Part 3 out of 7
The night fire of a little band of elephant-catchers burned fitfully at
the edge of the jungle. They were silent men--for they had lived long on
the elephant trails--and curiously scarred and sombre. They smoked their
cheroots, and waited for Ahmad Din to speak.
"You have all heard?" he asked at last.
All but one of them nodded. Of course this did not count the most
despised one of them all--old Langur Dass--who sat at the very edge of
the shadow. His long hair was grey, and his youth had gone where the sun
goes at evening. They scarcely addressed a word to him, or he to them.
True, he knew the elephants, but was he not possessed of evil spirits?
He was always without rupees, too, a creature of the wild that could not
seem to understand the gathering of money. As a man, according to the
standards of men, he was an abject failure.
"Khusru has failed to catch White-Skin, but he has lived to tell many
lies about it. He comes to-night."
It was noticeable that Langur Dass, at the edge of the circle, pricked
up his ears.
"Do you mean the white elephant of which the Manipur people tell so many
lies?" he asked. "Do you, skilled catchers that you are, believe that
such an elephant is still wild in the jungle?"
Ahmad Din scowled. "The Manipur people tell of him, but for once they
tell the truth," was the reply. "He is the greatest elephant, the
richest prize, in all of Burma. Too many people have seen him to doubt.
I add my word to theirs, thou son of immorality!"
Ahmad Din hesitated before he continued. Perhaps it was a mistake to
tell of the great, light-coloured elephant until this man should have
gone away. But what harm could this wanderer do them? All men knew that
the jungle had maddened him.
Langur Dass's face lit suddenly. "Then it could be none but Muztagh,
escaped from Dugan Sahib fifteen years ago. That calf was also white. He
was also overgrown for his years."
One of the trackers suddenly gasped. "Then that is why he spared
Khusru!" he cried. "He remembered men."
The others nodded gravely. "They never forget," said Langur Dass.
"You will be silent while I speak," Ahmad Din went on. Langur grew
silent as commanded, but his thoughts were flowing backward twenty
years, to days at the elephant lines in distant hills. Muztagh was the
one living creature that in all his days had loved Langur Dass. The man
shut his eyes, and his limbs seemed to relax as if he had lost all
interest in the talk. The evil one took hold of him at such times, the
people said, letting understanding follow his thoughts back into the
purple hills and the far-off spaces of the jungle. But to-night he was
only pretending. He meant to hear every word of the talk before he left
"He tells a mad story, as you know, of the elephant sparing him when he
was beneath his feet," Ahmad Din went on; "that part of his story does
not matter to us. _Hai!_ He might have been frightened enough to say
that the sun set at noon. But what matters to us more is that he knows
where the herd is--but a day's journey beyond the river. And there is no
time to be lost."
His fellows nodded in agreement.
"So to-morrow we will break camp. There can be no mistake this time.
There must be no points overlooked. The chase will cost much, but it
will return a hundredfold. Khusru says that at last the white one has
started back toward his herd, so that all can be taken in the same
_keddah_. And the white sahib that holds the license is not to know that
White-Coat is in the herd at all."
The circle nodded again, and contracted toward the speaker.
"We will hire beaters and drivers, the best that can be found. To-morrow
we will take the elephants and go."
Langur Dass pretended to waken. "I have gone hungry many days," he said.
"If the drive is on, perhaps you will give your servant a place among
The circle turned and stared at him. It was one of the stories of Langur
Dass that he never partook in the elephant hunts. Evidently poor living
had broken his resolutions.
"You shall have your wish, if you know how to keep a closed mouth,"
Ahmad Din replied. "There are other hunting parties in the hills."
Langur nodded. He was very adept indeed at keeping a closed mouth. It is
one of the first lessons of the jungle.
For another long hour they sat and perfected their plans. Then they lay
down by the fire together, and sleep dropped over them one by one. At
last Langur sat by the fire alone.
"You will watch the flame to-night," Ahmad Din ordered. "We did not feed
you to-night for pity on your grey hairs. And remember--a gipsy died in
a tiger's claws on this very slope--not six months past."
Langur Dass was left alone with his thoughts. Soon he got up and stole
out into the velvet darkness. The mists were over the hills as always.
"Have I followed the tales of your greatness all these years for this?"
he muttered. "It is right for pigs with the hearts of pigs to break
their backs in labour. But you, my Muztagh! Jewel among elephants! King
of the jungle! Thou art of the true breed! Moreover I am minded that thy
heart and mine are one!
"Thou art born ten thousand years after thy time, Muztagh," he went on.
"Thou art of the breed of masters, not of slaves! We are of the same
womb, thou and I. Can I not understand? These are not my people--these
brown men about the fire. I have not thy strength, Muztagh, or I would
be out there with thee! Yet is not the saying that brother shall serve
He turned slowly back to the circle of the firelight. Then his brown,
scrawny fingers clenched.
"Am I to desert my brother in his hour of need? Am I to see these brown
pigs put chains around him, in the moment of his power? A king, falling
to the place of a slave? Muztagh, we will see what can be done! Muztagh,
my king, my pearl, my pink baby, for whom I dug grass in the long ago!
Thy Langur Dass is old, and his whole strength is not that of thy trunk,
and men look at him as a worm in the grass. But _hai!_ perhaps thou wilt
find him an ally not to be despised!"
The night had just fallen, moist and heavy over the jungle, when Muztagh
caught up with his herd. He found them in an open grassy glade,
encircled by hills, and they were all waiting, silent, as he sped down
the hills toward them. They had heard him coming a long way. He was not
attempting silence. The jungle people had not got out of his way.
The old bull that led the herd, seventy years of age and at the pride of
his wisdom and strength, scarred, yellow-tusked and noble past any
elephant patriarch in the jungle, curled up his trunk when he saw him
come. He knew very well what would happen. And because no one knows
better than the jungle people what a good thing it is to take the
offensive in all battles, and because it was fitting his place and
dignity, he uttered the challenge himself.
The silence dropped as something from the sky. The little pink calves
who had never seen the herd grow still in this same way before, felt the
dawn of the storm that they could not understand, and took shelter
beneath their mothers' bellies. But they did not squeal. The silence
was too deep for them to dare to break.
It is always an epoch in the life of the herd when a young bull contests
for leadership. It is a much more serious thing than in the herds of
deer and buffalo. The latter only live a handful of years, then grow
weak and die. A great bull who has attained strength and wisdom enough
to obtain the leadership of an elephant herd may often keep it for forty
years. Kings do not rise and fall half so often as in the kingdoms of
Europe. For, as most men know, an elephant is not really old until he
has seen a hundred summers come and go. Then he will linger fifty years
more, wise and grey and wrinkled and strange and full of memories of a
time no man can possibly remember.
Long years had passed since the leader's place had been questioned. The
aristocracy of strength is drawn on quite inflexible lines. It would
have been simply absurd for an elephant of the Dwasala or Mierga grades
to covet the leadership. They had grown old without making the attempt.
Only the great Kumiria, the grand dukes in the aristocracy, had ever
made the trial at all. And besides, the bull was a better fighter after
thirty years of leadership than on the day he had gained the honour.
The herd stood like heroic figures in stone for a long moment--until
Muztagh had replied to the challenge. He was so surprised that he
couldn't make any sound at all at first. He had expected to do the
challenging himself. The fact that the leader had done it shook his
self-confidence to some slight degree. Evidently the old leader still
felt able to handle any young and arrogant bulls that desired his place.
Then the herd began to shift. The cows drew back with their calves, the
bulls surged forward, and slowly they made a hollow ring, not greatly
different from the pugilistic ring known to fight-fans. The calves began
to squeal, but their mothers silenced them. Very slowly and grandly,
with infinite dignity, Muztagh stamped into the circle. His tusks
gleamed. His eyes glowed red. And those appraising old bulls in the ring
knew that such an elephant had not been born since the time of their
They looked him over from tail to trunk. They marked the symmetrical
form, the legs like mighty pillars, the sloping back, the wide-apart,
intelligent eyes. His shoulders were an expression of latent
might--power to break a tree-trunk at its base; by the conformity of his
muscles he was agile and quick as a tiger. And knowing these things, and
recognizing them, and honouring them, devotees of strength that they
were, they threw their trunks in the air till they touched their
foreheads and blared their full-voiced salute.
They gave it the same instant--as musicians strike the same note at
their leader's signal. It was a perfect explosion of sound, a terrible
blare, that crashed out through the jungles and wakened every sleeping
thing. The dew fell from the trees. A great tawny tiger, lingering in
hope of an elephant calf, slipped silently away. The sound rang true and
loud to the surrounding hills and echoed and re-echoed softer and
softer, until it was just a tiny tremour in the air.
Not only the jungle folk marvelled at the sound. At an encampment three
miles distant Ahmad Din and his men heard the wild call, and looked with
wondering eyes upon each other. Then out of the silence spoke Langur
"My lord Muztagh has come back to his herd--that is his salute," he
Ahmad Din looked darkly about the circle. "And how long shall he stay?"
The trap was almost ready. The hour to strike had almost come.
Meanwhile the grand old leader stamped into the circle, seeming
unconscious of the eyes upon him, battle-scarred and old. Even if this
fight were his last, he meant to preserve his dignity.
Again the salute sounded--shattering out like a thunderclap over the
jungle. Then challenger and challenged closed.
At first the watchers were silent. Then as the battle grew ever fiercer
and more terrible, they began to grunt and squeal, surging back and
forth, stamping the earth and crashing the underbrush. All the
jungle-folk for miles about knew what was occurring. And Ahmad Din
wished his _keddah_ were completed, for never could there be a better
opportunity to surround the herd than at the present moment, when they
had forgotten all things except the battling monsters in the centre of
The two bulls were quite evenly matched. The patriarch knew more of
fighting, had learned more wiles, but he had neither the strength nor
the agility of Muztagh. The late twilight deepened into the intense
dark, and the stars of midnight rose above the eastern hills.
