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   Chapter 30 THE STRONGHOLD OF THE RUBY KING.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 14094

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


As soon as Jack was mounted, Saya Chone and the Malay also got to their saddles, and the party moved off down the ravine. Save for his fetters, Jack rode as usual, but the two Kachins, one on either side, held his pony by stout thongs of raw hide, fastened in the bridle. At his heels trotted the two leaders, and Jack knew that both were well armed.

On the journey that followed it is not necessary to dwell, for it was quite uneventful. They travelled steadily till dusk, when they halted in a small village where Jack was assigned a hut, and a strict watch was kept over him at every moment. The next morning the journey was resumed at earliest dawn, and now they held their way for mile after mile through wild, gloomy passes between lofty mountains, where no sign of human life or cultivated fields was to be seen. Hour after hour they pushed on through this deserted hill country, until, late in the afternoon, they topped a stony ridge, and Jack gave a sharp exclamation of surprise.

Below him the ground fell away steeply to a small and fertile valley with a river running down its midst, and fields of paddy and plantain lining the course of the stream. Groves of palmyra, and teak, and palms were dotted about the scene, and in the midst of the valley rose a tall house of stone. Instinctively Jack felt that they had reached their journey's end, and that before him was the goal he had set himself to win, the stronghold of U Saw, the Ruby King. But how different was his approach from that he had hoped to make! Instead of advancing upon it in company of his trusty friends, he was marching in as a prisoner, fettered hand and foot.

Jack fixed his eyes eagerly on the great house below as another idea sprang to his mind. Was his father there? Had his quest been in vain, and was Thomas Haydon far away from this lonely valley set among the wild hills? But Jack believed that his father was there; everything seemed to point to it. Well, he would soon know, one way or the other.

The path now ran through a native village, whose slender huts of reed and cane bordered both sides of the narrow way. The people ran to their doors to gaze upon the passers-by, and Jack knew them for Kachins. He recognised the short, dark, sturdy forms of the men. Beside the latter, women in embroidered kilts, with big, queer head-dresses, and brown, naked, nimble children, came to look upon the sahib who rode into their valley, the captive of their lord and master, U Saw.

The village was passed and a grove of palms was entered. Beyond the palms the land ran smooth and open to the front of the great strong house of stone which U Saw had built to keep himself and his treasures safe.

The cavalcade halted before a strong gate formed of huge bars and beams of teak, and in another moment half of the gate was flung open by a pair of blue-kilted Kachins. Jack's pony was led inside, and the English lad now found himself in a large courtyard beside the house. The walls of the courtyard were formed of great logs of teak, and round them ran rows of thatched huts built against the palisade. These, as Jack learned afterwards, were used as the lodgings of the strong body of retainers whom U Saw kept about his person, his bodyguard.

Only one small door opened upon the courtyard from the house, and towards this Jack's pony was led. The Malay unlocked the fetters which bound Jack's feet, and he was hauled roughly to the ground.

"March in," said Saya Chone, and pointed to the small, narrow, dark doorway. Jack went in, staring hard into the dark before him, and wondering what fate would befall him in this great, lonely house to which he had been led in so strange a fashion, and through such wild adventures. He found himself in a small, dusky hall, lighted only by one tiny window, and that heavily barred with iron. The door was now closed and bolted behind him, and he was taken up a narrow flight of tortuous stairs. Then he was conducted along a maze of narrow passages, being led now and again through doors which Saya Chone unlocked and carefully locked again after them. The stone walls, the iron bars which covered every opening, the narrow passages, the locked doors, all told of the caution of U Saw, he who trusted no one, and suspected all.

At last they arrived before a narrow door, heavily banded with iron, and fastened by a huge bar of teak. Before it squatted a little man in blue, with a big naked dah across his knees. Saya Chone spoke to him and it sounded like a password, for the man sprang to his feet and stepped aside. The great bar of teak was drawn from its staples, and the door was opened. The Malay thrust Jack into the room, and the door was at once closed and barred behind him.

