The exciting conclusion of the Edgar Williams adventure, A Rage in Siam.
|Chapter ten: The Dogs of War
Kanbo was able to determine the quickest route back to where we knew Miss Hardwick and her illicit cargo were headed for, and so we set off at speed, hoping that she was still en route.
When we drew near the destination, we became more cautious, vigilant for any sign that they may have already passed us and were even now concluding their business. No evidence was forthcoming, to my great relief and we were able to survey the area in peace.
The handover point was a great clearing, heavily carpeted with large ferns under which a man could easily crawl unseen. It was surrounded on three sides by the mighty trees of the jungle, and on the fourth by the furiously rushing river. As I stared at the murky brown waters, a plan began to form in my mind and a smile must have found its way onto my usually serious face, for Nut ta Woot inquired as to the nature of the joke.
As I would need my faithful guide’s assistance presently, I quickly explained to him the scheme as it currently stood. Our objective was simply to destroy the arms and ammunition being carried by the party, before they could hand them over to the White Tigers, who must also be in the general vicinity. However, I was unwilling to do this by the most obvious, and simplest, method. No, an explosion would do too much damage to these pristine wilds and I was not prepared to go down that route. Instead, I would use the waters of the river to extinguish the flames of war before they could even be lit.
Unfortunately, Nut ta Woot asked the very question that I as yet had no answer for: how were we to deposit an exceedingly heavy supply of death-dealing hardware into those chocolate rapids?
No sooner had the question presented itself out loud though, than the answer was heard trumpeting through the air and appeared before our astonished eyes at the peak of a hill in the near distance.
We all three dove instantly into the nearest cover, before we could be seen by the fast advancing company, then quickly shuffled our way to the outskirts of the clearing where we might observe their approach. Somehow, Miss Hardwick and her men had commandeered the services of a great number of huge and powerful elephants to carry the arms with ease through the jungle, something which now accounted for their quicker than expected arrival. The guns had been strapped about the beasts via some harnesses hastily improvised from vines and lianas. This must surely have been Miss Hardwick’s idea and I could not help but give a grudging smile at her ingenuity. This would never have occurred to Buchanan.
What pleased me even more though, was the fact that I now intended to use Miss Hardwick’s ploy against her and bring about the downfall of whatever she hoped to gain from this escapade. I swiftly explained the final part of my own plan to Nut ta Woot and he actually shook his head in admiration at the sheer insane genius of it. I have to admit, I was suddenly eager myself to witness how the next few minutes were to unfold, as the images running through my head were quite extraordinary in their peculiarity.
I looked back out into the clearing where the party, now comprising six full-grown elephants in addition to the score or so of men, had come to an eventual halt. Miss Hardwick sat atop a strangely refined-looking specimen as if she had been riding pachyderms her entire life. As I watched, a group of a dozen black clad men emerged silently from the trees and approached Miss Hardwick, initiating the conversation in a typically business-like manner, with no time for pleasantries. From where we were hiding, we could hear their every word with ease, but it was not what was being said that caused me the most consternation but what I then saw.
A figure, which I had not previously noticed, suddenly swung itself down from one of the elephants and approached the Tigers in conversation with Miss Hardwick. As the figure turned to face their leader, I let out a gasp of incredulity, for the man standing before me was the one I thought I had killed that very morning: Buchanan. Somehow the scoundrel had survived a bullet to the heart. No doubt Miss Hardwick had warned him and he had taken the precaution of wearing some kind of protection beneath his clothes.
We heard the leader of the Tigers request a demonstration of the weapons and Buchanan strode back towards one of the elephants, pulled down a rifle and yelled out for one of his men to start running. At first there were no volunteers, quite understandably I felt, but when Buchanan promised a handsome sum for any soul brave enough to carry out this task, a solitary sweating fool stepped forward. Buchanan indicated for him to head at speed towards the jungle and then raised the rifle to his shoulder. I could already see how this would end, knowing as I did that Buchanan was a superb shot and also how little he liked to part with his money.
