Hopefully these images are improved over the sets from before. Remember they are 'clickable' so you can see the text and details./ drf
Monday, 13 May 2013
Justice in the Wilderness
Hopefully these images are improved over the sets from before. Remember they are 'clickable' so you can see the text and details./ drf
Snared in a tropical death-trap, at the mercy of every denizen of the jungle, unarmed, cut off from friends and all hope of rescue, CAPTAIN JUSTICE & CO. are putting up the Fight of Their Lives! [Part 3 of 12] [Link to Part 1]
By Murray Roberts
From The Modern Boy magazine, 21 July 1934, No. 337, Vol. 13. Contributed by Keith Hoyt; digitized by Doug Frizzle, May 2013.
Two Missing Hunters!
“AM I hungry, did you say? Am I tired?"
Midge, the diminutive junior member of Captain Justice & Co., sat up in the shade of the giant tree that dominated the stifling, mosquito-infested clearing in the African jungle—their temporary camp.
The boy's damp red hair seemed to crinkle with wrath as he wiped the perspiration from his freckled face and glared at Dr. O'Mally, the stout, bald-headed Irishman who squatted beside the limp form of Professor Flaznagel.
The acrid tang of smoke in the air irritated Midge's nostrils; and although the tropical sun was going down at last, the steamy jungle heat caused his bedraggled pyjamas and thin khaki shooting jacket to cling to his body in clammy folds.
Overhead, the raucous screaming of parrots and the chattering of a monkey tribe mingled in deafening chorus, while faintly, from beyond the dense green walls of vegetation, floated the ugly, coughing grunts of crocodiles.
But to all these discomforts, discordances, and dangers Midge paid little heed. Only the doctor's well-meant but tactless questions on the subject of food and fitness had served to rouse the lad from his lethargy.
"You'll excuse me," he continued, speaking with freezing politeness. "I think my ears must be going on the blink, or something. Did I hear you ask if I was hungry, Dr. O'Mally?"
To this question the doctor disdained to reply. Whereat Midge drew a deep breath, making a supreme effort to hold on to his self-control.
"After all," he went on, in a voice of suppressed fury, "why should I be hungry and tired? It's only about twenty-four hours—or is it weeks?—since I last had a square meal, isn't it? And since then nothing much has happened to tire me out, has it? I've only been scruffed out of a comfy tent by a mob of yelling Abyssinian dogsbodies! Then slung into a plane and carted goodness knows where for umpteen hundred miles before being given a blinkin' parachute and booted off into this nice warm, juicy corner of the African Oven that's never yet been explored by white men!
"And after that"—Midge was getting well into his stride now—"all I've done is to scurry about this blighted, blinkin', bloomin' jungle with you others, dodging crocs and scaring leopards, just to find Professor Flagwobbie here!
"And when we did find him, hanging from the tree in his parachute straps, like Sunday's joint in the larder, who shinned up the ghastly-tree and cut the old pelican loose? Me! And who landed head first on the ground after Flipdoodle had been cut down and safely caught? Me! And now you, you bloated, bone-headed balloon—Yah!
"Of course I'm hungry, you gurgling gasometer!" he roared. "I'm so hungry my tummy thinks my throat's been cut, and if the captain hadn't found that tiny pool of decent water I'd be too thirsty even to tell you what I think of you! Oh, if I could only get my mitts on that rotten Greek gun-runner, Kuponos! I'd teach him to dump us all out of his bloomin' aeroplane without food, water, or weapons—and in our pyjamas, too!"
Midge closed his eyes in a dreamy ecstasy of revenge.
"I'd take Xavier Kuponos," he explained, slowly and carefully, "and first I'd skin him alive! Then I'd cut him into small bits with a rusty knife and toast him over a slow fire! And then, because I hate him so much, I wouldn't even eat him! I'd chuck him to the monkeys instead!"
"Ah, yes? Faith, ye'd do wonders!" Dr. O'Mally granted sarcastically, and lumbered to his feet, a fat and frowsy figure, clad in what had once been gaily striped pyjamas. Now, alas! they were nothing but strips of rags, held together by caked and evil-smelling mud.
