"I am ready to go out with you now, if you wish it."
"I shall be ready in a few minutes," Stanley replied and, on being left alone, at once changed his attire and stained his face and hands.
He had just finished when the officer returned. He smiled and said:
"There is no fear of your being suspected, now; and you might really go about safely without a guard, unless you were to enter into conversation with anyone. You speak the language very well, but your accent is not quite the same as ours, here, though in Aracan it would pass unremarked."
As they went out from the prison, the officer told two soldiers who were waiting there to follow, at a distance.
"Do not approach us," he said, "unless I call you up."
The houses were not constructed in continuous rows, but were very scattered, each house having its inclosure or garden. The population was very small, in comparison to the area occupied by the town. This was divided into two parts—the inner and outer town. The whole was surrounded by a brick wall, five miles and a half in circumference, some sixteen feet high and ten feet in thickness, strengthened on the inside by a great bank of earth. The inner town was inclosed by a separate wall, with a deep ditch on two sides, the river Irrawaddy on the third, and a tributary river on the fourth.
A considerable portion of the inclosed area was occupied by the royal quarter; containing the palace, the court of justice, the council chamber, arsenal, and the houses of the ministers and chief officials. This was cut off from the rest by a strong and well-built wall, twenty feet high, outside which was a stockade of the same height. The total population of Ava was but 25,000.
The officer did not take Stanley to the royal quarter, observing that it was better not to go there as, although he had leave to walk in the town, it might give offence were he to show himself near the palace; but after going through the wall, they visited two or three of the markets, of which there were eleven in the town.
The markets consisted of thatched huts and sheds, and were well supplied with the products of the country. Here were rice, maize, wheat, and various other grains; sticks of sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, and indigo; mangoes, oranges, pineapples, custard apples, and plantains were in abundance; also peacocks, jungle fowl, pigeons, partridges, geese, ducks, and snipes—but little meat was on sale, as the Burman religion forbids the killing of animals for food. Venison was the only meat allowed to be sold in the markets; but there were lizards, iguanas, and snakes, which were exposed freely for sale; and there were large quantities of turtle and tortoise eggs, which had been brought up from the delta.
Stanley saw that there had really been no great occasion for him to stain his skin, as the people were, for the most part, lighter in colour than the Hindoos. Many of the men had, however, stained their faces to a darker colour; and all were tattooed, more or less. Men, women, and children were all smoking; and frequently, when both hands were required for any purpose, thrust their cigars into the large holes bored in the lobes of their ears. Both men and women were somewhat short in stature, but squarely built and muscular and, in the majority of cases, inclined to be fat.
The men wore a sort of kilt, consisting of a double piece of cloth, wrapped round the body and falling to the knee. Over this was a loose tunic, with sleeves open in front. The headdress was a scanty white turban.
The dress of the women was somewhat similar to that of the Hindoos, consisting of a single garment like a sheet wrapped round the body, fastening under the arms and falling to the ankles. Those of the upper classes were more elaborate. The rank among the women was distinguished, so Stanley's guide pointed out to him, by the manner in which the hair was plaited and twisted, and by the ornaments in it.
The men, like the women, wore their hair long but, while the men wore theirs in a knot at the top of the head, the women gathered it in at the back. Their faces were broad at the cheekbones, but narrowed in sharply, both at the forehead and chin. The narrow and oblique eyes showed the relationship between the Burmese and their Chinese neighbours. They seemed to Stanley a light-hearted, merry people, going about their business with much chatter and laughter; and the sound of musical instruments could often be heard, inside the houses. Several men, in bright yellow garments, mingled with the crowds in the market. These were priests, the officer told him; and it would be a mortal act of sacrilege, were anyone else to wear that colour.
Stanley remarked upon seeing so few soldiers, and the officer told him that there was no regular army in Burma. Every man capable of carrying arms was obliged to serve in case of war but, with the exception of the king's bodyguard, and a very small body of men who were police, rather than soldiers, there was no force permanently kept up. Every man was expected to know something of military duty, and all were able to build stockades. From the fact that the flesh of wild fowl formed one of the principal articles of food, the peasantry throughout the country were all accustomed to the use of the gun, and were fair marksmen.
"But you yourself are an officer," Stanley said.
"At present, yes; but tomorrow I may return to my land. It is the same with the highest minister. One day he may be a trader but, if recommended to the king as one possessing ability, straightway he is chosen to be a high official. If he does not please the king, or fails in his duties, then the next day he may be selling cloth in the bazaar again.
"Everything is at the will of the king. Nobody is born with fortune or rank, for everything belongs to the king and, at a man's death, all goes back to him. Thus everyone in the land has an equal chance. In war the bravest becomes a general, in peace the cleverest is chosen as a councillor."
Walking about, Stanley soon found that there were a great variety of dialects talked in the streets, and that the language of the Burmese of the coast, of the natives of Pegu and the central province, and of those from districts bordering on the Shan states or the frontiers of China, differed as widely as those of the most remote parts of Great Britain did from each other. This being so, he was convinced that there would be no difficulty, whatever, in passing as a native, without attracting any observation or inquiry, so far as the language went.
His features and, still more, the shape of his face might, however, be noticed by the first comer, in the daytime. He thought, indeed, that a little tinge of colour in the corner of the eyes, so as to lengthen their appearance and give an oblique cast to them, would make a difference. The general shape of the head was unalterable, but the Burmese nose and mouth did not differ very greatly from the European; except that the nostrils were smaller and, in shape, were round rather than oval.
For three weeks he continued the same life, and then the Burmese officer, with whom he had now become very friendly, said when he entered one morning:
"You must not go out today. There is news that your people have made two forward marches. The first was against a stockade, which they took, and killed many of our men; the other time they marched out four or five miles, had a fight with our troops, and again killed many. These things have angered the king and the people. Of course it is nothing, for our troops are only beginning to assemble; but it is considered insolent in the extreme, and the king's face is darkened against your countrymen. Four of the prisoners have been taken out this morning and publicly executed and, if the news of another defeat comes, I fear that it will be very dangerous, even for you."
"What had I best do, my friend?"
"I would fain save you, for we have come to know each other; and I see that there is much good in your ways, though they differ greatly from ours. Were I to take you out, as usual, you might be killed in the streets; were you to slip away and escape, I should assuredly be put to death; but if in any way I can help you, I would fain do so. My relation who brought you up here left, a fortnight since, to rejoin Bandoola; so his influence cannot serve you.
"I do not say that you might not escape from this prison—since you are not, like the others, confined in a dungeon—but I see not what you could do, or where you could go. Were you to disappear, orders would be sent down the river to every village, and every passing craft would be examined, and you would be sure to be detected; while it would be well-nigh impossible to travel the country on foot, for it is but thinly inhabited. There are often very long distances between the villages, and much of the country is swamp and forest, without paths; for the village trade goes by the river, and they have little communication with each other.
"I know that, from what you say, you think that your troops will beat ours, even when we assemble in large numbers. Were this so, I fear that there would be little chance of your life being spared. Were it not for that, I should say that, Bandoola having recommended you, you would be in no danger here, and had better remain until peace is made.
"What think you, yourself?"
"It is very difficult to reply, at once," Stanley said, "but I thank you greatly for your offer to befriend me, in any way you can. I do not say that I had not thought of escape, for I have of course done so. But it seemed to me a thing in the distance; and that, at any rate until the rains were over and the rivers had sunk, it would be useless to attempt it. I see, now, that it will be safest for me to try without delay. If you will come in again, this afternoon, I will tell you what I have thought of."
"I will do so; and I, myself, will try to think how best the matter can be managed. We must remember that the great thing is for you to find concealment, for the present. After the search for you has been made for some time, it will die away; and it will then be the easiest plan for you to make your way down the river."
Chapter 4: A Ruined Temple.
After the officer left him, Stanley sat thinking for a long time. He himself inclined strongly towards the river; but he saw that, at present, the difficulties would be very great. The war boats were passing up and down, and bodies of troops were being carried down in large craft. In every village the men, he knew, were assembling and drilling. Even in Ava he could see the difference in the population, the proportion of men to women having markedly decreased since his arrival.
As to the journey by land, it appeared to him impossible. He was, too, altogether without money and, whether by water or land, it would be necessary to go into the villages to buy provisions. Indeed, money would have been almost useless, for there was no coined money in Burma; payments being made in lead, for small amounts, or in silver for large ones—the quantity necessary being cut off from small sticks or bars, or paid in filings.
It seemed to him that the best thing would be to take to the forest, for a time; and endeavour to subsist upon wild fruits or, if these were not to be found there, to go out into the fields and orchards at night, and so manage to hold on for a few weeks. His friend told him that, in the forests along the principal lines of route to the capital, were many bad characters—persons who had committed crime and fled from justice. Some were cultivators who, having been unable to pay their taxes, had deserted their land and taken to the woods. All committed depredations, and traders coming into the town from the Shan states, or from the country where rubies and emeralds were found, always travelled in caravans for mutual protection. At times levies were called out, and many of these marauders were killed.
Stanley, then, had hit upon nothing definite when the officer returned in the afternoon and, in reply to the latter's question, he acknowledged at once that the only thing he could see was to take to the forest, until the active search for him had ceased.
