His sweetheart captured by head-hunters, Dr. Granger attempts a rescue
GEORGE EDWARD ALLEN
The story: Dr. walter Granger is a distinguished surgeon at a great New York hospital, but because of his overbearing attitude is disliked by his associates. He plans to marry a society girl and practice surgery only for the money he can make: but when the girl jilts him he decides to do something for humanity by accepting a medical research post in Burma.
On board ship he meets Vivian Smith, who has learned nursing at the New York hospital and intends to serve with her doctor father who is already in Burma. When Granger speaks slightingly of her father's ability, she retorts that the, latter’s humanity makes him a better doctor than Granger. When they reach Myit-Asa, a Burmese town which supports a hospital, Vivian declines Granger's offer of a good nursing position and joins her father alLa-Taung, a post in the territory of a head-hunting tribe called the Wild Wa.
Granger makes a slightly more favorable impression on Vivian when he kills a wild tiger: and when he operates successfully on her ailing father she consents to accept his nursing position in one tveek’s time. She fails to appear as promised, and Granger goes on the trail to look for her. Her native servant reports that she has disappeared en route in the bush: and Granger notes with consternation that a wound on her pony’s side might have been caused either by a Wa spear or a tiger.
WALTER thank«! heaven for his hard schooling as a surgeon. One must be cool to fight slinking and contentious death; the greater the emergency, the more coolness was indicated. In this, the gicatcst emergency of his life so far, he was cold and clear as ice.
Almost instantly he realized the hopelessness of seeking Vivian tonight. If a tiger had caught her, she was of course dead. That would be the end of this story; sitting over her gnawed bones to ambush the killer, merely its lame and impotent epilogue. And if the Wa had captured her and already this was a profound conviction in Walter’s mind -he could not hope to stalk them up their secret trails in time to cut them off from their village. They were jungle men, and he was a heavy-footed white. This was one of those hard facts with which no heroic fervor could cope. At their first suspicion of pursuit, they would simply kill the captive that burdened them and make off with her head.
This was the dark side. The bright side was almost t(x> dim for his despairing eyes to see, but he kxiked hard and found it at last. If the Wa and not a tiger had ambushed her, they had not killed her on the spot, otherwise Moung Ka would have found her headless Ixxly on the trail. Perhaps they had merely carried her a short distance into the thickets to deal the blow in secret, but if they had delay«! this long, fear might have had time to strike their wild hearts and hold their hands. Certainly every second she had surviv«! had increased her chances of being alive now. The Wa were human beings. He must remember this, in all his deliberations. Most men must kill on the immediate impulse or not at all.
And the Wild Wa did not ordinarily hunt women's heads ! Female ghosts were suppos«! to have small power to bring rain and assure good crops. It seem«! more likely that they had captured Vivian to carry alive to their villages, perhaps as a sacrifice to their gods, certainly for some ceremony to break the drought.
When he sprang on his horse and turned back toward home, it was with the intention of notifying the authorities at once. At the outset it seemed the logical and only thing to do. But before he saw the lights of his compound he had seen other lights, dim in his mind but startling in their showing. Also the few words he exchanged with Moung Ne, riding swiftly to meet him. made him reconsider.
So he did not rush off a messenger to the nearest telegraph. He did not even consult with Porter, who had the typical Englishman’s faith in government, and suspicion of private ventures against crime. Instead, he called into his study Moung No, Moung Ka, and his old and fartrusted Mah Kyi, the prototype of the boldness and intelligence of Burmese womanhood. These people lived in the country, and knew more about it than all the English governors that ever breathed.
"It is known that the Wild Wa have a white head,” Mah Kyi explained. “But the rains have been scarce for three years, so they think his ghost is unhappy and needs comforting. And what would comfort him more than a wife of his own race?”
“But Smith Sawbwa is greatly beloved by the tame and the half-wild Wa. Would their kinsmen, the Wild Wa, ch(X)se his daughter for this evil?”
“It is not evil in their eyes, lord, but great honor.” “Then the memsahib is already slain?” Walter asked. “It may be so. lord. But if 1 know the Wa. they will cam’ her alive to their village and give her in marriage with great ceremony, with song and dancing, and the drinking of many oof arrack.”
IT MUST have been his tone, stripped of all passion, that made Mah Kyi glance quickly into his eyes, then her lips curl in a dim smile.
“Do not give up hope, Sahib Saya-Savvbwa. The Wa will choose no common night for such great pooja. Likely they will wait until the night of the full moon, which to them is most magical, always the night of their great feasts. Twenty-three days must pass before then, and in the meantime—”
“Should I tell the Government Sawbwas of this shame, and send men to seek her? Speak plainly.”
