The Chief Engineer’s sleeping suit was of yellow striped with blue, and his speech was the speech of Aberdeen. They sluiced the deck under him, and he hopped on to the ornamental capstan, a black pipe between his teeth, though the hour was not seven of the morn.
‘Did you ever hear o’ the Lang Men o’ Larut?’ he asked when the Man from Orizava had finished a story of an aboriginal giant discovered in the wilds of Brazil. There was never story yet passed the lips of teller, but the Man from Orizava could cap it.
‘No, we never did,’ we responded with one voice. The Man from Orizava watched the Chief keenly, as a possible rival.
‘I’m not telling the story for the sake of talking merely,’ said the Chief, ‘but as a warning against betting, unless you bet on a perrfect certainty. The Lang Men o’ Larut were just a certainty. I have had talk wi’ them. Now Larut, you will understand, is a dependency, or it may be an outlying possession, o’ the island o’ Penang, and there they will get you tin and manganese, an’ it mayhap mica, and all manner o’ meenerals. Larut is a great place.’
‘But what about the population?’ said the Man from Orizava.
‘The population,’ said the Chief slowly, ‘were few but enorrmous. You must understand that, exceptin’ the tin-mines, there is no special inducement to Europeans to reside in Larut. The climate is warm and remarkably like the climate o’ Calcutta; and in regard to Calcutta, it cannot have escaped your obsairvation that–‘
‘Calcutta isn’t Larut; and we’ve only just come from it,’ protested the Man from Orizava. ‘There’s a meteorological department in Calcutta, too.’
‘Ay, but there’s no meteorological department in Larut. Each man is a law to himself. Some drink whisky, and some drink brandipanee, and some drink cocktails–vara bad for the coats o’ the stomach is a cocktail– and some drink sangaree, so I have been credibly informed; but one and all they sweat like the packing of piston-head on a fourrteen-days’ voyage with the screw racing half her time. But, as I was saying, the population o’ Larut was five all told of English–that is to say, Scotch–an’ I’m Scotch, ye know,’ said the Chief.
The Man from Orizava lit another cigarette, and waited patiently. It was hopeless to hurry the Chief Engineer.
‘I am not pretending to account for the population o’ Larut being laid down according to such fabulous dimensions. O’ the five white men engaged upon the extraction o’ tin ore and mercantile pursuits, there were three o’ the sons o’ Anak. Wait while I remember. Lammitter was the first by two inches–a giant in the land, an’ a terreefic man to cross in his ways. From heel to head he was six feet nine inches, and proportionately built across and through the thickness of his body. Six good feet nine inches–an overbearin’ man. Next to him, and I have forgotten his precise business, was Sandy Vowle. And he was six feet seven, but lean and lathy, and it was more in the elasteecity of his neck that the height lay than in any honesty o’ bone and sinew. Five feet and a few odd inches may have been his real height. The remainder came out when he held up his head, and six feet seven he was upon the door-sills. I took his measure in chalk standin’ on a chair. And next to him, but a proportionately made man, ruddy and of a fair countenance, was Jock Coan–that they called the Fir Cone. He was but six feet five, and a child beside Lammitter and Vowle. When the three walked out together, they made a scunner run through the colony o’ Larut. The Malays ran round them as though they had been the giant trees in the Yosemite Valley–these three Lang Men o’ Larut. It was perfectly ridiculous–a lusus naturae–that one little place should have contained maybe the three tallest ordinar’ men upon the face o’ the earth.
‘Obsairve now the order o’ things. For it led to the finest big drink in Larut, and six sore heads the morn that endured for a week. I am against immoderate liquor, but the event to follow was a justification. You must understand that many coasting steamers call at Larut wi’ strangers o’ the mercantile profession. In the spring time, when the young cocoanuts were ripening, and the trees o’ the forests were putting forth their leaves, there came an American man to Larut, and he was six foot three, or it may have been four, in his stockings. He came on business from Sacramento, but he stayed for pleasure wi’ the Lang Men o’ Larut. Less than, a half o’ the population were ordinar’ in their girth and stature, ye will understand–Howson and Nailor, merchants, five feet nine or thereabouts. He had business with those two, and he stood above them from the six feet threedom o’ his height till they went to drink. In the course o’ conversation he said, as tall men will, things about his height, and the trouble of it to him. That was his pride o’ the flesh.
‘”As the longest man in the island–” he said, but there they took him up and asked if he were sure.
‘”I say I am the longest man in the island,” he said, “and on that I’ll bet my substance.”
‘They laid down the bed-plates of a big drink then and there, and put it aside while they called Jock Coan from his house, near by among the fireflies’ winking.
‘”How’s a’ wi’ you?” said Jock, and came in by the side o’ the Sacramento profligate, two inches, or it may have been one, taller than he.
‘”You’re long,” said the man, opening his eyes. “But I am longer.” An’ they sent a whistle through the night an’ howkit out Sandy Vowle from his bit bungalow, and he came in an’ stood by the side o’ Jock, an’ the pair just fillit the room to the ceiling-cloth.
‘The Sacramento man was a euchre-player and a most profane sweerer. “You hold both Bowers,” he said, “but the Joker is with me.”
‘”Fair an’ softly,” says Nailor. “Jock, whaur’s Lang Lammitter?”
‘”Here,” says that man, putting his leg through the window and coming in like an anaconda o’ the desert furlong by furlong, one foot in Penang and one in Batavia, and a hand in North Borneo it may be.
‘”Are you suited?” said Nailor, when the hinder end o’ Lang Lammitter was slidden through the sill an’ the head of Lammitter was lost in the smoke away above.
‘The American man took out his card and put it on the table. “Esdras B. Longer is my name, America is my nation, ‘Frisco is my resting-place, but this here beats Creation,” said he. “Boys, giants–side-show giants– I minded to slide out of my bet if I had been overtopped, on the strength of the riddle on this paste-board. I would have done it if you had topped me even by three inches, but when it comes to feet–yards– miles, I am not the man to shirk the biggest drink that ever made the travellers’-joy palm blush with virginal indignation, or the orang- outang and the perambulating dyak howl with envy. Set them up and continue till the final conclusion.”
‘O mon, I tell you ’twas an awful sight to see those four giants threshing about the house and the island, and tearin’ down the pillars thereof an’ throwing palm-trees broadcast, and currling their long legs round the hills o’ Larut. An awfu’ sight! I was there. I did not mean to tell you, but it’s out now. I was not overcome, for I e’en sat me down under the pieces o’ the table at four the morn an’ meditated upon the strangeness of things.
‘Losh, yon’s the breakfast-bell!’