Furiously he slapped at the flies that hovered about his bald head, and ducked closer into the smoke of the smudge-fire which Captain Justice had lighted. Having no matches, the captain had used one of the thick lenses of Professor Flaznagel's spectacles as a burning-glass—the professor himself having little need for specs or anything else just then, save O'Mally's constant attention.
For the renowned old scientist, suffering badly from the effects of his enforced parachute descent into the jungle, was completely hors de combat. Justice & Co. were not only in a fearfully tight corner, but they had a casualty on their hands into the bargain.
Only after prolonged searching, followed by an heroic and heartbreaking dash to the rescue, had Flaznagel's comrades arrived just in time to save him from the grisly attentions of two hungry leopards as he had dangled, helpless, in his tangled parachute harness, from the branches of a tree.
Now, motionless as a log, and still barely conscious, the old professor lay on a bed of fern, with the doctor and Midge watching anxiously over him.
"Ah dear! We do see life, bedad!" O'Mally, stooping again with a weary groan, adjusted the compress of cool, damp moss which he had clapped upon the professor's bruised head and feverish temples. That done, the Irishman exchanged a doleful glance with Midge, and gazed around earnestly in search of the two missing members of the castaway party—Captain Justice and Len Connor.
Both had been absent a long while—overlong, O'Mally thought worriedly, peering in the direction of the mangrove swamps and the sluggish river that divided the jungle from the unknown mountain-wall whose stupendous peaks, tipped with flame by the fiery rays of the dying sun, could just be seen through breaks in the canopy of branches overhead.
Yet there was nothing the doctor could do to help the absentees save wait with all the patience he could muster. In every direction cascades of green, orange, and crimson foliage baffled the eye. And the din from the treetops blotted out all other sounds.
"Faith, I wish I knew where they were!" O'Mally muttered uneasily, heaping fresh twigs and leaves on the fire to increase the volume of smoke. "Sure, they were both as frazzled as we were when they started back to the river, so goodness knows what they feel like now! And the swamps down there are as full o' crocodiles as your head is full o' nothing, Midge, me dear young spalpeen!"
"Cheer up, fatness!" Midge encouraged him, ignoring the doctor's last little crack. "The skipper set his mind on salvaging at least two of the parachutes we came down under, and, suffering cats, he's right when he says that all that cord and fabric will come in mighty useful!
"Not only that, but someone had to hunt for grub somewhere," added the battered youngster earnestly. "And, anyway, you know what the captain is. Once he sets out to do something, he generally does it! You trust Captain Justice, Mister Moanin' O'Mally, and—Hi—listen! Weepin' willows, what's that?"
Despite the pain of his own aching head, Midge scrambled up excitedly. And O'Mally hastily swept the smoke aside with a thick, muscular arm as suddenly there came a loud threshing among the bushes ahead.
Something—a lean, spotted phantom—started up from the undergrowth and streaked across the clearing so swiftly that neither of the startled castaways could tell what manner of beast it was, while the jabbering monkeys up above flung themselves about in a perfect frenzy of rage and alarm. And then:
"By St. Patrick!" O'Mally boomed, as a clump of gracefully plumed grasses swayed apart suddenly. Next moment into the clearing tottered the returning hunters—Captain Justice and Len!
Dinner at Last!
"HURRAH!" Uttering a husky but heartfelt cheer, Midge limped forward to meet the dishevelled pair, O'Mally making haste to follow. For, after one glance, it was painfully clear that both Justice and Len needed all the help they could get just then.
Both were half naked. They had twisted their ragged pyjama-jackets round their heads and the back of their necks as some protection against the sun whilst working in the open. And from the state of their bare, glistening bodies, both looked as though they had been thrashed with whips.
Ugly red weals and jagged tears, administered by lashing branches and thorny vines, criss-crossed their ribs and backs. Their streaming faces were puffed and swollen almost out of shape by innumerable insect bites. In addition to those injuries, the resolute pair had loaded themselves with burdens so heavy that their knees buckled under the weight.
