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Cumner’s Son
by [?]

I. THE CHOOSING OF THE MESSENGER

There was trouble at Mandakan. You could not have guessed it from anything the eye could see. In front of the Residency two soldiers marched up and down sleepily, mechanically, between two ten-pounders marking the limit of their patrol; and an orderly stood at an open door, lazily shifting his eyes from the sentinels to the black guns, which gave out soft, quivering waves of heat, as a wheel, spinning, throws off delicate spray. A hundred yards away the sea spread out, languid and huge. It was under-tinged with all the colours of a morning sunrise over Mount Bobar not far beyond, lifting up its somnolent and massive head into the Eastern sky. “League-long rollers” came in as steady as columns of infantry, with white streamers flying along the line, and hovering a moment, split, and ran on the shore in a crumbling foam, like myriads of white mice hurrying up the sand.

A little cloud of tobacco smoke came curling out of a window of the Residency. It was sniffed up by the orderly, whose pipe was in barracks, and must lie there untouched until evening at least; for he had stood at this door since seven that morning, waiting orders; and he knew by the look on Colonel Cumner’s face that he might be there till to-morrow.

But the ordinary spectator could not have noticed any difference in the general look of things. All was quiet, too, in the big native city. At the doorways the worker in brass and silver hammered away at his metal, a sleepy, musical assonance. The naked seller of sweetmeats went by calling his wares in a gentle, unassertive voice; in dark doorways worn-eyed women and men gossiped in voices scarce above a whisper; and brown children fondled each other, laughing noiselessly, or lay asleep on rugs which would be costly elsewhere. In the bazaars nothing was selling, and no man did anything but mumble or eat, save the few scholars who, cross-legged on their mats, read and laboured towards Nirvana. Priests in their yellow robes and with bare shoulders went by, oblivious of all things.

Yet, too, the keen observer could have seen gathered into shaded corners here and there, a few sombre, low-voiced men talking covertly to each other. They were not the ordinary gossipers; in the faces of some were the marks of furtive design, of sinister suggestion. But it was all so deadly still.

The gayest, cheeriest person in Mandakan was Colonel Cumner’s son. Down at the opal beach, under a palm-tree, he sat, telling stories of his pranks at college to Boonda Broke, the half-breed son of a former Dakoon who had ruled the State of Mandakan when first the English came. The saddest person in Mandakan was the present Dakoon, in his palace by the Fountain of the Sweet Waters, which was guarded by four sacred warriors in stone and four brown men armed with the naked kris.

The Dakoon was dying, though not a score of people in the city knew it. He had drunk of the Fountain of Sweet Waters, also of the well that is by Bakbar; he had eaten of the sweetmeat called the Flower of Bambaba, his chosen priests had prayed, and his favourite wife had lain all day and all night at the door of his room, pouring out her soul; but nothing came of it.

And elsewhere Boonda Broke was showing Cumner’s Son how to throw a kris towards one object and make it hit another. He gave an illustration by aiming at a palm-tree and sticking a passing dog behind the shoulder. The dog belonged to Cumner’s Son, and the lad’s face suddenly blazed with anger. He ran to the dog, which had silently collapsed like a punctured bag of silk, drew out the kris, then swung towards Boonda Broke, whose cool, placid eyes met his without emotion.