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   Chapter 43 THE FACE AT THE DOORWAY.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 11203

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The sullen face of the Ruby King was lighted up with a smile of deep relish. His savage nature was pleased to its depths to see the effect this simple but exquisite torture had upon the Englishman within his grasp. Again he drew back a pace, and waited a moment for Jack to recover himself. Next he waved to the men who were holding Thomas Haydon to bring their prisoner closer to the bound captive. They did so, and now the position of those gathered in the ruined courtyard was as follows. Jack faced the doorway, and the Ruby King and the half-caste, with their followers clustered behind them, were on his left. His father, under charge of the guards, was on his right, and the fire, which was now at its highest, lighted the whole scene in most brilliant fashion.

Now U Saw raised his arm and stepped forward. His evil grin shone out once more. He was enjoying himself to the full. Jack braced his back against the post and clenched his fists as tightly as the ropes around his wrists would allow, and set his teeth to endure without flinching. His eyes were staring straight before him, into the blackness of the ruined doorway.

Suddenly into that patch of darkness there flashed a face, peeping in on the scene, and as suddenly vanishing. Jack gave a great start and a gasp. Was the torture turning his brain? He had known that face, but it was not the face of any living man. It was the face of Me Dain, their brave guide, who had fallen headlong into the raging torrent, close-grappled with his foe. Jack's movement was hailed by a grim chuckle from the ring of hostile faces. They misjudged it altogether.

U Saw once more held the cobra forward, and glanced with savage meaning at both father and son. Thomas Haydon watched the evil creature with fascinated eyes, and saw that the Ruby King was loosening ever so slightly, and little by little, his grasp of the head, so that the venomous reptile was working forward through the leathern grip towards Jack's breast.

By tiny degrees the cobra worked itself on and on, but Jack saw it not. His eyes were strained into the outer darkness. What had it meant, that face? Was it a mere fancy, or was there more behind it than he dreamed of? Then, with another great start of his frenzied, overwrought body, he saw something else, a thing which none saw save himself, for every eye was fixed on the deadly, wriggling serpent, fighting to get his venomous fangs into that smooth white breast.

There slipped into the light of the fire a little round gleaming tube of steel. Six inches beyond the doorway was it thrust, then held still and steady. Jack knew it for the muzzle of a Mannlicher, and realised with a swelling heart what it meant. He turned his eyes on the dark face of the Ruby King, who, with an air of infinite enjoyment, was giving the writhing reptile a little and a little more liberty, and Jack knew that U Saw was a dead man.

A moment later the rifle spoke. There was a sharp jet of flame, a crack, and a scream. The three were practically simultaneous, and the scream rose from the wildly-parted lips of the Ruby King as he whirled round and staggered against Saya Chone, a slip of lead driven through his brain.

The fate of the half-caste was striking and dreadful. The mortally-smitten man flung out his right arm, and the cobra was swung full against the man who stood beside him, and, at the same instant, the Ruby King's grasp was loosened. Here was the chance for which the creature, irritated to the utmost fury, had longed. It struck, struck with all its might, and drove its deadly fangs deep into the throat of the half-caste.

The latter staggered back with a frightful yell, and tore the horrible reptile from its grip, and cast it away. But the work was done, and the full-filled poison sacs had emptied their store of venom into the blood of Saya Chone.

All this happened in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye; and before a hand could be lifted among the retainers, a whirling hurricane of lead smote with crushing fury among the close-packed group of Kachins which had been clustered behind the leaders. A stream of bullets was poured into them as swiftly as magazines could be worked, and half their number went down headlong. None of the rest stayed to face this awful and mysterious foe. To them it seemed as if evil spirits must be encompassing their destruction, and they fled from this dreadful attack, which leapt upon them so suddenly from the darkness and the silence. Those who could move ran for a low place in the ruined wall, climbed it frantically, and fled into the darkness, yelling and terror-stricken.

Now there burst into the courtyard three familiar figures. Buck Risley led the way, Jim Dent followed, and Me Dain raced after.

"Say," cried Buck, "we only dropped on this little fandango just in time. Stand steady, Jack." With a few swift strokes of his knife he severed Jack's bonds, and the English lad staggered aside, and was caught by his father. They exchanged a strong, silent hand-grip, but neither could speak.

Jim Dent, a reloaded Mauser pistol in hand, was standing on guard. But they had nothing to fear from the groaning wounded, nothing from the Ruby King who lay with his evil smile fixed for ever on his dark face, nothing from the half-caste, now writhing in the agonies of a terrible death.

"Say, Professor, this is great to see you again!" cried Buck joyfully, as Mr. Haydon seized his faithful follower's hand.

"Buck, Buck, this is wonderful," said Mr. Haydon in a shaking voice. "You have come to our rescue at the moment of our

utmost need. And Dent and Me Dain. A thousand thanks. But what are words to tell you how we feel?"

