The Three Men Over the Hill

The Three Men Over the Hill  (1927) 
by H. Bedford-Jones

Sumatra, a Crafty Sultan and a Girl who tried to outwit him

Brundage nearly went mad when he saw the girl coming down the gang-plank into Sumatra and comprehended the fate to which she was going so innocently, so smilingly, with so happy a glory glinting in her brown eyes. Brundage was the only white man in Port Santur.

Other men there had white skins. Notably the Dutch under-resident, and the two Aussi traders, and the captain in command of the sepoys, and those three gentlemen over the hill who administered Sultan Ibrahim's territory in the interest of the Dutch East Indies. Take them one by one, and what did the skin amount to? The Dutch under-resident had three native wives and something of a record. The two Australians, when sober, were not the sort to be asked for aid by any white woman; when drunk, as they usually were, both were fairly decent fellows. The sepoy captain had Eurasian eyes and nails in his white skin, and was reputed to have the soul of a snake. The three gentlemen over the hill in the sultan's capital were strictly there to help themselves. Brundage knew instantly they were in the plot to betray this girl.

However, one had to make sure; there was the skipper of the steamer. Brundage was a trader, a man of hard repute, suffered. by the Dutch without love, he had been hoping to depart on the morrow when this boat left. He watched the girl go ashore and enter Hop Soy's very clean and respectable hotel—it was just sunset, too late for her to go on over the hill—then he went aboard and got the skipper to one side. He knew the man slightly.

"Nobody can hear us," he said, his rather bitter gray eyes boring deep. "Tell me who the woman is. Another governess?"

The Dutchman swallowed hard. "Another," he said in a dull voice.

"You damned dirty cur!" said Brundage, without heat. "And you, knowing everything, let her come?"

"No." The skipper's jaw set hard for an instant. "No, mynheer. I warned her covertly, and she smiled. I hinted, and she smiled. At length, I came out and told her the truth. And what do you think she did? She smiled. That was all."

"All!" repeated Brundage suspiciously. "Did you tell her about the girl who came out here from England last year?"

"That was part of the truth I told her," said the other, honestly enough. "I spared her nothing. And she smiled! Well, you can not understand until you meet the smile. There was no more to be said. My friend, the devil of it is that she is on the same errand."

"Of course," said Brundage, and went ashore.

When the heart of an impetuous man is hot within him, he has regard for nothing. Brundage had little regard for anything at the best of times, but now he went straight to Hop Soy's hotel and straight up to the one room over the court reserved for the occasional white person who came to Port Santur. He knew his way and paused for none. He rapped sharply at the door, tried it, found it unlocked, and stepped into the room. The girl was there, leaning over a grip she had half unpacked.

"Well?" she asked. "What do you want?"

Brundage shut the door and took off his helmet.

"I want to talk to you," he said crisply. "My name's Brundage. I'm a trader here. Is it true you've come to take the job of governess?"

"Yes," she said quietly. No more.

"Then sit down." Brundage gestured to a chair and pulled up one for himself. He took out a cheroot and lighted it. She took the chair and regarded him, all in a quietly poised fashion as though she were neither astonished nor disconcerted.

BRUNDAGE knew suddenly he had met his match in will. Nothing bitter in her gaze, nothing hard and cold and efficient, like his own; wide-set eyes, very blue, and a face leaving an indistinct impression of fresh spring flowers and golden sunlight, impossible to describe. Not beautiful at all, as a camera registers beauty, and therefore the truer. All the same, when he looked into her eyes, Brundage felt himself baffled and queerly vagrant in fancy.

"Pack up again," he said, with an access of gruffness. "You're going right out on that boat. You're not going on to that job."

She smiled, and suddenly he remembered what the skipper had said. A quiet little smile, and pretty indeed to see, yet touching her face alone—not her eyes. By contrast, they seemed more deep and baffling than ever, in their perfect poise. Brundage noted that she sat in her chair absolutely without movement, and this backed up the warning of her eyes. No ordinary girl here.

"Don't you know it's a damned trap?" he blurted out, feeling a surge of passionate fury sweep from soul to brain. "That cursed sultan doesn't want any governess. What he wants is a white woman—another. You're not the first. You've got to realize facts, girl."

Still she smiled, for a moment, as though the shaft of his brutal words had glanced upon some far and impervious armor that shielded her spirit. Then she spoke.

"You are hasty, Mr. Brundage—is that the name? However, I owe you thanks for your good intentions. Shall I tell you exactly the situation?"

"If you will," he responded, throttling himself down hard.

"There was an advertisement in a social paper," she said, quiet, motionless to her finger-tips. "I responded and called at a firm of solicitors in the city."

"Shysters everywhere, even in London," said Brundage. "English, eh? I thought so. The last one was. Yes, you'll find shysters willing to sell women into bondage. Go ahead."

"Perhaps they were sincere in their beliefs," and her voice was gentle. "They supplied money, and I came. At Singapore, some one seemed quite excited and took the matter with some official, against my will, so that I just came away without waiting. I'm here."

"My lord, you are!" said Brundage fervently. "The sultan doesn't need a governess, I'm telling you. Do you want me to put it into water-front language? Do I have to use filthy terms to impress you with the reality? Can't you comprehend?"

She moved a little, and he was checked.

"I quite comprehend your fears for me,' she said. "It's very good of you, but I assure you they are groundless."

"Groundless!" Brundage shot out of his chair and pointed. "Once over that hill, you're beyond help! Once in that accursed palace, you're lost! None of these half-breed Dutch will turn their fingers over for you. They're all island-born, Eurasians. The sultan fills their pockets. He's a crafty devil, educated in England, and knows what he wants. And—"

The girl, too, rose. She looked very slim, very delicately small and slender and almost pitiful, so that Brundage found a swift ache in his heart for her. Yet her gaze was very composed and restful, as though her eyes were windows lighted by deeply hidden sunlight.

"I know, too, what I want," she said, with a slow lingering on the words that startled Brundage. "You are an American, Mr. Brundage? I appreciate your kindness, but I tell you not to be afraid for me."

"How can I help it?" said Brundage shortly.

"By not being afraid. By thinking back—back across the years."

"Eh?" He frowned, as he stared. "What are you talking about?"

"Memory. Undoubtedly you once heard the words: 'The spirit of knowledge and of ghostly strength.' Ah, so you remember them! But you do not know to what they refer—what they mean! Few people do."

IT CAME to Brundage that she was a bit off in her head. A hard thing to accept. Doubly hard, because under these wandering words he sensed a solid stratum of common sense, which reduces everything to simple essentials. Simplicity is a very clear and very terrible thing in any part of the world, but chiefly so in Sumatra—where it is apt to be helpless as well, if one can ever call simplicity helpless.

"Never mind about religion," he said. slowly, knowing in his heart that it was actually the thing that did matter above all others. "Never mind the trust in God and all that—no God here, young woman! The only god over the hill is Allah."

He felt himself floundering here, and paused. He felt it in her eyes, from that queer smile of hers which meant nothing at all and yet responded to everything with the same quiet, deadly poise. He began to feel afraid of this girl.

"Got any relatives?" he asked abruptly.

"I had a sister, but she's dead."

"Then I'm going to help, whether you want me or not."

"Thank you, I'll be glad of your help," she responded gravely, to his utter surprise. The whip-crack came swiftly, however. "If by help, you do not mean interference."

Brundage felt the blood sweeping into his face from sheer anger.

"You're stupid!" he cried sharply. "I wasn't here last year, or it wouldn't have happened, I can tell you! There was another one like you, yellow haired, too. She killed herself. You'll go the same way if you're not stopped. You don't know—" "But I do know," she said quietly.

"You little fool!" he burst out. "Won't you listen to reason?"

Again that baffling, utterly baffling, smile of hers.

"Reason, like truth, is from heaven," she said gently.

"I'm not going to bandy words with you," said Brundage. "I've got a pull with the sultan, or rather, he's afraid of me I can spoil his little game with the Dutch. I'm one white man who can do about as he likes over the hill, yonder. This time, there'll be no tragedy—I'm going to step in."

"You'd better not," she said, and he sensed a threat here. It staggered him.

"D'you mean, knowing everything, you're going ahead-into the trap?"

"It's not a trap for me," she returned. "I ask you not to interfere unless I request—"

"Oh!" Relief swept Brundage. "Then you'll ask when the time comes, when you need help?"

"If I do, yes."

He laughed shortly. "And suppose by then you're past help? Suppose you're drugged day after day, little by little, until you get past help?"

Color swept across her face, perhaps at the implication of his words.

"That can not happen," she said gently. So flat was her refusal to admit the possibility, so absolute was her tone, and so contrary to fact was the denial, that Brundage was abruptly inflamed by new rage.

"All right, be a fool!" he cried out in a tortured voice. "You'll gang your ain gait—well, what are you laughing at now?"

"Isn't it always funny," she asked, with her smile, "to hear a Yankee talk Scotch?"

Brundage rapped out an oath. "Like that better?" he said harshly. "Suppose I'm going to sit down and count coat-buttons like they do in Singapore, while you're gone? Not much. Five buttons—that's a Dutchman. Four buttons and the pants a fit—that's a Britisher. Fine game! But I'm not playing it. You—you woman, you!" The word was bitter. "A woman, flitter-headed as a chicken, no more sense than a silly old hen, always jumping the wrong way—damnation! Go on over the hill, then, and take the consequences."

He flung out of the room and slammed the door heavily, half-incoherent words pour- ing from his lips, for despair was upon him terribly. And all the while, as he sought the street, he felt that she was standing there looking at the closed door—smiling.


OVER the hill was much farther than it sounded, since the hill was a rangy mountain-shoulder crossed by a track that might some day be a road. From Port Santur, indeed, was a matter of twelve unpleasant miles before one came out upon the royal residence of Sultan Ibrahim.

It is not wise to expect too much in Sumatra. Once away from iron and steel and concrete salesmen, once away from trading stations and the outward trappings of Dutch rule, all the tremendous country becomes primitive, and royalty shrinks into petty rulership. Just how far the lordship of Sultan Ibrahim extended, was an unsolved question, and nobody cared to solve it; certainly not the sultan himself, who was quite content with the shadow of power and plenty of money.

When they took over the Santur district, or rather when they pacified it with bullets, the Dutch built a fine palace for the puppet sultan, and turned it over to the little brown monkey of a man and his white advisers. Now Ibrahim sat on the throne and pretended to rule, and enjoyed life.

The palace was a huge white-walled cluster of buildings, with flags above it, soldiers at the gate, and servants galore. With its pleasant gardens and artificial lake, it stood on a hilltop, or sprawled over it, while just below lay the town. Not much of a town by any standard; thatched houses, one or two large godowns, many chickens and naked children, with the Canton Mercantile Company at the end—houses and compound, godowns, store. Hang La was this company, an old and venerable man of China, with half a dozen of his own race or breed to help him. It was Hang La who kept the place on the map and paid taxes, for those yellow fingers were gripped deep and far through the hills and valleys of the district.

Isolated and petty as it was, yet the place broke upon the eyes of Marjorie Hampton in beauty, and from first sight to last, this beauty did not lessen. The high green peaks all around, the deeper green of the jungle, the white palace and yellow town, all were stabbed by flashing glints of color—as the great flame-tree that stood before the palace gates, with its scarlet glory regal on the sun-white afternoon. Contrasts everywhere, even to the three white men who met the girl at the gates, bowing low and changing from the Dutch she did not understand to fluent English and French.

