PROBABLY not all Dutchmen are stubborn, notwithstanding the fact that stubbornness is accounted one of their national characteristics along with many virtues. But if some Dutchmen lacked stubbornness, the general average of that intangible was maintained in the person of Hendrik van der Meer. As practiced by him, stubbornness became a fine art. It also became his chief avocation. His vocation was that of rubber planter in Sumatra. In that, he was successful; but it was his stubbornness that his friends boasted of to strangers.
So, even after the Philippines were invaded and Hong Kong and Singapore fell, he would not admit that the Japanese could take Netherland East India. And he would not evacuate his wife and daughter. He may be accused of stupidity, but in that he was not alone. There were millions in Great Britain and the United States who underestimated the strength and resources of Japan—some in high places.
Furthermore, Hendrik van der Meer hated the Japanese, if one can hate what one looks upon contemptuously as vermin. “Wait,” he said. “It will not be long before we chase them back up their trees.” His prophecy erred solely in the matter of chronology. Which was his undoing.
And the Japs came, and Hendrik van der Meer took to the hills. With him went his wife, who had been Elsje Verschoor, whom he had brought from Holland eighteen years before, and their daughter, Corrie. Two Chinese servants accompanied them—Lum Kam and Sing Tai. These were motivated by two very compelling urges. The first was fear of the Japanese, from whom they knew only too well what to expect. The other was their real affection for the van der Meer family. The Javanese plantation workers remained behind. They knew that the invaders would continue to work the plantation and that they would have jobs. Also, this Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity appealed to them. It would be nice to have the tables turned and be rich and have white men and women to wait on them.
So the Japs came, and Hendrik van der Meer took to the hills. But not soon enough. The Japs were always right behind him. They were methodically tracking down all Netherlanders. The natives of the kampongs where the van der Meers stopped to rest kept them informed. By what natural or uncanny powers the natives knew while the Japs were still miles away is beside the question. They knew, as primitive people always know such things as quickly as more civilized peoples might learn them by telegraph or radio. They even knew how many soldiers composed the patrol—a sergeant, a corporal, and nine privates.
“Very bad,” said Sing Tai, who had fought against the Japs in China. “Maybe one time an officer is a little human, but enlisted men never. We must not let them catch,” he nodded toward the two women.
As they went higher into the hills, the going became bitter. It rained every day, and the trails were quagmires. Van der Meer was past his prime, but he was still strong and always stubborn. Even had his strength given out, his stubbornness would have carried him on.
Corrie was sixteen then, a slender blonde girl. But she had health, strength, and endurance. She could always have kept up with the men in the party. But with Elsje van der Meer it was different. She had the will but not the strength. And there was no rest. They would scarcely reach a kampong and throw themselves down on the floor of a hut, wet, muddy, exhausted, before the natives would warn them away. Sometimes it was because the Jap patrol was gaining on them. But often it was because the natives feared to let the enemy find them harboring whites.
Even the horses gave out at last, and they were compelled to walk. They were high in the mountains now. Kampongs were far apart. The natives were fearful and none too friendly. Only a few years ago they had been cannibals.
For three weeks they stumbled on, searching for a friendly kampong where they might hide. By now it was obvious that Elsje van der Meer could go but little farther. For two days they had come upon no kampong. Their food was only what the forest and the jungle offered. And they were always wet and cold.
Then late in the afternoon they came upon a wretched village. The natives were surly and unfriendly, but still they did not deny them such poor hospitality as they could offer. The chief listened to their story. Then he told them that while they could not remain in his village, he would have them guided to another far off the beaten track, where the Japs would never find them.
Where, a few weeks before, he might have commanded, van der Meer now swallowed his pride and begged the chief to permit them at least to remain overnight that his wife might gain strength for the journey that lay ahead. But Hoesin refused. “Go now,” he said, “and I will furnish guides. Remain, and I will make you prisoners and turn you over to the Japanese when they come.” Like the headmen of other villages through which they had passed, he feared the wrath of the invaders should they discover that he was harboring whites.
And so the nightmare journey was resumed through terrain cut by a frightful chasm, river eroded in tuff strata laid down through the ages by nearby volcanoes. And this river cut their trail, not once, but many times. Some times they could ford it. Again it could be crossed only on frail, swaying rope bridges. And this long after dark on a moonless night.
Elsje van der Meer, now too weak to walk, was carried by Lum Kam in an improvised sling strapped to his back. The guides, anxious to reach the safety of a kampong, urged them constantly to greater speed, for twice they had heard the coughing of tigers—that coughing grunt that chills the blood.
Van der Meer walked close to Lum Kam to steady him should he slip upon the muddy trail. Corrie followed behind her father, and Sing Tai brought up the rear. The two guides were at the head of the little column.
“You tired, missy?” asked Sing Tai. “Maybe so better I carry you.”
“We all are tired,” replied the girl; “but I can carry on as long as any of you. I wonder how much farther it is.”
