Page images


across the river. He is in a which is shadowed by the tingle of expectation and hope, jungle on the banks. He fights and the reaches of black water for his life to maintain his footwhich sing their song of de- ing, for, strong swimmer though fiance in the gloom fret his he be, the river in spate would nerves with impatience and bear him a mile or so into the suspense. Narrowly he watches enemy's country before he could the stream, seeking to recog- win to the shore, and that nise the point he only re- would mean the certainty of an members vaguely, a place seen ugly death. He is personally long ago, observed carelessly as known to every rebel in the a thing of slight importance, land. It is their conviction that the discovery of which now it is he who is warring with means success wrenched from them. Oriental - like, they do the jaws of a failure,-a failure not recognise the hand of the which would make all the suf- British Government. The man fering and the labour farcical, they know is their enemy. A A the night-march, for which he price is set upon his head. alone is responsible, a dismal The river seems to be in league ineptitude. Suddenly he gives with the rebels, to be fighting a grunt of satisfaction. He has hard in the cause of those who found the place for which he is have come and gone upon its seeking. Will it prove to be banks for countless generations. passable ? The bare

The white man is sore spent tainty is maddening.

when at last he reaches the At a point where the river shallows. He stands there takes a bold sweep to the left shivering, forlorn figure the bank runs out in a shelving dripping with water, palsied sand-spit, now more than half with cold, gathering his strength submerged. Down this slope for the return journey. It is he walks and wades into the the raw hour before the dawn, water. It is cold as ice, for the when vitality is at its rain has fallen heavily in the lowest ebb. The vast darkness neighbouring mountains, and as of the night is around him: a

: it rises from knees to waist, from

of his utter loneliness waist to the centre of his chest, strikes him suddenly ; a full he gasps loudly. The current knowledge of his insignificance, is tugging at him with mighty of the paltry nature of the hands; his feet, ground into miniature war in which he is the shingle of the bed, are engaged, a momentary lack of strangely buoyant, and with faith in the mission of the white difficulty are kept in place; he races to interfere with the imis forced to shoulder the waters possible practices of their brown with all his might, like a man kindred shake him as he stands thrusting his way through a there, making him miserable dense throng. More than once and melancholy. It is the faith

. he is nearly washed away by that is in them which keeps the the current, down the river white folk moving on their into the impenetrable darkness, painful paths in Asia. Take






this from them but for an column from the possibility instant, and they are children of attack. Arms and ammucrying in the dark. The full nition are passed across, and

, weight of the burden is pressing next the frightened Chinese on them sorely; the hopes for coolies, spluttering, protesting, the realisation of which they jabbering, with their loads on strive, the hopes which nerve their heads, and their legs them to endure, vanish. Giant swaying this way and that

, Despair holds them in his iron with the tug of the current, grip.

are bundled across amid the The Englishman turns about laughter of the Sikhs and and wades once more into the Malays. Last of all comes the current. In a moment he is gun, remounted now upon its fighting for his life with the carriage, which is dragged furious river, The struggle through the river, running wakes his powers anew. He is along its bed, with a no longer the despondent of broken water to mark its thinker of a few minutes ago; passage, and a dozen gunners he is now a man of action, with floundering ahead of it. something to fight with and “All across before the dawn, overcome. As he flounders out and not a load or a man lost !” of the shallows and rejoins his says the commander through Malays he has no thought but teeth which chatter with cold. for the work which lies before “I call that a real good busihim. Tahan !(It will do!) ness!” he pants, and with the dawn- “Yes," says the political wind breathing chilly on his officer. “And now we'll make drenched clothing, he trots back these beggars sit up!” to the waiting column.