All at once, Muztagh went to his knees. But as might a tiger, he sprang
aside in time to avoid a terrible tusk blow to his shoulder. And his
counter-blow, a lashing cut with the head, shattered the great leader to
the earth. The elephants bounded forward, but the old leader had a trick
left in his trunk. As Muztagh bore down upon him he reared up beneath,
and almost turned the tables. Only the youngster's superior strength
saved him from immediate defeat.
But as the night drew to morning, the bulls began to see that the tide
of the battle had turned. Youth was conquering--too mighty and agile to
resist. The rushes of the patriarch were ever weaker. He still could
inflict punishment, and the hides of both of them were terrible to see,
but he was no longer able to take advantage of his openings. Then
Muztagh did a thing that reassured the old bulls as to his craft and
wisdom. Just as a pugilist will invite a blow to draw his opponent
within range, Muztagh pretended to leave his great shoulder exposed. The
old bull failed to see the plot. He bore down, and Muztagh was ready
with flashing tusk.
What happened thereafter occurred too quickly for the eyes of the
elephants to follow. They saw the great bull go down and Muztagh stand
lunging above him. And the battle was over.
The great leader, seriously hurt, backed away into the shadowed jungle.
His trunk was lowered in token of defeat. Then the ring was empty except
for a great red-eyed elephant, whose hide was no longer white, standing
blaring his triumph to the stars.
Three times the elephant salute crashed out into the jungle silence--the
full voiced salaam to a new king. Muztagh had come into his birthright.
The _keddah_ was built at last. It was a strong stockade, opening with
great wings spreading out one hundred yards, and equipped with the great
gate that lowered like a portcullis at the funnel end of the wings. The
herd had been surrounded by the drivers and beaters, and slowly they had
been driven, for long days, toward the _keddah_ mouth. They had guns
loaded with blank cartridges, and firebrands ready to light. At a given
signal they would close down quickly about the herd, and stampede it
into the yawning mouth of the stockade.
No detail had been overlooked. No expense had been spared. The profit
was assured in advance, not only from the matchless Muztagh, but from
the herd as well. The king of the jungle, free now as the winds or the
waters, was about to go back to his chains. These had been such days! He
had led the herd through the hills, and had known the rapture of living
as never before. It had been his work to clear the trail of all dangers
for the herd. It was his pride to find them the coolest watering-places,
the greenest hills. One night a tiger had tried to kill a calf that had
wandered from its mother's side. Muztagh lifted his trunk high and
charged down with great, driving strides--four tons and over of majestic
wrath. The tiger leaped to meet him, but the elephant was ready. He had
met tigers before. He avoided the terrible stroke of outstretched claws,
and his tusks lashed to one side as the tiger was in midspring. Then he
lunged out, and the great knees descended slowly, as a hydraulic press
descends on yellow apples. And soon after that the kites were dropping
out of the sky for a feast.
His word was law in the herd. And slowly he began to overcome the doubt
that the great bulls had of him--doubt of his youth and experience. If
he had had three months more of leadership, their trust would have been
absolute. But in the meantime, the slow herding toward the _keddah_ had
"We will need brave men to stand at the end of the wings of the
_keddah_," said Ahmad Din. He spoke no less than truth. The man who
stands at the end of the wings, or wide-stretching gates, of the
_keddah_ is of course in the greatest danger of being charged and
killed. The herd, mad with fright, is only slightly less afraid of the
spreading wings of the stockade than of the yelling, whooping beaters
behind. Often they will try to break through the circle rather than
enter the wings.
"For two rupees additional I will hold one of the wings," replied old
Langur Dass. Ahmad Din glanced at him--at his hard, bright eyes and
determined face. Then he peered hard, and tried in vain to read the
thoughts behind the eyes. "You are a madman, Langur Dass," he said
wonderingly. "But thou shalt lie behind the right-wing men to pass them
torches. I have spoken."
"And the two extra rupees?" Langur asked cunningly.
"Maybe." One does not throw away rupees in Upper Burma.
Within the hour the signal of _"Mail, mail!"_ (Go on, go on!) was given,
and the final laps of the drive began.
The hills grew full of sound. The beaters sprang up with firebrand and
rifle, and closed swiftly about the herd. The animals moved slowly at
first. The time was not quite ripe to throw them into a panic. Many
times the herd would leave their trail and start to dip into a valley or
a creek-bed, but always there was a new crowd of beaters to block their
path. But presently the beaters closed in on them. Then the animals
began a wild descent squarely toward the mouth of the _keddah_.
_"Hai!"_ the wild men cried. "Oh, you forest pigs! On, on! Block the way
through that valley, you brainless sons of jackals! Are you afraid?
_Ai!_ Stand close! Watch, Puran! Guard your post, Khusru! Now on, on--do
not let them halt! _Arre! Aihai!_"
Firebrands waved, rifles cracked, the wild shout of beaters increased
in volume. The men closed in, driving the beasts before them.
But there was one man that did not raise his voice. Through all the
turmoil and pandemonium he crouched at the end of the stockade wing,
tense, and silent and alone. To one that could have looked into his
eyes, it would have seemed that his thoughts were far and far away. It
was just old Langur Dass, named for a monkey and despised of men.
He was waiting for the instant that the herd would come thundering down
the hill, in order to pass lighted firebrands to the bold men who held
that corner. He was not certain that he could do the thing he had set
out to do. Perhaps the herd would sweep past him, through the gates. If
he did win, he would have to face alone the screaming, infuriated
hillmen, whose knives were always ready to draw. But knives did not
matter now. Langur Dass had only his own faith and his own creed, and no
fear could make him betray them.
Muztagh had lost control of his herd. At their head ran the old leader
that he had worsted. In their hour of fear they had turned back to him.
What did this youngster know of elephant-drives? Ever the waving
firebrands drew nearer, the beaters lessened their circle, the avenues
of escape became more narrow. The yawning arms of the stockade stretched
"Will I win, jungle gods?" a little grey man at the _keddah_ wing was
whispering to the forests. "Will I save you, great one that I knew in
babyhood? Will you go down into chains before the night is done? _Ai!_ I
hear the thunder of your feet! The moment is almost here. And now--your
last chance, Muztagh!"
"Close down, close down!" Ahmad Din was shouting to his beaters. "The
thing is done in another moment. Hasten, pigs of the hills! Raise your
voice! Now! _Aihai!_"
The herd was at the very wings of the stockade. They had halted an
instant, milling, and the beaters increased their shouts. Only one of
all the herd seemed to know the danger--Muztagh himself, and he had
dropped from the front rank to the very rear. He stood with uplifted
trunk, facing the approaching rows of beaters. And there seemed to be
no break in the whole line.
The herd started to move on into the wings of captitivity; and they did
not heed his warning squeals to turn. The circle of fire drew nearer.
Then his trunk seemed to droop, and he turned, too. He could not break
the line. He turned, too, toward the mouth of the _keddah_.
But even as he turned, a brown figure darted toward him from the end of
the wing. A voice known long ago was calling to him--a voice that
penetrated high and clear above the babble of the beaters. "Muztagh!" it
was crying. "Muztagh!"
But it was not the words that turned Muztagh. An elephant cannot
understand words, except a few elemental sounds such as a horse or dog
can learn. Rather it was the smell of the man, remembered from long ago,
and the sound of his voice, never quite forgotten. For an elephant never
The elephant knew him now. He remembered his one friend among all the
human beings that he knew in his calfhood; the one mortal from whom he
had received love and given love in exchange.
"More firebrands!" yelled the men who held that corner of the wing.
"Firebrands! Where is Langur Dass?" but instead of firebrands that would
have frightened beast and aided men, Langur Dass stepped out from behind
a tree and beat at the heads of the right-wing guards with a bamboo cane
that whistled and whacked and scattered them into panic--yelling all the
while--"Muztagh! O my Muztagh! Here is an opening! Muztagh, come!".
And Muztagh did come--trumpeting--crashing like an avalanche, with
Langur Dass hard after him afraid, now that he had done the trick. And
hot on the trail of Langur Dass ran Ahmad Din, with his knife drawn not
meaning to let that prize be lost to him at less than the cost of the
But it was not written that the knife should ever enter the flesh of
The elephant never forgets, and Muztagh was monarch of his breed. He
turned back two paces, and struck with his trunk. Ahmad Din was knocked
aside as the wind whips a straw.
For an instant elephant and man stood front to front. To the left of
them the gates of the stockade dropped shut behind the herd. The
elephant stood with trunk slightly lifted, for the moment motionless.
The long-haired man who saved him stood lifting upstretched arms.
It was such as scene as one might remember in an old legend, wherein
beasts and men were brothers, or such as sometimes might steal, likely
something remembered from another age, into a man's dreams. Nowhere but
in India, where men have a little knowledge of the mystery of the
elephant, could it have taken place at all.
For Langur Dass was speaking to my lord the elephant:
"Take me with thee, Muztagh! Monarch of the hills! Thou and I are not of
the world of men, but of the jungle and the rain, the silence, and the
cold touch of rivers. We are brothers, Muztagh. O beloved, wilt thou
leave me here to die!"
The elephant slowly turned his head and looked scornfully at the group
of beaters bearing down on Langur Dass, murder shining no less from
their knives than from their lighted eyes.
"Take me," the old man pleaded; "thy herd is gone."
The elephant seemed to know what he was asking. He had lifted him to his
great shoulders many times, in the last days of his captivity. And
besides, his old love for Langur Dass had never been forgotten. It all
returned, full and strong as ever. For an elephant never can forget.
It was not one of the man-herd that stood pleading before him. It was
one of his own jungle people, just as, deep in his heart, he had always
known. So with one motion light as air, he swung him gently to his
The jungle, vast and mysterious and still, closed its gates behind them.
BY FRANCES GILCHRIST WOOD
From _Pictorial Review_
The old mail-sled running between Haney and Le Beau, in the days when
Dakota was still a Territory, was nearing the end of its hundred-mile
It was a desolate country in those days; geographers still described it
as The Great American Desert, and in looks it deserved the title. Never
was there anything so lonesome as that endless stretch of snow reaching
across the world until it cut into a cold grey sky, excepting the same
desert burned to a brown tinder by the hot wind of summer.
Nothing but sky and plain and its voice, the wind, unless you might
count a lonely sod shack blocked against the horizon, miles away from a
neighbour, miles from anywhere, its red-curtained square of window
glowing through the early twilight.
There were three men in the sled; Dan, the mail-carrier, crusty,
belligerently Western, the self-elected guardian of every one on his
route; Hillas, a younger man, hardly more than a boy, living on his
pre-emption claim near the upper reaches of the stage line; the third a
stranger from that part of the country vaguely defined as "the East." He
was travelling, had given him name as Smith, and was as inquisitive
about the country as he was reticent about his business there. Dan
plainly disapproved of him.
They had driven the last cold miles in silence when the stage-driver
turned to his neighbour. "Letter didn't say anything about coming out in
the spring to look over the country, did it?"
Hillas shook his head. "It was like all the rest, Dan. Don't want to
build a railroad at all until the country's settled."
"God! Can't they see the other side of it? What it means to the folks
already here to wait for it?"
The stranger thrust a suddenly interested profile above the handsome
collar of his fur coat. He looked out over the waste of snow.
"You say there's no timber here?"
Dan maintained unfriendly silence and Hillas answered: "Nothing but
scrub on the banks of the creeks. Years of prairie fires have burned out
the trees, we think."
The boy shook his head as he slid farther down in his worn buffalo coat
of the plains.
"We're too busy rustling for something to eat first. And you can't
develop mines without tools."
"Yes, a railroad first of all."
Dan shifted the lines from one fur-mittened hand to the other, swinging
the freed numbed arm in rhythmic beating against his body as he looked
along the horizon a bit anxiously. The stranger shivered visibly.
"It's a god-forsaken country. Why don't you get out?"
Hillas, following Dan's glance around the blurred sky line, answered
absently, "Usual answer is 'Leave? It's all I can do to stay here.'"
Smith regarded him irritably. "Why should any sane man ever have chosen
this frozen wilderness?"
Hillas closed his eyes wearily. "We came in the spring."
"I see!" The edged voice snapped, "Visionaries!"
Hillas's eyes opened again, wide, and then the boy was looking beyond
the man with the far-seeing eyes of the plainsman. He spoke under his
breath as if he were alone.
"Visionary, pioneer, American. That was the evolution in the beginning.
Perhaps that is what we are." Suddenly the endurance in his voice went
down before a wave of bitterness. "The first pioneers had to wait, too.
How could they stand it so long!"
The young shoulders drooped as he thrust stiff fingers deep within the
shapeless coat pockets. He slowly withdrew his right hand holding a
parcel wrapped in brown paper. He tore a three-cornered flap in the
cover, looked at the brightly coloured contents, replaced the flap and
returned the parcel, his chin a little higher.
Dan watched the northern sky-line restlessly. "It won't be snow. Look
like a blizzard to you, Hillas?"
The traveller sat up. "Blizzard?"
"Yes," Dan drawled in willing contribution to his uneasiness, "the real
Dakota article where blizzards are made. None of your eastern
imitations, but a ninety-mile wind that whets slivers of ice off the
frozen drifts all the way down from the North Pole. Only one good thing
about a blizzard--it's over in a hurry. You get to shelter or you freeze
A gust of wind flung a powder of snow stingingly against their faces.
The traveller withdrew his head turtlewise within the handsome collar in
final condemnation. "No man in his senses would ever have deliberately
come here to live."
Dan turned. "Wouldn't, eh?"
"I was born here. It's my country."
"Ever read about your Pilgrim Fathers?"
"Why, of course."
"Frontiersmen, same as us. You're living on what they did. We're getting
this frontier ready for those who come after. Want our children to have
a better chance than we had. Our reason's same as theirs. Hillas told
you the truth. Country's all right if we had a railroad."
"Humph!" With a contemptuous look across the desert. "Where's your
freight, your grain, cattle--"
"_West_-bound freight, coal, feed, seed-grain, work, and more
"One-sided bargain. Road that hauls empties one way doesn't pay. No
company would risk a line through here."
The angles of Dan's jaw showed white. "Maybe. Ever get a chance to pay
your debt to those Pilgrim pioneers? Ever take it? Think the stock was
He lifted his whip-handle toward a pin-point of light across the stretch
of snow. "Donovan lives over there and Mis' Donovan. We call them 'old
folks' now; their hair has turned white as these drifts in two years.
All they've got is here. He's a real farmer and a lot of help to the
country, but they won't last long like this."
Dan swung his arm toward a glimmer nor' by nor'east. "Mis' Clark lives
there, a mile back from the stage road. Clark's down in Yankton earning
money to keep them going. She's alone with her baby holding down the
claim." Dan's arm sagged. "We've had women go crazy out here."
The whip-stock followed the empty horizon half round the compass to a
lighted red square not more than two miles away. "Mis' Carson died in
the spring. Carson stayed until he was too poor to get away. There's
three children--oldest's Katy, just eleven." Dan's words failed, but his
eyes told. "Somebody will brag of them as ancestors some day. They'll
deserve it if they live through this."
Dan's jaw squared as he leveled his whip-handle straight at the
traveller. "I've answered your questions, now you answer mine! We know
your opinion of the country--you're not travelling for pleasure or your
health. What are you here for?"
"Business. My own!"
"There's two kinds of business out here this time of year. Tain't
healthy for either of them." Dan's words were measured and clipped.
"You've damned the West and all that's in it good and plenty. Now I say,
damn the people anywhere in the whole country that won't pay their debts
from pioneer to pioneer; that lets us fight the wilderness barehanded
and die fighting; that won't risk--"
A grey film dropped down over the world, a leaden shroud that was not
the coming of twilight. Dan jerked about, his whip cracked out over the
heads of the leaders and they broke into a quick trot. The shriek of the
runners along the frozen snow cut through the ominous darkness.
"Hillas," Dan's voice came sharply, "stand up and look for the light on
Clark's guide-pole about a mile to the right. God help us if it ain't
Hillas struggled up, one clumsy mitten thatching his eyes from the
blinding needles. "I don't see it, Dan. We can't be more than a mile
away. Hadn't you better break toward it?"
"Got to keep the track 'til we--see--light!"
The wind tore the words from his mouth as it struck them in lashing
fury. The leaders had disappeared in a wall of snow, but Dan's lash
whistled forward in reminding authority. There was a moment's lull.
"See it, Hillas?"
Tiger-like the storm leaped again, bandying them about in its paws like
captive mice. The horses swerved before the punishing blows, bunched,
backed, tangled. Dan stood up shouting his orders of menacing appeal
above the storm.
Again a breathing space before the next deadly impact. As it came Hillas
shouted, "I see it--there, Dan! It's a red light. She's in trouble."
Through the whirling smother and chaos of Dan's cries and the struggling
horses the sled lunged out of the road into unbroken drifts. Again the
leaders swung sidewise before the lashing of a thousand lariats of ice
and bunched against the wheel-horses. Dan swore, prayed, mastered them
with far-reaching lash, then the off leader went down. Dan felt behind
him for Hillas and shoved the reins against his arm.
"I'll get him up--or cut leaders--loose! If I don't--come back--drive to
Dan disappeared in the white fury. There were sounds of a struggle; the
sled jerked sharply and stood still. Slowly it strained forward.
Hillas was standing, one foot outside on the runner, as they travelled
a team's length ahead. He gave a cry--"Dan! Dan!" and gripped a furry
bulk that lumbered up out of the drift.
"All--right--son." Dan reached for the reins.
Frantically they fought their slow way toward the blurred light,
staggering on in a fight with the odds too savage to last. They stopped
abruptly as the winded leaders leaned against a wall interposed between
themselves and insatiable fury.
Dan stepped over the dashboard, groped his way along the tongue between
the wheel-horses and reached the leeway of a shadowy square. "It's the
shed, Hillas. Help get the team in." The exhausted animals crowded into
the narrow space without protest.
"Find the guide-rope to the house, Dan?"
"On the other side, toward the shack. Where's--Smith?"
"Here, by the shed."
Dan turned toward the stranger's voice.
"We're going 'round to the blizzard-line tied from shed to shack. Take
hold of it and don't let go. If you do you'll freeze before we can find
you. When the wind comes, turn your back and wait. Go on when it dies
down and never let go the rope. Ready? The wind's dropped. Here, Hillas,
next to me."
Three blurs hugged the sod walls around to the north-east corner. The
forward shadow reached upward to a swaying rope, lifted the hand of the
second who guided the third.
"Hang on to my belt, too, Hillas. Ready--Smith? Got the rope?"
They crawled forward, three barely visible figures, six, eight, ten
steps. With a shriek the wind tore at them, beat the breath from their
bodies, cut them with stinging needle-points and threw them aside. Dan
reached back to make sure of Hillas who fumbled through the darkness for
Slowly they struggled ahead, the cold growing more intense; two steps,
four, and the mounting fury of the blizzard reached its zenith. The
blurs swayed like battered leaves on a vine that the wind tore in two
at last and flung the living beings wide. Dan, clinging to the broken
rope, rolled over and found Hillas with the frayed end of the line in
his hand, reaching about through the black drifts for the stranger. Dan
crept closer, his mouth at Hillas's ear, shouting, "Quick! Right behind
me if we're to live through it!"
The next moment Hillas let go the rope. Dan reached madly. "Boy, you
can't find him--it'll only be two instead of one! Hillas! Hillas!"
The storm screamed louder than the plainsman and began heaping the snow
over three obstructions in its path, two that groped slowly and one that
lay still. Dan fumbled at his belt, unfastened it, slipped the rope
through the buckle, knotted it and crept its full length back toward the
boy. A snow-covered something moved forward guiding another, one arm
groping in blind search, reached and touched the man clinging to the
Beaten and buffeted by the ceaseless fury that no longer gave quarter,
they slowly fought their way hand-over-hand along the rope, Dan now
crawling last. After a frozen eternity they reached the end of the line
fastened man-high against a second haven of wall. Hillas pushed open the
unlocked door, the three men staggered in and fell panting against the
side of the room.
