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river flows from under them, as assistants languidly and dis
, though it there had its begin- passionately. To him it is only ning; down river its waters more bore added to the slip away below them, as into little worries of life. He is a some vast abyss. It comes from gambler when ashore, though nowhere, it vanishes into noth- even play cannot awaken in ingness. It is a slim streak of him anything approaching to water with the jungle hemming enthusiasm, and all things else it in on all sides, and the burn- are to him a weariness of the ing daylight lashing down upon flesh. it relentlessly.
All day the launch ploughs The little steamer is crowded along, grunting, throbbing, to overflowing. On the low groaning, complaining,
The roof of the cabin and engine- Sikhs jabber discordantly; the room, in the narrow gangways, Malays speak seldom and in in the tiny galley aft, squat low, musical voices; the white rows of bụrly Sikhs, khaki-clad, man sits with an open book with turbans laid aside, and upon his knee, his thoughts far fringes of curly black beard from the printed page, searchtrained carefully over the tops ing the future. Officially these of their big ears. They look disturbances towards which he like ducks in a crate, and they is hurrying are a nuisance; but jabber like a basketful of mon- none the less he is conscious of keys. One or two of them are a pleasurable feeling of supfast asleep, in spite of the dis- pressed excitement. The trouble comfort of their position, their makes a break in the dead monmouths gaping in close prox- otony of his days. It calls for imity to their companions' feet, energetic action, shrewd thinktheir discordant snores keeping ing, hard work for body and time to the beating of the pro- mind. It may be the making peller. In the extreme bow or the breaking of him individustands a Malay lolling above ally. He feels it to be inspiring, the hand-wheel. He knows the full of possibilities, that golden shallow and difficult river like thing for which so many better the palm of his own hand, can men than he go hungering all give you the name of every their lives—an opportunity. deserted reach, which, to the At each halting-place where unaccustomed eye, looks the fresh stocks of firewood are exact counterpart of its fellows, taken on board, shreds of unand only runs the launch reliable rumour reach the travashore once where a less skilful ellers. There has been fighting pilot would spend most of his up-country, somewhere beyond time aground. He chews betel- this endless chain of isolated nut unceasingly, using his toes reaches, and distance helped by to guide the wheel when his the “native telegraph” magnihands are busy preparing the fies events. Each fresh item quid ; and from time to time he of news makes the white man discusses the news of the out
more eager to get forward. break up - country with his The journey seems interminable.
He wonders how he will find on board is waiting for the the patience necessary for the catastrophe, praying that the endurance of three other days bow may chance upon somelike that which is drawing to a thing softer than its close. When darkness falls the copper-sheeting. Malay coxswain creeps to his For an hour the silence and side and prays to be suffered to the suspense last.
Then comes let go the anchor for the night. the shock, a groaning of sorely The river ahead is shallow, he tried timbers, a long whispering says, the launch cannot fail to swish, and a dull thud, followed run aground many times before by a sudden cessation of motion, the dawn. If aught goes wrong a feeling of solidarity, as though will the Túan hold him blame- the little craft had been welded less ?
into a continent. The stillness white man. “If the river is broken by cries in many turneth traitor 'tis no fault of tongues. The Malays scream thine.”
directions to the engine-room, The little steamer ploughs the engineer swears in bastard onwards, burying its nose in the Hindustani, the Sikhs jabber gloom. Two Malays take up Punjaubi with the energy of positions one on each side of demoniacs, a Tamil hospitalthe steersman, leaning forward dresser bursts into a torrent eagerly, their eyes peering into of lamentation in his the darkness under knitted language—the dialect which, it brows. Every now and again is popularly supposed, is the there comes from one or the vernacular spoken in Hell. The other of them a murmur of engines tug impotently astern, warning or advice. The lamp but the steamer does not move, hanging from the awning-stan- and presently, the white man chion in the bow casts a greasy leading, every one
board light, cutting an irregular patch leaps over the side. Some of out of the blackness. The the Sikhs plunge from the stern white man can see only this, into deep water, and are with with the dark figures of the difficulty saved from being Malays standing back from it washed down by the current. prominently, the dim ribbon of There is a mighty yelling and sky overhead, and two bulging splashing; the escaping steam masses of deeper shadow which roars and rushes; the sparks he knows to be the banks of fly upwards straight into the jungle on either hand. The still air; the open doors of the Sikhs are silent now; only the furnace throw a red glare aft, pulsing of the screw, the pant- a ruddy smudge upon the dense ing breath of the little craft, blackness of the night. Across the swish and plash of the water, this move hurrying figures make themselves heard. The dimly seen.