Mah Kyi made a little gesture with her slim, deft hand. “If my lord wants vengeance only, let him send forth the soldiers in all haste.”
“What do I care for vengeance? I want the memsahib back—alive.”
“If the Wa are not alarmed, they will likely keep her safe for many days. But if they hear the feet of marching men, or see the winged ships dropping thunder balls, their first act will be to slay her and hide her head in their secret places, and her body underground in the thickets, because no other thought would cross their jackal minds. That is the way of the Wild Wa. This is the way of all childish people, when panic strikes.”
“Mah Kyi. I believe you speak truth.”
And on that belief, Walter decided not to give the alarm. But it was a momentous and appalling decision for one man to make. Only his long lone fight against the most cruel and relentless enemy of man, disease, had conditioned him for it; only his hard practice in making decisions on which hung life and death gave him the heart. Quite likely
he was opening himself to criminal prosecution. Certainly if his decision cost Vivian’s life indeed if it failed to save her life—a cloud would hang over his name as long as he lived.
“So if the Wild Wa have taken her—and I will know tomorrow—I will seek her alone,’’ he went on.
“Alone, Sahib Saya-Sawbwa?”
It was Mah Kyi’s voice, low but ringing. Walter’s cold heart leaped in wild hope.
“Would you go with me? You cannot mean that. I could make good use of your quick hands and wise head, but—I do not understand.”
“Am I not your nurse—your chief nurse until the memsahib comes to put me in second place? Have we not stood side by side fighting death, the red running death of thç ojxn vein, or the tiny black death that the Sawbiva showed me in the glass? Have I done so ill that I must take off my uniform and hold my hands while my lord fights the sharpedged shining death in the Wa hills?”
“No. You shall follow me. We be twain.”
“We be three, lord.” Moung Ne broke in. “I am your bearer and your cise, and you have not yet given me discharge. My head is thick, but my arms and back are strong, and I would not impede the hunting.”
“Yes, we be three.” Walter was trembling.
“But we cannot be four, save in spirit,” Moung Ka said mournfully. “The memsahib has my heart, and it is gone from me, but the old doctor Sawbwa has but now gained his feet after the great sickness. I must stay and comfort him, lord. Do not blame me.”
“Blame you ! But we be four, none the less, for you shall pass and take signals, look and listen and carry word. And we three—Mah Kyi, Moung Ne and I—we go to the Wild Wa hills.”
THAT night Walter wrote a long letter to Doctor Smith, relating all he knew of Vivian’s disappearance, his plans for her rescue, and how he had arrived at them. If Doctor Smith thought best to reverse these plans and call in the authorities without further delay, it '¡was his right and duty to do so.
But he did not dispatch the letter now; anyway there were no bearers for it on this dark and perilous night. He proposed to carry it with him to the scene of the abduction, add to it what he could, and send it on by Moung Ka. But writing it took only thirty minutes. Many black and interminable hours stood between him and dawn.
Some of those hours he was able to pass in sleep. It was striking proof of his self-control, but he was not proud of it. Great selfcontrol usually went with great self-concern, and this was the quality in him that had alienated Vivian. Except for this, she would have come to him long before and her fate been different. In his wakeful hours he learned all he could of the Wa from his allies and Government reports, and made his plans.
An hour before dawn the horses were saddled. The light had not begun to clear when he, Moung Ne and Moung Ka topped the ridge where last night he had heard the news. The sun was barely over the Mekong as they approached the heavy jungle where Moung Ka had found Vivian’s horse.
Walter stopjxd in an ojxn glade to give final instructions to the two Burmese. “If the Wa took her, they will exjxct us to make a search,” he said in an undertone. “In that case they will likely have a spy jx>sted near by, jxrhajis in sound of our voices.”
“It is true,” Moung Ne murmured. “They have great cunning.”
“But jxrhaps their cunning will tum and bite them on the heels. If you see the sjxxe of the Wa. give no sign in word or gesture.
We must not let them know we suspect them, but show we think she was carried off by a tiger.”
“Perhaps they will launch their jxusoned arrows from the thickets.”
“Not when they see these rifles. Moung Ka, you shall lead the way.”
A short distance on Moung Ka showed him the thorn shrub that had snagged the bridle rein of Vivian’s horse. Or had it been fastened there by human hands? If not, it had been an unusual accident, considering the jxsition and form of the shrub. Certainly here was evidence to supjx>rt what he wanted to believe.