There was Vanderhout, rather old, very fat, always merry; a laughing man in whose soul were grouped all the devils of lust. It was Vanderhout who, at the time of the northern rebellion, had burned alive an entire village. One never knew whether his smile masked humor or cruelty. Hoffman the Resident, was young, lantern-jawed, tall; in his deep eyes burned the steady flame of one whose entire life is ruled by a single indomitable purpose, and truly enough. Hoffman's one ambition was to amass money sufficient to get out of the Indies for good and go home. He was amassing it, and rapidly, yet perhaps he was paying a bitter price for the gold. Vanderhout was clever, Hoffman was insatiable, but Onderdonk had a flaming brain. He owned neither morals nor conscience nor ambition, for a prison term lay behind him, disease was in his vitals, and he saw death clearly ahead. He was that rarest of all human creatures, a man who believed in nothing and who therefore feared nothing. His sole enjoyment was to drown the inward agonies of his own soul in the suffering of others.

THESE three greeted Marjorie Hamp- ton. Vanderhout bowed, Hoffman gravely kissed her hand, Onderdonk merely removed his helmet a moment and looked at her with his sardonic eyes. A few commonplace words were exchanged, then came Hajji Ishak to take charge of the girl, with a deep and stately salaam and a greeting in fluent French, and four women attendants whom he placed at her disposal.

The three white men looked after her as she followed. Tall and thin was Hajji Ishak, the only Arab in the place, again offering contrast against the background of small brown hillmen and Malays. Hajji Ishak was old and strong, with one dark brown eye and one blue, and a swarthy white skin, for he was a true Arab from Hadramaut. His white skull-cap, hereabouts. a token of the Mecca pilgrimage, and his fine white garments without ornament, gave little hint of his position. He was the alter ego of the sultan, a great swordsman, a most evil man from all standards, and faithful beyond words to the man whom he served.

"Well!" said Vanderhout, preening his little mustache, his eyes following the girl's slender figure. "This is not what I expected. I looked for some low-class servant."

"And I," said Hoffman coldly, "anticipated a damned Englishwoman, angular, big of jaw, deadly of eye! You, Onderdonk—you are disappointed too?"

"I am never disappointed," said little Onderdonk, a flash in his sunken eyes. "I think old Ibrahim will have rare sport with this bird he has caged. He may well pay us to view things charitably!"

"Rather a pity we made him pay in advance," reflected Hoffman. "Having seen her, he'll pay more! Well—we've been paid to let her come and keep silence. He'll have to pay us to let her remain, eh?"

Vanderhout still gazed at the palace en- trance, where the slender figure had vanished and preened his mustache anew.

"Hm! Decidedly," he approyed. "Yes, he must pay, one way or another."

Onderdonk had a vicious laugh, and now it seemed to bite across the hot sunlight, as acid bites across metal.

"You two gentlemen," he said, "have different ideas of payment. Well, fight it out! I'm off tomorrow to investigate those mining accounts. I'll be up in the hills two weeks or so—make the most of your time! Hoffman, when I come back you'll be a little richer. Vanderhout, you'll have another wife."

Hoffman looked at the little sallow, viperish man.

"And you?"

Onderdonk grinned. "You fools! I'll watch the resultant chaos. And you'll wish she had been a servant or a right-angled woman before you're done—oh, yes! So come along and have a drink, and forget it."

"She will not make trouble,” and Vanderhout laughed wheezily. "She is like the one who came here last year—a gentlewoman, is that the word? Bah! Let's drink."

The three went off together to their own quarters in the palace.

Meantime, Marjorie Hampton found herself made at home in a very large and handsome chamber whose shaded balcony overlooked the tiny artificial lake and a corner of the gardens. The room was sumptuous, her luggage had already arrived; and Hajji Ishak, though she could not pronounce his name, impressed her as a very stately and deferential old Arab.

“These women," and he indicated the four attendants, "are your slaves. They speak a little English, you a little Malay; there will be no difficulty. Sultan Ibrahim, on whom be peace, desires that his children speak with you only in French or English. We do not care to speak Dutch, having to see enough of those pigs without having to speak their tongue. If you desire anything, command it. The sultan will receive you this evening."

To Marjorie, it must have been like a fairy tale, all this. Her room was filled with the luxuries of Paris. Her wish was supreme law. Nothing she might demand would not be instantly accorded; already her environment had become that of a dream. Here in one corner was an American phonograph in a case of chased and polished silver. In another was an ungainly French radio receiving set tuned to high-wave lengths. Everywhere in the room were precious metals and wondrous stuffs. Nothing was tawdry or old, everything was fresh and new, as though the place had been done over especially for her coming.

"As no doubt it was," she thought aloud, and then smiled at sound of her own voice.

The four women smiled, too. They were sleek, submissive little creatures, shyly wondering at her. They showed her the adjoining dressing-room with its very handsome tiled bath, and with a sense of unwonted luxuriousness, Marjorie submitted to their ministrations. Later, she sat sipping sherbet while an automatic punkah whirled overhead, and presently dismissed her four satellites. She intended to do her own dressing.

"And all this—for a governess!" she said softly, once more looking about the chamber. "True, English governesses are not easily come by here, but at the same time it seems rather unusual."

She smiled a little.

FOR the remainder of the afternoon she rested, and dined in her own room, then was taken to meet her employer. She found him in a book-walled room, a library whose table was littered with American and European magazines; a smallish, slender little man in evening attire, whose English was perfect. He was alone except for his tall white shadow, Hajji Ishak. When Marjorie would have curtsied, he laughed and touched his lips to her fingers, and handed her to a chair.

"Come, no ceremony, Miss Hampton!"

He had a thin, boyish voice, oddly disagreeable. The whole man was like a monkey dressed to order. "I shall hope to make your stay with us quite pleasant. Please believe that you have only to express a desire, and it will be granted. You will be in no way confined or limited. I should like you to take your meals with my children, for whom the Koranic law is not material, and to do your best with their manners and speech. If you find this disagreeable, then it can be changed. I leave everything to you."

"It is most kind of your highness," said the girl quietly. "Indeed, I fear you surround me with too much luxury altogether!"

The sultan laughed a little and lighted a long cheroot.

"Not at all. Your predecessor, a young lady who came last year, grew very homesick and unhappy; I believe she was a sufferer from some obscure ailment, for she died very suddenly. Poor young lady! It was very sad, and the children have been inconsolable. They will no doubt speak of her when they meet you tomorrow."

Miss Hampton paled slightly. "I am not apt to be homesick," she said, and her voice was a trifle strained. Sultan Ibrahim. gave her a quick glance, and rose.

"You do not like our scented air—you are not used to these things? I forgot—"

"It is a little close, certainly," said the girl, and came to her feet. "I have only one request to make, your highness. Perhaps you'll think it unusual, yet it's not meant to be offensive. I've lost my Bible, and if you have one, I should like it very much—"

The sultan laughed heartily at her hesitant air.

"Nonsense, Miss Hampton! We are really enlightened followers of Muhammad, as our name 'Muslim' signifies! Perhaps there'll be a Bible—why not? We venerate it just as you do, you know. Hajji Ishak, look up the matter at once, without delay, and if you find such a book, have it sent to Miss Hampton."

To this last, spoken in French, the tall Arab salaamed. The sultan took the girl to the door himself and bade her good night.

When the hangings fell, Marjorie Hampton swayed uncertainly, then collected herself and went quietly to her own rooms again, an unusual pallor in her cheeks. Once there, she sent away her four attendants, then dropped into a chair and sat relaxed, motionless, staring before her at the curtained window; her eyes were wide, almost terrified.

She still sat, thus, when a knock came at her door. Startled, she darted up, gave her hair a pat, then went to the door and opened it. Hajji Ishak saluted her and extended a small worn volume.

"It is in English," he said gravely. "I was fortunate to find it so quickly."

Marjorie Hampton thanked him, closed the door, then swung against it, holding the Bible in her hand, as though suddenly faint. She stared down at the book, and the fingers holding it were all a-tremble.

"Hers!" she murmured. "Hers—and if they have not discovered it—"

Rapidly she crossed to the lamp in the corner and began a swift examination of the little worn volume.


EXCEPT for the arrival of Marjorie Hampton, Brundage would have been out of Sumatra by the next steamer—he had already engaged passage to Singapore and San Francisco. His pile was made, the weary years were behind him, and now he had been about to head home, with his business profitably sold to Hang La of the Canton Mercantile Company.

He could not get the girl out of his head, however, and after several days of indeci- sion, cancelled his passage and prepared to go over the hill. Brundage knew the folly of trying to advise newcomers. Had Marjorie been a man, he would have let her go and sink in the morass of her own folly; but she was a girl—and such a girl! Secondary to his thought of her, was his thought of the white men up there at Santur; rather, his hatred. He knew all three of them intimately, knew what unspeakable rotters they were, knew perfectly that they were in on the sultan's little game and were getting well paid for abetting it. His anger rose more hotly every time he thought of them. Perhaps Brundage felt that a duty lay upon him, too, though he would have profanely denied the accusation.

Real life is far from having the stuff of books, and hasty conclusions are dangerous. Brundage was past forty, and had every earthly reason not to mix up in this affair. He had sent home his money, and now looked forward to its enjoyment. The calm eyes of Marjorie Hampton wakened no amorous fires in him—his wife and children awaited him in San Francisco, and Brundage was no philanderer. So, he hesitated over the whole thing, as he well might do.

To take a hand in this game would be dangerous. True, he had friends, and Sultan Ibrahim was to a certain extent afraid of him. On the other hand, it meant staking himself against all the shadowy power of the sultan, and all the actual power of the three white men at the palace—it meant fighting them. They would be savage enemies, not for the sake of dragging down Marjorie Hampton, but for the sake of serving their own interests by leaving her to her fate. They would leave her; Brundage would not, could not. This was the difference.

"Well, it may come out all right," he reflected, after sending a letter to his wife. "At least, it ought to come out all right—I'll have to risk it. Not that I want to, mind! The fool girl should be well spanked! But I'll visit Hang La and see what's going on over the hill. It's got to be done."

This was the way Brundage saw it—a thing that had to be done, willy-nilly. And he went about doing it in his own way—a mad, illogical way, perhaps, yet the only way that was possible. Nor was his course really so mad as it appeared. He knew the other side quite intimately, as they knew him; any policy of evasion or caution would be mere folly, and his only chance lay in a bold, aggressive front and swift action. So, his luggage off home and everything here well disposed, he set out for the town over the hill, taking only a hand-bag.

It was nearly evening when he arrived. Old Hang La greeted him with open arms and talk of a feast even then preparing, and made him affably at home. No personal talk was exchanged—only generalities. The dinner began, a meal served in traditional style with all the delicacies thereof, and Brundage, who was not impatient, made the most of it.

Thirty-odd courses passed in silence, except for the customary polite inquiries and dippings into affairs general. Then Hang La plunged, as the devil-fish came in.

"This is a happy surprise, my friend," he said, blinking his heavy lids. "I thought you had left by this time. Business has detained you, perhaps?"

"I'm through with business, as you know," said Brundage. "No. Duty detained me, I'm sorry to say."

Hang La chuckled softly. He was not a benevolent old man at all, and his long life. had been largely misspent, from western standards; he enjoyed himself, he sat apart and looked at the currents of life flowing past, and he had slight respect for anything except the ancestral tablet set up in his inner room.

"I am not blind," he observed, half cynically. "In the few days since her arrival, things have happened. Mynheer Hoffman goes about whistling; there he has obtained money. Mynheer Vanderhout has a new wife, a very pretty half-caste from the sultan's private stock. Mynhéer Onderdonk is in the hills and returns some time this week, so I do not know yet what he will obtain. They all thought you would be gone, of course. Your presence here will prove disconcerting. It will not be liked."

