The Gunner of Gharwal
W. A. FRASER
THERE’S a curious affinity between dynamic, or kinetic, and psychic forces; psycho-analysis is little more than a relating of dynamic phenomena, applied kinetics.
Now there could be no story about the Gunner of Gharwal that wasn’t dynamic. I came to that conclusion at dinner.
In the meantime I was sitting on the verandah of the Gymkhana Club waiting for Major Owen and Captain Somers who had gone to the Cantonments to change riding togs for white mess jacket and blacks.
Surely Rangoon was like the Land of the Lotus Eaters “where it is always afternoon.” A gorgeous splash of color the race course had been that day;
Jack Burman, who is but a holiday toy, was there, thousands of him, clad in brilliant crimson, and low, and bronze silk, his face suffused with a perpetual smile.
And now flat against a dead blue sky was limned the delicate spire of the Shwey Dagon Pagoda, its golden side gleaming yellow from the rays of a sun that slid down into the Indian Ocean. From the delicate fretwork of the umbrella atop this fairy thing of gold came the tinkling song of a thousand silver bells that danced to the kiss of some vagrant evening breeze. The air was sensuous with the perfume of jasmine, and tuberose, and English rose, and frangipanni.
Overhead, uncouth-looking winged creatures were floating steadily inland, flying foxes returning from their daily pilgrimage to hang head downward in some mango tope.
Peripatetically the tinkle of the silver bells was drowned by myriad crows that, as they settled for the night in tamarind and mango and banyan tree, cackled their bedtime stories.
From the “Ladies’ Mile,” a straight, metalled avenue, hedged by gigantic trees, long, lean-armed pipai and banyan and gold mohr, dogcarts and phaetons were swinging in to the Club, for race-day dinner was a gala feast.
A smart trap swirled up the crunching gravel, the syce sprang to the pony’s head, and my two friends, slipping from the dogcart, came cheerily forward.
As we went in to our table the military band out on the lawn was playing Soldiers of the Queen, and Owen, as he motioned me to a seat, said, with a little laugh, “Somers, that’s what we are, Soldiers of the Queen, and we ought to stick to it—we’re dubs at racing. Sherry ahd angostura,” he added to his khitmatgar as we took our seats.
“You’re right, Owen,” Somers commented. “The ehetties for me, and five per cent, monthly because of the rotten security I have to offer.”
“Oh, that reminds me.” Owen drew a letter from his pocket, tore it into small pieces and deposited them on a plate.
“Why the precaution?” Somers queried; “your wife being in England—”
Owen interrupted with a chuckle. “Last night I wrote out a cheque, six hundred rupees, for my tailor in Calcutta. My puggle ifool; bearer forgot to give it to the chupraxsi to post—Allah bless his stupidity, and I found it on my dresser to-night.”
“Tradesmen, especially outfitters, are the gift of God,” Somers remarked solemnly.
“Well he might be—his prices: if he can collect fifty per cent, of his bills he’ll have enough to become a country squire in ten years.”
Just then three men passed our table, and one of them
said,_ “Good evening, gentlemen.” There was a sneering, rasping note in his voice, and hovering over his unprepossessing face was a glint of triumph.
“That’s the beast,” Owen said in a low voice. He turned to me apologetically, “By Jove! I saw you with Von der Hess on the lawn—is he a friend of yours?” “No,” I answered, “I can’t say that he is. He’s been in charge of the Geologic Survey of the Yenangyoung Oil Field, and is going back up there with me. He’s put out over it, too,” I added; “he was being retired. But I’ve got the Commissioner to open up those tracts for granting, and he’s going back up with me.”
“Did you ever hear of the Gunner of Gharwal?” Owen asked at once.
“Well, he’s up at Yangtsi, beyond Yenangyoung, and if you can bring him and that slithery brute together I’ll make you a present of—I might as well say the Golden Pagoda, for I’m flat broke.”
Somers saw from my eyes that the thing was floaty, nebulous, to me, and explained: “You saw that white pony, Shwey Phyoo, White Gold, win the Rangoon Cup to-day?”
“Well, she ran as Von der Hess’s filly, and he cleaned us out.”
“By Jove! I came a monumental cropper,” Owen interjected. “I didn’t think my pony, A.l., could be beaten— it’s the first time. I knew the filly was speedy, but A.l. had everything that a race horse should have, speed, and courage, and stamina, and strength, but, by gad! coming up the home stretch that white ghost crept up and up and up, inch by inch—it was like drifting snow overtaking me. 1 rode for blood, all I knew, and A.l., gallant little cuss, gave all that was in him, but that ghostly thing drifted by like a white cloud. Gad, though, I cheered her when she came back to the stand—delicate little beast with ankles like a girl; she’s the sweetest thing that was ever sculptured into the form of horse flesh. I lost heavily, but all I’m sore about is that gloating beast at the other table— to be done in by a German.”