I glanced at Kanbo, hoping that he was paying attention to the events now unfolding and that a lesson was about to be learned, even if it meant that one man must die to save an entire people. I didn’t turn back to see what happened next, instead choosing to remain looking at Kanbo. And so I saw the expression of revulsion on his face when the boom of the rifle shattered the peace of the jungle. I knew then, in that single instant, that the rift in the Karen tribe would be healed before the day was over.
All this altered nothing though. We must still act now, so I drew my hunting knife, watched as Nut ta Woot took out his own, then instructed him to tackle the rear three elephants while I made for the forward three.
We divided, crawling our way as silently as possible beneath the ferns towards our designated targets. Occasionally I could just spy, through the barest gap in the leaves, a bored porter idly looking in my general direction as I made just a touch too much noise.
As I pulled around to the far side of the elephants, I counted my blessings that there was apparently some kind of argument over the payment for the weapons in progress, which was slowing down the handover. This gave me the time to gently approach the first of my elephants, so as not to alarm him, and silently cut partway through the vines that held the arms tightly upon his back. Praying that the beast would not move too much before I had time to complete my task, I moved straight on to the next elephant, the one which still carried Miss Hardwick, and repeated my actions. Just one more to go now.
I edged closer to the final animal, able to see Buchanan engaged in a heated quarrel with the leader of the Tigers, through its tree-trunk like legs. It’s hard enough killing a man once, but I never dreamed that I would have to slay one twice.
I reached up cautiously, conscious of every tiny sound that I was making, but Buchanan was totally occupied with squeezing every penny out of the rebels that he could and was oblivious to what was going on not six feet away. I glanced back to see how Nut ta Woot was getting along and was much cheered to see that he had successfully completed his part of the assignment and was even now heading back to the safety of the trees, where I hoped soon to join him. One final cut, and the job was done. Breathing a silent sigh of relief, I now headed after Nut ta Woot, expecting every inch of the way for a bullet to find its way into my back.
But after what seemed like an eternity, I was able to rejoin my companion on a slight rise overlooking the clearing, behind the cover of the trees. Now it was time for the coup de grace. I pulled out my Winchester, cocked it and lined the sights up on my target. I could see Nut ta Woot squinting to see where I was aiming for and when he figured out my intentions he whispered jovially, ‘You are a wicked man, Mr. Williams, wicked indeed.’
Without taking my eye from the sights, I replied just as genially, ‘Well, I wouldn’t want her to get wet now, would I?’ I squeezed the trigger. My aim was true and the bullet found its mark: the strap holding the howdah in which Miss Hardwick still sat. In an instant, she found herself sprawling headlong from the sturdy elephant’s back to the soft ground below. But more importantly, the crack of the bullet had created in all six of the elephants a state of panic that no force on Earth was going to be able to stop now.
With a tremendous and ear-shattering bellowing, the animals hurtled forwards at astounding speed, heading for the river, just as I intended. The porters scattered, their own safety the highest priority and I was pleased to see Buchanan caught up in the stampede and knocked senseless to the ground.
The first of the elephants reached the water’s edge and ploughed straight in, closely followed by its companions. By this time, the violence of the journey had finished off the job that we had started with our knives and the harnesses had worked themselves loose enough to fall off into the water. I watched in glee as the deadly weapons of man were thus rendered useless by their sudden and terminal immersion in Nature’s purest gift. They would never now wreak their destruction on the innocent.
Sadly there was no more time to enjoy the sight of the porters now that they had regained their sense of duty and were at last attempting to recover their charges, albeit with only minimal success so far. Once an elephant gets underway, it takes a brave and highly skilled man to bring it back under control. And so somewhat reluctantly, Nut ta Woot, Kanbo and I turned from the scene of chaos below, ready to disappear once more into the jungle whence we came. As we did so, I caught sight of the dazed and confused Buchanan and Miss Hardwick, both now returned to their feet, staring up in anger at me, furious at the way I had managed to bring all their best laid plans to dust around them, but powerless to do anything about it.
The members of the White Tigers could be seen as they swiftly departed the site of this fiasco, vanishing back into the jungle as fast as they could, eager to put as much distance between them and Buchanan as possible.
I could have taken this second opportunity to fulfil my contract to the letter, and end Buchanan’s life with a single shot, but I felt that with the destruction of the weaponry, my mission could be counted a success. Sir Charles could find no fault in my conduct, of this I felt sure.
