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rades have been holding for the past three months. He has with him a European doctor and a police-officer. His garrison is composed of a handful of Sikhs and a few scared Malay constables, the former calm, obedient, invaluable as sentries; the latter drawn from the scum of Singapore and Malacca, utterly useless, seeking only for a safe means of escape from a position which in no way appeals to them. The stockade is a big one, surrounding three large buildings, and until the white men set to work to strengthen it against attack, it was aptly described by their chief as one you could spit through. But the hostile Malays outside are chary of assaulting any fortified place where men are for ever on the alert, and so long as the defenders remain within their walls they know themselves to be safe. Beyond the stockade fence there lie hundreds of square miles of forest, cut across and across by narrow rivers of varying size, on the banks of which native villages are sparsely scattered. In the white man's head there is a chart of this country, with its winding streams, its threads of footpath, its hills, its passes, its villages, hostile or friendly. But there is no survey, no printed map in existence, and it is impossible for him to convey his knowledge to others with accuracy by means of written description or a rude sketch. Therefore he is needed to act as the eye of the column of advancing police which now lies on the border awaiting his coming.
From the first there is no doubt in his mind as to the necessity that calls him to the aid of the little force. The only question is the manner in which he can best cross the dangerous zone of hostile country without losing his life in the process, and this is a matter for anxious thought. The men in the stockade are few enough already, and he cannot reduce their number by taking an escort with him. Also, he knows that his best chance of safety lies in the swiftness of his movements, and that the pace of a body of men is that of the most halting of its members. An hour is occupied in making the necessary arrangements with the policeofficer who is to be left in command, in snatching a hasty meal, and in rolling up a small bundle of kit. By this time night has fallen, and the white man slips out of the stockade into the black darkness with a couple of Malays at his heels.
He makes his way, falteringly at first, for his eyes are not yet accustomed to the gloom, to the point whence a little six-foot bridle-track leads into the forest. It is the only made road in the district, and if followed to its end it will take the white man to the place where the column is now lying forty miles away. As he settles down into a long swinging stride, he calculates that he cannot hope to get through in less than twelve hours, that it is now seven o'clock in the evening, and that dawn will find him still upon the track. He has been feeling unwell all day, and after his long confinement in the stock
ade his condition is not quite up to its usual standard. None the less, he has little anxiety as to his ability to do the tramp, if only he can elude the vigilance of his enemies. The knowledge that this is certainly not more than an even chance inspires him. It adds an element of excitement to the dull exercise; makes the march an enterprise full of vivid interest -an adventure, a romance. Young blood is pulsing in his veins; the spring, the energy of youth, are in his movements. Looked at through his boyish eyes the risk is a precious thing, -he would not part with it for anything on earth.
Mile after mile he trudges along with his brown comrades behind him, one carrying his magazine-rifle, the other with a small bundle slung upon his back. They are silent, dogged, persistent, drawing their breath evenly, walking well within themselves.
At the end of the first seven miles they reach a point where the bridle-track ceases on the brink of a river. On the opposite bank it is visible, in the light of the moon, which has now risen, running in a white streak up from the river's brink, and falling headlong into thick jungle. If followed farther it leads, it is true, to the camp for which the white man is bound; but for nearly twenty miles it passes through the heart of the most hostile villages in the district. When he started it had been the white man's intention to run the gauntlet, trusting to the Malays' respect for their unbroken rest at night to carry
him safely past all dangers before the coming of the dawn. A second path is open to him, a native foot-track which leads up the left bank of the river, crosses it fifteen miles higher, and rejoins the bridle-road some miles beyond the hostile kampongs. His Malay companions now plead with him to follow this longer but safer route, and at length he reluctantly agrees. During the past two hours he has been conscious of a growing sense of illness, and this, perhaps, makes him less stubborn than is his wont. He turns off the bridle-track and enters the forest on his right. The path leads up and down a succession of low hills, after the manner of a switchback, and each ascent tries him more than the last. His head begins to ache and sing, his limbs pain him at every movement, he can hardly kick his feet before him. He owns to himself with an acute surprise that he is faint and sick, that there is something strangely wrong with him, but still he struggles forward doggedly.
At midnight he confesses himself beaten. He halts for the first time since he changed his route, seats himself upon a log with his head in his hands, and growls to his Malays that he can go no farther. At the foot of the hill on which they sit a spark of light shows fitfully in the centre of a small clearing. Towards this the little party makes its way, the white man stumbling painfully, exhausted and incapable of further effort, now that he has once given in. He finds a tiny hut perched upon high stilts in
the centre of a crop of standing rice, and into this he and his two Malays crawl for shelter. The squalid place is crammed with human beings, men and women, and one of their number says that they are all suffering from influenza. He does not call it by that name, and indeed the epidemic is popularly supposed by the Malays to be due to the magic of the white men, who have sent their devils forth to work ravages amongst their enemies; but his meaning is clear, and his visitor begins to understand what is the cause of his own swimming eyes and aching limbs. He lies down as best he can upon the uneven flooring of green boughs. The sick folk around him hem him in on all sides. He is feeling miserably ill, and the position in which he finds himself is not encouraging. The stockade lies fifteen miles in his rear; the camp for which he is bound is twice that distance ahead; to remain where he is even for a day will mean certain death; even to trust to the good faith of villagers who are nominally friendly is very risky; also, the night has been wasted, and he can no longer hope to seek shelter under the cloak of darkness. Again youth comes to his aid. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof, he feels. The morrow shall decide. For the present he is only concerned to rest, so he shuffles down to sleep, in spite of the uneasy movements of his bedfellows, and the dawn finds him able to continue his march.