The coolies and their loads The men have formed


in are left with a small baggageclose order during his short guard in a clump of jungle. absence, and he guides them The rest of the force, about to the ford in a compact body. eighty strong, splits up into Then twenty burly Sikhs strip three parties, the centre, with to the buff, and, joining hands, the gun, taking up a position wade into mid-stream. Some about a hundred yards from of them lose their foothold and the village, the others wheelflounder under water, to be ing off to right and left to pulled up by their fellows outflank the enemy and get coughing and spitting; but no as far to the rear of the place one is washed


pres- as may be possible. A faint ently a chain of men extends tinge of greyish yellow is from bank to bank, forming a visible in the east, showing breakwater against which the amid lowering masses of purple spate charges impotently, roar- cloud. The dawn is beginning

, ing and chafing. Above this to break. From the scrub in barrier a body of armed Sikhs which the men are posted in cross to the farther side, there the front of the attack the to guard the passage of the village can be seen distinctly, the thatched roofs within the be expected to understand nor stockade running in long ridges appreciate, into warfare waged at right angles to the trunks with a semi-barbarous people ; of the clustering palm - trees. but theory and the real thing The cocks are crowing loudly; are ever far apart. One of the a few sleepy fowls fly down little naked creatures whimpers from their perches with a faint plaintively as it runs behind its rustling of feathers; dogs whine mother, and its cry is borne to dismally; the door of a house the agent on the still air of the opens, and a figure appears morning. The word lies with huddled to the chin in a bed- him. The success of the little cloth, looking dreamily forth expedition may depend upon at the coming day. From a the attack being a complete hut near at hand rises the surprise; but he knows that sound of Muhammadan prayer besides the women and children chanted by a single voice in there are many in the rebel shrill falsetto. Then another village who have no quarrel door is hitched aside, and a with the Government, who are woman, bearing a baby on her merely following their chiefs arm and a cluster of empty from sheer force of habit, and gourds in her other hand, who, even if they run away climbs painfully down the steep from the white men at first, stair - ladder. Two or three will readily come in if once the naked brats follow her, scram- chiefs are put to flight. For bling earthwards in grotesque the sake of these innocent men attitudes.

and women is it not worth At the sight the political sacrificing a momentary sucofficer swears aloud. “The cess; will not the more merciplace is crammed with women ful course, even though it mean and children,” he says to the a blow to personal ambition, commander of the force. prove in the end the better for

“Will the beggars give in the State he serves ? Again if we call upon them to sur- the whimper of the child comes render?asks the latter. to him, mingled with the soft

“Not they. They'll bolt like tones of the mother's voice. rabbits if they find they are in He turns to the commander too tight a place, and with all with something like a groan. this thick jungle so close we “It may be all wrong,' he shan't really knock them if says, “but I must give them they don't stand up to us.' a chance of coming in.”

The commander swears in The noseless scout Jělâyang his turn. “Then what shall I is at his side, and he bids him do?” he asks.

go to the village. He tears a The political officer knits his leaf from his pocket-book and forehead into anxious puckers. scribbles a few lines in sprawlTheoretically he holds the ing Arabic characters from opinion that it is a mistake right to left. to introduce civilised practices, “Give this to the chief," he which the enemy can neither says, “and tell him from me

[ocr errors]

that he is in the hollow of our trap him. Therefore, being hands. That he is surrounded afraid, he will have no dealings on all sides by the Govern- with white people.” ment's folk; that we have guns, The white man leaps to his rice-pots of fire (shells), and feet. “He won't come in,” he fiery blow-pipes (rocket-tubes). cries almost exultingly. “I If he will bow his head, he and have done all I can, and now all his people shall be pardoned. the show is in your hands. If he be obstinate, we will smite Kill and spare not!” the village, and bid him make Sharp words of command ready his breast against our ring out. The gun is run into attack. Go speedily, and bid position nose forward, and a him send me an answer in no shell sings loudly on its way longer a time than it takes to to the stockade. It bursts in chew a quid of betel-nut." the roof of a house, and a yell

