Trapped by Malays, A Tale of Bayonet and Kris, by George Manville Fenn.
This is good lively yarn by the master of suspense. There is continuous action throughout the book, and you are kept on your toes wondering how we are going to get through the latest apparent disaster. Sometimes just a little reminiscent of The Middy and the Ensign, set in a similar location, with similar personnel, but different enough to escape too much criticism. Makes a good audiobook.
TRAPPED BY MALAYS, A TALE OF BAYONET AND KRIS, BY GEORGE MANVILLE FENN.
"TWO BAD BOYS"—SERGEANT RIPSY.
"Oh, bother!" The utterer of these two impatient words threw down a sheet of notepaper from which he had been reading, carefully smoothed out the folds to make it flat, and then, balancing it upon one finger as he sat back in a cane chair with his heels upon the table, gave the paper a flip with his nail and sent it skimming out of the window of his military quarters at Campong Dang, the station on the Ruah River, far up the west coast of the Malay Peninsula.
"What does the old chap want now? Another wigging, I suppose. What have I been doing to make him write a note like that?—Note?" he continued, after a pause. "I ought to have said despatch. Hang his formality! Here, what did he say? How did he begin?" And he reached out his hand towards the table as if for the note. "There's a fool! Now, why did I send it skimming out of the window like that? It's too hot to get up and go out to the front to find it, and it's no use to shout, 'Qui-hi,' for everybody will be asleep. Now, what did he say? My memory feels all soaked. Now, what was it? Major John Knowle requests the presence of Mr Archibald Maine—Mr Archibald Maine— Archibald! What were the old people dreaming about? I don't know. It always sets me thinking of old Morley—bald, with the top of his head as shiny as a billiard-ball. Good old chap, though, even if he does bully one—requests the presence of Mr Archibald Maine at his quarters at—at seven o'clock this evening punctually. No. What's o'clock? I think it was six. Couldn't be seven, because that's dinner-time, and he wouldn't ask me then. It must be six. Here, I must get that note again, but I feel so pumped out and languid that I am blessed if I am going to get up and go hunting for that piece of paper. Phee-ew! It's hotter than ever. I should just like to go down to the river-side, take off all my clothes under the trees, and sit there right up to my chin, with the beautiful, clear, cool water gurgling round my neck. Lovely! Yes—till there came floating along a couple of those knobs that look like big marbles—only all the time they are what old Morley calls ocular prominences over the beastly leering eyes of one of those crocodiles on the lookout for grub. Ugh! The beasts! Now, what could crocodiles be made for?—Oh, here's somebody coming."
For all at once, faintly heard, the fag-end of the "British Grenadiers," whistled very much out of tune, came floating in at the window.
"Peter Pegg, by all that's lucky!"
The footsteps of some one evidently heavily laden came nearer and nearer, till, just as they were about to pass the young officer's quarters, the occupier screwed-up his lips and gave vent to a low, clear note and its apparent echo, which sounded like the cry of some night-bird.
The next moment there was the sound as of a couple of iron buckets being set down upon the ground, followed by the clang, clang of the handles; a dark shadow crossed the window, and a voice exclaimed:
"You call, sir?"
"That you, Pete?"
"What are you doing?"
"Fatigue-work, sir. Got to take these 'ere buckets round to cook's quarters."
"Can you see a letter lying out there anywhere?"
"For the mail, sir?"
"Mail! No, stupid! A piece of notepaper."
"With writing on it, sir?"
"No, sir.—Oh yes, here it is, stuck in the flowers."
"Well, bring it to me."
"Can't, sir, without treading on the beds."
"Then bring it round to the door."
There was a few moments' intense silence, during which, in the tropic heat, it seemed as if Nature was plunged in her deepest sleep. Then came a renewal of the footsteps, a sharp tap upon the door, a loud "Come in!" and a very closely cropped and shaven, sun-browned face appeared, its owner clad in clean, white military flannel, drawing himself up stiffly as he held out the missive he was bearing.
"Well, bring it here. My arms are not telescopes."
"Pouf! No, sir. Here you are, sir." And as the letter was taken the bearer's droll-looking, good-humoured face gradually expanded into a broad grin, and then seemed to shut up sharply as the young officer raised his eyes.
"Here, Pete, what were you grinning at? At me?"
"No, sir. That I warn't, sir. I never grin at you. I only do that at the Sergeant when he aren't looking."
"You were certainly grinning, Pete."
"No, sir; only felt comfy-like."
"Oh, that's right," said the young officer; and then to himself, "It is seven o'clock, and it is to get up his appetite, I suppose. Sharpen it on me.—Well, Pete, what have you been up to now?"
"I d'know, sir."
"Nonsense! You must know."
"S'elp me, sir, I don't. The patient one has got his knife into me as usual. I expected it was to be pack-drill, but I come off with a two bucket job—water for the cook."
"Now, look here, Pete; tell the truth for once in a way. The Sergeant wouldn't have come down upon you for nothing."
"What, sir! Oh, I say, Mr Archie, you can go it! Old tipsy Job not come down upon a fellow for nothing! Why, I have heerd him go on at you about your drill—"
"That will do, Pegg. Don't you forget yourself sir."
"Beg pardon, sir. I won't, sir; but there have been times when—"
"That will do."
"Yes, sir; of course, sir—when I have thought to myself if I had been a officer and a gentleman like you—"
"I said that would do, Pegg."
"Yes, sir; I heerd you, sir—I'd have punched his fat head, sir."
"Look here, Peter Pegg; I see you have been having your hair cut again."
"Yes, sir. It's so mortal hot, sir. I told Bob Ennery, sir, to cut it to the bone;" and the young fellow smiled very broadly as he passed both hands over the close crop, with an action that suggested the rubbing on of soap.
"Then look here; next time you have it done I should advise you to have a bit taken off the tip of your tongue. It's too long, Pete; and if I were as strict an officer as the Major says I ought to be, I should report you for want of respect."
"Not you, sir!"
"Because you knows, sir, as I feels more respect for you than I do for the whole regiment put together. I talks a bit, and I never come anigh you, sir, without feeling slack."
"Yes, sir. Unbuttoned-like, and as if I was smiling all over."
"What! at your officer?"
"No, sir; not at you, sir. I can't tell you why; only I don't feel soldier-like—drilled up and stiff as if I had been starched by one of my comrades' wives."
"Well, you are a rum fellow, Pete."
"Yes, sir," said the man sadly. "That's what our chaps say; and Patient Job says I am a disgrace to the regiment, that I know nothing, and that I shall never make a soldier. But I don't care. Still, I do know one thing: I like you, sir; and if it hadn't been for seeing you always getting into trouble—"
"Yes, sir. But I can't stop saying it, sir. If it hadn't been for you, and seeing you always getting into trouble too—"
"Yes, sir—I should have pegged out."
"Yes, sir. Sounds bad, don't it?"
"Yes, Mr Maine, sir; but ain't it disgraceful for a sergeant to be allowed to hit a poor fellow a whack with that cane of his just because he's a bit out in his drill?"
"Drop it, Pete."
"And 'im obliged to stand up stiff, and dursen't say a word?"
"Didn't you hear me say, 'Drop it'?"
"Yes, sir—and one's blood b'iling all the while!"
"Look here; you have been having it again, then, Pete?"
"Again, sir! Why, I am always a-having of it."
"What was it, now?"
"I telled you, sir: nothing."
"That was a lie, Pete. Now, wasn't it?"
"Not a lie, sir. Only a little cracker."
"Well, out with it."
"Not enough pipeclay, sir."
"Oh, I see."
"Jigger the pipeclay! It's a regular cuss. Ah, it's you laughing now, sir. Can I do anything else for you, sir?"
"'Cause the cook will be howling after me directly, and I don't want to be out with him."
"No, I suppose not; but what about that bait for fishing?"
"Oh, that's all right, sir. I will be ready. But don't you think, sir, if we was to go higher up the river we could find a better place? It don't seem much good only ketching them there little hikong-sammylangs."
"Eikon Sambilang, Pete. Don't you know what that means?"
"That's what the niggers call them, sir. I suppose it's because it's their name."
"Five-barbelled fish, Pete, eh?"
"Just like them, sir. Then why don't they call them barbel, sir, like we do? I have seen lots of them ketched up Teddington way by the gentlemen in punts—whackers, too—not poor little tiddlers like these 'ere. We ought to go right up the river in a sampan, with plenty of bait, and try in a bit of sharp stream close to one of them deep holes."
"No good, Pete. We shouldn't do any good. Those beauties of crocodiles clear out the holes."
"What! whacking the water, sir, with their tails? I've heerd them lots of times. Rum place this 'ere, sir, ain't it?"
"Yes, Pete; rather a change from England. But it is very beautiful, and I like it."
"Well, yes, sir; that's right enough. So do I like it. I often think it would be just lovely if old Ripsy would get down with the fever. My word! what would he be like when Dr Morley had done with him, and he began to crawl about and use his cane to help him hobble, instead of being so jolly handy with it in his fashion?"
"Peter Pegg, that's a nasty, revengeful way of talking."
"Is it, sir?" said the young private, giving himself a twist, as if in recollection of a tap with the cane.
"Yes. You don't mean to tell me that you wish Sergeant Ripsy would catch this nasty jungle fever?"
"No, sir, I don't want to tell you; but I do."
"I don't believe you, Pete. The Sergeant's a fine soldier and a brave man, and I honestly believe that he thinks he is doing his duty."
"Oh, he's brave enough, I dare say. So are you, sir."
"So am I, sir."
"Double bosh! Turkish for nothing, Pete."
"Is it, sir? I don't care. I know when the row comes off with that there Rajah Solomon—and there's a pretty bit of cheek, sir: him, a reg'lar heathen, going and getting himself called by a Christian name! I should like to give him Solomon—you'll fight with the best of them, sir. I often think about it. You'll fight with the best of them, sir. And 'tain't brag, Mr Archie Maine, sir—you let me see one of them beggars coming at you with his pisoned kris or his chuck-spear, do you mean to tell me I wouldn't let him have the bayonet? And bad soldier or no, I can do the bayonet practice with the best of them. Old Tipsy did own to that."
