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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v1 - 10/11 -


a moment, and then Tang-a-Dahit said:

"Wilt thou not let me enter?"

The sudden wailing of the stricken man drowned Tang-a-Dahit's words, and without a word Cumner's Son turned again to the victim of the Red Plague.

All day the people watched from afar, and all day long soldiers and hillsmen drew a wide cordon of quarantine round the house. Terror seized the people when the sun went down, and to the watchers the suspense grew. Ceaseless, alert, silent, they had watched and waited, and at last the beggar knelt with his eyes fixed on the sleeper, and did not stir. A little way off from him stood Cumner's Son-patient, pale, worn, older by ten years than he was three days before.

In the city dismay and misery ruled. Boonda Broke and the dead Dakoon were forgotten. The people were in the presence of a monster which could sweep them from their homes as a hail-storm scatters the hanging nests of wild bees. In a thousand homes little red lights of propitiation were shining, and the sweet boolda wood was burning at a thousand shrines. Midnight came, then the long lethargic hours after; then that moment when all cattle of the field and beasts of the forest wake and stand upon their feet, and lie down again, and the cocks crow, and the birds flutter their wings, and all resign themselves to sleep once more. It was in this hour that the sick man opened his eyes and raised his head, as though the mysterious influence of primitive life were rousing him. He said nothing and did nothing, but lay back and drew in a long, good breath of air, and afterwards fell asleep.

The beggar got to his feet. "The man is safe," said he.

"I will go and tell them," said Cumner's Son gladly, and he made as if to open the door.

"Not till dawn," commanded the beggar. "Let them suffer for their sins. We hold the knowledge of life and death in our hands."

"But my father, and Tang-a-Dahit, and Pango Dooni."

"Are they without sin?" asked the beggar scornfully. "At dawn, only at dawn!"

So they sat and waited till dawn. And when the sun was well risen, the beggar threw wide open the door of the house, and called aloud to the horsemen far off, and Cumner's Son waved with his hand; and McDermot came galloping to them. He jumped from his horse and wrung the boy's hand, then that of the beggar, then talked in broken sentences, which were spattered by the tears in his throat. He told Cumner's Son that his face was as that of one who had lain in a grave, and he called aloud in a blustering voice, and beckoned for troopers to come. The whole line moved down on them, horsemen and soldiers and people.

The city was saved from the Red Plague, and the people, gone mad with joy, would have carried Cumner's Son to the Palace on their shoulders, but he walked beside the beggar to his father's house, hillsmen in front and English soldiers behind; and wasted and ghostly, from riding and fighting and watching, he threw himself upon the bed in his own room, and passed, as an eyelid blinks, into a deep sleep.

But the beggar sat down on a mat with a loaf of bread, a bowl of goat's milk, and a long cigar which McDermot gave him, and he received idly all who came, even to the sick man, who ere the day was done was brought to the Residency, and, out of danger and in his right mind, lay in the shade of a banyan tree, thinking of nothing save the joy of living.

VIII

THE CHOOSING OF THE DAKOON

It was noon again. In the Hall of the Heavenly Hours all the chiefs and great people of the land were gathered, and in the Palace yard without were thousands of the people of the Bazaars and the one-storied houses. The Bazaars were almost empty, the streets deserted. Yet silken banners of gorgeous colours flew above the pink terraces, and the call of the silver horn of Mandakan, which was made first when Tubal Cain was young, rang through the long vacant avenues. A few hundred native troops and a handful of hillsmen rode up and down, and at the Residency fifty men kept guard under command of Sergeant Doolan of the artillery--his superior officers and the rest of his comrades were at the Palace.

In the shade of a banyan tree sat the recovered victim of the Red Plague and the beggar of Nangoon, playing a game of chuck-farthing, taught them by Sergeant Doolan, a bowl of milk and a calabash of rice beside them, and cigarettes in their mouths. The beggar had a new turban and robe, and he sat on a mat which came from the Palace.

He had gone to the Palace that morning as Colonel Cumner had commanded, that he might receive the thanks of the Dakoon for the people of Mandakan; but he had tired of the great place, and had come back to play at chuck-farthing. Already he had won everything the other possessed, and was now playing for his dinner. He was still chuckling over his victory when an orderly and two troopers arrived with a riderless horse, bearing the command of Colonel Cumner for the beggar to appear at once at the Palace. The beggar looked doubtfully at the orderly a moment, then rose with an air of lassitude and languidly mounted the horse. Before he had got half-way to the Palace he suddenly slid from the horse and said:

"Why should I go? The son of the great Cumner promised for the Dakoon. He tells the truth. Light of my soul, but truth is the greatest of all! I go to play chuck-farthing."

