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Title: Irregular Brethren
Author: H Bedford Jones
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Title: Irregular Brethren
Author: H Bedford Jones

(The Blue Book Magazine, August 1919)

[This story, told in a quaint Oriental Masonic lodge-meeting, has all the
tropical color and dramatic intensity which Mr. Bedford-Jones handles so

They called me "consul," but I was really nothing but a consular agent
here at Aru Taping, the new oil-station on the east coast of Borneo. The
Dutch Oil Company, one of the largest in the world, was exploiting it at
a cost of millions.

Half a mile back from the bay lay the refineries and half-erected
buildings of the boom town. Here were gathered all sorts of men--some
recruited in Holland at the end of the war, others, drifters from
Australasia and the south seas. They were a hard lot, a tough lot, a
hard-drinking, godless lot.

To get away from it all, I used to go down to the beautiful, unsullied
shore of the bay--a wide strip of white sand below the cliffs. But I had
been at Aru Taping five weeks before I went down there for a walk at
night; and that night I made an amazing discovery.

I was strolling along the white sand, smoking and watching the stars and
the phosphorescent curlings of the waves, when far ahead I made out a
strange black blotch against the sand. A few red sparks showed that men
were there, smoking. As I stood, a figure uprose ahead of me, and in some
alarm I recognized a ruffianly Australian contractor who was doing some
of the concrete work on the new tanks and piers.

"Good night to ye," said he, peering at me. "Oh! It's the American
consul, hey?"

I felt thankful for the automatic in my pocket. "What's going on down
here?" I demanded. "A Bolshevik meeting?"

To my surprise the Australian chuckled. "Ye might call it so," he
responded, and then made a remark which took me all aback.

"Great Scott!" I exclaimed. "Do you mean--" "Why not?" he said defiantly.
"But since ye understood me, will ye join us?"

"Thank you," I returned, embarrassed, "but it's three years since I sat
in lodge, and I'm afraid I owe some money--"

He let out a burst of laughter. "Oh, as for that, I owe something like
ten pounds myself, brother. This is a meetin' of Irregular Lodge No. I.
Come along!"

So I came among the irregular brethren, and was introduced. I saw in the
starlight a queer lot of men--one or two Arabs, burly ruffians from the
refineries, a pair of murderous-looking Hindus, seamen from the
oil-tankers at the docks. A little East Side New Yorker who had
established an "American clothing store," shook my hand delightedly.

"Well, consul," he beamed, "this is a pleasure now, ain't it? I'll tell
you vat, now; brother Ben Ali, vill you step aside vith us for
examination, hey?"

A tall Arab arose from the circle, and we withdrew for a space. With
apologies for his lack of English, Ben Ali conducted the examination in
Hollandish, which of course everyone understood.

We returned presently to the brethren, and I was introduced in due form,
and assigned to a seat between Ben Ali and a burly oil-man from Kansas
who worked at the refineries. We sat there under the stars; to the north
of us rose the black cliff; the waves lapped along the shore. Then my
little New Yorker rapped with his empty pipe on a stone.

"The brethren," he began, "will come to order."

Cigarettes were doused promptly. The big Kansan beside me chuckled, and
spoke in a soft whisper like a boy afraid of the teacher.

"This here," he confided in my ear, "is a lodge of refreshment, mostly!
Ain't a man of us who's regular, I reckon. But we get around here Sunday
nights an' chin, see? You'd be surprised to hear some of the things
that's said, too."

"I made those jewels myself," said Ben Ali in Dutch, speaking at my other
ear with obvious pride. "They are of wood, brother, painted with
phosphorescent paint. Ah! Brother Ram Dass is to take the Warden's chair;
now we'll have some fun!"

And we did; but it was fun of a sort that drew queerly at my
heartstrings. These irregular brethren went about their work with an
evident gravity, an earnestness, a sincerity, which was appalling when
you considered what lawless rogues they were. Two were new men like
myself; the S cots engineer of a tanker in port, and a Canadian who
stated dryly that the Craft might outlaw him for taking part here, but he
was outlawed anyway.