With the load balanced precariously on his head, Len staggered on beneath a great pile of yellowish fabric—a parachute, folded as tightly as the mud-caked cords and envelope would allow. So utterly exhausted was the young wireless operator that, having greeted Midge and O'Mally with a feeble grin, he collapsed, flopped face downwards on the ground, and stayed there, half buried beneath his cargo.
In scarcely better plight was Captain Justice. He, too, was burdened with a salvaged chute, though in his case the fabric had been cut and torn and converted into two bulging sacks, which he dragged after him. Hanks of cord hung in festoons around his neck. From a lanyard slung over his shoulders dangled an old single-bladed knife.
Originally this implement had belonged to Midge. It had reposed, among other and quite useless articles, in the pocket of his shooting jacket, and—because it belonged to Midge—the blade had been as blunt as a boar's snout. Captain Justice, however, had promptly whetted it on a damp stone. Now it constituted the only weapon and tool the party possessed.
"Phew-w! By James, we've had a sweet time!"
Justice's teeth gleamed for an instant in the old familiar smile. But the moment Midge and O'Mally relieved him of his loads the famous gentleman adventurer tumbled to the ground beside Len.
There, with unkempt beard sunk upon his broad, heaving chest, Justice sat fighting to regain his breath, wearily massaging the powerful muscles that rippled under his bronzed skin.
"How's the professor?" was the first question he asked; and his tired eyes brightened a lot when, to the delighted surprise of Midge and O'Mally, Flaznagel himself answered. The courageous old scientist was beginning to pull round at last.
"I—I am feeling a trifle better now, my dear fellow," Flaznagel muttered, in a weak and broken voice. "My head—causes me some considerable discomfort still, I am afraid; and I fear, too, that the—the very abrupt termination of my descent, followed by a lengthy confinement in the parachute harness, has severely strained the—the intercostal and abdominal muscles—"
"Or, in other words," chirped Midge, in high feather now that Justice and Len were back, "getting caught up in a tree and then dancing a gay fandango on nothin’ but thin air has put a crimp in rib and tummy muscles! Never mind, keep smiling, Whiskers!
"One thing, your tongue muscles sound O.K., and a good long rest'il soon put the rest of you in shape again—if Sawbones O'Mally don't polish you off first! Gosh, captain, you and Len look as if you'd been through the hoop! Did you—um— find any—er—"
"Grub? Trust you to ask that!" panted Len, struggling up into a sitting position and pushing back the matted hair from his forehead. "Of course we found some! This country's a blessed storehouse, if you know where to look—which is something Mr. Rotten Kuponos didn't reckon on, I'll bet! Anyway, open the home-made shopping-bags, fathead, and see what daddy's brought home!"
"Wow!" exclaimed Midge. And without further ado he pounced upon the loads Captain Justice had hauled into camp. Another cheer escaped his cracked and swollen lips as the famished youth untied the first bag, revealing a strange and fearsome variety of eatables, animal and vegetable.
"I bagged the lizards." Justice smiled wryly, pointing to half a dozen small dead reptiles of evil aspect, whose brilliant scales were already growing dull.
"Stalked 'em, and hit 'em with a stick while they were sunning themselves on a rocky outcrop near the river. I'd have got some more, only a brute of a crocodile started to stalk me. We'll just have to skin and toast ‘em over the fire, lads, as best we can. They're awful to look at, but not bad eating, I know.
"These?" he continued, as Midge tumbled out two large objects that looked like green leather pumpkins. "Len found them. He also picked those wild tamarinds, and dug up the ground-nuts there with a sharpened stick. I tell you, we've been busy! What d'ye make of these pumpkin fellows, doctor? Think they'll be all right to eat?"
"Faith, they will that!" replied O'Mally, who, being a medical man, was also something of a naturalist and botanist. "Man, they're gourds; and when we've scoffed the insides the tough rinds will make good pots for water, if we dry 'em carefully. Stout work, Len!
"We can chew the ground-nuts, too—they contain oil. But go steady with those tamarinds, Midge, ye greedy gossoon! Suck a little of the juice, but don't swallow the pulp, unless ye want a tummyache that'll twist ye into knots!"
