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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v1 - 5/11 -
The tall hillsman dropped to the ground, and Cumner's Son made to do the same. Yet he staggered, and would have fallen, but the hillsman ran an arm around his shoulder. The lad put by the arm, and drew him self up. He was most pale. Pango Dooni stood looking at him, without a word, and Cumner's Son doffed his cap. There was no blood in his lips, and his face was white and drawn.
"Since last night what time the bugle blows in the Palace yard, I have ridden," said he.
At the sound of his voice the great chief started. "The voice I know, but not the face," said he.
"I am Cumner's Son," replied the lad, and once more he spoke the sacred countersign.
BY THE OLD WELL OF JAHAR
To Cumner's Son when all was told, Pango Dooni said: "If my son be dead where those jackals swarm, it is well he died for his friend. If he be living, then it is also well. If he be saved, we will march to Mandakan, with all our men, he and I, and it shall be as Cumner wills, if I stay in Mandakan or if I return to my hills."
"My father said in the council-room, 'Better the strong robber than the weak coward,' and my father never lied," said the lad dauntlessly. The strong, tall chief, with the dark face and fierce eyes, roused in him the regard of youth for strong manhood.
"A hundred years ago they stole from my fathers the State of Mandakan," answered the chief, "and all that is here and all that is there is mine. If I drive the kine of thieves from the plains to my hills, the cattle were mine ere I drove them. If I harry the rich in the midst of the Dakoon's men, it is gaining my own over naked swords. If I save your tribe and Cumner's men from the half-bred jackal Boonda Broke, and hoist your flag on the Palace wall, it is only I who should do it."
Then he took the lad inside the house, with the great wooden pillars and the high gates, and the dark windows all barred up and down with iron, and he led him to a court-yard where was a pool of clear water. He made him bathe in it, and dark-skinned natives brought him bread dipped in wine, and when he had eaten they laid him on skins and rubbed him dry, and rolled him in soft linen, and he drank the coffee they gave him, and they sat by and fanned him until he fell asleep.
The red birds on the window-sill sang through his sleep into his dreams. In his dreams he thought he was in the Dakoon's Palace at Mandakan with a thousand men before him, and three men came forward and gave him a sword. And a bird came flying through the great chambers and hung over him, singing in a voice that he understood, and he spoke to the three and to the thousand, in the words of the bird, and said:
"It is fighting, and fighting for honour and glory and houses and kine, but naught for love, and naught that there may be peace."
And the men said in reply: "It is all for love and it is all for peace," and they still held out the sword to him. So he took it and buckled it to his side, and the bird, flying away out of the great window of the chamber, sang: "Peace! Peace! Peace!" And Pango Dooni's Son standing by, with a shining face, said, "Peace! Peace!" and the great Cumner said, "Peace!" and a woman's voice, not louder than a bee's, but clear above all others, said, "Peace!"
He awoke and knew it was a dream; and there beside him stood Pango Dooni, in his dress of scarlet and gold and brown, his broadsword buckled on, a kris at his belt, and a rich jewel in his cap.
"Ten of my captains and three of my kinsmen are come to break bread with Cumner's Son," said he. "They would hear the tale of our kinsmen who died against the Palace wall, by the will of the sick Dakoon."
The lad sprang to his feet fresh and well, the linen and skins falling away from his lithe, clean body and limbs, and he took from the slaves his clothes. The eye of the chief ran up and down his form, from his keen blue eyes to his small strong ankle.
"It is the body of a perfect man," said he. "In the days when our State was powerful and great, when men and not dogs ruled at Mandakan, no man might be Dakoon save him who was clear of mote or beam; of true bone and body, like a high-bred yearling got from a perfect stud. But two such are there that I have seen in Mandakan to-day, and they are thyself and mine own son."
The lad laughed. "I have eaten good meat," said he, "and I have no muddy blood."
When they came to the dining-hall, the lad at first was abashed, for twenty men stood up to meet him, and each held out his hand and spoke the vow of a brother-in-blood, for the ride he had made and his honest face together acted on them. Moreover, whom the head of their clan honoured they also willed to honour. They were tall, barbaric-looking men, and some had a truculent look, but most were of a daring open manner, and careless in speech and gay at heart.
