In which the duel between head-hunter’s cunning and white man’s wits reaches its breath-taking climax
GEORGE EDWARD ALLEN
THE GREAT game went on. On the following night the three moles extended their tunnel more than halfway through the earthen wall. Another night’s work would leave but a shell of earth to break down at the last minute. But as Walter had not yet arranged a rendezvous with Vivian, tonight he must raid again.
Two hours before the eastern sky would begin to turn grey he crept under the eaves of the chief's house, removed his sandals, and fingered and toed up the sirle. The rxm into which he gazed was black as his hole in the wall, but he thrust through his electric torch and flashed it off and on quick as lightning.
Vivian looked very comfortable, he noticed. Under her mat was a substantial mattress of rice straw which she had wangled from Ramong. In fact she was living the life of Reilly, Walter decided, while he had all the worry and the work. But also she looked very pretty. He had never seen her asleep in bed before, and he thought how it would be to see her there every night for the rest of his life, and he was sorry that the glimmer was so short. Instead of the dominant female he so often feared, she looked like a child. Her hair shone gold, her flesh ivory. But his heart was already beating fast.
Fleet though it was, the flash of light wakened Vivian. A trained nurse, she had learned to sleep at the very brink of waking, and lately she had been expecting to hear from Walter. He heard the soft rustle of straw as she got up. "Sh-h-h-h.” he hissed.
"Okay,” came her merest whisper close to his ear. "What time is it?”
She looked at the luminous dial of her wristwatch. "Three-fifteen.”
“You're let’s see five minutes slow. Set it right when I’m gone, then keep it wound. This is Friday morning." "Friday morning.”
"Sunday morning, two a m., come to the middle of east wall, near thorn thicket.”
"Sunday, two a m., east wall, thorn thicket.”
"It’s a cinch.”
“1 think I love you.”
“You’d better more than think. What about the skull?” “In the bag. Foolishness, too. Tomorrow—”
"Duck your head!”
For there was a noise outside her door, and then the rattle of the bolt being slipped back. Walter had time to lower his head and to change his grip so that the mere tips of his fingers remained above the wall, but the movement was not executed in jx'rfeet silence. Vivian stepped quickly to her mat. and the rustle of straw was the same as though she were just waking and sitting up.
Peering through a crack between the planks, Walter saw
a slowly widening pillar of yellow light. The door was being opened with great stealth. So it was not likely Ramong. In fact, it was Saromo, her movements feeble but her eyes on fire. She came in, holding a flickering Wa lamp, and closed the door behind her.
“Memsahib'*” she whispered.
“What is it?” Vivian rose and stood between her visitor and Walter's fingertips.
“I heard sounds, as though there was someone here.”
“No. I am alone.” Vivian paused briefly. “Except for such as cannot be seen.”
“Then I need not waken Ramong?”
“Would you bring the wrath of the gods upon his head? But I will make prayers that it does not fall on your head. If you heard someone, it was my betrothed. In my dreams he was here, impatient for the marriage. And I am to go to him in flesh, not in spirit.”
"So the Great Guru has told the people.”
“But now go quickly, in case you have disturbed his wooing.”
Saromo’s eyes darted quickly about the room. “Yes. it has come to me it was your betrothed,” she whispered. “I go quickly.”
She slipped out the door. Vivian waited until the bolt was thrown, and still she waited. But finally she stepped close to the wall.
“Okay?” she breathed.
“1 don’t know.”
“I’m scared. Be more careful than ever. Don't come back; if you must, toss in a note. Good-by.”
Good-by, darling. Now I’m sure I love you.”
WALTER climbed down, the only noise the tom-tom of his heart, and returned to his hut. But he was still weak in the knees. That made twice he had gone housebreaking. twice he had missed being caught by the epidermis of his dentition. The whole business was tricky. In spite of his closed door and boarded windows, he was reluctant to strike a light.
But this was nerves. A magician could be expected to burn midnight oil. In the darkness he could not remove the tunnel dirt from his clothes. So he scratched a sulphur match sold in the bazaars and touched the wick of his Wa lamp.
As it flamed up, it lighted two other lamps. They were the eyes of a Wa girl, crouched against the wall.
It did not take thought, or time for thought, to blow out the light. That was the mere instantaneous instinct of selfpreservation. But it would take inspiration on a silver platter to know what to do next.
