table. If only they both were
traveling first-class!--then she might be a great lady. To be enamored
of a countess, now--A cigar, after all, was the proper companion of
bold thoughts.

At breakfast, recalling her amusement, he remained silent and wooden. At
tiffin his heart leaped.

"You speak English, I'm sure, don't you?" Miss Forrester was saying, in
a pleasant, rather drawling voice. Her eyes were quite serious now, and
indeed friendly. Confusion seized him.

"I have less English to amuse myself with the ladies," he answered
wildly. Next moment, however, he regained that painful mastery of the
tongue which had won his promotion as agent, and stammered: "Pardon. I
would mean, I speak so badly as not to entertain her."

"Indeed, you speak very nicely," she rejoined, with such a smile as no
woman had ever troubled to bestow on him. "That will be so pleasant,
for my German is shocking."

Dazed by the compliment, by her manner of taking for granted that future
conversation which had seemed too good to come true, but above all by
her arch, provoking smile, Rudolph sat with his head in a whirl, feeling
that the wide eyes of all the second-cabiners were penetrating the
tumultuous secret of his breast. Again his English deserted, and left
him stammering. But Miss Forrester chatted steadily, appeared to
understand murmurs which he himself found obscure, and so restored his
confidence that before tiffin was over he talked no less gayly, his
honest face alight and glowing. She taught him the names of the strange
fruits before them; but though listening and questioning eagerly, he
could not afterward have told loquat from pumelo, or custard-apple
from papaya.

Nor could this young man, of methodical habits, ever have told how long
their voyage lasted. It passed, unreal and timeless, in a glorious mist,
a delighted fever: the background a blur of glossy white bulkheads and
iron rails, awnings that fluttered in the warm, languorous winds, an
infinite tropic ocean poignantly blue; the foreground, Miss Forrester.
Her white figure, trim and dashing; her round blue eyes, filled with coy
wonder, the arch innocence of a spoiled child; her pale, smooth cheeks,
rather plump, but coming oddly and enticingly to a point at the mouth
and tilted chin; her lips, somewhat too full, too red, but quick and
whimsical: he saw these all, and these only, in a bright focus,
listening meanwhile to a voice by turns languid and lively, with now and
then a curious liquid softness, perhaps insincere, yet dangerously
pleasant. Questioning, hinting, she played at motherly age and wisdom.
As for him, he never before knew how well he could talk, or how
engrossing his sober life, both in his native village on the Baltic and
afterward in Bremen, could prove to either himself or a stranger.

Yet he was not such a fool, he reflected, as to tell everything. So far
from trading confidences, she had told him only that she was bound
straight on to Hongkong; that curiosity alone had led her to travel
second-class, "for the delightful change, you know, from all such
formality"; and that she was "really more French than English." Her
reticence had the charm of an incognito; and taking this leaf from her
book, he gave himself out as a large, vaguely important person
journeying on a large, vague errand.

"But you are a griffin?" she had said, as they sat together at tea.

"Pardon?" he ventured, wary and alarmed, wondering whether he could
claim this unknown term as in character with his part.

"I mean," Miss Forrester explained, smiling, "it is your first visit to
the Far East?"

"Oh, yes," he replied eagerly, blushing. He would have given worlds to
say, "No."

"Griffins are such nice little monsters," she purred. "I like them."

Sometimes at night, waked by the snores of a fat Prussian in the upper
berth, he lay staring into the dark, while the ship throbbed in unison
with his excited thoughts. He was amazed at his happy recklessness. He
would never see her again; he was hurrying toward lonely and uncertain
shores; yet this brief voyage outvalued the rest of his life.

In time, they had left Penang,--another unheeded background for her
arch, innocent, appealing face,--and forged down the Strait of Malacca
in a flood of nebulous moonlight. It was the last night out from
Singapore. That veiled brightness, as they leaned on the rail, showed
her brown hair fluttering dimly, her face pale, half real, half magical,
her eyes dark and undefined pools of mystery. It was late; they had been
silent for a long time; and Rudolph felt that something beyond the
territory of words remained to be said, and that the one brilliant epoch
of his life now drew madly to a close.

"What do you think of it all?" the woman asked suddenly, gravely, as
though they had been isolated together in the deep spaces of the
same thought.

"I do not yet--Of what?" rejoined Rudolph, at a loss.

"Of all this." She waved an eloquent little gesture toward the
azure-lighted gulf.

"Oh," he said. "Of the world?"

"Yes," she answered slowly. "The world. Life." Her tone, subdued and
musical, conveyed in the mere words their full enigma and full meaning.
"All this that we see."

"Who can tell?" He took her seriously, and ransacked all his store of
second-hand philosophy for a worthy answer,--a musty store, dead and
pedantic, after the thrilling spirit of her words. "Why, I think--it
is--is it not all now the sense-manifest substance of our duty? Pardon.
I am obscure. '_Das versinnlichte Material unserer Pflicht_' No?"

Her clear laughter startled him.

"Oh, how moral!" she cried. "What a highly moral little griffin!"

She laughed again (but this time it was like the splash of water in a
deep well), and turned toward him that curiously tilted point of chin
and mouth, her eyes shadowy and mocking. She looked young again,--the
spirit of youth, of knowledge, of wonderful brightness and unbelief.

"Must we take it so very, very hard?" she coaxed. "Isn't it just a place
to be happy in?"

As through a tumult he heard, and recognized the wisdom of the ages.

"Because," she added, "it lasts such a little while--"

On the rail their hands suddenly touched. He was aware of nothing but
the nearness and pallor of her face, the darkness of her eyes shining up
at him. All his life seemed to have rushed concentrating into that one
instant of extreme trouble, happiness, trembling fascination.

Footsteps sounded on the deck behind them; an unwelcome voice called
jocosely:--

"Good efening!" The ship's doctor advanced with a roguish, paternal air.
"You see at the phosphor, not?"

Even as she whipped about toward the light, Rudolph had seen, with a
touch of wonder, how her face changed from a bitter frown to the most
friendly smile. The frown returned, became almost savage, when the fat
physician continued:--

"To see the phosphor is too much moon, Mrs. Forrester?"

Had the steamer crashed upon a reef, he would hardly have noticed such a
minor shipwreck. Mrs. Forrester? why, then--When the doctor, after
ponderous pleasantries, had waddled away aft, Rudolph turned upon her a
face of tragedy.

"Was that true?" he demanded grimly.

"Was what true?" she asked, with baby eyes of wonder, which no longer
deceived, but angered.

"What the doctor said." Rudolph's voice trembled. "The tittle--the title
he gave you."

"Why, of course," she laughed.

"And you did not tell me!" he began, with scorn.

"Don't be foolish," she cut in. From beneath her skirt the toe of a
small white shoe tapped the deck angrily. Of a sudden she laughed, and
raised a tantalizing face, merry, candid, and inscrutable. "Why, you
never asked me, and--and of course I thought you were saying it all
along. You have such a dear, funny way of pronouncing, you know."

He hesitated, almost believing; then, with a desperate gesture, wheeled
and marched resolutely aft. That night it was no Prussian snores which
kept him awake and wretched. "Everything is finished," he thought
abysmally. He lay overthrown, aching, crushed, as though pinned under
the fallen walls of his youth.

At breakfast-time, the ship lay still beside a quay where mad crowds of
brown and yellow men, scarfed, swathed, and turbaned in riotous colors,
worked quarreling with harsh cries, in unspeakable interweaving uproar.
The air, hot and steamy, smelled of strange earth. As Rudolph followed a
Malay porter toward the gang-plank, he was painfully aware that Mrs.
Forrester had turned from the rail and stood waiting in his path.

"Without saying good-by?" she reproached him. The injured wonder in her
eyes he thought a little overdone.

"Good-by." He could not halt, but, raising his cap stiffly, managed to
add, "A pleasant voyage," and passed on, feeling as though she had
murdered something.

He found himself jogging in a rickshaw, while equatorial rain beat like
down-pouring bullets on the tarpaulin hood, and sluiced the Chinaman's
oily yellow back. Over the heavy-muscled shoulders he caught glimpses of
sullen green foliage, ponderous and drooping; of half-naked barbarians
that squatted in the shallow caverns of shops; innumerable faces, black,
yellow, white, and brown, whirling past, beneath other tarpaulin hoods,
or at carriage windows, or shielded by enormous dripping wicker hats, or
bared to the pelting rain. Curious odors greeted him, as of sour
vegetables and of unknown rank substances burning. He stared like a
visionary at the streaming multitude of alien shapes.

The coolie swerved, stopped, tilted his shafts to the ground. Rudolph
entered a sombre, mouldy office, where the darkness rang with tiny
silver bells. Pig-tailed men in skull-caps, their faces calm as polished
ivory, were counting dollars endlessly over flying finger-tips. One of
these men paused long enough to give him a sealed dispatch,--the message
to which the ocean-bed, the Midgard ooze, had thrilled beneath his
tardy keel.

"Zimmerman recalled," the interpretation ran; "take his station; proceed
at once."

He knew the port only as forlorn and insignificant. It did not matter.
One consolation remained: he would never see her again.



CHAPTER II


THE PIED PIPER

A gray smudge trailing northward showed where the Fa-Hien--Scottish
Oriental, sixteen hundred tons--was disappearing from the pale expanse
of ocean. The sampan drifted landward imperceptibly, seeming, with
nut-brown sail unstirred, to remain where the impatient steamer had met
it, dropped a solitary passenger overside, and cast him loose upon the
breadth of the antipodes. Rare and far, the sails of junks patched the
horizon with umber polygons. Rudolph, sitting among his boxes in the
sampan, viewed by turns this desolate void astern and the more desolate
sweep of coast ahead. His matting sail divided the shining bronze
outpour of an invisible river, divided a low brown shore beyond, and
above these, the strips of some higher desert country that shone like
snowdrifts, or like sifted ashes from which the hills rose black and
charred. Their savage, winter-blasted look, in the clear light of an
almost vernal morning, made the land seem fabulous. Yet here in reality,
thought Rudolph, as he floated toward that hoary kingdom,--here at last,
facing a lonely sea, reared the lifeless, inhospitable shore, the
sullen margin of China.

The slow creaking of the spliced oar, swung in its lashing by a
half-naked yellow man, his incomprehensible chatter with some fellow
boatman hidden in the bows, were sounds lost in a drowsy silence,
rhythms lost in a wide inertia. Time itself seemed stationary. Rudolph
nodded, slept, and waking, found the afternoon sped, the hills gone, and
his clumsy, time-worn craft stealing close under a muddy bank topped
with brown weeds and grass. They had left behind the silted roadstead,
and now, gliding on a gentle flood, entered the river-mouth. Here and
there, against the saffron tide, or under banks quaggy as melting
chocolate, stooped a naked fisherman, who--swarthy as his background but
for a loin-band of yellow flesh--shone wet and glistening while he
stirred a dip-net through the liquid mud. Faint in the distance harsh
cries sounded now and then, and the soft popping of small-arms,--tiny
revolts in the reign of a stillness aged and formidable. Crumbling walls
and squat ruins, black and green-patched with mould--old towers of
defense against pirates--guarded from either bank the turns of the
river. In one reach, a "war-junk," her sails furled, lay at anchor, the
red and white eyes staring fish-like from her black prow: a silly
monster, the painted tompions of her wooden cannon aiming drunkenly
askew, her crew's wash fluttering peacefully in a line of blue dungaree.

Beyond the next turn, a fowling-piece cracked sharply, close at hand;
something splashed, and the ruffled body of a snipe bobbed in the bronze
flood alongside.

"Hang it!" complained a voice, loudly. "The beggar was too--Hallo! Oh, I
say, Gilly! Gilly, ahoy! Pick us up, there's a good chap! The bird
first, will you, and then me."

A tall young man in brown holland and a battered _terai_ stood above on
the grassy brink.

"Oh, beg pardon," he continued. "Took you for old Gilly, you know." He
snapped the empty shells from his gun, and blew into the breech, before
adding, "Would _you_ mind, then? That is, if you're bound up for
Stink-Chau. It's a beastly long tramp, and I've been shooting all
afternoon."

Followed by three coolies who popped out of the grass with game-bags,
the young stranger descended, hopped nimbly from tussock to gunwale, and
perched there to wash his boots in the river.

"Might have known you weren't old Gilly," he said over his shoulder.
"Wutzler said the Fa-Hien lay off signaling for sampan before breakfast.
Going to stay long?"

"I am agent," answered Rudolph, with a touch of pride, "for Fliegelman
and Sons."

"Oh?" drawled the hunter, lazily. He swung his legs inboard, faced
about, and studied Rudolph with embarrassing frankness. He was a
long-limbed young Englishman, whose cynical gray eyes, and thin face
tinged rather sallow and Oriental, bespoke a reckless good humor. "Life
sentence, eh? Then your name's--what is it again?--Hackh, isn't it?
Heywood's mine. So you take Zimmerman's place. He's off already, and
good riddance. He _was_ a bounder!--Charming spot you've come to! I
daresay if your Fliegelmans opened a hong in hell, you might possibly
get a worse station."

Without change of manner, he uttered a few gabbling, barbaric words. A
coolie knelt, and with a rag began to clean the boots, which, from the
expression of young Mr. Heywood's face, were more interesting than the
arrival of a new manager from Germany.

"It will be dark before we're in," he said. "My place for the night, of
course, and let your predecessor's leavings stand over till daylight.
After dinner we'll go to the club. Dinner! Chicken and rice, chicken and
rice! Better like it, though, for you'll eat nothing else, term of
your life."

"You are very kind," began Rudolph; but this bewildering off-hand
youngster cut him short, with a laugh:--

"No fear, you'll pay me! Your firm supplies unlimited liquor. Much good
that ever did us, with old Zimmerman."

The sampan now slipped rapidly on the full flood, up a narrow channel
that the setting of the sun had turned, as at a blow, from copper to
indigo. The shores passed, more and more obscure against a fading light.
A star or two already shone faint in the lower spaces. A second war-junk
loomed above them, with a ruddy fire in the stern lighting a glimpse of
squat forms and yellow goblin faces.

"It is very curious," said Rudolph, trying polite conversation, "how
they paint so the eyes on their jonks."

"No eyes, no can see; no can see, no can walkee," chanted Heywood in
careless formula. "I say," he complained suddenly, "you're not going to
'study the people,' and all that rot? We're already fed up with
missionaries. Their cant, I mean; no allusion to cannibalism."

He lighted a cigarette. After the blinding flare of the match, night
seemed to have fallen instantaneously. As their boat crept on to the
slow creaking sweep, both maintained silence, Rudolph rebuked and
lonely, Heywood supine beneath a comfortable winking spark.

"What I mean is," drawled the hunter, "we need all the good fellows we
can get. Bring any new songs out? Oh, I forgot, you're a German, too.--A
sweet little colony! Gilly's the only gentleman in the whole half-dozen
of us, and Heaven knows he's not up to much.--Ah, we're in. On our
right, fellow sufferers, we see the blooming Village of Stinks."

He had risen in the gloom. Beyond his shadow a few feeble lights burned
low and scattered along the bank. Strange cries arose, the bumping of
sampans, the mournful caterwauling of a stringed instrument.

"The native town's a bit above," he continued. "We herd together here on
the edge. No concession, no bund, nothing."

Their sampan grounded softly in malodorous ooze. Each mounting the bare
shoulders of a coolie, the two Europeans rode precariously to shore.

"My boys will fetch your boxes," called Heywood. "Come on."

The path, sometimes marshy, sometimes hard-packed clay or stone flags
deeply littered, led them a winding course in the night. Now and then
shapes met them and pattered past in single file, furtive and sinister.
At last, where a wall loomed white, Heywood stopped, and, kicking at a
wooden gate, gave a sing-song cry. With rattling weights, the door
swung open, and closed behind them heavily. A kind of empty garden, a
bare little inclosure, shone dimly in the light that streamed from a
low, thick-set veranda at the farther end. Dogs flew at them, barking
outrageously.

"Down, Chang! Down, Chutney!" cried their master. "Be quiet, Flounce,
you fool!"

On the stone floor of the house, they leaped upon him, two red chows and
a fox-terrier bitch, knocking each other over in their joy.

"Olo she-dog he catchee plenty lats," piped a little Chinaman, who
shuffled out from a side-room where lamplight showed an office desk.
"Too-day catchee. Plenty lats. No can."

"My compradore, Ah Pat," said Heywood to Rudolph. "Ah Pat, my friend he
b'long number one Flickleman, boss man."

The withered little creature bobbed in his blue robe, grinning at the
introduction.

"You welly high-tone man," he murmured amiably. "Catchee goo' plice."

"All the same, I don't half like it," was Heywood's comment later. He
had led his guest upstairs into a bare white-washed room, furnished in
wicker. Open windows admitted the damp sea breeze and a smell, like foul
gun-barrels, from the river marshes. "Where should all the rats be
coming from?" He frowned, meditating on what Rudolph thought a trifle.
Above the sallow brown face, his chestnut hair shone oddly,
close-cropped and vigorous. "Maskee, can't be helped.--O Boy, one
sherry-bitters, one bamboo!"

"To our better acquaintance," said Rudolph, as they raised their
glasses.

"What? Oh, yes, thanks," the other laughed. "Any one would know you for
a griffin here, Mr. Hackh. You've not forgotten your manners yet."

When they had sat down to dinner in another white-washed room, and had
undertaken the promised rice and chicken, he laughed again,
somewhat bitterly.

"Better acquaintance--no fear! You'll be so well acquainted with us all
that you'll wish you never clapped eyes on us." He drained his whiskey
and soda, signaled for more, and added: "Were you ever cooped up,
yachting, with a chap you detested? That's the feeling you come to
have.--Here, stand by. You're drinking nothing."

Rudolph protested. Politeness had so far conquered habit, that he felt
uncommonly flushed, genial, and giddy.

"That," urged Heywood, tapping the bottle, "that's our only amusement.
You'll see. One good thing we can get is the liquor. 'Nisi damnose
bibimus,'--forget how it runs: 'Drink hearty, or you'll die without
getting your revenge,'"

"You are then a university's-man?" cried Rudolph, with enthusiasm.

The other nodded gloomily. On the instant his face had fallen as
impassive as that of the Chinese boy who stood behind his chair,
straight, rigid, like a waxen image of Gravity in a blue gown.--"Yes, of
sorts. Young fool. Scrapes. Debt. Out to Orient. Same old story. More
debt. Trust the firm to encourage that! Debt and debt and debt. Tied up
safe. Transfer. Finish! Never go Home."--He rose with a laugh and an
impatient gesture.--"Come on. Might as well take in the club as to sit
here talking rot."

Outside the gate of the compound, coolies crouching round a lantern
sprang upright and whipped a pair of sedan-chairs into position.
Heywood, his feet elevated comfortably over the poles, swung in the
lead; Rudolph followed, bobbing in the springy rhythm of the long
bamboos. The lanterns danced before them down an open road, past a few
blank walls and dark buildings, and soon halted before a whitened front,
where light gleamed from the upper story.

"Mind the stairs," called Heywood. "Narrow and beastly dark."

As they stumbled up the steep flight, Rudolph heard the click of
billiard balls. A pair of hanging lamps lighted the room into which he
rose,--a low, gloomy loft, devoid of comfort. At the nearer table, a
weazened little man bent eagerly over a pictorial paper; at the farther,
chalking their cues, stood two players, one a sturdy Englishman with a
gray moustache, the other a lithe, graceful person, whose blue coat,
smart as an officer's, and swarthy but handsome face made him at a
glance the most striking figure in the room. A little Chinese imp in
white, who acted as marker, turned on the new-comers a face of
preternatural cunning.

"Mr. Wutzler," said Heywood. The weazened reader rose in a nervous
flutter, underwent his introduction to Rudolph with as much bashful
agony as a school-girl, mumbled a few words in German, and instantly
took refuge in his tattered _Graphic_. The players, however, advanced in
a more friendly fashion. The Englishman, whose name Rudolph did not
catch, shook his hand heartily.

"Mr. Hackh is a welcome addition." He spoke with deliberate courtesy.
Something in his voice, the tired look in his frank blue eyes and
serious face, at once engaged respect. "For our sakes," he continued,
"we're glad to see you here. I am sure Doctor Chantel will agree
with me."

"Ah, indeed," said the man in military blue, with a courtier's bow.
Both air and accent were French. "Most welcome."

"Let's all have a drink," cried Heywood. Despite his many glasses at
dinner, he spoke with the alacrity of a new idea. "O Boy, whiskey
_Ho-lan suey, fai di_!"

Away bounded the boy marker like a tennis-ball.

"Hello, Wutzler's off already!"--The little old reader had quietly
disappeared, leaving them a vacant table.--"Isn't he weird?" laughed
Heywood, as they sat down. "Comes and goes like a ghost."

"It is his Chinese wife," declared Chantel, preening his moustache. "He
is always ashame to meet the new persons."

"Poor old chap," said Heywood. "I know--feels himself an outcast and all
that. Humph! With us! Quite unnecessary."--The Chinese page, quick,
solemn, and noiseless, glided round the table with his tray.--"Ah, you
young devil! You're another weird one, you atom. See those bead eyes
watching us, eh? A Gilpin Homer, you are, and some fine day we'll see
you go off in a flash of fire. If you don't poison us all first.--Well,
here's fortune!"

"Your health, Mr. Hackh," amended the other Englishman.

As they set down their glasses, a strange cry sounded from below,--a
stifled call, inarticulate, but in such a key of distress that all four
faced about, and listened intently.

"Kom down," called a hesitating voice, "kom down and look-see."

They sprang to the stairs, and clattered downward. Dim radiance flooded
the landing, from the street door. Outside, a smoky lantern on the
ground revealed the lower levels.

In the wide sector of light stood Wutzler, shrinking and apologetic,
like a man caught in a fault, his wrinkled face eloquent of fear, his
gesture eloquent of excuse. Round him, as round a conjurer, scores of
little shadowy things moved in a huddling dance, fitfully hopping like
sparrows over spilt grain. Where the light fell brightest these became
plainer, their eyes shone in jeweled points of color.

"By Jove, Gilly, they are rats!" said Heywood, in a voice curiously
forced and matter-of-fact. "Flounce killed several this afternoon,
so my--"

No one heeded him; all stared. The rats, like beings of incantation,
stole about with an absence of fear, a disregard of man's presence, that
was odious and alarming.

"Earthquake?" The elder Englishman spoke as though afraid of disturbing
some one.

The French doctor shook his head.

"No," he answered in the same tone. "Look."

The rats, in all their weaving confusion, displayed one common impulse.
They sprang upward continually, with short, agonized leaps, like
drowning creatures struggling to keep afloat above some invisible flood.
The action, repeated multitudinously into the obscure background,
exaggerated in the foreground by magnified shadows tossing and falling
on the white walls, suggested the influence of some evil stratum, some
vapor subtle and diabolic, crawling poisonously along the ground.

Heywood stamped angrily, without effect. Wutzler stood abject, a
magician impotent against his swarm of familiars. Gradually the rats,
silent and leaping, passed away into the darkness, as though they heard
the summons of a Pied Piper.

"It doesn't attack Europeans." Heywood still used that curious
inflection.

"Then my brother Julien is still alive," retorted Doctor Chantel,
bitterly.

"What do you think, Gilly?" persisted Heywood.

His compatriot nodded in a meaningless way.

"The doctor's right, of course," he answered. "I wish my wife weren't
coming back."

"Dey are a remember," ventured Wutzler, timidly. "A warnung."

The others, as though it had been a point of custom, ignored him. All
stared down, musing, at the vacant stones.

"Then the concert's off to-morrow night," mocked Heywood, with an
unpleasant laugh.

"On the contrary." Gilly caught him up, prompt and decided. "We shall
need all possible amusements; also to meet and plan our campaign.
Meantime,--what do you say, Doctor?--chloride of lime in pots?"

"That, evidently," smiled the handsome man. "Yes, and charcoal burnt in
braziers, perhaps, as Père Fenouil advises. Fumigate."--Satirical and
debonair, he shrugged his shoulders.--"What use, among these thousands
of yellow pigs?"

"I wish she weren't coming," repeated Gilly.

Rudolph, left outside this conference, could bear the uncertainty no
longer.

"I am a new arrival," he confided to his young host. "I do not
understand. What is it?"

"The plague, old chap," replied Heywood, curtly. "These playful little
animals get first notice. You're not the only arrival to-night."



CHAPTER III


UNDER FIRE

The desert was sometimes Gobi, sometimes Sahara, but always an infinite
stretch of sand that floated up and up in a stifling layer, like the
tide. Rudolph, desperately choked, continued leaping upward against an
insufferable power of gravity, or straining to run against the force of
paralysis. The desert rang with phantom voices,--Chinese voices that
mocked him, chanting of pestilence, intoning abhorrently in French.

He woke to find a knot of bed-clothes smothering him. To his first
unspeakable relief succeeded the astonishment of hearing the voices
continue in shrill chorus, the tones Chinese, the words, in louder
fragments, unmistakably French. They sounded close at hand, discordant
matins sung by a mob of angry children. Once or twice a weary, fretful
voice scolded feebly: "Un-peu-de-s'lence! Un-peu-de-s'lence!" Rudolph
rose to peep through the heavy jalousies, but saw nothing more than
sullen daylight, a flood of vertical rain, and thin rivulets coursing
down a tiled roof below. The morning was dismally cold.

"Jolivet's kids wake you?" Heywood, in a blue kimono, nodded from the
doorway. "Public nuisance, that school. Quite needless, too. Some bally
French theory, you know, sphere of influence, and that rot. Game played
out up here, long ago, but they keep hanging on.--Bath's ready, when you
like." He broke out laughing. "Did you climb into the water-jar,
yesterday, before dinner? Boy reports it upset. You'll find the dipper
more handy.--How did you ever manage? One leg at a time?"

Echoes of glee followed his disappearance. Rudolph, blushing, prepared
to descend into the gloomy vault of ablution. Charcoal fumes, however,
and the glow of a brazier on the dark floor below, not only revived all
his old terror, but at the stair-head halted him with a new.

"Is the water safe?" he called.

Heywood answered impatiently from his bedroom.

"Nothing safe in this world, Mr. Hackh. User's risk." An inaudible
mutter ended with, "Keep clean, anyway."

At breakfast, though the acrid smoke was an enveloping reminder, he made
the only reference to their situation.

"Rain at last: too late, though, to flush out the gutters. We needed it
a month ago.--I say, Hackh, if you don't mind, you might as well cheer
up. From now on, it's pure heads and tails. We're all under fire
together." Glancing out of window at the murky sky, he added
thoughtfully, "One excellent side to living without hope, maskee
fashion: one isn't specially afraid. I'll take you to your office, and
you can make a start. Nothing else to do, is there?"

Dripping bearers and shrouded chairs received them on the lower floor,
carried them out into a chill rain that drummed overhead and splashed
along the compound path in silver points. The sunken flags in the road
formed a narrow aqueduct that wavered down a lane of mire. A few
grotesque wretches, thatched about with bamboo matting, like bottles, or
like rosebushes in winter, trotted past shouldering twin baskets. The
smell of joss-sticks, fish, and sour betel, the subtle sweetness of
opium, grew constantly stronger, blended with exhalations of ancient
refuse, and (as the chairs jogged past the club, past filthy groups
huddling about the well in a marketplace, and onward into the black yawn
of the city gate) assailed the throat like a bad and lasting taste. Now,
in the dusky street, pent narrowly by wet stone walls, night seemed to
fall, while fresh waves of pungent odor overwhelmed and steeped the
senses. Rudolph's chair jostled through hundreds and hundreds of
Chinese, all alike in the darkness, who shuffled along before with
switching queues, or flattened against the wall to stare, almost nose
to nose, at the passing foreigner. With chairpoles backing into one shop
or running ahead into another, with raucous cries from the coolies, he
swung round countless corners, bewildered in a dark, leprous, nightmare
bazaar. Overhead, a slit of cloudy sky showed rarely; for the most part,
he swayed along indoors, beneath a dingy lattice roof. All points of the
compass vanished; all streets remained alike,--the same endless vista of
mystic characters, red, black, and gold, on narrow suspended tablets,
under which flowed the same current of pig-tailed men in blue and dirty
white. From every shop, the same yellow faces stared at him, the same
elfin children caught his eye for a half-second to grin or grimace, the
same shaven foreheads bent over microscopical tasks in the dark. At
first, Rudolph thought the city loud and brawling; but resolving this
impression to the hideous shouts of his coolies parting the crowd, he
detected, below or through their noise, from all the long
cross-corridors a wide and appalling silence. Gradually, too, small
sounds relieved this: the hammering of brass-work, the steady rattle of
a loom, or the sing-song call and mellow bell of some burdened hawker,
bumping past, his swinging baskets filled with a pennyworth of trifles.
But still the silence daunted Rudolph in this astounding vision, this
masque of unreal life, of lost daylight, of annihilated direction, of
placid turmoil and multifarious identity, made credible only by the
permanence of nauseous smells.

Somewhere in the dark maze, the chairs halted, under a portal black and
heavy as a Gate of Dreams. And as by the anachronism of dreams
there hung, among its tortuous symbols, the small, familiar
placard--"Fliegelman and Sons, Office." Heywood led the way, past two
ducking Chinese clerks, into a sombre room, stone-floored, furnished
stiffly with a row of carved chairs against the wall, lighted coldly by
roof-windows of placuna, and a lamp smoking before some commercial god
in his ebony and tinsel shrine.

"There," he said, bringing Rudolph to an inner chamber, or dark little
pent-house, where another draughty lamp flickered on a European desk.
"Here's your cell. I'm off--call for you later. Good luck!"--Wheeling in
the doorway, he tossed a book, negligently.--"Caught! You may as well
start in, eh?--'Cantonese Made Worse,'"

To his departing steps Rudolph listened as a prisoner, condemned, might
listen to the last of all earthly visitors. Peering through a kind of
butler's window, he saw beyond the shrine his two pallid subordinates,
like mystic automatons, nodding and smoking by the doorway. Beyond
them, across a darker square like a cavern-mouth, flitted the living
phantoms of the street. It seemed a fit setting for his fears. "I am
lost," he thought; lost among goblins, marooned in the age of barbarism,
shut in a labyrinth with a Black Death at once actual and mediaeval: he
dared not think of Home, but flung his arms on the littered desk, and
buried his face.

On the tin pent-roof, the rain trampled inexorably.

At last, mustering a shaky resolution, he set to work ransacking the
tumbled papers. Happily, Zimmerman had left all in confusion. The very
hopelessness of his accounts proved a relief. Working at high tension,
Rudolph wrestled through disorder, mistakes, falsification; and little
by little, as the sorted piles grew and his pen traveled faster, the old
absorbing love of method and dispatch--the stay, the cordial flagon of
troubled man--gave him strength to forget.

At times, felt shoes scuffed the stone floor without, and high, scolding
voices rose, exchanging unfathomable courtesy with his clerks. One after
another, strange figures, plump and portly in their colored robes,
crossed his threshold, nodding their buttoned caps, clasping their hands
hidden in voluminous sleeves.

"My 'long speakee my goo' flien'," chanted each of these apparitions;
and each, after a long, slow discourse that ended more darkly than it
began, retired with fatuous nods and smirks of satisfaction, leaving
Rudolph dismayed by a sense of cryptic negotiation in which he had been
found wanting.

Noon brought the only other interval, when two solemn "boys" stole in
with curry and beer. Eat he could not in this lazaret, but sipped a
little of the dark Kirin brew, and plunged again into his researches.
Alone with his lamp and rustling papers, he fought through perplexities,
now whispering, now silent, like a student rapt in some midnight fervor.

"What ho! Mustn't work this fashion!" Heywood's voice woke him, sudden
as a gust of sharp air. "Makee finish!"

The summons was both welcome and unwelcome; for as their chairs jostled
homeward through the reeking twilight, Rudolph felt the glow of work
fade like the mockery of wine. The strange seizure returned,--exile,
danger, incomprehensibility, settled down upon him, cold and steady as
the rain. Tea, at Heywood's house, was followed by tobacco, tobacco by
sherry, and this by a dinner from yesterday's game-bag. The two men said
little, sitting dejected, as if by agreement. But when Heywood rose, he
changed into gayety as a man slips on a jacket.

"Now, then, for the masked ball! I mean, we can't carry these long
faces to the club, can we? Ladies' Night--what larks!" He caught up his
cap, with a grimace. "The Lord loveth a cheerful liar. Come ahead!"

On the way, he craned from his chair to shout, in the darkness:--

"I say! If you can do a turn of any sort, let the women have it. All the
fun they get. Be an ass, like the rest of us. Maskee how silly! Mind
you, it's all hands, these concerts!"

No music, but the click of ivory and murmur of voices came down the
stairway of the club. At first glance, as Rudolph rose above the floor,
the gloomy white loft seemed vacant as ever; at second glance,
embarrassingly full of Europeans. Four strangers grounded their cues
long enough to shake his hand. "Mr. Nesbit,--Sturgeon--Herr
Kempner--Herr Teppich,"--he bowed stiffly to each, ran the battery of
their inspection, and found himself saluting three other persons at the
end of the room, under a rosy, moon-bellied lantern. A gray matron,
stout, and too tightly dressed for comfort, received him uneasily, a
dark-eyed girl befriended him with a look and a quiet word, while a tall
man, nodding a vigorous mop of silver hair, crushed his hand in a great
bony fist.

"Mrs. Earle," Heywood was saying, "Miss Drake, and--how are you,
padre?--Dr. Earle."

"Good-evening," boomed the giant, in a deep and musical bass. "We are
very glad, very glad." His voice vibrated through the room, without
effort. It struck one with singular force, like the shrewd, kind
brightness of his eyes, light blue, and oddly benevolent, under brows
hard as granite. "Sit down, Mr. Hackh," he ordered genially, "and give
us news of the other world! I mean," he laughed, "west of Suez.
Smoking's allowed--here, try that!"

He commanded them, as it were, to take their ease,--the women among
cushions on a rattan couch, the men stretched in long chairs. He put
questions, indolent, friendly questions, opening vistas of reply and
recollection; so that Rudolph, answering, felt the first return of
homely comfort. A feeble return, however, and brief: in the pauses of
talk, misgiving swarmed in his mind, like the leaping vermin of last
night. The world into which he had been thrown still appeared
disorderly, incomprehensible, and dangerous. The plague--it still
recurred in his thoughts like a sombre motive; these friendly people
were still strangers; and for a moment now and then their talk, their
smiles, the click of billiards, the cool, commonplace behavior, seemed a
foolhardy unconcern, as of men smoking in a powder magazine.

"Clearing a bit, outside," called Nesbit. A little, wiry fellow, with
cheerful Cockney speech, he stood chalking his cue at a window. "I say,
what's the matter one piecee picnic this week? Pink Pagoda, eh? Mrs.
Gilly's back, you know."

