Gilbert Parker

Cumner's Son and Other South Sea Folk — Complete

Published by Good Press, 2019
goodpress@okpublishing.info
EAN 4057664618511

Table of Contents


INTRODUCTION
CUMNER’S SON
I. THE CHOOSING OF THE MESSENGER
II. “REST AT THE KOONGAT BRIDGE AN HOUR”
III. THE CODE OF THE HILLS
IV. BY THE OLD WELL OF JAHAR
V. CHOOSE YE WHOM YE WILL SERVE
VI. CONCERNING THE DAUGHTER OF CUSHNAN DI
VII. THE RED PLAGUE
VIII. THE CHOOSING OF THE DAKOON
IX. THE PROPHET OF PEACE
The years went by.
THE HIGH COURT OF BUDGERY-GAR
AN EPIC IN YELLOW
DIBBS, R.N.
A LITTLE MASQUERADE
DERELICT
OLD ROSES
MY WIFE’S LOVERS
THE STRANGERS’ HUT
THE PLANTER’S WIFE
BARBARA GOLDING
THE LONE CORVETTE
A SABLE SPARTAN
A VULGAR FRACTION
HOW PANGO WANGO WAS ANNEXED
AN AMIABLE REVENGE
THE BLIND BEGGAR AND THE LITTLE RED PEG
A FRIEND OF THE COMMUNE
A PAGAN OF THE SOUTH






INTRODUCTION

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In a Foreword to Donovan Pasha, published in 1902, I used the following words:

“It is now twelve years since I began giving to the public tales of life in lands well known to me. The first of them were drawn from Australia and the islands of the southern Pacific, where I had lived and roamed in the middle and late eighties. … Those tales of the Far South were given out with some prodigality. They did not appear in book form, however; for at the time I was sending out these antipodean sketches I was also writing—far from the scenes where they were laid—a series of Canadian tales, many of which appeared in the ‘Independent’ of New York, in the ‘National Observer’, edited by Mr. Henley, and in the ‘Illustrated London News’. On the suggestion of my friend Mr. Henley, the Canadian tales, Pierre and His People, were published first; with the result that the stories of the southern hemisphere were withheld from publication, though they have been privately printed and duly copyrighted. Some day I may send them forth, but meanwhile I am content to keep them in my care.”

These stories made the collection published eventually under the title of Cumner’s Son, in 1910. They were thus kept for nearly twenty years without being given to the public in book form. In 1910 I decided, however, that they should go out and find their place with my readers. The first story in the book, Cumner’s Son, which represents about four times the length of an ordinary short story, was published in Harper’s Weekly, midway between 1890 and 1900. All the earlier stories belonged to 1890, 1891, 1892, and 1893. The first of these to be published was ‘A Sable Spartan’, ‘An Amiable Revenge’, ‘A Vulgar Fraction’, and ‘How Pango Wango Was Annexed’. They were written before the Pierre series, and were instantly accepted by Mr. Frederick Greenwood, that great journalistic figure of whom the British public still takes note, and for whom it has an admiring memory, because of his rare gifts as an editor and publicist, and by a political section of the public, because Mr. Greenwood recommended to Disraeli the purchase of the Suez Canal shares. Seventeen years after publishing these stories I had occasion to write to Frederick Greenwood, and in my letter I said: “I can never forget that you gave me a leg up in my first struggle for recognition in the literary world.” His reply was characteristic; it was in keeping with the modest, magnanimous nature of the man. He said: “I cannot remember that there was any day when you required a leg up.”

While still contributing to the ‘Anti-Jacobin’, which had a short life and not a very merry one, I turned my attention to a weekly called ‘The Speaker’, to which I have referred elsewhere, edited by Mr. Wemyss Reid, afterwards Sir Wemyss Reid, and in which Mr. Quiller-Couch was then writing a striking short story nearly every week. Up to that time I had only interviewed two editors. One was Mr. Kinloch-Cooke, now Sir Clement Kinloch-Cooke, who at that time was editor of the ‘English Illustrated Magazine’, and a very good, courteous, and generous editor he was, and he had a very good magazine; the other was an editor whose name I do not care to mention, because his courtesy was not on the same expansive level as his vanity.

One bitter winter’s day in 1891 I went to Wemyss Reid to tell him, if he would hear me, that I had in my mind a series of short stories of Australia and the South Seas, and to ask him if he could give them a place in ‘The Speaker’. It was a Friday afternoon, and as I went into the smudgy little office I saw a gentleman with a small brown bag emerging from another room.