But the next second he was gazing at the ground with a suffocated heart. Hojx died in him then and there, not just ceasing to breathe as patients sometimes do on the ojxrating table, but as if in the dissolution of old age, beyond resuscitation; all hojx of hojx died too. In the dust of the trail was a great four-toed track, about the size of a man’s hand.
"Kya," Moung Ne gasjxd.
Walter nodded. Both natives gazed with wide eyes into
his face. He could not bear to try to sjxak, but he did. It was some strange kind of pride.
“Yes, the tiger. This game has played out.”
But no, hojx is immortal. Perhaps it was like the Buddhist conception of the soul, dying only to return in another form. "Maybe she didn't have time to lx afraid.” he was thinking. "Maybe she never knew what hit her. There’s that to hojx for yet.”
There was another tiger print a little farther on. All others seemed to lx obliterated by the footprints of Moung Ka and of travellers who had jxssed later in the evening. Still he might trace the direction the brute had gone by fallen leaves and broken shrubbery. Vivian was light. Kya would carry her high, but there should be a ghastly trail of her boots dragged on the ground.
He turned to look for it, but stopjxd. The blood rushed to his head, too wild and hot for him to think clearly, but he waited for the wave to recede. It was strange there should be travellers after Moung Ka had jxissed; no village was close by, and few natives would let darkness catch them on this trail. It was strange that both tracks were of the front j)aws instead of the rear, for the tiger would certainly stand on his hind legs to snatch a victim from horseback. It was strange that they were so large he had never seen such large pugs -and there were not more. It was strange that the reins should fall over the horse’s head and become tangled in a shrub only a few feet from the scene of the attack instead of after a long and frantic run.
He looked at the tracks again. Then he raised his voice.
“The curse of the gods on Kya, the wicked one! But we will chase him down and slay him. Come, men.”
rT'HE MEN seemed astonished at this passionate out* burst, so out of character in him, but dumbly followed him into the thickets. He held his rifle ready and pretended to search for torn vines and new-fallen leaves. But he stopjxd in the first ojxn glade.
“Keep your countenances and do not start or cry out,” he warned under his breath.
“Yes, lord," Moung Ne whisjxred.
“The prints were made by a man’s hands, not the jxuvs of a tiger. The cunning of the Wa has turned and bitten them on the heels.”
“Thanks to E)rd Buddha,” Moung Ka breathed.
“We may be sure now they have carried her alive to their village. They would not make this cheat if they intended to leave her headless body in these jungles for tiger hunters to find.”
“But which village, lord?” Moung Ne asked. “There are many in these hills.”
"That is to lx seen. Can you jxetend to kx>k for tiger pugs and a drag, but really look for footprints?”
“Yes, lord, but hold your rifle as though exjxcting a charge.”
They played that game, circling the scene. As the Wa always raid in considerable bands, Walter was not surjxised when a sudden stiffening of Moung Ne’s hand told him he had found a human footprint. But no one sjx>ke until again they reached an ojxn glade.
“They are heading north.” Moung Ne rejx>rted in an undertone. “They must belong either to the village of Wak-Ka or Kaka-Ban.”
“But you sawno print of boots?”
“No, lord. They w’ould bind her hands and feet with rattan, and carry her over their shoulders. But they would soon tire of that sjx>rt. If I know the Wa, they will squat on the first hilltop overlooking the trail, smoke their j>ijxs. spit, and watch to see what befalls. And from then on they will lead her with a rojx1 around her neck, like one of their cattle."
“Can you find this squatting j)lace, without show?”
“''tes. lord. It will not be far off the game trail to the
"1 would like to see her footprints, to make sure. And if they freed her hands, she may have left sign.”
1 hey will likely free her hands, lord, SÍ) she can go more swiftly through underbrush.”
A jungle man himself, Moung Ne had only to go where he would have gone in their place, the nearest and handiest lookout north of the trail. But to lay the suspicion of sj)ies, he aj)jxared to blunder onto it and to jxiss it without recognizing it. Then he stoj)jxd as though to light a cheroot, while Walter apjxared to scan the valley below.
"I saw tobacco ashes, and the withes they had cut from memsahib's hands and feet,” Walter murmured.
“And I saw a small white object in the thickets a short distance up the hill.”
\\ ith a little manoeuvring, they were able to recover the object on what seemed their discouraged retreat. But \\ alter did not even glance at it until well around a bend.