“Here’s where the Gunner comes in, Cameron,” Somers switched back to. “Constantine che Greek—he’s grown rich over exporting hides—made an objection before the race, claiming White Gold belonged to him and the Gunner; he showed a letter from the Gunner stating he was sending the pony down to the Greek to have her trained and entered. Of course the stewards couldn’t take acción, there was no proof, and the junker cleaned up
about sixteen thousand rupees in the Club lotteries, rooked the bookies out of ten thousand, and got the stake, two thousand.” “And we can’t do a thing,” lamented Owen, “though we believe that the Prussian stole the pony, perhaps bribed the Gunner’s man who was bringing her down and got her away, for Von der Hess arrived about the same time White Gold did.”
Just then the gutteral voice of Von der Hess came from his table close by, saying, “Major, here's to racing, the sport of kings.”
Neither Owen nor Somers turned his head, but I, facing the Prussian, could see the coarse triumphant leer that hung about his heavy lips; then he laughed.
“That’s what I mean,” Owen said; “if you can get the Gunner to interview our German friend we’ll forgive everything. He’ll take all thatswashbuckling crudity out of him.” Owen wás so cocksure, that I felt that the Gunner must indeed be some man.
Even seated, one was aware of the Prussian’s stature. Above che powerful shoulders loomed a round coffee-pot head, the top of it thatched with short-clipped black bristles. Tne lights picked out little white valleys in this scrub underbrush;, and the face, heavy and dominating, was as nicely mapped with little scar-canals as the surface of Mars. I knew what that all meant—the mensur, the student duels at Heidelburg. This gave him a fierce look; he was a typical caveman, primitive. I voiced something of this, ' and Owen chuckled.
“I tell you, Cameron, those big Dutchmen have got a soft streak; they’re like wolves, running in a pack they’refull of loud ferocity: the Boers were like that—behind barbed wire or rocks they’d fignt, but get one alone and stand up to him—it’s ten to one on the Gunner when he finds out that this beast stole White Gold. Gad! I should; know. Roused, he’s a fighting devil.”
“What did the Gunner get the V.C. for?” Somers asked. “That was in Africa,” Owen said. “The Gunner was; with the Rc.ja of Gharwal, and joined up for the war out there; he was in my regiment. We had been following the* wily Boers for a week—though we didn’t know it, following them into a trap.”
“The same old game, barbed wire.”
“Not exactly. We had chased them across Pietra Drift, and seemingly they were over the hills beyond and far away. We sent the guns in to take the.stream, and before you could say Koumiss, hell broke. They were lying dog-obehind the other bank, thougn we had seen them trekking across the far hills—don’t know how they worked it. Talk about a deluge of rain in the South-West monsoons, rain that blinds you—that was what swept down on the gunners in the stream, only the rain drops were lead— dum-dum bullets. The horses went down, the drivers toppled, and my men had no mark to train their rifles on, just puffs of powder smoke. And they had a machinegun or two that swept our bank—it was hell! Of course, you understand, on our bank it was almost a hush, we weren’t fighting, we were paralyzed. The Boers were working like a time clock; they swarmed down from their hiding with ropes to drag the gunsuptheotherslope, while behind them was that withering, covering fire. I tried to rally my fellows, laid about with the flat of my sword, when suddenly I heard a bellow of rage, a bellow of rage embellished by the most blasphemous language, epithets that cut deeper than the flat of my sword. It was the Gunner of Gharwal.
“He called on the chaps, if they were not all cowards, to follow nim, he was going in to save the guns. ‘My God!’ he bellowed, ‘areyou going to let the slimy Oom Pauls take
our guns? Will you go back to Ireland and England and have your mothers and wives hide their faces when they’re taunted that you lost the guns?’ I think it was the mothers and wives that steadied them, because shame to the women folk is worse than death.
“They broke toward the drift, led by the gunner; they swarmed down the bank and into that hell. With my own hands I helped switch a machine gun to rake that other bank and worked it. And there, waist deep in the stream, was the Gunner, a fighting devil. He had emptied his heavy Webley revolver, and was fighting with a shortshafted hog-spear. God, to this day I can hear the thud of that spear as he drove it through a Boer! And not just his fighting, he was a magnet, a terrible something that inspired the others. Man, how they fought! And presently one rope, and another, and then another was won from the dying Boers and brought to our side, and the guns were saved.”
Owen emptied his glass of champagne at a gulp, and as the servant refilled it he emptied it again, saying, “Even to tell it does me all in. And our fellows, smashed by gunfire, some of them on the ground, cheered when the Gunner, draggled and wet, staggered up the bank. I saw him put a hand to his forehead in salute, and then topple. Bradlaugh and I jumped for him, and steadied him to my tent, where he flopped over on a cot. Bradlaugh went off to hunt a medico, and I turned to pour a glass of whisky. The glass almost slipped from my fingers as I wheeled, for there was the Gunner, his face buried in my dirty old pillow, sobbing like a girl: there was this fighting devil broken, the terrible thing that was in him snapped.
