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It is heart-breaking work creeping through the tangled underwood parallel to the track. On the left, seen in fitful flashes, is the open valley, with the footpath showing like a brown thread winding through its centre. On the right is forest untouched by the hand of man. In front and on all sides is a maze of twining green things, thorns, creepers, sturdy bushes, the trunks of vast trees. The forest arrests the intruders with countless persistent hands. The thorns rip their clothing, the tendrils and creepers bind themselves about their limbs, the boughs of shrubs force them on to their hands and knees, the roots trip and throw them. It is nearly two hours, hours spent in desperate but cautious effort, before the short half mile has been traversed, and the white man peeps above the bushes at the place of the crossing roads. Down a hill in front of him comes the end of the six-foot bridle-track, the beginning of which he had quitted on the previous evening; the footpath joins it at his feet; then they melt into one, and run away into the distance through a wide valley set here and there with sparse groves of palm-trees. The place is empty of all signs of life.
"There is not any man," says the European to his followers. "Come, let us go down on to the road."
member the saying of the men of old, 'Be economical before thy substance is wasted; have a care before thou art smitten.' To repent too late, 'tis to repent too long."
The white man lies down under the shrubs and lights a cigarette. The afternoon is waning, and the forest is humming with song of bird and ape and insect. The soft sunlight is kissing the earth a tender good night. The valley spread before him is filled with a great peace. With such a sight before his eyes it is impossible for him to believe that any danger is near at hand. After five minutes he leaps impulsively to his feet, and steps out of cover. His men linger behind; but as they see him stride down the bank towards the road unmolested, they gain confidence and fall in behind him. With the made bridle-path once more under his feet, a delightful contrast to the villainous jungle-track which he has followed for so many miles, the white man forces the pace, and his Malays pant and lag in his wake. Soon they are half a mile behind, and when he turns a sharp corner and runs violently against an armed native, he is alone. The man leaps clear, and his hand goes to his dagger-hilt; then, as he catches a full view of the white man, his eyes bulge, and he turns grey under his brown skin. He mumbles all the pious words he can remember, and backs into the jungle on the edge of the road. The white man stares at him and laughs. It is Jělâyang, a foreign Malay
who is chiefly remarkable because he has only a red-rimmed hole, like a gunshot wound, where his nose should be, and the white man knows that he is a scout in the employ of the Government.
"What ails thee, Jělâyang?" he asks.
The native expels his breath in a half-hissing, half-whistling manner through his teeth. "Then it is in truth the Túan!" he ejaculates.
"What else didst thou look for?"
"Ya, Allah! Thy servant took thee for a wraith! A runner hath but just now arrived bearing tidings that the chief of Segâ slew thee at mid-day. Mat Kilau sent the word to those of his men who were awaiting thy coming at the cross-roads, and he bade them return to Bûdu, there to eat of the meat of the buffalo which he hath killed in honour of thy death!"
"Then the villagers did not lie," says the white man. The news comes to him as a relief. Since he passed the cross-roads he has been conscious of a feeling of humiliation. His nerves have been strung to a pitch of intensity all through the day, and the absence of all reason for fear has made his precautions appear ridiculous. What for so many hours he has regarded as an adventure has been turned in a moment into a hopeless piece of bathos. He needs the knowledge that he has to thank the merest chance for bringing him scathless through the enemy's country to restore his self-respect.
Jělâyang falls in behind him,
and together they walk rapidly in the direction of the camp. At dusk they reach it, and the white man is greeted noisily by a host of his race-mates, who assail him with countless questions. They have lost several men in passing over the mountains, but have seen nothing of their enemies save the smoke hanging low against the greenery, have heard only the shrill war-yells. To them the Malays against whom they are fighting are mysterious beings, wholly unlike the natives around them, with whom they have been familiar for years. A foe that deals death without showing itself always impresses the imagination of those who contend against it. It ceases to be a body of men; it is a devilish force, endowed with diabolical powers, diabolical cunning; it is a thing illusive, baffling, fearinspiring, even to the bravest.
"How in the world did you get through?" they ask the white man.
"Oh, I got through all right," replies the white man. "I left the stockade yesterday evening, and there wasn't a soul upon the road.
It was as easy as falling off a log." And he feels that that is all there is to be said about what, at the outset, he had thought to be an adventure!
Once more as I gaze at the kaleidoscope of my memory the picture splits up suddenly, its fragments falling this way and that, the little pieces of light and colour shuffling together in complete confusion, dropping into their places after a moment
to form a new scene. Again and again these changes are wrought, showing me things slight and insignificant, things ugly, things humorous, till at last there arises something more striking than its predecessors, and I keep it before me while I essay to copy it.