"Look here, Pete; you are what the Yankees call blowing now. Let's wait till the time comes, and then we shall see what we shall see. And look here; don't you let me hear you call Sergeant Ripsy Tipsy again. One of these days, mark my words, he will find out that you have nicknamed him with a T instead of an R, and he will never forgive you."
"What are you laughing at, sir?"
"Oh, don't say sir, Mr Archie! There's no one near. Of course I don't mind when anybody's by, but I couldn't help laughing. Old Patient Job found it out long ago."
"And yet you wonder that he has got what you call his knife into you!"
"Oh, I don't think that's why, sir."
"Well, I do."
"No, sir; it's his aggravating way of wanting to see a company of human men going across the parade like a great big caterpillar or a big bit of a machine raking up the sand."
"Never mind. Old Ripsy is a fine soldier, and I advise you not to let him hear you."
"What is it?"
"Mr Maine, sir," whispered the lad; and the subaltern's heels dropped at once from the table upon which they had been resting, for plainly heard through the window, in a loud, forced cough, full of importance, came the utterance, "Errrrum! Errum!" and Private Peter Pegg's lower jaw dropped, and his eyes, as he fixed them upon the subaltern's face, opened in so ghastly a stare of dread that, in spite of his annoyance, Ensign Maine's hands were clapped to his mouth to check a guffaw. But as the regular stamp more than stride of a heavy man reached his ears, the young officer's countenance assumed a look of annoyance, and he whispered in a boyish, nervous way:
"Slip off, Pete; and don't let him see you leaving my room."
"I can't, sir," whispered the lad, with a look full of agony.
"He telled me if ever he catched me loafing about your quarters he'd—"
"Don't talk. Cut!"
"I can't, sir."
"Don't talk. Off at once."
"But I tell you, sir—"
"I don't want to be told. He mustn't see you going away from here."
"But he's stopped, sir. Can't you hear?"
"No—yes. Why has he stopped?"
"Because he can see my two blessed buckets standing there."
"Oh, Peter Pegg! Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!" And as the young subaltern gave utterance to these homely sounds, he was recalling certain sarcastic remarks of the stern master of drill respecting officers and gentlemen demeaning themselves by associating with the men.
"A Guilty conscience needs no accuser," said Archie Maine to himself. "There's a splendid proverb. It can't mean a wigging this time. But if that pompous old pump, that buckled-up basha, lets the Major know that he caught poor old Pegg in my room to-day, I'm sure to get a lecture about making too free with the men instead of going about amongst them perched up upon metaphorical stilts. Well, whatever he wants to see me about, it can't be for a wigging, or else he wouldn't have summoned me just close upon soup-and-'tater call."
The smart-looking young subaltern drew himself up, looking his military best, as he made for the Major's quarters, before which, in light undress uniform, a private was marching up and down, crossing the doorway and the windows of the mess-room, through which the lamps of the dinner-table shone, as they were being lit by the servants. The regimental glass and plate were beginning to glitter on the table, while a soft, warm breeze was rustling the tropical leaves and beginning to cool the atmosphere, as it swept from the surrounding jungle through the widely opened casements.
"Yes! Come in!" came in a loud, bluff, rather rich voice; and the next minute Archie was face to face with the fine-looking, white-haired, florid Major in command of the infantry detachment stationed at Campong Dang in support of Her Majesty's Resident, Sir Charles Dallas, whose duty it was to instruct the Malay Rajah of Pahpah how to rule his turbulent bearers of spear and kris and wearers of sarong and baju, in accordance with modern civilisation, and without putting a period to their lives for every offence by means of the sudden insertion of an ugly-looking, wavy weapon before throwing them to the ugliest reptiles that ever haunted a muddy stream.
"Ah! Hum! Yes."
There was a pause in the strange salute, and, "'Tis a row, then," said Archie to himself. "You received my despatch, Mr Maine?"
"And of course, sir, you are perfectly aware of my reasons for summoning you?"
"No, sir," replied Archie.
"What! Now, that's what I intensely dislike, Mr Maine. If there is anything that annoys, irritates, or makes me dissatisfied with the men— the gentlemen under my command, it is evasion, shuffling, shirking, or prevarication."
At the beginning of this speech the young officer felt nervous and troubled with a feeling of anxiety, but his commanding officer's tone and words sent the blood flushing up into his face, and he replied warmly:
"I beg your pardon, sir, but I am neither shuffling nor prevaricating when I tell you that I do not know why you have sent for me." Then to himself,—
"He could not have known about the Sergeant, for that was after he had sent his note."
He had time to say this to himself, for the Major was staring at him in amazement.
"What! What! What!" he exclaimed. "How—how dah you, sir? I'd have you to know that when I address my subordinates—ahem!—arrrum!—I—that is—hum—dear me, how confoundedly you have grown like your father, Archibald! Just his manner. I—that is—well, look here, sir; I have been very much put out about you. I promised my old comrade that I would do the best that I could in the way of helping you on and making you a useful officer and a thorough gentleman, and you know, between men, Archibald Maine, it has not been quite the thing. This is not the first time I have had to speak to you and complain of your conduct."
"No, sir," said the lad in rather a sulky tone; "and when I was in fault I never shuffled or prevaricated."
"Never, Archie, my lad," said the Major energetically. "It was bad form of me, but I was angry with your father's son. My words were ill-chosen, and there—there—I apologise."
"Oh no, sir!" cried the lad, warming up and speaking excitedly; "there is no need for that. I suppose I have been in the wrong, but I did not really know what I had been doing when you sent your letter."
"Of course you did not, my boy; but—er—I was not thinking of that. It was about your conduct generally, and I had made up my mind to have you here and give you what you would call a wigging, Archie—eh?—wigging, sir! Dreadfully boyish expression!—and then, on second thoughts, I said to myself, 'Much better to have the lad in quietly, break the ice and that sort of thing, tell him what I wanted to talk about, and then make him sit by me at the mess, and put it to him quietly over a glass of wine.' Understand, my lad?"
Archie's lips parted to speak, but the recollection of many old kindnesses began to crowd up so that he could not trust his voice, and he only nodded.
"That's right. You see, my lad, your father and I were boys together— not perfect either. We used to quarrel frightfully. Well, sir, something inside me began to remind me of old times, and make apologies for you, and I was going to talk to you about being an officer and a gentleman—and dignity of manner, and impressing yourself upon your men—just point out that an officer can be kind to his lads and slacken the discipline a little sensibly without losing tone or touch, but there must be a proper feeling between officer and man. An officer need not be a bully and a tyrant, but he must be firm. His men must respect him, and see that the man who leads them knows his duty and is brave almost to a fault; and knowing this, every man who is worth his salt will follow him even to the death if duty calls. It is a grand position, Archie, my lad—that of being a leader of men—and it is shared with the General by the youngest subaltern who wears the Queen's scarlet. See what I mean?"
"Yes, sir," said the lad in a deep, low voice.
"Well, sir," almost shouted the Major, "that's what I was going to say to you, sir, over a glass of wine to-night, and put it to you that it was quite time that you, a young man grown, should put away boyish things and come to an end of tricks and pranks and youthful follies, and take upon you and show that you are worthy of the great birthright— manhood, when—confound it all! I was nearly breaking out swearing!—in comes to me that—hang him!—that overbearing bully—Yah! Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut!—it put me out dreadfully, and I am speaking in haste, for Ripsy is a fine, trustworthy man—my best non-com—to complain to me about you making a chum, a regular companion, of that confounded, low-bred cockney rascal, Pegg. Hang him! I'll have his peg sharpened and make him spin in a more upright manner before I have done with him! Ripsy told me that the fellow was on fatigue-work—takes advantage of the freedom of his position to sneak off to your quarters to hatch some prank or mischief or another; and I had to listen to his complaint and— confound him!—to answer his question, 'Is it right for a subaltern to encourage a low-bred rascal like that to come to his quarters?' What do you say?"
"It was my fault, sir, entirely."
"Yes; and that's your fault too, Archibald Maine. You take a fancy to and make a companion of a private who bears the worst character in this detachment. You see even now, sir, you have made so much of a companion of him that you are ready to take the blame for his fault."
"In this case rightly, sir," said Archie, speaking with firmness. "I had jerked your note out of the window, and as the poor fellow passed—"
"Poor fellow!" cried the Major irritably. "There, again!"
"I told him to pick it up and bring it in," continued Archie firmly; and the Major grunted, for he was evidently cooling down.
"There! Humph! Dinner," grunted the Major again. "Now, quick! What have you got to say?"
Archie was silent for a few moments, for the simple reason that he could not speak, only stand trying to gaze steadily in the eyes of the fine old officer, who was watching him intently with a look that forced him to speak at last; but even then his voice shook a little, in spite of his efforts to make it firm and loud. Then the word that had struggled for utterance came, and it was in Latin:
It was only that word, but it was enough to make the old Major lean forward, clap one hand on the lad's shoulder, and half-whisper:
"Spoken like your father's son!" and then, as the door behind him opened, he half-shouted, "Coming!" Then to his companion, "Now, my lad—dinner!"
A MALAY FRIEND.
Archie Maine's sensations as he marched beside his chief into the mess-room were such that he would far rather have escaped to his own quarters; but he began to pull himself together as he caught sight of a friend, and the next minute he was being in turn introduced by the quiet, gentlemanly Resident to the Rajah Suleiman, a heavy-looking, typical Malay with peculiar, hard, dark eyes and thick, smiling lips, who greeted him in fair English and murmured something about "visit" and the "elephants and tigers." And then, as the Eastern chief, who did not look at home in the English evening-dress he had adopted, turned away to smile upon another of the officers, Archie joined hands at once with a slight, youthful-looking visitor also in evening-dress, who as the youths chatted together showed his mastery of the English language sufficiently to address the subaltern as "old chap," following it up with:
"When are you going to get your boss to give you a day or two's leave?"
"Oh, I don't know," replied Archie. "Not for some time; I'm in disgrace."
"Disgrace! What do you mean?" was the inquiry.
"Oh, not sticking enough to my duties."
"Yes; drill and practice."