"You would find it difficult to maintain yourself. I have thought of a better way than that. I am acquainted with a Phongee, who lives in a temple in a lonely spot, four miles away. He is a good man, though somewhat strange in his habits; and I feel sure that, on my recommendation, he would take you in. There would be little chance of your being discovered there. You could not go dressed as you are, but must disguise yourself as a peasant; though it might be well to retain your present attire, which may be useful to you, afterwards. I fear that you will fare badly with him, in the way of food; there will be enough to eat, but it will be of the simplest."
"So that there is enough to keep life together, it matters little what it is."
"Then that is settled.
"Now, about making your escape from here. Your door is closely barred, at night; and there is no window save those four little holes, high up in the wall, which scarce a bird could get through."
"I could cut through the thatch above," Stanley said, "if I had but something that I could stand upon to do so. There are some bamboos lying just at the bottom of the steps. With these and some cord I might make a sort of ladder, and should then be able to get at the thatch."
"I will bring you some cord, tomorrow, for that and to let yourself down to the ground. Then I will arrange where to meet you, and will guide you out of the town and take you to the priest. I will bring a disguise for you, and some stain for your body and arms for, as a peasant, you would be naked to the waist. I can think of nothing better."
"I thank you most heartily," Stanley said, "and trust that you may get into no trouble for the kindness that you have shown me."
"There is no fear of that, my friend. No one will know that I have been away from the town. I am greatly afraid that this will be all that I shall be able to do for you; for I am told that I am to go down the river with the next batch of troops, which will start in three days. I have only been informed of it since I saw you this morning. Had it not been for you I should have been glad; for it is in war time, only, that one can obtain honour and promotion."
"I am sorry that you are going, sir. I shall miss your kindness, sorely; but I can understand your desire to go to the front. It is the same with us; when there is a war, every officer and soldier hopes that his regiment will be sent there. However, I shall see you again.
"Has Bandoola's army moved yet?"
"No; nor do I think that it will do so. It is a long march down to Rangoon from Ramoo; and I believe that he will remain where he is, until he sees how matters go at Rangoon. As soon as your people are driven out, he will be joined by a great army, and will march to Dacca. There our troops from the north will join him; and then he will go to India, we think."
"I fancy," Stanley said with a smile, "if he waits until we are turned out from Rangoon, his stay at Ramoo will be a long one."
The next day the officer brought several yards of strong cloth, such as was worn by the peasants; a piece of muslin to make the circular band that was worn by the lower class, instead of a complete turban; and a lot of horse hair to be worn on the top of the head.
"Now," he said, "strip to the waist, and I will dye your body. I have dyes of two colours here; one for the skin, and the other to draw lines on the face, so as to make you look older; and with this I can also imitate tattoo marks on your chest and shoulders. Here is a long knife, such as everyone wears, and here is the cord.
"As soon as it is getting dark you must carry up two of the bamboo poles, taking care that no one observes you do so. There is seldom anyone in the courtyard. I have had the knife sharpened, and it will cut through the thatch, easily enough. When you get away, walk straight to the market that lies nearest to us. I will be at its entrance. It will take you, I suppose, two hours to make your ladder and get out. You cannot begin until the guard closes your door. You tell me he never comes in."
"No, he brings the last meal an hour before sunset. I generally sit on the top of the steps, till he comes up to lock the door, which is about nine o'clock; and I do not see him again until he unbars the door in the morning. I should not think that it will take as long as two hours to make the ladder, and cut the thatch; at any rate, by eleven I ought to join you.
"I suppose the gates are open."
"Oh, yes! They are never closed, though of course they would be, if an enemy were near. There is no guard anywhere."
After staining Stanley's skin, the officer waited a quarter of an hour for it to dry thoroughly; and then proceeded to draw lines on his face, across the forehead, and from the corners of his eyes; and then spent nearly an hour in executing rough tattoo marks on his body and arms.
"This dye is very good, and will last for weeks before it begins to fade. I will bring with me another bottle, tonight, so that you can at least re-dye your skin.
"Here is some wax. You must turn your hair up from the neck, and plaster it in its place with it. The turban will prevent anyone seeing how short the hair is. Here is a little bottle of black dye, with which you had better colour it, before fixing it with the wax."
Stanley's hair had not been cut for some time before he had been captured by the Burmese and, in the two months that had since elapsed, it had grown very long; and could therefore be turned up as the officer suggested. Putting on his usual garments, he sat at his place, at the door of the cell, until the guard brought up his evening meal. Having eaten this, he dyed his hair and, half an hour later, turned it up, plastering it with wax, and tied a bit of fibre round where the turban would come.
By this time it was getting dusk. He sat at the door at the top of the steps, until he saw that the courtyard was deserted; the guard at the gate having gone outside, to enjoy the coolness of the air. Then he ran down the steps, took two bamboo poles about ten feet in length, and two short pieces of the same wood no thicker than his finger and, hurrying up the steps with them, laid them down against the side of the room. Then he went to the steps again, and sat there until he saw the guard coming across to fasten his door; when he went in and, as soon as he heard the bars put up, began his preparations.
First he lashed the short pieces across the ends of the two bamboos, so as to keep them a foot apart; then he put ratlines across, and soon had the ladder completed. He made up his clothes into a bundle, wrapped the rough cloth round his waist, adjusted the knot of horse hair on the top of his head, and fastened it there with wax. He wound the turban round below, and his disguise was complete.
Fixing the ladder against the wall he climbed it, and it was not long before he cut a hole through the thatch of sufficient size to pass out. The work had taken him longer than he had expected, for it had to be done in absolute darkness; however, he was sure that he was well within his time. Fastening the end of the rope to one of the bamboo rafters, he descended the ladder and picked up his bundle; then climbed up again, got halfway out of the hole, and listened intently. Everything was quiet in the street and, in another minute, he stood on the ground.
When he turned into the principal street, there were still many people about. Sounds of music and singing came from the windows, for the Burmese are very fond of music, and often pass the whole night in playing and singing. There was no risk whatever of detection now, and he stepped briskly along until he came to the open space, with its rows of little thatched huts. Here he paused for a minute, and the officer stepped out from behind a house and joined him.
"I was not sure at first that it was you," he said. "Your disguise is excellent. You had better follow me, now, until we get beyond the busy streets."
Keeping some twenty yards behind his guide, Stanley went on until, after nearly half an hour's walking, they passed through a gate in the city walls. He now closed up to the officer and, after another half-hour's walk across a cultivated country, they entered a forest. The ground now rose steadily and, after keeping on for two miles, they emerged from the trees at the top of a hill. The space had been cleared of timber, but it was nearly covered with bushes and young trees. In the centre were the ruins of a temple, that had evidently existed long before the Burmese dynasty occupied the country, and had been erected by some older race. It was roofless; the walls had, in places, fallen; and the ruins were covered with vegetation.
The Burman ascended some broken steps, entered the temple, and crossed to one of the opposite corners. A dim light was burning in a small apartment, which had been roofed with thatch. A man was lying, dressed, on a heap of leaves at one side. He started up as the officer entered.
"Who is it who comes here at this hour?" he asked.
"Thekyn," the officer answered.
"I am glad to see you," the Phongee said, "whatever may bring you here. You have not fallen into trouble, I hope?"
"In no way, good priest. I am starting, in two days, down the river to fight the barbarians; but before I go, I want you to do me a favour."
The Phongee smiled.
"Beyond naming you in my prayers, Thekyn, there is but little that a hermit can do for any man."
"Not so, in this case," the officer said. "I have one here with me who needs rest, and concealment. I would rather that you did not ask who he is. He has done no crime, and yet he is in danger; and for a month, maybe, he needs a shelter. Will you give it him, for my sake?"
"Assuredly I will," the priest said. "Your father was one of my dearest friends, in the days when I dwelt in the city. I would gladly do all in my power for his son, and this is but a small thing that you ask. Let him enter."
Stanley went in. The priest took down the little lamp, from a shelf on which it stood, and held it near the lad's face. Then he turned, with a smile, to Thekyn:
"The painting is but clumsily done," he said, "though maybe it would pass without close examination. He is a stranger, and comes of a race unknown to me but, as you said, it matters not to me who he is; suffice that he is a friend of yours. He is welcome to a share of my shelter, and my food; though the shelter is rough, and the food somewhat scanty. Of late few, indeed, have sought me for, as I hear, most of the men have gone down to the war."
"I have brought you some food," the officer said; for Stanley had observed that he also carried a bundle, a larger one than his own. "Here is a supply of rice, that will last for some time; and this, with your offerings, will suffice to keep things going. My friend is not, like you, bound by his religion not to take life; and I know that snakes are very plentiful round here."
Snakes had formed a frequent article of his diet, since he had been captured; and Stanley had lost the repugnance to them that he at first felt, so the prospect of their forming the staple of his food was not disagreeable to him. It would also afford him some employment to search for and kill them.
"I shall be well content," he said, "with anything that I can get, and trust that I shall be no burden upon you."
"You will assuredly be none," the priest replied. "Here must be at least thirty pounds of rice which, alone, would keep two men alive for a month. As regards the snakes, though I may not kill them, I may eat them when killed; and indeed, there are few things better. In truth, I should not be sorry to have some of the creatures out of the way; for they swarm round here so thickly that I have to pay great heed, when I walk, lest I step upon them."
"Have you been troubled with robbers, of late, father?" Thekyn asked.
"They trouble me not at all," the priest said. "Men come, sometimes. They may be robbers, or they may not. I ask no questions. They sometimes bring fruit and other offerings, and I know that I need not fear them. I have nought to lose, save my life; and he would be indeed an evil man who would dare to lift his finger against a priest—one who harms not anyone, and is ready to share what food he has with any man who comes to him hungry."
