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   Chapter 6 IN RANGOON.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 14958

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

"Now for a start in earnest," said Buck, as the two comrades hurried swiftly through the quiet streets, moving westwards in order to put as much ground as possible between themselves and the baffled spy. "I propose, Jack, that we make for Harwich and cross over to the Continent, avoiding the usual English routes and English steamers. We want to get there as quietly as we can. It wouldn't be healthy to arrive in Upper Burmah thumping a drum to let 'em know we were on their track. They've got ways of their own of gettin' rid o' people they want to see the last of."

Jack nodded. "Then we must head for Liverpool Street," he remarked.

"Yes," said Buck. "We're not far from Queen's Road Station. We'll hit the Twopenny Tube and dodge back east, now."

They went into the station and were just in time to jump into an east-bound train, as the conductor was about to shut the gates of the carriage.

"Nobody followed us there anyway," remarked Buck. "We were the last to board the train."

They went right away to the Bank, plunged into the City, and threaded the narrow streets and busy crowds in every direction, gradually working their way towards Liverpool Street. They timed their arrival there five minutes before a fast express pulled out, and were soon on their way. As they rushed through the Essex flats Buck detailed his plans, and Jack listened and agreed.

"From Harwich we'll make for Hamburg," said Risley. "There we can buy an outfit and take passage for Rangoon in a German boat which does not call in England."

* * *

Our story now moves on to a point nearly five weeks later, when, as evening fell, a big German steamer slowly moved up to a wide quay of Rangoon, and took up her berth. Over her side leaned two figures we know, one looking at the scene with eyes which noted the familiarity of it all, the other drinking in every detail with eager interest and curiosity.

Jack was too absorbed in the scene to utter a word; the minarets of the mosques, the vast spire of Shway Dagon, the famous pagoda, its crest of gold glittering in the last rays of the sun; the crowd of masts, the native boats, the swift little sampans darting hither and thither, the quaint up-river craft, the Chinese junks-all was so new and strange and wonderful that he could not gaze enough upon the scene. And above all, he felt that this was the land whose wildest recesses he must penetrate upon his quest, and his mind turned strongly upon that.

"Do you know, Buck," he murmured to his companion, "that the sight of all these strange new things makes the whole affair very visionary to me?"

"I think I tumble to what you mean," replied the other. "I had a touch of it myself when I first came to these queer parts. You feel as if you were ramblin' about in a dream."

"That's it, exactly," said Jack. "It seems impossible that this is workaday life in which we have a definite task."

"You'll soon shake that off," replied Buck; "the sight o' these places makes every tenderfoot moon a bit; and we've got a straight enough job before us. We'll have to rustle some before we've got the Professor out o' the hands o' these people who want to jump his claim."

"You feel certain my father is here, Buck?"

"Three times as certain as when we started," replied Risley. "Mr. Buxton's kept the search going, and found nothing. Very good. That makes it all the surer the Professor is in front of us up this river;" and Buck threw his hand northwards, pointing to the broad flood which slipped past the quays of Rangoon to the sea.

At different points of their voyage they had received cables from Mr. Buxton giving the news of the search, which was going on in vain.

The steamer took up her moorings, and the stream of landing passengers began to flow swiftly to the quay. Jack and his companion stepped ashore, each with a large kit-bag in hand. They had travelled light, and all their luggage was with them. Buck held up a finger, and a Chinese coolie darted up to them, his rickshaw running easily behind him. The two bags were pitched into the light vehicle, and Buck bade the man follow them by a gesture.

"This way, Jack," said Risley, and led his companion up a broad street, which, now that the dusk had fallen and the sea-breeze was blowing, was filled with a strange and busy crowd.

"Everybody turns out for an hour or two, now," remarked Buck. "It's pleasant and fresh after the day. This is Mogul Street, about the liveliest street in the city."

Jack looked upon the crowd with wonder, the first Eastern crowd of which he had ever made a part. The thronging pavements were a kaleidoscope of the East-long-coated Persians; small, brown, slant-eyed Japanese; big, yellow, slant-eyed Chinamen; a naked Coringhi, his dark body shining in the lamp-light, and the rings in his nose jingling together; Hindus of all ranks, from the stately Brahmin to the coolie bearing loads or pulling a rickshaw; Burmese; and, to Jack's pleasant surprise, three straight-stepping English soldiers, swinging along with their little canes, their lively talk sounding pleasantly familiar amid the babel of Eastern tongues.