At that moment I asked for Mr. Wemyss Reid. The gentleman with the little brown bag stood and looked sharply at me, but with friendly if penetrating eyes. “I am Wemyss Reid—you wish to see me?” he said. “Will you give me five minutes?” I asked. “I am just going to the train, but I will spare you a minute,” he replied. He turned back into another smudgy little room, put his bag on the table, and said: “Well?” I told him quickly, eagerly, what I wished to do, and I said to him at last: “I apologise for seeking you personally, but I was most anxious that my work should be read by your own eyes, because I think I should be contented with your judgment, whether it was favourable or unfavourable.” Taking up his bag again, he replied, “Send your stories along. If I think they are what I want I will publish them. I will read them myself.” He turned the handle of the door, and then came back to me and again looked me in the eyes. “If I cannot use them—and there might be a hundred reasons why I could not, and none of them derogatory to your work—” he said, “do not be discouraged. There are many doors. Mine is only one. Knock at the others. Good luck to you.”

I never saw Wemyss Reid again, but he made a friend who never forgot him, and who mourned his death. It was not that he accepted my stories; it was that he said what he did say to a young man who did not yet know what his literary fortune might be. Well, I sent him a short story called, ‘An Epic in Yellow’. Proofs came by return of post. This story was followed by ‘The High Court of Budgery-Gar’, ‘Old Roses’, ‘My Wife’s Lovers’, ‘Derelict’, ‘Dibbs, R.N.’, ‘A Little Masquerade’, and ‘The Stranger’s Hut’. Most, if not all, of these appeared before the Pierre stories were written.

They did not strike the imagination of the public in the same way as the Pierre series, but they made many friends. They were mostly Australian, and represented the life which for nearly four years I knew and studied with that affection which only the young, open-eyed enthusiast, who makes his first journey in the world, can give. In the same year, for ‘Macmillan’s Magazine’, I wrote ‘Barbara Golding’ and ‘A Pagan of the South’, which was originally published as ‘The Woman in the Morgue’. ‘A Friend of the Commune’ was also published in the ‘English Illustrated Magazine’, and ‘The Blind Beggar and the Little Red Peg’ found a place in the ‘National Observer’ after W. E. Henley had ceased to be its editor, and Mr. J. C. Vincent, also since dead, had taken his place. ‘The Lone Corvette’ was published in ‘The Westminster Gazette’ as late as 1893.

Of certain of these stories, particularly of the Australian group, I have no doubt. They were lifted out of the life of that continent with sympathy and care, and most of the incidents were those which had come under my own observation. I published them at last in book form, because I felt that no definitive edition of my books ought to appear—and I had then a definitive edition in my mind—without these stories which represented an early phase in my work. Whatever their degree of merit, they possess freshness and individuality of outlook. Others could no doubt have written them better, but none could have written them with quite the same touch or turn or individuality; and, after all, what we want in the art of fiction is not a story alone, not an incident of life or soul simply as an incident, but the incident as seen with the eye—and that eye as truthful and direct as possible—of one individual personality. George Meredith and Robert Louis Stevenson might each have chosen the same subject and the same story, and each have produced a masterpiece, and yet the world of difference between the way it was presented by each was the world of difference between the eyes that saw. So I am content to let these stories speak little or much, but still to speak for me.










CUMNER’S SON

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I. THE CHOOSING OF THE MESSENGER

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There was trouble at Mandakan. You could not have guessed it from anything the eye could see. In front of the Residency two soldiers marched up and down sleepily, mechanically, between two ten-pounders marking the limit of their patrol; and an orderly stood at an open door, lazily shifting his eyes from the sentinels to the black guns, which gave out soft, quivering waves of heat, as a wheel, spinning, throws off delicate spray. A hundred yards away the sea spread out, languid and huge. It was under-tinged with all the colours of a morning sunrise over Mount Bobar not far beyond, lifting up its somnolent and massive head into the Eastern sky. “League-long rollers” came in as steady as columns of infantry, with white streamers flying along the line, and hovering a moment, split, and ran on the shore in a crumbling foam, like myriads of white mice hurrying up the sand.

A little cloud of tobacco smoke came curling out of a window of the Residency. It was sniffed up by the orderly, whose pipe was in barracks, and must lie there untouched until evening at least; for he had stood at this door since seven that morning, waiting orders; and he knew by the look on Colonel Cumner’s face that he might be there till to-morrow.