I lingered for a moment, eyes flicking back and forth between my two adversaries and for a moment I could have sworn I saw the hatred disappear to be replaced by a look of grudging respect. They had been bested by a superior foe this day, but at least they were still alive to continue the fight another day.
So now I turned away, to follow Nut ta Woot and Kanbo, already disappearing into the jungle, to return from these backwoods to what we laughingly refer to as civilisation.
Kanbo led us in a great circle to bring us some distance downriver from the scene of the destruction, where to my great delight a single well-crafted bamboo raft lay waiting, hidden in the undergrowth by the shore. No doubt it had been placed there under the command of the leader of the tribe. Our return journey would be made in considerably more comfort than the initial trek.
Chapter eleven: What Dreams May Come
We threw our stained packs onto the spacious deck of the raft then clambered eagerly aboard, picking up the long poles which lay before us. I was instantly reminded of my time spent amongst the makoro polers of the Okovango Delta, and a smile creased my face at the sudden pleasant reminiscence. Back to the moment an instant later though, and we took up our positions. Nut ta Woot would guide us from the prow of the raft, and Kanbo and I would steer from the rear. Together we would get each other safely back. We owed ourselves that much after all that we had been through.
As we were about to push off, Nut ta Woot asked me if I was not concerned that Buchanan would even now be trying to hunt us down to seek revenge for the ruination of his plans. I didn’t respond immediately, instead thinking of the look that we had shared in that final moment. No, there would be no danger on this stage of the journey, of this I felt confident.
We shoved energetically away from the shore, out into the fast moving current, letting ourselves be carried along by the rapids, with only the occasional prod of our poles to keep us away from the rocky banks. The experience was greatly enjoyable, a much needed release of tension after the pressures of the past week, and in the slower sections of the river we abandoned ourselves to the wonderfully refreshing waters, to wash the thick layers of dirt from our bodies.
Our voyage took several hours, as we were in no great hurry to reach our destination. After our recent efforts, we felt we deserved some kind of reward, and we were carried through many exciting white water rapids, which provided us with ample exhilaration of a less dangerous kind than usually afforded to me.
Eventually though, Nut ta Woot recognised the point where our journey must come to a reluctant end. As we steered for the small beachhead, we were surprised to see a welcoming party emerge from the trees, consisting of the leader of the Karen and his advisors.
They greeted us warmly as we beached the raft, bringing forth much needed refreshments. It was clear that they were desperate to discover what had transpired in the jungle depths and I was able to tell them with a glad heart that they would not be troubled any time soon by Buchanan or the weapons that he had threatened to bring crashing into their world. By now he was surely returning to Chiang Mai with Miss Hardwick to lick his wounds and recover from the crushing defeat he had received at my hands. The White Tigers also would not trouble the tribes any more I fancied.
However, I warned the leader that although we had defeated Buchanan and the Tigers on this occasion, there would come a time when others of their kind would come into the peaceful existence of the tribe, seeking to upset the delicate equilibrium that they had worked so hard and so long to achieve. Next time it would take an even greater effort on their part to ensure that this balance would not be shattered permanently. But there are some things in this life worth fighting for, and fighting hard.
The members of the tribe embraced us and welcomed us back to their camp for the night to recover from our exertions before we set back for the city.
The chief and his son walked a little way behind us, and I could hear them speaking quietly together. Whilst the exact words meant little to me, I could tell by the tone that a great rift had been healed, and that there would be no more disagreement on the subject of the outside world between the two men. My spirits rose a little higher at the thought of the role I had played in bringing them together and I walked by Nut ta Woot’s side with a great smile plastered across my face. I think he shared my pleasure at the successful completion of our mission, and without the loss of life that I had thought inevitable, and I was sure too that he felt pride at the service we had done to the Karen and their way of life.
After but a short hike through the verdant rainforest, we arrived at the camp of the tribe. At first the people were wary of these two newcomers, but when the leader announced that we were the ones who had brought an end to the threatened conflict, the frowns upon their faces lifted and were replaced with joyful smiles that were returned in like.
