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   Chapter 20 THE DANCING GIRL.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 8841

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

After the dusk had fallen, the travellers were conducted by the headman himself, a white-headed old fellow, who showed them the utmost respect, to the spot where the festival was to be opened with a play and a performance of dancing girls.

Jack was fascinated with the wonderful sight now presented to his view. He, alone, among the party, had never seen such a spectacle before, and he looked on with the deepest interest. He was seated on a heap of cushions, before a wide open space surrounded by thickets of low trees and tall bushes. On the branches of these were hung innumerable coloured lamps, which lighted the scene with a soft, bright radiance.

In the centre of the space were ranged sixty dancing girls, in ten rows of six in a row, and each dancer stood at an equal distance from her next neighbour on either hand. Each girl was dressed in beautiful silks of the most glowing, or the most delicate shades. Her short embroidered jacket, her tightly folded skirt, were of the brightest and newest, and her hair was decked with beautiful flowers.

The dance began, and the graceful swaying movements, to which the clink of the bangles worn in rows on every arm kept time, were full of fascination and charm. All round the open space the villagers from far and near were gathered, and this mass of spectators in strange garbs, but everything of the freshest and gayest, formed a striking setting for the scene.

When the dance was over, the headman, through Me Dain, begged them to inspect the pagoda and the offerings which had been brought to it by the faithful. They went and saw a very quaint and beautiful structure, its columns inlaid with mosaics and coloured glass which glittered with a thousand glancing rays in the lights of the myriads of lamps. Chief among the offerings at the shrine were huge packets of gold-leaf, for the religious Burman loves to decorate his favourite pagoda with sheets of gold-leaf, till it glistens in the sun like a palace of gold.

Among the offerings ranged on the steps of the pagoda was a native painting, a quaint piece of work which drew Jack's attention at once. He bent down to look at it, while his companions rambled on with Me Dain and the headman.

As Jack straightened himself again, he felt a light touch on his arm, and looked round. Beside him stood a dancing girl, wrapped in a close-fitting robe of yellow silk, and a scarf of muslin so wound about her head that he could not see her face.

Jack stared for a moment in surprise, wondering what the girl could want with him, then he gave a great start as she began to speak. She used the softest, gentlest whisper, but her voice came easily to his ears, and, marvellous to relate, she spoke in perfect English.

"I know what you seek," she said, "and I can help you."

Jack's surprise was so great that, for a moment, he could not answer, and the veiled figure went on:

"Would you not like to know where the object of your search is?"

"How do you know that I seek someone?" said Jack in wonder.

"Oh, I know," murmured the dancing girl with a soft, light laugh. "I will go a little further. Would you not like to know where your father, Thomas Haydon, is imprisoned, and what is happening to him?"

For a moment the whole glittering scene of lamps and gaiety went round before Jack's eyes. Then he pulled himself up steady once more. This savoured of the utterly marvellous, that a dancing girl in this village which he had never seen before, should glide up to him and tell him the innermost secret of his heart, the purpose of his quest.

"Who are you, and how did you come to know such things?" said Jack.

"Oh," said the girl lightly, "in this strange land we can do many strange things. But I cannot talk to you long. Do you wish, I ask you once more, to gain tidings of your father?"

"There is nothing I wish for more upon earth," returned Jack earnestly, for it was idle to pretend that the girl was wrong, and try to hide his secret. It was known only too clearly to this strange creature in the yellow robe, with a score of silver bangles tinkling on her arm. Jack turned his head towards his companions who had strolled on, and were now a dozen yards away, and half hidden by a group of villagers standing before the shrine.

"No," said the girl, laying her hand on Jack's arm, "no, you must not call to them. I do not wish to talk to your Burman guide. It

would place me in great danger if it became known that I had warned you. If you do not listen to me, and alone, I shall vanish into the crowd, and you will never see me again, or learn that which you long to know."

The girl's hint that she stood in danger by warning him, at once checked the call on Jack's lips. He looked at her keenly, but could only see a pair of lustrous eyes flashing through the folds of delicate muslin, her features he could not make out at all. His brain was in a whirl. Here seemed a most extraordinary, a most wonderful chance to gain news of his father, but at the same time his reason bade him be careful.

Suppose he were to seize the girl and declare that she must tell him at once what she knew? But Jack's feelings revolted at such conduct. Suppose she should come into danger by his doing so, by his making public the fact that she was warning him? No, he could not do that. Besides, they were but a few strangers amid a great concourse of natives. Such an action might give great offence, and place, not only himself, but his friends in a position of the utmost peril.

These thoughts went through Jack's head in a flash. The girl at his side gave another light laugh.

"You can find out all you want in so simple a fashion," she murmured. "Turn your head to the right, and near a patch of acacia bushes you will see a monk with his begging-bowl. Cross over to him, and drop a piece of money into the bowl. At the same moment you can take out of it the letter which your father has sent to you by his hands. I would fetch it for you, but he will not give it up to anyone but you."

This became more and more bewildering, but at the same time, Jack saw that this matter was very simply settled. He looked away to the right, and saw the monk plainly enough, a Buddhist monk in yellow robe, his begging dish of bronze held out before him. The man stood upright and motionless, not thirty yards away.

Jack turned on his heel and strode straight across towards the monk, resolved to see at any rate what was in the dish. The dancing girl followed him with graceful, swaying step.

At the instant that Jack moved towards the monk a fresh band of revellers came out of a path leading from the acacia bushes and crossed towards the steps of the pagoda. From among them a tall, thin man dressed in white robes stepped out and moved with long, soft strides after the young Englishman. His companions lingered and stared idly about them.

As Jack approached the monk, he saw the latter raise his head and glance at him meaningly. Then, with a slight movement of the hand, the monk pointed to the bottom of his bowl. Jack had taken a rupee from his pocket and stretched out his hand to drop it into the bowl. As he did so he glanced eagerly into the bronze vessel. A folded piece of white paper lay in the bottom of it. Jack dropped his coin and stretched out his hand to seize the paper. But he never touched it.


With horrible swiftness and suddenness, someone clutched him from behind. Once more he felt his throat in the frightful strangling grip which had seized him on Rushmere Heath, in far-away England. He tried to shout, but his half-choked voice was drowned in the sudden burst of song which rose from the band of gaily dressed figures which now swarmed around him. He tried to struggle, to throw off the fearful grip which held him, but now the dancing girl sprang to him and pressed against his face a cloth she had drawn from beneath her yellow robe. Almost at once the powerful drug with which the cloth was saturated took effect. Jack's head dropped forward, and the dancing girl nodded to the strangler to loose his frightful clutch.

At that moment Buck looked round and missed his young companion.

"Where's Jack got to?" he asked.

"I don't know," said Jim. "He was looking at a picture just along there, the last time I saw him."

"I don't see him anywhere about," said Buck, in an uneasy voice, and he walked rapidly back. He came to the picture, stopped in front of it, and looked eagerly round for Jack. He saw the band of singers a short distance away, but took no notice of them. He had seen scores of such bands during the evening. Little did he dream that, under cover of those harmless looking revellers, the body of his young comrade was being dragged among the acacia bushes by the monk and the dancing girl.

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