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A Lamb to the Slaughter by Alexander Montgomery

 

SABI wanted a head. That wasn't much. Dyak girls often did want a head from their suitors. But Sabi was a belle--her father was worth many brass cannon--and the head Sabi wanted was a white man's!

Now, white men were scarce in the south-west, and their heads were dangerous to get, single-handed. So Achang chewed betel over the problem for a full hour, and then, being a man of action, took his weapons and went over to Panda the blacksmith.

Panda was a Kayan--despised as a man, but mightily respected as a sword-maker. Also, he could put two and two together. The price of Sabi's hand he knew, and knew, too, who was the only one of her half-hundred admirers likely to pay it. So when he saw the silk sarong and the leopard--skin jacket his fish-like mouth twisted knowingly up towards his over--loaded ear. Silently he received the Dyak dandy's swords. Kris and ihlang he put aside, then took up the latok.

"This wants no help from me," he said. "Never was a better edge!" and then, with his eye on Achang's, he made a lightning sweep with the sword, and stooped as if to pick up with his left hand some object from the ground. The blood-lust flashed into Achang's inky eyes, and the muscles stiffened up under his saddle-coloured skin, as, for answer, he rubbed his hand rapidly over his cheek and chin.

Panda understood. A beard I--and therefore a white man.

"Good!" he said. "Thou climbest high. Is it Stobsi whose neck is to melt?--Stobsi, the stick-hunter?"

"No! thou Kayan pig! Stobsi is as one of our own people. I would myself take his head who should take Stobsi's! Besides, fool, hath Stobsi a beard? Scrapeth he not his face every day with a little parang till it is smooth as a shark's belly?"

Now Stubbs, the "stick-hunter," was not loved of Panda. The blacksmith, like many a Kayan, disspensed with a waistcloth because he had a pair of drawers tattooea upon his dingy hide--at which thing the little cockney had laughed hugely. But to laugh at a Kayan is to make a deadly enemy, and Panda was ingenuously sorry that Stubbs's was not the head to fall. Now, too, that Achang had called him a pig, he had to get level also with that turmeric-tinted warrior, and, as he blew sullenly at his charcoal, he saw how.

"If it isn't Stobsi," he told himself, "it must be Bekkul; no other white men within twelve days' journey." And Bekkul--otherwise Beckley--had a fast friend in Kamsut, the Raja of Rubianak.

Panda dropped his bellows and brought out a jar of tuak. Only at set feasts do the Dyaks, as a rule, get drunk. Still, there are exceptions, and Achang was one of them; so the evil-smelling stuff, having gone liberally down his throat, got duly up into his head. Then he babbled, and Panda lay low for him. Bekkul was to be the victim, and Achang, with drunken circumstantiality, set forth his plan of operations. Then, as tuak-drinkers will, he fell incontinently fast asleep; whereupon Panda, girding up his loins with an unwonted waistclout, slipped unostentatiously into the jungle and started eastwards.


To Beckley, two days later, there suddenly appeared, as the result of Panda's little excursion, the Raja of Rubianak himself, with a tail of 50 Malays and one unwilling Chinaman.

"Ask no questions, Bekkul, my father," said Kamsut. "Change now thy garments and give to these men those thou wearest."

Beckley, who knew his man, obeyed without a word, and wondered much to see his clothes placed upon the no less astonished Chow. The Raja took out one of his watches--he wore three!--then looked at the sinking sun.

"At dusk of every evening, Bekkul, thou drawest water by the reed-bed yonder; but to-night goeth down this yellow dog in thy stead. Why--thou shalt in due time understand!"

Down went the sun, and down went Sun Ling to the water, in Beckley's rig, and with Beckley's jars. At the margin of the reedy wall he put down his vessels, and was stooping to admire the reproduction of his yellow phiz, surmounted by Beckley's topee, when the reeds parted gently beside him, and, plunge!--reflection and reflected came suddenly together, as Sun Ling's shaven sconce--swept clean from his shoulders--flopped sullenly into the green-black water! The slayer threw down his parang, dropped a knee upon the red-spouting neck, and picked out of the water the still fatuously grinning head. Then, as he sprang up astounded, came running from the hut the Raja's men, spreading out to cut him off.

Achang looked, snatched up his parang, threw it down again, and bounded far into the darkening river.

With fifty strokes he bottomed on the further side, and turned to see how many followed him. Not one!--for now from beneath the hollow bank behind him there stole swiftly out a mighty ripple, and a long grey snout came towards the wader with a rush. There was a shriek that scared to wing again a cloud of roosting copper-birds; then Achang's brass-ringed ankles flourished for a second in the air as his body was crushed in the five-foot jaws that took him under like a frog.

 
 
 

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