That Vivian had been able to leave this sign, and that he had found it, seemed too wonderful to be true. It made him feel that luck was on his side and thrilled his heart with renew'ed faith. It was of her bravery, too, to see her through, help bring her back alive. But the wonder did not stop here. The clue proved to lx a j)age torn from a notebook such as many nurses carry, and it was not blank.
How she had managed to write a message under guard Walter could hardly imagine. Possibly some sound had alarmed her captors, SÍ) that they turned their backs on her to gaze into the valley, jxrhaps they had remained near that sjx)t until after dark. But write she did, a few stealthily scrawled but legible words telling Walter what he most needed to know.
Kaka-Ban Safe till full moon No soldiers
The natives had guessed at this, but now he could believe it with all his heart, and that made all the difference in the world. And Vivian believed it in her heart, or she would never have risked her life to write it. Perhajys some Burmeae-sjxaking Wa had boasted to her. jxrhajw she had overheard a few Wa words that she knew. *
"But the Wa hills are closed to strangers, save a few Shan traders and Yunnanese salt merchants,” Moung Ne said. “I low may we go there and live?”
“Not in that guise. Such rains would fall as tf) cause dangerous freshets.”
“It is a jest, lord. Eater the jests will be few and jxx>r. In what guise, then?” “I will go as one of an unknown trilx*. then how I sj)it and snore and wear my loincloth will not betray me to their knives. You and Mah Kyi will go as my Burmese servants.” "That much is easy. There are a thousand trilx‘s in Burma alone. But what will lx* your j)idgin, to win their trust?”
"I will tx1 a guru a native medicine man.
I shall say charms and shake rattles to drive out devils of sickness. But in secret I will give the medicines and the treatment of my craft.”
“Then I shall lx your chela, your discij)le. Mah Kyi. your j)riestess. If the gcxls are g(xxl, we may come back alive. If not. we will lx* tx)rn again in better station.”
YTTALTER sat down by the trail and completed his letter to Doctor Smith. Enclosing Vivian’s message, he disj)atched it by Moung Ka, lending him a rifle to help its chances for safe delivery.
It was necessary to take Chandra Eil into his plans, but he had no fear of this Bengali doctor betraying them to the authorities. To Porter and the rest of his staff, Walter exj)lained that he was taking leave to hunt big game in the Eastern Jungles.
His only hojx and strength was as a doctorunless he could heal the sick and save lives he simj)ly could not survive—so he got together a comj)act but fairly complete medical outfit. I íe and Moung Ne met Mah Kyi at a lonely jungle rendezvous. And here he found Moung Ka with a brave letter from Doctor Smith, approving the plan.
Mah Kyi had provided a saddle-colored dye that not only kx)ked like j)igment but could stand soap and water. Their combined efforts supj)lied him with a costume, broadly Asiatic but indicating no one tribe a jilaid kneelength shirt with a broad sash suggesting Bhutan, breeches such as many Gurkhas wore, cloth leggings after the custom
of the Akha women, a Kachinlike turban to conceal his haircut, and crude sandals to protect his tender feet. In the jungle he applied coca in and perforated the lobes of his own ears one of the unhandiest operations he had ever performed so that he could wear earrings.
lie would carry no visible firearms. This alone would disguise him, he thought with a smile; the idea of a white man on the work of civilizing and pacifying the Orient without bristling rifles would be inconceivable to the native mind. But hidden in his armpit was one small pistol, just in case.
But Walter did not start at once for the Wa villages. Instead he listened to his small portable radio powered by a storage battery, a test not of his patience but of his will and common sense. In spite of his fears for Vivian, he must give her captors time to cool off. They must lx* sure their trick had worked and begin to lower their guard, otherwis«; they might make away with her at the first glimjise of three strangers approaching their gates. Meanwhile he might hear news to trade upon.
On his fourth night in camp the Government weather office reported that a great storm moving up from the Bay of Bengal would tomorrow bring heavy rains to all the Shan states including the Wa hills. To the Wa it would be a sign that the White Ghost was pleased w ith his promised bride. But to Walter it was the signal to attack.
His outfit had been already stripped to bare necessities and largely packed for travel, so he did n«>t tell his followers tonight. But an hour lx fore dawn he called them to get the horses and break camp.
Mah Kyi’s dark eyes glowed in the firelight. Moung Ne turned a little grey. Soon they were off, their medical supplies concealed under bells and gongs and si>lemn-l«x)king claptrap for magic-making—up the dim trail toward Kaka-Ban.
Before long Walter saw that he was well ahead of the rain. The only clouds in sight were a few streamers low in the south. But now he could see brown specks against a grey background on the crest of a distant ridge. These were the roofs of Kaka-Ban, showing up against earth bare and ashen-l«x)king from long occupancy.