"Oh, nonsense! You don't want to be always drilling and drilling and drilling. Your men could kill us all off without any more of that. I shall ask the Major to let you come and stay with me a month."
"No, no, no," said Archie, though his eyes were flashing with eagerness.
"And I say yes, yes, yes. I haven't got such a troop of elephants as Rajah Suleiman, but I have got two beauties who would face any tiger in the jungle, and my people could show you more stripes than his could. But perhaps I am so simple at home that you would rather go and stay with His Highness."
"Look here, Hamet," whispered Archie quickly; "you said that to me last time, just as if I had slighted you."
"Beg pardon, old chap. I didn't mean it; but your people—I don't know how it is—don't seem to take to me. I always feel as if they didn't trust me, and I don't think that I shall care about coming here any more."
"What!" cried Archie excitedly, as he found that he had to take his seat at the table beside the young Rajah, whose face was beginning to assume a lowering aspect, as he saw that the Major's original intentions had been hurriedly set aside and the chair on the latter's right was occupied by the Rajah Suleiman, that on his left by a keen, sharp-looking gentleman who might have been met in one of the Parisian cafes, so thoroughly out of place did he seem in a military mess-room rather roughly erected in a station on the banks of a Malay jungle river.
"What!" said Archie again, in a low tone; and he noted how his companion was furtively watching the attention paid to his brother Rajah.
"I'll tell you presently," said the young Malay. "But who is that gentleman?"
"That? Oh, he's a traveller. He's a French count."
"French count?" said his companion. "A great friend of Suleiman's, isn't he?"
"Not that I know of."
"Yes, he is. So one of my people says."
"Oh?" said Archie.
"Yes; Suleiman met him when he went to Paris."
"You seem to know all about it," said Archie laughingly.
"Oh no; I want to know everything, but there is so much—so much to learn. I wish I had gone to Paris too."
"What! so as to get to know the French count?"
"Pish!—No, thank you; I don't take wine," he added quickly, as one of the officers' servants was filling glasses.
"Won't you have a glass of hock?"
"No," was the quiet reply. "And I don't want to know the French count. I don't like him."
"Because he is Suleiman's friend."
"That's saying you don't like Suleiman."
"No. But I don't like him, and he hates me."
"Because he likes my country."
"And I suppose you like his?"
"I? No. I have got plenty of land that my father left me. He sent me—you know; I told you—to England."
"Yes, I know; to be educated and made an English gentleman."
"Yes," said the young man, with a sigh; and his handsome half-Spanish countenance clouded over. "And I did work so hard to make myself like you young Englishmen; but I had not the chance."
"But you did splendidly. I heard of how high a position you took."
The young Rajah smiled sadly and shook his head.
"You say that as a sort of compliment," he said.
"That I don't. I never pay compliments, for I know you don't like them. If you did, you and I shouldn't be such friends."
The young Rajah turned and gazed fixedly in the speaker's eyes for a few moments, and then turned hastily to help himself from the dish handed to him.
"No, we shouldn't," he said in a low voice as soon as the dish was removed; and he began to trifle with the food. "Yes," he continued, "those were jolly days at the big school; and it seemed so strange to come back here from studies and cricket and football." He laughed softly as he turned merrily to look at his companion again. "I say, how I used to get knocked about! The chaps used to say that it got my monkey up, but I suppose it did me good."
"No doubt," said Archie merrily. "You got over wanting to kris the fellows, didn't you?"
"Of course; and it made me so English that I don't want to kris the poor fellows now that I have come back and am Maharajah here in my father's stead. But it was all no good," he added, with a sigh.
"What?" exclaimed Archie wonderingly.
"No good," repeated the young man. "He sent for me to come home, but it was only to say good-bye and tell me that I was to love the English and be their friend so as to make them my friends. 'They are a great people, Hamet,' he said—'a great people. We are only little chiefs, but they can rule the world.' I want to be their friend, but somehow they don't like me but make much of Suleiman."
"Oh, wait a bit," said Archie. "I think you are wrong. We English are such blunt people. Why, our Major—he was my father's schoolfellow— he's a splendid old chap."
"Yes; but he doesn't trust me," said the young Malay.
"Oh, you wait."
"I like your doctor."
"Well, you must like Sir Charles Dallas."
"What! Suleiman's Resident? I don't know him. Your English Queen—I mean Her Majesty—"
"Yes, I know," said Archie, laughing.
"She has not sent a Resident to live in my country."
"No. Do you know why?"
"Yes," said the young man coldly. "She does not trust me."
"Ha, ha, ha!"
"Why do you laugh?"
"Because she does trust you—or, rather, our Government does."
The young man turned sharply to gaze with a searching glance in the speaker's eyes.
"What do you mean?" he said.
"Go on with your dinner, old chap, and I'll tell you by-and-by. Here's Down wants to have a word with you.—Don't you, Down?"
"Ah yes, Captain Down," said the young Rajah, bowing towards him. "I seem to know you. Maine says you are such a splendid shot. Are you?"
"Oh, I can pull a trigger, and I can hit something sometimes," said the young officer.
"Sometimes!" put in Archie. "Why, he never misses. You ought to know more of him, Rajah. He's like that old country gentleman's two sons who loved hunting and shooting. He's a regular Nimrod and Ramrod rolled into one. Understand?"
"Yes; I read that in the old joke-book. Then your friend will come and have some shooting. Will you not?"
"Rather!" said the Captain; and the general conversation went on till the old English custom was in the ascendant and the Major gave Her Majesty's health and the band played "God save the Queen;" and afterwards the Major proposed the health of their guest, His Highness Sultan Suleiman, who afterwards rose and bowed two or three times, said a few words very clumsily, and then turned towards the distingue- looking guest on the Major's left, and sat down; whereupon the French guest said a few words to the Major, who rose and announced that the Count de Lasselle would respond for the Sultan Suleiman.
There was the customary applause as the Count arose; and in very good English, which he only had to supplement now and then with a strong dash of French, he returned thanks for their illustrious guest, who, he could assure the English officers, had but one aim in life, and that was to be the friend and ally of the great British Queen. His speech was long and very flowery, and he did not forget to say that there was no other country in the world suited to be the Sultan's ally but beautiful France, his own country, he was proud to say, and he was sure that she too would always be the great friend of the Sultan; at which some one at the table uttered in a low voice that was almost like a cough the ejaculation, "Hum!"
Archie turned sharply, and exchanged glances with Captain Down.
"What did the Doctor mean by that?" said the latter.
"Don't know," said Archie. "Shall I go and ask him?"
"By-and-by. Look at your friend."
"Why? What do you mean?"
"He looks as if he felt that he was being left out in the cold."
Archie glanced at the young Rajah, who was sitting back picking his cigarette to pieces; and then his attention was taken up by seeing the big, bluff Sergeant of the regiment making his way behind the chairs to where the Doctor was seated.
"It's all right, Maine," said the Captain; "you needn't go. The Major's sent Patient Job, as the lads call him, to ask old Bolus what he means by insulting the French guest."
"Get out! Somebody taken ill. I hope it's none of the ladies."
The Doctor nodded, and left his chair, to follow the Sergeant, just as the Major rose again to propose the health of the regiment's other guest that evening, Maharajah Hamet, another of the chiefs, who had declared himself the friend of their Queen and country.
The toast was quietly received, and quietly replied to in a few well-spoken words by the young Prince, not without eliciting some remarks at his mastery of English; and soon after the party broke up in smoke, the officers strolling down to the banks of the river, where the landing-place was gay with Chinese lanterns hung here and there and ornamenting the two nagas of the Rajahs lying some distance apart and filled by the well-armed followers of the chiefs, one of whom was heartily cheered by those assembled as he slowly walked in company with his French companion to take his seat, before, in response to three or four sonorous notes from a gong, the yellow-uniformed rowers dipped their oars lightly, to keep the dragon-boat in mid-stream so that it might be borne swiftly onward.
The young Rajah Hamet remained some few minutes longer, after taking his leave of the Major and officers, and then, accompanied by Captain Down and Archie, he walked slowly along to where a guard of the English infantry was drawn up, the chief's men being waiting in their places, ready to push off.
"Don't take this as a compliment," said the young Malay. "It is all sincere, and I can make you very welcome in good old English fashion as long as you like to stay—you, Captain Down, and you, Maine. You make the Captain come too. I promise you plenty of sport. My shikaris know their business. Once more, good-night."
He stepped back, the long, live-looking boat glided off, and the rowers' oars dipped with the vim and accuracy of an eight-oared racer on the Thames. But she made head slowly against the swift stream, while, as the young men watched her, their eyes rested upon the fire-flies glittering amongst the overhanging trees upon the banks, and all at once there was a loud splash just ahead of where the naga was gliding.
"What's that—some one overboard?" said the Captain.
"No, sir," said a deep British voice from just behind where the young officers stood; "only one of them great, scaly varmints getting out of the way."
"Oh, it's you, Sergeant," said Archie quickly; and then, on the impulse of the moment, the lad laid his hand on the big non-com's arm and said hurriedly, "I've had it out with the Major, Ripsy, and it's all right now. But it was all my fault. Don't be too hard on poor Pegg."
The Sergeant's reply was checked by a question from the Captain:
"Whom was the Doctor fetched to see? Any one ill?"
The Sergeant chuckled.
"No, sir. It was them rival niggers beginning to cut one another's throats; but I stopped it with my lads, and then fetched the Doctor. It gave him three or four little jobs. Some on them mean a row."
THE DOCTOR'S PATIENTS.
The looking-glass in Archie Maine's quarters often told him that he was rather a good-looking young fellow; that is to say, he gave promise of growing into a well-featured, manly youth without any foppish, effeminate, so-called handsomeness. But nature had been very kind to him, and, honestly, he scarcely knew anything about his own appearance; for when he looked in his glass for reasons connected with cleanliness— putting his hair straight, smoothing over his curliness, and playing at shaving away, or, rather, scraping off, some very smooth down—he had a habit of contracting his nerves and muscles so that a pretty good display of wrinkles came into view all over his forehead and at the corners of his lips and eyes, presenting to him quite a different-looking sort of fellow from the one known to his friends.