"Well, father, I will say goodbye. I must be back to the city before men are about, as I would not that my absence should be discovered."
"Peace be with you, my son. May you come back safe from the wars. My prayers will be said for you, night and morning.
"Be in no uneasiness as to your friend. If any should ask me about my companion, I shall reply that he is one who has undertaken to rid me of some of the snakes, who dispute the possession of this place with me."
Thekyn motioned to Stanley to come outside the hut with him and, when he did so, handed to him a small but heavy bag.
"This is lead," he said. "You will need it, when you start on your journey down the country. There are eight pounds of it and, from what you have seen in the market, you will know how much food can be got for a small amount of lead. I would that I could do more for you, and assist your flight."
"You have done much indeed, very much and, should I regain my friends, I will endeavour to do as much by one of your countrymen, for your sake. I hope that, when this war is over, I may meet you again."
"I hope so," the Burman said warmly. "I cannot but think that you will succeed in getting away."
"My son," the old priest said, when Stanley returned to his cell, "I am going to my prayers. I always rise at this hour, and pray till morning; therefore you may as well lay yourself down on these leaves. There is another cell, like this, in the opposite corner of the temple. In the morning you can cut boughs, and roof it like this; and make your bed there. There is no room for another, here; and it will doubtless be more pleasant for you to have a place to yourself, where you can go and come as you like; for in the day women come up to consult me, and ask for my prayers—but mind how you enter it for the first time as, like as not, there will be snakes sheltering there."
Stanley lay awake for a time, listening to the monotonous voice of the priest as he repeated his prayers; but his senses soon wandered, and he slept soundly till daybreak.
His first step was to cut a stout stick, and he then proceeded to the other cell, which was partially blocked up with stone from the fallen roof. It took him two hours to carry this stuff out, and he killed no less than nine snakes that he disturbed in his work. The prospect of sleeping in a place so frequented was not a pleasant one, especially as the cell had no door to it; and he resolved at once to erect some sort of bed place, where he might be beyond their reach. For this purpose he cut two poles, each three or four inches longer than the cell. One end of each he sharpened, and drove in between the interstices of the stone, at a distance of some two feet and a half apart and four feet from the ground. The other ends he hammered with a heavy stone against the opposite wall, until they would go down no farther. Then he split up some more wood and lashed strips, almost touching each other, underneath the two poles, by the aid of some strong creepers. Then he filled up the bed place, between the poles, with dry leaves.
One end of the bed was some inches higher than the other. This was immaterial, and he felt satisfied that even the craftiest snake could not reach him.
As to the roof, he was by no means particular about it. In this part of Burma the rainfall is very small, the inundations being the effect of heavy rains in the distant hill country which, as they come down, raise the level of the rivers, in some cases, as much as eighteen feet, and overflow the low-lying country.
Before beginning to construct the bed, he had carried the snakes into the Phongee; after first cutting off their heads which, as he knew, the Burmans never touch.
"This is good, indeed, my son," the priest said. "Here we have our breakfast and dinner. I will boil some rice, and fry four of them for breakfast."
The bed was but half completed, when he heard the priest sound a bell. It was doubtless used as a call to prayer. However, Stanley rightly conjectured that, in this case, it was a summons to a meal; and was soon seated on the ground by the side of the priest. Little was said at breakfast, which Stanley enjoyed heartily.
"So my friend Thekyn is starting for the wars. What think you of it, my son? Shall we easily overpower these barbarians? We have never met them in war before and, doubtless, their methods of fighting are different from ours."
"Quite different. Their men are trained as soldiers. They act as one man, while the Burmese fight each for himself. Then they have cannon with them, which they can drag about quickly, and use with great effect. Although they are few, in comparison with the armies going down to attack them, the latter will find it very difficult work to turn them out of Rangoon."
"Do you think that they will beat us, then?"
"That I cannot say, but I should not be surprised if it were to prove so."
"The Burmese have never been beaten yet," the priest said. "They have been victorious over all their enemies."
"The Burmese are very brave," Stanley agreed, "but, hitherto, they have only fought against people less warlike than themselves. Now they have to deal with a nation that has made war a study, and which always keeps up a large army of men who are trained to fight, and who spend all their time in military exercises. It is not that they are stronger than the Burmese, for the Burmese are very strong men; but only that men who are trained to act together must, necessarily, possess a great advantage over those who have had no such training—who simply take up arms for the occasion and, when the trouble is over, return to their homes and lay them by, until called out to fight again.
"Besides, their weapons are better than yours; and they have many cannon which, by practice, they can load and fire very quickly; and each of which, when the armies are near each other, can fire fifty or sixty bullets at once."
"I have heard a strange story that the barbarians have a ship without sails, with a great chimney that pours out quantities of black smoke, and a wheel on each side and, as the wheels move round, the vessel can go straight up the river against the tide, even if the wind is blowing strongly down."
"It is true, father, there are many such ships; but only two or three that have made the long voyage across stormy seas to India."
"It is wonderful how these men can force fire to be their servant, and how it can make the wheels of the ship to move round."
"That I cannot tell you, father. I have never seen one of these vessels, though I have heard of them."
The priest said no more, but evidently fell into a profound meditation; and Stanley, getting quietly up, returned to his work. The priest came in, just as he had completed his bed.
"That is well," he said, looking at it approvingly. "I myself, although I know that, until my time has come, no creature can harm me, cannot resist a shudder when I hear one rustling amid the leaves of my bed; for they come in, although some of my friends have had a door placed to exclude their entry at night. I wander but little from my cell, and always close the door after me; but they enter, sometimes, when I am meditating, and forgetful of earthly matters, and the first I know of their presence is the rustling of the leaves in the bed, at night. Were I as strong in faith as I should be, I would heed it not. I tell myself so; but my fear is stronger than my will, and I am forced to rise, turn up the leaves with a stick until I find them, and then I open the door and eject them, with as much gentleness as may be."
"I should get no sleep at all," Stanley said. "I don't think that even a door would make me feel any safer, for I might forget to shut it, sometimes. Tomorrow, father, I will wage war with them, and see if I cannot decrease their numbers considerably."
Stanley's first task was to clear the bushes away from the court of the temple; and this, after several days' hard work, he carried out; although he soon saw that by so doing he would not diminish the number of the snakes, for the greater portion of the area was covered with blocks of fallen stone, among which the reptiles found an impenetrable shelter. The clearance effected, however, was so far useful that, while the creatures were before altogether hidden from sight by the bushes, they could now be killed when they came out to bask in the sun on the uncovered stones; and he could, every day, destroy a dozen or more without the slightest difficulty.
Ten days after he had finished the work, he heard the sound of men's voices and, peeping out, saw a Burmese officer with a party of eight armed men going to the Phongee's cell. It was possible that they might have come on other business, but it was more probable they had come in search of him. Some of the women who had come up to the hermit had seen him at work; and might have mentioned, on their return, that the priest had a man at work clearing away the bushes. The matter might have come to the ears of some officer anxious to distinguish himself, and the idea that this was the prisoner for whom a search was being made occurred to him.
Stanley shrank back into his cell, took up the bundle of clothes that served as his pillow, got on to the bed and, standing on it, was able to get his fingers on to the top of the wall. He hoisted himself up, made his way through the boughs of the roof, and dropped on to the ground outside. Then he went round by the back of the temple, until he stood outside the priest's cell, and could hear the voices within without difficulty.
"Then you know nothing whatever of this man?"
"Nothing whatever," he replied. "As I have told you, he came to me and asked for shelter. I gave him such poor assistance as I could, as I should give it to anyone who asked me. He has been no burden upon me, for he has killed enough snakes for my food and his own."
"You know not of what part he is a native?"
"Not at all; I asked him no questions. It was no business of mine."
"Could you form any idea from his speech?"
"His speech was ours. It seemed to me that it was that of a native of the lower provinces."
"Where is he now?"
"I know not."
"You say that, at present, he is away."
"Not seeing him in front, I thought he had gone out; for he comes and goes as he pleases. He is not a hired servant, but a guest. He cut down the bushes here, in order that he might more easily kill the snakes; for which, indeed, I am thankful to him, not only for the food that they afford, but because they were in such abundance, and so fearless, that they often came in here, knowing that they had naught to fear from me."
"Then you think that he will return soon?"
"As he told me not of his intention of going out at all, I cannot say. He is away, sometimes, for hours in the forest."
"Well, in any case, we shall watch here until his return. It may be that he is some idle fellow, who prefers killing snakes to honest work; but it may also be that he is the escaped prisoner of whom we are in search."
"I hear little of what passes in the town," the priest said, quietly. "News would disturb my meditations, and I never question those who come here to ask for my prayers. I have heard of the escape of no prisoner."
"It was a young English officer who got away. There has been a great stir about it. Every house in the town has been searched, and every guard boat on the river has been warned to allow no boat to pass, without assuring themselves that he is not on board."
"This was a brown man, like ourselves, clad only in a petticoat of rough cloth, like other peasants."
"He may have dyed his skin," the officer said. "At any rate, we will stay until he returns, and question him. Two of my men shall take their places just inside the entrance, and seize him as he enters. Has he arms?"
"None, save his knife and the stick with which he kills the snakes. It may be that he has seen you coming hither and, if he has committed any crime, he would flee, and not return here at all."
