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ALBERT DORRINGTON

THE SAPPHIRE SLUG

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As published in The Sydney Mail, Australia, 29 February 1928

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-18
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JIMMY DILLON had lost his schooner and something of his self-respect. He stood on the beach at Falona with less than the price of a meal in his pocket, and the price of a meal within Sam Lee's chop-suey was exactly twelve cents. Falona's wind-swept thunder belt of beach offered nothing to eat or drink. His daughter Naura, employed at the Mission House school, would fill his long-felt want if he cared to present himself at the side door. It was the thought of Naura that had brought him to Falona. For two whole years he had not written or heard from her. But he knew that her work among the native children had become part of her life, and that Falona, nestling in tropic flowers and palms, was the garden of her girlish dreams.

Dillon was a pink-skinned, grey-haired mariner of fifty. He was raw with brine and sleeping out in tropic rainstorms. He was hungry for meat and the brotherhood of white men. He had been drunk at the wheel when the Sydney Lass slid on the reef at Malanga and broke her spine, spilling her cargo of vegetables, ivory and copra into eighty fathoms of water. The breakers did the rest, while the saw-toothed sharks that cruise eternally off Malanga attended to the crew of six hands battling blindly in the mast-high walls of surf. Dillon came out alive, and spent his days in search of Paradise Haven, where the days are long and the dinner bell is always ringing.

He found Naura within the white-walled cottage adjoining the Mission Station. She greeted him in glad amazement, for, after all, he personified the sailor father whose secret vices were hidden under a mask of sun-tan and bluff good-humour. His story was not long in the telling—a sketchy tale of a storm and a crew that didn't know a gaff from a gumdrop, a horde of mainsheet rats who had left poor Jimmy Dillon to his fate on the reefs of Malanga.

Naura listened in shocked surprise as she prepared a good hot meal from the Sisters' pantry.

"I'm down and out, Naura. A bed for the night is all I ask," he mumbled between mouthfuls. "Maybe I'll harpoon a job in Falona. There's a big Chinese rice mill and store in the town. Who owns it?" he inquired, lighting a honey-coloured cigar she had unearthed in the visitors' room.

Naura turned quickly from the cooking stove at his question, a touch of colour in her pretty cheeks.

"The mill belongs to Kuen Li. He owns most of the factories and junks in the Archipelago."

"A Chink always owns the sunset in these parts, Naura," he growled from the cigar fumes. "Maybe he'll find me a berth on one of his paddy boats. I could save a bit of money down here, where living is so cheap."

Naura sighed, and became suddenly thoughtful. It was some time before she spoke.

"Kuen has lost his son, a boy named Nigel Trenwyth. Things have gone wrong ever since."

Dillon glanced shrewdly at his daughter.

"How could a boy named Nigel Trenwyth be the son of Kuen Li?" he demanded with a puzzled air.

Naura laughed strangely.

"Kuen adopted him years ago. Of course, Trenwyth is Australian. His father was killed in France. The old Chinaman was very fond of Nigel, and allowed him to run the mill in the village. Nigel would have given you a job, Dad. All the beach-combers and new chums found him easy to handle."

Dillon flinched slightly at her words, but covered his confusion with another question.

"What killed him, guns or drink?" She shook her head.

"I'm not sure anything killed him. Some months ago a report went through the islands that a party of Sydney prospectors had discovered a valley of sapphires in Bhuta Laut, in the Malay Archipelago. The report worried Nigel; it seemed to loosen his grip on his work. Of course, I'm only supposing it was the sapphires that unsteadied him. Anyway, he left Falona without a word to anyone. Not a whisper of his whereabouts has reached Kuen since."

"The young fool!" Dillon muttered. "Fancy leaving his golden chopsticks and a fifty-million-dollar father to chase bits of glass in the fever-hells of the Bhuta valleys!"

Naura smiled sadly. "Men get broken on reefs, just like you, Daddy. Sometimes it's a gold reef or a sapphire mine. I know a boy who went mad over an alum mountain he'd heard of in Queensland. Another threw away his savings looking for camphor in Sumatra. Sapphires got poor Nigel."