"Perhaps not," said Brundage, grimly.

"Accidents may easily happen," added Hang La significantly.

THEREAFTER came diversion of other topics, at least temporarily. Brundage left the talk to Hang La, curious to see what was in the old man's mind. Help he did not expect, but advice he might get, for that would be like a chess game to the old merchant.

At the forty-third course, Hang La abruptly came around to the main issue again.

"How long do you expect to be here?"

"A week," said Brundage, "or a month, or all year. Until the job is finished."

"Where will you stay?" Brundage smiled. "Not with you. At the palace, as the sultan's guest.

"Oh! The wrinkled saffron face cracked in a grin. "I remember. You learned about the little deal between the sultan and those two French diamond hunters, eh? Well, our friend Ibrahim made a lot of money from the illegality, but if the Dutch learned of it they would do something. Still, I do not see what you expect to accomplish."

"I expect to take Miss Hampton away." "She seems quite content. I have seen her several times, riding."

Brundage frowned. "I do not understand her," he confessed. "She has been warned, yet she persists."

"She is no child, nor a fool," reflected the old man. "Why attempt to understand, my friend? We are not omniscient. But there is a proverb about stepping on the tail of the tiger; in fact, much of the Shi King is written on this subject. If you go. to the palace as a guest, you should remember it."

"No fear," said Brundage quietly. "By the way, will one of your junks stop at Port Santur inside the next fortnight?"

Hang La studied over this question for two more courses, meditating on its implications and on just how far he might safely commit himself. To give Brundage overt assistance was far from his mind; he valued his peace and his trading concession. too highly to jeopardize it by taking any sides openly.

On the other hand, he knew perfectly well that Brundage was running high risks—less with the sultan than with his white advisers. For one man to enter any game against this pack of wolves was senseless folly; for him to enter such a game as this, where his winning would mean disgrace and exposure for the others, meant a duel to the death. Therefore, promises might safely be made. If made, they would be kept to the letter—this was Hang La's great virtue.

"There is a junk bound down to Batavia and Singapore, which might touch first at Malacca," he responded slowly. "It is named Wave-subduing Moonlight, and the captain's name is Li Tock Sui, a branch of the Cantonese Li family. On the seventh day from this, it will arrive at Port Santur. Two passengers might go aboard quietly and be taken to Malacca, if they were possessed of a card from me.'

"Very well," said Brundage. He quite understood that the card would reach him in course of time; understood, too, that Hang La had really strained a point in making such an offer. It was the utmost to be expected.

"Your friendship is as pure jade," he assured the old man. "Now give me your advice on one point, my friend! Which of all the men at the palace is most dangerous?"

Hang La blinked and then grinned a little.

"Contrary to general opinion, the man who has least to lose is most dangerous," he said thoughtfully. "Others may have wealth or position or indulgences. He may have none of these. He may not have even a future but he has life. Having only this one thing, he values it above all else. Whoever interferes with him, therefore, finds a desperate and reckless antagonist."

Brundage knew who was meant here. He had not considered Onderdonk any too seriously, but now he took thought, since he had a high respect for the opinions of Hang La. If this man were named as the most dangerous in the palace, then it was fact. Onderdonk, however, was away in the hills, doubtless inspecting some mining properties, since his share in the government was that of economics.

"And of those who remain here?" asked Brundage.

Hang La reached for a large cheroot and lighted it.

"Who could choose? Each," he said bluntly, "is more to be feared than you. I know because I have seen them all in action."

"But you've not seen me in action," and Brundage smiled slightly. He looked at his watch. "It's not too late to go on to the palace now and better to do so. They'd know if I spent the night here."

Ten minutes later, he was gone, much to the relief of Hang La.

BEING thoroughly conversant with the place, Brundage knew that the sultan would be playing bridge or billiards with his white advisers, making believe he was civilized, and would be in an amiable. mood. Not that it mattered in the least; Sultan Ibrahim was quite a negligible quantity in his scheme of things. The other men were the ones who mattered. Hence Brundage knew exactly what he was going to do and say.

So, though it was evening, he was taken from the gates to the palace itself by an officer, a strutting, dish-faced little monkey-man, and at the palace was ushered on to the billiard room. The sultan was there, playing billiards with the ponderous Vanderhout, while Hajji Ishak sat in the corner and told the beads of his rosary. As Brundage entered, the sultan put down his cue and advanced with well-assumed cordiality, hand outstretched. Ibrahim liked to play at hail-fellow-well-met.

"Welcome, Mynheer Brundage!" he exclaimed. "We thought you were leaving it's good to see you again, I assure you!"

Brundage made commonplace response, then accepted the huge paw Vanderhout thrust at him and returned the greeting of the laughing Dutchman. He then gave the sultan a glance.

"May I have a word with your highness?"

"By all means," said the little sultan, his brown features well masked. "Vanderhout, will you excuse us a moment?"

Vanderhout chuckled deeply. "I'll run away, your highness—you've beaten me anyway. Don't take a cue with him, Brundage! He's a fiend with the balls. I think Hajji Ishak puts the evil eye on them whenever I shoot."

The fat man moved out of the billiard room. Hajji Ishak sat looking on in silence, but now he left his rosary alone and his hand was close to the saber hilt. Brundage came close to the sultan, when the door closed, and spoke in a low voice.

"Your highness, may I be your guest for some little time?"

"Eh?" Ibrahim started, looked at him keenly, eye to eye. The silence was heavy with conflict, with opposing natures; the two men, little and big, were at extremes of character and human nature. Neither could hope to understand the other. There was no common ground of meeting. The dish-faced little Malay in his tailored evening attire, the big roughly-dressed American, were at opposite poles. One read it in their very eyes—smoldering hot fires in the one, icy imperturbability in the other.

"Eh? My guest?" Ibrahim could not conceal his astonishment. "May I ask why?"

"Certainly," replied Brundage. "I intend to see that no harm comes to Miss Hampton while she is here, and I mean to take her away as soon as she is ready to go."

The sultan laughed slightly. "My dear sir! What harm—"

"Come! No words," snapped Brundage, but very calmly. "I know why you got her here; I know all about it. You're checkmated, Ibrahim, so yield gracefully. And do not forget about those two Frenchmen and the diamond—"

The sultan made a gesture. "My dear Mynheer Brundage, it will give me infinite pleasure to have you as my guest, as long as you wish to stay! You have dined—yes? Then, Ishak," and he turned to the Arab, "let this friend of mine be taken to a guest chamber. Let his will be even as my own in this place; for his safety, your own life shall make answer to me. Do you understand?"

The tall Arab, now on his feet, salaamed deeply.

"Oh jewel in the shield of Allah, thy slave understands and obeys!" he murmured in Malay.

The sultan looked at Brundage.

"Perhaps," he said, an odd wistful tinge to his manner, "perhaps when you have washed and refreshed yourself, you will return and join me in a string of billiards? After all, there is something very pleasant in dealing with an honest man, whether he be friend or or adversary!"

Brundage nodded. He had infinitely more respect for this little Malay, with eyes of fire and tears, than for any one else about the place.

"I'll be right back, your highness," he said. and moved off in company with the Arab.

His thoughts were all with Vanderhout. He wondered when that fat man would act.


BRUNDAGE went out to the stables after breakfast, to get a horse for a morning trot. He knew now exactly where he stood. Sultan Ibrahim would hold aloof, would do nothing, unless possibly through Hajji Ishak. Any conflict would come through others, and when Brundage saw Hoffman picking out two horses, he knew it was imminent. Therefore, he did not wait for the attack to be brought to him.

"Hello, there!" said Hoffman, hitting boot with riding-crop. "Heard you were here. I'm taking Miss Hampton for a canter. Care to come along?"

Brundage smiled into the deep-set eyes. "You're not taking Miss Hampton," he said. "I am. Want to come to an issue over it?"

Now, Hoffman was officially in charge here the resident, whose word was law. His hard jaw set harder still as he stared at Brundage.

"Are you drunk? What do you mean?" he asked at length, in a low voice.

"You know. Want me to spit it out before all the syces?"

It was a bitter pill for Hoffman to swallow, since he dared not let Brundage speak out flatly, and knew Brundage would do just that. This little affair of Marjorie Hampton would raise the devil if brought to the attention of the Colonial authorities; once it was all over, of course, nothing would matter, but the present stage was a ticklish one. And Brundage was not a man to be cowed out, bought out or bluffed out.

"You know what'll happen if you try to see this through?" said Hoffman, attempting no evasion. Brundage smiled again.

"I know what you think will happen," he said quietly.

"We'll see. How about it?"

Hoffman's eyes blazed. "All right. It's your chukker."

Hoffman had played polo. He strode off with lithe, confident step, decision in his air. Brundage spoke to the head syce, mounted, took the girl's horse and rode around to the side entrance of the palace. Marjorie Hampton was waiting there in her riding habit. Her eyes opened wide at sight of Brundage.

"You!" she exclaimed. "Where is Mr. Hoffman?"

"Good morning." Brundage shook hands gravely. "Hoffman isn't coming. Never mind the syce—I'll put you up. There! Have you seen the spring of three devils? Then we'll ride that way. Fine place, well worth the trip."

"I must be back at ten-thirty," she exclaimed.

"You'll be back."

"But—what are you doing here, if I may ask?"

"I'm Ibrahim's guest for a little while. Taking a vacation. You're looking fit. Are things to your liking?"

"Yes," she said in a low voice, giving him a quick sideways look. "Just one thing, please! You're not here to interfere?"

Brundage's brows lifted. "Certainly not! That is, until you call on me. Have you got what you were after?"

Surprise swept her face, settled in dumb amazement. At length she replied.

"What—how do you mean? What I was after—"

Brundage swept his hand through the air as though brushing aside some filmy stuff. They were out the gates now, and heading for the hills.

"I've thought things over a good deal since seeing you in Port Santur," he said calmly. "Sorry I made a fool of myself there I get hot-headed at times. A girl like you, now, in such a position as this, means something. I don't pretend to understand what's behind it all, and I'm not asking. I've come to the conclusion that you came here for a purpose, and when it's fulfilled, you'll be ready to leave. All right—I'll wait. When you want to leave, you'll need help pretty badly, you know."

She made no response. Her eyes were troubled, her face was set in lines of thoughtful anxiety, as though his words gave food for deep reflection. Brundage quietly dismissed the subject and devoted himself to showing her the hill-country. Nor was there any further reference to her affairs until they had returned, and she had dismounted, and a syce was coming on the run to take the horses. Then, looking up at him, she smiled in her baffling fashion and spoke.

"I won't pretend, Mr. Brundage. I'm glad you came. In a few days, now, I'll be ready to go away—and I may need you. I had expected to call on Mr. Hoffman, but don't think I shall do so. I have to make up my mind about what to do—"

"I don't think you'd better call on Hoffman," said Brundage grimly.

She was gone with a nod.

Just what she meant by her odd words, Brundage could not guess, and did not try. He knew his conjecture was right—she was here for some purpose. She was not the mere plaything of fate the men had first. thought her. Realizing this, Brundage now faced the issue squarely.

If she were not a dupe, not an obstinate, flitter-headed girl caught in a trap, had he any business hanging on here? If she were willing, as now seemed, to pit herself against all and sundry for some obscure purpose, was it any business of his? Brundage wanted very badly to get away on his own affairs to San Francisco, and the temptation hit him hard at this point.

