Live Man Gardiner by Alexander Montgomery
"BOSH!" shouted a sudden voice out of the shadows.
The two traders started. It was hours since their compotator had
fallen ingloriously to the first bottle of "De Kuyper," and they were
by this time well downstairs in the second.
Fleming half-filled a tumbler and took it over to the hammock.
"You're supposed to've been killed in the first act, old cock! But,
since you've come to life again, just get this down your neck, and
explain! What's bosh?"
The gin went down, and Daddy Murchison sat up. "Help me out!" he
said, and the ginger-headed giant half-lifted him to the floor. The old
man up-ended again the gin-case that had gone down with him, and sat
blinking disreputably at the lamp for a minute before he said--"I heard
you chaps blatherskitin' about cannibalism. No such thing in Borneo!
You settled that all right, didn't you?"
Gardiner foresaw contradiction. "No, Daddy!--no. We want your
opinion first, you know!"
"Shows your sense, too! Three years in the 'Pelago, I heard you say
you were. And Bullocky Fleming, here--he thinks he knows a lump because
he's been about twice as long! But I've been thirty-five years amongst
the islands, young man; and I say there's cannibalism--plenty of
it--among the Dyaks of the south-east!"
"Bullocky" grinned down at him through the smoke. "Cocksure little
animal it is!" he said. "But the question is--what proof have you th'
ever was any mancatin' hereaway? That's the talk!"
The old man got up--wild-eyed with sudden horror.
"Proof, man? Why, I've--" He broke off, took a gulp of gin, and sat
down again, shaking.
The others--smiling no longer--said not a word. There was some ugly
reality behind this!
Daddy Murchison smote his ancient fist upon the table. "I'll tell
'em!" he muttered. "By God! I must tell somebody before I die!" He
forced a mirthless smile, and lit his pipe. "Oh, you needn't look like
that, Bullocky! No more cranky than yourself; though I've a lot more
reason to be!"
Puff, puff, for half a minute--then, with the suddenness of a man
keeping himself to the scratch--
"There was a chap used to make the round trip with trade--Singapore
across to Landak, down to Banjermassin, and away round again by the
east coast, up to Shanghai, with trepang and birds' nests and things.
'Bout thirty years ago, it was; before the Dutchies had squared things
up much; and, you bet, it was risky work. How Blinker Johnson--that was
the name he went by--managed to escape the pumpaks, I dunno; unless
'twas because he was such an infernally bad lot himself. Runaway mate
of an American barque he was; put a bullet through his skipper
somewhere up among the Carolines. I was knockin' about. Banjermassin,
dead broke, and when Blinker told me he wanted a hand I thought I might
as well try my luck up in Chow-land.
"Never got there! I wasn't over-holy then--ain't now, for that
matter!--but such a God-forgotten set of wretches as Blinker's crew
never came together in one bottom? Good-sized lump of a brig, she
was--but manned three times over. Half-a-dozen whites--the rest all
sorts and colours, and every man of 'em a bigger scoundrel than the
next! Before we commenced our northing I was full of it. In fact, my
life wasn't worth a button among 'em, after they guessed what I thought
of 'em; and when Blinker plugged a Sunda-man for droppin' a
marlin'spike from the main-t'-gallan'-yard, I swore to myself
that--sink or swim--I wouldn't round Cape Kamiungun with him.
"A couple of days after that I got a chance. We anchored in the
mouth of a middling big river. I forget its name, but there was a Dyak
place just above that was a good mark for swallows' nests--the kind the
Chinkies eat, you know. I got away all right. Chanced the sharks, I
did, and swam ashore in the darkness. Blinker kicked up a devil of a
splash, but the Dyaks kept me snug, and he had to make sail without
"Well, the Dyaks round there ain't a bad sort, if you don't rub 'em
the wrong way. The Orang-Kaya took a great fancy to me, and nothing 'd
do him, after a bit, but I must go with 'em on a raid against a village
about 20 miles up-river. Same old game, it was--came down on 'em just
before day, fired the roofs, and dropped 'em as they bolted. The poor
devils didn't have a show, and our fellows got nearly a couple of
hundred heads, besides a big haul of women and kids. Half-a-dozen
young-men prisoners they had, too, but I didn't know much about Dyaks
then, and I saw nothing strange in that.
