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CHARLES J. MANSFORD

SHAFTS FROM AN EASTERN QUIVER

MAW-SAYAH:
THE KEEPER OF THE GREAT BURMAN NAT

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First published in The Strand Magazine, Mar 1893

Collected in Shafts from an Eastern Quiver,
George Newnes Limited, London, 1894

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-01-13
Produced by Matthias Kaether, Gary Meller and Roy Glashan

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Shafts from an Eastern Quiver, George Newnes, 1893, with:
"Maw-Sayah: The Keeper of the Great Burman Nat"



A REVIEW OF "SHAFTS FROM AN EASTERN QUIVER"

THESE stories ... introduce the lover of sensations to a new writer, who is not at all unworthy to be placed upon the same shelf with Mr. Conan Doyle. He certainly contrives to give the three heroes of this book—the two Englishmen, Frank Denviers and Harold Derwent, and their marvellous Arab servant and good genius Hassan—as many hairbreadth escapes and other adventures by sea and land as can well be packed into a volume of less than three hundred pages.

Mr. Mansford appears to be most at home in Persia, Afghanistan, and India. But he does not confine his literary attentions to the more strictly Eastern countries; on the contrary, one of his most thrilling stories tells of the experiences of the fortunate three among Papuan wreckers, and another relates the escape of an exile from Siberia.

Undoubtedly Mr. Mansford has the gift of the story-teller, and besides, he uniformly writes like a scholar. The illustrations of the book, though small and unpretentious, are admirably executed, and enhance the piquancy—though that was hardly needed—of the letterpress.

The Spectator, 1 December 1894



Illustration


I.

"THE fine points of an elephant, sahib," said our guide Hassan, "are a colour approaching to white, the nails perfectly black, and an intact tail."

"I am glad to hear that an elephant has some qualities which recommend it," said Denviers, good-humouredly. "I should think that the one upon which we are riding is about as lazy as it is possible to be. I suppose slowness is an unusually good point, isn't it, Hassan?"

The Arab, who was sitting before us on the elephant, gave it a stir with the sharply-pointed spear which he held in his hand to urge it on, and then glancing back at us, as we reclined lazily in the cushioned howdah, he said inquiringly: "Are the sahibs tired already of travelling thus? Yet we have fully two hours' journey before us."

"Hassan," I interposed, "this is a good opportunity for you to tell us exactly what you heard about that Maw-Sayah when we were at Bhamo. It is in consequence of that, indeed, that we are going to try to get among these strange Kachyens; but as we are not quite sure of the details, you may as well repeat them."

"The sahib shall be obeyed," responded our guide, and although careful to keep a good watch in front, he turned his body slightly towards us as he prepared to begin the narrative.


Illustration

"The sahib shall be obeyed."


On reaching Burmah we stayed for several days in Rangoon, the Queen of the East as it is called nowadays, although only remarkable formerly for its famous monasteries of Talapoins and as a halting-place for the bands of pilgrims on their way to the mighty Shway Dagohn pagoda. Thence we journeyed up the Irawaddy, and having duly paid reverence to some of the nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine pagodas of Pagan—the outcast slaves of which city seemed a strange contrast to its otherwise absolute desertion—we continued our journey by steamer as far as Mandalay. Having endured the doubtful pleasure of a jaunt in a seatless, jolting bullock-carriage—the bruises from which were not easily forgotten —we eventually reached Bhamo, where Hassan entered into conversation with a hill-man. From the latter he learnt a strange story, which was later on told to us and the truth of which we hoped before long to fully test, for soon afterwards we set out on an elephant, our faithful guide in this new adventure again proving himself of the greatest service.

"Now, Hassan," said Denviers, "we are quite ready to hear this story fully, but don't add any imaginary details of your own."

"By the Koran, sahib," began the Arab, "these are the words which were those of him to whom I spoke under the shade of the log stockade."