A column of armed police is camping at sundown in a tiny hollow. There are a hundred bearded Sikhs, a small band of Malay scouts, four European officers, and the white man who is the political agent-the eyes and ears of the force. The hollow is a grassy place on the banks of a stream which runs down a long and narrow valley, hemmed in by forest. In the evening light a few scattered Malay villages can be seen peeping through groves of cocoanuts; bright green strips of grazing-ground and rice-swamp lie on either hand; overhead the low clouds are dull grey in colour. The Sikhs squat in little clusters eating their cooked rations; the Malays and the Chinese coolies who are carrying the baggage are busy boiling their rice over
begins to fall, gently at first in a penetrating drizzle, then with the relentless energy of the tropical downpour. The men creep under their blankets and curse their luck in halfa-dozen different dialects. The political agent bids one of the officers lie back to back with him for the sake of warmth, and pulls his own and his friend's blanket over both of them. This gives a double protection against the rain, and the atmosphere under the coverlets is soon hot and muggy. By the aid of a strong imagination it is even possible to think that the position is comfortable. Now and again a little wandering stream of cold water finds its way through the blar.kets, and trickles down the back of the agent's neck. The threshing of the rain beats a tattoo overhead. Sleep comes fitfully, sleep that is three parts nightmare, sleep that is rudely broken by fresh rivulets of water finding their way into inconvenient places, that comes again, then vanishes suddenly, leaving the agent very wide awake, with a cold rawness in his bones, and an insufferable sense of discomfort. With difficulty he lights a match beneath the blanket and looks at his watch. It is barely midnight. He crawls out, and the puddles which have formed on the surface of the double coverlet empty themselves upon him in a single douche. The little river is babbling angrily in its bed; the night is intensely dark; overhead the sky reWith the darkness the rain veals no rift; the rain comes
score of fires. Pickets of Sikhs surround the camp, guarding it at a little distance.
The meal eaten, the men stretch themselves to rest upon the ground, using their rolledup blankets as pillows. They are ordered to rest while they may, for it is the intention of their commanders to make a night-march-a thing to which the strategy of the Malays is little used with a view to nonplussing the enemy.
VOL. CLXVII.-NO. MXI.
down in a solid sheet as though some sea in the sky had of a sudden been tapped.
The political officer stumbles over the bodies of sprawling men, and makes his way to the commander of the force. He finds him lying under his blanket cursing softly to himself, and bemoaning the sufferings of his men.
"It's no good stopping here any longer," says the political officer. "You'll have all your fellows down with fever and ague before the dawn if you don't get them moving."
The commander sits up and looks about him, a forlorn figure seen in dim outline. "There ought to be a moon,' he says resentfully, as though the missing luminary had been stolen from him by a pickpocket.
"It's no good crying for the moon," says the other grimly. The weather is not calculated to improve men's tempers.
"But can we see to march?" asks the commander.
"Yes, I think we can," replies the agent. "Anyhow, anything is better than lying out here in the rain, and every little creek in the district will be in spate in a few hours. Listen to the river!"
Through the gloom comes the angry murmur of the waters, sounding like the mutter of a distant crowd. The commander drags himself up and gives the necessary instructions. In twenty minutes the column has formed up in marching order. The political officer, with three of his Malay scouts, leads the way. Behind him come sixty
Sikhs in single file. A 7pounder gun on a light carriage follows. The bowed figures of the Chinese coolies stream away into the darkness, and a second body of Sikhs brings up the rear. The force crosses the river without mishap-nothing can make the men wetter than they are already-and their leader follows a narrow track that runs down the valley. The rain continues to fall pitilessly; every hollow through which the path passes is a pool of water, in which the men wade and wallow blindly. The political officer can hear the tramp of heavy feet on the sodden earth behind him, the creak of sword-belts, the jingle of accoutrements, the steady beat of the rain, the splashing of men through water, and an occasional involuntary ejaculation at some new misfortune or surprise. For the rest, the column is silent, and the Englishman who is guiding it finds it hard to tell whether the men are straggling widely or keeping together as they ought to do.
Here and there they are glimpsed between the shrubs sometimes only their heads are visible, again they are swallowed up by the underwood. Over the brow of a low hill they straggle in fresh detachments; then the stream of men ceases; then a single Chinese coolie is outlined against the sky-line; then there is another long gap.
"The column is all over the place," says the political officer to himself. "Do not suffer any man to go forward until I return to thee," he adds to one of his Malays, and then pushes his way back through the Sikhs to the rear of the column. He finds the gun coated thickly with mire, with one wheel of its carriage cocked in the air, and the other deep sunken in a pool of mud. The gunners are straining at it lustily, and it resists their efforts with a sulky obstinacy. The Chinese coolies, damp and depressed, with their wet pigtails in draggled knots, straggle down the road in an irregular line, covering more than half a mile. The Sikhs and the European officer who are shepherding the rear are working hard to hurry their charges forward. At last the column forms up again, the gun is taken to pieces and carried on the shoulders of the gunners, and the march is resumed.
Through the dense scrub, over uneven ground, up small hills, down into the soaking valleys the column crawls, halting now and again to re-form
slipping, sliding, splashing through mud and water, crush
ing past bushes and trees, through drenching wastes of grass, plodding doggedly forward. Two hours before the dawn the political officer calls a halt once more. The broad stream of the Dong, swollen by the rain, stretches before him. He is on the brink of the usual ford; but the waters are angry, and the place is obviously impassable.
He searches his
memory for some other ford, and at last remembers several years before having crossed the river in flood-time at a point half a mile farther down-stream. Can he find that place after this lapse of time, and in the dark? He wonders; but the column must be across the stream before the day breaks or the game is lost. He asks the commander to keep his men where they are while he goes forward to explore.
He slips into the darkness and is swallowed up by it, a couple of his Malays at his heels. Painfully he makes his way through the thick scrub which fringes the left bank of the stream. The rank bushes rise high above his head; on his right hand the river growls and roars in angry spate; on its far side, a mile distant across the grazing-grounds, the rebel village which is the objective of the column is visible, a huddle of cocoanut-tops outlined against the sky. For all the white man knows the ford may be guarded by the enemy; but the dislike which all Malays have for a drenching makes him think that this is improbable. In any case there will be a gay little fight if only the force can get