dilluns, 27 de juliol de 2015

NOW AND THEN ...THE GLOBAL WAR FOR WOOD 1500-20?? ....The Wood Devil Thing by Gordon MacCreagh SERGEANT McGRATH, "Moro" McGrath, as he was called, of the Burma police, squatted chunkily on the ground cloth of a green waterproof E.P. tent and regarded with thinlipped cynicism the uppermost of a sheaf of printed notices which the dak runner had just brought in. Fresh from the government press, they announced, in English on one half and neat, round Burmese on the other, that five thousand rupees were offered for the capture, dead or alive, of one Boh Lu-Bain, convicted of dacoity, with murder, robbery under arms, arson, and an appalling list of subsidiary crimes. The windproof acetylene camp lantern threw sharp, angular shadows across the hard-grain mahogany of the sergeant's face as it suddenly cracked into a grim smile. "Huh! Looks like a pretty durn safe offer---seein' things is as they is," he grunted to himself aloud, after the manner of white men who spend much time in the far corners of the earth, with only natives to talk to. "Mister Boh is some slick conundrum." His lips pressed slowly together again, and he caressed his wooden block of a chin in perplexed introspection. As he turned the case over in his mind and swore impatiently at the queerness of its attendant circumstances, another link was suddenly added to the chain of uncanniness. From out of the dense, black jungles that ringed the clearing there sounded a wild, quavering cry, so long-drawn and so pitiful that the subdued clamor from the other tents of the little camp stopped short as though cut off with a knife. Before the long wail had ceased to vibrate through the still, hot air, in some miraculous manner a rifle had appeared in Sergeant McGrath's hands and he stood outside of his tent, stepping with instinctive caution away from the thin shaft of light which cut far out across the blackness from the tent flap. He listened in the intense silence which had fallen. Then--- "Hussein Jemadar!" he called. "Huzoor!" A tall, uniformed figure appeared out of the darkness and saluted. "Take two men and see what that cry was about." The jemadar saluted again and disappeared; and McGrath stood peering like a nighthawk into the blacker shadows across the clearing. Presently an altercation was apparent among the men's tents. It waxed fiercer; and shortly the jemadar loomed up again. "Huzoor, the men are mutinous. They insist that it is the Nat devil who shrieks as he rends some unfortunate, and their knees are limp with fear." "Fathers of many fools!" barked the sergeant. "This is no time to make monkey-chatter. There is need of speed. I'll attend to the men later--when I come back. Make lights and double the sentry. Swift, now!" For an instant he was a darker blot under the shadow of the trees, and then he merged into the blackness. The native jemadar had to marvel for the hundredth time at the speed and silence with which his superior melted into the undergrowth; and then he went to carry out his order and to acquaint the men who were afraid of nats of the greater hell which would presently occur to them when the sahib returned. The sergeant glided swiftly on in the direction from which the cry had come; but, for all his unhesitating promptness, the chills kept racing up and down his spine. There was something mysterious about this case, something not altogether wholesome--to say nothing of plunging at night, and alone, into an inky tropical jungle where soft scufflings and padded footfalls sounded disquietingly from behind the tree trunks, how far or how close to be judged by ear alone. But if there had been light enough to distinguish details by, the sergeant's face would have shown the same alertness and relentless ferocity as the other night prowlers as he slipped in and out with hardly any more noise than they, and with all his muscles tensed to jump like a cat in any direction at any moment. Presently he became aware of a gentle crackling of twigs before him. Instantly he pressed himself against a tree, motionless as the trunk itself, straining his eyes into the gloom, while pictures of all the things that might drop on him from above raced through his mind. The bushes swished again, and a dim shape crept out not twenty yards distant and crouched, a shadow among the shadows. Most men would have yelled and fired point-blank at the shape; but Moro McGrath never stirred, only his fingers tightened slowly over the stock of his rifle which hung easily at arm's length. He had graduated from that most efficient training school, the Philippines. Seven strenuous years had he put in as an independent scout before the high tides of his turbulent soul had drifted him just round the corner into Burma; and he rested secure in the knowledge that he could shoot from the shoulder or the hip or in midair with the speed of an electric spark. The crouching shadow swayed up on all fours and came uncertainly forward; then it sank behind another bush, only ten yards away this time. The muzzle of the sergeant's rifle, still at arm's length, swung slowly and noiselessly round, and the thick forefinger curled round the trigger, just a fraction of an ounce below the necessary firing pull. Then the thing groaned. "God! An' I near drilled him!" exploded the sergeant. He sprang forward, all thoughts of things that might drop or jump out from behind trees banished from his mind, and lifted the broken thing in his arms. It only moaned. "Pret-ty durn bad hit," he muttered. "Got some kind of a gun, too. Feels like---Curse this