The stage-driver recovered first, pulled off his mittens, examined his
fingers and felt quickly of nose, ears, and chin. He looked sharply at
Hillas and nodded. Unceremoniously they stripped off the stranger's
gloves, reached for a pan, opened the door, dipped it into the drift and
plunged Smith's fingers down in the snow.
"Your nose is white, too. Thaw it out."
Abruptly Dan indicated a bench against the wall where the two men seated
would take up less space.
"I'm--" The stranger's voice was unsteady. "I--," but Dan had turned his
back and his attention to the homesteader.
The eight by ten room constituted the entire home. A shed roof slanted
from eight feet high on the door and window side to a bit more than five
on the other. A bed in one corner took up most of the space, and the
remaining necessities were bestowed with the compactness of a ship's
cabin. The rough boards of the roof and walls had been hidden by a
covering of newspapers, with a row of illustrations pasted picture
height. Cushions and curtains of turkey-red calico brightened the homely
The driver had slipped off his buffalo coat and was bending over a baby
exhaustedly fighting for breath that whistled shrilly through a closing
throat. The mother, scarcely more than a girl, held her in tensely
"How long's she been this way?"
"She began to choke up day before yesterday, just after you passed on
the down trip."
The driver laid big finger tips on the restless wrist.
"She always has the croup when she cuts a tooth, Dan, but this is
different. I've used all the medicines I have--nothing relieves the
The girl lifted heavy eyelids above blue semicircles of fatigue and the
compelling terror back of her eyes forced a question through dry lips.
"Dan, do you know what membranous croup is like? Is this it?"
The stage-driver picked up the lamp and held it close to the child's
face, bringing out with distressing clearness the blue-veined pallour,
sunken eyes, and effort of impeded breathing. He frowned, putting the
lamp back quickly.
"Mebbe it is, Mis' Clark, but don't you be scared. We'll help you a
Dan lifted the red curtain from the cupboard, found an emptied
lard-pail, half filled it with water and placed it on an oil-stove that
stood in the center of the room. He looked questioningly about the four
walls, discovered a cleverly contrived tool-box beneath the cupboard
shelves, sorted out a pair of pincers and bits of iron, laying the
latter in a row over the oil blaze. He took down a can of condensed
milk, poured a spoonful of the thick stuff into a cup of water and made
room for it near the bits of heating iron.
He turned to the girl, opened his lips as if to speak and stood with a
face full of pity.
Along the four-foot space between the end of the bed and the opposite
wall the girl walked, crooning to the sick child she carried. As they
watched, the low song died away, her shoulder rubbed heavily against the
boarding, her eyelids dropped and she stood sound asleep. The next
hard-drawn breath of the baby roused her and she stumbled on, crooning a
Smith clutched the younger man's shoulder. "God, Hillas, look where
she's marked the wall rubbing against it! Do you suppose she's been
walking that way for three days and nights? Why, she's only a child--no
older than my own daughter!"
"Where are her people? Where's her husband?"
"Down in Yankton, Dan told you, working for the winter. Got to have the
money to live."
"Where's the doctor?"
"Nearest one's in Haney--four days' trip away by stage."
The traveller stared, frowningly.
Dan was looking about the room again and after prodding the gay seat in
the corner, lifted the cover and picked up a folded blanket, shaking out
the erstwhile padded cushion. He hung the blanket over the back of a
"Mis' Clark, there's nothing but steam will touch membreenous croup. We
saved my baby that way last year. Set here and I'll fix things."
He put the steaming lard-pail on the floor beside the mother and lifted
the blanket over the baby's head. She put up her hand.
"She's so little, Dan, and weak. How am I going to know if she--if
Dan rearranged the blanket tent. "Jest get under with her yourself, Mis'
Clark, then you'll know all that's happening."
With the pincers he picked up a bit of hot iron and dropped it hissing
into the pail, which he pushed beneath the tent. The room was
oppressively quiet, walled in by the thick sod from the storm. The
blanket muffled the sound of the child's breathing and the girl no
longer stumbled against the wall.
Dan lifted the corner of the blanket and another bit of iron hissed as
it struck the water. The older man leaned toward the younger.
"Stove--fire?" with a gesture of protest against the inadequate oil
Hillas whispered, "Can't afford it. Coal is $9.00 in Haney, $18.00
They sat with heads thrust forward, listening in the intolerable
silence. Dan lifted the blanket, hearkened a moment, then--"pst!"
another bit of iron fell into the pail. Dan stooped to the tool-chest
for a reserve supply when a strangling cough made him spring to his feet
and hurriedly lift the blanket.
The child was beating the air with tiny fists, fighting for breath. The
mother stood rigid, arms out.
"Turn her this way!" Dan shifted the struggling child, face out. "Now
watch out for the--"
The strangling cough broke and a horrible something--"It's the membrane!
She's too weak--let me have her!"
Dan snatched the child and turned it face downward. The blue-faced baby
fought in a supreme effort--again the horrible something--then Dan laid
the child, white and motionless, in her mother's arms. She held the limp
body close, her eyes wide with fear.
"Dan, is--is she--?"
A faint sobbing breath of relief fluttered the pale lips that moved in
the merest ghost of a smile. The heavy eyelids half-lifted and the child
nestled against its mother's breast. The girl swayed, shaking with sobs,
She struggled for self-control and stood up straight and pale. "Dan, I
ought to tell you. When it began to get dark with the storm and time to
put up the lantern, I was afraid to leave the baby. If she strangled
when I was gone--with no one to help her--she would die!"
Her lips quivered as she drew the child closer. "I didn't go right away
but--I did--at last. I propped her up in bed and ran. If I hadn't--" Her
eyes were wide with the shadowy edge of horror, "if I hadn't--you'd have
been lost in the blizzard and--my baby would have died!"
She stood before the men as if for judgment, her face wet with unchecked
tears. Dan patted her shoulder dumbly and touched a fresh, livid bruise
that ran from the curling hair on her temple down across cheek and chin.
"Did you get this then?"
She nodded. "The storm threw me against the pole when I hoisted the
lantern. I thought I'd--never--get back!"
It was Smith who translated Dan's look of appeal for the cup of warm
milk and held it to the girl's lips.
"Drink it, Mis' Clark, you need it."
She made heroic attempts to swallow, her head drooped lower over the cup
and fell against the driver's rough sleeve. "Poor kid, dead asleep!"
Dan guided her stumbling feet toward the bed that the traveller sprang
to open. She guarded the baby in the protecting angle of her arm into
safety upon the pillow, then fell like a log beside her. Dan slipped off
the felt boots, lifted her feet to the bed and softly drew covers over
mother and child.
"Poor kid, but she's grit, clear through!"
Dan walked to the window, looked out at the lessening storm, then at the
tiny alarm-clock on the cupboard. "Be over pretty soon now!" He seated
himself by the table, dropped his head wearily forward on folded arms
and was asleep.
The traveller's face had lost some of its shrewdness. It was as if the
white frontier had seized and shaken him into a new conception of life.
He moved restlessly along the bench, then stepped softly to the side of
the bed and straightened the coverlet into greater nicety while his lips
With consuming care he folded the blanket and restored the corner seat
to its accustomed appearance of luxury. He looked about the room, picked
up the grey kitten sleeping contentedly on the floor and settled it on
the red cushion with anxious attention to comfort.
He examined with curiosity the few books carefully covered on a corner
shelf, took down an old hand-tooled volume and lifted his eyebrows at
the ancient coat of arms on the book plate. He tiptoed across to the
bench and pointed to the script beneath the plate. "Edward Winslow (7)
to his dear daughter, Alice (8)."
He motioned toward the bed. "Her name?"
Hillas nodded, Smith grinned. "Dan's right. Blood will tell, even to
damning the rest of us."
He sat down on the bench. "I understand more than I did Hillas,
since--you crawled back after me--out there. But how can you stand it
here? I know you and the Clarks are people of education and, oh, all the
rest; you could make your way anywhere."
Hillas spoke slowly. "I think you have to live here to know. It means
something to be a pioneer. You can't be one if you've got it in you to
be a quitter. The country will be all right some day." He reached for
his greatcoat, bringing out a brown-paper parcel. He smiled at it oddly
and went on as if talking to himself.
"When the drought and the hot winds come in the summer and burn the
buffalo grass to a tinder and the monotony of the plains weighs on you
as it does now, there's a common, low-growing cactus scattered over the
prairie that blooms into the gayest red flower you ever saw.
"It wouldn't count for much anywhere else, but the pluck of it, without
rain for months, dew even. It's the 'colours of courage.'"
He turned the torn parcel, showing the bright red within, and looked at
the cupboard and window with shining, tired eyes.
"Up and down the frontier in these shacks, homes, you'll find things
made of turkey-red calico, cheap, common elsewhere--" He fingered the
three-cornered flap. "Its our 'colours.'" He put the parcel back in his
pocket. "I bought two yards yesterday after--I got a letter at Haney."
Smith sat looking at the gay curtains before him. The fury of the storm
was dying down into fitful gusts. Dan stirred, looked quickly toward the
bed, then the window, and got up quietly.
"I'll hitch up. We'll stop at Peterson's and tell her to come over." He
closed the door noiselessly.
The traveller was frowning intently. Finally he turned toward the boy
who sat with his head leaning back against the wall, eyes closed.
"Hillas," his very tones were awkward, "they call me a shrewd business
man. I am, it's a selfish job and I'm not reforming now. But twice
to-night you--children have risked your lives, without thought for a
stranger. I've been thinking about that railroad. Haven't you raised any
grain or cattle that could be used for freight?"
The low answer was toneless. "Drought killed the crops, prairie fires
burned the hay, of course the cattle starved."