Of course, there was his promise to the girl, her understanding that she could call on him for help. This was something—not too much. There was the fact that she was a woman who certainly might need help to get away. This was something, too. None the less, Brundage wrestled with himself in the throes of doubt, until the noon meal, the Dutch rijstaafel. Then, when he joined Hoffman and Vanderhout, the three white men dining together, his doubts were resolved and things came clear again.

THE two were very polite. Vanderhout was jovial, Hoffman curiously unresentful; yet the gauntlet had been thrown down and accepted. Brundage knew now he could not back out—the issue really lay between himself and all these others. All of them! Gaunt old Hajji Ishak, and Onderdonk up in the hills, too. And, very possibly, the sultan's cook. Therefore, Brundage ate nothing that did not come from a common dish. Poison might be tried, but the only certainty was that swift action would come from some quarter.

Brundage was not prepared for the table-talk at dinner that night, however. It concerned a Miss Simkins, who had come as a governess the preceding year. Vanderhout and Hoffman reminisced about her most feelingly; she had died, apparently of fever and homesickness. Behind the thin smile of Hoffman and the chuckle of Vanderhout could be read many unclean things, but Brundage gave no sign that he discerned the attack leveled at him. He was not to be flung off balance so easily, nor would he come down to innuendoes; anything said would have to be flat-footed and open.

Vanderhout, in reality a very clever man, waited after Hoffman went to arrange a bridge game with the sultan. He lighted a cigaret and his little pig eyes rested on Brundage.

"Mynheer," he said thoughtfully, "I have always been fond of you. I think we can speak plainly without losing our tempers."

"I can," and Brundage smiled a little. "Can you?"

"Perhaps," Vanderhout puffed at his cigaret. "That girl, now. I happen to know she was warned at Singapore by some Englishman; he wrote Hoffman about it afterward. She knew what she would find here. You are an idealist, but I'm an old fool, and I know better. I can tell you this girl can feather her nest well, and means to do it. She hinted to Hoffman the other day that she meant to get a good round sum out of Ibrahim, and might want his help."

Brundage said nothing. He rather believed Vanderhout told the truth here.

"Well," went on the Dutchman, "Ibrahim will settle fifty thousand guilders on her, and some very good jewels. What more can any one ask? If I were you, I'd not venture a thankless interference. Will you accept the advice from an old man who likes you?"

"I thank you for it," said Brundage, and waited a moment. From another man, this utterly matter-of-fact gross materialism would have angered him, but he knew Vanderhout spoke frankly and from the heart. "I'm rather sorry we're on opposite sides."

The little pig eyes changed, became bitterly dangerous.

"So, then! I'm sorry, too. Well, that's all." Vanderhout rose. "Shall we run along and get the rubber going? Look out Ibrahim's bidding—he invariably doubles as a sporting chance, regardless of his cards—"

The bridge game was spirited, and ended with Hoffman the only loser, which put him in a vicious temper.

BRUNDAGE had seen nothing of Miss Hampton since the morning ride. He was more worried by what Vanderhout had said than he cared to admit, for he knew already the girl had thought of getting help from Hoffman. Was she really in this game for money? In that event, he himself had no business in helping her to loot Sultan Ibrahim. The possibilities began to look rather ugly.

Upon reaching his own room that night, Brundage saw a plain envelope lying on his dresser. Opening it, he found an ordinary Chinese visiting card, upon which had been brushed a line of characters he could not read—some dialect. He comprehended at once this was the passage-ticket promised him by Hang La. How it had come here was not a thing to be gone into lightly, and be let the query pass. No matter about that; the point was, Hang La had kept his promise. Then, turning over the card, Brundage found two English words penciled:

Friday night

Clear enough. The junk named Wave-subduing Moonlight would arrive at Port Santur earlier than had been expected—on Friday night, and this was Tuesday! Three more days. Would the girl be ready by then? It meant getting away from the palace early, shortly after dark. The road must be covered on foot. The junk would probably sail at dawn, if the tide were right—not until day fully broke, in any case.

With a shrug, Brundage folded the precious red paper and put it away in an inside pocket of his white shirt. Then he removed the shirt and laid it aside until Friday. When his breakfast came next morning, he despatched a note to Miss Hampton, asking her to be ready for a ride in half an hour. He found her waiting for him, and a syce brought up the horses without orders; the note had obviously been read en route. In her brief greeting he read a certain tenseness, a swift anxiety, but made no comment. Neither of them spoke until the palace and village were behind, and they were heading along the avenue of great casuarina trees leading to the hills.

"Well?" asked Brundage. "Trouble?"

"No, and yes." She laughed, nervously. He saw that she was gripped by emotion. "I've got what I came here for; Mr. Brundage that is, part of it. And now I must take the action I had contemplated—and it isn't easy. It had always looked so simple! But when one is on the ground and facing realities, things are very different."

Brundage pondered over this solemnly. "Hm! I suppose so," he returned. "By the way, there's just one method open to us of getting out of here. A Chinese junk will call at Port Santur Friday night, taking us on to Malacca, where you'll be safe in British territory. Are you figuring on looting the sultan's treasure?"

"Something like that, yes," she said, to his astonishment. "I know you don't understand, but I don't feel like asking for help yet—I want to carry this through on my own, as far as I can do it. I've asked the sultan for an interview tonight, and I'm to see him at nine o'clock. Could you be present?"

"Yes," said Brundage.

"Tell me something, please." As she spoke, Brundage saw her face assume firmer lines, and her eyes were reflective. "How long has Hoffman been here?"

"One year under-resident, two years as resident."

"And Vanderhout?"

"Four years here, and about fifteen in this part of Sumatra."

"And Onderdonk?"

"Let's see about five months, I believe. He was transferred here from Celebes."

"So that explains it!" she exclaimed. Then she felt beneath her tunic and pulled out an envelope, which she handed over to Brundage. "Read that this afternoon, will you? And if anything happens to me, see that it gets home. It will explain everything to you, so you'll understand what I'm going to do tonight."

He nodded and pocketed the envelope. The girl laughed softly.

"Thank you! Now—let's ride and forget our troubles!"

Brundage shrugged.


IT WAS very hot, this Wednesday afternoon. Even the tree-shaded reaches of the palace grounds, usually touched by some faint breeze, were blazing and listless. The sun smote down with suffocating whiteness, and oddly enough reminded Brundage of the same queer suffocating feeling that comes with thick snow. Snow! He laughed at thought of such a thing, as he strode toward the building occupied by Vanderhout, in one corner of the grounds.

More and more, as time passed, he had thought of Hang La's estimate, so that his mind had come to dwell with reflective anticipation upon Onderdonk, up in the hills. The others here were bad enough, thought Brundage, but he'd best them somehow; he was none too sure about Hajji Ishak, though he thought the sultan would hold off for very fear; but Onderdonk grew in importance. Perhaps the man would not return before Friday night, though.

"If not, all right," thought Brundage. "And why did she want to know how long each of these three had been here? To make sure, of course. Onderdonk—can she dream of trusting to him for help, as she was about to trust Hoffman? Perhaps. He wasn't there last year, had no connection with that ugly business of the Simkins woman—"

He paused, as a tall white shape slipped across the sunlight to one side and vanished again. Hajji Ishak going about some errand, wearing the curved scimitar that girded him when he was in attendance on the sultan.

Brundage stared after the lean shape, and frowned. After all, what was certain in this unreal nook of the world among the hills? One could not plan, one could count on nothing. Only the unexpected could happen. Just as the letter written by Marjorie Hampton had been totally unexpected to him, staggering him with its revelations.

Then, too, this request that he come to see Vanderhout after the siesta hour—a request negligently made over the noon meal, low-voiced, that the others might not hear. A hint of mystery? Well, the hot insufferable sunlight made all things prosaic. Vanderhout would not go to any desperate ends—probably wanted to try persuasion or bribery. Well enough! It suited Brundage to kill time, until tonight. Now that he knew what manner of game was being played, now that all things were clear to him, he could take care of himself. Yet what an amazing creature, this English girl—what a passion for independence, for doing it all by herself! Admiration surged anew in him, as he mounted the steps of Vanderhout's bungalow. How little he had known her—how little these other men knew her! And just now, they were going forward to a fine awakening!

Brundage was smiling a little at this thought, when Vanderhout admitted him in person with a cordial greeting. He was ushered into a large, cool chamber, half office, half luxurious salon, where the lattices were drawn.

"Now a drink," said the fat Dutchman. "I have waited until you came here is some ginger beer, which I do not like, but. I shall share it with you none the less, eh?"

Brundage lighted a cigaret and waited. Vanderhout opened the ginger beer, filled a shaker with ice and squareface and the gingery drink, and grinned widely as he shook it up.

"Hoffman has gone for a ride alone,' he observed. "He will come home a little richer; he usually does. Now, what good can money do except to provide comfort? I do not like these hoarders, who save against the morrow. It is much better to enjoy today, before we die!"

He poured the drinks, preened his little mustache, lifted his glass. Brundage sipped the beverage, still silent. Vanderhout chuckled.

"If I had desired—just to rub a few leaves inside the glass. Eh? Well, I am not a poisoner. I asked you here in order to tell you something important."

"Yes?" said Brundage.

The Dutchman reached out to a small, wide box of ebony and brass. He opened it and plucked forth a cheroot. Then he pushed the box at Brundage.

"Some of Ibrahim's special make, a very fine blend. Hm! This is a delicate matter—"

He paused, turned, stared frowningly at his desk. Brundage was in no hurry; he put his cigaret into an ash-tray, picked up one of the cheroots. Vanderhout sighed, roused himself, struck a match and held it out to Brundage, then lighted his own long, whitish cheroot from the same match.

"I've taken thought," he said reflectively, puffing out great clouds of tobacco as he spoke. "I do not think it would be wise for me to become at all active in this matter. I am a selfish old man, and I like comfort—I do not pretend to any altruistic motives, you see! To put it bluntly, since you have interested yourself in this affair, I believe it will not end without some one getting hurt—perhaps without some noise in the world. And so I wanted to let you know that I capitulate."

Brundage smiled slightly. The cheroot was indeed excellent, and if he were surprised at the cordiality of this reception, he did not show it. He smoked in silence, not thinking of his cheroot but of Vanderhout. The old rascal was clever; what lay behind all this? It was some game, of course. Brundage watched him, gray eyes narrowed and alert.

"You think I am lying?" The Dutchman turned abruptly and glared at Brundage, cheroot gripped in one corner of his mouth, smoke bellowing forth with every word.

"I would not put it quite so bluntly," said Brundage.

The other chuckled, smoothed his shiny pate with one hand, let ripples of mirth run across his fat countenance. All the while, he smoked hard.

"You are frank, eh? Well, I can not blame you. Let me tell you why I gave in."

He talked, using many words yet saying very little; he had become garrulous, and ran along endlessly on the subject of wanting to avoid trouble. All the while Brundage searched some sort of clue, puzzled and vigilant. He began sharply to suspect some trap, yet he could pitch upon nothing. A servant came with ice, and Vanderhout turned on him angrily.

"Bring nothing! Give orders no one is to disturb me until I call-no one! Go!"

The man went.

Vanderhout swung around and puffed again, and went on talking.

Suddenly Brundage had it. Usually the fat Dutchman smoked leisurely, with enjoyment—this heavy puffing was unnatural. Why? The smoke was pungent, aromatic, rich. Idly, Brundage took the cheroot from his mouth, held it poised as though intent upon the other's words; the thin trickle of ascending smoke reached his nostrils. At the same instant he became conscious of a slight mental incapacity as it were, a gap. Yet the odd odor of his cheroot now reached his palate, distinct from the blue smoke all around.