Should he go on at once, or wait for more signs of rain? His reputation as a magic-maker would lx immediately enormous if he could conjure up clouds and all, but if it took too long, or if he failed altogether . . . But when he had ridden slowly into the dreary valley just beyond, the question was decided for him. Up there was the village, but down here were the Wild Wa themselves.
It was a party of about ten men. They had knives and fir©-hardened bamboo spears, but no work tools, no loads of jungle pnxluce, nothing to explain their presence on this trail. Mah-Kyi made a queer little chirping sound. Moung Ne whirled and l«x>ked into Walter’s eyes. Those ten men were out hunting human heads.
The Wa came on the run. but Walter and his pair drew up, so they dropped to a fast walk. They were intensely excited. Walter observed, their eyes burning, their faces drawn. It seemed likely they would attack before a word was exchanged.
But his aspect of composure seemed to impress them. The leader of the party gobbled out something in the Wa tongue.
Walter pointed impressively to his own breast. "Ratan-Pwi (magician),” he pronounced, one of the few Wa words he knew.
"He is the great wizard from beyond the rivers,” Moung Ne explained in the lingua franca of the hills. But his voice was trembling.
The Wa began to gobble at each other, but completely desperate. Walter’s voice cut through the growing uproar.
"Can any of you speak Burmese?”
One Wa, not quite so wild-kx>king as the others. t«x>k a pace forward. "Yes, Guru.”
"I have come to heal your sick and drive out devils.”
“We have our own gurus, but perhaps we have need of you.” The man smiled wickedly.
"I have heard there is no rain in your hills, so I have come here to make rain.”
The man translated this to his fellows.
There was an ill-natured jxirley; some of the men began to finger their knives.
"Bring me to your chief, the great chief of all the villages,” Walter demanded, for he knew that only desperate boldness would save him now. “I do not give my wisdom free to f«x)ls. And if I save your crops, make ready to pay me much silver and opium.”
When the Wa interpreter translated this, the leader ran his finger along his blade, then began to shout in a high, hysterical voice.
The men nodded. Their eyes glistened.
"It is true that our seeds are thirsty in the ground,” the interpreter pronounced at last.
“But your g«xls are not our g«xls, we do not
believe they can bring rain out of a clear sky. Yet if our great chief wills, you shall make your magic.”
Walter did not rxxl, did not speak. But he was terribly afraid his face betrayed relief.
"But if no rain falls, then we will make our own magic, and with three such ones on the posts it shall not fail.”
Walter wondered if the meteorologist in the Rangcxm weather office was really a first-class man.
AS THE Wa tcx>k possession of the horses and marched their three prisoners up the trail, Walter wondered what he could say to encourage Mah Kyi and Moung Ne.
The [xx)r devils would need it, he thought. They were simple Burmese, without sahib pride to danger in the face, their minds undisciplined to meet death with a smile. It was hard enough for him to smile. But he managed it, and he turned his head for them to see.
What he saw sh«X)k him. It made him feel foolish, but with a sudden, thrilling release of nervous tension. From the kx>k f)f Mah Kyi and Moung Ne, they were going out to build mud dikes in a paddy field. They had heard what the Wa said if it rained, they lived a while, if the drought persisted, they died but it was out of their hands.
In vain Walter tried to emulate them. He remembered hundreds of patients he had seen trundled into the operating room equally in the laps of the gods—about fifty-fifty whether they sank or swam but they were other people and this was he himself, a difference so vast that it staggered his imagination.
Soon they came to the welcome of the Wa. Under great trees with interlocking branches, the ground had been cleared of underbrush and gave the effect of an avenue approaching the village. On one side of that avenue was a long line of jx>sts. On each of those posts a notch had been cut. In each notch reposed a human skull.
Some of the skulls were old, discolored and moss-grown, but some were so fresh and white that they were plainly this season’s crop. And counting very carefully as he marched along, he noted that there were eighty-seven in all. Well, eighty-seven and three made ninety, a good round number.
At the end of the avenue was the village wall, made of earth, grown to spiny cactus and thorn scrub.. Although an armored tank would make short of it, it was a formidable barrier to f«x>t soldiers. There was no gate to the wall, and the village was perched on a knoll above a slope too steep to climb.
But the Wa had their own way back and forth. They led their prisoners into a black tunnel too narrow and low for horse traffic. Walter had heard of these passages, he knew that their every tum and twist was a potential ambush, that man-traps in the way of pegs and spikes were fixed in the walls and underfoot, and he needed no further evidence of the grim and deadly business conducted in these hills.