The work, I must say, was curious. How otherwise, with an American for
Master, a turbaned Hindu for Warden, and in the third chair--of sand--a
cockney bookkeeper? And yet, despite the strangeness, the work was done
very beautifully.

"They had a hard time at first," chuckled the Kansan in my ear. "There
was a lot of correcting--and still is, for that matter."

"You don't initiate, I suppose?"

"We have some decency, brother," he said gravely. "No, if we didn't have
respect and love for the order, we'd not be here. But we ain't carrying
things too far."

* * *

Respect and love for the sacred things of life--yes, that was it. The best
that was in these world-wandering men was here brought out again,
forgotten embers of fires long dead. Here met, they acknowledged under a
mutual bond a respect and love which among the marts of men they would
have scorned to admit; here under the stars and among brethren, there was
no shame in hushing their rude wills and giving reverence where reverence
was due.

But presently the cockney called us to refreshment, and pipes were taken
up, cigarette rolled, men relaxed in the sand. The Master shoved back his
derby and rapped with his pipe as he felt for his tobacco pouch.

"Brethren," he said, "we go away and forget, ain't it, all--"

"Aye," broke in the Australian from the outer darkness. "Tell them new
chums that what's said ain't to be spoke of except among the Craft!
Remember that, Canuck!"

"Aw, dry up!" spoke up the Canadian, who had been in Flanders trenches.
"Think we ain't got any sense? Slip me the makin's, Brother Ben Ali!"

The makings were slipped; and the little New Yorker who had lighted his
pipe, called upon a certain brother, a Dutchman from Batavia named
Hendrick van Loon, for refreshment.

The Dutchman stuffed some Sumatra into a finger-long pipe-bowl, lighted
it, and then addressed us in slow, rich Hollandish.

"Worshipful Sir," he said, puffing, "and brethren--"

* * *

I was looking for orchids up the Rokan River, over in Sumatra. That
river, for a hundred miles, is nothing but a vast meer--a swampy mangrove
lake; I was there in the wet season. Duivel! It was nothing but trees and
rolling brown mud-water and corpses of natives and animals! But I found
some orchids, and kept on. I had a good boat and a dozen Madoera natives,
who would stick by me.

And there, one day, I saw the queerest thing that I have ever seen in the
world. We found a drowned rhinoceros which had been swept in among some
mangrove roots. He was not long dead, and I directed the boat to him with
the idea of cutting out his horn. So I got into the bow with my little
saw, and presently I was against him. And what do you think I found on
that horn of his, eh? Carved into the agglutinated bristle, and well
carved, was a beautiful emblem; it showed a square and compasses--well,
you understand!

"Duivel!" I said to myself. "There is something queer about this!"

I sawed part way through the horn, then struck something soft and
glittering. Think of it! That horn was a brown shell, a real horn;
inside, it was solid virgin gold--and the horn was upon a rhinoceros!

Well, I investigated. I found that this horn-shell filled with gold had
been set on a peg of the real horn, and cunningly pegged in place with
ivory pegs. Thus it was evident that the animal had been a tame beast
somewhere up-country. But since that same up-country has never been
explored, there was no answer to my questioning!

For three days we went on searching for orchids. It was just after the
wet season, as I have said, and the whole country was at flood; we could
go far afield from the river itself. Each night I examined that
gold-filled horn, but got no answer. The gold was not a fortune in
itself, of course; there was nothing to explain the prodigious amount of
work that must have been expended upon the affair. Naturally, I took for
granted that the whole horn, right down to the point, had been filled
with molten gold; it was virgin, soft enough to cut easily with a knife,
but I left it just as it was.

I was glad of the find, naturally; I needed the money. We always do, we
folk who go up and down the world, from west to east and back again! So,
when we ran across Doktor von Traube, I kept the horn out of sight.

* * *

Von Traube had been up in the mountains for a year, trying to get the
little red talking apes for his Hamburg museum. He had got them,
too--three pairs of them in cages; and he had four boats with a crew of
wild men. He was efficient, that von Traube, like all Germans--when it
came to getting things. But he did not know there was any war.