But the ordinary spectator could not have noticed any difference in the general look of things. All was quiet, too, in the big native city. At the doorways the worker in brass and silver hammered away at his metal, a sleepy, musical assonance. The naked seller of sweetmeats went by calling his wares in a gentle, unassertive voice; in dark doorways worn-eyed women and men gossiped in voices scarce above a whisper; and brown children fondled each other, laughing noiselessly, or lay asleep on rugs which would be costly elsewhere. In the bazaars nothing was selling, and no man did anything but mumble or eat, save the few scholars who, cross-legged on their mats, read and laboured towards Nirvana. Priests in their yellow robes and with bare shoulders went by, oblivious of all things.

Yet, too, the keen observer could have seen gathered into shaded corners here and there, a few sombre, low-voiced men talking covertly to each other. They were not the ordinary gossipers; in the faces of some were the marks of furtive design, of sinister suggestion. But it was all so deadly still.

The gayest, cheeriest person in Mandakan was Colonel Cumner’s son. Down at the opal beach, under a palm-tree, he sat, telling stories of his pranks at college to Boonda Broke, the half-breed son of a former Dakoon who had ruled the State of Mandakan when first the English came. The saddest person in Mandakan was the present Dakoon, in his palace by the Fountain of the Sweet Waters, which was guarded by four sacred warriors in stone and four brown men armed with the naked kris.

The Dakoon was dying, though not a score of people in the city knew it. He had drunk of the Fountain of Sweet Waters, also of the well that is by Bakbar; he had eaten of the sweetmeat called the Flower of Bambaba, his chosen priests had prayed, and his favourite wife had lain all day and all night at the door of his room, pouring out her soul; but nothing came of it.

And elsewhere Boonda Broke was showing Cumner’s Son how to throw a kris towards one object and make it hit another. He gave an illustration by aiming at a palm-tree and sticking a passing dog behind the shoulder. The dog belonged to Cumner’s Son, and the lad’s face suddenly blazed with anger. He ran to the dog, which had silently collapsed like a punctured bag of silk, drew out the kris, then swung towards Boonda Broke, whose cool, placid eyes met his without emotion.

“You knew that was my dog,” he said quickly in English, “and—and I tell you what, sir, I’ve had enough of you. A man that’d hit a dog like that would hit a man the same way.”

He was standing with the crimson kris in his hand above the dog. His passion was frank, vigorous, and natural.

Boonda Broke smiled passively.

“You mean, could hit a man the same way, honoured lord.”

“I mean what I said,” answered the lad, and he turned on his heel; but presently he faced about again, as though with a wish to give his foe the benefit of any doubt. Though Boonda Broke was smiling, the lad’s face flushed again with anger, for the man’s real character had been revealed to him on the instant, and he was yet in the indignant warmth of the new experience. If he had known that Boonda Broke had cultivated his friendship for months, to worm out of him all the secrets of the Residency, there might have been a violent and immediate conclusion to the incident, for the lad was fiery, and he had no fear in his heart; he was combative, high-tempered, and daring. Boonda Broke had learned no secrets of him, had been met by an unconscious but steady resistance, and at length his patience had given way in spite of himself. He had white blood in his veins—fighting Irish blood—which sometimes overcame his smooth, Oriental secretiveness and cautious duplicity; and this was one of those occasions. He had flung the knife at the dog with a wish in his heart that it was Cumner’s Son instead. As he stood looking after the English lad, he said between his teeth with a great hatred, though his face showed no change:

“English dog, thou shalt be dead like thy brother there when I am Dakoon of Mandakan.”

At this moment he saw hurrying towards him one of those natives who, a little while before, had been in close and furtive talk in the Bazaar.

Meanwhile the little cloud of smoke kept curling out of the Governor’s door, and the orderly could catch the fitful murmur of talk that followed it. Presently rifle shots rang out somewhere. Instantly a tall, broad-shouldered figure, in white undress uniform, appeared in the doorway and spoke quickly to the orderly. In a moment two troopers were galloping out of the Residency Square and into the city. Before two minutes had passed one had ridden back to the orderly, who reported to the Colonel that the Dakoon had commanded the shooting of five men of the tribe of the outlaw hill-chief, Pango Dooni, against the rear wall of the Palace, where the Dakoon might look from his window and see the deed.

The Colonel sat up eagerly in his chair, then brought his knuckles down smartly on the table. He looked sharply at the three men who sat with him.

“That clinches it,” said he. “One of those fellows was Pango Dooni’s nephew, another was his wife’s brother. It’s the only thing to do—some one must go to Pango Dooni, tell him the truth, ask him to come down and save the place, and sit up there in the Dakoon’s place. He’ll stand by us, and by England.”

No one answered at first. Every face was gloomy. At last a grey-haired captain of artillery spoke his mind in broken sentences:

“Never do—have to ride through a half-dozen sneaking tribes—Pango Dooni, rank robber—steal like a barrack cat—besides, no man could get there. Better stay where we are and fight it out till help comes.”