"No, is she?" wheezed the fat Sturgeon, with something like enthusiasm.
"Now we'll brighten up! By Jove, that's good news. That's worth hearing.
Eh, Heywood?"

"Rather!" drawled Rudolph's friend, with an alacrity that seemed half
cynical, half enigmatic.

A quick tread mounted the stairs, and into the room rose Dr. Chantel. He
bowed gracefully to the padre's group, but halted beside the players.
Whatever he said, they forgot their game, and circled the table to
listen. He spoke earnestly, his hands fluttering in nervous gestures.

"Something's up," grumbled Heywood, "when the doctor forgets to pose."

Behind Chantel, as he wheeled, heaved the gray bullet-head and sturdy
shoulders of Gilly.

"Alone?" called the padre. "Why, where's the Mem?"

He came up with evident weariness, but replied cheerfully:--

"She's very sorry, and sent chin-chins all round. But to-night--Her
journey, you know. She's resting.--I hope we've not delayed
the concert?"

"Last man starts it!" Heywood sprang up, flung open a battered piano,
and dragged Chantel to the stool. "Come, Gilly, your forfeit!"

The elder man blushed, and coughed.

"Why, really," he stammered. "Really, if you wish me to!"

Heywood slid back into his chair, grinning.

"Proud as an old peacock," he whispered to Rudolph. "Peacock's voice,
too."

Dr. Chantel struck a few jangling chords, and skipping adroitly over
sick notes, ran a flourish. The billiard-players joined the circle, with
absent, serious faces. The singer cleared his throat, took on a
preternatural solemnity, and began. In a dismal, gruff voice, he
proclaimed himself a miner, deep, deep down:--


"And few, I trow, of my being know,
And few that an atom care!"


His hearers applauded this gloomy sentiment, till his cheeks flushed
again with honest satisfaction. But in the full sweep of a brilliant
interlude, Chantel suddenly broke down.

"I cannot," he declared sharply. As he turned on the squealing stool,
they saw his face white and strangely wrought. "I had meant," he said,
with painful precision, "to say nothing to-night, and act as--I cannot.
Judge you, what I feel."

He got uncertainly to his feet, hesitating.

"Ladies, you will not be alarmed." The four players caught his eye, and
nodded. "It is well that you know. There is no danger here, more than--I
am since disinfected. Monsieur Jolivet, my compatriot--You see, you
understand. Yes, the plague."

For a space, the distant hum of the streets invaded the room. Then
Heywood's book of music slapped the floor like a pistol-shot.

"You left him!" He bounced from his chair, raging. "You--Pêng! Where's
my cap?"

Quick as he was, the dark-eyed girl stood blocking his way.

"Not you, Mr. Heywood," she said quietly. "I must go stay with him."

They confronted each other, man and woman, as if for a combat of will.
The outbreak of voices was cut short; the whole company stood, like
Homeric armies, watching two champions. Chantel, however, broke
the silence.

"Nobody must go." He eyed them all, gravely. "I left him, yes. He does
not need any one. Personne. Very sudden. He went to the school sick this
morning. Swollen axillae--the poor fool, not to know!--et
puis--enfin--He is dead."

Heywood pitched his cap on the green field of the billiard-cloth.

"The poor pedagogue!" he said bitterly. "_He_ was going Home."

Sudden, hot and cold, like the thrust of a knife, it struck Rudolph that
he had heard the voice of this first victim,--the peevish voice which
cried so weakly for a little silence, at early daylight, that very
morning. A little silence: and he had received the great.

A gecko fell from the ceiling, with a tiny thump that made all start. He
had struck the piano, and the strings answered with a faint, aeolian
confusion. Then, as they regarded one another silently, a rustle, a
flurry, sounded on the stairs. A woman stumbled into the loft, sobbing,
crying something inarticulate, as she ran blindly toward them, with
white face and wild eyes. She halted abruptly, swayed as though to fall,
and turned, rather by instinct than by vision, to the other women.

"Bertha!" protested Gilly, with a helpless stare. "My dear!"

"I couldn't stay!" she cried. "The amah told me. Why did you ever let me
come back? Oh, do something--help me!"

The face and the voice came to Rudolph like another trouble across a
dream. He knew them, with a pang. This trembling, miserable heap, flung
into the arms of the dark-eyed girl, was Mrs. Forrester.

"Go on," said the girl, calmly. She had drawn the woman down beside her
on the rattan couch, and clasping her like a child, nodded toward the
piano. "Go on, as if the doctor hadn't--hadn't stopped."

Heywood was first to obey.

"Come, Chantel, chantez! Here's your song." He took the stool in
leap-frog fashion, and struck a droll simultaneous discord. "Come on.--
Well, then, catch me on the chorus!"


"Pour qu' j' finisse
Mon service
Au Tonkin je suis parti!"


To a discreet set of verses, he rattled a bravado accompaniment.
Presently Chantel moved to his side, and, with the same spirit, swung
into the chorus. The tumbled white figure on the couch clung to her
refuge, her bright hair shining below the girl's quiet, thoughtful face.
She was shaken with convulsive regularity.

In his riot of emotions, Rudolph found an over-mastering shame. A
picture returned,--the Strait of Malacca, this woman in the blue
moonlight, a Mistress of Life, rejoicing, alluring,--who was now the
single coward in the room. But was she? The question was quick and
revolting. As quickly, a choice of sides was forced on him. He
understood these people, recalled Heywood's saying, and with that, some
story of a regiment which lay waiting in the open, and sang while the
bullets picked and chose. All together: as now these half-dozen men
were roaring cheerfully:--


"Ma Tonkikí, ma Tonkikí, ma Tonkinoise,
Yen a d'autr's qui m' font les doux yeux,
Mais c'est ell' que j'aim' le mieux!"


The new recruit joined them, awkwardly.



CHAPTER IV


THE SWORD-PEN

"Wutzler was missing last night," said Heywood, lazily. He had finished
breakfast, and lighted a short, fat, glossy pipe. "Just occurred to me.
We must have a look in on him. Poor old Wutz, he's getting worse and
worse. Chantel's right, I fancy: it's the native wife." He rose, with a
short laugh. "Queer. The rest never feel so,--Nesbit, and Sturgeon, and
that lot. But then, they don't fall so low as to marry theirs."

"By the way," he sneered, on the landing, "until this scare blows over,
you'd better postpone any such establishment, if you intend--"

"I do not," stammered Rudolph.

To his amazement, the other clapped him on the shoulder.

"I say!" The sallow face and cynical gray eyes lighted, for the first
time, with something like enthusiasm. Next moment they had darkened
again, but not before he had said gruffly, "You're not a bad
little chap."

Morosely, as if ashamed of this outburst, he led the way through the
bare, sunny compound, and when the gate had closed rattling behind
them, stated their plans concisely and sourly. "No work to-day, not a
stroke! We'll just make it a holiday, catchee good time.--What? No. Rot!
I won't work, and you can't. That's all there is about that. Don't be an
ass! Come along. We'll go out first and see Captain Kneebone." And when
Rudolph, faithful to certain tradesmen snoring in Bremen, would have
protested mildly, he let fly a stinging retort, and did not regain his
temper until they had passed the outskirts of the village. Yet even the
quarrel seemed part of some better understanding, some new, subtle bond
between two lonely men.

Before them opened a broad field dotted with curious white disks, like
bone buttons thrown on a green carpet. Near at hand, coolies trotted and
stooped, laying out more of these circular baskets, filled with tiny
dough-balls. Makers of rice-wine, said Heywood; as he strode along
explaining, he threw off his surly fit. The brilliant sunlight, the
breeze stirring toward them from a background of drooping bamboos, the
gabble of coolies, the faint aroma of the fermenting _no-me_ cakes,
began, after all, to give a truant sense of holiday.

Almost gayly, the companions threaded a marshy path to the river, and
bargained with a shrewd, plump woman who squatted in the bow of a
sampan. She chaffered angrily, then laughed at some unknown saying of
Heywood's, and let them come aboard. Summoned by voluble scolding, her
husband appeared, and placidly labored at the creaking sweep. They
slipped down a river of bronze, between the oozy banks; and the
war-junks, the naked fisherman, the green-coated ruins of forts, drifted
past like things in reverie, while the men lay smoking, basking in
bright weather. They looked up into serene spaces, and forgot the umbra
of pestilence.

Heywood, now lazy, now animated, exchanged barbaric words with the
boat-woman. As their tones rose and fell, she laughed. Long afterward,
Rudolph was to remember her, a wholesome, capable figure in faded blue,
darting keen glances from her beady eyes, flashing her white teeth in a
smile, or laughing till the green pendants of false jade trembled in
her ears.

"Her name is Mrs. Wu," said Heywood, between smoke-rings, "and she is a
lady of humor. We are discussing the latest lawsuit, which she describes
as suing a flea and winning the bite. Her maiden name was the Pretty
Lily. She is captain of this sampan, and fears that her husband does not
rate A. B."

Where the river disembogued, the Pretty Lily, cursing and shrilling,
pattering barefoot about her craft, set a matting sail and caught the
breeze. Over the copper surface of the roadstead, the sampan drew out
handily. Ahead, a black, disreputable little steamer lay anchored, her
name--two enormous hieroglyphics painted amidships--staring a bilious
yellow in the morning sun. Under these, at last, the sampan came
bumping, unperceived or neglected.

Overhead, a pair of white shoes protruded from the rail in a blue film
of smoke. They twitched, as a dry cackle of laughter broke out.

"Kut Sing, ahoy!" shouted Heywood. "On deck! Kneebone!"

The shoes whipped inboard. Outboard popped a ruddy little face, set in
the green circle of a _topi_, and contorted with laughter.

"Listen to this, will ye!" cried the apparition, as though illustrating
a point. Leaning his white sleeves on the rail, cigar in one fist,
Tauchnitz volume in the other, he roared down over the side a passage of
prose, from which his visitors caught only the words "Ginger Dick" and
"Peter Russet," before mirth strangled him.

"God bless a man," he cried, choking, "that can make a lonesome old
beggar laugh, out here! Eh, what? How he ever thinks up--But he's took
to writing plays, they tell me. Plays!" He scowled ferociously. "Fat lot
o' good they are, for skippers, and planters, and gory exiles! Eh, what?
Be-george, I'll write him a chit! _I'll_ tell him! Plays be damned; we
want more stories!"

Red and savage, he hurled the book fluttering into the sea, then swore
in consternation.

"Oh, I say!" he wailed. "Fish her out! I've not finished her. My
intention was, ye know, to fling the bloomin' cigar!"

Heywood, laughing, rescued the volume on a long bamboo.

"Just came out on the look-see, captain," he called up. "Can't board
you. Plague ashore."

"Plague be 'anged!" scoffed the little captain. "That hole's no worse
with plague than't is without. Got two cases on board, myself--coolies.
Stowed 'em topside, under the boats.--Come up here, ye castaway! Come
up, ye goatskin Robinson Crusoe, and get a white man's chow!"

He received them on deck,--a red, peppery little officer, whose shaven
cheeks and close gray hair gave him the look of a parson gone wrong, a
hedge-priest run away to sea. Two tall Chinese boys scurried about with
wicker chairs, with trays of bottles, ice, and cheroots, while he barked
his orders, like a fox-terrier commanding a pair of solemn dock-rats.
The white men soon lounged beside the wheel-house.

"So you brought Mrs. Forrester," drawled Heywood.

Rudolph, wondering if they saw him wince, listened with painful
eagerness. But the captain disposed of that subject very simply.

"_She's_ no good." He stared up at the grimy awning. "What I'm thinking
is, will that there Dacca babu at Koprah slip me through his blessed
quarantine for twenty-five dollars. What?"

Their talk drifted far away from Rudolph, far from China itself, to
touch a hundred ports and islands, Cebu and Sourabaya, Tavoy and
Selangor. They talked of men and women, a death at Zamboanga, a birth at
Chittagong, of obscure heroism or suicide, and fortunes made or lost;
while the two boys, gentle, melancholy, gliding silent in bright blue
robes, spread a white tablecloth, clamped it with shining brass, and
laid the tiffin. Then the talk flowed on, the feast made a tiny clatter
of jollity in the slumbering noon, in the silence of an ocean and a
continent. And when at last the visitors clambered down the iron side,
they went victorious with Spanish wine.

"Mind ye," shouted Captain Kneebone, from the rail, "that don't half
exhaust the subjeck o' lott'ries! Why, luck"--He shook both fists aloft,
triumphantly, as if they had been full of money. "Just ye wait. I've a
tip from Calcutta that--Never mind. Bar sells, when that fortch'n comes,
my boy, the half's yours! Home we go, remember that!"

The sampan drew away. Sweeping his arm violently, to threaten the coast
of China and the whole range of his vision,--

"You're the one man," he roared, "that makes all this mess--worth a
cowrie!"

Heywood laughed, waved his helmet, and when at last he turned, sat
looking downward with a queer smile.

"Illusions!" he chuckled. "What would a chap ever do without 'em? Old
Kneebone there: his was always that--a fortune in a lottery, and then
Home! Illusions! And he's no fool, either. Good navigator. Decent old
beggar." He waved his helmet again, before stretching out to sleep. "Do
you know, I believe--he _would_ take me."

The clinkered hills, quivering in the west, sank gradually into the
heated blur above the plains. As gradually, the two men sank
into dreams.

Furious, metallic cries from the Pretty Lily woke them, in the blue
twilight. She had moored her sampan alongside a flight of stone steps,
up which, vigorously, with a bamboo, she now prodded her husband. He
contended, snarling, but mounted; and when Heywood's silver fell
jingling into her palm, lighted his lantern and scuffed along, a
churlish guide. At the head of the slimy stairs, Heywood rattled a
ponderous gate in a wall, and shouted. Some one came running, shot
bolts, and swung the door inward. The lantern showed the tawny, grinning
face of a servant, as they passed into a small garden, of dwarf orange
trees pent in by a lofty, whitewashed wall.

"These grounds are yours, Hackh," said Heywood. "Your predecessor's boy;
and there"--pointing to a lonely barrack that loomed white over the
stunted grove--"there's your house. You draw the largest in the station.
A Portuguese nunnery, it was, built years ago. My boys are helping set
it to rights; but if you don't mind, I'd like you to stay on at my
beastly hut until this--this business takes a turn. Plenty of time." He
nodded at the fat little orange trees. "We may live to take our chow
under those yet, of an evening. Also a drink. Eh?"

The lantern skipped before them across the garden, through a penitential
courtyard, and under a vaulted way to the main door and the road. With
Rudolph, the obscure garden and echoing house left a sense of magical
ownership, sudden and fleeting, like riches in the Arabian Nights. The
road, leaving on the right a low hill, or convex field, that heaved
against the lower stars, now led the wanderers down a lane of hovels,
among dim squares of smoky lamplight.

Wu, their lantern-bearer, had turned back, and they had begun to pass a
few quiet, expectant shops, when a screaming voice, ahead, outraged the
evening stillness.

At the first words, Heywood doubled his pace.

"Come along. Here's a lark--or a tragedy."

Jostling through a malodorous crowd that blockaded the quarrel, they
gained the threshold of a lighted shop. Against a rank of orderly
shelves, a fat merchant stood at bay, silent, quick-eyed, apprehensive.
Before him, like an actor in a mad scene, a sobbing ruffian, naked to
the waist, convulsed with passion, brandished wild fists and ranted with
incredible sounds. When breath failed, he staggered, gasping, and swept
his audience with the glazed, unmeaning stare of drink or lunacy. The
merchant spoke up, timid and deprecating. As though the words were
vitriol, the other started, whirled face to face, and was seized with a
new raving.

Something protruded at his waistband, like a rudimentary, Darwinian
stump. To this, all at once, his hand flung back. With a wrench and a
glitter, he flourished a blade above his head. Heywood sprang to
intervene, in the same instant that the disturber of trade swept his arm
down in frenzy. Against his own body, hilt and fist thumped home, with
the sound as of a football lightly punted. He turned, with a freezing
look of surprise, plucked at the haft, made one step calmly and
tentatively toward the door, stumbled, and lay retching and coughing.

The fat shop-keeper wailed like a man beside himself. He gabbled,
imploring Heywood. The young man nodded. "Yes, yes," he repeated
irritably, staring down at the body, but listening to the stream
of words.

Murmurs had risen, among the goblin faces blinking in the doorway.
Behind them, a sudden voice called out two words which were caught up
and echoed harshly in the street. Heywood whipped about.

"Never called me that before," he said quickly. "Come outside."

He flung back a hurried sentence to the merchant, caught Rudolph's arm,
and plunged into the crowd. The yellow men gave passage mechanically,
but with lowering faces. Once free in the muddy path, he halted quickly,
and looked about.

"Might have known," he grumbled. "Never called me 'Foreign Dog' before,
or 'Jesus man,' He set 'em on."

Rudolph followed his look. In the dim light, at the outskirts of the
rabble, a man was turning away, with an air of contempt or unconcern.
The long, pale, oval face, the hard eyes gleaming with thought, had
vanished at a glance. A tall, slight figure, stooping in his long robe,
he glided into the darkness. For all his haste, the gait was not the
gait of a coolie.

"That," said Heywood, turning into their former path, "that was Fang,
the Sword-Pen, so-called. Very clever chap. Of the two most dangerous
men in the district, he's one." They had swung along briskly for several
minutes, before he added: "The other most dangerous man--you've met him
already. If I'm not mistaken, he's no less a person than the Reverend
James Earle."

"What!" exclaimed Rudolph, in dull bewilderment.

"Yes," grunted his friend. "The padre. We must find him to-night, and
report."

He strode forward, with no more comment. At his side, Rudolph moved as a
soldier, carried onward by pressure and automatic rhythm, moves in the
apathy of a forced march. The day had been so real, so wholesome, full
of careless talk and of sunlight. And now this senseless picture blotted
all else, and remained,--each outline sharper in memory, the smoky lamp
brighter, the blow of the hilt louder, the smell of peanut oil more
pungent. The episode, to him, was a disconnected, unnecessary fragment,
one bloody strand in the whole terrifying snarl. But his companion
stalked on in silence, like a man who saw a pattern in the web of
things, and was not pleased.



CHAPTER V


IN TOWN

Night, in that maze of alleys, was but a more sinister day. The same
slant-eyed men, in broken files, went scuffing over filthy stone, like
wanderers lost in a tunnel. The same inexplicable noises endured, the
same smells. Under lamps, the shaven foreheads still bent toward
microscopic labor. The curtained window of a fantan shop still glowed in
orange translucency, and from behind it came the murmur and the endless
chinking of cash, where Fortune, a bedraggled, trade-fallen goddess,
split hairs with coolies for poverty or zero. Nothing was altered in
these teeming galleries, except that turbid daylight had imperceptibly
given place to this other dimness, in which lanterns swung like tethered
fire-balloons. Life went on, mysteriously, without change or sleep.

While the two white men shouldered their way along, a strange chorus
broke out, as though from among the crowded carcasses in a butcher's
stall. Shrill voices rose in unearthly discord, but the rhythm was
not of Asia.

"There goes the hymn!" scoffed Heywood. He halted where, between the
butcher's and a book-shop, the song poured loud through an open doorway.
Nodding at a placard, he added: "Here we are: 'Jesus Religion Chapel.'
Hear 'em yanging! 'There is a gate that stands ajar.' That being the
case, in you go!"

Entering a long, narrow room, lighted from sconces at either side, they
sat down together, like schoolmates, on a low form near the door. From a
dais across at the further end, the vigorous white head of Dr. Earle
dominated the company,--a strange company, of lounging Chinamen who
sucked at enormous bamboo pipes, or squinted aimlessly at the vertical
inscriptions on the walls, or wriggling about, stared at the
late-comers, nudged their neighbors, and pointed, with guttural
exclamations. The song had ended, and the padre was lifting up his
giant's voice. To Rudolph, the words had been mere sound and fury, but
for a compelling honesty that needed no translation. This man was not
preaching to heathen, but talking to men. His eyes had the look of one
who speaks earnestly of matters close at hand, direct, and simple. Along
the forms, another and another man forgot to plait his queue, or squirm,
or suck laboriously at his pipe. They listened, stupid or intent. When
some waif from the outer labyrinth scuffed in, affable, impudent,
hailing his friends across the room, he made but a ripple of unrest,
and sank gaping among the others like a fish in a pool.

Even Heywood sat listening--with more attention than respect, for once
he muttered, "Rot!" Toward the close, however, he leaned across and
whispered, "The old boy reels it off rather well to-night. Different to
what one imagined."

Rudolph, for his part, sat watching and listening, surprised by a new
and curious thought.

A band of huddled converts sang once more, in squealing discords, with
an air of sad, compulsory, and diabolic sarcasm. A few "inquirers"
slouched forward, and surrounding the tall preacher, questioned him
concerning the new faith. The last, a broad, misshapen fellow with
hanging jowls, was answered sharply. He stood arguing, received another
snub, and went out bawling and threatening, with the contorted face and
clumsy flourishes of some fabulous hero on a screen.

The missionary approached smiling, but like a man who has finished the
day's work.

"That fellow--Good-evening: and welcome to our Street Chapel, Mr.
Hackh--That fellow," he glanced after the retreating figure, "he's a
lesson in perseverance, gentlemen. A merchant, well-to-do: he has a
lawsuit coming on--notorious--and tries to join us for protection.
Cheaper to buy a little belief, you know, than to pay Yamên fines.
Every night he turns up, grinning and bland. I tell him it won't do, and
out he goes, snorting like a dragon."

Rudolph's impulse came to a head.

"Dr. Earle," he stammered, "I owe you a gratitude. You spoke to these
people so--as--I do not know. But I listened, I felt--Before always are
they devils, images! And after I hear you, they are as men."

The other shook his great head like a silver mane, and laughed.

"My dear young man," he replied, "they're remarkably like you and me."

After a pause, he added soberly:--

"Images? Yes, you're right, sir. So was Adam. The same clay, the same
image." His deep voice altered, his eyes lighted shrewdly, as he turned
to Heywood. "This is an unexpected pleasure."

"Quite," said the young man, readily. "If you don't mind, padre, you
made Number One talk. Fast bowling, and no wides. But we really came for
something else." In a few brief sentences, he pictured the death in the
shop.--So, like winking! The beggar gave himself the iron, fell down,
and made finish. Now what I pieced out, from his own bukhing, and the
merchant's, was this:--

"The dead man was one Aú-yöng, a cormorant-fisher. Some of his best
birds died, he had a long run of bad luck, and came near starving. So he
contrived, rather cleverly, to steal about a hundred catties of Fuh-kien
hemp. The owner, this merchant, went to the elders of Aú-yöng's
neighborhood, who found and restored the hemp, nearly all. Merchant lets
the matter drop. But the neighbors kept after this cormorant fellow,
worked one beastly squeeze or another, ingenious baiting, devilish--Rot!
you know their neighborhoods better than I! Well, they pushed him
down-hill--poor devil, showing that's always possible, no bottom! He
brooded, and all that, till he thought the merchant and the Jesus
religion were the cause of all. So bang he goes down the
pole,--gloriously drunk,--marches into his enemy's shop, and uses that
knife. The joke is now on the merchant, eh?"

"Just a moment," begged the padre. "One thread I don't follow--the
religion. Who was Christian? The merchant?"

"Well, rather! Thought I told you," said Heywood. "One of yours--big,
mild chap--Chok Chung."

The elder man sat musing.

"Yes," the deep bass rumbled in the empty chapel, "he's one of us.
Extremely honest. I'm--I'm very sorry. There may be trouble."

"Must be, sir," prompted the younger. "The mob, meanwhile, just stood
there, dumb,--mutes and audience, you know. All at once, the hindmost
began squalling 'Foreign Dog,' 'Goat Man.' We stepped outside, and
there, passing, if you like, was that gentle bookworm, Mr. Fang."

"Fang?" echoed the padre, as in doubt. "I've heard the name."

"Heard? Why, doctor," cried Heywood, "that long, pale chap,--lives over
toward the Dragon Spring. Confucian, very strict; keen reader; might be
a mandarin, but prefers the country gentleman sort; bally
mischief-maker, he's done more people in the eye than all the Yamên
hacks and all their false witnesses together! Hence his nickname--the
Sword-Pen."

Dr. Earle sharpened his heavy brows, and studied the floor.

"Fang, the Sword-Pen," he growled; "yes, there will be trouble. He hates
us. Given this chance--Humph! Saul of Tarsus.--We're not the Roman
Church," he added, with his first trace of irritation. "Always
occurring, this thing."

Once more he meditated; then heaved his big shoulders to let slip the
whole burden.

"One day at a time," he laughed. "Thank you for telling us.--You see,
Mr. Hackh, they're not devils. The only fault is, they're just human
beings. You don't speak the language? I'll send you my old teacher."

They talked of things indifferent; and when the young men were stumbling
along the streets, he called after them a resounding "Good-night!
Thanks!"--and stood a resolute, gigantic silhouette, filling, as a right
Doone filled their doorframe, the entrance to his deserted chapel.

At his gate, felt Rudolph, they had unloaded some weight of
responsibility. He had not only accepted it, but lightened them further,
girt them, by a word and a look. Somehow, for the first time since
landing, Rudolph perceived that through this difficult, troubled,
ignorant present, a man might burrow toward a future gleam. The feeling
was but momentary. As for Heywood, he still marched on grimly, threading
the stuffed corridors like a man with a purpose.

"No dinner!" he snapped. "Catchee bymby, though. We must see Wutzler
first. To lose sight of any man for twenty-four hours, nowadays,--Well,
it's not hardly fair. Is it?"

They turned down a black lane, carpeted with dry rubbish. At long
intervals, a lantern guttering above a door showed them a hand's-breadth
of the dirty path, a litter of broken withes and basket-weavers' refuse,
between the mouldy wall of the town and a row of huts, no less black and
silent. In this greasy rift the air lay thick, as though smeared into
a groove.

Suddenly, among the hovels, they groped along a checkered surface of
brick-work. The flare of Heywood's match revealed a heavy wooden door,
which he hammered with his fist. After a time, a disgruntled voice
within snarled something in the vernacular. Heywood laughed.

"Ai-yah! Who's afraid? Wutzler, you old pirate, open up!"

A bar clattered down, the door swung back, and there, raising a
glow-worm lantern of oiled paper, stood such a timorous little figure as
might have ventured out from a masquerade of gnomes. The wrinkled face
was Wutzler's, but his weazened body was lost in the glossy black folds
of a native jacket, and below the patched trousers, his bare ankles and
coolie-sandals of straw moved uneasily, as though trying to hide behind
each other.

"Kom in," said this hybrid, with a nervous cackle. "I thought you are
thiefs. Kom in."

Following through a toy courtyard, among shadow hints of pigmy shrubs
and rockery, they found themselves cramped in a bare, clean cell,
lighted by a European lamp, but smelling of soy and Asiatics. Stiff
black-wood chairs lined the walls. A distorted landscape on rice-paper,
narrow scarlet panels inscribed with black cursive characters, pith
flowers from Amoy, made blots of brightness.

"It iss not moch, gentlemen," sighed Wutzler, cringing. "But I am ver'
glad."

Heywood flung himself into a chair.

"Not dead yet, you rascal?" he cried. "And we came all the way to see
you. No chow, either."

"Oh, allow me," mumbled their host, in a flutter. "My--she--I will
speak, I go bring you." He shuffled away, into some further chamber.

Heywood leaned forward quickly.

"Eat it," he whispered, "whether you can or not! Pleases the old one, no
bounds. We're his only visitors--"

"Here iss not moch whiskey." Wutzler came shambling in, held a bottle
against the light, and squinted ruefully at the yellow dregs. "I will
gif you a _kong_ full, but I haf not."

He dodged out again. They heard his angry whispers, and a small
commotion of the household,--brazen dishes clinking, squeals, titters,
and tiny bare feet skipping about,--all the flurry of a rabbit-hutch in
Wonderland. Once, near the threshold, a chubby face, very pale, with
round eyes of shining jet, peered cautious as a mouse, and popped out of
sight with a squeak. Wutzler, red with excitement, came and went like an
anxious waiter, bringing in the feast.

"Here iss not moch," he repeated sadly. But there were bits of pig-skin
stewed in oil; bean-cakes; steaming buns of wheat-flour, stuffed with
dice of fat pork and lumps of sugar; three-cornered rice puddings,
_no-me_ boiled in plantain-leaf wrappers; with the last of the whiskey,
in green cups. While the two men ate, the shriveled outcast beamed
timidly, hovering about them, fidgeting.

"Herr Hackh," he suddenly exclaimed, in a queer, strained voice, "you do
not know how dis yong man iss goot! No! He hass to me--_immer_--" He
choked, turned away, and began fussing with the pith flowers; but not
before Rudolph had seen a line glistening down the sun-dried cheeks.

"Stuff! Cadging for chow, does one acquire merit?" retorted Heywood,
over his shoulder. "You talk like a bonze, Wutz." He winked. "I'd rather
hear the sing-song box."

"_Ach so_, I forget!" Still whimpering, Wutzler dragged something from a
corner, squatted, and jerked at a crank, with a noise of ratchets. "She
blay not so moch now," he snuffled. "Captain Kneepone he has gifen her,
when she iss all op inside for him. I haf rebaired, but she blay only
one song yet. A man does not know, Herr Hackh, what he may be. Once I
haf piano, and viola my own, yes, and now haf I diss small, laffing,
sick teufel!" He rose, and faced Heywood with a trembling, passionate
gesture. "But diss yong man, he stand by der oldt fellow!" The streaming
eyes blinked absurdly.

Behind him, with a whirring sound, a metallic voice assailed them in a
gabble of words, at first husky and broken, then clear, nasal, a voice
from neither Europe nor Asia, but America:--


"Then did I laff?
Ooh, aha-ha ha ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
I could not help but laffing,
Ooh, aha-ha ..."


From a throat of tin, it mocked them insanely with squealing,
black-hearted guffaws. Heywood sat smoking, with the countenance of a
stoic; but when the laughter in the box was silent, he started abruptly.

"We're off, old chap," he announced. "Bedtime. Just came to see you were
all up-standing. Tough as ever? Good! Don't let--er--anything carry
you off."

At the gate, Wutzler held aloft his glow-worm lantern.

"Dose fellows catch me?" he mumbled, "Der plagues--dey will forget me.
All zo many shoots, _kugel_, der bullet,--'_gilt's mir, oder gilt es
dir?_' Men are dead in der Silk-Weafer Street. Dey haf hong up nets, and
dorns, to keep out der plague's-goblins off deir house. Listen, now, dey
beat gongs!--But we are white men. You--you tell me zo, to-night!" He
blubbered something incoherent, but as the gate slammed they heard the
name of God, in a broken benediction.

They had groped out of the cleft, and into a main corridor, before
Heywood paused.

"That devil in the box!" He shook himself like a spaniel. "Queer it
should get into me so. But I hate being laughed at by--anybody."

A confused thunder of gongs, the clash of cymbals smothered in the
distance, maintained a throbbing uproar, pierced now and then by savage
yells, prolonged and melancholy. As the two wanderers listened,--

"Where's the comfort," said Heywood, gloomily, "of knowing somebody's
worse off?--No, I wasn't thinking of Wutzler, then. Talk of germs! why,
over there, it's goblins they're scaring away. Think, behind their nets
and thorns, what wretches--women, too, and kids--may be crouched down,
quaking, sick with terror. Humph!--I don't mind saying"--for a moment
his hand lay on Rudolph's shoulder--"that I loathe giving this muck-hole
the satisfaction--I'd hate to go Out here, that's all."



CHAPTER VI


THE PAGODA

He was spared that inconvenience. The untimely rain and cold, some
persons said, the few days of untimely heat following, had drowned or
dried, frozen or burnt out, the seeds of peril. But accounts varied,
reasons were plentiful. Soldiers had come down from the chow city,
two-score _li_ inland, and charging through the streets, hacking and
slashing the infested air, had driven the goblins over the walls, with a
great shout of victory. A priest had freighted a kite with all the evil,
then cut it adrift in the sky. A mob had dethroned the God of Sickness,
and banished his effigy in a paper junk, launched on the river at night,
in flame. A geomancer proclaimed that a bamboo grove behind the town
formed an angle most correct, germane, and pleasant to the Azure Dragon
and the White Tiger, whose occult currents, male and female, run
throughout Nature. For any or all of these reasons, the town was
delivered. The pestilence vanished, as though it had come but to grant
Monsieur Jolivet his silence, and to add a few score uncounted living
wretches to the dark, mighty, imponderable host of ancestors.

The relief, after dragging days of uncertainty, came to Rudolph like a
sea-breeze to a stoker. To escape and survive,--the bare experience
seemed to him at first an act of merit, the deed of a veteran. The
interim had been packed with incongruity. There had been a dinner with
Kempner, solemn, full of patriotism and philosophy; a drunken dinner at
Teppich's; another, and a worse, at Nesbit's; and the banquet of a
native merchant, which began at four o'clock on melon-seeds, tea, black
yearling eggs, and a hot towel, and ended at three in the morning on
rice-brandy and betel served by unreal women with chalked faces and
vermilion-spotted lips, simpering and melancholy. By day, there was
work, or now and then a lesson with Dr. Earle's teacher, a little aged
Chinaman of intricate, refined, and plaintive courtesy. Under his
guidance Rudolph learned rapidly, taking to study as a prodigal might
take to drink. And with increasing knowledge came increasing
tranquillity; as when he found that the hideous cry, startling him at
every dawn, was the signal not for massacre, but buffalo-milk.

Then, too, came the mild excitement of moving into his own house, the
Portuguese nunnery. Through its desolate, lime-coated spaces, his meagre
belongings were scattered all too easily; but the new servants, their
words and ways, not only kept his hands full, but gave strange food for
thought. The silent evenings, timed by the plash of a frog in a pool, a
cry from the river, or the sing-song of a "boy" improvising some endless
ballad below-stairs; drowsy noons above the little courtyard, bare and
peaceful as a jail; homesick moments at the window, when beyond the
stunted orangery, at sunset, the river was struck amazingly from bronze
to indigo, or at dawn flashed from pearl-gray to flowing brass;--all
these, and nights between sleep and waking, when fancy peopled the
echoing chambers with the visionary lives, now ended, of meek, brown
sisters from Goa or Macao, gave to Rudolph intimations, vague, profound,
and gravely happy, as of some former existence almost recaptured. Once
more he felt himself a householder in the Arabian tales.

And yet, when his life was growing all but placid, across it shot some
tremor of disquieting knowledge.