I told him, as we sat together that night and had a bottle of brandewijn
with our dinner. Duivel! He was a wild man himself when he heard of it,
that big squarehead! No ships to get home in, no way of getting his apes
back to Hamburg, and no need of them there, either! He was all gone to
smash, that Herr Doktor.

"Never mind!" he said, smashing his fist on the table. "We will show
them, we old Germans! Wait until our Kaiser sits in Paris--"

I let him go on puffing out his cheeks about that Kaiser of his, and
meantime he drank. Presently he was drunk enough to talk, and he talked
of the up-country.

"Donnerwetter! I wish I had known about the war three days ago!" he said,
between drinks. His pig eyes rolled to the gun-case in the corner of his
little cabin. "There was an Englishman living up there! He has a fine
house on the hill outside Titigading village; I stayed there two days."

A guest in the man's house, and now regretting that he had not known of
the war so he could murder the man!

"Well," he said, leering at me, "there is nothing to prevent going back
there, hein? You and I together, my friend! And we shall put that
Englishman in hell!"

I took another drink. "My country is not at war, Doktor," I told him.

"No, but this Englishman has found--what do you think? Diamond clay! Yes,
for I saw it outside his fine house, a heap of it. Boats must bring it
down to him."

I whistled at this, with a vengeance!

There were no Holland traders in that country; the posts were all across
the hills in Tapanuri province. So this Englishman was doing an illicit
diamond business! That put another aspect on von Traube's proposal.

Not that I have too fine a conscience, but I dislike killing a man
without reason. Well, here was a reason, and a good one! I could kill the
Englishman legally, and I could take his unlawful diamonds legally. Also
there would be a reward at Batavia for having done it. It was obvious
that he had been settled in the country for a long while, and had
encouraged the natives to bring him down the blue clay in their boats,
from the hills. Therefore he must have a fine stock of diamonds on hand.

"You want to kill this Englishman," I said, "because your country is at
war with his. And I want to kill him because he is in the illicit diamond
business, which is against the law, and also because I want his diamonds.
Well! That is plain."

"Hold on," grunted von Traube. "I want some of the diamonds, too!"

Was that not a true German for you? However, we agreed to split the loot
between us, and von Traube would pilot my boat back to the Englishman's
place. The Englishman was all alone, said Doktor von Traube, except for
a few native servants; we agreed to kill these also, and leave no trace.

"But we will not be in a hurry, hein?" von Traube winked at me. "We shall
tell him about the war, first. It will be humorous."

"Suit yourself," I agreed, "so long as we get the diamonds."

You will understand, brethren, that I am not glossing over my own part in

* * *

Doktor Von Traube got into my boat next morning, left his own men
encamped, and we started off for the Englishman's house near Titigading--a
miserable little village up the river, which in dry seasons is quite a
trading-point for the district. It was a three-day trip, and during those
three days, von Traube rather got on my nerves with his talks about the
old German god and the Kaiser and so forth. I would have been tempted to
leave him clinging to a mangrove tree in the swamp, except that he had no
money to make it worthwhile.

On the third afternoon we passed the mud walls of Titigading, perched on
its hill above the floods, and toward evening we reached the Englishman's
house. It was a very good frame house, perched on a hillside above the
highest watermark; it had a nice garden around it, I remember. Off to one
side was the Englishman himself, bossing three native boys who were
shoveling blue clay into the river. When he saw us coming, he vanished,
to reappear a moment afterward with a rifle slung in his elbow.

"Lieber Gott!" muttered von Traube, grasping my arm. "Look at the

I nodded. "The evidence is vanishing rapidly, eh? He probably has it
brought down in large quantities, and lets the water carry it off after
he's worked it over."

The Englishman walked down to the water's edge to meet us. He was a
brown, lean man, with hard gray eyes like agate, and anything but a nice
twist to his mouth--a hard drinker, evidently. He called himself Robinson,
but he wore a bloodstone seal ring bearing a crest and other initials
below the crest. It was not hard to imagine that he had been a gentleman,
and had gone wrong.

