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Two of a Tribe by Alexander Montgomery

 

BECKLEY stared, and Kamsut repeated:

"The panther I gave thee I would have thee lend me again for a space. Art thou dumb?"

"Thou shalt have him, Raja--and willingly. But thou knowest--"

"That thou wouldst send the beast to thine own country! Well, I will harm him not. And I will answer the question thou hast not asked. That Sultan of the Ancients thou didst speak of--he who cast unto wild beasts the founders of the Christian faith?"

"Nero!"

"Ay; Nero. Well I would do with an unbeliever as Nero did. Thou knowest Hafan?"

"Surely, Raja! But Hafan is of thine own faith!"

"A blaspheming dog he is--who revileth the Commander of the Faithful! Yet, since he is in some sort a Muslim, I will not take his head. But with the panther will I shut him up. Let the beast spare him, if it be the will of Alla!"

Now, since in Rubianak the will of Alla meant pretty much the will of Kamsut, further discussion was risky, and Beckley went away, wondering what it all meant. Kamsut--autocratic as Fate--was also just with a fierce justice. The old Persian must have given him some serious offence.

"Persian! Why, that's the clue! The Persians are mostly Shiahs--don't acknowledge the Sultan of Turkey as the Caliph. And Kamsut wants to play Nero!--or is it Henry VIII.?"

Ruminating thus upon the eternal sameness of human nature, the naturalist missed a step of his house-ladder, fell, and sat so long upon the ground that Stubbs came hurriedly down the ladder.

"Anything broke, Mr. Beckley?"

"No bones, Stubbs--only this!"

The "stick-hunter" sniffed at the fragments of glass which the other fished carefully out of his pocket. "Laudanum! Oh, well, sir, you have plenty of that left, at all events!"

Beckley, full of a new idea, went slowly up to the ladder and peeped into his medicine-chest before he answered.

"Yes; and a good deal of the powder, too. Lucky; for I rather think I'm going to give Beelzebub one of the biggest doses on record."

"Beelzebub? Beelzebub ain't sick!"

"No! the brute's only too well. I want to make him sick. Look here, Stubbs--do you know what's the matter between the Raja and Hafan?"

"Yes," said the wondering stick-hunter. "Some argument about religion they had, and the old fool of a dukun (doctor) stuck it out against the Raja till Kamsut got wild and clapped him into limbo."

"Just so! Well, Kamsut is going to put Persian and panther together; so you and I are first going to put the panther and a thumping dose of opium together! See!"

Stubbs opened his mouth at the greatness of the idea--then shut it with a disappointed snap.

"Best lark I ever heard of, sir!--but it won't work! Can't pour laudanum into Beelzebub as if he was a pet poodle!"

"There need be no laudanum in the matter, any more than there'll be any 'lark' in it if Kamsut finds us out. Only for that I'd poison the brute outright! Look here!--this is opium-powder. Strong dose for a man--two grains; so our spotted friend's prescription shall run, 'Pulv. op.--grains 6.' 'Sine morâ,' too, friend Stubbs--'without delay!' Get me a lump of pork!"


The Bornean panther, smaller than the Indian, carries probably as much devil to the square inch as any created thing; so, when the Raja's kaki brought over a party of bearers to carry the beast away, cage and all, they went to work like men with candles in a powder magazine. But the creature, flattened out, catlike, on the floor, regarded them with such sleepy indifference that they grew foolhardy, and one of them poked a stick into Beelzebub's orange-coloured stomach. Like a flash the brute's lithe fore--arm was through the bars, and the man rolled over with four razor-gashes on his dusky shoulder. The others laughed, and the fellow lay and screeched till the kaki kicked him.

"Arise, beast! and let Bekkul tuan dress thy wound. As for Hafan, he will dress no more wounds if he once goeth inside that cage!"


Kamsut sat beneath the Teak of Judgment, and pointed to the slumbering panther--motionless as an image, but for the scarce seen heaving of the white-margined flanks.

"Look now, Hafan, upon that beast, and ponder well thy words! The Sultan of Turkestan--upon whose name be peace!--he is the Holy Head of Islam--the Caliph of the True Believers! Is it not so?"

Slender, long-gowned, small-featured, and silver-bearded--the Persian physician stood boldly up--the frail environment of an indomitable soul. Calmly he looked upon the sleeping panther, and calmly upon the Raja; then he spat upon the ground.

"Thus do I spit upon the beard of him whom thou ignorantly miscallest the Commander of the Faithful! Do thy worst!--thou and thy fellow--beast!"

"On his head be it!" said Kamsut. "In with him!"

"I suppose the old chap's pretty safe?" Stubbs whispered to Beckley, as the Persian was hauled up on the top of the cage.

"Safe for hours! The opium's got fair hold!"

Breathlessly they watched, for all that, as the unlucky dukun--thrust rudely through the roof-trap--fell plump upon the elastic body of the panther. Naught followed but a twitching of the tail. The old man scrambled from his terrible cushion, and Kamsut sprang to his feet.

"A spear!" he shouted. "Bring a spear! and make the lazy brute feel it!"

Prod after prod was given with a Dyak spear, but not till the broad head was plunged half out of sight into the spotted hide did the brute give a smothered snarl and roll lazily over. The wicked green eyes opened for a moment upon the man within reach, a half-delivered sweep of the paw made a long rent in the Persian's robe, then again the huge cat lay motionless as a stone. The Raja walked half-way to the cage--turned then, and fixed a baleful eye on Beckley. Stubbs breathed hard. "Now for it!" Beckley heard him mutter, but the man of many dangers gave look for look, until Kamsut, with a short laugh, went back to his mat and sat down.

"Bring Hafan hither," he said, and a dozen disappointed hands fished out again the unscathed recalcitrant.

"Hafan," the Raja said, "thou art a blasphemer and a son of perdition, but thou art a dukun of much knowledge. What thinkest thou would make a beast to slumber so that a spear-point should not rouse him?"

"Raja, I do not think--I know!"

"Thou knowest! Good! Tell me, then, thy thought, and thee will I forgive--whoever else I may punish."

"The beast, O Raja! hath been given of iromut--the sleep-drug of the Kini" (Chinese). "Come with me to the cage and I will show thee!"

Kamsut stood close to the bars while Hafan clambered into the cage again and coolly dragged one of the panther's eyelids away from the big green iris. "In cats' eyes, as thou knowest, Raja, the pupil is a slit in sunlight. Yet behold how in this creature--which is but a cat--the pupil is now a rounded speck. The Kini-drug doth this to man and beast."

"Come out!" the Raja said. "Thou art forgiven! And thou, Bekkul, stand forth! No need to ask thee if thou didst this thing. Why?"

"To save, O Raja! if I could, a life."

"A life? This man's life? By Alla, Bekkul, thou movest me to laughter. Knowest thou not that this Hafan--this rival dukun--was jealous of thy skill?--that but for me he would ere now have poisoned thee or slain thee with the sword of darkness?"

"All this did I know, Raja--and I thank thee!"

Kamsut gazed at the white man--uncomprehending.

"All this thou knewest already!--yet wouldst thou have saved this Hafan's life. Man, thou art mad!"

"Not so, Raja. I do but follow my nature."

Kamsut took a turn or two in silence--all men watching him. Suddenly then he unbuckled the belt of the Indian tulwar he wore, in place of kris, and put the sword in Beckley's hands.

The white man poised it. "A heavy hilt, Raja," he said. "Gold?"

"Ay! solid--not gilt! It is thine Bekkul, to remember Kamsut by--for elsewhere must thou go to 'follow thy nature.' Such natures live not long in Rubianak!"

 
 
 

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