To give him a little more time he demanded quietly but sternly:
“Have you dared leave your bed before I gave you leave?”
“Too long have I lain there, neglecting my service.” she answered. “I thought my lord might have tossed off his blanket in the night’s heat and sleep cold.”
“Could I sleep either hot or cold, when my Nal beckoned me under the stars? But you have my leave to go.” “Where, lord?”
“To Ramong's house, why not? Or to your own place?” “I have no place, now I have come back from the grave. Ramong dutches his amulet when he passes by. 1 went down a village girl, but have come up a priestess. 1 see what is hidden from the eyes of men.”
“What do you see, Saromo?” Walter spoke casually as possible.
“A great evil upon the village. A trick of the white men to cheat the white god of his bride.”
Walter was glad of the dark. It took all his will power to keep his voice a blank, let alone his face. After a brief pause he asked, “Have you spoken of this to Ramong?” “Not yet. Is my duty to my master, or to my people?” “It is for you to say, Saromo.”
“Oh, hard heart ! My Nat is a false Nat, because he told me that you would come to me quickly, and cover my lips with yours to silence them. But you sit there like a god of stone.”
“I am only a man, Saromo, and my heart is given a forehand.”
“To me you are a god.” He knew that her dark face was wet with tears. “Yet I am a priestess and the daughter of the Wa.”
“If I tell Ramong, he would put your head on the |x>st. and give the tnemsahib to her betrothed at moonrise tomorrow night. But then I would want my head on the next post.”
He said nothing, let her work it out herself.
“So I will add my voice to yours that the tnemsahib be wedded in the flesh, then go to her own place.” she went on. “And may the White Ghost have mercy on my soul.”
“But will Ramong believe you instead of Htao?”
“I do not know. But when the corn crop fails." and her voice changed subtly, “we dig roots in the jungle.”
“I do not understand.”
“When we are hungry enough, they taste sweet.”
“If Ramong believes Htao, I will weep for you for twelve moons. But at least I will be spared the vision of the white girl in your arms.”
Then he heard the door close softly behind her.
WELL, we’re all like that. Walter thought. Lions and mice, half-gods and brutes, heroes and crooks. And the sooner he finished the digging and they got out of here, the better.
But the following night, when the tunnel was finished except for six inches of earth to shut out light, the lion and the half-god and hero that lived in his strange soul prevailed over the mouse and brute and crook that shared that dwelling. With Mah Kyi on guard, he and Moung Ne went forth to steal the white skull.
The venture went so smoothly that Walter became suspicious. The village was dead to the world. The roof of the spirit house was so strongly braced that there was no danger of falling through the thatch. When they had dug a hole directly above, they were able to pull up the box containing the trophy without unfastening the chain on which it hung. And the lid of the box was hinged and not even locked.
“Lift out the skull.” Walter ordered Moung Ne.
“No, lord. That be white man's work.”
Moung Ne was a good Buddhist, but like all Orientals he had a lively respect for the other fellow’s gods. But
Walter did not laugh at him. He himself was not so cocksure as he used to be. Although he had handled skulls ever since he had studied medicine, he felt a little prickling on his skin as he laid hands on the Wa talisman.
It seemed more than an old white bone. It was as though the prayers said in its name, the human hopes and fears invested in it, and the bkxxly deeds committed under its protection, had endowed it with a kind of jxrsonality. But Walter set it on the roof beam, glimmering dimly there in the starlight, with holes for eyes, while he lowered the empty box and helped Moung Ne replace the thatch.
But what would he do with the trophy, now he had won it? Oddly enough, he had given almost no advance thought to this problem. Yet when he shxxl again on solid ground, the solid round bone in his hands, he found it was one of the strangest problems, one of the deepest, he had ever been called ujx>n to solve.
It opened up and up. not SÍ) much as a practical problem but a moral one. The answer lay in his inner man and would express all he was and could hojx ever to lx, and show the shape of his soul as a flash of lightning shows the twisted or the straight limbs of a lone oak on the hill.
Its terms were extremely simj)le, as in most great problems. If he concealed the skull, he would have it to bargain with if his plans went wrong. This was to say that if enough pressure was brought ujxrn him. he would restore the palladium of head-hunting, and buy his and his friends’ lives with the lives of other men. But if he destroyed the skull tonight, tiie temptation would be forever removed.
He knew where Vivian would stand. She was an idealist.