“Here, boy,” I said, turning him to hold the whisky to his lips, but the lips had stilled, the eyes were set, and he’d gone out. As I turned him on his back I saw the blanket soaked in blood, and when Major Crawford, the doctor, came, and we stripped his tunic down, we saw a great red gaping wound in his shoulder where a bullet had torn its way through.”
Owen dropped his head for a little, and we sat hushed by the vivid picture he had painted.
Presently he said: “Those two things always linger with me when .hey talk of deeds of war, the thud of that hog-spear that stietched a Boer dead, and the sobs behind me in my tent as if a child wept over a broken doll. The fighting spirit is a curious thing; it’s not brute strength, it’s not brute force—it’s something sweeter, finer; it’s heroic, it’s psychic.”
He raised his glass, saying, “Gentlemen, here’s to the Gunner; I love him.”
“Major, I love him too,” I said, thinking more of the psychic phenomenon of the tears than the thrust of the hog-spear.
“He saved the guns, which was ripping, but he saved me; that’s what I mean,” Owen declared softly. “I’d have been broke for it, or if I’d stayed on in the service I’d have been marked.
And whatever I am in the service I’d have been less any other place. Perhaps,” he continued thoughtfully, “I could have become a professional steeplechase jock at home, that’s about all I’m fitted for—I can ride a bit: but at that if my mount boggled at a water jump Messrs. Publico would say I had lost my nerve because I had lost the guns.”
The Major turned to me with a whimsical smile; “If you love England, and have any friendship for Somers and me, tip off the Gunner that Von der Hess is to be met up with.”
It was the second night from this that Von der Hess and I entrained for Prome, where we would take the flat-bottomed river steamer to Yenangyoung.
The carriages on the Prome railway were constructed with two compartments, with a partition running across the middle, and an end entrance.
Von der Hess and I had a first class compartment to ourselves.
This closer companionsnip with the Prussian increased my dislike of him. Liquor and his arrogant nature made him a stupendous offence; he was boastful, swaggering, insistently obtrusive in his predominant idea that the Englishman was a szhwinehund, a shop-keeper devoid of culture; the unregenerate robber of the world.
“Yah,” he said to me, after he .had spread his blankets on the
long seat that constituted a bed, “there will be a time, and, mein Herr Cameron, not too long now will it be, when the Englishman will proceed to take some lessons in culture.”
He jerked from beneath che seat a box his bearer had placed there, groped out a bottle of whisky, one of soda, and two glasses, and when he had charged them, with a sneer on his coarse lips, said, “To the Day, my friend!”
“I am not a Prussian,” I objected.
He chuckled pleased that he had touched me on the raw.
“That iss too baa, for you are not also English, you are Scotch.”
“I am British,”
I replied quietly.
“Yah; and that iss why you should, like a Prussian, drink to The Day that will see iss culture or shopkeeping to govern lesser peoples. The Englishman already iss afraid of the test, and the longer he puts off what iss to come the more iss the grind to be.”
He had drained his glass, and now brought forth a boctle of beer from the treasure box. “Whisky,” he explained, “iss raw—as raw as the Englishman; beer iss a drink of culture, soft, the flavor of flowers, a drink for gentlemen.”
He held the bottle toward my glass, but I declined.
“So!” and there was a taint of petulance, “well”—he emptied the bottle—“ach, Gott! it iss like a baptism.” Then he threw the empty bottle through an open window. “Mein Herr,” he proceeded as he lighted a Burma cheroot, “to me you have brought inconvenience; but as long as I serve the rotten English government I must expect to be ordered about like a sailor, or a clerk.”
“You mean, Doctor, going back uo on the survey with me?” I asked.
“Yes. My work was completed. When I say completed I mean, as we are taught in Germany, scientifically correct. And I was leaving the service that was abhorrent
to me.” He put a heavy hand on my knee, and there was a leer on his face meant to be ingratiating: “You see,
mein Herr, in Holland iss the Dutch Oil Company.” His heavy face, red, puffed looking, hung toward me in the dim light that filtered down from the curtained lamp in the ceiling like the sullen war face of Mars. I understood; it was an intimation that my people should come across handsomely if they were to forestall the Dutch Company.
“Why did you serve the British Government if you felt there was injustice?” I asked, as a small vent to my feelings.
“All Prussians serve where they serve best what iss in the heart of our great empire. Why do thousands and thousands of Prussians serve the men they hate? Because they serve the great principle of uplift, of culture for the whole world —” his eyes hung inquisitively on my face as if he had something deeper in his mind. Then he added: “And because we are tne gatherers of knowledge. In Berlin everything is known because, of course, it iss values that govern the spirit of our leaders, not as England spreads ' the lies that we are just military.”