A few moments more perhaps a minute more!

Brundage carefully put the cheroot between his teeth again, and as carefully did all his breathing through his nose. He exhaled through the cheroot, thus giving vent to a cloud of smoke that had not entered his mouth. Then he relaxed in his chair and listened.

After a little he took out the cheroot and broke in abruptly on the flow of words.

"I don't feel—why, what's the matter? Things look queer—"

Brundage's hand fell, and the cheroot rolled on the floor. Vanderhout carefully put a large foot upon it and extinguished the sparks. Then he looked up, regarded Brundage with a slow smile, and asked a question.

"You are not well?"

"I—no, not at all—my brain—doesn't work—"

BRUNDAGE'S head fell forward, his eyes closed. Vanderhout chuckled and watched him for a moment. "Well," he observed at length, with a sigh, "I am sorry you would have it so! But those who would fight must take the consequences. And now you become a naked brown coolie and go to the mines, and slave out your life! A hard fate for such as you; but better you than me."

With this philosophic reflection, Vanderhout swung his chair about and faced his desk. He reached for some papers, then chuckled again.

"So! You will be a little mad for two or three days, then you will gradually come to yourself. Too late! It is always too late, eh?"

Vanderhout leaned forward, dipped pen in ink, and began to sign the papers.

Behind him, silent as a shadow, Brundage lifted his head, opened his eyes, looked at the ponderous bowed shoulders of the Dutchman. A glimmer of ironic amusement flickered in those gray eyes of his. He lifted his hand, gathered his muscles, brought his body forward—then, swift as light, flung out hand and body. The outer edge of his hand struck the nape of the fat neck, squarely athwart.

Vanderhout's head fell forward on the desk, the pen fell from his fingers, his body became limp and relaxed. This one blow, in such a spot, had momentarily paralyzed him.

With rapidity, Brundage knotted his handkerchief to that of his victim, and tied the man's wrists behind his back. Then he turned to the brass and ebony box, examined the cheroots attentively, nodded to himself, and selected one. He poured himself a drink, lighted a cigaret, and waited.

Presently Vanderhout stirred, heaved his bulk, lifted himself. He swung his chair around slightly until he met the amused gaze of Brundage, who held a pistol negligently. The face of Vanderhout slowly paled and became ashen.

"Better you than me," said Brundage mockingly. "Those who would fight must take the consequences. I would be delighted to shoot you, Vanderhout; instead, I'll ask you to smoke this cheroot. If it's not doped with your infernal native herbs, you get off lightly. If it is, then you'll be out of the way for two or three days—out of harm's way, I should say! Now, let us have no noise. I shall shoot first and explain afterward. Very clever little trap of yours, I must confess—very cleverly done! Here you are."

He leaned forward, offering the cheroot. Vanderhout's face purpled again.

"I will not!" he snapped. "Do you know that I can call—"

"But you'll not," said Brundage. "Come, consider! I shall certainly put a bullet through your rotten heart. On the other hand, you'll be out of it, with nothing very bad. One way, you lose everything. The other, you'll be out of danger for a while! Take your choice. You're too clever a man to argue about it, I trust."

True enough, Vanderhout perceived instantly that he had lost the game beyond recall, and in the eyes of Brundage he read only too clearly that he was not dealing with any weakling. And being a good player, the man took his medicine.

"Very well," he said. "But—this means your finish."

Brundage only smiled and held out the cheroot. Vanderhout took it between his teeth, pallor crept again into his visage, but he puffed as Brundage held a match. Then he settled back in his chair.

Ten minutes afterward, Brundage leaned forward and put his foot upon the glowing tip of the fallen cheroot exactly as Vanderhout had done previously. He loosened the limp wrists of his unconscious victim, let the heavy body sag in the chair, then straightened up. Sudden alarm gripped him; he felt a deadly inertia, knew a swift horrible need for the open air. Now he realized why Vanerdhout had created that screen of smoke—the drug worked by virtue of its own aroma, poisoned a whole room!

The tang of it in his lungs, seizing at his brain, Brundage staggered to the doorway. He stood outside for a moment, gasping in the fresh hot air, then remembered his helmet and forced himself to go back after it, despite his loathing of the room. He looked at Vanderhout; well, the man was out of this game now, out of things for the next day or two!

Brundage got into the open air again, somehow, desperately battling off the acute lethargy of his brain, fighting to keep himself alert and in hand. He could scarcely do it. Twice he staggered and had to halt, grimly resolved not to go down, summoning up every atom of energy and will force to keep himself going ahead.

After a time he came to his own quarters. He was vaguely conscious of meeting Hajji Ishak, read the questioning of those two-colored eyes, saw the thin smile on the lean hawk-face of the Hazrami. No matter. He won to his own room again, locked the door, and then fell across his bed.

When Brundage wakened, it was darkening into evening; a servant was at his door, announcing dinner. He called response, forced himself up, drove himself into action. While he dressed, he remembered that this was Wednesday night—Marjorie Hampton wanted him at that interview with the sultan at nine o'clock, after dinner!

He groaned a little. Recalling the girl's letter, he placed it with Hang La's card, glancing over its pages again before pinning it securely in his other shirt. He doused his head with tepid water, trying desperately to clear his brain, but it was still half fogged. And tonight of all times, with the girl depending on him to stand by!

When he joined Hoffman at dinner, one giance at the lantern-jawed young Dutchman was enough. The man knew.

"Where's Vanderhout?" he asked. Hoffman regarded him, narrow-eyed, appraising.

"Laid up."

Hoffman wanted to ask a question, yet hesitated. Brundage forced himself to the attack. Naturally, the sultan had informed him of the interview.

"No bridge tonight, then. Billiards?" Hoffman shook his head. "No. Business."

"Business all around," said Brundage. "You'll have a surprise."

"So?" observed Hoffman. "You know?"

"More than you," returned Brundage. "May be a bit unpleasant for you, I'm afraid; but it'd be still more unpleasant if you pulled wires and called off the interview."

The deep eyes widened slightly. A hit! Brundage smiled.

"Better send for Onderdonk," he said. "You may need him."

"I think not," said Hoffman cryptically, and then held his peace.

Brundage, too, said no more; the brief effort at concentration had wearied him, jagged him enormously. Hoffman meant to wait and see what the girl had in mind, and with this Brundage was quite content. Much would depend on Sultan Ibrahim, but knowing his natives, Brundage had no confidence in the event; the sultan, he felt certain, would turn to active enmity.

What matter? It was the girl's game—let her play it.


IT WAS curious, that interview—queer things about it impressed Brundage, in his present mental condition, which ordinarily he might have passed by.

It took place in the palace library, a European room, and Ibrahim wore dinner clothes, thus showing he did not anticipate anything unusual. Had he expected trouble, he would have stuck to native costume, since this would have put him at his ease and kept his brain alert. Beside him, as usual, stood Hajji Ishak, his white garments belted with a golden girdle that carried his sword—a curved scimitar in a sheath of ebony, its hilt of old yellow ivory studded with smooth-worn coral knobs. This Arab swordsman might be an anachronism, but he was none the less dangerous.

Hoffman, sprawled comfortably in an armchair, chatted with the sultan, and Brundage said little. Both men rose when the girl was announced. At her entry, a sudden light came into the brown dish-face of the Sultan Ibrahim, and then he also rose.

"Good evening, Miss Hampton!" he exclaimed, cordially. "I am about to have coffee served, and if you will join us—"

"Thank you, not now," she returned as he paused. She was looking a little pale, thought Brundage, yet perfectly controlled. Knowing what was coming, he marveled at her absolute poise.

There was brief silence. Somewhere a clock ticked loudly. Hoffman, standing beside his chair, his cheroot forgotten, watched the girl with hawk-like gaze, tensed and waiting. Brundage watched her, endeavoring to keep his faculties clear and sharp by concentrating on her peril. Hajji Ishak watched her, and fingered his sword-hilt furtively, his lean brown features drawn taut. Tension all around him, the sultan lost his smile, looked irresolutely at the girl.

"Yes?" he said. "You want to talk with me? In private?"

"No. I asked Mr. Brundage to be here," she replied. "It's quite a little story, and it may be unpleasant, but I think you really should listen to it, your highness."

"With pleasure." The sultan looked somewhat at a loss, and sat down. "A chair, Miss Hampton—please do not stand."

"Thank you." Composedly, she seated herself. "It's about my predecessor here, who called herself Miss Simkins. That was not really her name, you know."

The slight touch of irony in those last words drove deep. Sultan Ibrahim frowned at the name, then he looked astonished and confused. This slender, cool-eyed English girl was not at all helpless, not at all in his power, and he was distinctly ill at ease before her. Hoffman started slightly and stared at her, intent on her words.

"Perhaps you did not know so much about her," went on Miss Hampton. She showed a little roll of thin paper in her hand. "Shall I tell you her story? She was one of a large family, fatherless, impoverished. She read in an advertisement that a governess was wanted out here; the advance pay offered would be a godsend to her mother and sisters. So she changed her name, took the position, and came. You know what happened after she got here."

They knew. Hoffman moved uneasily. Sultan Ibrahim nodded, and wrinkled up his monkey-face in a semblance of compassion.

"Yes, very sad," he said, "We did what we could for her—"

The girl smiled, and before her eyes his words died out.

"Yes, you did what you could," she repeated. "She wrote out all you did for her, your highness—you, and Mynheer Hoffman here, and Mynheer Vanderhout. She wrote out how she was drugged, how she appealed to this man Hoffman, to Vanderhout, how they laughed at her. She wrote out everything that took place, the shame, the insults, the treachery, up to the very day of her death. Mr. Brundage, please take care of these papers."

She held out the roll, and Brundage took it, pocketed it.

Hoffman's face was slowly drained of color. Sultan Ibrahim shook his head, blankly.

"I do not know what you are talking about," he said. "There were no insults—and how could she have written such things? She sent off no letters."

"No—you saw to that," said the girl, and he squirmed a little. "But she had a Bible with a hidden pocket in the binding, and she put the papers there. Her name was Hampton, and she was my sister. Now you know why I came here, your highness."

It broke on them suddenly, with calm abruptness, and Brundage smiled to himself at the effect of her words.

Hoffman's gray, cavernous visage had become streaked with sweat that glinted dully in the subdued light, and his deep eyes held a horrible light of realization; one could fairly see the stark thoughts rioting in his brain. These few words threatened him with absolute wreck and ruin. Exposure and disgrace meant that he would be stripped—that all he had garnered with such bitter pains would be snatched out of his clutch. The roll of thin paper in Brundage's pocket would do it, and the prospect horrified him.

Sultan Ibrahim evinced no such emotion, naturally enough. He had nothing to fear and was untouched by any dread. His uneasiness, however, became actual perturbation. Behind the steady calmness of the girl, he read scorn and enmity; in the smile of Brundage, he read contempt and ridicule. These things lashed him more than any fear could have done. At the same time, he realized it was a bad mess, and his instinct was to get out of it quickly as possible at any cost.

"I think there is some mistake," he began.

"There is none," broke in the voice of Brundage, regardless of etiquette. The curt words fell like a hammer-blow, and smashed all the defenses of the sultan, smashed all his ready lies and evasion. He peered at Brundage, then looked back at the girl.

"Well," he said petulantly, "well, then, what do you want? You did not come here to be a governess, then?"

"No, I did not—I came to find out about the fate of my sister, and I have succeeded. And you are going to pay."

