Tales of Unrest HTML version

Karain A Memory
We knew him in those unprotected days when we were content to hold in our
hands our lives and our property. None of us, I believe, has any property now,
and I hear that many, negligently, have lost their lives; but I am sure that the few
who survive are not yet so dim-eyed as to miss in the befogged respectability of
their newspapers the intelligence of various native risings in the Eastern
Archipelago. Sunshine gleams between the lines of those short paragraphs--
sunshine and the glitter of the sea. A strange name wakes up memories; the
printed words scent the smoky atmosphere of to-day faintly, with the subtle and
penetrating perfume as of land breezes breathing through the starlight of bygone
nights; a signal fire gleams like a jewel on the high brow of a sombre cliff; great
trees, the advanced sentries of immense forests, stand watchful and still over
sleeping stretches of open water; a line of white surf thunders on an empty
beach, the shallow water foams on the reefs; and green islets scattered through
the calm of noonday lie upon the level of a polished sea, like a handful of
emeralds on a buckler of steel.
There are faces too--faces dark, truculent, and smiling; the frank audacious faces
of men barefooted, well armed and noiseless. They thronged the narrow length
of our schooner's decks with their ornamented and barbarous crowd, with the
variegated colours of checkered sarongs, red turbans, white jackets,
embroideries; with the gleam of scabbards, gold rings, charms, armlets, lance
blades, and jewelled handles of their weapons. They had an independent
bearing, resolute eyes, a restrained manner; and we seem yet to hear their soft
voices speaking of battles, travels, and escapes; boasting with composure, joking
quietly; sometimes in well-bred murmurs extolling their own valour, our
generosity; or celebrating with loyal enthusiasm the virtues of their ruler. We
remember the faces, the eyes, the voices, we see again the gleam of silk and
metal; the murmuring stir of that crowd, brilliant, festive, and martial; and we
seem to feel the touch of friendly brown hands that, after one short grasp, return
to rest on a chased hilt. They were Karain's people--a devoted following. Their
movements hung on his lips; they read their thoughts in his eyes; he murmured
to them nonchalantly of life and death, and they accepted his words humbly, like
gifts of fate. They were all free men, and when speaking to him said, "Your
slave." On his passage voices died out as though he had walked guarded by
silence; awed whispers followed him. They called him their war-chief. He was the
ruler of three villages on a narrow plain; the master of an insignificant foothold on
the earth--of a conquered foothold that, shaped like a young moon, lay ignored
between the hills and the sea.
From the deck of our schooner, anchored in the middle of the bay, he indicated
by a theatrical sweep of his arm along the jagged outline of the hills the whole of
his domain; and the ample movement seemed to drive back its limits,
augmenting it suddenly into something so immense and vague that for a moment
it appeared to be bounded only by the sky. And really, looking at that place,