"Which are, of course, unimpeachable," responded Denviers. "Anyone could tell that from his shifty eyes, which failed to rest upon us fixed even for a minute when we spoke to him afterwards." The Arab seemed a little disconcerted at this, but soon continued:—

"The great Spirits or Nats, who guard the prosperity of Burmah, have become greatly incensed with the Kachyens, not because they failed to resist stoutly when the monarch was deposed a few years ago—"

"Then we are to have a modern story, this time, Hassan?" interrupted Denviers. "I quite expected that you would commence with some long worn-out tradition."

"The sahibs shall hear," the Arab went on. "No one who offends the Nats of Burmah need expect anything but evil to follow. There are the Nats of the sky, the Nats of the earth, the Nats of the Irawaddy, the Nats of the five hundred little rivers, and the thousand Nats which guarded the sacred person of the monarch—"

"Yes, Hassan," said Denviers, impatiently, "you mentioned them all before. We haven't time to hear the list enumerated now; go on about this one particular Nat which you say is causing such havoc among the hill-tribes."

"Patience, sahib. The Nats were justly roused to anger because the deposed monarch was not afterwards taken to the water's edge riding upon an elephant instead of in a bullock-carriage."

"Well, Hassan," said Denviers, "judging from our own experience the Nats seem to be pretty sensible, I must say —but how do they affect the peace of mind of the Kachyens?"

"Listen, sahib. High among the hills which may be seen stretching before us lies a village in which many of the Kachyens dwell, their occupation being sometimes that of tillers of the land, but more often consisting in planning and carrying out raids upon other hill-men, or of descending at times to the plains, and there looting the towns wherein dwell more peaceable tribes. In all their forays they had been successful, for whenever their trusty dahs or swords; were drawn, those who opposed them invariably obtained the worst of the encounter. So powerful did they become that at last those dwelling in the plains —Shans, Karenns, and Takings, too—made no resistance against their attacks; and when they saw the produce of their fields carried away, thought themselves happy not to have been slain. The reason why the Kachyens became so successful in all they undertook was that a powerful forest Nat placed them under its protection, and hence they could not be harmed by their foes.

"Now it chanced that the King was in great danger through following the advice of his impetuous ministers, whereupon he summoned the Kachyens to his assistance —for their fame as warriors had reached his ears long before. But they, confident of securing their own safety whatever happened to the monarch, refused to obey his command to march against the Burman foes. The consequence was that when the indignity which I have mentioned was offered to the deposed monarch, the Nats throughout Burmah were furious with that one who ruled the village in which the Kachyens dwelt, and they sent some of their number to destroy it. The latter, however, appeased them by making a grim promise, which has been only too faithfully kept.

"A few days afterwards a hill-man, who was clearing a part of the land on the woody slope of the height, saw the Nat, which had never before been visible, and, terrified at the strange form which it had assumed, he ran hastily to the rest of the tribe, and, gathering them together, held a consultation as to what should be done to appease it. Some suggested that upon every tree trunk should be scratched appealing messages, which the Nat might read; others were in favour of placing a huge heap of spears and swords near the spot where the embodied Nat had been seen in order that it might be tempted to destroy all those who urged it to injure them. The messages and weapons, however, when placed for the Nat to observe did no good, for one dreadful night a rattling was heard of the bamboos which lay before one of the Kachyen's huts, and the man, going hastily to see what caused it, was swiftly carried away in the darkness without apparently uttering a single cry! For many nights in succession a similar scene was enacted, for he at whose door the dire summons came dared not refuse to answer it lest the whole household might perish.

"Nothing more was ever seen of those thus strangely carried off, and the Kachyens, each of whom feared that his own end might come next, determined to consult some famous Buddhist priests who dwelt not far from them, and who held charge over the famous marble slabs which the great War Prince of Burmah had caused to be engraved concerning their illustrious traditions. The man whom ye saw me conversing with by the stockade was the one whom the tribe intrusted with the task; but the priests, after much consideration among themselves of the object of his visit, refused to have anything to do with such a tragic affair, and thereupon dismissed their suppliant.


Illustration

Buddhist priests.


"This Kachyen, when sorrowfully returning towards the hills, fearing that the tribe would destroy him because of his non- success, chanced to meet on his way a Mogul, to whom he repeated the story. The latter, laying his hand on his red-dyed and fierce-looking beard, advised the Kachyen to enter a hole in the mountain side and to consult a famous Maw-Sayah, or juggler, who dwelt there. This juggler promised assistance if the tribe would pay him a great reward in the event of his success, and when they agreed to this he entered the village and waited for dusk to arrive. Again the dreadful rattling was heard, and another Kachyen stepped out to meet his fate. None of the tribe dared to look at what transpired, except the juggler, and he too disappeared! The next morning, however, he came into the village and called its inhabitants together. When they had solemnly agreed to his conditions, he stated that the Nat was bent upon destroying them all, and that to attempt to escape by means of flight would only lead to quicker death. Then he told them what the result of his intercession for them had been.

"The Nat had been persuaded to destroy only one victim on each seventh evening at dusk, and had appointed him to see that certain conditions were not broken. He was to have a hut at his disposal, and into this the men were to go by lot, and thus the Nat would obtain a victim when the time came round. They were forbidden to wander about after sunset, and whatever noises were made not to hearken to them, since the Maw-Sayah would see that the others were unharmed. So long had this dreadful destruction lasted that more than one-half of the men in the Kachyen village, or town, as it might well be called from the large number who inhabited it, had perished, and yet the Nat still demanded a victim, and the Maw- Sayah is there to see that the compact is fulfilled. The man who told this story, sahibs, declares that the keeper of the Nat has by this means obtained sway over the Kachyens to such an extent that they have become his abject slaves, for the custom of drawing lots has been abolished, and he selects whom he will to sacrifice to the Nat. By some means this Kachyen offended the Maw-Sayah, who thereupon condemned him, but he, in terror of the sudden and silent death in store for him, fled to Bhamo, where he lives in momentary fear of destruction. Such then, sahibs, is the story, and it is to see this Maw-Sayah and the Nat at their fell work to-night that even now our faces are turned to the high land before us, up which we must climb, for there is but one narrow pathway leading to the village."

Hassan ceased, and then Denviers turned to me as he said:—

"I think that this Maw-Sayah, as Hassan calls him, has about as much faith in Nats as we have. It suits his purpose to league himself with something mysterious; whatever it is we will try to find out," and he glanced at the weapons which we carried.


II.

"THE sahibs must dismount here," said Hassan shortly afterwards, and following to the ground our guide, we began to climb the mountain path which stretched before us. The ascent was exceedingly steep, and several times we stopped to rest after pushing our way through the tangled masses which almost hid the path, which was itself cut here and there apparently through the rocky strata. When we had reached about three-fourths of our journey Hassan stopped and pointed out to us one of the thatched roofs of a hut, which seemed in the distance scarcely noticeable until his keen eyesight discovered it.

The village, we found, lay a little to the left of the mountain path, for on nearing the summit we found ourselves passing through a peculiar avenue of trees interspersed with long bamboo poles. From the tops of the latter there were stretched across the approach strong, rough-looking cords, which supported various uncouth emblems, and among which were large triangles, circles, and stars, cut apparently out of the stems of huge bamboos. After traversing this avenue for nearly three hundred yards we saw the tree trunks which Hassan had mentioned, and which were deeply scarred with cabalistic messages to the fierce Nat, which we could not of course understand. Affixed to some of the trees farther on we saw a number of spears and dahs mingled with shorter weapons, the latter being made of some species of hard wood, and close to them we observed the skulls of several large animals, one of which we judged was that of an elephant.


Illustration

The avenue.


In spite of the fact that the village was a large one, the buildings were of a very primitive construction, being made of bamboos with thatched coverings, reaching almost to the piles on which the huts were placed. We did not observe any openings made to serve as windows, the only ones noticeable being those by which the Kachyens entered, placed above a bamboo ladder, which seemed to serve instead of steps. Although the sun had scarcely set, the village was wrapped in a strange silence, the sound of our footsteps alone being heard. The smoke that seemed to be forcing its way through stray holes in the thatch amply convinced us, however, that the inhabitants were within doors, and, turning to our Arab guide, I asked him if he could distinguish among the many huts the one in which we expected to find the Maw-Sayah. He seemed a little uncertain at first, but after wandering through the village together we returned, and then Hassan, who had been very observant the whole time, pointed to one of the rudely- constructed huts and said:—

"I think that is the one into which we seek to enter; it is situated according to the position in which the Kachyen said it was, and, besides, it bears a strange proof of the story which ye have listened to with such ill-concealed disbelief."

"Why do you think that is the hut, Hassan?" I asked, for, to my eyes, no difference between that and the others close to it was distinguishable.

"If the sahib will look at the bamboo ladder and observe it carefully, he will see that it is unlike the others round," said the Arab.

"I suppose you refer to these deep scratches upon it, don't you, Hassan?" asked Denviers, as he pointed to some marks, a few of which were apparently fairly recent.

"The sahib guesses rightly," answered our guide. "You will remember that the Kachyen stated to me that the Nat is accustomed to obtain its victim now from the abode of the Maw-Sayah; those marks, then, have been made by it when it dragged its human prey out of the hut." We gazed curiously at the marks for a few minutes, then Denviers broke the silence by asking the Arab why it was that the Nat made marks at all.

"I should have thought that such a powerful spirit could prevent such evidences of its presence becoming observed," he continued. "My respect for it is certainly not increased by seeing those deep scars; they seem to be made by something which has sharp claws."

"That is because of the shape which it has assumed, sahib," said the Arab, "for the Nats have wondrous powers—"

"Very likely, Hassan," interposed Denviers; "I suppose they can do exactly what they like, can they not?" I was much surprised at the limit which was, however, placed upon their powers by our guide, for he responded quickly:—

"Not altogether, sahib. There is one thing that a Nat cannot do, according to the reports of these Kachyens, and that is, they are unable to move in a direction which is not straight, and hence they are careful to avoid rough ground, where tangled masses and boulders bar their progress, so they usually frequent the open avenues, such as the one which we have just passed through. The symbols above it and the writings and weapons are all for the Nat's benefit."

"And the elephant's skull?" asked Denviers, irreverently. "What is that put up for?"

The Arab, however, had an explanation ready, for he promptly replied:—

"That indicates where the supplies of food are to be found when the Nat requires any."

Denviers turned to me for a moment as he said:—

"I should have thought it a good plan, then, to have put it upon the hut of this Maw-Sayah whom we are about to interview. See that your weapons are in good order, Harold, we may soon need them."

Giving a cautious look at my belt and the weapons thrust into it, I followed Denviers, who had mounted the short bamboo ladder, and was endeavouring to obtain admission to the hut. We heard a harsh sound within, then the cry of someone apparently terror- stricken, and a moment afterwards we had pushed past the Maw- Sayah, who by no means was willing to allow us to enter the rude dwelling.

The single room, which seemed to constitute the hut, was extremely low and bare of furniture entirely. A few bamboos were spread in one part of it, while at the far end was a fire, the light from which was partly obscured by the smoke, which almost suffocated us, so thickly did it roll up and then spread through the hut. Near the door stood a man scarcely clothed, upon whose face we saw a look of the most abject terror, for, as we surmised, the noise of our entry was mistaken by him for the approach of the fell thing to which he was condemned by the Maw- Sayah. We moved towards the latter as he threw himself down by the fire, which he had only left to see who it was that came unbidden to the hut where to enter was the preceding event to death. He was clothed in a long blue strip of linen, which wound round his waist and covered his body, partly leaving his dark chest uncovered. His features were stamped with an appearance of supreme cunning, his oblique eyes reminding us of a Chinaman, while the fierce look in them as they glared at us from either side of an aquiline nose, which betrayed his Burmese descent, did not increase our confidence in the man as he stretched out his bony hands over the fire as if for warmth, although outside the hut we had found the heat almost insupportable.

"What do ye seek?" he demanded, as he looked into our faces in turn and seemed astonished at our strange features.


Illustration

"What do ye seek?"


"We are travellers who wished to see a Kachyen village," responded Denviers, "and we further desired to see some of its inhabitants; but as none were visible we entered this hut, even against your will. Where are the people who dwell here?"

The man whom my companion addressed pointed to the Kachyen near the doorway, as he responded:—

"There is one of them, and in a short time even he will never be seen again."

"Can you give us food?" hazarded Hassan, in order to get the man to continue his conversation, for the Arab was expecting that the Nat would soon arrive upon the scene. The Maw-Sayah rose and pointed to the entrance as he cried:—

"That way ye came, that way shall ye depart. Food for ye I have not, nor would I give it if I had."

I turned to Denviers and said in a low tone:—

"What shall we do, Frank? I don't think our opportunity of seeing what may transpire will be as good within the hut as without it. Whatever the solution is to this affair, if we are outside we shall see this Kachyen dragged away, and may further watch the approach of whatever caused those strange marks which we observed."

"One thing is clear," said my companion, "we will attempt to save this intended victim, at all events. I expect that if we tried we could get him away easily enough, but that plan would not be of much service. We must attack this being, whatever it is, with which this Maw-Sayah is leagued. How I should like to hand him over as a victim instead of that trembling captive by the door. It shows to what extent this juggler has acquired power over this tribe, for I notice that his captive is unbound, and is certainly a much finer built man than the other."

"It wants less than an hour to dusk, sahibs," said Hassan, who had listened carefully to our remarks; "if we were to station ourselves a little away from the hut evidently we could see what took place, and if the Nat were mortal we might attack it."

Denviers shrugged his shoulders at the Arab's supposition as he responded:—

"There is little doubt, Hassan, that the Nat would smart if that keen blade of yours went a little too near it, but I think your plan is a good one, and we will adopt it, as it falls in with what has already been said." We gave a final look at the crafty face of the man who was still seated by the fire, and then brushing past the captive we made for the open village again.

"I feel sorry for this Kachyen," said Denviers. "He will have a dreadful five minutes of it, I expect; but it is our only way of preventing, if possible, such an affair from occurring again." On leaving the hut we stationed ourselves almost opposite to it, and then began to keep watch. What we should see pass up the avenue we could only surmise, but our suppositions certainly did not lead us to imagine in the faintest degree the sight which before long was destined to completely startle us.


III.

THE grey dusk was becoming night when among the dark stems of the trees we saw some black form move over the ground. We could scarcely distinguish it as it crawled over the bamboo logs and made a rasping noise as it clung to the ladder. The door of the hut yielded to it, and a minute after it again emerged and bore with it the terrified Kachyen. We crept after it as it dragged its captive down the avenue, striving our utmost to make out its shape. One thing we could tell, which was that the creature was not upright; but our movement behind it was apparently known, for it struggled to move quicker over the ground with its human burden.


Illustration

It again emerged.


"Shall I shoot it?" I whispered to Denviers, as my nerves seemed to be almost unstrung at the unknowableness of the creeping thing.

"You would more likely kill the man," he responded. "Follow as noiselessly as you can—it will not let its prey escape, be sure of that. Once we track it to its haunt we will soon dispatch it, big and fierce as it seems."

We drew nearer and nearer to it, until it had passed half-way down the avenue, then it seemed to become lost to our view, although we were, as we knew, close to it. I felt Denviers' hand upon my shoulder, and then he whispered:—

"The Kachyen is being dragged up a tree just in front—look!" I could just distinguish something moving up the trunk, when suddenly the captive, who had hitherto been apparently paralyzed with terror, uttered a cry and then must have succeeded in disengaging himself from the dreadful thing that had held him, for the noise of someone falling to the ground was heard, and a minute after we distinguished the form of a man rushing headlong back to the village for safety.

