Dragon s blood - By Henry Milner Rideout

Chapter 1
Dear Cope,

Mr. Peachey Carnehan, when he returned from Kafiristan, in bad shape but with a king's head in a bag, exclaimed to the man in the newspaper office, "And you've been sitting there ever since!" There is only a pig in the following poke; and yet in giving you the string to cut and the bag to open, I feel something of Peachey's wonder to think of you, across all this distance and change, as still sitting in your great chair by the green lamp, while past a dim background of books moves the procession of youth. Many of us, growing older in various places, remember well your friendship, and are glad that you are there, urging our successors to look backward into good books, and forward into life.

Yours ever truly, H. M. R. Sausalito, California.

Chapter I


It was "about first-drink time," as the captain of the Tsuen-Chau, bound for Shanghai and Japan ports, observed to his friend Cesare Domenico, a good British subject born at Malta. They sat on the coolest corner in Port Said, their table commanding both the cross-way of Chareh Sultan el Osman, and the short, glaring vista of desert dust and starved young acacias which led to the black hulks of shipping in the Canal. From the Bar la Poste came orchestral strains--"Ai nostri monti"--performed by a piano indoors and two violins on the pavement. The sounds contended with a thin, scattered strumming of cafe mandolins, the tinkle of glasses, the steady click of dominoes and backgammon; then were drowned in the harsh chatter of Arab coolies who, all grimed as black as Nubians, and shouldering spear-headed shovels, tramped inland, their long tunics stiff with coal-dust, like a band of chain-mailed Crusaders lately caught in a hurricane of powdered charcoal. Athwart them, Parisian gowns floated past on stout Italian forms; hulking third-class Australians, in shirtsleeves, slouched along toward their mail-boat, hugging whiskey bottles, baskets of oranges, baskets of dates; British soldiers, khaki-clad for India, raced galloping donkeys through the crowded and dusty street. It was mail-day, and gayety flowed among the tables, under the thin acacias, on a high tide of Amer Picon.

Through the inky files of the coaling-coolies burst an alien and bewildered figure. He passed unnoticed, except by the filthy little Arab bootblacks who swarmed about him, trotting, capering, yelping cheerfully: "Mista Ferguson!--polish, finish!--can-can--see nice Frencha girl--Mista McKenzie, Scotcha fella from Dublin--smotta picture--polish, finish!"--undertoned by a squabbling chorus. But presently, studying his face, they cried in a loud voice, "Nix! Alles!" and left him, as one not desiring polish.

"German, that chap," drawled the captain of the Tsuen-Chau, lazily, noticing the uncertain military walk of the young man's clumsy legs, his uncouth clothes, his pale visage winged by blushing ears of coral pink.

"The Eitel's in, then," replied Cesare. And they let the young Teuton vanish in the vision of mixed lives.

Down the lane of music and chatter and drink he passed slowly, like a man just wakened,--assailed by Oriental noise and smells, jostled by the races of all latitudes and longitudes, surrounded and solitary, unheeded and self-conscious. With a villager's awkwardness among crowds, he made his way to a German shipping-office.

"Dispatches for Rudolph Hackh?" he inquired, twisting up his blond moustache, and trying to look insolent and peremptory, like an employer of men.

"There are none, sir," answered an amiable clerk, not at all impressed.

Abashed once more in the polyglot street, still daunted by his first plunge into the foreign and the strange, he retraced his path, threading shyly toward the Quai Francois Joseph. He slipped through the barrier gate, signaled clumsily to a boatman, crawled under the drunken little awning of the dinghy, and steered a landsman's course along the shining Canal toward the black wall of a German mail-boat. Cramping the Arab's oar along the iron side, he bumped the landing-stage. Safe on deck, he became in a moment stiff and haughty, greeting a fellow passenger here and there with a half-military salute. All afternoon he sat or walked alone, unapproachable, eyeing with a fierce and gloomy stare the squalid front of wooden houses on the African side, the gray desert glare of Asia, the pale blue ribbon of the great Canal stretching southward into the unknown.

He composed melancholy German verses in a note-book. He recalled famous exiles--Camoens, Napoleon, Byron--and essayed to copy something of all three in his attitude. He cherished the thought that he, clerk at twenty-one, was now agent at twenty-two, and traveling toward a house with