So it was all uj> to him. He stood there, a mocking smile on his lips but his eyes raised to the stars.
“Oh. what the devil." lie muttered at last. "High. wide, and handsome! That’s the way to live, and the way to die."
On the lowest ground within the village walls there was a buffalo wallow. Its outer edges were dried and cracked in the sun. most of its area was thick and sticky mud lx*cause of the scanty rains, but in its centre was a mud puddle about ten feet square. That space was enclosed by a stout fence against which the buffalo nozzled in vain, for it was a quagmire, to all intents and purjxises without bottom.
Walter walked to the edge of the wallow. Moung Ne and Mah Kyi behind him. He shxxl there a moment, balancing the skull in his hand, then Moung Ne gave a deep gasp.
“Have mercy, lord.” he begged.
“Yes. I will have mercy.” Walter answered dreamily.
“Droj) it close to the edge, so it may lx recovered if the need comes.”
"Is it wisdom or folly? Sjxak.”
"I will speak.” Mah Kyi, the woman, broke in. "It is an evil thing in your hand, not in itself but for what is done in its name. Throw it far, lord, beyond returning. You are our lord, and our greatness or our littleness comes from you.”
There was a moment’s silence. Moung Ne wiped his mouth with his hand.
"It is so, lord,” he said hoarsely. “We lx three, we three, two men and the mother of men. Throw it far.”
There came a great strength in Walter’s arm and a jxrfect tuning of his hand and eye. The white skull made a j)ale glimmer through the starlight, landed with a splash within the enclosure; the mud smacked its lips. Whatever happened tomorrow night. Walter was free.
TDY HIS arrangements with Doctor Smith, exactly U twenty-four hours after Walter sent up two skyrockets, a rescue party would approach below the east wall. A double guard of natives was to watch for the rockets every night between sundown and sunrise. Since time must lx* allowed for delays and difficulties in getting out of the ditch beyond the wall, and the approach of a large party might raise an alarm, he selected three o'clock as the hour of the rendezvous.
Walter erected a plank behind his hut to guide the rockets, and lighted both fuses from the same match. But all his forethought had not ]>rej)ared him for the glare of their ignition, limning him as by a searchlight in the sheltering darkness, or for the savage roar of their flight in the silence. And as though for a delightful surprise, at the top of their flight they shot forth bombs that Ixximed like firecrackers.
Walter did not move a muscle in the glare. To hide by standing still is a trick all hunters and hunted learn to play, if indeed it is not bred in their bones. But as sx)n as the dark rushed back he ducked into his hut and lay down on his mat.
The men began to call from house to house. Soon he saw the flicker of torchlight. But he was ready the dirt of tunnel-digging removed ahead of time and his lines well learned when Ramong, Jak, and old I Itao apjxiared in his dix >r.
“What has happened,6’uru?" Jak demanded. “Htao says you are up to some trick.”
“This accords with his other sayings. Is it a trick of mine that a light should appear in the heavens over my hut. and that thunder should rattle on a starlit night? Are you deaf? Are you blind? This is your last warning.”
The three natives parleyed hotly in their own tongue. Finally Jak asked, in quite a different tone:
"What have we done wrong, () Prince of Gums?"
"You sj)y upon me and distrust me. who has been sent to save your village. You bandy my words in your councils and mull them in your thick heads. You break in without warning upon the beloved of your gxl and drive him from his wooing. You dare to believe he wants bald white bones instead of flesh like silk and hair like gold. Bah. I am of a mind to leave you to your dm.”
Rarnong’s eyes were wide in the torchlight as Jak translated this fiery speech. But Iltao’s eyes were narrow and very bright.
“Have mercy. Great Guru," Jak told him. “Now have we your leave to go?"
SO THAT was all right, Walter thought. At first he had been sorry he had fired the nx’kets, but now he was glad. It was a long way from the village wall to the settlements, and without an armed escort he and his friends might lx recaptured.
He slept till late in the morning. That day the natives salaamed lower than ever when they jxissed his dœr. Soon after sundown they retired to their huts and the cooking fires burned down. But this might be the silver lining of a cloud; usually the Wa were late bed-goers and were in their heaviest sleep at two a.m.
Walter Ux> lay down, but never passed beyond the filmy rim of sleep. Yet he rested well, and at one o’clock rose in high hopes and full strength to complete the operation.