Jělâyang steps out of cover of defiance comes back in a and strolls towards the village. thready cheer from the Malays The people are all afoot now, in the village, mingled with the making their way down to the cries of women and little chilstream for the morning ablu- dren. From twenty points in tions which they never omit, the line of the stockade little and a cluster of elders swaddled puffs of smoke leap out fiercely, in clothes against the cold and the bullets sing and whistle meets the scout at the gateway overhead. Some peck up the of the stockade. The white ground in front; others make men squat on the ground smok- splashes in the rice-swamps a ing placidly, awaiting the re- couple of hundred yards to the turn of their messenger.

rear. A rocket-tube is run out, Presently the ugly face of and the dart from the “fiery Jělâyang peeps through the blow - pipe” rushes

rushes forward brushwood. He squats deliber- hissing and screaming like a ately before the white man, flying dragon of ancient story. and a question is needed before A house bursts into flames. he can be induced to speak. The gun drops shell after shell The calmness of Malayson into the stockade, the bugle such occasions is always irri- sounds the charge, and with a tating in its completeness. bass roar the Sikhs rush out

“What does he say?” queries of cover and tear across the the white man.

swampy open which divides “He says, Túan, that he is them from the village. Some afraid," replies the scout. The few of their number get hopefrank manner in which Malays lessly bogged; others flounder lay claim to a total absence of along unchecked by the kneecourage without extenuation or deep mire; the white men lead, apology is often bewildering. pistol in hand, roaring like their “Does he say nothing more?”

It is a moment worth “No, Túan, nothing more, living for. The rapid run foronly that he is afraid that ward, the sweep down the perchance the white folk will hill, through the swamps, up


[ocr errors]

the grass to the stockade, every people may read it clearly. stride taking them nearer to the Meanwhile the political agent enemy. As the line approaches and his scouts are busy—they the fire of the Malays slackens. in hunting out the refugees and “D-n it all, they're bolting their families, he in accepting already!” yells the political the submission of the minor officer as he flounders forward. chiefs, fixing fines, appointing The stockade is reached, pulled new headmen, busily building apart, hacked down, passed up anew all that he has been over as though it did not exist, at such pains to demolish. and the place is empty! A few As he lies on his mat at the mangled bodies lie here and end of a long day smoking and there sprawling grotesquely, thinking, he is weary unto death. yet looking impossibly small; “Could anything have been à house is blazing with a roar more inglorious ?” he asks the

? of scarlet flames, and later commander.

"A few poor charred bones are found among beggars killed, one or two with the ashes; the doors at the ugly wounds which will make rear of the stockade are thrown them go halting all their days, wide; a few stray shots sound a few insignificant natives punfrom the heavy jungle behind ished, and the real culprits the village, showing that the suffered to escape with nothing flanking parties are trying worse than a fright. It seems to vainly to shoot down the fugi- me that this thicket-thumping tives; but the place itself is business is now going to begin empty save for fowls and dogs, in real earnest. They will never and the victory in a moment is stand up to us again in stockfelt to be farcical, absurd. ades, and we shall have to do

Presently the flanking parties all our fighting in dense jungle. come in and make their reports. And it will always be miserable, The jungle was too thick for heart-breaking, squalid, ineffecmuch good to be done; a few tive. A few dead to bury, a runaways had been captured, few wounded to patch, an some others have been shot; enemy that



that but the chief and most of his bolts before you can get a fair people have got away un- slap at him, lots of hardship, harmed.

plenty of blame, not an atom of “We've put the fear of death kudos, and the best you can into them,” says the political look for, a quick death and a officer, "and that is about all," clean one! I tell you the game and his companions have noth- is played out. It does not do ing to add to this curt state- to think about it.” ment of fact.

“Buck up,” says the comThe next few days are spent mander. “I daresay it will in burning miles of villages; in pan out all right in the end.” impounding flocks of cattle; "Yes, if there be an end,” in writing the anger of the replies the political officer Government plainly on the grimly. place, so that even an illiterate The commander eyes him

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »