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Sindbad On Burrator
by [?]

“Every inch a king,” said a voice at my elbow, and a little man settled himself down on the turf beside me. I set down my glasses with a start. He was a spare dry fellow of about fifty, dressed in what I took for the working suit of a mechanic. Certainly he did not belong to the moor. He wore no collar, but a dingy yellow handkerchief knotted about his throat, and both throat and face were seamed with wrinkles–so thickly seamed that at first glance you might take them for tattoo-marks; but I had time for a second, for without troubling to meet my eyes he nodded towards the Rajah.

“I’ve cut a day’s work and travelled out from Plymouth to get a sight of him; and I’ve a wife will pull my hair out when I get home and she finds I haven’t been to the docks to-day; and I’ve had no breakfast but thirty grains of opium; but he’s worth it.”

“Thirty grains of opium!” I stared at him, incredulous. He did not turn, but, still with his eyes on the valley below us, stretched out a hand. It’s fingers were gnarled, and hooked like a bird’s claw, and on the little finger a ruby flashed in the morning sunlight–not a large ruby, but of the purest pigeon’s-blood shade, and in any case a stone of price.

“You see this? My wife thinks it a sham one, but it’s not. And some day, when I’m drunk or in low water, I shall part with it–but not yet. You’ve an eye for it, I see,”–and yet he was not looking towards me,– “but the Rajah, yonder, and I are the only two within a hundred miles that can read what’s in the heart of it.”

He gazed for a second or two at the stone, lifted it to his ear as if listening, and lowering his hand to the turf, bent over it and gazed again. “Ay, he could understand and see into you, my beauty! He could hear the little drums tum-a-rumbling, and the ox-bells and bangles tinkling, and the shuffle of the elephants going by; he could read the lust in you, and the blood and the sun flickering and licking round the kris that spilt it–for it’s the devil you have in you, my dear. But we know you–he and I–he and I. Ah! there you go,” he muttered as the hounds broke into cry, and the riders swept round the edge of the copse towards the sound of a view-halloo. “There you go,” he nodded after the Rajah; “but ride as you will, the East is in you, great man–its gold in your blood, its dust in your eyelids, its own stink in your nostril; and, ride as you will, you can never escape it.”

He clasped his knees and leaned back against the slope, following the grey horse and its rider with idolatrous gaze; and I noted that one of the clasped hands lacked the two middle fingers.

“You know him?” I asked. “You have seen him out there, at Sarawak?”

“I never saw him; but I heard of him.” He smiled to himself. “It’s not easy to pass certain gates in the East without hearing tell of the Rajah Brooke.”

For a while he sat nursing his knee while I filled and lit a pipe. Then he turned abruptly, and over the flame of the match I saw his eyes, the pupils clouded around the iris and, as it were, withdrawn inward and away from the world. “Ever heard of Cagayan Sulu?” he asked.

“Never,” said I. “Who or what is it?”

“It’s an island,” said he. “It lies a matter of eighty miles off the north-east corner of Borneo–facing Sandakan, as you might say.”

“Who owns it?”

He seemed to be considering the question. “Well,” he answered slowly, “if you asked the Spanish Government I suppose they’d tell you the King of Spain; but that’s a lie. If you asked the natives–the Hadji Hamid, for instance–you’d be told it belonged to them; and that’s half a lie. And if you asked the Father of Lies he might tell you the truth and call me for witness. I lost two fingers there–the only English flesh ever buried in those parts–so I’ve bought my knowledge.”