“Help!” said Cumner bitterly. “We might wait six months before a man-of-war put in. The danger is a matter of hours. A hundred men, and a score of niggers—what would that be against thirty thousand natives?”

“Pango Dooni is as likely to butcher us as the Dakoon,” said McDermot, the captain of artillery. Every man in the garrison had killed at least one of Pango Dooni’s men, and every man of them was known from the Kimar Gate to the Neck of Baroob, where Pango Dooni lived and ruled.

The Colonel was not to be moved. “I’d ride the ninety miles myself, if my place weren’t here—no, don’t think I doubt you, for I know you all! But consider the nest of murderers that’ll be let loose here when the Dakoon dies. Better a strong robber with a strong robber’s honour to perch there in the Palace, than Boonda Broke and his cut-throats—”

“Honour—honour?—Pango Dooni!” broke out McDermot the gunner scornfully.

“I know the man,” said the Governor gruffly; “I know the man, I tell you, and I’d take his word for ten thousand pounds, or a thousand head of cattle. Is there any of you will ride to the Neck of Baroob for me? For one it must be, and no more—we can spare scarce that, God knows!” he added sadly. “The women and children—”

“I will go,” said a voice behind them all; and Cumner’s Son stepped forward. “I will go, if I may ride the big sorrel from the Dakoon’s stud.”

The Colonel swung round in his chair and stared mutely at the lad. He was only eighteen years old, but of good stature, well-knit, and straight as a sapling.

Seeing that no one answered him, but sat and stared incredulously, he laughed a little, frankly and boyishly. “The kris of Boonda Broke is for the hearts of every one of us,” said he. “He may throw it soon—to-night—to-morrow. No man can leave here—all are needed; but a boy can ride; he is light in the saddle, and he may pass where a man would be caught in a rain of bullets. I have ridden the sorrel of the Dakoon often; he has pressed it on me; I will go to the master of his stud, and I will ride to the Neck of Baroob.”

“No, no,” said one after the other, getting to his feet, “I will go.”

The Governor waved them down. “The lad is right,” said he, and he looked him closely and proudly in the eyes. “By the mercy of God, you shall ride the ride,” said he. “Once when Pango Dooni was in the city, in disguise, aye, even in the Garden of the Dakoon, the night of the Dance of the Yellow Fire, I myself helped him to escape, for I stand for a fearless robber before a cowardly saint.” His grey moustache and eyebrows bristled with energy as he added: “The lad shall go. He shall carry in his breast the bracelet with the red stone that Pango Dooni gave me. On the stone is written the countersign that all hillsmen heed, and the tribe-call I know also.”

“The danger—the danger—and the lad so young!” said McDermot; but yet his eyes rested lovingly on the boy.

The Colonel threw up his head in anger. “If I, his father, can let him go, why should you prate like women? The lad is my son, and he shall win his spurs—and more, and more, maybe,” he added.

He took from his pocket Pango Dooni’s gift and gave it to the lad, and three times he whispered in his ear the tribe-call and the countersign that he might know them. The lad repeated them three times, and, with his finger, traced the countersign upon the stone.

That night he rode silently out of the Dakoon’s palace yard by a quiet gateway, and came, by a roundabout, to a point near the Residency.

He halted under a flame-tree, and a man came out of the darkness and laid a hand upon his knee.

“Ride straight and swift from the Kimar Gate. Pause by the Koongat Bridge an hour, rest three hours at the Bar of Balmud, and pause again where the roof of the Brown Hermit drums to the sorrel’s hoofs. Ride for the sake of the women and children and for your own honour. Ride like a Cumner, lad.”

The last sound of the sorrel’s hoofs upon the red dust beat in the Colonel’s ears all night long, as he sat waiting for news from the Palace, the sentinels walking up and down, the orderly at the door, and Boonda Broke plotting in the town.





II. “REST AT THE KOONGAT BRIDGE AN HOUR”

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There was no moon, and but few stars were shining. When Cumner’s Son first set out from Mandakan he could scarcely see at all, and he kept his way through the native villages more by instinct than by sight. As time passed he saw more clearly; he could make out the figures of natives lying under trees or rising from their mats to note the flying horseman. Lights flickered here and there in the houses and by the roadside. A late traveller turned a cake in the ashes or stirred some rice in a calabash; an anxious mother put some sandalwood on the coals and added incense, that the gods might be good to the ailing child on the mat; and thrice, at forges in the village, he saw the smith languidly beating iron into shape, while dark figures sat on the floor near by, and smoked and murmured to each other.