He greeted von Traube with a cordial handshake, and gave me another upon
being introduced. Naturally, he wanted to know my business here; I let
him know that I was not an official, but was hunting orchids. He asked
us into the house. Dinner would soon be ready.

I have compunctions about dining with a man and then killing him, but von
Traube gave me a nudge, and we went along. Robinson spoke Hollandish like
a native. He took us into the house, which was simply but neatly
furnished, and assigned us his spare room with apologies that he had not
one for each of us. Then he vanished to see about dinner.

"It must be done before we dine," I told von Traube firmly. "Otherwise
not at all."

HE assented with a nod and a sneer. "Very well, Mynheer Van Loon. When we
are seated at the table, you understand? Then I shall tell him about the
war, and do the rest. You will attend to the servants. I wonder where he
keeps his diamonds?"

I had been wondering about that myself, not so much about where he kept
them, as about his method of getting them out of the country. He would
not take them openly, of course, for toward the river-mouth he would
encounter too many difficulties; perhaps he had never taken any out, and
had the collection of years right here! It was enough to make a man's
mouth water.

"If we cannot find them, we shall be fools," said von Traube. "Perhaps it
would be best not to kill him until he tells us where they are."

"Suit yourself," I responded, indifferently.

I left the Doktor grubbing at the washbasin, and went out to the
living-room of the house. There I found Robinson setting out cigarettes
and cheroots, and we chatted. Since I did not care whether I offended him
or not, I asked him direct what his business was.

He looked at me with a twisted grin. Even then, I imagine, he suspected

"You passed the town of Titigading on the way, didn't you?" he inquired.
"Well, I'm training animals for the local sultan. That's the truth, too--
training them!"

I must have smiled at this, for he shrugged and gave me a sour look.

"It's true, all the same, Van Loon! If you'd come a few days sooner, I'd
have shown you something--a pet rhino that I raised from birth, and
trained to do no end of things! They say a rhino can't be trained, but--"

"A rhinoceros!" I exclaimed, giving him a sharp look as a sudden fear bit
into me.

"Yes." He frowned, a bit puzzled by my attitude. I could see that he was
watching me pretty closely, and was not going to be taken off guard.
"Unfortunately, the poor brute was washed out the last flood--about a week
ago. I must have searched half this damned country, without finding his

A tingling sensation swept over me, as I began to realize the truth. I
took a cigarette from his box and looked him square in the eye.

"See here, Mynheer Robinson," I said quietly, "do you mind explaining why
you'd waste time searching for a dead rhino? Perhaps he was valuable--or
was the body marked?"

Robinson went white along the jaw. His fingers twitched slightly, and I
guessed that he had a revolver within quick draw. But his hard gray eyes
did not flicker from mine.

"You have a reason for asking that?" he snapped.

"I have," I told him frankly, "and a good reason. Some days ago I ran
across a dead rhino. The horn was marked in a very peculiar fashion--with
marks which used to mean a good deal to me, Robinson. If you can describe
those marks, and can tell me what they represent--"

"I think," he said coolly, the twitch of a smile on his lips, "we'd
better shake hands all over again, Van Loon. Then I'll proceed in the
usual way."

* * *

Well, there was no doubt about it, as he made very plain. When he
mentioned his lodge, which was one of the most famous of England, I knew
at once that his name was not Robinson.

I made some excuse to get away, and rejoined von Traube just as he was
coming to meet us. I led him back into the room, wondering.

"Now," I told him without preamble, "our arrangement is off, Herr Doktor.
I have discovered that Robinson has peculiar claims upon me--in fact,
claims so strong that I cannot disregard them. So long as I am here, you
shall not touch him. Further, I'll tell him about the war myself,
although I'll not mention our late intentions toward him; if you and he
want to go out into the garden with pistols and have a war of your own,
that's another matter. But there'll be no killing, and no looting. Think
it over."