Jack now found himself in a bare stone cell, lighted only by one small window eight feet or more from the ground. There was nothing in the place save a small bench in one corner, and he sat down on this and awaited the next movement of his captors. For full three hours he sat there, and had begun to wonder whether they had forgotten him, when the door was suddenly opened and the Strangler appeared, attended by a couple of the bodyguard. The Malay beckoned to Jack to come forward, and the latter went.

He was now led into a large room, where a tall, stout man sat on a heap of rich cushions, and Jack knew by the deference paid to him that the latter was U Saw, the Ruby King. The room was lighted by a couple of large lamps, for the dusk had fallen, and the English lad was led into the bright light and placed before the Ruby King.

The latter looked steadily at Jack, and Jack returned the stare with interest. The Ruby King had a huge, gross face, thick-lipped and evil-eyed. He was dressed splendidly in a rich embroidered jacket of pink silk, a silken kilt striped in red and white, and a huge pink gaung-baung on his head; in the front of his head-dress blazed a magnificent ruby.

He looked long and keenly at Jack, and the latter thought that U Saw was going to speak to him, but the Ruby King said nothing, and at last waved his hand. Upon this Jack was led aside by the Malay and made to sit down upon a large, heavy chair near the right-hand wall. All this was done in perfect silence, and for some minutes Jack sat there waiting, while U Saw seemed to forget his presence, and rested upon the pile of cushions with head bent as if in deep thought.

Suddenly the Strangler, who had been moving to and fro, disappeared behind Jack's chair. Jack was about to turn his head to keep an eye on his enemy's movements, when he felt a soft silken band slipped swiftly over his head and tightened about his shoulders. At the same instant a couple of attendants flung themselves upon him and held him down tightly in the chair.

Jack tried to throw them off and wrench himself free, but his hands had never been unfettered, and he was easily mastered. In a trice he found himself securely lashed to the heavy chair, and then felt another broad band of silk drawn over his mouth. Coolly a

nd methodically the Strangler gagged him in so skilful a fashion that he could not utter a sound, though he was able to breathe quite easily. When both bonds and gag were secure he was released from the grip of the men who had held him down, and the attendants and the Malay stepped aside.

The next movement puzzled Jack beyond measure. A muslin curtain, running on a light bamboo rod, was drawn before him, thus cutting him off from the main body of the apartment. With the exception that he had been firmly seized and held down while the Strangler bound him, Jack had not been roughly treated, and he was quite free to turn his head from side to side and mark all that went on.

In a few moments the Ruby King raised his hand. As if in response to the signal an attendant struck one deep booming rolling note on a great gong. Jack looked eagerly to see what would follow. And that which did follow held him spell-bound with amazement and wonder.

A door opened and Saya Chone came in. Jack recognised him at once, for the delicate filmy veil of muslin which hung just before him was so slight in texture that he could see through it easily and make out all that went on in the light of the lamps. But the part of the room where he was a prisoner was unlighted, and the veil served to hide him sufficiently from anyone standing in the brighter part of the place. Saya Chone came forward and conversed with U Saw for a few moments, then a second note was struck upon the resounding gong.

Again the door opened, and a couple of Kachins came in, leading a man between them, a tall, thin man with grey hair and pale face. Jack's heart leapt within him, and he felt suffocating under his gag. Yes, there was his father, there he was. They had been right in their suspicions all the time. Thomas Haydon had been carried off by the men who served the Ruby King.

Jack's heart swelled within him at sight of that well-known form and face, and he strained every muscle against his bonds. But he had been secured too strongly, and his efforts were utterly in vain. He could only stare and stare at the old familiar figure, and long for the moment when his gag should be loosed and he could acquaint his father with his presence. He wondered whether his father would see him through the curtain, but he felt sure at the next moment that it was impossible. He was seated in a dusky corner, and his father stood full in the light of the lamps.