The young moon had set hours before. More stars than he could ever remember were out. and all the false magic he had made seemed tonight a blasphemy of some true and fearful magic filling all the ground and sky.
“It is not well, lord,” Mah Kyi whispered when they met behind her hut. “The tide of luck turns back. There is a bad feeling in my bones.”
“Bah! In an hour we will be free.”
The ropes and pointed poles Moung Ne had prepared to help them over the moat and down the undimbable slope of the knoll were deposited near the tunnel entrance. Whisky, water and food were placed there, and the shell of earth at the tunnelend cleared away. At ten minutes till two Walter was waiting under the eaves of the chief’s house, to help Vivian overside.
It was pitch dark there, but in less than five minutes he heard the subdued sounds of her climbing up the wall. Presently he had her by the feet and was gently lowering her to earth. But the tide of luck had turned back, Mah Kyi had said. Just as her feet touched earth they heard an uproar in the next room, men springing up and shouting and running about, and then the sound of her bolt being thrown.
But these men had not just happened to be awake. Mah Kyi had reported also a bad feeling in her bones, not a warning from on high but a physical symptom just as real as the backache of early smallpox. Just as doctors often diagnose disease through impressions too dim to trace or even know, Mah Kyi had perceived unawares in the faces and voices and little acts of the villagers the signs of trouble brtxxling for her and her friends.
As Walter and Vivian ran toward the east wall, torchlights began to glimmer under a dozen eaves. It was unthinkable that they had not been oil-soaked and ready for waiting hands. Shouts rang from house to house, and before the fugitives had covered half the distance, the Wa men were scrambling down their log ladders to cut them off.
So soon, they saw a convergence of torches l>etween them and the wall. These formed into two groups, with a space between in which shadows leajxxl and danced. It seemed too great a risk to try to dash through, so Walter led Vivian around one of the house plots, hoping to reach the tunnel under cover of darkness.
But he had failed to grasp the full extent of the disaster. Before he could make the detour, the Wa torches were encircling the thorn thicket that concealed the tunnel mouth. His plans had been betrayed and had failed.
He had only a second more before the Wa would have him pinioned and helpless. But he had learned thrift, and the use he made of this brief interlude would comfort him whether he lived short or long. I íe did not draw his pistol. It would lxworse than useless against these: hordes. Neither did he raise a hand to fight them, but he did raise his voice.
"Run, Mah Kyi,” he bellowed above the shouts of the mob. "Through the tunnel and away! Run, Moung Ne!”
That they might bring help to him and Vivian was something, but not what gave his lungs such power. These two were neither doctors nor nurses in this case, merely laymen, and Walter believed in the quarantine of mortal plague.
WALTER raised his hands to show surrender, saving him immediate cutting down by the Wa knives. But he looked and saw nothing on which to build hope for the future. The Wa formed a circle about him and Vivian, and the late arrivals not only strengthened it but increased its tension. Individual fears were forgotten as the men touched shoulders, but their passions merged like the strains of separate instruments in an orchestra, into the awesome harmony of a mob.
They were shrieking and shouting at him and at each other. Walter could not have made himself heard even if he had been so frantic as to try. He stood holding Vivian’s hand; they both tried to appear calm. But it was easier for her than for him, he thought. She had high and native strength beyond his aspirations.
The shouting increased as Ramong
pushed through the crowd, each man trying to outdo his fellows in demanding blood. But Walter felt a little cheered. Water can be heated only so far before it turns to steam. He sensed that this extreme ferocity would defeat itself and give him a little more time.
There was another factor to extend his sentence. Ramong was no politician but a natural autocrat, and the demands of the mob dinning in his ears put his back up. For the moment he became Walter’s unconscious and unwilling ally. He cuffed several of the tribesmen, kicked others in the shins, and from sheer strength of voice and leadership restored a semblance of order.
Appointing four of his men to bring the prisoners, he then led the way to the open ground in front of his house. And although the two men who led Walter seized him roughly and hustled him along, he noticed with audacious hope that Vivian’s guards did not touch her hands.
Plainly Ramong did not intend to be hurried. Mostly this was “face”—showing the tribe that he was in charge here—but the indirect result was that he had time to think of future consequences. If Walter had known in advance the stature of this man, his tactics might have been entirely different. Before Ramong addressed a wmrd to the prisoners, he ordered fires lighted and made his men squat in a circle around them.