"There's no timber, ore, nothing that could be used for east-bound
The plainsman looked searchingly into the face of the older man.
"There's no timber this side the Missouri. Across the river it's
reservation--Sioux. We--" He frowned and stopped.
Smith stood up, his hands thrust deep in his pockets. "I admitted I was
shrewd, Hillas, but I'm not yellow clear through, not enough to betray
this part of the frontier anyhow. I had a man along here last fall
spying for minerals. That's why I'm out here now. If you know the
location, and we both think you do, I'll put capital in your way to
develop the mines and use what pull I have to get the road in."
He looked down at the boy and thrust out a masterful jaw. There was a
ring of sincerity no one could mistake when he spoke again.
"This country's a desert now, but I'd back the Sahara peopled with your
kind. This is on the square, Hillas, don't tell me you won't believe
I'm--American enough to trust?"
The boy tried to speak. With stiffened body and clenched hands he
struggled for self-control. Finally in a ragged whisper, "If I try to
tell you what--it means--I can't talk! Dan and I know of outcropping
coal over in the Buttes." He nodded in the direction of the Missouri,
"but we haven't had enough money to file mining claims."
"Know where to dig for samples under this snow?"
The boy nodded. "Some in my shack too. I--" His head went down upon the
crossed arms. Smith laid an awkward hand on the heaving shoulders, then
rose and crossed the room to where the girl had stumbled in her vigil.
Gently he touched the darkened streak where her shoulders had rubbed and
blurred the newspaper print. He looked from the relentless white desert
outside to the gay bravery within and bent his head.
There was the sound of jingling harness and the crunch of runners. The
men bundled into fur coats.
"Hillas, the draw right by the house here," Smith stopped and looked
sharply at the plainsman, then went on with firm carelessness, "This
draw ought to strike a low grade that would come out near the river
level. Does Dan know Clark's address?" Hillas nodded.
They tiptoed out and closed the door behind them softly. The wind had
swept every cloud from the sky and the light of the northern stars
etched a dazzling world. Dan was checking up the leaders as Hillas
caught him by the shoulder and shook him like a clumsy bear.
"Dan, you blind old mole, can you see the headlight of the Overland
Freight blazing and thundering down that draw over the Great Missouri
"I knew you couldn't!" Hillas thumped him with furry fist. "Dan," the
wind might easily have drowned the unsteady voice, "I've told Mr. Smith
about the coal--for freight. He's going to help us get capital for
mining and after that the road."
"Smith! Smith! Well, I'll be--aren't you a claim spotter?"
He turned abruptly and crunched toward the stage. His passengers
followed. Dan paused with his foot on the runner and looked steadily at
the traveller from under lowered, shaggy brows.
"You're going to get a road out here?"
"I've told Hillas I'll put money in your way to mine the coal. Then the
railroad will come."
Dan's voice rasped with tension. "We'll get out the coal. Are you going
to see that the road is built?"
Unconsciously the traveller held up his right hand. "I am!"
Dan searched his face sharply. Smith nodded. "I'm making my bet on the
It was a new Dan who lifted his bronzed face to a white world. His voice
was low and very gentle. "To bring a road here," he swung his
whip-handle from Donovan's light around to Carson's square, sweeping in
all that lay behind, "out here to them--" The pioneer faced the wide
desert that reached into a misty space ablaze with stars, "would be
The whip thudded softly into the socket and Dan rolled up on the
driver's seat. Two men climbed in behind him. The long lash swung out
over the leaders as Dan headed the old mail-sled across the drifted
right-of-way of the Great Missouri and Eastern.
FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS REWARD
By MELVILLE DAVISSON POST
From _Saturday Evening Post_
I was before one of those difficult positions unavoidable to a man of
letters. My visitor must have some answer. He had come back for the
manuscript of his memoir and for my opinion. It was the twilight of an
early Washington winter. The lights in the great library, softened with
delicate shades, had been turned on. Outside, Sheridan Circle was almost
a thing of beauty in its vague outline; even the squat ridiculous bronze
horse had a certain dignity in the blue shadow.
If one had been speculating on the man, from his physical aspect one
would have taken Walker for an engineer of some sort, rather than the
head of the United States Secret Service. His lean face and his angular
manner gave that impression. Even now, motionless in the big chair
beyond the table, he seemed--how shall I say it?--mechanical.
And that was the very defect in his memoir. He had cut the great cases
into a dry recital. There was no longer in them any pressure of a human
impulse. The glow of inspired detail had been dissected out. Everything
startling and wonderful had been devitalized.
The memoir was a report.
The bulky typewritten manuscript lay on the table beside the electric
lamp, and I stood about uncertain how to tell him.
"Walker," I said, "did nothing wonderful ever happen to you in the
adventure of these cases?"
"What precisely do you mean?" he replied.
The practical nature of the man tempted me to extravagance.
"Well," I said, "for example, were you never kissed in a lonely street
by a mysterious woman and the flash of your dark lantern reveal a face
of startling beauty?"
"No," he said, as though he were answering a sensible question, "that
never happened to me."
"Then," I continued, "perhaps you have found a prince of the church,
pale as alabaster, sitting in his red robe, who put together the
indicatory evidence of the crime that baffled you with such uncanny
acumen that you stood aghast at his perspicacity?"
"No," he said; and then his face lighted. "But I'll tell you what I did
find. I found a drunken hobo at Atlantic City who was the best detective
I ever saw."
I sat down and tapped the manuscript with my fingers.
"It's not here," I said. "Why did you leave it out?"
He took a big gold watch out of his pocket and turned it about in his
hand. The case was covered with an inscription.
"Well," he said, "the boys in the department think a good deal of me. I
shouldn't like them to know how a dirty tramp faked me at Atlantic City.
I don't mind telling you, but I couldn't print it in a memoir."
He went directly ahead with the story and I was careful not to interrupt
"I was sitting in a rolling chair out there on the Boardwalk before the
Traymore. I was nearly all in, and I had taken a run to Atlantic for a
day or two of the sea air. The fact is the whole department was down and
out. You may remember what we were up against; it finally got into the
"The government plates of the Third Liberty Bond issue had disappeared.
We knew how they had gotten out and we thought we knew the man at the
head of the thing. It was a Mulehaus job, as we figured it.
"It was too big a thing for a little crook. With the government plates
they could print Liberty Bonds just as the Treasury would. And they
could sow the world with them."
He paused and moved his gold-rimmed spectacles a little closer in on his
"You see these war bonds are scattered all over the country. They are
held by everybody. It's not what it used to be, a banker's business
that we could round up. Nobody could round up the holders of these
"A big crook like Mulehaus could slip a hundred million of them into the
country and never raise a ripple."
He paused and drew his fingers across his bony protruding chin.
"I'll say this for Mulehaus: He's the hardest man to identify in the
whole kingdom of crooks. Scotland Yard, the Service de la Surete,
everybody, says that. I don't mean dime-novel disguises--false whiskers
and a limp. I mean the ability to be the character he pretends--the
thing that used to make Joe Jefferson Rip Van Winkle--and not an actor
made up to look like it. That's the reason nobody could keep track of
Mulehaus, especially in South American cities. He was a French banker in
the Egypt business and a Swiss banker in the Argentine."
He turned back from the digression:
"And it was a clean job. They had got away with the plates. We didn't
have a clue. We thought, naturally, that they'd make for Mexico or some
South American country to start their printing press. And we had the
ports and the border netted up. Nothing could have gone out across the
border or through any port. All the customs officers were working with
us, and every agent of the Department of Justice."
He looked at me steadily across the table.
"You see the government had to get those plates back before the crook
started to print, or else take up every bond of that issue over the
whole country. It was a hell of a thing!
"Of course we had gone right after the record of all the big crooks to
see whose line this sort of job was. And the thing narrowed down to
Mulehaus or old Vronsky. We soon found out it wasn't Vronsky. He was in
Joliet. It was Mulehaus. But we couldn't find him.
"We didn't even know that Mulehaus was in America. He's a big crook with
a genius for selecting men. He might be directing the job from Rio or a
Mexican port. But we were sure it was a Mulehaus job. He sold the
French securities in Egypt in '90; and he's the man who put the bogus
Argentine bonds on our market--you'll find the case in the 115th Federal
"Well," he went on, "I was sitting out there in the rolling chair,
looking at the sun on the sea and thinking about the thing, when I
noticed this hobo that I've been talking about. He was my chair
attendant, but I hadn't looked at him before. He had moved round from
behind me and was now leaning against the galvanized-pipe railing.
"He was a big human creature, a little stooped, unshaved and dirty; his
mouth was slack and loose, and he had a big mobile nose that seemed to
move about like a piece of soft rubber. He had hardly any clothing; a
cap that must have been fished out of an ash barrel, no shirt whatever,
merely an old ragged coat buttoned round him, a pair of canvas breeches
and carpet slippers tied on to his feet with burlap, and wrapped round
his ankles to conceal the fact that he wore no socks.
"As I looked at him he darted out, picked up the stump of a cigarette
that someone had thrown down, and came back to the railing to smoke it,
his loose mouth and his big soft nose moving like kneaded putty.
"Altogether this tramp was the worst human derelict I ever saw. And it
occurred to me that this was the one place in the whole of America where
any sort of a creature could get a kind of employment and no questions
"Anything that could move and push a chair could get fifteen cents an
hour from McDuyal. Wise man, poor man, beggar man, thief, it as all one
to McDuyal. And the creatures could sleep in the shed behind the rolling
"I suppose an impulse to offer the man a garment of some sort moved me
to address him. 'You're nearly naked,' I said.
"He crossed one leg over the other with the toe of the carpet slipper
touching the walk, in the manner a burlesque actor, took the cigarette
out of his mouth with a little flourish, and replied to me: 'Sure,
Governor, I ain't dolled up like John Drew.'
"There was a sort of cocky unconcern about the creature that gave his
miserable state a kind of beggarly distinction. He was in among the very
dregs of life, and he was not depressed about it.
"'But if I had a sawbuck,' he continued, 'I could bulge your eye....