I understood. Berlin would know, through Doctor Von der Hess whether the oil fields of Burma were worth obtaining in the settlements after The Day.
He pulled his despatch box from beneath the seat, drew a heavy sheaf of papers from an inner pocket, but before placing them in the box riffled exultantly the end of the papers, holding them closer to my eyes. “Bank of England notes,” ne said; “the loot from the smart officers of the Queen—Ha-ha!” he almost roared; “smart! A few farmers in Africa, Boers trying to make a living, whipped the whole English army. Smart! Military!”
It flashed through my mind what Owen had said about an investigation that might take this money off the Prussian, and I felt convinced that he had not deposited it in the bank for fear of complications, so I asked, “Why do you carry so much money into the jungle where there are dacoits and thieves?”
The question upset Von der Hess; he jammed the notes into the small box, and put it under his pillow. “The rupee iss falling all the time, so I now buy English money to save exchange. And for thieves—•” he laughed, stretched his big arms, and added, “Gott! if they tackle me, their heads together I will smash like that.”
I knew this was all a lie, for he could have deposited the bank notes; it was the other: I was convinced that he had stolen Shwey Phyoo from the Gunner, thinking that he was on his way to Europe.
“It iss hot!” Von der Hess growled, when he had got into pyjamas. He brought forth another bottle of beer, swearing that in the morning he would discipline his bearer, for the ice in the box was melted. The beer floated up his pugnacity, roused his bellicose thoughts.
“You heard, mein Herr—of course, Major Owen, because he lost a few rupees would tell you —that the crazy Greek a claim makes that the Gunner of Gharwal owns White Gold. Himmel! such lies, as it was proved. But it seems that the Gunner iss a bully, what they call an English pug, and I myself heard from my friends a threat. When I come across the Gunner he will think ‘The Day’ has arrived soon.” “He’s up beyond Yenangyoung, isn’t he?” I asked.
“He iss at Yangtsi; and, my friend, if you are fond of sport we will take a day off, perhaps Continued on page 50
The Gunner of G h a r w a 1
Continued from page 25
two, ride up to Yangtsi, and the Gunner I will interview. To me they can do nothing because of the threats.”
I had a temptation to accept his invitation; somehow I felt that over this buccaneer a retribution was banging, or should hang; I would feel no compunction in assisting its arrival.
j “So the Gunner is a big bully?” I said.
1 “Yah, certain. I have not seen him, but the English are like that, the bullies; roast beef, big red faces, and muscle-tied; no sport any more they can win; rowing they are no good; boxing they have no champion, just boast about what was; they are shrimps that can ride lightweight races, and natives kill that have not guns!”
And from Prome, where we took the steamer; all up the Irriwaddi, past Thayetmyo and Minbu, it was the same. The whole world, all the world’s doings, seemed to have crystallized into something that homed in the swaggering Prussian’s being. Many times I wondered why he had not been killed for his hatefulness; perhaps the killing had been tried, but bis superabundant physical force had saved him. His scalp and his scarred face attested to unshirked combat. Yes, the Gunner would have bis work cut out; but Owen had been so confident, and his story of Pietra Drift suggested that the Gunner had in his soul that finer tempered steel, the undying spirit that somehow cowed brute strength. It was all in the lap of the gods, however.
Continuously I was a murderer at heart. To have taken Von der Hess by the ankles as be leaned over the boat’s rail and tipped him into the swirling, muddy river would have been almost a Christian act I felt; it was a temptation.
It was something of the old refrain: God’s beautiful creation where only man is vile. I would be happy in the view of an undulating sea of rolling hills, here and there peeping from a green upland a pearl, a pagoda gleaming white in the morning sun; and the restfulness of a village, dainty bamboo houses, with thatched roofs, perched aloft on posts; and just without, the architectural beauty of a carved toy, the browned wooden zyat of the phoongyis—the priests.
Through my glasses I picked out in front of a zyat a fan-shaped group of acolytes,_ squatted in front of a yellowrobed priest listening to the written word as he expounded the tenets of Bbuddism.
Once—it was as we tied up to the bank at Thayetmyo—a huge symbol of unstriving strength, the leisureness of the land and its people, I observed a gigantic elephant dragging along the road a teakwood log. There was no urging from his mahout, who straddled his neck half asleep; the elephant, with ponderous steps, would travel for a hundred yards and then stop to rest, perhaps his supple trunk would strip a branch spangled with golden-cheeked guavas. Once he gathered up gravel and dust, and, twisting upward his sinuous trunk, blew the lot softly against the lean stomach of his mahout. If I had been near enough I know I should have heard him chuçkle. The mahout, wakened, kicked him softly in the ear with his bare toes.