The morning after the mess dinner, he had given a parting glance in his little mirror, looking very much screwed-up, for his mind was busy with rather troublous thoughts, among which were the events of the past day, especially those connected with his interview with the Major.
Then he had hurried off to take advantage of what little time he had before going on duty, and made for the Doctor's bungalow. It was not much of a place; but the glorious tropic foliage, the distant view of the river, and, above all, the flowers of the most brilliant colours that were always rushing into bloom or tumbling off to deck the ground made it a brilliant spot in the station, and as he neared it his face smoothed, his sun-browned forehead lost its wrinkles, and, just as he expected, he caught sight of the two reasons for the bungalow looking so bright and gay.
One reason was the Doctor's wife busy in the garden with a basket and a pair of scissors, snipping off bunch and cluster ready for filling vase and basin in the shaded rooms; the other was standing upon a chair helping climber to twine and tendril to catch hold of trellis and wire which made the front of the cottage-like structure one blaze of colour.
"Morning, ladies," cried the lad.
"Morning, Archie," cried the Doctor's wife, a pleasant, middle-aged, pink, sunshiny-looking lady, whose smooth skin seemed to possess the power of reflecting all sun-rays that played upon it so that they never fixed there a spot of tan. "Come to help garden?"
"Yes; all right. What shall I do?" cried the lad.
"Make Minnie jump down off that chair, and tuck up the wild tendrils of that climber."
"No, no, auntie; I don't want him," cried the owner of the busy hands, as she reached up higher to hook on one tendril, and failed; for the long strand laden with blossom missed the wire that ought to have held it, fell backwards, and, as if directed by invisible fairy hands, formed itself into a wreath over her hair, startling her so that she would have lost her footing upon the chair had she not made a quick leap to the floor of the veranda, bringing down another trailing strand.
"Ha, ha! Serve you right, Miss Independence!" cried Archie, running to her help.
"No, no, don't. I can do it myself," cried the girl. "Mind; that flower's so tender, and I know you will break it."
"Suppose I do," said Archie. "No, you don't; I'll take it off and twine it up myself, even if my fingers are so clumsy. I say, Minnie, it's lucky for you that it isn't that climbing rose, or there would be some scratches."
He sprang upon the chair, busied himself for a few minutes, and then leaped down again, to stand with brow wrinkled, gazing up at his work.
"There," he said; "won't that do?"
"Yes," said the girl, with a slight pout of two rather pretty lips. "It will do; but it isn't high enough."
"Oh, come, it's higher than you could have reached.—Don't say the Doctor's out, Mrs Morley?"
"No; but he's got somebody with him;" and the speaker glanced at her niece, who turned away and looked conscious. "I am not surprised," continued the Doctor's wife, and she looked fixedly now at her visitor.
"What at?" replied the lad wonderingly.
"How innocent!—What do you say, Minnie? Look at him!"
The girl turned sharply, fixed her eyes upon the young officer's face, and laughed merrily.
"What are you laughing at?" he cried, hurriedly taking out a handkerchief. "Have I made my face dirty?"
"No, sir.—We were quite right, auntie. I can't think how young men can be so stupid."
"'Tis their nature to," said Archie, laughing, as he replaced his handkerchief. "But what have I been doing stupid now, Minnie?"
"Sitting in a hot room and drinking what doesn't agree with you, sir."
"I couldn't help the room being hot," replied the lad, rather indignantly.
"No, sir; but you could have helped giving yourself a headache and coming here this morning to ask uncle for a cooling draught."
"Oh, that's it, is it, Miss Clever? Well, you are all wrong."
"I am glad to hear it, Archie," said Mrs Morley. "I thought you had come to see the Doctor."
"That's right," said the lad, screwing up his face again and nodding rather defiantly, boy and girl fashion, at the young lady gardener. "Somebody ill?"
"No, my dear boy. It's only Sir Charles Dallas;" and as she spoke she glanced at her niece again, who had suddenly become busy over a fresh loose strand. "He's come to ask about the men who were wounded in that wretched quarrel last night."
"Why, that's what I came for.—Do you hear, Minnie?"
Just then a door somewhere in the interior was opened, and men's voices reached their ears, one being the Doctor's.
"No, nothing to worry about, sir; do them good."
"Ah, you keep to your old belief in the lancet, then, Doctor," came in the Resident's pleasant, firm tones.
"In a case like this, certainly, sir. All the better for losing a little of their hot, fiery blood. Set of quarrelsome, jealous fools. Here we are, thousands of miles from home and Ould Ireland, amongst these tribes, all of them spoiling for a fight."
"Yes, Doctor," said the Resident, slowly approaching as he crossed the room; "but I hope to get them tamed down in time."
"Ha, ha!" laughed the Doctor, as the two gentlemen came in sight.—"Hear him, Minnie! What's the quotation—'Hope springs eternal in the human breast?'"
"I forget uncle."
"More shame for you.—Hope away, Dallas; but you will never tame the fighting spirit out of a Malay.—Morning, Archie, my lad. What do you say?"
"I say that Rajah Hamet is tame enough, only one ought not to talk about him as if he were a wild beast.—Good-morning, Sir Charles?"
"Morning, my lad," replied the Resident, with a peculiar smile. "Have you got a head on this morning?"
"No, sir, I haven't got a head on this morning," cried the boy angrily, and with his sun-browned cheeks flushing up.
"I beg your pardon, sir. I thought you had come to see the Doctor."
"So I have," said Archie, drawing himself up and glancing across at Minnie, and then giving himself an angry jerk as he saw that she was laughing.
"Do you want to see me, Maine?" said the Doctor.
"Yes, sir, if you are at liberty."
"Yes; all right, my lad.—Don't trouble yourself, Dallas. That will be all right.—Into my room, Maine;" and he led the way into a pleasant, comfortably furnished room looking out upon the clearing at the back, a room evidently the Doctor's surgery more than consulting-room, but whose formality was softened down by the cut-flowers which indicated the busy interference of the ladies of the house. "Sit down, my lad," continued the Doctor, as he took a bamboo chair opposite that to which he had motioned his visitor; and gazing searchingly at him, he reached out his hand: "Head queer?"
"No, no, sir," cried the subaltern, with his brow wrinkling up again. "I only wanted to know about last night and the men wounded."
"Oh! That's what Sir Charles came about. Well, it's nothing much, my boy. It's rather a large pull on my roll of sticking-plaster and a few bandages—rival clans or houses—do you bite your thumb at me, sir?— eh—Montagus and Capulets. Consequence of men carrying lethal weapons— only krises instead of rapiers. Bad thing to let men carry arms."
"What about soldiers, then, sir?" said Archie merrily. "Bayonets, side-arms?"
"Ah, but there we have a discipline, my dear boy. But, all the same, it has fallen to my lot to treat a bayonet-dig or two when our fellows have got at the rack. Well, I am glad you are all right. I thought you looked a little fishy about the gills."
"Not I, sir. I managed a splendid breakfast this morning."
"Yes, boy; you are good that way. I often envy you, for what with my health and every one's health to think about, doctoring one man for fever, putting all you fellows straight, and patching up squabbling savages, my appetite often feels as if it wants a fillip. A doctor's is an anxious life, my boy—more especially out here in a country like this, amongst a very uncertain people, when a man feels that he has a stake in the country."
"But you have no stake in the country, sir?"
"What, sir! I? Haven't I my wife and my sister's child?"
"Oh, I thought you meant something commercial, sir."
"What! I? Pooh, boy! I was alluding to the uncertainty of our position here."
"Oh! Oh, I see, sir. That's all right enough. Here's Sir Charles with a strong detachment of British infantry under his command, and the native chiefs are bound to respect him."
"Tremendous!" said the Doctor, with a snort. "A couple of hundred men!"
"Three indeed! What about the men on the sick-list, and the non-combatants that have to be counted in every squad? Why, if that fellow Suleiman turned nasty, where should we be, out here in the depths of this jungle?"
"Oh, there's no occasion to fear anything of that sort, sir."
"What! Not for a boy like you, Archie Maine, with a suit or two of clothes, a razor, and hair-brush. You put on your cap, and you cover all your responsibilities. What about the women, high and low, that we have to look after?"
"Oh, they'd be all right, sir."
"I say, Doctor, don't talk like that. You don't think that we have anything to fear?"
"I don't know.—Well, fear? No, I suppose I mustn't mention such a thing as fear; but we are hundreds of miles away from Singapore and help."
"Oh no, sir. There's the river. It wouldn't take long for the gunboat to bring up reinforcements and supplies; and then, even if Mr Sultan Suleiman turned against us—which isn't likely—"
"I don't know," growled the Doctor.
"Well, sir, I think I do," said Archie, rather importantly. "Why, if he did, there's our friend the Rajah Hamet. He would be on our side."
"Ah, that I don't know," said the Doctor again; and he tapped the table with his nails. "This is all in confidence, boy. I don't think Sir Charles has much faith in that young gentleman. But still, that's the way that our Government worked things in India."
"I don't quite understand you."
"Read up your history, then, my boy. Our position in India has been made by the jealousies of the different princes and our political folks working them one against another. But there, you didn't come here to chatter politics. What is it? You have got something more to say to me, haven't you?"
"Well—er—yes, sir," hesitated the lad.
"Out with it, boy. Never play with your medical man. No half-confidences. I can pretty well read you, Archie, so out with it frankly."
"Well, sir, I did half make up my mind to speak to you, and came this morning on purpose; and then as soon as I saw you I felt that it was foolish—a sort of fancy of mine."
"Well, go on; let me judge. You have got something the matter with you?"
"That's what I don't quite know, sir," said the young man, who was now scarlet.
"Well, don't shilly-shally. Let me judge. Is it some bodily ailment?"
"Glad of it. What is it, then? It can't be money."
"Oh no, sir."
"Of course not. No temptations here to spend. Then you have got into some big scrape?"
"I am always getting into scrapes, sir."
"Yes; and the Major had you up to give you a wigging, as you call it, only yesterday."
"How did you know that, sir?" cried the lad excitedly.