Couldn't point the way to one?'
"He arrested my answer with the little flourish of his fingers holding
the stump of the cigarette.
"'Not work, Governor,' and he made a little duck of his head, 'and not
murder.... Go as far as you please between 'em.'
"The fantastic manner of the derelict was infectious.
"'O.K.,' I said. 'Go out and find me a man who is a deserter from the
German Army, was a tanner in Bale and began life as a sailor, and I'll
double your money--I'll give you a twenty-dollar bill.'
"The creature whistled softly in two short staccato notes.
"'Some little order,' he said. And taking a toothpick out of his pocket
he stuck it into the stump of the cigarette which had become too short
to hold between his fingers.
"At this moment a boy from the postoffice came to me with the daily
report from Washington, and I got out of the chair, tipped the creature,
and went into the hotel, stopping to pay McDuyal as I passed.
"There was nothing new from the department except that our organization
over the country was in close touch. We had offered five thousand
dollars reward for the recovery of the plates, and the Postoffice
Department was now posting the notice all over America in every office.
The Secretary thought we had better let the public in on it and not keep
it an underground offer to the service.
"I had forgotten the hobo, when about five o'clock he passed me a little
below the Steel Pier. He was in a big stride and he had something
clutched in his hand.
"He called to me as he hurried along: 'I got him, Governor.... See you
"'See me now,' I said. 'What's the hurry?'
"He flashed his hand open, holding a silver dollar with his thumb
against the palm.
"'Can't stop now, I'm going to get drunk. See you later.'
"I smiled at the disingenuous creature. He was saving me for the dry hour.
He could point out Mulehaus in any passing chair, and I would give some
coin to be rid of his pretension."
Walker paused. Then he went on:
"I was right. The hobo was waiting for me when I came out of the hotel
the following morning.
"'Howdy, Governor,' he said; 'I located your man.'
"I was interested to see how he would frame up his case.
"'How did you find him?' I said.
"He grinned, moving his lip and his loose nose.
"'Some luck, Governor, and some sleuthin'. It was like this: I thought
you was stringin' me. But I said to myself I'll keep out an eye; maybe
it's on the level--any damn thing can happen.'
"He put up his hand as though to hook his thumb into the armhole of his
vest, remembered that he had only a coat buttoned round him and dropped
"'And believe me or not, Governor, it's the God's truth. About four
o'clock up toward the Inlet I passed a big, well-dressed, banker-looking
gent walking stiff from the hip and throwing out his leg. "Come eleven!"
I said to myself. "It's the goose-step!" I had an empty roller, and I
took a turn over to him.
"'"Chair, Admiral?" I said.
"'He looked at me sort of queer.
"'"What makes you think I'm an admiral, my man?" he answers.
"'"Well," I says, lounging over on one foot reflective like, "nobody
could be a-viewin' the sea with that lovin', ownership look unless he'd
bossed her a bit.... If I'm right, Admiral, you takes the chair."
"'He laughed, but he got in. "I'm not an admiral," he said, "but it is
true that I've followed the sea."'
"The hobo paused, and put up his first and second fingers spread like a
"'Two points, Governor--the gent had been a sailor and a soldier; now
how about the tanner business?'
"He scratched his head, moving the ridiculous cap.
"'That sort of puzzled me, and I pussyfooted along toward the Inlet
thinkin' about it. If a man was a tanner, and especially a foreign,
hand-workin' tanner, what would his markin's be?
"'I tried to remember everybody that I'd ever seen handlin' a hide, and
all at once I recollected that the first thing a dago shoemaker done
when he picked up a piece of leather was to smooth it out with his
thumbs. An' I said to myself, now that'll be what a tanner does, only he
does it more ... he's always doing it. Then I asks myself what would be
"The hobo paused, his mouth open, his head twisted to one side. Then he
jerked up as under a released spring.
"'And right away, Governor, I got the answer to it--flat thumbs!'
"The hobo stepped back with an air of victory and flashed his hand up.
"'And he had 'em! I asked him what time it was so I could keep the hour
straight for McDuyal, I told him, but the real reason was so I could see
Walker crossed one leg over the other.
"It was clever," he said, "and I hesitated to shatter it. But the
question had to come.
"'Where is your man?' I said.
"The hobo executed a little deprecatory step, with his fingers picking
at his coat pockets.
"'That's the trouble, Governor,' he answered; 'I intended to sleuth him
for you, but he give me a dollar and I got drunk ... you saw me. That
man had got out at McDuyal's place not five minutes before. I was
flashin' to the booze can when you tried to stop me.... Nothin' doin'
when I get the price.'"
"It was a good fairy story and worth something. I offered him half a
dollar. Then I got a surprise.
"The creature looked eagerly at the coin in my fingers, and he moved
toward it. He was crazy for the liquor it would buy. But he set his
teeth and pulled up.
"'No, Governor,' he said, 'I'm in it for the sawbuck. Where'll I find
you about noon?'
"I promised to be on the Boardwalk before Heinz's Pier at two o clock
and he turned to shuffle away. I called an inquiry after him.... You see
there were two things in his story: How did he get a dollar tip, and how
did he happen to make his imaginary man banker-looking? Mulehaus had
been banker-looking in both the Egypt and the Argentine affairs. I left
the latter point suspended, as we say. But I asked about the dollar. He
came back at once.
"'I forgot about that, Governor,' he said. 'It was like this: The
admiral kept looking out at the sea where an old freighter was going
South. You know, the fruit line to New York. One of them goes by every
day or two. And I kept pushing him along. Finally we got up to the
Inlet, and I was about to turn when he stopped me. You know the neck of
ground out beyond where the street cars loop; there's an old board fence
by the road, then sand to the sea, and about halfway between the fence
and the water there's a shed with some junk in it. You've seen it. They
made the old America out there and the shed was a tool house.
"'When I stopped the admiral says: "Cut across to the hole in that old
board fence and see if an automobile has been there, and I'll give you a
dollar." An' I done it, an' I got it.'
"Then he shuffled off.
"'Be on the spot, Governor, an' I'll lead him to you.'"
Walker leaned over, rested his elbows on the arms of his chair, and
linked his fingers together.
"That gave me a new flash on the creature. He was a slicker article than
I imagined. I was not to get off with a tip. He was taking some pains to
touch me for a greenback. I thought I saw his line. It would not account
for his hitting the description of Mulehaus in the make-up of his straw
man, but it would furnish the data for the dollar story. I had drawn the
latter a little before he was ready. It belonged in what he planned to
give me at two o'clock. But I thought I saw what the creature was about.
And I was right."
Walker put out his hand and moved the pages of his memoir on the table.
Then he went on:
"I was smoking a cigar on a bench at the entrance to Heinz's Pier when
the hobo shuffled up. He came down one of the streets from Pacific
Avenue, and the direction confirmed me in my theory. It also confirmed
me in the opinion that I was all kinds of a fool to let this dirty hobo
get a further chance at me.
"I was not in a very good humour. Everything I had set going after
Mulehaus was marking time. The only report was progress in linking
things up; not only along the Canadian and Mexican borders and the
custom houses, but we had also done a further unusual thing, we had an
agent on every ship going out of America to follow through to the
foreign port and look out for anything picked up on the way.
"It was a plan I had set at immediately the robbery was discovered. It
would cut out the trick of reshipping at sea from some fishing craft or
small boat. The reports were encouraging enough in that respect. We had
the whole country as tight as a drum. But it was slender comfort when
the Treasury was raising the devil for the plates and we hadn't a clue
Walker stopped a moment. Then he went on:
"I felt like kicking the hobo when he got to me, he was so obviously the
extreme of all worthless creatures, with that apologetic, confidential
manner which seems to be an abominable attendant on human degeneracy.
One may put up with it for a little while, but it presently becomes
"'Governor,' he began, when he shuffled up, 'you won't get mad if I say
a little somethin'?'
"'Go on and say it,' I said.
"The expression on his dirty unshaved face became, if possible, more
"'Well, then, Governor, askin' your pardon, you ain't Mr. Henry P.
Johnson, from Erie; you're the Chief of the United States Secret
Service, from Washington.'"
Walker moved in his chair.
"That made me ugly," he went on, "the assurance of the creature and my
unspeakable carelessness in permitting the official letters brought to
me on the day before by the postoffice messenger to be seen. In my
relaxation I had forgotten the eye of the chair attendant. I took the
cigar out of my teeth and looked at him.
"'And I'll say a little something myself!' I could hardly keep my foot
clear of him. 'When you got sober this morning and remembered who I was,
you took a turn up round the postoffice to make sure of it, and while
you were in there you saw the notice of the reward for the stolen bond
plates. That gave you the notion with which you pieced out your fairy
story about how you got the dollar tip. Having discovered my identity
through a piece of damned carelessness on my part and having seen the
postal notice of the reward, you undertook to enlarge your little game.
That's the reason you wouldn't take fifty cents. It was your notion in
the beginning to make a touch for a tip. And it would have worked. But
now you can't get a damned cent out of me.' Then I threw a little brush
into him: 'I'd have stood a touch for your finding the fake tanner,
because there isn't any such person.'
"I intended to put the hobo out of business," Walker went on, "but the
effect of my words on him were even more startling than I anticipated.
His jaw dropped and he looked at me in astonishment.
"'No such person!' he repeated. 'Why, Governor, before God, I found a
man like that, an' he was a banker--one of the big ones, sure as there's
Walker put out his hands in a puzzled gesture.
"There it was again, the description of Mulehaus! And it puzzled me up.
Every motion of this hobo's mind in every direction about this affair
was perfectly clear to me. I saw his intention in every turn of it and
just where he got the material for the details of his story. But this
absolutely distinguishing description of Mulehaus was beyond me.
Everybody, of course, knew that we were looking for the lost plates, for
there was the reward offered by the Treasury; but no human soul outside
of the trusted agents of the department knew that we were looking for
Walker did not move, but he stopped in his recital for a moment.