From beyond, far over in the military cantonments, floated the faint call of a bugle, and between the steamer’s side and the mud bank the waters gurgled and whispered.
From such things I would be precipitated into hades by the Doctor, with cultured speech of beer, or the damn Englanders, or his coming battering of the Gunner, and half-veiled hints that if my people in London were men of acumen and would pay handsomely for the information they could forestall the Hollanders.
Von der Hess had a tracing of the map he had prepared for the government, and on each square mile were letters written in code that bared the land’s value in oil. Lven before he would leave the service now I could come by that information if my principals were generous.
Yes, indeed, Von der Hess had stolen White Gold.
It was noon of the second day when we pulled in to Yenangyoung, and the flatbottomed steamer was warped up to a mud bank from which stretched away toward some low-lying hills an expanse of glistening sand. Fifty yards from the landing I saw a little hut, a temporary make-shift habitation, its walls bamboo
matting, and its roof a jumbled thatch of toddy-palm leaves.
“Himmel, it iss hot!” and Von der Hess wiped the perspiration from under the brim of his topee. “And it iss a sahib—” he indicated a khaki-clad figure that stood without the hut—“we will go there for the shade till some ponies come.”
He turned to his servant, saying: “Put our traps by that little house, and then go to the village for a cart and two ponies.”
I could locate the village, almost a mile away, at the base of the hills, by the sonorous beat of a tom-tom, the shrill yelping of pariah dogs; and there was a higher note still, the skirling screech of the wooden axles of bullock carts coming down for merchandise off the boat.
The sahib we had seen greeted us with an invitation to step inside out of the terrific hear that beat back up from the gleaming sands.
At once my attention was riveted by the owner of the shelter; there was a neutral tone comprising his atmosphere. We found seats on two up-turned empty five gallon oil tins, while the proprietor busied himself in exploring a battered ochre-colored steel trunk, and from which he presently brought forth a bottle of Scotch wnisky, and raising his voice called, “Ramia Singh!”
Almost immediately a strikingly whiskered face was thrust through the opening that answered for door, and when its owner entered and stood up beside his sahib the physical incompleteness of our host was intensified, exaggerated. Ramia was a Punjabi, the clearcut, aquiline features, and the something of military caste, proclaimed nim one of the fighting race of the Five Rivers.
Our host spoke to Ramia, and the Punjabi served us somewhat in sequence, for there was but one glass.
“My name is Cameron,” I explained, “and this is Dr. Von der Hess; we are going over to the oil field to-morrow.”
In a drawling voice that suggested an almost listless indifference to life, our host acknowledged the introduction, but as if his standing were nebulous,' didn’t mention his name, simply explained that he had come down from Yangtsi to catch the steamer for Prome. “But she’s yonder,” he said; “you can see her foremast above the next bend; she’s been stuck on a sandbar for a week, and will be there till they get a rain in the hills and the river rises. I’ve been camped here for days for. fear she’ll come and go and I’ll miss her.” “Yah, and what iss your name, mein Herr?”
“My name—” there was a puzzled look in his face as though he were groping mentally, then he offered—“Connacher.” “And you come from Yangtsi, mein Herr Connacher. Did you that bully, the Gunner, see—iss he still there?”
“He was when I left,” Connacher answered.
A thought occurred to me that this man had been too long in the East; he had climate fag; that’s what jungle fever, and quinine, and nights shattered of all sleep by heat and mosquitoes, and the dread of the mysterious jungle brought to men who fought it too long.
His eyes were hopeless as a mental barometer. Perhaps if one has seen the bluish-blob eyes of a mizzled collie he can form an idea of the color scheme. They were deep set in the man’s head, and too close together; there was no expression in them except perhaps one of utter indifference. So unchanging were they that a casual observer mignt have said a deep inner intensity. They were eyes that might have looked out upon the ruins of worlds, might have been in the head of one who stood beside Agamemnon on the walls of Troy. His teeth, strong and inclined to yellow, had evidently been driven into his lower jaw higgledypiggledy by a blind man. He would be called almost undersized; but he was evidently tough—the Tyke type.
But Von der Hess, revivified by a ponderous peg of whisky, returned to the matter of the Gunner.
“Do you know this wonderful man, the Gunner?” he asked.
“Oh, yes; I’ve been with him at the thanna there.”
“Well,” Von der Hess sneered, “I’m going to Yangtsi just to rub that bully’s nose in the mud.”
‘‘Are you?” the other queried, and the voice neither betrayed if it were astonish-
ment nor irony. “You’re a big man, Mr Hess—”
“Von der Hess,” the Doctor roared. “As you like, sir. But big as ye are, I’d advise you to think twice over it.”
The Prussian fairly shook the little place with his Homeric laughter.