They had started to ascend a trail steeply. “Pretty soon there,” said Sing Tai. “Guide say kampong top of cliff.”
But they were not pretty soon there, for this was the most arduous part of the journey. They had to stop often and rest. Lum Kam’s heart was pounding. But it was this loyal heart and an iron will that kept him from sinking down exhausted.
At long last they reached the top, and presently the barking of dogs told them that they were approaching a kampong. The natives, aroused, challenged them. The guides explained their presence, and they were admitted. Taku Muda, the chief, greeted them with friendly words.
“You are safe here,” he said. “You are among friends.”
“My wife is exhausted,” explained van der Meer. “She must have rest before we can go on. But I do not wish to expose you to the anger of the Japanese should they discover that you had helped us. Let us rest here tonight; and tomorrow, if my wife can be moved, find us a hiding place deeper in the mountains. Perhaps there is a cave in some isolated gorge.”
“There are caves,” replied Taku Muda, “but you will remain here. Here you are safe. No enemy will find my village.”
They were given food and a dry house in which to sleep. But Elsje van der Meer could eat nothing. She was burning with fever, but there was nothing they could do for her. Hendrik van der Meer and Corrie sat beside her the remainder of the night. What must have been the thoughts of this man whose stubbornness had brought this suffering upon the woman he loved? Before noon Elsje van der Meer died.
There is such a thing as a grief too poignant for tears. Father and daughter sat for hours, dry eyed, beside their dead, stunned by the catastrophe that had overwhelmed them. They were only dully conscious of sudden turmoil and shouting in the compound. Then Sing Tai burst in upon them.
“Quick!” he cried. “Japs come. One man guide last night bring ’um. Hoesin bad man. He send ’um.”
Van der Meer rose. “I will go and talk with them,” he said. “We have done nothing. Maybe they will not harm us.”
“You no know monkey-men,” said Sing Tai.
Van der Meer shrugged. “There is nothing else I can do. If I fail, Sing Tai, try to get missy away. Do not let her fall into their hands.”
He went to the door of the hut and descended the ladder to the ground. Lum Kam joined him. The Japs were on the far side of the compound. Van der Meer walked boldly toward them, Lum Kam at his side. Neither man was armed. Corrie and Sing Tai watched from the dark interior of the hut. They could see, but they could not be seen.
They saw the Japs surround the two men. They heard the voice of the white man and the monkey jabber of the Japs, but they could not make out what was said. Suddenly they saw a rifle butt rise above the heads of the men. It was thrust as suddenly downward. They knew that on the other end of the rifle was a bayonet. They heard a scream. Then more rifle butts were raised and lunged downward. The screams ceased. Only the laughter of the sub-men was to be heard.
Sing Tai seized the girl’s arm. “Come!” he said, and drew her to the rear of the hut. There was an opening there and, below, the hard ground. “I drop,” said Sing Tai. “Then missy drop. I catch ’um. Savvy?”
She nodded. After the Chinese had dropped safely, the girl leaned from the opening to reconnoiter. She saw that she could climb most of the way down. To drop into Sing Tai’s arms might easily have injured him. So she came safely down to within a few feet of the ground, and Sing Tai lowered her the rest of the way. Then he led her into the jungle that grew close to the kampong.
Before dark they found a cave in a limestone cliff and hid there for two days. Then Sing Tai returned to the kampong to investigate and to get food if the Japs had left.
Late in the afternoon he returned to the cave empty handed. “All gone,” he said. “All dead. Houses burned.”
“Poor Taku Muda,” sighed Corrie. “This was his reward for an act of humanity.”
Two years passed. Corrie and Sing Tai had found asylum in a remote mountain kampong with Chief Tiang Umar. Only occasionally did news from the outside world reach them. The only news that would be good news to them would have been that the Japs had been driven from the island. But that news did not come. Some times a villager, trading far afield, would return with stories of great Japanese victories, of the American Navy sunk, of German victories in Africa, Europe, or Russia. To Corrie the future seemed hopeless.
One day a native came who did not belong to the village of Tiang Umar. He looked long at Corrie and Sing Tai, but he said nothing. After he had gone away, the Chinese told the girl. “That man bad news,” he said. “Him from kampong Chief Hoesin. Now he go tell and monkey-men come. Maybeso you better be boy. Then we go away and hide some more.”
Sing Tai cut Corrie’s golden hair to the proper length and dyed it black. He painted her eyebrows, too. She was already deeply tanned by the equatorial sun, and with the blue trousers and the loose blouse he fashioned for her, she could pass as a native boy anything but the closest scrutiny. Then they went away again, taking up their interminable flight. Tiang Umar sent men to guide them to a new sanctuary. It was not far from the village—a cave close to a tiny mountain stream. There there were to be found many varieties of the edible things that grow in a Sumatran forest jungle, and in the stream there were fish. Occasionally, Tiang Umar sent some eggs and a chicken. Once in a while pork or dog meat. Corrie could not eat the latter, so Sing Tai got it all. A youth named Alam always brought the food. The three became fast friends.