darkness!" He fumbled a while with the inert arms and legs, and then presently swung them easily over one wide shoulder and strode swiftly to the camp. The clearing was a blaze of lights, and the sentry had contrived to collect three other supports round himself in the event of an attack by the expected nat. The jemadar and others came running. McGrath handed over his burden. "Our uniform--what's left of it. Who's the man? Bring a light." A man ran up with a petrol flare. "Allah, have mercy!" burst from the jemadar. "The man has no face!" The light flickered ghastly on a clotted smudge where the face should have been. Livid strips of twisted flesh were all that remained. Moro McGrath had seen what was left after the terrible sideswipe that a bear may sometimes deliver; but this thing was just a horrid crimson mess. It was as if some malignant giant hand had deliberately blotted out all chance of recognition. The sergeant drew in his breath with a whistling sound. "Take him to the doctor, babu, quick! An'---here, take also this remnant of a rifle. Prepare report. I follow." He went to his own tent to wash up, for he was one of those men who somehow contrived to look neat and trim under the most impossible circumstances--a remnant of his soldier training. As he cleaned up, his eye fell again on the reward notices. The cynical look came back, tinged this time with something of awe. "Five thou is a heap o' money; but--personal I don't want it bad enough to go scoutin' up that valley. Can't altogether blame my fellers for talkin' nat. Wonder what in thunder could 'a' done that to that poor devil." Thank Pete it's Brandon's district--" He broke off and listened again, with his head cocked alert like a lynx. From out the jungle came another rending of undergrowth, heavy-footed and ponderous this time. The sergeant slipped out of the tent and once more became a motionless shadow at another point in the clearing. The crackling came nearer. "Man!" muttered McGrath. "A big un. White, an' a city feller, I'll bet." A tremendous figure broke out of the bushes not four feet from him, and plunged on past him, all unconscious. The man made straight for the lighted tent, and the watcher glided after him like a ghost. The big visitor strode into the shaft of light from the tent flap, and then wheeled like a bull gaur as the sergeant's voice broke on him from right at his heels: "Durned if it ain't Dickie Travers! How'd you blow up here? Fired from the laboratory job in Rangoon?" "Moro, old scout! Say, I'm dashed glad to see you! They told me back at the village that I'd find your camp on the Kindat Road. Tried to scare me at the same time by swearing that the woods here were full of devils, all red-hot and howling. But say, I want to see you awful bad; you're the only man in Burma who can help me out, and I had to risk the devils." The big man laughed and stretched his great shoulders. "An', since you think you can lick your weight in devils any day, you jest came along, hey?" the sergeant grinned quizzically. "Well, there's more in heaven an' earth, son, an' particularly in the almighty jungle, than is dreamed of in Rangoon city. C'm' on in an' moisten up an' unload your chest." The younger man needed no more urging to break into a long and enthusiastic harangue, the coherence of which was considerably marred by continuous and unnecessary digressions devoted to glowing descriptions of a certain third party. The sergeant chewed on a pipe and grinned tolerantly at his friend's ardor, though, as the story progressed, his dark face took on an expression of concern. Finally he rose very deliberately and knocked out his pipe, carefully dropping the ash into an empty tobacco tin. "Well," he announced, with conviction, "if you think the girl's worth this damfool scheme of yours, you got it good an' proper; worse'n I ever gave you discredit for. Now lemme tell you somep'n about this Boh man. Listen careful, now. "This Lu-Bain chief is the hardest proposition in dacoits since the famous Boh Da-Thone. An' he's no ignorant savage, lemme tell you. He's a Pali scholar an' a graduate of Rangoon College. Also he's a high-class gun artist, an' incidental the ugliest brute in Burma. Got a face like a gorilla; an' his actions are just about as inhuman." "I don't care," persisted Travers doggedly, setting his lips with grim determination. "I've got to get that money." Moro McGrath spun round on him from his short walk up and down the tent and shot out a sinewy forefinger at him. "Wait a minute, son! Don't be so malice an' prepense against the man. The parade ain't commenced yet. Listen! This Boh party accrued a considerable gang an' waltzed around the country in the usual way, destroyin' the populace most prodigal, an'---Well, we had to get after him with two or three detachments, an' we hived most o' the bunch--there's some eighteen or twenty heads stuck up in the Taungyen market place for identification right now--but this Boh ideal is a slick number, an' he gets away clear. I chase him an' one or two other hard citizens into this valley of Hankow, which is the thickest, stinkiest, malariest jungle in all Chindwin, an' which, thank Pete, is out o' my district; an' here he lays up, bottled. "So far, fine an' dandy, thank you. But now listen, son, careful. The Burmans an' my fool Punjabi constables say it's plumb impossible for any human bein' to live in that jungle 'count o' fever an' snakes an' beasts an' hell all else. Wherefore, with pucca native reasonin' most circumstantial an' proper, they prove that he's changed himself by