These last showed alertness at the sound of the flying sorrel’s hoofs, and all at once a tall, keen-eyed horseman sprang to the broad doorway and strained his eyes into the night after Cumner’s Son. He waited a few moments; then, as if with a sudden thought, he ran to a horse tethered near by and vaulted into the saddle. At a word his chestnut mare got away with telling stride in pursuit of the unknown rider, passing up the Gap of Mandakan like a ghost.

Cumner’s Son had a start by about half a mile, but Tang-a-Dahit rode a mare that had once belonged to Pango Dooni, and Pango Dooni had got her from Colonel Cumner the night he escaped from Mandakan.

For this mare the hill-chief had returned no gift save the gold bracelet which Cumner’s Son now carried in his belt.

The mare leaned low on her bit, and travelled like a thirsty hound to water, the sorrel tugged at the snaffle, and went like a bullmoose hurrying to his herd,

“That long low gallop that can tire
The hounds’ deep hate or hunter’s fire.”

The pace was with the sorrel. Cumner’s Son had not looked behind after the first few miles, for then he had given up thought that he might be followed. He sat in his saddle like a plainsman; he listened like a hillsman; he endured like an Arab water-carrier. There was not an ounce of useless flesh on his body, and every limb, bone, and sinew had been stretched and hardened by riding with the Dakoon’s horsemen, by travelling through the jungle for the tiger and the panther, by throwing the kris with Boonda Broke, fencing with McDermot, and by sabre practice with red-headed Sergeant Doolan in the barracks by the Residency Square. After twenty miles’ ride he was dry as a bone, after thirty his skin was moist but not damp, and there was not a drop of sweat on the skin-leather of his fatigue cap. When he got to Koongat Bridge he was like a racer after practice, ready for a fight from start to finish. Yet he was not foolhardy. He knew the danger that beset him, for he could not tell, in the crisis come to Mandakan, what designs might be abroad. He now saw through Boonda Broke’s friendship for him, and he only found peace for his mind upon the point by remembering that he had told no secrets, had given no information of any use to the foes of the Dakoon or the haters of the English.

On this hot, long, silent ride he looked back carefully, but he could not see where he had been to blame; and, if he were, he hoped to strike a balance with his own conscience for having been friendly to Boonda Broke, and to justify himself in his father’s eyes. If he came through all right, then “the Governor”—as he called his father, with the friendly affection of a good comrade, and as all others in Mandakan called him because of his position—the Governor then would say that whatever harm he had done indirectly was now undone.

He got down at the Koongat Bridge, and his fingers were still in the sorrel’s mane when he heard the call of a bittern from the river bank. He did not loose his fingers, but stood still and listened intently, for there was scarcely a sound of the plain, the river, or jungle he did not know, and his ear was keen to balance ’twixt the false note and the true. He waited for the sound again. From that first call he could not be sure which had startled him—the night was so still—the voice of a bird or the call between men lying in ambush. He tried the trigger of his pistol softly, and prepared to mount. As he did so, the call rang out across the water again, a little louder, a little longer.

Now he was sure. It was not from a bittern—it was a human voice, of whose tribe he knew not—Pango Dooni’s, Boonda Broke’s, the Dakoon’s, or the segments of peoples belonging to none of these—highway robbers, cattle-stealers, or the men of the jungle, those creatures as wild and secret as the beasts of the bush and more cruel and more furtive.

The fear of the ambushed thing is the worst fear of this world—the sword or the rifle-barrel you cannot see and the poisoned wooden spear which the men of the jungle throw gives a man ten deaths, instead of one.

Cumner’s Son mounted quickly, straining his eyes to see and keeping his pistol cocked. When he heard the call a second time he had for a moment a thrill of fear, not in his body, but in his brain. He had that fatal gift, imagination, which is more alive than flesh and bone, stronger than iron and steel. In his mind he saw a hundred men rise up from ambush, surround him, and cut him down. He saw himself firing a half-dozen shots, then drawing his sword and fighting till he fell; but he did fall in the end, and there was an end of it. It seemed like years while these visions passed through his mind, but it was no longer than it took to gather the snaffle-rein close to the sorrel’s neck, draw his sword, clinch it in his left hand with the rein, and gather the pistol snugly in his right. He listened again. As he touched the sorrel with his knee he thought he heard a sound ahead.

The sorrel sprang forward, sniffed the air, and threw up his head. His feet struck the resounding timbers of the bridge, and, as they did so, he shied; but Cumner’s Son, looking down sharply, could see nothing to either the right or left—no movement anywhere save the dim trees on the banks waving in the light wind which had risen. A crocodile slipped off a log into the water—he knew that sound; a rank odour came from the river bank—he knew the smell of the hippopotamus.