What an end was this to his quest! He had set out to find his father. He had found him: they stood within a few yards of each other. But he had found him a prisoner in cruel and merciless hands which now also held Jack captive. What an end to all his fine dreams of rescuing his father! What a mockery of his hopes! As these thoughts thronged through Jack's mind, Saya Chone began to speak. Jack was at once all attention to the words of the half-caste.

"Well, Mr. Haydon," began the latter, "you have now had several days to know whether you are more inclined to be reasonable. You have only, you know, to write down on a scrap of paper the bearings of the place where you found the big ruby, and then you are free to go where you please."

There was silence for a moment, then Mr. Haydon replied. How the well-known tones thrilled Jack through and through as they fell on his ear!

"Exactly," said Thomas Haydon, in a tone of quiet but bitter scorn. "I have only to give up the interests which were confided to my hands, to prove myself a traitor to those who trusted me, and then you say I may go. I take leave to doubt the latter statement. In any case, I shall certainly not do as you wish."

"You still refuse to disclose the secret of the ruby-mine you found?"

"I do."

"It would be better, I think, for you to reconsider that decision," said the half-caste, in his cold, cruel voice. "There are ways, you know, of making people speak, however obstinate they may be."

"You refer to torture, without doubt," said Mr. Haydon, in as cool a tone as though he were speaking on the most indifferent subject. "Well, I do not wish to boast, but I hardly think you will get anything out of me that way."

"Why, there I am inclined to agree with you," said the half-caste, in his silkiest tones. "That is to say, so far as applying torture to yourself personally is concerned. You are a stubborn Englishman, and that means you will cheerfully die before you give in; is it not so?"

"Then, if you think it useless to deal with me in such fashion, why enter upon talk of it?" demanded Mr. Haydon.

"Oh," said the half-caste, "such a thing may be useful yet. If you were careless about torture applied to yourself, you might see it in another light when brought to bear on someone to whom you were attached?"

Mr. Haydon gave a scornful laugh. "And where will you find such a person in this den of thieves?" he asked, drily.

Upon this reply, Saya Chone and U Saw burst into a great shout of mocking laughter. They rolled to and fro in their mirth, and the room rang again with their hideous merriment. Mr. Haydon looked from one to the other, his brow knitted in puzzled wonder.

But behind the curtain Jack's heart had sunk very low indeed, and a light of terror had come into his eyes. Now he saw at a flash why the half-caste had carried him off, and pursued him so closely and fiercely, yet without doing him the least harm. It had puzzled Jack a score of times why Saya Chone had not killed him, and so put an end to any further trouble, but now he saw the whole plan only too clearly.

By this time the Ruby King knew the character of Thomas Haydon, and had learned that neither threats nor force had power to sway him from his duty in order to save himself. But what if his only son, his boy Jack, was exposed to a like danger: would that not break down his iron resolution?

The terror which had come into Jack's eyes was not for himself, not for an instant. But he saw at once what the arch-rogues meant to do, to put pressure upon his father through him. And Jack felt sick at heart to think that he had won the thing he had longed for, that he had gained his father's side, and yet he came only as an added difficulty to a cruel situation.

"You have a son, I think, Mr. Haydon?" began Saya Chone again, in his purring tones.

"How do you know that?" replied Thomas Haydon.

"Oh, we know many things," replied the half-caste lightly. "We have even heard of your only son, Jack Haydon."

Mr. Haydon made no reply.

"You would, I suppose, be very unwilling to see any harm happen to him?"

"Thank God!" cried Thomas Haydon fervently, "that, at any rate, is far beyond your power. He is safe at home in England."

Again the mocking laughter burst out in redoubled volume until the rafters rang again. The Ruby King and Saya Chone enjoyed their mirth to the full, then the half-caste sprang to his feet, and pointed with glittering eyes and laughing face to the soft white muslin veil.

"Look there! Thomas Haydon," he cried, "look there!"

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