"If he does not come back before it is the hour when I must return to the town, I shall leave four men to watch for him; and they will wait here, if it is for a week, until he comes back again."
"You can do as you please," the priest said, "only I pray you withdraw your men from the neighbourhood of this cell. I would not that my meditations were disturbed by their talk. I have come hither for peace and quietness, and to be apart from the world and its distractions."
"You shall not be disturbed," the officer said respectfully, and Stanley heard a movement of feet, and then the closing of the door.
Thinking it probable that the officer might make a search round the temple, he at once made off into the wood behind the temple. As soon as he was well among the trees, he exchanged his cloth for the disguise he had worn in the town and, folding it up to be used as a blanket at night, he went further into the wood, sat down, and proceeded to think what his next step had best be. It was evident that he could not return to the temple for the present; and it was clear, also, that the search for him was still maintained, and that it would not be safe to attempt to descend the river. He regretted that he had been obliged to leave the place without saying goodbye to the priest, and again thanking him for the shelter that he had given him; but he was sure that, when he did not return, the old man would guess that he had caught sight of the officer and his party entering the temple, and had at once fled. Had he not known that the guard would remain there, he would have waited until they returned to the town, and would then have gone in and seen the priest; but as they would remain there for some days, he thought it was as well to abandon all idea of returning, as the suspicions that he might be the man sought for would be heightened by his continued absence, and the watch might be continued for a long time, on the chance of his coming back.
He concluded that, at any rate, his best course would be to endeavour to make his way for a considerable distance down the country; and then to try and get a boat. He knew that the country near the river was comparatively thickly populated, and that the distances between the villages were not great, so that he would find no great difficulty in purchasing provisions. The dress he had brought with him was not altogether unfavourable for such a purpose, as he could easily pass as a sub-officer, whose duty it was to inquire whether the villages had each sent all their able-bodied men to the war. The only drawback to it would be that, if instructions for his arrest had been sent down to the villages along the road, as well as those by the river, they would have probably been directed to specially look for one clad in such attire. However, it would be open to him, at any moment, to take to his peasant's disguise again.
He at last determined to make a start and, by nightfall, had traversed several miles through the great forest stretching along by the side of the Panlaung river. He had asked many questions of his friend the officer, as they went up to the temple, as to the roads. He was told that there was one running almost due south to Ramuthayn, by which he could travel down to Rangoon, by way of Tannoo. This, however, would take him a long distance from the main river, and he decided that he would presently strike the road that ran about halfway between the hills and the Irrawaddy. He would follow that for a time, and would try and strike the river somewhere between Meloun and Keow-Uan.
Below this point there was a network of rivers, and but few villages, and the country was swampy and unhealthy. He infinitely preferred the risks of the descent by the river to those by road; and it seemed to him that, if he could but obtain possession of one of the small native fishing boats, he could drop down at night, unnoticed, as the width of the river at Ava was upwards of a thousand yards and, below that town, often considerably exceeded that breadth.
When it became too dark to proceed further, he sat down at the foot of a tree. He regretted that he had no means of lighting a fire; and determined that, at any risk, he would obtain the means of doing so at the first village that he came to—for he knew that there were both tigers and leopards in the jungles. He thought, however, that they were not likely to be numerous, so near the capital; and the old priest had never alluded to them as a source of danger though, indeed, it had never occurred to him to ask.
In the morning he continued his way. He had gone but a mile when he heard a sudden scream in the wood, a short distance to his left. Feeling sure that it was a human being, in great fear or pain, he drew his knife and ran, at the top of his speed, in the direction of the cry; thinking that it might be some man, or woman, attacked by the robbers of the forest.
Suddenly he came upon a small open space, some twenty yards in diameter. He hesitated, when his eyes fell on a group in the centre. Two men were lying on the ground, and a leopard stood with a paw on each of them. They had guns lying beside them, and a fire was burning close by. He guessed that the animal had sprung from a tree, one of whose boughs extended almost as far as the centre of the opening. Probably it had killed one of the men in its spring for, at the moment when he saw the animal, it was licking the blood from the shoulder of the man on whom its right paw rested. The other was, as far as Stanley could see, unhurt.
Illustration: Stanley gave a sudden spring, and buried his knife in the leopard.
His tread in the light Burmese shoes had been almost noiseless; and the leopard, which was keeping up a low growling, and whose back was towards him, had apparently not noticed it. He hesitated for a moment, and then decided to endeavour to save the man who was still alive. Creeping up stealthily, he gave a sudden spring upon the leopard, and buried his knife to the hilt in its body, just behind the shoulder.
With a terrible roar, it rolled over for a moment, and then struggled to its feet. The time had been sufficient for Stanley to pick up and cock one of the guns and, as the leopard turned to spring at him, he aimed between its eyes and fired. Again the beast rolled over, and Stanley caught up the other gun, thrust the muzzle within a foot of its head, and fired. The leopard gave a convulsive quiver, and lay dead.
Chapter 5: With Brigands.
Stanley uttered an involuntary hurrah as the leopard expired; and at the sound the Burman, who had been lying motionless, leapt to his feet. He looked at the leopard, and then at his rescuer, and exclaimed in a tone of astonishment:
"You have slain the beast alone, and with no weapon but your knife!"
"No," Stanley replied; "I began the fight with my knife, only; but caught up one of those guns when I wounded him, and fired as he charged me. Then I finished him with the other."
"Comrade," the Burman said, "you have done a great deed, with courage. I, who am esteemed no coward, would never even have thought of attacking that great leopard with but a knife, and that to save the life of a stranger."
"I saw the guns lying on the ground. Had it not been for that, I should not have dared to attack the leopard, for it would have been certain death."
"Certain death, indeed. But tell me, first, how you did it. It seems to me well nigh a miracle."
"I was passing along, not far distant, when I heard your cry," Stanley said. "Thinking that it was some person in distress, I ran hither, and saw you both lying, with the leopard's forepaws upon you. The beast's back was turned to me and, as it was growling, it had not heard my approach. Seeing the guns lying there—and having no doubt that they were loaded—I stole up, sprang suddenly on the leopard, and drove my knife into it behind the shoulder. The blow rolled it over, and gave me time to pick up the gun. The rest was easy."
The man, without a word, examined the body of the leopard.
"It is as you say," he said. "It was well struck, and would probably have been fatal; but the animal would have torn you in pieces before he died, but for the guns.
"Well, comrade, you have saved my life; and I am your servant, so long as I live. I thought all was over with me. The leopard, as it sprang, threw its full weight on my comrade, here. We had just risen to our feet; and the blow struck me, also, to the ground. I raised that cry as I fell. I lay there, immovable. I felt the leopard's paw between my shoulders, and heard its angry growlings; and I held my breath, expecting every moment to feel its teeth in my neck.
"I had but one hope, namely, that the beast would carry off my comrade—who, I was well assured, was dead—to the jungle to devour him, and would then come back to fetch me. I managed to breathe once, very quietly, when I felt a movement of the leopard and, hearing a low sound, guessed that he was licking my comrade's blood; but slightly as I moved, the leopard noticed it, and stood straight up again over me. I dared not breathe again, but the time had come when I felt that I must do so, though I was sure that it would be the signal for my death.
"Then I knew not what had happened. There was a sharp pain as the leopard's claws contracted, and then there was a loud roar, and its weight was removed from me. Then I heard it snarl, as if about to spring. Then came the sound of a gun, a fall, and a struggle; and then the sound of another gun. Then I heard your shout, and knew the beast was dead.
"Now, sir, what can I do for you? Shall I first skin the leopard?"
"I care not for the skin," Stanley said. "It would be of no use to me."
"Then, with your permission, I will take it off, and keep it as long as I live, as a remembrance of the narrowest escape that I ever had."
"Is your comrade dead?"
"Yes," the man replied. "The leopard struck him between the shoulders as you see; and the force of the blow, and the weight of the spring, must have killed him instantaneously."
"Then I will take his sword, gun, and cartridges."
So Stanley undid the sword belt, and buckled it round him; put the bandolier of cartridges over his shoulders; and took up the gun and reloaded it, while the man was at work skinning the leopard. This operation the man performed with great speed. It was evidently one that he had done before. As soon as the beast was flayed, he rolled up the skin and placed it on his shoulder.
"You are an officer, sir?" he asked.
"No; I am a fugitive."
While he had been watching the man, Stanley had debated over whether he should confide in him; and thought that, after the service he had rendered him, he could do so with safety.
"I am an Englishman—I was captured by Bandoola, at Ramoo, and sent a prisoner to Ava. I have escaped, and want to make my way down to Rangoon; but I heard that orders had been sent along the river to arrest me, and I do not, at present, know how to make my way down."
"Come with me," the man said. "I have friends in the forest, some distance from here. They will receive you gladly, when I tell them what you have done for me; and you will be safe until you choose to go. We are outlaws but, at present, we are masters of the forest. The government has its hands full, and there is no fear of their disturbing us."
Stanley thought over the matter, for a minute or two. Doubtless it was a robber band that he was asked to join, but the offer seemed to promise safety, for a time.
"I agree," he said, "so that you do not ask me to take part in any deeds of violence."
"About that, you shall do as you like," the man said; "but I can tell you that we make good hauls, sometimes. Our difficulty is not to capture booty, but to dispose of it.
"Have you a turban? For that helmet of yours is out of place, in the woods. The rest of your dress has nothing peculiar about it, and would attract no attention."