She regarded him calmly, level assurance in eyes and voice. Sultan Ibrahim squirmed under this glance; he was lashed to the very soul in his Muslim's pride by thus being faced down by a woman—yet he was helpless. He glanced to Hoffman for guidance, and Hoffman stood mute, obviously recovering from blank consternation. This startled the sultan anew.

"I—this—it's ridiculous," he said, half rising. "The interview is ended."

"Very well," said Brundage, his heavy voice again striking its hammer-like blow. "Then we go to Batavia, to the Government. Take your choice."

The sultan relaxed in his big chair. He gave Brundage one viperish look.

"So this is why you're here? You'll be sorry," he snapped. "All right. What do you want? What must I do?"

No fight in him, of course—Brundage had expected this attitude. The danger would come afterward, from such a man. For the moment, Ibrahim wanted only to get rid of this bother, and of the girl.

"You must pay," she said quietly.

"Very well, very well," he returned. "How much do you want?"

"Perhaps you misunderstand," she said gently, watching him with that peculiar baffling smile half visible. "This is not blackmail. None of your money will go to me. It will go to my mother and two younger sisters—and they will not know how it came to them; that would be too bitter! Yet it is only just that you should pay."

"How much?" he reiterated dully, a spark of impatience in his eyes.

"Five thousand English pounds."

Anger glimmered in his face, but vanished again. It was a large sum for this little hill sultan; yet he could well enough manage it.

"I will pay," he said. "Are you satisfied?"

"Hardly," struck in Brundage, as the girl hesitated. He perceived she was not quite sure of what should come next, and took the situation into his own hands. "We should like a bill on the Government, approved by Mynheer Hoffman, the resident."

"Impossible!" exclaimed Hoffman sharply. Brundage turned and looked at him.

"Impossible? Think!"

Hoffman met the tacit menace of eye and word with the firmness of desperation.

"Don't you see? There must be a strict accounting, an explanation—"

"That's your affair," said Brundage coldly. "Sweat over it!"

Hoffman stood like an image for a moment, his nostrils quivering slightly. Then he drew a deep breath and nodded, as though recognizing the inevitability of his assent.

"Very well."

All this while Hajji Ishak had stood frowning, understanding little of the English that was spoken, yet comprehending somewhat of the scene. Now the sultan turned with a word to him, and he departed. Presently writing materials were brought, and Sultan Ibrahim's secretary cunningly brushed out a document in florid Arabic characters. When it was finished, Brundage looked it over, and suggested it be written in Hollandsch as well. Scowling, Hoffman made the copy in his own language, signed and approved them both, and the sultan then appended his own signature and seal.

Watching, Brundage saw the glance exchanged between Ibrahim and Hoffman. As the papers were handed to the girl, he spoke out.

"When is the next boat for the straits?" Hoffman frowned slightly, but under the drawn brows his eyes flashed exultantly.

"A week from tomorrow."

"Very well—we'll remain until then. Our ride in the morning, Miss Hampton? I'll have the horses ready at the usual hour."

The girl nodded and rose, made her farewells, departed. Brundage lighted a cigaret. He felt more like himself by this time, and began to enjoy the situation.

"By Allah!" said the sultan, with compressed fury. He sat motionless, gripping his chair-arms, his snaky eyes fastened on Brundage. "You have dared too far!"

Brundage laughed.

"Come, your highness! Better take the matter in good humor; you got off lightly enough. Besides, since I'm to be your guest for the next week, better be pleasant about it, eh? You and Mynheer Hoffman both."

"That is true," said Hoffman, so that Ibrahim jerked a look of astonishment at him. "Yes, your highness, it is good advice."

Brundage looked at the resident, and smiled openly. He could read the man's mind like a bit of written parchment. Irresolute, under Hoffman's thumb, the sultan fell silent, yet his bitter eyes spoke volumes.

“You've beaten us," and Hoffman met the gaze of Brundage squarely, almost amusedly. "No doubt about that; and the best thing we can do is to grin and bear it. What about a string of billiards?"

"By all means," said Brundage. Hoffman glanced at Sultan Ibrahim, but that worthy only growled in his throat and shook his head.

THE two white men departed to the billiard-room. Hoffman was cordial, restrained, fully in control of every word, look and act, bearing himself as though the incident were entirely closed. This attitude amused Brundage, but he was careful not to strain it too far. He knew now, in his own mind, that he must kill Hoffman before escape were possible.

When the two men put up their cues and racked the balls away, Hoffman turned quietly.

"So far as I'm concerned," he said, "it's over. But I can't answer for Ibrahim. I can only say—look out! You know what these natives are."

"Thanks," said Brundage. "Good night!"

As he fell asleep, he smiled again at Hoffman's abrupt dropping of enmity—as though it would fool any one! He now knew exactly what to expect, almost to the hour and minute.

When he put Marjorie Hampton into her saddle next morning, she greeted him with her usual cheery smile, but neither spoke until the palace was well behind. Then she turned to him with a grave look.


"Well what?" said Brundage whimsically.

"Ever so much! I want to thank you, too. Shall I ask you for help now?"

He nodded thoughtfully. "I imagine so. You've done your part, played your own game and won it. You didn't lose those papers last night?"

"No." Her fingers went to her throat. "Your question about the boat saved me that. But now I wouldn't know what to do, without you, unless I went to the hotel in Port Santur and waited for the boat."

A hard smile touched the lips of Brundage.

"Of course. They don't know about the junk coming tomorrow night—wouldn't connect us with it in any case! As it stands now, the affair is simple enough, from their view-point. Hoffman will be the first to act; must protect himself. The sultan depends wholly upon him, too, like a child, and won't take any initiative with Hoffman standing by. That's what worries me."

She puckered up her brows. "Eh? It worrries you—what does?"

"What Ibrahim will do after I kill Hoffman."

The color ebbed from her cheeks. "You're not—in earnest? About killing him?"

Brundage gave her a grave, slow look.

"Is this a child's game, young woman?"

"I know; but—but you must not run such risks! They'd not actually hurt me—"

Brundage only laughed, and at the sound. of it she fell silent. For a little they rode on without speaking, until she ventured a word.

"Why—why kill anybody?"

"To live," said Brundage simply "Vanderhout made the first try; he failed. He'll not be up and around for a day or two. Hoffman won't try any half-way measure this time. He'll fail. I only hope Onderdonk doesn't get back before tomorrow—I'm afraid of Onderdonk."

"He wasn't here last year," she pointed out.

"He was when you came," said Brundage dryly.

"Then—you will try to get aboard that junk?"

"No try about it—we must do it! We'll go riding at the usual time tomorrow morning, and instead of returning, go straight for Port Santur. We may make it, may not—it all depends. Hoffman will be dead, and Sultan Ibrahim may set that cursed Arab of his on us."

"You seem very sure, about Hoffman, I mean."

Brundage only shrugged to this, and lighted a cheroot. Presently she questioned him.

"Why not go to Port Santur now?"

He gave her a queer look, wondering. She seemed to have no imagination at all yet he knew better. Odd bundle of contrasts every woman the same!

"Too dangerous," he said, "Two or three whites there, but rather a bad lot and all of them together daren't oppose Hoffman. He'd get us tonight sure. figure that it's much better to let him mak his try right here, and settle him. He'll try for me, knowing that you could be handled well enough if I were gone; besides I'm keeping your sister's letter or whatever it is, and he's afraid of that document. if all goes well and we light out for th harbor tomorrow, we'll throw 'em all of balance. Before Ibrahim can make any plans, we'll be gone. Fortunately, Onderdonk is in the hills."

A long speech for Brundage.

"Just what do you expect?" asked the girl in a low voice.

"The unexpected. It will have to be Hoffman himself, however—he'd not trust any one else in the job. Have you been in Hang La's bazar?"

"Once or twice."

"Go again some time this morning. Get hold of Hang La himself and make sure abou the junk coming tomorrow night. I daren't go near him, for fear they'd suspect the truth."

She nodded comprehension, and presently they headed for home again.


BRUNDAGE encountered Hoffman once or twice that day, and found the man invariably cordial. Vanderhout, it appeared, was ill but would be around in a few days. The sultan kept strictly in seclusion; his pride must have been most bitterly affronted. Brundage observed, however, that Hajji Ishak was always somewhere in sight, and understood that the Hazrami was keeping him under observation.

During the afternoon he sent a palace attendant to Miss Hampton with a note. She met him in the gardens, as he requested, and he detected signs of flurry.

"What's the trouble?"

"Nothing—these women are hateful," she said, and smiled. "I think they've been ordered to make my stay here unendurable. Such childishness! But I have bad news for you, I'm afraid. I saw our friend as you asked. It's all right about the junk—but Onderdonk is in Port Santur and will be here tomorrow or Saturday."

Brundage stiffened a little.

"Oh! Very well. Tomorrow morning at the usual time, then. Don't let any one suspect that we're going to decamp. You'll have to leave everything here not even a bundle! By the way, take charge of these."

He handed her an envelope, sealed. She turned it over in her hand, then slipped it out of sight, with an inquiring look.

"Your sister's letter. Also, Hang La's card to the skipper of the junk. In case anything goes wrong with me, it'll take care of things for you. There's your letter to me, too. Look out for the envelope tonight—though I don't believe you'll be bothered. They'll wait until I'm out of the way."

Her eyes widened. "But—you don't fear that—that—"

Brundage shrugged. "I can take care of myself. One never knows, however; we might get separated, and the main thing is for you to make that junk. I'm safe enough, but you're not."

He returned to his own rooms, more perturbed than he cared to reveal by this news. Onderdonk in Port Santur! That was bad. Undoubtedly a messenger had already gone to him from Hoffman.

"Looks like a trap all around," thought Brundage, loading and pocketing his pistol as he dressed for dinner. This news had shaken him oddly. More and more he was fearing the absent Onderdonk, for Hang La's words rooted deeper every day, as he realized more clearly his mastery over the others.

He said little at dinner, regarded Hoffman with curious gaze, marveling at how easily he pierced the man's subtle mask, wondering at his own surety of killing Hoffman this same night. Between one and two, he thought to himself.

"I'm getting off some letters to Port Santur in the morning," said Hoffman genially, over the coffee. "Would you like me to order passage for you and Miss Hampton on the mail-boat next week? Even if they're filled up, you know, they'll have to take you aboard at an official request."

"Very good of you, thanks," said Brundage. "If it won't bother you—"

"Nonsense!" Hoffman laughed, then regarded him with an affectation of frankness. "I'm glad to do what I can—to make up, you see. It was rather a beastly mess, as the English say; and I'm rather glad things have turned out as they have. I suppose Ibrahim is still sulking in the harem. Shall we have a string?"

They adjourned to the billiard-room, wiled away an hour, then parted for the night. Brundage got an English magazine from the library and took it to bed until he fell asleep over it. He had set his brain to waken him at one o'clock, however.

PRECISELY at one he wakened, got out of bed, slipped his feet into the waiting pumps. The palace was silent, dark. Brundage arranged the "Dutch Wife" bolster in his bed to simulate his own figure, drew the mosquito curtains, and settled down in the depths of a big chair six feet from the bed. Close beside his hand was an electric torch, and his pistol was in his lap.

Time passed. A flying fox barked monotonously in the gardens, and night-birds lifted recurrent voices; it was difficult to remain awake, but Brundage had motive to hold him vigilant. He had purposely left his door unlocked.