I left him there, staring like a dumb man with apoplexy, and rejoined my

He was unaccountably eager to get hold of me, too, and his eagerness was
centered upon that rhinoceros horn.

"I can't see why on earth you put the horn on that rhino," I told him,
"but of course, it's no business of mine. Anyway, I've the horn in my
boat, with the gold intact. We'll get it tomorrow or have one of the boys
bring it up tonight if you prefer. Meantime, allow me to tell you that
Germany and England are at war, and you and von Traube will have to keep
off the subject."

Five minutes later von Traube joined us, smiling.

"There is war in the world, Mynheer Robinson," he said, "but there need
be none here, I think?"

"Not for tonight, at least," said Robinson with an answering smile. "Can
you chaps take me out with you tomorrow? I'll want to get into the scrap,
you know. I suppose you, von Traube, are just as anxious? Then we'll
declare a private truce, eh?"

Von Traube assented gladly, but I did not like the look in his eye.

WE had an excellent dinner, and Robinson was traditionally Briton enough
to don a regulation evening outfit. It was a bit tatted, but the real
thing. Doktor von Traube rather surprised me by being extremely affable,
cordial and avoiding all war-talk after I had stated the bare news of the
declaration--which had come to me the day before I left Batavia.

By the time we came to the coffee, with long, thin, Sumatra cheroots, all
three of us were quite chummy. I'll not say that a drink or two had not
warmed us, either. Well, Robinson turned to me, with strange lights
glinting in his eyes of gray jade, and said:

"You spoke about that rhino-horn, Van Loon--remember? If you'd not mind
sending down to your craft for it, I'll be glad to explain its secret.
There is a secret, you know, and a dashed interesting one, if I do say

I rose, nodding, while Doktor von Traube peered at us suspiciously. He
knew nothing about the horn.

"I'll get it myself, Robinson. I put it away carefully, so those boys of
mine would not know about it."

Robinson would have protested, but I laughed and swung out of the house.

It took time to pick my way down to the water, for everything was
pitch-black outside, and I had left my electric torch in the boat.
Naturally, I was congratulating myself that everything had gone smoothly;
for after knowing that Robinson was of the Craft, my whole intent fell to

Indeed, although the words may sound strange in my mouth, my finding of
the drowned rhinoceros and the subsequent fashion in which I had been led
to this Englishman's house, to say nothing of the chance remark which had
led to my learning that he was of the brethren, all seemed to me a
providential train of circumstance--a skein, as it were, of which the
Divine Architect had the unwinding.

When I had groped my way down to the boat, one of the men found my
electric torch, and I dug into the little shelter-cabin. A moment later I
had the rhinoceros horn under my arm--and it was damnably heavy--and
started back. The lights of the house guided me this time, and I soon
reached the veranda.

As I did so, I heard a heavy, thudding crash from the dining-room,
followed by silence--as though a man had fallen with his full weight.

I ran, alarmed instantly, cursing myself for not having given Robinson
full warning. But when I came to the door of the dining-room, and paused,
there was no one to be seen.

* * *

For a moment I stared, rankly incredulous; then I saw the square head of
Doktor von Traube rising at the opposite side of the dining table. It
rose slowly, and halted; the Doktor, snarling a little like a struggling
dog, was gazing down at something between his hands. I realized suddenly
that he was strangling Robinson to death.

A mad rush of haste flurried me, made me lose all coherence of motion,
impelled me into a perfect fury of action. I might have drawn my
automatic, but the thought did not occur to me; the first instinct of a
man is to throw whatever is closest to hand, and I was already carrying
the rhinoceros horn. I threw it blindly, without aiming, threw it heavily
as a man throws the shot, at the head of von Traube. And as my automatic
leaped out into my palm, I saw the pointed end of that horn hit the
German just above the ear.

Before I could get across the room, Robinson was rising; I exhaled a
breath of relief at sight of him. About his neck was a thin cord of
Chinese silk, almost buried in his flesh. He jerked it away.