When the last sound had died away, he moved fonvard, Jak at his side, and looked Walter in the face.
“Why did you try to steal the bride of the Great White Ghost?” he demanded.
When Jak had translated, Walter collected his thoughts and answered in quiet and, he hoped, impressive tones.
“I did it at the command of the Great White Ghost himself, who came to me in a dream.”
“Speak truth, Guru. It will not save your life but may give you a better death. You were sent here by the white men to defraud our god. If not, why did you signal them last night?”
WALTER said nothing. To be caught in a lie would be more dangerous than to admit the charge.
“You do not answer?” Ramong went on. “Then what is this that was found this morning in the village road?” And at his gesture Htao rose and handed him a pointed cardboard cylinder wired to a stick.
Walter’s plans had been well thought out, complete as possible to a mind short of genius, but that rockets that go up must come down had not occurred to him. And plainly the Wa had had enough contact with the Chinese on their northern borders to identify the object instantly. No doubt their neighbors had used skyrockets for signalling when London was a tide marsh.
“When this was found, we knew some trick was afoot.” Ramong boasted. “Searching for weak places in our wall, we found your tunnel. Tonight I posted
watchmen, and I myself helped to guard the white virgin’s door. But we did not guess she could wriggle out under the eaves —why our Great White Ghost should want such a skinny wife we do not know, save that she is the daughter of the greatest of all sawbwas—so you almost escaped us, and your servants did escape.”
And by now they had met the rescue party, Walter thought. Perhaps they were viewing the scene from on top of the wall, planning a coup. But the fires and torchlights would prevent a surprise attack, and it would take only one knife in one frantic hand to put him beyond help. Even for Vivian it would be touch and go.
But he found another consolation in Ramong’s words, a very strange one. Until now he had supposed that Saromo had exposed him. What did it matter if she had, the end being the same? But it did matter. Somehow it supported some fond wish of his heart about mankind in general. “The white men are my friends,” he Continued on page 46 answered, "Beholding your blindness and folly, 1 signalled them to send help. And ! they will send it, Ramong, surely as the sun will rist:. Consider well."
"We will give the white virgin to our god.” Ramong pronounced gravely. "He has always protected us against the white man, and in his joy and gratitude he will protect us now. But we will not wait for the full moon. He is an impatient lover and the moon is waxing fast. Tonight when it tops the hills or even now —"
"Fool," Walter broke in on Jak’s translation. “No marriage unseen and unblessed by the moon-god can lx* fertile. You know the ancient law.”
"I know. If our hands are not forced, we will wait till moonrise. But watchmen have been posted on the wall. At the first alarm of armed men, we will send her quickly to our god, lest she he snatched from his arms and he forsake us to our enemies. You shall be sent as his slave. Such a great guru will be a worthy offering."
Walter had another card in his hand, the i joker, and it was wild. He wondered if the i time had come to play it. But the sweat (X)zed from his pores, and he looked for I lesser cards to play for time.
But just then little Saromo pushed through the crowd and stcxxl with the firelight burnishing her all but naked body.
Vivian was able to follow the amazing talk that followed. And at last, looking straight at the native girl, she passed it on to Walter.
"Saromo. did you say that you met the Great White Ghost in the land of shadows and found favor in his eyes?" she asked in Burmese.
"And he wishes you to take my place as his bride?"
"Yea, and I long for his arms.”
Walter’s heart leaped wildly, and he did not have to search it to know that neither he nor Vivian could accept this sacrifice. But when Vivian started to tell the tribe so, he stopped her with a glance.
"Let the elders speak," he said, still playing for time. "When they are finished, 1 sjxak.”
TN THE parley that followed, Walter could tell that several of the more cautious tribesmen, those who t(x>k less stock in the gixls and more in the white man’s guns, favored the proposal, while Htao led the opposition. The tribal orators spoke eloquently, and at times the whole tribe gobbled and shrieked in unison.
Finally Htao made a speech that won over the whole throng. But Walter could not read Saromo’s still dark face or at first understand the new terror in Vivian’s face. "Lord Buddha,” he cried in Burmese. Then in English, "What’s up Vivian?” Vivian rose, took Saromo’s hand, and appeared to speak directly to her. "Does Htao say for me to go as his bride, and you as his handmaiden? Do what you can, Walter! Can we not wait till tonight? Some foot may start this show any minute.”