Naura prepared him a bed in a room adjoining her own. It was possible that the affluent Kuen Li might find him employment in the mills or on one of his small copra schooners plying between Falona and the Dutch settlements in the north. Once this was done, she would cease to worry about his comings and goings, his shipwrecks and his desperate needs.


DILLON slept hard, and woke with his head full of plans for the future. He could not rid himself of the story of Nigel's disappearance. Of course, boys ran away from comfortable surroundings, he told himself, to mix with pigs and sleep in foetid straw with gaolbirds and island cut-throats. His seaman's nose smelled a commission in Trenwyth's disappearance. He would see Kuen Li, and bring up the question of the missing son. The old Chinaman could be made to stand for some kind of an expedition to bring the boy home. It needed only a little tact.

"I'm going to hunt this job," he told Naura after breakfast, "I'm willing to bet," he added, swallowing the last cup of coffee, "that Kuen will hand me a white uniform and a command before the day's out."

Naura shook her head as she straightened his cravat and brushed-the threadbare nap of his seaman's coat.

"Remember, Dad, Kuen is harassed daily by scores of job-hunters. It takes a man of genius to get an interview. All Sydney couldn't do it."

He smiled grimly at her words. "I've never taken the wrong turning with a Chinaman, Naura," he told her, buttoning up his coat and brushing back his iron-grey hair.

"I'll bring the bacon home to-day, or I'll chew the rind."

He walked briskly along the beach front, past heavily-shuttered gaming-houses and pak-a-pau shops, until he reached the wide, lantern-docked verandah that screened the offices of Kuen Li.

The shufflings of a hundred sandalled feet went up and down the heavily-curtained passages that threaded the squat-roofed store-houses. At the very entrance he was accosted by a lemon-hued Celestial with the neck and fists of a champion heavyweight.

"Solly, sah. You no squeeze by this mo'ning. Missah Kuen suffah one big headache. He no talkee to anybody."

Dillon shrugged as he surveyed the keeper of Kuen's privacy. "My son, I've heard about that headache; you'll hear about mine if Mr. Kuen doesn't get my message sharp and lively. Step on it and tell him there's a white captain with news of Nigel. Tell him now, or there'll he horns on his headache when he hears you've turned me away."

The slat eyes of the doorkeeper widened instantly at sound of the name Nigel. It was like a keyword uttered in that vast establishment, where the rich merchandise of a hundred islands bulged from every corner and landing-place.

The slat eyes disappeared, and, after a heart-breathing space, returned to the palpitating seaman in the passage.

"Come along," he intimated with Celestial brevity. "The Giver of All Things will hear the white captain."

Dillon caught his breath, and braced himself like one steering into a cyclone. His hour had struck. The ineffable murmur of Oriental voices reached him, like the sound of bees foraging in clover, as he followed the doorkeeper. At the end of the passage they halted before a solid teak door decorated with Chinese inscriptions.

"Inside is the Giver. Go in," prompted the conductor with a salaam.


DILLON entered, his faded cap clenched in his sunburnt fist. The room was stuffy and dark; it smelt of cinnamon and strange fish oils. A small window shed light on an elf-like figure in a black skullcap and yellow jacket at the far end of the apartment. The figure was bending over some papers scattered over a glass-topped desk. It was an old face that looked up at Dillon, a face that age had corroded and hammered to a yellow crust. But the hands that sifted the papers on the table were as delicate as chaste ivory. The eyes blinked curiously over Dillon's shabby clothes before they shifted to his face.

"What you want?" he demanded in a flat, bleak voice. "Who sent you heah?"

In his day Dillon had met Chinamen by the score, but Kuen Li, in the black skull-cap and the jewelled, ivory hands, was like some spirit out of the tomb.

"Mr. Kuen Li," he answered slowly, "my luck's out. I've lost my ship. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll cut out the windy stuff about my trade experience in this Archipelago and get to the point where your adopted son, Nigel Trenwyth, comes in."

The old Chinaman's delicate hands opened and shut convulsively. A crucified smile that might have been caused by a sudden stab in the back rent his parchment-like features.

Dillon coughed as though the Chinaman's eyes were probing and searching the nerve channels of his brain. He spoke with an effort.