A small number of the tribe’s people still looked upon us with contempt however, and I surmised that these were the few who had thought that the White Tigers would bring salvation to them. Kanbo strode forth from his father’s side to his supporters and told them of what he had seen through our eyes and how foolish they had been to ever believe in the Tigers and their false prophecies. As his words sank in, the doubters made their way sternly towards us. At first I was unsure if Kanbo’s speech had really had any effect, but this was quickly dispelled as I found myself in the midst of a group of congratulatory tribe’s people, exceedingly keen on holding an impromptu celebration!
The party mood quickly caught on amongst the rest of the tribe and in no time at all a great fire was roaring, several pigs were being roasted and a large number of jars containing a highly potent alcoholic substance were being rolled out. Someone had found a set of drums, and struck up a particularly jaunty rhythm that had everyone up from their feet and dancing exuberantly in their glee. Myself and Nut ta Woot needed no encouragement and quickly joined in, despite the complexity of the dance steps and soon enough we were tripping the light fantastic under a diamond clad sky like a pair of old pros.
Dance followed dance and drink followed drink until I lost track of both, but my cares had disappeared this night for I had successfully bested my opponent, completed my obligation to Sir Charles, and lived to tell the tale. There was only the small matter of my responsibility to Ae in regard to Miss Hardwick that still bothered me, but that was something that could wait awhile. Over the last few years I had taken pleasure lightly, finding satisfaction in other ways, but seeing the exultant tribe’s people all around me made me think, just for a moment, that perhaps a re-evaluation of my life was perhaps soon in order. But not tonight.
The entire tribe rose late the following morning. The party had continued well into the small hours, if indeed time truly existed out here, and I believe I was one of the last to stumble into my bed. I awoke mercifully unafflicted by the copious amounts of spirits that had been consumed, a peculiar piece of biological good fortune that had served me well over the years, and took a while to savour the blessed peace which hung over the camp.
I soon heard the sound of approaching feet and turned to see a rather worse for wear Nut ta Woot. He did not share my ability for alcohol consumption and was now feeling the after-effects in a way that occasionally left little to the imagination.
Keeping my voice low, so as not to exacerbate the pounding ache within his head, I told him that we must soon be on our way. He nodded sadly, and wondered aloud why we might not stay awhile. We would be more than welcome, and I must say I was tempted. The Karen lived a simple life, but one which brought with it many rewards and for a moment I thought that perhaps I could remain here, for some time at least. But no, common sense soon prevailed. Such a place was not made for me. I was born to wander, and to walk that path alone. But I suggested that Nut ta Woot was free to stay, as I could find my own way back from here.
I could see that he was tempted as he looked longingly back over his shoulder so I reinforced my suggestion and turned it into a recommendation. We shook hands firmly, but no words were needed, for we had been through enough together to understand what the other was feeling. There had been few attachments over the past years that filled me with sadness when they ended, but I was truly sorry to bid farewell to this fine young man.
I turned away, not wanting to prolong the moment any more than I had to, wishing I had something to give my friend to symbolise our comradeship. But as I was a man of few possessions, there was nothing to give, so I was unable to leave anything but the memory of the experience we had shared. Perhaps that was for the best though.
As I set off, I saw the villagers gather in silent gratitude, to watch me leave. I raised a hand in soundless salute, and then turned to pass away from their lives forever. I shrugged aside the doubts that were still in my head, forcing myself to believe that I was right to carry on alone in the way that I had done for so long now. This was another chapter in my life closed, and it was time for the next to begin. I had done a good thing this day, done the tribe’s people a great service and seen yet more of the world that I desired to explore to the fullest, so I had no reason for doubt. This thought cheered me immeasurably, so with a new found spring in my step, I walked on.
Chapter twelve: To See the Lights
A long and leisurely return journey had given me much time to consider my next move and with so many options available to me, it was not an easy task to complete successfully.
By now, the problems in Africa would surely have resolved themselves and I did long to see my heartland once more, to walk the savannah, to bask in the glory of the birthplace of man and to feel my spirits soar to unimaginable heights. However, long ago I had pledged to see all that the world had to offer, and my travels here in Siam had reminded me that this was an immense task and I had but little time in which to complete it. I regretted none of my time spent in Africa, but perhaps now was the right moment to take further steps across the globe and discover what else lay in wait around the next corner.