After some minutes wood smoke from the funnel a voice hails from the shadows belches forth volumes of red on the left. It is the coxswain, sparks which wander off and who has paddled away to seek are lost suddenly. Every soul for a deeper channel, and soon
all hands are busy tugging at before the dawn a raw cold sets the launch to get her off brown arms hugging naked the sand - bank into deep bodies, limbs shivering, teeth water. Each fresh exertion chattering. Speech has fallen calls for its torrent of away from these men like a noise, which breaks up the still- cast garment. Even when fresh ness of the eternal forest with labour is demanded of them rude outbreaks of sound. The there is little noise. During boat is fast aground, and she the short intervals of rest they resists all efforts manfully for a sit huddled together in a detime. Then, at last, she moves; jected crowd, pressing against sticks again obstinately ; moves one another for comfort and once more; glides smoothly off warmth, chilled, depressed, and the shelving bank, and waddles utterly weary. The white man helplessly down-stream broad- takes his full share of the toil, side-on, into deep water. The for he knows how much more crew and the passengers become work he can wring from his in a moment a frantic mob, people while he endures with struggling, scrambling, tum- them. He is almost worn out. bling, wrestling, getting in It is his second sleepless night, their own and their fellows' and the fierce heat of the dayway, trying without purchase time has robbed him of rest for their feet to climb the during his hours of idleness. slippery sides. Some are ducked His skin is puckered with cold mercilessly as the vessel wallows, and constant wettings; his eyes some are forced to swim for it, burn and ache, and he almost others leap aboard with the expects them to creak audibly, agility of cats. There is a vision as upon rusty hinges, when he seen indistinctly of dim figures turns them in their sockets; but in outlandish attitudes, of the place of strife is still far glistening wet limbs flung distant, and the maddening hither and thither in strange suspense goads him forward confusion. There is a noise of pitilessly. laughter, choking, coughing, The dawn comes up sallow gjurgling yells for help, much and grey, with a cloak of mist, splashing, and a babel of weird white as cotton-wool, hanging tongues.
low above the river. All Again the launch forges created things are blotted out. ahead, and silence settles heavily The travellers are pent within over the men
A a narrow circle surrounded by dozen times during the long those sheer walls of fog. Every night the incident is repeated, now and again the man at the the copper of the hull is peeled wheel throws up his head or burnished, the men have mechanically, as though he barely time in which to get dry sought to look over the barrier before they are over the side in front of him.
It is an again, pulling, pushing, tugging, attempt which he knows to be shoving for the life. With the futile, but instinct and habit first breath of air that moves force him to make it again and again. Beads of damp gather eastern bank. News of battle on the brasswork; the clothes has come aboard at each haltingof the men are dripping wet; place-rumour of a Sikh stockthe awning canvas is drenched ade surprised before the dawn, and sags limply. The white of violent deaths borne swiftly man lies on the bunk in his to sleeping men, of disaster, of cabin, with only his nose pro- failure, of fear, an ever-thickentruding above the red blanket. ing cloud of inchoate report.
