In the Hands of the Malays
And Other Stories
BY G. A. HENTY
Author of "The Cat of Bubastes" "With Kitchener in the Soudan"
"Beric the Briton" "For Name and Fame" &c.
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IN THE HANDS OF THE MALAYS
On the 1st of May, 1669, a man was standing at the edge of the shore of a rocky island, one of a group of a dozen or so similar in character, lying off the south-western portion of Sumatra. It would have been difficult to fix his nationality. The outline of the face was Arab; the colour of the skin showed that though one or other of his parents had been white, the other had been either Arab or Malay. He stood looking after a Dutch vessel, carrying guns, like all those engaged at that time in the Eastern trade. His hands were clenched, and he was regarding the ship with an expression of malignant hate.
Close by where he stood, a roughly-made grave piled with rocks, with a wooden cross standing at its head, showed that a Christian had been buried there. Any seaman of the time who had seen the man would have rightly concluded that he had been marooned for some crime committed on board the ship that was sailing away, and their judgment would have been a correct one.
The Dordrecht, a Dutch merchantman carrying sixteen guns, was chartered by a dozen rich citizens of Holland, who had sailed in her, determined to take up land, to settle, and to cultivate the plants that grew in the island of Java on a large scale. Some were traders, others had been tempted by the tales of the wealth of the island, where the Dutch had, fifty years before, acquired a settlement by conquest. The ship had touched at the Cape to take in a fresh supply of water and fill up with provisions. They had lost their cook overboard in a storm, and thought themselves fortunate in engaging in his place a man who had served with the governor there, and who was recommended as thoroughly understanding his work, whose only drawback was that he possessed a passionate and revengeful disposition, which had led to his dismissal from his office. This, in a vessel carrying a strong crew and some fifty soldiers, was not considered of any importance, and the man speedily justified his recommendation in other respects.
"I don't like the fellow," the lieutenant in command of the troops said to his subaltern one day, when they were a month out from the Cape. "I grant you that he is a good cook, but if I offended him I should not care to touch any food he handled. The fellow is capable of poisoning a whole crew to get his revenge on one of them."
The other laughed. "I grant he has an evil face, Van Houten, but I think that you are a little prejudiced. I own, though, that I felt inclined to knock him down myself this afternoon, when he stood at the door of the galley staring at Fraulein Meyers through his half-closed eyes. He put me in mind of a cat watching a mouse."
"Yes, I have noticed it myself several times," the other said hotly. "It is hardly a thing one can take up. The fellow might declare that it was not her that he was looking at, but that he was merely meditating; and to tell you the truth, although I am no coward, I would rather not make a mortal enemy of that man. I have no fancy for being stabbed to the heart while I am asleep. If he said or did anything insolent it would be another matter. I would have him ironed and sent down below, and kept there till we got to Batavia."
The other laughed again. "You would get into hot water with all the passengers, Van Houten; the fellow cooks so well that they are always singing his praises."
"Yes, there has been a great improvement in the diet since we left the Cape; but still, even at the risk of displeasing the worshipful passengers, I would put the fellow in irons did he give me the shadow of an excuse. I should not be surprised if he did so, for of late I have observed a malignant look on his face as his eyes fell upon me. It is absurd to suppose that the hound feels any ill-will towards me because I am a good deal with Fraulein Meyers. The assumption is too monstrous, but I really don't see any other reason for him to dislike me. I have never spoken to him since he came on board."
"Perhaps the matter will be taken out of your hands altogether," the other said. "I heard the mate having a row with him this morning, and certainly he is not likely to put up with any nonsense; and he is strong enough to pick the Arab, or whatever he is, up with one hand and throw him overboard."