One evening, after a busy day among his piece-goods, he had walked
afield with Heywood, and back by an aimless circuit through the
twilight. His companion had been taciturn, of late; and they halted,
without speaking, where a wide pool gleamed toward a black, fantastic
belt of knotted willows and sharp-curving roofs. Through these broke the
shadow of a small pagoda, jagged as a war-club of shark's teeth. Vesper
cymbals clashed faintly in a temple, and from its open door the first
plummet of lamplight began to fathom the dark margin. A short bridge
curved high, like a camel's hump, over the glimmering half-circle of a
single arch. Close by, under a drooping foreground of branches, a stake
upheld an oblong placard of neat symbols, like a cartouche to explain
a painting.

"It is very beautiful," ventured Rudolph, twisting up his blond
moustache with satisfaction. "Very sightly. I would say--picturesque, no?"

"Very," said Heywood, absently. "Willow Pattern."

"And the placard, so finishing, so artistic--That says?"

"Eh, what? Oh, I wasn't listening." Heywood glanced carelessly at the
upright sentence. That's a notice:--

"'Girls May Not be Drowned in This Pond.'"

He started on, without comment. Without reply, Rudolph followed,
gathering as he walked the force of this tremendous hint. Slow,
far-reaching, it poisoned the elegiac beauty of the scene, alienated the
night, and gave to the fading country-side a yet more ancient look,
sombre and implacable. He was still pondering this, when across their
winding foot-path, with a quick thud of hoofs, swept a pair of
equestrian silhouettes. It was half glimpse, half conjecture,--the tough
little ponies trotting stubbornly, a rider who leaned across laughing,
and a woman who gayly cried at him: "You really do understand me, don't
you?" The two jogging shadows melted in the bamboo tracery, like things
blown down the wind. But for years Rudolph had known the words, the
laugh, the beguiling cadence, and could have told what poise of the head
went with them, what dangerous glancing light. Suddenly, without reason,
he felt a gust of rage. It was he that understood. It was to him these
things belonged. The memory of her weakness was lost in the shining
memory of her power. He should be riding there, in the dusk of this
lonely and cruel land.

Heywood had thrown after them a single gloomy stare, down the pointed
aisle of bamboos.

"Well matched!" he growled. "Chantel--He bounds in the saddle, and he
bounds afoot!"

Rudolph knew that he had hated Chantel at sight.

He could not bring himself, next day, to join their party for tiffin at
the Flowery Pagoda. But in the midst of his brooding, Teppich and the
fat Sturgeon assailed the nunnery gate with pot-valiant blows and
shouts. They had brought chairs, to carry him off; and being in no mood
to fail, though panting and struggling, they packed him into a
palanquin with many bottles of the best wine known to Fliegelman and
Sons. By a short cut through the streets--where checkered sunshine,
through the lattice roof, gave a muddy, subdued light as in a roiled
aquarium--the revelers passed the inland wall. Here, in the shade,
grooms awaited them with ponies; and scrambling into saddle, they
trotted off through gaps in the bamboos, across a softly rolling
country. Tortuous foot-paths of vivid pink wound over brilliant green
terraces of young paddy. The pink crescents of new graves scarred the
hillsides, already scalloped and crinkled with shelving abodes of the
venerable dead. Great hats of farmers stooping in the fields, gleamed in
the sun like shields of brass. Over knolls and through hollows the
little cavalcade jogged steadily, till, mounting a gentle eminence, they
wound through a grove of camphor and Flame-of-the-Forest. Above the
branches rose the faded lilac shaft of an ancient pagoda, ruinously
adorned with young trees and wild shrubs clinging in the cornices.

At the foot of this aged fantasy in stone, people were laughing. The
three riders broke cover in time to see Mrs. Forrester, flushed and
radiant, end some narrative with a droll pantomime. She stood laughing,
the life and centre of a delighted group.

"And Gilbert Forrester," she cried, turning archly on her husband,
"said that wasn't funny!"

Gilly tugged his gray moustache, in high good-nature. Chantel, Nesbit,
and Kempner laughed uproariously, the padre and the dark-eyed Miss Drake
quietly, Heywood more quietly, while even stout, uneasy Mrs. Earle
smiled as in duty bound. A squad of Chinese boys, busy with
tiffin-baskets, found time to grin. To this lively actress in the white
gown they formed a sylvan audience under the gnarled boughs and
the pagoda.

"Too late!" called the white-haired giant, indulgently, to the
dismounting trio. "Mr. Hackh, you should have come spurring."

Rudolph advanced, pale, but with a calmness of which, afterward, he was
justly proud. The heroine of the moment turned toward him quickly, with
a look more natural, more sincere, than she had ever given him.

"Is this Mr. Hackh?" she said graciously. "I've heard so much about
you!"

The young man himself was almost deceived. Was there a German mail-boat?
Was there a club, from which he had stolen out while she wept,
ignominiously, in that girl's arms? And then of a sudden he perceived,
with a fatuous pleasure, how well she knew him, to know that he had
never spoken. His English, as he drew up a stool beside Miss Drake, was
wild and ragged; but he found her an astonishing refuge. For the first
time, he recalled that this quiet girl had been beautiful, the other
night; and though now by day that beauty was rather of line than of
color, he could not understand how it had been overlooked. Tiffin,
meanwhile, sped by like an orgy. He remembered asking so many questions,
about the mission hospital and her school for orphans, that the girl
began at last to answer with constraint, and with puzzled, sidelong
scrutiny. He remembered how even the tolerant Heywood shot a questioning
glance toward his wine-glass. He remembered telling a brilliant story,
and reciting "Old Captain Mau in Vegesack,"--rhymes long forgotten, now
fluent and spontaneous. The applause was a triumph. Through it, as
through a haze, he saw a pair of wide blue eyes shining with startled
admiration.

But the best came when the sun had lowered behind the grove, the company
grown more silent, and Mrs. Forrester, leaning beside the door of the
tower, turned the great pegs of a Chinese lute. The notes tinkled like a
mandolin, but with now and then an alien wail, a lament unknown to the
West. "Sing for us," begged the dark-eyed girl; "a native song." The
other smiled, and bending forward as if to recollect, began in a low
voice, somewhat veiled, but musical and full of meaning. "The Jasmine
Flower," first; then, "My Love is Gathering Dolichos"; and then she
sang the long Ballad of the Rice,--of the husband and wife planting side
by side, the springing of the green blades, the harvest by millions upon
millions of sheaves, the wealth of the State, more fragrant to ancestors
than offerings of spice:--


"...O Labor and Love and hallowed Land!
Think you these things are but still to come?
Think you they are but near at hand,
Only now and here?--Behold.
They were the same in years of old!"


In her plaintive interlude, the slant-eyed servants watched her, nodding
and muttering under the camphor trees.

"And here's a song of exile," she said. "I render it very
badly."--Rudolph had never seen her face like this, bending intently
above the lute. It was as though in the music she found and disclosed
herself, without guile.


"...Blue was the sky,
And blue the rice-pool water lay
Holding the sky;
Blue was the robe she wore that day.
Alas, my sorrow! Why
Must life bear all away,
Away, away,
Ah, my beloved, why?"


A murmur of praise went round the group, as she put aside the
instrument.

"The sun's getting low," she said lightly, "and I _must_ see that view
from the top." Chantel was rising, but sat down again with a scowl, as
she turned to Rudolph. "You've never seen it, Mr. Hackh? Do come help
me up."

Inside, with echoing steps, they mounted in a squalid well, obscurely
lighted from the upper windows, toward which decaying stairs rose in a
dangerous spiral, without guard-rail. A misstep being no trifle, Rudolph
offered his hand for the mere safety; but she took it with a curious
little laugh. They climbed cautiously. Once, at a halt, she stood very
close, with eyes shining large in the dusk. Her slight body trembled,
her head shook with stifled merriment, like a girl overcome by mischief.

"What a queer little world!" she whispered. "You and I here!--I never
dreamed you could be funny. It made me so proud of you, down there!"

He muttered something vague; and--the stairs ending in ruin at the
fourth story--handed her carefully through the window to a small outer
balustrade. As they stood together at the rail, he knew not whether to
be angry, suspicious, or glad.

"I love this prospect," she began quietly. "That's why I wanted you to
come."

Beyond the camphors, a wide, strange landscape glowed in the full,
low-streaming light. The ocean lay a sapphire band in the east; in the
west, on a long ridge, undulated the gray battlements of a city, the
antique walls, warmed and glorified, breasting the flood of sunset. All
between lay vernal fields and hillocks, maidenhair sprays of bamboo, and
a wandering pattern of pink foot-paths. Slowly along one of these, a
bright-gowned merchant rode a white pony, his bells tinkling in the
stillness of sea and land. Everywhere, like other bells more tiny and
shrill, sounded the trilling of frogs.

As the two on the pagoda stood listening,--

"It was before Rome," she declared thoughtfully. "Before Egypt, and has
never changed. You and I are just--" She broke off, humming:--


"Only here and now? Behold
They were the same in years of old!"


Her mood colored the scene: the aged continuity of life oppressed him.
Yet he chose rather to watch the straggling battlements, far off, than
to meet her eyes or see her hair gleaming in the sun. Through many
troubled days he had forgotten her, despised her, bound his heart in
triple brass against a future in her hateful neighborhood; and now,
beside her at this time-worn rail, he was in danger of being happy. It
was inglorious. He tried to frown.

"You poor boy." Suddenly, with an impulse that must have been generous,
she rested her hand on his arm. "I was sorry. I thought of you
so often."

At these close quarters, her tremulous voice and searching upward glance
meant that she alone understood all his troubles. He started, turned for
some rush of overwhelming speech, when a head popped through the window
behind them.

"Boot and saddle, Mrs. Forrester," announced Heywood. His lean young
face was very droll and knowing. "We're leaving, bottom-side."

"Thank you so much, Maurice," she answered, perhaps dryly. "You're a
dear, to climb all those dreadful stairs."

"Oh!" said Heywood, with his gray eyes fastened on Rudolph, "no
trouble."

All three went down the dark well together.

When the company were mounted, and trooping downhill through the camphor
shadow, Heywood's pony came sidling against Rudolph's, till legging
chafed legging.

"You blossomed, old boy," he whispered. "Quite the star, after your
comedy turn." He reined aside, grinning. "What price sympathy on
a pagoda?"

For that moment, Rudolph could have struck down the one sure friend he
had in China.



CHAPTER VII


IPHIGENIA

"Don't chop off a hen's head with a battle-axe." Heywood, still with a
malicious, friendly quirk at the corners of his mouth, held in his
fretful pony. Rudolph stood bending a whip viciously. They two had
fetched a compass about the town, and now in the twilight were parting
before the nunnery gate. "A tiff's the last thing I'd want with you. The
lady, in confidence, is not worth--"

"I do not wish," declared Rudolph, trembling,--"I do not wish you to say
those things, so!"

"Right!" laughed the other, and his pony wheeled at the word. "I'll give
you one month--no: you're such a good, thorough little chap, it will
take longer--two months, to change your mind. Only"--he looked down at
Rudolph with a comic, elderly air--"let me observe, our yellow people
have that rather neat proverb. A hen's head, dear chap,--not with a
battle-axe! No. Hot weather's coming, too. No sorrows of Werther, now,
over such"--He laughed again. "Don't scowl, I'll be good. I won't say
it. You'll supply the word, in two months!"

He let the pony have his way, and was off in a clatter. Lonely, fuming
with resentment, Rudolph stared after him. What could he know, this
airy, unfeeling meddler, so free with his advice and innuendo? Let him
go, then, let him canter away. He had seen quickly, guessed with a
diabolic shrewdness, yet would remain on the surface, always, of a
mystery so violent and so profound. The young man stalked into his
vacant nunnery in a rage, a dismal pomp of emotion: reason telling him
that a friend had spoken sense, imagination clothing him in the sceptred
pall of tragedy.

Yet one of these unwelcome words had stuck: he was Werther, it was
true--a man who came too late. Another word was soon fulfilled; for the
hot weather came, sudden, tropical, ferocious. Without gradation, the
vernal days and languid noons were gone in a twinkling. The change came
like another act of a play. One morning--though the dawn stirred cool
and fragrant as all dawns before--the "boy" laid out Rudolph's white
tunic, slipped in the shining buttons, smeared pipe-clay on his heaviest
helmet; and Rudolph, looking from his window, saw that on the river, by
the same instinct, boatmen were stretching up their bamboo awnings.
Breakfast was hardly ended, before river, and convex field, and huddling
red tiles of the town, lay under a blurred, quivering distortion. The
day flamed. At night, against a glow of fiery umber, the western hills
broke sharp and thin as sheet-iron, while below them rose in flooding
mirage a bright strip of magical water.

Thus, in these days, he rode for his exercise while the sun still lay
behind the ocean; and thus her lively, pointed face and wide blue eyes,
wondering or downcast or merry, were mingled in his thoughts with the
first rousing of the world, the beat of hoofs in cool silences, the wide
lights of creation over an aged, weary, alien empire. Their ponies
whinnying like old friends, they met, by chance or appointment, before
the power of sleep had lifted from eyes still new and strange against
the morning. Sometimes Chantel the handsome rode glowering beside them,
sometimes Gilly, erect and solid in the saddle, laid upon their talk all
the weight of his honest, tired commonplaces.

But one morning she cantered up alone, laughing at her escape. His pony
bolted, and they raced along together as comrades happily join forces in
a headlong dream. Quivering bamboo swept behind them; the river, on
their other hand, met and passed in hurrying panorama. They had no time
for words, but only laughter. Words, indeed, had never yet advanced them
beyond that moment on the pagoda. And now, when their ponies fell into
a shambling trot, came the first impulse of speech.

"How lucky!" she cried. "How lucky we came this way! Now I can really
test you!"

He turned. Her glowing face was now averted, her gesture was not for
him, but for the scene. He studied that, to understand her.

The river, up which they had fled, now rested broad and quiet as a
shallow lake, burnished faintly, brooded over by a floating, increasing
light, not yet compounded into day. Tussocks, innumerable clods and
crumbs of vivid green, speckled all the nearer water. On some of these
storks meditated,--sage, pondering heads and urbane bodies perched high
on the frailest penciling of legs. In the whole expanse, no movement
came but when a distant bird, leaving his philosophic pose, plunged
downward after a fish. Beyond them rose a shapeless mound or isle, like
some half-organic monster grounded in his native ooze.

"There!" said the woman, pointing. "Are you all excuses, like the
others? Or do you dare?"

"I am not afraid of anything--now," retorted Rudolph, and with truth,
after the dash of their twilight encounter. "Dare what?"

"Go see what's on that island," she answered. "I dared them all. Twice
I've seen natives land there and hurry away. Mr. Nesbit was too lazy to
try; Dr. Chantel wearing his best clothes. Maurice Heywood refused to
mire his horse for a whim. Whim? It's a mystery! Come, now. Do
you dare?"

In a rare flush of pride, Rudolph wheeled his stubborn mount and bullied
him down the bank. A poor horseman, he would have outstripped Curtius to
the gulf. But no sooner had his dancing pony consented to make the first
rebellious, sidelong plunge, than he had small joy of his boast.
Fore-legs sank floundering, were hoisted with a terrified wrench of the
shoulders, in the same moment that hind-legs went down as by suction.
The pony squirmed, heaved, wrestled in a frenzy, and churning the red
water about his master's thighs, went deeper and fared worse. With a
clangor of wings, the storks rose, a streaming rout against the sky,
trailed their tilted legs, filed away in straggling flight, like figures
interlacing on a panel. At the height of his distress, Rudolph caught a
whirling glimpse of the woman above him, safe on firm earth, easy in her
saddle, and laughing. Quicksand, then, was a joke,--but he could not
pause for this added bewilderment.

The pony, using a skill born of agony, had found somewhere a solid verge
and scrambled up, knee-deep, well out from the bank. With a splash,
Rudolph stood beside him among the tufts of salad green. As he patted
the trembling flanks, he heard a cry from the shore.

"Oh, well done!" she mocked them. "Well done!"

A gust of wholesome anger refreshed him. She might laugh, but now he
would see this folly through. He tore off his coat, flung it across the
saddle, waded out alone through the tussocks, and shooting forward full
length in the turbid water, swam resolutely for the island.

Sky and water brightened while he swam; and as he rose, wrapped in the
leaden weight of dripping clothes, the sun, before and above him,
touched wonderfully the quaggy bank and parched grasses. He lurched
ashore, his feet caked with enormous clods as of melting chocolate. A
filthy scramble left him smeared and disheveled on the summit. He had
come for nothing. The mound lay vacant, a tangled patch, a fragment of
wilderness.

Yet as he stood panting, there rose a puny, miserable sound. What
presence could lurk there? The distress, it might be, of some small
animal--a rabbit dying in a forgotten trap. Faint as illusion, a wail, a
thin-spun thread of sorrow, broke into lonely whimpering, and ceased. He
moved forward, doubtfully, and of a sudden, in the scrubby level of the
isle, stumbled on the rim of a shallow circular depression.

At first, he could not believe the discovery; but next instant--as at
the temple pond, though now without need of placard or interpreter--he
understood. This bowl, a tiny crater among the weeds, showed like some
paltry valley of Ezekiel, a charnel place of Herod's innocents, the
battlefield of some babes' crusade. A chill struck him, not from the
water or the early mists. In stupor, he viewed that savage fact.

Through the stillness of death sounded again the note of living
discontent. He was aware also of some stir, even before he spied, under
a withered clump, the saffron body of an infant girl, feebly squirming.
By a loathsome irony, there lay beside her an earthen bowl of rice, as
an earnest or symbol of regret.

Blind pity urged him into the atrocious hollow. Seeing no further than
the present rescue, he caught up the small unclean sufferer, who moaned
the louder as he carried her down the bank, and waded out through the
sludge. To hold the squalling mouth above water, and swim, was no simple
feat; yet at last he came floundering among the tussocks, wrapped the
naked body in his jacket, and with infinite pains tugged his terrified
pony along a tortuous bar to the land.

Once in the river-path, he stood gloomily, and let Mrs. Forrester canter
up to join him. Indeed, he had almost forgotten her.

"Splendid!" she laughed. "What a figure of fun! But what can you have
brought back? Oh, please! I can't wait!"

He turned on her a muddy, haggard face, without enthusiasm, and gently
unfolded the coat. The man and the woman looked down together, in
silence, at the child. He had some foolish hope that she would take it,
that his part was ended. Like an outlandish doll, with face contorted
and thick-lidded eyes shut tightly against the sunshine, the outcast
whimpered, too near the point of death for even the rebellion of
arms and legs.

The woman in the saddle gave a short, incredulous cry. Her face, all gay
curiosity, had darkened in a shock of disgust.

"What in the world!" she scolded. "Oh! Such a nasty little--Why
did--What do you propose doing with it?"

Rudolph shook his head, like a man caught in some stupid blunder.

"I never thought of that," he explained heavily. "She has no--no
friends."

"Cover it," his companion ordered. "Cover it up. I can't bear to see
it."

With a sombre, disappointed air, he obeyed; then looked up, as if in her
face he read strange matter.

"I can't bear," she added quickly, "to see any kind of suffering. Why
did--It's all my fault for sending you! We were having such a good ride
together, and now I've spoiled it all, with this.--Poor little filthy
object!" She turned her hands outward, with a helpless, dainty gesture.
"But what can we do? These things happen every day."

Rudolph was studying the ground again. His thoughts, then, had wronged
her. Drenched and downhearted, holding this strange burden in his
jacket, he felt that he had foolishly meddled in things inevitable,
beyond repair. She was right. Yet some vague, insurgent instinct, which
would not down, told him that there had been a disappointment. Still,
what had he expected? No woman could help; no woman.

Then suddenly he mounted, bundle and all, and turned his willing pony
homeward.

"Come," he said; and for the first time, unwittingly, had taken charge.

"What is it?" she called. "You foolish boy! What's your plan?"

"We shall see," he answered. Without waiting, he beckoned her to follow.
She came. They rode stirrup to stirrup, silent as in their escape at
dawn, and as close bodily, but in spirit traveling distant parallels. He
gave no thought to that, riding toward his experiment. Near the town, at
last, he reined aside to a cluster of buildings,--white walls and rosy
tiles under a great willow.

"You may save your steps," she declared, with sudden petulance. "The
hospital's more out of funds than ever, and more crowded. They'll not
thank you."

Rudolph nodded back at her, with a queer smile, half reckless and half
confident.

"Then," he replied, dismounting, "I will replenish my nunnery."

Squatting coolies sprang up and raced to hold his pony. Others, in the
shade of the wall, cackled when they saw a Son of the Red-Haired so
beplastered and sopping. A few pointed at his bundle, with grunts of
sudden interest; and a leper, bearing the visage as of a stone lion
defaced by time, cried something harshly. At his words, the whole band
of idlers began to chatter.

Rudolph turned to aid his companion. She sat watching them sharply. An
uneasy light troubled the innocent blue eyes, which had not even a
glance for him.

"No, I shan't get down," she said angrily. "It's just what might
be--Your little brat will bring no good to any of us."

He flung away defiantly, strode through the gate, and calling aloud,
traversed an empty compound, already heated by the new-risen sun. A
cooler fringe of veranda, or shallow cloister, lined a second court. Two
figures met him,--the dark-eyed Miss Drake, all in white, and behind
her a shuffling, grinning native woman, who carried a basin, in which
permanganate of potash swam gleaming like diluted blood.

"Good-morning." With one droll look of amusement, the girl had
understood, and regained that grave yet happy, friendly composure which
had the virtue, he discovered, of being easily forgotten, to be met each
time like something new. "What have you there for us?"

Again he unfolded the jacket.

"A child."

The naked mite lay very still, the breath weakly fluttered. A somewhat
nauseous gift, the girl raised her arms and received it gently, without
haste,--the saffron body appearing yet more squalid against the
Palladian whiteness of her tunic, plain and cool as drapery in marble.

"It may live," she said. "We'll do what we can." And followed by the
black-trousered woman, she moved quickly away to offer battle with
death. A plain, usual fact, it seemed, involving no more surprise than
repugnance. Her face had hardly altered; and yet Rudolph, for the first
time in many days, had caught the fleeting brightness of compassion.
Mere light of the eyes, a half-imagined glory, incongruous in the sharp
smell of antiseptics, it left him wondering in the cloister. He knew now
what had been missing by the river. "I was naked, and"--how ran the
lines? He turned to go, recalling in a whirl snatches of truth he had
never known since boyhood, never seen away from home.

Across a court the padre hailed him,--a tall, ungainly patriarch under
an enormous mushroom helmet of solar pith,--and walking along beside,
listened shrewdly to his narrative. They paused at the outer gate. The
padre, nodding, frowning slightly, stood at ease, all angles and loose
joints, as if relaxed by the growing heat.

Suddenly he stood erect as a grenadier.

"That lie again!" he cried. "Listen!"

The leper, without, harangued from his place apart, in a raucous voice
filled with the solitary pride of intellect.

"Well, men shall revile you," growled Dr. Earle. "He says we steal
children, to puncture their eyes for magic medicine!"

Then, heaving his wide shoulders,--

"Oh, well!" he said wearily, "thanks, anyhow. Come see us, when we're
not so busy? Good!--Look out these fellows don't fly at you."

Tired and befouled, Rudolph passed through into the torrid glare. The
leper cut short his snarling oration. But without looking at him, the
young man took the bridle from the coolie. There had been a test. He had
seen a child, and two women. And yet it was with a pang he found that
Mrs. Forrester had not waited.



CHAPTER VIII


THE HOT NIGHT

Rudolph paced his long chamber like a wolf,--a wolf in summer, with too
thick a coat. In sweat of body and heat of mind, he crossed from window
to window, unable to halt.

A faintly sour smell of parched things, oppressing the night without
breath or motion, was like an interminable presence, irritating,
poisonous. The punkah, too, flapped incessant, and only made the lamp
gutter. Broad leaves outside shone in mockery of snow; and like snow the
stifled river lay in the moonlight, where the wet muzzles of buffaloes
glistened, floating like knots on sunken logs, or the snouts of
crocodiles. Birds fluttered, sleepless and wretched. Coolies, flung
asleep on the burnt grass, might have been corpses, but for the sound of
their troubled breathing.

"If I could believe," he groaned, sitting with hands thrust through his
hair. "If I believe in her--But I came too late."

The lamp was an added torment. He sprang up from it, wiped the drops off
his forehead, and paced again. He came too late. All alone. The collar
of his tunic strangled him. He stuffed his fingers underneath, and
wrenched; then as he came and went, catching sight in a mirror, was
shocked to see that, in Biblical fashion, he had rent his garments.

"This is bad," he thought, staring. "It is the heat. I must not stay
alone."

He shouted, clapped his hands for a servant, and at last, snatching a
coat from his unruffled boy, hurried away through stillness and
moonlight to the detested club. On the stairs a song greeted him,--a
fragment with more breath than melody, in a raw bass:--


"Jolly boating weather,
And a hay harvest breeze!"


"Shut up!" snarled another voice. "Good God, man!"

The loft was like a cave heated by subterranean fires. Two long punkahs
flapped languidly in the darkness, with a whine of pulleys. Under a
swinging lamp, in a pool of light and heat, four men sat playing cards,
their tousled heads, bare arms, and cinglets torn open across the chest,
giving them the air of desperadoes.

"Jolly boating weather," wheezed the fat Sturgeon. He stood apart in
shadow, swaying on his feet. "What would you give," he propounded
thickly, "for a hay harvest breeze?"

He climbed, or rolled, upon the billiard-table, turned head toward
punkah, and suddenly lay still,--a gross white figure, collapsed and
sprawling.

"How much does he think a man can stand?" snapped Nesbit, his lean
Cockney face pulled in savage lines. "Beast of a song! He'll die
to-night, drinking."

"Die yourself," mumbled the singer, "'m goin' sleep. More 'n you can
do."

A groan from the players, and the vicious flip of a card, acknowledged
the hit. Rudolph joined them, ungreeting and ungreeted. The game went on
grimly, with now and then the tinkle of ice, or the popping of soda
bottles. Sharp cords and flaccid folds in Wutzler's neck, Chantel's
brown cheeks, the point of Heywood's resolute chin, shone wet and
polished in the lamplight. All four men scowled pugnaciously, even the
pale Nesbit, who was winning. Bad temper filled the air, as palpable as
the heat and stink of the burning oil.

Only Heywood maintained a febrile gayety, interrupting the game
perversely, stirring old Wutzler to incoherent speech.

"What's that about Rome?" he asked. "You were saying?"

"Rome is safed!" cried the outcast, with sudden enthusiasm. "In your
paper _Tit-bit_, I read. How dey climb der walls op, yes, but Rome is
safed by a flook of geeze. Gracious me, der History iss great sopjeck!
I lern moch.--But iss Rome yet a fortify town?"

Chantel rapped out a Parisian oath.

"Do we play cards," he cried sourly, "or listen to the chatter of
senility?"

Heywood held to the previous question.

"No, Wutz, that town's no longer fortified," he answered slowly. "Geese
live there, still, as in--many other places."

Dr. Chantel examined his finger-tips as though for some defect; then,
snatching up the cards, shuffled and dealt with intense precision. The
game went on as before.

"I read alzo," stammered Wutzler, like a timid scholar encouraged to
lecture, "I read zo how your Englishman, Rawf Ralli, he spreadt der fine
clock for your Queen, and lern your Queen smoking, no?" He mopped his
lean throat with the back of his hand. "In Bengal are dere Rallis. Dey
handle jute."

"Yes?" Heywood smiled a weary indulgence. Next instant he whirled on
Rudolph in fury.--"Is this a game, or Idiot's Joy?"

"I'm playing my best," explained Rudolph, sulkily.

"Then your best is the worst I ever saw! Better learn, before sitting
in!"

Chantel laughed, without merriment; Rudolph flung down his cards,
stalked to the window, and stood looking out, in lonely, impotent rage.
A long time passed, marked by alarming snores from the billiard-table.
The half-naked watchers played on, in ferocious silence. The night wore
along without relief.

Hours might have lapsed, when Dr. Chantel broke out as though the talk
had but paused a moment.

"So it goes!" he sneered. "Fools will always sit in, when they do not
know. They rush into the water, also, and play the hero!"

Again his laughter was brief but malignant. Heywood had left his cards,
risen, and crossing the room, stood looking over Rudolph's shoulder into
the snowy moonlight. On the shoulder his hand rested, as by accident.

"It's the heat, old chap," he said wearily. "Don't mind what we say
to-night."

Rudolph made no sign, except to move from under his hand, so that, with
their quarrel between them, the two men stared out across the blanched
roofs and drooping trees, where long black shadows at last crept
toward the dawn.

"These heroes!" continued the mocker. "What is danger? Pouf--nothing!
They make it for the rest of us, so easily! Do you know," his voice rose
and quickened, "do you know, the other end of town is in an uproar? We
murder children, it appears, for medicine!"

Rudolph started, turned, but now sat quiet under Heywood's grasp.
Chantel, in the lamplight, watched the punkahs with a hateful smile.

"The Gascons are not all dead," he murmured. "They plunge us all into a
turmoil, for the sake of a woman." He made a sudden startling gesture,
like a man who has lost control. "For the sake," he cried angrily, "of a
person we all know! Oh! we all know her! She is nothing more--"

There was a light scuffle at the window.

"Dr. Chantel," began Heywood, with a sharp and dangerous courtesy, "we
are all unlike ourselves to-night. I am hardly the person to remind you,
but this club is hardly the place--"

"Oh, la la!" The other snapped his fingers, and reverting to his native
tongue, finished his sentence wildly.

"You cad!" Heywood advanced in long strides deliberately, as if
gathering momentum for a collision. Before his blow could fall, he was
sent spinning. Rudolph, his cheeks on fire, darted past and dealt, full
force, a clumsy backhand sweep of the arm. Light and quick as a leopard,
Chantel was on foot, erect, and even while his chair crashed on the
floor, had whipped out a handkerchief.

"You are right, Mr. Heywood," he said, stanching his lips, in icy
composure. His eyes held an odd gleam of satisfaction. "You are right.
We are not like ourselves, at present. I will better ask Mr. Sturgeon to
see your friend to-morrow morning. This morning, rather."

Not without dignity, he turned, stepped quickly to the stairs, saluted
gravely, and went down.

"No, no!" panted Nesbit, wrestling with Rudolph. "Easy on, now! Let you
go? No fear!"

Heywood wrenched the captive loose, but only to shake him violently, and
thrust him into a chair.

"Be quiet, you little ass!" he scolded. "I've a great mind, myself, to
run after the bounder and kick him. But that sort of thing--you did
enough. Who'd have thought? You young spitfire! Chantel took you on,
exactly as he wanted."

The fat sleeper continued to snore. Wutzler came slinking back from his
refuge in the shadows.

"It iss zo badt!" he whined, gulping nervously. "It iss zo badt!"

"Right you are," said Heywood. With arms folded, he eyed them sternly.
"It's bad. We might have known. If only I'd reached him first! By Jove,
you must let me fight that beast. Duels? The idiot, nobody fights duels
any more. I've always--His cuffs are always dirty, too, on the inside!"

Rudolph leaned back, like a man refreshed and comforted, but his laugh
was unsteady, and too boisterous.

"It is well," he bragged. "Pistol-bullets--they fly on the wings of
chance! No?--All is well."

"Pistols? My dear young gentleman," scoffed his friend, "there's not a
pair of matched pistols in the settlement. And if there were, Chantel
has the choice. He'll take swords."

He paused, in a silence that grew somewhat menacing. From a slit in the
wall the wheel of the punkah-thong whined insistently,--rise and fall,
rise and fall of peevish complaint, distressing as a brain-fever bird.

"Swords, of course," continued Heywood. "If only out of vanity.
Fencing,--oh, I hate the man, and the art's by-gone, if you like, but
he's a beautiful swordsman! Wonderful!"

Rudolph still lay back, but now with a singular calm.

"It's just as well," he declared quietly.

Heywood loosed a great breath, a sigh of vast relief.

"My word!" he cried, grinning. "So you're there, too, eh? You young
Sly-boots! If you're another expert--Bravo! We'll beat him at his own
game! Hoist with his own what-d'-ye-call-it! I'd give anything"--He
thumped the table, and pitched the cards broadcast, like an explosion of
confetti, in a little carnival of glee. "You old Sly-boots!--But are you
sure? He's quick as lightning."

"I am not afraid," replied Rudolph, modestly. He trained his young
moustache upward with steady fingers, and sat very quiet, thinking long
thoughts. A quaint smile played about his eyes.

"Good for you!" said Heywood. "Now let him come, as the Lord Mayor said
of the hare. What sport! With an even chance--And what a load off
one's mind!"

He moved away to the window, as though searching for air. Instead of
moonlight, without, there swam the blue mist of dawn.

"Not a word must ever reach old Gilly," he mused. "Do you hear, Nesbit?"

"If you think," retorted the clerk, stiffly, "I don't know the proper
course of be'aviour! Not likely!"

The tall silhouette in the window made no reply, but stood grumbling
privately: "A club! Yes, where we drink out of jam-pots--dead cushions,
dead balls--no veranda--fellow that soils the inside of his cuffs first!
We're a pack of beach-combers."

He propped his elbows on the long sill, and leaned out, venting
fragments of disgust. Then of a sudden he turned, and beckoned eagerly.
"Come here, you chaps. Look-see."

The others joined him. Gray vapors from river and paddy-field, lingering
like steam in a slow breeze, paled and dispersed in the growing light,
as the new day, worse than the old, came sullenly without breath or
respite. A few twilight shapes were pattering through the narrow
street--a squad of Yamên runners haling a prisoner.

"The Sword-Pen remains active," said Heywood, thoughtfully. "That dingy
little procession, do you know, it's quite theatrical? The Cross and the
Dragon. Eh? Another act's coming."

Even Rudolph could spare a misgiving from his own difficulty while he
watched the prisoner. It was Chok Chung, the plump Christian merchant,
slowly trudging toward the darkest of human courts, to answer for the
death of the cormorant-fisher. The squad passed by. Rudolph saw again
the lighted shop, the tumbled figure retching on the floor; and with
these came a memory of that cold and scornful face, thinking so cruelly
among the unthinking rabble. The Sword-Pen had written something in
the dark.

"I go find out"; and Wutzler was away, as keen as a village gossip.

"Trouble's comin'," Nesbit asserted glibly. "There's politics afloat.
But I don't care." He stretched his arms, with a weary howl. "That's the
first yawn I've done to-night. Trouble keeps, worse luck. I'm off--seek
my downy."

Alone with the grunting sleeper, the two friends sat for a long time and
watched the flooding daylight.

"What," began Rudolph, suddenly, and his voice trembled, "what is your
true opinion? You are so kind, and I was just a fool. That other day, I
would not listen. You laughed. Now tell me, so--as you were to die next.
You were joking? Can I truly be proud of--of her?"

