Dragon's blood
by Henry Milner Rideout
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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.

"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 Kau—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!"



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 Laocooen, 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, Peng, 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, Peng, 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, Peng 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."



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 Peng 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. "Peng 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.



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.

"Kau fai!" shrilled the voices below; and then in a fainter gabble, as though hurrying off toward the sound,—"kau 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.



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 cloisonne, 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.

"Stoesst 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.



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.



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.

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