"I have a turban. I have been, lately, in the dress of a peasant. The cloth I wore lies fifty yards away; I dropped it as I ran. It will be useful to cover me at night, if for nothing else."
Stanley exchanged the helmet for the turban that he had before worn, and fetched the cloth.
"Will you bury your companion?" he said.
"It would be useless. He will sleep above ground, as well as below and, if we are to reach my comrades tonight, it is time for us to be moving."
They at once set out. After five hours' walking, they came upon the river Myitnge, the tributary that falls into the Irrawaddy at Ava. It was some four hundred yards across. The Burman walked along its banks for a short distance, and then pulled from a clump of bushes a small boat, that was just capable of carrying two. He put it in the water. They took their seats, and paddled across to the other side; where he carefully concealed it, as before.
"That is our ferry boat," he said. "It is not often used, for our headquarters are in the great forest we shall presently come to; but it is as well when, occasionally, parties are sent out to hunt us, to have the means of crossing to the other side."
Another two hours' walking, through cultivated fields, brought them to the edge of the forest.
"Here you are as safe as if you were in Rangoon," the Burman said. "In another hour we shall reach my comrades. As a rule, we change our headquarters frequently. At present there is no question of our being disturbed; so we have settled ourselves, for a time."
"Why were you and your comrade on the other side of the river?
"His village lies five miles beyond that forest," the man said. "At ordinary times, he dared not venture there; but he thought that, at present, most of the able men would be away, and so he could pay a visit to his friends. He asked me to accompany him and, as I had nothing better to do, I agreed to go. A convoy of traders, too strong to be attacked, had passed down from the hill country the morning before we started. There was not much probability that anyone would come again, for a few days."
"They bring down rubies from there, do they not?"
"The mines are the property of the emperor," the man said, "and the gems are sent down, once every two months, under a strong guard; but for all that, many of the traders bring rubies down from there—of course, secretly. The men who work the mines often conceal stones that they come upon, and sell them for a small sum to the traders; besides, sometimes the peasants pick them up elsewhere—and these, too, make haste to sell them for anything that they can get. We do not care for them much, for it is a risky business going down to Ava to sell them; and the traders there, knowing that, at a word from them, we should be arrested and most likely executed, will give us next to nothing for them. We prefer silver and lead for money; and garments, arms, and set jewels.
"Each man takes his share of what is captured and, when we have enough, we go home to our villages. A pound of silver, or two or three pounds of lead, are generally quite enough to buy the goodwill of the head man of the village. We give out that we have been working on the river, or in Ava, since we left; and everyone knows better than to ask questions."
In another hour, they reached the encampment. It was now dusk, and some five-and-twenty men were sitting round a great fire. A number of leafy arbours had been constructed in a circle beyond them.
"What, returned so soon!" one of the men said, as Stanley's guide came near enough for the firelight to fall on his face; "but where is Ranji, and whom have you brought here—a new recruit?"
"Not exactly, Parnik, but one to whom I have promised shelter, for a while. Ranji is dead. I should have been dead, too, and eaten; had it not been for my comrade, here. Here is the skin of the beast who slew Ranji and, when I tell you that the leopard stood with one paw on me, you may guess that my escape was a narrow one."
"The brute was a large one," one of the other men said, as Meinik—for such was the name of Stanley's companion—unrolled and held the skin up. "I see it had a bullet between the eyes, and another just behind the ear; and there is a knife cut behind the shoulder. It must have been hot work, when it came to knives, with a beast of that size."
"Give us some food, and cocoa; we have eaten nothing today, and have walked far. When we have fed, I will tell you my story."
The Burman's recital of the adventure with the leopard excited great applause, and admiration, from his comrades.
"'Tis wonderful," one said, "not so much that our new comrade should have killed the leopard, though that was a great feat; but that, armed only with a knife, he should attack a beast like this, to save the life of a stranger. Truly I never heard of such a thing. Has he all his senses?"
Meinik nodded. He had received permission from Stanley to say who he was. Stanley had consented with some reluctance, but the man assured him that he could trust his companions, as well as himself; and that it was much better to tell the truth, as it would soon be seen that his features differed altogether from their own and that, therefore, he was some strange person in disguise.
"He is in his senses," he said, "but he does not see things as we do. He is one of those English barbarians who have taken Rangoon, and against whom our armies are marching. He was captured at Ramoo; and sent by Bandoola, as a prisoner, to Ava. He has made his escape and will, in a short time, go down the river; but at present the search is too hot for him. So you see that he is, like ourselves, a fugitive."
"What is his age?" one of the men asked, after a silence, during which they all gazed at the newcomer.
"He is but a lad, being as he tells me between sixteen and seventeen; but you see his skin is stained, and his face marked, so as to give him the appearance of age."
"If the men of his race are as brave as he is, Meinik, our troops will truly have harder work than they think to drive them into the sea. Does he speak our tongue?"
"Yes," Stanley answered for himself. "I have been more than two years in the province of Chittagong, and learned it from one who was in our service."
"And would many of your people risk their lives in the way you did, for a stranger?"
"Certainly. Many men constantly run risks as great to save others."
"One life is all a man has," the Burman said. "Why should he give it for a stranger?"
"I don't think that we stop to think of that," Stanley said. "It seems to us natural that if we see another in danger of his life, we should try to save it; whether it is a man or woman, whether it be from fire or from any other fate."
"You must be a strange people," the Burman said gravely, "and I should scarce have credited it, had I not heard that you had done it, yourself. But it is wonderful; and you, too, a lad who has not yet come to his full strength.
"We should be glad to have such a man for our comrade, my friends. Whether he be Burman or English matters little. He has risked his life for one of us; and he is our brother as long as he likes to stay with us."
There was a warm exclamation of assent, round the circle; and Stanley felt that he had no cause for uneasiness, as long as he remained with them. In the evening the men sang many songs and, at their request, Stanley sang some English ones, choosing some with lively airs. The Burmese were much pleased and surprised at these, and joined merrily in the chorus.
Half a dozen of them then set to work with their knives, cut down some saplings and boughs, and constructed for Stanley an arbour similar to the others; and he lay down well satisfied with the results of his adventure, and feeling that he could remain with these merry fellows, criminals though they might be, until it would be safe to make his way down the river.
In the morning the men started early, leaving him in charge of the fire. They went off in parties of four or five, to watch the various roads leading to the capital; two or three of them, dressed as peasants, going to towns where travellers would halt, so as to gain information as to any party coming down. When they gathered again, at dusk, one party only had had any success. They had met six merchants coming down with horses laden with spices, indigo, and cotton. These had offered no resistance, and they had taken as much as they could carry, and then allowed them to go on with the rest of their goods. There was a general feeling of regret that the party had not been more numerous; and some expressions of anger, at the spies on the road by which the traders had come, for not letting them know beforehand, so that they could have placed their whole force there and carried away all the goods.
"These are the things that suit us best," Meinik said to Stanley. "You see, one can go down with a parcel of cinnamon or pepper, or a bag of dyes, or fifty pounds of cotton into the town; and sell it in the market, at a fair and proper price. Of course, one dresses one's self as a small cultivator; and there is no suspicion, whatever, that all is not right.
"We shall keep a sharp lookout for the men, as they come back again, and relieve them of the silver or goods they may have taken in exchange; that is, if they come by the same road—but it is more likely that, after their adventure today, they will choose some other, or take a guide and travel by village tracks. No doubt they think that they have got off easily, for they have not lost more than a quarter of their goods. It is war time now, and there is no fear of a force being sent against us; but usually we do not take so much as a quarter of the merchandise. Were they to lose everything, they would make complaints; and then we should have a force sent up against us, and be obliged to move away, for a time. But as it is, they are so pleased with getting the greater part of their goods safe to market that they do not care to make a fuss about it; for they might have to pay the court officials, and others, more than the value of the goods lost."
"They do not often resist, then?"
"Not often. If a man loses his goods, he can gather more again; but when his life has gone, everything has gone. Besides, as a rule we take care that we are so strong that they see, at once, that resistance would be hopeless. Sometimes they bring armed guards with them. These are men who make it their business to convoy traders down, when the times are troubled. Sometimes we have fights with these but, as a rule, we seldom attack them unless we are so strong that they do not dare to oppose us. Still, we do have fights sometimes, for these Shan guards are brave fellows. Their convoys are generally rich ones, for it would not pay small traders to hire men to protect them.
"In times of peace, we seldom stop long in one neighbourhood for, when it once becomes known what road we are lying near, they come along in parties too strong to be attacked and, as it matters little to us where we live, we move away perhaps a hundred miles, and then settle on another line of traffic. We have not been here long; we were last down by Tannoo, and did well for a long time there; until at last the governor raised all the villagers, and hunted the woods, and we found that we had to leave. I expect we shall stay here some time, now. There is no fear of troops being sent out, and we can afford not to press too hardly on travellers; for we have done so well, of late, that we could separate and return to our homes, each with a good store of booty. Half our number did leave, when we came up from the south; and more of us would go, if it were not for this order that everyone shall join the army. It is much pleasanter to live here, free to do as we like, than to be driven down like a herd of beasts, to fight. Besides, we have no quarrel with your people. It was the officials at Aracan who began it; let them fight, if they like."
Stanley remained a fortnight with the band. At the end of that time, they heard that a party of thirty traders were coming down together, and that they had with them ten armed guards. This, they no doubt supposed, was ample protection for, as the band generally worked in such small parties, it was believed that there were but a few outlaws in the forest. All the band went out, and returned in the evening, laden with spoil. Two or three of them were wounded, but not severely.