“Besides,” Connacher added, “you may see the Gunner here any day now—he^ä cornin’ down; it’ll save you a trip: and bein’ over-fat you must find the heat tryin’.”
. “Gott! you’re impertinent,” the Prussian growled.
“I was just advisin’ you,”
I had drawn from my pocket a Rangoon Gazette, and, in the way of changing the venue, passed it to our host, saying, “You won’t have seen much news here.”
1 noticed that he seized upon the paper with avidity, and it was to the report of the races that he turned at once. Presently he raised his eyes and said: “I see, Mr. Hess, that you had a bit of luck.”
The Prussian turned his eyes on me with a disdainful sweep of his hand, as much asto say, “What’s the use. This creature doesn’t know any better.”
“That was a fine pony you had,’' Connacher added. “Ah!” he had given an exclamation; “I see the Gunner’s name here.”
“That’s why I am going to Yangtsi,” Von der Hess interjected; “when I have twist his neck he will no more lies write to make trouble.”
“Aye.” There was a curious twist to the speaker’s lips that bared the teeth— ugly teeth they were too, and I felt myself trying to puzzle out whether he was Scotch or Irish, certainly he was a Celt.
The Prussian rose, and went out to see if the ponies were coming.
To my astonishment Connacher put a hand on my arm and said in a low voice; “The ponies won’t come; neither will his bearer. And if he walks it, don’t go with him, sir.”
“Trouble on?” I asked.
Von der Hess came back into the hut mopping his forehead. “Gott! it iss hot!” he growled, “and I don’t see that pig of a bearer coming with my pony.” He glared up at the thatched roof through which the sun was driving shafts of fire. “Himmel!” he exclaimed, “could you not some leaves put?”
I saw the incomprehensible eyes fix themselves upon the Prussian’s face, and there was no explanation—that is, physical, of that baleful look; there was no darkening of color, no flash, no sparkle, but I shuddered.
We sat there in that oven waiting for the ponies I now knew would not come.
Connacher, pencil in hand, was transscribing notes from the Gazette, while Von der Hess, restless, suffering from subdued’ rage, was prowling in and out. He brought more beer from his dunnage, and poured it down his big throat.
Connacher had opened his box, brought forth some paper, pen and ink, and was writing.
Once Von der Hess sneered, “If to the Gunner you are reporting, tell him that Dr. Von der Hess sends his compliments, and will be soon up there to slap him on the wrist,” then he laughed. “Hello, what’s this. Your sword, my soldier police?” and he reached down from where it hung on the wall by a silken sash, a. Burmese dah.
“That was Boh Thet’s dah," Connacher answered: “The decoit leader that has been killing right and left.”
“Ach! did twenty policemen surround! Boh Thet when he iss asleep and shoot, him?”
“So, it iss all a lie, as many times,-: Boh Thet iss still not killed.”
“He’s dead enough,” Connacher saidi quietly; “that stain on the blade is Boh. Thet’s blood—the Gunner killed him.” The Prussian laughed. “And the Gunner will claim the reward, and he will give the native policemen four annas each tosay nothing.”
“The Gunner killed him,” Connacher continued in a dry, rasping voice, “becauseBoh Thet, like yourself, Mr. Hess, madethreats, a threat that he was going to cut off the sahib’s head.”
“Again, you cockney Englander, I say you are impertinent. And please do not cause me to give to the Gunner’s servant what iss coming to him.”
Inwardly I was shivering with apprehension, partly for myself, for if the bigbruteattacked the smaller man lí Continued on page 52
Continued from page 50 bound to interfere. And even at that I was afraid the combat would go against us. But I saw no apprehension in the eyes of Connacher, rather the thing that had made me shudder—the unaccountable, not discoverable look that suggested hatred, a desire to kill. All at once I had the name for eyes like thet; in England they were called “farthing eyes,” why I don’t know.
The two men were without perspective: the Prussian, bom with a physical brutishness, had been tutored in the school of German arrogance until all finer sensibilities had become atrophied; he was possessed of no humanity, no consideration; he exulted in the cruelty of humiliating anybody over whom ne held power— -—he was akin to a savage.
And Connacher, the terrier type, the type of Briton devoid of a sense of caution, of a correlation of mind witly physical adequateness, as if totally oblivious of his danger, was taking no precaution to avert the caveman’s wrath, rather inciting it by his evident contempt. It was all dynamics—explosive dynamics.
“What is this oval thing of inlaid silver?” I asked, for I had taken the blade.
“That’s an egg,” Connacher explained. “Boh Thet was known as ‘The Egg’; and I was to deliver that dah to the Superintendent of Police in Rangoon as proof that Boh Thet is really dead.’ It was a sort of charm,” he added. “There’s a Burmese legend that a nat (spirit) fell in love with a Burmese girl who lived with her mother on the bank of a river. So the nat changed himself into a crocodile, and would lie in the mud on the river bank watching the girl. The mother, seeing that he was not vicious, and thinking he was sick, fed him. The crocodile laid an egg, and then disappeared. The mother put the egg in the sun on the sands to hatch, and a beautiful boy was born. The boy grew up rapidly —for nats can do anything—and married the girl.”