Abruptly, he tensed—there was the swift, firm footstep which he had anticipated. None dared question the resident in his comings or goings about the palace grounds, at any hour; Hoffman had no need of stealth. The footstep ceased. In the room stirred a breath of air. Silently the door had opened; now it closed again, invisible, with only the faintest of sounds. Hoffman was here, in the room. Eyes accustomed to darkness, Brundage could distinctly glimpse the patch of white that was Hoffman, standing motionless against the door. He lifted his pistol, then, as his finger tightened, something suddenly broke in him. Resolution died.

The few seconds seemed an hour, while he struggled with himself, or rather with the singular weakness that had seized upon him. It was not mercy—he regarded Hoffman as a reptile to be snuffed out. It was not fear he had nothing to be afraid of from the man's death. It was not calculation—he had already weighed the whole thing, had determined that Hoffman's death was necessary to the escape of the girl. Further, the man stood in bitter need of punishment. What, then, held his finger and gripped icily at his brain?

Perhaps it was the will of Marjorie Hampton, flung out blindly at him in the night. A soft slither of feet on the matting; Hoffman was coming forward to the bed. With a beading of sweat on his face, Brundage laid the pistol in the chair beside him, held ready the electric torch, gathered his muscles. He was used to obeying instinct; if it were instinct telling him not to kill this man, well and good.

Hoffman paused again, and in the silence Brundage caught a soft slithering noise—a knife slipped from its sheath. Then Hoffman leaped. He dove headlong at the bed, ripped aside the flimsy curtains with his weight, plunged his knife down repeatedly.

The beam of the electric torch caught him there, back turned, as he knelt on the bed and stabbed. An instant he was paralyzed by realization, then he straightened and swung about, too swiftly. For, as he swung, the fist of Brundage landed fairly at the angle of his long jaw, under the ear.

No more was needed, Hoffman fell sprawling across the bed and lay there, senseless.

Brundage rubbed his knuckles, numbed by the blow, then stood the electric torch on end so that it illumined the whole room.

He picked up the knife, and found it a long native weapon, gold-inlaid, sheathed in shagreen and brass. With it he went to his towel rack, selected a bath-towel, and slit this into long strips. He bound Hoffman wrist and ankle, very firmly, then gagged him efficiently if cruelly, dropped him to the floor, and rolled him beneath the bed, throwing the knife and sheath after him. Then he switched off the light and reflected.

After all, he was inexpressibly relieved that he had not shot the man. Necessary? No—folly, to think Hoffman's death necessary! As for punishment, here was a far keener punishment than death. Hoffman would not be discovered until some time in the afternoon, when the room was made up. To be found here, trussed and gagged, would be a bitter pill for the resident; he would become a laughing stock in native eyes, would be forced to apply for a change of post—his influence would be gone. The knife, the ripped curtains and bedding, would tell their own story, and it would follow wherever he went, a millstone hung about his neck by native tongues.

Brundage put away the pistol, kicked off his pumps, climbed back into bed and went to sleep.

MORNING brought readjustment. The servant who placed his breakfast on the table evidently had received orders to look around, for Brundage caught his sharp glances at the tattered bed-curtains. Hoffman was well out of sight, however, and the man departed. Brundage drew up a chair and attacked his breakfast heartily, knowing he would get nothing more to eat until he reached Port Santur.

He was more than a little pleased with the way things had turned out. The attitude of the servant, however, had shown him that Hoffman was already missed—probably had been seen coming here in the night. They would not wait until afternoon to search, then; but what matter? All Brundage wanted was to get out of here, and over the hill to the sea.

"The best of it is," he reflected, "the rascal doesn't dare use his official position against me! It would be a bit too thick. If the thing came into court, he'd be lost—so he's helpless. Awake, Mynheer Hoffman? Sleep some more, then."

A muffled sound from beneath the bed made response, and Brundage chuckled as he filled a pipe. The main thing, he knew, was to keep the disappearance of Hoffman a mystery until he had gone. Otherwise Sultan Ibrahim would be all too apt to fling his own men into the game in a burst of petulant fury; he might do it anyway, but Brundage hoped not, trusting that indecision and uncertainty would tie his hands.

So he shaved and dressed, whistling blithely, and made ready for his departure. Pistol in jacket pocket, money and papers secure, he glanced at his watch—ten minutes yet. A knock came at the door, and in reply to his command, Hajji Ishak entered.

The gaunt Arab saluted with fingers to brow, lips and breast, his brown and blue eyes darted once around the room, then he spoke to Brundage, in French.

"We are looking for Mr. Hoffman. He has not been here?"

Brundage shrugged. "Perhaps. I woke up half an hour or more ago, and have not seen him since then. Is he lost, then?"

Hajji Ishank touched his sword-hilt significantly.

"By Allah! I have eyes," he muttered in Arabic. He gave a start of astonishment when Brundage flung a snarl at him in his own language.

"Then use them, misbegotten cur! And when you have used them, begone. It is a good saying among the Persians: 'If you meet in your road an adder and a Hazrami, slay the Hazrami.' Let me not meet you in my road, or I shall fling you out into the garden after the thief who came in the night!"

A flicker of rage shook the gaunt brown face, but it was gone at once. Hajji Ishak glanced at the windows, then turned and departed in silence. Obviously, he had gone to seek any trace of Hoffman in the gardens.

BRUNDAGE smiled, yet his smile ended in a frown. The man's insolence showed the peril. Clearer still it stood revealed when Brundage went to the stables to pick the horses himself, as was his habit. What rumors had flown about, he had no means of telling, but the results were plain enough. The syces were surly, laughing, even insolent an astounding state of affairs. Brundage could only conclude that they had received direct orders to provoke him if possible, and bring about some fracas which would give Hajji Ishak or the guards cause to intervene.

Therefore he refused to be provoked. Instead—as he later recalled, to his sorrow—he drew out his pistol, inspected it, put it in his pocket again, and selected the best horses to be found. The syces saddled up under his cold eye, and he affected not to hear their comments as they worked. Brundage, in truth, was now in a sweat to be off and away from the palace as swiftly as possible; uneasiness had seized upon him, and the uncertainty of the situation here was most disquieting. He would not breathe easily until he had Marjorie Hampton in the saddle and at his side, for it was entirely possible she might be prevented from leaving her rooms.

So he dared not risk any outbreak, but tightened the girths himself, adjusted the stirrups, and nodded to a syce to lead out the horses. The syce obeyed. At the same instant, a sudden commotion arose—a horse came plunging and kicking from his stall with a shrill scream of terror or pain, a white stallion whose hooves were lashing out.

At once the place leaped into pandemonium. Another horse plunged out, men came shouting and running, syces yelled wild oaths. Brundage was caught in a swirl of figures and carried along into a corner, jammed there by a rush of the maddened stallion. A man went down under the flying hooves, and another.

Thinking this some trap, every sense on the alert, Brundage watched for a glint of steel, but none came. The hillmen were thinking only of the white stallion. There was a concerted rush, and he was captured, while Brundage fought clear and hastened after his two horses. He overtook them, mounted, and dismissed the syce, as he took them around to the entrance. He saw Marjorie Hampton standing there, waiting, and a sense of tremendous relief overwhelmed him. All was right, then—

No! Something was wrong, somewhere. He was aware of it, yet could not place it. As he came up to the girl and met her anxious eyes, he saluted smilingly.

"Did—did it happen?" she demanded. He stared at her for an instant, before he remembered Hoffman.

"Oh—that!" He laughed suddenly. "No, not as I looked for. It happened, but I didn't do him any damage."

"Good! I'm very glad," she exclaimed. He put her up to the saddle, then she twisted about and looked at him. "What's happened? Why, half your coat is gone—"

Brundage clapped hand to side, looked down. He knew now what was wrong. In that press of men, some one had adroitly used a knife after all—not to injure him, but to slice out a bit of his jacket. And in the missing fragment was most of his pocket, with its pistol.

For an instant he stood, impelled to seek the stables and regain his pistol—yet what use? He would never get it back, would never find it. Such action would only cause delay. With a gesture of decision, he swung up into the saddle.

"What's the matter?" she demanded again. Brundage gave her a look.

"They've disarmed me, that's all.. Come along! We're away—that's the great thing!"

Five minutes later they were out of the palace grounds. But Brundage, thinking of his lost pistol and how Onderdonk lay ahead of them, moaned to himself.


PERHAPS the girl divined his thought, for she regarded him a moment, then spoke.

"Hang La?"

"Eh! No." Brundage, a little startled by her acumen, shook his head. "The Dutch are a bit strict with firearms, you know. He'd have nothing, and wouldn't give it to me if he had. No, let it go we'll win through somehow. Is your envelope all safe?"

"Quite, thanks," she returned cheerfully. "And we're really off for Port Santur?"

Brundage nodded, assumed a confidence he did not feel, and spoke of what lay ahead. In reality he was heavily oppressed, not by the loss of the pistol, but by an indefinable sense of foreboding. He could not forget the cruel face of Hajji Ishak, knowing well of what the Hazrami were capable if once turned loose. And more than all, the fact of Onderdonk being ahead of them in Port Santur, perhaps on his way over the hill this moment!

"You're a fool," he told himself savagely, "to let the loss of a gun knock you out! What good is a pistol, anyhow? Not a bit. It's all in the man holding it. Brace up!"

Just as the palace and town were drowned from sight by the green foliage all around a figure appeared in the road ahead, abruptly leaving the shelter of the trees. A glance showed Brundage that it was a Chinaman, awaiting them. With a word to the girl, he passed on ahead of her, and drew rein. The saffron-faced figure held up a parcel in silence.

"From Hang La?" asked Brundage.

The other noded, turned, and slipped in among the trees again without a word. Opening a corner of the matting-wrapped package, Brundage discovered that the old celestial had sent them food. He was startled by the implication. Hang La, then, had guessed how and when they would leave!

"A wise old man, that Hang La," commented Miss Hampton, and sighed. "I liked him. Well, we have only to stop beside a brook, and we're all right!”

Brundage smiled. "No brooks. However, there's a spring on the hill road, and we'll get to it in a couple of hours if we push on. With the horses, we'll make Port Santur long before dark, and all's well. They'll not dare touch us there. Too open."

So they rode on through the hot morning, and presently came to the empty hill road that wound, dipping, then left jungle behind and mounted through the upper reaches of the forest. And, as they turned into it, Brundage realized that his horse was limping. He made no comment on the discovery, but, five minutes afterward, Miss Hampton leaned over and touched his elbow.

"Look! My horse is lame and so is yours—"

"I'll look 'em over. Stone in the shoe, perhaps."

He knew better, however—knew it even as he dismounted. Nor had he far to seek. He looked up and met the questioning eyes of the girl.

"Clever rascals, those," he said calmly. "They've cut the poor brutes across the legs—not enough to hamstring them, but enough to get worse every mile. We can get as far as the spring before we have to abandon them, though."

Her gaze widened. "You mean—oh, no! They'd not be so cruel—"

"Evidently we are to be stopped—and followed if we don't return. Keep going." She refused. "No I can't do it. Let me look."

She joined him, and drew back. It must have struck her like a blow—less the cruelty than the implication. She had been long enough here to realize what the deliberate ruin of these two expensive beasts meant. Evidently the sultan had given his orders, to be obeyed at any cost.

"They'll last to the spring," said Brundage appraisingly. "Up-hill work, and that means strain on the cuts—what devils! That much of the road is the worst for us, too. After that we can go on afoot, most of it down grade."

"No," she said with quiet resolution. Brundage gave her an angry glance.

"What? Why not?"

"The cruelty of it." Her face was a little white. "They're splendid animals, would work their hearts out for us—I can't do it! Every step would be torture, and when we finished with them they would be done for. I couldn't torture the poor dumb things so—"

Brundage drew a deep breath to keep back an oath. As he stared at her, he wondered how he could have deemed her lacking in imagination.