"I don't know why Nigel left Falona, Mr. Kuen. They say he got sapphire fever and wandered into Borneo. It may be that some of the blue glass stuck in his feet. Anyhow, he landed in a crimp-house at Sarawak without a dollar to mend his shoes. The crimp shop is owned by an old German convict named Gluckmann. Let me tell you when a boy falls into Gluckmann's hands he falls to the fifth floor of Gehenna."

"Gluckmann!" The old Chinaman brooded over the name, wrote it with his gold-topped pencil on the blotting-pad beside him. "I do not know Gluckmann of Sarawak," he intoned.

"So much the better for you," Dillon stated blandly. "Gluckmann is a shanghai expert, a man-crimp, a bloodhound in the pay of coffin-ship owners. He sells men and boys as you sell rice and soya beans. I can't tell you, sir, how Nigel got into his clutches, but, like scores of others, he can't get away until—until—"

"What?" snapped Kuen Li, peering at Dillon under his shrivelled brows.


Illustration

"What?" snapped Kuen Li, peering at Dillon under his shrivelled brows.


"Until the blood money is paid. Nigel is in debt to Gluckmann for food and lodging and money advanced. Until someone pays that debt Gluckmann will hold Nigel in Sarawak until he rots and dies."

Kuen stirred himself, after the manner of a hen caught brooding. "Money," he fluted softly? and was silent.

Dillon paled under his sun-tan. He had begun to believe his own story now. He slammed a clenched fist on the glass table, and looked into the Chinaman's eyes.

"If I had a vessel and three square meals in the galley I'd bring the boy back to Falona. Who wants money? A few hundred yards of cotton trade, a bolt or two of red cloth would fix up Nigel's debt to Gluckmann. Any old schooner or junk would carry me to Sarawak."

A dozen sing-song words seemed to float into the room from a near recess, as if a listener had picked up the thread of the argument and answered it to Kuen.

The old Chinaman lay forward on the desk, his chin cupped in his fleshless palm. "I cannot send a schooner to Sarawak with a strange man. You offer no security."

Dillon chafed inwardly at the coldness of the reception, but controlled himself with an effort. His hasty temper in the past had lost him more than enough. He must play this rich Chinaman as men play a big fish. The hook was well under the gills. With patience he would land him flapping on the bank. The prize of victory was a schooner loaded with island trade goods. Once clear of Falona he could go anywhere and live the life of a South Sea merchant.

"I'm thinking of Nigel, and not of the loan of a junk. I don't ask for money. All I ask is a chance to bring the boy safe and sound to your verandah."

Again came the sing-song words from the recess. Kuen batted his almond eyes and stared abstractedly at the points of his manicured fingers.

"I saw enough schooners at your wharf to-day to move an army," Dillon flung out. "You use them for shifting lumber and vegetable truck—any derned refuse that will bring dollars. But when it comes to risking a few rotten planks to save a boy from ruin you freeze down and call for security."

"I will write to Gluckmann," Kuen parried, still conning his nails. "I will post him a cheque."

Dillon retreated slowly to the door and opened it. He looked back at the black skull-cap, the small shrivelled figure at the table. "Post Gluckmann a cheque, Mr. Kuen Li. Make it half a million dollars, if you like, and you'll find yourself still in Gluckmann's debt. Once he discovers he's dealing with the wealthy Kuen Li of Falona he'll cut your jugular—and good luck to him, I say!"


DILLON stepped out into the passage, rage and disappointment almost blinding him. He had made his throw, and had missed badly. Halfway down the passage a soft voice hailed him, the voice of the slit-eyed doorkeeper.

"The Giver of All Things is ready to listen again. Be not hasty. The door is still open."

Dillon strode back to the room, cap in hand, a tense feeling of victory surging in him. Kuen Li was straining forward in his low chair, a telephone receiver at his ear. He put it aside and raised his eyes to the white man standing before him.

"That is what Gluckmann would do—open my jugular," he purred, taking up the thread where Dillon had dropped it. "There is white wisdom in that."

The seaman inclined his head at the compliment. "I'll go to Gluckmann with a gun; it's the only argument he'll understand when I demand Nigel. Once he smelt gold in the family he'd behave like a wolf."

