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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v1 - 7/11 -
forward. Swiftly he told them all. When he had done so the man sprang from his horse, and taking off the thin necklet of beaten gold he wore round his throat, without a word he offered it to Tang-a-Dahit, and Tang- a-Dahit kissed him on the cheek and gave him the thick, loose chain of gold he wore.
"For this was it you risked your life going to Mandakan," said Pango Dooni, angrily, to his son; "for a maid with a body like a withered gourd." Then all at once, with a new look in his face, he continued softly: "Thou hast the soul of a woman, but thy deeds are the deeds of a man. As thy mother was in heart so art thou."
Day was breaking over Mandakan, and all the city was a tender pink. Tower and minaret were like inverted cups of ruddy gold, and the streets all velvet dust, as Pango Dooni, guided by Cushnan Di, halted at the wood of wild peaches, and a great thicket near to the Aqueduct of the Failing Fountain, and looked out towards the Palace of the Dakoon. It was the time of peach blossoms, and all through the city the pink and white petals fell like the gay crystals of a dissolving sunrise. Yet there rose from the midst of it a long, rumbling, intermittent murmur, and here and there marched columns of men in good order, while again disorderly bands ran hither and hither with krises waving in the sun, and the red turban of war wound round their heads.
They could not see the front of the Palace, nor yet the Residency Square, but, even as they looked, a cannonade began, and the smoke of the guns curled through the showering peach-trees. Hoarse shoutings and cries came rolling over the pink roofs, and Cumner's Son could hear through all the bugle-call of the artillery.
A moment later Cushnan Di was leading them through a copse of pawpaw trees to a secluded garden by the Aqueduct, overgrown with vines and ancient rose trees, and cherry shrubs. After an hour's labour with spades, while pickets guarded all approach, an opening was disclosed beneath the great flag-stones of a ruined building. Here was a wide natural corridor overhung with stalactites, and it led on into an artificial passage which inclined gradually upwards till it came into a mound above the level by which they entered. Against this mound was backed a little temple in the rear of the Palace. A dozen men had remained behind to cover up the entrance again. When these heard Pango Dooni and the others in the Palace yard they were to ride straight for a gate which should be opened to them.
There was delay in opening the stone door which led into the temple, but at last they forced their way. The place was empty, and they rode through the Palace yard, pouring out like a stream of spectral horsemen from the altar of the temple. Not a word was spoken as Pango Dooni and his company galloped towards the front of the Palace. Hundreds of the Dakoon's soldiers and terrified people who had taken refuge in the great court-yard, ran screaming into corners, or threw themselves in terror upon the ground. The walls were lined with soldiers, but not one raised his hand to strike--so sudden was the coming of the dreaded hillsman. They knew him by the black flag and the yellow sunburst upon it.
Presently Pango Dooni gave the wild battle-call of his tribe, and every one of his seven hundred answered him as they rode impetuously to the Palace front. Two thousand soldiers of the Dakoon, under command of his nephew, Gis-yo-Bahim, were gathered there. They were making ready to march out and defend the Palace. When they saw the flag and heard the battle-cry there was a movement backward, as though this handful of men were an overwhelming army coming at them. Scattered and disorderly groups of men swayed here and there, and just before the entrance of the Palace was a wailing group, by which stood two priests with their yellow robes and bare shoulders, speaking to them. From the walls the soldiers paused from resisting the swarming herds without.
"The Dakoon is dead!" cried Tang-a-Dahit.
As if in response came the wailing death-cry of the women of the Palace through the lattice windows, and it was taken up by the discomfited crowd before the Palace door.
"The Lord of all the Earth, the great Dakoon, is dead."
Pango Dooni rode straight upon the group, who fled at his approach, and, driving the priests indoors, he called aloud:
"The Dakoon is living. Fear not!"
For a moment there was no reply, and he waved his men into place before the Palace, and was about to ride down upon the native army, but Cumner's Son whispered to him, and an instant after the lad was riding alone upon the dark legions. He reined in his horse not ten feet away from the irregular columns.
"You know me," said he. "I am Cumner's Son. I rode into the hills at the Governor's word to bring a strong man to rule you. Why do ye stand here idle? My father, your friend, fights with a hundred men at the Residency. Choose ye between Boonda Broke, the mongrel, and Pango Dooni, the great hillsman. If ye choose Boonda Broke, then shall your city be levelled to the sea, and ye shall lose your name as a people. Choose!"
One or two voices cried out; then from the people, and presently from the whole dark battalions, came the cry: "Long live Pango Dooni!"