By the time I reached my hotel room I had made my decision. What I had seen here in Siam had set my imagination aflame and I desired to see more of the great continent of Asia. The borders of Burma and Laos lay but a short distance to the north and after that, the mysteries of ancient China beckoned or perhaps I could even strike westwards for the mighty sub-continent of India. I would surely find much there to impress and astonish me and a man of my peculiar talents should have no difficulty in finding an engagement.
There was still the unresolved question of Miss Hardwick, but I was inclined to steer clear of that issue. When I had spoken with Ae, I had not been aware of the conditions under which his information was being given, and had I known I would have sought out another source to discover what I needed. I was not happy with the thought of settling a man’s personal vendetta, despite my own feelings towards Miss Hardwick.
Having reached this resolution, and feeling content with my decision, I collapsed onto my bed and fell instantly into a deep sleep.
I awoke some hours later, eager to set off on the next stage of my unknown course through life. We are given precious little time in this world to see a vast array of treasures, and I had no reason to waste what remained to me.
My bag hanging casually from my shoulder, my hat tipped at a rakish angle over my eyes, I approached the chap behind the desk of the hotel, and enquired after transport to Chiang Rai, from whereafter I would find my way across the border into either Burma or Laos. I was pleased to learn that a train was heading that way later that evening and asked the clerk to make the arrangements for me. As I turned away, intending to find something to satiate my raging hunger, he handed over an envelope, with my name written in the educated hand of someone who I could only imagine to be Sir Charles.
And indeed, I was proven correct as I pulled out a short letter with his distinctive signature at the bottom. I thanked the clerk and stuffed the letter into my pocket, intending to read it over lunch.
Although I had picked up quite a taste for eating local delicacies from the hawkers on the streets, I felt I was long overdue a more substantial meal, not necessarily in surroundings as elegant or sophisticated as I was once used to, but certainly away from the hustle and bustle of the outdoors.
I walked a short time, feeling strangely at home back in the city despite myself, until I came across a pleasant little place run by a friendly old lady who stood barely five feet tall. She welcomed me in, smiling the whole time and making me feel most at home. She presented the menu to me with a proud flourish, but as I was able to make little sense of the writing it contained, I strove to indicate that I was happy for her to bring me whatever she felt best served her establishment. I think she understood, for she backed away, still smiling, to the kitchen where I was able to hear and see her engage in conversation with a man whom I judged to be her husband. He instantly set about slicing and dicing, and generally whipping up a culinary storm that he thought would impress this stranger, whilst his wife returned to me carrying a frosted glass which she laid carefully down before me.
As I smiled my thanks, I pulled out the letter from Sir Charles, unfolded it and began to read. Somehow he had learnt of my triumph and congratulated me on the successful completion of a tricky assignment. He was surprised that I had let Buchanan survive our encounter, given my reputation, but bore me no ill-will, as the destruction of the weapons was the primary objective. He ended the letter by wishing me the best of fortune in all my future endeavours and hoped that, should the need arise, he might be able to retain my services again one day. I smiled, thinking to myself that an acquaintance such as Sir Charles would indeed be a useful one to remember, as he would unquestionably be able to put some employment my way should I require it.
I finished the letter and folded it away, just as my lunch arrived. In an impossibly short time, the chef had created a marvellous dish of sweet shrimp that all too soon satisfied my hunger. I was tempted to ask for another but curbed my indulgence, instead settling for a second glass of whatever it was my host had chosen for me. I was unsure exactly what it contained, but I could distinctly detect mango, guava and pineapple. Something else eluded me, and I struggled in vain to place the taste, but it was a most invigorating drink and the perfect way to finish off a splendid meal.
Enough time had passed now, so I rose and thanked the old woman and her husband for their hospitality, and then headed back to the hotel at a leisurely pace. The desk clerk informed me that all the arrangements for my onward journey had been made and a tuk-tuk was waiting outside to take me to the station. He then handed over a bulging envelope, which he informed me had been left by Sir Charles. I had no need to examine the contents, for I knew that it contained the fee for my services plus, I was fairly certain, a little extra on top.