"So you had resistance today, Meinik."
"It lasted only for a minute," the man said. "As soon as they saw how strong we were, the guard were glad enough to put up their swords and let us bind them hand and foot, while we searched the merchants. As you see, we have made a good capture, though we have not seized more than a fifth of what they brought down with them; but it will take them some time to pack their bales again, for we searched everything thoroughly, and made all the merchants strip, and searched their clothes and their hair."
"What did you do that for?"
"Well, it was this way. I said to my comrades, as we went along this morning:
"'The Englishman is going to leave us, in a day or two. I have not forgotten what I owe him, and should like to make him a present. I propose that we search all the party thoroughly, today. From what we heard, some of them come from the ruby country, and are pretty sure to have gems concealed about them, or in their baggage. I propose that all the stones we find we will give to our friend.'
"They all agreed at once for, as you know, they all like you; and rubies, as I told you, are of little use to us, for we cannot dispose of them without great risk. So they did as I proposed, and had good fortune. Twelve out of the number had gems hidden about them, and some of them a good lot. You need not hesitate to take them, for you may be sure that they bought them, for next to nothing, from poor fellows who had risked their lives to hide them.
"There they are. We have not looked at them, but just emptied the parcels into this bag, as we found them. Of course, they are all rough stones. You must take them as a present, from all of us; and as a proof that a Burman, even if he is but a robber, is grateful for such a service as that you rendered him."
Stanley felt that he could not refuse a gift so offered, even though the goods were stolen. As Meinik said, the gems were of little use to the robbers, since they were afraid to try and dispose of them; and their owners had themselves broken the law in having purchased them, and had doubtless given sums bearing no proportion to their real value. Therefore he thanked Meinik very heartily; and also, after they had had their meal, the rest of the band, who made very light of the matter.
The things were useless to them, they said. If it had been silver, or even lead, it would have been different; but to endeavour to sell rubies they had to risk their lives. The goods that they had got that day would fetch them far more money than the rubies, and could be sold without difficulty and, as soon as the war was over and they could go down to their villages, the band would break up. They had enough silver and lead hidden away to keep them for years, even if they never did any work, whatever.
"What do you do with it, when you get back?"
"We hide it. It would never do to enter a village with ten or twelve pounds' weight of silver, and three or four times as much lead, for the headman might take it into his head to have us searched. So we generally dig a hole at the foot of a tree, in some quiet spot; and take, perhaps, a pound of silver and two or three of lead with us. A gift of half that silver is enough to convince the headman that we are honest fellows, who have been working hard since we went away; and from time to time we can go to our store and get what we want from it, and can build a house and marry, and take up a field or two, and perhaps become headmen ourselves, before very long."
"Well, I am sure I wish you all well," Stanley said. "You have all been very kind to me, since I joined you; and I shall be glad to think of you all as settled quietly down in your villages, rather than as remaining here when, some day or other, you might all be captured and harm come to you."
The next morning Stanley started with Meinik, who was a native of a small village on the river, some forty miles below Ava, and who had resolved to accompany him down to Rangoon.
"I shall be able to get a boat and some nets, for a pound or two of lead. If we are hailed, I can do the talking; and can land and buy provisions, if wanted. I have arranged with my comrades to take my share of the silver and lead we have stored up, at once; for it is likely that they will also have gone to their homes before I shall have returned, and we have changed everything into money, except what we took yesterday."
Before starting Stanley was again dyed, and the tattoo marks imitated—far more carefully than before, three or four of the men operating upon him, at once. His face was almost entirely covered with these marks. Some liquid was applied that extracted the colour from his eyebrows, and left them snow white. Some of his hair was similarly treated and, looking at himself in a pool of water, Stanley did not in the slightest degree recognize himself; and felt certain that no one would suspect him of being the young English captive.
Resuming his peasant's cloth, he took a hearty farewell of the band and started with Meinik. The latter carried a bundle, slung on his gun. It contained some clothes, and did not look heavy; but in the centre were two parcels that weighed some forty pounds. Stanley carried a bundle with his other clothes, and several pounds of rice.
Two days' walking took them to Meinik's village. Once out of the forest they travelled at night, and reached the village just as the people were astir. The place consisted of ten or twelve huts, and Meinik created quite an excitement among the few people who inhabited it. These consisted of two or three old men, some women, and children.
"Where have you been for the last year and half, Meinik, if I may ask?"
"Working near Ava," he said; "but as I should have to go to war if I had remained there, I thought that I would come back, and see how you all were. I have saved a little money, and may settle down; but whether here or elsewhere I have not yet made up my mind."
"You will have to go to the war," one of the old men said. "There is scarce a day that one of the war canoes does not stop here, to see if there are any able-bodied men. They have taken eight, and they will assuredly take you."
"Then I shall get a boat," he said, "and take to fishing. The war cannot last long, and I shall do my best to keep out of the way of the war canoes, until it is over. If any of you have a boat to sell, I will buy it."
"I will sell you mine," the old man said. "Both of my sons have been taken to the war, and I am too old to work it myself. It is a good one; my sons made it only last year.
"Whom have you with you?"
Stanley had remained a short distance off, while Meinik was talking to his friends.
"He is an old man I joined along the road," he said. "He is a skilful fisherman; and he has agreed to go with me, if I can get a boat.
"Is there an empty hut?"
"Yes, six of them. Of course, when the men were taken they carried off the wives and children, as usual, as hostages for their conduct."
Meinik nodded. He felt no surprise, as it was the custom in Burma to hold the women and children of all the men going to the war, as guarantees that their husbands would not desert or show cowardice in battle. In either event their relatives would be, at once, put to death.
"My companion is tired," he said. "We walked all night, so we will cook some food and he will sleep."
They at once took possession of one of the empty huts, which was just as it was left by its proprietor. One of the women brought a brand or two from her hearth. An earthen cooking pot was filled with water and placed above it, and a few handfuls of rice dropped in. Two or three snakes, cut up into small pieces, and some pepper pods were added; and then Meinik went out, talked to his acquaintances, and arranged for the purchase of the boat. Stanley watched the fire.
In an hour, Meinik returned.
"The boat is a good one," he said, "and the nets in fair order. I have bought them for two pounds of lead; and have promised that, when the war is over and the man's sons return, it is to be free to them to buy it back, at the same price."
After eating their meal, they both lay down and slept until late in the afternoon. Then Meinik bought an earthenware pot, and a flat slab of the same material for making a fire on; some peppers and capsicums, and a little cinnamon and nutmeg; a basket of mangoes, and some tobacco. As soon as it became dusk, they took their places in the boat, Meinik carrying down two or three faggots of wood.
The boat was a canoe, hewn out of a pine log. It would have carried four people comfortably, and there was plenty of room for them both to lie down at full length. It was very light, the wood having been cut away until it was little thicker than cardboard. This was the almost universal method of construction: even the war canoes, that would carry sixty paddlers—sitting two by two on a bench—and thirty soldiers, being hewn from great single logs of teak. The nets were stowed one, at each end. In the middle was the fireplace, on which the brands of the fire had already been laid. Near it were the faggots and stores.
Meinik and Stanley sat on the nets, each with a paddle. The former had hidden the greater portion of his store of money in the ground, before entering the village. As soon as they had fairly started, Stanley said:
"Had we not better get rid of the fire, Meinik? Its light would draw attention to us."
"That matters little," the Burman replied. "There are not likely to be war canoes about at night, and I expect that most of them will have gone down the river. People fish either by night or by day and, even if a war canoe came along, they would not trouble about it for, of course, many men too old to go to the war remain here, and go on fishing. People cannot starve because there is fighting. The old men and women must cultivate the fields and fish, or both they and the people of the towns would starve.
"Many even of the young men do not go. They keep away from their villages during the day, and work in the fields; and the headmen shut their eyes, for they know that if the fields are not cultivated, the people cannot pay their share of the taxes.
"Still, it is as well to be on the safe side. When the fire has burnt low we will lay a cloth over the top of the boat, so that the glow of the embers will not be seen."
They kept their course near the middle of the river; partly because the current there was stronger, partly because any war canoes that might be coming up would keep close to one bank or the other. They kept on their way until there was a faint gleam of light in the sky; and then paddled into the shore, chose a spot where some bushes drooped down into the water and, forcing the canoe in behind these, so as to be entirely concealed from the sight of any passing boat, cooked some food and, having eaten their breakfast, lay down and slept until evening.
Illustration: They forced the canoe behind bushes, so as to be entirely concealed.
Night after night the journey was continued. Their supply of food was ample to last them; and there was, therefore, no occasion to stop at any village to purchase more. The river, at the point where they started, was about two miles wide; but at some points it was double that width, while at others it contracted to little over a mile. Its level was much lower, now, than it had been when Stanley ascended it, two months before. Sometimes at night they towed one of their nets behind them, and obtained an ample supply of fish for their wants.
Each night they made, as Stanley calculated, about forty miles and, after ten days' travel, they came to the point where the great river divided, one small arm running down to Rangoon; another descending to Bassein, and then falling into the sea at Cape Negrais; while a large proportion of the water found its way down by innumerable branches between the Rangoon and Bassein rivers.
