Chapter XIV.

2 May

Lea opened her mouth wide in order to communicate clearly what she now intended to do.

“I will take what you just said back to Mem Samekh. There can be no mention of its source, of course. Your name is not to come up, but the demand on the latifundium will be presented as originating from the dacoits who have possession of Thav, his sister. That will sound reasonable and most logical.

“When I have the answer from Mem Samekh, one way or the other, it can be brought to you by Resh, if he is agreeable to it.” She turned toward the researcher and waited for his reply.

“Yes,” he asserted firmly, his yellow eyes ablaze with excitement. “Come to the station with the reply, Lea. I will be the one to deliver it.” His mind turned toward the grasping, selfish materialist whose sister had been kidnapped. “I doubt he can make such a sacrifice, even for his own closest relative. It would be too great a sacrifice for such a person to make. He is a complete, absolute materialist. Nothing has more value for him than the money and wealth that he intends to accumulate and possess. That is all that the man lives for. His first thought will be to keep and preserve what he possesses, not the safety and survival of his kidnapped sister.”

“I am hopeful,” sighed the datto. “In any case, it has to be attempted. How else will my people ever save their tarvas from being destroyed by Samekh and his fellow planters? The time has come for my nation to revive itself and take action. Samekh has treated his workers horribly and must now pay for his crimes against them. We must be granted simple, natural justice. Morality demands that he suffer punishment for all the evil he has caused to others.”

The heavy rain continued, uninterrupted and seemingly unceasing.

“You cannot leave till the storm is ended,” said Rambatan, picking up the big bowl. “Let me get some more for you to eat, my friends.”

Thav, sitting at the small circular table in the middle of the windowless hut, watched as the dacoit chief unlocked and opened the single door. A steady patter of tropical rain went on without a break. Its rhythm was torturous. Was it ever going to end? she wondered. When would that be?

A bronzed Varzean body stepped toward her. Carbonado eyes examined her Tochian face. “How do you feel, Miss Samekh?”

“Not as well as I would if I were home,” she lashed at him with bitter gall. “When do you intend to release me? When shall I be returned where I belong? You must tell me what you intend to do. I must know that for sure.”

Yod stopped across the table from her, staring intently into the milk blue eyes of his prisoner.

“We can’t let you go until there is a decision by your brother,” he coldly informed her. “Everything depends upon him. Your future is in his hands. Only he will decide what it shall be.”

“I can only guess how much you are demanding he give up. Our latifundium is in the same sad condition as all the others in this district. My father’s wealth has been dribbled away by the depressed markets from which Tochsylvania suffers. There is not much he can hand over to you kidnappers.” She glared at the man in loincloth, her face red with fury. The Varzean leaned forward over the table, surprising her with a calm grin of confidence.

“It is fitting that you learn what our demands are. There is not to be an ordinary exchange of a person for money. Not at all.

“We have decided to break with the traditional pattern.”

She furrowed her previously smooth brow.

“I don’t understand…” she mumbled in confusion.

Yod slowly folded his arms, drawing his torso together as he contemplated how to word what he was about to say.

“My people have reached a point below which they cannot sink. Their present condition cannot continue. That is the reason we have decided to make a kind of final demand.”

“Final demand?” she muttered. “What sort of final demand?”

The charcoal eyes of the brigand seemed to collapse into bottomless blackness.

“Restoration of the forest to its original owners,” he told the startled young woman. “Complete, absolute justice for the native people. Reversion of all that was taken from our ancestors and from us. The only acceptable justice must be total in scope and effect. No partial, incomplete terms will ever be acceptable to the Varzeans I am a part of. All or nothing, that must be our guiding slogan, our ultimate principle. Never less than that.”

The prisoner unexpectedly sprang to her feet, pushing back her rattan chair.

“That is absurd!” she exclaimed. “What would, then, become of us? Where are we to live if everything is returned to the original inhabitants? Nothing like that can ever be. My brother will turn down what you are trying to gain from him. He will not bend to such outrageous demands. That would be insanity.”

Yod, thrown off-balance, unfolded both arms. His jaw trembled slightly as he groped for an answer to her emotional outburst.

“That is up to you and your brother, Miss. I do not intend to take any personal property, only the land that the forest once covered. There are many other places to which the two of you can move in our vast country. Why not return to where your grandfather came from? Go back to the coastal strip from which your ancestors came here. Leave your present latifundium and make a home for yourselves elsewhere. That is the only reasonable solution. It will resolve the main problems that plague us all.”

“We are to run off from our own residence?” she demanded with fire in her voice and in her eyes. “You want us to take to the roads, to become desperate beggars of some sort?”

Captor and prisoner stared at each other with powerful but conflicting emotions.

“I cannot determine where your family decides it is to reside,” declared the abductor. “That question will only arise once the latifundium is ours. You and your brother will then have to make a decision about that matter.”

Suddenly, he whirled about and hurried to the door of the hut.

Stopping and turning around, Yod made a promise to her.

“Do not be afraid for your future,” he solemnly assured her. “I will see to it that no harm comes to the two of you. We intend to protect you from any injury. Your personal safety will be protected and preserved. I promise you that, Miss.”

With that, he rushed to the door and disappeared from view.

Resh Zayeth drove Lea to where her drosky was tied to a turtle tree.

The rains had stopped late in the afternoon, allowing the two to travel over forest roads. Day was fast disappearing. It would be past dusk when the go-between finally returned to the plantation of Mem Sameth.

Once Lea was seated in the drosky, the researcher gave his final advice to her.

“Do not reveal how it was you heard these demands,” he instructed the evidently exhausted young woman. “Make it appear that they originated directly from the decroit chief, not Rambatan. There is no sense in incriminating the datto.”

“Yes,” she agreed, holding the reins tightly. “That is very reasonable. But what will we do if Mem Samekh refuses to give up his land holdings? That, I fear, is going to be his reply, a complete refusal. Perhaps he senses that no physical harm will occur to his sister if he remains stubborn and adamant.”

Resh considered for a moment before replying.

“Return to the research station as early as possible tomorrow with Samekh’s reply, whatever it is.” He stretched out his arm, taking her hand and holding it firmly in his.

“Do not be afraid, Lea. What you accomplished today showed a very brave heart, indeed. I intend to help you in this difficult matter. You shall not have to face these difficulties alone. They are too great for any single person to deal with. All of us must learn how to aid and support each other as much as we can. That is what I believe can save all of us from ruin.”

She gave him a warm smile in return. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I am grateful for your assistance.”

He watched as the drosky drove off into the shadows of the rain forest. For a considerable time, his thoughts remained focused on Lea.


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