I climbed into the tuk-tuk, my bag clutched tightly, used as I was now to the somewhat reckless nature of the drivers, and settled back to enjoy the perilous trip I was about to endure. It was but a short ride to the station and my train was already waiting when I arrived. I boarded immediately and found the comfort of my private cabin, pleasantly surprised at the standard, although of course I would have been just as happy with less.
I settled down, idly watching the flood of passengers through the window as they went about the last minute details of their own journeys. I sat bolt upright however, when I caught a glimpse of a figure that I found distressingly familiar. I yanked down the window and leapt through the gap, startling an old man struggling with his bags. I sprang around the poor chap, slipping my way through the crowd with uncommon ease until I reached the person that had struck such an unpleasant chord with me. I spun her around with a furious yell and then felt my anger dissolve in an instant, to be replaced by intense embarrassment at my foolish actions. For the woman was not Miss Hardwick as I had thought, but simply an innocent traveller about to embark on an equally innocent journey. I apologised profusely and then backed away, seeking the refuge of my cabin, aware of all the disdainful eyes upon me.
I slumped back in my seat, my anger fading, and my common sense slowly returning. How foolish I had been to even entertain the thought that Miss Hardwick could be here on this very platform at the same time as I. She was surely miles from here, probably still somewhere in the jungle with her cohort Buchanan.
The bell that indicated the imminent departure of the train rang out over the clamour of the crowds, the few last minute stragglers leapt desperately aboard, anxious not to be left behind and families said their final tearful goodbyes. I gazed wistfully into the throng, wondering would it would be like to have someone bid a fond farewell to me and for them to worry about what I might soon be facing. But it troubled me not for any great length of time, as I had resigned myself long ago to the fact that there would not be anyone to mourn my passing, whenever that day might eventually come to pass.
The train pulled out with a jerk, then soon after settled down into the steady rattling pace that would in due course bring me into Chiang Rai, from where I could make my way to the border and cross over into either Burma or Laos, depending on which took my fancy at the given moment.
There were still some hours until dinner was served, so I stretched out and went peacefully to sleep.
Chapter thirteen: An Uninvited Guest
The gentle knock of the steward upon my door awoke me, signalling that it would soon be time for dinner. I rose and dressed, at least trying to make an effort for the sake of appearances, but not overly concerned with the impact that my presence might have on my fellow diners. When I had put as much effort in as I deemed necessary, I casually departed my cabin, minus on this occasion my usual companion of the Remington at my side.
I was escorted to my table by a chatty young fellow who reminded me much of Nut ta Woot. He brought me a menu, making suggestions as to what I might like to sample this evening. I frowned at his mention of chilli frog and I think he got the message as he quickly moved on to more typical fare. It is not that I have an aversion to the more exotic cuisines of this world, the Lord knows I have sampled my fare share of the unusual, but there were some things even I was not about to eat unless absolutely necessary, and frog was one of them. I instead settled for a rather more mundane dish of locally caught catfish, which was much more to my liking.
The waiter complimented me on my choice, and then discreetly moved on. As I leaned back in my chair, a shadow fell across the table and without looking up, I assumed it was the same waiter returning with my drink. When no glass was forthcoming, I glanced up to find myself staring into the face of Miss Hardwick.
I reached instinctively for the Remington, fearing for my safety, and then cursed myself for not carrying it. Even if I had though, would I have been able to use it, surrounded as I was by a carriage full of bystanders? As it was a moot point though, I quickly moved my thoughts on to how I was going to deal with the situation about to unfold.
As she had done on our first encounter, Miss Hardwick took the seat opposite me without any form of invitation. I remained unspeaking, forcing her to break the silence and to reveal her intentions first. To her credit, she maintained the awkward hush for a goodly length of time, the pair of us staring into the enigmatic pools of the others eyes, but eventually she broke.
‘Fear not, Mr. Williams, for I am not here to wish you ill,’ she said quietly.
‘Then you must surely know what my next question will be?’ I replied, my voice even in tone.
She smiled and nodded gently. ‘I am here to warn you that Buchanan will be waiting for you. When you depart this train, one or other of you will forfeit his life.’