"Thanks, Van Loon," he said quietly. "The beggar caught me by
surprise--jerked me clear over backward and fell on me. I suspected
something of the sort, you know, and had made ready for it, but his
method was peculiar."

He lifted the edge of the tablecloth. Just beneath the table itself, and
hung at Robinson's place, was a Browning automatic. It came away at the
touch of his hand, and he shoved it into his pocket. Then he stooped and
picked up the rhinoceros horn.

There was no need of asking any questions about Doktor von Traube. He
would never strike another blow in behalf of Germany.

"You've wondered about this," said Robinson, wiping the horn on the
tablecloth and setting it on the table beneath the lamp. "Well, I'll tell
you about that rhino. I wanted to smuggle some stuff out through Batavia;
so I worked a long time over that rhino, fitted the horn and all that.
Then I let it go six months, until the skin had crept up about the

"But how the devil did you work on a live rhino like that?" I demanded.

"Stupefied him with native drugs!" Robinson laughed. "I meant to take his
head and preserve it, then pass it out of here and into England, you

"No," I said, frowning at him, "I don't see at all! Of course, a man is
not allowed to deal in free gold here, but there's not enough gold in
this horn to make it worth all that trouble."

A slow smile crept about his mouth. He took a knife from his pocket and
opened it.

"True enough, Van Loon. But I've no more use for this contraption, now
that the trophy is spoiled; besides, I'm going home to this war--and
finish the whole botched job. See here; you'll understand in a moment."

With the knife, Robinson dug at the soft molten gold that filled the end
of the horn. A moment, and it came away in his hand--a thin, oval plate of
gold. As it came away, there poured out upon the table a heap of yellow
dust; under the slab of gold, the horn had been filled with dust, and in
the dust had been snugly nested something like two dozen of the finest
Sumatran diamonds!

"The pick of three years' work," said Robinson quietly. "If I'd smuggled
these stones out of here and into England or America, I'd have had
something, eh? But they're of no particular use now, and I can't be
bothered finding a new method of smuggling. Suppose you take them along,
sell them whenever you get a chance, and remit me half the proceeds. The
dust will take me home and get me into the army. There's enough in the
stones to make us both well off."

"That's very handsome," I said thoughtfully. "But my friend, do you
realize what would have happened if I had not found that horn carved with
the square and compasses?"

Robinson laughed in his thin, ominous fashion.

"Yes, I do," he said. "You fellows would have done me in; then, my dear
Van Loon, the estimable Herr Doktor von Traube would have done you in!"

"Not at all," I said, laughing. "You see, I was figuring to do him in!
But let's clear out of this, and I'll take you over to Malacca Town in my
boat, eh? The customs patrol down the river won't bother me much--when
it's a question of a brother in distress."

* * *

"Worshipful meester," said Van Loon, "and brethren, I thank you for your
attention." He sat down.

"A highly immoral tale, yon," said the Scots engineer, chuckling. "What
wad they be makin' of it, eh, in the regular circles?"

My little New Yorker rapped with his pipe. "I might say, brethren, that
Brother Van Loon is having a gavel made from the horn of a rhino, ain't
it, w'ich is carved with appropriate emblems and w'ich vill be presented
to this lodge next Sunday night. And now, brethren, if there ain't no
more business--"

"'Ere, 'old on!" exclaimed the cockney, scrambling to his feet. "I know
oo that there man Robinson was! I sye, Van Loon, didn't 'e 'ave a zigzag
scar on 'is left 'and?"

Van Loon assented. The little cockney continued eagerly:

"Well, 'e went west at Mons--I was in the bleedin' 'orspital wif 'im! From
what 'e said afore 'e passed out, I learned a 'ole lot abaht 'im; and it
was talk abaht a rhino 'orn too! And I want to sye, brethren, that 'e 'ad
the D.S.O. afore 'e up and bleedin' well died, too! A credit to the
Craft; that's what 'e was!"

A vote of thanks to Brother Van Loon was moved and seconded; then
Irregular Lodge No. I proceeded to fold its tents and silently steal


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