means o' magic into a highclass wood demon, or not, all teeth an' claws an' smoke." "Hold on!" interrupted Tracy eagerly. "How d'you know he's bottled? What proof have you that he's not gone out of the valley?" "Proof an' to spare. Every now an' then some jungle man comes in scared stiff an' reports how he seen the famous yellow silk gaungbaung headdress an' the rifle with the solid-silver stock; an' once in a while friend Boh sends along a little proof, extra an' unsolicited, jest to show he's happy an' keepin' his end up. F'r instance, a jungle man comes in the other day with his hands tied behind him an' his ears hung around his neck on a string, an' he throws up a yarn about devils howlin' an' dancin' in the dark that'd paralyze you. An' not long after, a raft floats down the river with one o' my own men, crucified an' generally used up somethin' horrible." The sergeant grimaced and shuddered at the recollection. Then he continued with deliberate conviction: "Now all that's plain dacoit humor, an' don't raise my belief in devils any; but---Now, mark me, I maintains right here that the Boh's gone crazy with the heat or the hardship or the loneliness or somep'n; but the rest o' the story ain't normal; there's somep'n I can't figure out, somep'n outside human range. Listen: "More recently these outbursts of enthusiasm has taken on a--a kinder unwholesome nature. Two jungle men come in in a canoe with a body whose arm is wrenched complete off. Torn, mind you, not hacked. Then comes another, crushed jest to pulp; every bone broken, like he'd fallen out a flyin' machine. The Burmans say right away it's a nat; the strength required to do those stunts ain't human. An', by God, it ain't!" Sergeant McGrath paused and looked darkly up through his eyebrows at his friend. Travers was visibly affected by the uncanny recital; his usual attitude of careless confidence had left him, but the determination showed relentlessly in his face. "It's weird, Moro, old scout, and maybe dangerous; but you don't head me off yet," he maintained seriously. "I'm out after that reward, and I'm going to get it." "Hm!" grunted the older man. "Sudden death or sudden matrimony; you lose either way. Well, there's another chapter been added to the story just before you come in. Maybe we can get some information at firsthand--if the poor devil can talk. C'm' on to the hospital tent." The fussy little native doctor explained with much circumstance in the exaggerated whisper of his kind that his skill had so far revived the man that he was able to talk and anxious to make his report. "Have you found out who it is?" asked McGrath in a responsive whisper, unconsciously affected by the technical jargon and calculated impressiveness of the "profession." A mass of bandages heaved itself up onto an elbow on the cot and saluted. "It is Misri-Khan, sahib, nambar sebentin," mumbled a muffled voice from out the wrappings, and then proceeded, weakly and with many relapses, to unfold an amazing story, the gist of which was: First, that he, Misri-Khan, was a brave man, and, therefore, ignoring the devil stories, had scouted up that dim valley where all others feared to go, looking for tracks of the Boh. Secondly, that the total absence of tracks convinced him that the Boh had indeed become a Nat--for Nats, of course, traveled over the ground without leaving trace. Nevertheless, did he continue on the trail for the honor of the service, and would the protector of the poor see that he received suitable reward therefore? And finally: "On the second day, sahib, as I sought in the darkest part of the forest among great trees of Padouk and Sal many cubits high, it happened that I heard a great rending of wood, and--Allah is my witness, sahib--lifting my eyes, I beheld the father of all the Nats tear a great tree asunder and spring at me from the bowels thereof. The face was the face of the Boh, only more terrible, but the arms were of the thickness of a man's leg, and hairy as those of a spider. Huzoor, I have distinguished service medal; but at that sight my knees were turned to water, and I fell upon the ground; yet did I remember to fire my carbine. I am also secondclass marksman, sahib, and at that distance could I assuredly not miss. Yet the ball went through the devil, and he leaped upon me, howling magic words which I knew not. That is all, sahib. He left me for dead; yet by the favor of Allah did I recover and crawl with much tribulation to the jungle's edge, where the sahib, may Allah reward him, found me. There is yet one more thing, sahib. The Nat, having smitten me, took my carbine and bent the barrel as a bow is bent. In witness whereof the gun is now in the hands of the jemadar. Bus, I have finished." McGrath asked a few more questions, gave some directions for the man's comfort, and then, with significant and pointed silence, took his friend by the arm and led him out to examine the rifle. It was as the man had said. The steel barrel was bent into an arc. McGrath took it to the light and examined it with critical, narrowed eyes. The puzzled expression on his face increased to dark amazement. "Now that's durn queer," he muttered. "I figured it might possibly have been hammered that way, or even bitten by some powerful animal; but lookut here, Dick, there's not a mark; the bluein' ain't got a scratch on it. An' a durn queer story; of course padded out a whole heap with the good old Oriental fairy stuff; but there's somep'n mighty unhealthy in this whole business, Dick, my son. D'ja still feel all het up to go Boh devil huntin'?"