It is nearly noon when he comes out of the forest on to a
smiling plain. In the distance blue mountains rise, a faint undulating line against the sky. At their feet is a sea of forest almost black in colour, extending to the edge of the cropland. Through the heart of the valley wanders a river, blue as steel, dotted with yellow sand-banks, glinting blindingly in places where the sunlight smites it. Its banks are fringed by groves of tall cocoanut-trees, with dusty thatched roofs showing indistinctly below the drooping fronds. Behind them spread broad sheets of standing rice, of a greenness which seems too vivid for Nature, and in the near foreground half-a-dozen gigantic blocks of granite hunch their grey shoulders above the crops. It is with the aid of these rocks that the white man and his two Malays make their way unseen to the edge of the nearest village. For aught they know to the contrary, word may have been brought that they are on the road, and their enemies may be lying in wait for them.
From behind the last boulder the white man looks out cautiously. The village sleeps peacefully beneath its shade of palm-fronds. No soul is stirring: only the brown fowls pick and scratch and wallow in the dust, a few lean goats browse indolently, a cur barks and scuttles under one of the houses with its tail pressed tightly between its legs. The white man comes out from behind his shelter and walks into the village, climbing the clumsy stile, and wading through the rank He makes his way grass.
to the house which belongs to the chief, and, as he reaches the trodden space which lies between its front and the river, a shrill clamour breaks out, and a mob of excited men and women tumble through the doorway and down the rickety ladder, whooping and yelling, beating drums and gongs, clashing metal pots together, while a band of little boys and girls run hither and thither under their elders' feet, shrieking discordantly. For a moment the white man's hand flies to the stock of his pistol, and his face is tense. Then he relaxes his grip shamefacedly. This excited crowd has no thought of him.
"What thing is afoot?" he asks a man who is capering near him, banging a rice-pot with the back of a woodknife.
The man stops dancing, and turns to him in surprise. "It is the Tuan!" he says aloud, apparently for his own information. "A man-child has been this instant born to thy old servant our chief; and since the Spirits of Ill were envious, seeking to withhold from him the breath of life, we make clamour to drive them far from this dwelling, so that the child may live."
A woman emerges from the dark interior of the hut and stands outlined in the black doorway. "It is enough!" she cries. "Be still!" And at the word a silence falls upon the mob of noisy folk a silence broken only by a plaintive reedy cry from within the hut, the whimper of the new-born child.
The white man goes up the ladder-way, stoops low to pass under the lintel, and seats himself upon a mat in the commonroom. The chief squats before him, and the villagers group themselves around them in an irregular circle. The old chief is as stolid as though no event of any consequence had recently occurred; and well he may be, for the new arrival has some twenty elder brothers and sisters whose various mothers are scattered broadcast up and down the valley. The white man offers his congratulations, and the chief begs him to give a name to the boy.
"It were fitting, Tûan," he says, "since at thy coming he first drew breath."
"Call him Prang (War)," says the white man; "for, behold, he was born in a season of strife," and Prang the child is named from that day forward.
An energetic fowl is chased up and down the kampong, running with muscular legs, and screaming lustily. When caught, it is killed according to the rites of the Muhammadans, is roasted in the cleft of a split stick, and the white man and his followers devour it with a few handfuls of boiled rice.
While the rude meal is being prepared, the white man talks to the chief and his people, seeking to learn from them how the land lies.
"This valley hath no cause for strife with the white folk," says the chief. "But Mat Kilau in Bûdu hath sworn to kill and spare not. One of his warparties is even now harrying
the road which leads from over the
mountains whence the armed men come into the land. Another, so folk say, is lying in wait for thee at the junction of the two tracks. It were well for thee to return to thy stockade. We of these villages can do nought against the Bûdu men, since we lack arms, else I would surely accompany thee through the dangerous district." The white man knows that the chief desires only to lead a quiet life, with many wives, uninjured property, and the prosperous arrival of his constantly occurring children; that this talk of active aid would be used alike to him or to his enemies, whichever chanced for the moment to be the nearer; that from him tolerance is the only thing to be expected. The news of an armed party awaiting his coming stirs in him a fresh excitement, nerves him for another effort. He never so much as considers the possibility of turning back.
His scanty meal finished, he resumes his march. The heat is sweltering, and in this cultivated valley there are few trees to afford protection. He and his fellows are drenched with perspiration as they trudge forward at a steady three miles an hour. Their way leads up the bank of the river, across which they are ferried after a two hours' march. At each village fresh rumours reach them of the waiting enemy ahead.
On reaching the right bank of the river the white man again makes his way into the forest, following the banks of a
stream running towards him almost at right angles to his former course. The jungle shuts down around him thick, silent, gloomy. The deadened patter and whisper of his own boots and his men's bare feet upon the carpet of decaying leaves is the only sound. After the dazzling glare without, the dim shade of the forest wellnigh blinds him. The melancholy hush gets upon his nerves. It seems as though Nature were holding her breath, anxiously awaiting a catastrophe. The dark tree-trunks on either hand are like a crowd of mourners standing aside to let him by, silent, veiled, and awful. Ahead, nearer at each step he takes, sits Death. He is goaded forward by the restless irritation of suspense.
A column of daylight, blindingly white, shows through the branches in front of him. He is nearing the end of the forest ; open country, with jungle hemming it in on either flank, extends before him for nearly ten miles. Again he passes through scattered villages; the rumour of the waiting enemy gathers volume at every step. Half a mile from the cross-roads where the ambush is laid, the white man and his Malays creep across a bog and slink into the jungle. By this means they hope to catch a glimpse of their adversaries, while lying themselves concealed. At the cross-roads they will have no choice but to come out into the open; but if they cannot dislodge their enemies, they can at least wait till night-fall, and try to steal past unobserved.