Captain Tokujo Matsuo and Lieutenant Hideo Sokabe led a detachment of soldiers deep into the mountains to locate strategic positions for heavy coastal guns and survey practical roads leading to them.
They came to the kampong of Hoesin, the chief who had betrayed the van der Meers. They knew of him by report as one who would collaborate with the Japanese. Still it was necessary to impress him with their superiority; so, when he failed to bow from the waist when they approached him, they slapped his face. One of the enlisted men ran a bayonet through a native who refused to bow to him. Another dragged a screaming girl into the jungle. Captain Matsuo and Lieutenant Sokabe smiled toothy smiles. Then they demanded food.
Hoesin would rather have cut their throats, but he had food brought to them and to their men. The officers said that they would honor him by making his village their headquarters while they remained in the vicinity. Hoesin saw ruin staring him in the face. Frantically he searched his mind for some artifice by which he could rid himself of his unwelcome guests. Then he recalled the story that one of his people had brought him a few days before from another village. It did not seem to him very likely to be of value in ridding himself of these monkeys, but it would do no harm to try. He thought about it during a sleepless night.
The following morning he asked them if they were interested in finding enemies who had taken refuge in the mountains. They said that they were. “Two years ago three whites and two Chinese came to my village, I sent them on to another village, because I would not harbor enemies of Greater East Asia. The white man’s name was van der Meer.”
“We have heard of him,” said the Japs. “He was killed.”
“Yes. I sent guides to show your soldiers where they were hiding. But the daughter and one of the Chinese escaped. The daughter is very beautiful.”
“So we have heard. But what of it?”
“I know where she is.”
“And you have not reported it?”
“I only just discovered her hiding place. I can give you a guide who will lead you to it.”
Captain Matsuo shrugged. “Bring us food,” he ordered.
Hoesin was crushed. He had food sent them, and then he went to his hut and prayed to Allah or Buddha or whatever god he prayed to, asking him to strike the monkey-men dead, or at least cause them to depart.
Matsuo and Sokabe discussed the matter over their meal. “Perhaps we should look into the matter,” said the former. “It is not well to have enemies in our rear.”
“And they say that she is beautiful,” added Sokabe.
“But we cannot both go,” said Matsuo. Being both lazy and the commanding officer, he decided to send Lieutenant Sokabe with a detachment to find the girl and bring her back. “You will kill the Chinese,” he ordered, “and you will bring the girl back—unharmed. You understand? Unharmed.”
Lieutenant Hideo Sokabe came a few days later to the kampong of Tiang Umar the Chief. Being a very superior person, Lieutenant Sokabe slapped the old chief so hard that he fell down. Then Lieutenant Sokabe kicked him in the belly and face. “Where are the white girl and the Chinese?” he demanded.
“There is no white girl here, nor any Chinese.”
“Where are they?”
“I do not know what you are talking about.”
“You lie. Soon you will tell the truth.” He ordered a sergeant to get him some bamboo splinters, and when they were brought, he drove one beneath one of Tiang Umar’s finger nails. The old man screamed in agony.
“Where is the white girl?” demanded the Jap.
“I know of no white girl,” insisted Tiang Umar.
The Jap drove another splinter beneath another nail, but still the old man insisted that he knew nothing of any white girl.
As Sokabe was preparing to continue the torture, one of the chief’s wives came and threw herself upon her knees before him. She was an old woman—Tiang Umar’s oldest wife. “If you will hurt him no more, I will tell you how you may find the white girl and the Chinese,” she said.
“This is better,” said Sokabe. “How?”
“Alam knows where they hide,” said the old woman, pointing to a youth.
Corrie and Sing Tai sat at the mouth of their cave. It had been a week since Alam had brought them food, and they were expecting him soon with eggs perhaps, and pork or a piece of dog meat. Corrie hoped that it would be eggs and a chicken.
“Pretty soon some one come,” said Sing Tai, listening. “Too many. Come back into the cave.”
Alam pointed out the cave to Lieutenant Hideo Sokabe. Tears welled from the youth’s eyes. Had his life alone been forfeit, he would have died before he would have led these hated monkey-men to the hiding place of this girl whom he fairly worshipped. But the lieutenant had threatened to destroy everyone in the village if he failed to do so, and Alam knew that he would keep his word.
Hideo Sokabe and his men entered the cave, Sokabe with drawn sword, the men with fixed bayonets. In the dim light, Sokabe saw a Chinese and a young native boy. He had them dragged out. “Where is the girl?” he demanded of Alam. “You shall die for this, and all your people. Kill them,” he said to his men.
“No!” screamed Alam. “That is the girl. She only wears the clothes of a boy.”
Sokabe tore open Corrie’s blouse. Then he grinned. A soldier ran a bayonet through Sing Tai, and the detachment marched away with their prisoner.