Jan in India


Little Earthquake

Otis Adelbert Kline

WHEN Jan came to his senses after his fall to the flagstones in the temple enclosure he thought at first that he was dreaming. For it seemed to him that the sights and sensations which greeted his returning consciousness could not be real.

He was lying stretched out on a cushioned divan, and his head was pillowed on the silk-clad thigh of a slender brown-skinned dancing girl, who bent over him, bathing the aching bump on his head with cold water. He attempted to sit up, but she restrained him and spoke softly in a language which he did not understand.

He replied in English: “Who are you? Where am I?”

She answered in the same language but with a strange accent that was not unpleasing.

“Lie still, tuan! You had a bad fall beside by doorstep, and my attendants helped me to bring you here. Fortunately, the priests and guards did not see you.”

“But who are you?” he asked.

“I am Jamila, who dances in the temple of Kali, but I am better known as Gempa Ketchil, which means ‘Little Earthquake’ in my native Malay language.”

“Then you are not a Hindu?”

“No, I am Malayan. The dancing girls here are selected not because of race but because of ability. There are three Kashmiri girls, several from Tibet, one from Egypt and two from Japan, as well as the native girls. But all have been taught the temple dances and ceremonies of Kali.”

Despite her protestations, Jan sat up and looked around the gaudily furnished room. There were taborets containing mirrors, cosmetic boxes, trinkets and other odds and ends. Upon one a small pot of incense smoldered, filling the room with the mingled scent of musk, sandalwood, ambergris, and jasmin.

“And now that I have told you who I am,” said the girl, “perhaps you will tell me your name.”

“I am Jan Trevor,” he replied, but I am better known as Jan of the Jungle.”

“You are English?”

“No, American.”

“You are the first American I have seen,” the girl told him. “I did not know that the dress of the Americans was so different from that of the English,”

“It isn’t,” Jan replied. “I don’t dress like other Americans since the jungle is my home. I am very thirsty. Can you tell me where I can get a drink of water?”

“I have been most thoughtless,” the girl replied. “You shall have both food and drink immediately.” She clapped her hands and a slave girl entered.

“Bring food and tea for my lord,” she said.

The girl withdrew, and presently returned with a tray containing several vessels, from which emanated the savory odors of curry, steamed rice and Darjeeling tea.

Jan ate until his hunger was satisfied.

Then the girl said, “You have not told me how you happen to be here. Did you drop from the sky?”

“No, from the roof,” he answered. “I was looking for a girl.”

“You have come to the right place, my lord,” she replied, “but it is very dangerous. If the priests or guards find you, you will be fed to the Black One.”

She moved over and snuggled against him.

“You were very brave to come here, tuan,” she said. She took his hand and drew it around her slender waist. “And I love you for it,” she concluded.

Jan withdrew his hand. “But I came here in search of a girl I know,” he told her.

“What is the matter with me, my lord?” she asked. “Is this other more beautiful than I?”

She stood up and piroutted before him, displaying the seductive lines of her lissom figure.

“Surely you could look further and fare worse, as the English say. I will dance for you, and you will never wish to leave me.”

She went to the doorway and called another girl, who came in carrying a small drum. The girl seated herself and began a throbbing cadence on the instrument, while she softly hummed a plaintive melody In a minor key.

Jamila instantly began her dance, the like of which Jan had never seen before. A dance which spoke of love and longing and desire in a language which any one might understand.

Before the dance had reached its conclusion, Jan understood why the girl was called “Little Earthquake.”

Her dance over, she flung herself at his feet, panting and exhausted, looking up at him with amorous eyes.

“Take me in your arms, jungle man. Love me. Jamila is yours,” she said. But Jan pushed her away.

“I have tried to make it clear to you,” he said, “that I came here for another girl—the one girl I love.”

Jamila sprang to her feet, eyes blazing.

“So Jamila is not good enough for you,” she shrilled.

Suddenly she snatched a knife from a nearby taboret and sprang at him like a tigress. As the knife descended towards his breast, Jan caught her wrist and wrenched the weapon from her, then held her as she attempted to bite, kick and scratch him.

“Let me go!” she screamed. “You fool! You brute! I will call the priests and the guards. You shall pay for this insult to Jamila.”

Thakoor, who was passing the dancing girls’ quarters at the moment heard her infuriated screams. He ran into the building, peered through the curtains and then shouted for the guard.

Jan saw him, sensed the enmity in his look, and releasing the dancer, looked about for some avenue of escape. The door in which the old priest stood was the only means of egress, so he bowled Thakoor over and plunged out into the temple enclosure, then looked for a way out.

The guards, armed with rifles, were running toward him from all directions. At sight of him they brought their weapons to their shoulders, shouting to him in a language which he did not understand. But he realized that they were calling upon him to halt and that to attempt flight would be suicidal.

Old Thakoor, who had not been badly injured, appeared in the doorway and shouted a command to the guards, two of whom sprang forward and seized Jan’s arms. The jungle man flung them off, and instantly there was a scrimmage, with Jan as its focal point, and a half dozen guards beating, gouging, kicking and pulling at him. One after another Jan flung them from him, but each time be rid himself of one of the tenacious guards, it seemed that two more took his place. Presently exhausted by his herculean efforts, he was borne to the flagstones and bound hand and foot.

When they had him helpless the aged priest issued a sharp command. Four men lifted the jungle man and bore him across the garden into a side door of the black temple and down a winding stairway which seemed to lead into the very bowels of the earth. Here he was flung into a tiny cell, dimly lighted by a faint yellow radiance which filtered through a tiny aperture from overhead.

As he lay on the floor panting from his exertions, bound and helpless, old Thakoor said:

“So! You would pollute this sacred ground with your presence and profane a dancing girl with your touch. For this you shall be sacrificed to the Black Mother.”

Then he turned and left the cell, the barred door clanging behind him.

Jan was left alone in the darkness. For some time he struggled ineffectually with his bonds. Presently exhausted, he fell asleep. When he awoke his ears told him that he was not alone, as something slithered across the floor in his direction. He caught the acrid scent of a serpent, and drawing himself to a sitting posture, saw an enormous hooded reptile, with head up-reared, coming toward him. It was an immense king cobra, the most fearsome and deadly of all serpents.

Again Jan made a superhuman effort to burst his bonds, but the tough fibers held, and he knew that nothing short of a miracle could save him from death.

Jan in India    |     XV - The Harvest of Gold

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