"Look here, none of this foolishness," he said curtly. "Mount and ride! Everything depends on time—don't you realize we'll be followed? These horses can serve us, can assure our escape. What's death, or worse, when balanced against the suffering of an animal? Anyway, they don't feel as we do. It's all in the day's work for them—"

His words died, before that baffling, strange smile in her eyes.

"I'm not a child, really," she said, putting her head on one side and regarding him curiously.

"For heaven's sake be practical!" he exclaimed, with a sinking perception of her resolute character. He was taken back to his first meeting with her in Port Santur—the girl was like a stone wall. "They planned it this way, so the beasts would give out after a few miles. When we don't come back, they'll pursue us. We'll hardly reach that spring, afoot, before they'll be up with us! You can't be in earnest about this."

"But I am," she said. "Quite in earnest."

There was an instant of silence, as her words sank in, and Brundage faced the hard fact of the situation. Then he mastered himself.

"Very well," he said, and shrugged. "Let's be going."

She rewarded him with a smile, but he ignored it, for his heart was hot at her folly. Turning the horses loose to find their way home, he strode up the path beside her, under his arm their bundle of provisions, and maintained a glum silence.

It was not an easy road, being little more than a track, and quite deserted here in the uplands, where huge trees towered on either side and the jungle gave place to giant ferns or open spaces. At times the track ploughed sharply up a hill flank, other times it dragged through masses of old brush where trees had fallen; and always it was deserted. They met only six men the whole way, and these were porters bearing goods belonging to Hang La, who grinned and went their way past.

Marjorie Hampton questioned in regard to the night's events, and presently Brundage resigned himself to the situation as they talked. After all, it had a grimly humorous side, and with a laugh he gave himself into the hand of fate, dismissed his resentment, and met the girl half-way with a grudging admiration for her adherence to inner convictions.

NOON passed; but here in the mountain. uplands the heat was not noticeable. Brundage, who was not a walker, found himself keeping the girl's pace with some difficulty, and was forced to admit. they were making very fair time of it. His fear that she would give way, he now saw, was rather ludicrous—he began to fancy she was stronger than he, for all her seeming fragility.

So, early in the afternoon, with no sign of any pursuit, they came to the spring. It was a tiny trickle from the hillside to the right of the road, caught and held in an old basin of unrotting bilian wood, whence it wound off and vanished in the soil. Over it stood great trees, so that the place was thick with deep shade and very inviting. The hillside rose sharply at the rear, and in either direction was a view of the road for a hundred feet, no more.

"Half an hour, no more," said Brundage, flinging himself down beside the spring.

"Drink from the bowl—after you. Then we'll investigate Hang La's farewell offering."

This, when opened, proved better than good. There were rice cakes, a roast fowl, a packet of some rice concoction, and a bottle of rice-wine; staples, yet excellently cooked and put up with care.

"Hang La's a good sort, in his way," said Brundage, dividing the fowl. "And nobody has come after us—perhaps my foresight was amiss. Let's hope so! After all, our troubles may lie in Port Santur, with Onderdonk. He's a bad 'un."

"Is he?" asked the girl. Brundage gave her a puzzled glance.

"You don't seem to think so."

"I never met him," she returned. "I only saw him the first day I came—he bowed and said nothing. His eyes were not nice to look into."

Brundage only grunted at that. With the food and drink, and the high solitude among the hills, he was feeling much more optimistic.

THE half hour was soon spent, and with it the lunch. Three hundred yards on the back trail was a bend, whence one could see the winding road for nearly a mile below, and before they started Brundage wanted a look back. He rose and lighted a cigaret, his last one.

"Make yourself comfortable until I get back," he said. "I'll have a look to make sure no one's coming after us. Then we'll be off. Down-hill the rest of the way." He strode away, and in two minutes the spring and the figure of Marjorie Hampton were shut from sight. It was no more than a desire to make certainty certain that led Brundage on the back trail. Since Hajji Ishak had not arrived by this time, he was probably not coming at all—fears were vain, anxiety were folly! None the less, one look back on the trail below would make sure.

So, twisting down the hillside, Brundage came to the sharp elbow-bend that looked forth and there he came to a sudden halt. Thirty feet away from him were three saddle-horses; and standing beside these, watching him, were Hajji Ishak and two small brown hillmen.

Much came to Brundage in this instant of immobility. Sixth sense, more than the attitude of the three men, showed him the truth; one of them had gone forward, had sighted the scene at the spring, had returned to Hajji Ishak with word of it. The hunters had come up with the quarry, and the foam-white horses testified to their hard riding. No doubt, others were now following.

Since it was not his way to await attack, Brundage strode forward at the three. None of them, he observed, bore rifles. The two Tamils caused him no worry; these, unused to such dealings with whites, were disconcerted by his advance. Hajji Ishak, however, laughed and came to meet him, hand on sword-hilt. For all his seeming boldness, Brundage was playing no role of folly; true, desperation spurred him, yet he was neglecting no straw at which he might have to snatch. So, when he halted, he had picked the spot carefully.

"By Allah, infidel, we are well met!" said the swaggering Hazrami in Arabic. "Go and get the woman, and come back with us."

"Who am I, to bandy words with such as you?" said Brundage. Hajji Ishak came close, grinned, and tapped him on the arm.

"Listen! Your life lies in my hand—"

Swift as a flash, Brundage struck, thinking to win the whole game with this one blow.

And he all but won it; would have won it, save that the swordsman's eye of Ishak caught a flicker of warning. His fist crashed against the lean chin, and the Arab was knocked all asprawl—yet the vital point had been missed.

With this, the two Tamils were darting in, knives agleam in the sunlight. Brundage had no chance to follow up his blow, so adder-sharp was their attack, so vicious their swoop from either side. He whirled on one of them, caught the knife-wrist as it thrust, held it hard, and dodged. Not quickly enough—steel bit at him from behind, yet he wrenched clear, saw the other man in the act of striking again, and kicked. His heavy boot smashed squarely into the brown chest, and the man fell backward and lay quiet, vomiting blood.

The little brown figure gripped by the wrist was lashing about desperately, striking futile blows. Hajji Ishak was on his feet now, with a mutter of curses, and his sword swept out and up like a flame. Brundage whirled up his captive, flung him over hip, sent him hurtling headlong at the Arab, who was staggered and flung back a pace.

In this instant of respite, Brundage stooped. A few stones lay there in the road, where he had halted—fist-large, rounded pebbles. He plucked up two of them, and straightened; then pain shot through him from his hurt, and for an instant he could not move. The gaunt Hazrami was leaping in. Far below on the winding stretches of the trail were moving objects—Brundage glimpsed them, knew that other pursuers were coming up, knew himself lost.

The blade swung.

With a sudden effort, Brundage dodged the sweep of it, yet the very tip of the curved sword reached him and slit the jacket and shirt and skin beneath it, so that a foot-long sliver of blood crept out across the white of his chest. A wild exhalation broke from Ishak a panting incoherent word of exultancy. The scimitar swung again, glittered, swept down.

Brundage was a yard away when it fell, and the stone left his hand as from a sling. It caught the Hazrami squarely between the eyes, full force. Hajji Ishak flung out his arms, and the blade, escaping from his hand, flew up in a long arc and then tinkled on the road and lay there, but no more quietly than its master.

"It's not—the—steel, but—the man!" gasped out Brundage, and laughed as he looked at the dead Arab lying in the sunlight.

A groan escaped him, and he put his hand to his back, and drew it away crimsoned. That knife had left him in bad shape. The user of it still lay writhing in the dust. The second Tamil had gone away, running, darting in among the trees. The three horses stood clumped together, wondering, cars cocked toward the white man.

Brundage stepped toward them, and every movement was agony, yet he forced himself on, for here lay escape, safety, everything! He came to the fallen blade and stooped, with painful effort, then leaned on it for an instant; his head was swimming, his helmet gone. He must have the helmet at all costs, or the sun would be deadly. He went back and recovered it—precious seconds gone then approached the horses, stumbling as he walked.

He came to them, put hand to saddle, but found himself momentarily helpless.

A shout startled him—there, spurring up the trail, was a rider! With a spurt of energy, Brundage gathered himself together, summoned up every force, clambered into the saddle. The sword went, and he let it go. He grasped at the bridle of the horse beside him, caught up the reins of his own pony. A shot smashed out rolling echoes, the bullet whistled close, and at this the two animals were startled into a forward plunge.

Brundage hung on grimly, helplessly, knowing the foremost pursuer within fifty feet, and urged the ponies on up the slope. He was lost now, his only chance that he could get Marjorie Hampton into a saddle and off, while he somehow blocked this first pursuer. He clung to the saddle, reeled, all but pitched off as they swept about a curve. Then for a moment his head cleared.

Closer now, close behind him, was thundering along the foremost rider. A shrill, eager yell went up. Brundage straightened, as ahead opened out the deep trees and the spring, and the slender figure of the girl standing there. He pulled hard on the reins, drew in the ponies—and then a terrible consternation seized him.

For, beneath the trees, stood another horse, and beside the girl a man, in white. And the man was Onderdonk.

Even as he realized this, even as he came toward them and got the horses to a halt, Brundage saw Onderdonk step out into the sunlight, saw the pistol in his hand jerk up, saw the red flame of it, heard the girl's cry. And that was all.

BRUNDAGE realized vaguely that Marjorie Hampton was supporting him with one arm, while she sopped water on the deep cut under his shoulder; but he had no thought for her or himself. His whole amazed brain was out there with the small, spare, lithe figure in the road, ten feet away.

A deadly little man was Onderdonk, ast the three motionless figures sprawled in the road bore witness. At each jerk of his pistol-hand, the dozen mounted natives before him drew back; their eagerness was gone, and terror was upon them.

"Now go, and tell your master I come," he said. One of them made answer.

"But it was Mynheer Hoffman—"

"Go!" snapped Onderdonk, and the cringing brown men turned their horses and went. But three of them remained, huddled heaps.

Onderdonk put away his pistol and came back to the deep shade of the spring. He stood for a moment staring at Brundage, who heard the girl behind him catch her breath.

"Afraid of me, were you?" he said, in Dutch. "Well, we're all fools in this world. Get up, now, and we'll fix your bandage. He's all right, Miss Hampton—he'll be riding along with you in five minutes."

Brundage realized the staggering truth, but could find no words. Presently, he was on his feet, Onderdonk fastening the rags of his shirt and jacket about him. The smaller man met the deep questioning of Brundage's gaze, and shrugged.

"Go your way, and don't be a fool any more," he said. "You may well wonder! Well, when she looked into my eyes and asked me to help—it changed everything. It always changes everything, even for a man like me."

"If," said Brundage heavily, "the man at bottom-a man."

Onderdonk flashed him a smile at thi and then helped him into the saddle, an turned to Marjorie Hampton. She put out her hand to him, in silence, but her face wa eloquent. Onderdonk reddened, then pale and bent his lips to her fingers. Then, for moment, he met her gaze and Brundage looking down at the man, saw that bitt face, those burning sunken eyes, tran figured. Here was the man that might have been—perhaps the man that might yet be. Why not?

Afterward, looking back, Brundage saw Onderdonk standing there motionless, staring after them, and the flame glowing in his eyes was a thing to remember always.

"Do you remember what I said in Port Santur," said the girl's voice, softly, "about 'the spirit of knowledge and of ghost strength?' One never knows—"

"No," said Brundage. "One never knows."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1949, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 73 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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