"How long would it take to get my son?" came from the dry, shrivelled lips of the Chinaman.

Dillon's answer was swift and certain. "A couple of months, if the weather leaves me with a stick to stand by. A lot depends on the kind of craft you'll send."

Kuen look up the receiver and spoke to a compradore at the quayside. Turning to Dillon, he nodded gravely.

"You shall go to Sarawak and get my son. I will lend you a good schooner, and my name will help you with the Consuls wherever you claim help."

"I want a good rifle," Dillon begged. "A Lee Enfield for choice. When do I sail?"

"To-night at six o'clock. Go now and make ready. A boy will take you to the quay."


IT was a handy fifty-ton schooner Kuen placed at Dillon's service. The sight of her clean deck and snowy canvas thrilled him like a draught of wine. Bales of cotton trade and valuable fabrics were lowered into the batches under the eyes of a tally-keeping compradore. Provisions were rushed aboard from the storehouses—tinned chicken, ham, beef, and flour; while Dillon chuckled inwardly from his coign of vision on the poop. At last the gods had listened to his prayers. There would be no more mistakes and fooling with destiny. Within a week he would be safe on the other side of the Pacific.

He was disturbed in his speculations by the sudden appearance of Naura at the quayside. Her face betrayed unusual animation as she joined him on the poop.

"I've heard the news, Dad! It's splendid of you to go after Nigel. The whole town is talking about it."

Her warm fingers closed on his stiff hands, while her breath came in laboured expulsions.

"God bless you. Dad, for thinking of poor Nigel! I—I thought the world had forgotten him."

Dillon stared in stiff-lipped amaze at his daughter. Tears flashed in her eyes; she was crying softly with her face half-buried against his shoulder.

"Why, I didn't know you took such an interest in the youngster," he stammered hoarsely. "Can't he lose himself without you worrying?"

A sense of impending tragedy gripped Dillon. His dreams of a free-and-easy life in the Pacific began to fade. He raised her face between his rough bands, and looked into her dark, tear-filled eyes.

"See here, Naura, I mightn't find Trenwyth. Malaysia's as big as Europe, and I've got my own affairs to look after. What's the trouble, anyway?" he demanded coldly.

"Daddy"—Naura turned away her head for a moment, as if to escape his fierce scrutiny—"Nigel and I were married eight months ago. Kuen Li knows nothing about it. I want Nigel back, Dad! The sapphire boom up north is dead. There are better chances for him here in Falona. Kuen worships him, and he's ashamed to come home."

Dillon's arms fell stiffly to his side. The tragedy of his daughter's position struck him with numbing force. His blackguard soul shrank from the tangle he had almost woven about her. He could not believe that Nigel Trenwyth was alive. No boy could survive a lone-hand journey into the jungle hells of Malay. His young body was probably rotting into some mangrove swamp or creek-bed.

"Naura, I couldn't even begin to look for him! I'd spend my life hauling this schooner up and down the 'pelago, shoving her off sandbars and fighting Dyaks. You're asking me to hunt for a dead man," he blurted out.

He felt her huddle in his arms as though he had struck her between the eyes. He smoothed her hair with unusual tenderness, his memory groping back to the days when she had lain in his arm as a baby in their old weather-board cottage at Dawes Point.

"Dad, I feel that Nigel's alive. Three months ago he was at Bhutang Laut. I got a message from some pearl-shellers. They said he was working in the hills, prospecting. Bhutang Laut is an island off Sumatra. You know every cape and bay in the locality," she pleaded.

Dillon gestured heavily as he put her aside. It was getting dark and the tide running out.

"Good-bye," he found voice to say. "I'll see what's doing at Bhutang. If he's alive I'll bring him home. All the same, girlie," he added ruefully, "you've given your father a pretty difficult job; but I'll do my best. Good-bye."


THE sea lay still as a cloud under the sun's fiery disc. A coastline of jungle-covered inlets and estuaries showed through the overhanging mists and vapours. Dillon perspired at the wheel, his weary eyes scanning the distant tablelands for signs of life or habitation. For eighteen days he had cruised and sulked among the mangrove-infested cays of the Landang Isthmus.

