THE GREEN DOVE
R. V. GERY
Commencing a new serial of adventure and intrigue in the Java Seas
IF YOU take a boat out of Macassar, or even Singapore —almost any boat will serve, but you are more likely to find your quarry on one of the lumbering old Dutchcommanded tramps that ply up and down those seas picking up scrap cargoes of sago and copra—if you take such a boat and make yourself familiar with the captain, you are pretty sure to hear tales of one or the other of them; the people who have drifted, through channels of all imaginable deviousness, to fantee about the islands. If you do get on the track of one of these queer fellows, follow it up. I did, and came across Trant.
It was on that most broad-breeched of Dutch tubs, the Hendryk Van Dam, in the days when she was still above water, and old Andries commanded her. She had grunted methodically to an anchor in a Java bay, and the inevitable collection of rickety praus, sampans, and other small craft were buzzing about her like flies. Andries and I leant over the bridge rail, watching them.
Suddenly the old man chuckled. “Allmächtig!” he observed, “He is here again !”
A more than usually dilapidated sampan was nosing through the crowd at our gangway, and the single oarsman on the stern of it waved a hand at the skipper. Andries beckoned him aboard and turned to me.
“Now you will see how do you say?—an odd fish,” he announced. “You Englishers”—when Andries says Englishers in that tone he implies anything incomprehensibly Anglo-Saxon -“you Englishers are all mad, but here is the maddest of you !”
The man hitched his calamitous craft to our ladder and sprang on deck. Andries shook hands with him solemnly, and turned to introduce me. I say introduce rather advisedly, for he was a startling figure to be presented to one, even on the bridge of the Hendryk Van Dam.
^ For a moment I thought Andries was playing a trick on me, and was inclined to resent meeting this long scalawag; then 1 recognized that for all his sleazy singlet and none too well-cared-for skin, he was something very much outside the ordinary run of “on the beach” European; and his first words went to emphasize the peculiarity of the man.
“Delighted to meet you,” he remarked, in accents that would not have disgraced Piccadilly. “It isn’t often we get strangers here. Andries, the two of you’ll come ashore, eh?”
To my astonishment Andries accepted the invitation with alacrity; this tall fellow was apparently a great ** deal more than he seemed; and my amazement was completed by his reaching into the hip pocket of his deplorable old duck trousers and producing a heavy gold cigar-case.
“Smoke?” he enquired in that Royal-Enclosure voice. He lit a cheroot— they were something out of the way, like himself and I had a further chance to inspect him, while he talked cargo with Andries.
He was incredibly untidy, to begin with, and I think it was this characteristic about him that struck me first by its very incongruity. The man was a type, all right; the long, lean-hipped, flat-stomached English type that usually runs to eminence in Colonial administration or the army; aquiline, blue-eyed, and all the rest of it. He doesn’t need any further description on this side of him; but the queer thing was to see him ragged, unkempt, and generally uncared-for, and yet preserving all the manner of his other incarnation. Andries caught my eye behind his back, and winked in his cataclysmic Dutch fashion, as who should say: “A mystery, my friend—follow it up!”
“Well,” said Trant, for that, it appeared, was his name, “suppose we go ashore. You’d better get your people to land you, Andries; I know you’re ashamed to be seen in my kind of craft.”
He twinkled at me—upon my word he reminded me i ambassador -slung himself over the side of 'amer into his crazy boat, and began sculling
shoreward in a manner that put the leisurely Malays to shame. I turned to Andries.
“What did I tell you?” he shook all over. “An odd fish, ja? And now we will follow and see—ja, what new foolishness he is at this time.”
Ashore there was the normal cluster of frowsy godowns along the beach, and a chattering mob of Malays and Javanese, half-breed Chinamen and so on, laborers in all probability from one or other of the island plantations. Trant met us at the jetty, and pushed his way through the rabble as if he owned the place, in the meanti me apologizi ng for his surroundings with the easy aplomb that seemed part of him.
more than ever what in the world he was doing there.
Outside the village an ill-tended path led among the palms; and finally, with Trant still looking like a scarecrow and talking like St. James’s, we broke into a clearing.
“My humble abode," Trant waved a hand at it.
“Come in and make yourselves at home—you’ll find a drink here, if there isn’t much else.”
There was a house of a sort. Let it suffice that it looked as if every unclean insect in the tropics made it a lurking-place; tumble-down, ragged-roofed, littered with debris up to its very doors. We dropped into battered
chairs in the verandah, and a girl brought us whisky. Trant drank, and wiped his mustache.