"I should worry!" Midge was busy applying a lighted brand from the smudge-fire to a pile of dry twigs and grass. And while Justice and Len rested, Dr. O'Mally husked the gourds carefully, then used the precious knife to perform delicate surgical operations on the lizards.
Thus, with Midge's cooking-fire glowing hotly, and portions of lizard impaled on sticks and held over the embers, preparations for the much-needed meal were soon under way. Captain Justice, rising at last, picked up one of the emptied "food-bags" and strode warily to the fringe of the clearing.
Beneath a clump of giant ferns, laced with orchid vines, he had discovered a tiny pool of water fed by a subterranean spring. The surface was scummy. But the deeper water looked fairly clear and did not smell too badly—which is as much as one can expect of an African jungle pool. "And, anyway, we'll be up against worse dangers than niffy spring-water presently!" Justice shrugged philosophically as he dipped the bag cautiously.
By hurrying back to the fires, sufficient water was retained in the dripping receptacle for each thirsty castaway to slake his parched throat, tongue and lips; and afterwards Len gently sponged the professor's head and neck with the sopping bag.
"Dinner is served, my lords." grinned Midge, two minutes later, and gravely presented Captain Justice with "roast reptile a la skewer," as he termed the first course.
As a meal, judged by civilised standards that dinner in the jungle was terrible! The lizard meat, partly toasted and partly raw, tasted so gamey that after every bite the adventurers had to cleanse their palates with the acid juice of the tamarinds.
The soft pulp of the gourds proved slightly more appetising. But Justice, sorely missing his favourite cigars, sighed as he finished the meal by chewing one of the oily groundnuts. In the minds of all were wistful memories of the peace and comforts, the well-served food they had left behind on Justice Island, thousands of miles away in the solitudes of the South Atlantic.
However, as Justice remarked: "Beggars can't be choosers, and we're lucky to be alive. We'll hunt up better grub than this, though, lads, when I've contrived a few primitive weapons, which won't be long now. In the meantime—"
"Waste not, want not, pick it up and eat it!" chanted Midge, helping himself to the last skewerful of lizard and tearing at it enthusiastically with his strong teeth. "Skipper, I think you've done wonders!" he added feelingly. "Now, what's the next stunt?"
"More work! Hard work, too, before the light goes!"
Justice, feeling better for the meal, poor though it had been, stretched himself and glanced up through the trellis-work of foliage at the patches of lemon-hued sky.
"In about an hour," he said quietly, "we'll be in darkness. And then the hunters will be out and the insects busier than ever. We've been lucky so far, inasmuch as we've had time to settle ourselves down before the heat of the day cooled off and the more dangerous brutes wakened from their siesta. But night-time in the jungle spells danger. We must be prepared for anything!
"Midge, you're the official fire-tender. Build two more fires under this tree, and make sure you collect enough fuel to keep 'em going all night. Len, you and I will make a bivvy-tent out of the chute you brought in—tie one edge to the branches and peg the others to the ground. That'll keep any festive leopards and pythons from dropping in on us from above; and, doc, I'll show you how to discourage ground snakes.
"To-morrow, we build a raft and get across the river, by hook or by crook, for the sooner we're out of this sweating jungle and up into those healthier-looking mountains, the better for us all! So now, lads, on your toes!"
Midge's Eventful Night!
OBEDIENT as ever to his commands, Justice's loyal comrades, all save Flaznagel, got to their feet and set to work immediately.
But, although strained muscles and injured head prevented the professor from joining in the more strenuous jobs, the gallant old inventor had no intention of lying idle.
Assisted by Justice, with many a gasp of exasperation and pain, Flaznagel insisted on levering himself up till his back was propped comfortably against the tree-trunk. Then he reached for the harness of his parachute, and, with his customary ingenuity, speedily set about making himself sandals.
First he cut the harness straps into narrower strips, then, having pierced holes in them with the knife-point, he laced them together with thongs, pared from the remaining straps. The result, though rough and ready, appeared to give him some satisfaction, for he stroked his long white beard and chuckled.
Then, tired out by the effort it had cost him to sit up and work, Professor Flaznagel, a true hero if ever there was one, sagged down on to his fern-bed again and relapsed at once into restless slumber.