If Saromo realized that English had been spoken, she gave no sign. But Jak. who knew Burmese well, shouted fiercely from the crowd.
“The white virgin spoke in an unknown tongue. There is trickery here.”
Walter could only guess at Jak’s words, but the clamor broke out again, and he saw the Wa begin to stroke their knives. He rose solemnly to his feet.
"Be silent,” he commanded. His imperious tone cut through the babble and extinguished it. “Saromo. you shall speak for me. Tell these fools I have listened t long to their jackal barking. Although 1 had hoped to spare them, now they shall know the truth.”
Saromo translated in a tone that added impressiveness to Walter’s words.
“Know then, my vision. The Great White Ghost is so angry at Htao’s lies and the evil in your hearts that he has quit your village forever.”
At first Saromo did not understand and asked him to repeat his words. This, and her voice and expression, made the perfect prelude to his momentous declaration. The throng held its breath like one man.
When his words sank home, Saromo was scarcely able to give them voice. A gasp of unbelieving horror went up from the crowd. But at once Htao sprang to his feet.
"It is a lie,” he cried. “Bare your knives, O men.” And Saromo translated swiftly.
"No. but the vision may be clouded and false,” Walter answered. “So let Htao and some of the elders go to the temple where your god lives, and see if he is there.”
Ramong gave orders, and a half dozen of his headmen hastened away to the spirit house. Lesser men began to rise and follow, first in twos or threes, then in crowds. None returned. The faces remaining were grey and drawn with dread. There was no sound but the crackle of the torches. Walter was shivering, partly with fear of the consequences of his deed, partly in awe telegraphed to his heart from these groping desolated hearts about him. When one’s gods go, what is left? He would never again know a scene so weird, a moment of such far vision.
Finally the iron nerve of Ramong himself cracked. Ordering Walter’s wrists bound and a dozen men to guard him with drawn knives, he too went to the spirit house. But almost at once he returned, his men pressing close behind him. They walked softly and said not a word.
"OAMONG waited until all his men were crouched on the ground. This was his sign that he alone would decide what was to be done, take the responsibility and the consequences like the great chief he was. Then, with Jak at his side, he squatted directly in front of Walter, neither above him nor below.
"It is true, O Prince of Gurus,” he said. “The white skull is gone.”
Jak translated. "I pity ye, O Wa,” Walter answered.
"The thatch above has been lately cut out and replaced," Ramong went on. "Perhaps it was the work of gods, perhaps of hands. But however it be, if the totem is restored to us at once, you and the white virgin may go to your own place alive and unharmed.”
"It is beyond my power, Ramong.”
"It may be so. Yet you are a great guru, with a most powerful Nat, holding sway over many spirits good and back So if the skull is not restored, yours must take its place as our tribal totem."
Walter did not say that in this case he would curse and not bless the fields. It would stand to reason but not to Wa theory. The basis of their religion was the belief that any head kept by the villagers became the house of its owner’s ghost, who for various reasons would drive away evil spirits. But he thought quickly and answered :
“The dawn is not far off. Perhaps then, or a little later, 1 will behold another vision. In the meantime set the white virgin on the open trail to her village.”
"That we shall do at sunrise. I swear it. But at sunrise we shall set your head in the spirit house, unless our god returns. So seek your vision, Guru.”
Walter said no more. Vivian at least was safe, and by sunrise anything could happen, or at least he could invent hocuspocus to gain more time. The Wa spoke to one another in undertones, but the sounds soon died away. The cocks crew, the eyelid of the night began to open, the stars burned down.
But for a long while more, it seemed only that the torchlight was dimming instead of the daylight growing. And then in one stroke it was dawn.
And now Walter knew that the last act of this hilltop drama was at hand. Two Wa appeared from opposite directions, running hard, and at the same time the wooden gate of the village tunnel opened with a clatter and shot out two other Wa. The four converged around Ramong. jabbering news that he seemed unable to believe. They were gasping and shaking with excitement.
At first the chief was thunderstruck, but Walter saw him take hold. He questioned the men closely, then began to give orders to them and to all his people. A babble of voices began, but he silenced it with one bull-like roar. The four messengers and perhaps a score of others ran and sprang into the tunnel. The remaining Wa gripped their weapons and faced in this direction.
“What’s happening?’’ Walter whispered to Vivian.