“Yes,” he said, as if in answer to my own unspoken query, “it’s not very clean, and I suppose it is rather the back of beyond—but as things are, it suits me well enough. And that, I take it, is about as much as any reasonable being can look for in these latter days . . . ”
Prone in his chair, one long leg flung carelessly over the side, he certainly fitted into his part; the lazy, humorous beach comber, troubled by neither ambition nor care. Yet there was that about him—the aquiline beak, the clear-cut speech, and still more his fashion of dealing with his liquor—that seemed to me indefinably out of place. Soldier, explorer, diplomat even—I was inexpressibly entertained with the speculation of where he had come from, and just what combination of circumstances had put him there.
T-TE CAST a leisurely glance over the dusty clearing -* before us, while Andries and I drank in silence. Then I heard him swear under his breath, and he stiffened, dropping his feet to the floor as if ready to spring erect.
A man was walking toward us—a Chinaman. In Soerabaya and round the islands one gets to be accustomed to the half-westernized and wholly unimpressive variant of the breed; but this specimen was another matter. His height proclaimed him to be a northerner, and he wore, startlingly, the ceremonial clothing one sees so very infrequently nowadays, robe, cap, and all the rest of it; he even wore the pigtail that I thought had gone out years ago with the Manchus. For the rest, he was broad-shouldered, muscular, and, I should say, not above thirty.
He walked with a deliberate waddle, and only halted when he was within a yard or so of Trant. Then he said something in rapid Chinese, apparently asking a question.
Trant stared at him for a moment with cool insolence. Then he said in English: “Get out!”
The Chinaman gave him back stare for stare with unwavering brown eyes.
“You had better make up your mind,” he said, speaking with a not unpleasant accent. “We have been very patient with you.”
Trant jumped to his feet. “Get out of this!” he snapped. “My mind’s made up, long ago. Here . . . perhaps this’ll convince you ...”
He grasped the man by the shoulders, whirled him round, and kicked him fairly off the verandah.
The other turned on him, and for a moment black rage peered through his impassivity; then he said something in sonorous Chinese that sounded like the accumulated curses of forty centuries, and waddled hastily off among the trees.
Trant watched him go and laughed, as one might imagine a carefree soldier at a mess jest. He blew thoughtfully on his knuckles and turned to us.
“That’s Fong,” he said. “An . . . unpleasant character, and one of life’s little drawbacks.” He looked at Andries as if about to say something, and then seemed to change his mind. “Just to take the taste away,” he said airily, “let’s have another.”
He called into the house behind him, and the girl came out once more. She stood at his elbow, holding a tray with glasses on it, and smiling down at him; a quaint enough little party, with parchment skin, and blue-black hair, oddly set off by level eyebrows and the European’s direct regard. Obviously, more than one race had gone to her make-up.
Trant spotted me scrutinizing her, and laughed again.
“No, no, my dear fellow,” he said. “Nothing of the sort. In fact, far from it. This,” he stood up and spoke seriously, “is Antonia.”
The girl showed her white teeth in a smile, and sketched a little curtsey, comic enough in her silk sarong.
"’Tonia Rocco . . . serveece!” she said. I judged her by her speech and a certain quality of languor in her dark beauty to be a Southern European hybrid of some sort.
She spoke to Trant, her face clouding, and with a little shiver. “Tuan,” she said, “that man ... he was here again. I am frightened of him . . . frightened!”
Trant tapped her on the cheek. “So am I, sweetheart,” he said soberly, and sent her into the house again.
VWTIEN she had vanished through the doorway, he *V looked at us quizzically. “I'm just wondering," he said, “about all this business.” He leaned back in his chair and bit the end off another cheroot. “There’s friend Fong needs explaining, and you’re entitled to be curious. He’s by no means ordinary, that Celestial. In fact,” he continued, “there’s just about the nastiest
biter east of Suez, if the truth were known.” Andries drew judgmatically on his great pipe.
“I told you,” he said to me, “dot he was mad, dis Englisher. Vot is it dis time, Trant? Der underground dibblomacy, like in Borneo -or is it maybe only a liddle brivate hell of a goot time of your own, eh? Believe me,” he nodded solemnly, “in ten years I haf seen dis almighty madman into more dricky business dan a blue-behinded monkey. Since der war, he lif for it—drouble, I mean. Not so, silly mans?”
He dug a forefinger like a bowsprit into Trant’s lean ribs.
“Well,” said Trant, “I’ve never seen very much where what Andries calls ‘drouble’ came in; that sort of messing around suits me very well, and doesn’t seem to have done me much harm. But this thing here is a different business altogether—and that’s just what’s got me thinking. You, Andries, know I’m a ” he
shrugged his shoulders . . . “rum kind of a stick; but this is the queerest yet.”