For the last two or three days they had been obliged to observe great caution for, below Prome, there were numbers of boats all going down the river laden with men and stores. These, however, only travelled by day; and the canoe was always, at that time, either floating in the shelter of bushes, or hauled up on the bank at spots where it could be concealed from view by thick growths of rushes.
"We shall never be able to get down to Rangoon by water," said Meinik. "The river will be crowded with rowboats near the town; and there will be no chance, whatever, of making our way through them. At the next village we come to, I will go in and learn the news. Your countrymen may have been driven out by this time and, in that case, there will be nothing to do but to travel north on foot, until we reach Chittagong."
"I have no fear that we shall be driven out, Meinik."
This conversation had occurred on the night when they had passed the point of division of the two arms of the river. They had caught a larger supply of fish than usual and, as soon as the boat was laid up, Meinik started along the bank, with a number of them, for the nearest village. He returned in two hours.
"It is well I landed," he said, "for the point where the greater portion of our people are gathered is Henzawaddy, only some fifteen miles further on.
"You were right; your people have not been driven out. A large number of our troops are down near Rangoon but, in the fighting that has taken place, we have gained no advantage. Your people marched out at the end of May, carried a stockade; and advanced to Joazoang, and attacked some villages defended by stockades and carried them, after having killed a hundred of our men. Then a great stockade on a hill near the river, three miles from Rangoon—which our people thought could not be taken, so strongly was it protected—was attacked. The guns of your people made a great gap in a stockade a mile in front of it. Two hundred men were killed, and also the commander.
"Then your people marched on to the great stockade at Kemmendine. Your troops, when they got there, saw how strong it was and were afraid to attack it. They lay down all night, close to it; and we thought we should destroy them, all when they attacked in the morning; but their ships that had come up with them opened fire, at daybreak. As the stockades were hidden from the sight of those on the river, we had thought that the ships could do nothing; but they shot great balls up into the air, and they came down inside the stockade, where they burst with an explosion like the noise of a big gun; and killed so many that the troops could not remain under so terrible a fire, and went away, leaving it to your people to enter the stockade, without fighting."
Chapter 6: Among Friends.
"It certainly seems to me," Stanley said, when he heard the Burman's account of the state of things below, "that it will not be possible for us to go any further, by water."
"It would be very dangerous," Meinik said. "It is certain that all the men in this part of the country have been obliged to go with the army and, even were we both natives, and had no special reason for avoiding being questioned, we should be liable to be seized and executed at once, for having disregarded the orders to join the army. Assuredly we cannot pass down farther in our boat, but must take to the land. I should say that we had best get spears and shields, and join some newly-arrived party."
"But you forget that, though my disguise as a native is good enough to mislead anyone passing us on the road, or in the dusk after sunset, I should certainly attract attention if travelling with them, by day."
"I forgot that. I have grown so accustomed to seeing you that I forget that, to other people, your face would seem strange; as it at first did to me, in the forest. Indeed you look to me now like one of ourselves; but were we to join a band, someone would be sure to ask questions concerning you, ere long. What, then, do you think we had best do?"
"From what I heard of the country from one of your comrades, who is a native of this province, it would be impossible for us, after crossing the river, to make our way down on the opposite side, since the whole country is swampy and cut up by branches of the Irrawaddy. On this side there are few obstacles of that kind but, on the other hand, we shall find the country full of troops going down towards Rangoon. Your comrade told me that the hills that we saw to the east, from the forest at Ava, extended right down into Tenasserim; and were very high, and could not be traversed, for that no food could be obtained, and that tigers and wild animals and other beasts abounded. But he said that the smaller hills that we crossed on the way to your village—which he called the Pegu Yoma hills—some of whose swells come down to the bank, extend all the way down to the sea between the Irrawaddy and the Sittang rivers; and that, from them, streams flowed to one river or the other. Therefore, if we could gain that range, we should avoid the swamp country, altogether.
"A few miles back we passed a river coming in from the east and, if we follow that up as far as there is water, we shall be among the hills. He said that there were no mountains at all, there; but just rounded hills, with many villages and much cultivated ground, so there ought to be no difficulty in making our way along. We shall be able to gather food in the fields; or can go into villages and purchase some, for the men will all be away. Besides, we can get spears and shields, and can say that having been away from home on a journey—when the men were all ordered to war, we returned too late to go with the rest of the villagers, and are making our way down to join them. Many others must be doing the same, and the story will be likely enough.
"In that way we can get down till we are close to the troops round Rangoon, and must then take our chance of getting through them."
"That seems better than the other way," Meinik said. "There is such a river as you speak of, above Sarawa. We can paddle back tonight, and hide near the town; then I can go there in the morning, and buy a couple of spears and shields, and get some more rice and other things. We have plenty of ammunition for our guns; which we may want, if we meet any wild beasts."
"You don't think that there will be any danger in your going in there, Meinik? Of course, there is no absolute occasion for us to have spears and shields, as we have guns."
"We ought to have shields," Meinik replied, "and it were better to have spears too, and also for us to carry axes—everyone carries an axe in war time, for we always erect stockades and, though a very poor man may only have his knife, everyone who can afford it takes an axe. Most people have such a thing, for it is wanted for cutting firewood, for clearing the ground, for building houses, and for many other things; and a Burman must be poor, indeed, who does not own one."
"By all means, then, get them for us, Meinik; besides, we may find them useful for ourselves."
They now lay down and slept until evening; and then started up the river again, keeping close in under shadow of the bank and, two hours before daylight, concealed the canoe as usual, at a spot two miles above Sarawa. Meinik started at daybreak, and returned three hours later with two axes, spears, and shields.
That night they turned into the river running to the east and, for four nights, paddled up it. The country was now assuming a different character, and the stream was running in a valley with rising ground—from a hundred to a hundred and fifty feet high—on each side, and was narrowing very fast. Towards morning on the fifth day the river had become a small stream, of but two or three feet deep; and they decided to leave the boat, as it was evident that they would be able to go but a short distance further.
"We may as well hide her carefully," Stanley said. "It is certainly not likely that we shall want her again, but there is never any saying and, at any rate, there is no great trouble in doing it."
They cooked a meal and then started at once, so as to do a few hours' walking before the sun became high. They determined to keep on eastward, until they reached the highest point of the dividing ridge between the two main rivers, and then to follow it southward. The country was now well cultivated, and they had some trouble in avoiding the small villages dotted thickly about, as the course they were following was not the one they would take if making straight to join the army. They slept for three or four hours in the heat of the day; and then, pushing on, found themselves before sunset on what seemed to them the highest point of the divide. To the right they could see the flat country stretching towards the Irrawaddy, to the left the ground was more sharply undulating. Two miles away was a stream of fair size, which they judged to be the river that runs down to Pegu, and afterwards joins the Rangoon river below the town.
Stanley thought that the hill on which they stood was some five hundred feet above the low country they had left. A great part of the hills was covered with trees although, at the point where they had made their way up, the hillside was bare. They went on until they entered the forest, and there set to work to chop firewood. Meinik carried a tinderbox, and soon had a fire blazing, and by its side they piled a great stock of wood.
"I do not know that there are any leopards so far south as this," he said, "but at any rate it will be safer to keep a big fire blazing. I never used to think much about leopards but, ever since I had that great beast's foot upon my back, I have had a horror of them."
The next morning they continued their journey south, going along boldly and passing through several villages.
"You are late for the war," an old man said, as they went through one of them.
"I know we are," Meinik replied, "but we were away with a caravan of traders when the order came; and so, instead of going down the river, we have had to journey on foot. But we shall be there in time. From what we have heard, there has not been much fighting, yet."
"No; the white barbarians are all shut up in Rangoon. We have not attacked them in earnest, but we shall soon do so and, moreover, they will soon be all starved, for the country has been swept clear of all cattle for twenty miles round, the villages deserted, and everything laid waste; and we hear that half their number are laid up with sickness, and that a great number have died. I wish that I were younger, that I, too, could help to destroy the insolent foes who have dared to set foot on our sacred soil."
There was no need for haste, now, and they travelled by easy stages until, by the smoke rising from different parts of the forest, they knew that they were approaching the spot where the Burmese forces lay around Rangoon and, indeed, could see the great pagoda rising above the surrounding country. They had heard, at the last villages through which they had passed, that there had been an attack made upon the pagoda on the 1st of July. On that day the Burmese, in great force, had moved down in a line parallel to the road between the pagoda and the town, along which a considerable number of our troops were encamped. They had advanced until within half a mile of Rangoon, then had changed front and attacked the British position near the town. They occupied a hill near our line, and opened fire from there with jingals and small cannon; but two British guns firing grape soon silenced their guns, and a Madras regiment charged the hill and recaptured it.
This entirely upset the plan of the Wongee in command of the Burmese. The signal for the whole of the army to attack was to have been given, as soon as their left had broken through the British line, and had thus cut off all the troops on the road leading to the pagoda from the town. Seeing that this movement had failed, the general did not give the signal for the general attack, but ordered the troops to fall back. He had been recalled in disgrace to Ava; and a senior officer, who arrived just after the battle, assumed the command. He at once set to work to make a very strong stockade at Kummeroot, five miles from the great pagoda; and also fortified a point on the river above Kemmendine—the stockade that had been captured by the British—and intended from this point to send down fire rafts to destroy the British shipping and, at the same time, made continuous attacks at night on the British lines.
The rains at this time were falling incessantly, and the Burmese did not think that the British would be able to move out against them. The position on the river was connected with that at Kummeroot by strong stockades; and the Burmese general was convinced that, if an attack was made, it could be easily defeated. However, eight days after the repulse of the Burmese first attack, the vessels came up the river, while a land column moved against Kummeroot.