At a narrow opening Buck turned and left the main street. Fifty yards along the side street he stopped the rickshaw and paid off the coolie, each taking his own kit-bag. Next Buck plunged into a dusky, ill-lighted alley, and Jack followed, wondering.

"I'm making for a friend's house," murmured Buck, "an' I'm takin' a shy road. We've got to keep our eyes skinned from now on."

"Do you think the gang will be on the look-out for us in Rangoon, Buck?" asked Jack.

"Likely enough," replied Risley. "No harm in takin' care, anyway."

The two gained a narrow lane beyond the alley, followed it some distance, then turned into a wider street. Here Buck paused before a shop whose windows were closed, but rays of light were streaming through chinks in the shutters. He tried the door and found that it was not fastened.

"Nip right in," said Risley, and the two entered briskly, and closed the door behind them. Behind the counter stood a tall, elderly man taking a rifle to pieces by the light of a brightly-burning lamp. He was surrounded by weapons of all kinds, and a single glance told Jack that he stood in a gunsmith's shop.

"Hello, Buck," said the tall man calmly. "Slidin' in like a thief in the night, eh? What's wrong, and who's your friend?"

"This is the Professor's son, Mr. Jack Haydon," replied Buck, answering the last question first, as he put down his bag and shook hands with his acquaintance.

"Pleased to know you, sir," said the gunsmith, offering his hand to Jack in turn. "Me and your father have known each other a long time and done a lot of business together. Perhaps you've heard him mention me, Jim Dent?"

"Yes, Mr. Dent," said Jack, "I've heard your name many a time."

"I'm very sorry for you, sir," said Dent. "This is a queer business about the Professor. Knocked me all of a heap when I heard of it."

"The news is about Rangoon, of course, Jim?" said Buck.

"Came at once," replied Dent. "The Professor was known to so many people here."

"Well, between me and you, Jim," said Buck in a low voice, "that's just what I've come to talk about. You know the ropes in this country pretty well, and I want your advice."

"Been in Burmah twenty-eight years, and spent a good deal of the time shiftin' about here and there," remarked Jim Dent. "I know a thing or two

, as you may say. But come in; I should like to hear all about it."

He secured the outer door, put out the lamp which lighted the shop, and led the way to an inner room. Here another lamp was burning, and all three sat down. Buck plunged into the story, and Dent listened attentively, now and again putting a question.

"They've got the Professor all right," said Dent at the conclusion of Buck's narrative.

"You, too, think so?" cried Jack.

"Oh, yes, sir," returned Dent, nodding at him, "they're going to make your father show 'em his find, there's no mistake about that. The thing's been done before, but the men have been collared in this country, I admit. I've never known anything so big and daring as this, but still it's on the cards, and Buck has tumbled to the right conclusion."

"But how could they carry off my father with such secrecy?" asked Jack. "It was impossible to book a passage back in any vessel. They would have been found out at once."

"That's right enough, sir," replied Dent. "They must have had a vessel of their own, but that's a puzzling thing. Did you see any sign of this Saya Chone on the voyage, Buck?"

"Not a hair of him," replied Risley.

"He and his pals might have been among the third-class passengers after all," said the gunsmith. "You weren't looking out for them, but it's pretty plain they were looking out for you. They must have been fly to your posting that letter, and got an idea somehow or other of the address. Well, this is a rum go. What's your next move, I wonder?"

"Go straight up to Mogok," suggested Jack, "and strike into the country where my father was exploring. Surely we can lay our hands upon one or other of his native guides, and they will lead us to the place. Then we can discover whether those people you suspect of kidnapping him are anywhere in that neighbourhood."

Dent nodded his head in agreement. "Well, sir," he said, "you'll have to do something after that fashion. But you must go to work very cautiously. The men you are after are at home there, and have a hundred ways of finding out what you're up to, while you know no more of them and their movements than you know which way a snake's slipping through the jungle."

"Would it be of any use to appeal to the authorities?" asked Jack.

The gunsmith shook his head.