These very things gave him new courage. Since he came from Eton to Mandakan he had hunted often and well, and once he had helped to quarry the Little Men of the Jungle when they carried off the wife and daughter of a soldier of the Dakoon. The smell and the sound of wild life roused all the hunter in him. He had fear no longer; the primitive emotion of fighting or self-defence was alive in him.

He had left the bridge behind by twice the horse’s length, when, all at once, the call of the red bittern rang out the third time, louder than before; then again; and then the cry of a grey wolf came in response.

His peril was upon him. He put spurs to the sorrel. As he did so, dark figures sprang up on all sides of him. Without a word he drove the excited horse at his assailants. Three caught his bridle-rein, and others snatched at him to draw him from his horse.

“Hands off!” he cried, in the language of Mandakan, and levelled his pistol.

“He is English!” said a voice. “Cut him down!”

“I am the Governor’s son,” said the lad. “Let go.” “Cut him down!” snarled the voice again.

He fired twice quickly.

Then he remembered the tribe-call given his father by Pango Dooni. Rising in his saddle and firing again, he called it out in a loud voice. His plunging horse had broken away from two of the murderers; but one still held on, and he slashed the hand free with his sword.

The natives were made furious by the call, and came on again, striking at him with their krises. He shouted the tribe-call once more, but this time it was done involuntarily. There was no response in front of him; but one came from behind. There was clattering of hoofs on Koongat Bridge, and the password of the clan came back to the lad, even as a kris struck him in the leg and drew out again. Once again he called, and suddenly a horseman appeared beside him, who clove through a native’s head with a broadsword, and with a pistol fired at the fleeing figures; for Boonda Broke’s men who were thus infesting the highway up to Koongat Bridge, and even beyond, up to the Bar of Balmud, hearing the newcomer shout the dreaded name of Pango Dooni, scattered for their lives, though they were yet twenty to two. One stood his ground, and it would have gone ill for Cumner’s Son, for this thief had him at fatal advantage, had it not been for the horseman who had followed the lad from the forge-fire to Koongat Bridge. He stood up in his stirrups and cut down with his broadsword, so that the blade was driven through the head and shoulders of his foe as a woodsman splits a log half through, and grunts with the power of his stroke.

Then he turned to the lad.

“What stranger calls by the word of our tribe?” he asked.

“I am Cumner’s Son,” was the answer, “and my father is brother-in-blood with Pango Dooni. I ride to Pango Dooni for the women and children’s sake.”

“Proof! Proof! If you be Cumner’s Son, another word should be yours.”

The Colonel’s Son took out the bracelet from his breast. “It is safe hid here,” said he, “and hid also under my tongue. If you be from the Neck of Baroob you will know it when I speak it;” and he spoke reverently the sacred countersign.

By a little fire kindled in the road, the bodies of their foe beside them, they vowed to each other, mingling their blood from dagger pricks in the arm. Then they mounted again and rode towards the Neck of Baroob.

In silence they rode awhile, and at last the hillsman said: “If fathers be brothers-in-blood, behold it is good that sons be also.”

By this the lad knew that he was now brother-in-blood to the son of Pango Dooni.





III. THE CODE OF THE HILLS

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“You travel near to Mandakan!” said the lad. “Do you ride with a thousand men?”

“For a thousand men there are ten thousand eyes to see; I travel alone and safe,” answered Tang-a-Dahit.

“To thrust your head in the tiger’s jaw,” said Cumner’s Son. “Did you ride to be in at the death of the men of your clan?”

“A man will ride for a face that he loves, even to the Dreadful Gates,” answered Tang-a-Dahit. “But what is this of the men of my clan?”

Then the lad told him of those whose heads hung on the rear Palace wall, where the Dakoon lay dying, and why he rode to Pango Dooni.

“It is fighting and fighting, naught but fighting,” said Tang-a-Dahit after a pause; “and there is no peace. It is fighting and fighting, for honour, and glory, and houses and cattle, but naught for love, and naught that there may be peace.”

Cumner’s Son turned round in his saddle as if to read the face of the man, but it was too dark.

“And naught that there maybe peace.” Those were the words of a hillsman who had followed him furiously in the night ready to kill, who had cloven the head of a man like a piece of soap, and had been riding even into Mandakan where a price was set on his head.

For long they rode silently, and in that time Cumner’s Son found new thoughts; and these thoughts made him love the brown hillsman as he had never loved any save his own father.