“Poof! ghost stories,” Von der Hess exclaimed.
“Very likely,” Connacher commented. “But Boh Thet claimed he was that nat, and the people, because he always escaped and was such a great dacoit leader, believed it.”
“How was the dacoit killed,” I asked— “how did they trap him?”
“Well,” Connacher said, in a slow reminiscent way, “like many a man he got overbold. The Gunner knew Boh Thet would try to get him at night when he was asleep, and that he couldn’t trust his Burmese servants because they were afraid of the dacoit, so without letting even his bearer know,' each night he put a roll of clothes in his bed and slept on a blanket in a corner?' One night he was brought out of a light sleep, but only just as Boh Thet struck, struck with his dah at the bundle of clothes just where he thought the neck was.”
Connacher took a cheroot from a leather case and lighted it. As he remained silent, puffing at the cheroot, I asked, “What then?”
“The Gunner had the advantage because the dacoit still thought he was in the bed, and he was lucky enough to get the dah in a tussle, and ran it clean through Boh Thet. He was a bit lucky.”
'“Himmel!” the Prussian gasped; then he laughed. “Now I believe of the egg story too,” he sneered. He rose and went ouL Returning he said, “I do not see the ponies coming, so I am going to walk to the village. I will request, Mr. Cameron, you will take care of my despatch box because it iss too hot to carry it. Those papers you saw are in it, so please be very carefuL”
i “You’d better put it in my steel box,” Connacher advised, “there are budmashes (thieves) about all the time, and they couldn’t walk off with the big box without being seen.”
“Yes,” I concurred, “I’d feel easier.” I knew that the bank notes were in the little box, and didn’t like being made responsible for that much money. I was glad that Von der Hess was going to the village.
The little box had no more than been locked in the larger one, when Ramia, with a soft-voiced “Sahib,” appeared in the door. He said something to his master, and Connacher answered, “They may come in.”
Then an attenuated gray-haired Burman appeared in the doorway and proceeded to squat there, saying, “Chizo, thakine," (salutations, sir). He was followed by an old woman, her yellow face drawn and shrivelled. Her loongyi was of
cotton: they were evidently just poor
The old woman had pushed in front of her, so that she stood just within the hut, a girl.
I heard a gutteral exclamation that sounded like “Ach, Gott!” and I saw in Von der Hess’s eyes a scowl of fear.
I turned my gaze back to the girl. Her limbs were draped by a rich silked Mandalay loongy; in her abundant black hair, glossy as a raven’s wing, was twined a circlet of gorgeous orchids; in the lobes of her ears were rolled spools of beaten gold. Her face was beautiful, its olive tone softened by the paste of sandal-wood powder that was made white by some other ingredient. She was young, probably fifteen, and her presence had brought a sweet perfume into the hut.
Connacher stood about half way between this group and the Prussian. There was a rapid exchange in the Burmese language, which I did not understand, between the old woman and our host; then she crept forward, and with her thin, lean hands caressed the feet of Von der Hess, her tired old eyes lifted to his face as she pleaded for something, “Chico thakine, thakine ghree.” (Greetings, sahib, the great one.)
The girl’s full big, dark, beautiful eyes were resting on the Prussian, and I thought they expressed hate, but still they were the eyes of a child and I didn’t know.
I heard Von der Hess bellow: “Vat iss this, vat you bring this old hag here to bother me for? Put them out—tell them to go!” He swung his feet away from the old woman’s hands, and stood up looking like a roused boar.
Connacher, speaking in a low knife-like voice, said: “I’m not going to put them out.”
“Well, keep them in. I vill go to the village.”
“Take my advice and don’t,” Connacher said crisply.
“Your advice! Why I should not goare you my master?”
“If you go to the village, Mr. Hess, there are men there waiting—Meemah’s brother is one—and they will crucify you upside down over a red ants’ nest.”
The Prussian, staggered by this, sat down on the tin blurting, “Poof! a threat, a lie!”
Connacher sat down facing him, and said: “These old people are Meemah’s parents, and they say that you cast her off thinking you were leaving the country.” “And yy I should not leave this Burman girl? Am I to take her back, to my fatherland like a wife?”
“Here in Burma she is your wife.”
The Prussian assayed a snorting laugh of derision: “Wife!” he sneered; “I buy that girl from her mother for two hundred rupees—iss that a wife?”
“Yes, according to Burmese form it is. A man pays the mother and he has acquired the daughter as his wife; that’s about their only observance.”
“Vat I got to do with vat these pagans do?”