When the light failed, one of the Wa tcx>k Walter’s hand in his. A dry, hard, apelike hand. Walter wouldn’t have been surprised to feel hair growing on its palm. Also he was thinking what a convenient time and place for a decapitation. And in the zero of darkness his guide stopped.
There was a queer tension in the muscles at the back of Walter’s neck. "Good lord, is this true, after all?” he was thinking. “I—Walter Granger—not six months out of New York about to be beheaded like a rooster in an illsmelling hole in the ground?”
What sounded like a distant tom-tom was undoubtedly his own heart. He would no longer scoff at laymen who wrote of bkxxi curdling with terror. His scalp was shrinking on his skull, his hair rustling up, and his knees threatened to buckle under him.
But he had hunched his shoulders needlessly. There were some creaks and thumps ahead of him, and blinding light suddenly burst into the tunnel. The file had paused merely to ixrmit the man in the lead to open a wooden door to the hilltop.
Walter was led through that to find himself in a populous village. But at first he had to shut his eyes to the midday glare. That glare came from a white hot sun in a cloudless sky.
'“THE VILLAGE was a large one—probably 200 houses.
Only opium-growing could support such a large population in this unfertile land. Each house was perched on stilts under unusually low eaves, and reached by a log in which footholds had been cut. The chief’s house was somewhat larger than the others, and distinguished by a resemblance to a gallows tree in the projecting roof beam. If Vivian still lived, this structure was probably her prison.
Under the raised houses lived pigs, fowls, and dogs that were kept and fattened for food. There were a few bulfal«xs lying in the shade, but the only other sign of even primitive culture was a kind of flume made of split bamboo stalks that in normal seasons conducted water from some spring in the higher hills. The men were naked except for a narrow sash with tasselled ends, and many of the women wore only bracelets, beads, bangles, and, oddly enough, straw' hats.
Yet they were not beasts but human beings. They had g«xls to whom they sacrificed their precious buffalo, as w'as attested by forked poles erected in the house plots, one for each offering. Although quite short and stockily built, they were not even an ugly people; in fact some of the younger women were magnificently developed and quite comely. Nor did they look especially cruel, at least at present.
The children saw him first and ran like monkeys up the gangways into their houses; the grownups gaped at him without a sound. But presently the chief of the raiders called out something and every door in the village began to eject Wild Wa. In a moment Walter and his two followers were surrounded by a babbling, yelling throng.
Presently a middle-aged man, larger than the average and wearing some kind of an emblem on a silver chain, shouldered through the crow'd. The shouting ceased. No doubt this was a great chief.
He spoke to the leader of the head-hunting party, and the latter gobbled efoquently in reply. But Walter did not wait for them to finish their parley. Any boldness he had ever shown must tx pnxlence to what he must show now.
"Ratan-Pwi,” he pronounced, thumping his own breast. "Does the chief of all the Wa speak Burmese?”
For a tie of language between him and the chief might be the tie between his head and his shoulders. But the dark face did not change expression. And I can’t afford many more setbacks, Walter was thinking, desperately as he had ever thought in his life.
He turned to the Wa called Jak, who had acted as interpreter on the trail, but before the man could speak a girl about sixteen stepped out from the crowd.
"I speak Burmese, Guru,” she announced proudly. “My name is Saromo (a dream).” Walter’s hopes rose a little. Saromo looked lively, intelligent, and pretty enough to be the belle of the village.
"This great one i« Ramong, the chief of all the Wa,” the girl went on. "And he bids you kneel at his feet.”
But Walter knew the value of face in the eyes of primitive people. "Tell Ramong that I am chief of all the gurus,” he answered. "I kneel only to my gcxis.”
At this defiance to one she held half-god, the girl’s eyes grew wide with wonder and bright with admiration. But the chief had his own face to maintain. Repeating his command at the top of his voice, he pointed furiously at the ground.
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Walter shook his head for all to see. “I pay him great honor.” he explained, “but I am a holy man. and it is rain that I make fall upon the ground, not my knees. Yet he need not kneel to me. What do I care for the glories of earth, even the homage of great chiefs?”
Ramong was impressed. Walter knew it by the pitch of his voice. But there was very grave danger that he would try to hide it behind reckless action . . . If I live through the next sixty seconds, we’ll have a fighting chance . . . But it seemed so strange for him, Walter Granger, to count life in seconds.