. The heavy depression of the Suddenly the man at the early morning hour is upon wheel cries that there is a him; the enthusiasm and ex- strange object afloat a hundred citement, which have sustained yards ahead. The white man him since the news of trouble runs up from the cabin, the arrived, wax faint within him; Malays hang out over the side, the prospects of failure which, with one foot on the bulwarks quite illogically, now loom be- and one hand clutching the fore him as certainties, become stanchions of the awning. The haunting spectres. His vitality Sikhs press and crowd, jabberis at its lowest ebb, and nothing ing eagerly, climbing upon one less than some great emergency another's shoulders to catch a could wake him from the dreari- glimpse of the wallowing thing. ness of his profound despond- As it approaches leisurely it is ency.
He feels himself to be seen to be the body of a man, the merest fly upon the wheel revolving slowly, first one way of Fate, whirled round impotent then the other, borne onward and unresisting, powerless to by the current. The head and control or shape the events feet are submerged; but the which will surely work his un
brown back is visible, floating doing No longer does he high above the water, for the know himself to be the mind thing has been dead for many which animates the brown body hours. The
word spreads of his followers. He is the among the Sikhs that it is the veriest plaything of the gods, corpse of one of their casteyet all the while he is conscious mates who has been killed upof the heavy measure of his re- country, and four men leap sponsibilities for the welfare of overboard and swim to meet it. his people and for that of the The engines are stopped, and State he serves.
the launch drifts helplessly.
The dead thing sidles away The picture fades, and another from the swimmers when they takes its place. The launch is touch it, as though resenting still labouring up-stream, with their interference, and they the same freight of tired human have much ado to make fast a beings. It is early morning rope about its girth. Then they again a few days later, and the rejoin their fellows, hawking, mist is only partially dispelled spitting, and coughing. The by the first watery rays of sun- Sikhs will not suffer any man shine peeping slantways through save themselves to touch the the tree - tops on the river's rope to which is made fast the body of their comrade; but they many. . That dumb mouth haul in furiously, and the dead brings its sure message; those thing bobs and ducks, flinging dim eyes have looked into the its limbs abroad in a horrible face of death; floundering travesty of life, as though grotesquely in the wake, it is gesticulating in protest. The none the less an awful witness slack of the rope falls this way of war, a terrible prophet of and that among the labouring the things that are to be. Sikhs ; a widening eddy of dis- The Malays are delighted at turbed water rings the corpse the incident. They reel about about. After one last dive, in the cramped space forward, which carries it almost under slapping their thighs and one the keel, it comes to the surface, another's backs, stamping their
, and is dragged up the side, feet, roaring with laughter. hanging in a limp bow_with The dead man is not known to head and toes in contact. Every them, and as they are not proSikh within reach seizes it with fessional holy-men, they are in his hands to lift it on board. A nowise concerned to secure for horrible odour sickens the air. him a proper burial according
Then arises a shrill hubbub, to the rites of the Muhammaan indescribable clashing of dans. The distress of the Sikhs, , angry falsetto voices, a torrent of added to the little tinge of oaths and curses, foul epithets, horror connected with the guttural execrations. The body affair, appeals to their sense of is that of a Malay, and its the ludicrous. touch is pollution to the Sikhs. They are spitting as one man, Again the picture fades and rubbing their bodies with cloths, disappears. Again another trying to tear the besmirched rises from out the mists of skin from the palms of their memory. hands, screaming their anger, A white man sits scanning a their horror, their disgust. One filthy note which has just been of their number smites the handed to him by à Malay corpse in the face ere it tum- runner :bles helplessly back into the “Have arrived here with water. Its eyes are protrud- column. Impossible to get ing, its mouth is open, as across to you without risking though propounding some vital engagement, which would be question. Its face is disfigurel premature.
make here and there by the nibbling your way to us? It is most of little fish. A circular stain important that I should have of a dull purple colour near the the benefit of your advice and heart marks where a bullet has local knowledge. " passed. The white man gazes The note bears date three at it with a dreadful fascina- days earlier, and was written
a tion. It is to him the thing from a place on the borders of seen, ever mightier than the the State, forty miles distant thing heard the first man from the isolated post which killed in action, the first of the white man and his com