Pango Dooni rode down with Tang-a-Dahit and Cushnan Di. He bade all but five hundred mounted men to lay down their arms. Then he put over them a guard of near a hundred of his own horsemen. Gathering the men from the rampart he did the same with these, reserving only one hundred to remain upon the walls under guard of ten hillsmen. Then, taking his own six hundred men and five hundred of the Dakoon's horsemen, he bade the gates to be opened, and with Cushnan Di marched out upon the town, leaving Tanga-Dahit and Cumner's Son in command at the Palace.
At least four thousand besiegers lay before the walls, and, far beyond, they could see the attack upon the Residency.
The gates of the Palace closed on the last of Pango Dooni's men, and with a wild cry they rode like a monstrous wave upon the rebel mob. There was no preparation to resist the onset. The rush was like a storm out of the tropics, and dread of Pango Dooni's name alone was as death among them.
The hillsmen clove the besiegers through like a piece of pasteboard, and turning, rode back again through the broken ranks, their battle-call ringing high above the clash of steel. Again they turned at the Palace wall, and, gathering impetus, they rode at the detached and battered segments of the miserable horde, and once more cut them down, then furiously galloped towards the Residency.
They could hear one gun firing intermittently, and the roars of Boonda Broke's men. They did not call or cry till within a few hundred yards of the Residency Square. Then their battle-call broke forth, and Boonda Broke turned to see seven hundred bearing down on his ten thousand, the black flag with the yellow sunburst over them.
Cumner, the Governor, and McDermot heard the cry of the hillsmen, too, and took heart.
Boonda Broke tried to divide his force, so that half of them should face the hillsmen, and half the Residency; but there was not time enough; and his men fought as they were attacked, those in front against Pango Dooni, those behind against Cumner. The hillsmen rode upon the frenzied rebels, and were swallowed up by the great mass of them, so that they seemed lost. But slowly, heavily, and with ferocious hatred, they drove their hard path on. A head and shoulders dropped out of sight here and there; but the hillsmen were not counting their losses that day, and when Pango Dooni at last came near to Boonda Broke the men he had lost seemed found again, for it was like water to the thirsty the sight of this man.
But suddenly there was a rush from the Residency Square, and thirty men, under the command of Cumner, rode in with sabres drawn.
There was a sudden swaying movement of the shrieking mass between Boonda Broke and Pango Dooni, and in the confusion and displacement Boonda Broke had disappeared.
Panic and flight came after, and the hillsmen and the little garrison were masters of the field.
"I have paid the debt of the mare," said Pango Dooni, laughing.
"No debt is paid till I see the face of my son," answered Cumner anxiously.
Pango Dooni pointed with his sword. "In the Palace yard," said he.
"In the Palace yard, alive?" asked Cumner. Pango Dooni smiled. "Let us go and see."
Cumner wiped the sweat and dust and blood from his face, and turned to McDermot.
"Was I right when I sent the lad?" said he proudly. "The women and children are safe."
CONCERNING THE DAUGHTER OF CUSHNAN DI
The British flag flew half-mast from the Palace dome, and two others flew behind it; one the black and yellow banner of the hillsmen, the other the red and white pennant of the dead Dakoon. In the Palace yard a thousand men stood at attention, and at their head was Cushnan Di with fifty hillsmen. At the Residency another thousand men encamped, with a hundred hillsmen and eighty English, under the command of Tang-a-Dahit and McDermot. By the Fountain of the Sweet Waters, which is over against the Tomb where the Dakoon should sleep, another thousand men were patrolled, with a hundred hillsmen, commanded by a kinsman of Pango Dooni. Hovering near were gloomy, wistful crowds of people, who drew close to the mystery of the House of Death, as though the soul of a Dakoon were of more moment than those of the thousand men who had fallen that day. Along the line of the Bazaar ranged another thousand men, armed only with krises, under the command of the heir of the late Dakoon, and with these were a hundred and fifty mounted hillsmen, watchful and deliberate. These were also under the command of a kinsman of Pango Dooni.
It was at this very point that the danger lay, for the nephew of the Dakoon, Gis-yo-Bahim, was a weak but treacherous man, ill-fitted to rule; a coward, yet ambitious; distrusted by the people, yet the heir to the throne. Cumner and Pango Dooni had placed him at this point for no other reason than to give him his chance for a blow, if he dared to strike it, at the most advantageous place in the city. The furtive hangers-on, cut- throats, mendicants, followers of Boonda Broke, and haters of the English, lurked in the Bazaars, and Gis-yo-Bahim should be tempted for
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