“A big party wants to come in. They’re unarmed, so the chief consented.’’
“Unarmed? They’ll be cut to pieces.”
“I don’t know. Wait.”
Walter breathed slowly and deeply perhaps fifty times. Then two of the Wa emerged from the tunnel and stood waiting while some less active, heavy footed man followed through the narrow opening. Then up into the daylight, panting from exertion, his round stomach wabbling, his round face appearing to shine, no doubt from sweat, but reverently pushed and pulled by Wa head-hunters, came Doctor Smith.
HE WAGGLED his hand feebly at the tribe, grunted his relief to find himself on open ground, then waited for his escort and followers. But the latter were not white men rallied to the prisoners’ defense, nor were they native soldiers. They were merely half-tamed Wa from the villages close to Smith’s mission, no weapons in their hands, too naked to carry concealed weapons, and there were fully forty of them.
Walter heard Vivian give a little sobbing laugh. “They’re all his old patients,” she whispered.
“And those two villagers—they’re old patients, too.”
She referred to Jak and another headhunter who had run forward at sight of Doctor Smith, dropi>ed on their knees before him, then with beaming faces rose and shook his hand. Smith spoke to them in the lingua franca of the hills, then came puffing up to Walter.
“So you’re all right, huh?” he said. “Good.” Fumbling for his jackknife, he opened it with difficulty, sticking out his tongue like a schoolboy, and cut the ropes that bound Walter’s wrists.
Meanwhile his Wa followers were seeking out and greeting kinsmen and acquaintances. But they stood silent as Smith trudged up to Ramong. The chief had his hand on his knife, but the old doctor did not seem to see it.
Walter could not understand the conversation that followed, but Vivian was able to get its sense and tone.
“Oh, my foolish children,” Smith began. “Sawbwa!” Ramong spoke haughtily. “You thought you were paying my daughter and me too great honor by marrying her to your god. but you have made only trouble. Will you ever be wise?”
“I tell you—”
“You know me, the Fat Sawbiva? You know that scores of your neighbors and kinsmen have come to me when they were sick and in trouble; many of them are here. Did you ever hear of me lying to them, or mistreating them?”
“No, lord. But our seed will not grow without rain. Our old gods—”
“Do you not know that if you had done this thing your village would have burned and your people starve, and I could not protect you? Now your folly has given me this long ride, when I am not yet well from my own sickness. You and all your
tribe should hide your faces in shame.” “Yes. we be only children, lord, compared to you. But—”
“Now bring me food, and a mat to rest on, then I will take my daughter and the great guru, and go. But thank your gods I have saved you from greater folly.” “Lord Sawbwa. your daughter may go in peace. But our totem, the great white skull, has been taken from us, and the great guru's head—”
“Your totem gone? I am glad. It led you into evil. But I. the Fat Sawbwa, will give you a totem in its place, a much more powerful totem, the skull of a great white chief who died fighting evil spirits. Send men with me. and they can bring it back tonight.”
Ramong’s face brightened a little. “You would not cheat us—”
“For shame, great chief! But mind, this new White Ghost is jealous of other ghosts, so you must never put another head on the Avenue of Skulls. If you do, the rains will fail for seven years. But you may put there the heads of tigers and of panthers and of fierce boars. He was a great hunter in his time, and he will want you to be hunters too, not slayers of helpless men.”
' I TIE LOSS of the totem alone would discourage and perhaps prohibit future head-hunting. Ramong realized this, but until now had seen no other way to please the gods and to direct the religious energies of his people. His dark eyes began to shine. Hunting tigers and panthers would be even more thrilling than hunting men, and he had the Fat Sawbwa s word it would help the crops. He was only human—a great secret that Smith had known ánd employed—and would much rather be a public benefactor than an outlaw. Rather awkwardly he knelt at Smith’s feet.
When he rose he turned to his people and made them a ringing speech. Vivian took the opportunity to steal to her father’s side. “There’s a girl in danger here,” she whispered. “Her name is Saromo. The trouble comes from I Itao, the village priest. Ramong loves the girl.”
Smith did not appear to hear, but when Ramong’s speech was over and the people were cheering, he held up his hand for silence.
“Listen, my children. Your new god’s spirit is already here and bids me speak. He desires for his chief priest one of your wisest men—is the name Htao? But Htao is to teach his cunning to a maiden, so when he dies in full years the tribe may be preserved. I do not catch her name. It is like a vision in the night.”