Meanwhile the others were throwing themselves heart and soul into the task of preparing a night-camp. Midge, shouting and singing lustily to scare animal and reptilian intruders away, foraged round the clearing for wood and built up the fires; while Len, shinning laboriously up the tree, assisted his leader to rig the improvised tent, thereby creating fresh uproar amongst the monkey audience.
At the same time, O'Mally, following Justice's instructions, smashed down the twisted branches of a thorn bush, and laid the sharply spiked leaves and twigs in a wide circle around the little encampment. "A snake is tender under the throat!" explained Justice, with a grim chuckle. "Any inquisitive adders, mambas, or cobras trying to slither across that zareba will think better of it! Len, chuck me the knife, please, and a fathom or so of parachute."
And so the hard toil went on until darkness closed down with all the abruptness so characteristic of tropical climes.
It was as if a great lamp in the sky had been switched off suddenly. One moment there was sufficient light in the clearing to reveal the dim figures of the workers, and the next it was dark.
And silent—a silence such as only endures at dusk in an African jungle.
With the passing of daylight, all sounds ceased for a while as by magic. The monkeys ceased chattering and departed, bird-noises died down, and even the incessant hum of insects abated. Upon jungle and swamp a stillness descended like a soft black pall.
Midge hurriedly lighted the new fires. The aromatic smoke curled upwards and thickened, little flames sprang to life, gleaming brightly. Somehow, then, the busy crackling of twigs snapped the sudden tension, born of darkness and overtaut nerves. Captain Justice spoke quietly.
"Wrap your heads and arms in these, lads," he directed, handing over lengths of freshly cut fabric. "They'll make some protection from the skeeters, anyhow. And now, how about sentries?"
"I'll take first pop, if Doctor Fatness will relieve me," offered the stout-hearted Midge. "We've had a bit better time than you and Len. Three-hour shifts, as near as we can judge, eh? And you jolly well wake up sharp when I call you, doc, unless you want a dig in the ribs with my catstabber!"
"More likely I'll have to wake up and wake you just before a lion gets his teeth into ye, ye insolent boll-weevil!" growled O'Mally. "Still, the little spalpeen's made the right suggestion for once, Justice. Get ye to bed!"
So it was settled. And the first night in the wilderness—the first of many—began.
No sooner had Justice, Len, and O'Mally rolled themselves up in their parachute blankets and mosquito-nets than their weary limbs relaxed and sleep poured over them in a healing flood.
But Midge, with his piece of fabric thrown over head and shoulders, crouched in the opening of the tent between the fires, and grimly set himself to endure that most gruelling of all vigils—standing guard at night in the midst of unknown dangers.
The four fires, glowing redly, cast a flickering sheen across part of the clearing, glistening on the waxen branches overhead and the "snake-fence" of shiny thorn-leaves. But beyond this shifty pool of light sinister shadows hovered and swayed; and creepy sounds, stealthy rustlings and murmurs among the undergrowth sent icy chills trickling up and down Midge's spine.
A suffocating feeling of peril and hopelessness gripped the young sentry who huddled there, staring wide-eyed at the black walls of the clearing. It seemed as if every wild beast—all the forces of the jungle—were lurking outside the radius of the firelight, gathering themselves for an attack at any moment.
Gradually the heavy dew seeped down, and the air grew sickly with the overpowering fragrance of thirsty shrubs and flowering vines. The camp-fires sputtered sullenly as Midge, with beating heart and eyes probing the darkness, replenished them at intervals with dampened twigs.
To the nervous youngster time appeared to stand still, so that he lost all idea of the dragging minutes. Then suddenly, with the effect of an artillery salvo, the brooding hush was shattered by a savage roar.
Deep, reverberating, the harsh, awe-inspiring challenge crashed through the jungle glades till the air quivered to its thunderous echoes. Again and again it swelled out, ending in a sobbing snarl as the lion and its mate slunk down at last to their favourite drinking-pool on the river.
And with that the full bloodcurdling orchestra of the night burst forth in all its hideous discord.
From far and near a chorus of howls, roars, and screams rang through the darkness as other beasts glided out on their nightly prowl. Midge shivered, for all his hardihood, and, glancing back into the tent, saw that his comrades were stirring and twitching in their sleep.