He paused, puffing at his cheroot. Andries looked at him a long minute with Dutch seriousness.
“Who is der girl?” he asked.
“The girl,” said Trant very quietly, “is all that’s left of Tony Rocco ... a friend of mine, and a white man.”
“Italian, ja?” Andries has a limited appreciation of the Latins.
“Italian, Andries. They got him . . eighteen
months ago, and the girl came down here to me.”
Andries opened his mouth, no doubt to ask the question that was on the tip of my own tongue; but it remained open, and he sat staring at the whisky bottle, splintered into a hundred fragments at his feet.
THERE is only one agency, in Malaysia at any rate, that can do this kind of thing, and the three of us demonstrated our aliveness to it by beating a confused retreat through the open doorway into the shelter of the house. Trant swore again, in what struck me as goodhumored irritation more than anything else.
“Confound these fellows!” he said, much in the manner of one fanning away mosquitos. “What’ll it be next? That’s the first time they’ve resorted to sniping. Lucky, Chinamen are naturally poor shots ...”
“Meanwhile,” I said, “it somehow occurs to me that cover mightn’t be a bad thing just now, dud shooting or no . . . ”
“Excellent suggestion,” said Trant, as another bullet whacked into the wall. “Get down, both of you, and we’ll try a little retaliation.”
He dropped on hands and knees, and the three of us crept close under the front wall of the house, while Trant took a remarkably well-tended rifle from the corner.
“Better show ’em we’re alive,” he grinned, and
pes he fired twice across the *.m in the evening light. Andries ..«perturbable grunts, dt dot was packarowed?" he
tnuing an interrupted conversation; he >f remaining unmoved by circumstance, ave often envied him.
i ell serious. "Tony ¡tueco was a genius," he nply, "if ever there was one."
.* girl had crept in, and now sat with us in the lee it* wall. Her eyes were on Trant, and I needed no particular clairvoyance to see how matters stood, in one respect at any rate.
"Well," said Andries. "And then?”
"And the bravest man it’s been my lot to meet,” Trant continued. "Got behind the scenes, up there as one of them. Lived with ’em three years and came away with ”
"Ja, I know,” Andries chuckled. “Der eye of der god, heh? Like I had heard a boem on der subject; Dimmock, my mate, he recide it to me when he was drunk.”
Trant abolished him with the flicker of an eye.
“Nothing of the sort, Piet!” he said abruptly. “You don’t know everything. Ever hear of the Sat Bhai?”
Andries grunted, and I pricked up my ears. “That’s the secret business in India, isn’t it . . . the ‘Seven Brothers’?” I asked. “But what’s that got to do with all this? It isn’t a Chinese ‘do’, anyway.”
“No,” said Trant, “it isn’t. And this thing of Tony’s wasn’t the Sat Bhai either. It was something a sight more complete, a sight trickier, and a long sight more dangerous than that.”
He paused once again, and fiddled thoughtfully with the breech of his rifle.
“Well?” I asked.
“The Green Dove,” was all he said, and smiled a thought ruefully at me.
“Sounds peaceable enough,” I commented. “And?”
"This is them.” Trant flicked a finger at the trees opposite. “Look peaceable and dovelike, don’t they ”
T-J E BROKE off suddenly, listening. There were movements outside the house, a shuffling of feet, inaudible almost. We crouched lower under cover, and Trant cocked his rifle.
A voice spoke to us, in English once more, but a clearer and more cultivated English than Eong’s.
“Mr. Trant,” it said, “let us put an end to this absurdity. A little friendly discussion will settle the matter, I am assured; and with your leave I am about to introduce myself.”
The four of us remained silent, gripping our rifles.
Outside, in the last of the daylight, there were, who knew, what strange and dangerous men, and from what Trant had already told us I’m not speaking for myself alone when I say that I wasn’t prepared to trust them the fraction of an inch. Tonia stared whitely at Trant.
Then the voice started again.
"Come, Mr. Trant,” it said. “You have my word as a gentleman that you are at full liberty to show yourself or, if you prefer it, you and your friends can remain under cover, and we will talk so. Myself, I
am in the open, and a perfect mark for any of you. But I ask you to discuss this matter in the friendliest possible way ...”
Trant stood up suddenly -so suddenly that Andries' hasty grasp at him came too late—and the steady evening light fell on his tall form.
“Well,” he asked acidly. “Who are you?”