He leaned forward, white and eager, waiting for the truth like a dicer
for the final throw.

"Of yourself, dear old chap. Not of the lady. She's the fool, not you.
Poor old Gilly Forrester slaves here to send her junketing in Japan,
Kashmir, Ceylon, Home. What Chantel said--well, between the two of us,
I'm afraid he's right. It's a pity."

Heywood paused, frowning.

"A pity, too, this quarrel. So precious few of us, and trouble ahead.
The natives lashing themselves into a state of mind, or being lashed.
The least spark--Rough work ahead, and here we are at swords' points."

"And the joke is," Rudolph added quietly, "I do not know a sword's point
from a handle."

Heywood turned, glowered, and twice failed to speak.

"Rudie--old boy," he stammered, "that man--Preposterous! Why, it's plain
murder!"

Rudolph stared straight ahead, without hope, without illusions, facing
the haggard light of morning. A few weeks ago he might have wept; but
now his laugh, short and humorous, was worthy of his companion.

"I do not care, more," he answered. "Luck, so called I it, when I
escaped the militar' service. Ho ho! Luck, to pass into the _Ersatz!_--I
do not care, now. I cannot believe, even cannot I fight.
Worthless--dreamer! My deserts. It's a good way out."



CHAPTER IX


PASSAGE AT ARMS

"Boy."

"Sai."

"S'pose Mr. Forrester bym-by come, you talkee he, master no got, you
chin-chin he come-back."

"Can do."

The long-coated boy scuffed away, across the chunam floor, and
disappeared in the darkness. Heywood submitted his head once more to the
nimble hands of his groom, who, with horse-clippers and a pair of
enormous iron shears, was trimming the stubborn chestnut locks still
closer. The afternoon glow, reflected from the burnt grass and white
walls of the compound, struck upward in the vault-spaces of the ground
floor, and lighted oddly the keen-eyed yellow mafoo and his serious
young master.

Nesbit, pert as a jockey, sat on the table swinging his feet furiously.

"Sturgeon would take it all right, of course," he said, with airy
wisdom. "Quite the gentleman, he is. Netch'rally. No fault of his."

"Not the least," Heywood assented gloomily. "Did everything he could.
If I were commissioned to tell 'em outright--'The youngster can't
fence'--why, we might save the day. But our man won't even listen to
that. Fight's the word. Chantel will see, on the spot, directly they
face. But will that stop him? No fear: he's worked up to the pitch of
killing. He'll lunge first, and be surprised afterward.--So regrettable!
Such remorse!--Oh, I know _him!_"

The Cockney fidgeted for a time. His face--the face of a street-bred
urchin--slowly worked into lines of abnormal cunning.

"I say! I was thinking," he ventured at last. "Two swords, that's all?
Just so. Now--my boy used to be learn-pidgin at Chantel's. Knows that
'ouse inside out--loafs there now, the beggar, with Chantel's cook. Why
not send him over--prowling, ye know--fingers the bric-a-brac, bloomin'
ass, and breaks a sword-blade. Perfectly netch'ral. 'Can secure, all
plopah,' Accident, ye know. All off with their little duel. What?"

Heywood chuckled, and bowed his head to the horse-clippers.

"Last week," he replied. "Not to-day. This afternoon's rather late for
accidents. You make me feel like Pompey on his galley: 'This thou
shouldst have done, and not have spoken on't,'--Besides, those swords
belonged to Chantel's father. He began as a gentleman.--But you're a
good sort, Nesbit, to take the affair this fashion."

Lost in smoke, the clerk grumbled that the gory affair was unmentionable
nonsense.

"Quite," said Heywood. "We've tried reasoning. No go. As you say, an
accident. That's all can save the youngster now. Impossible, of course."
He sighed. Then suddenly the gray eyes lighted, became both shrewd and
distant; a malicious little smile stole about the corners of his mouth.
"Have-got! The credit's yours, Nesbit. Accident: can do. And this
one--by Jove, it won't leave either of 'em a leg to stand on!--Here,
mafoo, makee finish!"

He sprang up, clapped a helmet on the shorn head, and stalked out into
the sunlight.

"Come on," he called. "It's nearly time. We must pick up our young
Hotspur."

The clerk followed, through the glowing compound and the road. In the
shade of the nunnery gate they found Rudolph, who, raising his rattan,
saluted them with a pale and stoic gravity.

"Are we ready?" he asked; and turning, took a slow, cool survey of the
nunnery, as though looking his last--from the ditch at their feet to the
red tiles, patched with bronze mould, that capped the walls and the
roof. "I never left any place with less regret. Come, let's go."

The three men had covered some ground before Rudolph broke the silence.

"You'll find a few little things up there in my strong-box, Maurice.
Some are marked for you, and the rest--will you send them Home, please?"
He hesitated. "I hope neither of you will misunderstand me. I'm horribly
afraid, but not--but only because this fellow will make me look absurd.
If I knew the first motion!" He broke out angrily. "I cannot bear to
have him laugh, also! I cannot bear!"

Heywood clapped him on the shoulder, and gave a queer cough.

"If that's all, never you fear! I'll teach you your guard. 'Once in a
while we can finish in style.' Eh?--Rudie, you blooming German, I--I
think we must have been brothers! We'll pull it off yet."

Heywood spoke with a strange alacrity, and tried again to cough. This
time, however, there was no mistake--he was laughing.

Rudolph shot at him one glance of startled unbelief, and then, tossing
his head, marched on without a word. Pride and loneliness overwhelmed
him. The two at his side were no companions--not even presences. He
went alone, conscious only of the long flood of sunset, and the black
interlacing pattern of bamboos. The one friendly spirit had deserted,
laughing; yet even this last and worst of earthly puzzles did not
matter. It was true, what he had read; this, which they called death,
was a lonely thing.

On a broken stone bench, Sturgeon, sober and dejected, with puffy
circles under his eyes, sat waiting. A long parcel, wrapped in green
baize, lay across his knees. He nodded gloomily, without rising. At his
feet wandered a path, rankly matted with burnt weeds, and bordered with
green bottle-ends, the "dimples" choked with discs of mud. The place was
a deserted garden, where the ruins of a European house--burnt by natives
in some obscure madness, years ago--sprawled in desolation among wild
shrubs. A little way down the path stood Teppich and Chantel, each with
his back turned and his hands clasped, like a pair of sulky Napoleons,
one fat, one slender. The wooden pretense of their attitude set Rudolph,
for an instant, to laughing silently and bitterly. This final
scene,--what justice, that it should be a mean waste, the wreck of silly
pleasure-grounds, long forgotten, and now used only by grotesque
play-actors. He must die, in both action and setting, without dignity.
It was some comfort, he became aware, to find that the place was fairly
private. Except for the breach by which they had entered, the blotched
and spotted compound walls stood ruinous yet high, shutting out all but
a rising slant of sunlight, and from some outpost line of shops, near
by, the rattle of an abacus and the broken singsong of argument, now
harsh, now drowsy.

Heywood had been speaking earnestly to Sturgeon:--

"A little practice--try the balance of the swords. No more than fair."

"Fair? Most certainly," croaked that battered convivialist. "Chantel
can't object."

He rose, and waddled down the path. Rudolph saw Chantel turn, frowning,
then nod and smile. The nod was courteous, the smile full of satire. The
fat ambassador returned.

"Right-oh," he puffed, tugging from the baize cover a shining pair of
bell-hilted swords. "Here, try 'em out." His puffy eyes turned furtively
toward Rudolph. "May be bad form, Hackh, but--we all wish you luck, I
fancy." Then, in a burst of candor, "Wish that unspeakable ass felt as
seedy as I do--heat-stroke--drop dead--that sort of thing."

Still grumbling treason, this strange second rejoined his principal.

"Jackets off," commanded Heywood; and in their cinglets, each with sword
under arm, the two friends took shelter behind a ragged clump of
plantains. The yellow leaves, half dead with drought and blight, hung
ponderous as torn strips of sheet metal in the lifeless air.

Behind this tattered screen, Rudolph studied, for a moment, the lethal
object in his hand. It was very graceful,--the tapering, three-cornered
blade, with shallow grooves in which blood was soon to run, the silver
hilt where his enemy's father had set, in florid letters, the name of
"H.B. St. A. Chantel," and a date. How long ago, he thought, the steel
was forged for this day.

"It is Fate." He looked up sadly. "Come, show me how to begin; so that I
can stand up to him."

"Here, then." Slowly, easily, his long limbs transformed with a sudden
youthful grace, Heywood moved through the seven positions of On
Guard. "Try it."

Rudolph learned only that his own clumsy imitation was hopeless.

"Once more.--He can't see us."

Again and again, more and more rapidly, they performed the motions of
this odd rehearsal. Suddenly Heywood stepped back, and lowering his
point, looked into his pupil's face, long and earnestly.

"For the last time," he said: "won't you let me tell him? This is
extremely silly."

Rudolph hung his head, like a stubborn child.

"Do you still think," he answered coldly, "that I would beg off?"

With a hopeless gesture of impatience, Heywood stepped forward briskly.
"Very well, then. Once more." And as their blades clashed softly
together, a quick light danced in his eyes. "Here's how our friend will
stick you!" His point cut a swift little circle, and sped home. By a
wild instinct, the novice beat it awkwardly aside. His friend laughed,
poised again, disengaged again, but in mid-career of this heartless
play, stumbled and came pitching forward. Rudolph darted back, swept his
arm blindly, and cried out; for with the full impetus of the mishap, a
shock had run from wrist to elbow. He dropped his sword, and in
stupefaction watched the red blood coursing down his forearm, and his
third finger twitching convulsively, beyond control.

"Dear fellow!" cried his opponent, scrambling upright. "So sorry! I say,
that's a bad one." With a stick and a handkerchief, he twisted on a
tourniquet, muttering condolence: "Pain much? Lost my balance, you know.
That better?--What a clumsy accident!" Then, dodging out from the
plantain screen, and beckoning,--"All you chaps! Come over here!"

Nesbit came running, but at sight of the bloody victim, pulled up short.
"What ho!" he whispered, first with a stare, then a grin of mysterious
joy. Sturgeon gave a sympathetic whistle, and stolidly unwound bandages.
At first the two Napoleons remained aloof, but at last, yielding to
indignant shouts, haughtily approached. The little group stood at fault.

Heywood wiped his sword-blade very carefully on a plantain leaf; then
stood erect, to address them with a kind of cool severity.

"I regret this more than anybody," he declared, pausing, and picking his
words. "We were at practice, and my friend had the misfortune to be run
through the arm."

Chantel flung out his hands, in a motion at once furious and impudent.

"Zut! What a farce!--Will you tell me, please, since your friend has
disabled himself"--

Heywood wheeled upon him, scornfully.

"You have no right to such an expression," he stated, with a coldness
which conveyed more rage than the other man's heat. "This was entirely
my fault. It's I who have spoiled your--arrangement, and therefore I am
quite ready to take up my friend's quarrel."

"I have no quarrel with you," replied Chantel, contemptuously. "You saw
last night how he--"

"He was quicker than I, that's all. By every circumstance, I'm the
natural proxy. Besides"--the young man appealed to the company,
smiling--"besides, what a pity to postpone matters, and spoil the
occasion, when Doctor Chantel has gone to the trouble of a clean shirt."

The doctor recoiled, flung up a trembling arm, and as quickly dropped
it. His handsome face burned darker, then faded with a mortal pallor,
and for one rigid moment, took on such a strange beauty as though it
were about to be translated into bronze. His brown fingers twitched,
became all nerves and sinews and white knuckles. Then, stepping
backward, he withdrew from the circle.

"Very well," he said lightly. "Since we are all so--irregular. I will
take the substitute."

Rudolph gave a choking cry, and would have come forward; but Sturgeon
clung to the wounded arm, and bound on his bandage.

"Hold still, there!" he scolded, as though addressing a horse; then
growled in Heywood's ear, "Why did _you_ go lose your temper?"

"Didn't. We can't let him walk over us, though." The young man held the
sword across his throat, and whispered, "Only angry up to here!"

And indeed, through the anxious preliminary silence, he stood waiting as
cool and ready as a young centurion.

His adversary, turning back the sleeves of the unfortunate white linen,
picked up the other sword, and practiced his fingering on the silver
hilt, while the blade answered as delicately as the bow to a violinist.
At last he came forward, with thin lips and hard, thoughtful eyes, like
a man bent upon dispatch. Both men saluted formally, and sprang
on guard.

From the first twitter of the blades, even Rudolph knew the outcome.
Heywood, his face white and anxious in the failing light, fought at full
stretch, at the last wrench of skill. Chantel, for the moment, was
fencing; and though his attacks came ceaseless and quick as flame, he
was plainly prolonging them, discarding them, repeating, varying,
whether for black-hearted merriment, or the vanity of perfect form, or
love of his art. Graceful, safe, easy, as though performing the grand
salute, he teased and frolicked, his bright blade puzzling the sight,
scattering like quicksilver in the endless whirl and clash.

Teppich was gaping foolishly, Sturgeon shaking his head, the Cockney,
with narrow body drawn together, watching, shivering, squatting on toes
and finger-tips, like a runner about to spring from a mark. Rudolph,
dizzy with pain and suspense, nursed his forearm mechanically. The
hurried, silver ring of the hilts dismayed him, the dust from the garden
path choked him like an acrid smoke.

Suddenly Chantel, dropping low like a deflected arrow, swooped in with
fingers touching the ground. On "three feet," he had delivered the blow
so long withheld.

The watchers shouted. Nesbit sprang up, released. But Heywood, by some
desperate sleight, had parried the certainty, and even tried a riposte.
Still afoot and fighting, he complained testily above the sword-play:--

"Don't shout like that! Fair field, you chaps!"

Above the sword-play, too, came gradually a murmur of voices. Through
the dust, beyond the lunging figures, Rudolph was distantly aware of
crowded bodies, of yellow faces grinning or agape, in the breach of the
compound wall. Men of the neighboring hamlet had gathered, to watch the
foreign monsters play at this new, fantastic game. Shaven heads bobbed,
saffron arms pointed, voices, sharp and guttural, argued scornfully.

The hilts rang, the blades grated faster. But now it was plain that
Heywood could do no more, by luck or inspiration. Fretted by his clumsy
yet strong and close defense, Chantel was forcing on the end. He gave a
panting laugh. Instantly, all saw the weaker blade fly wide, the
stronger swerve, to dart in victorious,--and then saw Doctor Chantel
staggering backward, struck full in the face by something round and
heavy. The brown missile skipped along the garden path.

Another struck a bottle-end, and burst into milk-white fragments, like a
bomb. A third, rebounding from Teppich's girdle, left him bent and
gasping. Strange yells broke out, as from a tribe of apes. The air was
thick with hurtling globes. Cocoanuts rained upon the company,
tempestuously, as though an invisible palm were shaken by a hurricane.
Among them flew sticks, jagged lumps of sun-dried clay, thick scales
of plaster.

"Aow!" cried Nesbit, "the bloomin' coolies!" First to recover, he
skipped about, fielding and hurling back cocoanuts.

A small but raging phalanx crowded the gap in the wall, throwing
continually, howling, and exhorting one another to rush in.

"A riot!" cried Heywood, and started, sword in hand. "Come on, stop
'em!"

But it was Nesbit who, wrenching a pair of loose bottles from the path,
brandishing them aloft like clubs, and shouting the unseemly
battle-cries of a street-fighter, led the white men into this deadly
breach. At the first shock, the rioters broke and scattered, fled round
corners of the wall, crashed through bamboos, went leaping across
paddy-fields toward the river. The tumult--except for lonely howls in
the distance--ended as quickly as it had risen. The little band of
Europeans returned from the pursuit, drenched with sweat, panting, like
a squad of triumphant football players; but no one smiled.

"That explains it," grumbled Heywood. He pointed along the path to
where, far off, a tall, stooping figure paced slowly toward the town,
his long robe a moving strip of color, faint in the twilight. "The
Sword-Pen dropped some remarks in passing."

The others nodded moodily, too breathless for reply. Nesbit's forehead
bore an ugly cut, Rudolph's bandage was red and sopping. Chantel, more
rueful than either, stared down at a bleeding hand, which held two
shards of steel. He had fallen, and snapped his sword in the rubble of
old masonry.

"No more blades," he said, like a child with a broken toy; "there are no
more blades this side of Saigon."

"Then we must postpone." Heywood mopped his dripping and fiery cheeks.
He tossed a piece of silver to one who wailed in the ditch,--a forlorn
stranger from Hai-nan, lamenting the broken shells and empty baskets of
his small venture.--"Contribution, you chaps. A bad day for imported
cocoanuts. Wish I carried some money: this chit system is
damnable.--Meanwhile, doctor, won't you forget anything I was rude
enough to say? And come join me in a peg at the club? The heat is
excessive."



CHAPTER X


THREE PORTALS

Not till after dinner, that evening, did Rudolph rouse from his stupor.
With the clerk, he lay wearily in the upper chamber of Heywood's house.
The host, with both his long legs out at window, sat watching the smoky
lights along the river, and now and then cursing the heat.

"After all," he broke silence, "those cocoanuts came time enough."

"Didn't they just?" said Nesbit, jauntily; and fingering the plaster
cross on his wounded forehead, drawled: "You might think I'd done a bit
o' dueling myself, by the looks.--But I had _some_ part. Now, that
accident trick. Rather neat, what? But for me, you might never have
thought o' that--"

"Idiot!" snapped Heywood, and pulling in his legs, rose and stamped
across the room.

A glass of ice and tansan smashed on the floor. Rudolph was on foot,
clutching his bandaged arm as though the hurt were new.

"You!" he stammered. "You did that!" He stood gaping, thunderstruck.

Felt soles scuffed in the darkness, and through the door, his yellow
face wearing a placid and lofty grin, entered Ah Pat, the compradore.

"One coolie-man hab-got chit."

He handed a note to his master, who snatched it as though glad of the
interruption, bent under the lamp, and scowled.

The writing was in a crabbed, antique German character:--

"Please to see bearer, in bad clothes but urgent. We are all in danger.
_Um Gottes willen_--" It straggled off, illegible. The signature, "Otto
Wutzler," ran frantically into a blot.

"Can do," said Heywood. "You talkee he, come topside."

The messenger must have been waiting, however, at the stairhead; for no
sooner had the compradore withdrawn, than a singular little coolie
shuffled into the room. Lean and shriveled as an opium-smoker, he wore
loose clothes of dirty blue,--one trousers-leg rolled up. The brown
face, thin and comically small, wore a mask of inky shadow under a
wicker bowl hat. His eyes were cast down in a strange fashion, unlike
the bold, inquisitive peering of his countrymen,--the more strange, in
that he spoke harshly and abruptly, like a racer catching breath.

"I bring news." His dialect was the vilest and surliest form of the
colloquial "Clear Speech."--"One pair of ears, enough."

"You can speak and act more civilly," retorted Heywood, "or taste the
bamboo."

The man did not answer, or look up, or remove his varnished hat. Still
downcast and hang-dog, he sidled along the verge of the shadow, snatched
from the table the paper and a pencil, and choosing the darkest part of
the wall, began to write. The lamp stood between him and the company:
Heywood alone saw--and with a shock of amazement--that he did not print
vertically as with a brush, but scrawled horizontally. He tossed back
the paper, and dodged once more into the gloom.

The postscript ran in the same shaky hand:--

"Send way the others both."

"What!" cried the young master of the house; and then over his shoulder,
"Excuse us a moment--me, I should say."

He led the dwarfish coolie across the landing, to the deserted
dinner-table. The creature darted past him, blew out one candle, and
thrust the other behind a bottle, so that he stood in a wedge of shadow.

"Eng-lish speak I ver' badt," he whispered; and then with something
between gasp and chuckle, "but der _pak-wa_ goot, no? When der live
dependt, zo can mann--" He caught his breath, and trembled in a
strong seizure.

"Good?" whispered Heywood, staring. "Why, man, it's wonderful! You
_are_ a coolie"--Wutzler's conical wicker-hat ducked as from a blow. "I
beg your pardon. I mean, you're--"

The shrunken figure pulled itself together.

"You are right," he whispered, in the vernacular. "To-night I am a
coolie--all but the eyes. Therefore this hat."

Heywood stepped back to the door, and popped his head out. The dim hall
was empty.

"Go on," he said, returning. "What is your news?"

"Riots. They are coming. We are all marked for massacre. All day I ran
about the town, finding out. The trial of Chok Chung, your--_our_
Christian merchant--I saw him 'cross the hall.' They kept asking, 'Do
you follow the foreign dogs and goats?' But he would only answer, 'I
follow the Lord Jesus.' So then they beat out his teeth with a heavy
shoe, and cast him into prison. Now they wait, to see if his padre will
interfere with the law. It is a trap. The suit is certainly brought by
Fang the scholar, whom they call the Sword-Pen."

"That much," said Heywood, "I could have told you."

Wutzler glanced behind him fearfully, as though the flickering shadows
might hear.

"But there is more. Since dark I ran everywhere, watching, listening to
gossip. I painted my skin with mangrove-bark water. You know this
sign?" He patted his right leg, where the roll of trousers bound his
thigh. "It is for protection in the streets. It says, 'I am a
Heaven-and-Earth man.'"

"The Triad!" Heywood whistled. "You?"

The other faltered, and hung his head.

"Yes," he whispered at last. "My--my wife's cousin, he is a Grass
Sandal. He taught her the verses at home, for safety.--We mean no harm,
now, we of the Triad. But there is another secret band, having many of
our signs. It is said they ape our ritual. Fang the scholar heads their
lodge. They are the White Lotus."

"White Lotus?" Heywood snapped his fingers. "Nonsense. Extinct, this
hundred years."

"Extinct? They meet to-night," said the outcast, in sudden grief and
passion. "They drink blood--plan blood. Extinct? Are _you_ married to
these people? Does the knowledge come so cheap, or at a price? All these
years--darkness--sunken--alone"--He trembled violently, but regained his
voice. "O my friend! This very night they swear in recruits, and set the
day. I know their lodge-room. For any sake, believe me! I know!"

"Right," said Heywood, curtly. "I believe you. But why come here? Why
not stay, and learn more?"

Wutzler's head dropped on his breast again. The varnished hat gleamed
softly in the darkness.

"I--I dare not stay," he sobbed.

"Oh, exactly!" Heywood flung out an impatient arm. "The date, man! The
day they set. You came away without it!--We sit tight, then, and wait in
ignorance."

The droll, withered face, suddenly raised, shone with great tears that
streaked the mangrove stain.

"My head sits loosely already, with what I have done to-night. I found a
listening place--next door: a long roof. You can hear and see them--But
I could not stay. Yes, I am a coward."

"There, there!" Heywood patted his shoulder. "I didn't mean--Here, have
a drink."

The man drained the tumbler at a gulp; stood without a word, sniffing
miserably; then of a sudden, as though the draught had worked, looked up
bold and shrewd.

"Do you?" he whispered. "Do _you_ dare go to the place I show you, and
hide? You would learn."

Heywood started visibly, paused, then laughed.

"Excellent," he said. "_Tu quoque_ is good argument. Can you smuggle
me?--Then come on." He stepped lightly across the landing, and called
out, "You chaps make yourselves at home, will you? Business, you know.
What a bore! I'll not be back till late." And as he followed the
slinking form downstairs, he grumbled, "If at all, perhaps."

The moon still lurked behind the ocean, making an aqueous pallor above
the crouching roofs. The two men hurried along a "goat" path, skirted
the town wall, and stole through a dark gate into a darker maze of
lonely streets. Drawing nearer to a faint clash of cymbals in some
joss-house, they halted before a blind wall.

"In the first room," whispered the guide, "a circle is drawn on the
floor. Put your right foot there, and say, 'We are all in-the-circle
men,' If they ask, remember: you go to pluck the White Lotus. These men
hate it, they are Triad brothers, they will let you pass. You come from
the East, where the Fusang cocks spit orient pearls; you studied in the
Red Flower Pavilion; your eyes are bloodshot because"--He lectured
earnestly, repeating desperate nonsense, over and over. "No: not so. Say
it exactly, after me."

They held a hurried catechism in the dark.

"There," sighed Wutzler, at last, "that is as much as we can hope. Do
not forget. They will pass you through hidden ways.--But you are very
rash. It is not too late to go home."

Receiving no answer, he sighed more heavily, and gave a complicated
knock. Bars clattered within, and a strip of dim light widened. "Who
comes?" said a harsh but guarded voice, with a strong Hakka brogue.

"A brother," answered the outcast, "to pluck the White Lotus. Aid,
brothers.--Go in, I can help no further. If you are caught, slide down,
and run westward to the gate which is called the Meeting of
the Dragons."

Heywood nodded, and slipped in. Beside a leaf-point flame of peanut-oil,
a broad, squat giant sat stiff and still against the opposite wall, and
stared with cruel, unblinking eyes. If the stranger were the first white
man to enter, this motionless grim janitor gave no sign. On the earthen
floor lay a small circle of white lime. Heywood placed his right foot
inside it.

"We are all in-the-circle men."

"Pass," said the guard.

Out from shadow glided a tall native with a halberd, who opened a door
in the far corner.

In the second room, dim as the first, burned the same smoky orange light
on the same table. But here a twisted cripple, his nose long and
pendulous with elephantiasis, presided over three cups of tea set in a
row. Heywood lifted the central cup, and drank.

"Will you bite the clouds?" asked the second guard, in a soft and husky
bass. As he spoke, the great nose trembled slightly.

"No, I will bite ginger," replied the white man.

"Why is your face so green?"

"It is a melon-face--a green face with a red heart."

"Pass," said the cripple, gently. He pulled a cord--the nose quaking
with this exertion--and opened the third door.

Again the chamber was dim. A venerable man in gleaming silks--a
grandfather, by his drooping rat-tail moustaches--sat fanning himself.
In the breath of his black fan, the lamplight tossed queer shadows
leaping, and danced on the table of polished camagon. Except for this
unrest, the aged face might have been carved from yellow soapstone. But
his slant eyes were the sharpest yet.

"You have come far," he said, with sinister and warning courtesy.

Too far, thought Heywood, in a sinking heart; but answered:--

"From the East, where the Fusang cocks spit orient pearls."

"And where did you study?" The black fan stopped fluttering.

"In the Red Flower Pavilion."

"What book did you read?"

"The book," said Heywood, holding his wits by his will, "the book was
Ten Thousand Thousand Pages."

"And the theme?"

"The waters of the deluge crosswise flow." "And what"--the aged voice
rose briskly--"what saw you on the waters?"

"The Eight Abbots, floating," answered Heywood, negligently.--"But," ran
his thought, "he'll pump me dry."

"Why," continued the examiner, "do you look so happy?"

"Because Heaven has sent the Unicorn."

The black fan began fluttering once more. It seemed a hopeful sign; but
the keen old eyes were far from satisfied.

"Why have you such a sensual face?"

"I was born under a peach tree."

"Pass," said the old man, regretfully. And Heywood, glancing back from
the mouth of a dark corridor, saw him, beside the table of camagon,
wagging his head like a judge doubtful of his judgment.

The narrow passage, hot, fetid, and blacker than the wholesome night
without, crooked about sharp corners, that bruised the wanderer's hands
and arms. Suddenly he fell down a short flight of slimy steps, landing
in noisome mud at the bottom of some crypt. A trap, a suffocating well,
he thought; and rose filthy, choked with bitterness and disgust. Only
the taunting justice of Wutzler's argument, the retort _ad hominem_, had
sent him headlong into this dangerous folly. He had scolded a coward
with hasty words, and been forced to follow where they led. To this
loathsome hole. Behind him, a door closed, a bar scraped softly into
place. Before him, as he groped in rage and self-reproach, rose a vault
of solid plaster, narrow as a chimney.

But presently, glancing upward, he saw a small cluster of stars
blinking, voluptuous, immeasurably overhead. Their pittance of light, as
his eyesight cleared, showed a ladder rising flat against the wall. He
reached up, grasped the bamboo rungs, hoisted with an acrobatic wrench,
and began to climb cautiously.

Above, faint and muffled, sounded a murmur of voices.



CHAPTER XI


WHITE LOTUS

He was swarming up, quiet as a thief, when his fingers clawed the bare
plaster. The ladder hung from the square end of a protruding beam, above
which there were no more rungs. He hung in doubt.

Then, to his great relief, something blacker than the starlight gathered
into form over his head,--a slanting bulk, which gradually took on a
familiar meaning. He chuckled, reached for it, and fingering the rough
edge to avoid loose tiles, hauled himself up to a foothold on the beam,
and so, flinging out his arms and hooking one knee, scrambled over and
lay on a ribbed and mossy surface, under the friendly stars. The outcast
and his strange brethren had played fair: this was the long roof, and
close ahead rose the wall of some higher building, an upright blackness
from which escaped two bits of light,--a right angle of hairbreadth
lines, and below this a brighter patch, small and ragged. Here, louder,
but confused with a gentle scuffing of feet, sounded the voices of the
rival lodge.

Toward these he crawled, stopping at every creak of the tiles. Once a
broken roll snapped off, and slid rattling down the roof. He sat up,
every muscle ready for the sudden leap and shove that would send him
sliding after it into the lower darkness. It fell but a short distance,
into something soft. Gradually he relaxed, but lay very still. Nothing
followed; no one had heard.

He tried again, crawled forward his own length, and brought up snug and
safe in the angle where roof met wall. The voices and shuffling feet
were dangerously close. He sat up, caught a shaft of light full in his
face, and peered in through the ragged chink. Two legs in bright,
wrinkled hose, and a pair of black shoes with thick white soles, blocked
the view. For a long time they shifted, uneasy and tantalizing. He could
hear only a hubbub of talk,--random phrases without meaning. The legs
moved away, and left a clear space.

But at the same instant, a grating noise startled him, directly
overhead, out of doors. The thin right angle of light spread instantly
into a brilliant square. With a bang, a wooden shutter slid open.
Heywood lay back swiftly, just as a long, fat bamboo pipe, two sleeves,
and the head of a man in a red silk cap were thrust out into the
night air.

"_Ai-yah!"_ sighed the man, and puffed at his bamboo. "It is hot."

Heywood tried to blot himself against the wall. The lounger, propped on
elbows, finished his smoke, spat upon the tiles, and remained, a pensive
silhouette.

"_Ai-yah!"_ he sighed again; then knocking out the bamboo, drew in his
head. Not until the shutter slammed, did Heywood shake the burning
sparks from his wrist.

In the same movement, however, he raised head and shoulders to spy
through the chink. This time the bright-hosed legs were gone. He saw
clear down a brilliant lane of robes and banners, multicolored, and
shining with embroidery and tinsel,--a lane between two ranks of crowded
men, who, splendid with green and blue and yellow robes of ceremony,
faced each other in a strong lamplight, that glistened on their oily
cheeks. The chatter had ceased. Under the crowded rows of shaven
foreheads, their eyes blinked, deep-set and expectant. At the far end of
the loft, through two circular arches or giant hoops of rattan, Heywood
at last descried a third arch, of swords; beyond this, a tall incense
jar smouldering gray wisps of smoke, beside a transverse table twinkling
with candles like an altar; and over these, a black image with a pale,
carved face, seated bolt upright before a lofty, intricate, gilded
shrine of the Patriot War-God.

A tall man in dove-gray silk with a high scarlet turban moved athwart
the altar, chanting as he solemnly lifted one by one a row of symbols: a
round wooden measure, heaped with something white, like rice, in which
stuck a gay cluster of paper flags; a brown, polished abacus; a mace
carved with a dragon, another carved with a phoenix; a rainbow robe,
gleaming with the plumage of Siamese kingfishers. All these, and more,
he displayed aloft and replaced among the candles.

When his chant ended, a brisk little man in yellow stepped forward into
the lane.

"O Fragrant Ones," he shrilled, "I bring ten thousand recruits, to join
our army and swear brotherhood. Attend, O Master of Incense."

Behind him, a squad of some dozen barefoot wretches, in coolie clothes,
with queues un-plaited, crawled on all fours through the first arch.
They crouched abject, while the tall Master of Incense in the dove-gray
silk sternly examined their sponsor.

In the outer darkness, Heywood craned and listened till neck and
shoulders ached. He could make nothing of the florid verbiage.

With endless ritual, the crawling novices reached the arch of swords.
They knelt, each holding above his head a lighted bundle of
incense-sticks,--red sparks that quivered like angry fireflies. Above
them the tall Master of Incense thundered:--

"O Spirits of the Hills and Brooks, the Land, the swollen seeds of the
ground, and all the Veins of Earth; O Thou, young Bearer of the Axe that
cleared the Hills; O Imperial Heaven, and ye, Five Dragons of the Five
Regions, with all the Holy Influences who pass and instantly re-pass
through unutterable space:--draw near, record our oath, accept the
draught of blood."

He raised at arm's length a heavy baton, which, with a flowing movement,
unrolled to the floor a bright yellow scroll thickly inscribed. From
this he read, slowly, an interminable catalogue of oaths. Heywood could
catch only the scolding sing-song of the responses:--

"If any brother shall break this, let him die beneath ten thousand
knives."

"--Who violates this, shall be hurled down into the great sky."

"--Let thunder from the Five Regions annihilate him."

Silence followed, broken suddenly by the frenzied squawking of a fowl,
as suddenly cut short. Near the chink, Heywood heard a quick struggling
and beating. Next instant he lay flattened against the wall.

The shutter grated open, a flood of light poured out.

Within reach, in that radiance, a pair of sinewy yellow hands gripped
the neck of a white cock. The wretched bird squawked once more, feebly,
flapped its wings, and clawed the air, just as a second pair of arms
reached out and sliced with a knife. The cock's head flew off upon the
tiles. Hot blood spattered on Heywood's cheek. Half blinded, but not
daring to move, he saw the knife withdrawn, and a huge goblet held out
to catch the flow. Then arms, goblet, and convulsive wings jerked out of
sight, and the shutter slid home.

"Twice they've not seen me," thought Heywood. It was darker, here, than
he had hoped. He rose more boldly to the peep-hole.

Under the arch of swords, the new recruits, now standing upright,
stretched one by one their wrists over the goblet. The Incense Master
pricked each yellow arm, to mingle human blood with the blood of the
white cock; then, from a brazen vessel, filled the goblet to the brim.
It passed from hand to hand, like a loving-cup. Each novice raised it,
chanted some formula, and drank. Then all dispersed. There fell
a silence.

Suddenly, in the pale face of the black image seated before the shrine,
the eyes turned, scanning the company with a cold contempt. The lips
moved. The voice, level and ironic, was that of Fang, the Sword-Pen:--

"O Fragrant Ones, when shall the foreign monsters perish like this
cock?"

A man in black, with a red wand, bowed and answered harshly:--

"The time, Great Elder Brother, draws at hand."