"The Doctor knows pretty well everything about people, and what he doesn't know for himself his women find out for him. Now then, what is it?"
"I am afraid you will laugh at me, sir."
"I promise you I shall not."
"Thank you, sir; that's encouraging."
"To the point, boy—to the point."
Archie Maine drew a deep breath as if to pull himself together, and then as he met the Doctor's searching eyes they seemed to draw out of him that which he wished to say.
"I am afraid, Doctor," he said excitedly, "that I have got something wrong with my head."
"Why? Pain you? Feeling of confusion?"
The lad shook the part of his person mentioned.
"Oh no, sir; nothing of that sort."
"Well, go on. A doctor isn't a magician. Have you got a bad tooth? You must tell him which one to attack with his key preliminary to the scraunch."
"Oh, you are laughing at me, Doctor."
"Only smiling, my dear boy."
"I don't see anything to laugh at, sir, because it is a serious thing to me."
"Good lad. I smiled because I felt happy over you since it didn't seem to be anything serious."
"But it is serious, sir."
"Let's hear. You say you have got something wrong with your head?"
"Well, I suppose it is my head, sir. But you know I am always getting into some trouble or another."
"Exactly. You are notorious for your boyish pranks."
"Yes, sir; and I want to get the better of it. It's as the Major said: the troubles I get into are boys' troubles, and not suitable to a young man."
"The Major's wise, Archie. Then why don't you put off all your boyish mischief and remember that you are now pretty well a man grown, and, as one of our lads would say in his cockney lingo, 'act as sich?'"
"Because I can't, Doctor," said the lad earnestly. "I want to act as a man. I'm six feet two, and I shave regularly."
"Humph!" grunted the Doctor, who had to make an effort to keep his countenance.
"And whenever I get into trouble I make a vow that I'll never do such a childish, schoolboyish thing again; but it's no use, for before many days have passed, something tempts me, and I find myself doing more foolish things than ever. Can it be that there is some screw loose in my head?"
The Doctor sat looking earnestly in the lad's agitated countenance, for his brow was one tangle of deeply marked wrinkles.
"I think sometimes I must be going mad, or at all events growing into an idiot, and you can't think how wretched and despairing it makes me. Do you think medicine—tonic or anything of that sort—would do me good?"
The Doctor gazed at the lad fixedly till he could bear it no longer, and he was about to speak again, when the adviser uttered a loud expiration of the breath, jumping up at the same time and clapping his hands heavily on his visitor's shoulders.
"No, my lad, I don't," he cried boisterously. "You are sound as a bell, strong as a young horse. Why, you ought to be proud of yourself instead of fidgeting with a lot of morbid fancies. You have been for years and years a boy, fresh—larky, as you would say—full of mischief, as I was myself—"
"You, Doctor! Impossible!"
"What! Ha, ha! Why, Archie Maine, I have watched you pretty thoroughly since we have been friends, noted your pranks, and seen the trouble you have got into with the Major. Oh yes; I believe I was much worse than you. And you are now changing into the man, when most fellows of your age begin thinking more of others than of themselves; though they are pretty good at that latter, and particularly fond of arranging their plumage so as to excite admiration. But you held on to your merry, mischievous boyhood, so take my advice and don't worry yourself any more. I hope you have got many, many years to come, and you will find yourself serious enough then. So you thought yours might be a case for medical advice? Not it!"
"But me no buts, as the man said in the book. You will be cured fast enough in the first real trouble that comes upon us and makes its genuine appeal to your manhood."
"But I get plenty of trouble now, Doctor," protested the lad.
"Bah! A bit of a rowing—a snub from the Major! Trifles, boy. Those are not real troubles. I mean times when you find out that you really are a man, that others' lives are perhaps depending upon you as a soldier for preservation. My dear boy, all you have got to do is not to try to be a man. Nature will do that. Your full manhood will come quite soon enough. Only try to drop a little of the boy, for you are a bit too young. Well, what are you staring at?"
Archie's face was more wrinkled than ever.
"Ah, I see," continued the Doctor. "You are doubting whether you shall believe me. Here's a pretty fellow! Comes to a medical man for advice, and begins to doubt him as soon as the advice is given.—Here, Maria— Minnie!"
"No, for goodness' sake, Doctor! And Sir Charles is there!"
"No, he isn't. I heard him start ten minutes ago."
"But you are not going to tell them what I said?"
"Do I ever tell my patients' secrets to anybody? Now, look here, Archie; you want to jump right into your manhood at once?"
"Of course I do, sir."
"Well, my lad, I'm afraid you won't have long to wait, for if I'm not very much mistaken your cure is coming."
"What! mischief with the Malays, sir?"
"This is in confidence, my lad—yes. But look here," continued the Doctor, lowering his voice, for at that moment voices were heard apparently approaching the Doctor's room. "Tut, tut!" he muttered. "They have no business to be coming here now. I suppose they don't class you as a patient. Humph! All right. They are not coming here. Look here, Archie," he continued, as he threw himself back in his chair; "mine may only be suspicions, but situated as we are here amongst these people, who, in spite of their half-civilisation, have a good deal of the savage at heart and the natural strong dislike for those who hold them in subjection, it is good policy to be a little too wise and not careless and indifferent over matters that give one food for thought."
"But, Doctor,"—said the young man earnestly, and with a touch of excitement in his tones.
"There, there, there, don't fly out. I was only going to say that I can't help feeling doubtful at times about our position here."
"But you don't think that the Malays—"
"Yes, I do—I think that they are very untrustworthy. They dislike us for religious reasons as well as for taking possession of their country, and, in short, there are times when I can't help feeling that we are living on the slopes of a moral volcano which might burst forth at any moment."
"But, Doctor, they seem so friendly."
"Yes, my lad; as you say, they seem so friendly."
"Why, lots of the people quite worship you. See how they come for advice."
"Oh yes," said the Doctor dryly, "I get plenty of native patients; but that doesn't make their own doctors any fonder of me. Still, I dare say I can get on very well, and, as I have suggested, I may be too suspicious. Nothing may happen for years—perhaps never. But you are a soldier."
"Well, yes, sir," said the lad, laughing. "Old Ripsy's trying to make me one."
"And you are a soldier, my lad; and though you mayn't have to fight, you will quite agree with me that it is wise to keep your powder dry."
"Of course, sir."
"There's no harm in that, eh?"
"Of course not, sir."
"Well, men are men, and women are women."
"Yes, sir," said the lad, smiling.
"And we don't want to frighten them by letting them see that we are always going to the magazine. See what I mean?"
"Yes, sir. You mean, not let them know that you have any doubts about our position here."
"Good. I went a roundabout way to put it before you, but you have hit the right nail clean on the head at once. We want to make their lives as sunshiny as we can, and not try to point out clouds where as likely as not there are none."
"Of course not, sir."
"Right, Archie. A quiet, thoughtful man would, of course, be careful not to discuss matters before our womenkind that might have an alarming tendency."
"And you think I, a boy, might, sir?" said Archie, frowning heavily.
"Yes," said the Doctor; "but not after such a broad hint as I am giving you now, my lad;" and he leaned forward and patted his visitor upon the knee.
The change in Archie Maine's countenance was instantaneous. The wrinkles of doubt were smoothed out from his forehead, and he stood up, gazing as it were straight past the Doctor into the future, his lips compressed and a general tensity of expression seeming to pervade every feature. Then he started violently, for the Doctor exclaimed:
"Well done! The cure has begun."
"What do you mean, Doctor?"
"Only this, my lad: that very likely there may be several relapses, but you are growing up fast. There, our consultation is over, and I suppose you have no more to say to me?"
"Yes, one thing, Doctor," said the young man in a low tone, for the ladies' voices were heard once more.
"Well, what is it?"
"Only this, sir—private and confidential."
"Of course. What do you mean?"
"You will not tell Mrs Morley what I have said?"
"Is it likely, my lad?" cried the Doctor merrily, as he clapped his visitor on the shoulder. "There, be off. You are keeping a patient waiting."
The Doctor threw open the door and led the way out into the veranda, where Mrs Morley and Minnie were standing beside a black-haired, black-eyed, young native woman, who was squatted down in the shade, and who now started up hurriedly from where she had evidently been holding up a solemn-looking little child of about two years old for the ladies' inspection.
The woman's dark eyes flashed, and she made a movement as if to cover her face, but snatched away her hand directly and stood up proudly for a moment, before bowing low and not ungracefully to the Doctor as he gave her a quick nod.
"Here is Dula," said Mrs Morley. "She has brought up her sick child."
"Yes, I see," said the Doctor, rather gruffly, as he frowned at the swarthy little patient. "But I wish Dula could talk English or I could talk her tongue a little better."
The woman smiled intelligently as she rearranged the bright-coloured plaid sarong around the child and said in a pleasant voice:
The Doctor took a step forward, and the child shrank from him as he laid his hand upon its head and gazed fixedly in its eyes.
"Now, little one," he said, "we did teach you to put out your tongue last time."
"Tongue—tongue," said the woman quickly; and she held the child towards the Doctor, while Archie and Minnie exchanged glances, and then burst out laughing; for, in obedience to a shake given by its mother, the tiny girl uttered a low whimper, screwed-up her face as if about to cry, and then thrust out a little red tongue, drew it back instanter, and buried her face in her mother's breast.
"All right," said the Doctor to the woman. "It is getting well fast."
"Well—fast!" cried the woman, catching up his words quickly; and then, with the tears welling over from her great dark eyes, she bent down, caught at the Doctor's hand, and held it quickly to her lips.
"Oh, oh, that's all right," said the Doctor hastily, as he drew back his hand and patted the woman's shoulder.
"Look, uncle, what Dula has brought us!" cried Minnie; and she took from the veranda table a great bunch of the beautiful white creeper which the native women were fond of wearing in their black hair.
"Aha!" said the Doctor. "Thank you.—My fee, Archie."
"Not all," said Mrs Morley. "She has brought you one of those horrible durians;" and as the Doctor's wife spoke Minnie caught up a little, bamboo-woven native basket, in which, carefully arranged among freshly gathered fern, was one of the peculiar-looking native fruits, the produce of one of the great trees so carefully planted and cared for in nearly every native village. "Don't! Don't touch the horrid thing, my dear," whispered Mrs Morley.