"We know just how you feel, Professor," said Jim Dent. "We're only too glad we turned up in time to put a stopper on their fiendish tricks. Now the word is march."

"Right, Jim," said Buck; "off we go. Come on, Me Dain."

The Burman was bending over the body of the Ruby King, and stripping off his rich silken girdle.

"I come," he said, and they trooped across the courtyard together.

Jack had not spoken a word. He had clasped the hands of his faithful friends, but he was too overwrought and bewildered to be able to frame his feelings into speech. He stumbled as he walked, for his limbs were numbed from his bonds, and his father and Buck supported him. Near the doorway the native woman waited for them. Her guard had fled, and she had at once sprung to join her companions in flight.

Their path ran across the open space before the pagoda. Here the ponies of U Saw and his men had been picketed, and were now left without watchers, for all had been drawn to the courtyard. Three of these were caught and saddled, and led with the party till the ruins were cleared and the open hill-side was gained.

"Now we're right," breathed Jim Dent. "I don't reckon there was much to fear from that lot we sent scuttling. They're dangerous enough as a rule, but this time we rattled 'em all to pieces. Still, I'm glad to be in the open."

"Me Dain!" cried Jack, who was rapidly becoming himself again. "Is it really you, alive and in the flesh? How did you escape after that frightful fall from the ledge?"

"I had very good luck, sahib," chuckled the Burman, "very good luck. The Kachin was under when we drop down, and that break my fall. I very near drowned, but at last I got on bank. Then I go on up the pass, and run to the other sahibs."

"Here's the road," said Jim Dent. "There's no moon, but we can see all we want by the stars. Up you go."

Jack, Mr. Haydon, and the native woman were set on the ponies, and then the little cavalcade moved briskly forward, talking as they went, and exchanging experiences.

Me Dain's story made it plain that he had cleared the mouth of the pass just before U Saw and his men blocked the way. He had put his best foot forward and regained the camp, made in a solitary glen among the hills, where Buck and Jim awaited him. The three of them had started back at once well armed, but had travelled on foot in order the more easily to escape observation. Thus the night had fallen by the time they had gained the outskirts of the ruined city. They saw the flare of the fire, and heard the voices of the encampment. Little by little, and with the utmost care, they crept upon the Kachins and brought aid in the very nick of time.

"Say, I don't guess we need trouble much about these little blue-kilts any more," remarked Buck Risley.

"Not in the least, Buck," replied Mr. Haydon. "The death of their leaders sets them at once free from their allegiance. I've no doubt in the world but that the survivors will hurry back home and plunder U Saw's house."

"And how did that little half-caste come off?" asked Jim Dent. "I hope he had something for his trouble."

"Say, Jim," cried Buck, "didn't you twig that? It was about the best touch in the show. The snake they'd got ready for Jack worked loose when you dropped the King, and nipped the half-caste, and he hit the long trail right away."

"Serve him right, the little varmint," was Jim's comment.

They had covered a league or more from the deserted city, when the tinkle of running water fell on Jack's ears.

"That sounds like a brook," he said. "I'm fearfully thirsty."

"So am I," said his father. A brook it was, and they halted beside it and drank their fill.

"Better stop here till daylight," said Me Dain. "Not easy to find the way over hills in the dark." So it was agreed to make a camp beside the brook. The fugitives were quite willing, for they were exhausted by fatigue, and when they had eaten a little of the food which Me Dain had carried in a wallet across his shoulders, and drunk once more of the water of the brook, they lay down and slept the deep sleep of utter weariness. Their fresher companions, Buck and Jim, took turns to watch through the night.

By an hour after dawn they were all on the move, and did not halt again till they reached the secluded hollow where the pack-ponies, securely hobbled, were quietly grazing. In a trice Me Dain had a fire blazing, and he and Buck soon made ready a good meal. When the meal was over they sat in the shade of a clump of bamboos and discussed affairs.

Suddenly, with a grunt of surprise as if at his forgetfulness, Me Dain sprang up and fetched the wallet which had been slung over his shoulders. He laid it before Mr. Haydon, and began to draw forth a long band of rich, glittering silk.

"Why, you've brought U Saw's girdle, Me Dain," said Mr. Haydon.

"Yes, sahib," said Me Dain, a broad smile lighting up his dark face as he looked up at his old master. "And for why? You lose a big ruby. U Saw got it."

The meaning smile on his face broadened.

Mr. Haydon slapped his knee with a crack like a pistol shot. There was no need of words between them.

"By Jove, Me Dain!" he cried, "I shouldn't be surprised if you are right."

"Right, quite right," said Me Dain. "U Saw never leave great stone like that at home. Carry it everywhere. U Saw trust no man."

By this time the others had grasped the meaning of this conversation. Was the great ruby in U Saw's girdle?

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