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PARROT & CO.

by

HAROLD MacGRATH

Author of
"The Best Man," "The Carpet from Bagdad," "The Place of Honeymoons"

With Four Illustrations in Color

By André Castaigne







[Frontispiece: The Game of Gossip.]




A. L. Burt Company
Publishers -------- New York
Copyright 1913
The Bobbs-Merrill Company




CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I EAST IS EAST
II A MAN WITH A PAST
III THE WEAK LINK
IV TWO DAYS OF PARADISE
V BACK TO LIFE
VI IN THE NEXT ROOM
VII CONFIDENCES
VIII A WOMAN'S REASON
IX TWO SHORT WEEKS
X THE CUT DIRECT
XI THE BLUE FEATHER
XII THE GAME OF GOSSIP
XIII AFTER TEN YEARS
XIV ACCORDING TO THE RULES
XV A BIT OF A LARK
XVI WHO IS PAUL ELLISON?
XVII THE ANSWERING CABLE
XVIII THE BATTLE
XIX TWO LETTERS
XX THE TWO BROTHERS
XXI HE THAT WAS DEAD




ILLUSTRATIONS

The Game of Gossip . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

A Bit of a Lark

The Battle

He That Was Dead




TO

J. J. CURTIS




PARROT & CO.


I

EAST IS EAST

It began somewhere in the middle of the world, between London which is
the beginning and New York which is the end, where all things are east
of the one and west of the other. To be precise, a forlorn landing on
the west bank of the muddy turbulent Irrawaddy, remembered by man only
so often as it was necessary for the flotilla boat to call for paddy, a
visiting commissioner anxious to get away, or a family homeward-bound.
Somewhere in the northeast was Mandalay, but lately known in romance,
verse and song; somewhere in the southeast lay Prome, known only in
guide-books and time-tables; and farther south, Rangoon, sister to
Singapore, the half-way house of the derelicts of the world. On the
east side of the river, over there, was a semblance of civilization.
That is to say, men wore white linen, avoided murder, and frequently
paid their gambling debts. But on this west side stood wilderness, not
the kind one reads about as being eventually conquered by white men;
no, the real grim desolation, where the ax cuts but leaves no blaze,
where the pioneer disappears and few or none follow. The pioneer has
always been a successful pugilist, but in this part of Burma fate, out
of pure admiration for the pygmy's gameness, decided to call the battle
a draw. It was not the wilderness of the desert, of the jungle; rather
the tragic hopeless state of a settlement that neither progressed,
retarded, nor stood still.

Between the landing and the settlement itself there stretched a winding
road, arid and treeless, perhaps two miles in length. It announced
definitely that its end was futility. All this day long heavy
bullock-carts had rumbled over it, rumbled toward the landing and
rattled emptily back to the settlement. The dust hung like a fog above
the road, not only for this day, but for all days between the big
rains. Each night, however, the cold heavy dews drew it down, cooling
but never congealing it. From under the first footfall the next day it
rose again. When the gods, or the elements, or Providence, arranged
the world as a fit habitation for man, India and Burma were made the
dust-bins. And as water finds its levels, so will dust, earthly and
human, the quick and the dead.

It was after five in the afternoon. The sun was sinking, hazily but
swiftly; ribbons of scarlet, ribbons of rose, ribbons of violet, lay
one upon the other. The sun possessed no definite circle; a great
blinding radiance like metal pouring from the mouth of a blast-furnace.
Along the road walked two men, phantom-like. One saw their heads dimly
and still more dimly their bodies to the knees; of legs, there was
nothing visible. Occasionally they stepped aside to permit some
bullock-cart to pass. One of them swore, not with any evidence of
temper, not viciously, but in a kind of mechanical protest, which, from
long usage, had become a habit. He directed these epithets never at
animate things, never at anything he could by mental or physical
contest overcome. He swore at the dust, at the heat, at the wind, at
the sun.

