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Cured, A Legend of Lombok by Alexander Montgomery

 

UPON a black sand beach, a cinnamon-coloured man, with blue loin--cloth, yellow jacket, scarlet headkerchief. Conspicuous enough, surely; yet of this polychromatic arrangement Morgan saw nothing until it planted itself within two feet of his nose.

The sand was black because it was volcanic; the man was cinnamon because he was a Sassak; and Morgan was preoccupied because he was in an uncommonly "tight" place--figuratively, that is; for literally he was in a notoriously loose place--Ampanat, in the island of Lombok. Loose, at least, as regards the "dominant class"--Brahminical and alien; though morally tight enough with the Sassaks--Mahommedan and aboriginal. But the Sassak, no more than anybody else, considers himself bound to undertake the morality of other people; nor did this parti-coloured person's profession differ very violently from that upon which "Sir Pandarus of Troy" has conferred the lustre of his name. With graceful salutations of the Orient, he professed, in deferential accents and the Malay tongue, his consuming eagerness to help the "exalted white master" out of his present difficulty.

Morgan stopped booting the beach and laid a sudden hand upon the yellow cotton jacket. "My difficulty? What is my difficulty? If you don't happen to know what you're talking about, my leather-coloured friend, I'll teach you to come messing about Billy Morgan when he's down-by-the--head."

Ju Somal understood only that he was being threatened. He brought his kris-handle into view, smiled an indulgent smile, and waited till Morgan had repeated himself--minus the mination--in Malay.

The Sassak stretched a lanky arm towards where, beyond the snowy surf--ridges, the purple of the Indian Ocean vanished into the dazzle struck up from the inner anchorage by the intolerable sun. "There was your ship this morning. She is gone!--and you are here! No friends! No money! Say I good?"

In ten thousand sailor-men there may be one who doesn't swear. Morgan was that one, but he was sorely tempted. "Good?" he muttered. "It's bad!--d-deplorably bad! Can't say the old man didn't warn me; but I never thought he'd have done it!"

Now, the "old man"--which is to say Sandy Graham, master mariner and part owner of the barque Jerusalem--hadn't "done it," after all. Instead of being on his way to Amoy with his cargo of trepang and sandalwood, the wily Sandy had only stood away for Bali Strait, and was waiting, in a manner, "round the corner" until the lesson should have well bitten into his truant second mate.

"We'll slip roon' again, the nicht," he said to his "first," as he stumped up and down his little slice of poop. "He'll scarce believe his een whan he sees the auld craift at her ainchor again in the mornin'! A'm theenkin' we'll cure the laddie, this turn, o' dilly-dallyin' ashore wi' the lasses whan the vassel's hove-short!"


Ju Somal explained. Simi-Lik had sent him.

"The Chinky girl!" thought Morgan. "Pooh! what can she do?" Which was scarcely fair to the canary-coloured damsel, whose mercantile parent had so hospitably entreated him, and who was the more sorry for his predicament in that she considered her own fascinations as partly the cause thereof. The sailor, at all events, had hardly got out of Pah-Pak-Wak's house before that eminent citizen entered it with the news that the Jerusalem had sailed. Simi-Lik, in tribulation, had sought her Sassak handmaiden, who had sought Ju Somal, who had sought--and found--the disconsolate Mr. William Morgan.

"A thankless kind of a beast!" was what the sailor called himself when, by Ju Somal, all this had been duly recounted. "Real good-hearted little girl, it must be; even if it is a bit greenery-yallery! Off you go, spindleshanks, and say I'll come!"

"Spindleshanks" understood, and was off, top-speed, to claim the promised dollar. But, as he ran, he ruminated. A dollar? Why, there were two or three dollars in it! Bah! Jankin was rich! He would surely give five dollars to be told of this thing! And to Jankan's house the brown shanks flew.


Morgan sat under the mangoes and wondered. This was what he had sneered at as the "Chinky girl"--this laughing, lovely, splendid-eyed creature, with a flowery wonder in its glossy hair, and silken miracles about its graceful shape. In Malay--the lingua franca of the Archipelago--she chattered gaily to the white man. Her father was very rich and very fond of her. He would do anything to please her. Also, he was fond of white men--and so was she! And roguishly she watched Morgan over her gold-and-ebony fan.

He warmed to the idea. There was money in it--lots of money! And the girl was fit for an emperor! But then--a chinky wife! Frightened by a word, he froze, and coarsely told a woman, who--race for race--was vastly better bred than himself, that he "wasn't on." The words were Malay, but their value was about the same, and the "woman scorned," looking him steadily in the eyes, mentally sentenced him to death!