The next instant, smothering a whoop of terror, he clutched his knife and whirled as pandemonium broke out on the edge of the clearing.
"Oh gosh! Talk about cats on the tiles!" he gulped.
Scarce thirty yards away, bushes thrashed and crackled to the accompaniment of a sudden outburst of wicked snarls, screeches, and sibilant gasps as hunting rivals charged and came to grips. Once Midge received a brief but hair-raising glimpse of two shadowy forms, writhing, clawing, slashing at each other, rolling over and over till the undergrowth engulfed them again. A moment later a gurgling wail, a triumphant howl, and then sudden, electrifying quietness again told him that the battle was over, and that the loser had paid the inevitable price of defeat!
"Phew-w!" Midge sank closer to the ground, muttering to himself to keep his spirits up. "Sufferin' snakes, I'll never go near a zoo again! I've heard about sentries sleepin' at their posts, but any sentry who could sleep in all this row deserves—A-a-ah!”
A stifled yell forced itself from his trembling lips. He sat up jerkily, gazing with bulging eyes at other eyes—glinting, tawny eyes that suddenly appeared out of the darkness, glaring straight back into his! Dimly he made out a shaggy, majestic head, a smooth, powerful body, and lashing tail.
So noiselessly had the great brute materialised that Midge's limbs, muscles, even his tongue, were paralysed. As in a nightmare he watched the monster prowl to and fro outside the circle of fires as it strove to pluck up nerve enough to brave the dancing flames and attack. Twice more it snarled, deep down in its throat, baring gleaming fangs at the petrified lad. As the fourth husky note of menace throbbed in his ears Midge could stand the strain no longer.
Desperately he sprang up, swinging the knife up level with his ear. The growling lion crouched, bristling at sight of the hostile move, but Midge was past caring. Scarcely aware 'of what he was doing, he took a stumbling stride forward—then yelled at the top of his voice as a strong hand grasped his ankle, pulling him headlong to the ground!
"Arragh, be still!" snorted a familiar voice above him, and Dr. O'Mally burst out of the tent into action.
In one swift grab he snatched a burning stick from the nearest fire, hurling it just as the lord of the jungle poised itself for a leap high over the fires. Full into the brute's distorted face flew the faggot, and Midge's brain rocked under the terrific roar of terror and rage that exploded upon his eardrums.
Dazed and deafened, he doubled up. For a sickening moment everything went black. The next he knew, O'Mally's arms were round him, shaking him back to consciousness.
"Ye mad, crack-brained, plucky young goat!" scolded the doctor breathlessly, amid sleepy cries of alarm from Justice, Len, and Flaznagel. "Sure, no one but you would go tacklin' such beasts as that with only an old knife! Och, be aisy, now! The beggar's gone—and lucky for ye the blackguard mosquitoes kept me wakeful, for I've singed his whiskers finely! Get ye to sleep this minute, ye blatherskite! All right, Justice—'tis my watch now, I'm thinking."
Lifting Midge up, he deposited him bodily into the tent, where Captain Justice gently tucked a "blanket" round the shivering youngster.
"Sleep, lad!" he ordered calmly. But Midge's only reply was a dismal groan.
"Sleep? With all these man-eaters-around?" he muttered thickly. "Moanin’ moggies, I reckon I'll never—I'll never sleep a—Snor-r-k!"
Midge's protests petered out into a long-drawn, curious gurgle. His red head dropped back on the ferns, and for the second time everything became a blur. Whacked to the wide, oblivious to the increasing hullabaloo in the forest, Midge slumbered.
The Demon of the River!
“HI, rise and shine! Show a leg, you lubber!” It was Len Connor's cheery hail and the friendly jolt of Len's boot against his ribs that hauled Midge out of the depths of slumber at last. Several minutes passed before the drowsy youngster could pull his wits together. But presently, with memories of his spell of sentry-go piercing the mists of sleep, he uttered a startled squawk and sat up.
A chorus of chaff from his comrades greeted his noisy eruption from the tent.