We did not anticipate such an event, and were contemplating a search for the captor of the Kachyen, when a cold sweat broke out upon me, for the clammy claws of the man-hunter had touched me! The sensation which seized me was only of short duration, for I felt myself released just as Denviers said:—

"Harold, the Kachyen has fled, and his captor, determined to secure its prey, has betaken its crawling body after him. If only we had a light! I saw something like a black shadow moving onwards; get your pistol ready and follow." I just distinguished Denviers as he passed on in front of me, Hassan coming last. When we reached the hut of the Maw-Sayah we stopped at once, for, from the cry which came from it, we rightly surmised that the terrible seeker for human prey had made for this place, thinking, in its dull intelligence, that its captive had returned. We thrust ourselves into the hut, and saw by the red firelight a sanguinary contest between the Maw-Sayah and the black object which we had endeavoured to track. Thinking that the Kachyen was being destroyed, the juggler had not fastened his door, and the enraged man-eater had seized him as he rested on the ground, quite at its mercy!

The Maw-Sayah was struggling with his bony hands to extricate himself from the clutches of a monstrous tree-spider! We had seen, on an island in the South Seas, several cocoa-nut crabs, and this reptile somewhat resembled them, but was even larger. Grasping the juggler with several of its long, furry-looking claws, it fixed its glaring red eyes in mad anger upon him as he grasped in each hand one of its front pair of legs, which were armed with strong, heavy-looking pincers. He besought us wildly to shoot, even if we killed him, held as he was by his relentless foe.


Illustration

A relentless foe.


"Harold," cried my companion, "keep clear, and look out for yourself when I fire at this reptile; most likely it will make for one of us." He drew right close to it, and thrusting the barrel of his pistol between its eyes touched the trigger. The explosion shook the hut, its effect upon the spider being to cause it to rush frantically about the floor, dragging the Maw- Sayah as if he were some slight burden scarcely observable.

"You missed it!" I cried. "Look out, Hassan, guard the doorway!" The Arab stood, sword in hand, waiting for it to make for the entrance, while Denviers exclaimed:—

"I shot it through the head!" and a minute afterwards the trueness of his aim was manifest, for the claws released, and the Maw-Sayah, wounded badly, but saved, stood free from the muscular twitchings of the dead spider.

"You scoundrel!" said Denviers to him, "I have a good mind to serve you the same. You deserve to die as so many of these simple-minded, credulous Kachyens have done."


Illustration

"You scoundrel!"


I thought for one brief second that my companion was about to kill the juggler, for through all our adventures I had never seen him so thoroughly roused. I stood between them; then, when Denviers quickly recovered his self-command, I turned to the Maw- Sayah and asked:—

"If we spare your life, will you promise to leave this village and never to return?" He turned his evil-looking but scared face towards us eagerly as he replied:—

"I will do whatever you wish."

Denviers motioned to him to rest upon the ground, which he did, then turning to me, said:—

"It is pretty apparent what this juggler has done. The man who first reported the discovery of this Nat, as the foolish Kachyens call it, simply disturbed a monstrous spider which had lived in the trees which he felled —that accounts for his seeing it. Finding animal food scarce, the reptile ventured into this village and tried to get into one of the huts. Its exertions were rewarded by the Kachyen coming to the door, whom it accordingly seized. To continue its plan, which proved so successful, needed very little reasoning power on the part of such a cunning creature. No doubt this Maw-Sayah purposely left the door of his hut unfastened each seventh night, and the spider thus became accustomed to seek for its victim there, I daresay it came the other nights, but the juggler was then careful enough to keep his hut well fastened."

"What do the sahibs propose to do?" interrupted Hassan. Denviers turned to him, as he responded:—

"We will wait for daybreak; then, having dragged the dead spider out where the Kachyens may see that it is no longer able to harm them, we will take this Maw-Sayah down the mountain path away from the village as poor as he came."

"A good plan," I assented, and we followed it out, eventually leaving the juggler, and climbing once more into the howdah upon the elephant, which we found close to the spot where we had left it, secured from wandering far away by the rope which Hassan had used to hinder its movements.

We entered Bhamo, and while we took a much-needed rest, our guide —as we afterwards learnt —searched for and found the fugitive Kachyen, who, on hearing that his safety was secured, hastily departed to the village to rejoice with the rest of his tribe that the so-called Nat would not do them any more injury.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
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