Cumner's Son told them of his ride and of Tang-a-Dahit, and, at last, of the men of their tribe who died by the Palace wall. With one accord they rose in their places and swore over bread and a drop of blood of their chief that they would not sheathe their swords again till a thousand of Boonda Broke's and the Dakoon's men lay where their own kinsmen had fallen. If it chanced that Tang-a-Dahit was dead, then they would never rest until Boonda Broke and all his clan were blotted out. Only Pango Dooni himself was silent, for he was thinking much of what should be done at Mandakan.
They came out upon the plateau where the fortress stood, and five hundred mounted men marched past, with naked swords and bare krises in their belts, and then wheeled suddenly and stood still, and shot their swords up into the air the full length of the arm, and called the battle-call of their tribe. The chief looked on unmoved, save once when a tall trooper rode near him. He suddenly called this man forth.
"Where hast thou been, brother?" he asked.
"Three days was I beyond the Bar of Balmud, searching for the dog who robbed my mother; three days did I ride to keep my word with a foe, who gave me his horse when we were both unarmed and spent, and with broken weapons could fight no more; and two days did I ride to be by a woman's side when her great sickness should come upon her. This is all, my lord, since I went forth, save this jewel which I plucked from the cap of a gentleman from the Palace. It was toll he paid even at the gates of Mandakan."
"Didst thou do all that thou didst promise?"
"All, my lord."
"Even to the woman?" The chief's eye burned upon the man.
"A strong male child is come into the world to serve my lord," said the trooper, and he bowed his head. "The jewel is thine and not mine, brother," said the chief softly, and the fierceness of his eyes abated; "but I will take the child."
The trooper drew back among his fellows, and the columns rode towards the farther end of the plateau. Then all at once the horses plunged into wild gallop, and the hillsmen came thundering down towards the chief and Cumner's Son, with swords waving and cutting to right and left, calling aloud, their teeth showing, death and valour in their eyes. The chief glanced at Cumner's Son. The horses were not twenty feet from the lad, but he did not stir a muscle. They were not ten feet from him, and swords flashed before his eyes, but still he did not stir a hair's breadth. In response to a cry the horses stopped in full career, not more than three feet from him. Reaching out he could have stroked the flaming nostril of the stallion nearest him.
Pango Dooni took from his side a short gold-handled sword and handed it to him.
"A hundred years ago," said he, "it hung in the belt of the Dakoon of Mandakan; it will hang as well in thine." Then he added, for he saw a strange look in the lad's eyes: "The father of my father's father wore it in the Palace, and it has come from his breed to me, and it shall go from me to thee, and from thee to thy breed, if thou wilt honour me."
The lad stuck it in his belt with pride, and taking from his pocket a silver-mounted pistol, said:
"This was the gift of a fighting chief to a fighting chief when they met in a beleaguered town, with spoil, and blood, and misery, and sick women and children round them; and it goes to a strong man, if he will take the gift of a lad."
At that moment there was a cry from beyond the troopers, and it was answered from among them by a kinsman of Pango Dooni, and presently, the troopers parting, down the line came Tang-a-Dahit, with bandaged head and arm.
In greeting, Pango Dooni raised the pistol which Cumner's Son had given him and fired it into the air. Straightway five hundred men did the same.
Dismounting, Tang-a-Dahit stood before his father. "Have the Dakoon's vermin fastened on the young bull at last?" asked Pango Dooni, his eyes glowering. "They crawled and fastened, but they have not fed," answered Tang-a-Dahit in a strong voice, for his wounds had not sunk deep. "By the Old Well of Jahar, which has one side to the mountain wall, and one to the cliff edge, I halted and took my stand. The mare and the sorrel of Cumner's Son I put inside the house that covers the well, and I lifted two stones from the floor and set them against the entrance. A beggar lay dead beside the well, and his dog licked his body. I killed the cur, for, following its master, it would have peace, and peace is more than life. Then, with the pole of the waterpail, I threw the dead dog across the entrance upon the paving stones, for these vermin of plainsmen will not pass where a dead dog lies, as my father knows well. They came not by the entrance, but they swarmed elsewhere, as ants swarm upon a sandhill, upon the roofs, and at the little window where the lamp burns.
"I drove them from the window and killed them through the doorway, but they were forty to one. In the end the pest would have carried me to
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