“Her name is Saromo (a dream),” Ramong told him, while the people cheered.
“True. And it is the god’s wish that you take her to wife.”
“Yes,” old Htao broke in, pompously and swollen with honors, “that is the new god’s wish. I too have seen.”
Saromo glanced once into Walter's eyes, her own eyes filled with tears, then she knelt first to Htao, then to Ramong. “I too have seen,” she sobbed.
“But will our old god return?” Ramong asked rather anxiously. “He will be angry—”
“He will not return,” Walter broke in, almost the first time he had opened his mouth since dawn. By the ring of his voice they knew he spoke the truth.
But the sun was high and the goats and dogs were being slaughtered for a feast, before Walter had a chance to speak to his deliverer.
“It doesn’t lessen my pleasure or my thanks,” he said with the old glitter in his eye, “but you’ve made me feel mighty silly.”
“Why should you feel silly?” Smith demanded. “You tackled this thing like any brave young fellow should, got away with that darned skull, and staved off trouble until—”
“Until you could get here, with some plain horse sense, and save our skins.” “I’ve lived in this country many years, doctor. I’ve always thought I could walk into this village, meet the men here as men, and make friends with ’em. But the Government fellows wouldn’t let me. They thought I'd be killed. And for good reason, too, considering they've been scaring the wits out of the poor little beggars for seventy years. Anyway I didn't have the strength of my convictions, especially with Vivian’s life at stake. I’m not as young as I used to be, nor as well. But when you and she failed to appear—”
“1 know. But see here. There's been enough rain to sprout their seed, and the monsoons will soon break. But what about next year? Suppose the new skull fails to do the business. Won’t they go back to head-hunting?” For this was a matter close to Walter’s heart.
“I'll keep after them from time to time. Anyway, hunting tigers and panthers, they’ll learn to be gcxxl deer and pig hunters too, to fill up their bellies in times of trouble. A good fet'd is the best antitoxin I know.”
“When I get to America I’m going to be an old-fashioned family doctor.”
“Fiddlesticks,” Vivian broke in. “You’re going to be a surgeon. Where would we be now—where would father be if you weren’t already something of a surgeon?” Well, there was something to that. In
operating on Smith. he had saved a most valuable life. It was a new way of looking at it. Vivian's compliment was ambidex trous, hut after all
`We'd be down in the cellar, eatin' sauerkraut," he quoted with his old sar clonic smile.
S IX months had passed. In one of the operating rooms of a great Honolulu hospital there was an air of pleasurable excitement. The case was a beautiful one from the visiting students' standpoint, and the chief house surgeon was going to attempt an audacious operation. And that surgeon was Doctor Walter Granger-who was late as usual.
But just then he sauntered in. "Is this the lady's rest room?" he demanded.
They could kill him, the internes thought.
"All heart specialists, I see," Granger went on, glancing at the internes. "But do you think you should have left your pa tients to pine alone on Waikiki Beach just to come here and learn some surgical technique? Doctor, your way of pouring on ether reminds me of the rainy season in Burma." “Why do we stand it?” one of the internes whispered to his companion. “If he was old Bill Osier himself ...”
But the answer was obvious as soon as Walter Granger took knife in hand. It was such beautiful surgery', so bold yet so strangely gentle. His eyes were shining brighter than his blade.
And once they remembered he was tolerably human after all. Watching the progress of the works, his surgical nurse held out scissors.
“Are we giving this patient a manicure?” he demanded in what he fancied was fine sarcasm. “Nurse, when I want scissors. I’ll ask for—”
The internes did not hear what the girl said—“Oh, quit showing off and tend to your knitting”but they saw him look again, decide that he needed scissors, and take them like a lamb.
Still the internes could have hardly believed the complete humanity that lie showed an hour afterward, when lie and the very nurse who had burned him up met in his quarters.
“Pretty good work, eh. Vivian?” he asked.
“Pretty fair. I've about decided y'ou’ll make a doctor, after all.”
At that, he caught her hands and drew her into his arms. He did not notice that her eyes indicated a slight hyperthyroid condition, only that they were beautiful and bright as jewels. He was not aware of the remarkably fine epidermis of her lips, only that they were sweet to kiss. And because he could feel the warmth and courage of her heart against his and not count its beats per minute, lie knew at last that he was going to be a doctor, after all.