Bhutang Laut lay on his quarter, mist-wrapped and noxious as a coolie fever camp. Myriads of sea-hawks squalled and circled about the mangrove-darkened beaches. Into a scrub-poisoned inlet he wore the schooner until his shore line lay securely about the bole of a lightning-blasted banyan. Descending from the poop he turned to Goa, a half-caste Malalonga boy, whose knowledge of the coast was instinctive.

"You like go ashore with me, Goa?" he demanded cheerfully, as he indicated the tawny, scrub-infested gullies in the distance.

Goa paled under his coppery skin, "This place belonga Orang Saya," he quavered. "Gunboat catchee him one, two year ago for burnin' white mans' rubber trees, sah. He keep um plenty cock quail to fight alla day in compound. Hand um Dyak baby to ole tiger sometime. Then Dyaks come in from swamp an' poison his buffaloes. Always war an' plenty fight round Orang Saya's compound. No like go ashore, sah."

Dillon shrugged and laughed as he brought his Lee-Enfield from the stateroom.

"Come with me, Goa. I'll shoot some fresh meat and let you do the skinning. Maybe I'll give you that knife with the shiny handle. Come along."

Goa brightened at the prospect of the gift, and, after instructing his native deck hands to stand by the schooner, Dillon clambered ashore with Goa at his heels.

Forging across the tide-scoured bunds and heavy bamboo grass, Dillon halted on the crest of a sandy ridge and searched the forest line with his binoculars. His seaman's eye was not long in locating a miniature white-walled residency, scarce visible among the clumps of camphor laurels and banyans that surrounded it. Goa followed the direction of the binoculars.

"Orang Saya's hunting box, sah," he chattered. "By-an'-bye he come out alonga elephant, maybe!"

Swarms of pigmy geese trailed overhead without bringing a shot from Dillon. His eye had suddenly overtaken the edge of a blue sarong dodging through the bushes on his right. Sprinting forward, he easily caught up with the bent figure of an old Dyak crone staggering through the tree-ferns. Her eyes were crazed with fear as she crouched from the white man with the rifle.

"Na pa, tanga, tuan. Spare the aged. I will tell everything," she begged.

"Tell her I'm a friend," Dillon instructed Goa. "Say I'm looking for a white boy. Ask her if she's met any sapphire maniacs in the hills."

The crone shook her head as Goa translated Dillon's inquiry. Then her eye brightened unexpectedly at the promise of immunity from punishment if she confided good or bad news to the big white rajah with the gun. Her bony forefinger indicated a wide depression in the bamboo grass about, a mile from the bullock track that led to the Orang's residency.

"Follow the watercourse, tuan. You will come to the long chain and the iron lizard. Look farther; you will see the man with the white skin. There is sapphire in his eyes only. Let me go now, tuan, or I suffer the Orang's anger."

Dillon listened while the sun smote into the sweltering cane. He-would have riddled the crone with questions concerning the long chain and the man with the sapphire eyes. Goa tugged at his sleeve impatiently.

"Let her go; sah. She speaks of a devil lizard in the hollow. There is no white man, believe me. She lied to get away."

Dillon thrust him aside as he plunged down the cactus-covered slope of the water-course. Through the stiff, flesh-piercing cane he ploughed, his rifle tucked under his arm. Dillon was no visionary, but something in his white man's brain leaped at the crude hints dropped by the Dyak crone. Somewhere in the tundra a white man was hiding. But what of the iron lizard and the mysterious chain?

Goa panted in Dillon's wake, murmuring at the folly of seeking jungle devils and the spirits of dead white men.

"Cut that snuffle," Dillon snapped, striding through a patch of thorn bush to gain the watercourse. He hailed and stared round. Here and there he saw the ruins of an ancient shrine protruding from the tangle of lianas and cane. Broken pillar slumps and archways indicated where priests and holy men had once foregathered. His glance wandered along the watercourse to the shadow of a massive stone tank that dripped water and slime into the hollow below.

A sudden cry from Goa took him with a jump into the knee-deep slime and mud of the gully. The scarce audible clink-clink of a chain struck like a bell on the stifling air. It seemed to come from the rolling reed-beds beneath the dark mangroves on his right.