“When there is peace in Mandakan,” said he at last, “when Boonda Broke is snapped in two like a pencil, when Pango Dooni sits as Dakoon in the Palace of Mandakan—”

“There is a maid in Mandakan,” interrupted Tanga-Dahit, “and these two years she has lain upon her bed, and she may not be moved, for the bones of her body are as the soft stems of the lily, but her face is a perfect face, and her tongue has the wisdom of God.”

“You ride to her through the teeth of danger?”

“She may not come to me, and I must go to her,” answered the hillsman.

There was silence again for a long time, for Cumner’s Son was turning things over in his mind; and all at once he felt that each man’s acts must be judged by the blood that is in him and the trail by which he has come.

The sorrel and the chestnut mare travelled together as on one snaffle-bar, step by step, for they were foaled in the same stable. Through stretches of reed-beds and wastes of osiers they passed, and again by a path through the jungle where the briar-vines caught at them like eager fingers, and a tiger crossed their track, disturbed in his night’s rest. At length out of the dank distance they saw the first colour of dawn.

“Ten miles,” said Tang-a-Dahit, “and we shall come to the Bar of Balmud. Then we shall be in my own country. See, the dawn comes up! ’Twixt here and the Bar of Balmud our danger lies. A hundred men may ambush there, for Boonda Broke’s thieves have scattered all the way from Mandakan to our borders.”

Cumner’s Son looked round. There were hills and defiles everywhere, and a thousand places where foes could hide. The quickest way, but the most perilous, lay through the long defile between the hills, flanked by boulders and rank scrub. Tang-a-Dahit pointed out the ways that they might go—by the path to the left along the hills, or through the green defile; and Cumner’s Son instantly chose the latter way.

“If the fight were fair,” said the hillsman, “and it were man to man, the defile is the better way; but these be dogs of cowards who strike from behind rocks. No one of them has a heart truer than Boonda Broke’s, the master of the carrion. We will go by the hills. The way is harder but more open, and if we be prospered we will rest awhile at the Bar of Balmud, and at noon we will tether and eat in the Neck of Baroob.”

They made their way through the medlar trees and scrub to the plateau above, and, the height gained, they turned to look back. The sun was up, and trailing rose and amber garments across the great Eastern arch. Their path lay towards it, for Pango Dooni hid in the hills, where the sun hung a roof of gold above his stronghold.

“Forty to one!” said Tang-a-Dahit suddenly. “Now indeed we ride for our lives!”

Looking down the track of the hillsman’s glance Cumner’s Son saw a bunch of horsemen galloping up the slope. Boonda Broke’s men!

The sorrel and the mare were fagged, the horses of their foes were fresh; and forty to one were odds that no man would care to take. It might be that some of Pango Dooni’s men lay between them and the Bar of Balmud, but the chance was faint.

“By the hand of Heaven,” said the hillsman, “if we reach to the Bar of Balmud, these dogs shall eat their own heads for dinner!”

They set their horses in the way, and gave the sorrel and mare the bit and spur. The beasts leaned again to their work as though they had just come from a feeding-stall and knew their riders’ needs. The men rode light and free, and talked low to their horses as friend talks to friend. Five miles or more they went so, and then the mare stumbled. She got to her feet again, but her head dropped low, her nostrils gaped red and swollen, and the sorrel hung back with her, for a beast, like a man, will travel farther two by two than one by one. At another point where they had a long view behind they looked back. Their pursuers were gaining. Tang-a-Dahit spurred his horse on.

“There is one chance,” said he, “and only one. See where the point juts out beyond the great medlar tree. If, by the mercy of God, we can but make it!”

The horses gallantly replied to call and spur. They rounded a curve which made a sort of apse to the side of the valley, and presently they were hid from their pursuers. Looking back from the thicket they saw the plainsmen riding hard. All at once Tang-a-Dahit stopped.

“Give me the sorrel,” said he. “Quick—dismount!” Cumner’s Son did as he was bid. Going a little to one side, the hillsman pushed through a thick hedge of bushes, rolled away a rock, and disclosed an opening which led down a steep and rough-hewn way to a great misty valley beneath, where was never a bridle-path or causeway over the brawling streams and boulders.

“I will ride on. The mare is done, but the sorrel can make the Bar of Balmud.”

Cumner’s Son opened his mouth to question, but stopped, for the eyes of the hillsman flared up, and Tang-a-Dahit said:

“My arm in blood has touched thy arm, and thou art in my hills and not in thine own country. Thy life is my life, and thy good is my good. Speak not, but act. By the high wall of the valley where no man bides there is a path which leads to the Bar of Balmud; but leave it not, whether it go up or down or be easy or hard. If thy feet be steady, thine eye true, and thy heart strong, thou shalt come by the Bar of Balmud among my people.”