"Faith," chuckled O'Mally, "and here's the big bold hunter himself! Just in time to catch another lion an' skin it for breakfast, me brave bucko!"
"Scat!" Midge—after a hurried glance round to make sure that no such beast was in sight—wrinkled his snub nose and sniffed. Then he wrapped his arms around himself and shivered, as the chill of dawn, following the sweltering night, struck deep into his bones.
Darkness had fled. But the sun had yet to rise above the invisible horizon, and cold blue-grey mists, filled the clearing. Somewhere out of sight a jungle-cock crowed brazenly, and guttural noises began to filter through the tree-tops as other birds and the monkeys awakened to another day. Bull-frogs croaked hoarsely. Snorts and grunts from the crocodile swamps sounded louder than ever.
"Huh! Funny, aren't we, this mornin'!" growled Midge, gazing owlishly at the grinning O'Mally and hunching himself up beside a fire. From this cosy spot, however, Captain Justice callously shifted him.
"Work, my lad—action's the stuff to warm you!" declared the castaways' leader, himself busily refolding the cut lengths of parachute and re-coiling the cords as Len climbed up and lowered the tent. "Breakfast first, then down to the river to make a raft! And the more work we do in the cool o' morning the better I'll like it. I want to get out of this pest-hole before we're all down with fever."
"Or down a lion's gullet!" grunted Midge, piling in, nevertheless.
Breakfast, consisting of groundnuts and a mouth-wash of water, was soon over; for not even Midge of the magnificent appetite could face the pappy remains of the gourds. In another ten minutes, with Professor Flaznagel leaning heavily on Justice's shoulder, and Len, Midge, and O'Mally carrying the slender stock of gear, camp was struck, and the march to the river commenced.
Through dew-drenched undergrowth and grasses the little party thrust their way, ears and eyes alert for danger. Steamy mist filled the jungle recesses, mysterious creakings sounded on all sides, and once Captain Justice broke his stride in the nick of time as a speckled adder writhed almost from under his feet. It took all his iron nerve and self-control to stifle a cry of horror and carry on, outwardly calm.
Safely the five emerged at last into the old elephant track that cut a wide swathe through the tangle of trees and bush. From then on, the remainder of the trek down to the river was comparatively easy.
"Bedad! 'Tis a proper pea-souper down here till the sun breaks through!"
Dr. O'Mally, halting beneath a great palm near the river brink, puffed out his cheeks disgustedly.
Thicker than ever now, the mists blanketed the oily stretch of water, and of the marshes farther up all that could be seen were fringes of greeny-black mud, and the vague outlines of mangrove-trees and soggy clumps of papyrus and reed. To add to the doctor's repugnance, a musky, fetid odour arose therefrom. Captain Justice, with a significant smile, pointed aloft.
High above, so high that the comrades had to lay their heads back to see, the peaks of the mountains swam serenely above the gauzy veils of cloud that draped the lower levels. Like fantastic castles in the air, remote, yet oddly encouraging, they spanned the sky in far-flung array, bastions, turrets, and towers all ashine in the upflung rays of the sun. The hearts of the castaways leapt at the glorious spectacle, so magnificently inspiring after the stifling closeness and shade of the jungle.
What natives and wild beasts dwelt within and behind that vast welter of glimmering crags and cavernous ravines no one knew. Even the ruffianly Greek, Kuponos, had confessed that he had heard nothing save bloodcurdling rumours of the tribes who inhabited this unknown, unmapped range. Anything might befall white men venturing into those unexplored uplands. But Captain Justice, in his cool, determined way, had decided to tackle them for two reasons, come what may.
One reason was health—a prompt escape from the humid, fever-haunted jungle and swamps. The second and stronger was—that the mountains barred the road back to civilisation.
"My scheme, lads, is to collect as many suitable logs for a raft as we can find and haul down to the river." Thus the captain opened his plan of campaign. "These we'll lash together with parachute cord, caulk 'em with mud and reeds, and brace the raft with cross-spars of bamboo.
"For sweeps and poles we’ll use more branches, and if a breeze springs up before we're across I can rig some sort of sail. Luckily, there are plenty of fallen trees around without having to venture back into the bush."