"How shall we know the hour?"

"The hour," replied the Red Wand, "shall be when the Black Dog barks."

"And the day?"

Heywood pressed his ear against the chink, and listened, his five senses
fused into one.

No answer came, but presently a rapid, steady clicking, strangely
familiar and commonplace. He peered in again. The Red Wand stood by the
abacus, rattling the brown beads with flying fingers, like a shroff.
Plainly, it was no real calculation, but a ceremony before the answer.
The listener clapped his ear to the crevice. Would that answer, he
wondered, be a month, a week, to-morrow?

The shutter banged, the light streamed, down went Heywood against the
plaster. Thick dregs from the goblet splashed on the tiles. A head, the
flattened profile of the brisk man in yellow, leaned far out from the
little port-hole. Grunting, he shook the inverted cup, let it dangle
from his hands, stared up aimlessly at the stars, and then--to Heywood's
consternation--dropped his head to meditate, looking straight down.

"He sees me," thought Heywood, and held himself ready, trembling. But
the fellow made no sign, the broad squat features no change. The pose
was that of vague, comfortable thought. Yet his vision seemed to rest,
true as a plumb-line, on the hiding-place. Was he in doubt?--he could
reach down lazily, and feel.

Worst of all, the greenish pallor in the eastern sky had imperceptibly
turned brighter; and now the ribbed edge of a roof, across the way,
began to glow like incandescent silver. The moon was crawling up.

The head and the dangling goblet were slowly pulled in, just before the
moonlight, soft and sullen through the brown haze of the heat, stole
down the wall and spread upon the tiles. The shutter remained open. But
Heywood drew a free breath: those eyes had been staring into vacancy.

"Now, then," he thought, and sat up to the cranny; for the rattle of the
abacus had stopped.

"The counting is complete," announced the Red Wand slowly, "the hours
are numbered. The day--"

Movement, shadow, or nameless instinct, made the listener glance upward
swiftly. He caught the gleam of yellow silk, the poise and downward jab,
and with a great heave of muscles went shooting down the slippery
channel of the cock's blood. A spearhead grazed his scalp, and smashed
a tile behind him. As he rolled over the edge, the spear itself whizzed
by him into the dark.

"The chap saw," he thought, in mid-air; "beastly clever--all the time--"

He landed on the spear-shaft, in a pile of dry rubbish, snatched up the
weapon, and ran, dimly conscious of a quiet scurrying behind and above
him, of silent men tumbling after, and doors flung violently open.

He raced blindly, but whipped about the next corner, leaving the moon at
his back. Westward, somebody had told him, to the gate where
dragons met.

There had been no uproar; but running his hardest down the empty
corridors of the streets, he felt that the pack was gaining. Ahead
loomed something gray, a wall, the end of a blind alley. Scale it, or
make a stand at the foot,--he debated, racing. Before the decision came,
a man popped out of the darkness. Heywood shifted his grip, drew back
the spear, but found the stranger bounding lightly alongside, and
muttering,--

"To the west-south, quick! A brother waits. I fool those who follow--"

Obeying, Heywood dove to the left into the black slit of an alley, while
the other fugitive pattered straight on into the seeming trap, with a
yelp of encouragement to the band who swept after. The alley was too
dark for speed. Heywood ran on, fell, rose and ran, fell again, losing
his spear. A pair of trembling hands eagerly helped him to his feet.

"My cozin's boy, he ron quick," said Wutzler. "Dose fellows, dey not
catch him! Kom."

They threaded the gloom swiftly. Wutzler, ready and certain of his
ground, led the tortuous way through narrow and greasy galleries, along
the side of a wall, and at last through an unlighted gate, free of
the town.

In the moonlight he stared at his companion, cackled, clapped his
thighs, and bent double in unholy convulsions.

"My gracious me!" He laughed immoderately. "Oh, I wait zo fearful, you
kom zo fonny!" For a while he clung, shaking, to the young man's arm.
"My friendt, zo fonny you look! My gootness me!" At last he regained
himself, stood quiet, and added very pointedly, "What did _yow_ lern?"

"Nothing," replied Heywood, angrily. "Nothing. Fragrant Ones! Not a bad
name. Phew!--Oh, I say, what did they mean? What Black Dog is to bark?"

"Black Dog? Black Dog iss cannon." The man became, once more, as keen as
a gossip. "What cannon? When dey shoot him off?"

"Can't tell," said his friend. "That's to be their signal."

"I do not know," The conical hat wagged sagely. "I go find out." He
pointed across the moonlit spaces. "Ofer dere iss your house. You can no
more. _Schlafen Sie wohl_."

The two men wrung each other's hands.

"Shan't forget this, Wutz."

"Oh, for me--all you haf done--" The outcast turned away, shaking his
head sadly.

Never did Heywood's fat water-jar glisten more welcome than when he
gained the vaulted bath-room. He ripped off his blood-stained clothes,
scrubbed the sacrificial clots from his hair, and splashed the cool
water luxuriously over his exhausted body. When at last he had thrown a
kimono about him, and wearily climbed the stairs, he was surprised to
see Rudolph, in the white-washed room ahead, pacing the floor and
ardently twisting his little moustache. As Heywood entered, he wheeled,
stared long and solemnly.

"I must wait to tell you." He stalked forward, and with his sound left
hand grasped Heywood's right. "This afternoon, you--"

"My dear boy, it's too hot. No speeches."

But Rudolph's emotion would not be hindered.

"This afternoon," he persisted, with tragic voice and eyes, "this
afternoon I nearly was killed."

"So was I.--Which seems to meet that." And Heywood pulled free.

"Oh," cried Rudolph, fervently. "I know! I feel--If you knew what I--My
life--"

The weary stoic in the blue kimono eyed him very coldly, then plucked
him by the sleeve.--"Come here, for a bit."

Both men leaned from the window into the hot, airless night. A Chinese
rebeck wailed, monotonous and nasal. Heywood pointed at the moon, which
now hung clearly above the copper haze.

"What do you see there?" he asked dryly.

"The moon," replied his friend, wondering.

"Good.--You know, I was afraid you might just see Rudie Hackh."

The rebeck wailed a long complaint before he added:--

"If I didn't like you fairly well--The point is--Good old Cynthia! That
bally orb may not see one of us to-morrow night, next week, next
quarter. 'Through this same Garden, and for us in vain.' Every man Jack.
Let me explain. It will make you better company."



CHAPTER XII


THE WAR BOARD

"Rigmarole?" drawled Heywood, and abstained from glancing at Chantel.
"Dare say. However, Gilly, their rigmarole _may_ mean business. On that
supposition, I made my notes urgent to you chaps."

"Quite right," said Mr. Forrester, tugging his gray moustache, and
studying the floor. "Obviously. Rigmarole or not, your plan is
thoroughly sound: stock one house, and if the pinch comes, fortify."

Chantel drummed on Heywood's long table, and smiled quaintly, with eyes
which roved out at window, and from mast to bare mast of the few small
junks that lay moored against the distant bank. He bore himself, to-day,
like a lazy cock of the walk. The rest of the council, Nesbit, Teppich,
Sturgeon, Kempner, and the great snow-headed padre, surrounded the table
with heat-worn, thoughtful faces. When they looked up, their eyes went
straight to Heywood at the head; so that, though deferring to his
elders, the youngest man plainly presided.

Chantel turned suddenly, merrily, his teeth flashing in a laugh.

"If we are then afraid, let us all take a jonc down the river," he
scoffed, "or the next vessel for Hongkong!"

Gilly's tired, honest eyes saw only the plain statement.

"Impossible." He shook his bullet head. "We can't run away from a rumor,
you know. Can we, now? The women, perhaps. But we should lose face no
end--horribly."

"Let's come to facts," urged Heywood. "Arms, for example. What have we?
To my knowledge, one pair of good rifles, mine and Sturgeon's.
Ammunition--uncertain, but limited. Two revolvers: my Webley.450, and
that little thing of Nesbit's, which is not man-stopping. Shot-guns?
Every one but you, padre: fit only for spring snipe, anyway, or bamboo
partridge. Hackh has just taken over, from this house, the only real
weapons in the settlement--one dozen old Mausers, Argentine, calibre.765.
My predecessor left 'em, and three cases of cartridges. I've kept
the guns oiled, and will warrant the lot sound.--Now, who'll lend me
spare coolies, and stuff for sand-bags?"

"Over where?" puffed Sturgeon. "Where's he taking your Mausers?"

"Nunnery, of course."

"Oh, I say!" Mr. Forrester looked up, with an injured air. "As the
senior here, except Dr. Earle, I naturally thought the choice would be
my house."

"Right!" cried two or three voices from the foot of the table. "It
should be--Farthest off--"

All talked at once, except Chantel, who eyed them leniently, and smiled
as at so many absurd children. Kempner--a pale, dogged man, with a
pompous white moustache which pouted and bristled while he spoke--rose
and delivered a pointless oration. "Ignoring race and creed," he droned,
"we must stand together--"

Heywood balanced a pencil, twirled it, and at last took to drawing. On
the polished wood he scratched, with great pains, the effigy of a pig,
whose snout blared forth a gale of quarter-notes.

"Whistle away!" he muttered; then resumed, as if no one had interrupted:
"Very good of you, Gilly. But with your permission, I see five
points.--Here's a rough sketch, made some time ago."

He tossed on the table a sheet of paper. Forrester spread it, frowning,
while the others leaned across or craned over his chair.

"All out of whack, you see," explained the draughtsman; "but here are my
points, Gilly. One: your house lies quite inland, with four sides to
defend: the river and marsh give Rudie's but two and a fraction. Boats?
Not hardly: we'd soon stop that, as you'll see, if they dare.
Anyhow,--point two,--your house is all hillocks behind, and shops
roundabout: here's just one low ridge, and the rest clear field. Third:
the Portuguese built a well of sorts in the courtyard; water's deadly, I
dare say, but your place has no well whatever. And as to four,
suppose--in a sudden alarm, say, those cut off by land could run another
half-chance to reach the place by river.--By the way, the nunnery has a
bell to ring."

Gilbert Forrester shoved the map along to his neighbor, and cleared his
throat.

"Gentlemen," he declared slowly, "you once did me the honor to say that
in--in a certain event, you would consider me as acting head. Frankly, I
confess, my plans were quite--ah!--vague. I wish to--briefly, to resign,
in favor of this young--ah--bachelor."

"Don't go rotting me," complained Heywood, and his sallow cheeks turned
ruddy. "I merely bring up these points. And five is this: your
compound's very cramped, where the nunnery could shelter the goodly
blooming fellowship of native converts."

Chantel laughed heartily, and stretched his legs at ease under the
table.

[Illustration: Portuguese Nunnery:--Sketch Map.]

"What strategy!" he chuckled, preening his moustache. "Your mythical
siege--it will be brief! For me, I vote no to that: no rice-Christians
filling their bellies--eating us into a surrender!" He made a pantomime
of chop-sticks. "A compound full, eating, eating!"

One or two nodded, approving the retort. Heywood, slightly lifting his
chin, stared at the speaker coldly, down the length of their
council-board. The red in his cheeks burned darker.

"Our everlasting shame, then," he replied quietly. "It will be
everlasting, if we leave these poor devils in the lurch, after cutting
them loose from their people. Excuse me, padre, but it's no time to
mince our words. We made them strangers in their own land. Desert 'em?
Damned if we do!"

No one made reply. The padre, who had looked up, looked down quickly,
musing, and smoothed his white hair with big fingers that
somewhat trembled.

"Besides," continued the speaker, in a tone of apology, "we'll need 'em
to man the works. Meantime, you chaps must lend coolies, eh? Look here."
With rising spirits, he traced an eager finger along the map. "I must
run a good strong bamboo scaffold along the inside wall, with plenty of
sand-bags ready for loopholing--specially atop the servants' quarters
and pony-shed, and in that northeast angle, where we'll throw up a
mound or platform.--What do you say? Suggestions, please!"

Chantel, humming a tune, reached for his helmet, and rose. He paused,
struck a match, and in an empty glass, shielding the flame against the
breeze of the punkah, lighted a cigarette.

"Since we have appointed our dictator," he began amiably, "we may
repose--"

From the landing, without, a coolie bawled impudently for the master of
the house.

"Wutzler!" said Heywood, jumping up. "I mean--his messenger."

He was gone a noticeable time, but came back smiling.

"Good news, Gilly." He held aloft a scrap of Chinese paper, scrawled on
with pencil. "We need expect nothing these ten days. They wait for more
ammunition--'more shoots,' the text has it. The Hak Kaú--their Black
Dog--is a bronze cannon, nine feet long, cast at Rotterdam in 1607. He
writes, 'I saw it in shed last night, but is gone to-day. O.W.'
Gentlemen, for a timid man, our friend does not scamp his reports.
Thorough, rather? Little O.W. is O.K."

Chantel, still humming, had moved toward the door. All at once he
halted, and stared from the landward window. Cymbals clashed
somewhere below.

"What's this?" he cried sharply. The noise drew nearer, more brazen,
and with it a clatter of hoofs. "Here come swordsmen!"

"To play with you, I suppose. Your fame has spread." Heywood spoke with
a slow, mischievous drawl; but he crossed the room quickly. "What's up?"

Below, by the open gate, a gay grotesque rider reined in a piebald pony,
and leaning down, handed to the house-boy a ribbon of scarlet paper.
Behind him, to the clash of cymbals, a file of men in motley robes
swaggered into position, wheeled, and formed the ragged front of a
Falstaff regiment. Overcome by the scarlet ribbon, the long-coated "boy"
bowed, just as through the gate, like a top-heavy boat swept under an
arch, came heaving an unwieldy screened chair, borne by four broad men:
not naked and glistening coolies, but "Tail-less Horses" in proud
livery. Before they could lower their shafts, Heywood ran clattering
down the stairs.

Slowly, cautiously, like a little fat old woman, there clambered out
from the broadcloth box a rotund man, in flowing silks, and a conical,
tasseled hat of fine straw. He waddled down the compound path, shading
with his fan a shrewd, bland face, thoughtful, yet smooth as a babe's.

The watchers in the upper room saw Heywood greet him with extreme
ceremony, and heard the murmur of "Pray you, I pray you," as with
endless bows and deprecations the two men passed from sight, within the
house. A long time dragged by. The visitor did not join the company, but
from another room, now and then, sounded his clear-pitched voice, full
of odd and courteous modulations. When at last the conference ended, and
their unmated footsteps crossed the landing, a few sentences echoed from
the stairway.

"That is all," declared the voice, pleasantly. "The Chow Ceremonial
says, 'That man is unwise who knowingly throws away precious things.'
And in the Analects we read, 'There is merit in dispatch.'"

Heywood's reply was lost, except the words, "stupid people."

"In every nation," agreed the placid voice. "It is true. What says the
Viceroy of Hupeh: 'They see a charge of bird-shot, and think they are
tasting broiled owl.'--Walk slowly!"

"A safe walk, Your Excellency."

The cymbals struck up, the cavalcade, headed by ragamuffin lictors with
whips, went swaying past the gate. Heywood, when he returned,
was grinning.

"Wonderful old chap!" he exclaimed. "Hates this station, I fancy, much
as we hate it."

"Anything to concern us?" asked Gilly.

"Intimated he could beat me at chess," laughed the young man, "and will
bet me a jar of peach wine to a box of Manila cigars!"

Chantel, from a derisive dumb-show near the window, had turned to waddle
solemnly down the room. At sight of Heywood's face he stopped guiltily.

"Chantel!" All the laughter was gone from the voice and the hard gray
eyes. "Yesterday we humored you tin-soldier fashion, but to-day let's
put away childish things.--I like that magistrate, plainly, a damned
deal better than I like you. When you or I show one half his ability,
we're free to mock him--in my house."

For the first time within the memory of any man present, the mimic
wilted.

"I--I did not know," he stammered, "that old man was your friend." Very
quiet, and a little flushed, he took his seat among the others.

"I like him no end." Still more quiet, Heywood appealed to the company.
"Part for his hard luck--stuck down, a three-year term, in this
neglected hole. Enemies in power, higher up. Fang, the Sword-Pen, in
great favor up there.--What? Oh, said nothing directly, of course.
Friendly call, and all that. But his indirections speak straight enough.
We understood each other. The dregs of the town are all stirred
up--bottomside topside--danger point. He, in case--you know--can't give
us any help. No means, no recourse. His chief's fairly itching to
cashier him.--Spoke highly of your hospital work, padre, but said, 'Even
good deeds may be misconstrued.'--In short, gentlemen, without saying a
word, he tells us honestly in plain terms, 'Sorry, but look out for
yourselves.'"

A beggar rattled his bowl of cash in the road, below; from up the river
sounded wailing cries.

"Did he mention," said the big padre, presently, "the case against my
man, Chok Chung?"

Heywood's eyes became evasive, his words reluctant.

"The magistrate dodged that--that unpleasant subject. The case was
forced on him. Some understrapper tried it. Let's be fair."

Dr. Earle's great elbows left the board. Without rising, he seemed to
grow in bulk and stature, and send his vision past the company, into
those things which are not, to confound the things which are.

"For myself, it does not matter. 'He buries His workmen, but carries on
His work.'" The man spoke in a heavy, broken voice, as though it were
his body that suffered. "But it comes hard to hear, from a young man, so
good a friend, after many years"--The deep-set eyes returned, and with a
sudden lustre, made a sharp survey from face to face. "If I have made my
flock a remnant--aliens--rejected--tell me, what shall I do? Tell me. I
have shut eyes and conscience, and never meddled, never!--not even when
money was levied for the village idols. And here's a man beaten, cast
into prison--"

He shoved both fists out on the table, and bowed his white head.

"My safety is nothing. But yours--and his.--To keep one, I desert the
other. Either way." The padre groaned. "What must I choose?"

"We're all quite helpless," said Heywood, gently. "Quite. It's a long
way to the nearest gunboat."

"Tell me," repeated the other, stubbornly.

At the same moment it happened that the cries came louder along the
river-bank, and that some one bounded up the stairs.

The runner was Rudolph. All morning he had gone about his errands very
calmly, playing the man of action, in a new philosophy learned
overnight. But now he forgot to imitate his teacher, and darted in, so
headlong that all the dogs came with him, bouncing and barking.

"Look," he called, stumbling toward the farther window, while Flounce
the terrier and a wonk puppy ran nipping at his heels. "Come, look at
them! Out on the river!"



CHAPTER XIII


THE SPARE MAN

Beyond the scant greenery of Heywood's garden--a ropy little banyan, a
low rank of glossy whampee leaves, and the dusty sage-green tops of
stunted olives--glared the river. Wide, savage sunlight lay so hot upon
it, that to aching eyes the water shone solid, like a broad road of
yellow clay. Only close at hand and by an effort of vision, appeared the
tiny, quiet lines of the irresistible flood pouring toward the sea;
there whipped into the pool of banyan shade black snippets and tails of
reflection, darting ceaselessly after each other like a shoal of
frightened minnows. But elsewhere the river lay golden, solid, and
painfully bright. Things afloat, in the slumberous procession of all
Eastern rivers, swam downward imperceptibly, now blurred, now outlined
in corrosive sharpness.

The white men stood crowding along the spacious window. The dogs barked
outrageously; but at last above their din floated, as before, the high
wailing cries. A heaping cairn of round-bellied, rosy-pink earthen jars
came steering past, poled by a naked statue of new copper, who balanced
precariously on the edge of his hidden raft. No sound came from him; nor
from the funeral barge which floated next, where still figures in white
robes guarded the vermilion drapery of a bier, decked with vivid green
boughs. All these were silent.

"No, above!" cried Rudolph, pointing.

After the mourners' barge, at some distance, came hurrying a boat
crowded with shining yellow bodies and dull blue jackets. Long bamboo
poles plied bumping along her gunwale, sticking into the air all about
her, many and loose and incoordinate, like the ribs of an unfinished
basket. From the bow spurted a white puff of smoke. The dull report of a
musket lagged across the water.

The bullet skipped like a schoolboy's pebble, ripping out little rags of
white along that surface of liquid clay.

The line of fire thus revealed, revealed the mark. Untouched, a black
head bobbed vigorously in the water, some few yards before the boat. The
saffron crew, poling faster, yelled and cackled at so clean a miss,
while a coolie in the bow reloaded his matchlock.

The fugitive head labored like that of a man not used to swimming, and
desperately spent. It now gave a quick twist, and showed a distorted
face, almost of the same color with the water.

The mouth gaped black in a sputtering cry, then closed choking,
squirted out water, and gaped once more, to wail clearly:--

"I am Jesus Christ!"

In the broad, bare daylight of the river, this lonely and sudden
blasphemy came as though a person in a dream might declare himself to a
waking audience of skeptics. The cry, sharp with forlorn hope, rang like
an appeal.

"Why--look," stammered Heywood. "He sees us--heading here. Look,
it's--Quick! let me out!"

Just as he turned to elbow through his companions, and just as the cry
sounded again, the matchlock blazed from the bow. No bullet skipped. The
swimmer, who had reached the shallows, suddenly rose with an incredible
heave, like a leaping salmon, flung one bent arm up and back in the
gesture of the Laocoön, and pitched forward with a turbid splash. The
quivering darkness under the banyan blotted everything: death had
dispersed the black minnows there, in oozy wriggles of shadow; but next
moment the fish-tail stripes chased in a more lively shoal. The gleaming
potter, below his rosy cairn, stared. The mourners forgot their grief.

Heywood, after his impulse of rescue, stood very quiet.

"You saw," he repeated dully. "You all saw."

The clutching figure, bolt upright in the soaked remnant of prison
rags, had in that leap and fall shown himself for Chok Chung, the
Christian. He had sunk in mystery, to become at one forever with the
drunken cormorant-fisher.

Obscene delight raged in the crowded boat, with yells and laughter, and
flourish of bamboo poles.

"Come away from the window," said Heywood; and then to the white-haired
doctor: "Your question's answered, padre. Strange, to come so quick." He
jerked his thumb back toward the river. "And that's only first blood."

The others had broken into wrangling.

"Escaped? Nonsense--Cat--and--mouse game, I tell you; those devils let
him go merely to--We'll never know--Of course! Plain as your nose--To
stand by, and never lift a hand! Oh, it's--Rot! Look here,
why--Acquitted, then set on him--But we'll _never_ know!--Fang watching
on the spot. Trust him!"

A calm "boy," in sky-blue gown, stood beside them, ready to speak. The
dispute paused, while they turned for his message. It was a
disappointing trifle: Mrs. Forrester waited below for her husband, to
walk home.

"Can't leave now," snapped Gilly. "I'll be along, tell her--"

"Had she better go alone?" suggested Heywood.

"No; right you are." The other swept a fretful eye about the company.
"But this business begins to look urgent.--Here, somebody we can spare.
You go, Hackh, there's a good chap."

Chantel dropped the helmet he had caught up. Bowing stiffly, Rudolph
marched across the room and down the stairs. His face, pale at the late
spectacle, had grown red and sulky, "Can spare me, can you?--I'm the
one." He descended, muttering.

Viewing himself thus, morosely, as rejected of men, he reached the
compound gate to fare no better with the woman. She stood waiting in the
shadow of the wall; and as he drew unwillingly near, the sight of
her--to his shame and quick dismay--made his heart leap in welcome. She
wore the coolest and severest white, but at her throat the same small
furbelow, every line of which he had known aboard ship, in the days of
his first exile and of his recent youth. It was now as though that youth
came flooding back to greet her.

"Good-morning." He forgot everything, except that for a few priceless
moments they would be walking side by side.

She faced him with a start, never so young and beautiful as now--her
blue eyes wide, scornful, and blazing, her cheeks red and lips
trembling, like a child ready to cry.

"I did not want _you_" she said curtly.

"Nor did they." Pride forged the retort for him, at a blow. He explained
in the barest of terms, while she eyed him steadily, with every sign of
rising temper.

"I can spare you, too," she whipped out; then turned to walk away,
holding her helmet erect, in the poise of a young goddess, pert
but warlike.

This double injustice left Rudolph chafing. In two strides, however, he
had overtaken her.

"I am under orders," he stated grimly.

Her pace gradually slackened in the growing heat; but she went forward
with her eyes fixed on the littered, sunken flags of their path. This
rankling silence seemed to him more unaccountable and deadly than all
former mischances, and left him far more alone. From the sultry tops of
bamboos, drooping like plants in an oven, an amorous multitude of
cicadas maintained the buzzing torment of steel on emery wheels, as
though the universal heat had chafed and fretted itself into a dry,
feverish utterance. Once Mrs. Forrester looked about, quick and angry,
like one ready to choke that endless voice. But for the rest, the two
strange companions moved steadily onward.

In an alley of checkered light a buffalo with a wicker nose-ring, and
heavy, sagging horns that seemed to jerk his head back in agony, heaved
toward them, ridden by a naked yellow infant in a nest-like saddle of
green fodder. Scenting with fright the disgusting presence of white
aliens, the sleep-walking monster shied, opened his eyes, and lowered
his blue muzzle as if to charge. There was a pause, full of menace.

"Don't run!" said Rudolph, and catching the woman roughly about the
shoulders, thrust her behind him. She clutched him tightly by the
wounded arm.

The buffalo stared irresolute, with evil eyes. The naked boy in the
green nest brushed a swarm of flies from his handful of sticky
sweetmeats, looked up, pounded the clumsy shoulders, and shrilled a
command. Staring doubtfully, and trembling, the buffalo swayed past, the
wrinkled armor of his gray hide plastered with dry mud as with yellow
ochre. To the slow click of hoofs, the surly monster, guided by a little
child, went swinging down the pastoral shade,--ancient yet living shapes
from a picture immemorial in art and poetry.

"Please," begged Rudolph, trying with his left hand to loosen her grip.
"Please, that hurts."

For a second they stood close, their fingers interlacing. With a touch
of contempt, he found that she still trembled, and drew short breath.
Her eyes slowly gathered his meaning.

"Oh, that!" She tore her hand loose, as though burned. "That! It _was_
all true, then. I forgot."

She caught aside her skirts angrily, and started forward in all her
former disdain. But this, after their brief alliance, was not to be
tolerated.

"What was all true?" he insisted. "You shall not treat me so. If anybody
has a right--"

After several paces, she flashed about at him in a whirl of words:--

"All alike, every one of you! And I was fool enough to think you were
different!" The conflict in her eyes showed real, beyond suspicion. "He
told me all about it. Last evening. And you dare talk of rights, and
come following me here--"

"Lucky I did," retorted Rudolph, with sudden spirit; and holding out his
wounded arm, indignantly: "That scratch, if you know how it came--"

"I know, perfectly." She stared as at some crowning impudence. "He was
chicken-hearted. You came off cheaply.--I know all you said. But the one
thing I'll never understand, is where you found the courage, after he
struck you, at the club. You'll always have _that_ to admire!"

"After he struck"--A light broke in on Rudolph, somehow. "Chantel? Oh,
that liar!"

He wheeled and started to go back.

"Wait, stop!" she called, in a strangely altered voice, which brought
him up short. "They're all with him now. You can't--What did you mean?"

He explained, sulkily at first, but ending in a kind of generous rage.
"So I couldn't even stand up to him. And except for Maurice Heywood--Oh,
you need not frown; he's the best friend I ever had."

Mrs. Forrester had walked on, with the same cloudy aspect, the same
light, impatient step. He felt the greater surprise when, suddenly
turning, she raised toward him her odd, enticing, pointed face, and the
friendly mischief of her eyes.

"The best?" she echoed, in the same half-whisper as when she had
flattered him, that afternoon in the dusky well of the pagoda stairway.
"The very best friend? Don't you think you have a better?"

Rudolph stared.

"Oh, you funny, funny boy!" she cried, with a bewildering laugh, of
delight and pride. "I hate people all prim and circumspect, and
you--You'd have flown back there straight at him, before my--before all
the others. That's why I like you so!--But you must leave that horrid,
lying fellow to me."

All unaware, she had led him along the blinding white wall of the
Forrester compound, and halted in the hot shadow that lay under the
tiled gateway. As though timidly, her hand stole up and rested on
his forearm.

"So sorry." The confined space, narrow and covered, gave to her voice a
plaintive ring. "That's twice you protected me, and I hurt you.--You
_are_ different. This doesn't happen between people, often. When you
did--that, for me, yesterday, didn't it seem different and rather
splendid, and--like a book?"

"It seemed nonsense," replied Rudolph, sturdily. "The heat. We were
fools."

She laughed again, and at close range watched him from under consciously
drooping lashes that almost veiled a liquid brilliancy. Everywhere the
cicadas kept the heat vibrating with their strident buzz. It recalled
some other widespread mist of treble music, long ago. The trilling of
frogs, that had been, before.

"You dear, brave boy," she said slowly. "You're so honest, too. I'm not
ungrateful. Do you know what I'd like--Oh, there's the _amah!"_

She drew back, with an impatient gesture.

"That stupid, fat Mrs. Earle's waiting for me.--I hate to leave you."
The stealthy brightness of her admiration changed to a slow, inscrutable
appeal. "Don't forget. Haven't you--a better friend?" And with an
instant, bold, and tantalizing grimace, she had vanished within.

       *       *       *       *       *

To his homeward march, her cicadas shrilled the music of fifes. He, the
despised, the man to spare, now cocked up his helmet like fortune's
minion, dizzy with new honors. Nobody had ever praised him to his face.
And now she, she of all the world, had spoken words which he feared and
longed to believe, and which even said still less than her searching and
mysterious look.

On the top of his exultation, he reached the nunnery, and entered his
big, bare living-room, to find Heywood stretched in a wicker chair.

"Hallo, Rudie! I've asked myself to tiffin," drawled the lounger, from a
little tempest of blue smoke, tossed by the punkah. "How's the fair
Bertha?--Mausers all right? And by the way, did you make that inventory
of provisions?"

Rudolph faced him with a sudden conviction of guilt, of treachery to a
leader.

"Yes," he stammered; "I--I'll get it for you."

He passed into his bedroom, caught up the written list from a table, and
for a moment stood as if dreaming. Before him the Mausers, polished and
orderly, shone in their new rack against the lime-coated wall. Though
appearing to scan them, Rudolph saw nothing but his inward confusion.
"After all this man did for me," he mused. What had loosed the bond,
swept away all the effects?

A sound near the window made him turn. An imp in white and red livery,
Pêng, the little billiard-marker from the club, stood hurling things
violently into the outer glare.

"What thing you do?" called Rudolph, sharply.

Some small but heavy object clattered on the floor. The urchin stooped,
snatched it up, and flung it hurtling clean over the garden to the
river. He turned, grinning amiably. "Goo-moh? ning-seh. How too you
too," he chanted. "I am welly? glat to-see you." A boat-coolie, he
explained, had called this house bad names. He, Pêng, threw stones.
Bad man.

"Out of here, you rascal!" Rudolph flicked a riding-whip at the
scampering legs, as the small defender of his honor bolted for
the stairs.

"What's wrong?"

Heywood appeared promptly at the door.

From the road, below, a gleeful voice piped:--

"Goat-men! Baby-killers!"

In the noon blaze, Pêng skipped derisively, jeered at them, performed a
brief but indecorous pantomime, and then, kicking up his heels with joy,
scurried for his life.

"Chucked his billet," said Heywood, without surprise. "Little devil, I
always thought--What's missing?"

Rudolph scanned his meagre belongings, rummaged his dressing-table,
opened a wardrobe.

"Nothing," he answered. "A boat-coolie--"

But Heywood had darted to the rack of Mausers, knelt, and sprung up,
raging.

"Side-bolts! Man," he cried, in a voice that made Rudolph jump,--"man,
why didn't you stop him? The side-bolts, all but two.--Young heathen,
he's crippled us: one pair of rifles left."



CHAPTER XIV


OFF DUTY

The last of the sunlight streamed level through a gap in the western
ridges. It melted, with sinuous, tender shadows, the dry contour of
field and knoll, and poured over all the parching land a liquid,
undulating grace. Like the shadow of clouds on ripe corn, the red tiles
of the village roofs patched the countryside. From the distant sea had
come a breath of air, cool enough to be felt with gratitude, yet so
faint as neither to disturb the dry pulsation of myriad insect-voices,
nor to blur the square mirrors of distant rice-fields, still tropically
blue or icy with reflected clouds.

Miss Drake paused on the knoll, and looked about her.

"This remains the same, doesn't it, for all our troubles?" she said;
then to herself, slowly, "'It is a beauteous evening, calm and free.'"

Heywood made no pretense of following her look.

"'Dear Nun,'" he blurted; "no, how does it go again?--'dear child, that
walkest with me here--'"

The girl started down the slope, with the impatience of one whose mood
is frustrated. The climate had robbed her cheeks of much color, but not,
it seemed, of all.

"Your fault," said Heywood, impenitent. "Merely to show you. I could
quote, once."

"Aged Man!" She laughed, as though glad of this turn. "I like you better
in prose. Go on, please, where we left off. What did you do then?"

Heywood's smile, half earnest, half mischievous, obediently faded.

"Oh, that! Why, then, of course, I discharged Rudolph's gatekeeper, put
a trusty of my own in his place, sent out to hire a diver, and turned
all hands to hunting. 'Obviously,' as Gilly would say.--We picked up two
side-bolts in the garden, by the wall, one in the mud outside, and three
the diver got in shallow water. Total recovered, six; plus two Pêng had
no time for, eight. We can ill spare four guns, though; and the affair
shows they keep a beastly close watch."

"Yes," said Miss Drake, absently; then drew a slow breath. "Pêng was the
most promising pupil we had."

"He was," stated her companion, "a little, unmitigated, skipping,
orange-tawny goblin!"

She made no reply. As they footed slowly along the winding path,
Flounce, the fox-terrier, who had scouted among strange clumps of
bamboo, now rejoined them briskly, cantering with her fore-legs
delicately stiff and joyful. Miss Drake stooped to pat her, saying:--

"Poor little dog. Little Foreign Dog!" She rose with a sigh, to add
incongruously, "Oh, the things we dream beforehand, and then the things
that happen!"

"I don't know." Heywood looked at her keenly. "Sometimes they're the
same."

The jealous terrier scored her dusty paws down his white drill, from
knee to ankle, before he added:--

"You know how the Queen of Heaven won her divinity."

"Another," said the girl, "of your heathen stories?"

"Rather a pretty one," he retorted. "It happened in a seaport, a good
many hundred miles up the coast. A poor girl lived there, with her
mother, in a hut. One night a great gale blew, so that everybody was
anxious. Three junks were out somewhere at sea, in that storm. The girl
lay there in the dark. Her sweetheart on board, it would be in a Western
story; but these were only her friends, and kin, and townsmen, that were
at stake. So she lay there in the hut, you see, and couldn't rest. And
then it seemed to her, in the dark, that she was swimming out through
the storm, out and out, and not in the least afraid. She had become
larger, and more powerful, somehow, than the rain, or the dark, or the
whole ocean; for when she came upon the junks tossing there, she took
one in each hand, the third in her mouth, and began to swim for home.
Just retrieved 'em, you know. But then across the storm she heard her
mother calling in the dark, and had to open her mouth to answer. So she
lost that junk."