Curiosity overcame me, and I stood up beside him, and looked out on an odd sight. Fifteen or twenty yards out in the clearing a figure stood solitary and composed. It was that of a shaggy-bearded man in western clothes, although even at this distance it was clear enough that he was no true European. There was something subtly Asiatic in the cut of his beard, a certain trick of the red, protruding lips. I was reminded faintly of those tremendous curled and barbered figures on the Assyrian reliefs, and found my mind flicking back to their horrid cruelties . . .
He stood with one heavily booted foot thrust forward, his eyes inflexibly on Trant. As I looked at him he bowed stiffly from the hips.
“My name,” he said quietly, “is Stekhine. You have, I am given to understand, a certain article which we, for our own reasons, value very considerably. It was stolen from us, in any event; but that is neither here nor there. The point is we dasire its immediate return. I am sure you will see eye to eye with me, and save a very great deal of unnecessary unpleasantness by handing it over.”
Trant threw his rifle across his arm.
“I don’t know what you mean, sir,” he said crisply. “You speak of ‘we.’ Who are you?”
The other showed his teeth in a smile.
“I think you know very well who we are, Mr. Trant,” he said. “But, to refresh your memory, we are the Society of the Green Dove—and we are not to be trifled with.”
Trant laughed. “And I have something of yours which you are anxious to recover?” he enquired suavely. “Suppose I have, and suppose I tell you that not for anything in the world will I return it to you. What then?”
“Then, Mr. Trant,” said Stekhine with a touch of pompousness, “you will be doing an exceedingly foolish thing.” He stood there, impassive and silent for a full half-minute, and behind him the trees loomed ominously. Certainly a most uncomfortable person.
“Come,” he went on. “Be reasonable. I have here,” he jerked his thumb over his shoulder, “enough men to swamp you. And moreover, you know, you and your friends have been giving us a very great deal of trouble, Mr. Trant. I pay you so much of a compliment. You have been a great nuisance to us, with your prying into matters which do not concern you—and we do not forget that one of you discovered certain facts which it was much to our advantage to have kept secret. Now,
and with that all forgotten, I make you an offer. Will you be good enough to listen to it?”
Trant stared at him comtemptuously.
“Go on,” he said.
“You shall give us the Green Dove,” said Stekhine levelly, “and I personally guarantee you a free road to the village—you and your friends.”
Trant looked at me. “Any views?” he murmured.
I was fumbling in my mind for an opinion which might be worth something, and being singularly unsuccessful in finding one, when Stekhine spoke again.
“Ah, yes,” he said. “I am reminded. The terms I spoke of do not, of course, apply to the—er, woman with you. You will be quite aware of the reasons. She must be handed over to us.”
It’s curious how different people react to surprise in different ways. Andries broke into a torrent of Dutch cursing which outdid anything I had ever heard, even from him. I felt physically sick, and Tonia, crouched at my feet, began to shudder uncontrollably. Trant merely laughed, and the laugh was not pretty.
“I’ll give you while I count twenty to get out of this, Stekhine,” he said, and flung his rifle over his arm. “After that I shall have the very greatest pleasure in blowing a hole in your carcass, as and where found ...” The Russian bowed once more. “Very well,” was all he said, and walked slowly through the dusk into the trees.
RANT dropped into cover once more.
“Now,” he said, “you see. Are you on to give ILS a hand? There’s liable to be trouble out of this business, I needn’t tell you.”
He embraced the two of us in his light blue stare. I watched Andries. This thing was going far beyond anything I had ever imagined, setting out peaceably on the Hendryk Van Dam; but after all—and the fellow had me desperately interested—“I’m on, if Andries is,” I said. “But I’m unarmed.”
“Easy,” Trant nodded to the girl, and she brought another Winchester from the back of the house somewhere. Apparently this queer menage went well heeled.
“And you, Piet?” Trant turned to the skipper, who was still smoking his pipe, and looking more like the late Kruger than ever. He grunted again, and reached a hairy hand behind him.
“Jo,” he nodded. “Coundt me in. Dimmock, he will run der ship, if he stay sober long enough.”
From some capacious receptacle about his afterworks he produced a monstrous old white-handled revolver, and fell to polishing it lovingly.
'T'RANT got up. “Food, Tonia,” he said to the girl.
“And meanwhile I’d better let you in on the rest of the story. Wait a minute.”
He went out to the back of the house, and returned with a small object in his hand. He gave it to me.
“There,” he said gravely. “That’s the thing Tony was after, up in the Annam backwoods. He got it all right— but they got him, poor chap. Scragged him first, and then . . . but it doesn’t bear talking about. Anyhow, Tonia here was with him. She managed to slip through the devils, taking this little brute with her, travelling at night and lying up by day. Finally she drifted down to Saigon, and so on to me here . . . it’s
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