"When we got back there was a big spread. All the usual stinkin'
cookery the Dyaks are so gone upon, and a lot more that I could see was
special for the occasion. Plenty of tuak, too, and the women, as usual,
eggin' on the men to drink, till three-parts of 'em tumbled off their
perches. The chief was a hard old case, though, and when another gorge
came on, some time towards morning, he tackled it like a wolf. Peckish,
myself, I was; and sober, for I couldn't stomach the darned rot-gut of
tuak then as I can now. Reg'lar demon to stuff himself, the Orang was;
and, d'ye know, it gave me a queer kind of a shiver to see the look of
him into a big brass pot that four young women put down before him.
Some kind of a stew, it smelt like, and a lot of 'em gathered round
while the old boy fished out a piece and scoffed it. Then he looked at
me and said something, and all the others looked, too, and started
"The Orang called me over and asked if I would like some. 'Yes,' I
said, for I understood some of their lingo; and then they all guffawed
again. I couldn't make it out; but there couldn't be much harm in the
stuff or the old man wouldn't have smacked his lips over it. I took the
piece he offered me--about the size of a mutton-chop, it was--and then,
seeing how they were all watching me, I thought I'd ask what it was, at
all events. The old villain showed all his sharkified teeth. 'Orang!'
says he. Well, he was the Orang himself--the Orang-Kaya; so I supposed
it was some special dish of his own, and that he wanted to do me
honour. But orang-kaya means 'rich man,' and as I said the words over
to myself, it all came clear to me in a flash. 'Orang--man!' I pitched
the horror away and made for the door as if Satan was after me!"
For half a minute the old man sat silent--recalling the scene; then
he reached out his hand--steady now, as was the eye beneath the bushy
white brow. Gardiner pushed him the bottle. Fleming got and up cut
himself a pipeful, before--like a man who half-dreaded the answer--he
asked--"So you got away all right, Daddy?"
Daddy slowly relighted his own pipe, and eclipsed himself with
"No, Fleming, lad--not that turn! I was collared at the door and
brought back to the chief. His face was like the devil's in a picture,
with his eyes like a cornered cobra's, and his lips curled clean away
from his black, crocodile teeth. He had his parang in his hand, and he
lifted it to make a slash at me. I thought I was a goner, and no
mistake, but he didn't strike. He says something to one of the women,
and she fishes out another chunk of dreadfulness, and holds it out to
me. I looked at the chief, and he jabbered something I didn't quite
understand. But I understood that he meant business--I had seen that
parang at work before! 'Twas"--Daddy put down his pipe and
groaned--"'Twas--cannibal--or--dead-un--that's what it was!"
Fleming knocked over the bottle as he jumped to his feet again.
"Good God! old man, you don't mean to say--"
Gardiner sat still. "Of course he does! It's clear it wasn't
dead-un, so it must have been--"
"Cannibal!" screeched the old man--smashed his pipe on the table,
and rushed out into the glimmering dawn.
"Mad?" asked Fleming.
Said Gardiner--"Queer, to begin with--and queerer for the liquor.
But that was no madman's yarn!"
The big man shuddered right through his six-feet-three. "Faugh! to
think we've been drinking with a man-eater!"
"Rubbish! Drinking with a man who preferred his life to his
prejudices, that's all. I don't envy him the fix; but if it had been
"You'd have done the same?"
"Bet your pretty little boots I would!"
"Bullocky" doubled his historic fist. "You're a better-educated man
than me, Mr. William Gardiner--by a jugful! Seen a lot more, too, in
some ways. But, by gum! if I thought you meant what you said--"
"You'd get plugged, old man--that's all! Lay a finger on me, Mr.
Bullocky Fleming, and I'll blow a hole in you 'fore you can take it off
The giant gasped. "Thought you was a man, Gardiner!"
"Man? Exac'ly! Nine-stone man! Very reason I don't intend to be
knocked about by eighteen stone of bull-beef and stupidity! See?"