So saying, he turned and ran lazily back to the Residency and sat down beneath the banyan tree. The orderly had no commands to bring him by force, so he returned to the Palace, and entered it as the English Governor was ending his speech to the people. "We were in danger," said Cumner, "and the exalted chief, Pango Dooni, came to save us. He shielded us from evil and death and the dagger of the mongrel chief, Boonda Broke. Children of heavenly Mandakan, Pango Dooni has lived at variance with us, but now he is our friend. A strong man should rule in the Palace of Mandakan as my brother and the friend of my people. I speak for Pango Dooni. For whom do you speak?"

As he had said, so said all the people in the Hall of the Heavenly Hours, and it was taken up with shouts by the people in the Palace yard. Pango Dooni should be Dakoon!

Pango Dooni came forward and said: "If as ye say I have saved ye, then will ye do after my desire, if it be right. I am too long at variance with this Palace to sit comfortably here. Sometime, out of my bitter memories, I should smite ye. Nay, let the young, who have no wrongs to satisfy, let the young who have dreams and visions and hopes, rule; not the old lion of the hills, who loves too well himself and his rugged ease of body and soul. But if ye owe me any debt, and if ye mean me thanks, then will ye make my son Dakoon. For he is braver than I, and between ye there is no feud. Then will I be your friend, and because my son shall be Dakoon I will harry ye no more, but bide in my hills, free and friendly, and ready with sword and lance to stand by the faith and fealty that I promise. If this be your will, and the will of the great Cumner, speak."

Cumner bowed his head in assent, and the people called in a loud voice for Tang-a-Dahit.

The young man stepped forth, and baring his head, said:

"It is meet that the race be to the swift, to those who have proven their faith and their swords; who have the gift for ruling, and the talent of the sword to sustain it. For me, if ye will hear me, I will go another way. I will not rule. My father hath passed on this honour to me, but I yield it up to one who hath saved ye from a double death, even to the great Cumner's Son. He rode, as ye know, through peril to Pango Dooni, bearing the call for help, and he hath helped to save the whole land from the Red Plague. But for him Mandakan would be only a place of graves. Speak, children of heavenly Mandakan, whom will ye choose?" When Cumner's Son stood forth he was pale and astounded before the cries of greeting that were carried out through the Palace yard, through the highways, and even to the banyan tree where sat the beggar of Nangoon.

"I have done nothing, I have done nothing," said he sincerely. "It was Pango Dooni, it was the beggar of Nangoon. I am not fit to rule."

He turned to his father, but saw no help in his eyes for refusal. The lad read the whole story of his father's face, and he turned again to the people.

"If ye will have it so, then, by the grace of God, I will do right by this our land," said he.

A half-hour later he stood before them, wearing the costly robe of yellow feathers and gold and perfect silk of the Dakoon of Mandakan.

"The beggar of Nangoon who saved our city, bid him come near," he said; but the orderly stepped forward and told his story of how the beggar had returned to his banyan tree.

"Then tell the beggar of Nangoon," said he, "that if he will not visit me, I will visit him; and all that I promised for the Dakoon of Mandakan I will fulfil. Let Cushnan Di stand forth," he added, and the old man came near. "The city which was yours is yours, again, and all that was taken from it shall be restored," said he.

Then he called him by his real name, and the people were amazed.

Cushnan Di, as he had been known to them, said quietly:

"If my Lord will give me place near him as general of his armies and keeper of the gates, I will not ask that my city be restored, and I will live near to the Palace--"

"Nay, but in the Palace," interrupted Cumner's Son, "and thy daughter also, who hath the wisdom of heaven, that there be always truth shining in these high places."

An hour later the Dakoon passed through the Path by the Bazaar.

"Whither goes the Dakoon?" asked a native chief of McDermot.

"To visit a dirty beggar in the Residency Square, and afterwards to the little house of Cushnan Di," was the reply.

IX

THE PROPHET OF PEACE


Cumner & South Sea Folk, v1 - 10/11

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