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   Chapter 7 UP THE RIVER.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 6677

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

It was on a Tuesday evening that Risley and Jack entered Dent's shop in Rangoon: late on the Thursday afternoon the three comrades stepped out of the train at Mandalay.

"I know a little place down by the river where we can stay quietly," said Dent, and they took a carriage and drove down to the banks of the broad Irrawaddy. Here, at a native rest-house in a riverside village, they set down their baggage and made a hearty meal in a room whose window overlooked the noble stream with its crowd of craft.

Before they ate, Dent had an interview with the master of the house, a short, stout Burman in silken kilt and headgear of flaming scarlet, and their business was put in hand at once. The Burman sent a native boatman off to see if Moung San had reached Mandalay.

The meal was scarcely ended before the light sampan was back with good news. Moung San had been in Mandalay the last two days, and now lay at his accustomed anchorage.

"That's capital," said Dent. "We'll give old Moung a look up before the evening's much older."

Half an hour later all three embarked upon the sampan whose owner had found out the anchorage of Moung San, and the tiny craft was thrust into the river and pulled across the flowing stream. Jack looked with much interest on the pretty, picturesque little craft with its bow and stern curving upwards, and on its boatman, a strong Shan clad in wide trousers and a great flapping hat, who stood up to his couple of oars and sent the light skiff along at a good speed. A pull of a mile or more brought them to the hnau, a big native boat moored near the farther shore of the wide stream. The sampan was directed towards the lofty and splendidly-carved prow of the hnau and brought to rest.

Now there looked over the side a dark-faced old Burman, whose face broke into smiles at sight of his old acquaintances.

"Hello, Moung San," cried Dent. "We've come to pay you a visit."

"Very glad, very glad," replied the Burman. "Come up, come up."

They climbed at once to the deck of the hnau, where Moung San shook hands with them very heartily. When he heard Jack's name he smiled and showed all his teeth, stained black with betel-chewing.

"Me know your father," he said, and shook Jack's hand again. "Very good man, very good man."

Amidships there was a large cabin, roofed with plaited cane, built up on the hnau. Moung San invited them to enter it, and all four went in and sat down.

"Now, Moung San," began Jim Dent "You listen to me. You know the ruby-mines well, don't you?"

"Yes," replied Moung San. "Do much trade with the miners for many years."

"Do you know a man named Saya Chone?"

"Yes," said the trader. "Know him. Don't like him."

"Who is he with now?"

"With U Saw, the man they call the Ruby King."

"U Saw," murmured Dent reflectively. "He's jumped into notice since I was up here last. What sort of character has U Saw, Moung San?"

The Burman lowered his voice and looked uneasily round to see if any of his crew were within earshot.

"Very dangerous man," he said, shaking his head, "if he hears of one of the hill-miners finding good ruby, that man sure to lose it, perhaps lose his head same time. U Saw has many Kachins who follow him, and every Kachin carry strong, sharp dah (native sword)."

"Have the police been on to him, Moung

San?" asked Buck.

"The police!" Moung San laughed disdainfully. "What do the police know about the hills and the jungle, and what goes on there? But we know. The word goes from Kachin to Shan, and from Shan to Burman, over the country, up and down the river. We know."

"Where does U Saw sell his rubies?" asked Dent.

"In China," replied the Burman. "Takes them along the great road to China from Burmah over the mountains. Sells them there for big, big money. Very rich and very strong is U Saw."

Then, with scarcely a pause, Moung San came out with a piece of news that made his hearers jump.

"When I am at Prome two weeks ago, the 'fire-boat' of U Saw pass me, and go up the river."

"Fire-boat!" cried Jim Dent. "U Saw possesses a steamer. How big, Moung San?"

Moung San went into details. He compared the "fire-boat" with the size of his hnau, he compared it with a river-steamer which now went puffing past, he described it with the greatest minuteness, for he had lain beside it at Bhamo for three days on the trip before last.

"Say," murmured Buck, looking round on his deeply-interested companions, "this beats the band. I didn't know U Saw had a steam yacht of about three hundred tons, for that's what Moung San's talk comes to. Say, Jim, my son, this clears things up a bit."

"It does that," said Dent. He turned to Jack.

"You see, sir," he remarked, "that Buck's guess hit the mark pretty straight. I'd stake my shop that the party we want was on that yacht."

Jack nodded, with bright eyes. "It must be so," he said, but Buck was again in conversation with the Burman.

"Do you know where the 'fire-boat' had been?" he asked.

"There was a word that U Saw had been a long cruise in the islands," replied Moung San.

"Been a long cruise in the islands, had he?" said Dent, in a meaning tone. There was silence while the three white men made swift calculations mentally.

"If the yacht is a good sea-boat," said Jack, "they would just about have had the right time to do it, supposing they came up the river two weeks back." He meant the voyage from the Mediterranean, and the others nodded.

The old Burman looked from one to the other gravely. There was something he did not understand behind this, and it was plain that he was about to shape a question.

Buck whispered swiftly to Jack, then spoke:

"Well, Moung San, we must be going. But the son of your old patron wished to see you and to give you a little present because you have served his father."

Jack smiled and passed over twenty rupees. Moung San's mouth was at once filled with thanks instead of questions, and an awkward moment passed safely.

"I could see the old fellow was going to ask questions," remarked Jim Dent, when they were once more in the sampan, and the big Shan was pulling strongly across the stream. "It was a lucky stroke to stop his mouth with the rupees."

"Yes," said Jack, "it's quite clear he knows nothing about my father's disappearance, or he would have said something. So it was just as well to leave him in ignorance, and escape a lot of talk. You never know where the simplest question may lead you to."

"You don't," agreed Dent. "He may wonder why we want to know about the Ruby King, but as long as he's in the dark about things, he'll put it down to mere curiosity."

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