"Not a mite, sir, not a mite. In the first place, you're moving on suspicion, and you can hardly expect the police to go tramping round in wild and only partly explored jungle to find out if your suspicions are correct. Then, again, if inquiries were started you would only warn the parties you suspect, and they'd take good care your plans came to nothing. For holding a man tight and keeping the place of his hiding secret, this country is a marvel. I've known many a native disappear in a very mysterious fashion and be never heard of again; some enemy had disposed of him." The gunsmith fell silent and mused for a few moments.

"I'll tell you," said he, "the best thing to do now, and that is to strike up to Mandalay. There might be a chance there to pick up a bit of river news which would help you. I wonder whether old Moung San is up in Mandalay yet. He started up river with his hnau weeks back, and you know how they dawdle along, picking up every scrap of river gossip."

"Moung San!" cried Buck, "old Moung, why, he's the very man whose hnau took the Professor up the river Chindwin, the last trip Mr. Haydon made before he went up to Mogok. He'll give us a hand if he can, I know."

"He was in here, buying stuff off me to trade along the river," said Dent, "and he ought to be somewhere about Mandalay by now."

"Then we'll start in the morning by the first train," said Buck; "and that reminds me, Jim, we shall want some guns; we've got nothing at all at present, and we'll look over your stock."

"Come in the shop," said Dent, and all three went back to the little front room where weapons stood in racks about the wall.

"These Mauser pistols are handy things," remarked Dent, as he turned some of his stock on to the counter. "Clap the holster on 'em and they make a very smart little rifle."

"We'll have a couple," said Buck, "they're daisies. I've tried 'em. Have you got a light rifle or two in stock, Jim? We don't want to drag any weight through the jungle, as you know as well as most."

"What's the matter with the Mannlicher?" said Dent, picking up one of those handiest of shooting tools and passing it over to Jack. "No weight, and as good a little rifle as a man wants to put to his shoulder."

"This is all right," said Jack, putting it up. "I've never tried it, but I've heard about it. Makes pretty good shooting, I think."

"Wonderful good, sir," said Dent. "You can't wish for better. And such a handy little cartridge, too. That's a thing to consider on a march. You can carry a much bigger number for the same weight of ordinary cartridges."

For half an hour or more Buck and Jack turned over Dent's stores, and laid in a very complete stock of weapons and cartridges. As the gunsmith talked, speaking of the wild jungle into which they must wander, the wild people they would be likely to meet, and what they would need to meet the chances of their journey, his eye fired and his excitement grew. He poured forth a flood of information, of warning, of directions, which showed how complete was his knowledge of the wilds into which they were about to venture, how deep was his lore of jungle-craft, and how great his passion for the life of the explorer and adventurer. His flood of speech ended on a sigh.

"Five years it is now," he said, "since I made what I call a real trip, getting clean off the track and striking a line which you might fancy no white man had ever struck before."

Buck had been watching his old acquaintance keenly. Now he leaned over and laid his hand on Dent's arm.

"Look here, Jim," he said, "you're achin' in every bone o' your body for a real good trip again. Come with us."

The invitation was like a spark thrown upon gunpowder. The gunsmith struck the counter with his open hand till the weapons danced again.

"By George, I will!" he cried, "I'll come fast enough. It's the sort o' trip I'd choose out of a thousand."

Jack saw what a splendid recruit offered here, and he hastened to second Buck.

"If you could, indeed, spare time to accompany us, Mr. Dent," he said, "we shall be delighted to have your company and assistance."

"Well, sir," said Dent, "I'll give you a month. I can manage, I know, to get the business looked after by a friend as long as that. And within a month, if we go the right way to work, we ought to get a good idea as to whether the Professor's in the hands of that gang or not."

"And if your business suffers at all, Jim, you need never fear you'll be at a loss in the end," said Buck. "There's plenty of money for everything."

"Oh, that's all right," returned Dent. "Didn't you say you're offering a reward of £500 for finding the Professor?"

"That's so," replied Risley.

"Very good," said Dent. "Suppose I hit on him first and pick that up. That'll clear my expenses, and a bit over bar the fun o' the trip."

"Oh, Mr. Dent," said Jack, "we're paying all expenses, of course."

"Better an' better still," chuckled the gunsmith. "I get all the fun and the chance of £500 thrown in, and the lot for nothing. You can count in Jim Dent on this game." And so the matter was settled.

* * *

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