Just then Walter got another impression, from what or where he did not know, weird as the cry of a fever bird half across the jungle, that the admiration of Saromo was not a help but a disaster. Middle-aged chiefs of all peoples were frequently enamored with girls young enough to be their daughters, especially when these were bold as lionesses.
“There is a post waiting for your head,” he shouted. “Will you kneel or will you lie down?” And he gripped the hilt of his big knife.
Blazing with excitement Saromo’s eyes
fastened on Walter’s face. It was his next move, those eyes told him, and implored him not to yield. This did not matter, but if Vivian were here she would entreat the same. She held by courage.
“Does the great chief care more for a guru’s salaam than for the saving of the crops?” Walter asked. “When the buffalo wallows dry up, and the streams fail, and the children weep for hunger, let him kneel for mercy before my naked skull.”
Saromo’s breast swelled out. She made a fiery translation of his speech, then knelt herself at Ramong’s feet. Either he loved the girl, or else he saw a chance to save his face, for he said in haughty tones:
“My knife remains in the sheath until the Karom-Simung (the Southern Cross) rises tonight. Meanwhile make your magic and beseech any gods that love you. If rain falls plentifully, you may walk from our village alive. But if those stars shine, we will entreat for rain according to our custom.”
TT MIGHT be worse, Walter thought.
Unless the Wa were magnificent actors, they took him for a wandering holy man and never dreamed his purpose here.
Continued on page 33
Continued from page 28 He was taken to a small unoccupied house, and his saddlebags deposited beside him. The Wa did not open these bags. They had that much respect for his magical powers. But unless he could disincamate himself and fade away, they did not mean for him to escape. Although the wall was unscalable without equipment and the tunnel guarded, about ten stout Wa stood about his door.
Mah Kyi and Moung Ne were put in a near-by house. He could expect no immediate help from them. His only help was thought, by which all things are possible at last. He closed his door, but the Wa heard him ringing gongs and chanting. Then he stood on the threshold and asked for audience with the great chief, Ramong.
“I have talked with my Nat (spirit),” he told him through Saromo. ‘Tie says that an evil Nat may delay the rain until tomorrow.”
“Then tomorrow we shall praise your head upon the post.” Ramong answered.
“But there is a good Nat who if set free would fight the evil one. It is the guardian spirit of someone in or near this village. But this one is not a Wa. The vision that floats before my eyes is pale-colored. That I cannot understand.”
Ramong understood. His eyes opened slightly. “It is but a dream.”
“A true dream, Ramong. And in that dream the Guardian of the Village—the Great White Ghost—would have my Nat free the Nat of this one I see, so they can work together to hasten the rain.”
“What ceremonies are needed?”
“Only that I touch the hand of this one.”
This made perfectly sound sense to the chief. “Alone or in my presence?”
Walter knew better than to ask too much. “In your presence, Great Chief. That will give strength to the magic.”
“Is this one you see man or woman?” “The hair is long. Perhaps it is a woman. An old woman? No, young. By my gods, Ramong, my Nat is playing tricks. If such a thing were possible, I would say she is a memsahib—a white woman.”
“Your Nat tells true, Guru.”
Walter opened his eyes wide. “How could a memsahib be here? Do not mock me, Great Chief, or my Nat will shake your bones with pain.”
“I have spoken. And in my presence you may see her with your own eyes, and touch her hand, if that will free her Nat to fight the drought. But this is all that shall pass between you. Your gods are not our gods, and I grant this much in the name of the Great White Ghost.”
The chief led him to his own house, an escort of armed Wa trailing behind. Removing a heavy wooden bolt, he opened the door of an inner room. Simply as that, Walter walked in.
There was no window in this room. What light there was came through cracks in the plank walls, and through a foot or so of space between the top of the walls and the beam-supported roof, and as the roof pitched sharply down to very low eaves, this light was grey. Fresh from the glare of the open, at first Walter could see nothing but a dim slim figure reclining on a mat.
But his mind was working at terrific intensity, and he knew that the figure’s eyes were tuned to the dimness and could see everything. Would she recognize him and cry out? I íe dared not make a gesture for silence. That first second of suspense seemed endless.
But this was Vivian ! Catch her blowing up! She was a trained nurse; she could pretend not to recognize Death when he stood by a patient’s bed. The light cleared quickly. He saw her riding-boots standing on the floor, dear little boots freshly polished, then her bright hair, then her eyes and mouth. He could go on with the play.
WALTER turned his back on Vivian and addressed Saromo in the Burmese tongue. But her knowledge of the language was not great, and Walter dared
to throw in English sentences for Vivian’s ears.