The other wayfarer, with the inherent patience of his blood, said
nothing and waited, setting down the heavy kit-bag and the
canvas-valise (his own). When the way was free again he would sling
the kit-bag and the valise over his shoulder and step back into the
road. His turban, once white, was brown with dust and sweat. His
khaki uniform was rent under the arm-pits, several buttons were gone;
his stockings were rusty black, mottled with patches of brown skin; and
the ragged canvas-shoes spurted little spirals of dust as he walked.
The British-Indian government had indulgently permitted him to proceed
about his duties as guide and carrier under the cognomen of James
Hooghly, in honor of a father whose surname need not be written here,
and in further honor of the river upon which, quite inconveniently one
early morning, he had been born. For he was Eurasian; half European,
half Indian, having his place twixt heaven and hell, which is to say,
nowhere. His father had died of a complication of bhang-drinking and
opium-eating; and as a consequence, James was full of humorless
imagination, spells of moodiness and outbursts of hilarious politics.
Every native who acquires a facility in English immediately sets out to
rescue India from the clutches of the British raj, occasionally
advancing so far as to send a bullet into some harmless individual in
the Civil Service.

James was faithful, willing and strong; and as a carrier of burdens,
took unmurmuringly his place beside the tireless bullock and the
elephant. He was a Methodist; why, no one could find lucid answer,
since he ate no beef, drank from no common cup, smoked through his fist
when he enjoyed a pipe, and never assisted Warrington Sahib in his
deadly pursuit of flies and mosquitoes. He was Hindu in all his acts
save in his manner of entering temples; in this, the European blood
kept his knees unbended. By dint of inquiry his master had learned
that James looked upon his baptism and conversion in Methodism as a
corporal would have looked upon the acquisition of a V. C. Twice,
during fever and plague, he had saved his master's life. With the
guilelessness of the Oriental he considered himself responsible for his
master in all future times. Instead of paying off a debt he had
acquired one. Treated as he was, kindly but always firmly, he would
have surrendered his life cheerfully at the beck of the white man.

Warrington was an American. He was also one of those men who never
held misfortune in contempt, whose outlook wherever it roamed was
tolerant. He had patience for the weak, resolution for the strong, and
a fearless amiability toward all. He was like the St. Bernard dog,
very difficult to arouse. It is rather the way with all men who are
strong mentally and physically. He was tall and broad and deep. Under
the battered pith-helmet his face was as dark as the Eurasian's; but
the eyes were blue, bright and small-pupiled, as they are with men who
live out-of-doors, who are compelled of necessity to note things moving
in the distances. The nose was large and well-defined. All framed in
a tangle of blond beard and mustache which, if anything, added to the
general manliness of his appearance. He, too, wore khaki, but with the
addition of tan riding-leggings, which had seen anything but
rocking-horse service. The man was yellow from the top of his helmet
to the soles of his shoes--outside. For the rest, he was a mystery, to
James, to all who thought they knew him, and most of all to himself. A
pariah, an outcast, a fugitive from the bloodless hand of the law; a
gentleman born, once upon a time a clubman, college-bred; a
contradiction, a puzzle for which there was not any solution, not even
in the hidden corners of the man's heart. His name wasn't Warrington;
and he had rubbed elbows with the dregs of humanity, and still looked
you straight in the eye because he had come through inferno without
bringing any of the defiling pitch.

From time to time he paused to relight his crumbling cheroot. The
tobacco was strong and bitter, and stung his parched lips; but the
craving for the tang of the smoke on his tongue was not to be denied.

Under his arm he carried a small iron-cage, patterned something like a
rat-trap. It contained a Rajputana parrakeet, not much larger than a
robin, but possessor of a soul as fierce as that of Palladia, minus,
however, the smoothing influence of chivalry. He had been born under
the eaves of the scarlet palace in Jaipur (so his history ran); but the
proximity of Indian princes had left him untouched: he had neither
chivalry, politeness, nor diplomacy. He was, in fact, thoroughly and
consistently bad. Round and round he went, over and over, top-side,
down-side, restlessly. For at this moment he was hearing those
familiar evening sounds which no human ear can discern: the muttering
of the day-birds about to seek cover for the night. In the field at
the right of the road stood a lonely tree. It was covered with
brilliant scarlet leaves and blossoms, and justly the natives call it
the Flame of the Jungle. A flock of small birds were gyrating above it.

"Jah, jah, jah! Jah--jah--ja-a-a-h!" cried the parrot, imitating the
Burmese bell-gong that calls to prayer. Instantly he followed the call
with a shriek so piercing as to sting the ear of the man who was
carrying him.

"You little son-of-a-gun," he laughed; "where do you pack away all that
noise?"

There was a strange bond between the big yellow man and this little
green bird. The bird did not suspect it, but the man knew. The pluck,
the pugnacity and the individuality of the feathered comrade had been
an object lesson to the man, at a time when he had been on the point of
throwing up the fight.

"Jah, jah, jah!



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