"Well, then her spirit was back in the hut. But next day the two junks
came in; the third one, never. And for that dream, she was made, after
her death, the great and merciful Queen of Heaven."

As Heywood ended, they were entering a pastoral village, near the town,
but hidden low under great trees, ancient and widely gnarled.

"You told that," said Miss Drake, "as though it had really happened."

"If you believe, these things have reality; if not, they have none." His
gesture, as he repeated the native maxim, committed him to neither side.

Miss Drake looked back toward the hills.

"Her dream was play, compared to--some."

"That," he answered, "is abominably true."

The curt, significant tone made her glance at him quickly. In her dark
eyes there was no impatience, but only trouble.

"We do better," she said, "when we are both busy."

He nodded, as though reluctantly agreeing, not so much to the words as
to the silence which followed.

The evening peace, which lay on the fields and hills, had flooded even
the village streets. Without pause, without haste, the endless labor of
the day went on as quiet as a summer cloud. Meeting or overtaking,
coolies passed in single file, their bare feet slapping the enormous
flags of antique, sunken granite, their twin baskets bobbing and
creaking to the rhythm of their wincing trot. The yellow muscles rippled
strongly over straining ribs, as with serious faces, and slant eyes
intent on their path, they chanted in pairs the ageless refrain, the
call and answer which make burdens lighter:--


"O heh!--O ha?
 O ho ho!
 O heh!--O ha?
 O ho ho!"


From hidden places sounded the whir of a jade-cutter's wheel, a
cobbler's rattle, or the clanging music of a forge. Yet everywhere the
slow movements, the faded, tranquil colors,--dull blue garments, dusky
red tiles, deep bronze-green foliage overhanging a vista of subdued
white and gray,--consorted with the spindling shadows and low-streaming
vesper light. Keepers of humble shops lounged in the open air with their
gossips, smoking bright pipes of the Yunnan white copper, nodding and
blinking gravely. Above them, no less courteous and placid, little
doorway shrines besought the Earth-God to lead the Giver of Wealth
within. Sometimes, where a narrow lane gaped opposite a door, small
stone lions sat grinning upon pillars, to scare away the Secret Arrow of
misfortune. But these rarely: the village seemed a happy place, favored
of the Influences. In the grateful coolness men came and went, buying,
joking, offering neighborly advice to chance-met people.

A plump woman, who carried two tiny silver fish in an immense flat
basket, grinned at Miss Drake, and pointed roguishly.

"See the two boats going by!" she called. "Her feet are bigger than my
Golden Lilies!" And laughing, she wriggled her own dusty toes, strong,
free, and perfect in modeling.

An old, withered barber looked up from shaving a blue forehead, under a
tree.

"Their women," he growled, "are shameless, and walk everywhere!"

But a stern man, bearing a palm-leaf fan and a lark in a cage, frowned
him down.

"She brought my son safe out of the Three Sicknesses," he declared.
"Mind your trade, Catcher of Lively Ones!" Then bending over the cage,
with solicitude, he began gently to fan the lark. As Heywood and the
girl paused beside him, he glanced up, and smiled gravely. "I give my
pet his airing," he said; and then, quickly but quietly, "When you reach
the town, do not pass through the West Quarter. It is full of
evil-minded persons. Their placards are posted."

A shrill trio of naked boys came racing and squabbling, to offer
grasshoppers for sale.

"We have seen no placards," replied Heywood.

"You will to-morrow," said the owner of the lark, calmly; and squatting,
became engrossed in poking a grasshopper between the brown, varnished
splints of the cage. "Maker of Music, here is your evening rice."

The two companions passed on, with Flounce timidly at heel.

"You see," Heywood broke out. "Warnings everywhere. Now please, won't
you listen to my advice? No telling when the next ship _will_ call, but
when it does--"

"I can't run away." She spoke as one clinging to a former answer. "I
must stand by my dream, such as it used to be--and even such as it is."

He eyed her sadly, shook his head, and said no more. For a moment they
halted, where the path broadened on a market-place, part shade, part
luminous with golden dust. A squad of lank boys, kicking miraculously
with flat upturned soles, kept a wicker ball shining in the air, as true
and lively as a plaything on a fountain-jet. Beyond, their tiny juniors,
girls and boys knee-high, and fat tumbling babies in rainbow finery, all
hand-locked and singing, turned their circle inside out and back again,
in the dizzy graces of the "Water Wheel." Other boys, and girls still
trousered and queued like boys, played at hopscotch, in and out among
shoes that lay across the road. All traffic, even the steady trotting
coolies, fetched a lenient compass roundabout.

"Lucky Hand, Lucky Hand! Allow me to pass," begged a coffin-maker's man,
bent under a plank. "These Long-Life boards are heavy."

"Ho, Lame Chicken!" called another, blocked by the hop-scotch. He was a
brown grass-cutter, who grinned, and fondled a smoky cloth that
buzzed--some tribe of wild bees, captured far afield. "Ho, Lame Chicken!
Do not bump me. They will sting."

He came through safely; for at the same moment the musical "Cling-clank"
of a sweetmeat-seller's bell turned the game into a race. The way was
clear, also, for a tiny, aged collector of paper, flying the gay flag of
an "Exalted Literary Society," and plodding, between two great baskets,
on his pious rounds. "Revere and spare," he piped, at intervals,--
"revere and spare the Written Word!"

All the bright picture lingered with the two alien wayfarers, long after
they had passed and the sun had withdrawn from their path. In the hoary
peace of twilight,--

"What can _we_ do here?" the girl cried abruptly. "There--I never meant
to say it. But it runs in my head all the time. I work and work, to keep
it down. What can we do here?"

Heywood watched her face, set straight before them, and now more clearly
cut in the failing light. Were there only pride in those fine and
resolute lines, it might have been a face from some splendid coin, or
medal of victory.

"You work too hard," he said. "Think, instead, of all the good--"

But at that she seemed to wince.

"The good? As if there weren't dark streets and crooked children at
home! Oh, the pride and ignorance that sent me here!" She spoke quietly,
with a kind of wonder. "Just blind, ignorant feelings, I took them
for--for something too great and mysterious. It's all very strange to
look back on, and try to put into words. I remember painted glass, and
solemn music--and thinking--then!--that I knew this lovely and terrible
world--and its Maker and Master." She looked down the dusky lanes,
where glowworm lanterns began to bob and wink. "Oh, this land! where you
see the days running into years!"

"The Dragon's a wise old beast," he ventured. "He teaches--something."

She assented gravely:--

"And in those days I thought it was a dark continent--of lost souls."

"There are no dark continents," declared Heywood suddenly, in a broken
voice. "The heart of one man--can hold more darkness--You would never
see into it--"

"Don't!" she cried sharply. "What did we promise?"

They stood close in the dusk, and a tremor, a wave, passed through them
both.

"I forgot--I couldn't help"--he stammered; then, as they stumbled
forward, he regained his former tone, keen and ready. "Mustn't get to
fussing about our work, must we?--Curious thing: speaking of dreams, you
know. The other night I thought you were somewhere out on board a junk,
and Flounce with you. I swam like anything, miles and miles, but
couldn't get out to you. Worked like steam, and no headway. Flounce knew
I was coming, but you didn't. Deuced odd, how real it seemed."

She laughed, as though they had walked past some danger.

"And speaking of dragons," she rejoined. "They _do_ help. The man in
the story, that dipped in dragon's blood, was made invulnerable."

"Oh?" He stood plainly at a loss. "Oh, I see. German, wasn't he?--Pity
they didn't pop Rudie Hackh in!"

Her swift upward glance might have been admiration, if she had not
said:--

"Your mind works very slowly."

"Oh?" Again he paused, as though somewhat hurt; then answered
cheerfully: "Dare say. Always did. Thought at first you meant the
rattan-juice kind, from Sumatra."

The gate of the town yawned black. From the streets glimmered a few
lanterns, like candles in a long cave. But shunning these unfriendly
corridors, he led her roundabout, now along the walls, now through the
dim ways of an outlying hamlet. A prolonged shriek of growing fright and
anguish came slowly toward them--the cry of a wheelbarrow carrying the
great carcass of a pig, waxy white and waxy red, like an image from a
chamber of horrors. In the blue twilight, fast deepening, the most
familiar things became grotesque. A woman's voice telling stories behind
shadow pictures, and the capricious play of the black puppets on her
lighted screen, had the effect of incantation. Before the booth of a
dentist, the long strings of black teeth swayed in the lantern-glow,
rattling, like horrid necklaces of cannibals. And from a squat
den--where on a translucent placard in the dull window flickered the
words "Foreign Earth," and the guttering door-lantern hinted "As You
Like It"--there came a sweet, insidious, potent smell that seemed more
poisonous than mere opium.

"Let's go faster," said the girl. "Somehow, the dark makes me uneasy
to-night."

Skirting the town, they struck at last the open road beyond, and saw
against a fading sky the low black bulk of the nunnery, pierced with
orange squares. Past its landward wall, lanterns moved slowly, clustered
here and there by twos and threes, and dispersed. Cackling argument came
from the ditch, wherever the lantern-bearers halted; and on the face of
the wall, among elbowing shadows, shone dim strips of scarlet. Both
pillars of the gate were plastered with them.

"Placards," said Heywood. "Things are ripening fast." Lighting match
from match, he studied the long red scrolls, crowded with neat rows of
symbols. He read them off slowly.

'The Garden of the Three Exquisites.'--Pshaw! that's a theatre notice:
enterprising manager.--Ah, more like it. Long preamble, regular
trimetrical platitudes--here we are:--

"'These Red-Bristled Ghosts teach their dupes to break the ancestral
tablets, and to worship the picture of a naked infant, which points one
finger toward heaven, another toward earth.--To each man entering the
False Religion, a pill is given which confuses and darkens the
mind.--Why they dig out babies' eyes: from one hundred pounds of Chinese
lead can be extracted seven pounds of silver, and the remaining
ninety-three pounds can be sold at the original cost. This silver can be
extracted only by the elixir of black eyes. The green eyes of barbarians
are of no use.'--Really, what follows is too--er--obscure. But here's
the close: 'Tao-tais of the villages, assemble your population.
Patriots, join! Let us hurl back these wizard-beasts beyond the oceans,
to take their place among the strange things of creation!'"

"And the big characters," she added, "the big characters you tried to
hide, are 'Kill' and 'Burn'?"

Gray eyes and dark eyes met steadily, while the last match, reddening
the blood in his fingers, slowly burned out.



CHAPTER XV


KAÚ FAI

At the top of the nunnery stairs, Rudolph met them with awkward
ceremony, and with that smiling air of encouragement which a nurse might
use in trying cheerfully to deceive a sick man. Heywood laughed, without
mercy, at this pious fraud.

"Hallo, you Red-Bristled Ghost!" he cried. "We came early--straight from
our walk. Are the rest coming? And did my cook arrive to help yours?"

Their host, carried by assault, at once became less mournful.

"The cook is here," he replied, "by the kitchen-sounds. They disagree, I
think. I have asked everybody. We should have a full dinner-table."

"Good," said his friend; and then whispering, as they followed Miss
Drake to the living-room, "I say, don't act as though you expected the
ghost of Banquo."

In the bare, white loft, by candle-light, Sturgeon sat midway in some
long and wheezy tale, to which the padre and his wife listened with true
forbearance. Greetings over, the stodgy annalist continued. The story
was forgotten as soon as ended; talk languished; and even by the quaking
light of the candles, it was plain that the silence was no mere waiting
solemnity before meat, but a period of tension.

The relief came oddly. Up from the road sounded a hubbub of voices, the
tramp of feet, and loud halloos.

"By Jove!" cried Sturgeon, like a man who fears the worst; and for all
his bulk, he was first at the window.

A straggling file of lanterns, borne by some small army, came jogging
and crowding to a halt under the walls. Yellow faces gleamed faintly,
bare heads bobbed, and men set down burdens, grunting. Among the
vanguard an angry voice scolded in a strange tongue. "_Burra suar!_" it
raged; then hailed imperiously, "_Ko hai?_"

Where the lanterns clustered brightest, an active little figure in white
waved a helmet, crying,--

"On deck! Where the devil does Maurice Heywood live?"

"I'm up here," called that young man.

For reply, the stranger began to skip among his cohorts, jerking out his
white legs like a dancing marionette. Then, with a sudden drop-kick, he
sent the helmet flickering high into the darkness over the wall.

"Here we come!" he shouted, in hilarious warning. The squabbling
retinue surged after him through the gate, and one by one the lanterns
disappeared under the covered way.

"It's the captain!" laughed Heywood, in amazement. "Kneebone--ashore! He
can't be sober!"

All stared; for Captain Kneebone, after one historically brief and
outspoken visit, had never in all these years set foot in the port. The
two young men hurried to the stairs.

Chinamen and lanterns crowded the courtyard, stuffed the passage, and
still came straggling in at the gate. By the noise and clatter, it might
have been a caravan, or a band of half-naked robbers bringing plunder.
Everywhere, on the stone flags, coolies were dumping down bundles,
boxes, jute-bags crammed with heavy objects. Among them, still brawling
in bad Hindustani, the little captain gave his orders. At sight of
Heywood, however, he began once more to caper, with extravagant
grimaces. By his smooth, ruddy face, and tunic of purest white, he
seemed a runaway parson gone farther wrong than ever.

"I've come to stay a month!" he cried; and dancing up, caught Heywood's
hands and whirled him about. "I was fair bursting to see ye, my boy! And
here we are, at last!"

Though his cheeks were flushed, and eyes alarmingly bright, he was
beyond question sober. Over his head, Heywood and Rudolph exchanged an
anxious glance.

"Good! but this is Hackh's house--the nunnery," said the one; and the
other added, "You're just in time for dinner."

The captain found these facts to be excruciating. He clapped Rudolph on
the arm, and crowed:--

"Nunnery? We'll make it a bloomin' chummery!--Dinner be 'anged! A
banquet. What's more, I've brought the chow"--he swept the huddled boxes
with a prodigal gesture,--"lashin's o' food and drink! That's what it
is: a banquet!"

He turned again to his sweating followers, and flung the head coolie a
handful of silver, crying, "_Sub-log kiswasti!_ Divide, and be off with
ye! _Jao_, ye beggars! Not a pice more. Finish! I'll not spend it all on
_you_!" Then, pouncing on the nearest crate, he burst it open with a
ferocious kick. "Stores? The choicest to be 'ad in all Saigong! Look
here"--He held up a tin and scanned the label triumphantly: "Chow de
Bruxelles, what? Never saw chow spelt with an 'x' before, did ye?
French, my boy. Bad spellers, but good cooks, are the French."

Heywood lost his worried frown. Something had happened,--evidently at
Calcutta, for the captain always picked up his vernacular where he
dropped his latest cargo; but at all events these vagaries were not the
effect of heat or loneliness.

"What's up, Captain?" he laughed.

But now that the coolies had gone, Captain Kneebone's heels were busy,
staving open boxes right and left. A bottle rolled out, and smashed in a
hissing froth of champagne.

"Plenty more," he cried, rejoicing. "That shows ye how much _I_ care!
Oho!" Suddenly he turned from this destruction, and facing Heywood,
began mysteriously to exult over him. "Old fool and his earnings, eh?
Fixed ideas, eh? 'No good,' says you. 'That cock won't fight,' says you.
'Let it alone.'--Ho-ho! What price fixed ideas now?"

The eyes of his young friend widened in unbelief.

"No," he cried, with a start: "you haven't?"

The captain seized both hands again, and took on--for his height--a
Roman stateliness.

"I have." He nodded solemnly. "Bar sells, I have. No more, now.
We'll--be-George, we'll announce it, at the banquet! Announce, that's
the word. First time in _my_ life: announce!"

Heywood suddenly collapsed on a sack, and laughed himself into abject
silence.

"Awfully glad, old chap," he at last contrived to say, and again
choked. The captain looked down at the shaking body with a singular,
benign, and fatherly smile.

"A funny world, ain't it?" he declared sagely. "I've known this boy a
long time," he explained to Rudolph. "This matter's--We'll let you in,
presently. Lend me some coolies here, while we turn your dinner into my
banquet. Eh? You don't care? Once in a bloomin' lifetime."

With a seafaring bellow, he helped Rudolph to hail the servants'
quarters. A pair of cooks, a pair of Number Twos, and all the
"learn-pidgin" youngsters of two households came shuffling into the
court; and arriving guests found all hands broaching cargo, in a loud
confusion of orders and miscomprehension.

The captain's dinner was the more brilliant. Throughout the long, white
room, in the slow breeze of the punkah, scores of candles burned soft
and tremulous, as though the old days had returned when the brown
sisters lighted their refectory; but never had their table seen such
profusion of viands, or of talk and laughter. The Saigon stores--after
daily fare--seemed of a strange and Corinthian luxury. The captain's
wine proved excellent. And his ruddy little face, beaming at the head of
the table, wore an extravagant, infectious grin. His quick blue eyes
danced with the light of some ineffable joke. He seemed a conjurer,
creating banquets for sheer mischief in the wilderness.

"There's a soup!" he had proclaimed. "Patent, mind ye! Stick a knife
into the tin, and she 'eats 'erself!"

Among all the revelers, one face alone showed melancholy. Chantel, at
the foot of the table, sat unregarded by all save Rudolph, who now and
then caught from him a look filled with gloom and suspicion. It was
beside Rudolph that Mrs. Forrester laughed and chattered, calling all
eyes toward her, and yet finding private intervals in which to dart a
sidelong shaft at her neighbor. Rudolph's ears shone coral pink; for now
again he was aboard ship, hiding a secret at once dizzy, dangerous, and
entrancing. Across the talk, the wine, the many lights, came the triumph
of seeing that other hostile face, glowering in defeat. Never before had
Chantel, and all the others, dwindled so far into such nonentity, or her
presence vibrated so near.

Soon he became aware that Captain Kneebone had risen, with a face
glowing red above the candles. Even Sturgeon forgot the flood of
bounties, and looked expectantly toward their source. The captain
cleared his throat, faltered, then turning sheepish all at once,
hung his head.

"Be 'anged, I can't make a speech, after all," he grumbled; and
wheeling suddenly on Heywood, with a peevish air of having been
defrauded: "Aboard ship I could sit and think up no end o' flowery talk,
and now it's all gone!"

He stared at his plate miserably. It was Miss Drake who came to his
rescue.

"Tell us the secret," she begged. "How do you manage all these nice
things?"

The captain's eyes surveyed the motley collection down the length of the
bright table, then returned to her, gratefully:--

"This ain't anything. Only a little--bloomin'--"

"Impromptu," suggested Heywood.

"That's the word!" Captain Kneebone eyed them both with uncommon favor.
"That's it, ye know. I just 'opped about Saigong like a--jackdaw,
picking up these impromptus. But I came here all the way to break the
news proper, by word o' mouth."

He faced the company, and gathering himself for the effort,--

"I'm rich," he declared. "I'm da--I'm remarkable rich."

Pausing for the effect, he warmed to his oratory.

"It ain't for me to boast. Sailormen as a rule are bad hands to save
money. But I've won first prize in the Derby Sweepstake Lott'ry, and the
money's safe to my credit at the H.K. and S. in Calcutta, and I'm
retired and going Home! More money than the old Kut Sing earned since
her launching--so much I was frightened, first, and lost my sleep! And
me without chick nor child, as the saying is--to go Home and live
luxurious ever after!"

"Ow!" cried Nesbit, "lucky beggar!"--"Sincerely glad," said Mr.
Forrester. And a volley of compliments went round the board. The captain
plainly took heart, and flushing still redder at so much praise and good
will, stood now at ease, chuckling.

"Most men," he began, when there came a lull, "most men makes a will
after they're dead. That's a shore way o' doing things! Now _I_ want to
see the effects, living. So be 'anged, here goes, right and proper. To
Miss Drake, for her hospital and kiddies, two thousand rupees."

In the laughter and friendly uproar, the girl sat dazed.

"What shall I say?" she whispered, wavering between amusement and
distress. "I can't accept it--"

"Nonsense!" grumbled Heywood, with an angry glance. "Don't spoil the
happiest evening of an old man's life."

"You're right," she answered quickly; and when the plaudits ended, she
thanked the captain in a very simple, pretty speech, which made him
duck and grin,--a proud little benefactor.

"That ain't all," he cried gayly; then leveled a threatening finger,
like a pistol, at her neighbor. "Who poked fun at me, first and last?
Who always came out aboard to tell me what an old ass I was? Fixed
ideas, eh? No go?--Look you here. What did I come so many hundred miles
for? To say what I always said: half-shares." The light-blue eyes, keen
with sea-cunning and the lonely sight of many far horizons, suffered an
indescribable change. "My boy, the half's yours. There's two rich men
here to-night. I've come to take you Home."

It was Heywood's turn to be struck dumb. He grew very pale.

"Oh, I say," he stammered at last, "it's not fair--"

"Don't spoil the happiest evening--" whispered the girl beside him.

He eyed her ruefully, groaned, then springing up, went swiftly to the
head of the table and wrung the captain's brown paw, without a word
to say.

"Can do, can do," said Captain Kneebone, curtly. "I was afraid ye might
not want to come."

Then followed a whirlwind; and Teppich rose with his moustache
bristling, and the ready Nesbit jerked him down again in the opening
sentence; and everybody laughed at Heywood, who sat there so white,
with such large eyes; and the dinner going by on the wings of night, the
melancholy "boy" circled the table, all too soon, with a new silver
casket full of noble cigars from Paiacombo, Manila, and Dindigul.

As the three ladies passed the foot of the table, Rudolph saw Mrs.
Forrester make an angry signal. And presently, like a prisoner going to
his judge, Chantel slipped out of the room. He was not missed; for
already the streaming candle-flames stood wreathed in blue layers, nor
was it long before the captain, mounting his chair, held a full
glass aloft.

"Here," he cried in triumph, "here's to every nail in the hoof--"

The glass crashed into splinters and froth. A flying stone struck the
boom of the punkah, and thumped on the table. Through the open windows,
from the road, came a wild chorus of yells, caught up and echoed by many
voices in the distance.

"Shutters!" called Heywood. "Quick!"

As they slammed them home, more stones drummed on the boards and
clattered against the wall. Conches brayed somewhere, followed by an
unaccountable, sputtering fusillade as of tiny muskets, and then by a
formidable silence. While the banqueters listened in the smoky room,
there came a sullen, heavy sound, like a single stroke on a large and
very slack bass-drum.

"_Kaú fai!_" shrilled the voices below; and then in a fainter gabble, as
though hurrying off toward the sound,--"_kaú fai!_"

"The Black Dog," said Heywood, quietly. "He has barked. Earlier than we
figured, Gilly. Lucky the scaffolding's up. Gentlemen, we all know our
posts. Guns are in the first bedroom. Quietly, now. Rudie, go call
Chantel. Don't frighten the women. If they ask about that noise, tell
'em anything--Dragon Boat Festival beginning. Anything.--We can easily
hold this place, while the captain gets 'em out to his ship."

The captain wheeled, with an injured air.

"What ship?" he inquired testily. "Told ye, plain, I was retired. Came
the last bit in a stinking native boat, and _she's_ cleared by now.
Think I carry ships in my pocket?"

Outside, the swollen discord of shouts, thunder of gongs, and hoarse
calling of the conches came slowly nearer, extending through
the darkness.



CHAPTER XVI


THE GUNWALE

Rudolph's mission began quietly, with a glimpse which he afterward
recalled as incredibly peaceful. Two of the women, at least, showed no
fear. In the living-room sat Mrs. Earle, her chin cramped on her high
bosom, while she mournfully studied his colored picture-book of the
Rhine. Miss Drake, who leaned in one of the river windows, answered him,
saying rather coldly that Chantel and Mrs. Forrester had gone down to
the garden.

In the court, however, he ran across Ah Pat, loitering beside a lantern.
The compradore grinned, and in a tone of great unconcern called out that
the pair were not in the garden. "Walkee so." He pointed down the
passage to the main gate, and hooked his thumb toward the right, to
indicate their course. "Makee finish, makee die now," he added calmly;
"too muchee, no can."

Rudolph experienced his first shock of terror, like an icy blow on the
scalp. They had gone outside before the alarm; she, Bertha, was swept
away in that tumult which came raging through the darkness.--He stood
transfixed, but only for an instant, rather by the stroke of
helplessness than by fear; and then, blindly, without plan or foresight,
darted down the covered way. The tiny flame of a pith wick, floating in
a saucer of oil, showed Heywood's gatekeeper sitting at his post, like a
gnome in the gallery of a mine. Rudolph tore away the bar, heard the
heavy gate slam shut, and found himself running down the starlit road.

Not all starlight, however; a dim red glow began to flicker on the
shapes which rushed behind him in his flight. Wheeling once, he saw two
broad flames leaping high in wild and splendid rivalry,--one from
Heywood's house, one from the club. He caught also a whirling impression
of many heads and arms, far off, tiny, black, and crowded in rushing
disorder; of pale torches in the road; and of a hissing, snarling shout,
a single word, like "_Sha, sha_!" repeated incessantly in a high key.
The flame at the club shot up threefold, with a crash; and a glorious
criss-cross multitude of sparks flew hissing through the treetops, like
fiery tadpoles through a net.

He turned and ran on, dazzled; fell over some one who lay groaning; rose
on hands and knees, groped in the dust, and suddenly fingered thin,
rough cloth, warm and sopping. In a nausea of relief, he felt that this
was a native,--some unknown dying man, who coughed like a drunkard.

Rudolph sprang up and raced again, following by habit the path which he
and she had traversed at noon. Once, with a heavy collision, he stopped
short violently in the midst of crowded men, who shouted, clung to him,
wrestling, and struck out with something sharp that ripped his tunic. He
kicked, shook them off, hammered his fists right and left, and ran free,
with a strange conviction that to-night he was invincible. Stranger
still, as the bamboo leaves now and then brushed his bare forehead, he
missed the sharp music of her cicadas.

The looming of a wall checked him. Here stood her house; she had the
briefest possible start of him, and he had run headlong the whole way;
by all the certainty of instinct, he knew that he had chosen the right
path: why, then, had he not overtaken her? If she met that band which he
had just broken through--He wavered in the darkness, and was turning
wildly to race back, when a sudden light sprang up before him in her
window. He plunged forward, in at the gate, across a plot of turf,
stumbled through the Goddess of Mercy bamboo that hedged the door, and
went falling up the dark stairs, crying aloud,--for the first time in
his life,--"Bertha! Bertha!"

Empty rooms rang with the name, but no one answered. At last, however,
reaching the upper level, he saw by lamplight, through the open door,
two figures struggling. Just before he entered, she tore herself free
and went unsteadily across the room. Chantel, white and abject, turned
as in panic.

"Oh!" Plainly he had not expected to see another face as white as his
own. Breathless and trembling, he spoke in a strangely little voice; but
his staring eyes lighted with a sudden and desperate resolution. "Help
me with her," he begged. "She won't listen. The woman's out of
her wits."

He caught Rudolph by the arm; and standing for a moment like close
friends, the two panting rivals watched her in stupefaction. She
ransacked a great cedar chest, a table, shelves, boxes, and strewed the
contents on the floor,--silk scarfs, shining Benares brass, Chinese
silver, vivid sarongs from the Preanger regency, Kyoto cloisonné, a wild
heap of plunder from the bazaars of all the nations where Gilly's meagre
earnings had been squandered. A Cingalese box dropped and burst open,
scattering bright stones, false or precious, broadcast. She trampled
them in her blind and furious search.

"Come," said Chantel, and snatched at her. "Leave those. Come to the
boat. Every minute--"

She pushed him aside like a thing without weight or meaning, stooped
again among the gay rubbish, caught up a necklace, flung it down for
the sake of a brooch, then dropped everything and turned with blank,
dilated eyes, and the face of a child lost in a crowd.

"Rudolph," she whimpered, "help me. What shall I do?"

Without waiting for answer, she bent once more to sort and discard her
pitiful treasures, to pause vaguely, consider, and wring her hands.
Rudolph, in his turn, caught her by the arm, but fared no better.

"We must humor her," whispered Chantel, and, kneeling like a peddler
among the bazaar-stuffs, spread on the floor a Java sarong, blue and
brown, painted with men and buffaloes. On this he began to heap things
pell-mell.

The woman surrendered, and all at once flung her arms about Rudolph,
hiding her face, and clinging to him as if with the last of
her strength.

"Come, he'll bring them," she sobbed. "Let's go--to the boat. He must
find his own way. Take me." Hurry and fright choked her. "Take me--leave
him, if he won't come--I scolded him--then the noises came, and
we ran--"

"What boat?" said Rudolph.

Chantel did not look up.

"I have one ready and stocked," he mumbled, tugging with his teeth at
the knot in the sarong corners. "You can come. We'll drop down the
river, and try it along the coast. Only chance. Come on."

He rose, and started for the door, slinging the bright-colored bundle
over his shoulder. "Come on," he snarled. Against the gay pattern, his
handsome pirate face shone brown and evil in the lamplight. "Damn you,
I've waited long enough for your whims. Stay there and be killed, then."

He ran to the stairs, and down. The woman's arms began to drag loosely,
as if she were slipping to the floor; then suddenly, with a cry, she
turned and bolted. Run as he might, Rudolph did not overtake her till
she had caught Chantel at the gate. All three, silent, sped across
fields toward the river, through the startling shadows and dim orange
glow from distant flames.

The rough ground sloped, at last, and sent them stumbling down into mud.
Behind them the bank ran black and ragged against the glow; before them,
still more black, lay the river, placid, mysterious, and safe. Through
the mud they labored heavily toward a little, smoky light--a lantern
gleaming faintly on a polished gunwale, the shoulders of a man, and the
thin, slant line that was his pole.

"Lowdah?" called Chantel; and the shoulders moved, the line shifted, as
the boatman answered. Chantel pitched the bundle over the lantern, and
leapt on board. Rudolph came slowly, carrying in his arms the woman,
who lay quiet and limp, clasping him in a kind of drowsy oblivion. He
felt the flutter of her lips, while she whispered in his ear strange,
breathless entreaties, a broken murmur of endearments, unheard-of, which
tempted him more than the wide, alluring darkness of the river.

He lowered her slowly; and leaning against the gunwale, she still clung
to his hands.

"Aboard! Quickly!" snapped their leader, from the dusk behind the
lantern.

Obeying by impulse, Rudolph moved nearer the gunwale. The slippery edge,
polished by bare feet through many years, seemed the one bit of reality
in this dream, except the warmth of her hands.

"To the nunnery?" he asked, trying dully to rouse from a fascination.

"No, no," she wailed. "Down--away--safe."

"No, back to them," he answered stupidly. "They are all there. Your--he
is there. We can't leave--"

"You fool!" Chantel swore in one tongue, and in another cried to the
boatman--"Shove off, if they won't come!" He seized the woman roughly
and pulled her on board; but she reached out and caught Rudolph's
hand again.

"Come, hurry," she whispered, tugging at him. "Come, dear boy. I won't
leave you. Quickly. You saw it burning. They're all dead. It's no use.
We must live. We must live, darling."

She was right, somehow; there was no power to confute her. He must come
with her, or run back, useless, into the ring of swords and flames. She
and life were in the boat; ashore, a friend cut off beyond reach, an
impossible duty, and death. His eyes, dull and fixed in the smoky
lantern-light, rested for an age on the knotted sarong. It meant
nothing; then in a flash, as though for him all light of the eyes had
concentrated in a single vision, it meant everything. The colored
cloth--rudely painted in the hut of some forgotten mountaineer--held
all her treasure and her heart, the things of this world. She must go
with those. It was fitting. She was beautiful--in all her fear and
disorder, still more beautiful. She went with life, departing into a
dream. This glossy gunwale, polished by bare feet, was after all the
sole reality, a shining line between life and death.

"Then I must die," he groaned, and wrenched his hands away from that
perilous boundary.

He vaguely heard her cry out, vaguely saw Chantel rise above the lantern
and slash down at him with the lowdah's pole. The bamboo struck him,
heavy but glancing, on the head. He staggered, lost his footing, and
fell into the mud, where, as though his choice had already overtaken
him, he lay without thought or emotion, watching the dim light float off
into the darkness.

By and by it was gone. From somewhere in another direction came a sharp,
continual, crackling fusillade, like the snapping of dry bamboo-joints
in a fire. The unstirring night grew heavier with the smell of burnt
gunpowder. But Rudolph, sitting in the mud, felt only that his eyes were
dry and leaden in their sockets, that there was a drumming in his ears,
and that if heat and weariness thus made an end of him, he need no
longer watch the oppressive multitude of stars, or hear the monotony of
flowing water.

Something stirred in the dry grass above him. Without turning, he heard
a man scramble down the bank; without looking up, he felt some one pause
and stoop close. When at last, in profound apathy, he raised his eyes,
he saw against the starlight the hat, head, and shoulders of a coolie.

Quite natural, he thought, that the fellow should be muttering in
German. It was only the halting, rusty fashion of the speech that
finally fretted him into listening. The words did not concern him.

"Are you dead, then?" grumbled the coolie. "Did she kill you?"

Rudolph dismissed him with a vague but angry motion.

Some time afterward the same voice came louder. The coolie was still
there.

"You cannot sit here all night," he said. "By daylight they will catch
you. Come. Perhaps I can take you to your friends. Come."

Rudolph felt sharp knuckles working at his lips, and before he could
rebel, found his mouth full of sweet fiery liquid. He choked, swallowed,
and presently heard the empty bottle splash in the river.

"_Stösst an_!" said the rescuer, and chuckled something in dispraise of
women. "Is that not better?"

The rice-brandy was hot and potent; for of a sudden Rudolph found
himself afoot and awake. A dizzy warmth cleared his spirit. He
understood perfectly. This man, for some strange reason, was Wutzler, a
coolie and yet a brother from the fatherland. He and his nauseous alien
brandy had restored the future. There was more to do.

"Come on." The forsaken lover was first man up the bank. "See!" he
cried, pointing to a new flare in the distance. The whole region was now
aglow like a furnace, and filled with smoke, with prolonged yells, and a
continuity of explosions that ripped the night air like tearing silk.
"Her house is burning now."

"You left in time." Wutzler shuffled before him, with the trot of a
lean and exhausted laborer. "I was with the men you fought, when you
ran. I followed to the house, and then here, to the river. I was glad
you did not jump on board." He glanced back, timidly, for approbation.
"I am a great coward, Herr Heywood told me so,--but I also stay
and help."