"Look, look, tuan!" Goa almost screamed. "The green devil... Down there!"

Fifty feet of mud-rusted chain was sliding along the bed of the gutter almost at Dillon's feet. Link by link he followed the gently sliding movement until his eye rested on a twelve-foot alligator slithering through the mud.

"Great Kafoozlum! You call that a lizard!" Dillon gasped, wiping his brow. "That darned reptile's chained up, too," he added, peering at the iron bell, that held the chain to the saurian's body. The chain stretched along the bed of the watercourse to where a crumbling stone parapet, crossed the gutter at right angles. A hole in the masonry showed where the chain passed through.

Skirting the creek-bed, Dillon picked his way to the breast-high parapet and looked over. The space beyond was covered with rotting vegetation and tangled spear-grass, flattened out as if a body had been dragged over it.

Dillon looked far up the creek-bed for a continuation of the chain, but saw nothing. Then his eye dropped to the mud bed immediately under the parapet where he stood. Crouched under the wall, his knees jammed against the masonry, was a youth of twenty, naked except for a strip of cotton rag around his waist. His right ankle was held to the chain by a steel ring. Dillon choked back a bitter oath as he stared down at the semi-conscious figure of the boy.

Clambering over the parapet he knelt beside the huddled figure, his brandy flask touching the parched, ashen lips. For ten seconds Jimmy Dillon allowed the spirit to trickle between the clenched teeth, while his left hand moved with a woman's tenderness over the faintly beating heart.

In a little while the boy stirred, and lay breathing harshly with his head in the old seaman's lap. Dillon saw that the steel ring was held to the boy's ankle by a short iron pin. Gently and without effort, he crouched low and, with the point of his rifle barrel, hammered the pin craftily, moistening its rusty point from time to time with the spirit from the flask. The sun stayed like the hand of a devil on his neck as he drove the pin with a soft curse into the rank grass.

Goa picked it up as the ring fell away from the boy's ankle. Instantly the chain with the steel anklet attached was drawn through the hole in the parapet by the slow pressure from the big saurian on the other side of the parapet.

Dillon turned suddenly to Goa. "Cut back to the schooner and fetch a hammock and pole. Tell two of the boys to come along."

Goa bounded away through the long grass in the direction of the schooner. Dillon drew the boy higher up the bank, and again applied the flask to the heat-tortured lips. After a breath-giving space he addressed him quietly.

"I guess that iron mugger's been dragging you up and down this gully for a long time, eh, kid?"

The boy looked up at the old seaman, and his eyes smiled wearily. "Up and down the gully—as you say," he intoned with difficulty. "It was when the brute had me hard up against the wall by the ankle I saw red. It was at feeding time he hurt most. You see, the Orang Saya and his servant stake a live goat or sheep just out of the mugger's reach. The beast naturally strains to get it. The strain in the chain used to drag me up to the hole in the wall. I had to lie there, jammed, helpless faint, until I could bear no more. That happened three times a week."

Dillon clenched his fists as he wrapped a big silk kerchief about the boy's head to shield it from the fierce sun-rays.

"I guess you're what's left of Nigel Trenwyth," he proclaimed hoarsely. "I'll cut it short by saying I'm Naura Dillon's old man. I've got a commission to take you home to Falona. Why did Orang Saya hitch you to that bull-mugger?" he demanded fiercely.

Nigel gestured feebly in the direction of the hills.

"I staked out a sapphire claim without asking his permission. His men rushed my camp late one night and brought me down here. The Orang swore I was part of a gang of sapphire-hunters from Sydney who annually steal from his estates. He said he'd make an example of me."

"And he's had you chained here all the time?"

"For days at a stretch. Then he'd put me in camp among those cannibal Dyaks until I got strong enough to stand the chain punishment again."

Sounds on the sandhills above fell on Dillon's ear. Goa, followed by two of the schooner hands carrying a hammock and pole appeared, gesticulating wildly. "Tuan, quick! The Orang is coming here. If he catch us on his land we die, sure."


DILLON'S teeth snapped like a wolf trap. Not by the fraction of an inch did he move from his position beside Nigel. His rifle lay at his feet.

"Shut up and sit down," he said to his followers. "There's going to be some fun."