“Tell Ramong this is the one I saw in a dream. Strut your stuff, girl. Her Nat is a most powerful Nat.”
Saromo translated, but did not confess that she missed a few of the words. She was as proud of her reputation as a linguist as an American college girl travelling in France.
“Do your pooja. Guru, so we may go,” Ramong answered gruffly.
“Would you hurry the gods?” Walter demanded, apparently deeply shocked. “Tu o Chinese sky rockets among my things. This girl is beloved by the Great White Ghost of the village.”
“That is why she is here.” Ramong replied. “And her father’s great works among our kinsmen have come to high honor at last.”
A weird way of looking at it, Walter was thinking. Meanwhile his impulse was to grow bolder, to try to transmit too fast, but he resisted it. For every English sentence or phrase he whipped out for Vivian’s quick mind, he spoke paragraphs of rigmarole, pious and impressive claptrap about Nats, magic-making, and the Great White Ghost. Yet at last complete contact was made.
“If I'm killed, try to gel rockets . . . Make out they’re big medicine . . . Send up one to bring troops ...”
“If troops come. I’m done for,” she sent, while playing her own part.
“Two rockets will signal rescue party . . . They’ll come under east wall twenty-four hours later . . . If no chance, play for time . . . Friends will storm east wall on tenth night, counting tonight . . . Too risky to try before.”
No longer able to delay the pooja, Walter had Vivian put her hand first on her head, then on her heart, finally in his hand. This touch seemed to telegraph something they had not and could not put in words.
“This is great pooja,” Vivian told Saromo. “For heaven’s sake, be. careful. I can feel fire shooting up my arm.”
Walter was glad he had not tried to pass a note or a weapon to Vivian. Ramong was not suspicious—he had been bamboozled by priests all his life—but his eyes were the eyes of a jungle man, missing nothing.
“Now I go and meditate alone. Don't give up. I will entreat the gods of the hills. No matter what happens to me. This village is in grave danger. I adore you. Fear the gods!”
Then he turned and walked out without a backward glance.
He did not speak again until he was almost to his own prison. Then he stopped dead still in the footpath, and turned to Saromo with a trancelike expression.
“I have beheld a vision,” he pronounced.
“We have had enough of your visions,” Ramong growled, when Saromo had interpreted.
“Silence! Would you bring not only seven years drought, but a murrain on the buffalo, and the madness to all your dogs, and a wer-tiger to slay your first born?”
SAROMO’S dark face turned ashen.
Awe and suspicion fought in Ramong’s eyes.
“The priests have said to wed the white girl to the Great White Ghost,” Walter rushed on. “That is well, and let there be great singing and dancing and merrymaking. But the White Ghost loves her warm flesh and the sun’s gold on her head, and her white breasts, and if you touch the steel to her throat or shed one drop of her beloved blood, his wrath will be terrible to see.”
“But our priests say—”
“That is why my Nat has sent me here, to rebuke them, and see the whole of which they see a part,” Walter went on. “I did not understand before.”
Walter gave Saromo time not only to translate this but to add her own comments. She. at least, was enormously impressed.
“But where shall she go when the marriage is made?” the Wa girl asked. “What shall she do?”
“That is between her and her husband, not Wa fools babbling together. Perhaps she will remain a week in the chief’s house, perhaps a month, to meet her husband in the dark hours. Then she will go to her own place, returning every full moon, and on the new moons the White Ghost will fly across the ridge to her.”
“And does the White Ghost say to let you too go to your own place, or we will feel his wrath?” Ramong asked.
Walter wanted to say yes. There was no sign of rain. But Ramong’s eyes were glittering. His seemingly frank tone was studied. Walter knew that if he tried to make capital for himself his “vision” would not be believed.
“I do not hear him say so,” he answered after brooding. It was not so hard, after all. “But why should he want my head,
when his every thought is of his coming marriage?”
“If he wishes you to live, he will send the rains before the South stars rise. But if he does not, the ghost of such a great guru will help him guard our fields. For it has come to me that you are a great guru. And our priests will consult the auguries again, whether the white girl goes to her husband in spirit or flesh.”
“But this much is true. If my head is taken, let it be placed at once in the basket, without ceremony, and kept there till it is dry, and let my body, in its present dress, be given speedily to the ground. Otherwise my ghost will curse your fields.”
For Walter dared not take a chance on being exposed as a white man. Otherwise even the simple-hearted ghost-haunted Wa would understand.
“That much is granted. I am Ramong, chief of all the Wa.”
To be Continued