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Chapter 40
'Brown's object was to gain time by fooling with Kassim's diplomacy. For doing a
real stroke of business he could not help thinking the white man was the person
to work with. He could not imagine such a chap (who must be confoundedly
clever after all to get hold of the natives like that) refusing a help that would do
away with the necessity for slow, cautious, risky cheating, that imposed itself as
the only possible line of conduct for a single-handed man. He, Brown, would offer
him the power. No man could hesitate. Everything was in coming to a clear
understanding. Of course they would share. The idea of there being a fort--all
ready to his hand--a real fort, with artillery (he knew this from Cornelius), excited
him. Let him only once get in and . . . He would impose modest conditions. Not
too low, though. The man was no fool, it seemed. They would work like brothers
till . . . till the time came for a quarrel and a shot that would settle all accounts.
With grim impatience of plunder he wished himself to be talking with the man
now. The land already seemed to be his to tear to pieces, squeeze, and throw
away. Meantime Kassim had to be fooled for the sake of food first--and for a
second string. But the principal thing was to get something to eat from day to
day. Besides, he was not averse to begin fighting on that Rajah's account, and
teach a lesson to those people who had received him with shots. The lust of
battle was upon him.
'I am sorry that I can't give you this part of the story, which of course I have
mainly from Brown, in Brown's own words. There was in the broken, violent
speech of that man, unveiling before me his thoughts with the very hand of Death
upon his throat, an undisguised ruthlessness of purpose, a strange vengeful
attitude towards his own past, and a blind belief in the righteousness of his will
against all mankind, something of that feeling which could induce the leader of a
horde of wandering cut-throats to call himself proudly the Scourge of God. No
doubt the natural senseless ferocity which is the basis of such a character was
exasperated by failure, ill-luck, and the recent privations, as well as by the
desperate position in which he found himself; but what was most remarkable of
all was this, that while he planned treacherous alliances, had already settled in
his own mind the fate of the white man, and intrigued in an overbearing, offhand
manner with Kassim, one could perceive that what he had really desired, almost
in spite of himself, was to play havoc with that jungle town which had defied him,
to see it strewn over with corpses and enveloped in flames. Listening to his
pitiless, panting voice, I could imagine how he must have looked at it from the
hillock, peopling it with images of murder and rapine. The part nearest to the
creek wore an abandoned aspect, though as a matter of fact every house
concealed a few armed men on the alert. Suddenly beyond the stretch of waste
ground, interspersed with small patches of low dense bush, excavations, heaps
of rubbish, with trodden paths between, a man, solitary and looking very small,
strolled out into the deserted opening of the street between the shut-up, dark,