The position was a strong one. The river was here divided into two branches and, on the point of land between these, the principal stockade was erected and was well provided with artillery; while on the opposite banks of both rivers other stockades with guns were erected, so that any attack by water would be met by the direct fire from the great stockade, and a cross fire from those on the banks.
Four ships came up, and the Burmese guns opened upon them, but the heavy fire from the men-of-war was not long in silencing them; and then a number of boats full of troops had landed, and stormed the stockade, and driven out the Burmese. The land column had been unable to take guns with them, owing to the impossibility of dragging them along the rain-sodden paths; and the Burmese chiefs, confident in the strength of their principal post—which was defended by three lines of strong stockades, one above another—and in their immensely superior force, treated with absolute contempt the advance of the little British column—of which they were informed, as soon as it started, by their scouts thickly scattered through the woods.
The general, Soomba Wongee, was just sitting down to dinner when he was told that the column had nearly reached the first stockade. He directed his chiefs to proceed to their posts and "drive the audacious strangers away," and continued his meal until the heavy and rapid musketry of the assailants convinced him that the matter was more serious than he had expected. As a rule, the Burmese generals do not take any active part in their battles; but Soomba Wongee left his tent and at once went towards the point attacked. He found his troops already retreating, and that the two outer stockades had been carried by the enemy. He rallied his men, and himself led the way to the attack; but the steady and continuous fire of the British rendered it impossible for him to restore order, and the Burmese remained crowded together, in hopeless confusion. However, he managed to gather together a body of officers and troops and, with them, charged desperately upon the British soldiers. He, with several other leaders of rank, was killed; and the Burmese were scattered through the jungle, leaving eight hundred dead behind them.
The fact that ten stockades, provided with thirty pieces of artillery, should have been captured in one day by the British, had created a deep impression among the villagers of the neighbourhood—from whom the truth could not be concealed—and indeed, all the villages, for many miles round the scene of action, were crowded with wounded. They told Meinik that the army was, for a time, profoundly depressed. Many had deserted, and the fact that stockades they had thought impregnable were of no avail, whatever, against the enemy, whose regular and combined action was irresistible, as against their own isolated and individual method of fighting, had shaken their hitherto profound belief in their own superiority to any people with whom they might come in contact.
Since that time no serious fighting had taken place. Occasional night attacks had been made, and all efforts on the part of the invaders to obtain food, by foraging parties, had proved unsuccessful. The boats of the fleet had gone up the Puzendown river, that joined the Rangoon river some distance below the town, and had captured a large number of boats that had been lying there, waiting until Rangoon was taken before going up the river with their cargoes of rice and salt fish; but they had gained no other advantage for, although the villages were crowded with fugitives from the town, these were driven into the jungle by the troops stationed there for the purpose, as soon as the boats were seen coming up the river.
In some cases, however, the boats had arrived so suddenly that there had not been time to do this; and the fugitives had been taken to Rangoon, where it was said they had been very well treated.
Great reinforcements had now come down from the upper provinces. Two of the king's brothers had arrived, to take command of the army; one had established himself at Donabew, the other at Pegu. They had brought with them numbers of astrologers, to fix upon a propitious time for an attack; and the king's Invulnerables, several thousands strong—a special corps, whom neither shot nor steel could injure—were with them.
About the 6th of August a strong position that had been taken up, by a force sent by the prince at Pegu, in the old Portuguese fort of Syriam had been attacked; with orders that the channel of the Rangoon river should be blocked, so that none of the strangers should escape the fate that awaited them. The position was a very strong one. The trees and brushwood round the fort had been cleared away; wherever there were gaps in the old wall stockades had been erected; and great beams suspended from the parapet in order that, if an attack was made, the ropes could be cut and the beams fall upon the heads of the assailants.
The British had, however, thrown a bridge across a deep creek, pushed on against the place, and carried it in a few minutes; the garrison flying, as soon as the assailants gained the ramparts, to a pagoda standing on a very steep hill, defended by guns, and assailable only by a very steep flight of steps. The troops, however, pressed up these fearlessly; and the garrison, discouraged and shaken by the reports of the fugitives from the lower fort, had fled as soon as the British arrived at the top of the steps.
Notwithstanding this and other, as successful, attacks upon their stockades, the Burmese troops now felt confident that, with their numerous forces, they would be victorious whenever the astrologers decided that the favourable moment had arrived.
Meinik had ascertained, from the villagers, the name of the leader and the locality to which the corps belonged that was posted nearest to Rangoon. As soon as it was dark, he and Stanley entered the forest. The smoke had served as a guide, to them, as to the position of the different corps; and they were able to make their way between these without being questioned. Presently, however, they came upon a strong picket.
"Where are you going?" the officer in command asked.
"To join the corps of the Woondock Snodee," Meinik replied. "We were away at Bhanno when the order came, and the rest had gone down the river before we got to Mew; so we came on by ourselves, not wishing to fail in our duty."
"You are just in time," the officer said. "The Woondock is a quarter of a mile away, on the left."
They moved off in that direction; but soon left the track and, avoiding the camp, kept away until they reached the edge of the forest. Then they crept forward through the jungle and brushwood, pausing to listen from time to time and, three times, changing their course to avoid parties of the Burmese acting as outposts.
On issuing from the jungle they crawled forward for three or four hundred yards, so as to be beyond musket shot of the outposts; and then remained quiet until morning broke. Then they could perceive red coats moving about, in a small village before which a breastwork had been thrown up, some four hundred yards away from them and, getting up to their feet, ran towards it. Several shots were fired at them, from the jungle behind; and some soldiers at once appeared at the breastwork. Supposing that the two figures approaching were Burmese deserters, they did not fire; and Stanley and his companion were soon among them.
They were soldiers of one of the Bengal regiments; and Stanley, to their surprise, addressed them in their own language.
"I am an Englishman," he said. "I am one of the prisoners whom they took, at Ramoo, and have escaped from their hands. Are there any of your officers in the village?"
"I will take you to them," a native sub-officer said; and Stanley, in a minute or two, entered a cottage in which four English officers were just taking their early breakfast, preparatory to turning out on duty.
"Whom have you got here, jemadar?" one of them asked, in Bengalee.
Stanley answered for himself.
"I am an Englishman, sir, and have just escaped from Ava."
The officer uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"Well, sir," the senior of them said, as he held out his hand to Stanley, "I congratulate you on having got away, whoever you are; but I am bound to say that, if it were not for your speech, I should not have believed you; for I have never seen anyone look less like an Englishman than you do."
"My name is Stanley Brooke, sir. I am the son of the late Captain Brooke, of the 15th Native Regiment."
"Then I should know you," one of the other officers said, "for I knew your father; and I remember seeing your name in the list of officers killed, at Ramoo, and wondered if it could be the lad I knew five or six years ago."
"I recollect you, Captain Cooke," Stanley said. "Your regiment was at Agra, when we were there."
"Right you are; and I am heartily glad that the news of your death was false," and he shook hands cordially with Stanley.
"And who is your companion?" the major asked. "Is he an Englishman, also?"
"No, sir; he is a native. He is a most faithful fellow. He has acted as my guide, all the way down from the point we started from, twenty miles from Ava. I could never have accomplished it without his aid for, although I speak Burmese well enough to pass anywhere, my face is so different in shape from theirs that, if I were looked at closely in the daylight, I should be suspected at once. I could never have got here without his aid."
"How was it that he came to help you, sir?" Major Pemberton asked. "As far as we can see, the Burmese hate us like poison. Even when they are wounded to death, they will take a last shot at any soldiers marching past them."
"I happened to save his life from a leopard," Stanley said, "and, truly, he has shown his gratitude."
"Jemadar," the major said, "take that man away with you. See that he is well treated. Give him some food, of course. He will presently go with this officer to the general."
Stanley said a few works in Burmese to Meinik, telling him that he was to have food, and would afterwards go with him to the general; and he then, at the invitation of the officers, sat down with them to breakfast. While eating it, Stanley told them something of his adventures. After the meal was over, the major said:
"You had better go with Mr. Brooke to the general, Captain Cooke. I cannot well leave the regiment.
"We can let you have an outfit, Mr. Brooke; though we are, most of us, reduced pretty well to our last garments. What with the jungle and what with the damp, we have nearly all arrived at the last state of dilapidation; but I am sure the general would like to see you in your present disguise."
"It makes no difference to me, sir," Stanley said, with a laugh. "I am so accustomed to this black petticoat, now, that I should almost feel strange in anything else. I am afraid this dye will be a long time before it wears itself out. It is nearly three weeks since I was dyed last, and it has faded very little, yet."
"You need not take your arms, anyhow," Captain Cooke said. "You will attract less attention going without them, for it will only be supposed that you are one of the natives who have been brought in by the boats."
Meinik was sitting on the ground, contentedly, outside the cottage, the jemadar standing beside him.
"Have you had any food, Meinik?" Stanley asked.
The man nodded.
"Good food," he said.
"That is all right. Now, come along with us. You can leave your weapons here—they won't be wanted."
Meinik rose and followed Stanley and Captain Cooke. There were houses scattered all along the roadside. These were now all occupied by officers and troops, and there were so many of them that it had not been necessary to place any of the men under canvas—an important consideration, during the almost continuous rain of the last three months.