Then he caught the hand of Cumner’s Son in his own and kissed him between the eyes after the manner of a kinsman, and, urging him into the hole, rolled the great stone into its place again. Mounting the sorrel he rode swiftly out into the open, rounded the green point full in view of his pursuers, and was hid from them in an instant. Then, dismounting, he swiftly crept back through the long grass into the thicket again, mounted the mare, and drove her at laboured gallop also around the curve, so that it seemed to the plainsmen following that both men had gone that way. He mounted the sorrel again, and loosing a long sash from his waist drew it through the mare’s bit. The mare, lightened of the weight, followed well. When the plainsmen came to the cape of green, they paused not by the secret place, for it seemed to them that two had ridden past and not one.

The Son of Pango Dooni had drawn pursuit after himself, for it is the law of the hills that a hillsman shall give his life or all that he has for a brother-in-blood.

When Cumner’s Son had gone a little way he understood it all! And he would have turned back, but he knew that the hillsman had ridden far beyond his reach. So he ran as swiftly as he could; he climbed where it might seem not even a chamois could find a hold; his eyes scarcely seeing the long, misty valley, where the haze lay like a vapour from another world. There was no sound anywhere save the brawling water or the lonely cry of the flute-bird. Here was the last refuge of the hillsmen if they should ever be driven from the Neck of Baroob. They could close up every entrance, and live unscathed; for here was land for tilling, and wood, and wild fruit, and food for cattle.

Cumner’s Son was supple and swift, and scarce an hour had passed ere he came to a steep place on the other side, with rough niches cut in the rocks, by which a strong man might lift himself up to safety. He stood a moment and ate some coffee-beans and drank some cold water from a stream at the foot of the crag, and then began his ascent. Once or twice he trembled, for he was worn and tired; but he remembered the last words of Tang-a-Dahit, and his fingers tightened their hold. At last, with a strain and a gasp, he drew himself up, and found himself on a shelf of rock with all the great valley spread out beneath him. A moment only he looked, resting himself, and then he searched for a way into the hills; for everywhere there was a close palisade of rocks and saplings. At last he found an opening scarce bigger than might let a cat through; but he laboured hard, and at last drew himself out and looked down the path which led into the Bar of Balmud—the great natural escarpment of giant rocks and monoliths and medlar trees, where lay Pango Dooni’s men.

He ran with all his might, and presently he was inside the huge defence. There was no living being to be seen; only the rock-strewn plain and the woods beyond.

He called aloud, but nothing answered; he called again the tribe-call of Pango Dooni’s men, and a hundred armed men sprang up.

“I am a brother-in-blood of Pango Dooni’s Son,” said he. “Tang-a-Dahit rides for his life to the Bar of Balmud. Ride forth if ye would save him.”

“The lad speaks with the tongue of a friend,” said a scowling hillsman, advancing, “yet how know we but he lies?”

“Even by this,” said Cumner’s Son, and he spoke the sacred countersign and showed again the bracelet of Pango Dooni, and told what had happened. Even as he spoke the hillsmen gave the word, and two score men ran down behind the rocks, mounted, and were instantly away by the road that led to the Koongat Bridge.

The tall hillsman turned to the lad.

“You are beaten by travel,” said he. “Come, eat and drink, and rest.”

“I have sworn to breakfast where Pango Dooni bides, and there only will I rest and eat,” answered the lad.

“The son of Pango Dooni knows the lion’s cub from the tame dog’s whelp. You shall keep your word. Though the sun ride fast towards noon, faster shall we ride in the Neck of Baroob,” said the hillsman.

It was half-way towards noon when the hoof-beats drummed over the Brown Hermit’s cave, and they rested not there; but it was noon and no more when they rode through Pango Dooni’s gates and into the square where he stood.

The tall hillsman dropped to the ground, and Cumner’s Son made to do the same. Yet he staggered, and would have fallen, but the hillsman ran an arm around his shoulder. The lad put by the arm, and drew him self up. He was most pale. Pango Dooni stood looking at him, without a word, and Cumner’s Son doffed his cap. There was no blood in his lips, and his face was white and drawn.

“Since last night what time the bugle blows in the Palace yard, I have ridden,” said he.

At the sound of his voice the great chief started. “The voice I know, but not the face,” said he.

“I am Cumner’s Son,” replied the lad, and once more he spoke the sacred countersign.





IV. BY THE OLD WELL OF JAHAR

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