Pah-Pak-Wak, known to the few Britishers in Lombok as "Papa Quack," was of a personality inconceivable by those who have seen only the "scrubber" Chinaman of Australia and the States. Six feet and sixteen stone--with strong, sagacious countenance and snowy cone of beard--gold-rimmed glasses sat on his respected nose, a gold-linked white silk blouse enveloped his portentous stomach, blue cashmere trousers cased his substantial legs, and a red silk tuft completed his unspeakable pigtail.

To him quoth Jankan, "Have a care. I can do much with the Raja! He will not see me wronged."

Pah-Pak put down his chopsticks and smiled--the immemorial Celestial smile. He--which is to say, his dollars--could do more with Lombok's ferocious ruler than any other man in the island. But, despising--brains and body--this skinny little Indo-Malay, the man of business wasn't going to argue the question.

"It is of my daughter we speak, not of the Raja. It is but common kindness Simi-Lik has showed this English stranger. But, in any case, she shall please herself. We make not slaves of our women like--"

"Like the men of Lombok!" Jankan swelled his five-feet-nothing to another inch or so, came a step nearer, and slowly drew forth his kris. "Seest thou this?" he said.

Pah-Pak coolly reached out for the weapon, examined the gold-inlaid hilt, passed his finger over the ridgy steel of the blade, and handed it indifferently back. "Pretty fair!" he said, and took up his chopsticks again. "But I don't want to buy."

Jankan turned green--Malays do turn green--at the insulting assumption that he wanted to sell, and his hand trembled till the kris clattered against its wooden scabbard as he sheathed it.

"Dog!" was all his colourless lips could utter.

Pah-Pak--he was eating dragonflies à l'huile--carefully fished out one of them, balanced it over the dish upon a chopstick, and looked significantly by turns at the greasy green insect and the venomous little Malay. No words were wanted for his meaning: he dreaded the one about as much as the other:

But, at the bottom of the dragon-flanked steps, Jankan's wrath was changed to jubilation. A moon-faced yellow urchin, dodging through the orange-trees of the court-yard, thrust upon him a silk-tied epistle, and vanished. Jankan, reading, forgave Pah-Pak, for here was Pah-Pak's daughter herself delivering over the white man to destruction!


A belated sumpit-api, dropping from the roof upon the slumbering Morgan's face, promptly expressed its feelings with its latter end. The sailor's sleep was a sailor's, but since, if anything could wake the dead, it would probably be the "fire-ant's" sting, Morgan was on his feet in an instant--and not an instant too soon. Straight at him, from the window, came a noiseless figure--a shadow in the dim lamp-light--but a shadow with a kris! A Chinese house is never short of weapons--jars and vases without end--and from a little bamboo table Morgan swung up a stately piece of porcelain that knocked the stranger one way and his kris another. There were smothered voices outside; Morgan snatched up the kris and rushed into the verandah. A glimmer of dawn showed him a dozen men in the garden. "Too hot!" he said, and bounded across the flower-beds towards the little door standing open in the high mud wall. But a woman, close beside it, thrust it sharply to, and was fumbling with the fastening when Morgan dragged her backwards by the hair--Simi-Lik's hair!--flung her against the legs of the pursuing Jankan, tore the door open, and was off, running light in shirt and trousers.

After him, through the narrow mud-walled streets, he could hear the shuffle of the naked feet; no shouts, for the Malay can't run with a white man, and they wanted all their breath. Instinctively Morgan headed for the beach, till unexpectedly he ran out of a winding lane into sight of the long rollers gleaming to the rapid equatorial sunrise. The hunted man glanced at the crimson segment peering over the sullen sea-line of the east, then at the white-robed pursuers streaming out by another opening upon the black sand.

"My last sunrise, unless I chance the sharks! That Yankee's not more than half a mile out."

He threw away the kris and dashed into the surf, catching faintly the disappointed yell of the human pack as he dived under the first advancing wall of water.


"Chap a-tryin' to swim off to us, sir!" said the mate of the Yankee brig.

"Can if he likes, I s'pose! 'Muses him an' don't hurt us."

"Guess the sharks 'll hurt him, though, unless he's powerful lucky."

"Thunder!" and the skipper skipped. "I forgot them cattle; I see him! Jump into the whaler, some of ye, and pull like blue blazes! No--hold on! There's a boat headin' for him already from that barque roundin' Gatchee Point. Jee-rusalem! why that's the chap that went out yesterday. What's he want back again?"

"Jerusalem, cap., exactly! that's her name. Cranky old galoot of a Scotch skipper. There--they're a-pickin' the chap up."


"Weel, Morgan, ma lad!" said the "cranky old galoot," as his recovered second officer dripped his way aft, "have a cured ye?"

Morgan pointed overboard to a couple of black triangles cutting this way and that upon the surface.

"No," he said, "but they have!"

 
 
 

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