From his sandalled feel to his turbaned brow Orang Saya radiated sapphires and jewelled weapons. He came on foot, across a well-worn track until he stood gazing down into the watercourse at the armoured devil blinking idly in the sweltering ooze, its great snout resting in the warm mud. A kris handle sparkled from the folds of his peacock blue smock; his plump fingers blazed with precious stones. Beside him skulked an attendant carrying a hammer.

A spasm-like grin broke over the Orang's saturnine face as he contemplated the giant lizard. Curiously enough the monster had not shifted its position since Dillon had freed Trenwyth. It only needed a slight pull on the saurian's part to bring the loose chain and anklet through the hole in the parapet. Orang Saya walked pensively to the parapet, halted, and looked over.

Dillon was still squatting in the grass, a match held to a black cigar between his teeth. The Orang drew away with a smothered cry, his hand dropping instinctively to his kris. In the snap of a twig his attendant, was beside him, staring wide-eyed at Trenwyth and the white captain with the cigar.

Dillon made no effort to raise the rifle that lay at his feet. His steely eyes were fixed on the jewelled weapon in the Orang's shaking hand.

"Always your black breed is ready to stick someone," he sneered. "One day its a pig; next a man or a Dyak woman's baby. Put away your steel, Orang Saya; we'll have a different kind of pig-killing to-day."

The Orang quivered as though the insult had stung. "Akino purata! Who sent thee to my lands?" he demanded sternly. "Rise and begone. Your white face brings hate and ruin to my people."

A short laugh broke from Dillon. In the backwash of a dozen Malayan rivers and ports he had met the half-caste Dyak landowners, whose inbred cruelty and pride were a constant menace to lonely sailormen.

"Sit on that wall, Orang," he commanded with something like judicial restraint. "It will do for a dock, and you're going to answer the only white judge you're ever likely to know. Sit down!"

Orang Saya sat down.

A curious smile touched Dillon's lips. "I just stumbled on my young friend here," he went on, with a side-glance at the listening Nigel. "And I found him hitched up by the ankle to that chain. I needn't point out, Orang, that, you had a bull alligator fastened to the other end. I'm going to ask you what this young white man did to deserve a little thing like that. If he's wrong I'll shoot him to save further trouble. If he is not I'll plug you, in case you get the habit of chaining up boys and babies to jungle horrors."

Orang Saya met Dillon's steel-white eyes and bent his head like one who comes speedily to grips.

"That dog!" He jerked a finger in Trenwyth's direction. "He was caught, taibo mara, on my lands. I lose sapphires, juga, by the gobletful. I swear by the prophet that I will kill these poachers. Who art thou, dog of a sailor, to question my acts?"

Orang Saya swung on his heel with a light gesture to his attendant with the hammer. "A dozen times a year my pride is hurt by these gaol thugs and sea bandits who suck my land of its fiery gems," he added in the vernacular.

Dillon allowed him twelve paces before he rose and brought, his rifle into line.

"Halt, Orang! I'm not through yet."'

Again the Orang faced him, his hectic pride dimming the fear of death that looked at him across the parapet.

"I have spoken, white man. Take care, what you do. Your head is in my lap."

Dillon answered along the barrel of his rifle. His lips quivered strangely. "I'm going to put that leg-iron on you, Orang." He indicated with a nod the steel band lying at the end of the chain under the parapet. He was morally certain now that the attendant had brought the hammer for the purpose of refastening or tightening the ring about Trenwyth's ankle.

"Hold up your hands, Orang, or I'll kill you where you stand!"

There was no denying the white rage that now flamed in Dillon's eyes. The live menace of his gestures swept the last spark of courage from the Orang's poise. His hands went up. Dillon spoke to the attendant with the hammer.

"Stick that leg iron on your master's ankle. And you, Goa," he added sharply, "hand him the pin."

The attendant hesitated only the fraction of a minute. Then he stooped, muttering a prayer of anguish, and clamped the steel ring above the sandalled foot. Goa handed him the pin. With three deft strokes of the hammer he had fastened the Orang to the chain.

Dillon strode over in the direction of the basking saurian. "I guess we'll start the show now," he stated with a grin. Snatching the hammer from the attendant's hand, he hurled it with thunderbolt force at the reptile's blinking eyes.