Awhile ago there was a young man dwelling in a great and goodly city by
the sea which had to name Langton on Holm.   He was but of five and
twenty winters, a fair-faced man, yellow-haired, tall and strong; rather
wiser than foolisher than young men are mostly wont; a valiant youth, and
a kind; not of many words but courteous of speech; no roisterer, nought
masterful, but peaceable and knowing how to forbear: in a fray a perilous
foe, and a trusty war-fellow.   His father, with whom he was dwelling
when this tale begins, was a great merchant, richer than a baron of the
land, a head-man of the greatest of the Lineages of Langton, and a
captain of the Porte; he was of the Lineage of the Goldings, therefore
was he called Bartholomew Golden, and his son Golden Walter.

Now ye may well deem that such a youngling as this was looked upon by all
as a lucky man without a lack; but there was this flaw in his lot,
whereas he had fallen into the toils of love of a woman exceeding fair,
and had taken her to wife, she nought unwilling as it seemed.   But when
they had been wedded some six months he found by manifest tokens, that
his fairness was not so much to her but that she must seek to the
foulness of one worser than he in all ways; wherefore his rest departed
from him, whereas he hated her for her untruth and her hatred of him; yet
would the sound of her voice, as she came and went in the house, make his
heart beat; and the sight of her stirred desire within him, so that he
longed for her to be sweet and kind with him, and deemed that, might it
be so, he should forget all the evil gone by.   But it was not so; for
ever when she saw him, her face changed, and her hatred of him became
manifest, and howsoever she were sweet with others, with him she was hard
and sour.

So this went on a while till the chambers of his father's house, yea the
very streets of the city, became loathsome to him; and yet he called to
mind that the world was wide and he but a young man.   So on a day as he
sat with his father alone, he spake to him and said: "Father, I was on
the quays even now, and I looked on the ships that were nigh boun, and
thy sign I saw on a tall ship that seemed to me nighest boun.   Will it
be long ere she sail?"

"Nay," said his father, "that ship, which hight the Katherine, will they
warp out of the haven in two days' time.   But why askest thou of her?"

"The shortest word is best, father," said Walter, "and this it is, that I
would depart in the said ship and see other lands."

"Yea and whither, son?" said the merchant.

"Whither she goeth," said Walter, "for I am ill at ease at home, as thou
wottest, father."

The merchant held his peace awhile, and looked hard on his son, for there
was strong love between them; but at last he said: "Well, son, maybe it
were best for thee; but maybe also we shall not meet again."

"Yet if we do meet, father, then shalt thou see a new man in me."

"Well," said Bartholomew, "at least I know on whom to lay the loss of
thee, and when thou art gone, for thou shalt have thine own way herein,
she shall no longer abide in my house.   Nay, but it were for the strife
that should arise thenceforth betwixt her kindred and ours, it should go
somewhat worse with her than that."

Said Walter: "I pray thee shame her not more than needs must be, lest, so
doing, thou shame both me and thyself also."

Bartholomew held his peace again for a while; then he said: "Goeth she
with child, my son?"

Walter reddened, and said: "I wot not; nor of whom the child may be."
Then they both sat silent, till Bartholomew spake, saying: "The end of it
is, son, that this is Monday, and that thou shalt go aboard in the small
hours of Wednesday; and meanwhile I shall look to it that thou go not
away empty-handed; the skipper of the Katherine is a good man and true,
and knows the seas well; and my servant Robert the Low, who is clerk of
the lading, is trustworthy and wise, and as myself in all matters that
look towards chaffer.   The Katherine is new and stout-builded, and
should be lucky, whereas she is under the ward of her who is the saint
called upon in the church where thou wert christened, and myself before
thee; and thy mother, and my father and mother all lie under the chancel
thereof, as thou wottest."

Therewith the elder rose up and went his ways about his business, and
there was no more said betwixt him and his son on this matter.

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