"The tramp shuffled up a step closer to the bench where I sat The
anxiety in his big slack face was sincere beyond question.
"'I can't find the banker man, Governor; he's skipped the coop. But I
believe I can find what he's hid.'
"'Well' I said, 'go on and find it.'
"The hobo jerked out his limp hands in a sort of hopeless gesture.
"'Now, Governor,' he whimpered, 'what good would it do me to find them
"'You'd get five thousand dollars,' I said.
"'I'd git kicked into the discard by the first cop that got to me,' he
answered, 'that's what I'd git.'
"The creature's dirty, unshaved jowls began to shake, and his voice
became wholly a whimper.
"'I've got a line on this thing, Governor, sure as there's a hell. That
banker man was viewin' the layout. I've thought it all over, an' this is
the way it would be. They're afraid of the border an' they're afraid of
the custom houses, so they runs the loot down here in an automobile,
hides it up about the Inlet, and plans to go out with it to one of them
fruit steamers passing on the way to Tampico. They'd have them plates
bundled up in a sailor's chest most like.
"'Now, Governor, you'd say why ain't they already done it; an' I'd
answer, the main guy--this banker man--didn't know the automobile had
got here until he sent me to look, and there ain't been no ship along
since then.... I've been special careful to find that out.' And then the
creature began to whine. 'Have a heart, Governor, come along with me.
Gimme a show!'
"It was not the creature's plea that moved me, nor his pretended
deductions; I'm a bit old to be soft. It was the 'banker man' sticking
like a bur in the hobo's talk. I wanted to keep him in right until I
understood where he got it. No doubt that seems a slight reason for
going out to the Inlet with the creature; but you must remember that
slight things are often big signboards in our business."
He continued, his voice precise and even: "We went directly from the
end of the Boardwalk to the old shed; it was open, an unfastened door on
a pair of leather hinges. The shed is small, about twenty feet by
eleven, with a hard dirt floor packed down by the workmen who had used
it, a combination of clay and sand like the Jersey roads put in to make
a floor. All round it, from the sea to the board fence was soft sand.
There were some pieces of old junk lying about in the shed; but nothing
of value or it would have been nailed up.
"The hobo led right off with his deductions. There was the track of a
man, clearly outlined in the soft sand, leading from the board fence to
the shed and returning, and no other track anywhere about.
"'Now, Governor,' he began, when he had taken a look at the tracks, 'the
man that made them tracks carried something into this shed, and he left
it here, and it was something heavy.'
"I was fairly certain that the hobo had salted the place for me, made
the tracks himself; but I played out a line to him.
"'How do you know that?' I said.
"'Well, Governor,' he answered, 'take a look at them two line of tracks.
In the one comin' to the shed the man was walkin' with his feet apart
and in the one goin' back he was walkin' with his feet in front of one
another; that's because he was carryin' somethin' heavy when he come an'
nothin' when he left.'
"It was an observation on footprints," he went on, "that had never
occurred to me. The hobo saw my awakened interest, and he added:
"'Did you never notice a man carryin a heavy load? He kind of totters,
walkin' with his feet apart to keep his balance. That makes his foot
tracks side by side like, instead of one before the other as he makes
them when he's goin' light.'"
Walker interrupted his narrative with a comment: "It's the truth I've
verified it a thousand times since that hobo put me onto it. A line
running through the center of the heel prints of a man carrying a heavy
burden will be a zigzag, while one through the heel prints of the same
man without the burden will be almost straight.
"The tramp went right on with his deductions:
"'If it come in and didn't go out, it's here.'
"And he began to go over the inside of the shed. He searched it like a
man searching a box for a jewel. He moved the pieces of old castings and
he literally fingered the shed from end to end. He would have found a
"Finally he stopped and stood with hand spread out over his mouth. And I
selected this critical moment to touch the powder off under his game.
"'Suppose,' I said, 'that this man with the heavy load wished to mislead
us; suppose that instead of bringing something here he took one of these
old castings away?'
"The hobo looked at me without changing his position.
"'How could he, Governor; he was pointin' this way with the load?'
"'By walking backward,' I said. For it had occurred to me that perhaps
the creature had manufactured this evidence for the occasion, and I
wished to test the theory."
Walker went on in his slow, even voice:
"The test produced more action than I expected. The hobo dived out
through the door. I followed to see him disappear. But he was not in
flight; he was squatting down over the foot prints. And a moment later
he rocked back on his haunches with a little exultant yelp.
"'Dope's wrong, Governor,' he said; 'he was sure comin' this way.' Then
he explained: 'If a man's walkin' forward in sand or mud or snow the toe
of his shoe flirts out a little of it, an' if he's walkin' backward his
heel flirts it out.'
"At this point I began to have some respect for the creature's ability.
He got up and came back into the shed. And there he stood, in his old
position, with his fingers over his mouth, looking round at the empty
shed, in which, as I have said, one could not have concealed a bird's
"I watched him without offering any suggestion, for my interest in the
thing had awakened and was curious to see what he would do. He stood
perfectly motionless for about a minute; and then suddenly he snapped
his fingers and the light came into his face.
"'I got it, Governor!' Then he came over to where I stood. 'Gimme a
quarter to get a bucket'
"I gave him the coin, for I was now profoundly puzzled, and he went out.
He was gone perhaps twenty minutes, and when he came in he had a bucket
of water. But he had evidently been thinking on the way, for he set the
bucket down carefully, wiped his hands on his canvas breeches, and began
to speak, with a little apologetic whimper in his voice.
"'Now look here, Governor,' he said, 'I'm a-goin' to talk turkey; do I
get the five thousand if I find this stuff?'
"'Surely,' I answered him.
"'An' there'll be no monkey'n', Governor; you'll take me down to a bank
yourself an' put the money in my hand?'
"'I promise you that,' I assured him.
"But he was not entirely quiet in his mind about it. He shifted uneasily
from one foot to the other, and his soft rubber nose worked.
"'Now, Governor,' he said, 'I'm leery about jokers--I gotta be. I don't
want any string to this money. If I get it I want to go and blow it in.
I don't want you to hand me the roll an' then start any reformin'
stunt--a-holdin' of it in trust an' a probation officer a-pussy-footin'
me, or any funny business. I want the wad an' a clear road to the bright
lights with no word passed along to pinch me. Do I git it?'
"'It's a trade!" I said.
"'O.K.,' he answered, and he took up the bucket. He began at the door
and poured the water carefully on the hard tramped earth. When the
bucket was empty he brought another and another. Finally about midway of
the floor space he stopped.
"'Here it is!' he said.
"I was following beside him, but I saw nothing to justify his words.
"Why do you think the plates are buried here?' I said.
"'Look at the air bubbles comin' up, Governor,' he answered."
Walker stopped, then he added:
"It's a thing which I did not know until that moment, but it's the
truth. If hard-packed earth is dug up and repacked air gets into it, and
if one pours water on the place air bubbles will come up."
He did not go on, and I flung the big query of his story at him.
"And you found the plates there?"
"Yes," he replied, "in the false bottom of an old steamer trunk."
"And the hobo got the money?"
"Certainly," he answered. "I put it into his hand, and let him go with
it, as I promised."
Again he was silent, and I turned toward him in astonishment.
"Then," I said, "why did you begin this story by saying the hobo faked
you? I don't see the fake; he found the plates and he was entitled to
Walker put his hand into his pocket, took out a leather case, selected a
paper from among its contents and handed it to me. "I didn't see the
fake either," he said, "until I got this letter."
I unfolded the letter carefully. It was neatly written in a hand like
copper plate and dated from Buenos Aires:
_Dear Colonel Walker_: When I discovered that you were planting an agent
on every ship I had to abandon the plates and try for the reward. Thank
you for the five thousand; it covered expenses. Very sincerely yours,
THE BLOOD OF THE DRAGON
BY THOMAS GRANT SPRINGER
From _Live Stories_
Kan Wong, the sampan boatman, sat in the bow of his tiny craft, looking
with dream-misted eyes upon the oily, yellow flood of the Yangtze River.
Far across on the opposite shore, blurred by the mist that the alchemy
of the setting sun transmuted from miasmic vapour to a veil of gold,
rose the purple-shadowed, stone-tumbled ruins of Hang Gow, ruins that
had been a proud, walled city in the days before the Tai-ping Rebellion.
Viewing its slowly dimming powers as they sank into the fading gold of
the mist that the coming night thickened and darkened as it wiped out
the light with a damp hand, Kan Wong dreamed over the stories that his
father's father--now revered dust somewhere off toward the hills that
dimly met the melting sky line--had told him of that ruined city,
wherein he, Kan Wong, had not Fate made men mad, would now be ruling a
lordly household, even wearing the peacock feather and embroidered
jacket that were his by right of the Dragon's blood, that blood now
hidden under the sun-browned skin of a river coolie. Kan Wong stuffed
fine-cut into his brass-bowled pipe and struck a spark from his tinder
box. Through his wide nostrils twin streamers of smoke writhed out,
twisting fantastically together and mixing slowly with the rising river
mist. His pipe became a wand of dreams summoning the genii of glorious
memory. The blood of the Dragon in his veins quickened from the lethargy
to which drudgery had cooled it, and raced hotly as he thought of the
battle past of his forefathers. Off Somewhere along the river's winding
length, where it crawled slowly to the sea, lay the great coast cities.
The lazy ripples, light-tipped, beckoned with luring fingers. There was
naught to stay him. His sampan was his home and movable, therefore the
morrow would see him turning its bow downstream to seek that strange
city where he had heard, dwelt many Foreign Devils who now and then
scattered wealth with a prodigal hand.