‘I suspected as much. I knew he would not let this slight upon him go unpunished. It was simply a question of how long I would have to wait.’
Her reply came swiftly. ‘You could have killed him back at the clearing. And yet you did not. Why?’
I shrugged. ‘Perhaps because of something you yourself said to me. Life is more interesting with Buchanan still in it. I had succeeded in my obligation to Sir Charles, so there was no need to end another life, not even one as wretched as his,’ I concluded.
‘You are an enigma to me Mr. Williams. You spared his life even though you knew that one day soon he would come looking for you to end your own.’ She leaned forward, trying to find the answers she sought in my eyes.
I held her gaze and answered solidly, ‘When I remained in Africa, instead of returning home to England, I swore that I would make every moment count, that every day would be a surprise. I decided that absolute knowledge of what life was to bring was not the path I wanted to follow. Instead I sought the unknown. You of all people should understand that it is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. After all, isn’t that how you live your own life?’
‘It is true, we are at once both very similar and yet polar opposites. I believe in risk, in adventure, in following one’s heart, but there is always logic, reason and judgement in my actions. I would not do anything so foolish as leaving alive someone that was a threat to me.’
‘Then why did you not kill me that night in the jungle?’
She threw back her hair as she laughed. ‘Ah, you refer to the agreement you unconsciously made with Ae. The agreement that my life would be forfeit for the insults that I had inflicted upon him, and that you would be my deliverer.’
‘No, I knew that night when I looked in your eyes that you would not kill me. You might be a man of your word, but more than that you are a man of honour and there would be no honour in ending my life. And besides, you did not know the bargain that you made with Ae, so your conscience can rest easy.’
‘I can’t help but wonder where all this is going.’
Again that delightful laugh as she replied, ‘Nowhere I’m afraid, Mr. Williams. My partnership with Buchanan is over and I am about to walk once more along that solitary path that we have both chosen.’
As she got up to leave, the train engaged its brakes and began to slow down for the approach into the upcoming station. Without another word, she turned and made her way gracefully along the carriage. As she reached the door, she paused for one last look back at me.
I called out to her before she turned away forever, ‘We shall meet again Miss Hardwick. Depend on it.’ I caught a glimmer of a satisfied smile on her exquisite features and then she was gone. I knew there was no point going after her, I would not find her if she did not want to be found. But I knew that my final words to her would come true one strange day and we would meet again. But under what circumstances, well that would remain just another mystery.
Chapter fourteen: Final fight
I was alone once more, heading now towards a last confrontation with Buchanan, my nemesis. Whatever happened this day, one of us would not live to see the sun set.
As I had departed the train, a boy approached me, silently, and handed me an envelope before retreating into the milling throng. I opened it, knowing as I did the name I would see printed at the bottom, but uncertain what message I was being sent. I unfolded it and two simple words written in Buchanan’s uneducated scrawl greeted me: The falls.
I hailed a tuk-tuk, instructing the driver to take me to the local waterfalls. An hour-long and peaceful journey took us beyond the outskirts of town to a calm haven in the midst of the jungle. I bade farewell to the driver, needing no directions to the falls, as their constant roar could be easily heard over the occasional bird cry which constituted the only other sounds of note.
A clear path led me up a bracing incline, covered over by towering trees and populated by numerous inquisitive monkeys. More than once I had to shake off one of the curious little creatures as they got too close.
Eventually though, I reached the peak and found myself surrounded on all sides by great swathes of furiously rushing water, tumbling across the rocks in an unceasing torrent of unstoppable might. I admired the views across the jungle for a few moments then turned when I sensed that at last I was not alone.
We stood silently for several moments, each weighing up his opponent, as if daring the other to make the first move. I saw that Buchanan carried nothing but his nickel-plated Colt, and I dropped my bag to the jungle floor, leaving me with nothing but my own faithful Remington. I wondered if I should say anything, some final well-chosen words that could in some way sum up our turbulent relationship.
But then I saw Buchanan draw the Colt and I knew that the only thing he had on his mind was my death. I dove to my right, pulling my own weapon from its holster as I fell. He managed to fire first, but the bullet only managed to kick up a swirl of dust. I didn’t fire, resisting the reflex, knowing that that a simple reaction shot would not end this battle. No, I would have to be sensible and conserve my ammunition for when it truly counted if I were to emerge victorious this terrible day.