He steered craftily among the longest and blackest shadows, now jogging
in a path, now threading the boundary of a rice-field, or waiting behind
trees; and all the time, though devious and artful as a deer-stalker,
crept toward the centre of the noise and the leaping flames. When the
quaking shadows grew thin and spare, and the lighted clearings
dangerously wide, he swerved to the right through a rolling bank of
smoke. They coughed as they ran.

Once Rudolph paused, with the heat of the fire on his cheeks.

"The nunnery is burning," he said hopelessly.

His guide halted, peered shrewdly, and listened.

"No, they are still shooting," he answered, and limped onward, skirting
the uproar.

At last, when by pale stars above the smoke and flame and sparks,
Rudolph judged that they were somewhere north of the nunnery, they came
stumbling down into a hollow encumbered with round, swollen obstacles.
Like a patch of enormous melons, oil-jars lay scattered.

"Hide here, and wait," commanded Wutzler. "I will go see." And he
flitted off through the smoke.

Smuggled among the oil-jars, Rudolph lay panting. Shapes of men ran
past, another empty jar rolled down beside him, and a stray bullet sang
overhead like a vibrating wire. Soon afterward, Wutzler came crawling
through the huddled pottery.

"Lie still," he whispered. "Your friends are hemmed in. You cannot get
through."

The smell of rancid oil choked them, yet they could breathe without
coughing, and could rest their smarting eyes. In the midst of tumult and
combustion, the hollow lay dark as a pool. Along its rim bristled a
scrubby fringe of weeds, black against a rosy cloud.

After a time, something still blacker parted the weeds. In silhouette, a
man's head, his hand grasping a staff or the muzzle of a gun, remained
there as still as though, crawling to the verge, he lay petrified in the
act of spying.



CHAPTER XVII


LAMP OF HEAVEN

The white men peered from among the oil-jars, like two of the Forty
Thieves. They could detect no movement, friendly or hostile: the black
head lodged there without stirring. The watcher, whether he had seen
them or not, was in no hurry; for with chin propped among the weeds, he
held a pose at once alert and peaceful, mischievous and leisurely, as
though he were master of that hollow, and might lie all night drowsing
or waking, as the humor prompted.

Wutzler pressed his face against the earth, and shivered in the stifling
heat. The uncertainty grew, with Rudolph, into an acute distress. His
legs ached and twitched, the bones of his neck were stretched as if to
break, and a corner of broken clay bored sharply between his ribs. He
felt no fear, however: only a great impatience to have the spy
begin,--rise, beckon, call to his fellows, fire his gun, hit or miss.

This longing, or a flash of anger, or the rice-brandy working so nimbly
in his wits, gave him both impulse and plan.

"Don't move," he whispered; "wait here." And wriggling backward, inch
by inch, feet foremost among the crowded bellies of the jars, he gained
the further darkness. So far as sight would carry, the head stirred no
more than if it had been a cannon-ball planted there on the verge,
against the rosy cloud. From crawling, Rudolph rose to hands and knees,
and silently in the dust began to creep on a long circuit. Once, through
a rift in smoke, he saw a band of yellow musketeers, who crouched behind
some ragged earthwork or broken wall, loading and firing without pause
or care, chattering like outraged monkeys, and all too busy to spare a
glance behind. Their heads bobbed up and down in queer scarlet turbans
or scarfs, like the flannel nightcaps of so many diabolic invalids.

Passing them unseen, he crept back toward his hollow. In spite of smoke,
he had gauged and held his circle nicely, for straight ahead lay the
man's legs. Taken thus in the rear, he still lay prone, staring down the
slope, inactive; yet legs, body, and the bent arm that clutched a musket
beside him in the grass, were stiff with some curious excitement. He
seemed ready to spring up and fire.

No time to lose, thought Rudolph; and rising, measured his distance with
a painful, giddy exactness. He would have counted to himself before
leaping, but his throat was too dry. He flinched a little, then shot
through the air, and landed heavily, one knee on each side, pinning the
fellow down as he grappled underneath for the throat. Almost in the same
movement he had bounded on foot again, holding both hands above his
head, as high as he could withdraw them. The body among the weeds lay
cold, revoltingly indifferent to stratagem or violence, in the same
tense attitude, which had nothing to do with life.

Rudolph dropped his hands, and stood confounded by his own brutal
discourtesy. Wutzler, crawling out from the jars, scrambled joyfully
up the bank.

"You have killed him?" quavered the dry little voice. "You are very
brave!"

"No, no," cried Rudolph, earnestly. "He was, already."

By the scarlet headgear, and a white symbol on the back of his jacket,
the man at their feet was one of the musketeers. He had left the
firing-line, crawled away in the dark, and found a quiet spot to die in.

"So! This is good luck!" Wutzler doffed his coolie hat, slid out of his
jacket, tossed both down among the oil-jars, and stooping over the dead
man, began to untwist the scarlet turban. In the dim light his lean arms
and frail body, coated with black hair, gave him the look of a puny ape
robbing a sleeper. He wriggled into the dead man's jacket, wound the
blood-red cloth about his own temples, and caught up musket, ramrod,
powder-horn, and bag of bullets.--"Now I am all safe," he chuckled. "Now
I can go anywhere, to-night."

He shouldered arms and stood grinning as though all their troubles were
ended.

"So! I am rebel soldier. We try again; come.--Not too close behind me;
and if I speak, run back."

In this order they began once more to scout through the smoke. No one
met them, though distant shapes rushed athwart the gloom, yelping to
each other, and near by, legs of runners moved under a rolling cloud of
smoke as if their bodies were embedded and swept along in the
wrack:--all confused, hurried, and meaningless, like the uproar of
gongs, horns, conches, whistling bullets, crackers, and squibs that
sputtering, string upon string, flower upon rising flower of misty red
gold explosion, ripped all other noise to tatters.

Where and how he followed, Rudolph never could have told; but once, as
they ran slinking through the heaviest smoke and, as it seemed, the
heart of the turmoil, he recognized the yawning rim of a clay-pit, not a
stone's throw from his own gate. It was amazing to feel that safety lay
so close; still more amazing to catch a glimpse of many coolies digging
in the pit by torchlight, peacefully, as though they had heard of no
disturbance that evening. Hardly had the picture flashed past, than he
wondered whether he had seen or imagined it, whose men they were, and
why, even at any time, they should swarm so busy, thick as ants, merely
to dig clay.

He had worry enough, however, to keep in view the white cross-barred
hieroglyphic on his guide's jacket. Suddenly it vanished, and next
instant the muzzle of the gun jolted against his ribs.

"Run, quick," panted Wutzler, pushing him aside. "To the left, into the
go-down. Here they are!--To your left!" And with the words, he bounded
off to the right, firing his gun to confuse the chase.

Rudolph obeyed, and, running at top speed, dimly understood that he had
doubled round a squad of grunting runners, whose bare feet pattered
close by him in the smoke. Before him gaped a black square, through
which he darted, to pitch head first over some fat, padded bulk. As he
rose, the rasping of rough jute against his cheek told him that he had
fallen among bales; and a familiar, musty smell, that the bales were his
own, in his own go-down, across a narrow lane from the nunnery. With
high hopes, he stumbled farther into the darkness. Once, among the
bales, he trod on a man's hand, which was silently pulled away. With no
time to think of that, he crawled and climbed over the disordered heaps,
groping toward the other door. He had nearly reached it, when torchlight
flared behind him, rushing in, and savage cries, both shrill and
guttural, rang through the stuffy warehouse. He had barely time, in the
reeling shadows, to fall on the earthen floor, and crawl under a thin
curtain of reeds to a new refuge.

Into this--a cubby-hole where the compradore kept his tally-slips,
umbrella, odds and ends--the torchlight shone faintly through the reeds.
Lying flat behind a roll of matting, Rudolph could see, as through the
gauze twilight of a stage scene, the tossing lights and the skipping men
who shouted back and forth, jabbing their spears or pikes down among the
bales, to probe the darkness. Their search was wild but thorough. Before
it, in swift retreat, some one crawled past the compradore's room,
brushing the splint partition like a snake. This, as Rudolph guessed,
might be the man whose hand he had stepped on.

The stitches in the curtain became beads of light. A shadowy arm heaved
up, fell with a dry, ripping sound and a vertical flash. A sword had cut
the reeds from top to bottom.

Through the rent a smoking flame plunged after the sword, and after
both, a bony yellow face that gleamed with sweat. Rudolph, half wrapped
in his matting, could see the hard, glassy eyes shine cruelly in their
narrow slits; but before they lowered to meet his own, a jubilant yell
resounded in the go-down, and with a grunt, the yellow face, the
flambeau, and the sword were snatched away.

He lay safe, but at the price of another man's peril. They had caught
the crawling fugitive, and now came dragging him back to the lights.
Through the tattered curtain Rudolph saw him flung on the ground like an
empty sack, while his captors crowded about in a broken ring, cackling,
and prodding him with their pikes. Some jeered, some snarled, others
called him by name, with laughing epithets that rang more friendly, or
at least more jocular; but all bent toward him eagerly, and flung down
question after question, like a little band of kobolds holding an
inquisition. At some sharper cry than the rest, the fellow rose to his
knees and faced them boldly. A haggard Christian, he was being fairly
given his last chance to recant.

"Open your mouth! Open your mouth!" they cried, in rage or entreaty.

The kneeling captive shook his head, and made some reply, very distinct
and simple.

"Open your mouth!" They struck at him with the torches. The same sword
that had slashed the curtain now pricked his naked chest. Rudolph,
clenching his fists in a helpless longing to rush out and scatter all
these men-at-arms, had a strange sense of being transported into the
past, to watch with ghostly impotence a mediaeval tragedy.

The kneeling man repeated his unknown declaration. His round, honest,
oily face was anything but heroic, and wore no legendary, transfiguring
light. He seemed rather stupid than calm; yet as he mechanically wound
his queue into place once more above the shaven forehead, his fingers
moved surely and deftly. Not once did they slip or tremble.

"Open your mouth!" snarled the pikemen and the torch-bearers, with the
fierce gestures of men who have wasted time and patience.

"The Lamp of Heaven!" bawled the swordsman, beside himself. "Give him
the Lamp of Heaven!"

To the others, this phrase acted as a spark to powder.

"Good! good!" they shrilled, nodding furiously. "The Lamp of Heaven!"
And several men began to rummage and overhaul the chaos of the go-down.
Rudolph had given orders, that afternoon, to remove all necessary stores
to the nunnery. But from somewhere in the darkness, one rioter brought a
sack of flour, while another flung down a tin case of petroleum. The
sword had no sooner cut the sack across and punctured the tin, than a
fat villain in a loin cloth, squatting on the earthen floor, kneaded
flour and oil into a grimy batch of dough.

"Will you speak out and live," cried the swordsman, "or will you die?"

For a second the Christian did not stir. Then, as though the option were
not in his power,--

"Die," he answered.

The fat baker sprang up, and clapped on the obstinate head a shapeless
gray turban of dough. Half a dozen torches jostled for the honor of
lighting it. The Christian, crowned with sooty flames, gave a single
cry, clear above all the others. He was calling--as even Rudolph
knew--on the strange god across the sea, Saviour of the Children of the
West, not to forget his nameless and lonely servant.

Rudolph groaned aloud, rose, and had parted the curtain to run out and
fall upon them all, when suddenly, close at hand and sharp in the
general din, there burst a quick volley of rifleshots. Splinters flew
from the attap walls. A torch-bearer and the man with the sword spun
half round, collided, and fell, the one across the other, like drunken
wrestlers. The survivors flung down their torches and ran, leaping and
diving over bales. On the ground, the smouldering Lamp of Heaven showed
that its wearer, rescued by a lucky bullet, lay still in a posture of
humility. Strange humility, it seemed, for one so suddenly given the
complete and profound wisdom that confirms all faith, foreign or
domestic, new or old.

With a sense of all this, but no clear sense of action, Rudolph found
the side-door, opened it, closed it, and started across the lane. He
knew only that he should reach the mafoo's little gate by the pony-shed,
and step out of these dark ages into the friendly present; so that when
something from the wall blazed point-blank, and he fell flat on the
ground, he lay in utter defeat, bitterly surprised and offended. His own
friends: they might miss him once, but not twice. Let it come quickly.

Instead, from the darkness above came the most welcome sound he had ever
known,--a keen, high voice, scolding.

"What the devil are you firing at?" It was Heywood, somewhere on the
roof of the pony-shed. He put the question sharply, yet sounded cool and
cheerful. "A shadow? Rot! You waste another cartridge so, and I'll take
your gun away. Remember that!"

Nesbit's voice clipped out some pert objection.

"Potted the beggar, any'ow--see for yourself--go-down 's afire."

"Saves us the trouble of burning it." The other voice moved away, with
a parting rebuke. "No more of that, sniping and squandering. Wait till
they rush you."

Rudolph lifted his head from the dust.

"Maurice!" he called feebly. "Maurice, let me in!"

"Hallo!" answered his captain on the wall, blithely. "Steady on, we'll
get you."

Of all hardships, this brief delay was least bearable. Then a bight of
rope fell across Rudolph's back. He seized it, hauled taut, and planting
his feet against the wall, went up like a fish, to land gasping on a row
of sand-bags.

"Ho, you wandering German!" His invisible friend clapped him on the
shoulder. "By Jove, I'm glad. No time to burble now, though. Off with
you. Compradore has a gun for you, in the court. Collect a drink as you
go by. Report to Kneebone at the northeast corner. Danger point there:
we need a good man, so hurry. Devilish glad. Cut along."

Rudolph, scrambling down from the pony-shed, ran across the compound
with his head in a whirl. Yet through all the scudding darkness and
confusion, one fact had pierced as bright as a star. On this night of
alarms, he had turned the great corner in his life. Like the pale
stranger with his crown of fire, he could finish the course.

He caught his rifle from the compradore's hand, but needed no draught
from any earthly cup. Brushing through the orange trees, he made for the
northeast angle, free of all longing perplexities, purged of all vile
admiration, and fit to join his friends in clean and wholesome danger.



CHAPTER XVIII


SIEGE

He never believed that they could hold the northeast corner for a
minute, so loud and unceasing was the uproar. Bullets spattered sharply
along the wall and sang overhead, mixed now and then with an
indescribable whistling and jingling. The angle was like the prow of a
ship cutting forward into a gale. Yet Rudolph climbed, rejoicing, up the
short bamboo ladder, to the platform which his coolies had built in such
haste, so long ago, that afternoon.

His high spirits went before a fall. As he stood up, in the full glow
from the burning go-down, somebody tackled him about the knees and threw
him head first on the sand-bags.

"How many times must I give me orders?" barked the little sea-captain.
"Under cover, under cover, and stay under cover, or I'll send ye below,
ye gallivanting--Oh! it's you, is it? Well, there's your port-hole." A
stubby finger pointed in the obscurity. "There! and don't ye fire till
I say so!"

Thus made welcome, Rudolph crawled toward a chink among the bags, ran
the muzzle of his gun into place, and lay ready for whatever might come
out of the quaking lights and darknesses beyond.

Nothing came, however, except a swollen continuity of sound, a rolling
cloud of noises, thick and sullen as the smell of burnt gunpowder. It
was strange, thought Rudolph, how nothing happened from moment to
moment. No yellow bodies came charging out of the hubbub. He himself lay
there unhurt; his fellows joked, grumbled, shifted their legs on the
platform. At times the heavier, duller sound, which had been the signal
for the whole disorder,--one ponderous beat, as on a huge and very slack
bass-drum,--told that the Black Dog from Rotterdam was not far off. Yet
even then there followed no shock of round-shot battering at masonry,
but only an access of the stormy whistling and jingling.

"Copper cash," declared the voice of Heywood, in a lull. By the sound,
he was standing on the rungs of the ladder, with his head at the level
of the platform; also by the sound, he was enjoying himself
inordinately. "What a jolly good piece of luck! Scrap metal and copper
cash. Firing money at us--like you, Captain. Just what we thought, too.
Some unruly gang among them wouldn't wait, and forced matters. Tonight
was premature. The beggars have plenty of powder, and little else.
So far."

Rudolph listened in wonder. Here, in the thick of the fight, was a
light-hearted, busy commander, drawing conclusions and extracting news
from chaos.

"Look out for arrows," continued the speaker, as he crawled to a
loophole between Rudolph's and the captain's. "They're shooting arrows
up over. Killed one convert and wounded two, there by the water gate.
They can't get the elevation for you chaps here, though." And again he
added, cheerfully, "So far, at least."

The little band behind the loopholes lay watching through the smoke,
listening through the noise. The Black Dog barked again, and sent a
shower of money clinking along the wall.

"How do you like it, Rudie?" chuckled his friend.

"It is terrible," answered Rudolph, honestly.

"Terrible racket, yes. Fireworks, to frighten us. Wait till their
ammunition comes; then you'll see fun. Fireworks, all this." Heywood
turned to his other companion. "I say, Kneebone, what's your idea?
Sniping all night, will it be?--or shall we get a fair chance at 'em?"

The captain, a small, white, recumbent spectre, lifted his head and
appeared to sniff the smoke judicially.

"They get a chance at us, more like!" he grumbled. "My opinion, the
blighters have shot and burnt themselves into a state o' mind; bloomin'
delusion o' grandeur, that's what. Wildest of 'em will rush us to-night,
once--maybe twice. We stave 'em off, say: that case, they'll settle down
to starve us, right and proper."

"Siege," assented Heywood.

"Siege, like you read about." The captain lay flat again. "Wish a man
could smoke up here."

Heywood laughed, and turned his head:--

"How much do you know about sieges, old chap?"

"Nothing," Rudolph confessed.

"Nor I, worse luck. Outside of school--_testudine facia,_ that sort of
thing. However," he went on cheerfully, "we shall before long"--He broke
off with a start. "Rudie! By Jove, I forgot! Did you find them? Where's
Bertha Forrester?"

"Gone," said Rudolph, and struggling to explain, found his late
adventure shrunk into the compass of a few words, far too small and bare
to suggest the magnitude of his decision. "They went," he began, "in
a boat--"

He was saved the trouble; for suddenly Captain Kneebone cried in a voice
of keen satisfaction, "Here they come! I told ye!"--and fired his rifle.

Through a patch of firelight, down the gentle slope of the field, swept
a ragged cohort of men, some bare-headed, some in their scarlet
nightcaps, as though they had escaped from bed, and all yelling. One of
the foremost, who met the captain's bullet, was carried stumbling his
own length before he sank underfoot; as the Mausers flashed from between
the sand-bags, another and another man fell to his knees or toppled
sidelong, tripping his fellows into a little knot or windrow of kicking
arms and legs; but the main wave poured on, all the faster. Among and
above them, like wreckage in that surf, tossed the shapes of
scaling-ladders and notched bamboos. Two naked men, swinging between
them a long cylinder or log, flashed through the bonfire space and on
into the dark below the wall.

"Pung-dongs!" bawled the captain. "Look out for the pung-dong!"

His friends were too busy firing into the crowded gloom below. Rudolph,
fumbling at side-bolt and pulling trigger, felt the end of a ladder bump
his forehead, saw turban and mediaeval halberd heave above him, and
without time to think of firing, dashed the muzzle of his gun at the
climber's face. The shock was solid, the halberd rang on the platform,
but the man vanished like a shade.

"Very neat," growled Heywood, who in the same instant, with a great
shove, managed to fling down the ladder. "Perfectly silly attack. We'll
hold 'em."

While he spoke, however, something hurtled over their heads and thumped
the platform. The queer log, or cylinder, lay there with a red coal
sputtering at one end, a burning fuse. Heywood snatched at it and
missed. Some one else caught up the long bulk, and springing to his
feet, swung it aloft. Firelight showed the bristling moustache of
Kempner, his long, thin arms poising a great bamboo case bound with
rings of leather or metal. He threw it out with his utmost force,
staggered as though to follow it; then, leaping back, straightened his
tall body with a jerk, flung out one arm in a gesture of surprise, no
sooner rigid than drooping; and even while he seemed inflated for
another of his speeches, turned half-round and dove into the garden and
the night. By the ending of it, he had redeemed a somewhat rancid life.

Before, the angle was alive with swarming heads. As he fell, it was
empty, and the assault finished; for below, the bamboo tube burst with a
sound that shook the wall; liquid flame, the Greek fire of stink-pot
chemicals, squirted in jets that revealed a crowd torn asunder, saffron
faces contorted in shouting, and men who leapt away with clothes afire
and powder-horns bursting at their sides. Dim figures scampered off, up
the rising ground.

"That's over," panted Heywood. "Thundering good lesson,--Here, count
noses. Rudie? Right-oh. Sturgeon, Teppich, Padre, Captain? Good! but
look sharp, while I go inspect." He whispered to Rudolph. "Come down,
won't you, and help me with--you know."

At the foot of the ladder, they met a man in white, with a white face in
what might be the dawn, or the pallor of the late-risen moon.

"Is Hackh there?" He hailed them in a dry voice, and cleared his throat,
"Where is she? Where's my wife?"

It was here, accordingly, while Heywood stooped over a tumbled object on
the ground, that Rudolph told her husband what Bertha Forrester had
chosen. The words came harder than before, but at last he got rid of
them. His questioner stood very still. It was like telling the news of
an absent ghost to another present.

"This town was never a place," said Gilly, with all his former
steadiness,--"never a place to bring a woman. And--and of her age."

All three men listened to the conflict of gongs and crackers, and to the
shouting, now muffled and distant behind the knoll. All three, as it
seemed to Rudolph, had consented to ignore something vile.

"That's all I wanted to know," said the older man, slowly. "I must get
back to my post. You didn't say, but--She made no attempt to come here?
Well, that's--that's lucky. I'll go back."

For some time again they stood as though listening, till Heywood
spoke:--

"Holding your own, are you, by the water gate?"

"Oh, yes," replied Forrester, rousing slightly. "All quiet there. No
more arrows. Converts behaving splendidly. Two or three have begged
for guns."

"Give 'em this." Heywood skipped up the ladder, to return with a rifle.
"And this belt--Kempner's. Poor chap, he'll never ask you to return
them.--Anything else?"

"No," answered Gilly, taking the dead man's weapon, and moving off into
the darkness. "No, except "--He halted. "Except if we come to a pinch,
and need a man for some tight place, then give me first chance. Won't
you? I could do better, now, than--than you younger men. Oh, and Hackh;
your efforts to-night--Well, few men would have dared, and I feel
immensely grateful."

He disappeared among the orange trees, leaving Rudolph to think about
such gratitude.

"Now, then," called Heywood, and stooped to the white bundle at their
feet. "Don't stand looking. Can't be helped. Trust old Gilly to take it
like a man. Come bear a hand."

And between them the two friends carried to the nunnery a tiresome
theorist, who had acted once, and now, himself tired and limp, would
offend no more by speaking.

When the dawn filled the compound with a deep blue twilight, and this in
turn grew pale, the night-long menace of noise gradually faded also,
like an orgy of evil spirits dispersing before cockcrow. To ears long
deafened, the wide stillness had the effect of another sound, never
heard before. Even when disturbed by the flutter of birds darting from
top to dense green top of the orange trees, the air seemed hushed by
some unholy constraint. Through the cool morning vapors, hot smoke from
smouldering wreckage mounted thin and straight, toward where the pale
disk of the moon dissolved in light. The convex field stood bare, except
for a few overthrown scarecrows in naked yellow or dusty blue, and for a
jagged strip of earthwork torn from the crest, over which the Black Dog
thrust his round muzzle. In a truce of empty silence, the defenders
slept by turns among the sand-bags.

The day came, and dragged by without incident. The sun blazed in the
compound, swinging overhead, and slanting down through the afternoon. At
the water gate, Rudolph, Heywood, and the padre, with a few forlorn
Christians,--driven in like sheep, at the last moment,--were building
a rough screen against the arrows that had flown in darkness, and that
now lay scattered along the path. One of these a workman suddenly caught
at, and with a grunt, held up before the padre.

The head was blunt. About the shaft, wound tightly with silk thread, ran
a thin roll of Chinese paper.

Dr. Earle nodded, took the arrow, and slitting with a pocket-knife,
freed and flattened out a painted scroll of complex characters. His keen
old eyes ran down the columns. His face, always cloudy now, grew darker
with perplexity.

"A message," he declared slowly. "I think a serious message." He sat
down on a pile of sacks, and spread the paper on his knee. "But the
characters are so elaborate--I can't make head or tail."

He beckoned Heywood, and together they scowled at the intricate and
meaningless symbols.

"All alike," complained the younger man. "Maddening." Then his face
lighted. "No, see here--lower left hand."

The last stroke of the brush, down in the corner, formed a loose "O. W."

"From Wutzler. Must mean something."

For all that, the painted lines remained a stubborn puzzle.

"Something, yes. But what?" The padre pulled out a cigar, and smoking
at top speed, spaced off each character with his thumb. "They are all
alike, and yet"--He clutched his white hair with big knuckles, and
tugged; replaced his mushroom helmet; held the paper at a new focus.
"Ah!" he said doubtfully; and at last, "Yes." For some time he read to
himself, nodding. "A Triad cipher."

"Well?" resumed Heywood, patiently.

The reader pointed with his cigar.

"Take only the left half of that word, and what have you?"

"'Lightning,'" read Heywood.

"The right half?"

"'Boat.'"

"Take," the padre ordered, "this one; left half?"

"'Lightning,'" repeated his pupil. "The right half--might be
'rice-scoop,' But that's nonsense."

"No," said the padre. "You have the secret. It's good Triad writing.
Subtract this twisted character 'Lightning' from each, and we've made
the crooked straight. The writer was afraid of being caught. Here's the
sense of his message, I take it." And he read off, slowly:--

"A Hakka boat on opposite shore; a green flag and a rice-scoop hoisted
at her mast; light a fire on the water-gate steps, and she will come
quickly, day or night.--O.W."

Heywood took the news coldly. He shook his head, and stood thinking.

"That won't help," he said curtly. "Never in the world."

With the aid of a convert, he unbarred the ponderous gate, and ventured
out on the highest slab of the landing-steps. Across the river, to be
sure, there lay--between a local junk and a stray _papico_ from the
north--the high-nosed Hakka boat, her deck roofed with tawny
basket-work, and at her masthead a wooden rice-measure dangling below a
green rag. Aft, by the great steering-paddle, perched a man, motionless,
yet seeming to watch. Heywood turned, however, and pointed downstream to
where, at the bend of the river, a little spit of mud ran out from the
marsh. On the spit, from among tussocks, a man in a round hat sprang up
like a thin black toadstool. He waved an arm, and gave a shrill cry,
summoning help from further inland. Other hats presently came bobbing
toward him, low down among the marsh. Puffs of white spurted out from
the mud. And as Heywood dodged back through the gate, and Nesbit's rifle
answered from his little fort on the pony-shed, the distant crack of the
muskets joined with a spattering of ooze and a chipping of stone on the
river-stairs.

"Covered, you see," said Heywood, replacing the bar. "Last resort,
perhaps, that way. Still, we may as well keep a bundle of firewood
ready here."

The shots from the marsh, though trivial and scattering, were like a
signal; for all about the nunnery, from a ring of hiding-places, the
noise of last night broke out afresh. The sun lowered through a brown,
burnt haze, the night sped up from the ocean, covering the sky with
sudden darkness, in which stars appeared, many and cool, above the
torrid earth and the insensate turmoil. So, without change but from
pause to outbreak, outbreak to pause, nights and days went by in
the siege.

Nothing happened. One morning, indeed, the fragments of another blunt
arrow came to light, broken underfoot and trampled into the dust. The
paper scroll, in tatters, held only a few marks legible through dirt and
heel-prints: "Listen--work fast--many bags--watch closely." And still
nothing happened to explain the warning.

That night Heywood even made a sortie, and stealing from the main gate
with four coolies, removed to the river certain relics that lay close
under the wall, and would soon become intolerable. He had returned
safely, with an ancient musket, a bag of bullets, a petroleum squirt,
and a small bundle of pole-axes, and was making his tour of the
defenses, when he stumbled over Rudolph, who knelt on the ground under
what in old days had been the chapel, and near what now was
Kempner's grave.

He was not kneeling in devotion, for he took Heywood by the arm, and
made him stoop.

"I was coming," he said, "to find you. The first night, I saw coolies
working in the clay-pit. Bend, a moment over. Put now the ear close."

Heywood laid his cheek in the dust.

"They're keeping such a racket outside," he muttered; and then, half to
himself: "It certainly is. Rudie, it's--it's as if poor Kempner
were--waking up." He listened again. "You're right. They are digging."

The two friends sat up, and eyed each other in the starlight.



CHAPTER XIX


BROTHER MOLES

This new danger, working below in the solid earth, had thrown Rudolph
into a state of sullen resignation. What was the use now, he thought
indignantly, of all their watching and fighting? The ground, at any
moment, might heave, break, and spring up underfoot. He waited for his
friend to speak out, and put the same thought roundly into words.
Instead, to his surprise, he heard something quite contrary.

"Now we know!" said Heywood, in lively satisfaction. "Now we know what
the beasts have up their sleeve. That's a comfort. Rather!"

He sat thinking, a white figure in the starlight, cross-legged like a
Buddha.

"That's why they've all been lying doggo," he continued. "And then their
bad marksmanship, with all this sniping--they don't care, you see,
whether they pot us or not. They'd rather make one clean sweep, and
'blow us at the moon.' Eh? Cheer up, Rudie: so long as they're digging,
they're not blowing. Are they?"

While he spoke, the din outside the walls wavered and sank, at last
giving place to a shrill, tiny interlude of insect voices. In this
diluted silence came now and then a tinkle of glass from the dark
hospital room where Miss Drake was groping among her vials.
Heywood listened.

"If it weren't for that," he said quietly, "I shouldn't much care.
Except for the women, this would really be great larks." Then, as a
shadow flitted past the orange grove, he roused himself to hail: "Ah
Pat! Go catchee four piecee coolie-man!"

"Can do." The shadow passed, and after a time returned with four other
shadows. They stood waiting, till Heywood raised his head from the dust.

"Those noises have stopped, down there," he said to Rudolph; and rising,
gave his orders briefly. The coolies were to dig, strike into the
sappers' tunnel, and report at once: "Chop-chop.--Meantime, Rudie, let's
take a holiday. We can smoke in the courtyard."

A solitary candle burned in the far corner of the inclosure, and cast
faint streamers of reflection along the wet flags, which, sluiced with
water from the well, exhaled a slight but grateful coolness. Heywood
stooped above the quivering flame, lighted a cigar, and sinking loosely
into a chair, blew the smoke upward in slow content.

"Luxury!" he yawned. "Nothing to do, nothing to fret about, till the
compradore reports. Wonderful--too good to be true."

For a long time, lying side by side, they might have been asleep.
Through the dim light on the white walls dipped and swerved the drunken
shadow of a bat, who now whirled as a flake of blackness across the
stars, now swooped and set the humbler flame reeling. The flutter of his
leathern wings, and the plash of water in the dark, where a coolie still
drenched the flags, marked the sleepy, soothing measures in a nocturne,
broken at strangely regular intervals by a shot, and the crack of a
bullet somewhere above in the deserted chambers.

"Queer," mused Heywood, drowsily studying his watch. "The beggar puts
one shot every five minutes through the same window.--I wonder what he's
thinking about? Lying out there, firing at the Red-Bristled Ghosts. Odd!
Wonder what they're all"--He put back his cigar, mumbling. "Handful of
poor blackguards, all upset in their minds, and sweating round. And all
the rest tranquil as ever, eh?--the whole country jogging on the same
old way, or asleep and dreaming dreams, perhaps, same kind of dreams
they had in Marco Polo's day."

The end of his cigar burned red again; and again, except for that, he
might have been asleep. Rudolph made no answer, but lay thinking. This
brief moment of rest in the cool, dim courtyard--merely to lie there
and wait--seemed precious above all other gain or knowledge. Some quiet
influence, a subtle and profound conviction, slowly was at work in him.
It was patience, wonder, steady confidence,--all three, and more. He had
felt it but this once, obscurely; might die without knowing it in
clearer fashion; and yet could never lose it, or forget, or come to any
later harm. With it the stars, above the dim vagaries of the bat, were
brightly interwoven. For the present he had only to lie ready, and wait,
a single comrade in a happy army.

Through a dark little door came Miss Drake, all in white, and moving
quietly, like a symbolic figure of evening, or the genius of the place.
Her hair shone duskily as she bent beside the candle, and with steady
fingers tilted a vial, from which amber drops fell slowly into a glass.
With dark eyes watching closely, she had the air of a young, beneficent
Medea, intent on some white magic.

"Aren't you coming," called Heywood, "to sit with us awhile?"

"Can't, thanks," she replied, without looking up. "I'm too busy."

"That's no excuse. Rest a little."

She moved away, carrying her medicines, but paused in the door, smiled
back at him as from a crypt, and said:--

"Have _you_ been hurt?"

"Only my feelings."

"I've no time," she laughed, "for lazy able-bodied persons." And she was
gone in the darkness, to sit by her wounded men.

With her went the interval of peace; for past the well-curb came another
figure, scuffing slowly toward the light. The compradore, his robes lost
in their background, appeared as an oily face and a hand beckoning with
downward sweep. The two friends rose, and followed him down the
courtyard. In passing out, they discovered the padre's wife lying
exhausted in a low chair, of which she filled half the length and all
the width. Heywood paused beside her with some friendly question, to
which Rudolph caught the answer.

"Oh, quite composed." Her voice sounded fretful, her fan stirred weakly.
"Yes, wonderfully composed. I feel quite ready to suffer for the faith."

"Dear Mrs. Earle," said the young man, gently, "there ought to be no
need. Nobody shall suffer, if we can prevent. I think we can."

Under the orange trees, he laid an unsteady hand on Rudolph's arm, and
halting, shook with quiet merriment.

"Poor dear lady!" he whispered, and went forward chuckling.

Loose earth underfoot warned them not to stumble over the new-raised
mound beside the pit, which yawned slightly blacker than the night.
Kempner's grave had not been quieter. The compradore stood whispering:
they had found the tunnel empty, because, he thought, the sappers were
gone out to eat their chow.

"We'll see, anyway," said Heywood, stripping off his coat. He climbed
over the mound, grasped the edges, and promptly disappeared. In the long
moment which followed, the earth might have closed on him. Once, as
Rudolph bent listening over the shaft, there seemed to come a faint
momentary gleam; but no sound, and no further sign, until the head and
shoulders burrowed up again.

"Big enough hole down there," he reported, swinging clear, and sitting
with his feet in the shaft. "Regular cave. Three sacks of powder stowed
already, so we're none too soon.--One sack was leaky. I struck a match,
and nearly blew myself to Casabianca." He paused, as if reflecting. "It
gives us a plan, though. Rudie: are you game for something rather
foolhardy? Be frank, now; for if you wouldn't really enjoy it, I'll give
old Gilly Forrester his chance."

