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PAGE 5

Sindbad On Burrator
by [?]

“I saw no marks of footsteps; but the track was a path all right, though a teazer. A dozen times I had to crawl on hands and knees under the creepers–creepers with stems as thick as my two wrists–and once, about two-thirds of the way up, I was forced to push sideways through a crevice dripping with water, and so steep under foot that I slid twice and caked myself with mud. I very nearly gave out here; but it was do or die, and after ten minutes more of scratching, pushing, and scrambling, I reached the top and sat down to mop my face and recover.

“I daresay it was another ten minutes before I fetched breath enough and looked about me; and as I turned my head, there, close behind me, lay another crater with another lake smiling below, all blue and peaceful as the one I had left! I gazed from one to the other. This new crater had no opening on the sea; its sides were steeper, though not quite so tall; and either my eyes played me a trick or its water stood at a higher level. I stood there, comparing the two, when suddenly against the skyline, and not two hundred yards away, I caught sight of a man.

“He was walking towards me around the edge of the crater, and halting every now and then to stare down at my boat. He might be a friend, or he might be a foe; but anyway it was not for me, in my condition, to choose which, so I waited for him to come up. And first I saw that he carried a spear, and wore a pair of wide dirty-white trousers and a short coat embroidered with gold; and next that he was a true Malay, pretty well on in years, with a greyish beard falling over his chest. He had no shirt, but a scarlet sash wrapped about his waist and holding a kris and two long pistols handsomely inlaid with gold. In spite of his weapons he seemed a benevolent old boy.

“He pointed towards my boat and tried me with a few questions, first in his own language, then in Spanish, of which I knew very little beyond the sound. But I spread out my hands towards the sea, by way of explaining our voyage, and then pointed to my mouth. If he understood he seemed in no hurry. He tapped O’Hara’s cornet gingerly with two fingers. I unstrung it and made shift to play ‘Home, Sweet Home.’ This delighted him; he nodded, rubbed his hands, and stepped a few paces from me, then turned and began fingering his spear in a way I did not like at all. ‘It’s a matter of taste, sir,’ said I, or words to that effect, dropping the cornet like a hot potato; but he pointed towards it, and then over a ridge inland, and I gathered I must pick it up and follow him–which I did, and pretty quick.

“From the top of this ridge we faced across a small plain bounded on the north with a tier of hills, most of which seemed by their shape to be volcanoes, and out of action–for the sky lay quite blue and clear above them. The way down into this plain led through jungle; but the plain itself had been cleared of all but small clumps dotted here and there, which gave it, you might say, the look of an English park; and about half-way across, in a clear stretch of lalang grass, stood a village of white huts huddling round a larger and much taller house.

“The old man led me straight towards this, and, coming closer, I saw that the large house had a rough glacis about it and a round wall pierced with loopholes. A number of goats were feeding here and a few small cattle; also the ground about the village had been cleared and planted with fruit-trees,–mangoes, bananas, limes, and oranges,–but as yet I saw no inhabitants. The old Malay, who had kept ahead of me all the way, walking at a fair pace, here halted and once more signed to me to blow on the cornet. I obeyed, of course, this time with ‘The British Grenadiers.’ I declare to you it was like starting a swarm of bees. You wouldn’t believe the troops that came pouring out of those few huts–the women in loose trousers pretty much like the men’s, but with arms bare and loose sarongs flung over their right shoulders, the children with no more clothes than a pocket-handkerchief apiece. I can’t tell you what first informed me of my guide’s rank among them– whether the salaams they offered him, or the richness of his dress– he was the only one with gold lace and the only one who carried pistols–or the air with which he paraded me through the crowd, waving the people back to right and left, and clearing a way to a narrow door in the wall around the great house. A man armed with a long fowling-piece saluted him at the entry; and once inside he pointed from the house to his own breast, as much as to say, ‘I am the Chief, and this is mine.’ I saluted him humbly.