I rolled as I hit the ground, bounding instantly to my feet and finding shelter behind the mighty trunk of a nearby tree. I just glimpsed Buchanan as he turned to run for protection of his own, and felt the blast of air as another bullet just missed its mark.
Buchanan found refuge by tumbling into the thick undergrowth of the jungle and disappeared from my view. I listened intently, trying to determine which way the scoundrel was heading, but a few indistinct rustling noises were not enough to enable me to pinpoint his direction. I called out his name, hoping to illicit some kind of response that would give away his location, but Buchanan could be a wily old devil when he wanted to and his silence was assured.
I fired off a single shot into his cover, now intending to flush him from the undergrowth like a fox on the hunt. My only reward was the enforced flight of a bird hiding peacefully, minding its own business. I decided to turn the table on myself, and, intending to become the hunted, I turned and ran in the opposite direction. A glance over my shoulder showed me that this plan might work, as a distinct rustling noise revealed that Buchanan had seen my flight and was even now preparing to follow.
I neared a group of rocks, like the Devil’s Marbles, that overlooked the river rushing by a great distance below. I leapt over them, ducking into the certain protection afforded by their granite presence. A few seconds later I heard Buchanan skid to a halt, baffled by my sudden disappearance. I barely dared to breathe, knowing that the slightest sound would give me away before I could end our skirmish.
Buchanan edged closer to the rocks and I needed no help imagining how he was approaching: cautiously, gun raised, ready to fire as soon as I was in his sights. I reached out and grabbed a handful of stones, then lobbed them high over Buchanan’s head. Even as he turned instinctively to follow their progress, he knew he had made a fatal error.
I rose from the ground like an avenging angel and squeezed the trigger just once. It was all I needed. My bullet found Buchanan’s heart once more, only this time there was no armour to save his miserable life. He staggered wildly backwards, the result of the impact of the bullet at point blank range, and then stood teetering on the brink of the abyss for several uncountable seconds. I stood coldly before him, watching the life drain from his body, and then just as he began his final dreadful plunge to the raging waters so far below, I turned away.
I wandered alone for I know not how long after the death of Buchanan. I only remember that I eventually found my way back into town in a daze. I recall being surprised at the wary reception the locals gave me and it was some time before I realised that I still carried my Remington in one tightly closed fist. All my other possessions were still at the site of my archenemy’s demise, but there was nothing there that I required, so for all I know, they are still there to this day.
I eventually regained my faculties and managed to make preparations for my onward journey. I still had vague plans to see more of Asia, but for the moment there was no rhyme or reason to my actions and I was merely going through the motions as I attempted to come to terms with my feelings at Buchanan’s death. But somehow I managed to reach the border into Burma, over which I crossed willingly, eager to put behind me the memories of my time in Siam. I paused as I entered the new country, but chose not to look back, fearful of what ghosts or demons I might see. Then, realising that I could not change what had passed, only learn from my experiences, I strode determinedly onwards, and closed yet another chapter in the dangerous days of Edgar Williams.
So there you have it dear reader, the complete record of my first adventure outside of Africa. Writing it all down has brought back such a flood of memories and emotions that many times during the course of its transcription was I forced to put down my pen and regain my composure before being able to continue. But I feel the results have been worth the effort and I now willingly give to you all, my story. But only time, (and sales!) will tell if anyone still cares enough to hear more of my journeys. Although the world has moved on since my day, I hope that there is still a place in it for tales of high adventure and romance, of danger and derring-do in far-off lands. Please do not shatter the final dreams of an old man.
I realise that anyone who has made it this far will have one or two questions just dying to be answered: whatever became of Miss Hardwick? Did we ever meet again as I prophesised or were our paths never truly destined to cross? And now that I have returned to England, have I dared to re-acquaint myself with my beloved Amy, who set me off on my unknown path such a long time ago?
To the first question, I can only reply that the answer will surely be found in future volumes of my memoirs, if only there is enough interest for them to be published, so everything is in your hands, my public! And as to the second, well, perhaps that will be my last great adventure.