"No!" said Rudolph, stung as by some perfidy. "You make me--ashamed!
This is all ours, this part, so!"

"Can do," laughed the other. "Get off your jacket. Give me half a
moment start, so that you won't jump on my head." And he went wriggling
down into the pit.

An unwholesome smell of wet earth, a damp, subterranean coolness,
enveloped Rudolph as he slid down a flue of greasy clay, and stooping,
crawled into the horizontal bore of the tunnel. Large enough, perhaps,
for two or three men to pass on all fours, it ran level, roughly cut,
through earth wet with seepage from the river, but packed into a smooth
floor by many hands and bare knees. It widened suddenly before him. In
the small chamber of the mine, choked with the smell of stale betel, he
bumped Heywood's elbow.

"Some Fragrant Ones have been working here, I should say." The speaker
patted the ground with quick palms, groping. "Phew! They've worked like
steam. This explains old Wutz, and his broken arrow. I say, Rudie, feel
about. I saw a coil of fuse lying somewhere.--At least, I thought it
was. Ah, never mind: have-got!" He pulled something along the floor.
"How's the old forearm I gave you? I forgot that. Equal to hauling a
sack out? Good! Catch hold, here."

Sweeping his hand in the darkness, he captured Rudolph's, and guided it
to where a powder-bag lay.

"Now, then, carry on," he commanded; and crawling into the tunnel,
flung back fragments of explanation as he tugged at his own load. "Carry
these out--far as we dare--touch 'em off, you see, and block the
passage. Far out as possible, though. We can use this hole afterward,
for listening in, if they try--"

He cut the sentence short. Their tunnel had begun to slope gently
downward, with niches gouged here and there for the passing of
burden-bearers. Rudolph, toiling after, suddenly found his head
entangled between his leader's boots.

"Quiet," he heard him whisper. "Somebody coming."

An instant later, the boots withdrew quickly. An odd little squeak of
surprise followed, a strange gurgling, and a succession of rapid shocks,
as though some one were pummeling the earthen walls.

"Got the beggar," panted Heywood. "Only one of 'em. Roll clear, Rudie,
and let us pass. Collar his legs, if you can, and shove."

Squeezing past Rudolph in his niche, there struggled a convulsive bulk,
like some monstrous worm, too large for the bore, yet writhing. Bare
feet kicked him in violent rebellion, and a muscular knee jarred
squarely under his chin. He caught a pair of naked legs, and hugged
them dearly.

"Not too hard," called Heywood, with a breathless laugh. "Poor
devil--must think he ran foul of a genie."

Indeed, their prisoner had already given up the conflict, and lay under
them with limbs dissolved and quaking.

"Pass him along," chuckled his captor. "Make him go ahead of us."

Prodded into action, the man stirred limply, and crawled past them
toward the mine, while Heywood, at his heels, growled orders in the
vernacular with a voice of dismal ferocity. In this order they gained
the shaft, and wriggled up like ferrets into the night air. Rudolph,
standing as in a well, heard a volley of questions and a few timid
answers, before the returning legs of his comrade warned him to dodge
back into the tunnel.

Again the two men crept forward on their expedition; and this time the
leader talked without lowering his voice.

"That chap," he declared, "was fairly chattering with fright. Coolie, it
seems, who came back to find his betel-box. The rest are all outside
eating their rice. We have a clear track."

They stumbled on their powder-sacks, caught hold, and dragged them, at
first easily down the incline, then over a short level, then arduously
up a rising grade, till the work grew heavy and hot, and breath came
hard in the stifled burrow.

"Far enough," said Heywood, puffing. "Pile yours here."

Rudolph, however, was not only drenched with sweat, but fired by a new
spirit, a spirit of daring. He would try, down here in the bowels of the
earth, to emulate his friend.

"But let us reconnoitre," he objected. "It will bring us to the clay-pit
where I saw them digging. Let us go out to the end, and look."

"Well said, old mole!" Heywood snapped his fingers with delight. "I
never thought of that." By his tone, he was proud of the amendment.
"Come on, by all means. I say, I didn't really--I didn't _want_ poor old
Gilly down here, you know."

They crawled on, with more speed but no less caution, up the strait
little gallery, which now rose between smooth, soft walls of clay.
Suddenly, as the incline once more became a level, they saw a glimmering
square of dusky red, like the fluttering of a weak flame through scarlet
cloth. This, while they shuffled toward it, grew higher and broader,
until they lay prone in the very door of the hill,--a large, square-cut
portal, deeply overhung by the edge of the clay-pit, and flanked with
what seemed a bulkhead of sand-bags piled in orderly tiers. Between
shadowy mounds of loose earth flickered the light of a fire, small and
distant, round which wavered the inky silhouettes of men, and beyond
which dimly shone a yellow face or two, a yellow fist clutched full of
boiled rice like a snowball. Beyond these, in turn, gleamed other little
fires, where other coolies were squatting at their supper.

"Rudie, look!" Heywood's voice trembled with joyful excitement. "Look,
these bags; not sand-bags at all! It's powder, old chap, powder! Their
whole supply. Wait a bit--oh, by Jove, wait a bit!"

He scurried back into the hill like a great rat, returned as quickly and
swiftly, and with eager hands began to uncoil something on the clay
threshold.

"Do you know enough to time a fuse?" he whispered. "Neither do I.
Powder's bad, anyhow. We must guess at it. Here, quick, lend me a
knife." He slashed open one of the lower sacks in the bulkhead by the
door, stuffed in some kind of twisted cord, and, edging away, sat for an
instant with his knife-blade gleaming in the ruddy twilight. "How long,
Rudie, how long?" He smothered a groan. "Too long, or too short, spoils
everything. Oh, well--here goes."

The blade moved.

"Now lie across," he ordered, "and shield the tandstickor." With a
sudden fuff, the match blazed up to show his gray eyes bright and
dancing, his face glossy with sweat; below, on the golden clay, the
twisted, lumpy tail of the fuse, like the end of a dusty vine. Darkness
followed, quick and blinding. A rosy, fitful coal sputtered, darting out
short capillary lines and needles of fire.

"Cut sticks--go like the devil! If it blows up, and caves the earth on
us--" Heywood ran on hands and knees, as if that were his natural way of
going. Rudolph scrambled after, now urged by an ecstasy of apprehension,
now clogged as by the weight of all the hill above them. If it should
fall now, he thought, or now; and thus measuring as he crawled, found
the tunnel endless.

When at last, however, they gained the bottom of the shaft, and were
hoisted out among their coolies on the shelving mound, the evening
stillness lay above and about them, undisturbed. The fuse could never
have lasted all these minutes. Their whole enterprise was but labor
lost. They listened, breathing short. No sound came.

"Gone out," said Heywood, gloomily. "Or else they saw it."

He climbed the bamboo scaffold, and stood looking over the wall. Rudolph
perched beside him,--by the same anxious, futile instinct of curiosity,
for they could see nothing but the night and the burning stars.

"Gone out. Underground again, Rudie, and try our first plan." Heywood
turned to leap down. "The Sword-Pen looks to set off his mine
to-morrow morning."

He clutched the wall in time to save himself, as the bamboo frame leapt
underfoot. Outside, the crest of the slope ran black against a single
burst of flame. The detonation came like the blow of a mallet on
the ribs.

"Let him look! Let him look!" Heywood jumped to the ground, and in a
pelting shower of clods, exulted:--


"He looked again, and saw it was
The middle of next week!"


"Come on, brother mole. Spread the news!"

He ran off, laughing, in the wide hush of astonishment.



CHAPTER XX


THE HAKKA BOAT

"Pretty fair," Captain Kneebone said. "But that ain't the end."

This grudging praise--in which, moreover, Heywood tamely acquiesced--was
his only comment. On Rudolph it had singular effects: at first filling
him with resentment, and almost making him suspect the little captain of
jealousy; then amusing him, as chance words of no weight; but in the
unreal days that followed, recurring to convince him with all the force
of prompt and subtle fore-knowledge. It helped him to learn the cold,
salutary lesson, that one exploit does not make a victory.

The springing of their countermine, he found, was no deliverance. It had
two plain results, and no more: the crest of the high field, without,
had changed its contour next morning as though a monster had bitten it;
and when the day had burnt itself out in sullen darkness, there burst on
all sides an attack of prolonged and furious exasperation. The fusillade
now came not only from the landward sides, but from a long flotilla of
boats in the river; and although these vanished at dawn, the fire never
slackened, either from above the field, or from a distant wall, newly
spotted with loopholes, beyond the ashes of the go-down. On the night
following, the boats crept closer, and suddenly both gates resounded
with the blows of battering-rams. These and later assaults were beaten
off. By daylight, the nunnery walls were pitted as with small-pox; yet
the little company remained untouched, except for Teppich, whose shaven
head was trimmed still closer and redder by a bullet, and for Gilbert
Forrester, who showed--with the grave smile of a man when fates are
playful--two shots through his loose jacket.

He was the only man to smile; for the others, parched by days and
sweltered by nights of battle, questioned each other with hollow eyes
and sleepy voices. One at a time, in patches of hot shade, they lay
tumbled for a moment of oblivion, their backs studded thickly with
obstinate flies like the driven heads of nails. As thickly, in the dust,
empty Mauser cartridges lay glistening.

"And I bought food," mourned the captain, chafing the untidy stubble on
his cheeks, and staring gloomily down at the worthless brass. "I bought
chow, when all Saigong was full o' cartridges!"

The sight of the spent ammunition at their feet gave them more trouble
than the swarming flies, or the heat, or the noises tearing and
splitting the heat. Even Heywood went about with a hang-dog air,
speaking few words, and those more and more surly. Once he laughed, when
at broad noonday a line of queer heads popped up from the earthwork on
the knoll, and stuck there, tilted at odd angles, as though peering
quizzically. Both his laugh, however, and his one stare of scrutiny were
filled with a savage contempt,--contempt not only for the stratagem, but
for himself, the situation, all things.

"Dummies--lay figures, to draw our fire. What a childish trick! Maskee!"
he added, wearily "we couldn't waste a shot at 'em now even if they
were real."

His grimy hearers nodded mechanically. They knew, without being told,
that they should fire no more until at close quarters in some
final rush.

"Only a few more rounds apiece," he continued. "Our friends outside must
have run nearly as short, according to the coolie we took prisoner in
the tunnel. But they'll get more supplies, he says, in a day or two.
What's worse, his Generalissimo Fang expects big reinforcement, any day,
from up country. He told me that a moment ago."

"Perhaps he's lying," said Captain Kneebone, drowsily.

"Wish he were," snapped Heywood. "No such luck. Too stupid."

"That case," grumbled the captain, "we'd better signal your Hakka boat,
and clear out."

Again their hollow eyes questioned each other in discouragement. It was
plain that he had spoken their general thought; but they were all too
hot and sleepy to debate even a point of safety. Thus, in stupor or
doubt, they watched another afternoon burn low by invisible degrees,
like a great fire dying. Another breathless evening settled over all--at
first with a dusty, copper light, widespread, as though sky and land
were seen through smoked glass; another dusk, of deep, sad blue; and
when this had given place to night, another mysterious lull.

Midnight drew on, and no further change had come. Prowlers, made bold by
the long silence in the nunnery, came and went under the very walls of
the compound. In the court, beside a candle, Ah Pat the compradore sat
with a bundle of halberds and a whetstone, sharpening edge after edge,
placidly, against the time when there should be no more cartridges.
Heywood and Rudolph stood near the water gate, and argued with Gilbert
Forrester, who would not quit his post for either of them.

"But I'm not sleepy," he repeated, with perverse, irritating serenity.
"I'm not, I assure you. And that river full of their boats?--Go away."

While they reasoned and wrangled, something scraped the edge of the
wall. They could barely detect a small, stealthy movement above them, as
if a man, climbing, had lifted his head over the top. Suddenly, beside
it, flared a surprising torch, rags burning greasily at the end of a
long bamboo. The smoky, dripping flame showed no man there, but only
another long bamboo, impaling what might be another ball of rags. The
two poles swayed, inclined toward each other; for one incredible instant
the ball, beside its glowing fellow, shone pale and took on human
features. Black shadows filled the eye-sockets, and gave to the face an
uncertain, cavernous look, as though it saw and pondered.

How long the apparition stayed, the three men could not tell; for even
after it vanished, and the torch fell hissing in the river, they stood
below the wall, dumb and sick, knowing only that they had seen the head
of Wutzler.

Heywood was the first to make a sound--a broken, hypnotic sound, without
emphasis or inflection, as though his lips were frozen, or the words
torn from him by ventriloquy.

"We must get the women--out of here."

Afterward, when he was no longer with them, his two friends recalled
that he never spoke again that night, but came and went in a kind of
silent rage, ordering coolies by dumb-show, and carrying armful after
armful of supplies to the water gate. He would neither pause nor answer.

The word passed, or a listless, tacit understanding, that every one must
hold himself ready to go aboard so soon after daylight as the hostile
boats should leave the river. "If," said Gilly to Rudolph, while they
stood thinking under the stars, "if his boat is still there, now that
he--after what we saw."

At dawn they could see the ragged flotilla of sampans stealing up-river
on the early flood; but of the masts that huddled in vapors by the
farther bank, they had no certainty until sunrise, when the green rag
and the rice-measure appeared still dangling above the Hakka boat.

Even then it was not certain--as Captain Kneebone sourly pointed
out--that her sailors would keep their agreement. And when he had piled,
on the river-steps, the dry wood for their signal fire, a new difficulty
rose. One of the wounded converts was up, and hobbling with a stick; but
the other would never be ferried down any stream known to man. He lay
dying, and the padre could not leave him.

All the others waited, ready and anxious; but no one grumbled because
death, never punctual, now kept them waiting. The flutter of birds,
among the orange trees, gradually ceased; the sun came slanting over
the eastern wall; the gray floor of the compound turned white and
blurred through the dancing heat. A torrid westerly breeze came
fitfully, rose, died away, rose again, and made Captain Kneebone curse.

"A fair wind lost," he muttered. "Next we'll lose the ebb, too, be
'anged."

Noon passed, and mid-afternoon, before the padre came out from the
courtyard, covering his white head with his ungainly helmet.

"We may go now," he said gravely, "in a few minutes."

No more were needed, for the loose clods in the old shaft of their
counter-mine were quickly handled, and the necessary words soon uttered.
Captain Kneebone had slipped out through the water gate, beforehand, and
lighted the fire on the steps. But not one of the burial party turned
his head, to watch the success or failure of their signal, so long as
the padre's resonant bass continued.

When it ceased, however, they returned quickly through the little grove.
The captain opened the great gate, and looked out eagerly, craning to
see through the smoke that poured into his face.

"The wasters!" he cried bitterly. "She's gone."

The Hakka boat had, indeed, vanished from her moorings. On the bronze
current, nothing moved but three fishing-boats drifting down, with the
smoke, toward the marsh and the bend of the river, and a small junk that
toiled up against wind and tide, a cluster of naked sailors tugging and
shoving at her heavy sweep, which chafed its rigging of dry rope, and
gave out a high, complaining note like the cry of a sea-gull.

"She's gone," repeated Captain Kneebone. "No boat for us."

But the compradore, dragging his bundle of sharp halberds, poked an
inquisitive head out past the captain's, and peered on all sides through
the smoke, with comical thoroughness. He dodged back, grinning and
ducking amiably.

"Moh bettah look-see," he chuckled; "dat coolie come-back, he too muchee
waitee, b'long one piecee foolo-man."

He was wrong. Whoever handled the Hakka boat was no fool, but by working
upstream on the opposite shore, crossing above, and dropping down with
the ebb, had craftily brought her along the shallow, so close beneath
the river-wall, that not till now did even the little captain spy her.
The high prow, the mast, now bare, and her round midships roof, bright
golden-thatched with leaves of the edible bamboo, came moving quiet as
some enchanted boat in a calm. The fugitives by the gate still thought
themselves abandoned, when her beak, six feet in air, stole past them,
and her lean boatmen, prodding the river-bed with their poles, stopped
her as easily as a gondola. The yellow steersman grinned, straining at
the pivot of his gigantic paddle.

"Good boy, lowdah!" called Kneebone. "Remember _you_ in my will, too!"
And the grinning lowdah nodded, as though he understood.

They had now only to pitch their supplies through the smoke, down on the
loose boards of her deck. Then--Rudolph and the captain kicking the
bonfire off the stairs--the whole company hurried down and safely over
her gunwale: first the two women, then the few huddling converts, the
white men next, the compradore still hugging his pole-axes, and last of
all, Heywood, still in strange apathy, with haggard face and downcast
eyes. He stumbled aboard as though drunk, his rifle askew under one arm,
and in the crook of the other, Flounce, the fox-terrier, dangling,
nervous and wide awake.

He looked to neither right nor left, met nobody's eye. The rest of the
company crowded into the house amidships, and flung themselves down
wearily in the grateful dusk, where vivid paintings and mysteries of
rude carving writhed on the fir bulkheads. But Heywood, with his dog and
the captain and Rudolph, sat in the hot sun, staring down at the
ramshackle deck, through the gaps in which rose all the stinks of the
sweating hold.

The boatmen climbed the high slant of the bow, planted their stout
bamboos against their shoulders, and came slowly down, head first, like
straining acrobats. As slowly, the boat began to glide past the stairs.

Thus far, though the fire lay scattered in the mud, the smoke drifted
still before them and obscured their silent, headlong transaction. Now,
thinning as they dropped below the corner of the wall, it left them
naked to their enemies on the knoll. At the same instant, from the marsh
ahead, the sentinel in the round hat sprang up again, like an
instantaneous mushroom. He shouted, and waved to his fellows inland.

They had no time, however, to leave the high ground; for the whole
chance of the adventure took a sudden and amazing turn.

Heywood sprang out of his stupor, and stood pointing.

"Look there!" he snarled. "Those--oh!"

He ended with a groan. The face of his friend, by torchlight above the
wall, had struck him dumb. Now that he spoke, his companions saw,
exposed in the field to the view of the nunnery, a white body lying on a
framework as on a bier. Near the foot stood a rough sort of windlass.
Above, on the crest of the field, where a band of men had begun to
scramble at the sentinel's halloo, there sat on a white pony the
bright-robed figure of the tall fanatic, Fang the Sword-Pen.

"He did it!" Heywood's hands opened and shut rapidly, like things out of
control. "Oh, Wutz, how did they--Saint Somebody--the martyrdom--
Poussin's picture in the Vatican.--I can't stand this, you chaps!"

He snatched blindly at his gun, caught instead one of the compradore's
halberds, and without pause or warning, jumped out into the shallow
water. He ran splashing toward the bank, turned, and seemed to waver,
staring with wild eyes at the strange Tudor weapon in his hand. Then
shaking it savagely,--

"This will do!" he cried. "Good-by, everybody. Good-by!"

He wheeled again, staggered to his feet on dry ground, and ran swiftly
along the eastern wall, up the rising field, straight toward his mark.

Of the men on the knoll, a few fired and missed, the others, neutrals to
their will, stood fixed in wonder. Four or five, as the runner neared,
sprang out to intercept, but flew apart like ninepins. The watchers in
the boat saw the halberd flash high in the late afternoon sun, the
frightened pony swerve, and his rider go down with the one sweep of that
Homeric blow.

The last they saw of Heywood, he went leaping from sight over the
crest, that swarmed with figures racing and stumbling after.

The unheeded sentinel in the marsh fled, losing his great hat, as the
boat drifted round the point into midstream.



CHAPTER XXI


THE DRAGON'S SHADOW

The lowdah would have set his dirty sails without delay, for the fair
wind was already drooping; but at the first motion he found himself
deposed, and a usurper in command, at the big steering-paddle. Captain
Kneebone, his cheeks white and suddenly old beneath the untidy stubble
of his beard, had taken charge. In momentary danger of being cut off
downstream, or overtaken from above, he kept the boat waiting along the
oozy shore. Puckering his eyes, he watched now the land, and now the
river, silent, furtive, and keenly perplexed, his head on a swivel, as
though he steered by some nightmare chart, or expected some instant and
transforming sight.

Not until the sun touched the western hills, and long shadows from the
bank stole out and turned the stream from bright copper to vague
iron-gray, did he give over his watch. He left the tiller, with a
hopeless fling of the arm.

"Do as ye please," he growled, and cast himself down on deck by the
thatched house. "Go on.--I'll never see _him_ again.--The heat, and
all--By the head, he was--Go on. That's all. Finish."

He sat looking straight before him, with dull eyes that never moved;
nor did he stir at the dry rustle and scrape of the matting sail, slowly
hoisted above him. The quaggy banks, now darkening, slid more rapidly
astern; while the steersman and his mates in the high bow invoked the
wind with alternate chant, plaintive, mysterious, and half musical:--


"Ay-ly-chy-ly
Ah-ha-aah!"


To the listeners, huddled in silence, the familiar cry became a long,
monotonous accompaniment to sad thoughts. Through the rhythm, presently,
broke a sound of small-arms,--a few shots, quick but softened by
distance, from far inland. The stillness of evening followed.

The captain stirred, listened, dropped his head, and sat like stone. To
Rudolph, near him, the brief disturbance called up another evening--his
first on this same river, when from the grassy brink, above, he had
first heard of his friend. Now, at the same place, and by the same
light, they had heard the last. It was intolerable: he turned his back
on the captain. Inside, in the gloom of the painted cabin, the padre's
wife began suddenly to cry. After a time, the deep voice of her husband,
speaking very low, and to her alone, became dimly audible:--

"'All this is come upon us; yet have we not--Our heart is not turned
back, neither have our steps declined--Though thou hast sore broken us
in the place of dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.'"

The little captain groaned, and rolled aside from the doorway.

"All very fine," he muttered, his head wrapped in his arms. "But that's
no good to me. I can't stand it."

Whether she heard him, or by chance, Miss Drake came quietly from
within, and found a place between him and the gunwale. He did not rouse;
she neither glanced nor spoke, but leaned against the ribs of
smooth-worn fir, as though calmly waiting.

When at last he looked up, to see her face and posture, he gave an angry
start.

"And I thought," he blurted, "be 'anged if sometimes I didn't think you
liked him!"

Her dark eyes met the captain's with a great and steadfast clearness.

"No," she whispered; "it was more than that."

The captain sat bolt upright, but no longer in condemnation. For a long
time he watched her, marveling; and when finally he spoke, his sharp,
domineering voice was lowered, almost gentle.

"Always talked too much," he said. "Don't mind me, my dear. I never
meant--Don't ye mind a rough old beggar, that don't know that hasn't one
thing more between him and the grave. Not a thing--but money. And that,
now--I wish't was at the bottom o' this bloomin' river!"

They said no more, but rested side by side, like old friends joined
closer by new grief. Flounce, the terrier, snuffing disconsolately about
the deck, and scratching the boards in her zeal to explore the shallow
hold, at last grew weary, and came to snuggle down between the two
silent companions. Not till then did the girl turn aside her face, as
though studying the shore, which now melted in a soft, half-liquid band
as black as coal-tar, above the luminous indigo of the river.

Suddenly Rudolph got upon his feet, and craning outboard from gunwale
and thatched eaves, looked steadily forward into the dusk. A chatter of
angry voices came stealing up, in the pauses of the wind. He watched and
listened, then quickly drew in his head.

"Sit quiet," he said. "A boat full of men. I do not like their looks."

Two or three of the voices hailed together, raucously. The steersman,
leaning on the loom of his paddle, made neither stir nor answer. They
hailed again, this time close aboard, and as it seemed, in rage.
Glancing contemptuously to starboard, the lowdah made some negligent
reply, about a cargo of human hair. His indifference appeared so real,
that for a moment Rudolph suspected him: perhaps he had been bought
over, and this meeting arranged. The thought, however, was unjust. The
voices began to drop astern, and to come in louder confusion with
the breeze.

But at this point Flounce, the terrier, spoiled all by whipping up
beside the lowdah, and furiously barking. Hers was no pariah's yelp: she
barked with spirit, in the King's English.

For answer, there came a shout, a sharp report, and a bullet that ripped
through the matting sail. The steersman ducked, but clung bravely to his
paddle. Men tumbled out from the cabin, rifles in hand, to join Rudolph
and the captain.

Astern, dangerously near, they saw the hostile craft, small, but listed
heavily with crowding ruffians, packed so close that their great wicker
hats hung along the gunwale to save room, and shone dim in the obscurity
like golden shields of vikings. A squat, burly fellow, shouting, jammed
the yulow hard to bring her about.

"Save your fire," called Captain Kneebone. "No shots to waste. Sit
tight."

As he spoke, however, an active form bounced up beside the squat man at
the sweep,--a plump, muscular little barefoot woman in blue. She tore
the fellow's hands away, and took command, keeping the boat's nose
pointed up-river, and squalling ferocious orders to all on board.

"The Pretty Lily!" cried Rudolph. This small, nimble, capable creature
could be no one but Mrs. Wu, their friend and gossip of that morning,
long ago....

The squat man gave an angry shout, and turned on her to wrest away the
handle. He failed, at once and for all. With great violence, yet with a
neat economy of motion, the Pretty Lily took one hand from her tiller,
long enough to topple him overboard with a sounding splash.

Her passengers, at so prompt and visual a joke, burst into shrill,
cackling laughter. Yet more shrill, before their mood could alter, the
Pretty Lily scourged them with the tongue of a humorous woman. She held
her course, moreover; the two boats drifted so quickly apart that when
she turned, to fling a comic farewell after the white men, they could no
more than descry her face, alert and comely, and the whiteness of her
teeth. Her laughing cry still rang, the overthrown leader still
floundered in the water, when the picture blurred and vanished. Down the
wind came her words, high, voluble, quelling all further mutiny aboard
that craft of hers.

"We owe this to you." The tall padre eyed Rudolph with sudden interest,
and laid his big hand on the young man's shoulder. "Did you catch what
she said? You made a good friend there."

"No," answered Rudolph, and shook his head, sadly. "We owe that to--some
one else."

Later, while they drifted down to meet the sea and the night, he told
the story, to which all listened with profound attention, wondering at
the turns of fortune, and at this last service, rendered by a friend
they should see no more.

They murmured awhile, by twos and threes huddled in corners; then lay
silent, exhausted in body and spirit. The river melted with the shore
into a common blackness, faintly hovered over by the hot, brown, sullen
evening. Unchallenged, the Hakka boat flitted past the lights of a
war-junk, so close that the curved lantern-ribs flickered thin and sharp
against a smoky gleam, and tawny faces wavered, thick of lip and stolid
of eye, round the supper fire. A greasy, bitter smell of cooking floated
after. Then no change or break in the darkness, except a dim lantern or
two creeping low in a sampan, with a fragment of talk from unseen
passers; until, as the stars multiplied overhead, the night of the land
rolled heavily astern and away from another, wider night, the stink of
the marshes failed, and by a blind sense of greater buoyancy and
sea-room, the voyagers knew that they had gained the roadstead. Ahead,
far off and lustrous, a new field of stars hung scarce higher than
their gunwale, above the rim of the world.

The lowdah showed no light; and presently none was needed, for--as the
shallows gave place to deeps--the ocean boiled with the hoary,
green-gold magic of phosphorus, that heaved alongside in soft explosions
of witch-fire, and sent uncertain smoky tremors playing through the
darkness on deck. Rudolph, watching this tropic miracle, could make out
the white figure of the captain, asleep near by, under the faint
semicircle of the deck-house; and across from him, Miss Drake, still
sitting upright, as though waiting, with Flounce at her side. Landward,
against the last sage-green vapor of daylight, ran the dim range of the
hills, in long undulations broken by sharper crests, like the finny back
of leviathan basking.

Over there, thought Rudolph, beyond that black shape as beyond its
guarding dragon, lay the whole mysterious and peaceful empire, with
uncounted lives going on, ending, beginning, as though he, and his sore
loss, and his heart vacant of all but grief, belonged to some
unheard-of, alien process, to Nature's most unworthy trifling. This
boatload of men and women--so huge a part of his own experience--was
like the tiniest barnacle chafed from the side of that dark,
serene monster.

Rudolph stared long at the hills, and as they faded, hung his head.
From that dragon he had learned much; yet now all learning was but loss.

Of a sudden the girl spoke, in a clear yet guarded voice, too low to
reach the sleepers.

"What are you thinking of?" she said. "Come tell me. It will be good for
both of us."

Rudolph crossed silently, and stood leaning on the gunwale beside her.

"I thought only," he answered, "how much the hills looked so--as a
dragon."

"How strange." The trembling phosphorus half-revealed her face, pale and
still. "I was thinking of that, in a way. It reminded me of what he
said, once--when we were walking together."

To their great relief, they found themselves talking of Heywood, sadly,
but freely, and as it were in a sudden calm. Their friendship seemed,
for the moment, a thing as long established as the dragon hills. Years
afterward, Rudolph recalled her words, plainer than the fiery wonder
that spread and burst round their little vessel, or the long play of
heat-lightning which now, from time to time, wavered instantly along the
eastern sea-line.

"You are right," she declared once. "To go on with life, even when we
are alone--You will go on, I know. Bravely." And again she said: "Yes,
such men as he are--a sort of Happy Warrior." And later, in her slow and
level voice: "You learned something, you say. Isn't that--what I
call--being invulnerable? When a man's greater than anything that
happens to him--"

So they talked, their speech bare and simple, but the pauses and longer
silences filled with deep understanding, solemnized by the time and the
place, as though their two lonely spirits caught wisdom from the night,
scope from the silent ocean, light from the flickering East.

The flashes, meanwhile, came faster and prolonged their glory, running
behind a thin, dead screen of scalloped clouds, piercing the tropic sky
with summer blue, and ripping out the lost horizon like a long black
fibre from pulp. The two friends watched in silence, when Rudolph rose,
and moved cautiously aft.

"Good-night," he whispered. "You must sleep now."

That was not, however, the reason. So long as the boiling witch-fire
turned their wake to golden vapor, he could not be sure; but whenever
the heat-lightning ran, and through the sere, phantasmal sail, the
lookout in the bow flashed like a sharp silhouette through wire
gauze,--then it seemed to Rudolph that another small black shape leapt
out astern, and vanished. He stood by the lowdah, watching anxiously.

Time and again the ocean flickered into view, like the floor of a
measureless cavern; and still he could not tell. But at last the lowdah
also turned his head, and murmured. Their boat creaked monotonously,
drifting to leeward in a riot of golden mist; yet now another creaking
disturbed the night, in a different cadence. Another boat followed them,
rowing fast and gaining. In a brighter flash, her black sail fluttered,
unmistakable.

Rudolph reached for his gun, but waited silently. He would not call out.
Some chance fisherman, it might be, or any small craft holding the same
course along the coast. Still, he did not like the hurry of the sweeps,
which presently groaned louder and threw up nebulous fire. The
stranger's bow became an arrowhead of running gold.

And here was Flounce, ready to misbehave once more. Before he could
catch her, the small white body of the terrier whipped by him, and past
the steersman. This time, however, as though cowed, she began to
whimper, and then maintained a long, trembling whine.

Beside Rudolph, the compradore's head bobbed up.

"Allo same she mastah come." And in his native tongue, Ah Pat grumbled
something about ghosts.

A harsh voice hailed, from the boat astern; the lowdah answered; and so
rapidly slid the deceptive glimmer of her bow, that before Rudolph knew
whether to wake his friends, or could recover, next, from the shock and
ecstasy of unbelief, a tall white figure jumped or swarmed over
the side.

"By Jove, my dream!" sounded the voice of Heywood, gravely. With fingers
that dripped gold, he tried to pat the bounding terrier. She flew up at
him, and tumbled back, in the liveliest danger of falling overboard.
"Old girl,--my dream!"

The figure rose.

"Hallo, Rudie." In a daze, Rudolph gripped the wet and shining hands,
and heard the same quiet voice: "Rest all asleep, I suppose? Don't wake
'em. To-morrow will do.--Have you any money on you? Toss that
fisherman--whatever you think I'm worth. He really rowed like steam,
you know."

Rudolph flung his purse into the other boat. When he turned, this man
restored from the sea had disappeared. But he had only stolen forward,
dog in arms, to sit beside Miss Drake. So quietly had all happened, that
none of the sleepers, not even the captain, was aware. Rudolph drew near
the two murmuring voices.

"--Couldn't help it, honestly," said Heywood. "Can't describe, or
explain. Just something--went black inside my head, you know." He
paused. "No: don't recall seeing a thing, really, until I pitched away
the--what happened to be in my hands. A blank, all that. Losing your
head, I suppose they call it. Most extraordinary."

The girl's question recalled him from his puzzle.

"Do? Oh!" He disposed of the subject easily. "I ran, that's all.--Oh,
yes, but I ran faster.--Not half so many as you'd suppose. Most of 'em
were away, burning your hospital. Saw the smoke, as I ran. All gone but
a handful. Hence those stuffed hats, Rudie, in the trench.--Only three
of the lot could run. I merely scuttled into the next bamboo, and kept
on scuttling. No: they weren't half loaded. Oh, yes, arrow in the
shoulder--scratch. Of course, when it came dark, I stopped running, and
made for the nearest fisherman. That's all."

"But," protested Rudolph, wondering, "we heard shots."

"Yes, I had my Webley in my belt. Fortunately. I _told_ you: three of
them could run." The speaker patted the terrier in his lap. "My dream,
eh, little dog? You _were_ the only one to know."

"No," said the girl: "I knew--all the time, that--"

Whatever she meant, Rudolph could only guess; but it was true, he
thought, that she had never once spoken as though the present meeting
were not possible, here or somewhere. Recalling this, he suddenly but
quietly stepped away aft, to sit beside the steersman, and smile in
the darkness.

The two voices flowed on. He did not listen, but watched the phosphorus
welling soft and turbulent in the wake, and far off, in glimpses of the
tropic light, the great Dragon weltering on the face of the waters. The
shape glimmered forth, died away, like a prodigy. How ran the verse?


"Ich lieg' und besitze.
Lass mich schlafen."


"And yet," thought the young man, "I have one pearl from his hoard."
That girl was right: like Siegfried tempered in the grisly flood, the
raw boy was turning into a man, seasoned and invulnerable.

Heywood was calling to him:--

"You must go Home with us. Do you hear? I've made a wonderful plan--with
the captain's fortune! Dear old Kneebone."

A small white heap across the deck began to rise.

"How often," complained a voice blurred with sleep, "how often must I
tell ye--wake me, unless the ship--chart's all--Good God!"

At the captain's cry, those who lay in darkness under the thatched roof
began to mutter, to rise, and grope out into the trembling light, with
sleepy cries of joy.





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