“There is a British law here that when a sahib takes a Burmese girl to live with him—as they consider it as his wife— when he leaves the country he must deposit four thousand rupees if there is a child, to pay for his offspring’s education. Generally the child is taken care of by the missions or the Catholic fathers.”
“But there iss no child.”
“Yes, there is—-though not born yet. And I’m going to give the mother four thousand rupees of this money you -won with White Gold.”
“You are modest, my little friend. The Gunner should make you a sergeant, and the government thank you for interfering without authority.”
“The Gunner has received orders to straighten this matter out, and as I happen to be here I am only acting for him.” “There is another account,” Connacher coutinued quietly. “The' purse of two thousand rupees that you won at Rangoon with White Gold belongs to the Gunner; your winnings from the books I can’t touch, but five hundred rupees of that goes to the Gunner for the pony, which I suppose you have sold.”
“Do not go too far, you shrimp!” Von fler Hess threatened, “because this farce I will soon end.”
“The money you won in the lotteries,” Connacher resumed, “must he returned to the Club: there’s an objection that you were not the owner—and you were not.” “You mean that I stole the pony from the Gunner?”
“Looks like it.”
The Prussian sprang to his feet and seized a riding whip that lay against the bamboo wall. “Now, you damn Englander, gif to me my box, quick.”
“You can’t have the box,” Connacher answered quietly and as he stood up and faced the Prussian who was fairly foaming at the mouth with rage, I saw that in the dull eyes was no shrinking, no fear, just the_something that would have made me hesitate were I in the Prussian’s boots.
“You won’t—veil, gif me the key!” and Von der Hess took a step and was beside Connacher.
“You can’t have the key,” the latter answered.
It was a bellow of rage from the Prussian as he yelled: “Veil now you get vat you should haf—a damn good hiding!”
With a big hand he grasped the collar of Connacher’s coat, and all but carried him through the door, trampling over the squatted Burman.
The old woman started to wail and cry, and I, roused to fury by this brutality, seized the dah, and drawing the razoredged blade from its scabbard, rushed out.
Just without the door I stood petrified; I could feel that my lower jaw dropped, that my mouth hung open. The Prussian was on his knees in the sand, in one hand the whip, and in the other Copnachefls khaki coat; his eyes were blurred, his ponderous head was drooped forward, it was like the head of a stricken bull ; blood was spurting from his nose and trickling down his white jacket.
In front of him, coat stripped from his shoulders, banian in shreds, stood Con-) nacher braced like a fox terrier that iäk about to spring for the throat of another dog.
The Prussian dropped the coat, and drew a hand across his eyes. He lurched, he struggled to his feet, and with a guttural bellow that blew the frothing blood from his lips rushed toward the little man. It was pathetic, a huge half-' dazed creature wallowing in the shifting sands: his powerful hands, fingers spread, thrust out, clutched, clutched empty air. And against his battered face the knifelike, hard-boned fists of Connacher came, spang! spang! spang!
I shuddered; they were bone crushing. I fancied that the little man had jumped in the air as he struck, and he had struck with the straight dart of a cobra.
Again the Prussian toppled forward, his heavy head striking the sand first. He writhed, his huge figure twisted, and then his big arms flopped out helplessly as he rolled to his back, where he lay.
Connacher turned his dull blue eyes on me, but there was no glint of victory, no anything but just that shadow of killing that had made me shudder.
With a sweep of his arm, an arm that I could see in the glinting sunlight was a matter of whipcord bound together, he commanded; “Ramia, get the sahib inside.”
I thrust forward to help the Punjabi. As I tugged at the heavy torso I saw a livid welt on the big jaw, just on the point. That was what had done the trick, the straight arm blow that had driven the jaw bones crashing back on the base of the brain paralyzing its functioning. I had wondered at the big brute’s collapse; it was that, showing that Connacher was a scienced fighter, a skilled boxer, knowing the vital spot and how to reach it.
Ramia and I got the Prussian groggily to his feet, the action bringing him to consciousness. Swaying clumsily, we crowded through the narrow doorway and slumped him down on an oil can. Ramia brought a basin and towel.
As I wiped the Prussian’s face he muttered, “A drink I want.”
The whisky revived him. He glowered at Connacher, saying: “You haf struck me foul when I am not ready to fight.”
But Connacher dropped the papers I had seen him writing earlier on the box in front of Von der Hess, saying: “Those are statements that you voluntarily make the settlements I have spoken of. Sign them. If you refuse I am going to take you before the Deputy Commissioner at Thayetmyo.”
Von der Hess was reading the written matter. “And who iss this Connacher Shea that iss witness?”
“That’s my name, Connacher Shea, though I’m generally called the Gunner of Gharwal.”
“Wonderful!” I muttered, as I listened to the scratch of Von der Hess’s pen; “the equity of the jungle.”