"What!" cried the Doctor; and he took the great, hard-shelled fruit from the basket and turned it over in his hands. "Capital!" he cried. "A beauty!"
"Ugh!" ejaculated Mrs Morley; and Minnie screwed-up her face into a pretty grimace, as she once more exchanged glances with Archie.
"Doc-tor like?" questioned the woman, with an anxious look.
"Yes," he replied, smiling. "I like them very much."
"Like—very—much," said the woman. "Dula glad." And then, soothing her child tenderly, she whispered a few words to it in her native language.
"Oh, come," said the Doctor, "I do understand that. Your mother's quite right: I sha'n't eat you."
The woman smiled again as she hugged her child closer and kissed it lovingly, while the Doctor nodded to Minnie.
"Quite comic, isn't it, my dear? What foolish things mothers are, aren't they? Just as fond of their bairns as Englishwomen, eh?"
"Why, of course, uncle. Such a pretty little thing, too! Look at its eyes!" and, to the mother's great delight, the girl crossed to her, took the child in her arms, and kissed it, while the little thing smiled, raised one hand, and softly stroked the girl's white face.
"There, Archie," she cried; "it is pretty, isn't it?"
"A beauty!" said the young man, laughing.
"Come and kiss it, sir," said the girl imperiously.
"All right;" and without more ado the lad took hold of the child, held it up, and kissed it twice.
"Oh, take care!" cried Minnie. "How clumsy you are!"
"Well, it doesn't seem to think so," cried the lad, as he handed the little one back to its mother, who said a few words in her own tongue to the Doctor, and then turned to the two ladies, and after bowing to them with native grace, bent low to Archie, gave him a grateful look, and walked slowly away.
"Oh, you young humbug!" growled the Doctor.
"Why?" said Archie warmly.
"Just to show off before my wife and Minnie. I believe you were growling all the time and calling it a dirty little nigger."
"That I wasn't! I don't mind babies when they are as big as that."
"No—don't mind," said the Doctor sarcastically.
"And I didn't call it a little nigger. I was wishing there was some sugar near.—Oh, I say, doesn't your durian smell?"
"Horrid!" exclaimed Minnie.
"All right, my dear," said the Doctor. "I can bear it. But you will come down some day, my lady."
"We shall see," said the Doctor. "My word, what a beauty!—Here, Archie, drop in this evening and help me to have it for dessert."
"I'm sure Archie won't touch the nasty thing, uncle."
"Oh, won't I?" cried the lad. "Only too glad of the chance."
Minnie made a grimace and turned away, but turned back directly on hearing Archie's next words:
"I say, Doctor, that woman shows how the people here like you."
"Well, yes," said the gentleman addressed, "I suppose they do feel a little obliged; but I don't think they care much."
"Oh, uncle," cried Minnie, "I am sure they do. See how pleased that boatman was—that man who came up to you out of the sampan, and who brought us that fish afterwards. Why, I believe that he would have done anything for you."
"I believed once that he was going to do something for me, my dear."
"Now, don't talk nonsense, my dear," said Mrs Morley. "I told you not to talk about that."
"You did, Mary. But it was an awkward position; wasn't it, Minnie?"
"I agree with aunt, uncle, that a lot of it was invention."
"Oh, it wasn't invention, Archie. It was an awful position for a poor surgeon."
"I haven't heard anything about this," said Archie.
"Well, it was like this, my boy. He was about one of the biggest and fiercest fellows that I have seen here. There was only one good thing about him: he could speak bad English. He came up here one day and tried to make me understand that he was in terrible pain. But that was plain enough, for as soon as he was in my room he began stamping about, pointing to his mouth."
"What! had he got the toothache?" said Archie.
"Yes—one of those awfully bad ones; and twice over he clapped his hand to his waist and uncovered the handle of his kris as if he meant to use it. It quite startled me."
"Now, Henry, pray do not exaggerate so. I do wish you wouldn't be so fond of ornamenting your anecdotes."
"Well, really, my dear, if I didn't touch up a story a little bit, young Maine here wouldn't be able to grasp it."
"Was he in such pain, then, sir," said Archie, "that he wanted you to think he would kill himself?"
"Yes, my lad; and being such a fierce-looking fellow, he made me feel quite nervous, for twice over he looked as if he was going to use a kris on me, and I began to look round my bottles for something to use in self-defence."
"Chloroform, I suppose," said Mrs Morley sarcastically.
"No, my dear; something much stronger than that."
"That's a new improvement, Henry," said Mrs Morley.
"There, she won't let me tell you, Archie. You ask me, and I will tell you the story some day when we are alone."
"Oh no, Doctor; you have raised my curiosity, and I want to hear it now."
"Oh, pray go on," said Mrs Morley.
"Well, don't interrupt me, then."
Minnie and Archie exchanged laughing glances, and the Doctor went on:
"Well, I got him down in a chair, and as he lay back he opened his mouth and displayed a tremendous set of the biggest and whitest teeth I ever saw."
"Ahem!" coughed Minnie, with a merry look at Archie.
"Fine, healthy-looking man he was, but he had the regular savage Malay look in his eyes; but I gained courage directly I saw what was the matter. There was one great double tooth which was evidently the cause of all the trouble, and I knew at once that he would have no peace till it was drawn. There was a position for a medical man! And I could not help feeling that I was quite at his mercy. I went to a drawer and took out an instrument, and as I approached him he glared at me more savagely than ever, and laid his right hand once more upon the ugly, pistol-like hilt of his kris. Now, sir, what would you have done under the circumstances?"
"Bolted," said Archie laconically.
"I don't believe you," said Minnie.
"What! and left two defenceless women at his mercy, sir? That won't do; will it, Mary, my dear?"
"Well, then," said Archie, "I should have called in old Sergeant Ripsy and a couple more men to hold him. Or why didn't you give him a dose of something to send him to sleep? But I know. You got tight hold of the tooth and tugged it out."
"How are you going to get tight hold of a savage's tooth when you can see him ready to pull out his kris, and your hands are trembling like banana-leaves in a storm?"
"Well, I should have asked him to give me the kris to put away in case of accidents," said Archie merrily.
"Ask a Malay to give you his head to put away in case of accidents!" cried the Doctor sarcastically. "No, sir; I took my courage in both hands and approached him."
"Why, you were holding the instrument in one hand, sir," said Archie merrily; and Minnie laughed.
"Ah, you are getting too sharp, sir," cried the Doctor. "But I can tell you it was nervous work, and for a few minutes I felt sure that if I operated on him he would operate on me; and if I had thought of it at the time, I think I should have called in my wife to stand sentry with a revolver."
"Oh dear me!" sighed Mrs Morley, as she drew some work out of her handbag.
"Well," continued the Doctor, "I got a good hold of the tooth at last, gave a wrench—"
"And out came the tooth," said Archie quickly.
"No, it didn't, sir; and as I stood over the man, looking down into his fierce eyes, he snatched his hand from his waist, and I turned cold, for I felt it was all over, when in an instant up came the other hand, and both of them closed over my wrist, giving me such a wrench that it quite startled me; and it was then that the tooth came out."
"And the toothache was cured, sir?" cried Archie.
"Minnie, my dear," said Mrs Morley quietly, "do you notice any difference in that story since your uncle told it last?"
"Yes, aunt; it is much more flowery than it used to be."
"Flowery!" growled the Doctor. "Why, Archie, my lad, that story is as true as true. Indeed, I should have been able to show you the great tooth as a proof, only the man took it away. He was one of my first patients when I came here; and I never had any fee."
"For shame, Henry! The man is always bringing you fruit or fish. I am sure that he would do anything for you."
"Well, yes," said the Doctor, "he has been grateful in his way; but I never feel sure that those fellows will not make use of their krises."
THE OFFICERS' WASHING.
"Oh, here you are, Mrs Smithers. Aunt was saying just now that she wondered you had not been up. I told her perhaps it was on account of the hot weather, for it has been terribly trying."
"Oh, bless your heart, Miss Minnie!" said the tall, sturdy, buxom-looking woman who had just set down a big basket in the veranda, "the weather doesn't make no difference to me. Whether it's hot or whether it's cold, I have got to get my bit of washing done; though I am a bit tried when it comes to that mounsoon, or mounseer, or whatever they call it, when it's such strange, hard work to get the things dry. But even then it ain't fair to complain, for the soft water's lovely, and plenty of it. But I am late again this week, and it has been very hard work to get the officers washed. 'Tain't half-an-hour since I took young Mr Maine's home to his quarters. I hope your aunt ain't cross with me."
"Oh no, she's not angry. She knew there must be some good reason. We were half-afraid you were ill."
"Not me, Miss Minnie! I've never no time to be ill; and if I had been, no matter how bad I was I should have been up here to the Doctor for one of his exhibitions, as he calls them. I've brought his white suit, miss, and it looks lovely. Shall I show it you?"
"I know how it will be, Mrs Smithers," said Minnie, smiling. "I am glad there has been nothing wrong."
"Oh, don't you be glad, miss. It's sorry I am."
"Why, what's the trouble?"
"Trouble, miss? Oh, my master again. He will never be happy till he is having the Rogues' March played over him, and the buttons that I keep sewed on tighter than those of any man in his company cut off his beautiful uniform, and him drummed out as a disgrace to the regiment."
"Dear, dear!" said Minnie. "I am very sorry, Mrs Smithers."
"Yes; I knowed you would be, my dear, if you will forgive me for calling you so. You see, I have known you so long as such a dear, sweet young lady, with no more pride in you than there is in one of our Jenny-wrens at home."
"But what is the matter, Mrs Smithers?" said Minnie hastily, in an effort to change the flow of the bronzed, burly woman's words into another direction.
"You needn't ask, my dear. The old thing."
"What! surely not drinking again? I thought he had taken the pledge, and that Sergeant Ripsy had promised you that he would keep a sharp eye over your husband."