In that pale hour when the mist, not yet dissipated by the rising sun,
lay in a cold, silver veil upon the night-chilled water, he pushed out
from the shore and pointed the sampan's prow downstream. Days it took
him to reach salt water. He loitered for light cargoes at village edges,
or picked up the price of his daily rice at odd tasks ashore, but
always, were it day or night for travel, his tiny craft bore surely
seaward. Mile after slow mile dropped behind him, like the praying beads
of a lama's chain, but at last the river salted slightly, and his tiny
craft was lifted by the slow swell of the sea's hand reaching for
The river became more populous. The crowding sampans, houseboats, and
junks stretched far out into its oily, oozy flow, making a floating city
as he neared the congested life of the coast, where the ever-increasing
population failed to find ground space in its maggoty swarming. As the
stream widened until the farther bank disappeared in the artificial mist
of rising smoke and man-stirred dust, the Foreign Devils' fire junks
appeared, majestically steaming up and down--swift swans that scorned
the logy, lumbering native craft, the mat sails and toiling sweeps of
which made them appear motionless by comparison. A day or two of this
and then the coast, with Shanghai sprawling upon the bank, writhing with
life, odoriferous, noisy, perpetually awake.
Kan Wong slid into its waterfront turmoil, an infinitesimal human atom
added to it. His tiny craft fixed itself upon the outer edge of the
wriggling river life like a coral cell attaching itself to a slow
growing atoll. From there he worked his way inshore, crawling over the
craft that stretched out from the low banks as a water beetle might move
over the flotsam and jetsam caught in the back-water of a sluggish
stream. Once in the narrow, crowded streets of the city itself, he
roamed aimlessly, open-eyed to its wonders, dreamily observant. Out of
the native quarter and into the foreign section he moved, accustoming
himself to these masters of mystery whom he was about to serve, calling
sluggish memory to his aid as his cars strove to reconstruct The meaning
of the barbarous jargon.
Into the quarter where the Foreign Devils and the native population came
together to barter and to trade, he strayed one day. A Foreign Devil in
a strangely unattractive uniform was addressing a crowd of coolies in
their own tongue. Kan Wong attached himself to the outer edge of the
impassively curious throng, his ears alert, his features, as ever, an
imperturbable mask. The foreign officer, for such he seemed to be, was
making an offer to the assemblage for contract labour: one dollar a day,
with rice, fish, and tea rations, for work in a foreign land. Kan Wong
translated the money quickly into _yens_. The sum seemed incredible to
him. What service would he not perform for such payment? Why, within a
year, or two at the very most, with careful frugality, he might return
and buy himself a junk worthy of his Dragon dreams of the river. And
The officer talked on, persuading, holding out the glittering lure of
profit and adventure. Kan Wong listened eagerly. He had thought there
was a ban on contract labour, but perhaps this new Republican
Government, so friendly to the Foreign Devil, had removed it. Surely one
who wore the uniform of a soldier and an officer could not thus publicly
solicit coolies without the sanction of the mandarins, or escape their
Kan Wong studied the crowd. It contained a few Chinese soldiers, who
were obviously keeping order. He was satisfied, and edged his way closer
to the speaker. There, already, ranged to one side was a line of his own
kind, jabbering to a Celestial who put down their names on slips of rice
paper and accepted their marks, which they made with a bamboo brush,
that they bonded themselves to the adventure. Kan Wong gained the
signing table. Picking up the brush, he set his name, the name of one
of the Dragon's blood, to the contract, accepted a duplicate, and
stepped back into the waiting line.
His pay and his rations, he was told, would begin two days hence, when
he was to report to the fire junk now lying at the dock, awaiting the
human cargo of which he was a part. Kan Wong memorized the directions as
he turned away from his instructing countryman. Of the Foreign Devil he
took no further notice. Time enough for that when he passed into
service. The God of Luck had smiled upon his boldness, and, reflecting
upon it Kan Wong turned back to the river and the sampan that had so
long been his floating home. No sentimental memories, however, clung
about it for him. Its freight of dreams he had landed here in Shanghai,
marketing them for a realization. The sampan now was but the empty shell
of a water beetle, that had crawled upon the bank into the sun of
Fortune to spill forth a dragon fly to try newly found wings of
He found a customer, and, with much haggling after the manner of his
kind, disposed of his boat, the last tie, if tie there was, that bound
him to his present life. Waterman he had always been, and now had come
to him the call of the Father of All Waters. The tang of the salt in his
nostrils conjured up dreams as magical as those invoked by the wand of
the poppy god. Wrapped in their rosy mantle, he walked the streets for
the next two days, and on the third he took his way to the dock where
lay the fire junk that was to bear him forth into the wonders of the
Foreign Devils' land. Larger she loomed than any he had ever seen,
larger, oh, much larger, than those which had steamed up the Yangtze in
swanlike majesty. But this huge bulk was grey--grey and squat and
powerful. Once aboard, he found it crowded with an army of chattering
coolies. They swarmed in the hold like maggots. Every inch of space was
given over to them, an army, it seemed to Kan Wong, in which he was all
Day after day across the waste of water the ship took its eastern way.
Never had Kan Wong dreamed there was so much water in the world. The
broad, long river that had been his life's path seemed but a narrow
trickle on the earth's face compared with this stretch of sea that never
ended, though the days ran into weeks. The land coolies chafed and found
much sickness in the swell but Kan Wong, used ever to a moving deck,
round the way none too long, and smiled softly to himself as he counted
up the dollars they were paying him for the keenest pleasure he had ever
At last land appeared. The ship swung into the dock, disclosing to the
questioning eyes of Kan Won and his kind a new strange land. In orderly
discipline they were marched off the vessel and on to the dock. But rest
was not theirs as yet, nor was this their final destination. From the
fire junk they boarded the flying iron horse of the Foreign Devils;
again they were on the move. Swiftly across the land they went, over
high mountains crowded with eternal snow, thence down upon brown,
rolling plains as wide as the flat stretches of the broad Yangtze
Valley; eastward, ever eastward, through a land sparsely peopled for all
its virgin fertility. Behind their flying progress the days
dropped--one, two, three, four, at last five; and then they entered a
more populous region. Kan Wong, his nose flattened against the glass
that held the moving picture as in a frame, wondered much at the magic
that unrolled to his never-sated eyes. Yet the journey's end was beyond
Once more they came to a seaport. Marching from the carriages, once more
they beheld the sea. But this time it was different--more turbulent,
harsher, more sombre with the hint of waiting storms. Was there, then,
more than one ocean, Kan Wong asked himself? He found that it was indeed
so when once more a fire junk received them. This one was greyer than
the first that they had known. Upon her decks were guns and at her side
were other junks, low, menacing, with a demon flurry of vicious speed,
and short, squat funnels that belched dense smoke clouds. Within the
town were many Foreign Devils, all dressed alike in strange drab
uniforms; on the docks and here and there at other places they bore
arms and other unmistakable equipment of fighting men, which even Kan
Wong could not but notice.
The grey ship moved into a cold grey fog. With it other ships as grey
and as crowded, ships that crawled with men, strange Foreign Devils who
clanked with weapons as they walked aboard. Again a waste of water,
through which the ship seemed to crawl with a caution that Kan Wong
felt, but did not understand. With it on either side, moved those other
junks--squat, menacing, standing low on the horizon, but as haunting as
dark ghosts. Where were they bound, this strangely mixed fleet? Often
Kan Wong pondered this, but gave it no tongue to his fellow-passengers,
holding a bit aloof from them by virtue of his caste.
Again they neared the shore, where other boats, low-built and bristling
with guns, flew swiftly out to meet them like fierce ocean birds of
prey. Now they skirted high, bleak cliffs, their feet hid in a lather of
white foam; then they rounded the cliffs and passed into a storm-struck
stretch of sea through which they rolled to a more level land, off which
they cast anchor. The long ocean journey was finished at last.
There was a frantic bustle at this port, increasing a hundredfold when
once they set foot upon the land. Men--men were everywhere; men in
various uniforms, men who spoke various tongues in a confusing babel,
yet they all seemed intent upon one purpose, the import of which Kan
Wong could but vaguely guess. All about them was endless movement, but
no confusion, and once ashore their work commenced immediately.
From the fleet of fire junks various cargoes were to be unloaded with
all speed, and at this the coolies toiled. Numberless crates, boxes, and
bags came ashore to be stowed away in long, low buildings, or loaded
into long lines of rough, boxlike carriages that then went scurrying off
behind countless snorting and puffing fire-horses to the east, always to
the east and north. Strange engines, which the Foreign Devils saw to it
that they handled most tenderly, were also much in evidence, and always,
at all hours the uniformed men with their bristling arms and clanking
equipment crowded into the carriages and were whisked off to the east,
always to the east and north. They went with much strange shouting and,
to Kan Wong's ears, discordant sounds that they mistook for music. Yet
now and then other strings of carriages came back from the east and
north, with other men--men broken, bloody, lacking limbs, groping in
blindness, their faces twisted with pain as they were loaded into the
waiting fire-junks to recross the rough sea.
Then came the turn of the coolies to be crowded into the boxlike
carriages and to be whisked off to the east. With them went
tools--picks, shovels, and the like--for further work, upon the nature
of which Kan Wong, unquestioning, speculated. It was a slow, broken
journey that they made. Every now and then they stopped that other
traffic might pass them, going either way; mostly the strange men in
uniforms, bristling with guns, hurrying always to the east and north.
At last they too turned north, and as they did so the country, which had
been smiling, low, filled with soft fields and pretty, nestling houses,
little towns and quiet, orderly cities, changed to bleak fields, cut and
seared as by a simoom's angry breath. Still there were little towns--or
what had been little towns, now tumbled ruins--fire-smitten, gutted,
their windows gaping like blind eyes in the face of a twisted cripple.
Off to the east hung angry clouds from which the thunder echoed
distantly; a thunder low, grumbling, continual, menacing, and through
the clouds at night were lightning flashes of an angry red. Toward this
storm it seemed that all the men were hurrying, and so too were the
coolies of whom Kan Wong was one. Often they chattered speculatively of
the storm beyond. What did it mean? Why did the men hurry toward instead
of away from it? Truly the ways of the Foreign Devils were strange!
As they drew nearer to the storm, the river dreams of Kan Wong returned.
This was indeed the land of the Dragon's wrath. The torn and harrowed