THE hammer struck the scaly snout with the impact of a bullet. The effect was electrical. The dormant alligator whipped round with the speed of a motor-car. A whirlwind of mud and stones blew round its churning, flailing length. The chain raced through the reeds as though drawn by a giant wheel.

"Batu mara!" screamed the Orang as the slithering chain volplaned him across the slime-choked reeds. The belching head of the monster was within a yard of his face. He rose from the clinging slime, staring blindly around for some means of escape. The saurian ceased its mad gyrations as it followed the movement of the jewelled, mud-smeared Orang. The lids of its fishy eyes glinted hatefully as it darted through the intervening cane grass.

Dillon chuckled under his breath. "Get him, mugger," he called out. "He's the last pie in the window."

With scarcely a ripple of its scaly body the iron jaws flashed and snapped within a foot of the Orang's knees. He leaped aside in time to avoid the sabre-like stroke of its tail. Panic terror gripped him. He dared not move too far from the saurian; it would mean a tightening of the chain and another volplane through the mud. He dug his heels into the slush. The courage that binds men to life took a leap in his veins. He cast an inquiring glance at Dillon that was a half-uttered request. The old seaman nodded comprehendingly.

"Get him if you can. I'll allow any man a fighting chance. One of you has got to take the count."

Orang Saya drew his jewelled kris as he circled through the reeds, the clashing jaws of the bull alligator narrowing the circle at each new rush. Moreover, the long chain had fouled a long tree-root, bringing man and saurian almost face to face. Bent forward, his knees resting in the mud, Orang Saya held out his left arm temptingly to the oncoming snout. The saurian accepted the invitation with a short grunt, its sabre teeth snapping at the naked flesh. "Baste!"


Illustration

The clashing jaws of the bull alligator narrowing the circle at each new rush.


The naked arm was withdrawn suddenly, while the Orang's kris hand shot into the mouth, over the slavering tongue to the tender mass of flesh with the tunnel-like gullet. In a flash he had withdrawn his hand, leaving the kris wedged like an upright stick within the throat. The deadly kris prevented the pain-maddened monster from closing its jaws.

Wrapped in a smother of flying stones and sand, it rolled, belching furiously, over the floor of the watercourse. At a sign from Dillon the attendant with the hammer struck the ring from the Orang's ankle. Dillon watched the alligator's frantic gyrations as it sought to shake the kris from its gullet. Then he turned to the mud-covered Orang, whose eyes had grown dim with the agony of his brief ordeal.

"I guess, Orang, we'll give that mugger a holiday. His time's up."

Dillon fired into the soft, upturned throat of the reptile and strode away.

The deck hands swung the hammock from the pole and, with Nigel inside, followed Dillon back to the schooner.

Orang Saya stared at the quivering body of the bull saurian and turned away.

"By Allah, the breath of the lizard has made me sick." He beckoned wearily to his attendant. "Get my kris, Rabaul," he ordered, pointing to the dead saurian. "God punishes men in curious ways."


EIGHTEEN days later Dillon landed Nigel Trenwyth at the quayside, Falona. Naura was waiting beside Kuen Li for the gangway to fall. Her eyes were aglow with the news of Nigel's homecoming. Trenwyth sprang down the gangway and caught her in his arms, while Kuen, in his spotless linen, nodded wisely.

"The real sapphires are on your heart, Nigel," he intoned gravely, his eyes full on Naura. "Your wife is my daughter. She has told me everything."

Dillon grinned happily as he patted Nigel's shoulder.

"Youth will be served, Kuen. And Trenwyth has eaten a dishful of trouble with a spiny lizard for dessert. He wants a job."

Kuen's ivory hands held Nigel in a tender clasp.

"There is a story in your good book of a Prodigal Son." He pointed suddenly to the lantern-lit house among the coral trees and palms, where a multitude of servants moved among crystal glasses and white napery. "Let us forget the swineherd past and go into the feast. My son has come home."

Dillon followed Kuen into the palatial dining hall like one in a dream.

"Holy smoke!" he muttered under his breath. "My luck changed the day I decided not to pinch the schooner."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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