"Oh yes, miss, that's all right; and he daren't go to the canteen, for they wouldn't admit him. But what's the use of that when he can manage to get some of that nasty rack, as they call it, from the first Malay fellow he meets? I'd like to rack 'em!"
"It's such a pity," said Minnie. "Such a good soldier as he is, too. I've heard Mr Maine say that there isn't a smarter-looking man in his company; and my uncle praises him too."
"Praises him, my dear!" said the woman, looking at the speaker round-eyed. "Praises him! A-mussy me, what for?"
"He says he's such a fine-looking man."
"Fine-looking? Oh yes, he's fine-looking enough," said the woman scornfully.
"And that he is so strong and manly and hearty, and that he never wants to come on the sick-list."
"Sick-list! No, my dear, he dursen't. He knows only too well that your dear uncle would know at once what was the matter with him."
"But he's such a smart-looking fellow—so clean, Mr Maine says, that he is quite a pattern to the others when he comes on parade."
"Oh yes, that's all right, my dear; but who makes him smart? Who cleans his buttons and buckles, and pipeclays him, but his poor wife? Why, many's the time I have had to flannel his face and hands before he went on parade."
"Well, well," said Minnie compassionately, "let's hope he will improve."
"Improve, my dear? I've give up hopes. He says that the climate don't agree with him, but when we was at Colchester he used to say he was obliged to take a little to keep off the colic, for the wind off the east coast was so keen; and the same when we were in Canada. That was when we were first married, and I was allowed to come on the strength of the regiment, many long years ago, my dear; and I have done the officers' washing ever since, or I don't know what we should have done. Then when we came out to Injy and it was so hot, he used to say if he didn't have a little something he should be a dead man, because it was so horrid dry; and now we are stationed here he sticks out that he only takes a little to keep off the jungle fever. Any one would think he was fighting against being invalided home, but he don't deceive the Sergeant, and he tells me that Joe will go too far one of these days; and he will break my heart if he does, and I'm always in a skeer as I think and think and wonder how far he will have to go before being sent home. I don't know what's to become of me if I am sent there. Home, sweet home, they calls it, Miss Minnie. I suppose you would like to go?"
"Well, for some things, yes, Mrs Smithers; but I am very happy here."
"Of course you are, my dear. You are so young and pretty and good."
"Oh, nonsense, Mrs Smithers! I am very happy here because I think aunt likes me being companion to her, and dear uncle wouldn't like me to go away."
"Of course he wouldn't, my dear, bless him! for he's a good, true man, though he does talk a bit hard sometimes, and every one likes him. See how good he is to all these Malay folk, who have no call upon him at all. Oh dear! it will be a hard time for every one when you do go away. I know I shall about cry my eyes out."
"But I am not going away, Mrs Smithers," said Minnie laughingly.
"Not going away, my dear? No, not this week, nor next week, nor next year perhaps. But you needn't tell me; it would be against Nature for you to stop here always. Such a young lady as you can't be allowed to do as she likes. All the same, though, my dear, I should be glad to see you go home."
"You would, Mrs Smithers?"
"Yes, my dear, for I don't think it's nice for English womenkind to be out here amongst these betel-chewing, half-black people, going about in their cotton and silk plaid sarongs, as they call them, and every man with one of those nasty ugly krises stuck in his waist. Krises I suppose they call them because they keep them rolled-up in the creases of their Scotch kilt things. I often lie in bed of a night feeling thankful that I have got a good, big, strong husband to take care of me, bad as he is. For my Joe can fight. Yes, I often feel that we womenkind aren't safe here."
"Oh, for shame, Mrs Smithers! Who could feel afraid with about three hundred brave British soldiers to take care of them?"
"I could, miss, and do often. It's all very well to talk, and I know that if these heathens rose up against us our British Grenadiers would close up and close up till the last man dropped. But what's the good of that when we should be left with no one to take care of us? Oh, my dear! my dear!" said the woman, with a look of horror crossing the big brown face.
"Mrs Smithers, you must have been upset this week, to talk like that."
"I—I 'ave, my dear; and it's a shame of me to stand here putting such miserable ideas into your head; but I had a very hard day yesterday, for my Joe had been extra trying, and I couldn't get a wink of sleep, for after being so angry with him that I could have hit him, I lay crying and thinking what a wicked woman I was for half-wishing that he was dead; for he is my husband, my dear, after all, and—Morning, ma'am—I mean, good-afternoon," cried the woman respectfully. "I am so sorry to be late this week, and I hope the Doctor's quite well."
ARCHIE OPENS HIS EARS.
The mess dinner was over, and the officers were sitting back by one of the open windows, dreamily gazing out at the dark jungle and breathing in with a calm feeling of satisfaction the soft, comparatively cool air that floated up on the surface of the swift river.
It was very still, not a word having been spoken for some time; not a sound came from the native campong, while it was hard to believe that within touch of the mess-room there were the quarters of nearly three hundred men. But once in a while something like a whisper came from the jungle, suggesting the passing through its dense tangle of some prey-seeking, cat-like creature. But no one spoke; though, in a half-drowsy way, those seated by the window and a couple of dark figures outside in the veranda were straining their ears and trying to make out what caused the distant sounds. Then some one spoke:
"No. I was trying to make out what was that faint cry. Do you know, Down?"
"Didn't hear any faint cry."
"Can't. Deal too drowsy.—Lots of fire-flies out to-night."
"Yes; aren't they lovely?—all along the river-bank. They put me in mind of the tiny sparks at the back of a wood fire."
"A wood fire? What do you mean—a forest on fire?"
"No, no; at home, when you are burning logs of wood and the little sparks keep running here and there all over the back of the stove, just like fireworks at a distance."
"Ah, yes, they do look something like that, just as if the leaves of the overhanging bushes all burst out into light."
"Yes," said Archie; "and when the soft breeze blows over them it seems to sweep them all out."
"Good job, too," said Captain Down. "We get heat enough in the sunshine without having the bushes and the water made hot by fire-flies."
"It's wonderful," said Archie.
"No, no; I mean so strange that all those beetles, or whatever they are, should carry a light in their tails that they can show or put out just when they like, and that though it's so brilliant it is quite cool."
"Rather awkward for them if it was hot, in a climate like this. They look very pretty, though."
"Lovely!" said the subaltern enthusiastically. "I don't know when I have seen them so bright. You can trace out the whole course of the river as far as we can see; and there above, the sky looks like purple velvet sewn all over with stars, just as if they were the reflections of the fire-flies."
"Bosh!" said Captain Down, striking a match to light a cigar.
"Fancy—poetry. I think I shall have a nap. It's too hot to smoke."
"What! not smoke?"
"No; don't go to sleep. You will get fever."
"Who says so?"
"Now then, what do you say to going as far as his bungalow and telling the ladies that the river has never looked more beautiful?"
"Beautiful river!" said the Captain mockingly. "Like to take them on it perhaps in a boat?"
"Well, it would be very nice, with a couple of good men to pole it along."
"Of course; and every moment expecting to see the horrible snout of one of those brutal beasts shoved over the side to hook one out."
"Nonsense!" said Archie impatiently.
"Nonsense? Why, they often upset a boat when they are hungry, and lay hold of a nice, juicy native, to take him down and stuff him in some hole in the bank to get tender for the next feed."
"Oh, they would never attack a boat when men are splashing about with poles."
"Well, you don't catch me taking ladies out on a dark night, unless it's in a big dragon-boat with plenty of men on board; and then I should like to have a gun."
"They are horrible beasts," said Archie, "and I wonder that the Malay fellows don't try to exterminate them."
"Ah! Go in pluckily and make a decent use of those crooked krises of theirs. There would be some sense in having them poisoned then."
"Old Morley says he has never seen a kris-wound turn bad, and he has doctored scores. Says it's all fudge about their being poisoned."
"Well, he ought to know," said the Captain; "but there's no go in these Malay fellows. I don't believe they would stir even if they saw one of their women snatched off the bank where she had gone to fetch water."
The officer had been giving his opinions in a low, subdued voice, and Archie Maine was about to break out in defence of the people amongst whom they were stationed; but he closed his half-parted lips, for the silence within the mess-room was broken by the voice of the Resident, who suddenly broke out with:
"To go on with what I was saying at dinner—"
"Eh?" said the Major drowsily; and the two young men in the veranda turned slightly, to see, by the light of a faintly burning lamp, the old officer alter his position and re-spread a large bandana silk handkerchief over his head as if to screen it from the night air. "What were you saying at dinner?"
"About its seeming such an anomalous position."
"What's an anomalous position?" said the Major more drowsily.
"Why, for me to be supposed to be here, for diplomatic reasons, to advise Rajah Suleiman as to his governing his people, and to have you and your strong detachment stationed at the campong."
"Anomalous!" said the Major, with a chuckle. "I call it wise. See what emphasis a body of fighting-men can give to your advice."
"Oh, but that's dealing with the natives by force."
"Very good force too, old fellow; for I don't believe that thick-lipped, sensual—looking fellow would take much notice of what you say if we weren't here."
"Yes; but I want to deal with them by moral suasion."
"Rifles are much better. There's no occasion to use them; it's their being at hand if they are wanted that will do the trick."
"I don't think it's necessary," said Sir Charles firmly. "I am getting on very well with the Rajah, and he listens to everything I advise with the greatest attention."
"Glad to hear it," said the Major, with a grunt; "but it seems to me that he pays a deal more attention to that French chap than he does to you."
"Think so?" said Sir Charles sharply.
There was silence for a few minutes.
"Let's get up and stroll round the lines," whispered Archie.
"Sha'n't. 'Tisn't time for visiting posts."
"But they'll wake to the fact that we are listeners."
"Let 'em. They ought to know we are here."
"But they are talking business," whispered Archie.
"Well, it's our business as much as theirs. Are you afraid that listeners will hear no good of themselves, and the Major will bring in something about your last prank?"
"No;" and the lad twitched himself a little round in his cane chair, which uttered a loud squeak; and the Resident went on:
"Yes, that fellow is rather a nuisance. His bright, chatty way and deference please the Rajah; and I suppose you are right, for he's always proposing something that amuses the stolid Malay, while my prosing about business matters must bore him."
"I believe he's an adventurer," said the Major. "Don't like him."