The Mandhar trader saw. He, too, had a "gun" at his belt, but he
wasn't in it at that game with the Californian.
"Don't be an ass, Fleming, as well as a bullock! Man that comes for
me gen'lly gets left! Take another 'wheel-greaser' and we'll have a
look for poor old Fly-by-night. If he's not exac'ly mad, he's not
overpoweringly sane, either, and I don't like the way he skedaddled.
"This" was a scribbled scrap of paper, presented by a Dyak boy with
the awe due to the mysterious soundless words of white men.
"Dear Gardiner,--Don't bother about me. I've felt for a long time as
if I must let out this horror. Don't think I'm mad! The thing's true
enough; so true that, now it's out, I'm going to do what I should have
done long ago."
"Make away with himself, eh?" Fleming said, when Gardiner handed him
the scrawl. "Best thing he can do, too!"
"Bigger fool than I took him for! Come on, and we'll have a look for
him! No use asking young yellowskin anything; primed with his
The sun had hardly hove his deep-red disc clear of the cold blue
jungle line beyond the woolly-misted river--yet all the village was
astir with men who ran to swell a throng about the Orang's
house--though few had ventured to join the little group upon the
The crowd fell back, right and left, from the ladder-foot as the
white men came. Gardiner wondered at the shamefaced greeting of the few
whose eyes met his. "What is it, brothers?" he called out, in Dyak, but
only the Orang answered from above.
"Come up, white brother; he is here!"
"Corpse, I suppose!" and Gardiner scrambled up.
Murchison wasn't quite a corpse. His eyes had recognition in them,
and he faintly moved a hand. Gardiner stooped--lifted the sarong that
lay over the old man's chest--dropped it suddenly, and faced fiercely
round upon the Orang.
"Who?" he said.
The Orang pointed down to the dying man. "Hear, first, his words.
The time is very short."
The bloodless lips were moving feebly. Gardiner lay down upon the
bamboos to bring his ear to the old man's mouth.
"It was Eki, the smith; but I forced him to do it. Spat on him, I
did, and then he wouldn't; so I struck him in the face, and then--"
"He gave you a slash that would have killed a buffalo! S'pose you
know it's a finisher?"
"Yes! They've stopped the bleedin' a bit, but I know it's a case
with me--as I meant it to be! New thing in sui--"
Death took the last syllable.
For the killing of Roderick--commonly known as "Daddy"--Murchison,
Eki, the smith, was arraigned before a court that combined less "frill"
with more expedition than any other upon record.
Gardiner at top of the table in his store; Fleming on his right
hand; on his left, Musman, the Orang-Kaya. At bottom, the accused,
disarmed and bound; behind him a crowd of gaping Dyaks and a Malay or
two from a prahu in the river.
Facts clear enough. Eki was rolling a cigar; white man walked up and
"made spittle" in his face. Eki dropped cigar and took hold of parang.
Then white man struck, and Eki cut him down.
Mr. Justice Fleming would acquit the prisoner. "It was a devil of a
thing to be 'landed' on the nose without warning!"
Mr. Justice Musman concurred. It was evident the white man wanted to
be killed. "The prisoner had merely obliged him!"
Chief-Justice Gardiner opined that this was all d--d rubbish! A Dyak
had killed a white man! There was severe provocation; but this Court
wasn't going to establish the precedent that a Dyak might kill a white
man upon any provocation! He found prisoner guilty, sentenced him to be
shot, and then and there--before anybody could lift a finger--did shoot
The petrifaction of amazement rested for a moment on the
assemblage--then the Orang headed a stampede for the door, and in half
a minute only Gardiner and Fleming were left with the corpse.
"Bullocky," too, got up to go, but at the door he turned.
"Gardiner," he said--"you can shoot me, if you like!--but I say
you're not a man--you're a devil!"
The little man laughed. "Don't want to shoot you, Bullocky!--not
worth it! Get away home to Mandhar, and peddle cocoanuts--it's about
all you're fit for! As for me, I'm no devil--I'm only Live-man