The fallen trees lay all along the margin of the jungle most of them partly hollowed out by the voracious white ants, and all mottled with mushy, brightly hued fungus.
But before the party moved on to inspect the nearest tree, Len, standing above the river bank where it sloped down into the muddy shallows, was smitten by a labour-saving idea.
"Half a sec, skipper—maybe we'll have no need to sweat ourselves hauling those logs down," he cried. "Look, here's one below me now—already in the water and lying half-awash! There may be others, too."
So saying, Len picked up a long, stout stick. Then, sinking to his knees, he bent lower to prod the partly submerged log that floated beneath him, among the tufted weeds close to the bank.
AS he did so, Captain Justice and O'Mally apparently went crazy!
"Len! Good heavens—look out!"
Shouting a frantic warning, the Irishman launched himself through the air in a flying tackle that bowled the dumbfounded Len head over heels and sent him rolling through the grasses farther up the bank.
Simultaneously, Captain Justice pounced on a mossy rock bigger than his head, wrenched it from its bed, and hurled the missile with all his strength at the floating log.
What followed was an eye-opener to the unwary Leonard!
For, with a speed and vicious energy that chilled the youngster's blood, that "log" came to life. As the heavy rock crashed down upon it, swirls of scummy water boiled and foamed to the furious strokes of a six-foot tail, and a horrifying vision of long, gaping jaws and sharp fangs yawned before Len's eyes.
Steel-hooked talons clawed up into view, the reeds parted to disclose a black, wrinkled snout and armoured body. For seconds that seemed like years, the monster clung there until the slimy bank gave way and slithered down under its weight. Then, to the sound of a wrathful coughing bellow, the mad flurry subsided.
"There goes your log!" remarked Captain Justice, in a strained voice.
Shaking in every limb, Len staggered up, and the captain pointed. Farther out, a series of triangular ripples were spreading across the misty river as the enormous and baffled crocodile, with only its ugly snout showing, glided off silently towards a mudbank in midstream.
Midge sat down suddenly, as though his groggy legs had given way.
Len swallowed hard and gripped O'Mally's hand.
"Thanks, doc! The treacherous, scaly hog—gosh, he nearly had me!" Len forced a grin to his pallid lips. "After this, we'll thumpin' well get our logs from the jungle, if I have to carry 'em out myself," he added, so decisively that his comrades vented their feelings in a roar of laughter;
But that was the final burst of hilarity from any of them that morning.
Work was the order of the day from then on—back-breaking, muscle-grinding work that spared them little enough breath for desultory talk, let alone mirth. The raft had to be built—and quickly.
All Captain Justice's experience and skill at rigging pulley-ropes and hauling-tackle with the cords came into play. But his efforts served only to lighten their arduous labours a little. For the rest, it was sheer, unremitting heaving, pulling, and dragging, while the sun waxed hotter, the cloud of insects thickened, and the least exertion meant sweat and torment.
Yet somehow, urged on by the inflexible will and fierce courage of their leader, the castaways stuck it out—slogging into their tasks with cracking sinews and bursting hearts, till eight good-sized, decaying logs had been hauled, rolled, and yanked down to the river bank.
Between spells, while O'Mally and Len, who bore the brunt of the hauling, lay prone, and Professor Flaznagel fanned them with bunches of fern. Captain Justice and the ever-hungry Midge mustered up sufficient energy to hunt lizards for dinner. For, as Midge declared huskily: "We've got the job of a lifetime ahead, skipper! We've had a horrible night, too, and we're going to cross this blinkin' river to-day, in spite of all the crocs, and we're going up into those mountains, no matter if all the cannibobbles in Africa bar the way! And sooner or later we're going to get back and find Xavier Kuponos, and then we'll dance on his grave! But, meanwhile, dash it——" Swiftly and accurately, a small cudgel smashed down on a rock with disastrous results to the frilled lizard that had been sunning itself there.
"A fellah must eat!" sighed Midge contentedly, as he gathered up the spoils!
There are worse things than wild animals for the comrades to face in this terrible African jungle—and that's CANNIBALS! Mind YOU are present at the encounter—in Next Saturday's MODERN BOY! [Part 4]
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.