"Well, he doesn't like you, Major; so that balances the account."
"I don't know. What's he here for?"
"Oh, he's a bit of a naturalist and a bit of a sportsman. Glad of a ride through the jungle on an elephant. Glad of his board and lodging. Bit of a student he thinks himself in his dilettante, Parisian way. Oh, there's no harm in him."
"So much the better," said the Major. "But what about that other fellow—what's his name?—Hamet?"
"Ah-h!" ejaculated the Resident, expiring his breath rather sharply, almost in a hiss. "I am rather doubtful about that fellow. I'm afraid he's an intriguer."
"Why, there's nothing to intrigue about in this jungle."
"Don't you make any mistake, Major. There's as much intriguing going on in this half-savage country as there is in Europe. That fellow Hamet, on the strength of his European education, is very anxious to be friends with me, and his civility covers a good deal."
"Good deal of what?" said the Major.
"Oh no, my dear sir; not rubbish. This long, narrow Malay Peninsula is cut up into countries each ruled over by a petty Rajah, and these half-savage potentates are all as jealous of one another as can be. Each Rajah is spoiling for a fight so as to get possession of his neighbour's territory, and if we were not here one or the other of them would swallow up Suleiman's patch, and he, knowing this, submits as pleasantly as he can to the rule and protection of England, which keeps them safe."
"Do you think, then, that this young fellow Hamet has any of these grasping ideas?"
"Think? I am sure of it. He wants to be very friendly with me; and what for?"
"Well, I suppose," said the Major, "he thinks you would be a very good friend, and lend him a company or two of men to help him against one of his grasping neighbours. What do you say?"
"Between ourselves," said Sir Charles, lowering his voice, "I think he goes further than that. He has his eye on Suleiman's rich territory, and would like me to help him to sit in Master Suleiman's place."
"Ho, ho!" said the Major. "And what do you say to that?"
"Nothing," said the Resident shortly.
"Here, let's go," whispered Archie; and he started up from his chair, whose bamboo legs scraped loudly over the veranda floor.
"Who's that out there?" said the Major sharply.
"Down, sir, and Maine."
"Oh," said the Major; and then, "Is it any cooler out there?"
"No, sir," said Archie sharply. "I thought it was getting rather warm."
"Is any one else out there?" said the Resident, leaving his chair and stepping through the Malay French window out into the sheltered spot.
"No, sir," said Archie.
"None of the servants within hearing?"
"Are you sure?"
"Quite, sir," said Archie, as he laid his hand upon one of the creeper-covered supporters of the roof.
"That's better," said Sir Charles; and, followed by the Major, he began to stroll along past the mess-room windows towards where a sentry was on duty, watchful and silent, while Archie and Captain Down turned in another direction.
"You needn't be so precious thin-skinned about hearing what Sir Charles said to the old man. I don't see why it should not be confidence for us, and—Well, what's the matter? Giddy?"
Archie responded by gripping his companion tightly by the wrist, and the two young men stood listening to a faint rustling away to their left, till every sound they could hear came from behind them, where their commander and the Resident were still talking at the end of the veranda in a low tone.
"Hear that?" said Archie.
"Yes. Cat or some prowling thing smelling after the remains of the dinner."
"If it had been anything of that kind we shouldn't have heard its velvet paws."
"Perhaps not. What do you think it was, then? Not a tiger?"
"No; I thought it must be one of the Malay fellows—a listener."
"Not it. What would be the good of his listening to a language he couldn't understand?"
"I don't know," said Archie. "Some of these Malays are very deep. Hadn't we better say something to the Major?"
"Rubbish! No! Why, if it had been some one lurking about, the sentry would have seen him."
"Yes," said Archie thoughtfully.
JOE AND THE CROCS.
About an hour after the last conversation Sergeant Ripsy was giving a few final words of command to the little squad of men whom, to use his own words, he was about to plant, as if they were so many vegetables, at different points about the cantonments, in accordance with the strict military rule kept up, just as though they were in an enemy's country and it was a time of war.
Arms were shouldered, and there was a halt made here, and a halt made there; and this was repeated until a sentry had been stationed at six different points, where the guard could have full command of so many muddy elephant-paths leading away into the black jungle, as well as of two well-beaten tracks which commanded the river.
It was at the latter of these that the Sergeant, whose task was ended until the hour came for rounds, paused to say a few words to the sentry, a well-built fellow who looked as upright as the rifle he carried; and before speaking Sergeant Ripsy glanced through the clear, transparent darkness of the night to right and left, up and down what seemed to be a brilliant river of black ink, which rippled as it ran swiftly, and sparkled as if sprinkled with diamonds, from the reflections of the stars; for, strangely enough, the fire-flies, which had been so frequent amongst the overhanging vegetation, had now ceased to scintillate.
"Here, you, Corporal Dart, hold up that lantern. A little higher. Now left; now right. That will do."
The non-com, who knew his Sergeant's motive, had opened the door of the swinging lantern, and flashed it to and fro so that its light fell athwart the stolid countenance of the sentry, who stood up—as rigid as if he had been an effigy cast in bronze.
"You have been drinking again, sir."
"Not a drop, Sergeant," said the man gruffly.
"What's that?" came fiercely.
"Not a drop, Sergeant; nor yesterday nayther."
"Smell him, Corporal."
Sniff, sniff, from the Corporal, accompanied by a mild chuckle from the remains of the strong squad.
"Silence in the ranks!" roared the Sergeant.—"Well, Corporal Dart? Report."
"Onions, Sergeant; not drink."
"Faugh! Lucky for you, Private Smithers, for there's going to be no mercy next time you are caught."
"Well, but, Sergeant, this is now, and it aren't next time."
"Silence! A man who is going on duty must keep his tongue still. Now then, you know the word and what's your duty. Sentry-go until you are relieved. Strict watch up and down the river, for no boat is to land. If the enemy come, take him prisoner; but you are not to fire without cause."
"Without what, Sergeant?"
"Cause, idiot. Don't you know your own language?"
"Oh, there's one of them big scrawlers. Keep your eyes open, and don't go to sleep."
"All right, Sergeant."
"Don't be so handy with that tongue of yours, sir. Listen, and don't talk. Do you know what will happen if you do go to sleep?"
Private Smithers thought of the many scoldings—tongue-thrashings he would have called them—which he had had from his wife, and in answer to the Sergeant's question he drew himself up more stiffly and sighed.
"I said, sir, do you know what would happen if you went to sleep?"
Private Smithers sighed again, deeply, and thought more.
"Do you hear what I said, sir?" roared the Sergeant.
"Yes, Sergeant; but you said I wasn't to speak."
"On duty, sir."
"Am on duty," growled the private.
"Well, I said speak, but I meant chatter," cried the Sergeant. "You may speak now, and answer my question. I said do you know what would happen if you went to sleep?"
"Snore," growled the man.
"Yah! You are turning into a fool. Don't you think you would fall down if you went to sleep?"
"No, Sergeant. When I go off on duty I always stand stiff as a ramrod."
"Oh! Then you confess, sir, you do go to sleep on sentry?"
"Think I did once, Sergeant, but I warn't sure."
"Well, now then, look here. You are the most troublesome man in your company, and you are not worth your salt, but your commanding officer doesn't want to put the War Office to the expense of sending you home; and I don't want to have to put a fatigue party to the trouble of digging a hole for you in this nasty, swampy jungle earth, with more expense caused by the waste of ammunition in firing three volleys over your grave."
"No, Sergeant; that would be 'ard."
"Bah! Of course not," growled the Sergeant. "I made a mistake. You wouldn't be there to bury, because as sure as you stand there, and go to sleep, one of them twelve-foot long lizardly crocs as you have seen hundreds of times lying on the top will be watching you, with his eyes just out of the water, and as soon as ever you are fast he will crawl out and have you by the leg and into the river before you know where you are. So if that happens, be careful and leave your rifle ashore."
"Yes, Sergeant, I'll mind," said the man coolly.
"Silence in the ranks!" cried the Sergeant again, for there was the beginning of a chuckle.—"Now then," he continued, "that's all. Don't forget the word—Aldershot; and—oh, keep a very sharp lookout for boats, for that's the only way an enemy can approach the campong—Eh, what?" said the Sergeant, in response to a growl.
"What shall I do, Sergeant, if one of them big evats comes at me? Am I to fire?"
"Fire? No! What for? Want to alarm the camp?"
"No, Sergeant. I don't mind tackling a real enemy, but if it was one of them scaly varmints he would alarm me."
"Never mind; you are not to fire."
"Well, what am I to do, then, sir?"
"Fix bayonets and let him have it. Tenderest place is underneath."
"Well, but, Sergeant, how am I to get at him underneath?"
"Silence, sir! You, a British soldier who has had the bayonet exercise drilled into him solid for years, ask your officer how you are to use your weapon if it comes to an engagement! You will be wanting to know how to pull your trigger next.—Right about face! March! Left incline. Forward!"
Tramp, tramp, tramp, growing fainter and fainter till it died out; and then Private Smithers said, "Hah!" making a great deal of it, and then sighed and smacked his lips as if thirsty, for the water was rippling pleasantly in his ears. Then, grounding arms, he began to feel in his pocket, and dragged out a soda-water-bottle, which felt soft, for it had been carefully stitched up in very thick flannel to guard it from the consequences of casual blows. On his twisting the cork, the neck emitted a peculiar squeak, followed by a gurgling sound, which lasted till the bottle was half-empty, by which time the thirsty private had become fully conscious of its contents.
"Yah!" he ejaculated as he snatched the bottle from his lips. "Cold tea! Weak—no milk, of course; but you might have put in a bit of sugar." Then replacing the cork, he gave the yielding stopper so vicious a twist that the neck emitted a screech which sounded strangely loud in the black silence of the night, and was followed by a heavy splash and the sound of wallowing about a dozen yards away. Then, apparently from just below the bank of the river a little higher up, there was a horrible barking sound such as might have been uttered by a boar-hound with a bad sore throat, and then whop, as of a tremendous blow being struck on the surface of the water, followed by the hissing plash, as of a small shower of rain.